Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Egalitarian Psychology and Society

I have had several discussions of late on the egalitarian level of Gravesean psychology. In the past I have talked about Gravesean psychology from a political perspective, particularly focusing on the evolution toward bleeding-heart libertarianism, but there seems to be considerable confusion when it comes to the relations among the dominant political views, particularly within the egalitarian level.

The Renaissance gave rise to the Enlightenment and, thus, to Modernism (the Entrepreneurial level of Gravesean psychology). The Enlightenment was itself divided into two camps, which one could very loosely divide into "left" and "right." The "left" -- which did in fact evolve into the egalitarian left -- was represented by the continental thinkers, like Descartes and Voltaire. They believed in constructivist rationalism -- they believed that they could reconstruct the world into something more rational. To us, they would be considered quite libertarian overall, however. We would also consider the "right" to be quite libertarian -- and not the least reason being that it includes such people as the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers (Locke, Adam Smith, Hume, etc.) and Burke (more typically viewed as "conservative"). However, they differ in their view of reason and society. They believed that reason was not the end-all-be-all, that emotions underlay them. Further, they did not believe that one could rationally construct a society; rather, society evolved organically. It was, to use Hayek's term, a spontaneous order that slowly evolved in relation to tradition. Darwin was influenced by this tradition, and it underlies his theory of natural selection.

There was a reaction to the Age of Reason, and that was Romanticism. Out of Romanticism, particularly philosophical Romanticism, we get postmodernism. Both are part of egalitarian psychology. Rousseau is the foundational thinker, and we are still reaping the consequences of his ideas on education and society. For Rousseau, man was good, but was corrupted by society. Hegel viewed human relations as a master-slave dialectic and, thus, as power relations. He viewed Romanticism and the State as where all the world was evolving. Marx disagreed that the State was the end-point, but otherwise agreed with Rousseau and Hegel -- proposing a post-state communist utopia that would shed the shackles of society. The dialectic would conclude with the slaves (the proletariat) overthrowing the masters (the bourgeoisie), thus power and mastery over themselves. Communist anarchy would work because, after all, men were good, just corrupted by society (and property). This is the direct path toward what we understand as leftism.

Nietzsche reacted against these ideas, but did so within that world view (at least for a while), even pointing out that he himself was a Romantic. He thus came up with a right-wing version of Romantic/egalitarian thinking. Existentialism developed out of Nietzsche's ideas -- both those they understood (more or less, pre-Zarathustra), and a version of those they misunderstood (from Zarathustra, on). With Heidegger, we get an explicitly right-wing version of the egalitarian world view, which gets developed more by Leo Strauss and by others of the postmodern right into neoconservatism. Like the left, neoconservatives are concerned primarily with democracy and the spread of democracy. Their almost exclusively political concerns (and view of everything through a political lens) derives from the fact that postmodernists view everything as power relations.

What we typically understand as postmodern philosophy -- which is really only the final stage of postmodern/egalitarian psychology -- developed out of the synthesis of both left and right egalitarianism. Contemporary progressivism and neoconservatism both come out of this perspective. Indeed, one sees very little difference between the two world views, regardless of the sound and fury signifying nothing coming out of both camps about the other. If Obama were a Republican, would any of the neoconservatives complain about a single thing he has done? If Bush 43 were a Democrat, would any of the postmodern progressives have complained about anything he did (expanding Medicare to include medication, No Child Left Behind, etc.)? Both sides see democratic government as a force for good, as being good in and of itself. Anything wanted by a democratic government is thus good -- thus the complaints from right and left about an "unelected judiciary" deciding whether or not a given piece of legislation is Constitutional. If the people/representatives decide to do something, it is legal in this view. What matters is who has the most power.

I suppose the average person would see my description as being negative, but I have in fact only described the psychosocial situation. From left to right, communism, socialism, the welfare state, and neoconservatism are all potential directions egalitarian psychology can go. All evolved out of the constructivist rationalism of continental Enlightenment thinkers. To a certain degree, contemporary libertarianism is the version of egalitarian psychology which evolved out of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, particularly among the anarcho-capitalists. What matters is if one is fundamentally at an egalitarian level of psychology -- regardless of how one thinks egalitarianism can come about (socialism, welfare, or free markets). However, given that the egalitarian level is simultaneously radically individualistic and collectivist (rather than seeing humans as social individuals, which is a completely different way of understanding humans) simultaneously, we should not be surprised if we find few true libertarians (and no classical liberals, who are at the Enlightenment/Entrepreneurial level of psychology) at this level.

What we would expect to see, then, is social evolution into experiments in society -- communism, socialism, progressivism, welfare statism -- i.e., discontinuous change being pushed constantly. We would expect a society that pushes change for the sake of change, a constant overturning, identity politics emerging out of a concern for expressing one's authentic self, and a desire to expand social democracy throughout the world -- where democracy is determined less by the structure of the government than by the outcomes. We should not be surprised if this sounds like contemporary Europe and the direction in which the United States is heading.
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