A Stirner view of morality
What the great Einzige would say about current ethical troubles
I put down the paper. Another news story about a medical breakthrough. I knew my friends would already be coming to me to ask excitedly about it. The burden of being the only one of them who understands science and medical research. I would have to explain again that a meta-analysis of medical research indicates 90% of it might be total bunk. I would have to explain to them again how the scientific method worked. And what actually constituted statistical significance. And how the current percentage, .05 (or 95%), many argue is far too low a criteria, and that it would be much better for everyone if it had to be much higher. I would talk about regressions to the mean, that correlation does not equal causation, p-hacking, and how a single study doesn’t mean much of anything. How it’s a body of replicated, peer-reviewed studies, over many years, in many places, that actually starts to greatly affect our ‘weights’ regarding what we actually understand about the universe. And then I would get into Bayes and proportional probability. And the whole time, their eyes would glaze over, because my careful, hesitant explanation wouldn’t sound like anything negative to them. The article they read sounded simple, and it sounded certain. My explanation would sound like neither. I wouldn’t say “this is silly bullshit”, I wouldn’t say “there’s no way this could ever work”. And without that confident strike-down, my explanation would just serve to reinforce their perception that this was another medical breakthrough, brought to you by the magical world of science. My friends were ‘science enthusiasts’, you see. They watched Neil Degrasse Tyson. They read I Fucking Love Science. And they were eager to see what the future would unfold. But, despite being ‘science enthusiasts’, they didn’t actually understand it. They didn’t understand that science wasn’t a thing, but a tool. A method, if you will. And the discipline and practice of it meant far more dedication than reading an article by an English major, containing nice, bite-sized information for them to easily consume and digest over a morning coffee. That, if they wanted to be science enthusiasts, the first useful step to take would be to actually understand empirical thought, the fundamental axioms and assumptions science used that has progressed civilization so far, the pre-reqs of the scientific method, Newton, Descartes, Bayes, and actually learn how to read a published scientific article: the real ones, with abstracts and methodologies, and all that could stuff. Not the kind that starts with “Could this household item really defy old age, cure cancer, and increase our sex drive??”
I sighed, leaning back in my chair. Wouldn’t it be better if this kind of crap just didn’t exist? A world where only scientists, without a clickbait incentive, would write articles about science? And English and Liberal Arts Majors only wrote articles about… well, English and Fine Arts? I put my face in my hands. Perhaps we really did need some kind of moral code about this sort of thing. Unfortunately, morality and ethics wasn’t really my cup of tea. Literally. My cup of tea was Earl Grey, without a hint of morality to speak of in it. Just ask the British aristocrats, who sipped it as they ordered serfs around. If only he was here. But, alas, such a thing was impossible. Or was it…
I got up, excited. Though there was so much psuedo-science, there was one thing out there that wasn’t, despite everyone thinking it was: cryonics. Sure, to the medical community, and the world at large, it was yet to be proven to actually be able to revive people from the dead. But I knew better. I had access to secret information, kept away from the public. And I knew that they had secretly kept him perfectly frozen this whole time. Excited, I got my keys. It was time for a drive. I was going to bring him back, and sit him down for an interview. I was going to bring back Max Stirner.
I’m here with Max Stirner. Prominent egoist, philosopher, and immortal anarchist meme. Good to have you here, Stirner.
Stirner: It pleases me to be here, so here I am.
So, I’ve been reading all these crazy articles. They’re junk, just junk. How do we get beyond this? I suppose one might ask, is it ethical to write this sort of thing? I know you’re a famous egoist, but these sorts of things hurt millions. Are there any ethical stances you’d use to approach such things? For both the writers of this garbage, and the researchers who continue to accept interviews, despite knowing full well their own research will likely be grossly misrepresented? And for what? So they can get on CNN for a few minutes? So they can say ‘I was the first to discover a connection between x and y’? Except no one will care, because all of them want to be ‘the first’, too. Discovering a thing seems to be the only ‘sexy’ part of being a scientist, and the only one most seem to care about. So the research will probably never even be replicated, even if it is promising, because no one wants to work or invest into being second person to discover a thing.
Stirner: Was that a question or a rant? Perhaps how people talk has changed since my time.
Sorry. I guess I’ll ask: as an egoist, what is the duty of those involved in these things?
Stirner: You seem to be neglecting someone, here. What about those who believe in these articles? The journalists wish to incorporate them into their ego, to become an all-in-all, they view them as part of them. Tyrants have always done this. I, however, choose not to be part of their ego. I choose to be myself.
Yeah. But I was supposed to ask about the ethical decisions of the other two groups for a paper I’m supposed to write. Can you help me out?
Stirner: I see, so you brought me back to life, just for your own paper. To please your own audience. Like the medical researcher. And the journalist.
Yeah, well… it’s more of just a college paper.
Stirner: I see.
Yeah, this all sounds a little… silly when I say it out loud. But you’re here now, will you help me?
Stirner: Very well, since you brought me back to life. Even though what they do is not of my concern, it would please me to humor you on this.
Stirner: I’ve noticed most people have forgotten me in this time, which doesn’t upset me. Fame is but a spook, after all. But I suppose, for your paper, it would be better if people first understand a bit about me and the nature of the ego.
That’s probably a good idea, yes.
Stirner: Very well. I’ll start at the beginning, where my philosophy and my understanding can truly be applied. We’ll start in the Shire, where, in a hole in the ground, there lived a…
What?? You know about Tolkien?
Stirner: Yes. You left me alone in a room for an entire weekend, as you gathered the materials for the interview, and it pleased me to read such works.
That’s… that’s pretty fucking cool. Continue.
Stirner: As I was. In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. And this hobbit was named Bilbo Baggins. Not a nasty, dank, dirty hole, mind you. It was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.
That’s… yes, that’s true.
Stirner: After going on various adventures, and dealing with various spooks, he returned home rich. Then, though having no children of his own, he ‘adopted’ a young relative of his named Frodo. Frodo befriended a Took who went by the name of Pippin, and another named Merry. And a gardener whom I’m quite fond of named Samwise. Together, they…
Perhaps you could get to the point. I think many people know who these characters are.
Stirner: Fine. In the books, Frodo embarks on an even-greater adventure than his uncle. I warn all against spoilers for the book, but it results in the small fello saving all of Middle Earth from a tyrant who views all to be part of his ego, Sauron is concerned more with spooks than with himself. Sauron’s pride became perverted by spooks. But Frodo is not clouded by such things. He does not seek out to save the world, but to save the Shire. His homeland. The rivers, the trees that he walks through. The friends and people he knows.
Stirner: Contrast this with Ender’s Game.
You read Ender’s Game too???
Stirner: As I was saying, in Ender’s Game, and I must caution once again against spoilers, the character is raised his whole life to fight for a cause. To save ‘the world’. To fight for humanity. In the end, what he believes to be merely a simulation he plays out, turns out to actually be happening. He is horrified by this, but why? He literally could not distinguish between the simulation and reality. Why did this knowledge change him? His whole life he wasn’t fighting for people he knew, or places he lived, but for a cause. For a spook. Something so abstract to him that he couldn’t even distinguish it from reality.
I see. Frodo’s fighting for the Shire. A thing that directly impacts him.
Stirner: Yes, the rest of Middle Earth could fall to ruin, and he would be none the wiser. But if the Shire fell, his own personal experience would be impacted. The land he loved would fall to waste. Those he knows would be killed or enslaved. But for Ender, none of it makes any difference, so why is he fighting? He’s just fighting for an abstract. For a spook.
I see. Spooks are these abstracts that people believe in, that clouds their mind, and distracts them from what actually impacts them.
Stirner: The fighting for ‘causes’, the perverted vanity of fame, rather than proper, egoist vanity. The relentless objections of the conscience, ensnaring the ego. Perceptions of owning a thing you can’t control. The world is filled with spooks.
So how does this pertain to the scientific community and journalism? The things I asked you about originally.
Stirner: A scientist refusing to report their findings to a journalist, out of concern for those it might effect, is not acting in their interest, but in the interest of a spook. These are people they will never meet who it will harm. For them, they do not exist. They are spooks. It is the same for a journalist with such concerns. The spooks of an audience they will never know, nor interact with. They do not exist in their world, in the world of Einzige.
So it would be okay for them to publish these things?
Stirner: The reasons they have in favor of publishing them is also in the service of spooks. The medical researcher wants fame by people she will never know. For a status that actually means nothing, is nothing. The journalist who slaves for the attention of crowds he does not know, who are not part of his sensory universe. This is still all in the service of spooks.
So… so… what should they do?
Stirner: I cannot speak for them, but I can speak for myself. If they wish to be a liberated Einzige, they would do whatever pleases them, without the delusions of conscience or fame. The liberated Einzige knows himself. If it is the craft of writing that brings them enjoyment, then do that. If it is research, then they may do that. Then they can free themselves from the shackles of things they cannot retain hold over. And, from this, more Einzige shall become emancipated.
What about the utilitarian argument? Of increasing as much happiness and reducing as much suffering as possible?
Stirner: More spooks to become concerned with. And they dedicate their whole lives to it. They do arithmetic, I prefer to walk a tightrope.
What of the Kantian notion of doing things that, if everyone did them, would be a world you would want to live in?
Stirner: It reflects how Kant viewed things. Where all men are but copies of each other, interchangeable, not unique. The Einzige is not a what, but a who. The unique individual and his property. The ego and his own.
…and ideas of Justice?
Stirner: Another cause that people become subservient to. Another god to obey, to render the self unimportant in comparison toward. A ‘higher cause’ to demean the individual. I do not hold anything higher than myself. All of this is nothing to me.
Okay, thanks Stirner! I think we better wrap things up, since this paper’s already 9 pages long, and it was supposed to only be 2. Hopefully I’ll still get an A.
Stirner: Grades are spooks.