Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reality and Liberalism and Ideology Opposed Together

In Aristotle's formulation, virtue aims at the beautiful. The archer must aim high to hit the target because of the effects of gravity. One could put this another way. The political reformer must aim high to hit the target because of the effects of reality. One can never escape the effects of gravity/reality.

The reality is that humans are a complex social species prone to hierarchical organization. We see it taking place when we freely associate with each other to form clubs, businesses, or other kinds of organizations. A leader typically emerges, and the leader is replaced by other leaders. If that's what happens when we freely associate with each other, we cannot expect any less from our political institutions and from governments in general.

There are many other realities about human beings we have to take into consideration. That we prefer to live in social groups of around 150 people -- the famous Dunbar number. That we are a species of social mammal, meaning we are territorial (again, up to 150 people -- meaning we are property-owning in small groups from 1 to 150). It also means that we have alphas, betas, etc. down to omegas. That's how we organize. It's how we relate to each other. We even seem to need scapegoats to stabilize society. Religion contributes to social stability. As do many other institutions that are uniquely human.

Those institutions evolve. As do our cultures. We are traditional, and traditions change, but change slowly. That allows for social stability. Change too fast or don't change at all, and the society collapses.

Humans trade. Of course, there has to be privately owned property in order for there to be trade. Trade allows for the increase in wealth because when two people trade, they are necessarily better off. Trade also allows for specialization, meaning people become more effective and efficient at the work they do. Which further contributes to the increase in wealth. People are also innovative. Innovations of all sort contribute to wealth creation as well, and the more people there are, the more innovations there can be, and the more wealth can be created for everyone.

As a species of social mammal, we, again, have alphas. That means leaders. So long as we remain a species of social mammal, we will have leaders. They will typically force themselves into the leadership position, because nature is hardly democratic. Elections are how humans solved that problem in the best way possible. 

There are many ideal worlds one can imagine. Imagination seems endless. We can imagine ideal communism, ideal socialism, ideal theocracies, ideal monarchies, and ideal anarchies.

Virtuous political economy will mean aiming at the beautiful. Ideals are always beautiful.

However, we make a mistake when we try to actually realize our ideals. We should not mistake the beautiful for the virtuous. Otherwise, we aim too high, and we miss the target.

However, accepting reality means missing the target as well. We aim too low. Things do not remain as they are, but rather degrade. Society falls apart.

In the ideal, mass murder almost inevitably takes place because nobody can possibly match the ideal. In the real, social disintegration almost inevitably takes place because stagnation is death.

Knowing the real, we have to aim for the ideal. But the real must remain to root us. We are always dealing with real humans as they really are. Those humans can change, but they are limited in how much and how fast.

An anarchy is an ideal. We should aim for it. Given that most of our interactions are in fact anarchic in the sense of not needing government to take place, we should do our best to try to make our societies as anarchic as possible. But if and when we find a place where expanding anarchy there makes life worse, we have found the limits. And there is power in limits. We mustn't forget that. Failing to achieve the ideal doesn't mean we have failed. Ignoring those limits does. Finding the limits of our ideals means we have succeeded.

Of course, there are some ideals that can only remain in Cloudcuckooland because they do not match reality at all. Still, there may be elements that are desirable. We can perhaps agree that various inequalities ought to be eliminated without  agreeing on how to achieve equality. At the same time, we have to face certain realities. Network effects can create natural inequalities despite everything we do. And we will often find that the more equally we treat eat other, the stronger the network effects. Another way to say this, is you can have equality under the law or equality of outcomes, but not both.

Another way to understand this is through the idea of criticality. Society should be neither perfectly ordered and unchanging nor perfectly disordered. It needs to be both at the same time. Also, we should reject both reality and idealism/ideology, and embrace the critical space between the two, the most complex, creative space that results in networks and systems with emergent properties. The world view that seems to create this is liberalism, which both seeks to transform reality while rejecting ideology. Liberalism is not an ideology, but rather a world view, an attitude toward the world, especially the social world.

Of course, criticality is part of reality as well. So we never actually get out of reality. But let's face it, there are better realities than others. What we need is the freedom to find those realities and work to realize them. And that means rejecting both the advocates of reality and of ideology, while giving them space to work.
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