Freedom and its correct use
One of my countless sins of omission until recently consisted of a maintained disinterest in the question of whether human existence is determined by Natural Laws in a similar way to the material universe. To be precise, I found that the problem of free will vs. determinacy of our expressions of life could not be conclusively solved, and thus it could not be determined which decisions are right or wrong, moral or immoral. I have certainly poached a little in these philosophical meadows, investigated questions such as “What is justice?” and made considerations about the freedom of the individual, most recently in the article “Living in Sin“. In the process, I have very often arrived at the same insights that other thinkers of diverse cultures have gained over the past two and a half thousand years, thanks to my own experiences as well as observations, research, and conclusions. This honors not so much myself as those very mystics and philosophers whose insights into the nature of being, after such a long time under such changed circumstances, continue to prove true today. It speaks further for a regularity, a Natural Law, which determines perpetually, everywhere, unchangeably and inevitably the success or failure of human communities. This law is called “Natural Law” in Western philosophy. The word nature derives from the Latin “natura” (birth); it refers to the derivation of our rights from the characteristics given to man qua birth by Nature or God. Therefore, Natural Law in its validity refers to human nature, the conditio humana.
My lifelong poking around had the disadvantage that it took a long time for conjectures to condense into certainties, but it had the great advantage that the rules of Natural Law could not be dismissed as just another set of arbitrary mental constructs. They can be subjected to tests with conventional tools for verification. The derivations performed by well-known Natural Law thinkers such as Jesus of Nazareth, Thomas Aquinas, Gautama Siddhartha, the philosophers of Enlightenment, Emerson, Thoreau, Steiner, or the American Founding Fathers reveal exciting facets. However, it would go completely beyond the scope of a single article if we wanted to start our discussion with Adam and Eve, so to speak, and examine all ramifications and variants. For our purposes – to restore human self-determination – there is no need for referring to the writings of philosophical authorities. Natural Law, as employed here in the article, is self-evident. It means a principle of cause and effect of human social behavior, intrinsic to the world, which radically proceeds from the freely born individual endowed with reason and conscience. It can not only be applied in everyday life, but is even indispensable for certain purposes. I partly use contemporary texts by thinkers rarely cited in this context to illustrate my points. Such texts exist in encouragingly high numbers.
How few of those who march through the streets protesting against Corona measures have understood that the answer to the slashing of the Constitution by the state should be more Natural Law instead of more democracy, I would rather not know. However, I can say with certainty that the following points have the highest relevance for the lives of all of us (in my opinion, even for the continued existence of that which essentially makes us human).
Hold on, it’s getting exciting.
In the nearly two hundred states of the Earth there are just as many different definitions of what is right and what is wrong and how violations of law are to be sanctioned. This is called the legal system. This multiplicity of different legal norms – think of such extreme examples as the Sharia or the U.S. Constitution – which, moreover, change in content and character over time, often tempts people to fall into moral relativism. Moral relativism is the view that what is right can be determined arbitrarily. Now, of course, there is no denying that both legal and moral ideas – which inform each other to a certain extent – in fact spring from just such arbitrariness. The rules by which we orient our behavior depend in the last instance on our conception of the human being and our place in the world, and this conception differs from culture to culture, from country to country, and from person to person. In this confusing jumble of often incompatible norms, two things have been lost: first, the distinction between law, morality and ethics, and second, the objective difference between right and wrong. The latter goes by the name of “Natural Law” in philosophy, but it has existed and continues to exist under diverse names in all cultures. The best known are probably “Thomism”, “Anthroposophy”, “Cause and effect”, “Spiritual law”, “Karma” and “The Golden Rule”.
What are law, morality and ethics?
(Positive) Law consists of formal rules established by authorities to guide the behavior of individuals and groups in a society with the help of state power. Different societies have different authorities that apply different standards, but what they all have in common is the expectation of unconditional obedience and the sanctioning of violations by state authority. Positive law – constitutions, laws, statutes, ordinances, and court judgments – are, as we shall see, in direct opposition to Natural Law, “a set of non-man-made, binding, and immutable conditions that govern the consequences of the actions of all beings capable of holistic intelligence.” (Mark Passio).
A simple statement that has been enshrined in all cultures since time immemorial and that we call the “Golden Rule.” The violation of a natural right harms the recipient of the violation; it entitles the recipient to self-defense. Violations produce long-term effects in the polity, manifesting themselves as forms of disorder, bondage, and collective suffering. But not only the violation, also the observance of Natural Law has consequences: The polity in the long run gains in cohesion, freedom, justice, and prosperity. The best-known term for this dynamic is “karma” – a concept that is unfortunately often completely misunderstood as a personal balance of sins.
Morality as currently understood by the man on the streets is often, but not necessarily, identical with obeying positive laws. Morality consists in the concrete rules of conduct that apply in a community, that is, about how one should live. If these rules are standardized, one speaks of a code of conduct. Depending on the culture and subculture of the group to which people belong, morality defines their socially acceptable behavior. A pacifist will condemn any use of force against persons, a soldier will see the matter quite differently.
In Natural Law, any action that does not cause harm is moral. Whoever causes harm to others, that is, violates their natural rights, acts immorally.
Always immoral and therefore wrong in Natural Law are lying, theft, destruction of property, burglary, coercion, rape, assault, slavery, imprisonment and murder – acts that deprive their recipient of a right.
Acts of self-defense, on the other hand, are rightful and never constitute violence.
Ethics and morality are often used interchangeably. Moreover, a confusing variety of definitions is in use. Commonly, however, ethics is understood to be a set of mutable values and principles that govern the actions of individuals. In philosophy, ethics is thinking about morality; ethics provides the rationale for morality.
Thus, whoever does not consciously think about morally right behavior acts unconsciously and unethically. A person who does not think ethically cannot act morally; he or she does not exercise his or her rights and is very likely to violate those of their fellow human beings. In their ignorance they may act immorally and unjustly.
What is remarkable about Natural Law is that ethical thinking and moral action always relate harmoniously to each other, because they can be traced back to the same source: the objective knowledge of right and wrong. This knowledge is based on the observation of causes and effects that has guided our species since its existence. Following Natural Law – abiding by the unwritten Laws of Nature – Humans have lived in small egalitarian groups for hundreds of millennia, as appropriate to our species as birds use to live in flocks. Only with the emergence of civilizations – hierarchically organized societies with a law-making authority at the top which cultivate order-following – do law, morality and ethics begin to diverge. The Swiss philosopher Chnopfloch aptly describes the dynamic that results from their divergence:
There is war in this world, a war between morality and ethics. The two words are equated to disguise this – to disguise the fact that the ethics of the individual and the morals of society have diverged and moved far away from each other. For only morality can be manipulated and misused by the controllers for their own purposes, and only through morality can masses of people be controlled. It is up to each and every one of us to decide which side we will fight on, and we must choose a side, because today man has only two choices: to be moral and unethical, or to be ethical and immoral. Do you listen to society and what others tell you, or do you listen to the laws of life, the inner voice that nature has written into your heart with its own hand?” — Chnopfloch: Fachidioten, Gurus und der Krieg [Pundits, gurus and the war. Aug 2021]
How does this dynamic happen?
As already described and deduced in many of my articles, civilizations are cultures that run on a program for controlling the world and reality. All their efforts are directed towards the prevention of undesired events with probability bordering on certainty and to make desired events occur with equal probability. This requires a categorization of phenomena into positive and negative ones, which are then met with standardized actions. Both categorization and standardization are nothing but arbitrary determinations. From the beginning, and to the present day, those determinations are always oriented to the interest of the person or group who makes them. Three facts, immoral in terms of Natural Law, follow from this:
1) The determinations codified in law enforce the ethics of the lawmaker. As they deny the freedom of the “subjects” they are intrinsically sociopathic in nature, i.e., immoral under Natural Law;
2) The actions prescribed by the lawmaker are often – and the prescribed sanctions for non-compliance are always – associated with violence, or the threat thereof, against recipients of orders. Thus, they are always immoral under Natural Law.
3) Following rules and carrying out orders is always immoral because the ethics of the recipient of the order play no role in their implementation. Either the order-follower must violate their ethical understandings, bend their ethics to fit the rules, or omit ethical considerations altogether. This is unethical according to Natural Law and therefore immoral and therefore violates the Law. To put it mildly:
Legal and illegal do not matter at all in terms of Natural Law.
My long-time readers will know that the author of these lines lives in Auroville, a city founded in 1968 in service to the principles of a special form of Natural Law: Integral Yoga. Following the teachings of the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo, city founder Mirra Alfassa, known here only as “The Mother,” stipulated that there should be no government, no courts, and no police. No laws should apply, no money should be used internally, and no mind-altering substances should be consumed. Politics, tradition, and conventional morality were to have no influence on the actions of the residents, and gossip was to be avoided. They were to live “a life divine, but no religion” (Mirra Alfassa), aligning their behavior with the highest consciousness available to them and resolving their conflicts through good will. Why? Because all elements negated here influence, corrupt or even prevent people’s free decision for the good. Only a decision made completely freely, taking into account the objective criteria of right and wrong, can be morally right and good. Thus, in his letter to the Roman Christians, Saint Paul states that they were freed from the old, man-made law to freely follow their conscience, according to the message of the Son of God:
But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. – Paul: Epistle to the Romans, 7:6, New Living Translation.
The objective difference of right and wrong.
And this brings us to the key point, which is the extent to which morality is not relative but objectively determinable. Moral relativism means that any moral view is considered to be equivalent to any other, because they are all basically arbitrarily introduced rules. That this is the case in practice cannot be denied. The multitude of existing moral systems testifies to this. However, this does not at all mean that all moral rules lack a concrete foundation. We find that certain rules – roughly speaking, those compatible with the “Golden Rule” – have been valid in all cultures and at all times. This already speaks for their universal effectiveness in the world of man. It shows that persons who thought ethically have everywhere come to the same observations about human nature and that they knew that every individual action has social consequences. Specifically, it can be observed that communities that obey Natural Law tend to increase freedom, justice, and prosperity; where Natural Laws are consciously or unconsciously disobeyed, mores deteriorate, injustice increases, and the community tends toward unfreedom and even slavery.
Therefore, attentive observers of the human condition at all times and in all places concluded: To take something from others without necessity that belongs to them – property, mates, life, health, security, freedom, truth – is unethical, immoral and wrong. Or, to put it positively, a right is an action that causes no harm to other sentient beings. If you confront people who believe morality is in the eye of the beholder with harmful acts such as rape, slavery, murder, or loss of property, they will concede that such acts are bad, regardless of the cultural background – unless you are talking to psychopaths. So it does matter what the moral rules are.
Evolutionists assume that every characteristic of a living being is passed on from one generation to the next because it offers an evolutionary advantage. Believers of all religions assume that the Creator has wisely endowed man in such a way that he can distinguish right from wrong actions and is free to make use of this knowledge.
Thus, the inherent agency of conscience in all human beings, its purpose and its usefulness in fulfilling that purpose are rather rarely openly disputed. We get called by our nature to listen to our conscience. Moral relativism denies conscience, obedience suppresses it altogether. Both attitudes are categorically wrong, not only because they are immoral, but because they open the door to evil. Totalitarianism requires this ethical poverty.
Why is the unquestionable knowledge of right and wrong necessary?
Following the conscience, which intuitively knows the objective difference between right and wrong, is to the advantage of all of us, because only morally right actions lead to order, peace and justice. Conscience can be drowned out by rational consciousness or emotions. That is why it is important to become rationally aware of the intuitive contents of conscience as well, and it is equally important to cultivate an empathic understanding of other sentient beings’ desire for freedom (i.e., their pursuit of rights). Knowledge of the rules that govern the human condition – in other words, knowledge of Natural Law – are indispensable to the formation and preservation of a polity that serves freedom, peace, happiness, and justice. What is self-evident in engineering, namely that a functioning construct can only be formed on the basis of correctly ascertained facts and understood principles, is also true in sociology: behaviours that ignore or deny objective morality can never result in a positive outcome; society then simply does not “function” but becomes mired in all sorts of suffering. More than that:
The Law of Life isn’t what governs life, it’s what fosters life, and anything that fosters life belongs to the law… A biologist would probably say that what I’m calling the Law of Life is just a collection of evolutionarily stable strategies—the universal set of such strategies, in fact. – Daniel Quinn: The Story of B
Ivan Illich, like many others, was convinced that
There is, in other words, a given human nature, just as much as there is a given physical nature, and a society can only be good insofar as its principles are drawn from insight into this nature. [Illich’s book] “Tools for Conviviality” had its roots in his fear that the society he was writing about not only threatened human nature but was on the verge of abolishing it altogether. – David Cayley: Ivan Illich. An Intellectual Journey
This abolition did not begin with the application of genetic manipulation or chip implants. It results from a long process of erosion of our ability to know ourselves, that is, to live freely within the framework of what is called the Law of God, Natural Law, Dharma, the Law of Life, or Integral Yoga.
We do well, then, to pay as much attention to the knowledge of cause and effect in social affairs, which is rooted in our human nature, as we do to the laws of physics. The law of human life, i.e., the one evolutionarily stable strategy for human action, is Natural Law as practiced by each and every culture ever since the birth of the genus homo – just not by our culture, civilization.
“Oh!”, I hear sarcastic-sounding voices exclaim. “You’ve done a great job of that where you live.” Indeed, the Auroville of the 21st century is a suitable example to prove Natural Law – the law of cause and effect. Precisely because the insights of the “Mother” remain largely misunderstood and unpracticed, precisely because there is widespread ignorance of karmic action among the population, precisely because the majority of us do not “die to law and are no longer captive to its power,” precisely because we trust authority more than our own knowledge and conscience, have police patrolling the streets, call the courts, get paid for our services to others, worship false idols, don’t always take honesty seriously, play politics, let ourselves be intimidated by officials, take mediated information at face value, and confuse rule-following with morality, Auroville is currently a place that is not at the service of Truth, and therefore not exactly the city the world has been waiting for; for it is precisely because we collectively have not listened to our conscience that our polity has long been failing in its purpose. The fact that we think twice about what we say in public and that the official mold neighs at all corners shows our utter terror of the “Divine Anarchy” the Mother wanted to open up for us.
On the importance of freedom
There, this is the real topic we are talking about. Let us call a spade a spade: anarchy – or rather anarchony, the absence of a ruler – or acephaly, the absence of a headman, are what the consistent application of Natural Law amounts to socially. As the exercise of power or force and the obeying of orders or rules are invariably immoral, all government, all statehood, all forms of authority are immoral, unjust, wrong; including democracy. If in a polity free decision according to objective moral facts is inhibited or prevented, even by popular vote, then the people in it are unfree.
It deludes itself about its slavish incapacity for self-responsible action, engaging in hollow debates about constitutional freedoms and postmodern discourses on the equivalence of various definitions of freedom or morality.
In reality, however, you don’t have to write or read long books to explain or understand freedom. It is quite enough to look out over a lush lake, for example. All the beings you see there are free in the true sense of the word. Freedom is the basic regularity of all living nature. And civilization has turned against this very regularity. – Steffen Pichler: The Golden Springtime
The American bio-philosopher George Gorman elaborates on this idea:
Intentionally moving one’s own body, interacting with others, preserving one’s gains and questioning one’s options play essential roles in shaping the experiential processes of everything alive. Like ourselves, other animals and plants are skilled trackers of personal value, since nothing but their own will power is guiding them to live in terms of their personal needs and desires. It’s not automatic … It’s natural that experiencing a life without freedom is abhorrent to the living. Even the simplest bacteria behave in unpredictable ways not wholly determined by identifiable causes, including the molecular processes of their internal chemistry. Because they’re free.– George Gorman: We, the Living vol. 1
And this has consequences for the quality and ending of our lives, as book author Steffen Pichler quite correctly points out. He concludes that in nature – in contrast to the domesticated humans, animals and plants of civilized culture – there is little extended sickliness, because this restricts the freedom of development of the living being.
It is very important not to imagine a natural instance that determines the end of any living being. It is vice versa: The natural system ensures, in a somewhat automatically way, that life ends when it no longer comes along with the state of healthy freedom. In this respect, life is freedom, and if it, freedom, ceases, then life also ends automatically. – Steffen Pichler: The Golden Springtime
In view of such considerations, I have long been asking myself whether we, insofar as we obey the state and the pressure of mainstream views, can actually still be called fully alive, or whether the condition of the majority of our fellow human beings should not be described as a stage of advanced zombification.
Corruptio optimi pessima
And Auroville? What chance does the rest of the world stand if model projects like this township fail to implement Natural Law in everyday life? Well, first of all, one can state with Shakespeare that „Lillies that fester smell far worse then weeds“ (Sonnet 94). The stench of rotten thought emanating from the dominant culture of our day is horrible enough. But the same stench becomes much worse when it emanates from those people or places to which one has looked with admiration: the pop star who has had his parts sung by others; the professor who copied his thesis from the works of others; the priest who abuses his protégés; the environmental protection organization that got paid off by the dirtiest corporations; the peace party that starts a war under cheap pretexts; the rebel who surrenders to a public mania just when her ability to criticize is needed most urgently; and of course the intentional commune that no longer understands its own principles and therefore practices the exact opposite of what they actually intended.
It is extremely painful when noble goals turn into something that causes damage, because it thoroughly destroys the hope for a better world, and it effectively puts the misguidedness of people on display. Ivan Illich, with reference to the canonized church teacher and Natural Law thinker Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), when characterizing such conditions applied the Latin saying corruptio optimi pessima –
The inhabitants of Auroville, more so than ordinary people, have the task of learning to understand their principles, the core of their humanity, anew, to right the abundance of wrongs. The fact that the founding documents of the city still hold undiminished validity, despite the massive undermining by the neoliberal system, can be an advantage in this. The tension between what is and what ought to be, between reality and utopia, creates irritations and pains that eventually reach a breaking point that forces a decision between “Just keep going!” and “Stop the nonsense!” I believe that this breaking point has arrived, locally, nationally and globally.
Social goodness does not manifest all by itself. First of all, you have to know what is good without a doubt, you have to want it with every fiber of your being, you have to consciously decide for it and finally you have to actively implement it. People must and people will put their entire existence on the line for it, because anything else would be a decision in the sense of “Just keep going”, and this would be tantamount to a death sentence for the good in us, perhaps even for the species. We were not created for loneliness, slavery, falsehood and greed. The cries of every bottle-feeding newborn, the rebelliousness of every latchkey child, and the incessant rebellion of the adolescent, about whom even the ancient Sumerians already complained, ought to tell us just as plainly the obvious truth about our inhuman culture as our own discomfort before leaving home in the morning, our stomach churning at encounters with so-called authorities, the sense of meaninglessness in our lives, our addiction to “forgetting,” or the irrationally destructive behavior we exhibit in conflict situations. No one wants to live like this, and yet the overwhelming majority have subordinated themselves to the machine, to the system of the locust. The regularities embedded in Natural Law give all seekers of freedom, justice and brotherhood a stable foundation on which they can build, using the abilities they have been given. Those, however, who believe that they cannot live without authority have their further path clearly marked out for them: As wage slaves, gullible voters, target group members, consumers, taxpayers, cannon fodder and guinea pigs for experimental therapies, they will eke out their lives by the sweat of their brow until the end of their pointless days. And if they are not allowed to die, they will slave away forever.