[OPE-L] Robert Owen

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sat Oct 21 2006 - 16:46:04 EDT

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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