Re: MD secular humanism and dynamic quality

Date: Thu Apr 08 2004 - 01:05:13 BST

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    Sam said:
    I think that there are more options than Hobbesianism and Kantianism - and that you are shoe horning me into a position (Kantianism) from which I recoil (I really don't think that I'm an essentialist, certainly not in a Platonic sense). I emphatically do NOT see Kant as 'where we want to be'.

    I was hoping I was shoehorning you in because, naturally, I don't want you to be Kantian. But I'm not sure what these other options are. As I understand the categories, one is the transcendental version of liberalism and the other is the pragmatist version. If there are other options, its only because we aren't talking about liberalism. Which, under the circumstances, might be what you're alluding to. But, I'm still not sure what these other non-liberal options are that we wouldn't be able to consider under liberalism. Part of the democratic experiment is its ability to will itself out of existence. But you aren't talking about willing democracy out of existence, are you? If not, I'm still not sure what's wrong with liberalism, because as far as I can tell, what we call liberal (check: what _I_ call liberal and the only thing I'm suggesting we _should_ call liberal) are those exact institutions (free elections, free speech, etc.) plus the attendent moral outlook whic
    h generated those institutions (the least common denominator being the desire to minimize cruelty). So if you're not talking about getting rid of democracy and you're not talking about changing our moral outlook, then what am I missing?

    As far as I can see from the vociferous opposition to my exposition of liberalism, they are based on one of two things: either transcendentalism or a misunderstanding. In almost all of the particular cases (except for one or two), I'm not sure which it is because almost every Pirsigian (except for one or two) says they don't want to be a transcendentalist. You and David are prime examples, you being a Wittgensteinian and David a Heideggerian. David remarked the other day that he "often feels less that we talk at cross-purposes than that [my] initial position is too rigid but [that I] usually flesh it out into something closer to what I can accept." It may be true on the fleshing out bit, but in re-reading my posts from the beginning of this thread (let alone from 2 years ago), I think what is remarkable is how _little_ I've changed. I've certainly felt like I've been quite stubborn on this particular point (among many others). But this is how most of my conversations g
    o here, mainly because I think everybody wants to be a good liberal and a good anti-Kantian. My strategy has always been to shoehorn people into the Kantian position because it forces them to either accept it (which is bad for Pirsigians) or reformulate why they don't think they do. That, along with my own reformulations of the pragmatist position (as I'm shoehorned into positions I don't want to be in), oftentime lands us in the same camp; that we didn't really disagree to begin with, we just needed to clarify a few things.

    As it stands, I have no idea what separates you, David, Wim, and I. David and Wim keep talking about getting more things in the conversation, but I don't get it. Trying to get a single conversation, to me, is antipluralistic. Fact of the matter is, I don't want to debate the existence of God. Why should I be forced to? And what happens when I do? The conversation ends pretty quickly because I've already debated it enough for my lifetime. I keep sloganizing the antiliberal as wanting to debate God's existence on the floor of the Senate because that's _all_ I'm talking about: when debating policy, we should not debate the values of our society. We have to take these values as self-evident because the Senate converges to get things done, it isn't a forum in which we can waste time by engaging in debates about whether, say, human rights really do exist. It is rarely a forum in which we can waste time in debating the status of, say, freedom of speech. I think its import
    ant to remember that Jefferson changed one of the Declaration of Indenpendence's most famous lines from "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable..." to "We hold these truths to be self-evident...." It is not that these truths, the values of America, cannot change. It is that we cannot argue about them all the time. There are times when we have to accept certain things to move forward. This is the problem the revolutionary has. He wants to change everything all at once. The reformist, however, is willing to nudge things, one at a time. Both are moving towards the same goal, but barring bloody revolution, the reformist is the only one doing anything about it.

    Am I saying that we shouldn't talk about the values that Americans hold to be self-evident? No, no, no, no. If I have to say no to this one more time, I'm going to flip out. As far as I can tell, this is the main position people keep shoehorning me into that they, rightly, take as being bad. The _only_ thing I'm saying, however, is that we cannot have these conversations on the Senate floor. We can, and must, still have them in the Universities, on the street corner, by the water cooler, in the home, in our churches, and wherever else. _Discussion_ is important. But the Senate is pretty much reserved for action, not exploration.

    So what is everybody talking about?

    If my explication of belief change didn't persuade you that there is nothing within the liberal, democratic system that denies change, I'm not sure what else I can say. I don't get what you are seeing. You're two examples: I have no idea why I should have a problem with them. For pragmatist, Hobbesian liberals, "peaceful coexistence" is an end in itself. Freedom of speech is not a transcendental condition, an invioable law mandated from heaven. It is context dependent. Its why we can't shout "Fire!" in crowded theatres and why, if upon looking at the situation closely, we find that "barring all references to 'Hutu' and 'Tutsi'" seems to be a necessary condition for bringing peace, we should find it palatable to do so. It sounds strange to American and Western European ears, but then we don't have strong tribal connections anymore. Our context is very different. The borders of who we considered to be "one of us" had already been softened for years by the time democra
    cy came. It is no coincidence that cosmopolitanism had been introduced on a large scale by Christianity 1700 years before the Enlightenment and that the 18th century marked extraordinarily cosmopolitan philosophies to arise (notably Kant's).

    In Africa, on the other hand, tribal wars continued for years as Western Europe began breaking up into nation-states. Is tribal animosity analogous to the hatred, say, the French and Germans had towards each other at the beginning of this century? Sure, but there are important differences. One is that the French and the Germans rule France and Germany respectively. They all identify with each other as the nation-state, as "French" or "German," whereas Rwandans do not identify as Rwandans, they identify as "Hutu" or "Tutsi." The creation of nation-states was an important first step in softening exclusionary thinking, in creating a larger and larger cosmopolis. Creating a world that is at peace is the utopia that liberals would like to see, it is an end in itself for Hobbesians. Getting there is a bit harder, but in true reformist spirit, we don't think it will happen all at once. We think it will take time.

    So, you ask if you are misreading me. I'm not sure, but my guess is yes. One of Dewey's famous positions is that "growth itself is the moral end." Dewey was often called a relativist for not providing _criterions_ for this growth. But for pragmatists, you cannot provide criterions for growth, just as you cannot provide universal methods for getting peaceful coexistence. If you provide a criterion for growth, you are trying to make sure the future is like the present. Pragmatists do not want this. We can only note that, at the present time, it isn't really apparent how we could give up, say, the notion of a human right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and still remain "us," how we could count that as growth. _That_ is one reason why I keep perceiving you as Kantian. It sounds as though you are asking for a criterion for growth, and only Kantians would do that, only people who are trying to go transcendental. Now, it sounds as if you would come back and
     say that I'm the one trying to go transcendental, that I'm providing a criterion for growth, roughly secularism (this being what prompts the signaling of a liberal contradiction). But I've tried to explicate liberalism in other terms. Roughly, either secularism is a name for a certain conversation (roughly, one that doesn't talk about God or religion or philosophy) and this makes it sensible to talk about post-secularism (the follow up being, "And what are you proposing that keeps us pluralistic and able to make policy?") or secularism is the name for the lowest common denominator condition of political discourse in a liberal, democratic society, making it something we wouldn't be able to change without getting rid of democracy.

    You keep asking how my position allows "for the development of the system itself," but I'm not sure what you are talking about. If the system is allowing good stuff to happen, then that's it, right? Creation of a successful system. If the system starts to impede the good stuff, then we'll change it, right? Create a new system, which is exactly why I keep asking for proposals. I keep asking what is wrong with the system and what we can do to change. Specifically, I want to know what's wrong that _cannot_ be fixed by liberalism, and so far I can't say that I've seen any problems that cannot be fixed by liberalism and democracy functioning at its best. I've simply been told ways in which we are not living up to our best and ways in which we can become better, but not things that are inherently wrong with liberalism.

    I guess one of the biggest problems with this whole discussion is the entire notion of the "system." I don't have a problem with overthrowing the "system" because I don't see anything particularly systematic about the "system." The entire, hippie notion of using "the system" as an epithet was propogated by Foucaultians who rightly saw that we are products of our social environment. But to label the whole thing as "the system," and then say that we need to "fight the system" is a debilitating fall into the Longing for Total Revolution. One of the ways in which I've tried to soften, or de-systematize, the notion of liberalism as a system was in my description of belief change. There's nothing systematic about belief change. Cultural change is a slow process of meandering from beliefs-over-here to beliefs-over-there.

    So, what again is my "pragmatic add-on" and why do you think I'm proposing it as a criterion for growth? This might go back to what you think God-talk is and why you initially said that you did want to debate God on the Senate floor. But, I'm not sure. As far as I can tell, as long as we have free speech and free elections, we are making ourselves as open to as many Dynamic avenues as we can, that these are about the only major institutional things we can do. Outside of that, its all about cultural evolution which happens whether you like it or not.


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