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And if you don’t know that already, you’re probably making the common mistake of thinking in terms of false dichotomies and easy answers.

How could it not be? It only relates to maybe the most important and complicated problem that humans have to address – how to organize our world in a way that maximizes human flourishing and cooperation and promotes our collective survival.

There are really not that many high level points of focus when it comes down to it.
You only have to answer a few complex questions like who should get what, how should we be treated under the law, who decides and who dictates the rules.

Now, you might want to argue for anarchy or some notion of perpetual change and we could talk about the pros and cons of that assertion and philosophical position. But, please, don’t take that idea lightly. It might sound sexy, but it comes with consequences in terms of human depravity, violence, human rights abuse and massive instability within a mortal lifetime.

individual commonOne of the primary questions to answer is where do you situate yourself on the question of the rights of the individual versus the obligations of a citizenry and the well being of a society as a whole?

There are often trade offs at the limit when these two values clash. It may be that it is possible to find a balance between the two or where they even are both satisfied, but we have yet to do so adequately.

We have some principles and heuristics to call upon here like the principles of democracy versus autocracy, your rights end where mine begin, the collective good and the values of civil liberties and human rights. Where we set the boundaries and plant flags in the ground is the hard part. When terms lack objective and agreed upon meaning, we struggle to implement those often differing value sets. Law is the basis upon which our moral consensus sits. And where there is no consensus, we have conflict.

When it comes to conflict, we only have two real choices – conversation and negotiation, or violence.

Now, you personally might have your favorite principles and may lean toward socialist or even communist ideals or you might lean more toward authoritarian or strong libertarian values. And, by the way, all of these preferences can still lead to authoritarianism, even if some think that their way would never get you there. And for all we know, authoritarianism might even work in some theoretically just framework. For the moment, few political thinkers happen to lean that way, of course. But they could be wrong too.

political_compas
This two-axis system of mapping the political spectrum has been proposed by The Political Compass. The vertical axis refers to the balance between individual freedom and public order. The horizontal one refers to the level of control exercised on the economy, from total on the left to none on the right.

Currently, the choices related to creating, maintaining and changing societies rely on only a few existing options:

  1. A strong state, public institutions, oversight and citizen advocacy
  2. A weak state and an open capitalist framework
  3. Self-regulation from the populous and non-state public institutions.
  4. Some “just right” combination of the above.

Note 1. It may be possible to one day create a non-state global civilization and replace our existing nation-state paradigm and there may be a day when even capitalism and monetarism have no meaning or function. But we are not there now.

Note 2. While the notion of checks and balances has been a very novel and productive principle, it still has yet to adequately address the thirst for human power, greed, and corruption. We may profit more from our existing paradigm if we can enhance or supplement these checks to better curb those human tendencies.

(Recommended lecture for Political Science 101 which I think should be a must see for anyone interested in the topic: Tamar Gendler – An Introduction to the Philosophy of Politics and Economics)

 

Original post: 13 August 2016, Science, Critical Thinking and Skepticism

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