Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Dark Knight of Political Philosophies


I have come to realize that Localism is the Dark Knight of political philosophies. It may not be the philosophy of government that most people want, especially people interested in public policy, but its the one they need.

 The first "Dark Knight" Batman movie explored the idea that there was a difference between the hero that people wanted and the hero that people needed. The good people of Gotham wanted an optimistic camera-friendly champion to work within the system that they were comfortable with. They wanted to believe their problems were not because the system itself was flawed, rather the answer was simply to change the identity of the person running it and that will fix things.

Except it didn't fix things. While its true that the right person can keep a soundly-built ship from running aground, if the ship has a structural flaw then a storm can expose it no matter who the Captain is. It is the storm which exposes the design flaw. At that point changing Captains won't help. One must go to port and do a re-fit, however much trouble it may be. In the movie, the emergence of The Joker represented that storm. He had an evil gift of finding and exploiting the ugliness of people, combined with an understanding of how to leverage the complex, interconnected, yet predictable form of the system against itself. When this gift was used against people in the system it was revealed that all of them had something they wanted more than justice.

Batman did not work within their system. He did not need the approval of the general public. He was not subject to media manipulation, or The Joker's manipulation. He did not lean on orders from headquarters, or the permission of people who knew less about the situation than he did. He just acted. Only one thing about him was predictable, that he would follow his own law and refuse to kill.

Harvey Dent and the good people of Gotham felt everything was basically fine, they just needed the right central figure to lead the system. The Joker knew that the system itself was flawed and those flaws would be amplified by exploiting the flawed humans which operated the system at all levels. In this sense, the size and complexity of the system simply offered The Joker more targets, more ways to aggravate stress points.

The Joker represents anarchy, the other extreme from Dent. I don't say that anarchists want to hurt people just to make a point like the Joker did, but that character would represent anarchists in this analogy. They have no illusions about the system and would like nothing more than the whole thing to burn to the ground. But he went too far in believing that everything was ugly, everything was dirty. It didn't all need to go, but it did need intervention from outside itself in order to function in a way that would produce any lasting good.

Batman was the hero that showed Gothamites that their system was not able to maintain itself without external correction. Batman showed The Joker that not all external corrective forces were hypocrites. The Joker's quest to prove that there was no difference between the respectable and the contemptible, that all heroes and authorities were at core just as amoral as he was, failed against The Dark Knight.

People who are attracted to politics tend to have strong feelings about using political power. Generally they are motivated by one of two things: either they like to rule others or they hate to be ruled by others. For those who like to rule, there is the present extremism of the central state. They think we can "make America great again" by picking the right hero to be our strongman. They have no patience for the thought that our problems may run deeper than that, and may in fact be systemic. People who love the Central State are interested in making other people do what they want. They have no desire for localism. Localism is for people who can sleep well at night even when people they have never met in a city where they have never been are doing things they would not approve of.

For the opposite group, those who hate to be ruled, Localism does not go far enough. They are drawn to philosophies of government which confirm their rejection of all authority. They want some of the more extreme flavors of Libertarian ideas, such as anarchism. Any state is too much state for them. The very concept must be discredited. They marshal some manner of intellectual arguments against the necessity of the state, but not so much as to withstand real scrutiny. Most of the second book about localism was devoted to showing why much of the  underpinnings of anarchist thought are uncompelling.

Unfortunately the human tendency is to start with our emotions and afterwards make some attempt at formulating a logic which supports our previous emotional conclusions. For one who wishes to see power exercised over others, even people too distant to have any serious affect on their own lives, some rationalization for the central state will be constructed, no matter how flimsy. In the same way, if one's emotions lead one to rebel against all authority, unprovable premises will be adopted which allow for a philosophy which justifies it. It is the rare and healthy person who can dispassionately take a look at other ideas, especially those which begin outside of their emotional comfort zone.

Localism is a philosophy of government for emotionally and mentally healthy people. It is for those who feel no compulsion to rule over distant strangers yet accept the necessity of some kind of government for themselves. It accepts that we are not always the best judge of the nobility of our own actions- be we ruler or ruled. It answers the old question of "if man must be governed himself then how can he rule others?" by saying that both the governed and the governing must check and balance one another. Neither can be trusted with absolute freedom of action, either over themselves or others. Those few of us who do manage to break ourselves free of all restraint most often do so to their own destruction, whether individual or government. At the same time we acknowledge the present central state does not really restrain government, and presents only the illusion of freedom and accountability and not freedom or accountability itself.

Ultimately the Philosophy of Government we need is one that reflects the truth about us. About Mankind. Though statism and anarchism seem like polar opposites, they actually originate from the same mistaken assumption about man. Both the philosophy of the Central State and that of Anarchy start with the idea that we are basically good. The one says "our sort can rule others without corruption" and the other says "we can live unrestrained by external rules without corruption". They are both built on the ethereal foundation of our own purported goodness. For anarchists, this goodness extends to the common man. Adherents of the central state may think that only those of their viewpoint are so righteous as to be able to manifest this incorruptible and innate goodness. Each asks for unaccountable power- one over everyone and the other against everyone - on the same false basis.

Localism presents a more classical, and honest, assessment of humankind. Mankind is not good by nature. Mankind is sinful by nature, and being able to cover that up and put on a good show is just part of the sin. Further, few things bring out the inherent badness of man like a lack of accountability whether it be in the form of escaping all external authority over themselves, or the unchecked ability to impose such authority over others. This is not what we want to hear about ourselves, even if it is true. We don't wish to hear it even if it was the classical western view of man for over a thousand years, and that view produced a very great deal of human liberty. Perhaps it worked, but its not what we want to hear just now. From this classical and blunt assessment of human nature springs the political philosophy of Localism.  The Dark Knight of its kind. The one we need, even if it fails to flatter us.

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