Presentation to the Melbourne Philosophy Forum, June 7, 2015
Political philosophy and an additional theory of political change
Modern societies have many problems. The the rich oppress the poor; men oppress women, the educated oppress the less educated, particular cultural groups oppress others; politics is often the art of oppressing the electors, whilst appearing to serve them and our intelligence services seem to oppress even the politicians. Then there is the environment which we all affect; even if just as providing reduced sustainability for future human beings.
There is no great mystery concerning power over our fellow citizens, to want more is as natural as breathing and thus the corruption of power is the assumption of self-favouring, inequitable entitlement.
Various political utopias: Marxist, Anarchist, Capitalist, Feminist, Environmental... envisage societies in which these problems are rectified and propose means to bring them about in different ways: revolution, physical / psychological coercion, peer-pressure; re-education, training and legislation
Societies consist of collection of citizens, some societies are chaotic some less so; avoiding ‘individuals ’because even though common usage does not seem to explicitly prevent ‘individuals’ from being divided and conflicted, ‘citizen’ carries no such possible entomological bias.
It is the instincts, habits, opinions, ideals, knowledge and interactions of those cityzens, which in turn constitute the basis for the injustices, prejudices, customs , culture and laws which constitute a society ; which are the final cause of that society’s problems.
Whilst some legislative and educational reform is possible; in the end a fairer, less conflicted society requires saner, less conflicted cityzens ‘ So the contention is that. A 'better' society requires 'better' cityzens To attempt to bring about change in society entirely by: revolution; force, conditioning , indoctrination, training., education or legislation ; is doomed to failure; because it simply fails to understand the problem! Often with disastrous consequences; witness the excesses of the French revolution; the re-education camps of various Marxist revolutions etc. But without those or other 'top-down' means; what 'bottom-up' means are possible ; given that children tend to imitate their parents; rather than follow their prescriptions ?
One 'bottom-up’ means ie there may be others, is : "if one citizen could find a slightly ' better way of living ' and he or she could influence one other, every month by mere imitation ; then while after 3 months there would still be only be 2^3 = 8 such; but after 36 months there would be 2^36 = 6.8 billion; so bottom up change could be rapid! "
In Tony Deere’s excellent talk on the eutopia called “Anarchist Capitalism” another ‘bottom-up’ mechanism is proposed, based on a generalised notion of unregulated market forces and consequent small or non-government . A theory such as this also seem to underlie the whole ideal of a ‘deregulated free-market economy of self-interested aka rational consumers’ and would seem to be subject to the same problems .
Those problems seem to be:
1/ The goods and services purchased by such cityzens consumers do not constitute a plebiscite of the wishes of those citizens ; rather they record what was chosen from what was available from the citizen producer retailers ; this is why market-research exists !
2/ The interests of those rational citizen consumers are diametrically opposed by the equally rational citizen producer retailers; which is why anti-collusion, anti-monopoly legislation is required, to achieve even the lower prices of a competitive free-market
3/ Finally if the free-market does not constitute a viable social mechanism and plebliscite; then as a theory of social management of the economy and society ; 'economic rationalism ' amounts to little more than economic fatalism; since as a hypothesis it would seem to have no supporting objectively falsifiable evidence, nor any prospect of ever having any.
If the theory of management which is of a small government deregulated economy of self-interested aka ‘rational’ consumers and producer/ retailers, in a myriad of free-markets, is just economic fatalism. Society is responsible for whatever regulations it imposes or fails to impose. A proper science of economics will suggest how free-markets might be regulated to achieve a given political end. Economic engineers, probably civil-servants aided by large and increasing IT, will implement that regulation and those political ends will be determined ‘at the ballot-box’; including also for example such notions as social sampling.
Now suppose that the citizens who make up a society just like the members of the Philosophy Forum all have profoundly different political world-views as in holding different theories about the problems of society both factually and ontologically ; different points of view and approach and different notions of how things should be. Consider for example the following extreme and I hope novel, political ideology
It is perhaps important to realise that the expression ‘Nihilistic Self-responsibility’ is used here; that is ‘self-responsibility (to be described later ) wth a quality of nihilism. Rather than ‘ Self-responsible Nihilism ’ which might suggest ‘nihilism’ with a quality of ‘self-responsibility" because how can an absence of someting have a quality?
Perhaps the concept of the quantum-vacuum illustrates the problem, if a vaccum is an abscence of anything how can we describe such a region of space-time as a vaccuum if it is teeming with ‘virtual particles ? In this case it might be clearer if the quantum-vacuum was described as ‘a region of space-time devoid of observable phenomena’; since all the virtual particles hop in and out of existence inside the time constriant of the Heisenberg uncertainty inequality.
Nihilism is a subtly ambiguous word; in common usage it can mean an absence of beliefs about how things are, for example objective beliefs ‘That the moon is made of green-cheese’ or phenomenological beliefs ‘I think therefore I am'!
Here the usage will be restricted to an absence of ideals, as desired ends aka ‘what should or shouldn’t be’ ; but this even this can be ambiguous:
- someone might simply have not found anything to believe in and are still searching or
- they may be actually opposed to all ideals (as above) , in this case ‘how society should be’.
Now having an ideal of having no ideal, as in a notion of how things should be; ”that one should have an ideal to have ‘no ideals about how society should be’, could definitely be heading towards inconsistency; but what if having ideals about things, one-self, others or society intrinsically contradicted , having knowledge about those things ? What if having an ideal about something, intrinsically
prevented or made difficult seeing how things ontologically and/ or factually are? This is particularly evident within the psyche ; suppose I am violent and do not wish to be so. A simple ideal of non-violence may have little effect on such behaviour perhaps only resulting in hypocrisy. Even informed by a causal analysis (violence is action from anger , from impatience, from ignorance etc may not help. But perhaps when violence (for example) is understood in the sense of it’s nature or phenomenological ontological order recognised, so that it’s part in the process of the phenomenological self can be understood then ; perhaps that recognition itself may act ?
So a nihilism which approaches synonymity with pragmatism; but a pragmatism simply concerned with seeing things as they are rather than as they should be.
Yet another ambiguity becomes apparent looking back at this dichotomy. The very notion that a mind can exist which has no beliefs about ‘what should or should not be’ seems problematic, because the personality as an immensely complex process of interacting processes of instinctive, habitual, social and ideological responce; often categorised as “id, ego and super-ego’ seems to actually consist of beliefs about how things should and shouldn’t be. So psychologically a nihilist would have no personality !
Since the desire is to discuss ‘real’ or at least typical citizens, let us use ‘psychological nihilist’ to describe someone who lives in an ethical/ ideological quandary rather than an ethical/ ideological vacuum. I hope we will not become bogged down in preferred, proper and established usages of nihilism and pragmatism; but if less ambiguous words exist let us use them !
Let us postulate a citizen of some established society it may be a representative democracy, a theocracy or some beneficent or not so beneficent dictatorship; which may or may not have a functioning legal system. This citizen decides that his/ her life is of pre-eminent importance relative to all the other members of that society .That his/ her responsibility to his/her self by his/her self must come before any considerations of responsibility to that society or it’s members. That, that responsibility to and by one self, is unlike say Sartrean authenticity is not limited to causal blame but amounts to a total acceptance of that situation as his/her unique
problem. Where that situation is,
- that one’s life is to be considered a brief journey by a conditioned, deluded self in a universe and society which is simultaneously transient, dangerous, unpredictable and unutterably indifferent to his/ her fate .
- that is, a self implicitly hobbled in action, blinkered of perception , divided and conflicted.
So the egoism of Max Stirner, but not ameliorated by some notion of a coherent self. Let us suppose the citizen decides that consistent with that ‘nihilistic’ self-responsibilty only values consistent with that end will be considered; from the plethora which make up his conditioned self; in particular in the categorisation of Freud , his super-ego. Suppose sanity in the sense of seeing, the world , others and oneself; as they are, is considered one such. Now superficially, this world-view might appear to offer little spiritual, psychological or political constraint on that citizen’s actions or basis for an internal or social ethical system.
- in that citizen’s eternal psychological wars ; eg between asceticism and hedonism etc.; no side will be taken and while
- ethically that citizen might refrain or take great care with untruths ; not because telling untruths deliberately or otherwise is considered undesirable, but because telling untruths to oneself is not sane and telling them to others may reduce one’s credibility
- ethically that citizen might help another but likely in fear and trembling, at the possible imposition of values and certainly not in any sense of self-sacrifice.
- sometimes co-operation with fellow citizens will be consistent with Nihilistic_Self-responsibility sometimes not
So if combined with an agreement to disagree; a society of individuals with such a world-view, seems possible, but totally at odds say with a world-view where a Christian ethic or even a Humanist ethic ‘the greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number’ say, prevails.
Rather than devote further time to a fuller development of this world-view; it is hoped that it can be seen as a genuine possibility and an example of a world-view at considerable distance from many more conventional ones Amidst increasing, irreducible diversity. As mentioned earlier even within this Philosophy Forum we can notice a variety of world-views and perhaps while initially we agree-to-disagree merely to enable continuing discourse, surely it does invite the thought that it genuinely reflects a great diversity in human nature ; particularly in the world-views and ethical- ends that are possible and more particularly held ? What if the future of human society as collections of citizens, is not some convergence of values and world-veiws but increasing irreducible diversity? A diaspora into an immense ‘philosophical’ mind-space ?
Then "One must agree to disagree" seems to change from a hypothetical imperative to something more like Kant‘s Categorical Imperative : “A categorical imperative, on the other hand, denotes an absolute, unconditional requirement that must be obeyed in all circumstances and is justified as an end in itself. It is best known in its first formulation: eg Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.
“How might such a society govern itself ?
With some difficulty it would seem and certainly not with any unanimity regarding the criminal, civil or economic regulations in place at any one time. Rather citizens will conform with some laws from agreement and others from fear of apprehension by vigilant policing; whilst flouting those for which nether is a concern ! Thus in many respects resembling the partial chaos of current representative democracies .
Perhaps the future will be more transparent; the citizen be they politician, bureaucrat, policeman, businessman or humble employee will need to exercise much greater subtlety and guile, if they hope to escape notice; in their attempts to flout the law.
Perhaps the costs of incarceration and the education in crime which jails encouraged ; will lead to replacement of jail-sentences with curtailment of social rights; such as happens to bankrupts; except where a danger to society can be demonstrated ?
Perhaps the costs of policing will become a real consideration in the legislative process ?
More generally still; perhaps a desirable consequence of a real quantitative science of economics and the exponential increase in per capita data generation, storage, transmission and processing , will allow the micro-assessment of the dollar cost of the implementation and consequence of any proposed legislation. ?
Finally perhaps even whilst the selection of political representatives continues with increasing fragmentation of the parties; various forms of political plebiscite from double blind sampling to electronic referenda will augment decisions regarding, how the political advantages and disadvantages of proposed legislation will be distributed amongst different social classes ?