towards a new philosophy of radical kindness
Derek Van Gorder
I make a rough sketch of a societal ideal, as a guide toward discovery of utility between the disagreeable. I sought the simplest, most desirable hypothetical shape of society that even the most extremist Lefts and Rights might agree to, so long as they can still agree to talk with respect.
TOWARDS A COMMON IDEAL
THE UNKNOWABLE IDEAL (COMMON)
An agnostic, undefined higher ideal for society, that all admit is fundamentally unknowable-- no individual or group (political, religious, economic or scientific) can claim to have it right 100%. The ideal remains forever in the future-- necessarily so, for how could we predict what the future holds, and how our society would best be shaped to address it?
THE FREE MARKET (RIGHT)
The space in which individuals compete to produce useful, interesting, and desirable products, services, and art for other people. Consensual relationships are the ideal for all work environments-- leaders and followers, not bosses and workers. This space should be as free as possible, within the boundary of basic laws that protect against manifest abuse or coercion. Few restrictions, and no "right to work:" anyone can quit at will, or fire anyone else at will. Work relations should be no different than friendships and all other forms of voluntary association. The market should be a place of collaboration, learning, and hard work rewarded, not a place of manipulation or institutionalized mediocrity. It should also be a place for the weak and unsuccesful to fail.
This highly meritocratic, highly competitive free market generally attractive to Rights is only possible with the provision of:
THE CUSHION (LEFT)
A material / psychological place of rest and starting point available for all individual citizens-- if they need it. Universal healthcare is a popular contemporary attempt at this. But even more important in my view: "a Room of One's Own." A simple, private place to find shelter and dignity, for recovery & study, available to any individual who claims to need it. It is small, lacks amenities, but is hospitable. Payment for room & board is optional. I claim: merely the knowledge that such a space is available would generate tremendous growth of healthy culture & markets, as it enables everyone in the market to take more risks, to try harder, to find out how strong and competitive they truly are, knowing there is somewhere to go if they fail.
The Market for wants, the Cushion for needs. Someone who falls in the market must necessarily fall in their lifestyle or resources-- but the Cushion will catch citizens to protect them against:
COLD, HARD, MATERIAL REALITY (NATURE)
The bottom of the market pyramid. $0. Crippling debt. Self-sustaining poverty. State of nature. Homelessness, disaster, accident, sickness, or disability. Society has no interest in letting people wallow on this line; masses of neglected, or a permanent underclass fundamentally weakens the moral foundations and human capital available to all. Chronic failure of society to help people who are down there-- whatever the reason for their fall-- will inevitably generate guilt and self-hatred among citizenry.
The goal is not to keep people from hitting bottom-- that is inevitable and in fact psychologically useful. The goal is to ensure that a robust, equal, dignified safety net catches people above cold, hard, material reality, which in effect raises the common floor for all. In a time of great plenty, anything less than this is sensed, quite rightly, by Lefts to be unjust.
MORAL FOUNDATIONS (COMMON)
Common statement of Left and Right virtues (for individuals) and morals (for communities), with the highest possible amount of overlap between Left and Right identified. Plus an approximate rank-ordering of which are best addressed by law, and which are best addressed by voluntary communal culture. The foundation should not be formalized from top-down, but instead emerge organically, bottom-up from philosophical discussion and debate. All citizens should be encouraged to think hard about their own model for morals, and to compare theirs with models provided by top intellectuals of Left and Right in the country.
LAW AND ORDER (RIGHT)
Laws form the outer edge of what is possible in the Free Market / voluntary associations. Whatever restrictions are necessary to keep people safe and free from undue coercion, and perhaps dangerous monopoly, but no more. Laws are harsh and punitive by nature, and are typically ineffective in identifying and categorizing, let alone redressing, personal grievances or conflicts, and should be kept out of the personal realm as much as practicable. We all wish to interact with the law as little as possible, but we depend on it to keep us safe. Like the Cushion, police and the courts are a resource made available to you, only if you need it, and as a citizen, you are trusted to make that decision of when to call for help.
Military is essentially an extension of Law & Order, protecting the society from an unpredictable outside world. I will write more on military from a Lefts / Rights perspective elsewhere: but as with everything, I believe obvious harmony between Kindness & Strength should be sought by all.
The most important part:
HIGH SOCIAL VALUE OF PHILOSOPHY AND A CULTURE OF IDEAS (COMMON)
The comparison of variance towards an unreachable political ideal should be celebrated, just as it is in physical sports, in the form of public discussion and debate-- for any average citizen so inclined, but most especially between the kindest and strongest individual thinkers we can find among them, whose clash should constitute honored public spectacle-- under faith that free human expression and competition will over time trend society toward Reason. This discussion and debate does not necessarily require any political results-- rather the first purpose is to better inform voters, and to uphold a high standard of thought for elected officials.
This is a purely cultural battle that we must fight to reinstate the importance of discourse, and which I am pleased to report shows encouraging signs of early development. But it must break into the mainstream. We can no longer be content to let our mainstream culture languish in irrelevancy, immorality, and "political entertainment." Politics is serious and should not be disrespected by anyone.
In such a world: would you fear the influence of powerful ideologues destroying your precious beliefs? The solution is simple. You must study, and become stronger and kinder, so as to enter the competition yourself, and better defend from first principles the beliefs you hold. Or do you wish others to rule society on your behalf with weak, mean-spirited ideas?
I now believe a rough shape of a shared ideal lies at the heart of all Left / Right political expressions, however twisted they may appear through today's malformed politics. I will leave it to evolutionary psychologists to prove or disprove my claim. In the meantime-- try comparing this ideal to your own beliefs. Try to let go of your adversarial mindset. Try to identify who you have been taught to hate or disdain, and let go of the personal fear that allows you to do so. Then try discussing politics with a political opponent. And you tell me if it is effective or not.
No doubt there are many technical and scientific issues necessary to tackle when seeking any improved version of a society as technical as ours. I claim no skill or knowledge in this area. My critique of rationalism or "scientism" will never be to rebuke the reasoning or the scientific-- only the foolish who manifestly abuse or misuse science and statistics in media and politics today. Whom we must all scold, with earnest hope they will improve their perspective.
I strongly believe a broader foundation of moral / philosophical agreement must be sought first in all political affairs. No top-down tinkering-- regardless of its good intentions-- can work without common belief of the people that it will be in their best interests. Therefore I ask all who read this, as a matter of utmost urgency: to encourage bottom-up philosophical respect and discussion among all you know who are politically-inclined.
If you wish to avoid comparative moral or philosophical discussion-- through nebulous appeal to dogma, ideology, or to "scientific evidence"-- know that I wish to build a world where you will be shamed for doing so, so long as you pretend to weigh in on any political affair. We serious will see through you.
HOW TO MOVE FORWARD: MY SIMPLE SUGGESTIONS FOR LEFTS AND RIGHTS IN AMERICA:
A) agree to build the Cushion first. Kindness is necessary for Strength to grow.
B) gradually remove unnecessary laws and systems together (warped products of past adversarialism) to free resources that will be better spent in new, more collaborative Left / Right projects.
C) discuss, philosophize, debate, and negotiate from there.
D) use philosophy and morals to decide what you should do-- then use science to decide how. No scientist has ever designed a study that can tell anyone what they should do. No scientific study can predict for certain the future of human affairs. That is up to your collective imagination and moral insight. So stop using statistics and "evidence" in arguments of principle. Turn to facts after you reach sufficient philosophical agreement to do so. But know going into it you will never agree perfectly.
E) learn to enjoy disagreement-- kindly (in pleasant discussion) and strongly (in debate).
F) politely call out ideological, extremist thinking among friends, to make them kinder and stronger.
G) avoid "news." Does it inform you, or just make you angry? Fix problems that are directly relevant to you, and start with your own life.
H) avoid all political media except the following: 1-2+ hour sessions of philosophical, political debate or discussion between people who seem smarter than you-- individual authors, thinkers, intellectuals, philosophers, scientists, academics, who probably disagree and have no obvious political affiliation. Make a list of your favorites, and compare to others. Anything else is cheap infotainment designed to make you angry. Partisan newscasters and partisan comedians add no value to society. Ignore them until they learn to discuss politics with seriousness and empathy for themselves and their opponents.
I) seek in-person discussion. No one who avoids it has anything to say on politics.
I) scorn no one based on arbitrary institutional or ideological trophies. Do they speak rightly? Are their ideas sound? Can they treat with respect those who disagree with them, yet strongly express their disagreement? Then they are a great thinker and worth listening to.
I believe in all Lefts and Rights. I know that you can work together to build a better society if you put your minds to it.
Become Sisyphus: only ever upward; challenged, productive, with great humility.