Friday, May 04, 2007

"We Believe," I Believe, Whatever

Golden State pull off the upset and drubs the Dallas Mavericks to win their NBA playoff series. It's a big big upset. Baron Davis (who Flaco calls "The Beard"), who was basketball genius in the series, is a hero. Everyone carries everyone else out on their shoulders. "We Believe" is the t-shirt slogan. Congratulations are in order.

I don't "believe." Not in the Golden State Warriors. Great for them and their fans, but sports euphoria is fleeting. Being a San Diego Padres baseball fan, I've never had close to the opportunity to believe. They were demolished, humiliated in both of their World Series appearances. My basketball team is San Antonio, but I don't have any particularly thick conviction there. I don't believe in a god(s), and I don't need to believe in a god(s). I don't believe in heroes. I'm certainly not going to heroize political leaders or parties - that leads us down the road to moral destruction, as it has with the current administration, because faith blinds us to critical accountability, which happens to be one of the most basic functions of citizens.

The problem today is that I still believe in the basic goodness - or promise of goodness - of human relationships, and thus the virtue of loyalty to loyalty that the mainly (ironically) forgotten American philosopher Josiah Royce maintained was the basis of human decency.
...a cause is good, not only for me, but for mankind, in so far as it is essentially a loyalty to loyalty, that is, an aid and a furtherance of loyalty in my fellows. It is an evil cause in so far as, despite the loyalty that it arouses in me, it is destructive of loyalty in the world of my fellows. (Royce 1995 [1908], 56)
I'm losing that faith. I've long struggled against the dumbly assumed proposition that human beings are fundamentally competitive because intrinsically self-interested, self-maximizing. That struggle takes place not only at a personal level, but also at the level of how I've thought about philosophy and public policy as an academic. I now think I was wrong. I hate to be a cynic on a Friday when we're supposed to begin forgetting our worries for the next two days, but much of the world is rigged. And much of our intellectualized moral efforts go to telling ourselves that it is not and that we individually usually have good intentions despite the harm caused by rigging. One element of harm falls on those individuals caught up unexpectedly in the rigging. The harm is both immediate - that individual may have invested much time, energy, and effort in hope of an eventual outcome that would be beneficial to all. It turns out that this was wasted time. Perhaps that person didn't have full information in making that investment. Nonetheless, there's often good reason for resentment when one's loyalty is used or betrayed, and resentment is a purely corrosive attitude. But the harm is further exacerbated in that each instance of it serves to create conditions in which, the next time, we will act purely based on self interest. We gradually create a world of self-interested beings who avoid placing themselves in positions that could lead to resentment. That ultimately means using loyalty as a means rather than an end. That seems to be the society we're busy creating. It's not just the mean old industrialists and side-talking politicians. It's increasingly everywhere. The ironic tragedy is that it's ultimately not in our interests.

Being a pragmatist, I see theoretical formulations and practice as inextricably intertwined; normatively, at least when they're worth pursuing, but that worth is going to be judged through both theory/practice. Theory gains its legitimacy through experience, and practice gains its legitimacy through reflection, which then gains its legitimacy through practice since practice is always informed by theory (and vice versa)....

The problem at a philosophical level is not simply when theory speaks to theory itself - that's simply a way of making our theories more sophisticated, though it can teeter at the edge of irrelevance. The problem is when theory believes itself to transcend practice. There are two consequences: 1) that theory ends up simply divorced from practice, raising the question of why we engage in it at all other than as a self-satisfying aesthetic experience. 2) that theory, by believing itself to be transcendent of practice/experience, still somehow maintains that what we need to do is take rarified theory and apply it back to practice/experience. The assumption is that if we can somehow transcend the particulars and uniqueness of experiential contexts, we can then discern the pure outlines of generalizable or even universalizable theory which can then cover all possible practical/experiential situations. God is like this, a priori thought is like this, even most consequentialism - as theory - is like this, teleological thought is like this, academic egos are like this, economists are like this.

Unfortunately, we individually also tend to be like this, although it could be otherwise. But it's more insidious and invidious because we lose sight of the basic virtues and joys of experience. I can't help but think that abusing another's loyalty or even loyalty to loyalty is truly a moral shortcoming, whatever the "rational choice" reasons for the betrayal. Much of actual experience, however, demonstrates that this is increasingly the norm. It's in moments like this that I find my own self saying, "fuck it, I'm done doing things for others. It's now all about me." In essence, I'm then saying that a world I think is built in many ways on false underlying assumptions is, in fact, all there is.

Whatever. Enough rambling....

Speak to me, fellow nihilists.


Anonymous said...

Bo Nelson smokes Cubans!
just got my GOLDEN STATE 'WE BELIEVE' t-shirt!
Go Warriors!

troutsky said...

Compassion is cultivated,like gardening, whereas loyalty is earned as in some market transaction(you know which I admire more). Listen to a little Coltrane, theory wedded to experience,grace wedded to mind, and see if you don't feel better for some crazy reason.

barba de chiva said...

Yeah, it must suck to live in D.C.

MT said...

Velcome, velcome blood brother! The dark sight iz a curse, it iz true, but you can mix still with the naive living at night and while the loud music plays, and you are a slave no longer to the need for news and analysis.

Supposedly corruption is curable or at least mitigatable with transparency. But I haven't been able to imagine governance let alone commerce and personal relations and without lies and secrets.

helmut said...

Yeah, DC....

Ché Bob said...

I am capable of feeling, acting and being greedy and self-interested. But then again I'm rewarded in this system for eliciting these elements.

What of a system that rewards cooperation, compassion and solidarity? Would these elements of my human nature be drawn out?

In the meantime, I recommend a good Coltrane, Spanish wine and a moment with nature; theory, practice and grace in a perfect menage a trois.