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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 164)...

    Some questions concerning the NO RIGHT WAY TO LIVE idea… Are their wrong ways? Does your answer imply that you did not, do not oppose human slavery? Do you not believe Nazism/Fascism is a wrong way? Are you positionless? And what would that mean? Do you believe in any moral absolutes? Aren't "ways" that do not foster life, and the law of life WRONG ways? Is not adopting ways in harmony with a new vision a right way? (I am aware of the point about the Gebusi in the book, and who are we to say their way is wrong, but they are supposedly of a different culture, a Leaver one, so within OUR culture can there not be better and worse paths? Clearly not all of the distinctions that exist in our huge Taker culture can be explained away as different programs, and different currents in the same flooding waters?)

    ...and the response:

    It's important to note that the principle is not that there is no right way to live but rather that there is no ONE right way to live. Are there wrong ways? There are ways that are DEFINED as wrong under Taker law, which changes to suit conditions. For example, at one time in the United States abortion was defined as wrong under the law. At present it isn't so defined. How do I define it? I don't, because I don't know what is right and what is wrong---and neither do you, unless it's something that is defined as right or wrong under Taker law. For example, the kind of killing that is defined as wrong is called murder (which, by definition, is wrong). But as soon as you're confronted by an actual case of killing, you have no way of knowing whether it's right or wrong. If twelve jurors can be PERSUADED that it was murder, then everyone "knows" it was wrong (except for those who were NOT persuaded). The kind of sexual contact that is defined as wrong is called rape (which, by definition, is wrong). But as soon as you're confronted by an actual case of sexual contact, you have no way of knowing whether it's right or wrong. If twelve jurors can be PERSUADED that it was rape, then everyone "knows" it was wrong (except for those who were NOT persuaded).

    But once the definitions become doubtful under the law, the population no longer knows what's right and what's wrong. For example, do you think capital punishment is right or wrong? Half of you "know" it's right and half of you "know" it's wrong. Do you think abortion is right or wrong? Half of you "know" it's right and half of you "know" it's wrong. Is war right or wrong? Half of you "know" it's right and half of you "know" it's wrong. Do you think that sending people to prison for smoking marijuana is right or wrong? Half of you "know" it's right and half of you "know" it's wrong. Do think that using animals in medical experiments is right or wrong? Half of you "know" it's right and half of you "know" it's wrong. Do think that burning the flag as a protest is right or wrong? Half of you "know" it's right and half of you "know" it's wrong. Do think that using human fetal tissue in medical experiments is right or wrong? Half of you "know" it's right and half of you "know" it's wrong. I could go on for hours citing examples of things that "must be" either right or wrong, but which you can't agree on. If YOU don't have "moral absolutes," why do you insist I must have them?

    You ask if I don't think that there are "wrong ways." What I think is that right and wrong have nothing to do with it. There are ways that work well for people and there are ways that work badly for people, and whether these are "right" or "wrong" doesn't interest me.

    You ask if I'm positionless. My position is: THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY FOR PEOPLE TO LIVE. This position precludes my taking a position on whether people should be sent to prison for using heroin or whether convicts in prisons should be allowed to read PLAYBOY magazine. This position precludes my taking a position on whether illegal aliens should receive welfare.

    You ask if I don't "oppose human slavery." Do YOU oppose it? Are you lobbying to tear down the prisons that hold millions of human slaves in them? Or perhaps you don't DEFINE enslavement-as- punishment as slavery. But suppose I do? And suppose I define wage slavery as slavery. And suppose I define marital slavery as slavery. No, I don't care to get into the game of "opposing" and "supporting" abstractions.

    But I'll be glad to tell you what I DO support. I don't support THINGS, but I do support PEOPLE and ORGANIZATIONS. For example, I support the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace and the Sierra Club and Cultural Survival and the Sacred Land Project. This doesn't mean that I support every single thing they do. I can't possibly KNOW every single thing they do. In fact, I'm sure that they do some things I probably wouldn't approve of if I knew about them. Nonetheless I support them---not "morally" but financially. I help them survive and do their work. That's what I mean by support.

    I refuse to behave either like a prophet or a political candidate. A prophet will assuredly tell you what is right and what is wrong, and a political candidate will assuredly tell you what s/he "supports" and "opposes." It truly puzzles me that so many people WANT me to behave like a prophet or a political candidate. Don't you have enough prophets? Don't you have enough political candidates?


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