The Psychological Benefit of Ahistorical Morality in Times of Unprecedented Crisis

     Richard Rorty in his essay “Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism” describes the political philosophy of the same name, as the Hegelian attempt to justify modern day liberal institutions without relying upon any kind of a priori moral justification. His aim is “to suggest how such liberals might convince our society that loyalty to itself is morality enough” (Rorty 1983). Rorty makes an excellent case to this point. However, there are a few unique cases, such as the Vietnam War (which Rorty brings up) and the 9/11 terror attack, where an appeal to ahistorical morality in democratic discourse is psychologically beneficial to the continuation of the fostering of liberal democratic principles.

     At one point in his essay Rorty notes that “this view of moral and political deliberation was a commonplace among American intellectuals” (Rorty 1983). This was in the time of John Dewey, and Rorty here is referring to the fact that for a long time ahistorical moral justification was uncommon within American political discourse. According to Rorty, this changed during the Vietnam War because the shared sense of American identity was lost and this fracturing led to those who were opposed to the Vietnam War arguing against the war on grounds of immorality. In its simplicity, this seems to imply that before the Vietnam War the U.S was generally unified in its anecdotal democratic discourse until the war when a schism in the American democratic psyche formed. Rorty also ignores whether there was any benefit to opposing the Vietnam war on grounds of immorality.

     I can agree with the necessity of moving away from ahistoricity in democratic discourse as a general principle however this notion of a singular definitive moment seems too reductionist to be accurate. I would argue that, in fact, many times in American history have we seen the rise of transcendental justifications in democratic discourse when the stakes are highest simply because appealing to the transcendental carries more psychological impact.

     A prime example of this is the 9/11 terror attack. This terror attack was beyond the scope of our prior historical understanding and so, could not be properly deliberated on using “anecdotes about the past effects of various practices and predictions of what will happen” (Rorty 1983). The easy debate and subsequent decision was how to react militarily. A much more difficult and troubling debate that was brought up by this terror attack was how to view Muslims and respond to their culture as an American people. Miroslav Volf stated that “9/11 plunged us into in a moral struggle for our soul as a people” (Volf 2011). This struggle could simply not be deliberated on the terrain of antecedent due to its unprecedented nature. Antecedent was insufficient and so this debate shifted primarily to a terrain of transcendental moral justification.

     However, this was far from injurious to the American people. In fact, it was ultimately positive and allowed our national psyche to deal and cope with an unprecedented crisis in a way that contributed to our Hegelian morality as the event was absorbed into our historically conditioned community. In the case of unprecedented crises, falling back on empiricism and social constructs can seem insufficient. Thus, the psychological benefit of shifting discourse onto the terrain of ahistorical moral justification should not be understated. It allows the community to be sure in its actions and move stridently forward. Without this occasional discourse shift, psychological disunity would weaken the community’s commitment to liberal democratic principles and this is not the purpose of Rorty’s postmodernist political philosophy. Allowing ahistorical moral justification to enter democratic discourse in times of unprecedented crisis is a case of giving up an inch of philosophical probity to gain a yard of democratic continuity.

 

 

Rorty, Richard. “Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism.” The Journal of Philosophy 80.10 (1983): 583. Web.

Volf, Miroslav. “Did 9/11 Make Us Morally ‘Better’?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

Societal Complacency Regarding The Disabled

     According to a recent report, “Disabled people are being ‘left behind in society’ and have ‘very poor’ life chances” (BBC). This report covered six key aspects: “education, work, standard of living, health and care, justice and detention, and participation and identity.” (BBC). In all of these aspects disabled people have faced an increase in disadvantage. It is very difficult for people to take care of the disabled and this burden often falls on the family of the disabled. These costs can be enormous and unduly burdening to those who of no fault of their own are disabled or have a disabled child or family member that they have to take care of.

     The reason for this increase in disadvantage is due to the way we currently view the disabled. In our market society, we tend to value people on their perceived worth within the market. One might argue that this is not the case and we do not assign worth based upon labor value within the market but in a market society it is difficult to disentangle perceived societal worth from labor value. “The market is hardly ever avoidable in a market society” states Cohen, and this fact leads to the often unfortunate conditions the disabled find themselves in. Because the labor of the disabled is not as valuable the disabled are seen as less valuable and worth less.

     According to this report, the disabled young have the lowest median earnings of any demographic group, they are less likely to own their own home, and families with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty. In response to this report, a government spokesperson said that the government was committed to “ensuring equality of opportunity for disabled people”. This is another way of saying they will continue to promote bourgeois equality of opportunity, the prevailing liberal egalitarian principle. However, trying to promote this equality of opportunity within a market society lends itself to a systematic complacency due to the insurmountability of the task. A disabled person can never truly have equality of opportunity within a market society because they will never achieve the wage labor value of a fully-abled person. Because of this a societal complacency exists where the public can never truly achieve its goal; so then why expend too much effort when more realistic goals are at hand? This complacency is clearly to the detriment of the disabled.

     The solution is to reframe how we define our egalitarian principle. Cohen offers a socialist equality of opportunity where “differences of outcome reflect nothing but differences of taste and choice”. If this egalitarian principle were used in a non-market society the underlying motivation for helping disabled people would shift from trying to make the worth of the disabled (which is based on labor-value) equal to the fully-abled to making the quality of the lives of the disabled within the community “reflect nothing but differences of taste and choice” (Cohen). This would mean that the disabled would be part of communal networks engaged in planned mutual giving where the disabled are not simply viewed as less because their labor is worth less.

     In a society based on Cohen’s socialist equality of opportunity and anti-market communal reciprocity the socially constructed inferior worth of the disabled is exposed and subsequently swept away. There is no reason a disabled person’s value should be less but in our current liberal society that emphasizes equality of opportunity we view the disabled as being worth less. This makes it impossible to make them equal to the fully-abled which encourages laxness and complacency in aiding and improving the lives of the disabled.

 

Cohen, G. A. Why Not Socialism? Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2009. Print.

“Disabled People ‘left behind in Society’, Report Finds.” BBC News. BBC, 03 Apr. 2017. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.

A Justification for Universal Basic Income

     The political philosophy of Liberal Egalitarianism, which is broadly outlined in Rawls’ seminal work “A Theory of Justice”, was furthered by Dworkin when he suggested a few key additions to try and account not just for unequal distribution of social goods but also for unequal distribution of natural goods, such as intelligence and physical strength. Dworkin’s theories have been used as theoretical justification for a host of after-market wealth redistribution programs but he does not go so far as to recommend the implementation of more radical policies that would occur before-market. I argue that these before-market policies are integral in creating a just society and that the best way to achieve genuine equality of resources is through a before-market policy of universal basic income. This policy proposal of universal basic income is consistent with Dworkin’s theories.

     To achieve equality of resources and try to eliminate the variable of circumstance, as a just society, (per Rawls definition of justice) the society needs to distribute resources equally. Dworkin’s proposal for improved equal resource distribution is an auction system which allows for choice during the auctioning process but assumes all participants start out with an equal amount of purchasing power. To try and adjust for this initially equal purchasing power in the real-world after-market is incredibly difficult due to the subjective nature of the task. This subjectivity leads, in real terms, to bureaucratic costs along with, more importantly, not achieving the aforementioned goal. Seeing that after-market policies are ineffective at remedying unequal initial resource distribution we are led to before-market policies to address this issue. I believe Philippe Van Parijs suggestion of universal basic income, where every citizen would receive a monthly (or annual) stipend, would be most effective. Having shown that basic income follows from Rawls’ and Dworkin’s conception of a just society, I will examine practical implementation of this policy.

     Finland is testing out the implementation of this policy for a minimum of two years on 2000 citizens receiving the lowest rate of unemployment benefit. This is being done to examine the effectiveness of basic income and to address the common critique of basic income; “that it might tax hard-working citizens to subsidize indolent citizens” (Kymlicka). The results of this experiment will confirm or deny this statement to a greater degree, but we can examine why this statement is most likely false. Firstly, people have a certain desire to work and when considered in aggregate people have a desire to be productive members of society. Secondly, universal basic income would be used to alleviate disincentives to citizen productivity caused by the welfare state. It does this by removing the loss of benefits as a disincentive to work, increasing citizen productivity. These arguments lead us to conclude it is unlikely that instituting universal basic income would simply cause productive members of society to pay for the lazy. Another benefit, outside of citizen productivity, is the cutting of red tape surrounding various after-market wealth distribution programs that try to ineffectively correct unequal initial resource distribution.

     Implementation of a basic income follows from Rawls’ theories of justice; more specifically, his Difference Principle of an inequality only being just if it is to the advantage of the least favored. Universal basic income is the practical implementation of Dworkin’s improved theoretical method of ensuring equality of resources, and its implementation in the real world is effective. As more countries start to explore the option of basic income we will accumulate more empirical evidence in order to verify that the real-world application of seemingly radical before-market policies are not only just, but also are practically effective.

 

Kymlicka, Will. “Liberal Equality.” Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon, 1990. N. pag. Print

Rawls, John. “The Principles of Justice.” A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1971. N. pag. Print.

Unkuri, Maija. “Will Finland’s Basic Income Trial Help the Jobless?” BBC News. BBC, 16 Jan. 2017. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.

Untitled

I opened the front door and heard it creak.

That creak was a sound I always knew

as I had heard it all my life,

a sound immediately forgotten

as soon as it passed,

but it reminded me of where I was.

It reminded me that I was home.

Untitled

Bloody thirsty rage

coupled with lust

tearing toward a blinding red sun

unhinged, entirely free and

smearing our humanity away.

It leaves a plume of ashes

but it’s just the dust of society

floating upwards into the heavenly sky

placidly waiting

to drift down and choke us.

On Social Media

     Approximately six months ago I began to phase out social media. First, I deleted the Twitter app from my phone. Then in rapid succession Instagram and Facebook. Finally, two months ago I deleted Snapchat. I had at this point completely purged social media from my phone. My most convenient and omnipresent method of checking my social media was gone. I felt completely unanchored.

     After I deleted Snapchat I felt symptoms similar to the cravings one would feel for nicotine. All I wanted was to log on to post a quick story; every event that I found myself at was overshadowed by a nagging feeling that I had to share it. This weight depressed me. Clearly I was suffering withdrawal symptoms. However, this passed over time, and I started to notice some significant changes.

     Foremost, my desire to read books and learn was revitalized. I no longer suffered from a technology induced attention deficit disorder that prior, had not allowed me to focus on a book. I became more exposed to new ideas as I ventured outside my carefully cultivated media that appeared in my social media feeds. Then, after a while, the most significant change occurred. I was simply happier. I felt more contentment with my life and all the great things in it, rather than always comparing what I was doing to what other people were doing. This was by far and away the biggest benefit. All of those improvements were a direct result of removing social media and thereby removing its negative impact impact on me.

     Social media makes us chase after the instant serotonin high and narrows our perspectives. It reduces our happiness and makes it easier for us to be manipulated and exploited. It is hampering our generation from achieving our self-potential. Social media is an insidious and destructive threat. It breeds and thrives on the propagation of insecurity. The more insecure you are, the better. Inducing this state of mind insures that you, the user, seek more and more approval from the online community. This engagement in the online community also exposes you to the idea that there are people significantly better than you. This “knowledge” makes you more insecure, and hooks you on the need for approval in the form of likes or favorites. This cycle quickly gets a user hooked onto social media.

     Once a social media user is hooked then social media begins to dominate and insert itself into the user’s life. The user feels the need to compulsively share and overshare, check and recheck what their “friends” are up to. Then, out of convenience, (and this is especially true on apps like Snapchat) the user starts getting their news and information from social media.

     This “news” is not the involved, multidimensional journalism that engages and challenges the reader to think in new ways, nor is it simple objective news. This social media news oscillates between click bait and superficial pseudo-journalism. None of it is meant to take up much time at all, it is simply a quick hit that requires no commitment from our minute attention spans. This type of news encourages people to think in simple terms and on an extremely superficial level. This superficiality is not just limited to our news however, it has oozed its way into our thought patterns and the very way we live our lives. Nowhere is this more obvious than politics. For example, the Republican nominee debates. These debates were not discussions about issues or critical examinations of the validity of arguments, they were contests to see who could create the best clickbaity sound bite.

     Brevity necessities simplicity and the way to simplify the complex and nuanced nature of political discussion is to water it down to simple emotion. This truth is why a populist candidate like Donald Trump has succeeded. Trump is extremely gifted at two things: creating sound bites and appealing to the base emotion of the voter. He appeals to the anger, to the resentment, and to the fear. The average voter has lost the ability to think critically or to take the time to examine a complex issue. They want simple solutions and they want them yesterday. This trend is by and large due to the technology induced attention deficit syndrome that is rampant in our society. It makes us able to be easily manipulated by the media, the corporations, and various other vested interests. All they have to do is tap into this emotional wellspring and they can direct the flow wherever most benefits them. Clearly, this does not sound like a pleasant state of affairs. It is something that must be remedied promptly.

     Now to say that there is one easy solution would be hypocritical. These issues do not simply boil down to the despotic power of likes and favorites, but the way social media and technology are changing our minds is extremely unhealthy, not only to our personal, but also our societal well being. While we might not individually be able to restructure our tech driven society we can start to catalyze this process in our own lives and minds. We have to reduce the presence of social media in our lives. To be clear, this is not a suggestion that social media should be eradicated entirely. It can have some key benefits when used properly and in moderation. For example, during crises, such as Hurricane Sandy, where it allowed victims of the storm to communicate even though the phone lines were down, social media can be an invaluable aid.

     In a certain sense social media can be compared to a strong opiate. Morphine can be a drug with an amazing ability to alleviate pain when used properly. However, use it improperly and it can have grave consequences. We need to treat social media with similar if not the same gravitas. A healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body.

     The key is moderation. In my personal experience I found it easiest to remove social media completely from my life for about 8 weeks before slowly reinstating it once my mind had readjusted and come to appreciate life again without social media. Currently, I have the Snapchat app on my phone but I stay logged out except for every few days to post a story and check Snapchats sent to me. Often I go weeks without logging in. The same is true of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter which I rarely, if ever, check. The point is that this is not typical social media use and while it may sound difficult to implement the benefits are worth it.

     Once you remove social media from your life, you will discover that when you do not engage in social media platforms, those platforms do not engage back. You end up “missing” nothing. You will still know what your friends are up to because they are your friends and you are involved and take an interest in their lives. The only people that you will be “missing out on” are people that actually have no impact on your life whatsoever outside of social media. Social media can not create friendships, or love, or happiness. The truth is that the vivid palette of life can not be viewed through a camera lens, in an app, or on a screen.

The beauty of experience still exists, the question is: will we take the time to see it?

About Me

I am a U.S permanent resident currently attending The Ohio State University. I am majoring in Political Science and minoring in Philosophy. I was born in Amsterdam, NL, and currently live in Columbus, Ohio.