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tired

Living on retracted words

I do not generally think much of David Cameron, but I am glad to see that he's aiming to reform how British foreign aid] works, tying that aid to repeal of anti-gay laws. While the west still has power, it should make the most of its remaining power to move the world towards our notions of justice. Gay rights are very important in themselves, but they are also important to use as a crowbar to pry against theocratic rule. We should say to the world that this, as well as secularism, are important to us, and we will not help regimes, regardless of their need, unless they are willing to treat their people decently by our notions of goodness. When we aid them (or even trade with them) while they mistreat gays, waste the potential of all the women of their countries, and enforce a religious identity, we support the cultural brokenness of their society. If we have the ability to shape them positively, we should. Money is not above morality.

Note that this takes place in the context of a broader discussion over the role of the British Commonwealth; is it a social club? A place for discussion of values? A tool for some notion of progress?

Also worth noting, Slavoj Žižek recently spoke with Al Jazeera on OWS and the Arab Spring. Embedded in the (generally interesting) discussion is a neat criticism of what he calls "spiritual hedonism"; the notion that one can escape politics and still be a good person through self-empowerment and personal growth and happiness. I have some fairly lengthy criticisms and analysis of philosophical hedonism in general, and I don't entirely agree with Z, but the idea that the privilege of withdrawl from the broader implications of one's lifestyle and the issues that make it possible is a problem is, I think, spot-on (this does not underlie my entire argument though; I'm more interested in a front-on attack of pleasure as a poor substitute for virtue, but Z's analysis is also worthwhile; all but a few forms of philosophical hedonism strike me as societally irresponsible).

(note that I am not saying that personal betterment is bad (I am quite enthisiastic about it), just that done to the exclusion of other things, I think it is a problem because the vileness of the politics and system on which it generally rests is necessarily part of the being of those that benefit from it, no matter how much they might look away from and/or disclaim it).

This ties strongly to my position on class struggle; I do not accept, as many socialists claim, that class enemies create an unbridgable gulf between those in different classes. It is possible for people to become sensitive to the injustices in power relationships regardless of their origin; empathy is a human trait, and people are capable, through philosophy and/or other careful thought, to recognise the power structures enabled by/embedded in their ideas of morality (particularly property and "rights"). Any struggles along these lines should be at least as much outreach as actual conflict, and we should be very reluctant to write people or groups off. Note as well that justice is a divergent concept, and many conclusions are possible; tighter convergence on those that aim to do well by the most vulnerable is our goal, not any particular conception. I also reject the primacy of class struggle as a basis for historical analysis. Nontheless, class struggle, as part of a general struggle for societal justice and improvement, is an important thing to consider in many aspects of our lives.


Oh, yes, the title. I originally meant this post to suggest that we should feel comfortable in considering any point in a philosopher's life their best work and as a stepping-off point for our own work/consideration. For example, I am bothered when people consider the fact that Sartre, Nietzsche, and Nozick all had early and late philosophy with a wide gulf in methods and conclusions (Sartre started out laying out a philosophy of existentialism, then reinterpreted his earlier work into socialism. Nietzsche began as an advocate of a revival of Roman martial virtue and in his later writings focused on individual egoism and growth of spirit. Nozick initially laid a foundation of philosophical libertarianism, then later walked it back towards a formulation of moderate left-minarchism) as somehow dismissing their earlier position. We might imagine the later forms of a philosopher's life to theoretically be the most well-thought out form of their individual growth, but any given position might have many advocates, and we could easily also imagine two philosophers whose actual philosophies dance around each other like a double-helix, growing in depth and strength as each ages.

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