Rawls & The Teleology of the Individual

What does liberal society wish for its members? For the most part, it only wishes for the individual to respect the negative liberties of others and have their negative liberties respected and nothing more. In Rawls’ system, there is no desire for happiness or a lack of suffering like in Bentham and Mill’s utilitarianism. An individual experiencing massive levels of cortisol and epinephrine is acceptable in Rawl’s liberal society so long as that suffering is the result of something other than their lowest level of Maslow’s needs being unmet.

Without going any further, this is already tragic. Every forgotten and unworthy victim of society has no right to be loved nor is it the responsibility of society to love the individual. As guiding principles, basing society’s relationship to the individual on what their rights are as individuals with no thought put to their integration and membership in the wider community as a neighbor or whether the treatment of an individual appreciates their dignity creates much human suffering.

Growing up in Special Ed, that is an important point. The disabled may be provided their basic physical needs and protected from acute harm. Nothing in the Rawlsian liberal system says they ought to be treated with the respect and dignity of a full human. The most common way I, and other disabled people, were bullied, for instance, was being made to preform and humiliate ourselves. As bad as that sounds, it is consensual and Rawlsian liberalism isn’t against it. This is why rather than rights, as in negative and positive liberties, the basis of society’s relationship with the individul should be eudemonia for the person and positive terms between them and other commmunity members.

Special Ed was also a place where the different were segregated, policed heavily for minor behavior differences, spoken to in doggie voices, regarded with fear for harmless differences to the point of overreaction by administrators, when peers don’t like someone they’ll call the administrators to enforce the social segregation. It can be very degrading and dehumanizing. Whatever right to comfort for neurotypicals the disability system was pursuing, it is outweighed by the affront to human dignity that putting people, especially relatively powerless people, through that system is. The Rawlsian system is not merely too libertarian but, with its emphasis on negative liberties and lack of love or responsibility to care for one another but sees the teleology, the ideal situation, as one where the unwanted and undesirable are neither seen nor heard as acceptable as discomfort may equate to a violation of negative liberties.

Not only is the lack of love in Rawls’ system bad because people are then unloved and treated with callousness to the point of sadistic cruelty but then minor conflicts like exes, bullies and their victims, people fighting property disputes, and more have no normative imperative to reconicle which, ultimately, leads to minor issues becoming lifelong grudges. In the first “The Right to Hatred” installment, I mentioned Taylor Swift’s “Picture to Burn” and the horrific attrocity of burning someone in effigy, spreading malicious gossip about them, and threatening to have them injured for a list of wrongs which didn’t come close to abuse. If I were burned in effigy and were the subject of malicious gossip at 16, I’d have cried profusely and cut myself a lot.

Now, my first question would be, for someone infamous for declaring war on exes, how many milliliters of cortisol and epinephrine does she wish upon her opponents. Her aim, obviously, is to induce suffering and I would like to know how much and for how long does she feel, in the normative, is appropriate and does she disagree with Bentham and Mill that suffering should be minimized as a moral law? The point, though, was not in her seeming normative argument that causing needless human suffering is morally valid but that liberal society was not against it. Here, my point is, given how much revenge anthems for asinine and trivial incidents are related to by a mass audience is that without the normative position that interpersonal relations should be loving and kind that they will devolve into a Hobbesian war of all against all.

Liberal society, then, may not wish much for its members and is content to let society’s rejects suffer alone with society’s morals having no pity on them but its members shall often have a teleology of their own for others, unimpeded by any broader moral system. That teleology is often the suffering of others. In my experience schadenfreude is far more common than mudita, the word for the opposite of schadennfreude. Mudita is taking pleasure in another’s success and is such an alien notion that while schadenfreude is so widely spoken in English, it is an English word now, mudita is nowhere close to getting dual citizenship in English and its home Sanskrit.

Of course, wishing ill upon people often leads to that or some ill befalling the subject of the wish. Merely hating someone can greatly injure someone’s mental health and there are lots of material consequences to wishing ill on someone. From a utilitarian perspective, it cannot be realistically argued that hatred is internal and doesn’t cause external suffering. In the empirical, that’s almost never true. From a purely secular utilitarian approach, forgiveness isn’t optional but required to minimize human suffering. I watched a Youtube polemecist, recently, who described how he didn’t understand a secular reason for forgiveness but having a general rule of forgiveness reduces human suffering, a lot. Not having it, greatly increases human suffering.

On a tangent, just think of the number of songs in pop culture about wishing ill or taking pleasure in the misfortune of another as opposed to wishing well and being happy for someone’s good fortune. It is dumbfounding how much people fucking hate each other. It is literally fucking insane. The majority of Americans couldn’t point to Toronto on a map, couldn’t name the three branches of government, couldn’t name the eight planets of the solar system, much less any major moon like Europa or Titan, are addicted to watching celebrities and hate-watching pedophiles, and boil at revenge fantasies of their 7th grade ex-boyfriend at thirty-five. Like, how do they live like this?

Back to the point, liberal society needs to establish a better teleology for individuals and interpersonal relationships. Our society has pandemics of loneliness and hatred and there is no hope in the Rawlsian system, so long as it remains, that those pandemics will wane. We need our society to have mudita for everyone. To wish well upon everyone and to expect mudita among its members. It can’t be based on negative and positive liberties, primarily, but on forging the human family that we are.

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