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When should immoral behaviors be illegal?

Bronzeage

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You'll have to go back further than chimpanzees to find a society without property ownership. Once monkeys stop eating all the food in their hands the second it gets there and start saving some for later, who gets to eat saved food becomes an issue. It's moral to own property -- i.e., to prevent another from using something -- because ought implies can, and in most cases it's physically impossible for everybody to get to use the same thing. So the problem to be solved is who should own what, not whether there should be any owning going on. And owning things you don't use is mostly a moot point -- when people and other chimpanzees aren't using something but still exclude others, they're normally saving it for future use -- that's the whole reason there's something to be owned in the first place.

Why can you possess something you don't need? That's another way to ask "Why isn't everything owned by whoever needs it most?". You wrote "Once we decided we could own stuff, this immediately led to disputes and fights." That's backwards. There were always disputes and fights. Chimps owning food another chimp needs more is a way to reduce disputes and fights. There's never going to be any consensus about who needs a piece of food most. It's hard to see how an "Everything is owned by whoever needs it most." rule could possibly evolve. In a population where uneaten food will be grabbed by any monkey who thinks he needs it and a fight will start whenever there are two who think they need it, genes for eating every bit of food as soon as you pull it off a plant will be selected for, and genes for grabbing uneaten food even if you're only slightly hungry will be selected for; but a monkey who picks a fruit and carries it around until a hungrier monkey takes it will be deselected.

At the risk of repeating myself again, if humans are to do better than chimpanzees, we must cooperate. This is critical in all environments, but once we move out of the tropical forest, where we moved with the ripening fruit, it became absolutely imperative. We could either exist in tight cooperative groups, or we die. The rules we develop to insure cooperation are what we call morality. As our societies and cultures become more complex, especially as we compete with each other for resources, the rules become more complex. There are layers upon layers in our morality. It is so deep and dense, we take it for granted, as if it is ingrained in our DNA. It's not. We must learn these rules and abide by them as we grow.
What makes you think it isn't ingrained in our DNA? Property rights are a human universal. Chimpanzees cooperate; they respect property rights; and it's hard for cooperation to evolve without property rights. Cooperation, at root, is a food storage technology -- you store the food you don't need right away in another animal's body, and when he has some he returns the favor. Inventing a food storage technology that works and that won't be torpedoed by natural selection for uncooperative genes is not an easy trick to pull off. There are only so many solutions. Wasps have one: a wasp is more closely related to her sister than to her own daughter so she has no incentive not to share. Vampire bats found another -- they store the food in their own bellies, so needier bats can't take it, and when they choose to share they regurgitate the blood to one another. Chimpanzees invented a third solution: property rights.

What makes me think property rights are not ingrained in our DNA. It's probably my unpublished data gathered while raising toddlers.
 

Bomb#20

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What makes me think property rights are not ingrained in our DNA. It's probably my unpublished data gathered while raising toddlers.
Toddlers? You mean, people who toddle? Why were they toddling? Had you fostered them out to a family from a culture where the grown-ups toddle instead of walking normally^H^H^H^H "normally"?
 

Bronzeage

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What makes me think property rights are not ingrained in our DNA. It's probably my unpublished data gathered while raising toddlers.
Toddlers? You mean, people who toddle? Why were they toddling? Had you fostered them out to a family from a culture where the grown-ups toddle instead of walking normally^H^H^H^H "normally"?

No, I mean unsocialized small humans. It is an enlightening experience.
 

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Toddlers? You mean, people who toddle? Why were they toddling? Had you fostered them out to a family from a culture where the grown-ups toddle instead of walking normally^H^H^H^H "normally"?

No, I mean unsocialized small humans. It is an enlightening experience.
I know what you mean. Unsocialized small humans toddle; it's why we call them "toddlers". Humans can't walk when they're born. They can't walk normally when they're 1. Nonetheless, walking is an instinctive behavior that humans start doing when their brains develop far enough, and start doing right when their brains develop further, regardless of culture.

The point is, observing children whose brains are too underdeveloped to do morality fail to do morality is not a sensible reason to infer that morality is cultural and not instinctive. "Coded in DNA" and "innate" are not equivalent.
 

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You'll have to go back further than chimpanzees to find a society without property ownership. Once monkeys stop eating all the food in their hands the second it gets there and start saving some for later, who gets to eat saved food becomes an issue. It's moral to own property -- i.e., to prevent another from using something -- because ought implies can, and in most cases it's physically impossible for everybody to get to use the same thing. So the problem to be solved is who should own what, not whether there should be any owning going on. And owning things you don't use is mostly a moot point -- when people and other chimpanzees aren't using something but still exclude others, they're normally saving it for future use -- that's the whole reason there's something to be owned in the first place.

Why can you possess something you don't need? That's another way to ask "Why isn't everything owned by whoever needs it most?". You wrote "Once we decided we could own stuff, this immediately led to disputes and fights." That's backwards. There were always disputes and fights. Chimps owning food another chimp needs more is a way to reduce disputes and fights. There's never going to be any consensus about who needs a piece of food most. It's hard to see how an "Everything is owned by whoever needs it most." rule could possibly evolve. In a population where uneaten food will be grabbed by any monkey who thinks he needs it and a fight will start whenever there are two who think they need it, genes for eating every bit of food as soon as you pull it off a plant will be selected for, and genes for grabbing uneaten food even if you're only slightly hungry will be selected for; but a monkey who picks a fruit and carries it around until a hungrier monkey takes it will be deselected.


What makes you think it isn't ingrained in our DNA? Property rights are a human universal. Chimpanzees cooperate; they respect property rights; and it's hard for cooperation to evolve without property rights. Cooperation, at root, is a food storage technology -- you store the food you don't need right away in another animal's body, and when he has some he returns the favor. Inventing a food storage technology that works and that won't be torpedoed by natural selection for uncooperative genes is not an easy trick to pull off. There are only so many solutions. Wasps have one: a wasp is more closely related to her sister than to her own daughter so she has no incentive not to share. Vampire bats found another -- they store the food in their own bellies, so needier bats can't take it, and when they choose to share they regurgitate the blood to one another. Chimpanzees invented a third solution: property rights.

What makes me think property rights are not ingrained in our DNA. It's probably my unpublished data gathered while raising toddlers.

Toddlers (and I've raised two) are most definitely born with the concept of 'mine'. What they don't understand is the concept of 'right' - which has to be learned - and the concept of reciprocity. The concept of 'right' has its negative/opposite built in: If I can claim that something is mine, than I must understand and grant to anyone else the 'right' to claim something as 'theirs'.

Toddlers have to be taught that the claim to property (mine!) is reciprocal, and can only function under the law of reciprocity: If I can claim something as 'mine', I have to be willing to allow every other individual the right to claim something as 'his/hers'. The concept of property cannot and does not function without the concept of reciprocity.

NOTE: in advanced societies, no one can claim property without earning it. (Toddlers are not up to this level). Goals are achieved and earned at the expenditure of energy, and those who are able-bodied and of sound, adult mind, who are unwilling to expend energy, are therefore not entitled to a claim to property, unless said property has been inherited, which is a whole 'nother can of worms.

Spinoza, and even Ayn Rand, have said this far better than I can.

*deleted this bit here*
 
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Bronzeage

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No, I mean unsocialized small humans. It is an enlightening experience.
I know what you mean. Unsocialized small humans toddle; it's why we call them "toddlers". Humans can't walk when they're born. They can't walk normally when they're 1. Nonetheless, walking is an instinctive behavior that humans start doing when their brains develop far enough, and start doing right when their brains develop further, regardless of culture.

The point is, observing children whose brains are too underdeveloped to do morality fail to do morality is not a sensible reason to infer that morality is cultural and not instinctive. "Coded in DNA" and "innate" are not equivalent.

It could also be argued that the socialization process is integral to brain development and without it, behavior coded by DNA would never appear. How would we test such a thing. In any moral code, it is considered wrong to deprive children of care and nurturing, just to satisfy our curiosity.

If you have more evidence that humans are good by nature and not by social forces, I would be interested to see it.
It is a tempting idea, in that it does relieve us of some responsibility for our behavior, which some people might find comforting.
 

arkirk

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I know what you mean. Unsocialized small humans toddle; it's why we call them "toddlers". Humans can't walk when they're born. They can't walk normally when they're 1. Nonetheless, walking is an instinctive behavior that humans start doing when their brains develop far enough, and start doing right when their brains develop further, regardless of culture.

The point is, observing children whose brains are too underdeveloped to do morality fail to do morality is not a sensible reason to infer that morality is cultural and not instinctive. "Coded in DNA" and "innate" are not equivalent.

It could also be argued that the socialization process is integral to brain development and without it, behavior coded by DNA would never appear. How would we test such a thing. In any moral code, it is considered wrong to deprive children of care and nurturing, just to satisfy our curiosity.

If you have more evidence that humans are good by nature and not by social forces, I would be interested to see it.
It is a tempting idea, in that it does relieve us of some responsibility for our behavior, which some people might find comforting.

A sperm is not a person. An egg is not a person. Each however have built in potentials to (given the right circumstances) to develop into a person. It is the interaction of people that leads to this development taking place. Without the interaction of adults, no children come into existence.

We need to understand that genetics only provides a potential that has to be realized by social interaction. It is true that the more amenable a person's genetics is to socialization, the more likely they are to pass their genetics on to later generations. Why can't we accept that some genetic traits give us the potential to develop into members of our society without guaranteeing it? We need to understand however that social animals require nurturance. This is true even with relatively primitive life forms. Even bees provide an environment and a nurturance for their larval forms.

Human development is a slow process compared to that of other animals. It also is a very complex one and fraught with many environmental possibilities that could hinder that development. How a human behaves in a social context is very largely dependent on the form of the society in which it develops. Isn't it really just the combination of genetics and the prevailing social conditions, the milieu in which a person must develop that is most important. If one gives too much significance to the genetics, one misses the need for adequate and beneficial social conditions necessary for human development.

It is reasonable to expect that conditions can exist in society that severely limit or foreclose the potentials genetics would allow an individual under other circumstances. It seems to me that a society should strive to allow individuals to participate on as egalitarian basis as possible to assure the individual develops preferences that benefit both him/herself and not lose sight of his/her membership in society at large.

When one concludes his/her existence is a constant battle for survival within his society with all the other members of society, the individual becomes alienated and antisocial. We seem to have a culture that regularly asserts that competition with our own species is somehow a good thing. :thinking:
 

Bronzeage

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It could also be argued that the socialization process is integral to brain development and without it, behavior coded by DNA would never appear. How would we test such a thing. In any moral code, it is considered wrong to deprive children of care and nurturing, just to satisfy our curiosity.

If you have more evidence that humans are good by nature and not by social forces, I would be interested to see it.
It is a tempting idea, in that it does relieve us of some responsibility for our behavior, which some people might find comforting.

....
It is reasonable to expect that conditions can exist in society that severely limit or foreclose the potentials genetics would allow an individual under other circumstances. It seems to me that a society should strive to allow individuals to participate on as egalitarian basis as possible to assure the individual develops preferences that benefit both him/herself and not lose sight of his/her membership in society at large.

When one concludes his/her existence is a constant battle for survival within his society with all the other members of society, the individual becomes alienated and antisocial. We seem to have a culture that regularly asserts that competition with our own species is somehow a good thing. :thinking:

Why would a group encourage behavior detrimental to the group? The battle for survival is not "within the group." It is within the world. Egalitarianism is a luxury which can only be afforded by very successful groups.
 

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It is reasonable to expect that conditions can exist in society that severely limit or foreclose the potentials genetics would allow an individual under other circumstances. It seems to me that a society should strive to allow individuals to participate on as egalitarian basis as possible to assure the individual develops preferences that benefit both him/herself and not lose sight of his/her membership in society at large.

When one concludes his/her existence is a constant battle for survival within his society with all the other members of society, the individual becomes alienated and antisocial. We seem to have a culture that regularly asserts that competition with our own species is somehow a good thing. :thinking:

Why would a group encourage behavior detrimental to the group? The battle for survival is not "within the group." It is within the world. Egalitarianism is a luxury which can only be afforded by very successful groups.

Groups encourage behavior detrimental to themselves all the fucking time, Bronzeage. Look at our own country and our own legislature. Tell me that is not detrimental behavior...and torn end to end with competition between members. All it takes is a few successful spoilers or greedy glory seekers to destroy a group. The real battles for survival are within the group. Often a group attains to a certain level of consensus only to make a 180 degree turn and find itself sacrificed on the altar of somebody's ego or betrayal. True, the group can't afford this, but that is the nemesis of the group...battles for dominance. By extension this self destructive quality makes itself known in wars. It is merely an extension of the same dynamic that destroys groups.

Everybody has an ego. Cooperation requires the voluntary curbing or at least masking of the aggressive and domineering aspects of the personalities of the members. It requires the acceptance of common interests and common moral preferences of the members. Sometimes with a large group, the secret is not to ask too many concessions of the members and allow them their freedom to dissent. Dissent is not necessarily competition.

When we look at foreign cultures whose religions we do not accept, what are we to do? Make war on them? License our domination of them and give ourselves the license to exploit or enslave or kill them? There is another path to be taken by the wise. It is empathy for the individuals caught in that culture. It is understanding that it would be possible if you had led their lives, you conceivably could think and do as they do. Knowing this feeds the patience people need in order to cope with our differences.
 

Bronzeage

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Why would a group encourage behavior detrimental to the group? The battle for survival is not "within the group." It is within the world. Egalitarianism is a luxury which can only be afforded by very successful groups.

Groups encourage behavior detrimental to themselves all the fucking time, Bronzeage. Look at our own country and our own legislature. Tell me that is not detrimental behavior...and torn end to end with competition between members. All it takes is a few successful spoilers or greedy glory seekers to destroy a group. The real battles for survival are within the group. Often a group attains to a certain level of consensus only to make a 180 degree turn and find itself sacrificed on the altar of somebody's ego or betrayal. True, the group can't afford this, but that is the nemesis of the group...battles for dominance. By extension this self destructive quality makes itself known in wars. It is merely an extension of the same dynamic that destroys groups.

Everybody has an ego. Cooperation requires the voluntary curbing or at least masking of the aggressive and domineering aspects of the personalities of the members. It requires the acceptance of common interests and common moral preferences of the members. Sometimes with a large group, the secret is not to ask too many concessions of the members and allow them their freedom to dissent. Dissent is not necessarily competition.

When we look at foreign cultures whose religions we do not accept, what are we to do? Make war on them? License our domination of them and give ourselves the license to exploit or enslave or kill them? There is another path to be taken by the wise. It is empathy for the individuals caught in that culture. It is understanding that it would be possible if you had led their lives, you conceivably could think and do as they do. Knowing this feeds the patience people need in order to cope with our differences.

I believe you are having trouble with the definition of group. Simply sharing geography is not sufficient. If you want to make sense of morality, you need to look at a smaller group of people who depend upon one another for survival and ask why they behave the way they do. As the number in a group expands, you will find groups now compete with other groups, within the larger group. A group may encourage behavior detrimental to other groups, but never to itself.
 

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Toddlers (and I've raised two) are most definitely born with the concept of 'mine'. What they don't understand is the concept of 'right' - which has to be learned - and the concept of reciprocity. The concept of 'right' has its negative/opposite built in: If I can claim that something is mine, than I must understand and grant to anyone else the 'right' to claim something as 'theirs'.

OK.

Toddlers have to be taught that the claim to property (mine!) is reciprocal, and can only function under the law of reciprocity: If I can claim something as 'mine', I have to be willing to allow every other individual the right to claim something as 'his/hers'. The concept of property cannot and does not function without the concept of reciprocity.

OK.

NOTE: in advanced societies, no one can claim property without earning it. (Toddlers are not up to this level). Goals are achieved and earned at the expenditure of energy, and those who are able-bodied and of sound, adult mind, who are unwilling to expend energy, are therefore not entitled to a claim to property, unless said property has been inherited, which is a whole 'nother can of worms.

Really, WilliamB? There are so many holes here, anyone could drive a truck through it. Don't post while drunk!


Spinoza, and even Ayn Rand, have said this far better than I can.

Of course they did, because you're an idiot.
 
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Bomb#20

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It could also be argued that the socialization process is integral to brain development and without it, behavior coded by DNA would never appear.
That's true too. "Nature through nurture" replaces "nature or nurture".

If you have more evidence that humans are good by nature and not by social forces, I would be interested to see it.
Among the items on Donald Brown's list of anthropological characteristics for which there are no known exceptions across all societies:

actions under self-control distinguished from those not under control

distinguishing right and wrong

economic inequalities

economic inequalities, consciousness of

fairness (equity), concept of

food sharing

generosity admired

gift giving

healing the sick (or attempting to)

hospitality

incest between mother and son unthinkable or tabooed

inheritance rules

judging others

law (rights and obligations)

law (rules of membership)

males more prone to theft

moral sentiments

moral sentiments, limited effective range of

murder proscribed

promise

property

rape proscribed

reciprocal exchanges (0f labor, goods, or services)

reciprocity, negative (revenge, retaliation)

redress of wrongs

resistance to abuse of power, to dominance

sanctions for crimes against the collectivity

sanctions include removal from the social unit

semantic category of giving

sexual modesty

sexual regulation

sexual regulation includes incest prevention

shame

stinginess, disapproval of

taboos

tabooed foods

tabooed utterances

territoriality

trade

turn-taking

violence, some forms of proscribed

If morality were purely cultural, for most of the stuff on that list wouldn't there be a society somewhere that didn't go in for it?

Also, lots of other primates display moral behavior. It's well documented in "Good Natured", by Frans de Waal. To suppose that a moral sense is not grown but only learned is to suppose that lemurs and monkeys and apes evolved progressively more sophisticated moral instincts, and then hominid ancestors lost them, and then all human cultures reinvented them by social evolution. It's unparsimonious.

Also, some aspects of human morality don't make any sense from an individual perspective. So if a culture tried to teach them it's not clear how it could motivate its members. Punishment, for example. It's in your best interests to leave the dangerous policing of other people's morals to somebody else. Yet people experience a powerful emotional drive to hurt those who break the rules, even when it gets them in a fight they might lose. That only makes sense from a genetic perspective -- when the genes for morality aren't uniform through the whole population, the urge to punish wrongdoers is often the suppression of competing alleles to your own. So if you get hurt beating up a bad guy the gene that makes you do it is in your cousins too, so it still wins.

It is a tempting idea, in that it does relieve us of some responsibility for our behavior, which some people might find comforting.
The idea that it's purely cultural can be equally tempting in the same way. "It's not my fault that I'm so evil. It's society, society." If we decide identifying causes relieves us of responsibility, a cause is a cause.
 

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It's an interesting list. It reminds me of the book, Everything I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.

I find this statement
If morality were purely cultural, for most of the stuff on that list wouldn't there be a society somewhere that didn't go in for it?
comes up often in this kind of discussion. Morality is found in all human cultures, therefore it must be something humans are born with. Of course, without culture or society, we would not need any morality, the question becomes, why do we need it, if we are going to have culture and society.

I once talked to a professor who taught a course in developmental psychology. She said a lot of data has been collected from cases of severe child abuse, instances where infants were isolated from human contact from birth, until discovered by a responsible adult. We are talking about children who were kept in closets for years, and the such. It's a horrible thought, but it was the only information on what social deprivation does to the developing brain. These children are for all practical purposes, brain damaged and unable to function in normal human society.

I don't see Donald Brown's list as evidence that humans are good by nature and not social pressure. Of course all societies have these characteristics, because these all deal with the problems of humans living in close proximity. We deal with this by necessity, not because it's in the structure of our brain. To neglect any of these items would weaken the group. If it were by nature, human cultures would be more like bee hives, where every cell in the honeycomb has six sides.

Every human society faces the same problems of feeding, breeding, and remaining alive, but the environment dictates the available solutions. This gives a great diversity to human culture. Bees all over the world make honeycomb with six sided cells.
 

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NOTE: in advanced societies, no one can claim property without earning it. (Toddlers are not up to this level). Goals are achieved and earned at the expenditure of energy, and those who are able-bodied and of sound, adult mind, who are unwilling to expend energy, are therefore not entitled to a claim to property, unless said property has been inherited, which is a whole 'nother can of worms.
It's a matter of luck. Property ownership is not gained through hard work alone- it is gained by being in the right situation at the right time. This includes being lucky enough to have the intelligence to capitalize on the situation, and the willpower and emotional stability to do so as well.

Ultimately, property should lie in the hands of those that will create the most benefit from the property. Although in a situation in which property is not scarce, people should have access to whatever they enjoy, as long as they are not trashing it.

Mentioning trash..

I've seen trashy cities, and clean cities. I've seen the shitty attitude that comes along with a trashy city. I was walking through a neighborhood with a friend, and commented on the fact that empty lots near certain houses were not mowed. He said "Why the fuck would they want to mow them? I wouldn't do it. It's someone else's fucking responsibility, I think the city does it every once in a while".

I told him, fuck that shit, if you have time to drink, play video games, and watch movies, you've got time to mow for 20-30 minutes a week. I was thinking that if everyone in these neighborhoods just put a little effort into keeping things nice, they would be nice.

Then again, I know assholes who throw shit out their car windows, and just don't give a shit, because someone good will come along and take care of it (or they just don't give a shit in general).
 

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NOTE: in advanced societies, no one can claim property without earning it. (Toddlers are not up to this level). Goals are achieved and earned at the expenditure of energy, and those who are able-bodied and of sound, adult mind, who are unwilling to expend energy, are therefore not entitled to a claim to property, unless said property has been inherited, which is a whole 'nother can of worms.
It's a matter of luck. Property ownership is not gained through hard work alone- it is gained by being in the right situation at the right time. This includes being lucky enough to have the intelligence to capitalize on the situation, and the willpower and emotional stability to do so as well.

Ultimately, property should lie in the hands of those that will create the most benefit from the property. Although in a situation in which property is not scarce, people should have access to whatever they enjoy, as long as they are not trashing it.

Mentioning trash..

I've seen trashy cities, and clean cities. I've seen the shitty attitude that comes along with a trashy city. I was walking through a neighborhood with a friend, and commented on the fact that empty lots near certain houses were not mowed. He said "Why the fuck would they want to mow them? I wouldn't do it. It's someone else's fucking responsibility, I think the city does it every once in a while".

I told him, fuck that shit, if you have time to drink, play video games, and watch movies, you've got time to mow for 20-30 minutes a week. I was thinking that if everyone in these neighborhoods just put a little effort into keeping things nice, they would be nice.

Then again, I know assholes who throw shit out their car windows, and just don't give a shit, because someone good will come along and take care of it (or they just don't give a shit in general).

I agree with you.

As you probably noted, I typed the paragraph that you quoted and then spanked myself the following day for typing it, because it was rather silly and not very well thought out.

I failed to think of various ways people are able to make a claim to property: marriage being the biggest one. Then it occurred to me: what about gift-giving? If I give someone a gift, do they not have the right, then, to claim that item as property? Of course they do! The difference here being that, normally when we talk about property we're talking about something earned by personal effort, work, or something inherited, or something obtained by some kind of legal/social contract, like marriage; but a gift doesn't have to be earned, and yet it can be claimed as property.

Which brings me to another major issue: Charity, donations, gift-giving, alms, helping the poor, etc.: all these things should be done voluntarily, out of our good will. Forced charity isn't charity, it's theft. I don't think it should be legal to force a person to 'donate to the poor' by way of parting with what they've legally earned.

Hence the difference between legality and morality, in my view, of course: While I don't think it should ever be legal to force a person to be charitable (read: taxed inordinately), I don't think there's anything stopping a 'good' person from reminding those with vast amounts of wealth that there's a lot of 'good' they can put some of their money to, voluntarily, should they be so inclined. ie: I think it's moral to encourage people to be charitable, and that being charitable is moral. As long as we remember that true charity comes from kindness, generosity, and compassion, not guilt or some other form of coercion.

You wrote:
Then again, I know assholes who throw shit out their car windows, and just don't give a shit, because someone good will come along and take care of it (or they just don't give a shit in general).

I know people who complain all the time about litter and pollution who have no problem throwing cigarette butts out of car windows. I don't know what's weirder, the bald-faced not-giving-a-shit or the hypocrisy? At least the former is honest about not giving a shit. ?
 
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