Real Republican Freedom II: So What Is the Law For Anyway? Research Time, 28/03/2017

Continued from last post . . . When I was reading the anarchists – Mikhail Bakunin, Emma Goldman, Colin Ward – I was meditating on the excess of law. How the very framework of some kind of coercive rule-following institution put pressure on human freedom.

Which those institutions do. I’m not about to say this isn’t an essential feature of legal institutions. When rubber hits road, there’s nothing protecting citizens from police violence except self-restraint on the part of police officers themselves.

We tell stories to remind us that institutional authority can be abused
so that we stay angry when we see it happening. We can't let that
level of corruption become normal, so we tell stories to remind
ourselves that such people are villains.
Think about it as a deranged, cartoonish image if it helps. As a fable told with fantastic imagery and intense drama. Imagine Nicolas Cage as a werewolf hunting the streets of New Orleans with fiery blood.

If that predatory human is really hunting your streets, though, don’t you want police and law enforcement institutions around to protect you from them? Leave aside the issue of violent crime or exploitive behaviour. Think about the truly dangerous criminals – the ones capable of bringing down your society.

Machiavelli is thinking about that last type of criminal. When he discusses the corruption of a virtuous government in Discourses on Livy, he has some very clear examples in mind. He’s talking about military dictators of small countries who raid the treasury, bankrupt the whole place, and flee to let the country be overrun by an expanding foreign empire.

This was the type of people running the independent states of northern Italy in Machiavelli’s time. As a politician, he was directly concerned with preserving a strong government in Florence that could preserve its independence against ambitions of conquest from France, Spain, and Austria.

France, Spain, and Austria in the early 1500s were absolutist monarchies expanding European empires through military conquest. Remember that situation whenever you read Machiavelli. His materialism and pragmatism was so deep and thorough because the times required it.

The problem of how a community protects itself from predators remains. Some predators are murderers, con artists, ruthless profiteers. Some predators join the police and the military. Some of those predators take advantage of a lucky situation to make themselves dictator of a whole country.

Because when the military takes command, the people's freedom
never comes out all that well.
So the best ways to prevent the downfall of your society to military dictatorship is to build strong institution. What makes an institution strong is public belief in its power, over and above the people who hold power through those institutions.

When a country’s institutions are more important to the people than its leaders, a leader who tries to corrupt those institutions will find a revolution on his hands. A revolution to protect institutions before those institutions even become corrupt and turn their violent powers completely against the population has a much better chance of success than one that must start from a position of total submission.

This is why it’s easier to stop a democracy from falling than it is to actually topple one. You may not think this, because of such a long history of military coups against democratic governments around the world.

But most of the world’s democracies are very young. Even the oldest, where democratic values are deeply ingrained in popular culture, have powerful inequities and institutional habits of oppression and abuse.

It takes a long time for a culture to become democratic through to its communal soul, to that one common feature of all citizens. It takes a long time for a people’s fundamental community love to be for freedom and mutual respect, and for the institutions that protect those freedoms.

There are many different objects of patriotism – the ethnic nation, religious dogma, the royals, the leaders, the god-kings, empire. The only good objects of patriotism are ideals and institutions of freedom. Anything else is slavery and war.

And that message is from, of all people, Machiavelli. . . . To be continued

Real Republican Freedom I: Perí Genéseos kaí Fthorás, Research Time, 28/03/2017

Remember when I was talking about Rousseau? Well, I’m not doing that anymore. But there’s one thing I saw when I picked up Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, a common idea stood out.

So I’m going to tell you right now – I need a scholar.

The idea is the inevitable fall of any city, any society. All living things are born as pure and strong specimens, but then grow corrupted, decaying as the body turns on itself. From generation there is corruption.

That includes human communities like Machiavelli’s Florence, Rousseau’s Geneva, Livy’s Rome, and my Toronto. But cities don’t experience the corruption of individual organisms, of course. A community doesn’t degrade from cardiovascular failure, auto-immune disorders, or cancers.

Maybe just metaphorically. The corruption of a city is the erosion of public virtue – of dedication to public good, the health of the community, spirit of patriotic brotherhood among citizens.

No, being born into privilege and an ethically corrupt family doesn't
predispose you to selfishness and your own corruption. Of course not.
I mean, fuck, even Barron is playing with toy limos and sports cars.
The kid doesn't even own plastic dump trucks. What kind of
construction magnate's son is this? Oh, right – a construction
magnate who's never had to work for his living.
Here’s a narrative, from early in Machiavelli’s Discourses, of generation and corruption of a city-state. And it can happen remarkably quickly for a society. Maybe a century. The government is established and managed by a virtuous, intelligent, wise prince.

He consolidates power as a monarch, and his ethical personality results in a period of greatness – the people are prosperous, the city is famous for its good works. Then the prince’s sons take over the government.

Raised in privilege, the inherited rulers have none of the virtue and ethical sense of their father. They’re selfish bastards who steal from the citizens and squander the city’s wealth on their own pleasure. So the noblemen get together and stage a coup.

No matter how virtuous and dedicated to public good those nobles may have been, their children will be just as corrupt and self-serving as the princes. So the multitudes themselves overthrow the oligarchs.

Yet after so many years of repetitive corruption, so many regimes that have led to constant disappointment, there’s no faith left in leaders. No one bothers to respect or obey the authorities. Even when they run the city in their name, bitterness and resentment have taken over the public imagination.

No faith left that a leader wouldn’t be hostile to his people. And the republic is destroyed.

That cycle of generation and corruption is cyclical – in Machiavelli’s thinking, it occurs throughout human history, infinitely in both directions. What I’d like from some of my scholar friends is some perspective on how Aristotelian this was.

For almost the entire medieval period, Aristotle’s works were core sources for many of the subjects that are empirical sciences today – physics, cosmology, and biology. I haven’t focussed study on Aristotle since my undergraduate days, taking a few courses from Memorial’s resident Aristotelian scholar.

But I remember many of the basic concepts, and Machiavelli’s (and later, Rousseau’s) account of human societies’ inevitable corruption, collapse, and rebirth strike me as very similar to Aristotle’s ideas.

Would early 1500s Florence still have been shaped by that Aristotelian way of thinking about the world? Would those texts still have provided so many truisms of popular education? One of my historical scholar friends, do let me know, please. . . . To be continued

Economics for the People, Jamming, 27/03/2017

So I had a great time live-tweeting the New Democrats’ Youth Debate this weekend. And watching it as well.

I continue to be impressed by Guy Caron, for one thing. Whether or not he wins the leadership, I hope his profile, power, and influence in the NDP, in Canada, and global progressive politics grows.

There are two aspects of that hope. One has to do with his tireless advocacy for basic income. Basic income is a transformational economic policy, for two reasons as far as I understand the issue, economic and moral.

While I think Caron and Niki Ashton are the best candidates among the
NDP leadership field, Caron's intellect makes me think him best suited
to be Canada's Finance Minister. In that role, he has the potential to be
epoch-making, beginning a process of economic transformation not
under the emergency conditions of Varoufakis in Greece, where crisis
and sabotage caused his failure, but in a prosperous, resilient Canada.
In a strictly economic sense, basic income is a solution to poverty and inequality. By taxing profitable corporations, wealthy individuals and families, and stock transactions fairly in comparison to the rest of society, you can provide funds for everyone to supply their basic needs of food and shelter.

That lifts people out of poverty, and gives otherwise desperate, hopeless people an anchor in their lives. As modern industry continues to automate and artificial intelligence advances, there will simply not be enough good jobs in the economy for the world’s entire population.

There probably aren’t enough such jobs already. But basic income in an automated industrial society would keep demand high enough to prevent economic collapse. If unemployment rates are huge, but economic productivity high due to automation, the economy will end up collapsing – Very few people will be able to buy the huge amounts of goods and services created.

This (along with his motives to simplify and reduce welfare state bureaucracies) is why the model neoliberal economist Milton Friedman first proposed basic income. But there’s a moral reason why basic income is necessary for a state’s welfare obligations too.

Basic income removes morality, blame, and condescension from our welfare systems. There will no longer be an excuse for you to spit on those who don’t hold jobs, as if they were all lazy good-for-nothings. Surely, some of them are.

But maintaining demand levels in the face of widespread automation and job loss – high productivity and low employment – doesn’t give a damn if a jobless person is a bitterly disappointed ambitious striver or a 400 lb mooch. And neither should we.

Milton Friedman. The era of the conservative libertarian economist,
the shadow of Mt Pelerin, the neoliberal consensus, the fetish of a
free market that has never, could never, and will never truly exist,
must finally come to an end. Their ideas have wrecked the dreams
of generations.
If you want to get high and mighty, you can say it’s about justice. But I prefer not to be high and mighty – humans rarely deserve it. But we shouldn’t let our moral beliefs about who does and doesn’t deserve to life a dignified life interfere with how we want to maintain our economic prosperity.

I mean, who are we to judge? Who is anyone? Only God can determine anyone’s actual moral worth. And even when we’re dealing with God, there’s plenty of room for appeal and argument.

But here’s the second, and I think larger, cause of the hope I see in Guy Caron’s candidacy. For too long, people like Friedman and the conservatives, libertarians, and oligarchs who’ve followed his teachings have had total public ownership of economics as a science.

The people who speak the language of economics for the public are people whose policies and ideas are rarely in the interest of public welfare, health, and prosperity. They’re people who represent the interests of oligarchs.

Caron is an economist who is dedicated to using the science of economics in the interests of the people and the common wealth. As his profile rises, he joins Thomas Piketty and Yanis Varoufakis as leading progressive economists. He’s joining a global leadership of people rededicating that science to the service of the people.

No Wit Today – Just Exhaustion, Advocate, 24/03/2017

There are some days when, like everyone who’s had to move from one career to another, I miss my old career. I was good at teaching, and I enjoyed it. I loved writing philosophy – it’s why I still do it independently, and why I put that analytic and creative skill to use in my current work as a writer, marketer, and artist.

But I read something earlier today that left a bitter taste in my mouth. John Searle is the subject of a viscerally disgusting set of sexual harassment allegations.

I don't really want to go over this in much detail. If you read the Buzzfeed article, you’ll discover all you need to know. I don’t want to discuss what Searle might or might not be found legally culpable for. Those are the kinds of discussions for law courts, which have much higher burdens of proof than straightforward ethical discussions.

I never really liked Searle's work to begin with, either.
The truth is, I’ve become increasingly alienated from the academic establishment. Although I regret the difficult and sometimes painful path I’ve had rebuilding my career after leaving the university sector, I find myself increasingly repulsed by the arrogant and grotesque behaviours the institution seems to encourage.

Not all professors, of course. Not all professors I knew in my academy days look straight through me when they see me on a campus or at a conference. Not all professors conduct blatantly dishonest job searches. Not all star professors in their fields regularly abuse their prestige and offices to prey on young female students.

The professors I knew who don’t do any of those things are wonderful people who I’m glad to have known. But I’ve also known enough who’ve done all these things. On the small scale my own life, I’ve met the arrogant, I’ve met liars, and I’ve met bastards.

I see how the prestige of an academic position feeds personal arrogance. I’ve seen the institutionalized untouchability of a prestigious office erodes people’s sense of ethics.

Now it seems I can’t go a year without learning of some other American university-based philosopher faced with civil claims or forced to resign over what in each instance are credible allegations of using his office to prey sexually on young female students.

Four years ago, it was Colin McGinn. Just over a year after that, it was Peter Ludlow, who when I met just a few months before his fall, was one of those academics who looked straight through me when he discovered I held no position.

Last year, it was Thomas Pogge, a multidimensionally hypocritical case of an ethicist praised for his selfless approach to political thought. Well, he had also been using his office and research institute to manipulate and seduce a long string of young female scholars from the Global South.

The same reporter carried out the investigation into Searle, and the lawsuit by Joanna Ong that he propositioned her multiple times, then cut her salary and fired her for refusing him. Yes, Ong’s suit alleges that he did, indeed, make that very joke.

The What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy blog exists, chronicling everyday sexist bullshit throughout the discipline. It’s beyond tiring, and I don’t even work there anymore.

I look at this institution that I had wanted to be part of, that defined a career path for me for a decade. It’s past being decadent. It’s past being sad. I feel a kind of sickly contempt at that institution. I don’t even know how I could have thrived there if I’d stuck out the career.

If I had seen something like what Searle and Pogge were apparently doing, would I have done something about it? Or would I have looked the other way? When I think about what my own livelihood would have depended on, what the established norms and moralities of my institution were, maybe I just would have been content with not doing such reprehensible acts myself.

Or maybe after many decades rising through the hierarchy of that world, growing entirely accustomed to its cultures and the power of an office, maybe I’d have done worse than turning away my eye.

I think it’s a profound and important ethical truth about humanity that when we think we’re incapable of monstrosity is exactly when we’re most vulnerable to becoming monsters.

Come Together VI: Live While You Live, A History Boy, 23/03/2017

Read the Come Together series of posts on Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract from the beginning.
• • •
Continued from previous . . . I ended yesterday with a question. If even the most virtuous will inevitably fall, why should we even hope?

The question underlies the whole point of writing about utopias and political or ethical ideals at all. Well, no, it underlies rather more than that. Taken rhetorically, it’s the sigh of despair for every aspect of life. It’s the possibility that death nullifies the value of life.

It’s the challenge of mortality. Everything ends eventually. Realizing this thought is sobering, and sometimes terrifying. Funny thing is, it’s actually defined my work since I started publishing philosophy.

My first published essay in an official philosophy venue was an essay in the first Doctor Who and Philosophy collection. Because of course it was. It grappled with that existential question, of what the value of life could be if death negated all its achievements.

The answer to the question is to deny its validity. Just because the effects and knowledge of your actions won’t last forever doesn’t rob them of their value. The value of our actions are in the actions themselves, and the immediate time frame of their effects.

The city rises and will fall one day. Its dignity is in its life.
If I help one old poor woman get a good lunch one day, it doesn’t matter that she died that very evening of a catastrophic coronary in her sleep.* If you go to any figure in the general canon of Western philosophy, you’ll find this concept most clearly in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche.

* I sometimes feel like I don’t do enough to help people who need it.

But I see it asked in Rousseau’s The Social Contract, and I’m left wondering about its status in that very ambiguous text. Before I picked up Rousseau’s books again for this string of classical research, I hadn’t really touched his writing since I was an undergraduate.

I learned a very simple Rousseau back then, one that doesn’t quite jive with the ambiguous thinker I see here. My education in political philosophy suffered from the unfortunate trend of undergraduate teaching – making the ideas clear, too clear.

Rousseau’s work is remembered because of his ambiguity. He’s a genius at describing the hidden potentials of humanity – freedom, happiness, social harmony, all the aspects of our perfection. But he’s also a genius at explaining what it is about human society that keeps us from realizing that potential.

We can conceive of this potential and approach it, even though we might only inch toward living a more perfect existence in our own lifetimes. Circumstances might conspire against us completely in trying to become more perfect creatures.

I’m reading Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy right now. He, most stereotypically of anyone else in the tradition, is a thinker of contingency and crap circumstances. You can tell, when you read these two books one after the other, how scholars are on target when they discuss the deep influence Machiavelli had on Rousseau.

Scholarship aside, it’s not as though Machiavelli’s pragmatic sensibility survives in Rousseau. The Social Contract and all his major works are aporetic – they leave you hanging. There are no certainties, no comforting paths forward.

You understand the human condition better than before you read it – our possibilities for social harmony and perfection along with our tendencies to corruption, greed, violence, and ruin. Understanding leads to wiser action.

Wisdom is not a correct answer on an exam. Never confuse the two.

Come Together V: Even the Best Will Fall, Research Time, 22/03/2017

Continued from previous . . . Say freedom explodes in a society. Tyrants fall. The corrupt oligarchs and bloodthirsty generals either flee or are strung up. People look around them when the fires die down and see a wide field of potential. And they smile.

The truly insightful ones, underneath their smiles and their joy at finally being free, are also scared shitless.

A tyrant can be so exalted among his people that
he appears invincible, as if he'll always be their
ruler.
Because when you literally get the chance to form an entirely new republic, constitution, institutions and all, you’re faced with a tremendous burden. You have to build a state that does justice to your people, especially if you really have overthrown a dictator and have a chance to grow a democratic society.

It’s interesting, in that context, to read Rousseau steadfastly refusing to say anything like what the best government for people would be. That’s what a good chunk of traditional political theory is – analyzing and arguing over state institutions, their powers, and their affects in shaping a political culture, to identify the best form of government.

Thinking about this question is where Rousseau’s pessimism begins to emerge. However much he’s known as a utopian thinker – and however much he really is a utopian thinker – he’s a deep pessimist about real human potential.

He shies away from answering this question with any content for two reasons. One is an empiricist’s humility. Rousseau knows that there’s a huge amount of cultural and economic variety just among the different states and societies of Europe.

You can’t, given that variety, give an account of the best forms of government that will be universal. Not if you want that account to have much content other than the will to freedom. Which doesn’t get our hypothetical fellow in the ruins of his old tyranny out of his problem.

Because you don’t escape the problem of how best to govern people. Rousseau explains that all governments – no matter how virtuous in their beginning – will always eventually fall apart. As he puts it, any unified government of free people will eventually collapse into either another tyranny or violent anarchy.

So our man in the rubble can build with all the ambition and wisdom his people can muster. It will all be a tyranny again eventually.

Only a few tyrants are ever really so fortunate. And you think Qaddafi
got it rough in the end. You should have seen Rome.
Rousseau uses a concept of corruption in this argument that I think has roots in Aristotle. I may dig around for a copy of On Generation and Corruption to examine the concept there. But in the context of The Social Contract, this corruption is a kind of cultural erosion.*

* Here's another welcome sign of Rousseau's materialism. Nowhere in his account of the reasons for humanity's corruption does he fall back on any Christian concepts of original sin. He relies on no talk of the soul or our fallen relationship with God. He speaks only of the material processes of culture, the social forces among classes as some communities tend to work as private citizens and some communities tend to produce governors, bureaucrats, and other powerful people.

Any stable state maintains itself in tension between a few fundamental social forces. As Rousseau puts it, that tension is between the sovereign power of the people themselves, and the institutional power of the governing classes.

In a well-structured society, it’s a creative tension – incredible achievements arise from the battles and rivalries among the popular and institutional classes. But the heat will always wear away the machinery of the government. That creativity may make a state last longer and achieve greatness, but things will begin to creak.

They’ll be near-silent, but audible.

That’s the tragedy of human society. We can achieve so much when we can encourage freedom in society while building institutions that solve our coordination problems for large-scale activity. But the energy in any culture is fuelled through the tension and conflict of people and institutions.

Such greatness occurs only in the most virtuous governments, which are rare enough as it is. Most real states are far more vicious. Cruel. The 20th century even saw the perfection of government through mass murder-suicide. Our virtue is rare.

If even the most virtuous will inevitably fall, why should we even hope? . . . . To be continued

The Terror of Popular Skepticism, Composing, 21/03/2017

I’m taking a break from my extended treatment of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s most canonical essays for some self-promotion. My latest essay just dropped at the Reply Collective, and I’ve had some follow-up ideas.

I always have follow-up ideas to these essays. Sometimes, they tumble out onto the blog and nothing much else happens with them. Sometimes, some of my SERRC colleagues pick them up formally or casually. Sometimes, we all have a big chat about it. Sometimes, I just write a follow-up essay for them later.

I’m actually waiting to hear back from Buzzfeed Reader about a pitch for basically the same essay, but rewritten in a more casual, journalistic tone.

In “Subverting Reality,” I consider that my own discussion of fake news will probably become obsolete or incomplete in the time between drafting and publication. Even though that was only about three weeks. I was half-serious, but only half-joking, since things really do change that fast in Trump’s world.

He is epochal.
And it turned out that I was right! The day “Subverting Reality” was published, FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the ongoing investigation of the Trump Campaign (now the Trump Administration) regarding a possible quid pro quo with Vladimir Putin’s government.

How this all plays out will create a dire test for democracy – if a group of people accustomed for so long not to trust government and to believe the most ridiculous conspiracies about their opponents can believe inconvenient truths anymore.

There are significant numbers of Americans whose worldview is shaped so much by pernicious conspiracies – birtherism and pizzagate – that an intelligence community plot to destroy their movement’s leader is an ordinary thought. How does the truth win out in a society where lies are more trustworthy?

Call them institutional skeptics, because they’ve lost trust in the government institutions whose trustworthiness grounds the entire legitimacy of the state. A lot of those people are seniors who watch too much FOX News. But enough of them could also be in militias like Ammon Bundy’s.

Judging by what Comey said and pointedly avoided saying, many high-profile figures in the Trump campaign are under intense investigation. The collusion with the Russian government could constitute incredibly serious charges.

How do you convince people who’ve had their entire practical political worldview shaped by this culture of partisan falsity and conspiracy since the 11 September attacks to trust in democratic institutions again?

That's a terrifying and epochal question for the thinkers of social epistemology – in its most political sense, as the knowledge of the people – to grapple with.

Come Together IV: Liberation Through Communication, Research Time, 20/03/2017

Continued from last post . . . Rousseau offers us conceptual resources to understand how political power is rooted not in the state or any institution, but in ordinary people themselves. If I can throw a bone to my right-wing populist friends, Rousseau is a classical source of critique against “the elites.”*

* Whoever these elites actually are, since the definition gets more than a little slippery.

Here’s the structure that “the sovereign” has when you read The Social Contract. It’s the energy of a whole community acting in harmony, the kind of self-conscious social harmony I described on Friday.

The Arab revolutions of 2011 and 2012 were attempts to overthrow
oppressive, tyrannical governments and replace their corrupt practices
with democratic, accountable leadership that served the common
interests of citizens. Citizens came to know their common interests
through talking with each other, which allowed them to come
together as one social body to demand change. Never forget this.
Sovereign power emerges from the expression of thousand (or maybe even millions) of people in a community acting together on their known common interest. That's the immanent power of political action.

Practically, you’re now forced to ask how to produce this intense solidarity in your community. It would be wonderful to live in that kind of community, where every interaction with your neighbours is defined by mutual aid and friendship.

Even though Rousseau often talks as though his ideals are impossibilities – a utopian through and through, that hypocritical old Genevan – he does give a few possibility conditions, even if in a roundabout way.

Communication is a necessary condition of the general will, the spontaneous unity and harmony of a whole community. He doesn’t argue for this directly in The Social Contract, but it’s implied by what he says about the conditions where a despot thrives.

By this, he means the material conditions. The most important one is the dispersal of a people in a country. If there are a lot of small, relatively isolated communities, dictators can do remarkably well.

Keep your eyes on the material conditions of the world where Rousseau was writing too. This is a world where real-time communication is pretty much impossible except between people standing literally right next to each other and physically speaking.

Rodrigo Duterte uses intense public relations through Facebook to
manage his public image in The Philippines, where as president he's
leading a radical and violent campaign against drug use and the drug
trade. Communications technology is a condition of liberation, but
can easily turn against the interests of free people.
To people of my generation, this is a strange, alien world. A 21st century person taken to the technological context of 1762 Geneva would probably have a mental breakdown from information starvation.

I’m not just talking about the internet – email, videoconferencing, all the social media and messaging platforms we use daily, casually. We’re a culture that’s just so accustomed to things like telephones, radio, and television that a world without these things is disorienting.

We take vacations camping in the middle of the woods to escape these networks for a few days, but if we ever had to live in these conditions for our entire lives, we’d curse the god who sent us there. Now imagine if this is the only world you ever knew.

Communicating over any distance whatsoever, with more than a few hundred people in your life, depends on mass media. And in Rousseau’s day, any kind of media transmission – printing presses, pamphlets, mail – depends on state institutions to guarantee their stability. Or just straight-up building the media networks in the first place.

It’s such a contrast to our lives, where the physical architecture of the internet – server farms scattered around the world, enormous cables strung under the sea, consumer ISPs hitching onto phone and cable lines, satellites – is beyond the control of any single government.

The Street Enters the House, a 1911 painting by Umberto Boccioni.
Boccioni's paintings often depict the mass movement of people and
technology recreating the physical world itself, always a unified,
harmonious movement.
Communication is necessary for building a community. It’s a truth that goes beyond just the similarity in words. Communication lets us know each other as people, lets us figure out together what ideas and goals our society will share. It helps us harmonize our beliefs and interests.

That’s the earliest, most rudimentary steps of harmonizing a society around common interests. In Rousseau’s time, this can happen only among small communities without the direct help of the state.

But in our time, like-minded people can connect with each other all over a country, and all over the world, for real-time communication limited only by the languages they speak. Communication technology has been central to democratic revolutions from the 1700s to today.

Of course, oppressive regimes can also use the communication technology that otherwise liberates. Having the technology doesn’t mean freedom will follow. But the technology for real-time mass communication would appear to be an important condition for an explosion of freedom.

But what shall we do with our freedom if we gain it? . . . . To be continued

Come Together III: In Perfect Harmony, Research Time, 17/03/2017

Continued from last post . . . An impossibility is an inspiration. It is Eden. Heaven on Earth. Rather, it’s Earth becoming Heaven.

That’s the movement Rousseau makes from the reality of humanity to its perfection. In real life, we’re a bunch of incurably corrupt, inescapably ignorant bastards. But in our perfected state, we damn near perfectly understand the common interest of our whole community, and are kind enough always to act on it.

Submitting completely to an authority that speaks with the voice of God
has never been a request that turns out well for anyone of whom it's
asked. Usually, it's a submission to slavery, as when Indigenous
Canadian children literally had Christianity beaten into them.
This is the mind-set of the individual when the will of a community is expressed as the general will. The harmony of thought across the whole society isn’t somehow imposed from above.* It’s a perfectly harmonized expression of every individual spontaneously.

* I haven’t read nearly enough Rousseau scholarship to say authoritatively whether my hypothesis is generally on target. Nor would I really want to, even if I had time. It’s not like I would have had time as a professor either – I’d have had budget meetings to attend with the associate vice-deans.

When he says that “Gods would be needed to give men laws,” he isn’t talking about God as a person standing over obedient humans. This isn’t any divine absolute despot, giving orders to which you submit.

If that were the kind of god that was on order, then Rousseau is quite the totalitarian. That’s what it means to submit all of human existence to the orders of an authority. But I’m taking Rousseau as a thinker of radical freedom, and it’s easy to do so if you just think of God in that line differently.

Remember that he’s said that the only true laws that a legislature could write were rules and institutions written as the expression of the general will. Only when the entire community (politicians and bureaucrats included) act in perfect harmony and love spontaneously is any legislation a truly legitimate law.

In any case less perfect than that, the laws are just rules backed up by threats of punishment (like jail time) or rewards (like tax credits). The law has only moral significance.

No ethical significance. The general will is the immanent expression of a community itself. Now you see it.** I’m using Rousseau in Utopias as part of a tradition of political materialism, whose fulcrum is Spinoza.

Well, hello there, good sir.
** And so do I.

I have one question for any of my scholar friends who might come across this. I may actually just write a former professor of mine who I remember has published academic articles on Rousseau. I’m not sure how believable this reading is. Maybe I should call it an appropriation. I feel like that’s a more accurate term for what I’m doing with the historical research for this book.

One of the problems with Rousseau is that he knew his audience too well. This is what makes it difficult – as a scholar or just an attentive reader – to be sure he’s really thinking what you think you read in his writing.

So when he uses terms like “the sovereign” or tosses off flourishes like that line above about gods, he sounds like he’s referring to monarchs and God the Father. Because that’s what his audience of reasonably intellectual literate people in 1760s Europe thought of when they heard those terms.

It’s how Rousseau’s own audience thought of power, authority, kingship, and the divine. This conception of divinity as a perfect material expression would have gotten someone strung up for some hardcore heresy.

Geneva was a Calvinist country at the time, and that is not a religious authority known to tolerate leniency. At the time, “Spinozist” was an insult you hurled at someone when you wanted to destroy their reputation. Materialism of Spinoza’s expressive, free kind was considered just as corrosive as atheism.

So how plausible would it be for me historically to make Rousseau a chain link in a semi-underground Spinozist tradition? Should I even care about plausibility to the scholarly community when I don’t even plan on making Utopias a scholarly book? . . . To be continued

Come Together II: When a Person Becomes a Legion, Composing, 16/03/2017

Continued from last post . . . Inescapably, we’re all individuals. Easy thing to say. But it can quite often be very difficult to live as an individual. Social contact is a required part of human life – a socially isolated person becomes unhinged, deranged, profoundly broken.

Consider Garry Davis and Mike Gogulski, the men I wrote about yesterday who’d renounced their citizenship, purposely become stateless. They lead (or led, in Garry’s case) active lives, have (or had) circles and networks of friends and colleagues.

Of course, the problem with Rousseau's philosophy is that people often
read his very abstract text – literally writing impossibilities – as
empirical or historical accounts of primitive humanity. That's how he
got the reputation of promoting his free pre-civilized individual as the
"noble savage." Rousseau himself never used this phrase, but he did
pepper The Origin of Inequality with a whole bunch of other racist
bullshit about indigenous Americans.
But there’s a loneliness to statelessness. A drift. Floating. Not purposeless, but empty of at least one purpose.

Rousseau is one of those classical Enlightenment writers who embodies paradoxical complexities. Few people worth reading for literally centuries don’t.

The seeming paradox I want to concentrate on in this series of posts running through The Social Contract is between a vision of the free individual and the power of community. Rousseau famously imagines humanity before the social complexity of large communities as a contented wanderer.

Imagine an individual with no cares in the world, no serious obligations, a life of leisure, his only cares (and it is always a him) are gathering the abundant food, bedding down comfortably for the night under temperate, friendly skies. That’s the image of human freedom that Rousseau is most famous for propagating.

He’s also famous for introducing another concept, the general will of a community. Now, I don’t know that this concept is famous in the same way his free pre-civilized man is. The free wanderer is a pop culturally famous image. General will is something else.

No, general will is famous because figuring out precisely what Rousseau means by the term has become a cottage sub-discipline in academic philosophy. The term is very complex in The Social Contract, and Rousseau scholarship has never settled on anything like a consensus.

It probably never will, since scholars are incentivized to fragment their fields with proliferating new takes on their primary material. You make your name in scholarship by advancing and defending an interpretation that no one else yet has. If a field were to decide on one absolutely correct conclusion for a debate, they’d put themselves out of work.

So I'm not about to say I have anything like the totally accurate take on Rousseau’s general will. I’m not that kind of raging egomaniac. Even if I worked in academics still, I couldn’t pretend to be a raging egomaniac like you’re supposed to.

The closest I'd say we've ever come to making Rousseau's general will
real is in North Korea's mass games. I don't think I need to say much
about how fucking terrifying that is.
No, I’m just going to give my own interpretation, developed for my own purposes. I’m doing a long period of research for Utopias, a book about the relation of our political imagination with our real-life activism and beliefs. I’m looking into the classics for a retroactive tradition-building – historical ideas that can be useful guides to the present situation.

I’m not arguing that this was what Rousseau truly meant. What he meant was what he wrote – he’d look at all of us arguing and be amazed that we didn’t understand.

I’m saying – here’s how the ideas about the general will in The Social Contract connect with my priorities as a philosophical writer today.

The general will of a community is the spontaneous and simultaneous arrival of complete social harmony among all its individuals. Not only does this total, community-wide, all-at-once synchronicity and sympathy happen in feeling, but every individual intellectually understands the common interest of the whole community perfectly.

And in that complete, fully self-conscious harmony, the community acts on its common interest.

That is the only circumstance in which law can be legitimate, says Rousseau. When the entire community, acting together in perfect sympathy and mutual understanding, legislates its own activity.

Anything short of that is an imposition on people’s freedom, because that general will is the only circumstance in which literally everyone in a community agrees.

So what can a writer do with an impossibility? . . . To be continued

Come Together I: A Citizen of the World or Nowhere, Research Time, 15/03/2017

I'm looking through some classics of Western political philosophy for ideas and concepts to help understand and live in our own turbulent times. You can’t apply a 300 year old idea directly to the problems of the current era.

But the classics are fertile launching points for a complex engagement with perennial problems as they appear in different forms and contexts. You need as many concepts in your thoughts as you can if you want to build a versatile, adaptable politics and way of thinking.

So read the classics. Read them critically. Let the ideas that have inspired people for literally centuries inspire you too.

In one of Theresa May's most infamous speeches since becoming UK
Prime Minister, she threw down a challenging gauntlet: that if you
considered yourself a citizen of the world, you were really a citizen
of nowhere
. The speech was an expression of May's curious new
vision of conservatism: paternal nationalist communitarian. But it
also showed the power that remains in citizenship and membership.
The West’s most fraught and volatile ethical conflict today is about the right to citizenship. Who should have it? Whose citizenship deserves respect? Whose doesn’t? Who do we want to be part of our community? Refugees? Migrant workers? Hyper-wealthy businessmen with eight passports? Stateless people with no citizenship protections at all?

All of these questions reflect different aspects of that core ethical question – Who deserves to join my community?

Citizenship isn't just the brand name of our passports. It's a set of institutions in which we're deeply enmeshed, relationships that determine significant parts of our identities. Citizenship implies a bond among all those who share it that the same set of institutions will, to some degree, protect you.

That umbrella of institutional responsibility defines the boundaries of our community just as much as national borders. It’s a promise of the institutions themselves to the people, that you are welcome here. Yet at its heart, your membership in that community remains voluntary. You really can give it up.

That’s the fact that anchors a lot of Rousseau’s thinking in The Social Contract. That citizenship is always voluntary became a point of political activism. What more blatant way to demonstrate your broken faith in the promise of the state than to give up your citizenship?

A few months ago, I was reading a short book about the – very twisted – politics and economics of citizenship in the 21st century. Atossa Abrahamian described a man named Garry Davis.

I hadn’t heard of him until I read her book, but he was a fascinating and admirable man. Disgusted by the violence of the Second World War, he renounced his American citizenship and literally became a world citizen.

An elderly Garry Davis holding the latest edition of the World Passport.
Technically, he was stateless, but he helped found a non-governmental organization that distributed the World Passport. Oddly, he actually got this travel document accepted as legitimate by many governments around the world. The World Passport was Davis’ lifelong demonstration that a post-national order based on peace and brotherhood was possible.

Mike Gogulski is an American computer programmer Abrahamian wrote about for VICE a couple of years ago. In the mid-2000s, he was living in Bratislava with his girlfriend at the time.

Disgusted with the violence of the American state in Iraq, he gave up his US citizenship. He’s made a living as a bitcoin trader (and launderer) ever since. His wife is a Slovak who works at the Chinese embassy processing visa applications.

His life is happy, if a little dreary. He’s not a globetrotting peace activist like Davis. Instead, he’s content to live in Slovakia with his wife and cat, plugging away in relative at crypto-currency projects.

In their own way, Davis and Gogulski demonstrated in real life what Rousseau argues in The Social Contract. No matter how much we may rely on our governments for a lot of our needs in life, that relationship is voluntary. Fundamental human freedom means that we can walk away at any time.

The practical question is whether you’re willing to live with the consequences. . . . To be continued

Original Equality VI: Dying Like Qaddafi in a Sewer Pipe, Research Time, 14/03/2017

Read my whole series of posts about ideas in Rousseau's On the Origin of Inequality starting here.
• • •
Continued from previous . . . So you have a problem. Law does function as a chain. Rousseau is a flamboyantly over-the-top writer, so he describes it as a retreat into slavery. That’s the heart of his most charismatic line, that man is born free but lives everywhere in chains.

But it's been a busy weekend, so here’s the question I left with last time I was talking about political equality.
“We’ll always need the law. And the law will always require some element of coercion. And Rousseau writes with a mix of trolling, theatricality, and ironic honesty when he says that the law amounts to slavery. So is there a way out of this?”
Not as such, no. At least not in The Origin of Inequality itself. The rest of this week will be follow-ups of reading The Social Contract, so I’ll continue the idea there. Because The Origin of Inequality ends on an impasse.

If human nature inevitably corrupts our institutions until they crush us
like the most brutal dictators, then are we stuck with always having to
explode in violence for even the most unlikely shot at rebuilding
a fair society?
It’s an impasse that’s meant to challenge you, leave you thinking. An ambiguous ending where there seems to be no escape from either growing slavery or chaos. It ends with such a note of pessimism, but it strangely fits with the image of humanity as inherently peaceful and loving.

Human nature is to embrace peace, but the complexity and stress of large-scale social life in a world of scarce resources brings humanity to embrace conflict and mutual irritation instead. The conflicts of daily life corrupt our inner virtue.

So we turn to laws and institutions to relegate our complexity with moral dogma and police. Yet this traps human society in a trap. State institutions can’t regulate human life to the nanometric degree necessary to remove all human corruption and dickishness.

Slicing our dickishness out of humanity would be just as destructive as slicing our virtue away. Our grimier qualities are an integral part of expressing our virtues anyway. Purely virtuous behaviour, goes Rousseau’s analysis, can’t even really happen beyond small groups. At most, the size of a large family.

Then you're left with a society that will always wear away at the edges. People will always be corrupt to some degree. There will be just as much, if not much more virtuous, kind behaviour in society. But erosion is inevitable.

Human nature is always going to be just as mean, egotistical, and
even cruel as it is kind, sympathetic, and generous. Human dignity is
our unity of all these chaotic traits in a single soul.
A threshold is crossed somehow. Maybe some disaster happens like a huge crop failure, pollution event, or military invasion. Maybe rage, corruption, and resentment become an overwhelming part of daily life. So there’s a clampdown of more laws and more ruthless enforcement to restore order.

But our desires chafe against these tougher rules. Our desire to be free, as well as our desire to be a cheating jerk. Those virtues and vices destabilize even this tougher social order until the only institutions that can contain them is despotism, dictatorship, tyranny.

And even the iron fist of the most brutal tyranny is susceptible to the same slow erosion of the law under that natural human chaos of social and personal complexity. That’s the greatest vision of hope Rousseau has left for the future of any real government.

When the oppression has become unbearable, humanity can always drag our dictators out of the sewer pipes where they fled to hide from the masses, beat and shoot them dead in a dirt road. Then we can start again.
• • •
A tidy narrative. Comprehensive? Absolutely not. Rousseau’s narrative of inequality is exquisitely simple.

Given the current situation of global politics, I very much hope
violence is not the only way to scale down from authoritarian
behaviour in democracy. Because it's already getting pretty bad.
Most obviously, it never accounts for the other most important vectors of human society. Yes, there’s virtue, but there’s also economy and ecology.

Economy: The consumption and production processes by which, at the minimum, people eat and maintain their lives. Ecology: The environmental conditions which have so many complex effects on all aspects of human health individually and socially.

But given the purpose of the book, I don’t blame him. Rousseau isn’t building a comprehensive guide to the means by which real states and governments collapse. He’s presenting an aspect of human nature that inevitably corrupts and erodes our goal of building a peaceful society of equals.

He imagines the kind of society in which humanity would be happy, but shows how that happiness is incompatible with any possible circumstance of real people. He shows us the power of our impossible aspiration, yet lets it remain inspiring despite its impossibility.

You Sustain People’s Hope With Action, Jamming, 13/03/2017

So yesterday was my state of mind as my political party kicked off its own leadership contest. I’ve become rather personally invested in its success. Donald Trump’s victory showed us* that a message of resentment, rage, anger, and nihilism could move enough people to take control of one of the most powerful state governments in the world.

* Among one of the many things it showed us, this bizarre political ascension as shocking and otherworldly to experience as a lot of us found the Sept 11 attacks. An unimaginable was happening – it just took about 14 months instead of 102 minutes.

What did impress me about Ashton was that she didn't pussyfoot around
the NDP's pathetic loss in the last election. She knows that we lost
because the people were hungry for change after the chilling brutality,
slavish fealty to the petroleum sector, and unsettling nationalism of
the Harper years – but the NDP choked and gave in to fear that
standing by our principles will cost us power.
In the West’s political moment, we need leaders who can offer an agenda of hope again. A message of uplift for us all through a dedication to real projects that can build a better world for everyone.

I know quite a few folks who’ve given up on electoral politics. Every one of those people, among all their reasons why, return to the fact that political parties and elections don’t fix everything. And I agree with them.

But states are still immensely powerful institutions – they may not be able to fix everything, but they can get a lot done. Canadians have small but important securities like employment insurance and a public health care system because some people got into parliament a few decades ago, wrote some laws, and built some institutions.

So if a social democratic party gains power in my country, people’s lives can improve through laws, institutions, and moral mass conversations the state can create.

When I say social democracy, I don’t just mean old-fashioned socialism of direct state management of whole domestic industries. That’s just not possible in a world as globalized as ours. I mean a dynamic mind-set adapting social democratic approaches and ideals to the economic and ecological conditions of the 21st century.

Charlie Angus made some good points on Sunday, but his comments
about Mexico make me feel increasingly uncomfortable the more I
think on them. We're a globalized world, and all the exploited people
of Earth are in this together. That includes the Mexicans supposedly
taking Canadian auto sector jobs.
The New Democratic Party can provide that mind-set to the governance of the Canadian state, and be a major voice for those ideals in wider political discourse in Canadian society. If nobody messes up again.

When I say it can, I mean that it just as easily will not if our leadership ignores or misunderstands the most politically necessary task for any progressive political party today – harnessing popular rage, anxiety, and exasperation at the continuing inequities and looming ecological disasters to a vision of hope instead of nihilistic violence.

I think some of our leadership candidates – at least in this first debate – are on target for messages and ideas that can lead the popular energies of our country and the West not only to resist Trumpism, but to bury it and help build a new era of peace, freedom, and prosperity’s further push around Earth. These are the stakes of Western and global politics for the 2010s and 20s.

No pressure.

Guy Caron brings a remarkably sharp policy mind and a firm grasp of
economic science. Thankfully, he also brings a sense of creativity
and moral principle that is sadly absent from too much conventional
economics. He also has a moral vision that perceives just how
dangerous nihilism is in politics today.
So where do I see our leaders in this question? Peter Julian gave a serviceable performance, but I could see little more than platitudes and policy proposals. He does not carry himself as if the world is on fire – and that’s a problem because the world kind of is on fire.

I went into this debate with my highest hopes in Charlie Angus. But when he spoke of troubles with NAFTA, he gave a brief list of multinationals who’ve moved Canadian plants to Mexico.

Angus’ words had a disturbingly Trumpist tone – scapegoating country of millions, many of whom are in equally vulnerable positions in today’s global economy as Canadians, as the destination of exported Canadian manufacturing jobs. I'm worried about this trend.

Guy Caron and Niki Ashton were the only ones to offer a more substantive social democracy for our unique and terrible challenges.

Caron embraces Universal Basic Income as the central point of his economic policy, as it should be. Reorienting government services toward Universal Basic Income would transform a lot of fundamental economic relationships in our country.

These kinds of monsters!
Caron also earned my respect by his gestures that he’s ready to confront the most important internal challenges New Democrats face as a community of party workers, activists, leaders, and supporters.

He acknowledged that many people see economic security as opposed to environmental security – that stepping back from pollution or emission heavy industry will send them into poverty. Caron knows this is a false problem, but he also knows that we have to deliver the message that economic and ecological prosperity can happen together.

He also bit what I think is the most troubling bullet for a Canadian social democratic party. Quebec is a huge base for the NDP, but a lot of Quebecois remain hostile to Muslim, African, and Asian immigrants.

We saw from the niqab debate in 2015 that our Quebec supporters on social democracy are not our Quebec supporters on multiculturalism. The NDP needs to take that danger seriously. And Caron was the most explicit acknowledging a problem of the party that’s bound up with that conflict – in a lot of our leadership and support, we’re pretty fucking white.

Ashton, meanwhile, confronts the most nation-shattering issue haunting Canada – bringing justice to our country’s indigenous peoples at last. Reconciliation, reparation, restoration, and institutional equality through asymmetric federalism. She brings her own experience working for more than a decade as an activist and MP in a heavily indigenous district.

She's also in touch with the danger of political nihilism, scapegoating, and rage. She embraces the necessity of a message and vision of Canadian society based on hope and multicultural brotherhood.

I think her commitment to principle, even considering the possibility of
a noble loss better than a compromised victory, will ultimately help
the New Democrats win over the next decade. Ashton won't give in
to the compromises that will cost the party its most dedicated
activists.
Even if she seems a bit too resigned to the disjunct of being principled from being in power. Another false choice.

NDP members and leaders often resign themselves to powerlessness over the levers of the state. We say that we have to stick to our principles, be the voice of Canada’s conscience in parliament.

Well, a conscience isn’t supposed to whisper to you that you’re doing wrong while you ignore it. Conscience is supposed to drive your actions – to live a life of empathy, love, and benevolence. As a person and a society.

Consider a principled NDP Prime Minister of Canada in the age of Trumpism, not only with a popular electoral mandate, but as the figurehead of a popular movement of a politics and government driven by hope, freedom, and brotherhood.

The world would pivot around her to a brighter tomorrow.

Did I give myself away?

How to Be a Progressive Activist Without Having a Daily Nervous Breakdown, Jamming, 11/03/2017

That’s actually a pretty tough achievement these days. Right now, it’s easier to push for more progressive politics as a Canadian than, really, pretty much anywhere else in the world.

Charlie Angus, the MP for the eastern half of Northern Ontario, is
running. He's long been a strong advocate of a new national 
consensus and institution to restore – at long last – justice for
indigenous people in Canada.
For example, our social democratic party, the NDP, is having its first leadership debate this Sunday for our contest later this year. I’m the Vice-President of my electoral district’s riding association, so I’m helping promote the event on social media, and through personal posts like this.

But I’m in a very privileged position here in Canada. At least relatively speaking. This seems to be one of the few Western countries where the white nationalist alt-right isn’t taking hold of our politics.

Of course, I haven’t adopted some born-again complacency in the three weeks since I posted about my generation’s confrontation with reborn Nazism. Nothing about that has changed.

White nationalism is still a major political problem facing Canada – people wouldn’t be holding demonstrations against the existence of Muslim people in front of our largest city’s house of government if it wasn’t.

Our major conservative party has had its youth wing pretty much entirely compromised by white nationalists. One leading Conservative leadership candidate is openly courting them, declaring that people who don’t share white Christian values shouldn’t be welcome in Canada. Even the more traditional conservatives leading the race throw bones to the alt-right or channel Trumpism in their rhetoric.

Manitoba MP Niki Ashton has made one of her core initiatives the fight
for a more fair economy, often working with groups of young white
collar workers around Canada who are advocating for better working
conditions and more security in their often precarious jobs and careers.
I’m confident that Canadians and the Canadian government can resist and prevent a takeover by white nationalist leaders and activists. They’ll fight hard, and we’ll have to work considerably harder to fight them. But we have better material defences against them.

For one thing, significant portions of Canada already have majority-minority populations, or close enough to it that far fewer people in our cities have stereotypical or racist misconceptions of Asian and Latin American immigrant groups.

Too many white people in Canada’s cities already know Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans to be turned against them with racist fearmongering. These people are our friends.

As well, our political parties have never had to marginalize social democratic multiculturalism to succeed. Here’s what I mean.

Right now in the USA, the Democratic Party and its activists are in a serious rebuilding mode. They’re leaders in the anti-Trump resistance, but the party itself is still figuring out how best to overcome Republicans electorally.

Guy Caron is the MP for Rimouski, so far the only leadership
contender representing the strong Quebecois base of the New Democrats.
He made universal basic income as a central point of his policy platform,
restoring to the front of Canadian politics an important idea that's been
blown away to the wind by the hurricane of Trumpist nationalism.
They have a tough road ahead, especially because they seem to be shooting themselves with infighting – typical of the American left over the years. You could see it in the way progressive activists continued to argue over Tom Perez or Keith Ellison taking over the DNC chair.

The Sanders wing saw Perez as continuing Clinton-style neoliberalism that ignored the real economic suffering of millions. The Clinton wing saw Ellison as continuing the blind populism that made what should have been Democratic votes peeling off for Trump in the name of some amorphous ‘change.’

That division among the American left is a hangover from the three biggest mistakes Sanders and his campaign made.

1) Vilifying Clinton so much that he provided Republicans almost as much ammunition as FOX and no take-backs could ever sound sincere. 2) Pushing a protectionist economic populism whose core principles hewed too close to Trump’s. 3) Completely failing to even bother considering black outreach seriously.

Meanwhile, many conservative Americans think Perez is a radical left-wing loon. And the spectre of Perez’s (or Ellison’s) advancement being purely a matter of identity politics continues to haunt American discourse.

Peter Julian is probably the most senior parliamentarian among the
leadership contenders, and a strong voice for social democratic policy
from the west of the country, thanks to his strong constituency in
Vancouver.
The truth is that American politics have been radicalized already along white anglophone ethnic lines. That was the substance of “Make America Great Again,” taking the country back from minorities, and painting the advancement of non-whites as theft from the rightful lot of white Americans.

The Democratic Party in the United States today has, as its core constituency, women of colour. It’s the party of multiculturalism and the fight against inequality along all vectors. Arguing over which inequality to emphasize – whether to, as Sanders did, divorce racializing inequities from inequities emerging from economic processes – ignores the real integration of all these inequities and oppressions.

Canada, in contrast to the United States, has had a mainstream social democratic party for decades. So these ideas have never truly had to fight against institutional opposition to the same intensity as in America, when the Democrats spent decades embracing Reaganism with hugs.

There again is the ultimately flaw with Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Democratic standard-bearer – the formative decades of her modern political identity was in that era of conservative liberalism.

In Canada, we never had to make that compromise. Those who refused it could always find an institutional home in the New Democratic Party. The core reason why we lost the last federal election to Trudeau was because he doubled down on that language while our strategists got scared and pursued a triangulation campaign straight out of 1994.

That institutional home of the NDP unites all the intersectional politics of liberation – economics, gender, racialization, class – in one coalition. One box on a ballot.

The best defence against Canadian white nationalism is strengthening the voice and growing the platforms of the New Democratic Party. Our next leader has to stand for that total liberation – no one is free if a single person still wears their chains.

Original Inequality V: Laying Down the Law, Research Time, 09/03/2017

Continued from previous . . . So why do we need the law if we’re naturally good to each other? When you read Rousseau, he lays out a vision of human nature where we’re fundamentally good to each other.

Our instincts toward each other are naturally for sympathy and pity. When we see someone in pain, even a face expressing sadness or stress, we have an almost autonomic instinct to help them somehow. If only to ask if there’s a way we can help.

Most of you may not experience that kind of universal kindness every day. Most of the time, we probably walk around in a constant hum of mutual irritation. When I’ve worked in customer service jobs at different points of my life, I’d meet people who seemed constantly on the verge of exploding with rage just from interacting with strangers all day long.

Judge Dredd is the most intense, clear, and hilarious demonstration of
the terrifying violence in the idea that there's a moral obligation to
obey the law, or of the violence underlying any regime of laws at all.
I sometimes want to hang out with my friends from McMaster legal
theory again, but we live such different lives. I always found it
really rewarding conversation to throw an outsider's radical ideas
at them, because I'd learn so much and inspire creativity all around.
This, goes the stereotypical argument, is why we live in nations of laws. Because we’re really just constantly annoyed with each other all the time. When you learn the history of Western political philosophy, you inevitably cover Thomas Hobbes’ much worse thesis – that we’re naturally at constant war with each other, always paranoid, deranged with fear that we could be attacked and killed at any moment.

Society, says Hobbes, requires the strong hand of a police power who must never be questioned. The sovereign is the force that keeps us in line. Fear is the goal of the law.

Yet our natural state is more along the lines of that annoyance. We can still live together without having to suppress the urge for violence. But we do get pretty irritated with each other.

And that vision of a complicated society of mutual irritation is much more like Rousseau’s conception of how humanity lives together. It fits with his vision of a fundamentally kind humanity because of the context of where and how human kindness emerges.

It’s in the face-to-face interaction of people. And the better we know someone, the closer they are to us in our daily lives, the more powerful that face is in evoking our sympathy and love.

The problem is that when larger numbers of people live together, society gets complicated. We find ourselves reliant on many strangers for a lot of our needs – our food, shelter, education, entertainment, general well-being. And our networks of mutual need become so big and complicated that it stresses us to maintain them.

We experience stress, irritation, and pain that separates us from each other. We need to accumulate far beyond our personal needs when our society depends on each of us supplying the needs of others. The need to accumulate all-too-easily tips over into greed, which is at the root of so many destructive human behaviours.

Yet sometimes, we learn to rely too much on others to look after our
neighbours who are in great material need. That's the lesson I take from
the modern parable of the homeless pastor. When you expect an institution
– whether the church, a charity, or a government welfare program – to
care for the poor, you can erase your pangs of guilt when you look in
the face of people who ask you for help but still look through them.
So we turn to the law to regulate the complexity of agricultural and industrial human society. When humanity becomes the holocene, and not just the scattered interactions of wandering bands of humans, we need institutions to shape our societies through laws and regulations. Otherwise, greed and mutual piracy really will overtake us.

But civil laws don’t restore the original equality all people shared in simpler social structures, when each of us could provide for our own needs with our own efforts. Far from it.

Laws lock in some specific regime of inequality. Maybe it would be the state of political and social affairs at the time of an institution’s birth. Maybe a community would refine their legal institutions and regulations over time to become more equal, more fair. To redress past wrongs and build a better future for everybody.

Of course, political pressures of all kinds could push changes in those laws to fuel inequality, stall social mobility, lock in systematic inequities, discriminations, and humiliations. It feels like that’s the trend of the last few decades.

But that law is still the law. It can never restore the genuine equality of a totally self-sufficient population because it can never simplify society to flatten away all those differences and new needs that arise from the complexity of just a few hundred humans living together.

We’ll always need the law. And the law will always require some element of coercion. And Rousseau writes with a mix of trolling, theatricality, and ironic honesty when he says that the law amounts to slavery. So is there a way out of this? . . . . To be continued