Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Revisiting “what should be done”

A few years back, when I was a newcomer to blogging I used this same medium to clarify for myself the kind of civic life that was more consistent with our current socioeconomic system (What should be done IIIIII and IV). Basically, the conclusion I reached was that the aforementioned system was not that bad, that it could be perfected from within, so what every person had to do was essentially to play within the system’s rules and vote for the party that seemed more likely to push forward a Universal Basic Income, as just adding that all the deficiencies and shortcomings of traditional capitalism would be overcome.

Man, was I naïve… as regular readers are well aware of, my view has grown more somber with the years, and I now think the system is irredeemably corrupt and incompatible with even a modicum of human dignity. Not only that, but it has degenerated beyond any possibility for self-repair, and all we can expect in the near future is its further degradation and growing signs of its decadence, until its final demise (as I said recently, a whole civilization’s collapse is never a nice thing to look at). So what I thought was valid in a business as usual scenario is definitely not what I think is valid now. Back then to the drawing board, accepting that our culture is past its prime and what we can reasonably expect from it is its going to hell on a breadbasket, these are my recommendations on how to live such end times, in each of the concentric relationship circles in which we should be enmeshed:

I.                     Family

I’ll distinguish here between the family you are born into and the family you should form by yourself. In the first case, that’s the locus of your first allegiance, so nurture your relationship with your siblings, and honor your parents. Even if your sis is a drama queen that makes an emotional spectacle of the minutest event and your bro is a pompous buffoon that considers himself better than anybody else because he has read Hegel, they are the first ones you will count on when society breaks down, and you already should be able to trust them with taking turns as sentinels around the campfire with the family’s fire weapons (or machetes, depending on what you have managed to salvage) while you sleep. Regarding parents, you are the inheritor of their world view, and as I once put it, it is your task to pick up their banner when they are not able to carry it any longer. If your mom is a Sunni fundamentalist that thinks that any unveiled woman should be stoned or your pop is a Nazi sympathizer that proclaims that the big rooms in Treblinka were really for the Jews taking care of their personal hygiene you may want to soften and civilize their views, but you still have the obligation (yep, obligation, a strong word in this time when personal freedom is idolized over any other feature) to conform to their basic faith’s duties, stopping short only of causing harm to others (except in self-defense, more on that later on). Even if you didn’t have the best parents of the world, as long as they put food on the table and kept a roof over your head (and did not abuse you too grievously, so Edward St Aubyn is excused in this department), you owe them, so shut up and pay your dues.

In the second case, your duty is to found and head your own family, and to keep it in good terms with the one you were born into. If possible, have kids, as many as you can lovingly bring up. That’s not a popular position nowadays, as a lot of people seem to think that we humans are a virus that is rotting our wonderful planet to the core, so the fastest we extinguish ourselves the better. Every time I hear such ideas voiced I rejoice in the knowledge of the voicer’s genes being swiftly removed from the genetic pool, and thus not having the possibility of degrading my descendant’s inheritance. Be faithful and raise kids that will keep fighting the good fight (for a better world where more people can flourish and be happy and free) once you’re gone. Why is founding a family a duty, and not subject to individual choice and inclination? Let’s put it this way: there are so many assholes out there that we the good guys need to procreate to counterbalance all the evil and mischief they would cause if unchecked by healthy numbers of well-intentioned people. Take it from a Kantian that loves humanity and considers that every single person has dignity (and not price) and is worthy of our love and recognition, not out of their desert or because they are good or noble, but because even when being rather the opposite they have in them the potential of being so.

II.                   Friends

Have. Be true to them. If they reciprocate, apply same considerations as to brothers. If they don’t, cut them some slack, as life is usually pretty shitty even for the best ones. If after cutting them lots of slack they still don’t comply with friendship’s code, cut them off.

III.                 Work

Do, to provide for your family. If young, study hard in order to land one that will allow you to do so. In a socially useful enterprise, which means:

·         No banks or financial institutions (hhmmm... maybe insurance companies are OK)

·         No tobacco companies

·         No weapons manufacturing companies

·         No advertising, marketing or sales

This one is especially fraught, as people start working to maintain a family (an admirable calling) or to help improve their society, and ends up running frantically the rat race, obsessed to have a better (i.e. more expensive) car and a bigger house than their in-laws and their neighbors. The first motive is noble (and ennobling) while the second is not. A few rules of thumb to ensure you don’t succumb to peer pressure and end up being part of the problem and fostering the kind of behaviors that have caused our culture to end in the gutter. The case can be made that accepting any job in today’s conditions is “selling out” and that the only acceptable activity is working tirelessly to overthrow an unjust, stifling system, but I think such choice is suboptimal, and working for “the man” is still preferable as long as a minimum set of conditions is met:

·         Treat people as ends in themselves, never as means (never manipulate them, never lie to them about how you think about them or their work, never promise them anything you are not sure you can deliver on, never rob them of their agency and force them to commit to courses of action that they would have not freely chosen, etc.)

·         It is better to undervalue your contributions and overvalue your rewards, as people who do the opposite is easy to bribe/ corrupt

·         Never take any decision based solely on what will contribute more to your individual paycheck

·         Think about any professional behavior of you “if this were published tomorrow in the newspaper in the least flattering light, would I be ashamed of my sons reading it?”, and if the answer is yes, change it

As long as you can uncompromisingly adhere to those rules it is OK to work and (ideally) create wealth, and pay taxes, and thus not only be able to raise a family (something a radical revolutionary can do very imperfectly, thus the “suboptimality” of such choice) but to reasonably help the rest of society too.

I’ve mentioned taxes, and that is an issue that deserves a bit more discussion. In most countries with a reasonably legitimate government (more on that in the next chapter) paying taxes is a moral obligation, as they are mostly used to improve the living conditions of the less fortunate. Yes, I realize a non-negligible portion is diverted to line the pockets of the well connected, in a world of increasing cronyism even in the nominally most advanced democracies, but even in the less gleaming ones a fraction is still used to pay for public services (social security, public health systems, education, public transport and the like, squalid as they may be), and depriving those services of funds is wrong. However, as society keeps deteriorating (as it will unavoidably do) less and less of our taxes will be used for their original intent, and more and more will be appropriated by the party in power, and used to impose the will of the ruling elite over the disenfranchised majority. When taxes are used mostly to enrich the few and pay only for the police forces of repression and the minimal show business to keep the oppressed masses entertained the moral valence of paying taxes will be dramatically reversed, and it will be a moral evil to pay.

Before that moment arrives, it will become mandatory to “drop out” the regulated, taxed workforce and form a commune (in whatever form is permitted) where wealth production can be done, if necessary, outside of official channels and is thus non-taxable, but still allows for the maintenance of one’s family.

IV.                Politics

Let’s start by declaring that all the options on offer nowadays are crap, and in every single existing representative democracy (the most extended form of political organization) political parties are organizations geared to the spoliation of public resources, directing them to the enrichment of their affiliates and not to the maximization of a hypothetical “public good”. In those countries where there is not even a pretense of representative democracy things are even worse, as the ruling cadres do not have to pretend to care for the masses.

The argument of things being potentially worse in the absence of democracy has been traditionally used by defenders of such system to argue that we have a civic duty to vote in elections, to keep showing our support to the system, flawed as it may be. I can buy such arguments for Spaniards in the five years after the death of Franco, or for Poles five years after the fall of communism, but I find it hard to buy it nowadays. So we are supposed to keep voting forever, thus lending legitimacy to a system that, albeit “better than any other actually tried” (as opposed to “imagined by a bunch of wooly-headed idealists lacking knowledge of human nature and how the world actually works) is evidently full of all-too-real deficiencies, indefinitely? Sorry but no, if the system sucks (as I’ve already stated it does: Democracy is dead) and is already beyond repair I don’t see the need to prop it up with my vote because “surely any alternative is far worse”, an admonishment normally coming from people that has comfortably made it (journalist and ethics professors are the most egregious peddlers of this line of thinking) and seem to be oblivious to how badly a lot of people is aching under the current conditions: The unnecessariat)

So basically, do not vote, and do not belong to any current political organization, as all of them, under the current rules, can only aspire to reach power to better divert public resources to their followers’ purses. Denounce them all and undercut their legitimacy in every interaction with the people important to you. Help them understand the system is irretrievably rotten, and the only thing we can do is prepare for the worst and be ready to pick up the pieces and, once the Leviathan has fallen, construct something better, more humane, more conductive to the equitable enjoyment of shared resources with true freedom (as opposed to the false freedom of buying and consuming the most expensive socially sanctioned positional goods).

A final recommendation. As you have to have kids, your moral duty is not only to educate them to be generous, helping and dignified (in Kant’s words, educate them not to pursue happiness, but to pursue being worthy of being happy, even if such true happiness is never to be attained in this imperfect Earth), but to teach them some form of combat skills (I tend towards boxing for mine, but I’ve heard good things of Krav Maga) and how to shoot. Just in case.

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