Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Left and Right, Back to Basics

It doesn't matter what you are called or flatter to call yourself politically (I'm beyond left and right! I'm fiscally conservative and socially liberal! I'm a conformist independent! I'm the mushy middle!) -- it doesn't matter what neologistic tag you've glommed onto online (Constitutionalist! Upwinger! Dynamist!) -- it doesn't matter what political party you belong to… the fact is that you are perfectly intelligible as a person of the progressive democratic Left if you affirm or feel inspired by the following basic ideas, just as you are perfectly intelligible as a person of the conservative incumbent-interested Right if you feel indifference, skepticism, or even hostility to the basic ideas that
[1] All people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them;

[2] People who are not misinformed or under duress tend, in general, to be capable of articulating their own interests, of testifying to their personal knowledge, and of contributing a worthy measure to the collaborative solution of shared problems;

[3] It is always possible and desirable, however costly and difficult it may be, to reconcile differences and conflicts between people in nonviolent ways;

[4] The act of informed, nonduressed consent is a foundation both of personal dignity and public nonviolence;

[5] The public provision of basic income, healthcare, and general welfare facilitates a scene of consent that is nonduressed, while the public provision of the widest possible access to education and reliable knowledge facilitates a scene of consent that is informed, and acts of consent are legible and legitimate as such only to the extent that they are so informed and nonduressed;

[6] Progressive taxation of property and income provides the means to meet the basic conditions on which the doubly foundational scene of consent depend, while at once providing a popular check (no taxation without representation) on the dangerous policing authority of government as well as a check on the tendency of individual stakeholders -- especially those who happen to be momentarily invested with conspicuous wealth, authority, reputation, or attention -- to forget or disavow their ineradicable social and historical inter-dependence in the always collaborative project of creative expressivity and problem solving peer-to-peer.

2 comments:

peco said...

For me, a "working" government would provide security and law (#3) and also #5 and #6. #2 is not something a government can directly do, but a working government should act based on #2 (I people are generally (not always) happier if they are treated as competent).

#2 implies #1 only if the general public is not misinformed (or under duress).

Dale Carrico said...

First of all, I distinguish science as a mode of warranted belief ascription in the service of prediction and control (which may be influencing your sense of what "working" consists of in political contexts, a view that tends to yield anti-democratizing reductionist and technocratic attitudes in my experience) from politics as a mode of warranted belief ascription in the service of the ongoing reconciliation of the diverse aspirations of the actually existing plurality of stakeholders with whom one shares the world.

It is important to understand that the fact of plurality is different in character from, for example, the powers of prediction and control that obtain from our privisional commitments to scientific consensus.

What matters about #2 is that it gives the lie to the delusive elitist fantasies of those on the right who fear and despise the majorities with whom they dis-identify.

But what matters about #1 is that even people who believe things we think are weird or wrong actually share the world with us peers (a different sharing than the kind that substantiates moral identification or aesthetic sympathy, which is key to my further distinctions of these as unique and indispensable modes of warranted belief ascription as well) and

[one] It is crucial to their dignity and autonomy that they testify to their perspectives and desires;

[two] It is crucial to the abiding functioning of nonviolent social order that they feel themselves to have a real stake in its maintenance,

[three] It is crucial for error-prone and parochial humans to be exposed to views they think wrong and lifeways they find perverse because we are all as likely as not eventually to find our beliefs need correction by what long seemed in error or our bliss needs perversion by what long seemed wrong.

As for what government can and can't do... we are wandering here into the older discussion of negative as against positive liberty bequeathed us by our old friend Isaiah Berlin.

What seems key to me in the context of this distinction is to insist that the conventional liberal intuitions subsumed under the traditional heading of "negative liberty" tend to amount to an insistence on the universality of the scene of consent.

Neoliberals and market libertarians who like to fancy themselves "classical liberals" pervert this intuition by the sleight of hand of treating any market outcome as quintessentially consensual by fiat, however misinformed or duressed its circumstances.

In point of fact, the actual scene of consent depends for its substantiation on the provision of basic income, health, education, access-to-knowledge, security, accountable authorities, and legal recourse (else it is vulnerable to duress and misinformation), that is to say on the provision of what are disdained as "positive liberties" but the absence of which tend to be make "negative liberty" a vacuity and fraud.