The Rawlsian Geist

A geist is a reality of the world, a paradigm of the collective psyche, in a particular era and place. I have written and shitted a lot about John Rawls. What is the geist of John Rawls? I focus on a lot psychology on this blog and the Rawlsian geist is one where psychology does not exist. John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian philosophy can include psychology but John Rawl’s minimal deontology cannot. John Rawls’ philosophy is antiethetical to human happiness since it denies people their higher levels of Maslow’s needs. The point is, however, that in the Rawlsian worldview, those needs do not exist. In the imaginary society he based his philosphy on, people were not people but fictional characters who could best be described as nameless and faceless hypothetical citizens. His question going in “Was what is the fairest society possible?” And his answer, while he spent lots of ink on it, was ultimately predictable and cliché and devoid of creative thinking. It’s amazing he got nearly as much credit as he did for such uncreative and obvious ideas.

It brings to mind Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History” wherein Francis describes the triumph of liberal democracy as the end of art, the end of philosophy, and a time of blandness and metaphoircal grey. He said that liberal democracy was the form of society in the West between the end of the Second World War and the time he was writing, 1989. It did betray that Francis was thinking in cliché because that is stereotypically what would happen at the end of major conflict but while stereotypically a utopia is boring, Western liberal democracy between 1945-89 had overseen most of the Golden Age of Hollywood, most of Classic Rock, and the first waves of Pop Art. It hardly was a time of lacking creativity and arguably saw an explosion of creativity. John Rawls thought, basically, in terms of the same clichés which is a very stupid but also psychologically true reason he came up with the thin-good. Fairness has the vibe of maximum impartiality so Rawls spent many books detailing what that vibe was when it was mostly a cognitive bias with lots of scientific evidence to the contrary. Star Trek had that the most evolved species were the emotionless Vulcans. The idea that you can have symphonies or peace but you cannot have both is a retarded cliché with no basis in reality.

Therein we have the Rawlsian Geist which is an imaginary world but a world that many, if not most, liberal citizens believe exists. The governmental system we have is based heavily on impartiality and rights as opposed to compassion and science. To use one example: zoning. I have spent a lot of time in doing urban planning and design working in local politics and the government is not looking to sociology and psychology to maximize human happiness, eudemonia, and welfrare and the question never comes up. Urban planning and zoning on a local level is a clusterfuck of corruption from developers and real estate people (who sometimes get to be on zoning boards) and NIMBYs but there is no guiding philosophy outside of Rawlsian liberalism that tells them right from wrong. As long as a particular zoning program doesn’t violate negative liberties then no one can fathom how it is wrong even if it is low-desnity, devoid of community institutions, opposed to the environment, and a list of other issues that should come up.

Rawls may have supported some environmental protection and Milton Friedman supported a universal basic income, in the end, that’s beside the point because their philosophies ultimately led to the opposite. The point is Rawls’ philosophy emphasized negative liberties and impartiality and some positive liberties that met the lowest Maslow’s needs. Creating community institutions Jane Jacobs’-style and reducing carbon emmisions are not virtues in Rawls’ system and their opposites are not vices. The Rawlsian geist has no such virtues or vices. If it doesn’t harm anyone’s persons, privacy, or property in the acute then the Rawlsian thin-good takes a libertarian position. The geist is a world where the individual doesn’t need those community institutions because the individual Rawls imagined doesn’t exist. Impartial fairness to the maximum is the best society for individuals who aren’t human. Which is why creating the titanic level of human misery that poor urban design creates is not wrong in the Rawlsian system and why environmentally destructive urban design is not either.

To use a brief example from the criminal justice system, it is based on the proportional punishment of actus rea and not the treatment of the mens rea or the circumstances of that mens rea’s etiology. The idea that the punishment should fit the crime seems enlightened and fair but it’s primitive and stupid because it basically says that sufffering should correlate with the severity of the offense whether or not suffering will scientifically fix the problem. The sentencing guidelines for crimes are not based on what scientifically works but the arbitrary thoughts of politicians and jurists who lack that type of scientific background. On a case by case basis, there are things like diversion programs but these are the exception, not the rule, and all of our system needs to be based on science. All the time, not just sometimes. Because science is always real. The Rawlsian geist is a paradigm of supposed reality where science doesn’t exist and a hypothetical world of faceless rights-bearing citizens does and that the measure of all morality is how something relates to that faceless rights’-bearing citizen.

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