Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Golden Rule as a practical guide

I have been using the following paragraph on the Two-Gun Mutualism blog for some time now:
Mutualism is not a specific social, political or economic system. Mutualism as such is simply the assertion that every meaningfully social relation will have the form, at base, of an anarchic encounter between unique individuals—free absolutes—no matter what layers of convention we pile on it. To the extent that our conventions, institutions and norms respect that basic premise, we can call them “mutualist.” To the extent that we commit ourselves to viewing our relations through this lens, and exert ourselves in the extension of mutualistic freedom, we can call ourselves “mutualists.”
Unsurprisingly, I suppose, it has proved a bit dense for many readers not already familiar with the sort of analysis I've been doing there. But let's unpack it a bit. 

I understand mutualism—at its core, and apart from the character of our particular present approximations—as an ethical philosophy. We have mutuality or reciprocity—the Golden Rule, more or less—and then we have a series of applications of that principle. 

Now, there are a lot of interpretations of the Golden Rule—"do unto others as you would have others do unto you"—which hardly limp out of the starting gate before it's clear they won't be much use in application. Naturally, those are not the formulations I'm talking about. I don't want you to treat me as if I was you, simply imposing your preferences on me, any more than you want me to treat you as if you were me. To do so would simply be to deny the individuality of the other. Nor do either of us ultimately want to establish a principle which denies our own individuality—do unto others as they want you to do—in the expectation that we'll be on the receiving end of this principled self-denial at some point. In either case, our individuality is sacrificed in half of our relationship with the other. 

But if we treat one another as individualsunique individuals, with all of the emphasis that a Max Stirner might give to that term—then there is no question of sacrifice. The rule is a bit harder to apply, but nobody said this anarchy thing was going to be easy.

As we apply that standard, we want institutions that respect our uniqueness, and if we want to claim the name of "mutualist" as a sort of political identity, then we need to make sure we are walking the walk.

3 comments:

  1. It sounds like what you're saying here is that mutualism suggests a very specific identity for the individual who would apply said golden rule -- IOW, I don't treat you as the "me" that I've constructed and realized, but I treat you as another potential me, unconstructed, to be discovered, to be realized by allowing that other to be. That's generally how I conceive of it -- you *are* another me, which is why I can pretend we can communicate accurately, presume we share similar understandings of concepts and norms, etc. This gets into the concept of "commensurability" you've brought up before, how we reconcile these free absolutes and explain the dynamics of the interactions between them.

    But you're another me only in that I understand that the identity I've spent these years constructing is not by any means necessary or essential. Furthermore, I can understand things about the essential self within by understanding other people's individuality and uniqueness as expressions of a similar potential within me. I don't claim that's "right", only how I deal with the issues you've brought up, since the direction you're going feels very metaphysical and spiritual to me, and I'm highly interested in that.

    In terms of mutualism and its modern forms, this commensurability has been the subject of some disagreements between allies and me. For example, I'm not too keen on universalism at least to the extent that things like natural rights and transcendent morality are demonstrable in any way, whereas I've seen arguments from folks like Johnson and Long that seem to make syllogistic arguments that infer a type of effective transcendent natural law. I find those efforts very interesting in spite of the fact that they don't seem to get to the heart of my concerns. The issue for me is not whether you can "prove" a transcendent value, but whether you can find a value that is commensurable -- in other words, a value that can realize the uniqueness in both of us sufficient to allow us to express ourselves harmoniously and fully.

    Actually, I think that the identity we adopt is rather arbitrary in the first place, so it's not there we would locate the crux of the unique one anyway, either in ourselves or in otherselves. I've often contemplated the idea that we have aspects of personality, parts of ourselves within that we exalt and deny that form our personalities, and that allowing the expression of these unique forces within is a kind of "anarchism of the psyche". So perhaps there's a mutualist commitment not simply to treat as free absolutes those we encounter without ourselves, but also to treat as free absolutes those parts of ourselves within that we find unacceptable.

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  2. I'm afraid it's a mistake to think that you can derive anything from "the golden rule."

    The problem with "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is that it does not tell us anything about what obligations we ought to expect from others. Therefore, it does not tell us anything about our obligations to others.

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  3. Arguably, the mistake is in imagining that "obligations" is the interesting question. Anarchists obviously have some interest in being able to give ourselves a rule of conduct which is genuinely anti-authoritarian, and the strong reading of the Golden Rule does actually give us that.

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