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Asatru and Ethics
Part 2


William B. Fox
Orginally published in
Spring, (Runic Era) 2245 (1995),
Vor Tru Magazine, Issue 54
under pen name "Thor Sannhet"

"...Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to Institute new Government..."
- -The U.S. Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

"Freedom of contract begins wh.ere equality of bargaining power begins"
--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., (1841-1935), U.S. Supreme Court Justice.


IN ITS SIMPLEST FORM, contractual ethics involve the ability to negotiate a fair deal and hold to it. It is focused upon the way in which human transactions provide value for value received, and reward behavior that upholds-or punish behavior that breaks-agreements.
Informally, contractual ethics is known as "You Rub My Back, I Rub Your Back," "One Hand Washes the Other," and "Golden Rule" ("Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You") ethics. The negative version of contractual ethics is known as "Eye for an Eye," "Retributive," "Never Forgive, Never Forget" morality.
On a more abstract level, contractual ethics involves the concept of the "social contract." In the American Revolutionary ideology of Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. Constitution is an example of such a "social contract." The American people, thought their representatives, created a government and agreed to pay taxes to it and adhere to its laws in exchange for such governmental services as national defense, running the post office, administering the courts, and maintaining a police force. When the people wish to change government policy, the Constitution offers elections as one legal avenue to accomplish this goal. The Declaration of Independence makes it clear what people ought to do when their government becomes incorrigibly abusive of their rights.
American law is heavily contractual in nature. As an example, it is "okay" for someone to bash your face in if you, as a consenting adult, sign a waiver form and step into a boxing ring. It is "okay" to let other people "take" your money, if it is done through legalized race track betting or in bad investments made through a licensed securities broker.
In contractual ethics, something is "ethical" as long as the parties to an agreement meet basic tests regarding their competency to enter into an agreement. Generally speaking, as long as someone is informed in advance of a person's position, it is ethical for that person to assume that role. As an example, if someone announces that he is an informer for a certain entity up front and is unwilling to keep information confidential, then it is no longer unethical for him to pass on sensitive information if people share it with him anyway.

How do we acquire contractual ethics?
At some point inm our lives we discover that if we spend all our time doing favors for other people while receiving nothing in return, they will eventually suck everything out of us and leave us with nothing in return .

What kinds of people focus on contractual ethics?
People who have enough resources (ranging from property rights to political rights) to negotiate and transact with others. They include businessmen, brokers, lawyers, property owners, and free men.

How are contractual ethics reflected in Asatru?
In most religions, contractual ethics entail the way in which people make offerings of some sort to appease or placate some deity.
The Vatican practice of selling "indulgences" to relieve a contractual actor of Purgatory time in the late Middle Ages was a key theological issue of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther interpreted the Semitic Scriptures to mean that Christians are justified or "saved" through their faith in Jesus Christ and that good works and deeds are not required for salvation.
Since Asatru emphasizes individual self-sufficiency, valor, and fellowship with Gods who have their own doom to face, we emphasize taking control in the real world. We are less likely to try to bargain with or manipulate the unseen. In that sense, we are less contractual in our relationship with our Gods than the intent of Martin Luther's reform regarding the Jewish tribal deity.
In their own affairs, the Gods behave in a contractual manner. Tyr offers his hand as hostage in exchange for the agreement by the Fenris wolf to remain still. When the wolf is bound, Tyr loses his hand. This reflects a deliberate sacrifice for the common good. Another noteworthy exchange is made when Odin trades an eye for all-knowledge.
On the more seamy side, according to some sources [Author's Note: The authenticity of these sources is a matter of controversy] Freya agrees to sleep with four dwarfs in exchange for a beautiful necklace. This offends Odin's moralistic sensibilities, who rebukes Freya. She then cuts a contractual deal with Odin when she agrees to take on responsibility for handling warfare among men in return for getting her necklace back.

"Asatru ethics lean more heavily in the direction of utilitarian ethical reasoning than most other religions, particularly Christianity. "

How do contractual ethics in Asatru compare with the contractual ethics found in the Semitic slave god religions?
It is important to note that 'the contracts (or 'covenants") made in the Old Testament between the ancient Hebrews and their tribal deity Yahweh go far beyond mere appeasement to gain a blessing. In the books of Genesis, Joshua, and Deuteronomy, the Jews are reminded that if they retain perfect faith in their god, and keep their race pure, this god will enable them to not only survive as a people, but to also to crush and dispossess all of the other peoples of the world (cf. chapter 7 of Deuteronomy which is particularly explicit in its utterly hateful and even genocidal attitude towards Gentiles).
The Book of Judges is quite significant. Its message is that every time the Hebrews turned away from worship of their tribal deity and faithfulness to their folk, their tribal deity punished them by delivering them into the hands of their enemies. Each time after the Israelites were subjugated, Yahweh raised up heroes (or "Judges") who led the people back to self-determination and their indigenous spirituality. The disease that caused the ancient Hebrews to lose their self-determination and greatness is identified in the last paragraph of the book of Judges: "In those days there was no king in Israel; every person did what seemed right in his own eyes." In other words, every person put personal self interest ahead of the common interest of folk survival.
The covenants we make in Asatru are fundamentally different than those made in Christianity, just as we relate to our Gods differently than the kinds of the relations promoted in the slave god religions. We do not bend our knees or close our eyes in prayer. We do not view our Gods as literal images, but rather as spiritual conduits to express our instinctive urge towards higher meaning. We recognize that without adversity there can not be heroism, and from our Gods we only ask the gift of their inspiration in living our lives more heroically and true to the best traditions of our folk.
Of course Asatru is more than a religion, just like Judaism and Shinto are uniquely "flesh and bone" indigenous ancestral faiths that make them far more than simple theological exercises. Asatru is also an indigenous culture emanating from a distinct race of people, and it promotes the institutions required for our self-determination and survival as a people. There is a nationalistic message in the Old Testament Book of Judges that does in fact have considerable overlap with our social ethic, social contract, and understanding with our Gods.
We understand the following contract: if we remain true to our Gods, our folk, and ourselves, then we at least stand a chance of rising in greatness as a people, living lives of greater worthiness and prosperity, and literally creating an advanced civilization that can take us to the stars. We can develop better science, greater technology, and even breed up to a higher form of man. Future generations may in fact become increasingly godlike in their powers and mastery of a limitless universe. We can develop an ever expanding intelligence in the universe that seeks to ultimately know itself and attain a kind of cosmic consciousness that is beyond our current capability to grasp.
If we fall away from this quest, and hence turn away from our Gods, then as a people we are virtually guaranteed to decline into decadence, ruin, and absorption into poverty of failed masses. As a race and people, we will decay back to the level of the jungle, from which our ancestors emerged millions of years ago before they bred upwards in the hard environments of northern frost zones.
This then, is the hard "either-or." This is the hard deal that is offered to us by our Gods and their hard laws of nature. Our Gods, who are both of nature and are in harmony with it, lead us along the high road of destiny -- the faith and path of the Aesir.

What are the advantages of contractual ethics?
In order to competently negotiate in your own behalf, you have to learn the value of things in an open market. This forces people to learn about the world around them and whether or not they are getting a good" deal."
In order to avoid getting stiffed in a deal, people have to learn how to keep their guard up. This also means learning how to avoid being bullied, bluffed, and deceived. The secret to a lot of "mean streak" and" get ahead" business success books is that they simply help people to think in contractual terms. A good example is the book Winning Through Intimidation by Robert Ringer, who discusses ways to protect ones negotiation position when dealing with greedy competitors.
This kind of approach stands in marked contrast to a different genre of business advice books, such as the classic How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, which focuses on being particularly good at performing "nicie-nice" duty-based ethics that stroke people, make them feel good, and "win flies with honey."
Duty-based ethics often emphasize obtaining intangible rewards of good will by making unilateral offers of nice behavior and stand-alone displays of good work. In contrast, the contractual viewpoint emphasizes the hard-nosed concept of "Don't give anything away for free."
In his book World War III, former President Richard Nixon points out that the first rule of international diplomacy is that a country never makes a concession without asking for something in return.

What are the disadvantages of contractual ethics?
Simon Cameron (1799-1889), a Republican boss of Pennsylvania, summed up the seamy side of contractual ethics when he once commented: "The honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought."
One of the biggest problems is that contractual ethics focuses on the relative strengths of parties to enter into an agreement, but has no moral compass points for judging the relative moral worth of different types of contracts. In the case of the aforementioned quote, the way in which a politician is "bought" by special interests is one type of contract. The obligation of a politician to represent the most vital concerns of his constituents and refuse bribery is another "social contract." Which kind of "contract" should take priority? A lot of people who focus exclusively on contractual morality have problems addressing this kind of question.
Another problem with contractual ethics is that people who find themselves in a weak or dependent situation tend to get squeezed, neglected, and exploited for all they are worth. After all, if they have little to bring to the negotiation table, why should they receive any concessions in return?

Odin's need to be very far sighted by trading his eye for all wisdom is also very utilitarian in nature.

We all find ourselves in weak or dependent positions from time to time. Often we require other people to put themselves into dependent and vulnerable positions to save the rest of us, such as soldiers who go into combat to protect us against an enemy. If everybody took a purely contractual viewpoint all the time, people would lose too much time renegotiating each new transaction and relationship, and we would-quickly run out of the altruists necessary to take care of a lot of tough but necessary jobs required to keep civilization intact and running.
Imagine a scenario in time of war if all the soldiers in an army suddenly demanded that they wanted to renegotiate the terms of their service contract before fighting anymore. The whole army would probably collapse before a determined enemy offensive. (In actual fact, there have been a number of significant military mutinies in the 20th century that have demanded "social contract" renegotiation, such as the French Army mutiny of 1917, the Russian Army mutiny of the same year, the German Naval mutiny of 1918, the Spanish Army mutiny under Franco of 1936, and the French Secret Army Organization rebellion in Algeria in the early 1960's)

III. UTILITARIAN ETHICS

"Virtue is its own reward"
--anonymous

"He who will not reason is a bigot;
he who cannot is a fool;
and he who dares not, is a slave."

--William Drummond (1585-1640)
Scottish historian, pamphleteer,
from Academical Questions.

"True patriotism sometimes requires of men to act exactly contrary, at one period, to that which it does at another ... "
-Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)
American soldier and educator
in a letter to General P.G.T. Beauregard, Oct 3, 1865.

In its simplest form, utilitarian ethics weigh actions by their consequences. Something is ethical if the total "good" it generates, to include intangible forms of "good," outweigh the negatives.
Utilitarian ethics is also known informally as "Situation Ethics", "Cost-Benefit Analysis Ethics," "Rationalism," and "American Pragmatism." It is often sniped at by moralistic Fundamentalist Christian philosophers as "The Ends Justify The Means" ethics, "Machiavellian," or "Everyone Has His Price" philosophy.

How do we acquire utilitarian ethics?
We engage in utilitarian reasoning all the time in our every day lives. We are "utilitarians" whenever we have to weigh the ethical pros and cons of different courses of action.

What kinds of people focus on utilitarian reasoning?
People who have to engage in some form of planning and decision making regarding ethical alternatives. Generally the higher up one goes in an organization, the more utilitarian decisions one has to make. This is because the policy problems get bigger, while the number of people over oneself to do one's thinking diminishes. Top leaders of government and corporations tend to be very utilitarian. Probably the most utilitarian people of all in our society, who also manage to stay out of jail and retain some kind of public support and esteem, have been heads of espionage organizations such as the CIA, DIA, and NSA. In this realm, the resources of the state support such "baddies" (all justified by a "good cause" of course) as stealing, assassination, covert war making, camouflage, and deception on a routine basis.
An area of management science and psychology that looks at how ethical decision making behavior tends to change with different situations is called game theory. The following are some basic scenarios:

Win-win situations: The utilitarian actor is in a situation in which he has many ways to act "good," all of which create "good" out-comes. The most "ethical" choice is the one that yields the greatest overall good.

Lose-Lose situations: This is a situation in which a person must select the lessor of evils. An example might involve a choice between losing an infected leg to amputation or losing ones life to gangrene.

Short term lose, long term win situation: The utilitarian actor must make a short term sacrifice in hope of achieving agreater long term gain. A good example might entail the sacrifices involved in Asatru missionary work. Another example might entail undergoing the rigors of military training, under the theory that "the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war." A society is considered decadent when it loses the ability to forego short term pleasure in exchange for achieving a long term good.
Sometimes niceness in the short run can turn into cruelty in the long run. As an example, I recently spoke with a vice president in charge of hiring for a sales job, who said: "If I am nice and hire someone who really is not fit for the job, am I doing them a favor if they wash out of the job in a year or two and then have wasted time and a failure on their resume?"

Short term win, long term lose situation: This is usually a situation that involves greed, in which someone enriches himself in the near term while inflicting greater overall costs to society. An example often cited in game theory literature is called The Tragedy of the Commons. It entails a scenario where a sheep farmer can make an immediate gain for himself by infiltrating his sheep onto a grassy commons at night, even if it results in overgrazing the area and ruining it for all other sheep farmers in the area, to include himself, in the long run. This is supposed to be an example of how various forms of unfettered and unregulated business competition might ruin a market.
Short term win, long term lose situations are often created by people who lack the character to delay gratification ("'get yours' today and to hell with tomorrow") or who are too stupid, ignorant, or brainwashed to understand the full consequences of their behavior. I recollect once hearing about a psychological study that correlated the inability of adolescents to delay gratification in a series of tests with criminal behavior in later life.

Coalition formation games:
One example is called The Prisoner's Dilemma. In this situation, two individuals who have committed a serious crime are separated by the police and offered the following deal: If you both say nothing, you both get ten years in jail. If you turn evidence on the other guy, and the other guy remains silent, you get only one year and he gets fifteen years. If you both tell on each other, you both get twenty years.
This is an interesting scenario, because the guy who snitches gets rewarded only if the other guy remains loyal. Here is a case where loyalty and trust gets ripped off. Yet if both prisoners try to rip off the loyalty of the other prisoner, they both lose even more. If you had to compete with a fellow prisoner who seemed to be loyal, but not enough to make you feel totally sure, what would you do?
In these types of games, psychologists play around with the level of rewards and punishments and try to monitor how it affects coalition formation or defection. Back in college, I once volunteered to be an experimental subject myself in a competitive coalition formation game I played over a computer terminal. In that game, I got rewarded with a nickel for every point that I would accumulate before reaching an agreement. I lost income every time my competitor and I remained at loggerheads.
Many of the findings of these kinds of games are basic common sense. The higher the rewards for someone to betray someone else, and in addition the higher the costs for keeping faith, the higher is the probability of betrayal. Also, people are less likely to betray other people if they have to repeatedly deal with them in the future than if they are down to their "best and final" transaction before walking away.

How are utilitarian ethics reflected in Asatru?
Asatru ethics lean more heavily in the direction of utilitarian ethical reasoning than most other religions, particularly Christianity (which is practically brain-dead in this regard).
This is consistent with the rationalistic mindset identified by Dr. Hans Gunther in his invaluable book The Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans, which talks about how our ancestors found spiritual significance in the rational order that they could perceive in the cosmos through their intellect. Dr. Gunther emphasizes how indigenous Indo-European religiosity seeks to attain spiritual enlightenment through a rational analytical process rather than through the use of drugs, escapism, or ecstatic forms of mystical "possession" by alien spirits.
Odin frequently shows utilitarian reasoning. As an example, He considers it a greater good to sacrifice a brave warrior in combat to bring him to Valhalla to help fight the final battle at Ragnarok than to spare him the pain of death for a further duration. At one point, He also considers it a greater good to break a contract to pay a frost giant for building Asgard than to suffer the loss of paying him in full. Odin's need to be very far sighted by trading his eye for all wisdom is also very utilitarian in nature.
Another utilitarian is Heimdall, surprisingly enough, who suggested that Thor and Loki disguise themselves as Freya and a woman friend respectively to trick the giant Thrym in order for Thor to get his hammer back. Thrym had stolen Thor's hammer and demanded to have Freya as his bride in exchange for the hammer. This ploy used camouflage and deception, which is certainly utilitarian in nature, since deception generally runs against the traditions of rationalism, honesty, and chivalry of our people.
Brunhild the Valkyrie showed utilitarian reasoning when she disobeyed Odin, reasoning that the greater good of saving the hero she loved would outweigh the evil of disobeying the Allfather.
Loki is very utilitarian with all of his mischievous and cunning tricks. But his acts are often criminal in nature, to the extent that Loki is only out for Loki. He could care less about the damage he does to others. His ultimate objective seems to be revenge, malicious destruction, resentment, or hatred rather than the greater good of Asgard, our folk, and the world. In fact, in the end, he orchestrates the destruction of Asgard and-the world by stirring up monsters and Ragnarok.
The eminent scholar H.R. Ellis Davidson argues that in many tales Loki's actions are more mischievous than hateful, and that in a later period the Vikings may have made his behavior more sinister as an influence of the Christian Devil. That may be true, but it is also true that Loki must have been more than mischievous indeed to inspire the Gods to want to capture him and torture him with dripping poison for eternity until Ragnarok.

What are the advantages of utilitarian reasoning?
A primary advantage of utilitarian reasoning is that it challenges us to think more broadly about the impact of our actions on the world around us, and encourages us to make ethical decisions on our own level rather than rely on some "Big Brother" to think for us.
In utilitarian social reasoning, some key questions include: "If an individual does something, will it cause him to prosper or fall into ruin?" The second question is: "If everybody in a society indulges in a certain kind of behavior, will society prosper or collapse?
When we set the right objectives and incorporate valid assumptions, utilitarian reasoning can be a very powerful and necessary tool to help us reach our goals. I like the motto of England's Odinic Rite, which is "Faith, Family, and Folk" Without strengthening our folk, we can not survive as individuals, and vice versa. Without supporting our Gods, They in turn can not support us as a Folk or as individuals
Another advantage of utilitarian thinking is that it gives us some flexibility. Sometimes the course of action described in the saying "He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day" is better than the tactic of holding fast and risking losing everything in one battle. Sometimes camouflage and deception is better than exhibition. The utilitarian viewpoint allows us to understand these viewpoints and keep cool compared to the other viewpoints. It encourages us to think ahead and avoid being used as "sucker bait" by devious enemies .
In The Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans, Dr. Hans Gunther suggests that the character of Odin became more duplicitous during the Viking Age compared to a simpler conception of our Allfather in an earlier age. In all probability this was stimulated by Viking contact with the trickery of alien peoples and the need felt by Norsemen to adopt a more sophisticated worldview to defend themselves.

Brunhild the Valkyrie showed utilitarian reasoning when she disobeyed Odin, reasoning that the greater good of saving the hero she loved would outweigh the evil of disobeying the Allfather.

What are the disadvantages of utilitarian reasoning?
One of the biggest problems with utilitarian reasoning is that the reasoning itself is nothing more than a problem solving tool like mathematics or computer programming. If, as in computer programming, you put garbage in, you will get garbage out. Throughout history, national leaders have repeatedly failed to do their homework and have proceeded with false assumptions or inadequate resources when they have launched high risk utilitarian enterprises such as wars that commit evils before hoping to accomplish some greater good.
I am reminded of the ancient Greek king who approached the Oracle at Delphi about his plans for a war. The Oracle advised him: "If you go to war, a great kingdo m will be destroyed." Feeling confident, the king went to war. Sure enough, a great kingdom was destroyed --his own.
Different people often have very different ideas about what constitutes the greatest good that justifies utilitarian.means. As mentioned in my discussion of duty-based behavior, ultimate meaning regarding the "why's" of life are found in our genetic make-up as both individuals and a folk, yet virtually all "politically correct" ethical thinkers today refuse to accept research results that show that human behavior is more genetic than environmental and that significant differences in innate temperamental traits and average intelligence exist between different human gene pools.
The philosophy libraries of our universities are filled with endless volumes written by different people through the ages who had different ideas about what constitutes the highest good, and how to get there. As examples, Aristotle felt that the highest end is human happiness, whereas Friedrich Nietzsche felt that it was the survival, domination, and enhancement of superior people ("What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness" -The AntiChrist). John Locke put a heavy emphasis on the preservation of an individuaI's right to private property, whereas Karl Marx wanted to collectivize as much property as possible. Russian nihilist philosophers of the 19th century felt that the current social order had to be destroyed before something of value could grow out of the wreckage
Criminals typically follow a very narrow utilitarian objective; their own aggrandizement at the expense of the laws of society and the welfare of their victims. A completely ruthless utilitarian only out for himself has no feelings for others or society. He does not hesitate to rob, cheat, and steal whenever he feels he can get away with it in order to build his own wealth, power base, or feed his personal hatred or bloodlust.
Many people not considered criminals in today's society nevertheless employ utilitarian reasoning that only factors in their own gain and does not take into account the survival needs of our people. This modern perversion of the Nordic ethic of self-reliance, rugged individualism, and free enterprise tends to encourage a kind of "every man for himself" type of society.
If "politically correct" people continue this long enough, they will eventually have neither a people, nor a society, nor a country left. An atomized society eventually falls prey to alien infiltration or outright military takeover by more cohesive countries or ethno-racial groups. I have already mentioned the game theory scenario called "The Tragedy of the Commons" that explains a way in which a ruthless utilitarian can spoil everything for everyone else.
Effective military service, by its very nature, requires forms of altruism and sacrifice in order to gain victory that atomized or ruthlessly utilitarian societies lack. Noone can ever pay a soldier enough to make it worth his while to risk getting his head blown off if material rewards are all that matter.
Top professional jobs (e.g. in medicine, the military, banking, the media, and law) require a sense of duty. It is very difficult for lay people who lack expertise to determine whether or not a professional is "stealing the store" until it is too late to undo considerable damage. I might add that no society can have enough resources, to include police forces and crime surveillance, to maintain order if even a quarter of the population decided to become ruthless utilitarians with criminal objectives.
One argument against allowing a society to become too diverse with different racial and ethnic groups at all levels is that pluralistic societies tend to lose the common value systems and sense of duty that prevent too many ruthless utilitarians from plundering it out of existence. It is much easier for the Ivan Boesky's and Mike Milkens of the world to thrive in a highly pluralistic society since there are so few common standards amidst the competing values and objectives of different ethnic and racial groups to expose and restrain their behavior.
Rugged individualism, honesty, individual free enterprise, and individual human rights are wonderful things that have always been desired by our frost-zone sculptured folk on an instinctive level, but at some point these traits have to be counter balanced with enough homogeneity and loyalty to our folk on a broad social level to make our society sustainable and resistant to various forms of alien infiltration, control, and ruthless utilitarian plundering .

 

 

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William B. Fox is a former Marine Corps officer with experience in logistics, public affairs, and military intelligence. He is an honors graduate of the Harvard Business School and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of Southern California. He is also publisher of America First Books at www.americafirstbooks.com

 

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