James Leroy Wilson's blog

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Beyond Reason

Rabbi Michael Lerner, interviewed in Grist Magazine, on the importance of spirituality, something libertarians have been neglecting:
It's not that mentioning the capital gains tax is inappropriate; it's just not sufficient. It doesn't create a sustainable movement. A sustainable movement has to have a larger vision that is hopeful and positive. Along with truths about the dangers of destruction, it has to have a vision of what kind of world is possible. That's what this movement doesn't have.
[on the next page...]
There are a lot of people with similar intuitions about the need for a world based on love, kindness, generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, awe, and wonder, who never heard that articulated in the libertarian world. The only place they heard anything vaguely like this was in religious-right communities.

Okay, okay, he wasn't talking about libertarians, but environmentalists and progressives. And he didn't say "capital gains tax," he said "global warming."
Even so, Lerner makes some good points:
The anti-spiritual consciousness was first developed by the capitalist class, the bourgeoisie, in its struggle against feudalism. It tried to undermine the feudal order by adopting a narrow form of empiricism: that which is real is that which can be verified through sense data. It was a powerful tool against the feudal order. However, once capitalism succeeded in undermining the belief system that underlay feudalism, it had a problem. Namely, the capital class wanted to control people, and they thought religion would be a good vehicle for controlling them. So what they said was, we'll make a compromise. You can have this religious stuff -- in fact, we want you to have this religious stuff -- on the weekends.

There is much to agree with Lerner in the interview. The troubles are pretty much left unsaid, but one gets the idea when he mentioned supporting smoking bans in public places. While Lerner criticizes a "rationality" based on power and money, he seems to take for granted coercive measures (power) to get what he wants. And he doesn't say how resources could be rationally distributed without the price mechanism (money):
We are agnostic with regard to economic theory. We don't care what you call it. What we care about is that when you get down to making a decision, whether it's in the board room or in a school room or in conference committee, that your criteria are ecological sanity, love and kindness, generosity, and awe and wonder at the universe. Enhancing those: That's what a spiritual politics is.

That sounds possible only through radical decentralization and Georgist economics, and the Left's downfall has been its abandonment of these ideas.

What is true, however, is that there is more to politics, and to life, than reason. If we don't feel right about what we're doing, we won't be able to persuade others -- precisely because we're not fully persuaded ourselves. We must be both comfortable and enthusiastic in whatever we do to be effective.

Via Freeman, I found Lady Aster, who has this to say:
I have come to the conclusion that the most important effect of a political movement is not in the existing institutions it changes or captures, but in the culture it creates within. In the case of social injustice, an easier alternative to changing the laws is often to appeal to existing desires to create a culture within which such laws do not exist. In matters of social injustice, the manner in which one treats others is really more important and equally "political" as the laws and power structures one might wish to change. Indeed, at the largest level laws and power structures *are* nothing more than opinions and values, mediated through wholly epiphenomenal pieces of paper. Convince enough people that a law is unjust enough not to be unforced, and it actually *doesn't* exist. And history shows that successful social movements, from the 1960s protests to Christianity, are precisely those that change things widely enough that eventually the institutions opposed to them crumble or embrassingly accomodate them (while claiming credit in the official history books, of course, as the agent of social progress).
[...]
What would happen if we built social institutions the way we approached falling in love? That is, instead of asking what a 'just' political order is we asked what kinds of families, businesses, marriages, or communties we'd really like to live in. The formula for a miserable relationship is to ask what one's partner 'ought' to be, and to ask the same question of oneself, all the while angling for instrumental advantage. But this is exactly the manner in which most radicals approach politics- and the result in that conformist comfort and privatised consumerism look more attractive to most people than freedom and liberation. Something is wrong here. And the problem is that radicalism has failed to show people how a free society could help them emerge into the brightness they have always wanted. Instead, progressives nag people that their existing dull happiness is already hurting someone, while libertarians promise boundless opportunity to enjoy the same pattern of existent dullness. Instead, I would have both ideals present themselves and ask their potential converts: would *you* rather live this way?
[...]
And I suggest it is the same in political activity. When going to politics, do not query what cause is most important or most 'right', but what cause you would most like to be part of, what struggle you would most like to imagine yourself in, what aspect of existence you would defend because it most calls you.
[...]
Listen to the voice within you. If you need reasurrance from history, look at those did effect social change for the good, and ask if their writing and rhetoric reflects the soul of a miserable disciplinarian or someone who followed their passion and did what they loved. We have become too convinced- again by authoritarian propaganda- that what we really desire is something small, petty, pointless, vain, expolitive, evil, or impractical. I ask you to have the courage to look at what you truly love, and in politics what state of affairs attracts you, and place that as the first counter on the map from which to expand your holdings.

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