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. (more…)