Disutilitarianism: a Post Scriptum

My first post on disutilitarianism began with the realization that simply rubbing together the different utility functions of individuals is by itself completely impotent to reconcile them. You can’t build a society out of disagreeable men unless they have some prior common basis for reaching a mutual agreement about how to proceed, despite their differences, in a coordinate way. And their different preference schedules cannot themselves furnish any such basis.

I want this, you want that: unless we have some idea that an agreement between us would be better than disagreement, we have no way even to get started talking together, and all we may then do is war.

Any agreement among men presupposes their shared understanding – i.e., their agreement – that agreement is better than disagreement. And even given that understanding, unless they agree also about what sorts of things are important and good in objective reality, regardless of their personal preferences, they won’t be able to proceed to any agreement.

Another way to say this is that unless men’s notions of what characterizes an acceptable sort of solution to the problems of living together are rather tightly constrained as a forecondition of their mutual negotiations, they will not be able to negotiate – in which case, negotiation will be a pointless waste of resources, and they will proceed directly and only to Hobbesian war.

Society then is not just a bunch of men with raw preferences rubbing elbows with each other. That’s just the matter of society. You need form, too, and a telos of the whole shooting match that all its members can apprehend as transcendent to, and superordinate of, and thus informing and ordering, and indeed ordaining and commanding, their own personal preferences.

Thus the cult. It is the fundamental forecondition of society, the sine qua non. And what is a cult? It is a joint understanding of the order of being, and of the proper way to orient oneself thereto. Lack that, and you cannot even talk to each other in the same language.

Utility then is never raw. It is always cooked. We never value things as individuals only, but always as individuals who are characteristic members of a distinct group. Our individual preference schedules are inherently social. E.g., I prefer that my children live a long and happy life more than that I do. My own idiosyncratic preferences are ordered to the realization of theirs. And so likewise with all my preferences. Every one of them is conditioned by considerations of what is best for my fellows.

This is the polar opposite of the sociopath or the narcissist. People whose preference schedules are defectively ordered to society – who, say, enjoy murder – are insane.

Utilitarianism then is rather like trying to explain a wedding cake by reference only to the ingredients of the recipe. You can’t get a wedding cake by just mixing together the ingredients. They must be mixed under the aegis of a superordinate form, that ramifies out, not just so far as the artifice of the decorator’s knife, but on to the very limit in the doctrine of sacramental marriage and its implicate in the Divine Will toward the Good of all creatures.

I meant to put all this into the first paragraphs of that first post, but then a brainstorm began. I got carried away with recording the insights as they arrived, and lost track of it.


11 thoughts on “Disutilitarianism: a Post Scriptum

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  3. This is supremely well (and succinctly) put. It deserves more attention than it appears to have gotten. Basically pluralism is, in fact, impossible. Dovetails well with Bonald’s Tribal Christianity thing, which is apparently getting all the commentary. Fangs are coming out. And that’s exactly what we’d expect… in a non-pluralist society!

    • Thanks, Nick.

      I’m not so sure however that I would go so far as to say that a pluralist society is strictly impossible. I think it is more accurate to say that a *completely* pluralist society is strictly impossible. Indeed, I think it is a contradiction in terms: you can’t have a society that does not share a common cult. Without some sort of cult, all you have is a collation of strangers – of enemies.

      Within the constraints on action set by a common cult, however, great diversity of views and great creativity can flourish. This is the ordered liberty that Lawrence Auster talked about.

      A musical analogy: given the form of the sonata, there are infinitely many well-formed sonatas that can possibly be performed. But without the constraints of the sonata implicit in its form, there can be no such thing as a sonata in the first place.

      Order is the forecondition of freedom. You need Law to transcend Law; and the only way to transcend Law is to exemplify and fulfill it.

      • Perhaps pluralism is not precisely the right word. What I meant was is that you cannot not have a national religion favored in law. Yes you can always tolerate (or not) certain religious minorities on a prudential basis. But the state or the nation must be formed on the basis of shared cult, i.e., a religion.

        So my phrasing is deliberately provocative. Whaddaya mean you “cannot not have a national religion favored in law”? America is exactly that. And my answer: No. It is not that. It is in fact an actual, active theocracy, and arguably more illiberal in its treatment of religious minorities than any western established church ever was in the last 1000 years.

        So when you try to make a “religiously neutral” state, you create a the precise conditions for the inevitable evolution of a religious cult (which always must, of necessity, exist) that will avoid detection as a religious cult. It’s like killing 99.98% of bacteria. That’s fantastic. But… Oh My God that 0.02%!!

        And that’s exactly what happened in America and eventually the rest of the West (formally established religions or no), and since WW2 most of the rest of the world.

      • It’s not an actual theocracy, but it takes on the characteristics of one. But my distinction isn’t that important in any event. Yes, liberalism is functionally a religion, and it is “our” religion. The common cult.

  4. The true Christian is oriented towards objective Supremacy… The nature of the relationship is both absolute and relative and constantly flows back and forth. There is a standard set not as an imposition, but as a reprieve. The Christian need not duplicate Perfection (impossible per First Law of Perfection), but he may certainly will all right and is in fact commanded to do so. The Faith is in the belief that one can do and will do all right per the standard set by The Perfect Man. This orientation is the very “thing” that the enemy seeks to destroy and when this belief works in tandem with the white man and/or the white race then the impetus to destroy only grows greater. These are the hard facts on the ground. And white “Christians” who submit to this coercive deracination forfeit the notion of possessing a will to do all right. And so they forfeit the notion that they are actual Christians.

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  6. These are really useful thoughts! What I would like to draw attention to is that a cult or a culture works two ways: first, it educates people to have similar preferences, but also, they are formed by people already having converging preferences (or external conditions, historical traditions and whatever else) because we clearly have not one global culture, nor one global religion either.

    Presumably, if people are more or less “born” with certain preferences, if they are already fairly close to the ruling cult or culture, they can easily get educated into it, while if they really diverge, the education into the cult will largely fail and depending on the situation, may become misfits, heretics, rebels, criminals, or the better outcome is that they peacefully separate and found a new society with a new cult and culture, if there is room for that (“Pilgrim Fathers”), or join another one (“Lawrence of Arabia” and similar “expat” guys).

    Obviously, basic humaneness dictates that it is far more preferable if misfits join or found different societies rather than when they are treated as criminals, with suppression. Joining is no necessarily an option for all, there are simply not that many functional countries. Founding would be far more preferable, if there would be room for that. Hence, we should really working on getting into space and founding Asteroid Belt miner communities or whatnot.

    A third option is to not consider countries, especially huge countries like the United States or Russia, as one society or one cult and one culture. In the Switzerland the basic unit of cult and culture is the canton. And I think it is a good solution. Is there any reason for human beings to organize cult, culture, society, politics on a higher level than the canton (excluding the obvious pragmatics, like contagious disease control or economic infrastructure) than a raw hunger for power?

    Why is that that whenever people form a higher level of government, such as the Federal gov in the US, there is also a clear push to organize culture, values, cult, and politics on that level, in other words, why is the all of the vast landscape under that government is now considered one society, one association of humans with one cult, one culture, one set of values? Same for Russia or China or any larger country?

    I think it is simply power lust. Talking about a huge country as “we”, as in “we should stand by such and such values” is probably just power lust. Nationalism and tribalism are normal human emotions but nobody needs half a continent for that. A city or three and their rural hinterland can just as well be enough for that. The rest is probably just power lust.

    It seems if there is one thing you can agree from the right (Moldbug), libertarian center (Nozick), or moderate left (Scott Alexander), it is that the actually correct organization of human associations is the Archipelago, or the Patchwork, a loose confederacy of mostly independent small city-states with their own distinct cult and culture. And probably you guys would prefer to be nationalist for one city or three that are 100% Catholic than to be nationalist for fifty or eighty cities where you are forced to pay for someone else’s birth control. So why isn’t it actually so? Why isn’t the world a Patchwork? I think the answer is power lust.

  7. Great comment, Shenpen. You have concisely articulated the Catholic social doctrine of subsidiarity. I think you are right that lust for power explains a lot of the impulse to empire. But there is more to it than that.

    In the first place, just as men need a common cult in order to begin being social, so do cantons need a common understanding in order to get along with each other. Where their cults contradict, they will end up at war, and sooner or later one of them will conquer its neighbours. The whole of its subject territory will then be subject to its notions of what constitutes a sufficient and necessary common cult for the whole region.

    The very fact that such conquests are possible in the first place means that there is a natural office of political power superordinate to the canton. If that office is vacant, nature will rush in to fill the vacuum of power, just as she rushes to fill vacant ecological niches.

    Now, none of the foregoing procedures need to be pathological. I.e., they can all, if healthy, support human flourishing, just as Switzerland has apparently been able to do for her cantons and a climax forest does for its denizens. But as with people or cantons, empires can get sick. They can get caught in positive feedback cycles, wherein e.g. excess spending requires ever higher taxes or ever more conquests or both. Lust for power is just such a positive feedback cycle: it cannot be slaked by any marginal increase of power, but rather only amplified.

  8. Pingback: RE: Microaggressions and isolation | Dividuals


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