Ethics Precedes Politics: An Approach to our Political Culture
One may realize, in the deepest, darkest moments, that there are things about life that cannot be escaped. The reality you live in, the truth that sustains it, limits of one's own mind. We are all Houdinis, wanting nothing more than to break out of the chains before we are incinerated. Escape is in our nature, and it is not always a vice. In some areas of life, it is in fact the defining quality of humanity, and no place is it more noble that in the area of politics. When one is awakened to the political world that we have accepted, one is often driven to despair, before rising to action, or driven to action and then brought to despair. Thus, at one moment in our generation, the despaired with be active, and the active will be on the edge of despair, and this is when we define ourselves!
In our world, our postmodern age teeters on the edge, and we have come close to the moment when despair meets action. What one must ask themselves, as I have, is this: how will I seize the moment? When the blinding light of history focuses upon me, what will I do? To answer this, for us, for the we who teeter upon the edge of action and despair, I suggest....no, I insist you step away from the political constructs of our age. Push away the game that we have been given, to whom our refusal has been called entitlement, to whose abuses we have been told is reality, for whose ideology we have been asked to bow. On our knees, with nothing in our hands and everything in our heads, we exist. We produce. We scrape by.
When the time comes, our best way to break our chains, to follow in the steps of the revolutionary men and women before us, those before us who killed God, who defeated slavery, who survived the dark days of Nazism and Communism, is to kill ideology. To do away with the politics of our era, with the dark, secluded space that now subverts, distracts, and deceives. We must do this by casting off the chains of politics-as-morality, to no longer be ruled by politics, and to be ruled by ourselves, our very own selves. To accept upon ourselves the burden that has so long been our most ironic condition and our most sincere freedom: to accept our own responsibility for our ethics. To refuse to kneel before politics, and to refuse to allow others to be told to kneel at such an altar.
Dying on One's Feet, Rather than Living on One's Knees, Or Freedom as Fundamental
The antidote to the unchecked pragmatism of the political space, an ever real illusion, is an understanding of one's own being. Of what we are, and who we can become. To understand that we exist as a mirror to the world, reflect our being outwards. To accept what Jean Paul Sartre argued was called a "singular universal", or the idea that every action one takes is a reflection of the kind of freedom they believe all mankind deserves. Where in the political space, the rejection of responsibility is preached, whilst shouldering the consequences is the real name of the game. Your whole existence, in the political space, is a form of bad faith.
Beyond all things, your freedom is what you are. It is the completely inescapable aspect of your life. As such, so is the mirror of your actions. What you do is who you are. No amount of distortion will save you from this fact. In our increasingly political world. politics has become an attempt by individuals to both exonerate the actions of individuals they like, as well as the actions of themselves. And from this, politics has become it's own church, a place in which one goes and receives salvation for the beliefs and actions they have, believing that baptism amongst the like minded, in your own corners, makes you okay. Politics has become the morality of most, who allow themselves a sense of a righteousness they neither deserve nor have earned. Your belief in a system of ideas, or in the system of ideas put forth by someone else, means nothing. It is all about what you do, and not just in action but in thought as well. How you come to your conclusion is as important as what you do with it.
Ethical Agency: What You Are, Beyond the Political Space
From freedom, one must come to realize that the revelatory nature of our actions establishes one's ethical agency. Many people cringe at the idea of being an ethical agent, often seeing it in some oppressive nature. It is not, for ethical behavior ought not be prescriptive, but descriptive. Ethical agency is merely how an agent uses their freedom, which reveals how you view ethical agency for others. The difference between freedom and ethics is freedom is an existential agency: it is a product of existing, in and of itself. Without existence, there is no freedom. So freedom always exists, and you always have it until you die. This is the most fundamental aspect of yourself.
However, your ethical agency begins with the actions you take. What you do with what you are. Ethical agency, however, is not as immune as our freedom is. It is an agency of choice, upon which our lives begin to reflect what we decide. This is where, in our era, politics has been allowed to invade. Instead of issues of relations between citizens and the government being seen as beyond us, where one is their own self, interjected themselves into this relationship, we see it as us being agents of this relationship, where we must either support it or change it or disdain it because we cannot escape it. We allow our ethical agency to be a political one, in which our choices are informed by political constructs. Instead of organizing our own beliefs and then looking at the political constructs and the government through the eyes of values we have acquired for ourselves, we let our beliefs become a priori per aliquem alium, or a priori through someone else. We go down the rabbit hole to Wonderland without remembering there is a way back out.
Such politics-as-morality can be dealt with, removed from us. We must do so by recognizing that our ethical agency is universal. It is not universal in the sense that there is an universal form of ethics, or an ethical belief one can derive from life, but that our ethical beliefs are a mirror to the universal nature of our authenticity. What do I mean by this? One must realize that each action is not merely an action toward a specific goal. The best way to explain this is through reference to Jean Paul Sartre's work, Existential Psychoanalysis, in which he writes;
"...but it is on the principle that which [we] must always detach [the individual] from the empirical choice as it is beyond and the infinity of its transcendence. Thus, if I am rowing on the river, I am nothing -- either her or in any other world -- save this concrete project of rowing. But this project itself inasmuch as it is the totality of my being, expresses my original choice in particular circumstances; it is nothing other than the choice of myself as a totality in these circumstances." (Existential Psychoanalysis, pg. 34)
What this passage explains is that every choice we make represents the totality of ourselves, it is an extension of our authentic selves into the world. Were I at an Antifa rally, and I throw a brick through a window, I am not a man who is throwing a brick through a window for the sake of my cause: I am a man who believe it is okay to throw bricks through windows. I have expressed an aspect of myself in the totality of an action. My action is who I am, at the moment, and what I believe as an universal. There is no double aspect to human nature, I am not two things in one moment: some aspect of me, whatever inconsistency, is either a form of bad faith I allow or it is the authenticity I suppress. If I act like a kind man at the kitchen table, but I go onto my Facebook account and bully someone for whatever I deem bad about them, I am either the kind man at the table who is convinced that my bad behavior is okay, or I am the bully online who does not act as so at the kitchen table. I am not both.
Thus, every action is a commitment, a commitment of yourself to your vision of the world and how you think it ought to be. When you act in accordance with a political agenda, when you convince yourself that the dilution of your choices in name of obedience to a political belief is ethical, you merely show who you are.
Interaction with the Political: Particular versus Universal
Upon establishing your own beliefs, dictating by no one but yourself, once you climb that chasm, one must decide how to fundamentally view this world of ours, and how to evaluate ideas and actions put forth by the pundits and political talking heads of the world. Nowadays, you find someone who agrees with you and you let them filter your news, and tell you what they think you should think (most likely because someone told them what to think). Oddly enough, this form of evaluation can be given a name: particularism. Often, the way people will deal with politics is through an appeal to the particular, or the specific. Often, this is done by taking ideas/actions that have enormously universal consequences, and arguing that is was "just a small thing" or isolating the issue to make it seem inconsequential. While this happens, it happens less so than when people will act a certain, and then try to minimize it by saying, "it was just for this one thing" or "this one issue". Often, votes are decided this way, where someone votes for one person or another based on "just one issue". We see justification for massively incoherent, often dangerous ideas in the name of the protection of specific or particular beliefs. The election of Trump is often, and rightly so, categorized as such a phenomenon.
The most obvious and pervasive form of particularism is the argument of "the lesser of two evils." Evils are justified by the fact one of them supports more of your particulars than others. However, the irony of our particulars supporting larger evils is that they also support evils within ourselves. The same people who will support "civil discourse" will have no problem with individuals who, say, go to abortion clinics and yell at women for getting abortions, or have no problem doing it themselves. They will see the torturing of terrorists and say, with a shrug of their shoulders, that war is gruesome and that is "just how it is".
The antidote to this, the way he who uses his ethics to inform his politics, is to see things in terms of universals. Understanding your actions as a singular universal means others' actions are the same. When you consider issues, like abortion, and think about it, you are ought not to consider the interests of anyone else, but rather how that issue will itself effect others. If you are against abortion, why does that trump the fact some individuals may need abortions? A ban on abortion, or restrictions through the government (as opposed to allowing the woman and the doctor to discuss options) causes a distress that can be deadly, or set a precedent in civil liberties that could allow for tyrannical actions against those with health concerns. If we torture terrorists when they are not on the battlefield, after capture and in opposition to the Geneva convention, what does this mean to all of us? We have accepted the idea that we can torture someone, as long as they are an enemy of America. Who decides who is the enemy? The government. And how trustworthy is the government? Well...you see my point. Issues are not about sound bites and pundits, but about their effects upon the world and how, if you accept them, it reflects on the person you are.
Dear Reader: Ethics Precedes Politics, and Society at Large
My dear readers, let it not be lost upon you how incredibly hard it might be to get yourself into this mindset, let alone others. To accept your own freedom, to realize your ethical agency, and to look past the particulars to their effects is to stand in contrast to a country all too comfortable with a political morality, that comes down hard on those who pick the wrong "side" on a political issue, that willingly bullies people into worship of their ideals. Like ghosts, politics has haunted us for as long as we have been human, and like any myth it must be eradicated. All it takes is looking under the bed, and realizing nothing is there. The word "politics", "politicizing", "political", are all mind forged manacles, meant to make sure we buy into this system, to force us to our knees.
But, as I like to say, it is better to die on one's feet than live on one's knees. We have tried revolutions en masse, through force, and through civil disobedience. How about we try it by changing perspective?