Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The narrow self-interested maximizing behavior of Homo oeconomicus can be transcended

A Note on Evil from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro Now, I left out a couple of phrases in the citation above; the entire sentence actually reads:

“Owing to its universality, this mode of thinking demonstrates a character of the human race at large and all at once; owing to its disinteredness, a moral character of humanity, at least in its predisposition, a character which not only permits people to hope for progress toward the better, but is already itself progress in so far as its capacity is sufficient for the present.”

The two key terms here are universality and disinterestedness. Kant is not merely praising enthusiasm and fervor. He is almost oppressively aware that enthusiasm and fervor guarantee nothing, and that they have propelled many of the worst happenings and the worst movements in human history — something that is all the more evident today, after the horrors of the twentieth century. Nothing that is narrowly drawn, chauvanistic, nationalistic, etc., can stand as evidence for a predisposition towards betterment...

In the grander scheme of things, this means that we must reject, on Kantian grounds, all ideologies that declare that humanity is incapable of betterment because human beings are inherently limited and imperfect (such is the tenor of the anti-”utopian” rejections of anything that goes beyond the limits of contemporary predatory capitalism), and all ideologies that declare that the narrow self-interested maximizing behavior of Homo oeconomicus cannot ever be transcended, as well as all ideologies that limit the prospects of emancipation to any particular group, nation, religion, etc.

And in the narrow, tawdry limits of contemporary US politics — to move from great things to small — this is why the boundless cynicism of the Republican Party must be rejected as evil. The Democrats may well be playing games with our hopes for betterment, hypocritically encouraging those hopes only the better to betray them, etc., etc.; but at least they represent a world in which such hopes stil exist. This entry was posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2008 at 12:26 pm and is filed under Politics, Theory.

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