Last time, we finished Carrier’s discussion of beauty. Now, we turn to politics, what Carrier calls “the most personal and speculative” part of his book, “for it is in politics that we find the greatest ignorance and uncertainty, and thus should permit the greatest scope for honest disagreement.”
Nevertheless, he maintains that “every reasonable, informed person should agree with” him.
Carrier’s political theory follows from his moral theory, and has the same goal: human happiness. But as a matter of definitions, “morality” for him concerns how individuals should decide and act, whereas political science and philosophy is the study of power on a larger scale. “Ethics is the science of living, but politics is the science of governing.”
Liberals vs. conservatives
Carrier does not like the usual divide between liberals and conservatives:
…it is perhaps inevitable that there should be extremes of division, since the conservative and the liberal are actually very much the same sort of person: both see the world in naive, black-and-white terms; both are easily offended, becoming outraged beyond reason; both are paranoid, and exaggerate every imagined threat; and both abandon empirical objectivity, aligning their beliefs instead with their ideology…
By contrast, the moderate is the most rational political animal in any society.
Well. Carrier sure knows how to provoke. Here, he defines liberals and conservatives not in terms of their positions, but in terms of their unthinking allegiance to differing ideologies. Then, he defines moderates as those who encourage disagreements, avoid extreme allegiances, and appeal to evidence in making political decisions. One might ask: But what about all the conservatives and liberals who encourage disagreements, avoid extreme allegiances, and appeal to evidence in making political decisions?
Carrier’s summary says that “the moderate seeks the best harmony between liberty and restraint, in both the private and public spheres.” But of course this is exactly what liberals and conservatives do, too: they just see that harmony in a different balance than the moderate does.
But what about naturalism?
Naturalism and Politics
The most distinctive aspect of politics from a Metaphysical Naturalist perspective is dependence on evidence… The best ground on which to base any decision regarding proper public policy is science.
And what is the best kind of government? There are three questions, here:
- How can we best design a system for making and revising laws?
- How can we best design a system for enforcing those laws?
- What are the best laws?
- Who are the best leaders?
On (1), Carrier says the evidence shows that democracy is best political system for promoting human happiness we know of yet.
On (2), Carrier shares some thoughts on social and executive reform that I won’t go into here.
On (3), Carrier says little, except to emphasize a commitment to secularism.
On (4), Carrier says a good candidate is honest, competent, moderate, and charismatic.
The Secular Humanist’s Heaven
What, then, does an ideal society for someone like Richard Carrier look like?
…human rights and freedoms are universally respected, and everything is free except human labor. All our needs will be satisfied by safe machines that can create anything, drawing on self-sustaining power sources like clean fusion or orbital solar. There will be no poverty. The mentally and physically ill will be cared for. The ignorant will be educated.
Everyone will be taught and encouraged to dedicate time and effort to some social good of their choosing: as teachers, builders, explorers, researchers, artists. Their week will be short, and their work fulfilling. All menial, dangerous, and unpleasant labor will be handled by machines…
This world will not be free of evil. There will still be criminals and loafers and attempts to abuse power or cause harm, there will still be accidents and mistakes and disasters. But the elimination of poverty and the reduction of illness and a… humanistic education in reason and sense will make this much rarer than in any present society, as will our constant advance in knowledge and technology. And the government will have been honed… by applying to its reform the scientific… findings of many centuries, until we have the most effective system for protecting human rights and managing the automated economy – and above all, for maintaining checks and balances, and providing quick remedies and effective preventative measures against the natural human impulses toward incompetence, negligence, corruption, and crime…
We will certainly have terraformed and colonized other worlds, at least in our own solar system, with fabricated worlds to live in as well in the very reaches of space… Fertility will be so well managed that all men and women can turn it on or off without difficulty or side effects…
We might even make immortality possible. It may even happen that… we will be able to transfer our minds… into computer-simulated worlds that are in even more perfect regulation than the physical world, a true paradise.
This is all science fiction, surely. But I hope one day to make it science fact. If it sounds like your dream of heaven, this is no accident. This is the society I want to work toward…
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