So it’s an ongoing project here at the Platonist, to come up with the ground rules for what would ideally become a book, setting out a Grand Unified Theory (if we may), of how to create an ideal economy, politics, and society. This is essentially an update of Plato’s Republic, moving beyond earlier utopian or dystopian literature and taking into account what we’ve learned in the last few decades, since advances in the social sciences have been tremendous, and very inspiring if you know where to look. This is especially true in our advances in the theory of egalitarianism, and the discursive elements of this, since Foucault. And of course our ‘system’ has to move beyond being a system, since one thing we’ve learned is that imposing systems doesn’t at all work. What we would suggest in this rewriting of the Republic, would be a series of concrete policies that would be designed to maximize happiness, through existing democratic and legal institutions, and maximize opportunity, for those who would want it, without imposing anything on anyone (since this would never be better than our current system–freedom is key). In essence, we’d be continuing the current and ongoing explorations in the social sciences, whose goal, we would argue, is to find ways to help us to live better. To explain what has worked, and why, and what hasn’t, and why, with the aim of furnishing us with wisdom to make the right choices, ones that are of course naturally obvious. For example, it’s quite obvious now that democracy works better than any true monarchy or one-man rule, for a whole host of reasons. This was not so obvious 300 years ago. This is the sort of thing, only using newer discoveries, that we are aiming to highlight here. Economics, in particular, is a rich field for this, since the marxist-capitalist conflict of the 20th century arguably blinded most economic thinkers by turning them into partisans, instead of scientists. Economics has been dominated too much by polemics, and not enough with the business of maximizing happiness and opportunity. It is still in the hands of the anti-marxist, pro plutocratic elite, and we need to reclaim economics from them – - real economics, scientific university economics. The book ‘prosperity without growth’ is part of this new trend. It is happening.
At any rate, one of the fundamental stumbling blocks to any would-be set of principles for improving the way things work (since surely there are quite a few problems we have yet to address as well as we could if only we worked it through) is the fact that we’re still pretty much hardwired for hierarchy as I have said in another post – i.e., we still carry strong tendencies to act according to pack and troop principles, which got us through our millions of years living as beasts. These instincts aren’t however often so great for creating an egalitarian, maximum-opportunity society. Psychologists and anthropologists have now identified a lot of these, but let’s spell them out here, so that we can get them out in the open, and grapple with them as we discuss and shape our economic and political wish list.
1) The desire to be cool. This used to be called ‘honor.’ It’s probably our first instinct, once we move beyond toddlerhood, and stays with us until senility. You want to have the people immediately around you like you, and act positively towards you. This is because in primate troop society, this meant you were ’alpha.’ Everyone fawns over you, does stuff for you, laughs at your jokes. This translates into personal power. The Fonz snaps his fingers, and people do stuff for him. (Jeff Winger in “Community” being an updated version of the same).
2) The desire to be sexy. This is second, rather than first, b/c the desire to be cool is almost continuous, while even the horniest of us sometimes takes a pause. But still, this is equally up there, for obvious evolutionary reasons.
3) The desire to dominate. One tends to want to be ‘cool’ within one’s in-group. Coolness is a non-confrontational way to get people in your in-group to do stuff for you. So it is all of course about power, but coolness is what regulates it. with regard to the out-group, people wish to build up physical power, usually through building social connections, which give them access to networks and institutions that will get stuff done for them, and provide them with the psychological satisfaction of knowing that they can lord it over most of the people they meet. Dudes in suits know when they walk around that they are ‘cooler’ than almost everyone, the secretaries, the cleaning people, the workmen on the street, the students they meet, b/c their jobs are higher status.
4) The desire for money. Money of course gets people to do stuff for you. No one will build me an oil tanker. But if you had a billion dollars, they would build you one. Thousands of people will labour for months on whatever whim you set your mind to. I put money after the desire to dominate, because domination comes first, and money is the physical expression of this. Money is power, it helps you to dominate your out-group, and smoothes your coolness with your in-group.
So yeah, it’s a real shame, that we’ve evolved like this. Pretty much everything we do, combing our hair, putting on our clothes, walking out the door, choosing what to have for breakfast, the car we get into, the job and career we choose, is basically based on our desire for these dominances. Some of us learn to minimize the desire for dominance, but at heart many of these aspects are still in play.
Can we escape from this? We are inherently social beings. Contact with others, conversation, interaction, is what confirms our own existence, and justifies us knowing words, and having language, which is our core identity-process as humans. So, interaction with others is entirely essential to the good life. And of course, sex is pretty inescapable, and provides so much fun in life, that it seems unthinkable to try and be rid of it. What to do, then, what to do?
The best we can do is to recognize that it is fun to be cool, to be thought well of, and to be sexy, and to have status–but, at the same time, we have to realize that there is a dialectic here. So much in the social sciences, it seems, is based on finding a medium. Too much egalitarianism is stale here. Too much competition, of course, is just cruel. So yes, we want to keep society spicy, we have to keep the competition and meritocracy that has been at the heart of life (until we evolve into something higher — see my post on metaphysics), and at the heart of democracy. (One thing that makes it way more exciting is that democracy encourages competition from everyone, not just amongst nobles – the old systems used to tell the common people that they were always-already losers.) But we also want to acknowledge, as our society has indeed been making great strides in doing, that competition tinged with cruelty (i.e., the libertarian idea that “life is a bitch for those who fail”) is entirely unnecessary – this only appeals to those who are mentally ill, who have been abused by the system, and who have an unhealthy attitude towards existence. This sort of cruelty can be done largely away with, can be discouraged, and bred out of the system, eventually. And this should be our goal with regards to these aspects of our less than ideal behavioural inheritance.
In short, we are products of a functional, but not an ideal, process of evolution. It is our duty to improve upon this, in the most humane and noble and respectful way that we can imagine.
Good day to you.