Monday, November 28, 2016

Appeal to Deserving - A Fallacy

Note to the reader: Please read this entire article before jumping to conclusions. Your cooperation in this is much appreciated. Nobody deserves anything. Nothing at all, whether good or bad. You don't deserve food, water, or air. You don't deserve healthcare or charity. You don't deserve dignity, respect, or love. You don't deserve life, liberty, or property. You don't deserve rights, voluntary interaction, or non-aggression. Wrongdoers don't deserve punishment. Victims don't deserve restitution. Nobody owes you anything by default. Life grants you no automatic entitlements. On the contrary: You are in debt from the moment of your existence. You did not create yourself. You were created by forces which you did nothing to cause. Life was given to you unearned. You were raised, taught, empowered, and protected into adulthood by the effort of others. Every bit of matter and energy which makes you up came to you from external sources. And, some day, you will pay every bit of it back. Through all of your labor and efforts, you cannot create even a single electron-volt of new energy. You can only gather to yourself energy which previously existed using the energy which was given to you. Thus you accumulate what you did not create with what was leant to you. You cannot, therefore, earn anything. Your labor cannot make you deserve what you gain from it. If nobody deserves anything, then taking it from them cannot make you deserve any punishment or penalty. You do not deserve restitution when wronged. You do not deserve to be safe from harm or to be guaranteed voluntary or civil interactions with other people. You cannot destroy even a single electron-volt of energy, just as you cannot create it. By what virtue, then, would you argue that you or anyone else deserves anything at all? Whatever that virtue is, nature clearly does not recognize it, and nobody else is obligated to recognize it. "Deserve" is a fantasy we make up to make ourselves feel justified in our actions, to patch up our insecurities, to prop up our self-worth, and to give us an excuse to look down on others. It has no substance in the real world. "Deserve" simply does not exist. Therefore: All arguments which appeal to what we or others "deserve" as a rationale for how we or they should behave are fallacious – since we deserve nothing and "deserve" therefore becomes irrelevant to how we should treat one another or how they should treat us. If we are going to talk about how we ought to treat one another, those "oughts" must be derived from other factors besides what we do or do not deserve. This does not mean that there are no "oughts". If I value myself as a person and the personal dignity, autonomy, and self-integrity which makes me a person, and if I would have those things respected by others – then I ought to likewise value and respect them in others as well. If I don't, I undermine any claim I make that they should be respected in me. This has nothing to do with what I or they deserve. Therefore, this is not justification for apathy or treating people like dirt. Quite the opposite. It means that appealing to what someone deserves or doesn't deserve is not a justification for apathy or treating them like dirt. "Deserve" is a very sick concept if you think about it. It classifies people – sentient, sapient individuals with feelings, and desires, and hopes, and fears just like you – into categories of how much dignity and civility they should or should not receive based on merit. It reduces people to objects of utility. Seemingly universally benevolent statements such as "Everyone deserves dignity." might seem better – but these either tend to be so over-generalized as to prove too much, which leads to absurdities – or they end up being reduced to the aforementioned utilitarian view of people when put to the test. In conclusion: Appealing to what someone deserves is a fallacy. It is founded on broken reason which does not correspond to reality. It is not necessary for good ethics, and it inevitably leads to bad ethical conclusions. If we value what makes us people, then we ought not reduce ourselves or others to mere objects which deserve this or that based on utility, and to universalize "deserve" without consideration for utility causes it to lose all force and meaning.