There are two kinds of deniers of morality. – ‘To deny morality’ – this can mean, first: to deny that the moral motives which men claim have inspired their actions really have done so – it is thus the assertion that morality consists of words and is among the coarser or more subtle deceptions (especially self-deceptions) which men practise, and is perhaps so especially in precisely the case of those most famed for virtue. Then it can mean: to deny that moral judgements are based on truths. Here it is admitted that they really are motives of action, but that in this way it is errors which, as the basis of all moral judgment, impel men to their moral actions. This is my point of view: though I should be the last to deny that in very many cases there is some ground for suspicion that the other point of view – that is to say, the point of view of La Rochefoucauld and others who think like him – may also be justified and in any event of great general application. Thus I deny morality as I deny alchemy, that is, I deny their premises: but I do not deny that there have been alchemists who believed in these premises and acted in accordance with them – I also deny immorality: not that countless people feel themselves to be immoral, but that there is any true reason so to feel. It goes without saying that I do not deny – unless I am a fool – that many actions called immoral ought to be avoided and resisted, or that many called moral ought to be done and encouraged – but I think that the one should be encouraged and the other avoided for other reasons than hitherto. We have to learn to think differently – in order at last, perhaps very late on, to attain even more: to feel differently. – Nietzsche, Daybreak
“The question whether all as individuals should share in deliberating and deciding on political matters of general concern is a question that arises from the separation of the political state and civil society.” – Marx
I am not now nor have I ever been a populist. I am a descriptive Marxist: equality as some vague notion or as some formal abstract “right” has never appealed to me. It never delivers on its promises in all sectors. Once, about every generation, some new identity is given some limited formal right as a recognition of their “humanity.” The circle is expanded, but then it also contracts in ways that are more subtle. Like the ancient Athenians, they may let a person formally ostracized back in, or give a subservient community a few citizens who can vote, but the entire thing doesn’t work without slavery.
This brings to me a lot of things on my mind: I am far more cynical about democracy than most people. Not because I think autocracy or some kind of single party leadership is “better.” It is because representative democratic systems have a kluge nature that leads to all kinds of “perverse incentives.” It makes it easier to predict elections than it should be, and the predictions are smoother if you, actually, just disregard people’s ideological commitments. It’s not that they don’t matter, but they are but one tiny fragment of what matters at the margins. Watching American friends and Canadian panic when demographic trends don’t save their preferred electoral candidates when statistical predictions said that they wouldn’t factor much was funny. Liberals turned on Nate Silver who, it turned out, was actually a little underestimating the GOP wins. (Al my liberal friends were being self-deluded about the last U.S. Congressional election and called me unfair–well my prediction track record is dead on) and in the UK, I called the Tory victory, but with less certainty because of the weirdness of the party coalition politics and the voting districts in the UK. The thing about this, if you use non-ideological prediction rubrics, you see that ideas, in democracy, don’t matter as much as people think. A lot of people seem Ill-equipped to deal with that. I treat it like watching and speculating on natural events. No reason to delude myself, even when I do feel for people who will suffer the results.
At current, without a massive social shift prior, direct democracy would probably be worse. I was listening to Jon Ronson on Geek’s Guide to Galaxy about the twitter outrage and shame tactic. In a week when Joss Whedon left twitter because of its toxic environment, Jacobin magazine finally started to critique “privilege politics,” and a few months after Briarpatch started talking about the toxicity of call culture, the left seems to behind Jon Ronson on the effectiveness of these tactics, but they are getting there. Still there is an element of this that few people want to admit: giving voice to the voiceless doesn’t mean that everyone will have a voice. Ronson admits this, although in the interview when he waxes poetic about early twitter, he seems to not be willing to admit the key factor: early twitter was functional because it was not a huge representative swath of “western” culture. Twitter is that now, and the Puritanical impulses dominate.
Individuals have agency in response to things they can not control–but for this to matter, one must be hyper-valid and training of one’s will. Groups do not have that ability unless they are organized and even then I am unsure if they can actually self-overcome. Yet, individuals alone are not particularly powerful–you do support and mass support at times. The question is how can you get mass support to change society without also changing–no, demanding change–from those in that society? How can you pretend that systemic limitations don’t effect everyone self-identity and “consciousness”, not just the “oppressors, ” negatively.
This is the paradox of thinking democratically. Voting tends to reflect the culture of the time. It does change, but slowly. That may be why most social change in the US–conservative or liberal or something else–has come from the courts, not the legislature. It is not that ideas don’t matter–they do, but I don’t think we can know how or when. It’s not that giving voice to the voiceless will always lead to shaming and oppression and be counter-productive, but one must be both ruthless and consistent as an individual, and not delude yourself into thinking that groups are some more rational than individuals. Prediction markets, for example, were seen as an answer for this half-decade ago until people started noticing that prediction markets broke down on issues of moralistic passion and shared bias.