Social Question

iamthemob's avatar

What are the similarities and differences between atheist arguments and anarchistic arguments?

Asked by iamthemob (17121 points ) October 18th, 2010

Atheism generally approaches arguments about the existence of deities with skepticism, ranging from extreme to rational. In some cases, the idea of the necessity of a higher moral authority is eschewed in favor of reliance on humankind to determine its own morality. Much of the vocal concern is aimed at the argument that religious institutions and how religion has been used as, as some say, the most destructive force humanity has seen.

Anarchy approaches the idea of the state with skepticism. The argument is often based on the idea that the formal mechanism of the state is unnecessary for people to determine a way to live with one another based on natural principles of fairness, and is destructive to liberty. The most vocal concern is directed at the fact that the state is the most destructive force, producing more violence than anything else.

One famous argument I’ll paraphrase is that democracy is the worst form of government besides all the other forms of government there have ever been. I would like to know how people think atheist and anarchist arguments play against each other, how the rhetoric is similar, and how they can inform each other – and how if one is an invalid conception, how that validates or potentially invalidates the other.

Thanks!

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

64 Answers

TexasDude's avatar

Similarities: Both attack, deny, or attempt to undermine perceived to be oppressive power structures.

Differences: Religions are belief systems. States are physically manifested ideological power systems that exert direct force. Also, atheism isn’t necessarily active in its denial. One can be an atheist and never even mention religion in their life.

marinelife's avatar

I don’t see any similarities at all.

I don’t accept anarchistic arguments because it equates to brute strength rules, which I do not believe in.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Similarities: Both are willing to look at the generally accepted position and express different opinions and positions. Their eyes are not blinded by a specific doctrine..
Differences: I’d much prefer to live next door to an atheist than an anarchist. The atheist is willing to follow the rules of the country or town.

iamthemob's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard – I wouldn’t say they are perceived to be oppressive – they are, in fact, both used in an oppressive manner. Some in both camps would argue that they are by necessity oppressive, but I don’t know that there’s evidence that they are true. It’s arguable, in fact, that it is people interacting with the institutions that would make them oppressive, which seems to counter an argument that people acting on their own wouldn’t act in a negative manner in the same way.

I also think that both are active in their denial. Both state that a “higher authority” is unnecessary or superfluous.

@marinelife – anarchy does not rest on the idea that brute strength rules. Arguably, it argues against the idea that we need an armed force to keep us in line.

@worriedguy – Interesting point – I think you’re right that might be the most pervasive similarity between the two. But I think you’re assuming that an anarchist is unwilling to follow the ruled of a country or town because of their anarchistic position. And an atheist may be just as unwilling – consider same-sex marriage. Marriage traditionalist arguments are based on what is essentially a religiously defined concept of marriage, in some sense. An unwillingness to recognize that as law is not anarchistic by necessity, but it could be an anarchistic practice to deny its legitimacy.

ETpro's avatar

What an interesting question. I am an atheist, but not an anarchist at all. I am strongly opposed to anarchism as a guiding principle for mankind. It certainly does not follow that if you are an atheist, you are an anarchist also, or vice versa. IIn fact, my observation suggest that nearly the exact opposite is true.

Take a look at this video regarding Atheism. It explains the breadth of both theistic and atheistic beliefs. And I think if you apply its explanation to the consideration of “Should we accept belief in the rule of God/s?” versus “Should we accept belief in the rule of law?” you will see that these are two entirely different issues. You will find most atheists do believe in the rule of law. I think you will also find that a large number of anarchists are theists.

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro

Interesting point regarding anarchistic theists (lord, these terms can get cumbersome). I think that’s a reasonable assumption. It begs the question, however, of why that would be so? I’m led to an initial assumption that it is, in effect, a substitution of one authority for another – if there’s no government, the guiding and enforcing power is a god. Obviously, not true in all cases, but I think this might be a general or significant explanation.

One question that your statement also beings up is that the rule of law is not something that is mutually exclusive from anarchy. Indeed, anarchy is in some ways based on an assumption that there is a natural law – something that can be excepted universally by man (sorry for the resort to patriarchal normative expressions all ;-)) because no man can reasonably argue against it. One expression of it may be that no one can inflict physical harm on another without accepting retribution for it. Therefore, anarchy isn’t lawlessness – it’s reliance on man to accept natural law without the government limiting his liberty.

If this is the case, than in the most general sense, it’s arguable that an atheist must also be an anarchist, or there’s significant potential for hypocrisy in his or her beliefs. (not making an assertion, but if natural law and reliance on man for moral behavior are the basis for both this seems a logical statement).

Rarebear's avatar

Agree with @ETpro It is an interesting question. Most atheists I know are liberals, which generally approve of a government with a lot of power. Interestingly, I’m more anarchist than that myself as I tend to lean more libertarian. But libertarianism isn’t anarchism.

iamthemob's avatar

@Rarebear

Thanks for bringing up libertarinism which seems closely related to anarchy as it incorporates different forms of anarchy dependent on which liberties are conceived of as more important to allow people to enjoy their lives without unnecessary restrictions. Anarchy runs into the problem of how it relates to economic production, as it seems by necessity to indicate some form of regulation of the economic system to ensure a lack of state enforcement by other means. Libertarianism differs in its manifestations by recognizing the apparent contradiction in anarchy, and either privileging (1) social liberty through choice and enforcement of certain economic regulations, or (2) economic liberty which will enforce social liberty through private means (perhaps the closest to true anarchy as may seem practically arguable).

I wonder if you, @Rarebear, find that a liberal position as an anarchist is easily subject to the sort of hypocrisy I mentioned above (e.g., that if humankind is to be trusted to regulate itself in a moral manner, that it should not be subject to government regulation as it would also regulate itself according to natural law).

Interestingly, I think the comparison also brings to light the almost inherently anarchistic nature of the Constitution – the bill of rights more particularly, and the subsequent limits on violations of human rights in some of the later amendments. These rights, e.g., freedom of speech and the right to bear owns, are built on the assumption that government is bad and should be limited. I think the implication ironically is that government is necessary because people are bad when provided with the power structures which allow them control over others. The rights are limitations telling the government what it’s not allowed to do as people should do for themselves. It seems a statement that anarchy is best, anarchy is impossible and therefore we need a government to regulate people as they will fall to destructive individual interests when left to their own devices (expressed in Arts. 1, 2, and 3 by forming a structured government that escapes heirarchy through a separation of powers removing a power centralization in any one branch and making it partially democratic and partially aristocratic), and that government must be subject in part to regulation by the majority in order to prevent it from exercising power over them should bad people take office (e.g., democratic voting again and the limitations expressed in the amendments).

mammal's avatar

Well this is interesting because the fashionable position in right wing circles is a shift toward anarchism. or some kind of corporatism that would probably include a strong religious element, fox news of course, corporate interests and an ineffectual, residual token government to keep up appearances for international functions, summits and so forth. I’d be interested to know how that works out. So you would in essence have a fusion of both anarchism and theism.

But it seems to me anarchism in its purest sense, in it’s more leftist sense, would hardly oppose the concept of a centralised government if didn’t also dismiss the concept of a bogus government somewhere up there in space, (a dictatorship btw) having a bearing upon earthly politics. i think the two aren’t compatible.

ETpro's avatar

@mammal For how that works out, take a look at Haiti or any other banana republic. A tiny handful of elites end up with all the wealth and own the government, using it as a foice primarily to ensure that nothing ever threatens their continued dominance. I think if you look into who is funding the think tanks and PR firms promoting such an agenda for the USA, you will find it is the people who are sure to end up the oligarchs blessed by such a system.

iamthemob's avatar

@mammal

Interesting point on the right’s move, and I think you’re right in a way. @laureth asked a question about a video on morality and the positions of the left and the right which I think shows your statement pretty clearly. Basically, the right and left differed very little on their goals and interests, but one place where they truly differed was in their belief in whether there should be a central authority that we should listen to. So I think that there is an inherent hypocrisy in dismissing one and not the other.

I disagree, and I don’t know if you were meaning to imply this, that this is limited to a right-leaning construction. Anarchists in favor of elimination of property rights generally in favor of a communal ownership structure ignore the issue that arises from the tragedy of the commons, in which people’s generally short-sighted view of how to best serve their own self interest ends up corrupting most communal systems, as it would require a globally cooperative system where no one would turn to private rights to work. It seems that in order to prevent this resort to some form of higher authority outside of man is necessary (not a god per se, but an idea or concept that can be manifested in some way into a control structure). Therefore, we would need a large, government structure to regulate this communal style it seems. By necessity, it seems that an atheistic viewpoint that eschews any moral authority that is superior to that of mankind would ignore the necessity of one in these cases.

mammal's avatar

@Etpro people say they are many things, Atheist, Anarchist, Marxist, Libertarian even Capitalist if there is such a manifesto. But the point is, one adopts these positions from time to time as a countermeasure to a failing, dogmatic or oppressive system. Under certain circumstances it is sensible to shifts one’s position. For example, i couldn’t envisage an absolutely atheistic world/universe, it would be something horridly bland and sterile. Anyway i’ve wandered of topic a bit.

iamthemob's avatar

@mammal

I don’t think that you have really wondered off topic. I think your comment is extremely illuminating, in fact. I think atheist and anarchist arguments are most productive when they are expressed as counterarguments to bring oppressive regimes in line with how they should exert power. However, if adhered to in a literal manner, they tend to ignore the complications they produce when they must relate to other structures that may have to be recognized as necessary to allow a literal adherence to their world-view. Recognizing this tends to explode the idea that there is an ideal system because we must recognize that there are no ideal people.

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob I don’t see libertarianism as being anarchic. Libertarians believe in a more limited role of government—not no government at all. And I’m personally, more of a liberal-libertarian hybrid than anything else.

iamthemob's avatar

@Rarebear

Neither do I – but there are anarchic elements to it. For example, a lassaize-fair capitalistic system is a good example of a more libertarian approach to the economy. It may also be accurately described as anarcho-capitalism. Libertarianism isn’t anarchic, but it’s myriad expressions are, I think, attempts to address the problems inherent in a pure anarchic approach to the regulation of human communities. It recognizes the shortcomings in anarchy, and attempts to include limited regulation as a solution (well, looking at it from one angle – I’m not necessarily that’s how it came to be, but there are indications that it’s responsive in some ways to concepts of anarchy).

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I have seen those two thrown together before and I am wary of seeing them as comparable only because not everything that can be perceived in the same way by some people as another thing has to inevitably have a connection of any kind to that thing. It’s kind of like…I hate onion rings and I hate green beens but they’re not next to each other on the shelf in my brain…I do think that one may draw a conclusion, having read your details, that they do sound quite similar but I really think they deal with different spheres of organizing people. Being an atheist is about me. Being an anarchist is about me in relation to other people. Though I am the former, I’m not the latter…though I favor the fervor of anarchy over other methods, sometimes.

iamthemob's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir

I agree. It may be more accurate, therefore, to state that a person’s ability to observe and learn about morality does not require a religious or theistic structure to support it, but does require some form of regulatory enforcement mechanisms in order to allow such development to happen, for lack of a better word, safely.

They are definitely dealing with different spheres of organizing people, but I also think they both run contrary to what seems to be an innate human desire to be organized – to what level is debatable, but to be able to have something there to judge what’s right and wrong in a way that generally will provide us with the best answers.

@Rarebear – was that for this thread or the one on the acceleration of space? ;-)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@iamthemob ” does require some form of regulatory enforcement mechanisms in order to allow such development to happen” = elaborate..does it?
Nor do I think they both run contrary to this ‘innate desire’ (which, itself, is questionable) because to find yourself an atheist or an anarchist does happen after an organized process, for some.

marinelife's avatar

@iamthemob Without an organized government to stop it, brute strength is what rules.

iamthemob's avatar

@marinelife – without arguing the likelihood of that, though, you are making an assumption at this point without demonstrable proof. You’re also lumping anarchy into a very specific category of a system without organization, which doesn’t account for the diversity of anarchic conceptions. There can be organization, theoretically, without heirarchy, for instance.

Also, that same argument is the one used against atheism – along the lines of claiming without the concept of a controlling higher moral authority who will judge our actions here, human beings would not be motivated to act in a moral manner. Therefore, belief in a deity is necessary.

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob Oops. Wrong thread, you’re right.

fundevogel's avatar

Atheists often oppose god claims because they think gods don’t exist.
Anarchists oppose government because they do exist but they don’t think they should.

One is concerned with accurate knowledge of reality, the other with how reality should be.

iamthemob's avatar

@fundevogel

I agree with the difference how you summed it up. However, thinking god exists isn’t perhaps the best way to characterize the argument then. Atheists often oppose god claims because they have not been provided valid or relevant evidence that god exists would.

Rarebear's avatar

@iamthemob Exactly. That’s why I’m an atheist.

marinelife's avatar

@iamthemob I would not make that argument as an atheist. Clearly, there is a moral imperative in human beings who develop moral codes without religions all the time.

Also, it is not an assumption abotu brute force and anarchy. It is what happens every time governments break down and chaos ensues.

iamthemob's avatar

@marinelife

That doesn’t say anything about anarchy as an argument, though. The situations you describe are those where there is a power vacuum where there previously had been some structure. And it also happens whenever people overthrow one government in favor of another. I can’t think of an example where the government was dismantled, or even fell apart, and was replaced with some form of anarchy. Again, anarchy doesn’t imply a lack of organization.

marinelife's avatar

@iamthemob From Merriam Webster, the definition of anarchy:
“a : absence of government b : a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority ”

iamthemob's avatar

@marinelife

Resort to the dictionary isn’t helpful, especially since (b) is the only one that may support your assertion. That’s a “descent” into anarchy as opposed to anarchy as a theory of how people should be governed. There are controlling factors (e.g., international trade) that would theoretically provide stabilizing factors without a formal government structure. It also doesn’t negate the idea of laws, as laws could be written and privately enforced, in a situation where private industry were the only option and enforcement were based on a contractual agreement as supposed to presupposed authority.

The Oxford English Dictionary includes these definitions:

“A social state in which there is no governing person or group of people, but each individual has absolute liberty (without the implication of disorder).”
“Absence or non-recognition of authority and order in any given sphere.”
“Acting without waiting for instructions or official permission… The root of anarchism is the single impulse to do it yourself: everything else follows from this.”

marinelife's avatar

@iamthemob In the situations that you describe, I contend that rule would be by brute force.

iamthemob's avatar

@marinelife – Fine. I contend that you can’t provide any support for that.

ETpro's avatar

@mammal I could easily live in a society that is completely atheistic. I would not like to live in a society that was completely anarchic.

mammal's avatar

@ETpro you are misconstruing Anarchy because historically, Anarchy has been imprinted upon our consciousness, quite cynically, as something akin to Hobbes State of nature. That is a complete misrepresentation of Anarchy as an ideal striving for a civilised alternative to the abuses of a hierarchical, authoritarian central government, who is either disinterested or self interested.

iamthemob's avatar

@mammal – I’m not quite understanding how you are saying anarchy is properly construed, and how @ETpro is construing it. I think that you’re right that there’s a common perception of anarchy, which I view as the elimination, generally through negative and violent means, of all organized power structures. Are we on the same page there…?

Also, I think this reveals a similarity between anarchy and atheism again – both are generally misunderstood to be the “worst”, most drastic form of a way of looking at certain power structures that is generally highly critical, but not necessarily violent or dismissive.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@iamthemob Can you look at my last comment to you on this q, please?

iamthemob's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I already did

Regulatory enforcement mechanisms of some sort would be necessary in order to prevent any sort of “brute force rule” discussed above. The morality of certain behavior requires, I believe, some sense of empathy, which can’t necessarily be gained unless there are negative repercussions for harm caused by one against another. We must look to some framework, and that framework must provide some enforcement, otherwise our concentration is spent solely on a concern for survival rather than development of a moral way of life (consider evidence presented regarding violence in pre-state societies).

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@iamthemob It if wasn’t marked @Simone_De_Beauvoir, I didn’t assume it to be the answer to my question.
I think people can have morality without knowing negative repercussions but there are also other people who, because they don’t have morality, need the regulatory enforcement mechanisms you describe. It is because of those people that this is sadly necessary.

iamthemob's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir the I did was in response to you asking me to look at your question, which I had…but wanted to think about how to address more clearly before I responded.

I agree. I believe that there are those who can be moral without the system as well. And the fact that it’s not everyone, as you agree, is the reason for regulation of some sort as a necessity. It’s not because we can’t do it on our own…but because we all can’t do it on our own, and need something external to prevent exploitation or oppression so that those who can are able to do so.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@iamthemob Agreed. However, I don’t think anarchists (not the ones I’ve interacted with and whose works I’ve read, anyway) think everyone needs to be in anarchy…they just think they can exist in anarchy.

ETpro's avatar

@mammal Enlighten me on my misconception of anarchy, then. I can imagine a world of perfectly moral, self-controlled individuals living quite happily without any need for a military to defend their borders or a police force to protect them from murderers and rapist. What I can’t quite grasp is a belief that government creates for us all the evils it is meant to shield us from. There is no government in Somalia. There are more AK-47s there than people. The violence level there is near that of the worst war zones.

Forensic anthropologists and osteo anthropologists tell us from studies of bones from ancient sites that murder and mayhem were the rule of the day before humans even conceived of governments, so I hardly think the root of all evil is the power structures we have erected to root out evil.

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro – Failed states such Somalia are, again, not anarchy as discussed here. As stated before, they represent the clash occurring when there’s a sudden power vacuum. It’s particularly violent in states where the focus is going to be resource production, as control of the resources means power. If we discuss that perception of anarchy, and assume that is the model, we would have to assume that atheists existing in a world where religion was suddenly removed would end up without moral guidance, and people would lie, cheat and steal without fear of the judgment of a higher power.

AdamF's avatar

The only arguments I have heard previously which try to link atheism to anarchy, are from theists who wish to foster the association in people’s minds that atheism equates with moral anarchy.

iamthemob's avatar

@AdamF – Of course, but that’s using the negative impression of anarchy to emphasize or reinforce the negative aspects of atheism.

AdamF's avatar

Yeap.

But, may I make a small but not unimportant adjustment…” that’s using the negative impression of anarchy to emphasize or reinforce the PERCEIVED negative aspects of atheism.”

The vast majority of people have a negative impression of anarchy. The vast majority of people outside of northern Europe have a negative perception of atheism.

Linking atheism to anarchy is a regular PR move by those who don’t like atheism.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@iamthemob There are no negative aspects to atheism, there are people who behave negatively because of it, in some cases but as a concept, it’s got no charge for me, it’s neutral.

iamthemob's avatar

@AdamF – I almost had that qualifier in there to begin with…but I think I was too tired to make it anything but cumbersome. You’re right.

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – I think you’re splitting hairs there. Any idea or movement can be utilized in a negative, oppressive, or assumptive and diminishing fashion. All most general concepts are pretty much neutral…there’s nothing inherently wrong about the idea of anything. When it starts to be broken down so one can actively put it into practice, the method people choose to put it into practice can be one of the negative aspects of it, I think.

ETpro's avatar

@mammal There are examples of atheistic states using the power of the state to suppress all religion, so your point has at least some merit. However, the core issue is what does human nature tell us atheists are likely to do in a world without religion, versus what does human nature tell us anarchist would do in a world without government.

I see nothing in human history, nor have I seen you introduce a single shred of evidence to support the notion that if only there were no governments and no police, are criminal minds would suddenly become altruistic to a fault, and we would all be able to live in peace and harmony. All evidence says that whenever the rule of law is absent, the rule of might makes right is substituted.

If you have any evidence to present to indicate otherwise, please bring it forward.

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro – you imply that the rule of law is by necessity enforced by government. Government from some anarchistic perspectives is a heirarchical structure to which you are required to pledge allegiance a priori. Living in a globally interdependent world as we now do, there are external forces that weren’t present before that limit the potential for a “mob rule” idea of anarchy considering that in order to maintain trade with others for items we deem necessary we must be somewhat organized internally. An atheistic theory is that organized “rule” maintained by individual agreement is a possibility. I’m not arguing for the likelihood of it, but anarchy doesn’t mean that there are no organizing or power structures – just no government.

Consider the idea of atheism without the rule of law, which I kind of addressed above. The idea that we can all be moral creatures without outside limitations on our behavior is sketchy at best. The idea of a god who will judge you was one way of ensuring that people would at least consider their actions from a moral perspective if they weren’t inclined to do so. However, with a legal structure in place, where there’s an enforcement mechanism behind it, we don’t need that – the enforcement of law limits what we can and cannot do.

Atheism devoid of legal repercussions, if universal, would result in much the same behavior that’s associated with anarchy – a world devoid of morality as self-interest is the best way to go.

Anarchy doesn’t by necessity mean the absence of the rule of law – it’s that the law is enforced by the people, by agreement. This could mean that there was a purely privatized enforcement agency mimicking the current government but ruled by the market. Again, not saying that I invest in such a model, but assuming that anarchy is akin to living without the rule of law is the same as assuming, or at least similar to, assuming that atheism is akin to living without the rule of morality.

ETpro's avatar

@iamthemob The idea of atheism being the prevailing belief has nothing to do with giving up the rule of law or police protection from those who break it. You seem to be conflating atheism with anarchy.

I am also confused by “Anarchy doesn’t by necessity mean the absence of the rule of law – it’s that the law is enforced by the people, by agreement.” In what manner is that different from mob rule?

Here is the definition of anarchy I am working with:
Definition of ANARCHY

1 a : absence of government
   b : a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority
   c : a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government
2 a : absence or denial of any authority or established order
   b : absence of order : disorder <not manicured plots but a wild anarchy of nature — Israel Shenker.

I assume you are suggesting definition 1C, but what evidence is there that such an idylic state ever has or could be established? I have asked @mammal to explain how adopting Anarchy would suddenly reform all hardened criminals? Perhaps you can explain how that might be a reasonably expected outcome of dismantling government and disbanding police and the military.

cockswain's avatar

assuming that anarchy is akin to living without the rule of law is the same as assuming, or at least similar to, assuming that atheism is akin to living without the rule of morality.

This doesn’t seem a logical statement to me. Why are you equating them? I’ve read the thread and I’m not getting your argument.

AdamF's avatar

“The idea that we can all be moral creatures without outside limitations on our behavior is sketchy at best. ”

“Atheism devoid of legal repercussions, if universal, would result in much the same behavior that’s associated with anarchy – a world devoid of morality as self-interest is the best way to go.”

I disagree (yes some people are sociopaths, but you don’t judge the species by the individuals that are broken outliers), or at least I think that’s misleading.

Altruistic Helping in Human Infants and Young Chimpanzees
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/311/5765/1301

“Here we show that human children as young as 18 months of age (prelinguistic or just-linguistic) quite readily help others to achieve their goals in a variety of different situations. This requires both an understanding of others’ goals and an altruistic motivation to help. In addition, we demonstrate similar though less robust skills and motivations in three young chimpanzees.”

Fairness, kindness, loyalty, punishment for bad and reward for good…experimental evidence suggests that there is an innate understanding of some combination of these issues, ie of what is right or wrong, in dogs, chimps, babies…and likely to a greater or lesser extent something similar occurs in all group living mammals.

Just to hammer to point, Frans de Waal points out in a recent article “Chimpanzees and bonobos will voluntarily open a door to offer a companion access to food, even if they lose part of it in the process.”

Furthermore, “A dog will repeatedly perform a trick without rewards, but refuse as soon as another dog gets pieces of sausage for the same trick.”

Self interest is not “the best way to go”. It is self destructive. Any “group” (if you could call it that), that had no sense of right and wrong, no concept of fairness, is simply fucked before it leaves the starting gate. The group is toast and so are any members silly enough to want to be a part of it. For that matter, who would? Some degree of cooperation is the best way to go for any group living organism, as selected for by evolution (via a sense of empathy) repeatedly over millennia.

Social mammals are “moral” creatures. We have to be to be socially functioning. Governance and law (whether religiously aligned or not) is an integral part of the development of all complex societies. It is not a case of atheism without some form of fairness enforcement (ie law) results in a breakdown of society (ie anarchy as you put it). It is a case of societies without law breakdown regardless of atheism, theism or any ism. Not because humans are innately immoral, but because humans are innately tribal. We evolved our moral instincts in small bands, as such our circle of empathy seems to readily limit itself to the family and close friends. To overcome our tribal nature, and co-exist at the scale of millions in amazingly complex nation-states, we need codified laws.

As a side note, I would suggest that the more important issue is how do we develop the kinds of societies we wish to live in, and avoid societal dead ends. The dead ends are at both ends of the spectrum, including those that promote no law, and at the other end, totalitarian regimes (theocratic, fascist, military, Stalinist, etc..). The best answer we’ve come up with so far is secular democracy, which by definition takes the rule book out of the hands of the dogmatic, and places it into the hands of the collective conscience (open discussion, reason, empathy, evidence).

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro

That is absolutely the problem – you are working with a definition of anarchy. Therefore, you are assuming certain results, and certain actions or the rejection of certain structures to achieve those results. Most notably that there is no “rule of law.” Realize that the law is a thing that is separate from any sort of structure to enforce it, and therefore can be enforced through many, many means, one of which is a public government.

The only thing that we can assume about anarchy and atheism is that one is “without ruler” and the other is “without god.” Without ruler suggests only that there is no set heirarchical structure – it may even allow for little government as long as that is balanced against other structures so that the government doesn’t “rule” the people.

The problem is only that if you assume that there’s no concept of the rule of law available from an anarchistic standpoint this is the equivalent of assuming no concept of morality in atheism. There is room for both concepts in atheism and anarchy – whether in practice you can find a way to make it work is debatable…but you can’t assume a certain result when we’re talking about the arguments for either one – that’s talking about whether we can have a workable method to put the concepts into action.

No one can really show what a world without god or a world without some form of ruling power are really like…so it’s all speculation and we should recognize our assumptions.

@AdamF

Interesting points, but not evidence of what would happen in either (1) human society, or (2) all situations. Altruism where there is enough food for all isn’t surprising because no one is giving up all their food. I don’t know how the dog example works – but intermittent reinforcement is the best teaching strategy from a behavioral therapy standpoint, and the example given is, essentially, one where there is a third part rewarding behavior (the inevitable problem of showing how lab behavior can be generalized).

Altruism in a community context is often a manifestation of self interest, as you state. This isn’t about morality, it’s about survival. Mutual helping assists in the survival of groups, but when it comes down to “me or them” it is laws that prevent us from stealing, killing and more etc. You seem to admit this, and it is only in the context of how we are to live now that we should be discussing these different ideas in, from my perspective, which you also seem to agree with.

That’s the whole point – the more important issue is to develop the societies we wish to live in. When we assume that anarchy or atheism leads to certain inevitable conclusions, we aren’t discussing the arguments they present – we’re discussing our assumptions about them.

ETpro's avatar

@iamthemob Ha! Good point. What right-minded anarchist would accept the definition of anarchy. Far too constricting. But not being an anarchist, dictionary definitions will continue to be my guide to the meaning of words. For your own purposes, you’re free to have up mean down and in mean outlandish. But if I can’t know what meaning you wish to attach to words, then I don’t care to continue with a discussion using them.

AdamF's avatar

Shifting goal posts. Do people have an innate sense of morality or not? You indicated they didn’t, I provided evidence that we do, as do other social mammals. If you then define such morality or altruism as self interest, then by such a definition there is no such thing as morality or altruism in anyone and the words cease to have any useful application.

People can kill, people can do amazing acts of kindness. Such people can be atheists or theists. But the vast majority of people, even if they steal for instance, under duress, know right from wrong and will feel remorse. Whether we behave “morally” or not is certainly circumstantial. Whether we have a sense of morality is not. This is true to the extent that we need a special word for those people who lack any consideration for other’s, they’re called sociopaths. The fact that societies ned laws to keep order does not negate the fact that humans have an innate sense of morality. Let’s not talk past each other.

You also suggest a link between anarchy and atheism in the absence of law. I argue that any society in the absence of law will break down.

As you are keen on inevitable conclusiosn. Imagine a complex (ie millions of people) society of theists with no here and now law enfocement, ie. the only societal consequences for inappropriate actions are in the afterlife. Do you think this society will survive or will it also descend into anarchy…as you suggest an atheist society would? And if you’re talking “All situtions”, then think of a fundamentalist Christian society with armageddon as an inherrent prophecy and in possession of nuclear technology.

AdamF's avatar

Here’s perhaps the heart of how I see the relationship between the two.

I would argue that relatively common (ie. more than a few % of the population) organic atheism (as opposed to that propagated and enforced by the state as in communism) is an outcome of stable large societies and scientific progress, never anarchy.

Small bands of hunter gathers and isolated pre-modern farming communities don’t have the resource base to support scientific advancements beyond those immediately necessary for survival (ie spear, plough, bowl) or simple pleasures (flute, didge). Our inbuilt tendency to assign causal agents to that which is not understood results in a whole lot of fascinating explanations that have little to do with reality, because for such explanations they had no testable capacity to determine whether such explanations are true or false. As such, mythologies manifest to provide some sense of control over that which is unknown and partially or totally out of their control, especially birth, death, harvest, hunting, afterlife, climate, plague, earthquake, etc.. What choice did people in a state of widespread ignorance have, but to assign a personified causal agent to earthquakes, for instance…and if something had a bad outcome to themselves, then they must have done something bad to upset the causer of the bad outcome (hence the need for “god” pleasing rituals). Even today we see direct correlations between the level of mythology and the lack of control felt by the myth holder…for instance, fishermen engage in protection rituals when travelling far, but not a short way from shore…. increasing lack of control equates with the need for convincing yourself you have some control. Similar studies of batters versus catchers in baseball…batters have heaps more rituals, because not matter how good, batters still rely on some degree of luck to hit the ball.

Anyways, via slow technological progress, societies are able to support more classes of people, institutions which facilitate such growth and its maintenance develop, as does cross-fertilization of good and bad ideas from different cultures via widespread trade. Eventually, given enough time, technological progress, and as symbolized by events like the enlightenment, people have the knowledge (via science) and free time, health, and lifespan, to really start deeply challenging long held assumptions and dogmas about the state of the universe, and their place in it. Not only that, now that they are refining the scientific method, they have a means of testing their new ideas to find answers which survive scrutiny regardless of which culture or biased worldivew you come from…ie they are as independent of the observer as they can be. Such understanding of evolution, the size of the universe, the age of the earth, human cognition, human sexuality, leads to direct contradictions of previously held interpretations and literal readings of bibical/Koranic/etc. teachings. Evidence based naturalistic explanations of life’s diversity and universal origins, remove the necessity for positing supernatural causal agents.

My point, the link between atheism and societal anarchy is, atheism doesn’t develop in anarchy, it develops in stability. A merely cursory examination of the world doesn’t point to atheism flourishing in the least technologically advanced and most unstable nations. It’s exactly the opposite. It’s the highly stable, wealthy, social-democracies of northern Europe in which atheism flourishes relative to other nations.

If the world resorted to anarchy, I have little doubt that the number of atheists would dwindle over the generations. At the other end of the spectrum secular democracy, rationalism and evidence based worldviews favour long-term societal progress…which all serve to favour the discarding of theistic beliefs among a significant proportion of the population. I would also argue that such worldviews are far more stable in the longrun than any society built on the notion that this world matters less than the hearafter, and an emphasis on pleasing an unknown deity with an – anchored in the past – lottery ticket of humanities best and/or worst qualities projected onto it.

So to get back to your original question, when we think of atheism and anarchy, we should think of opposing concepts, one negates the other at the societal level…if of course we define anarchy as the majority do, not as the anarchists refuse to agree on. :)

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro – I wonder if you looked at the details, or the link. I’m wondering how these ideas in a broad context approach ideas of certain control systems in a similar or different way. I think we all can agree that resorting to the dictionary definition of something and taking the most literal approach doesn’t really help. ;-)

@AdamF – We have an innate sense of morality in much the same way that we have an innate sense of natural law. How far or what that morality covers can’t be demonstrably shown, and to rest on the fact that we’ll behave in a moral manner without god because we’re programmed to do so can easily be shifted to an argument that we can behave in a manner that respects a minimal “rule of law” without a government. If it’s beneficial for us to be altruistic and help each other to an extent…then why does that not show support that government isn’t inherently necessary for us to get along?

There’s no goal post moving. I’m merely stating that if you are going to assume something about how one system would work and there’s no evidence for it that’s clear, then you can’t state that the other system won’t work because there’s no evidence to clearly support it working. Both approach systems where there are third party rulers or judgment mechanisms in place with skepticism…it’s about the similarities and differences between how each do it and not whether one is right or wrong that I’m personally interested in.

Looking at it from the international concept, something like the U.N. lacks functionality because of an obsession with a state-system. The basic tenant of it is that the U.N. doesn’t dissolve boundaries but will allow the state to deal with its own internal conflicts. This disrupts the ability to handle grave human rights violations and creates the ability for states to argue for “moral relativism.” Because of this, we stay out of Sudanese politics when there’s genocide being committed. The U.N. system of justice and human rights is concerned with the idea of natural law – in essence, laws that all systems of government agree on independently but because they are separate systems enact in a way that may be contrary to it. When we discuss the existence of natural law in that sense – then we are taking an anarchistic approach to the global state system.

I don’t really see a world without a concept of god ever existing. I don’t see one without a concept of government either. When either atheism or anarchy are used as skeptical tools, that’s where there may be similarities or differences. Stability allows for a rational approach for both – and that’s why I think they’re interesting, because they both are, inherently, destabalizing concepts.

ETpro's avatar

@iamthemob I do not agree that dictionary definitions are unhelpful in communication. Exactly the oposite. English is a nearly infinitely rich language. If a praticular word doesn’t suit what you are trying to discuss, use a different one, or at the onset, state that you are discussing something you can’t quite find a word for, then use available words to define it.

In your original question, did you mean then that you wonder about a touch of anarchy in a populace versus a touch of atheism. I am less clear on what you are trying to ask at this point than I thought I was when I first answered.

AdamF's avatar

Despite the fact that we’re talking past each other,and that you didn’t address my question, at least we’ve hit upon the issue which underlies the not unsubtle wording of the original question.

“Atheism is a destabilizing concept”.

Specifically what do you mean by “destabilizing”, at what scale are you referring to (individual, societal), and what evidence do you have to support the assertion.

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro – I linked to a definition, and also full discussion, in the intro. I’ve never touched on what a truly anarchistic versus a truly atheistic society would be like, simply how are the arguments, as well as perceptions of the arguments, similar or different.

iamthemob's avatar

@AdamF – here’s my main issue:

So to get back to your original question, when we think of atheism and anarchy, we should think of opposing concepts, one negates the other at the societal level…if of course we define anarchy as the majority do, not as the anarchists refuse to agree on. :)

I provided a basic definition of anarchy – but you’re intent on looking at how the majority define it. If that’s the case, shouldn’t we also be using the majority’s definition of atheism? These aren’t opposing concepts at all – they seem to be very similar and very productive when we consider how they question our need for structures at this point in history.

ETpro's avatar

@iamthemob OK. I find nothing in the Wikipedia article’s definition or discussion that would alter what I have said. As to how the two differ, Atheism is the refusal to submit to something that cannot be demonstrated to exist and whoe laws cannot be proven to have come from a deity. Anarchy is the refusal to submit to something that demonstrably does exist and whose laws we know the exact origin of.

AdamF's avatar

The statement (complete with smiley) was placed there to indicate merely the irony of getting anarchists to define anarchy…it wasn’t meant to be taken as a sticking point.

As long as atheism is defined as as a lack of belief in deities, then I’m sure people can have a useful conversation.

But I’m off the stage at this point. Good luck with the conversation.

iamthemob's avatar

@ETpro

Good points – I do wonder, though, if we look cross-culturally, if we can explain laws that appear universal (I don’t assert there are any, but I feel that there are some) as if we know the exact origin of them. For laws that we might consider as “natural law” (laws that need not be written, or written laws that are the expression of a higher order – an area that international law seems to be highly concerned with) we seem to resort to an idea of a natural order to things.

ETpro's avatar

@iamthemob There are definitely laws that any thinking, rational human will derive as to right behavior. The Golden Rule expresses them quite eloquently.If you look at moral codes among many cultures, you find the essence of that rule in most of them.

Answer this question

Login

or

Join

to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
or
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther