Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Politics of Divergence

It seems to me that there are some communities too large to function democratically (the USA and the EU among them: Massachusetts does not want to live like Texas, and Germans don't want to live like Greeks). Sometimes, the best long-term solution is not "to enable agreement on a generally accepted solution" (or otherwise validate the idea that we all have the same interest where it is clear that we do not and cannot)--but to facilitate diversity, divergence and experimentation, admitting up front that there is no such thing (existent or creatable) as a single policy for all Americans or Europeans. I think the idea of "one policy to rule them all" (whether all the states in the USA or in the EU) is always going to break down catastrophically at some point (even in the domains where it works best, e.g. military alliances).

The use of irreconcilable differences in philosophy to discuss the limits of human ability to suppress divergence is not wrong, of course. Philosophy is one symptom of this human trait. But it is hardly the only such symptom (others would be the observation that people don't visit the same stores on the same schedule, or buy the same things in those stores; we don't all study the same subjects in school; if we do, we don't study them the same way; we don't do the same jobs; if we do, we don't do them the same way; etc.). It is wrong to think that this intractability between you and me boils down to nothing more than a vapid difference of philosophical opinion or expression--that there is nothing serious or intractable behind it. Historically, there is something there. A resistance to monotony and conformity that is always in the end stronger than any force we can bring to bear to make monotony and conformity universal and permanent. We have brought some really powerful forces to bear (e.g. the world wars in the last century, the Civil War in the United States before that) without achieving our object. Some of us see this and conclude that the object is one that we should not waste any more time pursuing, but others are still eager for the scheme of one policy to rule them all.

I have a significant philosophical problem with the existence of a central bank. This is not precisely the same thing as my problem with the existence of authorities with claim to rule the most intimate decisions of my life. At some point in the negotiations (between me and the central authorities who want to control me the way farmers control cattle), I am going to break away--either to run from the policy I don't like or to fight it (with whatever arms seem likeliest to avail). In today's climate, these arms are probably not militant, since the central bank has more firepower than I could ever hope to have--more than I would regard it as safe to use. So probably I will end up advocating for some kind of civil disobedience, in the tradition of Gandhi and Thoreau--and our own Martin Luther King, who did so much to fix problems the Civil War could only bring to a boiling head.

We cannot all live the same life.  At some point, your life would kill me in ways that I don't like, and vice versa.  I must give you room to live as yourself, without me, and you must reciprocate.  If we cannot do this, if we must choose one of our lives as "the one true life" and force it upon the other willy-nilly, then we are deciding to kill someone.  Are you willing to kill me now?  Maybe so.  There are acceptable reasons to want me dead.  But I would hope that these are only invoked when absolutely necessary, when peace between us is really impossible.  I would rather have another Great Depression than kill off half of society (even if that meant avoiding said depression).    

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