In this era of trickle-down economics with the increasing income disparity between the wealthy and the rest of society, a polarized debate has ensued on how to address the issue. Rousseau insisted that men must bear the moral responsibility for the kind of society they construct or accept. The purpose of politics is to restore freedom to us – through the general will – created through agreement with other free and equal persons. Today extreme individualism, social disintegration and amoral relativism create a climate where men elevate their personal interests above the common good. The legacy of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has been to dare to challenge the system, identifying extreme inequality as the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, and highlight the failure of the legislators to protect 99% of the people. Today where does the middle class turn for answers for change to address the increasing income disparity in society?
Rousseau makes his main objective the emancipation of man from the conflicts, corruption and uncertainties of society. He saw the political community as the best means of effecting such liberation. Rousseau’s community is indistinguishable from the state. His idea of the ‘general will’ is the will of the political organization, which he constructs as an entity with a life of its own and apart from the individual members of which it is constructed. The general will aims at the common good – what is best for the state as a whole. As societies began to form, the division of labour parallels the beginning of moral inequality. To control tensions the rich trick the poor into creating a political society. The poor believe that this creation will secure their freedom and safety, but in fact, merely fixes the relations of domination that existed before, creating laws to establish inequality.
Essentially the people allow the government to have power over them; they consent to be governed. In return the government promises to protect the rights of the people. Rousseau believes government and societies are not devised to satisfy desires we antecedently have, rather they are brought into existence by the actions of people who deliberately act to create institutions and practices to satisfy their wants. Social change is an effect of human action, but not the intended effect, rather the unintended by-product that results from the sum total of human actions. Social institutions are actually the problem as they hold established ways of acting and thinking on people. Moral inequalities are characterized by the existence of different classes or the domination and exploitation of some people by others. In a state where the vulgarities of private interest prevail over the common interests of the collective, the will of all can be quite different from the general will.
Nietzsche contended that the individual must decide which situations are to count as moral situations. Existentialists believe that personal experience and acting on one’s own convictions are essential to arriving at the truth, and that the understanding of a situation is superior to that of a detached, objective observer. Nietzsche observes, “truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins. We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors – in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all…”1
Truth is sometimes a condition of life, but the value of truth is not necessarily easy to obtain. What is the value of truth over falsehood? Many now accept there is no need for truth at all times in all occasions. In fact, an untruth can indeed be a necessary condition of life. The fact that a belief is false is not and has not been a reason for people to abandon it, rather beliefs are abandoned based on whether they serve the goals of preserving and enhancing human life. So the debate or question is based not upon distinguishing what is true from what is false, but rather what is life-enhancing, and what is life-destroying. Using these definitions, then what people in society usually call truth has more to do with social conventions than reality.2 Nietzsche observes, “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.”
A paradigm is our perception of reality, our view of the world. It is our interpretation of events based on previous teaching we have received. Kuhn denied that science is constantly approaching the truth. Kuhn observed, “each paradigm will be shown to satisfy more or less the criteria that it dictates for itself and to fall short of a few of those dictated by its opponent … no paradigm ever solves all the problems it defines…” In the 1970s the monetarists sought to resurrect the pre-Keynesian view that market economies are inherently stable in the absence of major unexpected fluctuations in the money supply. Because of this belief in the stability of the free market economics, active demand management (by increasing government spending) was believed unnecessary and indeed likely to be harmful. This paradigm did not solve all the problems it defines, for example, the failure of a pure monetary policy to stimulate the economy in 2001-2003.
Change introduced during the Reagan administration created a paradigm shift in the perception of how the economy should be managed. The initial supply side economics was never believed by its creators; it was promoted as a credible theory in order to create a political doctrine to unite the right. Eventually supply side economics was amalgamated with the ‘starve the beast’ theory. Starve the beast was used simply to unite the Republican Party, as reducing taxes was politically popular. Then this dogma of minimal government and minimal regulation was rebranded as trickle down economics – the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free (incentive effects would generate new activity hence more revenue) without causing budget deficits. Profits will ultimately trickle down to the bottom indirectly benefiting those who do not directly benefit from the policy changes. Kuhn also noted that a paradigm wouldn’t give way until there is a new one to replace it.
We are aware that global corporation disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry spew various amounts of disinformation into the system. This includes the climate change denial tactics of the fossil fuel industry by introducing manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, setting up so called independent front organizations to publically promote its desired message. They cherry pick scientific spokespeople whose interpretations of the peer-reviewed literature suggest to the media and the public that the debate amongst scientists continues, and the results are not definitive. Industries sponsor sophisticated research activities that include both funding of established research institutions, as well as funding of advocacy and ideological organizations to conduct disinformation campaigns – leaving public and law makers confused. With the election of Donald Trump we now have a better understanding of the process and the scope of the deliberate misinformation programs funded by the oligarchs.
We are in debt to Donald Trump for exposing the ugly network of lies that Rousseau predicted that creates the society in which we live. He pulled back the curtain on the metaphor of the invisible hand exposing the oligarchy that is responsible for the increasing economic inequality between the wealthy and the rest of society. The ideology of neoliberalism drives the social agenda and economic goals of the economic elites. Trump also illustrated how emotion drives decisions – facts are now secondary – how politicians promise change to get elected, then once elected do an about turn and cater to corporate money. Trump ushered in the post-truth era in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts. Now that it is no longer necessary to debate what is true from what is false; we can now focus on distinguishing what is life-enhancing, and what is life-destroying.
We turn to life-enhancing actions: This includes the freedom for everyone to reach their full potential – the opportunities one has to reach his or her potential is the most important measure of freedom. The OWS protesters provide the necessary truth to begin the process of replacing the existing economic paradigm – a government controlled by corporate money and the growing income gap between the very wealthy and the rest of society. We must not give up our freedom and allow our lives to be governed by ideology that limits our opportunities. It is necessary to challenge the status quo of neoliberalism with its causal determinism, and introduce changes such as progressive taxation that includes eliminating special tax breaks designed for the rich, and redistribute wealth more evenly. The relevant consequence of this change is the freedom that optimizes the human experience allowing individuals opportunities to reach their full potential in society.
1 The Perspectives of Nietzsche: Truth and Knowledge. http://www.theperspectivesofnietzsche.com/nietzsche/ntruth.html
2 Cline, Austin. (17 March 2017) Nietzsche, Truth, and Untruth: Evaluating Whether Truth is Better than Untruth. https://www.thoughtco.com/nietzsche-truth-and-untruth-250548