RevolutionZ

Ep 2- Vision: Ethics Matters

May 20, 2019 Season 1 Episode 2
RevolutionZ
Ep 2- Vision: Ethics Matters
Chapters
RevolutionZ
Ep 2- Vision: Ethics Matters
May 20, 2019 Season 1 Episode 2
Michael Albert
Settling on values suitable for guiding social vision.
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 2 of RevolutionZ discusses values and their application to judging and envisioning societies. It argues the merits of settling on five values useful for motivating and guiding new vision: Equity, Self Management, Solidarity, Diversity, and Sustainability. It explores each value, and applies them to assessing current society. Doing so indicates the need for a new society and for new vision and strategy on the road to that new society.

This being only our second episode, I am still learning how to talk into a lonely microphone without seeing any audience, learning how to edit the recording, and learning even how to write these notes. If you have reactions, questions, or especially advice and suggestions, please send to michael.albert@zmag.org

To support RevolutionZ, please visit our Patreon Page.



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Speaker 1:
0:01
Hello and welcome to the second episode of RevolutionZ. Our topic for this episode is ethics that justify and can guide seeking a new society.
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0:11
Leonard Cohen sang, "Everybody knows the dice are loaded. Everybody knows the fight was fixed. The poor stay poor. The rich get rich."
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0:19
Dylan's version of the same thought was the song. “Everything's broken.” “Ain't no use jiving, ain't no use joking. Everything is broken.”
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0:28
Confucious so long ago had a related observation. He wrote, “if language is not correct then what is said is not what is meant. If what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone. If this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate. If justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence, there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”
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0:54
I read a recent news article that said it takes just 3.7 seconds of audio to clone a voice. This alarming achievement wherein a computer can perfectly mimic anyone's voice, putting any words in that person's mouth, was announced by Chinese tech giant Baidu. A year ago, that company's voice cloning tool had to hear 30 minutes of a person talking to clone her voice. Now, only under four seconds, or so said the report. Imagine the words that might be heard from seemingly Sanders say, or seemingly you, though never uttered by Sanders or by you. What would Confucius say to that? “Ain't no use jiving, ain't no use joking. Everything is broken.”
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0:53
We live in very troubling times to get out of these times into a better world we have to know where we want to go. We have to enunciate our destination in our own voices with no broken dice, with things being fixed, and with language correct. Contributing to that is our agenda for RevolutionZ.
Speaker 1:
1:50
Often allegiance to some vision for the future springs from one or another, ideological commitment - Marxism, anarchism, feminism, libertarianism, even neo liberalism and so on. But that type visionary allegiance tends to take for granted it's underlying ideology and to only rarely explicitly address it's defining aspects. Later, nonetheless, people who support goals ideologically often fight with each other over their unexamined and even unstated differences. A disturbing but undeniable truth is that such clashing can get more than a bit cultish. A partisan shouts, we are right. We are best because we are us. The ideologue always feels profound. The ideologue is often a fool.
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2:35
A second approach, the specifying what one favors is to support a few specific policies. For example, free healthcare for all, free schooling, open borders, or guaranteed minimum income, but this approach doesn't provide much guidance for going beyond the specifically favored policies. The advocate may think this is a vision. It is not.
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2:50
I prefer a different approach to try to reduce the risk of unexamined presuppositions and prevent cultish disputes, but also to expand limited scope. The idea is to settle on some values and only then assess abilities to fulfill those values for society's key areas of life.
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2:50
In other words, the idea is that when we consider how society ought to best accomplish its various functions, shared values can give us an agreed standard to organize our thoughts around. We can ask how well does what we propose for society fulfill our preferred values rather than asking how well does society implement some old ideological scripture. But then the question follows, what values might we adopt as a foundation for envisioning specific aspects of a future society?
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2:50
We know that societies impact how much goods, services, and opportunities we all receive. What value can guide that? Societies impact who makes decisions and what level of say each has, what value can guide that? Societies impact whether we tend to be hostile or supportive or even empathetic toward others. What values for that? Societies impact the range of choices and situations we each confront. What value for that? And finally, societies impact how we relate to our ecological surroundings. Do we have a value to inform that?
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4:12
First regarding how much stuff we all get, don't we favor that society be equitable and fair? Would anyone seeking a better society oppose that broad aim? Yes, it is vague, but even so it is agreeable, is it not?
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4:26
Regarding influence, we know some people favor democracy, various other modes of voting or consensus or more authoritarian options, but isn't our overarching aim that people should have ample say over their own life choices and situations? Admittedly so far that too is a bit under determined, like equity. But even so would anyone instead prefer people having little say over their own lives?
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4:46
Regarding relations between people, surely we can agree that we would like society to foster positive mutual and even caring relations and not anti sociality, can't we?
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4:57
Regarding the range of options society promotes, does anyone not prefer a wide range to a narrow range?
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5:03
And finally regarding relations to the ecology, does anyone not prefer survival as a value as compared to suicide?
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5:09
So suppose we tentatively take this list, equity, self management, solidarity, diversity, and sustainability as a starting place. Can't we even now say that a society, part of a society, or even a single institution is better to the extent it does a better job of fulfilling equity, self management, solidarity, diversity and sustainability and is worse to the extent that it violates those values.
Speaker 1:
5:34
Can we say that is that if a society is more equitable, where we determine just what this means for different aspects of social life, that's better? And if it is more inequitable, that's worse? If a society comes closer to delivering all its members ample self managed, say over their own lives, that's better? And if it denies people such say that's worse? If a society fosters people mutually supporting one another, that's better? And if it causes people to constantly seek to oppose one another, that's worse? If a society has more diversity and less homogeneity, that's better? And if it has the reverse, that's worse? And if a society is sustainable, that's better? And if it violates ecological balance, that's worse?
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6:17
If we can agree on that, we have made some progress, but just indicating what's better and what's worse doesn't demonstrate that any of our preferred values can be significantly attained by a society, much less all of them at once.
Speaker 1:
6:29
And having the list doesn't clarify the specific meaning of the proposed values in specific settings such as economic life, political life, family life or culture. Nonetheless, the list does already say look at various facets of society, specify what the proposed values mean in each context, and then reject institutions that violate the values and envision and seek new institutions that fulfill the values.
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6:53
It follows that if our current societies do well in fulfilling equity, self management, solidarity, diversity, and ecological sustainability, we don't need to try to envision drastically altered ways of carrying out social tasks because in that case, the ways we now have would be adequate or even excellent. But if our current societies do poorly, much less horribly at fulfilling these values, then we would have great reason to envision drastically altered options for carrying out social tests and great reason to proceed with attempting to achieve those new options.
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7:22
When a claim is made that Trump lies, while for some purposes, listing a few thousand instances of his lies may prove helpful, really just a few choice instances make the case. Better to spend one’s time battling Trump and especially defining and seeking an alternative to Trumpism than to repeatedly excoriate him. And the same holds for the claim that contemporary societies violate our values. Though we could pile up evidence to mountainous levels, a few choice indicators should suffice.
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7:49
Regarding equity in the U.S., three individuals, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet together own more wealth than the bottom half of the country combined. Three stand on one side, a hundred million or so on the other side. That is just one fact, but think about it. It is as opposite to equity as one could imagine, and that is what I mean by a choice fact. Of course, one could go on to statistically compare the top 20% to the bottom 80% or one could impressionistically drive around various neighborhoods comparing homes, supposing one could get past the guards of the rich neighborhoods.
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8:26
One could also compare the wealth or the income of various constituencies, men and women, blacks, Latinos and whites and so on. The point is, contemporary societies offer nothing even remotely like equity. Most citizens who aren't already economically desperate are one paycheck, one unexpected illness, or one personal misstep from disaster. Perpetual panic is epidemic, but for others there is no panic, instead, incredible plenty.
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8:51
Society's inequities are perpetually enforced not only by armed guards, but by cultural repetition and celebration. Those suffering poverty are regaled with TV, movie, and other media images celebrating the rich and famous and their unattainable and even inconceivable lifestyles even on sports talk shows, incredibly, the focus has shifted from celebrating or analyzing the details of performance in years past to more recently studying the mechanics of contracts. We listen to commentators wrapped up in knots of respect for 100, 200, and even $300 million contracts for single athletes. They sagely tell us that that isn't enough. Or in some cases that is a little too much. And we are given this as our entertainment literally to root for and to find escape and solace and excitement in, and we do so because what else is there?
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9:44
Look no further for equity unless you wish to wallow in the pain of an endless river of evermore depressing details. The bottom line: equity is obliterated by a few people owning workplaces and the rest not, by a few people monopolizing skills and information and the rest not, by many suffering the denials imposed by racism, sexism, homophobia, and other social geographic and age related divisions. More society not only generates and defends vast inequities it celebrates them as if inequity is necessary and even virtuous, but that assertion piles, indignity and stupidity on top of subjugation.
Speaker 1:
10:19
There's not even a contrary pretense that denies the existence of unaccountable accumulated wealth. Similarly, no one denies Gargantuan yearly income, palatial mansions, inequitable healthcare, and schooling. Equity? We don't have any and everybody knows it.
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10:34
Regarding self management, the story is basically the same. Most societal decisions occur with the vast majority of the population not even knowing a decision is being made much less having a say. Law and disorder, prosecution and revenge, war and military spending, what is produced with what means and norms, the composition of jobs, and the distribution of responsibilities, what is available to consume and what isn't, and the norms of admiration and ridicule that pervade the culture. All of these are beyond even our purview, much less our influence. How many times have you expressed your view on the above matters with the slightest hope that your view, your preferences, would influence choices?
Speaker 1:
11:12
It turns out that the abhorrent fact that candidates for office win and lose due to media and financial machinations and not due to honest and formed accounting of substantial views they actually hold and would implement is actually only the surface of society's denial of people having a say in the outcomes most affecting their lives.
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11:31
Did any person addicted to opioids have any say in the pharmaceutical decisions that addicted them other than saying yes to a doctor's advice or desperately seeking drugs on the street to survive pain and alienation? We all know the answer is no and similarly it is no to dozens of similar questions we could investigate. For example, do policed communities have appropriate self managing influence over the policing they endure. In workplaces do most workers, about 80%, have any say about anything at all or do they have to accept a degree of subservience in many ways even exceeding that imposed by dictators? Not even Hitler or Stalin ever told a population when it could or could not go to the bathroom, something that occurs daily in many workplaces. In Institutions across society the relative few decide virtually all outcomes and the rest obey and endure. It isn't just that we don't have self management. It is that we have its opposite and everybody knows it.
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12:25
What about solidarity? It is not for nothing that we say it's a dog eat dog world, a rat race, everyone for themselves. It's because that's our experience. Market relations require that we buy cheap and sell dear. My gain is your loss and vice versa. Fleece or be fleeced. Schooling, culture, and even upbringing ratify that. This is how it is and how It will always be. You better get yours while you can, others be damned. In our societies, humans appear to be nastier to other humans than dogs to dogs and rats to rats.. Our fetishization of Numero Uno, our competitive economics, and our perverse culture make it so.
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13:01
Consider the aphorism nice guys finish last. First, It is basically true. My more extreme version would be that garbage rises, which if you think about it, is also true. Just look at the White House. The flip side is if you don't want to be nasty, you don't want to turn yourself into garbage so as to finish first, and many people do retain enough humanity to opt out of that option, then to avoid being repressed on top of being denied, you need to at least accept the subservience that inevitably punishes your civility. That we live in a rat race, that nice guys finish last, that garbage rises reveals that solidarity, much less empathy is an ethical orphan in our society. We all know it, we all endure it or like Trump, we take advantage of it.
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13:02
Onto diversity, and here I suppose an argument could ensue. Some will feel with our hundred channels and countless brands of this and that, diversity is in the saddle, but I would contest even that.
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12:28
Consider blacks, whites, workers, professionals, women, LGBT people and other constituencies you can no doubt name. Each to a considerable degree differs from all the others in its modes of living, dress, music, film, Sports, and even diet preferences. Is this all just free choice among options and therefore diversity, or is it just the impact of homogenization within opposed groups? For that matter is the diversity of, say, the Internet really diversity, when a handful of sites garner a huge percentage of all web views and an even smaller handful mediate an even higher percentage of all online social communication?
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14:34
I won't press this issue overly, but perhaps you will take a moment to imagine you are artested and hauled off. Suppose in jail there is a commissary. You arrive and find its offerings abhorrent. For a couple of weeks you stay away and get nothing, but left with no other recourse, in pursuit of something better than nothing you start to make choices among the limited commissary offerings. Soon, when you visit the commissary, the array of offerings seems reasonable, even plentiful compared to well, the nothing you had for the two weeks you avoided it.
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15:06
At that point, you start to differentiate, to want this more than that. Are you enjoying diversity that speaks to your unfettered inclinations or are you making the best of a horrible poverty of options? And by analogy, are society’s citizens enjoying diversity in society's malls, on its TV, seeking and doing its jobs, and all the rest, or, are we making due with a horrible poverty of options by bending our preferences to fit the intellectually, socially and ethically limited range of society's offerings? Is Coke or Pepsi, Ford or Toyota, one boring stultifying job or another, Tweedledee or Tweedledum diversity, or is it just making the best of a horribly restricted array of options?
Speaker 1:
15:48
The fifth value we offered was sustainability or ecological sanity. This is arguably the most calamitous failing of the bunch, and, again, everyone knows it. The world is at risk. Elites that aren't literally lunatic give lip service to global warming, but at the same time, humanity barrels over a cliff of our own creation. Suffice to say, climate catastrophe resource depletion and poisonous pollution threaten human survival. You can't get much more of a violation of a paramount value than that. And yes, again, everybody knows it, but a question arises.
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16:21
If everybody knows, why are we not all up in arms? Why hasn't our knowing how horribly our societies restrict and even threaten our lives due to violating our values enough to galvanize massive, sustained revolutionary desire, education, and activism. I think a Catch 22 is at work.
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16:38
Everybody does know all kinds of devastatingly horrible truths about our societies, but only a ridiculously small number of us think it is anything other than just the way things are. And even among that small number who do really deeply believe that another world is possible, only a still smaller group believes they have any way to contribute to bringing it about.
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16:59
So we have a Catch 22. Without a compelling shared vision of how society could be better and an informed shared belief that the massive impediments to reaching that better society are overcomeable by actions we can contribute to, why should people give any time to that project, including to the initial task of generating and sharing vision and developing working strategy?
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17:18
The greatest enemy of potential progress, cynicism, turns out to be a personally self-serving, albeit socially suicidal disposition. It gets us through the day. It threatens to end all days. Maybe a podcast addressing vision and strategy at our unusual moment of a resurgent and surprisingly widespread espousal of socialist aspirations can help. That is the hope behind RevolutionZ. It is why this episode offered a list of values, equity, self management, solidarity, diversity, and sustainability, to keep in mind as a guide as we tackle developing hope in and commitment to shared vision and strategy.
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17:54
This is Michael Albert signing off until the next time for RevolutionZ.
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