Thursday, September 29, 2011


The CIA is largely run by people who believe in creating the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

These people are called 'utilitarians'.

A utilitarian might approve of torture - for the greater happiness of 'the majority'.

A utilitarian might approve of a false-flag terror attack, if it is thought that this will bring greater wealth and happiness to 'one's people'.

New research suggests that 'utilitarians' have higher scores on measures of:



and life meaninglessness.

(Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas)

Utilitarians forget about goodness and justice.

Are you a utilitarian?

You are standing next to a large man on a bridge over rail tracks.

You notice a run-a-way trolley coming down the tracks.

It is about to run over 5 workmen further up the tracks.

If you push the large man off the bridge, he will fall onto the tracks and die.

His body will stop the trolley from killing the 5 workmen.

Should you push him?

Roughly 90% of people oppose the utilitarian act of killing one individual to save five.

Roughly 10% are utilitarians and would kill one individual to save five.

Utilitarians will sacrifice 'other people'.

Here's an easier test:

You are standing next to a very pretty white girl on a bridge over rail tracks.

You notice a run-a-way trolley coming down the tracks.

It is about to run over 5 ugly looking immigrant workmen further up the tracks.

If you push the girl off the bridge, she will fall onto the tracks and die.

Her body will stop the trolley from killing the 5 workmen.

Should you push her?

Another example:

You are standing next to a Palestinian child throwing stones at an Israeli vehicle which is about to smash up the child's home.

Do you shoot the child and make thousands of Israelis happy?

The bad guys are utilitarians.

Utilitarianism is the invention of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill

(Goodness has nothing to do with it The Economist)

Bentham thought up the idea that "the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation."

Research into utilitarians has now been carried out by Daniel Bartels at Columbia University and David Pizarro at Cornell.

Their research has been published in Cognition.

They found a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas (push the large man off the bridge) and people who are psychopathic, Machiavellian or tend to view life as meaningless.

Was it right to bomb Dresden and Hiroshima?

Or, were the bombers forgetting about justice?

Was it wrong to kill innocent children?

What if it was your child that was killed by British and American bombs?

What if it was your child killed by certain people on the London tube train?

What if the people behind the recent terror think that they are doing the right thing?

The 'utilitarians' believe that governments should try to bring about the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

But, are the utilitarians forgetting about justice?

Bentham and Mill, the philosophers who advocated 'utilitarianism', no doubt had good intentions.

They were thinking about the happiness of all the world's citizens.

But, what about the planners in the Pentagon?

Are they thinking only about the greatest happiness of the greatest number of rich and powerful Americans?

Was Hitler only thinking about healthy, fair-haired Germans?

Did Truman have no concern for the women of Hiroshima?

Sociologist Alan Wolfe asks: "Why do capitalism and liberal democracy, both of which justify themselves on the grounds that they produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number, leave so much dissatisfaction in their wake?"

Could it be that western governments forget about justice?

Former London police chief Sir Ian Blair urged the public not to let the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes overshadow the deaths of 52 victims of the London bombers.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner told BBC Radio 4: "We can't let that one tragic death outweigh all others."

Utilitarianism - the end justifies the means.

Below are some thoughts from Roger Kimball:

Let's pretend, he said, that some mad scientist has figured out a way to bring peace, prosperity, and general happiness to the whole world.

There was just one catch: this brave new world required the yearly sacrifice of one innocent person, chosen at random.

Supposing this scheme were perfected: would it be moral to close with the offer and subscribe universal happiness at the cost of one innocent life per annum?

Well, why not?

Think of all the billions of people there are in the world.

Scads of innocent people die all the time.

Why not spread happiness and reduce the death toll at the same time?

Hard cheese on the appointed victim, of course.

But he (or she) would at least have the consolation of dying for the good of society.

This is the sort of argument you might get from Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the father of utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism defines the good as the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

Utilitarianism, especially in its undoctrinaire forms, has a lot of appeal.

Most of us are at least intermittent utilitarians.

At least, we expect those running society to act on broadly utilitarian principles, to "maximize" goods and services (read "happiness") for as many people as possible.

It is interesting, then, that everyone to whom I have presented my friend's thought-experiment has recoiled.

Some people say, "That's just silly," and change the subject.

Some say, "What a horrible idea," and change the subject.

Hardly anyone says "That would be wrong because . . ." and then supplies a reason.

I think that the uneasiness that most people feel about this utilitarian fantasy is a good thing.

I also think that the reluctance on the part of most people to provide a reason for their uneasiness is troubling...

What's wrong with the utilitarian philosophy?

...One important human ideal is freedom.

A central reason that the utilitarian fantasy with which we began is morally repugnant is because it requires the violation of freedom.

It therefore builds a fatal weakness into its very foundation.

The utilitarian promise works to the extent that we understand ourselves as creatures who behave in order to achieve certain ends.

To the extent that we see our selves as moral creatures - creatures, that is to say, whose lives are bounded by an ideal of freedom - utilitarianism presents itself as a version of nihilism...



Anonymous said...

an absolutely great article and very frightening insight.

I've always loved the argument of the 'greater good' and 'superior morality of the majority'. I think these are an off-shoot of vanity. For example, the real problem of mass immigration in Western Europe is one of vanity, if every foreigner coming into one of these countries was 6ft tall with blonde hair and blue eyes I doubt any indigenous person would kick up a moment's fuss

dognamedblue said...

[if we put aside who owns it, what their agenda is & what propaganda they use, it is said if you read the articles in the economist, you'll find lots of answers]

Anonymous said...

Excellent article, Aangirfan! Noteworthy to add that Bentham influenced many social and legal 'reforms' like pro-homosexuality and radical approaches to penal system/criminology.

Benthan referenced as source material in Tavistock Committee of 300 indoctrination.

Anonymous said...

If the 'large' guy was Eric Pickles I'd push him off even if there was no runaway trolley.

J xx

Anonymous said...

greatest terror for the greatest number

john said...

Did anyone think of sacrificing themselves to stop the trolley?

Anonymous said...

British/Nazi utilitarianism justified the mass murder of people who were considered inconvenient, either economically or ideologically.

Publicly it could be argued as utilitarian.

In truth, it's a form of selfish supremacism. It's not even survival of the fittest, as belov├Ęd by British bigots since Galton and their sponsors, Angloamerican plutocrats since before the Robber Barons.

It's not survival of the fittest; it's merely a form of narcissism:

"Those who are most like me are most worthy of existence."

If we had pure bloody competition, the plutocrats would be murdered en masse before dawn. Then we'd all knife-fight until the last man standing.

There is an alternative strategy that is longterm stable and far more pleasant:

"As you do to the least of your brothers, you do to yourself."

Cooperation and altruism are the bases of civilized society, not predator-prey relationships.

Computationally, altruism is also much simpler. No need to calculate aggregate utilities. Just help the people most in need of help for the betterment of all.

Thomas: You know this poem?
"I walk down the street, and I don't give a damn.
The people they stare and ask who I am, ..."

Alden: "... And if by chance I should run over a cat, I can pay for the damage, if ever so bad."

CS said...


Jeremy Bentham spent much of his time and fortune designing a "better" prison, the Panopticon. He hoped to gain a lucrative contract from the government to build and operate prisons built on this new design, but failed to make the sale. His totalitarian followers have done better.

The fallacy of utilitarian morality is demonstrated most horrifically in the Holodermor, the Soviet purges and gulags and the Jewish Holocaust.

Anonymous said...

Great question John.

Very thought provoking article and ideas aang.

Various character traits can be good or bad in effect. The degree or extent to which they manifest often results in our reaction to them, good or bad.
Utilitarianism applied to Bush/Obama vs. a normal compassionate human being would yield two different arguments, IMO.

With the ability to think and reason, anyone is capable of reacting in a utilitarian fashion.
Any well adjusted human should have a reflex reaction to help any other suffering being.....but introduce some variables to complicate the situation, and allow a bit of time for thought, and some sort of utilitarian reaction is inevitable.

The way in which we balance self interest, compassion and logic might vary in different situations. Is the situation one where we have experience, one we fear, one we understand???
People could fail miserably or be heroic in two different situations.

As for the one with the bridge and the tracks, John had the right answer IMO. I was 'frozen' and panicky and did not think of the right answer.
In real life I have done good things in the heat of battle, and I have been frozen with fear. I doubt anyone bats 1000.

felix said...

nobody said...

Did somebody say fallacy just now?

My attitude to such tests is the reject the proposition. If I'm on a bridge with a runaway whatever, the last thing I need is some bloke saying, 'You must do this or that. God spare me, I'll figure it out for myself. Wouldn't I just yell and tell everyone to get the fuck out of the way? 'Ah you can't do that' says the bullshit artist. Someone punch that bloke!

Not you of course Aang, you're lovely.

Otherwise we're talking about the death cult. Their motto is: The more dead the Better'. Do we give a tuppence for anything they say? Of course not.

They lie - all the time about every goddamn thing.

And they come to you and say, 'If we don't kill them, they'll kill us.' But they lie. The choice is bullshit. It's merely a means to make you complicit in their killing.

Always - reject the proposition.

Anonymous said...


Good point.

I recall some thought experiment in which participants are asked: "Both your mother and your wife are drowning, but you can save only one. Whom do you save and why?"

In the West, participants tended to save the wife on the logic that the mother had lived longer therefore it was just to save the wife.

In the Arab world, the participants tended to save the mother on the logic that you have only one mother.

Both strike me as essentially selfish and even robotic.

The correct answer of course is to reject the proposition:
"Screw you! I'm going to save both."

"To obey -- just like that -- for the sake of obeying, without questioning, that's something only people like you can do, Captain." -- Pan's Labyrinth

Anonymous said...

And the conspiracy theorists come crawling out of the woodwork promoting their psychotic fantasies of a "Jewish Holocaust"

demize! said...

@nobody you're somebody! Many truths in your short post. I dont for a second believe the elites and their mercenaries are at all utilitarian, I dont think they give a shit what benefits the majority. They are only concerened with personal advancement on the operative level and a quasi feudal agenda on the control level. These people are psychopathic and have no feeling whatsoever for people other than themselves. They havent the capacity to, so they may rationalize it as utilitarianism to others and may even delude themselves, but it is far more base.

Anonymous said...

How about putting the elitists on a bridge and blowing it to smithereens?

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