From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Sat Oct 28 2006 - 05:21:35 EDT
Dear Jurriaan, sorry for kept you waiting. Very briefly because I am still preparing some job applications. Dogan, I wish you the best utopia you can handle, of course. But I am not much good as a discussant on this topic because my interest in this area is more in what realistic alternatives there are, and in improving my own life. Everything we do is related to what Adam Smith called 'bettering our life'. What I call utopia aims to to integrate short and long term goals in the tradition of Marx as described in the Communist Manifest. Therefore I differentiate between idealist utopia (More) and realist utopia (Smith, Marx). Realist utopia draws dialectically what ought to be from the analysis of what is. I do not accept the traditional dichotomy between IS and OUGHT. The merit of utopian thought is that it expands the realm of possibilities for human endeavour, and the horizons of the future. For example, in his "end of history" book Francis Fukuyama depicts liberal democracy as the summit of what is humanly achievable in civil society, and that idea certainly merits critique. I obviously do not agree that all utopian thinking is necessarily progressive, and it may in addition powerfully distract from what really needs to be done. As I said in one of my earlier emails utopian thought can become autoritarian if it does not rest upon real social relations (see also above). Since - applying historical thinking - utilitarian philosophy was already proposed by the Chinese philosopher Mozi (Micius) (470 - 390 BC) I do not see how utilitarianism is in any way a moral philosophy specific to capitalist society. By utilitarianism I meant modern versions of utilitarian thinking. I agree with you there has been utilitarian ethics since there are class societies. But since then there have also been sympathy and solidarity ethics too. (see Mo Tzu, 479-438, in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (trans. by Wing-Tsit-Chan), Princeton University Press, 1969, pp. 211-231). I think that what characterizes the postmodern era is precisely a moral relativism, and profound uncertainty about what moral principles are a correct basis for the allocation of resources, i.e. the lack of a consensual morality. In turn, this promotes conservative reflexes, and appeals to traditions (religious or otherwise) that might provide some security, certainty or hope. Nontheless, we can develop some objective moral criateria by analysing actual social relations and draw from this some short and long term aims to make moralty possible. The effect is that moral norms nowadays tend to be specified negatively, i.e. in terms of "what we don't want", and what the limits are for tolerable behaviour, rather than in terms of the society we do want, and the realisation of human potentials. The corollary is a largely negative politics which seeks to identify "enemies" of civilisation, "evil people", "terrorists", "objectionable behaviour" and "rogue states", to bolster the status quo, rather than ideals to which human beings should aspire; and a neoconservative "realism" which places severe limits on what is thought to be humanly achievable. One only important exception to this is a moral concern with world poverty, but even here there is hardly any clarity about why people are poor in the first place, and "poverty reduction" falls well short of the rhetoric. Take for example the simple question of feeding the world's hungry. Every day, an average of about 28,000 people die from hunger, 10 million per year. Infant mortality accounts for 6 million deaths a year. The majority die in the countryside in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Ten years ago 176 heads of state and government leaders agreed at the World Food Summit in Rome that the number of hungry people must be halved before 2015 to around 400 million, and they repeated this promise at the UN Millennium Summit in New York. One goal was halving the percentage of the population in developing countries that goes hungry, to 10 percent. However, real progress falls well behind the good intentions. Since 1990 the number of hungry was reduced by about 9 million, from 823.8 tot 814.6 million. In some regions, like parts of Asia and Central/Latin America famine was reduced. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, hunger increased by 20 percent to 203.5 million. One in three Africans suffers hunger. Industrial countries said last year they would double development aid to Africa to $50 billion before 2010, but this has not yet been achieved. African countries also promised at Maputo three years ago that they would devote 10 percent of their budgets to rural development; at present it is still below 4 percent. Development aid for agriculture was reduced from more than $9 billion at the beginning of the 1980s to less than $5 billion at the end of the 1990s. The World Health Organisation regards 2,100 kilocalories per day per person as a minimum - people in rich countries consume on average 3,400 kilocalories daily. According to the WHO, 1.5 billion people in the world are too fat. More than two billion people suffer either "hidden hunger" or undernourishment because of illness. "Yet, there is enough food produced to feed everybody on earth, so this is a realizable utopia." But what is to be done? What produces world poverty? Are there not some essential changes needed in the way we produce and distribute wealth and is it not realistic to aim at some essential changes in that respect? Chavez is for me one of the greatest contemporary utopian politicians. Is he autoritarian because he implements politics against the interests of the rich? Or is he not one of the greatest democracts because he takes into account the interests of the huge majority of the population in Venezuella? Possibly you are linking utilitarianism to the doctrine of utility-maximising behaviour beloved of neoclassical economics, I don't know, but much human behaviour cannot be explained in terms of utility-maximising behaviour. The doctrine can do so only by resorting to definitional tautologies and caricatures. I agreewith you. This is exactly what I am trying to show in my forthcoming book on Smith, in the sense that Smith is criticising utilitarianism exactly because of these reasons you put forward. In this sense lets do what is possible in every step in our everday life to improve our lifes. But lets not forget about that there are some essential changes necessary to secure them. Yours in fraternite Dogan.
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