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Morality and the wealth of nations - Wanderings and Maunderings [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Morality and the wealth of nations [Mar. 16th, 2017|09:25 am]
I read somewhere* that a society has the morality it can afford**, and the statement has stuck with me for thirty years. It resonated with me because it shone a light on a thing I'd observed but hadn't really thought about in any kind of organized way.

It speaks, I think, to the idea that there is a hierarchy of needs for societies as well as for individuals. If your community can barely feed and defend yourselves, any morality that says outsiders are equal to group members in humanity, and in their right to the resources necessary to survival, is a morality that will lead to the death of the community. Such a community cannot afford to allow group members to act in a way that does not support the immediate needs of the community; dissension is death.

But a community that outproduces its needs is a community that can afford charity, that can afford to see interactions with outsiders not as zero-sum, if-they-gain-we-lose, but as an opportunity for both sides to gain. It is a community that can afford to view outsiders not as enemies, but as potential allies, and it is a community that can afford to have group members question and argue against the prevailing norms.

And the wealthier a community becomes, the more it is able to view differences not as threats but as strengths. The more it is able to welcome outsiders into the fold, and allow them to contribute to the wealth of the community, increasing the speed of the feedback loop. The more it can afford to look at the group members it has repressed in the past, and extend to them more and more of the privileges afforded by default to the "core" members.

It's important to acknowledge, of course, that what the community can afford will always outpace what the community will allow, for a variety of reasons, most of them selfish. From the history of our own community, slavery persisted long after it made economic sense, which itself was longer than we actually needed slavery in order for the community to prosper. Women's suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, LGBTQ rights, giving women the right to control their bodies themselves, have all lagged criminally behind society's ability to accommodate them.

All of which is a longwinded setup for my actual statement which is this:

The current administration and their collaborators in Congress are not only trying to roll back all the moral progress we have made since WWII (or even longer) as a society, as a nation, and in the world, their attempts to wreck the economy, if successful, will also destroy a great deal of our ability to afford that moral progress. To, in effect, go back to the days when blatant and overt racism, sexism, homo- and trans-phobia, are not only tolerated, but expected and encouraged.

We've seen, over and over again, the right try to block or roll back the rights that have been so hard-fought and won by non-rich, white, straight, cis men.

We've never that I can recall seen the right actually, credibly attack the engines of economic prosperity that allowed those rights to win through.

The rich sycophants to the Trump regime don't care if the pie gets smaller, as long as they get a bigger share. In fact, they'll actively conspire to shrink the pie. And the working- and middle-class white folks who voted for him appear perfectly happy to accept that they're going to lose out "bigly", as long as the folks they look down on are punished even worse.

This is big. This is important. This is not normal.

We need to prevent this from becoming normal.

* in Niven and Pournelle's _Lucifer's Hammer_, if I am remembering correctly.

** I learned much later of MLK's statement, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice", which I think is an observation of the same phenomenon.

This entry was originally posted at http://georgmi.dreamwidth.org/237081.html; please feel free to comment below or at Dreamwidth.