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Jedediah Purdy @JedediahSPurdy
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Half-baked thread 1/7: the dominant modes of social explanation these days are poorly suited to making sense of democracy. We think of human rationality economically: individualist, narrowly calculating, lacking any sense of the collective except as a means to self-interest.
2/7 And we think about collectivity and solidarity through evolutionary psych/behavioral models that emphasize "tribal" affinities--emotional bonds, sticking to your "own kind," etc. Even in humanist circles, people will nod sagely at, "Of course people are tribal animals."
3/7 It produces a dilemma: if we think of ourselves as rational, we split into self-interested monads, and if we think of ourselves as instinctual animals, we clump together in alarming, irrational, exclusionary ways.
4/7 The moral response to all this--rights, equality, cosmopolitanism--can seem accordingly correct but powerless, "more moral," a voice of conscience like a Sunday School lesson, but with little grip on the real world.
5/7 This must have at least something to do with the intermittent sense these days that democracy, although "right," is also on some level impossible, doomed to be torn apart by "tribalism" (Trump) after it has been thoroughly weakened by self-interest (McConnell).
6/7 There are ways of thinking of the creation of institutions for collective action among equals as the quintessential concern of rationality (E.g., Richard Tuck, Free Riding (2008), The Sleeping Sovereign) (2016)--just for one set of examples).
7/7 If you believe in these modes of rationality, then you can also think of solidarity as something whose terms can be built among equals, which institutions of self-rule can make possible--not just as instinctual counterweight to selfish & instrumental rationality.
PS 1: This is perhaps part of the reason "norms" have become so attractive to thinkers recently. They substitute weakly learned habits for rational ways of being accountable to one another for how we use power--bc it is easier to believe in the former, a "nice tribalism."
PS 2: The stakes of all this are in my mind bc intensifying ecological pressure on present arrangements will make very important what kinds of arrangements people can seriously imagine creating, & "tribalism" is the grim shadow of the narrow selfish rationality ...
PS 3: ... that on standard accounts drives climate change. So one side of our dilemma seems to be driving the world into the arms of the other.
Erratum: In 4/7, I meant to say "merely moral," not "more moral."
PPS 1: To boil it down: For economic rationality, democratic participation is a cognitive error, the idea of collective self-rule mainly illusion. For evo-psych, democratic self-rule is premised on "tribal" solidarity & arbitrary at some deep level. Both make it hard ...
PPS 2: ... to marshal the resources to remake collective life on terms we can justify to one another as existing institutions & arrangements come under increasing pressure. "Tribalism" & individual defection (gated communities, land in New Zealand) seem the "natural" results.
PPS 3: People are to a great degree what we believe ourselves to be, & many of us today have come to believe we are not a species capable of a decent response to the greatest challenges ahead.
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