Tyranny: "cruel and oppressive government or rule."


"cruel and oppressive government or rule."

The opposite of a "Live and Let Live" philosophy is one of tyranny. Tyrants rarely include "tyrant" in their self-conception. They think they are doing good by changing the world according to some ideal. But neither "the greater good" nor some idea of "the will of God" transforms tyranny into liberty. Oppression can never be individual freedom.

When we consider the maxim that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions", we should remember that both of the justifications itemized above are often used to force others to behave in certain ways. Entire countries have become enslaved by regimes expounding these exact justifications.

Organized religion tends toward tyranny unless specific effort is made to banish it. (Incidentally, this is true of organized government). You can see the difference between the ones that make the effort and the ones that do not. Consider the stark difference of modern day Buddhism as compared to the Roman Catholic Church of the middle ages.

Political Islam, also known as Islamism, makes no effort to banish tyranny. Neither does certain variants of American Christianity. They are the forward deployments of the forces of tyranny.

They deserve our rebuke and our material opposition. These are the enemies of liberty until they work to banish every vestige of Tyranny from their ethos.

On Absolutes

Extremism is rarely the thing we need.

Absolutes let us off the hook, because they demand not to be negotiated. But absolutes usually bump into special cases that are truly hard to ignore…

-Seth Godin, At the edges, it all falls apart

I generally consider myself an absolutist with a set of fundamental priciples that are not to be violated. But this claim is subject to verification.

I certainly think the list of absolutes we hold should be short and subject to modification based on the incorporation of new data.

Whatever we believe, we have to admit that there are times when absolutes serve us well, and there are times when we are blindsided by unexpected implications. They always seem to face the special case challenges that Godin talks about above.

Maybe they are contextually helpful but not categorically so.

An absolute right to life?

You end up with the abortion debate. You end up with debate on the morality of the death penalty. Do animals have rights?

If rights are derived, as Ayn Rand suggests, from the requirement to exercise one’s reason in order to determine how to act to sustain one's existence… does a mentally crippled human being have exactly the same right to life in the same context?

Do two people battling over water rights where one is dumping waste and the other is drawing water to drink have an obvious solution answered by an absolute right? First come first served?

There are more questions than answers. And more pragmatic answers than principled ones. And in some contexts, the pragmatic answers may be measurably more just or generous.

An absolute right to free speech?

Consider Edward Snowden. Consider the caricature of yelling “fire” in a crowded room with tiny exits guarded by Nazis with submachineguns.

An absolute right to privacy?

An innocent person is suspected to have information pertaining to a missing-person-slash-murder investigation. Do the police have a right to the data on his/her electronic devices?

What I Notice That Absolutes Actually Do

What I notice about absolutes is that they help us to notice a situation where grave injustice may occur. The desire to impose an absolute indicates an area of grave importance.

Absolutes reduce cognitive load. A person thinking in principles can keep fewer "things" in mind at a time when trying to make a decision.

We use absolutes to communicate and express what is important with a lot of poetic license. The tendency is to hear what is said and to suspend disbelief. This occurs in any echo-chamber.


We also use absolutes to avoid communicating in the raw detail of a topic. Moral grandstanding is good example of this. Think about how impossible it is to have an honest conversation that doesn't get dragged fully into the weeds on any of these topics: Racism, Sexism, Islamism, pay inequality, affordable medical care, immigration, or Abortion.

In light of this, I suspect that we might do well to rewire ourselves so that when we find that the thing we most want to say is an absolute principle therefore a change in policy that we remember that great care is needed… the best and clearest thinking you can muster will be needed in order to be able to engage in honest conversation and/or decision-making.

Absolutes and Policy

In my observation, most human beings do a pretty poor job of thinking through the long-term implications of applying broad principles. Some of us can do this well in certain contexts but with small contextual changes, we start showing gaps in our logic.

Human beings get bogged down when multiple principles interact in a dynamic system.

And human beings are especially bad at predicting behavior in such a system while they are driven by their own panic in response to what seems like a crisis.

Conclusion: We are wise to avoid making broad changes in policy while in a panicked response. Let’s just wait until we are calm to review the situation and decide how to respond.

…The good middles, the difficult compromises that matter, that’s where we can build things that have long lasting impact.

We need a compass and a place to go. But the road to that place is rarely straight and never absolute.

-Seth Godin, At the edges, it all falls apart