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 -- and this includes disputes over questions of what constitutes violence;

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

[5] The public provision and administration of civil rights, basic income, healthcare, general welfare, and common goods 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 a means to meet the basic conditions on which the doubly foundational scene of consent depends, 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 collective problem solving.


Anonymous 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.

Dale Carrico said...

I have written many elaborations of these basic notions elsewhere (many archived under the heading "Against Anarchy" in the sidebar). For now, I do want to add quickly that among the public decisions in which people should have a say is in the decision as to what actually constitutes having such a say, among the disputes that can be resolved nonviolently are disputes over what constitutes violence. These notions get sticky and paradoxical but what matters to me is that the democratic vantage is not invalidated but invigorated by working through them.

The scene of informed nonduressed consent secured by the provision of general welfare (health, education, income, social support) and equal recourse to law and law-making (basic rights, the franchise, office holding, expression, assembly and organizing) provides both the vantage from which one can engage in private intercourse on consensual terms -- securing the strike-fund enabling collective bargaining in the extremity -- but also engage in public consent/dissent as the governed -- securing the position of the petitioner, resistor or activist against incumbent elites.

It is a commonplace on the right to declare such provisions a violent expropriation of haves by have-nots. This view depends on the denial of the basic fact that those who have got what they have through recourse to a common heritage, through reliance on public affordances, and in inter-dependence with the efforts of the have-nots as much or more by far than of the haves. That is to say, they deny the public investment without which non-violence is not possible in the name of non-violence. They are in error or indulging in deception. It is a matter of some urgency that this error be corrected and this deception exposed -- but I cannot say that I see this happening very much.