Re: MD When is a metaphysics not a metaphysics?

Date: Wed Mar 17 2004 - 22:25:40 GMT

  • Next message: Wim Nusselder: "Re: MD quality religion"


    Wim said:
    Essentially I countered that I doubt whether 'we' (in Western societies) share any secular and practical vocabulary other than one in which only short-sighted self-interest counts, in which the only way to reach compromises is to forget about the future and weigh interests with political power. A 'strip mine' attitude about the earth and a 'take what you can get' attitude about fellow people is not a result of perversion but of people dropping vocabularies that add (whatever) meaning to the earth and to fellow people beyond 'means to our ends'.

    If we want to prevent cruelty between humans and depletion and pollution of our common natural heritage, there is no alternative for connecting (seeing as parts of a whole) vocabularies that seem to divide us, by using them in public and getting used to those from other people. That doesn't imply or require a state religion (or philosophy, nor even a shared metaphysics). That requires learning and using more vocabularies, much like people speaking several languages, and willingness to meet others at their ground rather than one's own.

    Oh, I recognized your claim as being about vocabularies, and a good claim on your part to make, but 1) I think it overly pessimistic and 2) what are you proposing instead? I deny that the strip mine attitude is solely a reflection of a secular political vocabulary. For one, we can easily construct our desire to save the rainforest and the Third World in secular terms. A secular political vocabulary doesn't drain us of meaning. What the partition between two vocabularies means is that we needn't drag along the first part of our vocabulary (where we might find some sort of meaning) into the second half.

    And I don't deny that we need to connect "vocabularies that seem to divide us." What I do deny is that it is expedient to immediately try and formulate our political aims in completely unfamiliar terms. Cultural diffusion is sometimes a slow process, and in the mean time there are things we can be doing to help people that discussion of God on the Senate floor would hinder.

    Again, yes, I completely agree that the widening of the gates of ethnocentricity into the pluralistic cosmopolis that is the liberal utopia "requires learning and using more vocabularies, much like people speaking several languages, and willingness to meet others at their ground rather than one's own." The public/private distinction doesn't say anything about this. What it says is that we shouldn't talk about God on the Senate floor. It says that we needn't speak the same vocabulary at home as we do at work, but culural diffusion will gradually erase many of the current negative borders (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.).

    Which is why I ask 2): What are you proposing? What is your proposal about how we are to get from here to there? You think that the problem with our current situation is with our political vocabulary, but I don't see it that way at all. I think our political vocabulary is doing just what it was supposed to do: allowing us to muddle our way through, gradually realizing our goals. Our political vocabulary hasn't changed all that much in America or in Europe since the Enlightenment. But I think great moral strides have been made by both. And I can't see yet what alternative political vocabulary you have in mind that will allow us many of the benefits of liberalness, minus many of its deficiencies.

    Wim said:
    But doesn't privatizing most of those beliefs take the color out of the salad bowl?!?

    I want a colorful salad, with all colors -publicly- in and all ingredients rejoicing in their diversity and complementarity.

    Privatizing most of our beliefs doesn't take the color out of the salad bowl, if the bowl is taken to be the whole of society. Privatizing beliefs _protects_ those beliefs from the greying affect of political deliberation. It says we don't need to agree on a bunch of topics. The only way I can see us rejoicing in our diversity is with the public/private split. Madison, Jefferson, Mills, and all the rest wanted nothing more than a diversity of opinions. But the only way that they saw this to be possible was with our current democratic institutions.

    You want "a colorful salad, with all colors -publicly- in and all ingredients rejoicing in their diversity and complementarity," but how are we going to publicly agree on topics about God? This is the issue. I'm not using public in the sense of talking about it outside of your home. I'm using public in the sense of on the Senate floor. How can I grant you your argument if I think your premises are wrong? Isn't that how argument works? Well, how are we going to get anywhere if I think your premise of the existence of God is self-evidently wrong and you think it self-evidently right? People have been discussing that topic for several millenia. The public/private distinction allows us to sidestep the issue on the Senate floor and relegate it the seminaries and universities.

    To sum up, you say that the only political vocabulary we share is one in which "only short-sighted self-interest counts," and though I would reply that this is too pessimistic, I will grant that to a certain extent political deliberation is short-_term_. But I think this a bonus. It allows succeeding generations to correct the follies of their forefathers and mothers. Prophetic visionaries are wonderful and needed to dream up the utopias we would like to live in, but neither do we want these visionaries to gain political power. Prophetic visionaries are what Hitler and Lenin were and we do not want to repeat their mistakes. What we should have learned over the course of the 20th century is that the quick fix of revolution is bloody and to be avoided and democratic reformist policies are the best we can hope for. They are slow, but they allow us the time to adjust.


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