Naturalism and moral living

Moral skeptics argue that morality is a sham. According to Richard Joyce’s version of moral skepticism, for example, morality is essentially an illusion foisted upon us by our genes. We’ve evolved to view certain social norms as having convention-transcendent authority (when, in fact, there is no such thing) because thinking about things this way made us more altruistic (“nicer”) and ultimately helped our ancestors make more babies.

I think of skepticism as an incompatibilist stance on the relationship between moral living and naturalism. Having a naturalist worldview, on the moral skeptic’s view, is incompatible with ordinary moral living.

Depending on whether a skeptic recommends fictionalism or abolitionism about moral language, we can think of the options as soft or hard incompatibilism, respectively. The hard incompatibilist views naturalism as completely incompatible with ordinary moral living and the ordinary use of moral language, and recommends abolishing its use (come what may, perhaps?). By contrast, the soft incompatibilist views naturalism as, strictly speaking, incompatible with ordinary moral living and language use, but thinks it best for most of us to continue thinking and speaking in such terms, lest the social fabric unravel.

Opponents of skepticism (who are not also realists) tend to fall into what I call an easy compatibilism. Easy compatibilism is the view that (of course!) naturalism and moral living are compatible. The stance is typically justified with a sophisticated, and largely non-cognitivist account of moral language. Ordinary moral discourse can go on, business as usual, because it simply serves to regulate social life. And so the adoption (or not) of a naturalist worldview is, for the most part, irrelevant to moral life.

In contrast to both incompatibilist and easy compatibilist views, I favor a critical compatibilist account of the relationship between naturalism and moral living. The idea is that the examined life and the moral life need not part ways (contra the skeptic), but that their reconciliation is more work than is sometimes assumed (for instance, by the easy compatibilist).

I’ll give the principal contours of this view in my next post.

Advertisements

What is a soul?

I was perusing my previous posts on this blog, and I realized I hadn’t written anything specifically about the soul. That’s quite an oversight, since reading and thinking about souls is a lot of what pushed me away from Christianity and towards atheism and humanism. Very briefly then, here’s an outline of my thinking on this topic.

(1) Most people today, in North America, believe in souls. That is my experience, and, to the best of my knowledge, the polls bear it out. This means that most people are not materialists. They think there is “more” to us than the stuff of our bodies–our blood cells, veins, muscles, gray matter, etc.

(2) What the word “soul” means is actually a matter of some debate. When I’ve asked my students, at least, they can’t seem to give me a straight answer. The simplest explanation is that soul-talk is something we’ve inherited from the culture, for whatever reason, and its reference is something underdetermined by its use.

(3) From the perspective of the history of philosophy, the evolution of the idea of the “soul” is easy enough to trace. For the ancients (Plato, Aristotle), the soul is what makes a body alive. Having a soul is what separates the animate from the inanimate. Students are typically surprised to learn that plants have souls (on Aristotle’s conception of the soul), but plants are very different from stones and dirt when you think about it. (“Soul” here is an empirical posit of sorts–it does something, it explains something. Not so, nowadays.) The more rationalist and human-centered approach of Plato has recurring appeal, and shows up, in some version or other in the later work of thinkers like Augustine and Descartes (to choose from two very different time periods). In Descartes’ work, “soul” or “mind” is characteristically human. It is known best through introspection, and it is a fundamentally different kind of stuff than material substance (which, unlike the soul or mind, is extended in space). In a way, materialism has been controversial for as long as people have been thinking about what is necessary to explain the world around us. The notion of the soul has been used as a stop-gap for whatever people have thought mere matter couldn’t explain.

(4) Soul-talk, in brief, is essentially dualistic. That is, it encourages us to view human beings (and perhaps other animals) as matter + something else. The view we get from the natural and human sciences, however, is fundamentally monistic. That is, rather than view human beings as matter + something else, it sees us as very complex organizations of matter. Of course, “matter” itself is weirder than we’d ever imagined. But the fact remains that our best scientific theories (our most empirically successful theories) tell us there is one world–not the two worlds of our culture’s “soul”-talkers.

(5) Soul-talk, as a result, has become obsolete. The reason my undergrads can’t pinpoint the nature of the soul is that it has no nature. At this point in our cultural evolution, the “soul” has become little more than a placeholder for that-which-makes-immortality-possible. My soul is me, minus all the material stuff that makes me me, like my body, my face, my feelings, my personality, and so on (fishy, no?). There’s a good story to tell about why thinking about souls is natural to beings with our evolutionary history (see Pascal Boyer’s work, for example). But we’ve got all sorts of cognitive predispositions which have likely been useful to us in the past, without by the same token telling us anything true about the world. The inchoate sense of a something “more” to life or to human persons is, in all likelihood, one more example of this type of phenomenon.

So what is a soul? Nothing much. Just a figment of our imaginations. A holdover of our evolutionary past; a hangover from Christianity. A lie we need to outgrow.

Women and babies

I’ve been working through a body of feminist work in ethics for my dissertation that goes by the label of “care ethics”. It’s a subfield of study that got jumpstarted in the early 1980s, when the American psychologist Carol Gilligan wrote a damning critique of Lawrence Kohlberg’s work on human moral development in her book In a Different Voice. Work on “care” in subsequent decades took the notion in two very different ways. According to Gilligan, and to philosophers like Nel Noddings, “care” is primarily a psychological orientation. It’s a disposition to be responsive to others, to care about them, to think about social life relationally, etc. And, very importantly, it’s allegedly something women are better at than men. According to other philosophers (Sara Ruddick, Joan Tronto, Margaret Walker, and many other feminists), care should be thought of as work, as something people (of whatever gender) do. Whether you frame things in terms of psychological care or in terms of practical care makes a big difference, it turns out.

One of the reasons feminists prefer the practical conception of care over the psychological conception of care, as far as I can tell, is that the psychological conception of care seems like a recycled version of the claim that women are more “naturally” suited for tasks like childcare and so forth. They’ve been wary of that claim at least since Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963 (which documented the dissatisfaction of white, middle-class housewives with their dull, mind-numbing and “care”-filled lives).

One of the (many) things I do in my dissertation is look at the debate in care ethics over how to think about care. And so I’ve tried to reconstruct the argument for focusing on practical care (how care as work is distributed in our societies) rather than psychological care by assuming that women are more caring than men, and seeing what follows from that.

The argument runs as follows.

(1) Women are usually more psychologically caring than men.

Therefore,

(2) Women ought to do more care work than men.

(2) here justifies the femininity of care work in our world. But clearly, the argument as it stands is invalid. We seem to be missing at least one premise. Something like:

(1b) Work is best distributed according to ability.

By “work” I mean simply to include the work entailed by a practical conception of care. The argument thus becomes:

(1) Women are usually more psychologically caring than men.

(1b) Work is best distributed according to ability.

Therefore,

(2) Women ought to do more care work than men.

This new iteration of the argument from a psychological conception of care to a justification of the femininity of care work is still incomplete however. It assumes a straightforward connection between a person’s psychological orientation and that person’s ability to perform a task (well). We must consequently interpose yet another intermediate premise.

(1) Women are usually more psychologically caring than men.

(1a) Psychological care consistently drives effective practical care.

(1b) Work is best distributed according to ability.

Therefore,

(2) Women ought to do more care work than men.

On this iteration, the argument is valid, as best I can see. Is it sound?

Given that I have granted the truth of (1) for the sake of the argument, the soundness of the argument hangs on the truth of (1a) and (1b). Very briefly, I am skeptical that psychological care consistently drives effective practical care. Psychological care may well be a factor in driving effective practical care. It might move a person to try harder to care practically than someone less so motivated, for example. But other factors might be equally or more important in the effectiveness of practical care (effort, or experience, for example). Be that as it may, (1b) is more problematic than (1a), and its dependence on (1a) makes it more problematic still. Even if we grant that women are more “caring” than men, and that this psychological disposition makes them more effective practical carers, there may be a variety of reasons for distributing care work more widely. For instance, the presumption of women’s sole or primary responsibility for care work might prevent the achievement of other goods (as Friedan argued). The lives of men might be enriched by a greater responsibility for care work (as social workers and social theorists have long argued). The lives of women might be enriched by less responsibility for care work. There is no reason to suppose that men are incapable of caring in the practical sense (such a claim would be plainly false [full disclosure: I’m a stay-at-home dad]). And many women express a desire for greater male involvement in care work. These are all good reasons, on my view, for resisting the inference from (1) to (2).

Whether women are “naturally” more caring or not, they are certainly more than just that. And men are not “naturally” uncaring. Feminists have concluded that the distribution of care work is something to be discussed, to be negotiated, to be adjusted, according to the needs and desires of both women and men. Logically speaking then, the psychological conception of care functions to bolster patriarchal distributions of care work only in conjunction with further, problematic, premises.

Of course, the psychological conception of care, in its association with women, is problematic to say the least. Complex human behaviors cannot generally be traced straight back to biology without reference to culture (perhaps with some exceptions). I’m an evolutionist, so of course I think it’s possible that human males and females have certain characteristic cognitive differences. But I also know that one of our evolved traits is an amazing cognitive flexibility, which accounts for the possibility of wide cultural divergences. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no precisely formulated and cross-culturally replicated analysis of care that conclusively shows that human females are more caring than human males by biological nature; although I grant as a matter of course that women in Western culture (and many other contemporary cultures, no doubt) are taught to be more “caring” than men. But then I also see feminism as a movement to rectify the gender imbalance in that cultural lesson.

Black and white thinking

Imagine if you were a movie critic who could only describe movies as “good” or “bad”. You’d probably feel like a two-year-old. Which is fine when you’re two. But adults use bigger vocabularies than that. Not everything is either “yucky” or “yummy”.

That’s the feeling I have as someone who “does ethics” when people insist on reducing our rich moral vocabularies down to “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad”. I do use those terms on occasion. But I’ve got a whole host of other ones in my arsenal, and you do too. I’m happy to call Moonrise Kingdom “good” if I’m short on time, I suppose. But in calmer moments, other words come to mind. “Funny”. “Quirky”. “Brilliant”. And so on.

In a variety of contexts, I’ve called myself a pacifist. I’ve called myself a vegan. Those labels are shorthand for some of my moral commitments. But I don’t think violence is always and everywhere “wrong”. And I occasionally consume (some) animal products. This confuses people. I suppose I could steer clear of the labels. But this would only trade one kind of confusion for another. People would get the impression I don’t think there’s something wrong with the military-industrial complex. With agribusiness. With how we treat other sentient beings. And so the labels at least have the virtue of getting the ball rolling, of communicating a moral stance on an issue. My moral stance is typically more complex than the label itself, but labels are always misleading at the edges. And so I continue to use them.

Black-and-white moral thinking is, on my view, a holdover from moral infancy.

It is also the kind of moral thinking encouraged by certain religious traditions (not all). And so an added benefit of offering a sustained critique of religion is the possibility that richer moral thinking might be cultivated. Think about it. If the will of God is what makes something “right” or “wrong”, then “right” and “wrong” are truths that float out there, so to speak. The religious believer insists on calling something (abortion, homosexuality, war, etc.) “wrong” because that allows her to communicate the absoluteness of God’s edicts. Fancy versions of religion temper this urge with the acknowledgment that it can be hard to discern the will of God, of course. But that doesn’t really get at the heart of the issue, namely, the fact that God has a black-and-white moral will that can in principle be apprehended.

From a humanist perspective, we owe it to ourselves to grow up. To grow out of black-and-white moral thinking. To grow out of religion. It’s just us. We have to figure out how to get along. I’d be nice if we could get along well. Figuring out how to do that is hard enough. It will be harder still if we insist on restricting ourselves to binary moral categories. The world ain’t so simple.

Homophobia and the oppression of men

Men sometimes resent feminism for being primarily about women. And feminists (mostly women but also some men) are quick to point out the ways in which the emphasis on women fits the facts: masculinity continues to carry with it social privilege; femininity, not so much. But feminists also insist that rigid gender norms (e.g. the assumption that certain behaviors and forms of dress are “for” men and others “for” women) hurt women and men. So I thought I’d say a little something about the oppression of men.

Many straight men despise homosexuality or even the hint of homosexuality. This is why the label “homophobia” gets at an important truth: rejection of the social acceptability of same-sex attraction is often (not always) rooted at a deep, nonrational, visceral level (see my discussion here). In the small town where my in-laws live, my long hair invites odd comments, even though my gender performance is mostly, boringly even, masculine. If I wore heels, had a more “feminine” figure, spoke with a higher-pitched voice, didn’t have facial hair, and so on… I would honestly feel unsafe. I would feel unsafe in my in-laws’ town. I would feel unsafe outside certain bars. At night. Out running. And probably in a variety of other situations too. I would feel as unsafe as many women feel, every day of their lives (perhaps more so?–I don’t know).

Let’s be clear, it is one thing to be non-conforming–to be goth, punk, or whatever, even to walk around barefoot–and it is quite another to be gender-non-conforming. Walk around barefoot or dressed in black, and you will probably get strange looks and funny or rude comments. Some businesses might even kick you out. This is especially true in non-urban settings, but city dwellers have their prejudices too. But cross-dressing takes it to a whole new level. So rigid conceptions of masculinity are enforced to a greater degree than other social conventions. Of course, being a gay man is not the same thing as being a man dressed like a woman. But being a man dressed like a woman nevertheless invites (in our culture) homophobic violence. And gay men who aren’t “visibly” gay in virtue of their gender performance are still only safe in such contexts to the extent that they refrain from “acting” gay (flirting with that cute guy at the coffee shop, say, or holding hands with their partner).

And so the conception of masculinity that prevails in American culture is rigid. Stifling. And, as far as I can tell, what keeps the box so narrow and confining is homophobia. I don’t think it’s misogyny, at least not in any clear way, because straight men have their ways of appreciating women (provided they act straight enough, I suppose). But if a man acts or talks or dresses like a woman, all homophobic hell breaks loose.

Well, as a humanist, I find narrow conceptions of masculinity oppressive, stifling, and wholly unnecessary. And I’m a straight, cisgendered dude. The oppressiveness of this box is all the more evident, I suppose, to men who are less conventional than I am.

So let’s all do humanity a favor. Let’s chill out about gender norms. Deal?

The problem of divine goodness

In the philosophy of religion, the Abrahamic God is typically thought to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent (i.e., all good). Of course, what it means, concretely, to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, is up to interpretation. But the three “omni”s are a good starting point for philosophical discussion of theism and atheism. My own atheistic convictions connect most fundamentally to the third “omni”–the claim of God’s omnibenevolence. And this isn’t surprising, since God’s power and knowledge are nothing without his (alleged) goodness. If God were bored, disinterested, or apathetic, being powerful and knowledgeable would be pointless as far as human beings and human affairs are concerned. And so God’s being good is very important. If God is not good, then God is not God.

As I see it however, God is not good. Or, to put the same thought in a different way, there is no good god (and therefore no “God”, as conceived by the major monotheisms). Or, in yet another idiom, I cannot make sense of the affirmation that God is good. Why not?

Well, God is first and foremost (if you believe the stories) the creator of all that is. God is the maker or architect of the cosmos. God’s goodness is therefore reflected in the goodness of “Creation”–of the world. But is the world actually good? In and of itself, I think not.

You see, goodness and badness are evaluative terms that have their home in a basically functional context. A watch, for instance, is defined by its function. Therefore a watch that performs its function well is a good watch, and a watch that does not, is a bad watch. So also a good friend is a friend who does what friends do (listen, hang out, whatever) well. A friend is functionally defined (which is not to say that there’s complete agreement about what friends are for–which is also why there’s disagreement about who counts as a good friend). At the outer edge of this perspective, we can also talk about good people. A good person is a person who does whatever it is we think a person ought to do, and does it well. At the most general level, many of us (humanists, at least) will agree that a good person is a person who is a good citizen, friend, lover, etc. (or whatever other social role we happen to think is important). There’s a decent amount of disagreement about what it matters for a person to be, and so we disagree about what counts as goodness in a person to the same extent. None of this problematizes my key contention that goodness is defined in, and is intelligible in, an essentially functional context.

What of it? Well, in order to speak of God as good, we must find a way to speak of the world (“Creation”) as good–insofar as God’s goodness is supposed to be revealed in the world. But the world revealed to us by the natural sciences (and evolutionary biology in particular) is notoriously amoral. It is neither good nor bad. The physical forces that “create” biological life care nothing for pain or pleasure, for goodness, cruelty, or anything of the sort. Those who survive survive, and those who don’t, don’t. That is all. And evolution is not guided. There is no point to evolution–no direction. And so talk of the purpose or function of evolution is meaningless. For these reasons, I cannot make sense of talk of the universe’s function or purpose. And so I can’t make sense of claims of the universe’s “goodness” either. The universe beyond the realm of the human is neither good nor bad. It just is.

The universe is amoral. What claim then does its supposed “Creator” have to “goodness”? None, as far as I can tell.

I suppose many theists sense this and for this reason claim that God’s goodness is revealed (most fully) not in Creation but in his “providence” or in the Incarnation. Of course, those claims are problematic for different reasons (there is no way to distinguish providence from luck; and there is no evidence for the Incarnation–just off the top of my head).

But anyway, there you have it. I suppose this is my version of the “problem of evil”. Except, my claim isn’t that the existence of evil makes the existence of an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God improbable. It’s that we have no meaningful basis for speaking about goodness when it comes to the universe as a whole. And therefore none for speaking about goodness when it comes to the universe’s creator.

And if God is not good, then God is not God. I conclude: there is no God.

What matters more than God

I write a lot about God and atheism. That’s because I find value in living with both eyes open, and because I think God goes away (that is, the concept “God” loses its function) when we live with both eyes open. Atheism has been an important step in my own intellectual journey, and so I’m happy to share my reasons for disbelief with others.

But.

God–or more precisely, belief or disbelief in God–isn’t actually all that important. That is, believing or not believing in God doesn’t make the biggest existential difference for most people (in my estimation–I haven’t actually surveyed anyone). What could be more important than whether or not a benevolent superpower created the world and everything in it, you ask?

Death.

Life after death.

Or, as I see it, the fact that there is no life after death, that death is the end of all conscious experience (for the organism that dies).

The most existentially important realization I’ve had, and I think, one of the most existentially important realizations anyone can have, is that my life will end, and there is no hereafter. This is it. This one small shot at living well, and then the lights go out. Of course, I can’t imagine not thinking, what with my own nonexistence being quite literally inconceivable from a first-person standpoint. But the realization that this life is it is life-changing.

More life-changing, I contend, than whether or not there is a God.

The two are hard to separate of course. For most religious folk I know, the belief in an afterlife is all bundled up with belief in a benevolent diety. As some of my undergrads have asked, what’s the point of believing in God if there’s no afterlife? What indeed!

I have no plans to halt my attacks on (the idea of) God. But I thought I’d take a minute to meditate on this wonderful, profound, recalibrating thought.

We’re all going to die.

Dietary advice

It’s hard to know where to turn for dietary advice. The U.S. government had its pyramid for a long time. Now it’s got that funky plate. Various self-proclaimed healthy living folk advocate for a wide variety of diets: low-fat, high-fat, low-carb, no-carb, high-carb, super-high-protein, meh-protein, etc. Is soy good or bad? Butter? Dairy? Red meat? Seafood? Legumes? Gluten?

I have dietary advice of my own to give. The diet I eat is mostly vegan, but I’ll write about that some other day. The point I want to make here is more important.

There’s an important continuity between how one ought to approach eating and how one ought to approach ethics. It’s tempting to look for a reliable authority and then to depend on that authority in every way. The trouble is this. Authorities give conflicting messages, and adjudicating properly between them essentially requires one to become an authority. And most of us simply don’t have the time (or the desire) to spend 20 years studying nutritional and biological science. Even the people who do aren’t always the most helpful.

As in ethics, so with eating: it is probably wise to listen to at least some authorities, and to inform oneself about the justification they claim for their views. Personally, I look to see if the claims of a self-declared culinary guru are grounded in social scientific studies that examine the long term outcomes of types of diets (Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, “Asian”, etc.). I’ve found it less helpful (and more confusing) to read about studies that isolate particular nutrients to observe their effects in artificial settings. The body’s response to food is more complex than that. (To use a buzzword, the reductive studies typically need to be counterbalanced by more “holistic” studies that take into account both the whole of an individual’s diet and that individual’s social setting.)

Ultimately however, we need to move beyond authority. Part of a healthy diet, for most of us, is eating a diet we approve of. That is, we have to own the diet. It does me no good to eat lots of red meat, for example, on the advice of some “health expert”, if I have strong ethical qualms about eating meat. The qualms are not the whole of the story, but they are a part of it. The point is to be experimental: find out what you like, what works for you, and what you feel good about. Self-monitor: how do you feel after a cup of coffee? Before? Can you tell how low blood sugar makes you irritable? Do you feel the need to nap in the early afternoon? After certain kinds of meals but not others? Learn how your body works and how it interacts with its food. Try new things. Keep the good, leave the bad.

What is the point of eating? Are you trying to lose weight? Gain weight? Get healthy? Healthy like who? Do you want to run a marathon? Or just not feel like crap when you get up in the morning? You have to decide what your goals are. The point is that you should take responsibility and think about your diet.

The days are gone, for most of us, when we had the option of not thinking about what we eat. The reality for most of us is that we have at least some choices. Microwave dinner? Popcorn? Pizza? Eating out? Carry out? Chinese? Thai? Crockpot? Lentils? Chili?

Try out a variety, see what works. It’s the only way.

Do the same for everything else in life.

Heroic aspirations

I don’t know if this is universal or not, but I have heroic aspirations. I think many of us do. We want to be part of a story of overcoming. We want to fight for a cause. At least, I do. Maybe you do too.

Leave it to the evolutionary psychologists to hypothesize why that might be. We’re story-telling animals, and we seem to like it best when the stories are epic. This is part of how we find meaning. How we make meaning for ourselves. Beyond that, I don’t know.

I wish I had something more profound to say about this, but I don’t think I do.

What I have is causes that I think are worth fighting for. Formally speaking, they’re all tokens of the type “stand up for the defenseless”. They’re all about using power for the sake of the powerless. They’re about standing to bullies, to cruel people and practices. They’re about dreaming of a future with less suffering and more joy than the present. They’re my contributions to the project of diminishing misery, wherever I find it, and to the project of magnifying happiness, or at least the possibility of happiness.

My causes? Here are the top five.

(1) Fighting misogyny. Standing against the assholes who would belittle and beat women. Striving to stand against and correct my own inner douchebag.

(2) Fighting homophobia. Resisting the policing of stupid gender norms according to which men can’t cry, feel, or empathize, and according to which women can’t think, can’t be strong, can’t contribute more to the world than their sexual appeal to heterosexual men. Celebrating the beauty of nonviolent love, whatever its object.

(3) Fighting cruelty to animals. Making visible the unnecessary suffering of our fellow sentient creatures. Breaking through artificial limits to empathetic concern for non-human others. Appreciating the awesome complexity and beauty of sentient life.

(4) Fighting superstitious sanctifications of tradition for tradition’s sake. Revealing the errors of religious and magical thinking. Empowering individuals to make their own decisions responsibly.

(5) Fighting the economic magnification of human productive differences. Rejecting the supposed necessity and ineliminability of poverty. Critiquing acquisitiveness, greed, materialism, and, yes, rich people–at least tho ones who refuse solidarity with the poor.

These are my causes.

What are yours?

Moral anarchy

In political theory, anarchism is the view according to which all authorities are illegitimate. Anarchy in this sense is to be understood not as chaos, but along etymological lines: “an” = no; “arche” = ruler. It seems to me the schools of thought I’m drawn to most in ethics could be categorized similarly, as a kind of moral anarchism.

Moral anarchism, as I see it, as the rejection of moral authority outside of oneself. Now of course, an “anarchist” in this sense would do well to recognize the wisdom and the insight of others. So too, the moral anarchist need not see him or herself as a moral island, disconnected from others. But there is an important difference between recognizing the insights of others and submitting oneself to the will of another. That’s probably not the only way to think of how “moral authority” might work, I suppose. But play along for a bit, and I hope you’ll see where I’m going with this.

Submitting to the moral authority of someone else–whether one’s parents, one’s friends, the Pope, or whoever–is on this view abdicating responsibility for one’s decisions. There are many contexts in which we can get away with this. But the result of such decision making (or lack thereof) if it becomes a habit is living a stunted life.

A rich and full moral life, on the anarchist view, is a life you take responsibility for. You can’t redeal the cards you’ve been dealt. You’re stuck with your looks, your talents, your sex, your race (barring surgical alteration, of course), and so on. But you can play the hand you’ve got with all that you are. The anarchist view here fits in with atheism, because it takes for granted that this is all you’ve got. It’s this one, single hand, and then the show’s over. Are you going to go big, or are you going to go home?

Are you going to let someone else live your life for you? Or are you going to live your own life?

Do you have the courage to forge your own path? Or will you be a sheep, a lemming, your whole life?

To be clear, the challenge we face is not whether to run off into the wild or live a tame, “civilized” life with other people. Assuming the hermit lifestyle doesn’t appeal to you, or isn’t realistically feasible for you, we can take for granted that you’ll be around other people regardless of how you live. The question isn’t whether you’ll live in community. The question is how you’ll live in community. Whether you’ll allow tradition and “how things are done” to swamp your existence, or whether you’ll own the values you want to own and disown the ones you want to disown. Even if you’re an all-out conventional person, there’s a world of difference between going with the flow and owning the flow.

To be a moral adult, on the anarchist view, you have to own who you are.

So. Are you an adult?