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Chapter One of Occupy Vision


http://www.zcomm.org/topics/fanfare-for-the-future 

 

Chapter One
Visionary Patterns

 

"One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar."
- Helen Keller

 

This chapter seeks a short list of values to guide our efforts to envision core institutions for a future desirable society. We list seven values – a short list just sufficient to inform our efforts.

 The values each correspond to an aspect of life and, perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the values are commonplace and uncontroversial. These values will later guide our search for worthy institutions, where we will have to refine and apply them to the particular spheres of life we are dealing with.

Relations Among People: Solidarity

“If we don’t stand for something, ?we may fall for anything.”
- Malcolm X

Societies and each of their four spheres affect how people interrelate. Do institutions cause us to treat each other instrumentally, as means to ends? Do we scramble over each other, some winning only when others lose? Do our roles cause us to become isolated and individualistic – even anti social – in the worst sense?

Well, yes, those debits are normal to contemporary life. But what values would we rather have to organize relations among people? What do we value regarding relating to others? Our answer is we value solidarity.

Other things being equal, we want our institutions – in all of society’s defining spheres of life – to cause us to have shared, rather than contending, interests. We want our daily activities to make us more, not less, concerned with the well being of others. We prefer empathy to antipathy.

We want institutions which cause looking out for ourselves and looking out for others to be almost always the same thing and to be, at least, non conflicting.

I benefit, then others benefit too. Others benefit, then so do I. None of us should benefit at the expense of others. All of us should benefit to the advantage of others. Society should promote solidarity. Institutions in each sphere should cause people to have compatible rather than opposed interests so that each benefits from other’s gains, rather than some gaining as others lose.

Solidarity is our first value, and it isn’t controversial. Indeed, one would have to be a psychopath to say that other things equal, one prefers anti sociality to solidarity.  

Options for People: Diversity

“A fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic.”
– George Bernard Shaw

Society and its defining institutions dramatically impact the range of available options people can choose from. None of us live forever. We can’t enjoy doing every conceivable thing. None of us are omniscient. We can’t always know for sure the best way to proceed.

If everyone does the same things you do – if we all act alike, all follow one path, all explore one solution, all implement one approach – than all other possibilities are gone for each of us. There are two very serious problems with trends toward homogeneity.

With homogeneity, we lose the benefit of vicariously enjoying what we ourselves can’t, or don’t have time, or don’t wish to do. We can only vicariously enjoy acts that we don’t undertake. We can only learn their lessons, enjoy their beauty, be edified by their wisdom, if others undertake them. And that requires diversity.

With homogeneity, we also suffer more when there are mistakes because don’t have a fallback position to adopt when a preferred approach proves faulty. We don’t have other options which we can switch to because if society is typically homogenous, then when we choose a wrong path, everyone else is on that wrong path, too.

Our value for options is diversity. It doesn’t mean we should multiply available paths without limit just for the sake of a higher tally. But it does mean we should studiously avoid narrowing options at the expense of enjoying vicariously what others can do as well as being prepared to correct faults. And it means this for each of our four spheres.

No one who is mentally stable and remotely insightful would say that, other things equal, they would prefer a society which systematically reduces available options and homogenizes outcomes as compared to a society that promotes diversity. Everyone would say that, other things equal, they prefer a society that systematically diversifies options in the name of plentiful variation and preparedness. We enjoy other peoples’ contrasting and sometimes clashing choices. We don’t put all our eggs in one basket. We have options. This is the meaning of diversity, our second value, and there is no need for extensive argument on its behalf, because it is uncontroversial.

Distribution of Benefits: Justice

“Charity should be abolished and replaced by justice.”
- Norman Bethune

Now comes our first controversial value. Society and its defining institutions dramatically impact the distribution of material and situational responsibilities and benefits that people enjoy or suffer in their daily lives.

How much stuff do you get? What is the norm guiding what you get? What circumstances do you find yourself in? What is the rationale for your being in those circumstances? Do you get more or less than others? Why? In disputes, how is the redress of grievances assessed? What levels of punishment, when is punishment warranted or imposed? What level of redress or reward, when redress or reward are warranted, should be given?

Our distributional value is about allocation of responsibility and benefits in all aspects of life. We call distributional outcomes that are fair – when you get that and I get this, and we both respect the outcome – just. We call distributional outcomes that we do not like unjust. In other words, we all agree to call our distributional value justice.
 
We also agree that what makes a particular distribution of benefits and burdens just, is that it is fair. This is circular, yet also true and will enrich or clarify the definition for some people. We want the amount that each person receives – whether in the form of material reward or desirable circumstances – to be commensurate to one’s efforts in fulfilling one’s responsibilities.

In a very real sense, justice is about each person getting a fair and essentially equal overall mix of benefits minus burdens. If we outlay more from our lives in taking on burdens, we should get back additional benefits to bring us back to an average or fair weight of both combined.

People are entitled, by being members of society, to a fair benefit for a fair effort. To get more benefits, we must endure more burdens. To endure fewer burdens, we must receive fewer benefits. Gain and loss should not be by luck. It should not be by taking or being taken, by demanding or being demanded. It should not be due to advantage, innate or otherwise. Fairness is that we are all equally respected and treated.

Society, in essence, has much that is burdensome to endure and much that is rewarding to enjoy. If we endure some of what’s burdensome, we get to enjoy some of the benefits. The gain weighs against the cost. If we do more that needs doing, we get more benefit. If we do less, we get less benefit. If, worse still, we violate our responsibilities and not only don’t add to but actually reduce society’s bounty by irresponsible behaviors, then we suffer penalties. This is what we typically mean by justice. Justice is fair apportionment of burdens and benefits and it is the basic norm we shall have in mind and apply, yielding slightly different insights and aims, in each of the four spheres due to their specific attributes. Though most details will have to wait for institutional discussions still to come, we can elaborate at least a bit more, here, this value being the most technically complicated and experientially varied of those we will seek to fulfill.

Consider economics. The issue of justice in the economy is about what income and circumstances we enjoy by virtue of fulfilling our economic responsibilities. We will deal with certain critical aspects of circumstances when we discuss economic institutions, but pending those refinements, we are asking, what is a just result regarding income distribution and circumstances? In essence, the net benefit for each person – subtracting the costs of their time and effort at work from the gains of income – ought to be the same, which is to say, it ought to be equitable or just.

The economy produces lots of stuff. Think of the output as a giant pie. What size piece do we each receive? That’s income distribution. Of course, what we really get is not a giant slice of pie but a bunch of goods and services – clothes, housing, food, movies, transport, electricity, medical care, or whatever.

There are five norms of remuneration any economist has ever advocated for what should determine the income (or share of pie) people receive:

  • font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”> the amount our property produces
  • font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”> the amount we are strong enough to take
  • font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”> the amount we ourselves produce by our efforts and sacrifices
  • font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”> the level of our efforts and sacrifices as long as we are producing desired results
  • font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>and/or our need.

There are two primary considerations we have to consider in judging these norms:

  • font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>the morality of a norm for the person receiving the share of pie it implies and for all those who then get their pie from what is left,
  • font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>and the incentive effects of a norm for the size of the whole pie and thus for what anyone can receive.

Which option, or combination of options, is equitable for determining income distribution? In our view, it is remuneration for need when one cannot work and remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, when one can work – that is equitable. Thus, from our list above, remuneration for effort and sacrifice doing socially useful labor. We reject remuneration for property, power, and/or output as not yielding fair benefits minus burdens for each person. All this will be investigated next chapter – as well as addressing additional details regarding equity of circumstance and the incentive aspect of the various norms. But the idea should be clear – we develop values, we explore them, and we use them as a guide in defining institutions.

For kinship and culture, the key justice focus is the apportionment of benefits and responsibilities to people in their kinship and cultural practices. For kinship, do men and women, children and elderly people, gays and straights – both in the home and in kinship institutions more broadly, as well as in the rest of society – have a mix of responsibilities and benefits that distribute fairly from person to person? Within cultural communities, the same calculus needs to apply, but it also needs to apply between communities, so that different communities have the same security and potential to pursue their cultural practices vis a vis needed resources, space, safety, etc.

Regarding polity – assuming all the above are dealt with, and thus assuming that legislation abides just norms – the remaining issue is largely one of justice in the oft-used sense of determining just results of conflicts. This is partly about dealing with violations of social laws and norms and partly about resolving disputes with benefits and responsibilities. Legal justice means arriving at results that apportion benefits and punishments appropriately given past actions and future situations as well as given agreed norms and laws. Is that vague? Yes, but that is the nature of judicial applications – the range of issues is so broad, that what justice means judicially is largely contextual.

To avoid this chapter becoming too long, each of the four applications of justice will be clarified and enriched when we deal with the key defining features of a worthy vision for each of the four spheres in coming chapters. For now, justice is a value we will place in our toolbox to use in developing our vision for society.

Decision Influence: Self Management

“I am truly free only when all human beings around me,
men and women alike, are equally free.”
- Mikhail Bakunin

Society and its defining institutions affect the amount of say each person has in determining outcomes. What is our value for the level of decision making that people should have?

Many decision making values are propounded. Of course one wants good, insightful, caring decisions. Typically people say they want democracy, which is one person, one vote, majority rules. Others might say, well, yes, but sometimes it is better to have autocracy – an elite, however small, deciding, because they know best. Another stance is that we should mostly all agree. Or, even if we don’t precisely all agree, no one should be so distraught that they want to block a choice others agree on – and thus we should decide by consensus. And then there are combinations and variants – such as needing two-thirds, or 60% or three-quarters – in favor for some decision to be enacted. Variations also arise in how long deliberations should last, who should partake in deliberations and representation – concerning issues of efficiency and how to locate and utilize expertise – and other factors, as well.

Our thinking, however, is a bit different. What do we want vis a vis decisions? What is the aim for how much say people should have? We certainly want good decisions, of course. But we also want people to have an appropriate say. Suppose we focus on the latter aim first.

What is appropriate say?

Again, this is a value – not a factual question. We can agree, hopefully, after considering options and implications, but we cannot claim a proof.

Suppose I work with a bunch of people and I want to wear brown socks instead of black or green socks, or I want to wear no clothes instead of clothes. Or say I want to put up a picture of my mate on my wall, or I want to put a stereo on my shelf and play it – very loud. Some decisions are different than others. Almost everyone would say I should get to decide alone about my socks, and my mate’s picture. No one else should have a say, just me. I do it – you might even say, like Stalin – definitively dictating the results. Most would say, however, that I can’t decide to go nude and dictate that outcome, alone – and certainly I can’t decide to listen to loud music and dictate that outcome alone.

The difference is that some decisions affect just me – or nearly so. Other decisions affect many other people, and not just me. About the former type of decision, we tend to say, go for it. About the latter type, we tend to say, hold on, others have to be allowed to influence that decision too. Why?

The answer that strikes us as the underlying value that most of us most often feel is that people should have a say in decisions in proportion to the degree they are affected by them – or as nearly to that as we can sensibly manage without wasting time seeking a non existent and picky perfection. Let’s call that value self management.

With that value guiding us, we will use majority rules, or two-thirds, or consensus not as a matter of principal, but because one or the other best approximates self management. Sometimes, as with the sock decision, we will opt for a dictatorial approach. Other times we will favor more inclusive modes of arriving at preferences.

Self management is something we take more or less for granted inside groups of friends and even, to an extent, with peers at work and in other venues. Only in particular institutions with particular role structures that apportion influence differentially, do we typically drop our allegiance to self management.  

Well, is there something wrong with self management? What controversy does it arouse? Should it be dropped?

The rejectionist case is that self management dilutes the quality of decisions. The idea is that some people are better at decisions – the experts. So to get the best, or even just good, decisions we need to give experts disproportionate say based on their skills at decision making – even when they are not most affected by the decisions.

That is the logic. What are its merits?

We should be careful here. We do prefer good decisions to bad ones. And expertise is important when making good decisions. But what is often needed is expert knowledge of implications, and once we consult experts and have that information at our disposal, why should the experts be given more say than is warranted by how much they will be affected? This would only make sense if understanding the implications – even after they were clearly spelled out – required the expert’s knowledge. Typically, it doesn’t.

And we have to be careful about the word “understand” here. If the experts say the bridge will collapse if we make decision X, and the bridge will be fine if we make decision Y – we don’t have to be able to replicate or fully understand how they arrived at their conclusion. We have to be able to judge if they are reliable, and we have to be sure the situation doesn’t give them perverse motives, and then decide how we feel about the bridge failing as compared to the bridge persisting in place.

Notice, if anyone really accepted the logic that says experts need to decide, it would not only rebut the merits of self management, but also the merits of democracy.

There is another hole in this critical mindset, once one seriously considers it. There is a particular kind of information, very relevant to arriving at good decisions, which not only requires expertise, but for which the only way to account for this knowledge is by allotting influence according to the norms of self management.

While one component of deciding if we should or shouldn’t do X is what will be the implications of doing X, perhaps determined by experts, a second component is, how do I, you, and others feel about X’s implications. And regarding our own preferences, each of us is the world’s foremost expert. So, it follows that when discussing options and deliberating about them it is very important to consult those with special relevant knowledge, including often giving them more time and space to explain their insights than many other folks enjoy to offer their comments. But when we are actually tallying opinions to settle on a decision, then paying attention to expertise means we must let each person determine their own preferences and register them. That is the only way to tally preferences accurately.

So, as with all values, it comes down to whether we like self management or not, ethically and pragmatically, given its implications for the quality of decisions, the degree of participation, etc. Hopefully, as we see self management’s implications for institutions unfold, its merits will become obvious. But clearly, self management means basically the same thing in each of the four spheres – when economic, kinship, cultural, and political decisions are to be made, methods should give people a say that is roughly proportionate to the degree they are affected.

Relations to Nature: Stewardship

“We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
- Native American Proverb

People and the environment exist entwined. There is us. There are our artifacts. And there is the rest. But, of course, nature impinges on and helps define us and we impinge on and help define nature – both to such an extent that viewed differently, there is really only one highly entwined whole. Still, regarding what we broadly mean by nature, what is the value we would like to see a new society abide and even foster?

The usual answer from virtually everyone who addresses this issue is sustainability. We should behave in ways that allow us to continue behaving. We should not behave in ways whose implications, over time, are to disrupt nature so much that our behaving is no longer possible. I can’t see how anyone could question this value other than from the direction of saying it isn’t enough. Sustainability says, taken literally, society should not commit suicide by way of environmental degradation. Well, yes, of course.

Can we go beyond this? Yes, though not with great precision. We could say, and I think we ought to say, we want stewardship. This word implies we are not only relating to the environment for the continuation our own future, but also for the effect on us and on the environment insofar as it creates a new context at all. Does a proposed act’s impact on the environment benefit or hurt human growth and development. If it benefits us, okay. If it hurts us, then there needs to be larger, offsetting benefits or we should desist.

Even more, however, the word stewardship conveys that humans are taking responsibility for the environment beyond considering nature’s impact on us. Seeking to be good stewards opens the possibility that we seek to preserve, protect, and even nurture aspects of nature in their own right. What aspects? Well, that’s a future decision. Perhaps it will be obvious at times. Perhaps it will be contentious. Maybe species. Maybe natural environments.

The point of the value is to say we recognize that change in the environment due to our actions rebounds on us, and we should take that into account. We shouldn’t commit environmental suicide and, indeed, we try to affect the environment in ways beneficial for the human community. We also consider environmental, and particularly natural, forms and conditions. We act on behalf of the environment like we act on behalf of future generations – because neither can speak for themselves.

Our guess is that as with Solidarity and Diversity, Stewardship is also uncontroversial, save in disputes about specific implementations. Other things equal, only an odd person would say let’s joyously pillage the environment to death.

Internationalism

“The individual whose vision encompasses the whole world often feels nowhere so hedged in and out of touch with his surroundings as in his native land.”
- Emma Goldman

In one sense, our value for international relations can be said to be just the other values writ larger. But, to keep our eyes on the issue, which is what concepts are for, we will give this value its own name and clarify it a bit. We can call it Internationalism, where being internationalist means that each society should regard the world arena as its social context and should wish to be comfortable and benefit by its relations to other societies, but also to have other societies do likewise.

What hurts everybody is when the international arena yields hostilities waged by sword or by pen. So we need international solidarity. But what constitutes it?

To homogenize the world would be to rob it of its richness and suffer horrible loss due to diminished vicarious experiences and a cessation of experiment and exploration of alternatives. We need international diversity. We don’t want hostility, we want sociality. We need solidarity. Fairness for anyone requires fairness for everyone, so we also need international justice. Surely people in the world should all have the same norm for degrees of influence over their own and world affairs. Thus we should favor international self management. The ecology of the planet obviously requires the same attentiveness as the ecology within any one country – so we favor international stewardship.

Internationalism means each nation respects, learns from, and assists other nations so that there are steadily diminishing and then no new emergence of significant differences in per capita wealth, influence, or circumstances from nation to nation, yielding a condition of mutual aid, learning, and peace.

These international aims are familiar aspirations, posed and preached in many versions, that we think pretty much everyone caring and sensible would align with – other things equal. Of course, other things are typically not equal, and wide allegiance to internationalism typically disappears whenever the self interested domestic pursuits of any one nation can be advanced by imperial behavior toward others – most often as an outgrowth of domestic social structures. So the basis of internationalism is ultimately to (a) clean up the domestic front by achieving the values above in each society, and (b) establish not only a norm, but also means of fulfilling those values internationally as well. Clearly this entails focusing on the institutional conditions of internationalism, which applies to all the other values as well.

Where We Fit: Participation

“The heart has its reasons
which reason knows nothing of.”
- Blaise Pascal

When we soon examine the implications of implementing the above values throughout each of society’s four spheres and two contexts, we will see that their establishment implies and requires the elimination of divisions of people into opposed sectors along kinship, community, political, or economic lines. This entails what we call feminism, intercommunalism, participatory politics, and participatory economics replacing sexism, homophobia, racism, ethnocentrism, classism and other forms of cultural, gender, political, and economic oppression with the pursuit and fulfillment of solidarity, diversity, justice, and self management. We will see what this looks like, and institutionally requires, in coming chapters.

How do we arrive at vision for all this? The task is to respect and apply the values discussed above. In the domain of society and history, if a particular set of institutions violates one’s values in unjustifiable ways, especially if the violation is extreme and intrinsic, then those institutions are not worthy of support. To reject oppressive institutions is morally and logically consistent. Anything less is hypocrisy.

If I say that I value solidarity but I advocate social relations that produce anti sociality – it means I am seriously confused, lying, or delusional. The same applies if I advocate diversity, justice, self management, stewardship, or internationalism, but support institutions that obliterate one or more of these values, not merely when there is some worthy reason why it must temporarily be done, but centrally, perpetually, and inexorably, with reasons that themselves violate the values.

If we take this brief chapter seriously, we are all potential revolutionaries, because we reject the defining institutions of modern societies due to the central, uncorrectable, and inexorable ways they violate our values.

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