I like to continue with where I left in “About ‘Emma’ (X)”. I stopped at subject about the debate about “elitism” and “populism”. Again, there are a lot to be said about this. So I can only say a few things that come to my minds in this post.
First, I like to say that there are so many twists and turns in the debate about “elitism” and “populism”, because there are many confusions in the debate. In fact, we can say there is not just one debate, but multiples of them. At the very least, we can analyze the debate from economic point of view and culture point of view. Yes, I think there are economic “elitism” and “populism”, and culture “elitism” and “populism” (while within each of them, there are still many twists and turns), and the confusions about them are at least somewhat responsible to what the world is at right now.
There are (or at least could be) many confusions and contradictions about them, but I will make some attempt to give at least one kind of explanation of what is happening (or at least in one aspect). Economic “elitism” tends to justify and enforce the economic system as it is by suggesting that the economic system is based on “merit” and “merit” alone. Economic “populism” (or at least one kind of economic “populism”, more about it later) basically directly questions the “merit” theory, and it is especially effective when the effects of the collapse of the “Wall Street” was shouldered by people outside of “Wall Street”. But this kind of “populism” did not become the driving force for changes at least partially because people who’s interests are mostly affected often are driven out the system and become voiceless.
I want to say a few more words about “genius” of “merit based system”. If we adopt the “teaching” of this system, people who are left out the economic system are deemed unworthy. So, mostly people who are denied the access to the economic system inevitably will feel shame and self-doubt. And, people will treat them accordingly as well. But the reality is, people often are not judged based on “merit”, or at least not just based on “merit” alone. This should not be a surprise to people. Given how “messed up” the human culture is, one can imagine that many people that dare to question this system are silenced (by most effectively throwing them out of the system and making them invisible).
In addition, the energy (or emotions) based on economic “populism” at least sometimes got carried over to fuel culture “populism”. It seems to me culture “populism” is quite complicated. I think one of main reason for culture “populism” to be so complicated is because the emotions accumulated from economic “populism” were not able to find rightful outlets, and could have been purposefully directed to any targets possible to divert the attentions.
To simplify what I want to say (I will come back to write more in detail later), the debate about economic “elitism” and “populism” at least fundamentally is the kind of debate that is worthy. First of all, we need to look at every components of the economic system and see whether they are strictly “merit” based. I might write about it a little more in detail later. Here, I will just say one simple thing to make my point. Whether something is of “merit” needs to be judged by someone. Who is supposed to be the “judge”? Can the “judge” be completely unbiased? I think the answer is no. So, there is an inherit problem with “merit” based system.
Now as I think about it, it seems that the economic “elitism” is derived from culture “elitism”, by basically mutating “merit” in culture “elitism”. Let me explain it a little further. Although there are some complications regarding “merit”, “merit” in general is undoubtedly a positive term, meaning that we generally accept it as of “merit”. Let me explain the complication. I think basically “merit” is something similar to “Truth, Beauty and Goodness”, three pillars of Humanism. I suggested Love and Reason to replace these three pillars because of the complications about them. I already write a little why I think “Goodness” is problematic, because something good or not need to be judged in contexts, so at least “Goodness” cannot be viewed as something absolute.
What about “Beauty”? I think what drive the division between culture “populism” and “elitism” is mostly resided with “Beauty”. What I mean is, the division about what is “Beauty” or in other words, what is “pleasing”, divided the “cultured” and the “common people” more personally. Human’s sensual system is a “progressive” system, meaning it self-progresses based on the signals it received. This progress especially can be accelerated intentionally. “Intellectuals” usually by definitions are paying more attentions on analyzing things, and generally tend to intentionally encourage the progresses of their sensual system. In addition, “intellectuals” often are focusing on particular parts of the human knowledge system, and seeking questions and answers related to their interests. So, the standard for “Beauty” or what is “pleasing” for “intellectuals” are often quite different from the “common people”. Lack of understanding between “intellectuals” and “common people” often can be traced to this origin.
What I said about this matter is a summarization, and there could be more detailed discussions (I am planning to write about this later). Here, I want to say among “intellectual pursuits”, there are generally two kinds. One is more or less in the direction of pursuing the “Truth”, other is giving the appearance of it, while focusing on trivial facts or theories. The line between them may not be too obvious, especially to people who do not have much of knowledge in the fields of studies. The disdain about the latter kind probably resided with the “common people” the most.
I think the biggest obstacles of pursuing the truth is the word “belief”, because “belief” often means accepting something as the “Truth” before there are (or even completely lacking of) reasons to lead to the conclusions. With this road block, “intellectual pursuits” often are derailed one way or another, and “intellectuals” are often the laughing stocks of the “common people” (without knowing the true cause of the spectacles).
The situations with the “intellectuals” are quite complicated. In some sense, they play the role of “Philosopher King” but without the power. Or, in other words, they are “philosophers” hired by the “king”. So, there is a dilemma. Are they supposed to be “philosophers”, or servants to the “king”? It seems there is an inherit conflict of interests situation. We probably will get a sense the seriousness of the situation by what is left out of the “Truth”.
I will give some examples about it with what are related to the debate about “elitism” and “populism”. First, related to the economic “elitism” and “populism”, it seems there is one thing that is completely left out, which is the stigma of “being poor”. In pretty much all societies, social activities are economic activities fueled with money. So, for an individual without money, there is no freedom to speak of. So, for people who cannot find jobs to earn money, there is an abyss that one may not be able to climb out of. Even for people with less money than others, they are not in equal footing with others. But there is no legally protective status of “being poor”. To the contrary, “being poor” is more and more accepted to be equal to “being lazy” or at least being “less able”, and to be look down on.
Since I am already here, I will write a few more words about how society should treat poor people. I want to talk about charity versus welfare. Emma and Mr. Knightley are “good people” because they are very “charitable”. In fact, Mr. Knightley went far beyond what ordinary “charity” is, when he sent all his apples to Mrs. Bates. But is it enough? I don’t think so. Would he be able to attend all their economic needs? Would he be able to attend the economic needs of all people? Again, I am not saying that kindness is bad, and “charity” is bad. I am only saying “poor people” cannot rely on “charity” because it usually cannot change their situation. But welfare by definition (at least by my definition) is to make people “well”, meaning to change their situation. It had to be done systematically.
I heard people talking about inventions in Artificial Intelligence field are “evil” because they will lead to people losing their jobs. This really indicated how “messed up” the economic system is. Isn’t the whole point of people should not be “lazy” is that there are works ought to be done? If “machines” can do most of the work, or even all the work, then shouldn’t people be able to work less or even not at all?
My posts here are not meant to discuss economic subjects in depth. I am mostly focusing on general discussions within philosophy field. So, here, regarding the subject, I will say we need to change the mentality regarding this issue. There cannot be a civilized society if people need to worry about their survivals all the time. Yes, people can choose to be civil even when they are very poor. But as a society, there cannot be an expectation of this kind. The development of civilized society is to reduce people’s worries. When this is possible, we can start to expect everyone to use the principles of Love and Reason to direct their actions.
I want to mention one more thing, “tax reform”, meaning cutting taxes for some people. I think the philosophy for “tax reform” is somewhat related to “freedom”, so existentialism could be the “moral justification”. I think people somehow treat this as some form of “populism” because “middle class” might get tax cut. But if we value the debate between “elitism” and “populism” because it represents the voice of reason for changing the system to the better, then we have to consider people who the system are mostly bias against, the “poor”. As the “inevitable result” of “tax reform” is to cut spending on welfare (it seems to always turn out this way), it is pretty much an “insider’s game”, an “elitist’s game”, because it is about people who benefited from the system (about people who have significant incomes to be taxed to begin with).
Let me summarize my points here. The current economic system and social system are not really “merit” based system (in fact, one can argue they are far from it), because what is “merit” (in the context of “Truth, Beauty and Goodness”) is not very clear at least. But disdain of “common people” towards “intellectual” and “culture” is ill founded as well. When people dismiss something by labels them “elitism”, they often use examples that “experts” are wrong (by lack of knowledge or intentional misrepresentation) to persuade others that they (not necessarily the same “experts”) are wrong in other things. People should be aware of this kind of mistakes.
Emma is a good example. She is wrong to suggest Mr. Elton would be a “good match” for Harriet Smith, and she is wrong to think that Frank Churchill will be a “good match” for her as well. But is Emma wrong to think Harriet Smith should not accept a marriage proposal until she is sure? Or, is Emma wrong to think Harriet Smith would also want to “cultured” and to have a husband that is “cultured”? At least not entirely (I will write more about these in later posts).
My point is, “intellectuals” can often be wrong. But we need to know what are the true causes. In order to make progress, we cannot dismiss everything altogether, but need to analyze things in details, and find out what is right and what is wrong.
November 21, 2017