People think a great deal about “where we went wrong,” these days, which signals undoubtedly that human civilization is heading into a confrontation with its ongoing collapse. We wonder how it could sneak up on us, and just when we thought we were doing so well.
Some analogize this to an external force that has taken over and destroyed us. While we face many enemies, few are all-powerful enough for this common metaphor to function:
If a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will never jump out… and die being boiled alive.
Empirically, this is not true: frogs have enough temperature sense to escape warming water, even though they’re cold-blooded. Rhetorically, it may be true in that conscious creatures often fail to notice slow, incremental changes that lead to their doom.
We talk about the “Slippery Slope” as a possibility because in our life-experiences, like in certain 1980s teen movies, one mistake naturally causes others in order to try to compensate for the first. This is like when you make a typing error and then three others in correcting the first (an infuriatingly common event around here).
In those 1980s teen movies, a common plot involved a lie or deception by which a character intended to project more power, prestige, or wealth than he or she actually had. In order to keep the deception from being uncovered, another lie was told, and then another to cover that, until the person was in over their head and struggling to remember what was real and true.
Some claim that the slippery slope is a fallacy. Let us look at that.
- If A happens, then by a gradual series of small steps of B through Z will happen, too.
- Z should not happen.
- Therefore, A should not happen, either.
We see slippery slope classified as a fallacy by those who need rigid definitions. However, technically speaking, saying that something is a slippery slope is not a fallacy, although it is misused frequently and the unwashed masses can’t tell the difference:
This type of argument is by no means invariably fallacious, but the strength of the argument is inversely proportional to the number of steps between A and Z, and directly proportional to the causal strength of the connections between adjacent steps.
I think such arguments appeal to us because we are referring to a form of the Broken Windows Theory: if we tolerate small acts of stupidity/evil, we will soon become accustomed to them as a form of background noise, and then not notice when we enter a phase of true horror.
In other words, instead of an external force doing us in, we are the ones who give way because of the “causal strength of the connections between adjacent steps.” Once we assume an idea like equality, for example, and implement equality for a religious minority, it makes sense to extend that to racial, sexual, ethnic, and religious minorities as well because we are following the precedent set by the previous step.
We have in other words accepted the precept, but have not realized that it consists of widening circles of influence since any theory that we accept as universally true — or true in all contexts, or independent of context — will then be a useful tool in other areas.
Consider this operating in a positive light. Once we discover germ theory, it makes sense to wash our hands before surgery. Then, we think: why not wash before eating? After using the loo? Or simply throughout the day, so we do not spread our microbes everywhere?
We learned the same thing when we adopted checklists. Originally found on submarines, these made their way to military airplanes, then to surface ships, and finally to factory equipment. Now many of us use them to operate simple devices like coffee makers in the grey-sepia light of five in the morning.
With each successful use, we internalize the concept. When this is a conjectural concept, or one without immediate positive feedback from nature like washing our hands or checklists, we spread it simply to avoid contradicting our earlier assumption.
Think of an isolated island. One day, they declare the existence of a god, Lemmy. This god demands that people chant a certain mantra four specific times during the day. At first, this applies to the priests, but then it seems odd that the military leaders and kings do not do it. They begin. At that point, it makes little sense that the police do not do it, or the business leaders, or the women washing clothes in the stream. Soon everyone stops every day to chant the mantra of Lemmy.
When these habits are good things, they lead us to improve every area of society, like washing hands or checklists, or even saying “please” and “thank you.” When these ideas are conjectural and unrealistic, they create a stream of justifications for the original in a slippery slope style cascade.
That leads to a condition where unrealistic and harmful ideas are normal:
Kant places particular emphasis upon human responsibility for both radical evil and moral conversion.
Unlike original sin, which Christian belief has understood as inherited, radical evil is self-incurred by each human being. It consists in a fundamental misdirection of our willing that corrupts our choice of action. In Kant’s terminology, it consists in an “inversion” of our “maxims,” which are the principles for action we pose to ourselves in making our choices.
Instead of making the rightness of actions — i.e., the categorical imperative — the fundamental principle for choice, we make the satisfaction of one of our own ends take priority in the willing of our actions. We thus inculcate in ourselves a propensity to make exceptions to the demand of the categorical imperative in circumstances when such an exception seems to be in our own favor.
Overcoming radical evil requires a “change of heart” — i.e., a reordering of our fundamental principle of choice — that we are each responsible for effecting in ourselves.
Another vital view:
The failure of human moral agents to observe the moral law is symptomatic of a character or disposition (Gesinnung) that has been corrupted by an innate propensity to evil, which is to subordinate the moral law to self-conceit. Because this propensity corrupts an agent’s character as a whole, and is the innate “source” of every other evil deed, it may be considered “radical.”
The real question of radical evil is: when an individual goes down a path to error, or a group does, how do they reverse themselves when they have come to tolerate the evil as “normal”?
In other words, if we slowly boil that frog/slip that slope by making competitive only the everyday actions that are radical evil, soon we radical evil is seen as normal, and defined as normal — and because that which opposes it also opposes the normal, any real “good” would be seen as evil.
Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where, among other marvels, he beheld a hollow brazen horse, having doors, at which he stooping and looking in saw a dead body of stature, as appeared to him, more than human, and having nothing on but a gold ring; this he took from the finger of the dead and reascended.
Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king; into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and again touching the ring he turned the collet outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the ring, and always with the same result-when he turned the collet inwards he became invisible, when outwards he reappeared.
Whereupon he contrived to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court; where as soon as he arrived he seduced the queen, and with her help conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom. Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other;,no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men.
Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right.
If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.
In other words, like power or wealth, the ability to be invisible reveals us. We are unseen, but we are in exchange further seen at least by ourselves as what we are.
The invisibility conveyed by civilization allows us all to be like Gyges, in that against a backdrop of complex social interactions, individuals each going their own way, and relative anonymity, our actions remain concealed, even if in this case they (mostly) involve only ourselves.
More importantly, it reveals that our tendency is toward evil and, unless checked, we progress to a state of radical evil by taking one wrong step, rationalizing it, compensating with another wrong step, justifying it, and finally ending up fully committed to an unrealistic and harmful path.
The theory of Crowdism states that human civilization changes through ideas, and that these are passed socially, and that when in decay, civilization creates a social dark organization within it that acts for the selfish and narcissistic demands of its members, instead of working toward civilization. In fact, it acts against it.
Civilization presents to us the same challenge that was presented to Gyges. If we can get away with it, do we do it? The answer is that it varies. Some, upon being given the ring, would not use it for evil, but would use it for good, and be seen as evil anyway. Some say this is a metaphor for how brilliant leaders tend to avoid crises before they become visible, and so to The People,™ it seems like those leaders do nothing.
We may be caught in an evolutionary cycle where we hover between what was in the past and what must be in the future. For humanity to survive, we need people who do not rely on control, but do what is right (approximately) even when anonymous or invisible.
Some believe that this evolution will take place in the stars. Readying ourselves to send explorers from Earth to new worlds, we will choose our best people. If we are intelligent, they will be those who could resist the ring of the Lydian Gyges.
As it turns out, and the theory of Crowdism explains, the frog boils itself. Without guidance from the best people in a society, the frog turns toward its inner failings and stereotypical pathologies, and in justifying those, creates a cult which obliterates it.