Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Enquiry Concerning Political Justice And Its Influence On Morals And Happiness

- Why would you want to read a book like that?
- You don't like philosophy?
- No, not really. What good is it?
- For helping you think.
- But you are miserable.
- I'm miserable? How would you know? You just met me.
- I can tell. You're idle.
- I'm miserable and idle. Reading philosophy doesn't count as doing something and can't possibly make anyone happy.
- I'm entitled to my opinion.
- If you don't mind being called an idiot.
- You don't have to be offensive.
- I do. Idle and miserable people like me can't help themselves. You know, this book I'm reading, it's amazing. Written about the time of the French Revolution, it is the best and first detailed exposition of society without government.
- That's not possible.
- You know that like you know I'm idle and miserable. The book's writer worked hard to prove the opposite.
- Who's the writer?
- William Godwin*. Ever heard of him?
- No.
- He's pretty much ignored these days. His argument that ideas and reasons are enough to describe human life and guarantee progress so making revolution unnecessary offends both the spiritually oriented and political radicals, and his so-called anarchist argument against the necessity of government seems laughable to nearly everyone else.
- Then why are you reading him?
- I'll try to explain. Will you listen?
- I'll try. It's noisy out here.
- When you've had enough and get up from the table I'll probably write down this conversation and post it on the Internet. It will take its place on a site that is being visited by someone somewhere in the world at every moment of the day. You might think that means I am an influential, connected person, but I'm not. I'm not connected, only my ideas. Whether I live or die, what happens in my life, has no effect on what goes on on the Internet, and vice versa, what goes on on the internet does not affect my life. You say I am idle because no one pays me for what I do, you say I am miserable because I insist on improvement. Doing things for others but for your own reasons, "think for yourself, act for others", sums up Godwin's anarchism.
- You're an anarchist then?
- You can call me that.
- You're a utopian. An idealist.
- Progress in reason doesn't make people more generous and independent. Do you know why?
- Why?
- For the same reason what happens on the internet doesn't affect my life. In both society and individual life there are structural restraints that retard progress.
- Why?
- If you are bigger and stronger and repeatedly threaten those smaller and weaker, you can get them into the habit of deferring to your authority without actual violence. That habit of deference brings with it a resistance to change and to concern for people not present relations. To the terrorized individual, generosity and independence are threats and are actively blocked**. The same goes for society as a whole. The bigger and stronger, organized as a class, actively restrain the development of generosity and independence in the class of their dependents.
- That will never change.
- If I make strangers on the Internet more reasonable and kind by posting conversations I've had for the sake of making myself more reasonable and kind, and don't do anything about the structural conditions, nothing will change. That's correct. The world out there is getting more reasonable with my help but getting nowhere despite that. The terror society plants in personal lives remains intact, allowing free communication of ideas, dismissed as idealistic, so long as real life-sharing remains blocked.
- You see.
- What do I see?
- Nothing ever changes. You make yourself miserable for nothing.
- It is not true that knowing something makes it likely we will act on our knowledge. But it might be true that knowing why reason fails can lesson our fear and show us what to do about it.

Further Reading:
Einstein & Intellectual Physics
Models & The Unconscious
* William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice And Its Influence On Morals And Happiness
** See Noam Chomsky & Mental Things