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

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Non-Innocence of Incumbent Distribution

In a post last week I wrote:
A pattern emerges [among the Movement Republicans who have been ever more the defining force in that Party since the frowny face-smiley face Nixon/Reagan aftermath of Goldwater] -- not just the usual soulless profits over people that lead Republican President Calvin Coolidge to assert that "the business of America is business" back in the 1920s -- but an especial eagerness to disable our solving of shared problems precisely to enable the profit-taking of a few, to deal dirty in Washington so their cronies can steal ugly across the world.

To this, a Reader responded in the Moot:
True but what does one say to people who honestly [the bolding was in the original comment --d] believe that legislating the redistribution of money is not justice and that it doesn't produce equality?

It depends. I happen to think fewer people "honestly" believe this than say they do, and that many who do "honestly" think such things are frankly so stupid or so blinkered it doesn't much matter what you would say to them anyway, and so one simply needs to marginalize them through better arguments directed at better people, or to work to insulate majorities from the harm these honestly wrongheaded people cause in their ignorance and prejudice and stupidity by means of better policy.

But, okay, to that vanishingly small minority of decent intelligent sufficiently critically-minded and argumentatively reachable people who believe for now that something they think of as "redistribution" is unjust, an intervention that may be useful is to ask why exactly it is that so often one tells the story of "redistrubtion" as one always beginning only with the apportionment of resources, authority, capacity and so on that represents the status quo, even though it is easily demonstrable that the status quo is an historically situated state of affairs, depending on any number of factors, many of them complete accidents, that have little to do with earning or merit or use at all.

Why do charges of the "unjustness" that would attend any "redistribution" of wealth, authority, opportunity from very comfortable minorities to very vulnerable majorities assume that "redistribution" is a matter of, say, disowning naturally owned substance from some for others rather than noting that what has come to be owned by some rather than others arises out of an historical re-distribution in which some preferentially benefit from historical accomplishments out of an actually more common cultural inheritance or commons, or some preferentially benefit in their contribution to collective accomplishments of an unfathomably complex functional division of labor through the denigration of other contributions, just as indispensable as an objective but not subjective matter to those accomplishments, from the peers with whom they share and maintain and build the world?

Before we accept the terms of a discussion of "inevitable" and "intolerable" evils of "redistribution" of incumbent distribution -- especially when in the service of widely affirmed goals like maintaining a legal and regulatory framework to ensure equality before the law, and police, defenses, public works, basic health, education, and income, and access to reliable knowledge to ensure that acts of consent are genuinely informed and nonduressed, outcomes that "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity," peer to peer -- it is crucial to interrogate first any prejudicial framing or figuration or formulation of that incumbent distribution as innocent, natural, or originary in some way and not itself an historically contingent, often altogether arbitrary, distorted, unfair, intolerable redistribution of the commons that demands justification rather than being treated as beyond question.

1 comment:

RadicalCoolDude said...

Thank you.