Utopia Now: Something for Philosophers to Do.
I. Introduction: Collective Altruism
In a recent edgy essay, starting with some ideas borrowed from Rutger Bregman’s excellent book, Utopia for Realists, I briefly sketched a realistic utopian political proposal I called radical utopia for realists.
That line of thinking was then super-charged by my recently working through two other equally excellent books on altruism and utopianism, Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell and Larissa MacFarquhar’s Strangers Drowning.
Solnit’s book compellingly describes how ordinary people frequently become active altruists and temporarily create real-world utopias in the aftermath of disasters; and MacFarquhar’s book brilliantly explores the ethics and existential psychology of real-world altruistic “sinner-saints.”
Together, the two books make it self-evident that Hobbesians and neo-Hobbesians are not merely mistaken, but in fact dangerously, spectacularly wrong that all human beings are egoistic and mutually antagonistic by nature, neurobiology, or inevitably by culture.
On the contrary, all human persons are fully capable of altruism, kindness, and mutual aid, and the Hobbesian or neo-Hobbesian thesis is nothing but a cognitive illusion and cultural myth self-servingly used to justify personal egoism/self-interest or authoritarian oppression and tyranny, whether by pharaohs, kings, popes, emperors, Czars, military dictators, fascist governments, communist governments, or the elected governments of neoliberal democracies.
Another version of the same cognitive illusion and cultural myth is the clearly false thesis that if everyone always pursued egoistic ends, then they would be better off than if not everyone did or no one did. That’s because the egoist always has sufficient reason to cheat, maim, or murder his competitors for limited resources and rewards if no one else is watching.
Moreover, the classic claim that every apparently altruistic choice or action satisfies some deeper egoistic imperative or urge is patently question-begging and sophistical, since it refuses to tell us what could ever count as acceptable evidence in favor of altruism, by presupposing that every item of apparent evidence for altruism is reinterpreted to confirm egoism.
Altruism, it should also be noted, isn’t merely self-sacrificing choices or action for the sake of others, but also idealistic non-egoistic, non-hedonistic, non-instrumental, non-consequentialist choice or action of any kind.
By analogy with collective wisdom, by collective altruism I mean an emergent property of human or otherwise animal mindedness, that is constituted by the practical capacities and practical activities of a group of (e.g.) people as a group, especially including group deliberation and participatory decision-making.
More specifically, collective altruism is a relatively high level of altruistic group activity that is not a function of high average levels of altruism across individual group members, but instead is produced by effective collaborative interaction within the group.
In other words, and to put it simply, you don’t have to be an all-star altruist yourself in order to engage in highly successful team altruism, aka collective altruism.
Radical utopia for realists, built on a thoroughgoing rejection of the Hobbesian or neo-Hobbesian myth and the self-serving, sophistical egoism and many-faced authoritarianism and tyranny lying behind it, is a compound collective altruist proposal to implement the four following sub-proposals globally and simultaneously in the real world:
- universal basic income (UBI),
- universal open borders (UOB),
- universal free healthcare (UFH), and
- a fifteen hour workweek for understaffed non-bullshit jobs (FHW-for-UNBJs).
Now I’d also like to add a fifth sub-proposal to enhance the original package:
- universal no-guns (UNG).
(NB. I’m assuming that universal public education (UPE)—universal free access for all human persons of any age to good public education up to the level of colleges and universities, and even including colleges and universities—already exists in most countries, and needs no further justification.
Where UPE does not already exist, it would automatically be a necessary part of the five-part enhanced radical utopia for realists package.)
In view of the five-part enhanced radical utopia for realists package—that is, globally and simultaneously implementing UBI + UOB + UFH + FHW-for-UNBJs + UNG in the real world—my threefold contention in this edgy essay is:
first, that globally and simultaneously implementing UBI + UOB + UFH + FHW-for-UNBJs + UNG in the real world not only morally and politically should be done but also realistically can happen now,
second, that globally and simultaneously implementing UBI + UOB + UFH + FHW-for-UNBJs + UNG in the real world can be empirically tested in a large-scale pilot project consisting of a North and Central American Utopian Zone (aka The U-Zone) comprising Canada, the USA, and Mexico, and
third, that real, serious contemporary philosophers both inside and outside professional academic philosophy not only morally and politically should but also realistically can contribute substantially to the U-Zone pilot project.
To give it a handy label, I will call this five-part, three-step collective altruist line of thinking, Utopia Now.
II. Why We Should Globally and Simultaneously Implement UBI + UOB + UFH + FHW-for-UNBJs + UNG in the Real World, and How It Realistically Can Happen Now
Universal Basic Income (UBI) says that every adult human being 21 years of age or older should be given a yearly income that is fully adequate for living (say, somewhere between 25K and 50K USD) with no further qualifying requirements and no strings attached as to how the money is spent.
Wherever and whenever UBI has been tried in the past, it has provided significant benefits for all people involved; and many countries–e.g., Canada and many European countries have already implemented near-functional-equivalents of UBI (minus the all-important strict universality and no-strings-attached components) under the rubric of generous “social safety net” or “welfare” programs, with non-trivial benefits for most people involved: therefore, globally implementing UBI would radically increase and extend those benefits.
Furthermore, and perhaps above all, implementing UBI would effectively end the morally scandalous oppression of poverty.
UBI can be easily paid for by taxing capital-accumulation, large incomes, money-transfer, and money-management in (relatively) wealthy countries, and by sharply reducing military spending (especially in the USA).
Universal Open Borders (UOB) says that every human person of any age is permitted to travel and/or live wherever they want to, provided that they also sufficiently respect the human dignity of other people.
It is obvious that UOB between provinces in Canada, or between states in the USA, has had significant benefits for all involved; therefore, globally implementing UOB would radically increase and extend those benefits.
In particular, universal economic migration would significantly benefit all involved because, once the borders were open, people pursuing economic migration would take their existing UBI and other assets with them and spend them in their new home countries, thereby increasing not only economic well-being in those places, but also increasing revenues derived from taxes on capital accumulation, large incomes, money-transfer, and money-management.
Furthermore, and perhaps above all, implementing UOB would effectively end the morally scandalous oppression that is the global crisis of displaced humanity—refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons—currently afflicting 65 million people.
UOB can be easily paid for with the money saved by gradually doing away with all border-guards, border-patrols, immigration services, naturalization services, and customs services, step by step.
Universal Free Healthcare (UFH) says that every human person of any age has free access to adequate healthcare.
Many countries have already nationally implemented UFH, with significant health benefits to all involved; therefore, global UFH would radically increase and extend those benefits.
Furthermore, and perhaps above all, globally implementing UFH would effectively end the morally scandalous oppressions of preventable disease, lack of healthcare, and inadequate healthcare.
Moreover, when combined with UBI, UFH and UBI together would effectively end the morally scandalous oppression of starvation.
UFH can also be easily paid for by taxing capital-accumulation, large incomes, money-transfer, and money-management in (relatively) wealthy countries, and by sharply reducing military spending (especially in the USA); moreover, in the USA, all the money released by ending the enormous healthcare insurance industry could also be used for UFH.
Fifteen Hour Workweek for Understaffed Non-Bullshit Jobs (FHW-for-UNBJs) says that relatively high wages should be paid to anyone 18 years of age or older who is able and willing to work three 5-hour days per week doing useful, productive jobs that are currently understaffed, such as teachers and school assistance of all kinds, healthcare assistance, childcare assistance, garbage collection, community clean-up and recycling, maintenance of parks and other public places, snow removal, janitorial work, etc.
In particular, given UOB, there would be a significantly large new demand for people to provide assistance to new travelers and new immigrants, hence many new opportunities to implement FHW-for-UNBJs.
Since useful, productive jobs are by definition useful and productive, then having enough people to do them for relatively high wages would significantly benefit everyone involved.
Moreover, and perhaps above all, people who wanted to pursue creative, meaningful activities of any kind (anything from raising children to carpentry and other sorts of craftsmanship to playing sports to making music to writing literature to making movies to studying and writing history to philosophy) could, once they had reached the age of 21, combine their UBI and their FHW-for-NBJs, and still have sufficient time and energy left over to pursue those creative, meaningful activities as (almost) full-time lifetime callings.
Just as with UBI and UFH, so too FHW-for-NBJs can also be easily paid for by taxing capital-accumulation, large incomes, money-transfer, and money-management in (relatively) wealthy countries, and by sharply reducing military spending (especially in the USA).
Finally, Universal No-Guns (UNG) says that no one, including police, internal security forces of all kinds, armies, and intelligence forces of all kinds, has the moral right to possess or use guns of any kind, for any purpose whatsoever, because the primary function of guns is coercion, and coercion is immoral.
Many countries already seriously restrict the possession and use of guns, with significant benefits for all involved; therefore UNG would radically extend and increase those benefits.
Furthermore, and perhaps above all, UNG would end the morally scandalous oppression of gun violence.
In the USA, UNG can be easily implemented by repealing the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, and then universally banning the possession or use of guns1; in other countries, it can be easily implemented by fully extending existing bans on the possessions or use of guns.
1. Other things being equal, that is. In some special, last-resort cases, it would be permissible to use guns with minimally sufficient defensive, protective, or preventive force for the sole purpose of sufficiently respecting human dignity: but even then, it would still remain completely true that no one has the moral right to possess guns.
III. The U-Zone
As I mentioned above, by the U-Zone, I mean an empirical test of the five-part enhanced radical utopia for realists by means of a large-scale pilot project consisting of a North and Central American Utopian Zone comprising Canada, the USA, and Mexico.
In other words, what I am saying is that Canada, the USA, and Mexico morally and politically should, and realistically can, right now,
provide a universal basic income to every human person 21 years of age or older who is living within their borders,
open their borders to each other and to the rest of the world, provided that people who take advantage of this sufficiently respect the human dignity of other people,
provide universal free healthcare to every human person of any age living within their borders,
provide relatively high wages to anyone 18 years of age or older who is able and willing to work three 5-hour days per week doing useful, productive jobs that are currently understaffed, and
ban the possession or use of guns for everyone in the U-Zone.2
2. See note 1 above.
Since poverty, displaced humanity, preventable illness and inadequate healthcare, starvation, and gun violence would be effectively ended within the U-Zone, and since not only would there be large amounts of new income available for spending generated by new economic migration into the U-Zone and by relatively high wages earned for doing various kinds of new and currently understaffed productive, useful work within the U-Zone, and since opportunities for the (almost) full-time, lifetime pursuit of creative, meaningful activities would be greatly increased, ordinary human life within the U-Zone would be infinitely better than it is now, and, in effect, utopian.
It is of course obvious that each of the first four basic elements of the U-Zone pilot project–UBI, UOB, UFH, and FHW-for-UNBJs–would have to be closely coordinated with one another, and co-implemented in carefully sequenced steps, so that, e.g., the number of people arriving in a given year via opening borders didn’t exceed the money allotted to UBI, or the availability of health care, or the availability of new jobs under the FHW-for-UNBJs program, or the availability of adequate housing and other living accommodation, etc.
It is equally obvious that UNG would have to be implemented in very carefully-designed stages, so as to ensure a non-violent, safe transition from gun-free sub-zone1 to gun-free sub-zone2, etc., especially in the USA.
So, not only would the U-Zone pilot project require intensive and extensive advance-planning, but also every year, year after year, the existing conditions, effects, and implications of the U-Zone pilot project would have to be carefully studied by large teams of well-trained experts in Canada, the USA, and Mexico, working together; and many important fine-tunings, refinements, reforms, or repairs would have to be made along the way.
Assuming that all went well, however, then the success of the U-Zone would show the rest of the world what can actually be done, and other u-zones would begin to proliferate around the world, until finally the global implementation of the five-part enhanced radical utopia for realists would be complete.
IV. Conclusion: Something for Philosophers to Do
For many people, and even for many philosophers, the very idea of Utopia Now will be gobsmacking, mind-boggling, and intensely shocking; and perhaps it might also seem mildly or even profoundly bad and evil.
Not only the classical Hobbesian and neo-Hobbesian cognitive illusion and cultural myth of universal human egoism/self-interest and mutual antagonism, but also the more recent cognitive illusions and cultural myths of national/linguistic identity and exceptionalism–e.g., even otherwise self-effacing Canadians seriously think that they’re really, really special just by virtue of being Canadian–will make it very difficult for many even to understand Utopia Now.
A very good example of this is Universal No-Guns (UNG) for the USA.
Whenever I describe the very idea of UNG to American acquaintances and friends–including the most thoughtful, open-minded, left-leaning, or politically radical among them–they initially or typically get a wide-eyed, horrified look on their faces, shake their heads convulsively, and say that repealing the Second Amendment is “impossible.”
As they do this, I’m vividly reminded of the mind-controlled characters in The Manchurian Candidate who, when questioned, automatically intone that “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life,” even when they know in their hearts that this is completely false.
So it is important to point out explicitly what every American already knows in their hearts, namely, that there is a perfectly clear and effective democratic procedure for repealing Constitutional Amendments; and that other Amendments have actually been repealed: so in that sense, repealing the Second Amendment is actually easy and not in any way “impossible”.
The people of the USA created and instituted the Second Amendment; and the repeal process is written into the Constitution itself; therefore, they can repeal the Second Amendment.
Now I know by experience that pro-gun, pro-Second-Amendment people are very apt to fulminate against those who disagree with them, in an attempt to silence the anti-gun “public enemies,” even to the point of threatening to shoot them, or actually shooting them.
That pro-gun, pro-Second-Amendment people would be willing to shoot people for disagreeing with them and rationally defending the contrary of course provides a self-evident proof of the moral and political goodness and rightness of UNG for the USA—even though, obviously, I’d greatly prefer not be threatened or shot for rationally defending it.
In any case, a great many objections will be raised against Utopia Now; and it is also fully conceivable that attempts will be made to coerce and silence its proponents.
Nevertheless, here is what real, serious philosophers can do:
first, carefully and critically examine every aspect and implication of Utopia Now, then collectively elaborate, refine, and reformulate it accordingly;
second, using the collectively elaborated, refined, and reformulated version of Utopia Now, then respond rationally and fully to criticisms of it, whether by philosophers or non-philosophers; and
third, publicly advocate for Utopia Now, by means of hard-copy or online publications, teaching, public lectures or interviews, blogging, tweeting, texting, etc.
That seems like more than enough to keep all of us very busy for many years to come, in addition to pursuing all the other parts of real, serious philosophy as a full-time, lifetime calling.
So life is short, although real, serious philosophy is long, and utopia can start immediately.