Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Scourge of Moral Universalism

One of the most pernicious things in our public debates and power struggles over status is how we constantly try to drag and link cosmic moral principles into them when we clearly don't really believe them. We do this because it is a massive force multiplier in such contests, even when everyone involved with knows it is bullshit.

Take, for instance, Disney's political theft of more years of copyright from the commons. Everyone actually knows, in their gut, that it is all about extending their monopoly on Mickey Mouse et al, but was it framed like that? Absolutely not, some pap about protecting the poor pauper heirs of wonderful authors or honoring their legacy as great artists was served up instead. At the aesthetic level, I find this vile and offensive. But there's far more than mere aesthetics at stake here. We've conditioned entire generations of people to be averse to advocating something simply because it is in their interest openly. This has the effect of training people to be mendacious, and, what is worse, to be reluctant to call others on such because of their own complicity. We harshly criticize the partisan of naked self or group interest (at least when he's white), but in fact his position is rarely anything fundamentally different from the other partisans, he has simply not clothed his own self interest in some public-spirited sounding rhetoric or appeals to cosmic justice. In short, we loathe his honesty.

Imagine how disdainful we, as a society, would be of a homeowner's group that opposed a wind farm located near them because it was going to reduce their property values, and made such an argument openly. This is why we see so much of a smokescreen thrown up, with arguments raised which if followed to their logical conclusion, would oppose wind farms anywhere, but curiously their exponents are only arguing against them in their own back yard.

Were we able to negotiate without the scourge of universalism applied to either back, we might actually be able to, in many cases, achieve something satisfactory to both parties. If you would have war, call what you work for Justice. We could also help loosen the bonds of the tyranny of the glib, in this case, those most adept in sophistry connecting their particular cause to some universal siege engine.

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