Archive for category Res Publica
It is going to be a busy day! So much to do!
- Congratulate a bunch of people — those who felt the system was failing them — for letting their voices be heard in a dramatic way. I’m sure there is something hopeful in that. Well done.
- After considering some of the people mentioned in #1 — just as a precaution, change my Christmas shopping wish-list from Amazon books to Cabella’s gun department.
- Check into that whole “rigged election” thing…after all, he’s been right about everything else.
- Check the over/under on “Days Until Military Coup.” If they’re calling it 230, I’m taking the under.
- Select my outfit for the Inaugural Ball. (I am thinking something white and billowy, with maybe a pointy cap….)
- Read a good “prepper” manual and stock up on canned goods, freeze-dried meals, and water. Also pretzels. I really like pretzels.
- Remember to boot my computer from Tails, and always use a zero-knowledge VPN and the TOR browser. Get all my friends to switch to the Signal instant messaging app (end-to-end encryption, and not owned by Facebook). Delete all my social media accounts (please send cute baby and kitten pictures via snail-mail to my new post office box in Belize).
- Smash capitalism.
- Scoop the litter box.
- Shut down this blog.
Well, I’d better get busy!
People want to know: Who is to blame for this whole election, for these two candidates, for all the rancor and dissension. I’ll explain:
- The Republicans are to blame: from Gingrich on, the party has positioned itself to lead inexorably to Donald Trump. Their emphasis on no-nothingness, obstruction, racism, sexism, their denigration of the poor, weak, and vulnerable — no wonder this is who they’ve nominated. He is a mirror to that party, and many in it now don’t like what they see. But Republicans have brought it on themselves.
- The Democrats are to blame: ever since Bill Clinton, the party has tried to move rightward such that it is now “Republican-lite” — and not even that “lite.” They are in bed with finance capital, and no longer are they the party of labor. They are traitors to their base. They are the ones who started to cut the social safety net to ribbons, they are the ones who removed the protections of Glass-Steagell, they are the ones who implemented mass incarceration and the prison-industrial system. The forgotten and disaffected needed someone who would listen — or at least feign listening, as the Democratic party no longer even pretends to be the representatives of the middle and working classes. And when a candidate like Sanders comes along who can galvanize the party’s historical base, they do everything in their power to quash his efforts. Instead, they nominate the one candidate in the world who is vulnerable in a campaign against Trump. The Democrats have brought this on themselves.
- Democracy is to blame: Democracy — the rule of the people, by the people, for the people — i.e., self-rule is an oxymoron. If the system depends on everyone having a voice, then the enemies of democracy get a voice — and no anti-democratic voice has been louder in recent times than Donald Trump (“I, alone, can fix it!”). A social system based on the occasional voting of a populace otherwise unconcerned and ill-equipped in matters of governing, is fundamentally vulnerable to demagoguery, fascism, political suicide. Was Churchill correct? Is democracy the worst form of government…except for every other form of government? Democracy requires constant attention. Trumpism (or something like it) is a permanent risk and tempation for democracies. Is it worth it? Democracy has brought this on itself.
- We are to blame: We consent to work 50+ hours per week, often at what David Graeber calls (technically speaking) “bullshit jobs.” We have our faces buried in our mobile devices. We live our lives on social media, blissfully unconcerned about matters of privacy, ideology, manipulation, and control. We dumb down our schools, cutting music and the arts, belittling philosophy and critical thought, turning educational institutions into factories for producing more cogs for the machine. We get our “news” from any website with a .com, regardless of its quality. We repost articles we haven’t read and have not vetted, and then feel we’ve added to the civic conversation. We believe all the lies that make us feel better about ourselves and that give us someone else to blame for all the troubles. We pat ourselves on the back for making it down to the polls once every four years and throwing a few switches (or punching out a few chads) for candidates about whom we haven’t the slightest idea. We are proud patriots. We look down our noses at the non-voters (lumping them all together under the umbrellas of “lazy un-americans”) and feel superior that we have kept democracy safe (for capital, for the 0.1%, for creeping bureaucracy, for the surveillance state, for a system for lining the pockets of those who play this highly artificial game). We denigrate those who just say ‘no’ to this charade, insisting that they have no right to complain, no voice, nothing to say. If they propose alternatives, we simply stop our ears. “Just vote once every four years, then shut the hell up.” Well, in fact we voters are the lazy and the ignorant — perhaps the most ignorant, the most duped, the most “played.” We are right where the powers-that-be want us: compliant consumers of whatever bullshit they configured us to “need.” We brought this on ourselves.
Until we admit this, we will continue to be plagued by bad politics. And it will be our fault.
So what shall we do?
What, again? Are you still asking someone else what you should do? Let me remind you of something Immanuel Kant wrote [An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784)]:
Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of [people], long after nature has released them from alien guidance, nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them…regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock [i.e., us] dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures [i.e., we] will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they [i.e., we] would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts. Thus, it is difficult for any individual [person] to work him- or herself out of the immaturity that has all but become his [or her] nature.
Has immaturity become your second nature? Are you able to respond to Kant’s clarion call: sapere aude — “Dare to know!”? Can you think for yourself? And do you think you can think for yourself if you don’t even know yourself?
Okay, you say, you’ll think for yourself for a change. But still you ask: can you at least give us some guidance, some way to go about it?
Fine…but just this once. On Tuesday, go down to the polling place and pull the Democrat lever. Don’t even look at the names…just pull it and leave. [Why not Trump? Answer: Clinton is (a symptom of) the problem; Trump is not the answer; there is no quick fix.] On Wednesday, after Clinton is deemed President-elect, write her a letter (okay, okay, an email). Congratulate her, then tell her that you vow to never let up on her the entire time she is in office. Tell her you don’t mean you are falling for all these phony “scandals” the opposition has tainted her with all these years. Tell you mean you will be on her about her policies, decisions, alliances, and performance on the job. Tell her you are not doing this because she’s a woman. Tell her you are doing this because you should have been doing this all along, no matter who got elected. Tell her you promise to seek out your local and state representatives and deliver them the same message. Tell her you will do what you can to organize a local meeting of your party — whatever your party happens to be, or, if you do not belong to a party, that you will at least meet with neighbors and friends (it could even be bi- or non-partisan) — every two months to discuss the performance of all your representatives, and that you will report to all those representatives your collective views of how they are doing. That means that she, along with all your other representatives, will be getting a “report card” based, not just on your own idiosyncratic opinions, but on the research, discussions, and debate that you’ve been engaged with and tested by. Tell her you hope to encourage friends and family outside your local community to do the same. Tell her a failing grade will not be tolerated, at least not by your local, informed, diligent, and objective group which has actually thought things through. Tell her that the existence of this network of discussion groups may very well result in a significant grassroots movement or even a third (or fourth) party, unless she (and your other representatives) are adequately responsive to those she/they purport to represent.
There you go! Do that. Not enough, you say? Won’t work, you say? Well, it is likely to be about a jillion times more than what you have been doing, right? And things have gone to shit, I’m sure you’ll agree. So give this idea a whirl. At least you might meet a few neighbors and make some new friends and learn a few things. How bad could that be?
“…the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”
— J.R.R. Tolkein
Would somebody please arrest this psychopath Dick Cheney?! (And, police, please — in this case — feel free to pretend Dick Cheney is an unarmed black male. Apparently, he won’t mind.)
The problem I have is with all the folks we did release who ended up on the battlefield … I have no problem [with torturing innocent people] as long as we achieved our objective.
–Dick Cheney, nutter.
In case you are worried about the inserted addition in the quote above, I invite you to follow the link and to watch and listen for yourself to these enlightening — and thoroughly disturbing — two minutes with Dick Cheney.
So you think capitalism is the best system to ensure democracy? You think the defense of “freedom” by “libertarianism” supports democracy? You think you know what Adam Smith was talking about by the “invisible hand”? Better take 15 minutes and listen to this.
All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.
–Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book III, Chapter 4.
Why I am (not) an anarchist.
Here are some random thoughts on this claim:
- Anarchism tends towards emphasis on negative liberty: “Nobody tells me what I can and cannot do.” Like difference philosophy and deconstruction, anarchism emphasizes one pole of the sphere of human existence. What about postive liberty, the freedom for becoming what you are (or will have been)?
- Anarchism, as Emma Goldman puts it, resists the state, property, and religion. It is an open question whether these can be resisted. All can be seen as “artificial,” creatures of human artifice, and so we might be warned against, in Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s terminology, false necessity. But the question is whether underlying the particular manifestations of state, property, and religion there is not something fundamental, something fundamenting, as Xavier Zubiri would put it, that explains the inescapability of something like state, property, and religion.
- Anarchism, as an ism, paradoxically functions as an archē, as an inviolable principle which serves to authorize, to generate authority (and heresy). A good example of this can be seen in all the trouble Shevek gets into with the “anarchists” of Anarres in Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. He is called a “traitor” for his “egoizing” desire to be in contact with the people of Urras (the “Propertarians”). The “anarchism” of Annares becomes the tyranny of the mass, as Goldman would put it.
- I am interested in an anarchy that has no archē. Or at least no single archē.
- Anarchy means to be without a ruler. It means, thus, to be unruled, unmeasured, without a measure. But is it so that human beings are lacking all measure? Is self-transcendence (Augustine) the same as infinitude? Is not the confusion of these two what is meant by “original sin”?
- Multarchism would mean that there are multiple measures, perhaps always one more measure. It would reject the idea that there is no measure (an-archy), but it would also reject the hegemony of any particular measure, principle, foundation.
Be advised: Despite my reservations about voting, I will definitely be voting (when eligible) for any candidate I can truly believe in to be a good public servant, for any candidate whose campaign I’d be willing to endorse personally. And, yes, in that case, I’d be urging you to do so, too. Those kinds of candidates will very likely be running at the local level, however. Any considerations about the efficacy of voting have to take into account context. Subsidiarists like myself like to keep things as local as possible. That kind of voting can mean something.
What is the difference between an opinion and a belief? Let us say that a belief is an opinion with reasons. One of the objectives of public debate in a democracy should be to promote opinion into belief. We must demand reasons. But many Americans are not comfortable with this demand. “It’s just my opinion”: this bizarre American locution, which is supposed to provide an avenue of escape in a disputation, suggests that there is something illegitimate, even disrespectful, about insisting upon the defense of a proposition. Yet the respect we owe persons we do not owe their opinions. Political respect is axiomatic, but intellectual respect must be earned.
This is another snippet from the very quotable defense of reason by Leon Wieseltier I linked to earlier. The last point here is key: We could agree with Kant that we are obligated to respect persons for their inherent dignity and worth as persons. But no idea has inherent dignity or worth. Even though our identities are in large measure constituted by our ideas — our hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations, in short, our beliefs and opinions — we are not only our beliefs and opinions. To the extent we remember this, we are less likely to claim to be offended when we are simply disagreed with. Offense leads to fights; disagreement furthers both our arguments and may lead us both on to a clearer picture of the truth.
There are people who prefer ardent thought to clear thought, and loyal thought to strict thought. There are people who mistrust thought altogether and prefer the unarguable authenticities of the heart—the individual heart and the collective heart. There are people who regard thought […] as an activity of an elite…. Yet the ideal of ‘clear and intelligent thought,’ stripped of its condescension and its indifference to the non-rational dimensions of human life, deserves to be defended. We need not be a nation of intellectuals, but we must not be a nation of idiots.
Read the rest of Leon Wieseltier’s reflections: Reason and the Republic of Opinion.
Hearing criticisms of your own convictions and learning the beliefs of others are training for life in a multifaith society. Preventing open debate means that all believers, including atheists, remain in the prison of unconsidered opinion. The right to be offended, which is the other side of free speech, is therefore a genuine right. True belief and honest doubt are both impossible without it.
That’s from a well-argued an essay in the Wall Street Journal by John O’Sullivan. The essayist is a conservative (associated with the National Review), but his reasoning calls to mind the more classically liberal John Stuart Mill.
Mill-ian Reasons for Free Speech
In Mill’s essay On Liberty, he argues passionately and persuasively for an absolute prohibition of restrictions upon freedom of speech and conscience. Mill gives four basic reasons for his position:
- The view that is being silenced might be true, so to silence it implies our own infallibility. But we must admit that we are not infallible, and so we ought not to silence the offending view. If we were to silence it, we might be unjust not only to the persons holding the offending view but even to ourselves and to posterity. We might, in silencing that view, be cheating ourselves and generations to come of the opportunity to exchange error for truth.
The offending view will likely contain at least a kernel of truth. As philosopher Ken Wilber put it, “No one is smart enough to be wrong all the time.” [^1] the prevailing view is unlikely to be the whole truth. By preventing a clash between the offending view and the prevailing view we are denying ourselves the opportunity to come to a more complete truth.
If we don’t allow the prevailing view to be regularly and vigorously contested by exposure to contradictory opinions, that prevailing view will come to be held in the manner of a prejudice. In fact, as Mill puts it, it will become just one more superstition.
Views held in this latter manner become weakened and their meaning gets lost. People no longer really hold the view based on conviction and experience, but as a mere empty formula. We end up not even knowing what we believe or why we believe it. These prejudices stifle our opportunity to come to genuine convictions. In short, our chances to become authentic, free persons are at risk.
For all these reasons, all views ought to be open to being contested. In fact, says Mill, if we were ever to get to a point of full unanimity on a particular view (never fear!), we should consider appointing something like a “Devil’ Advocate” to serve as an official opponent of the unanimously held view just so people would know not only what they believe but why.
Now, as Mill would be first to admit, this argument itself is arguable, and today it has an increasing number of opponents. O’Sullivan’s piece offers a list of efforts to curb freedom of speech from all sides of the political spectrum, including initiatives on the part of his own conservative camp. Nat Hentoff wrote a book entitled, Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee (1992). It’s subtitle is: “How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other,” and that could also serve as a summary of O’Sullivan’s essay.
Sticks and Stones and Words
My mom used to tell me that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” On the other hand, the opponents of free speech tell us that “words hurt” and argue that hurtful uses of words ought to be prohibited. Who’s right? I think in fact that words can hurt very much. For instances, the messages that kids receive from parents, teachers, and clergy can stick with them through life, and many of those messages can be quite damaging. Bullies can be mean not only with their fists but with their tongues. Racist views, ethnic prejudices, and gender stereotypes congeal into unjust practices.
If words are the cause of these evils, should they not be prohibited?
Perhaps we should listen to the sage advice of Thomas Aquinas:
[H]uman law cannot punish or forbid all evil deeds: since while aiming at doing away with all evils, it would do away with many good things, and would hinder the advance of the common good, which is necessary for human intercourse. (Summa Theologiae I.II.91.4)
In other words, we have to weigh the cost and benefits of prohibiting speech with the aim eliminating certain evils, and the conclusion of that analysis shows that it is (almost?) always more beneficial to protect the freedom of speech at the risk of having someone suffer hurtful words. Free discourse and the right to disagree are conducive, on the whole, to the common good and are certainly necessary for the preservation and advancement of culture.
Indeed, we could apply the Pauline principle (Romans 3:8) that we ought never to do evil that good may result from it. Freedom of speech is a good, the suppression of it an evil.
Thus I say: Offend me! I take very seriously my right to be offended. So go ahead: take issue with my religious, philosophical, political, and aesthetic views. Show me the error of my ways! I am not going to complain you are “forcing your morality on me” (unless of course you try to get your view enacted into a law such that it may never be questioned again). What I hope you will do is argue with me, if in fact we disagree, and not just hurl epithets. We do not have to be mean spirited to have a spirited debate. But if you’re simply going to call me names, go ahead. One of us will end up looking more stupid and vulgar than the other (spoiler alert: it will be you).
And while we’re arguing about freedom of speech, we can argue about the hard cases. We can argue about whether only human persons have this right to free speech or whether fake, militarily defended corporate “persons” have this right, too. We can argue whether freedom of speech means we have to accept the money influence on elections. We can argue whether non-speech expressions of ideas are also protected (burning books and flags, for instance). There is a lot to argue about. I will assume that neither of us wants to be wrong. If so, then resist will all your might the temptation to silence your opponents.
Free speech for me AND for thee!!