To Paris and Beyond: Climate and Freedom

by Erik Lindberg, originally published by Transition Milwaukee

For the modern radical is as confident in the moral expression of his stances and consequently in the assertive uses of the rhetoric of morality as any conservative has ever been.  Whatever else he denounces in our culture he is certain that it still possesses the moral resources which he requires in order to denounce it.  Everything else may be, in his eyes, in disorder; but the language of morality is in order, just as it is.

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

In my previous installments in this series[i]–a series in which I question how and to what extent “freedom” can be the main organizing principle of a sustainable civilization–I argued that most of what passes for freedom is dependent upon an open system.  To put this in historical terms I developed earlier, freedom is attendant to a cosmological transition from a closed world to an infinite universe.[ii]  I have been working these metaphysical metaphors in order to illustrate a suspicion I have been meditating over: not only that the “closed world” of our global ecology has been suffering because we treat it as an “infinite universe”; but also that this treatment is by and large the natural outcome of the unrestrained freedom which serves as the main operating principle of our politics, economy, and Liberal moral code. While I realize there are number of risks in questioning the modern unquestionable, I am working towards an articulation of human good and morality that does not hinge mainly on the notion of individual liberty, especially the freedom to consume, or the freedom to have whatever we can afford.

At the end of my last installment, however, I entertained a possible reversal in the main course of my argument, adopting for my purposes a title from one of the late Richard Rorty’s excellent papers on the relationship between philosophy and politics.[iii]  As “an end of philosophy” philosopher, Rorty suggests that most of the questions that philosophy has attempted to answer cannot be answered in the absolute terms the same philosophers tend to demand.  According to Rorty, we should expect the sort of suggestive answers that we get from novelists or poets.  The lack of absolute answers, Rorty argues, is hardly something to mourn—in large part because Liberal, democratic politics do not depend on a strong philosophical glue, any more than they depend on shared religious beliefs.  Rather, democratic deliberation requires only a process of negotiation and compromise, a process that is actually aided by the humility one gains by seeing his or her interests as having no solid philosophical backing.  We don’t need better philosophy, in short, we need better politics; a new philosophical theory or metanarrative won’t help us learn to treat our environment and each other better.

Continue reading here.

 

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Filed under Capitalism, Climate Change, Policy, politics, Social Justice

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