Monday, December 30, 2013

Next Up: In Praise of Idleness

My slavish/sloven devotion to The Plan continues apace (OK, a very leisurely apace). In Praise of Idleness (speaking of leisure) is now the subject/victim of the Reading Bertrand Russell method. The full title is In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays. (Recall, not that there is much of a need to, that the full title of Portraits From Memory is Portraits From Memory and Other Essays; I sense a theme.) In Praise of Idleness – I will often use this title as shorthand for the entire book – first was published in 1935; my version is a Routledge paperback from 2003. This edition, unlike the original, starts with an Introduction of approximately 14 pages by Howard Woodhouse, a scholar of education at the University of Saskatchewan. I believe this Introduction was itself introduced for the second Routledge reprint of 1996 – the initial Routledge edition was issued in 1994. The Woodhousean Introduction is followed by a Russellian Preface of a bit more than one page. The Preface is followed in turn by the fifteen essays that constitute the remainder (pages 11-174) of the book. The numbering system at the beginning is opaque – why the Preface begins (apparently) on page 9 subsequent to the end of the Introduction on page xx – there are no pages labeled 1, 2, … 8 – remains a mystery that Reading Bertrand Russell cannot penetrate. Further, the mystery is recurring, for Unpopular Essays presents a similar page-numbering conundrum.

Here are the titles of the fifteen chapters of In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays:

1. In Praise of Idleness
2. ‘Useless’ Knowledge
3. Architecture and Social Questions
4. The Modern Midas
5. The Ancestry of Fascism
6. Scylla and Charybdis, or Communism and Fascism
7. The Case for Socialism
8. Western Civilisation
9. On Youthful Cynicism
10. Modern Homogeneity
11. Man versus Insects
12. Education and Discipline
13. Stoicism and Mental Health
14. On Comets
15. What is the Soul?

Here we go, in search of plan fulfillment (and hence with more than the usual frisson of excitement), to In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays.

Monday, December 9, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Full Time

[The review of the first part (man v. nature) of New Hopes for a Changing World is here, and the review of the second part (man v. other men) is here.] This full-time review will concentrate, therefore, on the third part of the book, that devoted to man’s internal struggle.

Competition, an ideal for many economists, is almost the villain of the piece for Russell (as it is for Marx). The adverse consequences of competition, which receive frequent attention in the third part of New Hopes for a Changing World, are foreshadowed in part 2, in the chapter “Economic Co-operation and Competition.” Competition was individually rational when subsistence was at stake, but that need not be the case anymore. Market competition leads to misery for workers, and has proven unstable within large industries (on the labor side and on the production side), as monopoly power grows. International trade is no free market realm either, because governments eventually take control (or businesses take control of governments). In Chapter 16, wars and socialism are laid at the feet of a misguided obeisance to free trade. Our commitment to competition is a position which has become obsolete, in the sense that it no longer serves our interests, not that it has disappeared. Economic cooperation, not competition, would lead to better results for all. Competition for academic scholarships among school children is pernicious as well.

How to overcome our perverse attraction for rivalry and aggression? Russell recommends, among other things, that we face our fears, especially fear of the unfamiliar, and recognize that these fears, too, generally are irrational. The purging of irrational fears is difficult, in part because much traditional morality pushes in the opposite direction, stoking fears of sin and guilt, and some politicians see their wellbeing as tied to excessive fears in the populace. The mechanism seeking to instill traditional morality involves the fear of worldly or extra-worldly retribution – even of the eternal sort. These fears are supposed to be sufficient to deter people from indulging their desires. Russell anticipates modern research on willpower, which sees self-control as a resource that can be depleted in the short-run through overuse – and hence willpower is a thin reed to rely on if your goal is to prevent succumbing to temptation.

Humans (in much of the world) have only recently stopped existing as flies to wanton boys – our increased control in the conflict between man and nature makes it possible to widen our sympathies, to identify with all of humanity. It is economic progress that has rendered fear to be more excessive than it used to be, but it is also that progress that should make us hopeful. The world will continue to advance, one person at a time, if we maintain our commitment to hope – rational hope, like irrational fear, is contagious. Policy can help, by improving the distribution of the means of subsistence, and by offering social insurance to reduce the fear of destitution. Global governance can minimize adverse environmental spillovers and lead to better stewardship of our natural resources. Education can help, too – after all, as cooperation is consistent with enlightened self-interest, we should spread enlightenment, in part by forbidding the state dissemination of nationalistic propaganda, and by rendering foreigners more familiar. Information about contraception, and contraceptives themselves, can be made available. Human flourishing also requires that we subsidize non-conformity, ensuring that committed non-conformists have the time and means to indulge their eccentricity: the most valuable ideas are hatched within non-conforming minds. Excessive respect for customary ways is one of those ideas which have become obsolete (Chapter 16).

Russell’s contention that our commitment to aggression can be successfully combatted is made more plausible, I think, by the analogy with dueling which he mentions in Chapter 16. The intellectual and social respect that often is accorded “hawks” can be withdrawn as we become more aware of the risks of hawkishness – “witch-hunts within, and wars without [p. 170]” – and reduce the scope of our fears to a reasonable level. (Russell also raises (again, and here) the physical punishment of children, a longstanding practice that lacks an evidentiary base and is seeing its social approval dry up.) Perhaps we will find, as Russell suggests, that the occasions for which hawkishness makes sense will themselves diminish once the behavior of hawks is no longer countenanced.

Though hawkishness is itself irrational, humans cannot be indifferent about the outcome of the Cold War. The Soviet cult of the state is sure to enervate humanity, to the point where mankind might not be worth saving.

The hopes that Russell is making a case for are reasonable, not beyond humanity’s grasp: the changes with respect to dueling and the physical punishment of children are part of the relatively recent substantiation. In The Conquest of Happiness, Russell described the sort of positive feedback that dominates the happiness realm, where (for instance) a smiling face is received well by others, whose approval then helps both to justify the initial smile and to spread it. Hopes have the same facility to cascade. A hopeful person avoids irrational fears, and responds in a calm, prudent fashion to those fears that are rational. The open nature of such a person tends to diminish aggression from others. Russell’s goal is to widen the group of people who themselves have widened their sympathies, until a sort of herd immunity against aggression can be established. The achievement (or perhaps the stability) of that immunity will require the standard Russell prescription of a monopoly on force controlled by a global body.

Russell saw great promise for the cinema in contributing to education and in broadening horizons. What would he make of the internet? Those histories that are composed by foreigners, a global university that is available to anyone who is interested (Chapter 21) – these are now more-or-less realities. Yes, the internet is full of “predatory nationalism [p. 209],” and worse, but the voices of reason and compassion are there, too. If Russell is correct, that an enlightened self-interest would be enough to spur “The Happy World,” then the internet surely can help us to achieve it. (And if Russell is wrong, well, we have his old compensation of returning the globe to “harmless trilobites and butterflies.”)

Somehow I find recent events within Mormonism to be, well, hopeful, in this regard. The internet has made available information (along with, no doubt, some misinformation) about the church’s history – information that has not been featured in official church teachings. This information raises doubts among some believers. At times the initial reaction of church leaders, it seems, was to try to suppress the information, but this is a strategy that the internet renders rather impotent. From the linked New York Times article: “In the last 10 or 15 years, [a Mormon history professor] said, 'the church has come to realize that transparency and candor and historical accuracy are really the only way to go.'” It may be that the virtues of candor and accuracy are becoming wise policy more broadly, now that clear inaccuracies are likely to come to the public’s attention via the web. Or at least one can hope.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Twenty-One

“The Happy World,” pages 206-213

The goal has been to record some facts, and to identify hopes that are sensible to hold in light of those facts. The facts involve the possibility that the struggle for existence can be eased for all humans, and that, as a result, cooperation on a global scale is a possibility, one that offers much better prospects than continued rivalry. The hopes are that this pleasant prospect can indeed be realized.

Of course, there are legitimate fears, too. But we excessively dwell on fears, and it is hope, not fear, that points the way forward. Grounded, sensible hopes can erode the fear.

Let’s assume that the recognition of the need for human unity has been accomplished. What will be necessary to bring a happy resolution to the longstanding, fundamental conflicts of man versus nature, man versus other men, and man versus himself?

In the man versus nature conflict, an international body will be needed to direct “the production and distribution of food and raw materials [p. 207].” Farming that undermines the long-term fertility of the soil – a practice that might be rational for an individual farmer in the short-term – would be prevented. No one will have the right to be prodigal with the agricultural capital that future generations will depend upon. The international authority also will collect and disseminate information on scientific farming. While destructive farming techniques can be prohibited, no one need be compelled to adopt the best agricultural methods.

“As I write a dangerous dispute is in progress concerning Iranian oil [p. 208].” [Sigh.] The dispute concerns which country among many claimants owns the oil. But the oil was put there by nature, not by any nation, so why should any nation own it? (The oil won’t be used by any single nation, either.) The oil, like other natural resources, should be internationally owned and rationed, to avoid the wars and strife that result from national control.

Population pressures need to be checked by means of education and universal availability of contraception, along with economic development of the poorer regions of the world.

International, monopoly control of the most potent instruments of war is vital to quell conflicts among men. Education will have to be regulated, to prevent the teaching of a “predatory nationalism [p. 209],” including narrow and biased history: history books should have to be approved by the international authorities. [Recall that Russell endorses having histories of a nation written by foreigners, to overcome the usual national aggrandizement.] Economics should emphasize the superiority of cooperation over competition in the modern world. A gradual implementation of free trade, freedom to travel, and student exchanges: all these should be part of the policy mix. An international university, available to good students from any corner of the globe, will attract internationally-minded faculty and students.

People need security from the crowd and from their inner terrors. The animus of the crowd itself usually draws from the personal fears of those who comprise the herd. Wise and loving care in the first few years of life can go a long way towards ameliorating private fears. Still, crowds can be roused to unjust anger, so places of sanctuary, a sort of refugee status for the innocent, must be available.

Provision must be made to promote individuality. Old timers will fail to recognize exceptional talents, so an Academy for poets and writers and other creative people should be by and for the young. The shorter working hours would leave time for those outside of the Academy, too, to indulge their tastes and talents, and adventurous pursuits would be available to the risk seekers. Family money has, in the past, allowed some people (Darwin and Milton, among others) with unpopular ideas to thrive. The future society has to ensure that there are mechanisms permitting exceptional, unpopular people to do their work. [Russell hit upon this theme in The Conquest of Happiness, too.]

Global security comes at too high of a price if it eliminates what is exceptional in humans. The version of security that Russell has outlined, however, is likely to end the psychological barriers to non-conformity. “If this is indeed the case, and if such institutions as I have spoken of can be established, the happy world that I am envisaging can be not only happy but glorious [p. 212].” We do not need tormented souls to bring forth wonderful creations. Humanity is far more capable than the current stunted model suggests, if we choose to unleash its power. [Russell indulges (again) his own taste for vibrant verbiage extolling the potential for mankind.]

[On security being mortals’ chiefest enemy, Russell’s godfather provides some pertinent prose: "He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties. He must use observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision. And these qualities he requires and exercises exactly in proportion as the part of his conduct which he determines according to his own judgment and feelings is a large one. It is possible that he might be guided in some good path, and kept out of harm's way, without any of these things. But what will be his comparative worth as a human being? It really is of importance, not only what men do, but also what manner of men they are that do it. Among the works of man, which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying, the first in importance surely is man himself. Supposing it were possible to get houses built, corn grown, battles fought, causes tried, and even churches erected and prayers said, by machinery—by automatons in human form—it would be a considerable loss to exchange for these automatons even the men and women who at present inhabit the more civilized parts of the world, and who assuredly are but starved specimens of what nature can and will produce. Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develope itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing."]

How far homo sapiens has travelled, leaving a desert to enter a comparative Eden. But we are reluctant to recognize our good fortune, and we cling to outdated fears and hates, including self-hate. We must embrace our intelligence and the path to peace and prosperity that it promises. We can choose happiness and achieve peace; the alternative is an extinction that would be, if chosen, deserved.

[As noted in the introductory post, New Hopes for a Changing World concludes with an About The Author paragraph.]

Sunday, November 10, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Twenty

“The Happy Man,” pages 197-205

[Chapter 17 of Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness, published 21 years prior to New Hopes for a Changing World, also is entitled “The Happy Man.” Did the requisites for happiness change between 1930 and 1951? The chapters are quite different, though their tone is similar, as is their ending.]

This chapter will present a vision of what would be feasible for humans, if we decided to pursue it. Right now, only a few people can live in the manner described, and during wartime, we lack even these happy few.

The happy man starts off as a happy child, one who receives parental affection, from two parents who find their parenting to be a mutually pleasurable partnership, and for whom marriage bonds are not simply restraints upon sexuality. The child spends times with lots of other children, outdoors when the weather permits. [Russell speaks well of spending time outdoors in Education and the Good Life, too.] The surroundings of the children have been child-proofed in the sense that those surroundings cannot be badly damaged by normal energetic activity, and also in the sense that children needn’t fear severe accidental harm. Their own potential depredations upon each other must be prevented, and generally can be prevented through the positive means of providing interesting activities.

Children feel secure in the presence of routine and affection. They need freedom to grow, and can be encouraged to use this freedom to experiment with new activities.

“Scholastic education is a tiresome necessity [p. 198].” Yes, people need to be prepared to operate in a civilized world, but that preparation need not involve the familiar drudgery. The educational focus (in Europe) on intellectual conversation instead of manual abilities is probably a leftover from the elite ancient Greeks, who had slaves to ensure that the actual work was accomplished. Boys with manual interests and talents should be in workshops for much of their schooling, not at desks. “All education can be pleasant if the child feels that it is important [p. 199].” Children often are correct when they suspect that they are engaging in pointless educational tasks.

Russell once again endorses the cinema as an educational tool (page 200), this time for history and geography – the pleasure of watching will spur attentiveness and promote retention. When a child meets a Zulu, he will view him as familiar, having earlier seen a film on Zulu culture. Kids who develop a taste for specific historical or cultural topics will proceed to seek out books concerning their interests, but in the meantime, all the children will have had their horizons expanded via movies.

Other elements of culture, such as art, music, and literature, should be available to those with an interest, but not force fed through the standard grind, as Shakespeare often gets delivered. The pedants should not be allowed to extract all the pleasure out of culture, and then subject children to the fun-free version.

The competition for academic scholarships in Europe is so intense that even the winners are badly damaged. [Russell exhorted against academic competition some 32 years prior in Proposed Roads to Freedom.] The underlying problem is funding, and that problem is intense because physical insecurity results in large resources being directed towards arms. In a world conducive to happiness, interest and not examination results would determine access to higher education. [See also Education and the Good Life, Chapter 18.]

“In every society, however Utopian, every healthy adult will be expected to do some kind of useful work [p. 202].” Remaining idle is not the recipe for happiness, but six hours of work per day would suffice to maintain a livelihood if economic life were rationalized. [In 1919, Russell thought four hours of work per day would be enough to secure a high living standard.] People should be able to work half-time for half-pay, so that exceptional talents could be given the opportunity to bloom [another echo of the circa-1919 Russell] – the best work is always undervalued contemporaneously.

An upbringing divorced from the usual diet of fear and sin will render the happy man open to others, possessing a generous spirit. He will be friendly, trusting that people will not abuse his friendly overtures, and his friendliness itself will typically validate that trust. He will understand the folly of war, and will be predisposed towards kind regards for foreign countries. [Russell’s happy man, though more free and open, has much in common with the prudent and virtuous man of Adam Smith’s description, as put forth in Part 6 of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Here is Smith on regard for foreign nations (TMS VI.II.28): “France and England may each of them have some reason to dread the increase of the naval and military power of the other; but for either of them to envy the internal happiness and prosperity of the other, the cultivation of its lands, the advancement of its manufactures, the increase of its commerce, the security and number of its ports and harbours, its proficiency in all the liberal arts and sciences, is surely beneath the dignity of two such great nations. These are all real improvements of the world we live in. Mankind are benefited, human nature is ennobled by them. In such improvements each nation ought, not only to endeavour itself to excel, but from the love of mankind, to promote, instead of obstructing the excellence of its neighbours. These are all proper objects of national emulation, not of national prejudice or envy.”]

Back to Bertie. “Inventors of Utopias usually make them intolerably dull, because their main preoccupation is with security [pages 202-203].” While broadly speaking, security is necessary, some adventure is needed, too, for fomenting happiness. It should be possible for people with a taste for active exploits to be able to save up and to travel to exotic locales to indulge such a preference. This possibility is open to a few hardy souls now, as the Kon-Tiki and Desperate Voyage indicate. [Recall Russell noted in Chapter 17 the interest in seeking out risky leisure activities by people living in a relatively secure world.] Adventurous pursuits should be made more available, and might even substitute for competitive behaviors that harm others.

So a happy man owes his happiness both to favorable external circumstances, and to a temperament bequeathed to him by a wise and loving upbringing. He will enjoy work and family life, and not go through middle age (as many men now do) with a sense of failure. In old age, he will look back with few regrets.

“The art of growing old is one which the passage of time has forced upon my attention [p. 204].” [The sentence that immediately follows the one just quoted starts a four-paragraph section that was reprinted (word-for-word, excepting the final sentence) in Russell’s Portraits From Memory. There, the four paragraphs form part, but only part, of his essay entitled “How to Grow Old”.] One key to a happy old age is to avoid dwelling in the past, while similarly avoiding negative comparisons between your current emotional and mental make-up and that of your younger self. A second key [and here is a close parallel with Russell’s much earlier “The Happy Man” essay] is to develop impersonal interests, as you do not want to burden your children with keeping you company. Broad, impersonal interests can even dilute the fear of death, and make the process of death akin, intellectually and emotionally, to the gradual merging of a widening river with the larger sea.

Friday, November 8, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Nineteen

“Life Without Fear,” pages 188-196

Chapter Seventeen examined fear; now, we examine its absence.

Our wisdom in meeting our three struggles – man v. nature, v. other men, and v. himself – is compromised by inertial fears, fears that once were sensible but no longer are. Even when there is reason to fear, a rational approach dominates an emotional one. Fear sometimes is enough to preclude thought, or even undermines the willingness to acknowledge danger: the fear of death dissuades some people from drafting a will.

People must die, and nature imposes other constraints that are sure to diminish wellbeing. These constraints must be understood and dealt with rationally, in ways that involve minimal suffering. The traditional approach to the limits imposed by nature has been one of superstition, where weather gods, for instance, are placated by prayer. Some of the superstitious responses to natural calamities worsened the calamities, as when people would gather in large groups to pray that infectious diseases would dissipate. The scientific approach allows the problem to be admitted, and allows rationality to reign in seeking to limit the damage. To this day, much of the world takes an unscientific approach to some natural problems, such as overpopulation (page 190).

Struggles among people or within a person need not present binding constraints. “There is nothing unavoidable about the misery that people cause each other through hatred or ill-will, nor about the misery that they cause themselves from a sense of guilt [p. 189].” Perhaps people in distant lands present a real danger to us; nonetheless, fear does not help us to deal with that danger. A pose of courage can work with humans, as it does with dogs.

Much human aggression towards other humans results from fear. “We bark at our neighbor for fear that he will attack us, and he barks at us for the same reason [p. 191].” Kind gestures often can defang aggression; herein lies the kernel of soundness in the strategy of non-resistance, a strategy that in its unadulterated form is unsound. Non-aggression is somewhat contagious, first as mere civility, but especially when it is internalized, when it is less a strategy than it is a fundamental trait.

Actual dangers need to be met by building individual dispositions to calmness and to fortitude, and by arranging social systems to allow dangers to dissipate. Consider the common malady afflicting many prosperous people, that of excessive fear of impoverishment. This can be countered by counseling courage in facing difficulties, by improving the accuracy of the appraisal of risks, and at the societal level, by diminishing the severity of poverty. The reliance on a stiff upper lip is second-best; the optimal approach, when feasible, involves reducing or eliminating the risk within society. (Oddly, many people hold Stoicism in such high regard that they almost hope for opportunities to display it.) [Adam Smith made a similar point in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (VII.II.27), when discussing Stoicism: "A brave man exults in those dangers in which, from no rashness of his own, his fortune has involved him. They afford an opportunity of exercising that heroic intrepidity, whose exertion gives the exalted delight which flows from the consciousness of superior propriety and deserved admiration."]

Social life, especially in Britain, generates fears of being forthright. People treat you in the same cool fashion whether they like you or not. “They wear an armor designed to conceal the frightened child within [p. 193].” Human connections are degraded as a result, and the energy that could be turned in a positive direction instead is dissipated in hiding one’s true self. Friendship is perceived as risky, so friendly feelings are suppressed.

A world without fear is not a world without rules; indeed, some economic dimensions of that world will face more regulation, and laws to prevent war also will be necessary. Education will have to be augmented, and people will have to accept, not ignore or deny, unpleasant facts, even those connected to the constraints imposed by nature. Some coercion might be needed in delivering this education, just as children need to be made to brush their teeth or adopt other habits that are health preserving in the long run but insufficiently attractive on that basis alone. Though developing such habits might require increased discipline, controls over “acceptable” emotions need to be slackened. Pressure to adopt insincere emotions brings a host of ills.

Educators must nurture, not punish, as a gardener does with roses. A failure to bloom is a reason to rethink your own approach, not to chastise the victim. The focus must be positive, on what children do, not what they fail to do. Their actions will have value and serve to promote their future happiness only if they reflect the children’s own spontaneous choices, not if they are coerced.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Eighteen

“Fortitude,” pages 179-187

Sometimes fears (Chapter Seventeen) are reasonable and present. One such fear is that the West and the world more generally are on the brink of a period of much suffering. At such times, it is easy to become unmoored, to lose sight of what we need to accomplish. With a little forethought, however, we can steel ourselves and preserve our equanimity when dangers arise.

The fall of Rome was a dangerous period, and Plotinus (c. 205-270) chose one route, that of contemplating on eternal matters, to navigate through the ruins. His approach was incomplete, however; “Contemplation, if it is to be wholesome and valuable, must be married to practice [p. 180]...”. Boethius (c. 480-524) is a better guide. He was immersed in the affairs of the world, but when imprisoned, he produced a book that kept alive, through long, dark ages, the best of the classical world for posterity. [Coincidentally, I am typing this on October 23, which is they feast day for Boethius.] It is the example of Boethius that our modern learned people should emulate, to encapsulate for our descendants “the achievements, the hopes and the ideals which have made our time great [p. 181].”

The Cold War pits two different conceptions of man against each other. In the West, individuality, personal development, and freedom are prized, while the state is there to serve our interests, not to dominate us. In Russia, the government’s view (flowing from Hegel and Marx) is that individuals are expendable inputs, while the output that matters is the health of the State, which is distinct from the wellbeing of the populace. Soviet citizens thus can take pride in betraying their comrades for lapses in their regard for the State.

The Soviet cult of the State cannot win this struggle if human life is to have value. For the West to win, “we must be clear in our own minds as to what it is that we value, and we must, like Boethius, fortify our courage against the threat of adversity [p. 182].”

No man is an island, and wisdom and morals both recommend widening your circle of good feeling and empathy as widely as possible, beyond your family, friends, neighborhood, and nation. Our sympathies, indeed, should even encompass humans of ages past and to come, if we aim to keep our bearings in turbulent times. (Nor is it likely that humanity represents the acme of life within the universe – page 184.)

The history of man – itself a speck in the history of the universe –largely has been one of a struggle for existence, red in tooth and claw, like that of other animals. Only recently has human intelligence allowed us, in some places, to rise above that history, to provide secure subsistence. The Western nations which have achieved these advantages should be proud of their progress; their discoveries point the way forward for all of our globe.

Humanity’s advance has been painfully slow and undone at times by retrogression – but the advance occurred nonetheless. Adopting a long-term perspective can help us overcome present trials, which are barriers, but (as the past teaches) not insuperable ones, to further progress. Those who hold this perspective approach Spinoza’s ideal of evaluating events from the point of view of eternity.

The person who has inured himself to present difficulties is not cold-blooded; rather the opposite, in fact, he can enter more readily into friendship and empathy. His self-regard does not stand in the way of his regard for others. He still feels pain, but has learned to endure it, and will not concoct pleasing stories that allow him to ignore the pain of others. His understanding encompasses the unaccommodated man of Lear’s clarity-in-madness, as well as the god-like qualities that reside, as Hamlet recognizes, within our human quintessence of dust.

The broadening of the mind and its circle of sympathy is feasible for everyone. Spiritual leaders like Buddha and Jesus capture human imaginations precisely because of their success in embracing a comprehensive love. Today, only specialists in history recall anything about cruel Tiberius, Christ’s powerful contemporary.

A life well lived, even in obscurity, will radiate outwards, with beneficent influence that can go far afield geographically and temporally. “The individual, if he is filled with love of mankind, with breadth of vision, with courage and with endurance, can do a great deal [p. 186].”

Mankind probably will manage to avoid driving itself extinct. The achievements of man in his brief speck of time on earth suggest that despite frequent and even lengthy setbacks, progress will remain part of the story. We must show fealty to this potential, and our commitment can help us through difficult times. Adversity can breed wisdom, but if we achieve wisdom hastily, we can reduce future adversity, and deliver an unprecedented happiness to humanity.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Seventeen

“Fear,” pages 161-178

Russell writes quite a bit about fear! Education and the Good Life features a chapter entitled “Fear,” while The Conquest of Happiness contains a chapter entitled “Fear of Public Opinion.”

The opening of Chapter 17 of New Hopes for a Changing World involves, unusually for Russell, some all-caps shouting: “The greatest obstacle to a good world is now FEAR [p. 161].” The scarcity of resources, including necessities, used to be the binding constraint on human happiness, but this scarcity is now capable of being eliminated everywhere. History indicates that man has always had both reasonable fears, and superstitious fears that arise from a fear mechanism that operates excessively out of habit. Today the unreasonable fears are proportionally larger still, as the conditions generating reasonable fears have diminished.

As we delve deeper into our brains, we find levels that code for feelings that were valuable earlier along the human evolutionary path. We can do better with conscious thought, but even then, our feelings lag behind, by a couple of centuries, what would be appropriate. Feelings lie at the root of many cherished beliefs, but if those feelings are hidden, it is hard to correct wrong beliefs.

The biological substrate of our brain is limiting but still permits environmental factors, experience, to shape our thoughts; hence, much about how our brain works is malleable.

Russell divides up fears into three categories, which happen to correspond to the conflicts that are examined in the three parts of New Hopes for a Changing World: fear of nature, fear of other men, and fear of our own desires. Fear of nature is now much exaggerated, though once it was absolutely central to survival, and some such fears still are reasonable. “Hymns represent heaven as a refuge from the storms of life, not as a place where one escapes the dangers of being run over by a motor-bus, although the latter danger is a much more frequent experience in modern urban life [pp. 163-164].” People are so accustomed to physical dangers that they voluntarily expose themselves to risks to escape boredom. That is, our emotional life is based on an environment that no longer is relevant for city dwellers – so we seek the appropriate environment in our leisure. This is fine if the danger we expose ourselves comes only with risks to ourselves, such as mountain climbing. But engaging in wars is another matter entirely. (Recall that in The Conquest of Happiness Russell speculated that boredom might be responsible for wars.)

Fear of other men cannot be said to be baseless, even when looking at just small-scale social relations. “Most men have in their nature a certain amount of malevolence, and are not reluctant to do a bad turn to another man if they can do so with safety [p. 164].” Rivalry is common, but in different circumstances, could be reduced. America seems to be peculiarly fecund in generating workplace and income rivalry. (Again, there are multiple reflections of points made in The Conquest of Happiness.) Eminent authors are exceedingly petty and envious in their relations among themselves – so says (p. 165) this winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Politicians are no better. It is insecurity, a common human emotion that goes beyond reason, that is the source of all this rivalry; that is, rivalry is fear-motivated, even though the days are gone when pre-eminence was the best insurance against starvation.

Schoolboys who do not conform with their peers are subjected to physical and emotional damage. Intelligent boys therefore learn to conceal their true natures, so as not to stick out; this habit can become ingrained, resulting in stunting for life. Women, too, take extraordinary efforts to avoid social disapproval. (This material around page 167 echoes Chapter 9 of The Conquest of Happiness.) People are quick to condemn as subversive or worse an opinion that is not mainstream within their circle – even if they secretly are of the same opinion.

Fears of other groups are common, especially among those who lack exposure to those other groups. “Whatever is strange is terrifying so long as it remains strange [p. 168].” This observation applies to religious (and non-religious) and political groupings. Maybe some of this fear is reasonable, given that societies are knit together through less-than-rational beliefs that outsiders might question. But to go far in this direction would cut off all exposure to new ideas and make reform, even in the face of new circumstances, impossible. Better to live with the risks that come with openness to change.

Fears of misunderstood groups lead to all sorts of wars and repression. The US had less understanding of the Japanese than of the Germans, making the Japanese seem to be fitter targets for nuclear weapons. “The way to diminish the operation of fears of this sort is to make people more aware of the common human characteristics of people who at first sight seem very different from ourselves, and also to bring about the realization that in the modern world, conflicts of interest are unnecessary [p. 169].” Motion pictures and education can help to build such an awareness. [Russell was a longtime proponent of the educational value of the cinema.] Fears of other people come with a high price. They lead nations to submit to a man on horseback – a strategy that might be necessary in times of peril but is counterproductive in normal times. Leaders will recognize that their popularity is based on fear, so they will try to stoke that fear, against both imagined internal enemies and external foes; the result is “witch-hunts within, and wars without [p. 170].”

Onto fear of oneself. People occasionally are rash or angry, and sophisticated people try to shield themselves from situations that will trigger their less-than-rational side. Sexual attraction and jealousy are particularly strong impulses that require careful monitoring to prevent bad outcomes. [Recall that Russell believes that the instinctual basis for male jealousy is much overrated.]

There is a morality of fear and a morality of hope. “Fear morality seeks to avoid disaster, whereas hope morality seeks to create something that is felt to be good or delightful [p. 170].” Traditional ethics, full of notions of sin and guilt, tend to feature fear morality. [Russell writes as much about sin as he does about fear, it seems.] Fear morality is aimed at deterrence: by enhancing (perhaps through the threat of hellfire) the dangers of some impulses, it hopes to extirpate choices to act upon them.

The precept to love one’s neighbor (or else) is practical, shielding you from attack, but this sort of love displays no ardent affection. Don’t confuse actual love with this cheap imitation, prudential version. The sincere delight you take with intimates or from great art has no connection to fear, and evaporates aggressive tendencies – but this wholly positive love cannot be commanded, nor can it be manufactured just from the conscious realization of its utility. “It can, I think, be promoted by a manner of life, and by wisdom in education [p. 172].”

Traditional sexual morality is permeated by fear, including fear of jealousy – a fear that probably underlies the oldest prohibitions, such as those on incest and on adultery with a married woman. Men who violate these prohibitions are apt to provoke violent responses. So, such violations are dangerous, and the fear of one’s own impulses to engage in such violations leads the behavior to be considered sinful. The origin of the notion of sin, more generally, is an internal conflict, a man-versus-himself conflict, between a person’s desires and wellbeing. “We may sum up this discussion by saying that since murder and adultery are alike dangers, the moral law enjoins that you must love your neighbor, but not your neighbor’s wife [p. 173].” [Russell’s use of “enjoins” is always, I believe, as a synonym for “requires” or “encourages”; most of the time that I read “enjoin” in modern writing, it seems to mean almost the opposite, on the order of “prohibit”. “Enjoin,” like “sanction,” thus is one of those legalistic words which means its antithesis! -- RBR ]

Irrational fears, such as those of revengeful ghosts or angry gods, have been superadded to rational fears. In Christianity, calling your brother a fool would be enough to earn eternal hellfire. Sincere Christians do not necessarily avoid speaking badly of their brothers, however. [Russell made a similar point in Human Society in Ethics and Politics.] The punishment being so excessive, the inability to reliably avoid the punishment bespeaks of rationality lapses in human decision making. Eternal torment is not the only resort of moralists, of course; they invoke shorter term sanctions, too, as when they counsel honesty on the grounds that it is an optimal policy.

The reliance upon either short-term or long-term punishments to provide deterrence is a reliance upon self-control, which is an excessively costly approach. Though people need self-control, when it is unduly nurtured it takes away energy and engagement. What it does not take away, even when the control works, is the underlying impulses: they are checked but not eliminated. “Energies which we do not allow their natural outlet in furthering our own life either become atrophied or find an outlet in thwarting the lives of others [p. 175].” The inability (through cowardice) to express your hatred of your neighbor can be manipulated into the approved hatred of criminals, outcasts, or the people of some foreign land. Obeying conventional morality avoids trouble with the powerful, while still allowing you safe outlets, in the form of the approved targets, for expressing aggression (page 176).

These approved hatreds do not bring inner peace, because the underlying problem is hatred of a part of oneself, and destructive behavior will not end the self-knowledge of being a sad, fearful man. The cure must come from instilling in young people the potential to lead a vibrant life that does not require the stifling of others.

A similar approach applies to sexual jealousy. Feelings of jealousy come from a fear of losing love. The maintenance of love cannot be secured, however, by trying to rein in the freedom of our partner; the answer instead is to be lovable. Excessive fear undermines the lovability that we all have at our disposal. Our own rigidity can render us unlovable, and then our attempts to ameliorate the symptom make the problem worse. Wide interests will yield satisfaction and the happiness will enhance our lovability – a parallel point was made by Russell in The Conquest of Happiness. Rejoice in the love you have; do not destroy love through fear of its loss.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Sixteen

“Ideas Which Have Become Obsolete,” pages 147-160.

Russell’s Unpopular Essays was published in 1950, one year prior to New Hopes for a Changing World. Unpopular Essays contains one chapter entitled “Ideas That Have Helped Mankind,” and another entitled “Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind.” Chapter Sixteen of New Hopes, which initiates the book’s third section devoted to man’s internal contest with himself, examines a different (though somewhat intersecting) subset of the universe of ideas.

Custom and tradition have allowed the gains achieved by generations past to be utilized by their descendants. Respect for custom, therefore, has many benefits – but it can be taken too far, and some societies are brought to ruin by excessive veneration of ancient ways. [Russell’s godfather again: “The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement, being in unceasing antagonism to that disposition to aim at something better than customary, which is called, according to circumstances, the spirit of liberty, or that of progress or improvement.”] Modern science and technology will only achieve their potential for improving human welfare if our ways of thinking change. “In an age of machines and skilled scientific production, we retain the feelings and many of the beliefs that were appropriate to the ages of scarcity and primitive agriculture [p. 148].” Ideas about politics – even the ideas of communists – are stuck in the 1700s or earlier.

Our Malthusian past was one of poverty and population pressure, famine, war, and oppression. The ongoing transition to better outcomes got under way only about the time of the French Revolution. The principal change has been the scientific revolution and mindset, unleashed most productively with the advent of democracy and low birthrates.

Widespread human prosperity has become a possibility. “What the West has discovered (though as yet the realization is incomplete) is a method by which practically everybody can have as much of material goods as is conducive to happiness, without excessive hours of labor, and with that degree of mental culture that is needed to make leisure delightful [p. 149].” The productive society that provides this happy possibility is vulnerable to destruction by envious outsiders, and by insiders whose ideas are no longer appropriate. Chief among these ideas is that one must fight over scarce resources to survive – only the winners in prior struggles survived to bequeath their beliefs. War became sanctified, despite the ritual Sunday obeisance to peace. Love was fine for dealing with insiders, but outsiders were fit subjects for just, patriotic wars.

Further, the characteristics associated with the economically powerful, the landowners, naturally became popular. They had come by their position as descendants of those who were military successes, those who had achieved victory in zero-sum struggles. Again, ruthless struggle achieved social luster.

The industrial revolution made constant struggle even more central, because factory wealth had a shorter half-life than land-based wealth, and because the poor, those who lost at the struggle, at first got poorer. Even when the nouveaux riches could not be admired themselves, the mechanism that produced their riches, the competitive market, could become an object of veneration. “And so industrialism, which is technically capable of bringing peace to mankind, in fact brought not peace but a sword [p. 151].”

Market competition was designed to be limited, but it could not be contained, and spread to social classes and to nations – socialism and war were the unintended consequences of a free trade ideology. When industrialization has proceeded far enough, the costs of competition, which include wars and strikes, become more significant. All can benefit from increased cooperation, but from long habit, people maintain a zero-sum view of trade (and the resulting wars seemingly justify the zero-sum perspective). [Russell made a similar point in “Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind.”] Now, Westerners view Russian economic gains as a cost to them, and Russians feel similarly about the West. “But the difference between their interests is caused by their sentiments, not by any external natural cause, and so it is with the public enmities in the modern world [p. 153].”

Nations separate the world politically and culturally. The cultural pluralism is quite positive on its own, and it is a mistake to think that it demands political rivalry. The British and the French considered themselves to be adversaries for years – and fought as adversaries – until they finally decided that their interests really didn’t conflict, and now they are friends. Imagine the peace dividend if Russia and the West did not believe that they were targeted for destruction by the other side. Neither side will be inclined to comprehend that their interests are not really threatened, because hostility, once it exists, takes on a moral imperative. If a drug could clear the minds of Truman and Stalin, they would see themselves as fellow imperfect beings, and work out a fair solution to the issues that currently seem to divide them so deeply. Their countrymen, however, without access to the drug, would oust them, and renew hostilities.

The moral of the drug fable is that the minds of everyday people – not just the government – must change for the political situation to change. A sophisticated view of self-interest is all that is necessary. Alas, that view cannot win in the marketplace of ideas against appeals to bravely undertake sacrifice for supposedly noble causes. But Russell does not want to be mistaken for one of those who assert that human nature is such that war is inevitable – an assertion whose adherents feign to take sorrow in, but in reality one in which they revel. The response to them is that war will surely soon end, either through a cooperative agreement or through the destruction of all the combatants. “The dictum that human nature cannot be changed is one of those tiresome platitudes that conceal from the ignorant the depths of their own ignorance [p. 155].” Experiments with babies indicate quite profound limits to what human nature compels, and many political ideologies are consistent with our biological substrate. Anthropologists know that one culture’s practices can seem, to people from another culture, as being inconsistent with human nature.

The claim that human nature demands a love of fighting has one interpretation that is true, and a second that it is false. The interpretation consistent with the facts is that people will become annoyed if they are sufficiently provoked or assaulted, such as by having their noses pulled. The interpretation that is not consistent with the facts is that people have an innate love of combat. There are people who do love aggression, but this love is socially constructed, not innate. “It is only these people that constitute a problem, since the other people can be placated by the simple technique of not pulling their noses [p. 156].”

The social sanction for aggression can be withdrawn, as has occurred in the case of dueling. And with dueling socially condemned, the supply of insults that formerly would have demanded a duel has dried up as well – insulting someone is just plain rude. This sort of transformation can be made more general.

Some nations (and some women) still offer succor to macho types, who develop into bullies – and they maintain their aggressiveness as adults, including when they deal (unfairly) with foreigners. At the time of Genghis Khan such tactics at least offered the possibility of riches. Now, any riches to be had in dealing with outsiders are more likely to be secured through cooperation. Macho types are put off by this; though they are not intelligent, they can see that intelligence is valuable. They can’t understand finance, and when the he-men take over banking, as in the 1920s, disaster ensues. They resented the policy that helped to limit the disaster, because they could not – or could not be bothered to – understand that policy.

“Hatred of intelligence is one of the great dangers of the modern world, because with each new advance in technique intelligence becomes more necessary [p. 158].” The prejudice against intelligence motivates politicians to appear to be denser than they actually are.

Better schooling is an antidote to outdated ideas. Schools now promote the sort of leadership appropriate for captains of pirate ships, not captains of commerce. The old zero-sum, us or them, cheer or boo, black or white outlook, appropriate for a world of intense scarcity, is terribly out of date in a world of plenty. Where there is scarcity today, it is a result of failures of intelligence, not of output. The old way of thinking helped lead to the depression, and to the Nazi and Bolshevik notions that riches would be secure once the right people were exterminated.

Global prosperity is available, if only people would recognize the value of cooperation, and set aside the rivalry and envy of the past. The mental revolution is not easy, but it is possible. People can be educated to be citizens of the world, not quarrelsome partisans of one small slice of the world. “We must learn to think of the human race as one family, and further our common interests by the intelligent use of natural resources, marching together towards prosperity, not separately towards death and destruction [p. 160].”

Friday, September 20, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, End of the Second Period

The first section of New Hopes for a Changing World takes on the conflict between Man and Nature; the now-completed (by RBR) second section looks at the conflict between Man and Man. In this section, Russell sees technological and military considerations as raising the optimal size of social units, but he recognizes nationalism as an important counterforce; perhaps the upcoming Scottish independence referendum is a case in point. 

Nobel prize-winning economist Ronald Coase passed away earlier this month. Some of Coase’s best known work parallels Russell’s analysis of the size of social units. In his 1937 article “The Nature of the Firm,” Coase looks into the optimal size of corporations in a market economy – and like Russell, sees that agency problems, the difficulty of controlling large numbers of people through centralized commands, are a limiting factor. Further, though a rather staunch free-market thinker, Coase does not have a strong commitment to the notion that individuals make their decisions in a rational fashion.  (Russell points to substantial free trade zones as one of the advantages that accrue to large nations.) Russell’s observation that biased education leads to overly optimistic views of military adventures – and hence to even more war – perhaps would have been agreeable to Coase. I wonder if Coase, who was British (and was born in 1910), ever met Russell?

Russell sees the formation of the rule of law in Marxian terms, as the establishment of the rule of the powerful. (From The Communist Manifesto: “Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will, whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class….The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.” From Russell: “Property, in fact, is what the dominant political group chooses that it should be [p. 78].”) But order probably is better than anarchy, and offers the potential for transition to more democratic systems. World Government might have to follow from the usual historical pattern, where it is imposed by one or more powerful nations, but eventually develops independent legitimacy. The Marxian notion that class struggle will disappear following a revolution is a mirage, in part because the negative motivations that underlie Marx’s thinking will survive the revolution.

Communist-style ideas of full equality would lead to poor consequences, as socially beneficial acts would not be sufficiently incentivized, nor socially detrimental acts deterred. But this is only a theoretical concern, as the departures from equality currently are so severe that they themselves lead to inferior consequences, chiefly social instability. No justice, no peace, Russell seems to say, both within a nation and at the international level. So economic development of the currently poorer countries is necessary for global stability and for curtailing racial animus.

Russell uses historically-informed logic to make his case for World Government (Chapter 11). A global system of competitive nation states has always brought war. While the payoff to winners from a war has diminished, or become negative, the overall danger from war has increased with more terrible weaponry. We cannot maintain the old system of nation-states if we are to have a good chance of survival. Hence, we need an armed world government, one that will punish any militarily aggressive states. Russell does not examine the difficulty in determining which state is the aggressor, but there is some ambiguity even in seemingly obvious cases like World War II, and virtually all military adventures are characterized, and not without some justification, as humanitarian.

Three sources of human strife that must be neutralized to give peace a chance are economic, racial, and ideological conflicts. The spread of toleration and enlightenment can help to reduce these conflicts, especially in the face of the rising toll that even a winning war brings. (Enlightened economic self-interest would even indicate a cooperative, altrusitic approach towards other countries.) Marxism in practice is intolerant of the bourgeoisie, who thus respond with equal intolerance when Marxism gathers a following. In some sense, this second section of New Hopes for a Changing World is focused on anti-dogmatism – also the focus of Unpopular Essays, which was published only one year earlier.

Russell holds Keynes’s approach to macroeconomic policy in high esteem, believing that it offers a serviceable cure for sustained unemployment. Russell is in good company, even if the Keynesian solution no longer holds the same luster.  Russell’s encapsulation of macroeconomic distress as arising when private interest undermines the public interest (as with Keynes’s Paradox of Thrift) continues to be relevant, as does his recognition of the tendency of capitalism to evolve into state capitalism.

Russell foresaw the post-war economic renaissance in western Europe. along with the (eventual) softening inside Russia – although the emergence of a world government in the wake of the end of the cold war did not come to pass. Nonetheless, the international human rights project, which was all but non-existent when New Hopes was penned, has come a long way, and is helping to improve the situation for once (and sometimes still) marginalized groups like women and gays.

Despite his criticism of Marx and Lenin, Russell’s vision of the future involves a major role for a vanguard, which comprises some scientists and others devoted to world economic development, as well as sane, anti-dogmatic humanitarians; their work and example can help make today’s new hopes into tomorrow’s realities.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Fifteen

“The Next Half-Century,” pages 136-144

This chapter of a book concerning new hopes opens: “The twentieth century so far has not been a credit to the human race [p. 136].” The welcome demise of emperors led to an unwelcome succession by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, with enormous human costs, including some specific mass atrocities, involved in the transition. As bad as the twentieth century has been so far, the second half holds a much worse prospect, that the world and all its people can be destroyed at any moment.

Western leaders need a sober appreciation of the dangers, but the current fearful response leads nowhere. Western policy, of course, must start with the military might necessary to protect western Europe. The security thereby achieved will lead to a renaissance in France, West Germany, and Italy – and this will prevent world war, if the US will be mellow. A mellow America, in turn, might allow the Russians to put aside their understandable fears that they are threatened with conquest by the West. The internal regime in Russia will soften, permitting the negotiated establishment of a world government by the end of the century.

Asia and Africa need economic development, lest envy ignite violence. It is in the interest of rich countries to devote considerable resources to raising living standards in poorer countries – even in their direct economic interest, as prosperity, as well as poverty, tends to propagate across borders.

The economic development of Africa and Asia requires, as Russell argued in Chapter Five, population control. Though many westerners perceive religious and other barriers to contraception in poor countries, these barriers can be overcome. “I do not think any reasonable person can doubt that in India, China and Japan, if the knowledge of birth-control existed, the birth-rate would fall very rapidly [p. 139].” Africa, too, could see its population checked by the availability of medical clinics that would disseminate the relevant information, though the US will be unlikely to aid such clinics because of Catholic political force. The British and French, who have more substantial interests in Africa, eventually could fill in for the Americans, however.

The history of imperialism renders suspicious any activity of the US, Britain, and France, in Asia or Africa. The Russians, no less imperialist, nonetheless are not perceived as a similar threat. It is a very delicate matter for the West to engage Asia and Africa where such engagement is fruitful, while avoiding the excesses of imperialism. “It will be very regrettable if the cessation of Western imperialism prevents the spread of what is good in Western ways of life [pages 140-141].” Western scientists and technicians of a philanthropic bent can be the unthreatening vanguard in helping export economic development, educational progress, and improved healthcare.

Religious and nationalistic fanaticism (recall Chapter Thirteen) continue to threaten future prosperity. Even legitimate interests in national independence, as in Iran, are premature given the political realities of the Cold War. Nor can lingering dreams of isolationism be maintained – humanity is an interconnected, global family, and like all families, we can quarrel or maintain harmonious relations.

International cooperation requires that people be educated in a broad manner, not in the crude, nationalistic style that generally holds sway. The history books should be as impartial as possible, perhaps by having scholars from neutral countries write the history of other places (like Olympic judging?). “Children should from an early age be made aware of the modern interdependence of different groups of men, and the importance of co-operation and the folly of conflict [p. 142].” They should know of freedom and possibility, and not be led to think of the past of prohibitions and wars as if it is the present.

Intolerance towards the prejudiced teachers of hate and hostility is called for. Violent conflict is almost always an inefficient means for securing change: Britain has peaceably progressed in recent years beyond anything achieved by the bloodbath of revolution in Russia and France. Hatred doesn’t dissipate just because the object of hatred has been overcome; rather, it seeks out new horizons. Social reformers primarily should stress, when possible, the future benefits, not the negative features of the status quo. A focus on negative features also risks missing the deeper causes when ameliorating the intolerable conditions – and hence makes recurrence likely.

“The world could within a couple of generations be made to consist of men and women who would be happy and sane, and because they were happy and sane, would be kindly in their impulses towards others, since they would have no impulse to regard others as their enemies in the absence of positive evidence [pages 143-144].” Our knowledge of the development of character should be put to use in inculcating this kindliness.

Mankind would survive a third world war. (One year later, Russell was less certain.) Such an event, however, would bring to a standstill the process of advancing global peace and sanity. Eventually, however, our duty will be to reignite that process. (Russell employs in passing what became Reverend Jesse Jackson’s signature line, “keep hope alive.”) Mankind learns slowly, and through suffering – perhaps more suffering than they have already endured – even when the material to be learned points the way to future wellbeing. There must be some individuals today whose sanity and hope will provide the guide to others. The more sane, hopeful people there are, the better the chance that the result of suffering will indeed be the insight to drive us forward.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Fourteen

“Economic Co-operation and Competition,” pages 126-135

The theoretical musings of economists have obscured the central ideas of their discipline. Further, the dependence of economics on law has been relatively neglected by economics writers – and Russell tells us (page 126) he will start by similarly ignoring this dependence.

A male resident in a primitive community who wants to grow food must play a state-like role by providing physical protection of his land, and a capitalist-like role by requiring that his wife help him farm. The state role deals with competition, and the capitalist role with cooperation. In simple village life, households are largely self-sufficient, so more extensive cooperation or competition rarely enters the picture.

The competitive markets of classical economics require a legal structure that already is protective of property possession and offers protection for exchange, too. As economies develop, a currency that offers some stability becomes necessary. Competition is kept within tight bounds – physical force against a competing producer is not a permissible approach, unless you are a state.

Free competition, so the argument went, would produce wonders including low prices for consumers and the proliferation of the best production methods. The cotton trade of 1800 demonstrated the logic, and the results were wondrous – except for the slaves and the other workers (“but they did not write the economic textbooks [p. 128]”).

Somehow the free trade utopia led to combinations among producers and eventually, following great struggle, among workers. Marx’s view that competition would result in monopoly was borne out in railroads and oil. Anti-trust actions were initiated in response, but the sole “victory” was in securing the imprisonment of Eugene Debs.

Intra-national competition marks an early, transient stage of capitalism. Eventually, the state takes over the major corporations, or vice versa. State control, the usual outcome, then involves competition between nations, not between individual producers. So the extent to which the British can sell automobiles in America is determined not by the forces of free competition, but by government decisions in the US and the UK.

Technological advance means cooperation is much more important than competition – indeed, most economic relations are not of the zero-sum sort. Nations and industries are economically interdependent. Exchange is about cooperation, as is melding together the various elements of the production chain. Counties need other countries to be prosperous to maintain their own economy, but it is hard to think of foreign nations outside the lens of economic competition. [Here is Adam Smith in the Theory of Moral Sentiments (VI.II.28): “France and England may each of them have some reason to dread the increase of the naval and military power of the other; but for either of them to envy the internal happiness and prosperity of the other, the cultivation of its lands, the advancement of its manufactures, the increase of its commerce, the security and number of its ports and harbours, its proficiency in all the liberal arts and sciences, is surely beneath the dignity of two such great nations. These are all real improvements of the world we live in. Mankind are benefited, human nature is ennobled by them. In such improvements each nation ought, not only to endeavour itself to excel, but from the love of mankind, to promote, instead of obstructing the excellence of its neighbours. These are all proper objects of national emulation, not of national prejudice or envy.”]

High fixed costs of good-specific capital (which cannot easily be redeployed) imply that a change in the economic climate can lead to large losses, which cascade throughout the system, as in the Depression. Private interests (to cut back on spending, to call in loans) undermine the social interest, as when a panic causes death by trampling. Classical econ was powerless to deal with the depression. “Roosevelt saved the situation by bold and heretical action [pages 132-133].” Of course, the businessmen he saved showed no gratitude, devoted as they were to outdated economics.

The Roosevelt approach, spending to stimulate the economy, now is needed internationally. The Marshall plan is good for the US economy as well as for the European economies. A broader implementation of Marshall-like aid would not be amiss.

Unused machines are bad, but unused labor is worse, in that the laborers themselves suffer. (Further, the negative effects are felt far afield, too, in other countries – page 135.) Keynes seems to have found the key to preventing large-scale unemployment and ending the trade cycle, and governments should avail themselves of his policies.

Economic interdependence means that the prosperity of your own nation is tied to the prosperity of other nations. International organizations understand this, even if the US Congress is not fully on board. “I have no doubt that the world would now be richer if people were actuated in their economic relations with other nations by altruism and a disinterested desire to avert suffering [page 135].” Cooperation is the path recommended by enlightened self-interest. The popularity of hatred, despite its high costs, seems to attest to how much people enjoy hate, alas.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Thirteen

“Creeds and Ideologies,” pages 111-125

Ideologies compete with (and sometimes complement) race and economic interests as sources of division. Differing ideologies can co-exist peacefully, unless extreme intolerance also is involved. Ancient religions didn’t require exclusivity – and hence intolerance of infidels – but Judaism changed that, and was followed in that practice by Christianity. After the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, intolerance not only was instituted for non-Christians, but also for the wrong species of Christian. When Islam developed, the intolerance on both the Christian and the Muslim sides led to war.

The religious strife of the Middle Ages became even more bloody in the 16th and 17th centuries. “At length, in view of the inconclusiveness of the struggle, a few enlightened nations, led by the Dutch, discovered that it was possible for Protestants and Catholics to live peaceably side by side [p. 113].” The French Revolution allowed Catholic countries to substitute political for religious strife.

The notion that “Western values” include religious toleration does not comport with the historical record: Europe actually was less tolerant than other continents. The Western intolerance only subsided when neither side could be extirpated.

The century of comparative European peace starting in 1815 ended abruptly in 1914. Those of Russell’s generation thought that the progress of the nineteenth century was the template for the future – instead of being a brief respite from darkness. “The practice of toleration, liberty and enlightenment had spread with astonishing rapidity [p. 114].” With hindsight, we can see the gathering storms, but the onset of World War I met with a mentally unprepared Europe; as a result, nations piled blunder upon blunder.

In the two centuries up to 1914, there have been times where fanatics held the reins, but generally these were brief intervals, even during the French Revolution. The post-World War I era has seen a much greater degree of fanaticism in power, and not only from Russia’s Bolsheviks. The competing fanaticisms, including the Cold War version, make it impossible to move in concert to a world government.

Soviet fanaticism derives from Marx and from Russian history. Pre-Marx socialists tended to be benevolent humanists. Marx had no use for what he thought of as their utopian schemes. His rather deterministic doctrine even marginalized the need to persuade opponents. His system in practice involved hatred of the bourgeoisie, though they were, again by his lights, only playing their own historical role – a sort of class-based predestination not unlike Calvin’s. “Naturally the propertied classes, wherever his creed spread, were terrified into violent reaction, and the vague good-natured liberalism of the middle nineteenth century gave way to a blacker and fiercer outlook [pages 116-117].”

The Marxian message found an appreciative audience among those who would prosper when the existing order is overturned. But as ordinary workers experienced improved living conditions in advanced countries, Marxism held less appeal. Hence it was in Russia, not in a highly developed capitalist nation, that Marxists took control, despite the relatively tiny Russian proletariat.

Bertie relates that he personally knew Bebel and Liebknecht, and found them to be gentle humanitarians. In these German communists, as well as in other radicals of the late nineteenth century, the cruelty that became pronounced in Bolshevik communism was not visible.

Lenin’s interest in Westernization places him closer to Marx than Stalin is. [Recall that New Hopes for a Changing World was written while Stalin was alive.] Lenin did not possess an outstanding intellect, but his commitment and determination was formidable. He somehow managed, starting from meager resources, to secure power in a largely defeated, almost non-functioning Russia. But this unlikely securing of power was based on force (following the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly), and force has been the cornerstone of Bolshevik legitimacy, as it were, ever since.

Russian fanaticism is longstanding. Stalin’s Russia – where communism and patriotism are largely intertwined – has spread communism quite widely, with perhaps more gains yet to come. “No success since the rise of Islam has been so rapid or so astonishing as the success of Communism [p. 121].” Not long ago, Fascism was almost as successful, and we might see a rebirth of that ideology, too, especially if the US were to return to 1920’s-style economic policies.

When a state is controlled by fanatics it becomes an unreliable partner for cooperation. Voluntary movement to a world government therefore will be aided by a reduction of communist fanaticism, and by a reduction of fanatic anti-communism, too.

“The essence of fanaticism consists in regarding some one matter as so important as to outweigh everything else [p. 121].” A current example is the unwillingness by some Americans to employ nuclear scientists who have distant, weak ties to communism. On both sides of the cold war are those who would rather see humanity exterminated rather than cooperate with the rival side.

Some fanaticisms, either from the nature of the beliefs or the small number of adherents, are not socially costly, such as the Amish prohibition on buttons. Most fanaticisms, including that of the Nazis, have their origins in difficult times, which prime the population to accept the fanatic claims. Tsarist oppression (including the execution of Lenin’s brother), combined with the suffering of military defeat, helped to stoke Bolshevism.

“To cure fanaticism, except as a rare aberration of eccentric individuals, three things are needed: security, prosperity and a liberal education [p. 123].” All three of these necessities are lacking today. The appeal of fanaticism in part draws from the lack of security that currently accompanies the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Russia is not economically developed – the west should seek to trade with Russia, to promote its prosperity. And Russia is a fierce opponent to liberal education, while America draws back from liberalism, too. “Consider the case of Dr. Lattimore, who was accused of being a traitor for saying things about China which every well-informed person knew to be true, and which it was to America’s interest to have known by those who make American policy [p. 124].” 

Statesmen must address the problem of insecurity, in part by explaining the intolerable costs of future conflict. Scientists and others in the West should gather, without endorsing communism or capitalism, to make clear the horrors of modern war (even for the so-called winning side), and to indicate that cooperation among the cold war rivals is possible. (Recall Bertie’s faith in the reasonableness of philosophers in global politics, as expressed in Portraits From Memory.) Removing the fear of war would help to liberalize Russia and to increase toleration in the US.

World government is the goal, and though it will take half a century, the barriers put in its way by population, race, and creed can be surmounted. If we can muddle through while maintaining peace, eventually “mankind may enter upon a period of prosperity and well-being without parallel in the past history of our species [p. 125]” – not Bertie’s only vision of a future golden age.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Twelve

“Racial Antagonism,” pages 96-110

The times have changed enough since 1951 that this chapter on race is a little unsettling today – though not as unsettling as Russell’s writings during the eugenics era.

The English and French spent most of 750 years at each other's throats, but they didn’t have an inherent dislike for each other. Americans descended from the English, however, have generally been quite contemptuous of Native Americans. This sort of hostility, rooted in biological differences [Russell claims], is the subject of this chapter. Russell also thinks that in terms of numbers and biological differences, the important racial divisions are between “the whites, the Mongolians, and the Negroes [p. 97].” Later (p. 98), when he is providing rough statistics on the global population by race, Russell notes that people in India don’t fit neatly within these racial divisions.

Russell praises the Russians for being less insolent towards other races than are most white people. Partly as a result, non-white people tend to be politically more friendly with Russia than with the English-speaking (predominantly) white countries.

The horrors of the enslavement of Negroes are well known, and profound injustice towards Negroes long has outlived slavery. As conditions have improved for Negroes in the US, they have deteriorated for blacks subject to white rule in Africa, with King Leopold II being a shocking example. South Africa, previously more humane, is now engaged in behavior that seems designed to build sentiment favorable to Russia among blacks. Leopold and the torturers of South Africa proclaim fervent Christianity.

Southern Europeans can be as cruel towards blacks as are Northern Europeans, but they don’t seem to hold the same racial animus. There is no evidence for the frequent suggestion of some Nordic-type whites that racially mixed offspring are biologically disadvantaged.

White southerners express great confusion towards black people, claiming they find them physically repulsive but wanting to use them as servants. What they really can’t abide is equality and justice for blacks. But is there an instinctive basis for the views of whites?

If Chinese and Japanese were allowed to immigrate to “white” countries, their work habits would soon make them dominate the labor market. The threat that this would happen led the American and Australian democracies to limit immigration from Asia. A world democracy, alternatively, would welcome open borders. [Russell writes, somewhat enigmatically: “Those who hold – as I certainly do – that it would be regrettable if California and Australia ceased to be white men’s countries, must seek some principle other than democracy to justify their position [pages 100-101].” Russell doesn’t provide such a principle. What would Russell make of the fact that non-Hispanic whites now form less than 40% of the population of California?] In some parts of Asia, the Chinese population faces the sort of antipathy that Jews face throughout much of the world.

The awful prejudice against Jews started as religious, but economic motives then joined in. The eventual Nazi hatred of Jews was divorced from religion.

If we examine the current antagonism many Gentiles feel towards Jews, we will hear various charges of sharp business practices and whatnot. But in fact, it is the aversion that comes first, and the charges are developed to justify the aversion. Some of the dislike itself is based on the success of Jews – how to explain losing out to them, unless they competed unfairly?

Other groups (such as Quakers) are successful in business, without meeting with the same aversion. It is the fear of the strange that underlies the hatred against Jews, and underlies racial prejudice more generally. In other words, cowardice stokes prejudices: “If Hitler had been a brave man he would not have been an anti-Semite [p. 104].”

Skin color as a basis for bigotry seems to be rather modern. Russell offers an analysis of Othello in which the social problem of the Othello-Desdemona pairing draws more from class distinctions than from racial ones. “No one objected to Pocahontas as a white man’s wife; on the contrary, she was treated with honor [p. 104].” The instinct for racial prejudice probably draws not only from ideas of stranger danger, but also from the fear of being dominated by the other – a fear that all slave-owning societies face.

The instinctual basis for racial hatred is but a small part of the story, and one that can easily be re-written by exposure and acclimation. Other elements are more durable: differing habits engendering a view of our own race’s superiority, envy at the success of others, or condemnation of their work habits if they are not successful. Further, we are all descendants of those who survived countless wars, so the search for someone to hate is ingrained – racial differences can fill that void. But now wars against the hated others bring disaster to all participants.

Feelings of both superiority and inferiority fuel racial tensions. People like to think well of themselves, and hence tend to disparage groups – including genders and nationalities – that they are not part of. Feeling superior licenses a certain condescending goodwill to others – but then fears of inferiority darken one’s views. When the subjugated (including women and slaves) become willing to protest their treatment, the oppressors respond with hatred.

Some racial hatred reflects a sort of self-interest, but the US domestic version is in no one’s interest. The dislike of poor foreign immigrants might be in a nation’s economic self-interest, however. “Hostility to Jews is wholly irrational [p. 106]”; it undermined Spain and destroyed Germany.

All in all, the best solution to avoiding the problems of racial hatred is equality – as opposed to a species of apartheid or a caste system, for instance. “Some way must be found by which Jews and Gentiles, Negroes and white men, can live peaceably side by side in one community [pages 107-108].” The equality should include intermarriage – there is no biological rationale for separating the races. Advantages to racial purity are lacking in the historical record; the evidence that does exist rather seems on the side of impurity. Keeping economically disparate races geographically separate (by limiting immigration) where they already are separated can keep the peace, perhaps, while living standards are raised in the relatively less developed nation. But where races already intermingle, full equality is the best policy.

“Racial antagonism is an illiberal and irrational heritage from our animal past [p. 109].” This antagonism must be extirpated if any human races are to survive into the next century. Governments declare wars, but they are goaded by widespread hatreds in the populace – hatreds that provide a seeming rationale for war. So we must rid our hearts of these hatreds, or pay a massive price.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Eleven

“World Government,” pages 89-95

Industrial and agriculture societies need each other, just like the butcher and the baker need each other. So it would seem that doux commerce should reign – except that trade is now generally managed by governments: “…if the butcher is one sovereign State and the baker is another, if the number of loaves that the butcher can exchange for his joints depends upon his skill with the revolver, it is possible that the baker may cease to regard him with ardent affection [p. 89].” So economic interdependence, mediated not through the market but through nation-states, causes strife, not fellow-feeling. Politics is the master – and contra Marx, politics itself is not determined by economics. Marx did not understand that impoverishing others is more important to many people than enriching themselves.

The advantages of large size are most apparent in war, and war has served to expand social units, up to nations and combinations of nations. War used to offer profits to victors, but now it has become too expensive. (As a percentage of the population, war was often more costly in the past, when disease deaths are considered along with battle deaths.) “The population of Japan increased by about five millions during the Second World War, whereas it is estimated that during the Thirty Years’ War the population of Germany was halved [p. 91].” But the radioactivity of atomic weapons might wipe out all life on earth, though we can’t be sure until it is too late.

Ages when defensive forces have the upper hand over offensive forces tend to be happy ages. We have to worry that technological advance might give a considerable advantage to offense, perhaps through biological weapons. Modern wars also put more of the civilian population at risk, diminishing the attractiveness of urban life. “I am an old man, and I can remember a time when it was not thought quite the thing to make war on women and children; but that happy age is past [p. 92].”

All in all, war is more of a menace now than it has been in the past. The prevention of war, therefore, takes on paramount importance, and justifies thinking about massive political reforms. Simply continuing with our present nation-state system will, with high likelihood, bring what it has always brought, war. So a global sovereign power, one possessing a monopoly on the most lethal weapons, is required.

How would such a world authority work? Besides its monopoly control of advanced weaponry, it must command the loyalty of troops. Inter-national disputes must be submitted to its jurisdiction, and any unsanctioned military offensive will make the aggressor nation a pariah, and subject to armed retaliation from the global forces. Various judicial and legislative powers will evolve naturally in the wake of the requisite military authority.

The world government may well not be democratic, and it may be foisted on some nations unwillingly. [Russell made a similar point in Unpopular Essays.] Humanity is probably too politically immature to achieve world government in a wholly consensual manner. Over time, defeated powers can join the winning partnership. But for stability to reign, the great conflictual issues of race, population, and creed will have to be defused. “It will be impossible to feel that the world is in a satisfactory state until there is a certain degree of equality, and a certain acquiescence everywhere in the power of the world Government, and this will not be possible until the poorer nations of the world have become educated, modernized in their technique, and more or less stationary in population [pages 94-95].” Western progress in the past half-century shows that this pleasant prospect is not a pipedream.

The chain of logic leads to the conclusion that a stable global government can only exist if the major countries are not under population pressure. Today’s leading nations have reduced infant mortality, enlarged lifespans, and improved living standards. Their success provides a template for poorer nations. So the conclusion is one of hope: men at this time are masters of their fate. They possess the means to achieve a better world.