In my previous post (AT Manifesto I) I began sketching my AT Manifesto justifying the choice of terms (or the big underlying principles if you prefer) and setting out the structure of what was to come (first man, then society, then economy). High time to fulfill my duties, then, and spell out what kind of anthropology underlies the politics
Man, the subject of rights and duties (but not of other men!)
In our quest to a more just, humane and sustainable society we must start by identifying the units that forms such society, highlighting the features that separate them from the rest of the natural world. It is self-evident that society is a set of human beings, and our understanding of what a human being is will inform all the recommendations we will make later on. What is a human, then?
A human is an animal of the homo sapiens species, able to use symbolic language and thus endowed with reason and will
What can we deduce from such a definition? Let’s unpack the consequences of each term:
· Animal: a lump of animated matter, subject to the same laws and regularities that dictate how matter behaves, and owing its particular features to biological evolution, which have been selected during countless millennia for its adaptive value (by allowing those individuals who had them to reproduce in higher numbers than those that did not)
· Homo Sapiens: a large simian mammal appeared relatively recently, which implies a high metabolic rate (needing lots of food), omnivore, with a moderate sexual dimorphism and, being a mammal, with highly differentiated parental investment
· User of symbolic language: symbols being the potentially recursive and necessarily imprecise reference to some element of reality (so what the symbol can make reference to is another set of symbols, in ever more abstract hierarchies)
· Endowed with reason (able to value): not only can we compute and categorize (recursively), but we are conscious beings who can detach themselves from the continuous flow of perceptions and contemplate themselves “from outside”. Thus we not only recognize ourselves, but recognize separately what we are thinking and feeling in any given moment, and we continuously assign different levels of importance to those separately recognized thoughts and feelings. Consciousness consists in minding, caring about, valuing what surrounds us
· Endowed with will (free): now that ability to detach ourselves from the flow of consciousness enables a most surprising trait, not possessed by any other species (as far as we know). We can choose how to act (or not act) in a way that for all practical purposes is as unpredictable as if it were entirely detached from the chain of causality that encompasses every other lump of matter. It is fashionable nowadays to proclaim that such freedom is entirely illusory, and we are ready to admit that it has to rest in some metaphysical assumptions (dualism) that are decidedly out of favor, we will just say that the first step to enslave a whole species and deprive them of their freedom and their will to fight for it would transparently be to convince them they are not free at all, so there was nothing real to fight for in the first place. Rather than accept that all our intuitions are wrong (because evolutionary psychology! Neuroscience! The Libet experiment!) we stubbornly maintain that our intuitions are right, it is really in our power to choose how to conduct our lives, and when we weigh the pros and the cons of a certain course of action and finally decide for it… we have really decided (which of course implies there is really a “we”), and not fooled ourselves rationalizing what our unconscious chose for us, or what happens to be considered (always ex post) as the more convenient behavior to have more descendants in the African savannah thirty thousand year ago
So we are animals, yes, with all the urges and drives common to all animals. We want to mate and to eat, to rest when tired and to be cared for when injured or ill, trying to exert ourselves as little as possible more times than not. But animals with intelligence. Able to refrain from doing what our instincts impel us to do, and capable to pass judgment on such refraining (or on its opposite submitting to what the instincts dictate). This takes us to the crux of the AT position about men: just for the fact of being so they have dignity (and not, in a well known phrase from Kant, price), regardless of merit or desert, of their actual circumstances of race, religion, sex, age, wealth or academic achievement. Even regardless of how actually intelligent they are (as that dignity is inherent to every human, including the infirm, the seriously disabled, even the eldest after they have gone irretrievably down the path of senility and dementia). Just being of human descent they have dignity, and that dignity deserves recognition and respect. This sets AT’s apart from traditional rightists, for which dignity is only recognized unequally (only the few select are accorded it fully, whilst the masses are assumed less enlightened and less worthy), normally according to degree of similarity with your own position (the tribal and primeval “us versus them” mentality that requires first a cartoonish definition of some “other” to be properly demonized). But it also sets it apart from traditional leftists, for which “the system” turns everybody into a knave or a scoundrel, robs everybody of their dignity, and so every revolutionary finds himself in the paradoxical position of having to selflessly devote himself to the betterment of a humanity he secretly despises. The challenge for an AT is to love unconditionally every individual human, not because he or she deserves it, not out of sympathy (which is always in short supply, the less so the less features we have in common with the purported object of our love) but precisely because of their unavoidable shortcomings and failures.
It is due to our common animal nature that we have a set of non-negotiable needs: we need food (quite a lot), clothing and shelter. Probably also some intimacy and social recognition. But it is due to our non animal capabilities that we need things more complex to provide: a culture of shared narratives and shared codes to decipher highly abstract symbols, which requires a long training period and free access to the vast records of our past, and to information of what is currently going on in a vast number of specialized fields.
Fortunately for us, we come to the world equipped with a powerful tool to coordinate our activities in order to provide one another with both categories: not just the ability to partake of the same symbolic language (an innate capability), but also an attunement to the way such language is used, so we can to an astonishingly accurate degree separate the true statements from the false ones. Although such attunement has developed in parallel with our ability to fool it, so for every advance in our lying-detecting capabilities has been both demanded and justified by a previous (and afterwards, a subsequent) advance in our capability to convincingly lie… The reason both developments have been so central is that, given our lackluster natural endowments, our survival demanded us joining forces with our kin, our ascent could only happen in ever increasing groups. Thus, armed with a basic understanding of what man is we can now turn our attention to how he forms such groups to thrive, which we will develop in our next post (on society)