Tuesday, July 26, 2005


For awhile now, I have been thinking about the evolution of the universe. I think that the universe will evolve to higher and higher states as it reconciles contradictory elements and forms something new out of the aspects of each; in short, the Hegelian Geist (though I somewhat reverse engineered it). But the universe as I saw it was terrifying to me: an endless expanse of white light. Yes, it was pure happiness and unity... but something was missing, a vital component.

Then I realized, in context of me GMing a campaign with a super-powerful set of old heroes, that those old heroes each were very different (in fact, sometimes seeming villainous), but each truly was a hero in the final estimation. The same could be said of the player characters in this campaign. I had found my final element: Diversity.

No, diversity was not drawn exclusively from the Western tradition; for my spiritual notion of diversity, One Way, Infinite Paths, is in fact directly purloined from the Chinese. In fact, the notion of a fundamental difference between the "Orient" and the "West" to me is a myth. One merely needs to read Bruce Lee's comments and beliefs on formlessness, available http://www.i-jkd.com/jkd.html, as well as his attempt to break the cultishness of the martial arts schools, to see what happens when East meets West. Make no mistake: Bruce Lee's philosophy as espoused in the transcripts of his books (with excellent and precise writing; http://www.brucelee.com/jeet.htm) is a libertarian one, describing the need and the methodology of personal liberation and discovering a formlessness that in fact becomes the ultimate personal form.

Why does everyone kill diversity first? It seems that this an agreement on both the Left and the Right (though worse on the Right). Very few folks are against diversity in principle. And only a slightly larger group opposes things that raise diversity with no debits. But the moment diversity and any other value are in conflict, diversity goes out the window.

See my post on vegetarianism for my discussion of consumption activism; http://arekexcelsior2.blogspot.com/2005/07/im-meat-eater-bonus-discussion-of.html . I reference this post here because of the extensive discussion of calling others hypocrites for different consumption choices. As Albert points out, as a practical matter this means that the preferences of the person launching the accusation is taken as the de facto guideline for determining hypocrisy.

Many people say, "Why should we tolerate tyranny [or inequity or patriarchy or racism] for the sake of diversity?" But I think this begs the question. Here, the conflict is between a mild gain in diversity versus an institution that, among other things, smashes diversity. Even diversity advocates often say "You shouldn't" in response to this question. But I feel that this a vanishingly small percentage of the cases. For there truly are far fewer ways to kill someone than to live a life.

To be clearer (and more long-winded): I think that most tyrannies and other illegitimate structures are fairly much the same. Not just for the tautological reason that all are tyrannies, but even in the methodologies used, the justifications employed, the things that are said, etc. Fascism and Stalinism may have thought of each other as ideological opposites, but both were totalitarian societies with heavy state involvement in the economy and a degree of a safety net, as well as ethnic repression in the name of a dominant culture.

Consider that there are an almost infinite number of imaginable, legitimate relationships between people (love, not being acquainted at all, appreciation, friendship, marriage of some kind even if not a patriarchal form, etc.) There are few relationships (murder, theft, rape, wife-beating, etc.) of these possible forms that are illegitimate.

Let's take pornography for a moment, as it clearly is something I spend a lot of time discussing. Criticisms of it stemming from folks like Jensen often reference hardcore BDSM or the seamy underside of traditional porn. But doing so ignores a few things:

A) The heterogeneity of pornography itself, which can be everything from schoolgirls to office ladies to gay orgies to cartoons
B) The diversity of art forms itself, including ones that reduce things to one-dimension to get the salient features (and yes, this is a fair description of pornography)
C) That because porn may be generally bad does not establish that every person using it is somehow problematic, especially since so few pay for it nowadays versus the rampant usage; in any respect, it may in the hands of progressive individuals be positively good

One thing that diversity advocates have to bear in mind is the contingency of things. Something may be wrong in 99% of the cases, but in that 1% it may be more than a grudging exception but something vital and useful. Technology has had all sorts of horrific side effects. It could also be used and is used to create new media, new art and new ways for democracy. In this case, that remaining percentage of technology is not just value neutral or somewhat less bad or tolerable, it is actually a positive good.

Now to turn to a vital matter in this discussion: Judgments. People on the Left who are called self-righteous or judgmental often say the comment, "But we all make judgments!" No duh. But here are two ways of doing the judgment:

1) "You don't agree with me, therefore you are anathema, a heretic and should not be listened to." (See my post on conspiracy theories for a classic example.)
2) "Fine. You've done or said something I disagree with; in fact, I think is horribly wrong. So I will try to convince you to stop, appealing to your better sensibility. In any respect, just because you did X thing [murder, rape, whatever] does not mean that is you in your totality. For you have done and felt many things in your life. You are a complex being and to reduce you to a one-phrase description, though technically accurate, leaves out a number of vital things."

What of the elementary logic that someone who is a total jerk can be right? That is a respect for diversity: it shows that someone's behavior needs to be analyzed individually, not as a sum where if 51% or 91% of the time they're wrong we ignore the 49% or 9%.

What of respect for one's foes? Is that not a recognition that, if we find that not everything is as cut and dry as we thought, we take into account this new diversity of opinion and background?

And aesthetic judgments? Those are subjective (that is, they accrue in the observing subject by definition and have nothing to do with the intrinsic properties of the object; a rock does not have any opinion on the value of Citizen Kane). So shouldn't we recognize that others may not like our food, our art, our speech, our pasttimes, and live and let live?

How about value judgments? Can't we recognize that our values are going to be inherently subjective and that someone else who values things differently might feel differently? Might we even tailor our rhetoric to take this into account?

Another case-in-point is abortion or physician assisted suicide. Abortion has all sorts of complex moral issues, and I feel both the traditional liberal "It's not a baby" (all right, but it's still living, even if it is semi-parasitic; notice the blatant anthropocentrism) and the conservative "It's a baby" diatribe do injustice to the situation. I am against state or political intervention because I feel it will a) replicate patriarchal undercurrents, b) increase illegal abortions and c) hamhandedly prevent a complex moral issue from being resolved on a case-by-case basis. But unlike most, I also want the discussion in the broader culture to be as diverse and open as possible. I think the mother has the right to control her own body (and yes, the fetus is impinging upon that right) and her own fate as well as try to take into account the baby's well-being, and the baby has a right to have its voice heard.

In response, we hear "Teach birth control! Or abstinence!" That's not mutually exclusive, now is it? If birth control fails (an unheard of concept!) or if abstinence fades (how?!), what do we do then? Why is the fact that options were available at time X deny options at time Y?

And physician assisted suicide is an easy one: Those against it often say "What of the little girl who tried really hard and could walk again? Shouldn't we be trying to save lives, not end them?" They'll then resurrect some personal anecdote for the task. But these yahoos ignore that whatever the right decision was in their case, a different case might, umm, different. That equally reasonable people might make the opposite decision.

We live in a complex, hard world. To me this doesn't mean don't think about it, don't have judgments, don't give a rubber stamp to every decision. It means try one's damndest and recognize that others doing the same might do different things. Maybe wrong, maybe right, maybe neutral, maybe undeterminable, but certainly different.

This even means I advocate on-the-surface-of-things contradictory things, because I don't think recognizing two important realities or even multiple important realities is necessarily problematic. In that case, balance must occur. So as a Buddhist I lean towards non-violence, but as an anarchist I lean towards violence. Yet those are two different realms of inquiry. Our attempt to reduce the world to laughable dualistic poles is a limitation, not a merit, I think. Especially since the limits of our language and predictive ability dealing with such a huge set of possible events is likely to generate horrific results. I don't advocate taking things as they come with no planning. Rather, I support flexible planning, tolerance, diversity, respect, compassion, rational debate and dialogue...

Think of my universes again, to make this as clear as I can at the moment. The one has no evil: all of the best of evil (decisiveness, pleasure, etc.) has been subsumed into the good. So does the other. But in the first one all things are the same: perfectly serene and identical. Sounds like a zombie movie, doesn't it? In the second, all things are almost infinitely different: the world is a cornucopia of impossible-to-imagine ideologies, ways of thinking, foods, cultures, institutions, all shifting and muting at will. Which sounds better? And isn't getting to the second worth the sacrifice of some of the important things we want to be able to get to the first?


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