Lazy Luddite Log

26.7.10

Widening My Fingers

I have been asked to elaborate on my political Five Fingers posted a few weeks ago. With that in mind I will try to define my terms a bit better here because they are very much open to interpretation.

A cosmopolitan and permissive society

I love this phrase. The word “cosmopolitan” refers to the notion of a whole world within a city. It is an amazing notion but also one that has existed in practice here-and-there for millennia. I think it is a more comprehensive term than “mulitculturalism” in that it can encompass both culture and sub-culture. Another shortcoming of the term “multiculturalism” is that its opponents have had some success in saying that it is merely a policy invented in the 70s rather than the recognition of a long-term societal fact. In the word “cosmopolitan” we have something much more organic and rooted in history. In such a society the old combines in many ways to form the new and few things are set in stone.

I think such a society is implicitly one in which personal life-decisions are facilitated. However I want to be explicit in saying I also advocate for a permissive society. The term is a controversial one which I am happy to mess with. For me a “permissive” society is one in which we all have permission to be who we are and who we aspire to be. This is important because the best decisions tend to be made by those closest to the matter under consideration. A permissive society contrasts markedly with a traditional one in which one must live according to arbitrary conventions and expectations. I need to clarify one thing – in a truly permissive society one can be as traditional as one wishes as long as one allows others to make decisions for themselves. Those who think it necessitates replacing one kind of conformity with another are gravely mistaken and undermine its value.

A mixed economy that strives to be both prosperous and just

The concept of a “mixed economy” is a familiar one in economics. It has been shrewdly observed that every economy is a mixed economy because one can never have a pure command economy or market economy. However one can aspire to such purity and such desires undermine human quality-of-life. All things in economic policy are just tools intended to meet human objectives so why get all dogmatic over any one combination of those tools? The important thing is to find the best combination of tools to fit the present circumstances. And there is a lot of room to move there. I for instance think that welfare (helping those who have lost or lack a livelihood) is much better than protectionism (helping local industry in the hope that it will then help to provide a livelihood for all).

In economics different interests focus on either the overall size of the economic cake or the way in which that cake is sliced. But both are important. If the cake is too small then everyone is closer to hardship. If some slices are markedly bigger than others then this produces both division as well as hardship for some. Striving to be both “prosperous and just” is a difficult challenge way beyond my own understanding and so I must rely on (yikes) economists. But I can support politicians who will work with those economists in such a way that human need is never forgotten.

Preservation of the natural environment from over-development

I have an admission to make: I think that environmental issues are important – arguably more important than any others – but I just cannot get all that interested in them. Economics is boringly intricate and so for that matter is ecology and climatology. The best I can do is understand what I can and put trust in those that seem to understand more. Hence I lack eloquence here as compared with other areas.

A key term to notice here is “preservation” – the natural environment is robust and self-supporting but it is facing unusually significant changes due to human activity and for the sake of our own long-term livelihood it is necessary to more carefully manage those changes. The other is “over-development” and implicit in that is the notion that there is such a thing as a level of development that can exist alongside a robust natural environment. Some more dogmatic environmentalists may feel otherwise but we cannot simply wish humanity away. The only thing to do then is find a better balance than we have now. What that balance is exactly is also something for more and better minds than mine. Technological change can help. So can changing industry practices. And finally decisions made by consumers must factor in environmental responsibility.

Nuclear disarmament and peaceful forms of conflict resolution

I feel like this more than anything is childsplay. How can anyone even contemplate endorsing the maintenance of weapons of mass destruction? Destruction! Come on! Global Climate Change is a mugging while Nuclear War is a sudden decapitation by an axe murderer. And even if that mugging was guaranteed while the decapitation was only a miniscule risk I would still be more scared of the latter. Okay so I have been involved in activist groups dedicated to this issue so that may affect my tone somewhat. Still this has to be a priority for any government engaging in the international community – reduction and eventual removal of nuclear arms. And that is just the most important aspect of making the world more peaceful.

I have a few notions on how to promote peace and many of them relate to other parts of this entry. Peace is linked to economic and cultural and environmental factors. But that is a bit too optimistic. Look more closely at relations between nations and you sometimes see attitudes that we experience in our own lives. We neglect communication. We are more interested in what we think is right rather than what is necessary. We understand our own grievances all too well but rarely acknowledge those of others. We focus on how conflicts started in some vaguely remembered past rather than address them in the present. And we rarely if ever ask ourselves what we have done to contribute to the problem. If we do all of this for too long then we become fanatics and cannot be negotiated with in any circumstances.

A secular parliamentary democracy that fosters respectful debate and public participation

Originally a “secular” state developed as a kind of neutral ground in which different denominations and religions could co-exist. It now allows us all to decide exactly how religion plays a part in our lives (by the time we are adults anyway). Some take the notion of separating church and state too far and think that nobody in politics can be religious. This is problematic if significant portions of the electorate are religious. I am fine with religious persons of all kinds getting some consideration in political debate but creed is only one aspect of who we are. We all have different needs and wants that deserve expressing and testing in a process of reasoned debate. Nothing improves concepts more than a bit of argument and present standards warrant marked improvement.

In a mass society representative forms of government are necessary. And “parliamentary democracy” in particular has a long heritage of important concepts like rule-of-law (which governments themselves must abide by) and majority rules that is tempered by consideration of minority rights (since ultimately any majority is just a combining of minority groups). But we can do better than just elect representatives then just sit back – hence “public participation”. We can pay attention to what they do and communicate with them. If we see one interest over-stating its significance then we can get into the game and represent ourselves more vocally. We can assert our own opinions while also understanding that democracy sometimes involves compromises that nobody is completely happy with. And we need to remember that even politicians are only human and that they are drawn from us. Finally I come to the word “respectful” which is the way in which I hope we can debate and indeed interact because ultimately we are all fundamentally the same.

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2 Comments:

  • I'm copying and pasting comments to this same post from LiveJournal (complete with messy formatting text). See below...

    From: pezzae
    Date: July 27th, 2010 11:26 am (local)
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    Just one nitpick for an outherwise excellent post - large swathes of the planet becoming unable to support human habitation are not like 'a mugging'. By uninhabitable, I mean both unable to grow food (this is already happening and more is sure to come) and too hot and humid for humans to live, as more than six hours outside an airconditioned environment would cause heat death (this is a smaller risk, but a real one - see http://earlywarn.blogspot.com/2010/05/odds-of-cooking-grandkids.html ). Think of the number of deaths from starvation, and disease, the misery as millions of people are displaced from their homes, the potential for wars as climate refugees flood neighbouring countries... this is not a minor and temporary problem like being mugged.
    It's more like cancer, in that it won't kill us as fast as decapitation, we have no idea if it will indeed kill us or just make our life temporarily really unpleasant, we don't know how fast it's spreading and if it's already metastatised (passed a 'tipping point' of feedback after which catastrophic change is inevitable) or whether we can still treat it... If I was personally told I had a tiny risk of decapitated by a madman today, but I definitely had cancer, I would be concentrating way more on what I could do about the cancer!
    Having said that, there is no reason why concern about climate change and concern about nuclear weapons have to be mutually exclusive. I would say in fact that they are amenable to many of the same solutions, such as strengthening international bodies and creating multilateral pacts. They are both versions of the Prisoner's Dilemma, in which the best outcome is obtained by trusting one's partner, so anything which creates that trust (and action on either issue should create trust) will help progress on both.
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    From: originaluddite
    Date: July 28th, 2010 10:17 pm (local)
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    I was expecting some environmentalist to bite on my analogy (as indeed you should).

    The motive for me was to draw attention to something that is neglected. As much as policy movement is frustrating on the climate change front, it is still in the media every day, whereas nuclear arms have been forgotten since the Cold War ended.

    My analogy is limited, as all are. If I were to extend it then possibly I would say that humanity is all too accustomed to getting mugged (considering how nasty, brutish and short it has been for most of history) but that now we have an opportunity to end that but are stuck in the mindset of accepting it.

    You are right that the two issues have similar solutions, and indeed, the peace and environmental movements have a _huge_ overlap, and are some of the most natural bedfellows in politics.
    (Reply) (Parent) (Thread)

    By Blogger Daniel, At 09 May, 2017  

  • I'm copying and pasting comments to this same post from LiveJournal (complete with messy formatting text). See below...

    From: paul_the_bass
    Date: July 27th, 2010 05:14 pm (local)
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    Thank you for posting this, Original_luddite. It seems a very succint elaboration of a certain brand of liberalism. Thank you for defining your terms so comprehensively.

    I do find myself agreeing with more than half of it. If I were to write my own statement, the differences would be mainly be a question of adding a couple of other points, and emphasis (with the one major exception of paragraph 1, which I would have to re-write).

    A very good post!
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    From: originaluddite
    Date: July 28th, 2010 10:12 pm (local)
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    Thanks. As discussed in person I think our differences are most in paragraph two of section one. And what I find interesting in your response is the degree of agreement. If we were to be catagorized I think we would be given rather different results (as indeed with my Political Objectives Test) and yet so often in politics there is more agreement than disagreement.

    Of course those areas of difference impact on several key issues and rather emotionally-charged ones at that. Still it is important to think of ourselves as belonging to the same democratic tradition.
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    From: paul_the_bass
    Date: July 30th, 2010 12:21 pm (local)
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    Yes! I do think that the difference between any two political positions is mostly a question of emphasis. I said I agreed with most of what you say, but that doesn't mean that i) I attach exactly the same priority to it as you do, or ii) I wouldn't say more.

    But you're right. The fact that we both accept certain key principles indicates that in some sense, we are both the heirs to the liberal British political tradition.
    (Reply) (Parent) (Thread)

    From: originaluddite
    Date: August 2nd, 2010 10:44 pm (local)
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    The phrase "liberal democracy" makes me feel strangely troubled somehow as a kind of liberal.

    The thing is by definition liberal democracy has to be shared with non-liberals. We can and must welcome others into the fold. How much are those others - conservatives and socialists - dedicated to liberal values? In many cases dedicated liberal parties are small within liberal democratic states. In other ways liberal values transcend party. It feels as if we have an even bigger responsibility as a result of these things.

    It feels like an onerous position to be in.
    (Reply) (Parent) (Thread)

    By Blogger Daniel, At 09 May, 2017  

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