It Is Accomplished IV: Tying Myself Up in Red Tape, Research Time, 29/09/2015

Continued from last post . . . See, this is what frustrates me about having political conversations sometimes, that a lot of the time, people think I’m one type of person when really I’m another. 

This was clearest in conversations with my old libertarian friends. I would say I’m a person of the left, and they’d talk to me as if I was a doctrinaire, state-centric socialist. But I actually think that kind of government is ridiculous. 

It stifles economic sectors that are more productive and ethical in competition under state ownership. It enables mass corruption, since the state becomes a universal monopoly that people game to advance in society. 

Brazil depicted a central character who was stuck in a
world of bureaucratic conformity, but who dreamed
of being absolutely unique.
The tradition of art from Franz Kafka’s The Castle to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil helped me form a lot of my political sensibility. I saw clear expressions of the economic and political flaws of state socialism when I studied the history of North America and Europe, and clear expressions of state socialism’s ethical flaws in films like Brazil.

So when I say that I think the post-Reagan political order needs some serious structural change if we’re really going to lift millions out of poverty (again) and start repairing our immense ecological harm (for the first time fucking ever), state-centric communism won’t be an answer.

Fukuyama makes that much clear. Mind you, he emphasizes what I think is ridiculous because he believes it and makes it the centrepiece of his conception of economic progress. Fukuyama says that human mastery over nature – his core principle of science’s unity and progress – ensures our prosperity.

This was an important element of Marx’s philosophy too. Science progresses by growing humanity’s mastery over nature, so we produce more and more from the Earth. He just considers communism the best political system for fairly distributing the bounty from our authority and control of nature.

Environmentalism – and ecological thinking more generally – shows us how dunder-headed this way of thinking really is. The last 200 years of humanity understanding “mastery” of nature as our ability to exploit it with increasingly efficient rapaciousness* hasn’t made us more powerful at all. Instead, we’re the engines of Earth’s sixth Great Extinction.

Because humanity-enabled atmospheric changes have
dried out so much of what was once lush land that
huge swaths of forest are burning down and will likely
become desert in decades. I mean, holy fuck.
* My ecological perspective (which you can read about here) is what makes reading about Fukuyama’s virtue of insatiable desire so off-putting. I’m too accustomed to the idea, which should be MORE taken for granted today, that insatiable desire is terribly destructive.

Humans need a government that guards their freedom. Democracy generally does that best. Or at least, it has the best potential. Where I differ from a liberal is how.

Robert Nozick struck such a chord in traditionalist liberal thinking because he situated his philosophy in a long-established liberal premise: people fundamentally need physical security above all else. So the primary (and it turns out, only) legitimate function of the state is to provide physical security: national military defence and domestic police. 

If the politics of my own time, the early 21st century, demonstrate anything on this matter, they at least call it into question. You can’t take seriously mass-scale domestic espionage and the inevitable disaster of anti-terrorist intervention with a military built to fight states, and say there might not be an essential problem with a state monopoly on our physical security.

Folks who worry about state socialism say that a political institution shouldn’t have a monopoly on all industry and employment. This is true. But not enough people worry about the political institutions that hold a monopoly on the use of lethal weapons and the prison system. 

I’m not going full libertarian here, but Latin Americans – even more than the most paranoid North Americans – have lived through generations of military men who think their power over the guns and prisons gives them more right to rule than civil servants and elected officials. 

The scary part for the liberal tradition – from Hobbes to Nozick – is that this conclusion can follow from having made physical security the primary purpose of the state.

Where I fall for an alternative is with social democracy. But it’s a form of social democracy that keeps the state and the military in a very subservient role. It’s my humbly radical utopia. . . . To be continued.

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