Saturday, November 26, 2011

People Before Profit

Right now we say we want to move from suicidal gray capitalism to something eco-capitalism where at least we’re not fast-tracking the destruction of the whole planet. Will that be enough? No, it won’t be enough. We want to go beyond the systems of exploitation and oppression altogether. 
                                                                                           Van Jones

 Lying takes on a special and interesting dimension of moral complexity when the teller of a lie intends to achieve something he believes is good beyond his own personal gain or self-interest.  The self-imposed imperative to achieve this “good” creates an invincible rationalization that subordinates the obligation to be truthful to the obligation to achieve something noble and selfless, something that makes the world and the others in it much better off.  It is very tempting to rationalize this kind of dishonesty.
This kind of invincible rationalization will always justify a lie as a necessary means to move others toward a future good. It’s a utilitarian balance; the minimal harm of the lie against the huge benefits to be achieved. “Justified” lying has its most pernicious and persistent expression in the twentieth century utopian political ideologies.
Utopianist-ideologues envision a new and vastly improved world and embark on the creation of it.  In so doing they plunge themselves into a deep abyss of lies.  The utopian “truth” is brandished both as a pre-ordained certainty – revealed exclusively to a class of cognitive-elites – and as a moral imperative that that these special “knowers” are obligated to carry out.  They speak and act for humanity and thus are except from the “usual” normative constraints.  This truth, practically realized, amounts to a complete restructuring of human society.  It transforms the human condition.  The old limitations and shortcomings – greed, selfishness, injustice, exploitation, etc. – drop away. 
However, only a cognitively gifted few understand “What is to be Done?” – Lenin’s title for his manifesto, one that set the parameters for the revolutionary party he was leading – and as well possess the skill and determination to bring it about.  For Lenin, of course, his Party and only the members of that Party knew what to do and how to do it, a small, professional, theoretically-sound group of special knowers, and, special doers.  Lenin’s early break with the Mensheviks in 1903 was precisely over his intransigence to opening Party membership beyond this elite professional class, who, unlike the working class that they claimed to represent, knew what was best and how to make it happen.  “The role of the vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.” [Lenin, What is to be done?, 26].   Lenin’s project, as he says here, could only be implemented by those in possession of the most specialized knowledge, accessible only to this self-selected cognitive-elite.  
 The exceptional moral stature of the cognitive-elites was marked by their steadfast determination to overthrow the corrupt order. It exempted them from the usual norms of truthfulness because the lying that they needed to resort to would get them to the final goal, the practical realization of a higher truth.  Thus the very foundation of ideologically-driven regimes is dishonesty, organized lying created and justified as mean to a higher moral good.  “Everything that is done in the interest of the proletarian cause is honest,” remarked Lenin. [Quoted from Richard Pipes, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, 275] Here then is a wholesale reordering of both morality and reality.  Honesty no longer means conformity with truth:  it is the service of power. Reality is whatever those in power say it is. 
The “reordering” of society means that the “old order” must be swept away. Early twentieth-century utopianists called for revolution. Those in the twenty-first century speak of “transformation.”  Different language, but the same prescription: the old order is assailed as an inherently oppressive system constituted and maintained by a conspiratorial class of corrupt, malevolent individuals who are invested in and profit by the corruption.  They are directly and materially responsible for the evils that could be eliminated and completely resistant to any measures to remove them.

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