towards a philosophy of radical kindness
Derek Van Gorder
I now believe that beneath every political expression is a desire to help, a desire for social harmony. It is the twisted shape of poor social constructions which bends helpful Will against itself. Ideologues, though they may victimize others, are first victims themselves of cruel rationalizations. They are not to be feared-- but pitied and cared for. The enemy is the ideology itself: never the people it controls.
Haven't you always thought:
• Libertarians want freedom for all. Who could not want freedom?
• Socialists want care for all. Who could not want care?
• Authoritarians want order for all. Who could not want order?
• Capitalists say: material is what counts! Who does not need material resources?
• Feminists want freedom and respect for women. Who among you could possibly disagree?
I believe each person who considers themselves a member of any particular political group, though they may hold extremist, impractical, or immoral rational positions, is at core driven to fix some part of society that needs fixing. All of these interests are important and crucial-- how could any one group seek to dominate the others? Yet that is what we do today by sorting ourselves so tightly into these groups in the first place and then engaging in adversarial politics. Sadly, our society and culture today are already so broken, that each group is only driven more and more strongly to "help" by fighting harder-- and so we all spiral down together in bitter struggle instead of competing and collaborating in harmony.
To save ourselves: should we continue to critique rationally the ideological fixations we already know are irrational? To ruthlessly pillory each other's positions with "facts" or "evidence"-- or should we try emotional dialogue, and philosophical discussion? To find first all areas of shared belief? To talk together directly with the opposition, not to insult them among our friends? To discover precisely where it is our ideas diverge? To discuss what kind of society we actually want, rather than what we are willing to settle for? To point out moral failures of policy or weakness of ideas, but to validate the very human, understandable desires behind all political action? To learn again to enjoy debate and discussion? To only then, after finding collaborators, turn to science and evidence-- as tools to use towards a common purpose, not rocks to throw at each other?
I recommend as the first and most powerful tactic for those seeking a better society: protect yourself, but show unconditional kindness and emotional understanding for your enemies and political opponents. If there are any rational people still left reading, perhaps they find this wishful thinking. I believe evolutionary psychology will soon indicate that I am the realist and you are the dreamer.
I now believe that altruism has an evolutionary basis and bias; that Reasoning beings will trend towards it over time so long as they can still Will toward their best interests. The short and long term advantages of cooperation are too great to ignore. Non-violence and non-aggression are not only desirable: they are effective, as known by anyone who has attempted to listen to others and speak with true kindness, though it is too rare a practice today.
I believe I share the same Will (life), and the same Form (human) with my opponents, even those who claim to hate me. Therefore I cannot raise a hand against anyone, except by mutual agreement to compete, which will always be to the benefit of both participants. And one who does not agree to compete in good faith, but attempts to scorn, damage, resent, or attack me-- to them, it is all the more important that I do not show fear or hate in return, only try my best to show them truer strength.
Humanity is all one species and we share remarkable commonality of nature. Sub-tribes and cultural variation are perfectly necessary and healthy beneath that; in fact, competition between them can be friendly and mutually beneficial. That human competition is in any sense necessarily hateful and violent is an illusion that we must work to shatter. Therefore any who aspire to Reason can no longer call for fear, hate, or violence against anyone we could still talk to. So long as exchange of words is still an option-- I believe better, kinder ideas will prove to be our most effective weapon.
This is not a naive philosophy which seeks to throw out the nation or any institution or defenses, or encourages any kind of monastic or unrealistic lifestyle. It is simply a call for kindness and strength to all individuals, peoples, and nations who are capable of hearing it, to work in their own best interests, and each other's. To stand up for yourself and protect those you care about, but never to endorse fear or hatred-- especially against those who are already fearful and hateful enough.
This is not a political prescription-- it is trust that better politics will emerge between those who aspire to have honest discussion. And your contribution is determined only by honest assessment of your own true desire and capabilities. A simple discussion with friends makes a world of difference and should not be undervalued. If you discover a taste and a talent for political discussion and debate-- then by all means, pursue it as far as you Will; only seek kindness first, followed by strength.
The necessary dialogue this suggests works best in person. Careful listening is the first step. Followed by real conversation that uses simple, human words that promote kindness and understanding, but also careful Reason to unmask ideology. Whether the conversation trends towards discussion or debate depends entirely on the conversation partner, and you must be ready for both. I have tried this with many people, and am still in the process of learning best methods (and naturally-- always will be). But so far, nearly every one of my conversation partners (perhaps 20-30) has begun crying upon learning of who they have been taught to hate.
Through tragic mechanisms, I now believe the vast majority of us are ruled by Othering ideologies even if we do not realize it. We are all filled with hate or resentment for someone else. So as to be better divided. Whoever is supposed to be oppressors, or oppressed, or undesirables-- it makes no difference; all are victims of the enemy that is ideology.
Therefore I resolve to continually refine my personal philosophy of radical kindness to use as a weapon in the realm of ideas, to cut away the ideology that keeps people from caring about each other, as so many clearly wish to. It is fundamentally reconciliatory-- ruthlessly so, and I aim to make it more ruthless over time. I now believe I have a moral obligation to show others the utility of moral thought and the necessary struggle of searching for it as a species.
The high-level explanatory power my view provides to history and human affairs is shocking to me, and it has in fact forced me to be more cautious and kind in how I approach the topic. However: I will accept any challenge of debate on any political or philosophical question. Each time I am challenged, I find I learn new ways to improve the kindness and effectiveness of my approach. I am not so weak as to expect total victory on every exchange-- only demand of myself that I improve after each one. So that I may better do my part in freeing human beings from machine-thought.
There is a serious psychological drawback of embracing this tactic which must be mentioned. Truly believing (and therefore enacting) that dialogue and kindness will prove to be more effective than the contrary necessarily generates a revised view of 20th century history-- one that has the potential to be extremely depressing for sensitive souls. And many hours since my realization I have spent mourning the loss of millions of people and lives, so many friends and citizens, each uniquely valuable in body and mind, to a poorly-thought-out civilization, whose self-evident primary interest in generating more of us was to fuel itself, unconcerned with the human, psychological, emotional, evolutionary well-being of its citizens-- which could only have made this civilization so much stronger, so much kinder, so much earlier.
But surely sadness is a necessary feeling, to be integrated into strength, along with the rest of our instincts. And today, I strongly suspect no lasting change in the ideological can occur until they go through some version of this darkness. Due to the primary belief system of our society today, I believe most of us operate on top of a reservoir of unaddressed fear, frustration, hate, or sadness. Sadness, I think, truly felt-- must mean you are on the right track, not falling towards hate. And therefore should not be feared.
After my experience talking to people these last few months, further discussion in this direction seems to me self-evidently achievable and a manifestly good idea-- even if any particulars of my strange theories turn out to be inaccurate, and surely many will. But I no longer demand absolute truth from myself or anyone-- only what is true enough to promote Kindness & Strength.
It is only sensible that any individual who undertakes any such journey would do best to look at themselves first; to set their own lives in order before attempting to help others, and I agree with this old wisdom. But as a Left, by nature, I cannot afford to speak only of individual and personal responsibility. I must attempt to channel my efforts towards common wellness, and to that end, I propose a common political ideal, seeking to re-harmonize Left and Right values.
Bret Weinstein and others have called the concept of a more human modern society Game B. Towards its realization, I hope to contribute political shape and moral purpose.
GAME B: TOWARDS A COMMON IDEAL