Our Society of Selfish Bastards, Advocate, 11/10/2015

I was originally going to write my tripped-out philosophical review of this weekend’s Doctor Who episode, Before the Flood. But as I won't be able to watch it until Sunday, that review will post Monday morning. 

Instead, I’m angry. And I want to use my little corner of space on the internet to air some grievances a couple of months before Festivus. 

I read the LA Times’ Chris Erskine’s rather rancid clickbait, “The Millennial Pledge,” and it made me pretty steamed. It set me over the edge a bit in terms of my righteous anger. 

I do my best to channel my general feelings of anger at the state of the world into productive avenues. My internship with the Syria Film Festival, volunteering with my local social democratic campaign this election here in Canada, and developing creative projects. 

There are real people behind these stereotypes and stock
photos. The notion that we have moral obligations to real
people is now open for debate. This liberal principle,
that you must not compel me to do what I don't wish to
do, in its most extreme form now grounds the new
That includes research for my next big book of political philosophy about utopian thinking, working out promotional strategies for my current big book of political philosophy about environmental activism.

But if you read “The Millennial Pledge,” you might understand why it tipped my anger over into something worth openly speaking about. It’s essentially a list of promises for those of us who came of age during the first years of this century. Promises that we'd no longer complain.

I won’t make a point-by-point rebuttal, because such a focus on the details will miss the essence. Like this one. Erskine opens his list of pledges with a declaration that covers everything that follows: “I am entitled to nothing.”

It expresses the message many of these people are told – from conservative business leaders and politicians, the stereotypes and jokes that drift around the media, sometimes their own family members. You should be doing better by now. What's your problem?

Consider the idea that none of us are entitled to anything, that each of us are responsible only for ourselves. It's the driving concept of the modern liberal movement – the one who’s shorthand name is neoliberalism or libertarian, depending on the context. It's an ethical principle that each individual is responsible only for himself.

My internet friend O made the point clearly: “‘YOU’RE ENTITLED TO NOTHING!’ is the most corrosive statement possible to the social contract; to be civilized is to owe one another.” He cites Emmanuel Levinas, that ethics begins with the realization that you owe the other everything.*

Levinas' philosophy is that ethics is about understanding
the nature of my moral obligations. It's not just their
content, but acknowledging that the fact of being
obligated is a necessary part of human existence. Few
people read Levinas today.
* ‘Other’ is capitalized in the actual text of Levinas, for complex philosophical reasons that aren't required to understand this post’s point.

Ethics is understanding and upholding our moral obligations to each other, and I would argue the wider world as well. What we owe to other creatures, the future members of humanity, our planet and its ecosystems; what we owe to God. Yes, this atheist will include God. The times call for something that radical.

Because our times – economically, socially, and morally – are driven by this belief, that none of us owe each other anything. It exists in government, where social service programs are declared illegitimate because our income is taxed to benefit others who may need help. 

It exists in business, where the sharing economy business model passes all investment and risk to employees, who are treated as contracting corporations. It’s become a principle driving even basic citizenship rights. That all of what I have is for me and not for you.

It exists in the demonizing words of those who’d willingly forbid refugees from fleeing a war, because they only want to manipulate us into giving them our government’s money. That I owe you no mercy, no respect, not even enough consideration to listen to you as if you were truthful. 

You're entitled to nothing – I owe you nothing.

This state of affairs can’t last forever. There are many social movements today that deny this principle, whether or not they say so explicitly. 

I’m proud of my small role helping promote organizations that help refugees and bring their lives to Canadians. I’m proud of my small role helping a social democratic political party, and other anti-austerity movements.

Stephen Hawking recently did a Reddit AMA where he
declared how technological advancement, combined
with our current popular morality, would likely result
in mass unemployment and global human misery.
Scroll to his discussion of 'technological unemployment.'
There are movements for reparative justice for minority communities who suffer from police violence and mass incarceration. Other reparative justice movements to build a new, respectful relationship with our indigenous peoples. 

Hypocritically, many folks who are the first to scream that no one is entitled to anything frequently feel entitled to control the freedom of women. And there's a restorative justice movement fighting this too.

Our current path, where more of our lives are left to drift, without any obligation on any of our parts to help others – individually, communally, or systemically – leads to mass misery.

Our society's typical views of the future in pop culture tend to be pretty pessimistic. Environmental disaster, meteor strikes, dystopian wastelands, zombie apocalypse.

It sounds like a simple thing to work toward a society defined primarily by kindness. Yet it seems so alien to my own world that it feels like a utopia.

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