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Archive for the ‘Political Theory’ Category

A rejection of Objectivism part 1 “The Paradigm of Justice: A Rejection of Pure Rationality”

Posted by blindspotpolitics on November 6, 2012

The other day I had an argument with a friend about the value of Objectivism. Is it a worthy philosophy that can be implemented in the current world or is it a normative theory that strives for a rational utopia impossible in a world of social and economic inequalities that derive from irrationality–pathos and ethos. I argued for the latter.

The paradigm of Justice: a rejection of pure rationality

I’ve been studying a bit too much Keith Michael Baker recently. His revisionist view on intellectual history focuses on discourse. Using a Kuhnsian lens, he views various historical occurrences as the products of paradigms of language that reveal how people define themselves within the world and most especially define normative goals. For example, he views the French Revolution as the product of the discourse of the “will” disseminating from the sovereign people.

I cannot help but apply the analysis of discourse to the works we have been studying the past several weeks. New Deal Liberalism and the Civil Rights Movement (as eloquently described by Dr. King) are clearly intermingled with the discourse of “justice.” The focus of justice is different for each of these two movements but equally important.

For New Deal Liberalism (and certainly high liberalism that extends to Galbraith and beyond), the concern with justice is a concern with economic justice. Many libertarians critique that so many of the ills that derive from our economic system derive in part from the extension of government into the private sector. While this is certainly true to some extent, the development of the new industrial state—modern capitalism—has created an economic sickness that can only be cured by justice from government; positive rules that aim to combat structural injustices. As Jefferson noted, industry makes man dependent on other men for their wellbeing. This “wage labor” certainly defines the modern economy. Because of the raw capital required to start new businesses or explore new ideas in our modern age, man is intrinsically limited in his economic choices and thus, more often than not, eventually dependent on others for his wellbeing. In this system, not only do wage laborers not own the facilities that produce but they also do not own the value that they produce for society (the wages serve only as a proxy of this value, but do not represent the value in total nor neccesarily the true value of input by the producer, especially in relation to the relative input of the holders of capital). As a result, men must continually aid societies quest for progress instead of developing their personal character–forgoing passion and family to seek a higher profit margin or to develop a better product. In such a system the cream rises to the top but the vast majority of people, who have not either the desire or skills to race in such a competitive world, are subject to dependence and risk exploitation.

Rationality for progress becomes the champion in an inherently irrational world of pathos, ethos, and logos. The economic champions of progress, who see this aim as the ultimate goal of society and see no reason to expend resources on the pawns of life that by nature or Fortuna do not reach their full potential, only view the last element as a matter of concern. Yet, there is more to life than rationality and no way to obtain the objectivity that such rationalists seek in our laws and norms. Surely, the structural inequalities of modern capitalism require the enactment of positive liberty by government (the extent and mode however, is a different discussion).

Social justice is of equal concern in the modern world. Again, given the passions and instincts of man that transcend his rationality, the pluralities of men are prone to live on the initial prejudices that they develop at a young age. Fear is perhaps the best example of this. Was it an explicit and conscious attack against human rights or the motivation of irrational fear that led the first Europeans to imprison and enslave Africans? The former viewed the latter not as men but as beasts, much like children, and thus requiring the protections that even Locke affords to youth. Over time, norms develop from these initial passions and fits of irrationality. Fitzhugh defended slavery because of societal norms that defined his era: Africans, if left to themselves, would be worse off. He lived in this protectionist paradigm. It was the duty of Fitzhugh and others to defend the positive rights of the mendicant Africans. Perhaps earnestly, many slaveholders believed that they were protecting their property from destroying itself. These norms leave intractable holes in society for generations; norms that only socialization from government can hope to fix. Dr. King rightly notes that the civil rights movement must seek social and political means to gain equality. Combining the philosophy of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, he encapsulates the argument for social justice beyond the realm of negative liberty (so beyond simple protection from the state). To become valued members of society will not entail just creating value, but also being accepted at a deeper level. Positive liberty, which once kept Africans in chains, must but used to ensure social justice.

Many who bemoan positive liberty altogether (so any interference by the state that does not provide security for its citizens based on, we will say here, natural rights) do not think of the structure injustices that occur in the social and economic spheres due to the bound rationality or irrationality of mankind. To combat our tendencies to fear others or to exploit others, we must enact positive laws that seek some form of equality. Montesquieu rightly noted that “attitudes and principles were largely the product of environmental conditioning by social, religious, economic, and geographical factors.” Although globalization has destroyed many such prejudices, our environment still informs our perspective. To say that this would vanish subsequent to the disappearance of positive liberty is to misinterpret man’s nature; it is to place a veil of rationality over your perspective that blinds you from the reality that man is an animal guided by instinct as well as reason. What makes modernity special is our ability, finally, to understand the structural inequalities in economics and society that occur because of pathos and ethos. Government, in many ways, can help fix these injustices. However, we must be equally careful that the search for equality does not a) become a search for equality of outcomes rather than opportunity and b) become a vessel for more gross injustices that travel from good intentions to terrible results.

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Some Words in Favor of Opportunity or And then She Gave Me a Chance

Posted by blindspotpolitics on July 31, 2012

Some Words in Favor of Opportunity or And then She Gave Me a Chance

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An occupier demands economic justice.

Of late, I’ve felt great empathy for the droves of American men and women who are unable to find work–delegated instead to combing craigslist ads. The opportunity of all men and women to succeed financially is paramount to our democratic experiment–the baker who awakes each morning should have bread to sell and customers willing to pay, the secretary in the downtown office should have phone calls to answer and messages to relate, the investment banker and the venture capitalist should have numbers to analyze and companies to represent. In America, the opportunity to awake each morning with the baker’s hopes or the secretary’s anxieties is increasingly taken for granted. The capitalist mode of political economy we currently employ demands competition, guarantying neither success nor failure. Opportunity to compete in the market, through the judgment of merit instead of man, is the true moral justification for our current capitalism. Naturally, there are many problems with it, but through the up-and-downs of the last four years, opportunity has remained the innovator’s and entrepreneurs’ north star. And yet, someone is lying to the newest generations of Americans reaching adulthood. The Occupy Wall Street movement acutely implies the naive assumption: that humankind is divided between two types of people: employers and laborers, or the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Apparently, from their perspective, America has economic classes. Furthermore, they are transfixed: our baker, innovative tho he may be, can never own a bakery.

Sadly, the justifications for progress–the reasons we have iphones, Amazon.com, and sweet agave syrup–and the reaffirmation of opportunity–of empowering the individual to strive for a better life–have crumbled under the weight of cosmopolitan wisdom and chest-less, virtue-less compassion. We are fast approaching the height of our collective intellectual ignorance. Belief in state sovereignty has replaced individual sovereignty, and the blind, militaristic acceptance of a national “community” has replaced the social contract.

The newfound class-consciousness of American college students and other young people is in fact very much based on Marx’s proletariat and bourgeoisie. Regardless of what Marx claimed about history, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” there exists no inherent or universal “us” and “them.”

The original Marxist labels and their modern counterparts are not absolute qualifiers of a person within a free society. The existence of opportunity, of being able to climb up the economic ladder, undermines these classifications.

Within an economically competitive society, and especially within our modern meritocracy, there is opportunity and subsequently there is choice: choice in ones education; choice in ones career; choice in ones financial decisions. Our labels are not inherent or fixed, although they may indeed define a person for a period of time.

Individual success can, within a competitive market, ebb and flow just as easily as the market itself. Man is dynamic, continually moving toward his goals, whether those are monetary, or virtue or happiness or something else. And as one moves through the peaks and valleys of the golden mean they can become rich or poor, a proletariat or a bourgeoisie.

The Renaissance philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola defended that ability of man to change–to succeed and fail. In his Oration on the Dignity of Man, he wrote of God’s design for humanity:

“The nature of all creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you [humankind], by contast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody we have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. […] we have made you […] so that you can fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to superior order.”

Man is endowed with choice and with choice comes responsibility. Economic freedom is a firm way of viewing Pico’s claims.  The economic choices of a rational actor are fluid: what one decides today may not be decided tomorrow. When someone enters the voting booth of the market place they are endowed with constant agency and autonomy.

Creative destruction allows for the market to act as a revolving door; new opportunity and choice are continually created and destroyed. Within a competitive market, an individual’s decisions are not arbitrary or predetermined, but valued, difficult, and demanding—the cream struggles to rise towards the top.

Within a free society, man may turn his ideas, hopes, and ambitions into prosperity. The ability to do so is never separate from the opportunities available—success is only possible in a world devoid of predetermination and rigid economic classes.

Although the reality of opportunities and the subsequent available choices in the United States are far different than Horatio Algers wrote, economic mobility is still a reality and still part of American consciousness. We are more of a meritocracy than perhaps ever thought possible. However, poorly thought-out regulation has created a society where the great many neither think of nor place hope in opportunity.

At first glance, the widening wealth gap reveals that opportunity is dying in America. However, when one looks past the façade of the numbers and instead to their cause, one comes away with a very different picture of the problem.

A 2011 study by the Congressional Budget Office revealed that while from 1979 to 2007 income grew by 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households, it grew only 41 percent for the rest of America.[1] What caused this increasing disparity?

Well, as restrictions like Glass-Stegall have been lifted for those at the top, the 99 percent has witnessed a massive increase in regulation and red tape, limiting available opportunity and choice and thus economic mobility.

Americans have made a sad mess of human nature by using government to create ineffective or harmful regulation. This fixes the game by limiting the number of players and by giving existing businesses a leg up by making entry and compliance costs too high—like an incumbent trying to keep his Senate seat against a green and resource poor competitor. In the case of economics, just like in politics, the advantage almost always goes to the former.

When the game is fixed by legislative realities, opportunity begins to vanish. As stated, opportunity cannot exist in a predetermined world—even if those determiners are outwardly virtuous men. In the modern US, many of the outcomes that should be decided en mass by the consumers of the market are instead determined by the wills of “imperfect and biased men,” as Milton Friedman once eloquently defined our legislators and democratic leaders.

The central problem, the reason for this increase in poor regulation, is that we no longer listen to John Stuart Mill’s analysis regarding the purpose of law and other advice like it:

“They [our imperfect and biased leaders] have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavouring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally.” – John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Those who determine government action, whether elected or unelected, have gone from trying to help society and America in general to pandering to the complaints and wishes of their constituents. These leaders, normative philosophers all, deal with the ought in a limited sense.

They promote their opinions, instead of dealing with acceptance and toleration in general. The current state of affairs is anti-liberal and anti-federal. Our leaders have become bioengineers through acrimonious pragmatism, shaping our collective environment around their own subjectivity.

We can no longer trust our leader to allow us to act as adults. We must instead instill trust in the individual, the rational actor. A major goal of our society and government should thus be securing people the opportunities to change their financial situations; creating a world where those who want to succeed have the opportunities to try but without the guarantee of success.

Perhaps afraid of failure or the struggles of progress, the main stream American progressive might howl here for Rawls’ “veil of ignorance.” Yet, this veil is also very important within a free society. What defines the difference between modern liberals and libertarians are the means by which we attempt to create a society that combats the lottery of birth, not that final outcome. The former favors equality of outcome while the latter should favor equality of opportunity.

If believers in the free market seriously want to praise the economic advantages and possible successes of economic freedom (meaning that with economic and personal freedom will arise a far more productive and equitable society than we currently have) then they must focus on expanding opportunity. The Marxist labels that limit humanity to the vacuum of class-consciousness are not rigid, nor truly applicable to our multifaceted society. The vitality of opportunity limits the rationale behind control and direction.

Only by working toward the goal of equality of opportunity can libertarians begin the discussion with liberals and progressives and others who also seek a more charitable and compassionate society, about the rationale behind the free market, spending cuts, and deregulation.

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Two Specimens: Corporations and Government

Posted by blindspotpolitics on June 13, 2012

I like Elizabeth Warren. She’s energetic, smart, and refreshing. I think she offers a level of academic insight and contemplation that’s often missing with other senate hopefuls. Her recent comment that has sparked some news got me a thinking. She’s smart and she clearly shows that here:

“No, Mitt, corporations are not people,” Warren said, to applause. “People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they love, they cry, they dance, they live and they die. Learn the difference.”

The words sound good to me. Of course corporations aren’t people; how could they be? But her phrasing also reminded me of something else: the other side of the coin, the missing link between the Tea Party patriots and those Occupy folks: Government. If the institution was a virtue, then corporations and government would be on opposite ends of Aristotle’s golden mean; the former promoted for profit, the latter for truth. In actuality, however, the comparison is far more nuanced.

Government matches Warren’s truthful critique of the corporation. Our state is not an organ; live, breath, love, it does not. Rather, government is dynamic, shifting in form from one majority party to the next, like a new face on the board of directors. Corporations and government are both institutions commanded by men, not men in and of themselves. They neither have  good nor evil other than that brought to them by the actions of subjectivity.

A democratic government can encourage its citizens to sacrifice no more than a corporation can make its employees embrace a pay cut. But, then again, what can? Well: mothers, fathers, pastors, monks, friends; people we know and love and trust; not the abstract; not a form of virtue or good intentions, as so many flickers on the walls of the cave.

All government can every do is try, while its mortality plays to the tunes of Rome. The first rule of biopolitics, as Ian Hacking smartly pointed out, is that the results never match the intentions. The federal government cannot create self-sacrifice or community by saying we need it.

The doctor was right: we are, unlike corporations and government, individuals. And yes, we have communities. And yes, those communities are constructed. But at least we construct them.

America is quickly approaching a giant fork in the road. Will she choose the road of moderation and sensibility or will she choose the road of Hayek? Ironically, the individual, not our two specimens, will determine the collective path.

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Rights and Responsibility

Posted by blindspotpolitics on January 19, 2012

All the recent activities of the Colbert Super PAC and increased interest about SOPA, especially after the Wikipedia blackout, have got a lot of people thinking about first amendment rights and especially about the first amendment rights of corporations. As of now, and as I understand it, there are really two sides to this argument.

The “conservative” argument supports freedom of speech for corporations in totality, expressed right now by the freedom to use unlimited corporate money to influence either political elections, the super PAC problem, or the political process in general, the media or Google pulpit problem of recent days (highlighted in here). Taking perhaps a softer approach to the often indefensible position that corporations are people, Mitt Romney and other conservatives and libertarians state that corporate freedom of speech must be guaranteed because corporations are made up of people, and taking away the freedom of speech of their collective association within the corporation would thus take away the free speech of those individuals; seemingly punishing them for being a part of a collective, although constructed, entity.

The “liberal” argument supports limiting corporate speech in the political realm; back to what some see as the good ol’ days before Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee.  However, in light of the corporate backed SOPA, many liberals have favored corporations, like Google, using their special position as corporations to influence public opinion about a proposed bill they generally detest. Surely, this paradox not only undermines the liberal argument but also sheds light on the lack of theoretical and constitutional justification for limiting corporate speech.

I believe that both of these arguments are equally flawed. There is a middle ground. There is a way to protect corporate freedom of speech for the classical liberals while also limiting the possible influence of corporations that are not inherently constructed to communicate to a widespread audience.

People have individual rights. We know this. In America, we thankfully and explicitly secured certain rights within the amendments to our Constitution, such as the first amendment: freedom of speech. Liberal or not, one cannot argue with the empirical fact that, indeed, corporations are made up of people. The conservatives go on: Thus, corporations have freedom of speech because we cannot limit individuals right to freedom of speech just because they have formed an association. By this logic, corporations obviously have the right to free speech.

Individuals, in a collective association, can organize together freely, rights still wholly secured. If we take this conservative argument to its logical conclusion then shouldn’t corporations, because they have the rights of individual Americans, be subject to existing and moot FEC regulations on individual contributions to campaigns? If corporations are individuals, or at least made up of individuals as Mitt Romney and Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute have argued, and thus have the rights of individuals shouldn’t they also have the responsibilities and limitations of individuals?

Laws limit the individual campaign contribution total in any given election cycle. Thus, although corporations have the rights of individuals they cannot supersede the restrictions placed on individuals. So now what? How do we proceed? If corporations have the rights and the restrictions of individuals, what does that mean for their involvement in political campaigns and in political persuasion generally?

I propose that the only logical way to proceed, the only way to protect individual rights for all Americans, is for liberals to admit that corporations are comprised of individuals who obviously have freedom of speech and for conservatives to admit that individuals, even those within associations, are still bound by laws, especially if those laws explicitly determine the extent of political influence an individual may have through money.

Since this entire argument, the whole idea that corporations have constitutional rights, rests on them not being people but being made up of people, the amount of money that corporations can use must inherently and earnestly be limited to the money from individuals within a corporation, the individuals who chose to be a part of these free associations, who support the particular corporate message—obviously laws must also be create within such a proposal to prevent corporations from forcing employees to support corporate messages.

Essentially, corporations can use their platform to present messages, but cannot empty their internal coffers to create media/support those messages. All political power, and all monetary influence, rests on the individual, even the individual within the corporation. Corporations can freely use their own property, such as their own website, to promote any political agenda; however, when giving money to outside PACs, or even political PACs operated solely by the corporation, the monetary expenses must be limited by rules regarding individual restrictions. Media corporations obviously gain an advantage in terms of communication in this regard since they already have a pulpit for mass communication.

If Google wants to put up a banner on their site saying “Vote Ralph Nader in 2012,” they are free to use their property (i.e. their site) to do so. And if another corporation, say Exxon Mobil, wants to encourage two thousand employees to all donate the maximum amount an individual can donate in an election year to a corporate PAC, that is fine too. Exxon can use that money to produce politically influential media and even admit that they created it.

What is not fine is both limiting the free speech of individuals via corporations by attempting to control their property and allowing individuals within corporations to supersede the limits placed on all individuals. This might be a hard pill to swallow for many, particularly many conservatives, but aren’t individuals in corporations still just individuals? And if your argument for corporate freedom of speech rests on their composition, how can you defend anything but this?

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What the Media is Missing

Posted by blindspotpolitics on December 29, 2011

We all know that the main stream media is lacking in any intense discussion of policy during campaigns. Perhaps this is a sign of the encroaching stupidity of modernity sans Idiocracy. Or perhaps it’s a sign of a news market that cheers ratings and competition among networks over valued discussion. Regardless, the so called main stream media often fails to expand upon candidate’s policy ideas or discuss them at all.

The problem with not discussing policy is that potentially dangerous ideas are essentially swept under the table. Rick Perry’s recent critique of the Supreme Court is a poignant example. One of his more disturbing ideas, that the Supreme Court will be, under a Perry administration, subject to term limits, has not received the attention it deserves in the media. Maybe this is because most media sources consider Perry’s Presidential bid hopeless, but the importance of his suggestion is very important, if not at a practical level then at a theoretical level.

Perry’s suggestion is disturbing because it undermines the functionality of our democracy; harsh words, I know. The seperation of powers is a fundamental principle of our representative democracy. The courts, separated as their own branch of government and thus independent of the legislative and governing bodies, ensure a fair and progressive society (This conclusion may not be based on a strict reading of the Constitution but it is certainly based on the precedents set by courts throughout American History, see Marshall and Warren Court as prime examples of Judicial Review and social progression). Threatening the life terms of Supreme Court Justices advocated by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 78 (see a good synopsis here), threatens the independence of the Judiciary and the whole concept of three branches of government. Simply put, life terms for Supreme Court Justices ensures that they are independent of the whims of the political climate because they have no threat of losing their job.

Yes, unlike members of Congress who must be reelected every two (House) or six (Senate) years, they do not have constituents and no one votes for them. Perry argues that this lack of accountability means that Justices can act independent of what people generally want or believe in. Almost ironically, and a little too scary and concerning to laugh at, Perry’s critique of the courts is precisely their purpose. The Supreme Court is not supposed to represent us; not directly, anyways. They are not supposed to represent what the people view is correct or what is popular to believe in. They are supposed to represent the vision of our founding fathers and the theoretical principles that are the foundation of our democracy. What maintains the supremacy of our courts is not their inherent power or their lust for even more power but the slow march of time. As time moves on it leads to the  development of societal norms and of individual notions regarding social equality. This in turn, leads to the destruction of antiquated and dangerous beliefs and thus the acceptance or at least the toleration of once marginalized groups or practices or beliefs. One hundred years ago a large plurality, if not a majority, of Americans believed Black men and women to be inferior. The march of time has changed this, pushed slowly along by decisions from the courts.

The media did report on Perry when he discussed the courts. They chided him for saying their were only eight justices and for mispronouncing Sonia Sotomayer’s name, silly mistakes indeed. A serious and well advertised analysis of Perry’s remarks about term limits are, however, absent from any major news source. I found out about it from listening to one of the recent GOP debates and the only source I found on-line that took more than a line to explain Perry’s position was at TowleRoad, a site for the gay community and gay-friendly allies. Why is this source, which is outside the mainstream, the only one seriously reporting Perry’s policy position?

Instead of discussing what Presidents say, or what they do in their personal lives, how about we focus on what they believe? How about we start focusing on the theoretical principles that frame our Candidate’s political beliefs? How about we up the level of our national discourse? We’re all adults here. The people of the United States are not children vying for entertainment–we have reality TV for that anyways–Americans want to see the Ad Hominem attacks end. Candidates should not only say what they are going to do for people, but why. Democracy isn’t arbitary. The Federalist Papers were based on theory, on the why, on the ought, not just the is or the how. Candidates often speak of their “convictions” or their “moral outlook,” yet it always seems to be framed within the context of their political accomplishments. Properly vetting a candidate must, in the future, include addressing their political justification not just their political motivation. Individual experiences can and should help frame a candidate’s political views but only in so far as the candidate links his personal views with greater theoretical justifications.

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The Politics of the Personal

Posted by blindspotpolitics on December 23, 2011

I am starting this blog to comment, very plainly, on contemporary politics. I have been interested in politics since I was very young. I worked my first campaign when I was six, going door to door to hand out literature on the soon-to-be Mayor.

As I have grown up politics has changed, or maybe, since I am older and more mature, I can now view it critically. The partisan ramble in Washington aims to define my generation. “Democrat” or “Republican” “Liberal” or “Conservative” are words that define us, or at least attempt to do so. However, I believe that one must look past these words. One must look at politics critically, not from the viewpoint of the party platform or the candidates, but from the viewpoint of one’s own morals, one’s own view of what politics is, what it should be, and how to get there.

My viewpoint regarding the individualist nature of politics in essence defines my own political views. Really, I just believe in three things: freedom, compassion, and individual responsibility. Of course, it is easier to say these words than to define them. Through my posts and the way in which I comment on politics, I hope that you will begin to understand in what manner I define these words. I’m not a Republican, nor Democrat, nor Libertarian, nor Green Party, nor Socialist. I am a me. And you should be a you.

In this blog I will attempt to critically look at current political events and trends. Although I cannot claim to be wholly objective, my commentary will merely be shaded by my own views, which I have stated above, rather than the views of any outside sources. The point of this blog is to be contemplative, not rash. As such, although perhaps reactionary at times, this blog will also attempt to incorporate multiple viewpoints, and create connections to the wider world (writers, philosophers, comedians, etc.).

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