Monday, June 8, 2009
The United States is founded on the virtue of freedom. From previous posts I have defined freedom as a synthesis of liberty and equality. In this paradox there is a tension that we must be mindful of. This tension has been referred to as conflict by Hegel. Tension is a better word for the process of virtue that I am trying to describe. When any one encounters this tension they immediately feel the need to resolve it. This is much like the experience of finishing a musical piece that is left unresolved. The hearer wants to finish the piece. It may even be painful for a person to leave it unresolved. This tension is created by unanswered questions and a desire to make sense out of a seeming contradiction.
This process of tension is crucial to the development of institutions. These societal structures ease tension by enhancing virtue. For example, the institution of education in the United States has embraced freedom. When I was in high school in the early 1970s the tension of liberty licensed a lack of academic discipline that made me very content, but incompetent as a student. To emphasize individual liberties at the expense of another's learning can also be selfish. Is giving into the tension of egalitarian cooperation any better? Would it have been better for me to have been enrolled in a curriculum designed to enhance my collaboration? This strategy could have produced a tolerant student without basic knowledge or skills to succeed. An education that stresses the choice of the individual or the collaboration of an elite community can produce educational blinds that can result in a capitalist society that is exploitative instead of sharing.
The trap of dualism can simplify all virtue into one component emphasized over another instead of a multifaceted strategy that prioritizes process over product. When I think of the synthesis of virtue I try not to think of it along a linear plane. An example of this could be the classical political spectrum. On one side is republican and on the other side is democrat. Both parties embrace freedom, but one leans more toward equality and the other more toward liberty. When we consider that institutions like politics and education are spheres with depth instead of planes it can make the reasoning process very complex. The complexity of this reasoning places an emphasis on process over the synthesis of product. If we consider that freedom is one point in a multi-faceted diamond, then blind spots from limited reasoning not fully explaining the paradox can be exposed.
Our democracy is based upon the principal of self determination. The citizens of The US can fairly ask: Where is the blind spots in this institution? If our democracy is self contained there would probably be no bias, however our capitalistic economy interacting with democracy will not allow us to be isolated. The island of capitalism is imposing the tension of libertarian individualism on other countries. Americans see the opportunity to buy things in foreign countries at a cheaper price as a deal. Foreigners can interpret these actions as exploitation. If all countries were playing on an equal economic playing field, then the principal of self determined government should work. The world is far from an equal economic playing field. Here is a metaphor to illustrate this. The United States are professional athletes playing against amateurs and the prize is a higher standard of living. Much like this sports analogy, as long as we have a varied playing field, then nation building with a democratic model can be perceived as exploitative instead of enhancing world affluence.
The enhancement process is the process that brings depth to the virtue of freedom. This process is discussed by The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 6: 9-20. D. A. Carson, a bible commentator, refers to the libertarian slogans of the day in New Testament times. One of them… success gives license for immorality” is countered by Paul with “all is lawful but not everything is beneficial”. The points of liberty, (to do what you want), is balanced by the facet of (the common good) when the tension is resolved with enhancing and not exploiting the other party. The process of enhancing over exploitation is discovered because another point is identified in the sphere of reasoning within this paradox. I think of this facet like a point in one of many diamonds comprising a sphere. The depth of this point creates another point of synthesis to resolve the paradox in an equitable way and still maintain individual choice. This point could be love. When love is combined with liberty and equality to form a freedom of self determination, then that self determination will maintain a win-win strategy which will enhance the standard of living of all.
In China this virtue of love is called harmony. This point in the sphere is a value to emphasize over liberty when we interact with our friends across the ocean. The virtue of harmony contains elements of both peace and love. Peace is another virtue that has been exposed through this enhancement process. If the Chinese learn to fully embrace capitalism they may end up seeing us as "a deal" to exploit. We should reach out with mutual unselfish interest in a win-win strategy. We may win their trust and discover additional points in the sphere like honor which will enhance our own values and build individual trust and genuine warmth of each others self interest.
Limited only by imagination!