Friday, August 14, 2015

What does it mean to be "Radical"?

There is a reason I identify myself as a "Radical" instead of as a "Liberal", "Progressive", "Libertarian", "Independent" or even "Conservative" despite having used most of those labels (the one thing I can't remember ever calling myself is an "Independent") at some point during my intellectual "growing-up" period. Since I haven't written anything in awhile I wanted to start what I hope to be a sustained return to ongoing activity with an introduction to who I am, what I believe, and why I identify myself the way I do. So keep reading. Hopefully, understanding me will help you reconsider how you think about certain things. I'm honestly less interested in changing minds then making people take a basic assessment of what they already believe and take close consideration of their reasons for believing it. That constructive thought is what leads to true understanding. True understanding of one's principles leads to constructive debate. Constructive debate leads to both sides reassessing their ideas and growing as needed. So read on and then feel free to post something about your own intellectual "growing-up" if you like.

One thing that I consider important is "epistemology." I like big words. If you don't, don't worry. I'm going to follow this one with a simple definition. Epistemology is the study of the theory of knowledge, ideas and whether the thinking behind them holds up under the pressure of close inspection. Do our ideas make sense? Are we capable of offering empirical evidence to support our ideas or are we forced to appeal to some authority to support our ideas? How is a carefully researched and tested scientific or scholastic theory different from an unsupported belief? What is the difference between fact and opinion? Why do we choose the words we choose in making an argument? What do those words really mean?

This brings me back to labels. Many labels really have little practical difference. Let's take "Conservative" and "Liberal." The label "Conservative" gets used pretty broadly, but it traditionally means someone who advances a set of social and economics beliefs correctly defined as "classical Liberalism." The label "Liberal", on the other hand, believes that those social and economic beliefs need to change with the way scientific and social progress change society. This is correctly defined as "Progressivism." Confusing? That's because the thinking behind the labels was confused in the first place. Classical liberalism was very liberal when the mainstream position was a mercantile economy in which a government licensed monopolies to a select group of political insiders who ran these monopolies as private business partnerships with the government. It became conservative when the capitalists went from being a middle-class advocating for greater political, social and economic rights to the dominant political and economic class. Yet the original classical liberals in England still called themselves "The Liberal Party" when they were supporting the right of capitalists to pay their workers starvation wages in Victorian England and resisting labor agitation by those same workers.

"Radical" has a clear meaning. First, it clearly identifies me as outside of so-called "mainstream" or "establishment" political thinking. The American political establishment is profoundly right wing on economic issues. The employer/employee has never entirely advanced from its feudal past even when society and politics appear to have done so. The modern "free market" is really only free for those who make a living off providing capital (what we could politely call the "Investor Class" or "Capitalist Class" if we don't like the negative connotations of the term "Leisure Class") and those who administer and execute the means by which that capital is used. That second group can best be defined as "the Corporate Class." Together they form the American economic elite: the people with the money and the people who promise to make a profit for the people with the money.  I think that system is inherently flawed in the practical sense and "bad" in the moral sense.

I support what economists have called "radical democracy." It is not enough to provide equal civil rights regardless of race or gender if social and political rights are still determined by one's share of economic property. It is necessary to provide a basic framework of economic equality before the law. This includes reforming of the civil justice and penal system, reforming of our economic system to democratize wealth to a larger degree while still rewarding hard work, creative ideas and willingness to take educated risks with capital. Capitalists have a right to a fair profit, but labor has a right to a fair wage and while the wage may need to go up and down according the demand for a product or service the fair profit also goes up and down. Nor is their empirical justification that the massive disparity between the income of the corporate class and the income of the working class provides any practical utility to society or the economy. It is simply accepted as a matter of course by both sides of the mainstream political debate. This is why Hillary Clinton is being attacked from the left by Bernie Sanders; there really isn't a huge difference between a mainstream Democrat or a mainstream Republican on a slough of economic and regulatory issues. A certain kind of voter, a disenfranchised member of what used to be the middle class and is now the working class or what used to be the working class and is now the underclass, is starting to realize that the mainstream does not care about their real needs and interests.

There are two words for freedom in Russian. "Svoboda" is the social, economic and political well-being of a community. When using this word, no one person can be truly "free" unless everyone in the community enjoys the same freedoms. Taking your freedom reduces my freedom, because it means someone can take it from me next. Increasing your freedom increases mine as well, because we are entitled to the same basic rights as members of society. Either the community is free or it is not. This is the freedom our nation needs desperately to struggle toward.

"Volia", on the other hand, is the rapacious freedom from traditional social restraints without regard for the consequences to others. It is the freedom of the pirate, the bandit, the Cossack and the corporate executive. Individuals enjoy different levels of freedom from consequences. A 17th Century pirate or 21st Century gangster is only free for as long as they are not caught. A 15th Century French nobleman or 21st Century CEO, on the other hand, usually received preferential treatment and backhanded forgiveness even when caught red-handed committing the same crimes as the pirate or the gangster.

The political establishment supports volia for the leisure class and the corporate class.

If you support svoboda for the entire community, you may be more Radical than you know. If that's the case, please keep reading! I want to give you something to think about!

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