Justifying Idealism, Composing, 07/04/2016

A map of the universe where Earth is one planet among many is more complicated than the geocentric spheres. But it’s more accurate, and a more diverse and fascinating universe to explore than a geocentric reality could ever have been.
So it goes for the more complicated political universe with many diverse, intersecting, and conflicting axes of freedom and liberation. It’s much more complex to navigate. If you thought easy answers were tough in the liberal individualist model of politics, then this model with so many different axes of freedom is even harder.
Why would anyone want to do something that’s hard?

Mostly because it’s necessary. The libertarian – the most intense traditional liberals in the world, really – argument that you can still be free in absolute poverty is based on a paltry, one-dimensional conception of freedom. 

This has been another week where each entry returns
to the same ideas just a little differently, trying to find
the best way to express them. Literally composing my
ideas, day by day, thought by thought.
To be free is freedom from the authoritarian control of a sovereign state, and there’s no distinction between the oppression of a secret police service and an income tax agency. You may barely afford to eat, but if you live in a society without a state tax authority, you’re free because no government coerces you.

I call shenanigans. Shenanigans because the deprivation of poverty genuinely ruins lives. Not just the immediate material deprivations of poverty, but the erosion of opportunities to dig yourself out of poverty that living hand-to-mouth creates. The inability to save. The inability to eat healthily. The inability to access housing. The heightened vulnerability to catastrophic results from otherwise minor accidents.

Many people around the world are increasingly sick of an economic regime that facilitates such incredible inequality that more people are stuck in inescapable poverty traps. 

The Copernican Revolution of political thinking is about redefining politics so that political discussions can include these economic issues, first and foremost. To do that, we need an expansive understanding of what a properly political conversation is.

We’ve become too accustomed to thinking of politics as being solely about the interplay of private and public – working out what areas of life are proper to individuals and what are proper to the government.

What is the political? It’s every relationship between people that helps constitute society. Every aspect of human life constitutes our political life. The domain of politics is life itself. You understand this and all that libertarianism just falls away. It’s just inadequate to the problems we face and the solutions we need.

We can forget the most valuable contribution that libertarianism brings to political thinking – how horrifyingly dangerous the state is. But that’s only one aspect of a universe of political importance and power. 

An artist's representation of a startled Copernicus.
The original Copernican Revolution – you know, the one the actual Nicolas Copernicus* started – transformed our image of the cosmos from a home built specifically for humanity into a complex assemblage where humanity lives. That cosmology alienated God from humanity because it implied that God had more complex priorities than human development.

* Or rather, Mikolaj Kopernik, for those of you like me who think Latin is kind of snooty and Slavic languages generally sound extra-badass.

Kant, like all reactionaries who believe themselves progressive, wanted to preserve the material truth of a world more complex than humanity, but restore the moral authority of a God that cares only for humanity.

But the problem with an image of God as a moral authority is that it seems an unjustly one-way relationship. Living in a manifestly unfair world, prayer and piety alone isn’t exactly effective in building a more just society. If we expect justice and fairness to arise naturally, it will never arrive. 

The strong will continue to eat the weak, unless the weak find new ways to make themselves strong. But that strength has to be new kinds of power that undercut the strength of the already-strong. Our ideals have to be about remaking society – changing each of our minds – so that violent coercion is literally not effective anymore.

Human politics driven by our ideals puts us at war with the cosmos itself. It means that the ideal of human politics is to demand a better world than the universe is able to give you – if I can’t find it in the world as it is, I’ll build it.

It’s the demand to God herself – I won’t submit to your theodicy; I won’t justify the raw deal of human suffering. My ideal is a world where everyone lives in peace and happiness. Where a single crying child is too much pain to be right, to be justified.

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