Monday, February 7, 2011

A Mind-Nugget Re: Utopia

A standard objection to laissez-faire capitalism or to utopian visions more generally is that "It would work only if people were morally better; as it is, people are too destructive in their behaviors." Unfortunately, that seems to be a discussion-ender for many people; the idea of bringing about a society of morally-better people just doesn't strike them as realistic enough to even entertain, or for it to even occur to them. All we know, historically, is a mixed record of human behavior.

My current project is focused, meanwhile, on how to bring about a society of morally-better people. Not only would objections to laissez-faire fall apart if there is a realistic blueprint for human moral perfection in place, but all other sorts of problems and objections, over and above politics, go away. So at the least I have a one-up on a lot of critics or opponents of laissez-faire: true enough, even if you don't need morally perfect or better people for laissez-faire capitalism to be the most desirable socio-economic system, you just cover a lot more ground when you begin to focus on the issue and the question of human moral perfection or betterment, over and above how well markets and property rights "work." (This is exactly an illustration of the nature of hierarchy: a philosopher, in drawing broader and broader integrations, covers more and more all-encompassing ground.)

Here's the next further-encompassing integration: we are all committed, in some fashion or other, whether we all realize it or not, to achieving just the kind of utopia I aim to provide a blueprint for. How is this? Well, we know it is achievable in principle, because of one thing a great many of us already accept: we have free will.

Free will makes possible Nazi Germany - and it makes possible laissez-faire utopia. There's really nothing hard to figure out here. To deny that we can end up with either of these is to deny the causal efficacy of consciousness and its products. (Even those who "deny free will" can't realistically deny that people can be greatly influenced by ideas swirling around in their cultural environment.) Further, as a certain novelist-philosopher put it, our basic and most fundamental virtue - that which (metaphysically) makes the greatest number of others possible, and which (epistemologically) explains the greatest number of others - is the virtue of rationality, which amounts in practice to nothing more than an integral commitment to thinking. (This also explains the last line in a comprehensive philosophical book by said novelist-philosopher's best student.) Not only that, but intellectual and moral virtue can make our lives - individually and socially - a lot better. So there's great incentive and reward involved with being morally better.

That's all it fundamentally comes down to: the virtue of thinking.

[ADDENDUM: "She was thinking all the time." -Harry Binswanger, in 100 Voices and/or "Centenary Reminiscences" - in reference, concretely, to Rand's manner of arriving at her concept of "value." She just spent all her time thinking about it - with no other thinker she could really refer to, save perhaps for Aristotle - before she found a fundamental explanatory answer. A real philosopher should be at least as fascinated by her process of thinking and arriving at answers, as by the answers themselves. It's really of secondary importance here whether the conclusions and arguments she used are true and sound. Given where she started and what she had to work with, it's really quite amazing what she managed to integrate in the time she had. It's exactly why Peikoff, Binswanger, Gotthelf and other trained philosophers in her midst compared her to Aristotle. It's not some fawning fucking cult-like devotion, but a natural response to the fact that she out-thought everyone she came in contact with, including being able to prove convincingly everything that seemed "weird" to outsiders or the uninitiated. (Up to and including the reasons she broke with that slimy bastard Branden.) It's just mind-boggling how so few people have picked up on this. What failure of thinking brings this about? Having only Aristotle and perhaps Nietzsche as chief formative influences, and philosophizing mid-20th-century, how formidable a system of thought could others come up with? Rand just fuckin' blows the others away, that's all there is to it; the rest is just a matter of explaining that point to anyone with a curious and functioning mind. And that's why her opposition is so often so disgusting. (But it can be corrected.)]

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