Trust in Experts Over People, Research Time, 28/02/2017

You know, when I look in some of those classic John Stuart Mill essays, I find a lot that’s valuable for the current era. And I also find a lot that’s racist and imperialist. It’s the mid-19th century in England – What else could I expect?

But some of the truly intriguing moments in these texts comes when they discuss an idea so outlandish, yet so strangely logical, that its utter barminess is fascinating.

One of the highlights of the Brexit campaign was hearing Michael
Gove say that the British people were sick and tired of listening to
experts. On its face, it sounds ridiculous, as if people were
purposely choosing ignorance. But that's not what was happening.
Here’s an idea that I found perfectly barmy, totally out to lunch, but which had a weird resonance today. It’s about the role of an elected parliament in the government of a really complicated society.

Mill’s talking about a society about as complex as mid-19th century Britain. New infrastructure is being developed, new technologies integrated into existing infrastructure. The social and economic networks and relationships of society are fluctuating constantly.

For him, this is a world that needs keen scientific minds and powerful research institutions to understand it adequately. And I don’t have to tell you that, if the intelligence of the average MP is a reflection of their public statements, we aren’t necessarily dealing with the world’s most swift bunch of thinkers.

And I say this as not only a democrat, but as a member of one of Canada’s major nationwide political parties. I don’t just vote in the elections of these idiots – I help find these idiots, campaign for these idiots, and work with these idiots in intense political discussions about the future of our country. These idiots are my colleagues and friends.

One day, they might even talk me into becoming one of these idiots. I’d have to be an idiot to run for office myself.

"Sick and tired of experts" was another way of saying the Tory Brexit
slogan, "Take back control!" It meant that people felt that having a
regime of technocrats manage their governance for them was a
mockery of their freedom as people. And all David Cameron
could think of for the Tory Remain platform was to talk about the
financial benefits of EU membership. Not any of those values of
peace and solidarity the EU was actually founded on, no.
Mill, one of the Western tradition’s leading theorists of democracy, says we can’t actually let these idiots make the real decisions about how to run the country. A properly run, or even half-reasonably functional, government could never exist if ordinary people were in charge of crafting laws and carrying out the business of governance.

Only expertise – technocrats, essentially – can run the government well. So you might ask why you even need a parliament or representative institutions at all?

The primary role of parliament in governance, as Mill spells it out in his Representative Government essay, is to criticize the technocrats who actually run the government on behalf of the people. Setting broad priorities, making sure everyone does their jobs well.

It’s part of the theatrical function of parliaments too. Their debates and arguments articulate the ideological divisions of the wider population. Parliamentarians play those arguments out in a straightforward way – actually arguing face to face with each other. It stands in for* the genuinely messy, potentially much more violent ideological collisions in the chaos of daily life in wider society.

* And maybe sublimates if you want to risk getting a little creepy about it.

A philosophical argument among parties in a parliament works its society through that conflict of ideas without anyone having to get shot over it. Providing anyone listens, of course.

Yet it seems remarkable to me that democracy and freedom would be such a foundational value for the originator of the modern liberal tradition, and he denigrates the real power of ordinary people to govern their society effectively. The two would make a contradiction.

I always find it curious when I see a moment in a great liberal democratic political philosopher that expresses such little faith in actual people.

Knowledge as Imagining the Possible Best, Composing, 27/02/2017

Since I’ve gotten back from Germany, I’ve been working on that post-truth article for SERRC that I’ve spoken about before. As a piece of writing, it’s another experiment that I’m glad the Reply Collective has given me a venue for.

I’m having some trouble in the first draft, though, as I try to balance two chains of argument. One is about the nature of subversion values. These are the values we associate with social progress at its grittiest – opposition and provocation of a socially conservative mainstream.

Because being openly gay – or having any kind of non-vanilla
hetero sexuality – is still a subversive act that makes social
conservatives uncomfortable and pushes difference forward in our
society.
Through recent history in the West, subversion as a virtue and a value has been the exclusive province of groups and forces labelled progressive – the left, workers, ethnic and religious minorities, immigrants, women, LBGTQ people. Those sorts of folks.

So the content of subversive values is the imperative to point out and inadequacies of public morality. Maybe new differences have emerged in a society that now needs to accommodate these new styles of life. Or maybe people who’ve had to hide their differences because of oppression are now living openly and demanding basic equality.

Either way, the dynamic of subversion as a social process is the emergence of new differences, and the imperative to change mainstream morality to accept those differences.

Subversion values’ content faces a very different claim today in the conservative white nationalists who claim status as punks because they oppose a liberal mainstream. These people actually want to annihilate or remove differences from their society, and move toward a more homogeneous, oppressive social morality.

But because they oppose a mainstream, they associate themselves with subversion. And many of their public engagement tactics like online and real-life trolling employs literally the tactics of subversion – provoking offence to humiliate the offended and write off their own seriousness as being oversensitive, allowing them to continue spreading racism around the internet with even less push-back.

Countering the political activism of trolling is difficult – encouraging
their own trivialization in popular perception is itself a troll's weapon.
Far from "Don't feed the trolls," we need a weaponized humour that
renders them truly powerless, that mocks their power as true weakness
and reveals their confidence as over-compensation.
My second argument in this essay is about the peculiar character of what the Trump administration has labelled fake news – a new argument over the proper grounds of evidence.

In its original sense (four months ago), the term refers to the network of Russian and Macedonian meme and untrue article factories that flooded partisan Facebook pages with images and links contributing to a huge array of falsehoods and conspiracy theories in the 2016 election.

In the current sense (coined two months ago), Trump and his team have subverted the meaning of this term to refer to media outlets and institutions that produce information critical of Trump or which contradicts the preferred Trumpist world-view.

But this goes beyond simply the presentation of lies as truth, a typical propaganda move. Perhaps the original definition of fascist propaganda.

Bruno Latour's recent short article on Trumpism as the ideology of climate change denial comes close to the idea, but not quite. His argument is still stuck in that surface understanding of subversion, seeing yourself as the virtuous rebel by fighting the mainstream when the mainstream itself is becoming progressive and different.

No, there’s a deeper thing going on. Trumpism isn’t just a lie, though there are plenty of lies. Trumpist propaganda is itself a claim to truth. The truth that the mainstream media – which Trump, his spokespeople, loyalists, and supporters denounce as fake news – has failed to see.

Or in the words of Masha Gessen, failed to imagine.

The biggest blows to the liberal democratic internationalist order of the West – Trump’s election and Brexit’s referendum victory – were shocking because we did not believe they could happen. It was Trump, Brexit’s leaders, and the reactionary activists who worked for their victory who all understood the world better than the mainstream media who couldn’t imagine how their victory could be possible.

The truth that reaction can win is the truth that reactionaries recognize, and a complacent mainstream media, intellectual class, and popular morality can’t. Our blindness to that truth delegitimizes our claim to knowledge at all.

And justifies their claim to a deeper truth than any of us could know.

Berlin Visions, Jamming, 25/02/2017

In our entire time in Berlin last week, I don’t think the GF and I went more than a few meters into West Germany. Our hostel was in the east, the Holocaust Memorial and Brandenburg Gate are in the east, all the clubs where we partied were in the east, my old friend Grey’s apartment is in the east.

The early morning hours of Berlin.
Well east. Almost the definitive east. It may have been because we visited him at 11.00 on a Sunday night, but we got off the U-Bahn on a street of near-total darkness and utter quiet. Streetlights were spare, and every building was more shadow than stone.

And this was still in the centre of Berlin, only a few subway stops from Alexanderplatz.

We were visiting Grey’s house by surprise. I knew he lived in Berlin, but I thought he’d already be in Singapore for his art show before we arrived. Biennale was flying him across the world for this exhibition, so he had connections. But not much money, since his apartment building’s stairwell was covered with splotches of white spackle over the faded blue concrete.

I feel as if Grey likes it that way. If he had Hurst-level money, I don’t think he’d know what to do with it. You can’t take as many drugs as that money could buy and live longer than a year. Unless you’re David Bowie.

One of my most pleasant experiences in Berlin was visiting the Cold War museum at Checkpoint Charlie. It was the most blatantly touristic think I think I did in the whole country, but it was a marvellous laugh.

A grizzled hipster democrat in the Kaltkrieg Museum.
What I enjoy most about it was that the entire site was an enormous middle finger to the politics of the police state. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the climax of the collapse of brutal police states that dominated the societies of eastern Europe for half a century. There’s a cartoonishly artificial photo stand where actors dressed as Soviet soldiers will pose for pictures with you. The block features a McDonald’s, whose exit doors feature small signs at eye level reading, “You Are Now Leaving the American Sector.”

Let the victory of democracy over communist police states ring with hipster re-enactment actors and immaculate fast food bakeries.

I had an idea for a film while dancing in a techno bar. A comedy that turns into an action movie that turns into a love story.

A Jewish-American girl with a German father goes to Berlin to study chemistry on a scholarship. During a term’s break, she meets an incredibly good looking Arab-German at a club, and they decide to travel together around the EU for the week.

In Slovakia, they run into a gangster who’s a good friend of the guy – he smuggled him and his entire family into Dresden from Syria in the back of a truck, and has since risen to a mid-level position in a Russian-run human trafficking circuit. But our touring couple has seen too much and now has to go on the run.

Our very authentic first meal in Berlin – döner kebabs and salad at a
Turkish-owned shop.
The old human trafficking friend is put in charge of killing them both, but he actually likes them and doesn’t want to have to hurt his friend over a mistake. So when they all find each other again in Amsterdam, he gets himself arrested and takes the rap for everything. So our American and Syrian live happily ever for the next few years anyway.

The last scenes of the film would be a silent walk the couple takes through the exit maze of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, then a shabbas meal when she invites him to join her at a local Chabad House.

Have I mentioned the Holocaust Memorial? I didn’t take any pictures because I felt like my camera phone skills couldn’t do the place justice. But it is harrowing.

Since Germany – for obvious reasons – had no right to any artifacts of the victims themselves, they recreated the experience of the Holocaust through reconstructions of victims’ letters and displays of representative families from throughout Europe.

In one room, victims’ letters are blown up to the size of floor panels, backlit displays that you must stare into to read as you walk over them. These dim floor panels are the only light sources in the room.

Darkness is everywhere. An adjacent room is a lit only by the appearance of names projected on a wall-sized screen. Each name has a brief story of a few sentences in German and English, read out loud from a recording that plays from speakers at the corners.

The narration describes who each person was and what happened to them in the war. The Memorial says in a descriptive panel that it will record these brief accounts for every recorded victim of the Holocaust. Listening to the entire finished product would take more than six months.

You leave the coat check and gift shop and emerge into a graveyard. We were there at night, among the last visitors at the end of Sunday. It had been raining all day, a dark mist drifting over the city from the Baltic Sea. Air chilled you, a still, unmoving prickling against the skin. The black stones dripped with water from the rain falling all day.

Row on row of smooth black stone whose only features were the tracks of the rain. They were ten feet tall, blocking almost all light from the street lamps and nearby buildings. Just enough light to tease its existence, not enough to see.

On the train to Berlin from Amsterdam, we saw countless flat fields. Some were planted with solar panels or windmill generators. Most were featureless, their grass almost grey as well as green. We couldn’t help but imagine how many mass graves were under those fields.

Men, women, and children, naked and huddling together in the rain, yanked apart, crying. Hearing bang after bang getting closer and closer until nothing. Blood pools in the dirt like water, bodies crush together under falling clumps of dirt. That was the filthy work of the Holocaust, the endless drudgery of bullet after bullet.

With nothing but cement, the attentive visitor to the Holocaust Memorial will learn something of what it means to be one of the anonymous dead. Motionless under the soil of Europe.

I’m Part of Another Generation that Fights Nazis, Advocate, 20/02/2017

But this time, the war is on the home front.

I haven’t posted in a few days because I’ve been busy on our European vacation. Since Friday night, the GF and I have been in Berlin, and we’ve spent almost all our time in the old GDR section of the city. Staying in a hostel just across the street from Alexanderplatz.

This vacation isn’t just to relax and party, though there’s been plenty of that. Sunday afternoon, we toured the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, which walks you through the genocide with representative stories of families in the installations.

Graphic photos of women who had been forced to strip naked and die in ravines, shot in the head one by one. Families herded into vans and suffocated with carbon monoxide.

As we were on the train from Holland, I’d look out at the fields – bleak, flat, featureless, grey with the rain and clouds. Even the fields that had been converted into wind and solar farms appeared haunted. As if I could see shadows of hundreds of thousands of dead silently screaming between blades of grass.

Your eyes feel the chill when you know what happened in those empty fields decades ago. Grass rippling with spirits.

A photo of the Jewish cemetery in St Louis where hundreds of gravestones
have been vandalized.
It was violence motivated by rage. Hatred boiled in a nation’s soul until it combusts. An explosion of bubbling blood, splatters that leave burn scars on the flesh of a country.

Saturday morning, I read the news and saw that there was a rally against the existence of Islam in Canada. The protesters held signs and chanted slogans that Muslims were all terrorists, rapists, hated women, and held “anti-Canadian values.” Screaming these slogans, they blocked worshipers in their building during Friday prayers.

The protest was organized by such congenial organizations as Rebel Media and Rise Canada, the latter of which is a group that specifically promotes the notion that all Muslims believe in instituting Saudi-style Sharia law across Canada.

When I read this story, I posted a pretty angry note on Facebook. Because despite the explosion of counter-protestors the next day, this is something we should be angry about. I’m here in the country that planned, organized, and led the Holocaust.

After a year of following the rise of Donald Trump, and a year before that of following the rise of alt-right white nationalism, and investigating the ideological and philosophical roots of this new, terrifying movement, I’m prepared to call it what it is.

This is 21st century Nazism.

America's hikikomori are the nihilistic
vanguard of Trump's revolution, applauding
the mass murder-suicide of the human race. To
them, it's becoming a hero.
Islam and Muslims are this movement’s most up-front enemy, though there’s plenty of anti-Semitic filth spewing from the mouths of these wretched grannies. Hate crimes against Jews have exploded across America, and Jews have been harassed in my home of Toronto as well. If you defend these actions in the name of free speech or free expression, you're enabling Holocaust behaviour.

As of my writing this, the post is about 50 comments deep, and includes a surprising number of people defending their right to scream acid hate at people while they pray. And I’m not about to debate these people as if their views are reasonable positions.

I’m not about to treat people who call for the entire expulsion of an ethnic-religious group from my country as deserving of my respect. The next time one of these rallies happen and I can physically make it there, I will show up with a Canadian flag screaming “Nazi scum fuck off!

But I’m not taking some kind of “regressive left” stand against freedom of speech here. For the last week, I’ve been posting about my reading some classic works of John Stuart Mill, one of the founders of liberal free speech values, talking about how he links freedom of speech with the responsibility to build a peaceful society.

As Karl Popper picked up the idea, freedom of speech can’t allow the freedom to advocate shutting down freedom of speech, belief, or expression.

Most people still don’t realize the horrifying roots of the “free speech” rhetoric that racists today use to defend their right to call for mass-deportation and the banning of religious practices.

I hope you’ll read this piece on the history of 4chan culture, the community of people who form the hard core of the modern “free speech” movement online. If I can summarize, they are the wasted of the modern economy.

Unable to build a decent life for themselves according to 20th century standards of success, they’re trapped in a gig economy that keeps them underpaid and impoverished. Socially awkward, they’ve lived in internet forums for literally decades now.

They’ve given up on life in the real world, and support destructive, racist politics because they literally have nothing else to live for. This is a world where suicide and murder-suicide is called “becoming a hero.”

The 4chan fascists of the 21st century want only to laugh while the
world burns in an orgy of violence, suffering, hatred, and rage. You
know – for the lulz.
I’ve seen a few articles since the rise of Trump that have returned to Hannah Arendt to understand contemporary authoritarianism. But I think the better guides are Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

They wrote about fascism as the political expression of Freud’s death drive. The militarism of Nazi Germany was a cultural expression of a death wish – murder-suicide on a national, and hopefully global scale.

The Trumpists of 4chan desire the same thing – they want to spur racism, hate crimes, violence, authoritarian clampdowns on democracy and resistance, economic and ecological collapse, the end of human civilization. All because they have no hope left. That’s what it means to live for the lulz.

I will fight this with every ounce of energy I have. Even though I’m not even sure if we can ultimately win. Forces of tolerance, acceptance, and real freedom – the freedom that is bound up in responsibility and ethics – may win some victories.

But it’s entirely possible and quite probable that the destructive processes in Earth’s climate can’t be held back from catastrophe any long. And Trump may still do too much damage to the world with American military and ecological destruction while he’s in power to overcome. We may lose. It may be impossible to win.

But I’d rather go out fighting for what’s right than give in to despair. I’ve fought despair too hard in the last few years to let those forces have that victory over me.

We are one people in all our great human diversity. We can live in a world of peace, brotherhood, and fairness.

And you Nazi punks, fuck off!

Our Individual Freedom to Be Good to Each Other, Research Time, 16/02/2017

I'd say one of the most frustrating parts of modern politics* is how absolutist basic liberal principles have become.

* That’s separate from the infuriating, horrifying, terrifying, enraging, and fucking hilarious.

That’s not to say that there aren’t milquetoast, bland, emptily shiny liberal politicians or parties anymore. But that middle-of-all-roads multifaceted hypocrite new liberal with a vague conscience where it’s mostly expedient** doesn’t have the loudest voice in the liberal brand anymore.

As people, we humans tend not to understand that absolutisms of any
value corrupt that value and make it completely dysfunctional. I don't
actually think Milo believes what he says he does – I think he's a con
man playing riots for cash.
** Bill Clinton administration, basically. And Jean Chrétien.

Guess who I’m about to name as that loudest voice of liberal values today. Of course I’m going to say Milo Yiannopolous.

How could such a wildly racist, flamboyantly transphobic, rich dick, gaygeoisie, misogynistic professional bastard represent liberal values? I don’t mean the liberal values of openness or diversity. I just mean the one liberal value that seems to have become the only one that matters among the new generation of radical liberals.

Free speech. Milo promotes himself as a free speech absolutist – his tours are performance art spectacles of boiling bile, bombs that clear a safe space for the most vile ideas and epithets that the human capacity for hatred can produce. From a particular perspective, it’s an important human service.

From more sane perspectives, it’s a glaring demonstration that absolutism of even the most straightforward benefits – freedom itself – can become cancerous to free society.

These thoughts turn over in my mind as I read On Liberty. It’s one of the texts considered at the centre of liberal political philosophy itself. Its ideas inspire a tradition of popular thought that includes literally billions of people now.

I’m curious to know how a typical Milo fan would respond when he reads Mill writing that our obligations to be benevolent to others always takes precedence over our self-interest and self-care. That an essential part of living in a society means we have to help our neighbours before we help ourselves.

Our personal freedoms don’t force our responsibilities into the backseat.

And Mill considers it a mark of maturity to accept this attitude that my responsibilities to my neighbours, friends, and countrymen take precedence over my more selfish desires. Which implies pretty clearly that if Mill were to meet Milo or his fanboys, he would consider them the most immature man-babies he’d ever seen.

It wouldn’t necessarily be the content of what the Milo contingent says and screams that bothers him. Mill was quite the racist himself, as I can tell when I read some parts of his Representative Government essay.

No, Mill’s shock would be at their sheer obnoxiousness, violence, their collapse of their own souls’ decency into the crumpled ego of self-absorption. The absolutism of free speech*** creates a twisted, crumpled soul who believes that his only worthwhile expression is how loud and how much he can scream.

*** Or at least one kind of absolutism, the worst kind of absolutism we have to deal with today.

You go back to Mill, one of the roots of liberalism, and you find that our freedoms are limited by whether they’ll do harm. Most often, we consider that harm an active assault, and Mill gives those examples. But he also talks about systemic avoidance of harm.

Here’s a vital moral responsibility we all share in our society of liberty – educating the next generation of our entire society to be morally better than we were.

That’s a standard to which Milo and Steve Bannon would have you rather fall well short.

Adventures in Cinema and Film Writing, Composing, 14/02/2017

I’ve got plenty more to say about the classic John Stuart Mill books that I’ve been revisiting. There’s actually a lot of interesting stuff in there, but I’ll get back to that tomorrow. Today was an especially busy day, and I didn’t get the time to go over my notes in the detail I want to before I write a good philosophy post.

No, today was a day of progress in my cinema projects. Since the start of this year, I’ve been able to make some real, decisive strides in getting You Were My Friend made. There are multiple people I’ve met in Toronto’s and Hamilton’s arts community who are interested in helping me make it, whether as crew or advisors.

I also haven’t sent any bones to my Patreon donors in a while, which I really should. They haven’t gotten any special projects since my previews of Class reviews. Not only that, but I feel like I let them down with the Class reviews, because it turned out to be kind of a mediocre show by the end.

It would be a very personal writing project for me, since watching
Kubrick's films as a child were almost a religious experience for me.
Not in terms of receiving some kind of dogma, but as a mystical
experience. I knew I wanted to do something creative with my life
after seeing his work.
So here are a few thoughts about a project I’ve been thinking about doing since late last year. You’ll be quite surprised, as no one has ever thought of doing such a thing before – philosophical essays about the films of Stanley Kubrick.

Seriously, though – What would distinguish that from any other set of blog posts written by Ras Trent college intellectuals from a haze of weed smoke at 1.00am? I joke, but it’s a valid question.

It’s not like there already aren’t a healthy amount of film studies books and articles written about philosophical ideas in Kubrick films. It was one of the earliest “Pop Culture Thing and Philosophy” books.

The books like the one I linked above are mostly of the tired format of using a theme, image, or event from his films as an example to illustrate some concept in a philosopher’s work. Usually, those essays are based on bog-standard, boring takes on the concepts, which makes the essay suitably uninteresting.

When I wrote a chapter in one of those books, I at least used a less stereotypical, more interesting take on my philosopher of choice.

But here’s my take. First, the structure. I’d have a few broad concepts in mind, through which I want to read Kubrick’s films, and treat those films themselves as philosophical explorations of the ideas.

I think the first essay I write will be the one on The Shining. The idea
for this book first came to me when I read about how much Stephen King
hated Kubrick's The Shining, even though King's book was actually
kind of terrible, and his own television adaptation was awful. Kubrick
could tell the story of a father trying to kill his family better than King
because Kubrick was actually capable of accepting the horrible truth of
that narrative: that a father could genuinely desire to kill his family.
So I’d write an essay on each feature film in Kubrick’s corpus. And each essay would consider, to a greater or lesser focus depending on its prominence in the film, the same three ideas. 1) Accepting abyss of a godless existence. 2) Kubrick’s vision of humanity and the wider universe as machines. 3) Kubrick’s lurking concern for justice, particularly regarding violence against women.

I also want to touch on the nature of adaptation, a key part of Kubrick’s creative method. I think of it as a collaboration, and Kubrick often did collaborate with the author on the film’s production when they were still alive. But it would also be the story of Kubrick becoming so much better at telling the story he’s adapting than the original creator.

The essays won’t be so straightforward as to deal with each of these in sequence. Each essay will be long – 5-8000 words. It will weave all these elements together into a narrative of each film’s existence. Each film will be an opportunity to see the assemblage of all these parts, from a different perspective.

The goal would be to reveal a vision of Kubrick as an artist and a vision of his art that is more complete and complex than ordinary, sequential essay writing can provide. Like seeing all sides of a building at once.

I think I’ll get started on it soon. I'll offer previews to Patreon sponsors, and possibly start a Kickstarter alongside it to fund an Amazon release.

Freeing Your Mind Is Building Your Mind, Research Time, 13/02/2017

Still reading through some old John Stuart Mill essays, the classics you know. Still finding interesting stuff that can be politically relevant today in unpredictable ways. Like the chapter in On Liberty about personal development.

Sounds a bit like a self-help book, doesn’t it?

It's another one of those parts of On Liberty that no one reads when they’re introduced to Mill in university classrooms. The third chapter is full of ideas that don't fit easily into the standard definition of Mill – utilitarianism, liberalism, freedom of opinion, “shouting fire in a crowded theatre.”

We have a history of saviour and hero stories all over our mythology,
images of ourselves brought to a higher intensity – less petty, more
noble. Or at least stories about how to become more noble. I'm not sure
what, if any, significance there might be to the fact that a lot of these
characters in our contemporary popular cinema are played by
Keanu Reeves.
You know what Mill is doing in that third chapter of On Liberty? He’s building a fully materialist image of humanity. And here’s the type of materialism I’m talking about.

He describes humanity as a creature capable of greatness in understanding, science, morality, and character. We have the potential for utopian civilization. Our potential is grounded in our drives and our mind – our desires and our power of thought.

When we bring our desires to their highest intensity, we can achieve incredible power. When we train our mind to become the most enlightened, we can achieve incredible intelligence. When we develop our conscience to its greatest moral sensitivity, we can achieve incredible ethical balance.

When such an intelligent mind guides powerful forces of desire, we can achieve real, comprehensive greatness as individuals and as a society. A mind and body acting at their highest powers, in harmony with each other – the elegant creativity of explosive power with self-disciplined mind and conscience.

Our political leaders in these reactionary times clearly never learned that lesson.

In this conception of humanity as potentially perfectible, Mill has become something of a transhumanist. Human knowledge can perfect us, rise us above the filth we all too often drag ourselves into when we think our greed and violence makes us great.

Again, this is something that most of us – especially our political leaders – need to learn. Humanity can become angels if we perfect our knowledge and our moral conscience.

You know, I remember reading Nietzsche
remarking how much he hated English
political philosophy generally, with a
peculiarly hot venom for John Stuart Mill.
Yet when I read Mill's account of how to
perfect humanity's character – especially
how materialist, how machinist his
conception of reality is – it reminds me of
Nietzsche's thought and tradition. Not
anything worth defending as an
academic thesis. Just a little parallel that
tweaks my thoughts.
And this is entirely a material process – we don’t need God or any god to perfect human nature. Just the progress of science and a society-wide commitment to comprehensive education, political engagement, and introspective moral exploration of our responsibilities to our fellows.

It’s incredible how typing a single sentence can make you feel so pessimistic. I wonder if you felt pessimistic reading it.

But that pessimism only comes from how terribly unlikely that kind of scientific and moral enlightenment appears to us today. Human society may change, but the highest potentials of human existence are always present in each of us.

The really hard part of all this is, looking around at the chaos, oppression, and war of modern politics and society, how on Earth do we get humanity on track for perfection?

When I wrote Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, I ended with a chapter that discussed how to cause epic, significant political change in your society. The only way it could be effective – a revolutionary transformation that would not only upend and reorient all traditional values and ways of life, but actually stick – is changing people’s character.

Utopias is a follow-up book in that it's fundamentally about what the most noble human character would be – from personal and political perspectives. I may follow Utopias with a book exploring the highest human nobility from a divine perspective. But that's a 2030s project.

Perfection is the long, difficult, slogging process of actually challenging people in whatever media will most open up their self-skepticism* and changing minds. You reach out to people in the most effective way possible with words that will nudge them toward their higher, more noble possibilities.

* If they’re still capable of such a thing as doubting themselves, or considering that they might be making a mistake. Hardly a universal aspect of human nature these days, if ever.

But we have to believe it’s possible. Otherwise, no one will ever even try.