Continued from last post . . . The utopian thinkers – whether they use that term or something like it or generally imagine or work toward a vision of a better society – all have a kind of optimism. Minimally, a utopian believes that human nature can be changed for the better.
This is why transhumanists are usually thought of as utopians. This is why Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity is a utopian book. It's why philosophy, when it's carried out as a creative art, is an essentially utopian discipline. It’s an activity that tries to change human nature for the better.
|Modern utopia lies in the visions of networked social|
movements, as in this moment from a Black Lives
Matter protest in north Toronto this week.
I’ve sometimes heard rhetorical talk about libertarian utopias, usually as a means of dismissing libertarians as cranks and crazies. Utopian visionaries are often considered kind of crazy in a lot of popular discourse, mostly because the term can all too often evoke images of madmen in a desert or a forest calling their followers to build a new society in the wilderness.
All too often, these kinds of visionaries are would-be prophets whose megalomania has interfered with their planning faculties. Quite regularly, ordinary office workers quit their unfulfilling jobs to build a self-sufficient community in the wilderness, where they'll commune with nature, a utopia that escapes the evils of technology. However, with no scientific or practical knowledge of farming, plumbing, or any basic survival skills, most of these communities end up collapsing.
Yet Henri Bergson took seriously the concept of prophesy as a progressive force for humanity and human nature. An engagement with his Two Sources of Morality and Religion will be a centrepiece of the Utopias manuscript.
The last third of Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia describes a utopian community where everyone is free or organize along their own vision of perfection a society of themselves and whoever agrees with that vision. He calls freedom to choose and experiment with different ways of life to see what works and what doesn’t is a large-scale argument for the libertarian way of life. If freedom to choose is paradise, then restricting that freedom is to fall.
This give and take between a movement pushing for social progress and the ethical necessity of freedom is a significant aspect of modern politics. You can see it in the social media discussions that define so much of the politics of our era. On one side, you have the social justice warriors, whose campaigns call attention to dangerous, violent, and vile inequities of class, gender, and race in our society, and push for material change in our institutions and in our cultures and minds to address those inequities in profound ways.
|As with every discussion of politics lately, it comes|
back again to Donald Trump.
On the other side,* you have the conservatives who wish to preserve their freedom to think in the racist, sexist, and uncritically capitalistic ways that are simultaneously embodied in the greasy jackassery of both Donald Trump and Travis Kalanick.
* Where I am manifestly not, as you can probably tell by now.
The libertarian critique of modern movement-based progressivism is that they accuse the social justice warrior of wishing to use the state to force their ideas on everyone with or without consent or deliberation.
This manifestly isn’t true, because the essential framework of social movement activism is about changing minds. You expose people to different lives and experiences, talk with them about the systematic causes of the injustices in those experiences, and build solidarity to change the destructive relationships we’re all caught in.
Some of those exposures are confrontational, but movement politics ultimately has to understand that every encounter is an opportunity for education, for changing minds.
But progressive politics is always going to be subject to this fear of the libertarians until we can acknowledge that, in figures like Marinetti and Italian Futurism most intensely and purely, the engine of progress is the tyranny of the state crushing all resistance to the new program of a perfect society. That’s what my Utopias project is all about.
Ultimately, I think my conclusion will be that progressive politics can only avoid the hypocrisy of tyranny and violence when it learns what Hayek and his new liberal followers get right: avoid the state and top-down enforcement of ideology as an engine of the social progress we want.
My libertarian friend G once asked me why I believed that it was possible to improve humanity. “Don’t you believe in human nature?” he asked. I wanted to know what he meant, and he told me that humans were essentially self-interested, egotistical creatures who cared only about themselves and would be inherently violent to each other.
That was the root of our disagreement. I believe that people can change, and change for the better, if they open their minds to the possibility of difference and a systematic view of the world. That’s why I still write philosophy. It’s the tradition of developing new concepts, and those concepts can, conversation by conversation, change the world.