Ultimate Nocebos.

By Robert Hanna

“Leviathan,” by Thomas Hobbes (1651, 1st edn. title page)

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Ultimate Nocebos

In what follows, I’m going to argue that the modern State in general — by which I mean the Hobbesian classical liberal or neoliberal capitalist nation-State from the 17th century until 6am this morning — and the USA in particular, are ultimate nocebos.

Here’s the argument, in twenty-one easy steps.

1. Let’s suppose that it’s true, as Michelle Maiese and I have argued in The Mind-Body Politic, that necessarily, people’s minds and lives are partially causally determined, formed, and normatively guided (aka shaped) by the social institutions they belong to, for worse or for better (Maiese and Hanna, 2019: esp. chs. 1–3, and 6).

2. By a placebo, I mean anything X, the mere belief in which causes people to be morally better, or better off, than they would have been without having that belief in X; and by a nocebo, I mean anything Y, the mere belief in which causes people to be morally worse, or worse off, than they would have been without having that belief in Y (see also Bregman, 2020: pp. 8–9, 17, 37, 134, 228, 249, 258, 270, and 395).

3. By an ultimate nocebo, I mean a nocebo that’s built axiomatically into the very idea of some social institution that’s all-encompassing and all-pervasive for those who belong to it, tightly bordered, highly regimented, and virtually inescapable — for example, some or another modern State — thereby shaping the minds and lives of all, most, or at least a great many people who belong to that social institution, in such a way as to be morally worse, or worse off, than they would have been without having that belief.

4. Now, it’s arguable that the three roots of all moral and political evil are:

(i) egoism (i.e., the psychology or ethics of individual self-interest),

(ii) mutual antagonism (i.e., not merely reciprocal competition, dislike, envy, or jealousy, etc., between individual people, but also, and especially, reciprocal fear, hatred, and/or suspicion between members of identity-groups, for example, via economic class conflict, conflict between genders and/or sexes, ethnic or racial conflict, nationalist conflict, jingoism, xenophobia, etc.) and

(iii) coercion (i.e., X’s compelling other people to do what either X’s individual self-interest or utilitarian public interest demands, by means of violence/other kinds of harm or threats of violence/other kinds of harm), especially authoritarian coercion (i.e., X’s claiming that whatever X asserts or commands is true and right, just because X says it’s true and right and X possesses the power of coercion).

5. But the very idea of the modern State builds in all three root-evils as axioms (see, e.g., Kant, 1996a).

6. Therefore, to the extent that people implicitly or explicitly believe in the very idea of the modern State, by belonging to some or another modern State, they’re caused to be morally worse, or worse off, than they would have been without that belief (see also, e.g., Godwin, 1793: esp. book I; Kant, 1996b: pp. 132–133/Ak 6: 96–97).

7. Therefore, the modern State in general is an ultimate nocebo.

8. Now, a great many Americans implicitly or explicitly believe that necessarily, if they have a legal or political right to something, then they also have a moral right to that thing.

9. The 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution says:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

10. It’s a plausible 21st century interpretation of the 18th century phrase “to keep and bear arms,” that it means to own, carry, or use guns.

11. Therefore, Americans have a legal and political right to own, carry, or use guns.

12. Therefore, a great many Americans implicitly or explicitly believe that they also have a moral right to own, carry, and use guns.

13. The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary defines “weapon” as “a thing designed or used or usable for inflicting bodily harm” (Hawkins and Allen, 1991: p. 1637).

14. Of course, a great many things are used or usable for inflicting bodily harm; but intentionally inflicting bodily harm on someone else for either individual self-interested reasons or utilitarian public reasons, is coercion.

15. Therefore, any “thing designed … for inflicting bodily harm” is a coercive weapon.

16. Now, a gun is a “thing designed … for inflicting bodily harm,” hence a gun is a coercive weapon.

17. Therefore, a great many Americans implicitly or explicitly believe that they have a legal/political and moral right to own, carry, or use a coercive weapon.

18. Owning, carrying, or using a coercive weapon is actually or potentially harmful to other people — not to mention actually or potentially harmful to oneself.

19. Therefore, a great many Americans implicitly or explicitly believe that they have a legal/political and moral right to do what’s actually or potentially harmful to other people — including, for example, refusing to wear a mask, social-distance, or be vaccinated, during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–2021.

20. Now, having such a belief causes these Americans to be morally worse, or worse off, than they would have been without that belief — not to mention causing other people who are actually harmed by gun violence, or actually harmed by contracting COVID-19 because these Americans have refused to wear a mask, social-distance, or be vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020–2021, to be worse off than they would have been otherwise.

21. Therefore, not only the modern State in general, but also the USA in particular, are ultimate nocebos.[i]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Bregman, 2020). Bregman, R. Humankind: A Hopeful History. Trans. E. Manton and E. Moore. New York: Little, Brown and Co.

(Hawkins and Allen, 1991). Hawkins, J.M. and Allen, R. (eds.), The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford Univ. Press.

(Kant, 1996a). Kant, I. “The Doctrine of Right.” Trans. M. Gregor. In I. Kant, Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. Pp. 386–506 (Ak 6: 229–372).

(Kant, 1996b). Kant, I. Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Trans. G. di Giovanni. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. Pp. 57–215 (Ak 6: 3–203).

(Maiese and Hanna, 2019). The Mind-Body Politic. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

NOTE

[i] I’m grateful to Andrew Chapman for an extremely interesting conversation on the topics discussed in this essay, that suggested the line of argument I’ve developed here.

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