Kindness and Non-Aggression

Column by Glen Allport.

Exclusive to STR

The Non-Aggression Principle is Incomplete Without the Kindness Imperative

– 1 –
The Foundations of Civil Society

Kindness and non-aggression are the bedrock principles of civil society and of decent individual behavior: they are what allow and encourage every positive social form and institution. At this level, everything else is detail, distraction, trivia – or corruption.

Kindness flows from a feeling of empathy for all life; empathy promotes kind behavior and strongly discourages cruelty. Empathy, and thus kindness, is most reliably created by a loving early life and (to become or remain widespread in a society) must be further supported by social structures and intellectual understanding. Because kindness stems from each individual's unique consciousness, attempting to coerce or otherwise “enforce” kindness only adds aggression to the situation and thus reduces kindness overall.

The most important element here is feeling because without a widespread sense of empathy and compassion, kindness in a society diminishes. Intellect can enhance but not replace feeling where empathy and kindness are concerned.

The Non-Aggression Principle is incomplete and endangered without the specific, named addition of kindness as a co-factor.

– 2 –
Yin and Yang

Kindness is yin to non-aggression's yang: kindness and non-aggression are not merely connected but are different aspects of, and perspectives on, a larger whole. Kindness and non-aggression enlarge, strengthen, support, and clarify each other. Kindness compliments non-aggression by fostering emotional health and positive, proactive behaviors – both of which promote non-aggressive groups and societies. For its part, the Non-Aggression Principle opposes initiated violence and other unkind behavior among both individuals and groups; understanding of the NAP also exposes and chips away at the unkindness and destructiveness of the State.

Unfortunately, one can be empathic and kind personally while supporting State aggression in the mistaken belief that kindness can be fostered by aggression. Our hunter-gatherer core has difficulty separating the State from the family; the faraway King or President from the Parent; arbitrary and often corrupt political Law from generally sensible family or village rules. A focus on both kindness and non-aggression can help us understand what our instincts do not.

The clear need for something more than a lack of aggression creates common and often valid objections to the NAP. A related objection is that the NAP is sometimes at odds with sensible and correct behavior. For example, using coercion to, for instance, pull a child back from walking unawares into an oncoming car is right despite the aggressive action – because the life-saving kindness outweighs the brief, minor act of coercion. Clearly, the NAP is both incomplete and sometimes wrong – on its own. Only with the Kindness Imperative added does the NAP really make sense; we need more than the mere lack of aggression for healthy individual lives and for workable, healthy societies.

– 3 –
The State Destroys Kindness by Adding Ever-More Aggression

The coercive State in particular is entirely based upon systematic aggression, falsely justified by a variety of fantasies such as “the divine right of kings” or “dictatorship of the proletariat” or “the will of the people.” Modern States often disguise their aggression by claiming it is necessary for compassionate reasons including for safety or health or financial security or protection from (usually imaginary) enemies at home or abroad. The War on Drugs is a spectacular example of how this use of phony compassion to justify aggression and violence backfires, creating more harm than the alleged problem itself ever did. It should be clear to anyone willing to consider the topic honestly that widespread, systematic coercion undermines kindness rather than increases it. Aggressive war, forcible taxation, various market prohibitions, ever-expanding coercive State control (mislabeled as “regulation”), widespread surveillance of the public at large, and other government aggressions in the United States and many other nations have already degraded civil society to an alarming extent. Growing hardship, cruelty, and environmental damage are the result. See every Communist nation in history or today's Venezuela – once a wealthy modern nation, now a South American disaster zone – for especially vivid reminders of how quickly both civil society and simple prosperity can vanish when State aggression forcibly replaces a mostly coercion-free market. As aggression increases, kindness and compassion diminish.

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Glen Allport's picture
Columns on STR: 111

Glen Allport co-authored The User's Guide to OS/2 from Compute! Books and is the author of The Paradise Paradigm: On Creating a World of Compassion, Freedom, and Prosperity.

Comments

Mark Davis's picture

Succinct, profound and spot on. Well done, Glen.

GregL's picture

Wise advice. Very well said.

Jim Davies's picture

"Kindness imperative", Glen?
 
Of course kindness is a vital element in a decent society, no argument. But "imperative" seems too strong. How does this differ from "compulsory compassion", which is the bedrock of collectivist welfare?
 
If somehow a NAP were implemented but then the human beings making up society failed to add compassion to the mix, the result would be rather sterile.  But the NAP is the enabler. Necessary, if not sufficient. Personally, it's fine to continue beyond a call for the NAP to be recognized as the foundation of an ideal society, but is it right to do so as a libertarian?

Glen Allport's picture

Hi Jim,
 
"Imperative" needn't imply compulsion, and of course I am not suggesting coercion of any type. I'm suggesting that widespread kindness is essential to civil society, and to healthy human life, for that matter. I am also stating that widespread kindness in society is a necessary foundation for the NAP; people with little empathy -- psychopaths for instance -- are not likely to follow the Non-Aggression Principle no matter how often we explain it to them.
 
As I said, the way to more kindness really involves love and freedom for the young (certainly something Jesus made clear, although one needn't be of any particular religious faith to agree; see Summerhill School for a real-world example). There is no push-button fix here; no executive order, no political plan, no logical argument that will bring more empathy to life. Logic and feeling are different realms.
 
From the dictionary supplied with MacOS:

imperative |əmˈperədiv|

 

adjective

1 of vital importance; crucial: immediate action was imperative | [with clause] : it is imperative that standards be maintained.

2 giving an authoritative command; peremptory: the bell pealed again, a final imperative call. {This definition is the one causing confusion here, I imagine -- Glen}

 

noun

1 an essential or urgent thing: free movement of labor was an economic imperative.

• a factor or influence making something necessary: the change came about through a financial imperative.

Mark Davis's picture

I don't think imperative is too strong a word because it is a vital, crucial and essential ingredient in a free society. I would go further and posit that the Non-Aggression Principle would never be considered, much less discussed, in a society that does not have a culture that highly values kindness. Non-aggression is a completely foreign idea to people that do not first develop a value-laden system which includes a "Kindness Imperative".

Jim Davies's picture

We may have to differ on that, Mark. If I understand Glen correctly, he's saying that the NAP is not enough; that it needs kindness to be added. I join all who very much hope it will be, but don't see it as a prerequisite to a free society; whereas the NAP certainly is.
 
Consider an analogy with medicine. Primary principle of treatment: "First, do no harm." That's been in place for centuries (though often inadvertently violated.) That's like the NAP. Start by not aggressing. That brings peace and freedom. Then by all means build on it with acts of kindness, random and otherwise, as in medicine treatment is added to harmlessness.
 
But the distinctive purpose of anarcho-libertarians, surely, is to stop the aggression. Today's society is full of it, starting with the major evil act known as voting. Stop hurting people and stealing their stuff, and there is a foundation on which positive good actions can be based; but as libertarians, I don't see that as part of what we're promoting.

Mark Davis's picture

I can't speak for Glen, but my view is that no single ideal or principle can exist in a vacuum. Some like to promote democracy as the fountain of liberty from which a free society must flow, but it too is obviously insufficient to bring about a free society; indeed, democracy is often used to justify the existence of the state. I agree wholeheartedly that the NAP is a solid foundation (first premise) from which to build a logical argument supporting a free society. I suppose it is my faith in the ability of logic to convince a sufficient number of people to accept the NAP as the core of their personal philosophy that is lacking in this context.
 
Love and kindness are simple concepts that can be grasped by people who do not understand or even care about logic. People who do not believe in the power of love and kindness to improve the quality of their lives and their relationships with others will never accept the NAP because aggression is too handy of a tool for getting what they want. Self-interest too often overwhelms logical arguments on an emotional level such that intellectual considerations become secondary, at best, and irrelevant at worst. So, IMO, we need to offer arguments for a free society that make sense on an emotional level in addition to just logical arguments on an itellectual level if we are ever to appeal to enough people to accomplish our common goal. 

Jim Davies's picture

Surely, the NAP is very simple to understand. Try explaining it to any 4-year-old bully, in terms such as "Don't hurt people, and don't take their stuff."

He will get it, easy as pie. If he fails to act accordingly, the reason will not be a lack of intellectual power, but a lack of will powe

mishochu's picture

In fact, the bully (regardless of age) will go through great (and ever more complicated) mental leaps to justify hurting people and taking their stuff.

Unfortunately, the victims also make such equivocations.

I see the non-aggression principle as a form of kindness so I don't think anything needs to be added to it.

Glen Allport's picture

> Non-aggression is a completely foreign idea to people that do not first develop a value-laden system which includes a "Kindness Imperative"
 
I believe you're right, Mark [I thought I was appending this to Mark's comment above]. It's not a logical necessity -- one can imagine intelligent robots or other AI coming to value something like the NAP for purely logical reasons (commerce works better when aggression is kept at bay, for instance) but humans are not machines and empathy (and thus kindness) is the most important form of "logic" here. Non-aggression is appealing to humans less for upper-brain logic and more because we all want to be free of aggression ourselves, and any sense of fairness we might have makes the NAP an obvious general principle.
 
This is why war-mongers, serial killers, rapists, and so on usually don't change their stripes even when the NAP is explained to them.

James Clayton's picture

Perhaps everything we do can be reduced to some measure of costs and benefits from some perspective (the benefits might be relative, or negligible, or only anticipated, or intangible).
Human behaviour includes generosity, kindness, cooperation, collaboration, competition and conflict. Obviously all behaviour is not mutually beneficial.
Aggressive behaviour might always be a potential strategy, and perhaps there will always be some people who will sometimes behave aggressively if the aggressive behaviour seems to provide some benefits (possibly to obtain material and social resources for survival and reproduction, to gain and maintain wealth and power and status, etc.).
Maybe people who behave aggressively can be persuaded (both emotionally and logically, and even “selfishly”) to change the way they act if the benefits (for themselves) of non-aggression outweigh the costs (to themselves) of aggression.

D. Saul Weiner's picture

Good points here about the need for something to complement the NAP.

It seems to me that one of the barriers to a "laissez faire" mindset is the lack of faith (for lack of a better term) in freedom itself. Typically, libertarians will take this to mean that people need to be educated in free market economics. And that can help, if people are open to such an undertaking. But the problem may be more spiritual in origin. Most people seem to lack the belief that life will "work out" as long as they do their part. That is why they become control freaks, or are receptive to the messages of control freaks. So there may be some need for spiritual development that goes beyond embracing kindness and compassion, as important as those 2 qualities are.

Darkcrusade's picture

All very unnecessary when considering the genesis of NAP.

Matthew 7:12 1599 Geneva Bible (GNV)

12 [a]Therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: even so do ye to them: for this is the [b]Law and the Prophets.

This, The Law and the Prophets.

Notice the active imperative of the sentence structure in Christ Jesus's words?

Not, Don't do to others?

Matt.7:12 Encompasses Christian Charity.

Christians have built more Hospitals ,more Orphanages ,more universities and charitable organizations than any. Yet some deviations from the teachings of Christ and the Bible(the fallen wolves in sheep clothing that are in all institutions.) are overwhelmingly countered by the Christians good works and novel institutions of care, compassion, and justice.

Carlton Hayes wrote, “From the wellspring of Christian compassion, our Western civilization has drawn its inspiration, and its sense of duty, for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, looking after the homeless, clothing the naked, tending the sick and visiting the prisoner.”

The State even attempts to Replace Charity.

Our Enemy the state>

"We can get some kind of rough measure of this general atrophy by our own disposition when approached by a beggar. Two years ago we might have been moved to give him something; today we are moved to refer him to the State's relief-agency. The State has said to society, You are either not exercising enough power to meet the emergency,
or are exercising it in what I think is an incompetent way, so I shall confiscate your power, and exercise it to suit myself. Hence when a beggar asks us for a quarter, our instinct is
to say that the State has already confiscated our quarter for his benefit, and he should go to the State about it."

Glen Allport's picture

Hi Darkcrusade,
 
You make good points. The support for love in the Christian faith is important, and has indeed done much good in the world. That said, Christians (people who call themselves that, and who have in most cases had years of bible study and sermons, etc) are all over the map in their levels of empathy, kindness, and non-aggression -- which I'm sure I don't need to detail here. I'm not a Christian as most people understand the word, but I consider Jesus' core teachings to be these below and I believe that together, they are an amazing gift to mankind -- one that powerfully supports kindness, especially to children, the group from which every society grows. [King James translation from The Bible Gateway]:
 
Matthew: 
18:1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 

18:2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 

18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 

18:4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, 
the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 

18:5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 

18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 

 

Mark: 
10:13: And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 


10:14: But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 


10:15: Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 

 

Luke: 
17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

 

John: 
13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 


13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. 

 

Glen Allport's picture

"Imperative" has more than one definition, which might be an issue here, but the term certainly fits my intended meaning. Here's the first definition from the dictionary that comes with MacOS:
Imperative: of vital importance; crucial

Jim Davies's picture

The word is derived from the Latin imperāre; to impose, order, command.
 
An associated noun was imperator, meaning commander or, later, Caesar. It led to the English Emperor and empire. So the word is heavily infused with authority and compulsion. Something is important and crucial because it has been commanded from on high.

mishochu's picture

A little nit to pick: "Kindness is yin to non-aggression's yang". No kindness is not an opposing force to non-aggression.

Aggression is the yin (dark) to non-aggression's yang (bright/light), not kindness.

Jim Davies's picture

This article is one of your best, Glen; and the subject deserves more exploration. I offer some in my Zero Government Blog, out today as Kindly Stop It.