Tag: Philosophy (Page 1 of 4)

Social Contract Theory

By: David Antonini from 1000-Word Philosophy

When you make an agreement of some significance (e.g., to rent an apartment, or join a gym, or divorce), you typically agree to certain terms: you sign a contract. This is for your benefit, and for the the other party’s benefit: everyone’s expectations are clear, as are the consequences of failing to meet those expectations.

Contracts are common, and some influential thinkers in the “modern” period of philosophy argued that the whole of society is created and regulated by a contract.

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Stoicism & the Destruction of Man

By: Glen Paul Hammond

Recently, the American Psychological Association (APA) took aim at “traditional masculinity” by, amongst other things, criticizing “stoicism” as one of its problematic characteristics (APA Guidelines 11). But the essence of stoicism, and our understanding of it, stems from a philosophy that is meant to allow the individual to reach their full potential as a human. What follows, then, is an argument for both the preservation of stoicism and its maintenance in the concept of masculinity.

In its most basic form, rationality or reason is the hallmark of Stoic philosophy. Speaking from this perspective, Epictetus (55-135 AD), the famous Stoic philosopher, described a human being as “a rational animal, subject to death” and so encouraged people to focus on the instrument of reason as a means of distinguishing themselves from the beasts without it. Failure to do so is to let the human inside of you perish.

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Plato’s Crito: When should we break the law?

By: Spencer Case from 1000-Word Philosophy

Plato’s Crito describes a conversation that takes place in 399 B.C.E. in an Athens prison, where Socrates awaits execution.

Not long before, an assembly of more than 500 Athenian citizens convicted Socrates of corrupting the youth and impiety, essentially failing to respect the gods of the city. Socrates denied these charges. Moreover, he insisted that his public philosophizing, far from being subversive, was for the benefit of Athens and in the service of the god Apollo.

The jury wasn’t convinced, however, and found him guilty. They were further incensed when, during the sentencing stage of the trial, Socrates suggested that his “punishment” should be a lifetime supply of free meals at the prytaneum, or central hearth, an honor typically reserved for Olympic champions and the like. These antics did not play well and Socrates received the death penalty. A religious observance delayed the execution for a few weeks, but it now appears imminent.

Enter Crito, a friend with deep pockets and deeper affection for Socrates. Early one morning, Crito shows up at Socrates’ cell with an escape plan. He bribed the jailer and, with the help of other friends, has arranged for Socrates to be whisked away to Thessaly, another Greek city-state. There Socrates can live out his remaining years in exile with his family, who will also leave Athens. Everything has been taken care of except for the hardest part: convincing Socrates to agree with the plan (43a-44b, 45c).

Anyone who knows Socrates knows that this isn’t going to be easy. Crito is determined to save his friend’s life, however, and so he comes armed with a battery of arguments. Crito knows that Socrates isn’t afraid of death, and so he wisely appeals to considerations that are the most likely to resonate with Socrates: his sense of honor and his obligations to others.

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Democratic Socialism: An Impossible Dream? II

An Article in Two Parts, by Craig Collins 
Read Part One Here 

Part Two: Energy & Economics Shapes Politics

The first part of this article asserted that, contrary to the prevailing mythology on both sides of the Cold War, socialist revolutions never succeeded in creating genuine democratic socialism. Then, several insufficient explanations for why socialist revolutions failed to produce socialism were critiqued. Finally, a more comprehensive hypothesis was offered: Perhaps a rapidly expanding, multi-state, globalized industrial economy—powered by an energy base of fossil fuels—is incompatible with nationally restricted efforts to bring it under genuine democratic control. Part Two will explore this hypothesis in more detail and consider its implications for building genuinely egalitarian, democratic societies in a post industrial future powered by renewable energy.

In hindsight, it appears that the physical constraints and social requirements imposed by globalized industrialism foster undemocratic, hierarchical economic relations resembling either corporatist or statist political economies that resist bottom-up, democratic governance. This is the most feasible, comprehensive explanation for the failure of democratic socialism in both emerging and mature industrial societies. The other piecemeal theories discussed in part one are partially accurate, yet limited, derivatives of this pervasive, underlying restriction on genuine economic democracy.

The problem solving theoretical principle known as Occam’s razor (or the law of parsimony) considers the strongest theory to be the one that provides the simplest, most comprehensive explanation in line with the evidence.[1] The conclusion that economic democracy is incompatible with the hierarchical, vertically organized structure of industrial production meets these criteria.

By its very nature, fossil-fueled industrialism promotes extensive, highly integrated economies of scale that require top-down managerial direction. Complicated, highly mechanized, global chains of industrial production frustrate nationally confined, workplace-centered economic democracy. They require an managerial elite to oversee the planning, administration, and supervision these technologically elaborate, vertically integrated operations. Therefore, it becomes virtually impossible to govern these political economies in a decentralized, democratic manner—especially when chains of production override and transcend national borders.

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Democratic Socialism: An Impossible Dream?

An Article in Two Parts, by Craig Collins

Part One: Socialist Mythology vs. Statist Reality

The founders of “scientific socialism,” Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, assumed it was quite possible, even historically inevitable, for working people to democratically govern an industrial society. However, they never went into detail about how this would work. Even today, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many orthodox Marxists persist in believing that vast, complex, globalized, industrial economies can be run by and for the workers who operate the machinery of production. In fact, doctrinaire Marxists still cling to the fantasy that worker-run industrial socialism is not only possible, it is the historically destined, superior replacement for industrial capitalism.

This Marxist conviction is dubious for two reasons. First, history has demonstrated that after many attempts, and despite their best intentions, the leaders of “socialist” revolutions have never succeeded in building an industrial society run by and for working people. Second, the primary underlying reason for this failure flows from the structural requirements of industrial society. Fossil-fueled industrial economies exert a powerful influence over their social and political structures. The extensive, intricate, hierarchical configuration of carbon-powered industrialism appears structurally unsuited and deeply resistant to bottom-up, democratic management.

Socialist Revolutions Without Socialism

As originally intended by Marx and Engels, a socialist society would be run democratically, by the vast majority of working people, on the basis of human need, not profit. In other words, socialism meant economic, social, and political democracy. They believed worker-run socialism would eventually become classless communism, as industry produced enough wealth to satisfy everyone’s basic needs and people became accustomed to contributing their abilities to a commonwealth that encouraged their talents and potentials in return.

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Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought

By: David Antonini from 1000-Word Philosophy

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), born in Hanover, Germany, was a public intellectual, refugee, and observer of European and American politics. She is especially known for her interpretation of the events that led to the rise of totalitarianism in the twentieth century.

Arendt studied under German philosophers Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers and set out to pursue a path as an academic, writing a dissertation on St. Augustine. However, Hitler, the Nazi regime’s rise to power, and the bloody Holocaust forever changed her life. Being Jewish, Arendt was forced to flee the country, seeking refuge in France and eventually the United States. After living through the outbreak of WWII, Arendt devoted the rest of her life to writing about politics, although less in a traditional philosophical sense and more in the vein of a political observer, interpreting events of the twentieth century.

This essay explains some central insights of her political thought and how she developed these concepts to overcome the loss of politics as public debate in Nazi Germany.

1. Totalitarianism and the Loss of Public Debate

 Arendt understands “politics” as public debate by a community about meaningful aspects of their shared life together. She witnessed the collapse of politics, in this sense, under Nazi totalitarianism. This form of rule seeks to diminish public debate by making it a criminal act to criticize the regime. Arendt sought to understand the rise of this unprecedented form of government, and to defend public debate against threats to its existence.

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Catabolic Capitalism & Green Resistance

By: Craig Collins

In the first installment of this two-part article we examined the notion that any future without globalization must be an improvement.  But globalization and growth only constitute capitalism’s expansionist phase, powered by abundant fossil fuels.  As energy becomes scarce, boom turns to bust.  But profit-hungry capitalism doesn’t die; it morphs into its zombie-like, undead phase.

Growth-less capitalism turns catabolic.  The word catabolism is used in biology to refer to the condition whereby a living thing feeds on itself.  Thus, catabolic capitalism is a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by consuming the society that sustains it.[1]  As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.  Unless we bring it down, catabolic capitalism will leave its survivors rummaging through the toxic rubble left behind.

Capitalism is adept at exploiting human weaknesses, especially greed and fear.  During the period of rapid expansion, greed provides the most powerful incentive for investors, while fear comes in a distant second.  Investors are encouraged to take big risks and go into debt in the hope of scoring windfall profits.  Speculative bubbles grow rapidly as people try to make it rich on the next big deal.  But when boom turns to bust, fear takes the drivers seat.  In these troubled times, the most profitable ventures capitalize on insecurity, desperation and scarcity.

In the era of fossil fuel abundance, catabolic capitalists worked the dim back alleys of the growth economy.  But, as the productive sector atrophies and the financial sector seizes up, this parasitic sector emerges from the shadows and proliferates rapidly.  It thrives off anxiety and hoarding; corruption and crime; conflict and collapse.  Catabolic capitalism profits by confiscating and selling off the stranded assets of the bankrupt productive and public sectors; dodging or dismantling legalities and regulations while pocketing taxpayer subsidies; hoarding scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; and preying upon the utter desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.

This looming catabolic future will transform the Green New Deals proposed by eco-optimists like Al Gore, Lester Brown and Jeremy Rifkin into ecotopian pipe dreams…unless we exorcise capitalism’s profit possession from the economy.[2]  Instead of investing society’s remaining resources into a sustainable recovery and renewal, catabolic capitalism will eat away at society like a cancerous tumor.  A malignant alliance of parasitic profiteers, resource cartels and weapons merchants will infect the body politic and poison any effort to prevent them from ransacking the economy and the Earth.  If society succumbs to their all-consuming thirst for profit, life will become a dismal affair for everyone but them.

However, at the risk of sounding over-optimistic, the approaching period of catabolic collapse presents some strategic opportunities to those who would like to rid the world of this system as soon as possible.  The end of growth seriously erodes the legitimacy of capitalism by undermining its capacity to meet the needs of everyday life. 

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Catabolic Capitalism: The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

By: Craig Collins

“Out of the frying pan, into the fire” is an apt description of our current place in history. No matter what you think of globalization, I believe we’ll soon discover that capitalism without it is much, much worse.

No one needs to convince establishment economists, politicians and pundits that the absence of globalization and growth spells trouble. They’ve pushed globalization as the Viagra of economic growth for years. But globalization has never been popular with everyone. Capitalism’s critics recognize that it generates tremendous wealth and power for a tiny fraction of the Earth’s seven billion people, makes room for some in the middle class, but keeps most of humanity destitute and desperate, while trashing the planet and jeopardizing human survival for generations to come.

On the Left, a loose alliance of ecology and labor activists, small farmers, indigenous peoples and human rights advocates has disrupted international economic summits for many years. They say malignant capitalism demolishes habitats and poisons ecosystems, wreaks havoc with the climate, destroys indigenous cultures, pushes farmers off their land and into slums and erodes wages by pitting desperate workers around the globe against one another. At annual World Social Forums, these social movements voice their opposition to globalization and growth and unite around the belief that “Another World Is Possible!” They work toward the day when neoliberal globalization is replaced by a more democratic, equitable, Earth-friendly society.

Since globalization is so damaging, most activists assume that any future without it is bound to be an improvement. But now, it appears that this assumption may be wrong. In fact, for all of its depredations, future generations may someday look back on capitalism’s growth phase as the halcyon days of industrial civilization, a naïve time before anyone realized that the worst was yet to come.

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Capsule Introduction to Capitalism and Socialism

by Victor Wallis

A short introduction to key terms in political theory by the author of Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism

A capitalist society is one in which the major decisions about what is produced (and how, and how much, and for whom) are made by the capital-owning class and/or its representatives. Capital differs from earlier forms of wealth in that it is liquid, i.e., it can be bought and sold on the market. Capitalist wealth includes machinery (what Marx called “means of production,” or capital in the narrow sense), but it also includes land and financial instruments (money, stocks & bonds, etc.).

Most of this wealth is concentrated in large corporations or financial institutions, whose goal is to maximize their own profits. To do this, they must sell as much as possible and pay out as little as possible. Sales are maximized by responding not simply to needs but rather to market-demand (i.e., needs or wants backed by purchasing power). Market-demand is in turn shaped partly by public policy (e.g., if there’s no mass transit, more people will have to buy cars) and partly by a whole culture of advertising and public relations. At the same time, costs are minimized by paying workers as little as possible (including moving production to low-wage areas) and by skimping on such matters as waste-disposal and workplace safety & health.

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Featured Author: Victor Wallis

Victor Wallis is a professor of Liberal Arts at the Berklee College of Music. Wallis was for twenty years the managing editor of Socialism and Democracy and has been writing on ecological issues since the early 1990s. His writings have appeared in journals such as Monthly Review and New Political Science, and have been translated into thirteen languages.

His new book Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism is available now from Political Animal Press.

“Finally, we have the definitive work on ecosocialism with Red-Green Revolution. Victor Wallis brings his brilliant editorial skills to writing a highly readable, compelling, and essential book, a must read for everyone who cares about the fate of the earth in this era of capitalist implosion with socialism no longer a possible alternative, but rather a requirement for survival.”

Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Red-Green Revolution is an impassioned and informed confrontation with the planetary emergency brought about by accelerated ecological devastation in the last half-century.

In clear and accessible language, Wallis argues that sound ecological policy requires a socialist framework, based on democratic participation and drawing on the historical lessons of earlier efforts.

Wallis presents a relentless critique of the capitalist system that has put the human species into a race against time to salvage and restore what it can of the environmental conditions necessary for a healthy existence. He then looks to how we might turn things around, reconsidering the institutions, technologies, and social relationships that will determine our shared future, and discussing how a better framework can evolve through the convergence of popular struggles, as these have emerged under conditions of crisis.

This is an important book, both for its incisive account of how we got into the mess in which we find ourselves, and for its bold vision of how we might still go forward.

Articles by Victor Wallis on Political Animal Magazine:

The US Left: A Short Introduction

On the Precipice

Capsule Introduction to Capitalism and Socialism

Wholesale Crimes

A Sound Ecological Policy Cannot Be Achieved Within a Capitalist Framework

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