The Strength of the Subnorm in Rawlsian Ethics

Is it moral to eat buggers in public? Children are usually taught, in the normative, that it is wrong. Children are also taught that they have the right to do whatever they like as long as it does not infringe on the negative liberties of others. And it doesn’t really come into conflict with the cardinal virtues in most systems of honor and virtue ethics. Traditionally, I have regarded the taboo to be stupid and was against society enforcing it. Eating buggers harms no one and doesn’t reflect poorly on the character. It was also a matter of civil liberties, it would be improper for me to judge someone for being themselves as long as they are of good character and not hurting people. Most of my family at the time fought for the Patriot side of the Revolution and I saw it as their right as an American to eat their buggers in public.

Most people do not think that way and have a complex system of irrational rules. People, generally, feel more comfortable with a polite sociopath than a rude saint. The most important thing for most people is that their immediate and acute feelings are not hurt. When defended, their defense is the thinnest system of rules ever: the Rawlsian thin-good. Because the Rawlsian thin-good is based on consent it leads to moral relativism and many sub thick goods, subnormative ethics beneath and seperate from the macro normative ethics of the thin-good. They say that we don’t consent to people who make us uncomfortable or who we reject and have an absolute right to reject them without responsibilities to provide severance or regard their welfare upon rejection. This buggar-eating, despite violating no major system of ethics in history, may be rejected, even with the force of the state because while bugger-eating is not m for example, illegal, harassment, stalking, and violating trespass warnings are. Therefore, any group can expel bugger-eaters or anyone who goes against a group’s subnorm with the force of the state.

The main criticism of the thin good is how miserably that failed and it did. The rituals, inner meaning, and community of a subculture or group cannot replace that of a macro culture. So, yeah, the lack of community, spirituality, and the other stuff that left people alienated and drove them to become Nazis begging for an athoritarian to reify their nostalgia still stands. Yet, that is community and meaning, not ethics, per se. To a degree, ethics did get devolved to subcultures based on consent. Consenting groups can make their own rules as long as they don’t violate negative liberties which by membership in the group the consents to. Freedom to leave is the main stipulation. People can leave so the macro society need not intervene. And the right to reject is absolute so not obeying the subnorms of the groups cam be injurious.

While sexual consent is pretty clear cut, other forms are less so. For example fraternity hazing is problematic. “If you don’t endure paddling and being urinated on, we will blacklist you from your friend group and all of their social events.” Is that consent? On the gradient of consensual to non-consensual, I would place it hard on the side of non-consensual. If full nonconsensual is 10, fraternity hazing is an 8.5. Therein we get a major problem with the idea that groups can mostly set their own rules under the thin good and still be compatible with liberalism. Groups, inevitably, have power over their members and leaving the group tends to have serious consequences which negates the thin good’s idea that it is fully consensual and that groups can enforce their subnorms with great force without infringing on individual agency and liberty which liberalism is meant to regard as sacrosanct.

These groups have about as much depth and meaning as the consumerist fandoms they sometimes are but what they have in the spiritual vacuum of Rawlsian liberalism, they lack, to a significant degree, in the thin ethics but have systems of enforced thick ethics defended by Lockean ideas about consent. In a conservative, say, Muslim community, in a liberal democracy, one has the right, without formal compulsion, to not wear a burqa and to be gay but doing so is risky because one is liable to lose one’s support network and social circle. Even those groups fail to keep their meaning in the consumerist, liberal, society because their institutions and cultural canons are gone and the only thickness they keep are their ethics. In the other main criticism of Rawls’ thin good, it ultimately creates illiberal subcultures. That is my point here. It kills the rich culture and does not kill the thick ethics.

Yes, even the conservative groups are poisoned with cultural death brought of the thin good. For example, ISIS had no intention and made no attempt to bring back the Golden Age of Islam. Culturally, they had a lot of Rawls’ thin good in terms of metaphorical and literal strip malls and freeways. They weren’t rebuilding the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. The only thick values they had were behaviorial ethics. The more conservative elements of my religion don’t want to bring back masterpiece art and ornate cathedrals (I fucking do), they just want to regulate behavior in a conservative manner. Culturally, it is still the thin good. They’re bringing back Nazis without Wagner, nukes without Elvis, and plagues without chivalry.

The thick goods of these groups is in the consumerist, modernist, wasteland of Rawls without much ritual and meaning. A megachurch in a converted Walmart may support gay conversion therapy, they are not exactly bringing back the glory days of the Old West. They’re bringing back the worst parts of it while keeping the worst parts of modernity. Now, my fellows on the left are rather confused about this entire thing. They don’t know whether they love or hate Western civilization. As said before on this blog, they tend to form their position based on who they’re opposing. If opposing an uncultured redneck, they love opera, Florence, and Shakespeare but if opposing a refined Etonian Tory, they hate that stuff and maintain we should all be hunter-gatherers. They have Dissociative Identity Disorder and are in dire need of intensive psychiatric treatment.

Back to the beginning, people naturally form these thick systems of ethics like the strong taboo of eating buggers in public. From Aristotle to Kant to Mill to Christ and the Buddha, none of them made normative rules that would preclude eating buggers in public. John Rawls’ thin good and its radical consent did. The ultimate point is that in a Rawlsian society we have thick-goods, just with the worst of junk food, strip malls, and suburbia. They are thick goods devoid of culture or anything poetic. These subnorms are enforced with the backing of ultimately the state. A thin good that was supposed to liberate people ultimately makes people bonded to the rules of their subculture with massive material and social consequences. What Rawls did abolish was not irrational normative ethics in favor of an Enlightenment individualism, but allow for myriad subcultures with strigently enforced subnorms but without any of the richness of traditional culture.

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