THE DARK ENLIGHTENMENT
[T]he novel concept that the enlightenment’s optimistic, heroic, equalitarian view of man has proven to be wrong, that the dirty secret of our genome project is that we are profoundly unequal, and that by consequence our civic religion based upon this error, as well as the political system that we use to ritualize and celebrate that religion, is simply a new mysticism that replaces the old mysticism, with an equally false premise.
While I am not technically part of this movement, because the purpose of that movement is to understand, make arguments for, and criticize enlightenment equalitarianism, and not to provide solutions given that we know that it is false, I do, in effect, subscribe to its premise. The difference is, that I am working to solve the problem of political order – cooperation in a division of knowledge and labor – DESPITE our inequality, rather than debate who should or should not have power over others because of either equality or inequality. I have abandoned both the optimistic libertarian as well as rational classical liberal prescriptions for social order, because both of them rely upon a requirement that members of a economic polity ‘believe’ in the sanctity or utility of the same social and political order. Both libertarianism and classical liberalism as currently structured require from their adherents a homogenous preference for means and ends. And as I have argued extensively, it is not possible for us to have these similar means and ends, especially given that women’s reproductive and social strategy is in direct conflict to that of men’s. While it may be possible to compromise between men of different classes, it is not possible to compromise between the genders without the armistice provided by the nuclear family. And the nuclear family is a product of that settled and static agrarian order – an order which we no longer live in. Without that agrarian order the truce between male and female reproductive strategies is broken and both fight through the violence of the state to obtain their preferred order at the expense of the other’s preference.
While we are unequal, it doesn’t really matter which gender, class, race, or culture is superior or inferior unless you are arguing that one group should control another. While it’s true that some groups are superior to others – and it’s true that much of that superiority comes from the distributions of certain talents within that group and therefore the norms that develop to suit that distribution – that acknowledgement doesn’t, in itself, help us at all. Because even if we are unequal, we must cooperate peacefully for mutual benefit – if only so that we do not engage in mutually harmful conflict. And while this is a less positive and inspirational view of man, it is both true and utilitarian, and as such provides us with a superior premise with which we may create constructive institutional solutions to the problem of cooperation between groups with different distributions of talents, and therefore norms and preferences.
If we possess the knowledge that we are unequal and in permanent opposition on desired ends, the question then, is how do we create institutions of human cooperation that do not rely upon a false assumption of equality of ability, interest or preference? The market provides us with some insights, because the market illustrates how people can cooperate on means even if they have opposing ends, or are unaware of each other’s desired ends. But contrary to libertarian reasoning, there are problems that cannot be solved within the market structure because of human moral sensibilities. Mostly, that we create governments largely to make both normative and physical capital investments, which include prohibitions on involuntary transfer or privatization of those normative and physical capital investments. ie: humans consider appropriation of the commons cheating and they deplore cheating. And universally demonstrate that they deplore it, in every conceivable manner without exception. The most obvious example is that it has been extremely difficult to create the normative perception that competition is a good rather than a theft of the commons, despite the pervasive evidence that competition benefits all.
The structural problem with our political systems and our philosophy of government is that we carry with them the idea of an abstract common good that is somehow achievable through intentional cooperation on ends. Rather than achievable through unintended cooperation on ends but cooperation on means. And therefore we rationalize the creation of laws in support of a fictional and unknowable common good, instead of using government as a vehicle for constructing contracts that consist of voluntary exchanges between groups or classes as we do in the market, and prohibiting cheating on those contracts. This contractual rather than legislative government allows us to cooperate on means if not ends in those circumstances where ‘cheating’ would create a barrier to shared investment.
The English managed to accomplish this feat of inter-class cooperation with parliaments and divided houses. Unfortunately, we did not add additional houses for the proletariat and instead, given our new religious doctrine of the equality of man, we collapsed our houses rather than expanded them. As such, what has occurred, is that government is no longer the vehicle by which people with separate interests reach compromise via exchange for mutual benefit. But that we use every political and extra-political process to attempt to gain control of the monopolistic and dictatorial process of law making. In America the conservatives have hired the capitalists to defend them from government and the proletarians and single women (who are the majority of women) have hired the government to extract revenues from the middle classes. The conservatives use think tanks and the progressives use popular media. The list is infinite.
While I am still working out what I believe are the particulars, it is quite possible to have institutions that promote cooperation among people with dissimilar interests. We need not revert to small states – although that would be preferable in almost every way I can imagine. And even within small states, we do not have to conduct constant political competitions all of which are predicated upon lies, because our civic religion and its political institutions are predicated upon the enlightenment lie of human equality of both ability and interest.
The Dark Enlightenment presents us with an uncomfortable scientific reality that is as painfully inescapable for our secular religion as was Darwin for the mystical religion of the church. And I am, in some way, part of this movement in the sense that I acknowledge the truth of human inequality. But that said, I do not believe our political philosophy can accomodate this reality without practical institutional solutions. I am not interested in complaints about an obvious institutional ailment, I’m interested in solutions to that ailment.
To argue that one political system or another will place one class or another in control of other classes is to argue that some group will agree to suffer deprivation without receiving something in exchange for their adherence to norm, custom and rule. This is as illogical an assumption as is equality.
Until both conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians understand that we require institutions that accomodate the insights of the Dark Enlightenment that do not involve re-nationalization (despite it’s attractiveness) they will continue to spout what is in effect, a religion of HOMOGENEITY OF INTEREST, which is as false as the homogeneity of ability that they criticize in the enlightenment.
Our problem is not in developing a consensus on what is best. It is in developing institutions that allow us to cooperate in complex political orders the way that we cooperate in the market: on means if not ends, using contracts, not laws, because privatization of the commons or ‘cheating’ is too high a transaction cost to be overcome without institutions that satisfy the moral prohibition on cheating.
In this sense, we have our political philosophy backwards. We think we must create homogeneity in order to achieve a collective end. When in fact, we need to achieve multitudinous ends, and can only do so, if we prohibit ‘cheating’. Morality in all cultures is a set of rules that prohibit cheating – transfer of the commons. It is a necessary and irreversible property of the human animal, without which cooperation could not have evolved. And prohibition on cheating, so that capital can be concentrated, both normative and physical, is, after the ability to calculate using money and numbers, the primary institutional development necessary for a division of knowledge and labor – from which all our prosperity descends.
December 3, 2012 11:00AM, Kiev, Ukraine.