The main reason I can’t call myself a progressive
Welcome to Sex and the State, a newsletter about power. I’m a writer working on decriminalizing and destigmatizing all things sex. I synthesize empirical evidence, stories, and personal experience to interrogate existing power structures to propose new, hopefully better, ways of relating. To support my work, buy a subscription, follow me on OnlyFans, or just share this post!
[Update/correction (1/7/2022) A friend wrote the following in response to this newsletter: “Noted the reference to ‘On Killing,’ which if you haven’t read it is one of my favorite examples of a book that has actively made the world a worse place (the author conducts popular ‘fear-based’ trainings with law enforcement that have gone a long way to help push the siege mentality rampant among American police forces.” He recommended this for further reading. Side note, I’m obsessed with his podcast.
Check it out.]
A post about vegan chicken nuggets got me connecting the dots on some threads that have been swirling around in the old noggin for a few days now.
Soon, lab-grown meats will be tastier, healthier, and easier to prepare than the meats we make by harming animals. I think this will mark a major shift toward widespread agreement on animal rights.
When I was dating my first scientist, we argued about animal rights. I realized I couldn't justify my position that humans should have more rights than animals, and I’d likely never be able to. There's no compelling moral justification for it. Humans are animals. I think most people, when pressed, would agree now that the only empirical, reasonable answer for giving animals lesser rights than humans is convenience/aesthetics. It's inconvenient to accept that now, but soon it won't be.
What might no longer hurting animals for food portend for human violence more broadly? Over the break I met a former sniper and self-described psychopath who said he loves killing people, as one does when one grows up in a military town.
He told me over whiskey that he read On Killing, I guess to try to understand himself. He said the book argues that a society’s tendency to stigmatize sex is positively correlated with its levels of violence. So less violent societies tend to be more sexually permissive and vice versus. It seems to me, I told him, that the obvious solution to violence then was to promote sexual permissiveness. (I might be a tiny bit biased here.) He also said the book argues that humans have a natural tendency to kill because we’re omnivores and if we didn’t want to kill we’d have a harder time surviving.
It’s possible that no longer justifying violence towards animals will bring humanity one more step closer to realizing there's no moral justification for violence against anything or anyone.
I recently got about halfway through A Savage Order on the recommendation of a friend. It’s a very frustrating book that keeps demonstrating that the US’s global War on Drugs and war on communism is a direct cause for a ton of violence in societies worldwide but never really sufficiently (for my taste) makes that connection explicit. It’s like the author takes these things for granted and then wants to find the sub-causes of violence within those realities instead of being like, what if we didn’t totally unnecessarily do things that directly help push societies toward violence for no benefit to anyone but a few corporations and politicians?
But it has gotten me thinking more about the root causes of violence.
The drive to acquire pushes humans towards cooperation, but also towards violence. Acquisition can be negative- or positive-sum.
A point that’s hard to prove but I believe is that scarcity and fear of scarcity drives a large portion of anti-social behavior. Technological innovation is in some ways a moral good, because it creates conditions that disincentivize oppression.
My main question right now is how much of our drive to acquire is absolute and how much of it is relative.
What makes people happy, according to the literature, is as much about relative wealth as absolute wealth. For example, a bigger house won’t make you happy beyond an initial blip but a house that’s bigger than your neighbor’s houses will.
In a world where everyone’s basic needs are met and will always be met, I’m curious about whether we’ll still commit violence to acquire more.
My guess is that in post-scarcity, we’ll judge people more harshly when they hurt other people to get ahead. Right now, most people with a modicum of empathy and an understanding of reality aren’t too judgmental toward someone who steals to survive. Even people who are ultra-rich get a pass when they hurt people for their own gain because we can often recognize that they’re also helping people on-net. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk enforce working conditions that leave people disabled or even dead. They take money from the government to make themselves richer. But they also make the world more prosperous by innovating and providing goods and services cheaper and faster than anyone else.
For me personally, I’m willing to excuse or at least tolerate at least some non-cooperative behavior to get to post-scarcity faster. I think that’s the main reason I can’t call myself a progressive. If I had a button that would redistribute resources equally right now, but would mean innovation stopped or even slowed significantly, I wouldn’t push it. I wouldn’t push it because I don’t want everyone on the planet to merely survive. I want to keep creating new ways to create wealth out of existing resources so everyone on the planet can live abundantly.
My main questions about this hypothetical are:
1. How would a more equal distribution of resources impact how quickly we grow aggregate global wealth?
2. How does the way we might more equally distribute resources impact how quickly we grow aggregate global wealth?
I used to have a much more simplistic understanding of property rights. I thought the people who had capital earned it by producing wealth for everyone and they should keep it so they can continue innovating.
While not entirely without basis in reality, there’s so much wrong with that view. We do not, in fact, live in anything close to a pure meritocracy. The people with capital did not, for the most part, earn it. They got it through a combination of positive-sum behavior and a whole lot of theft, intergenerational wealth transfers, systemic oppression, rent-seeking, etc.
I now strongly suspect that providing a basic social safety net to as many people as possible would actually increase net innovation because the lack of one (along with theft, intergenerational wealth transfers, systemic oppression, rent-seeking, etc.) is currently locking billions of people out of the opportunity to innovate.
Yet I’m not a socialist. I’m not convinced that eliminating private property and the profit motive would lead to more innovation. It seems every society that’s tried that has seen less productivity and more poverty than societies with private property and the profit motive.
I call myself a neoliberal or libertarian because I support a largely free-market system with a robust social safety net and as little rent-seeking, bigotry, and violence as possible. Not because this is necessarily the ideal end-point but because I think it’ll get us to post-scarcity fastest. But I’m not sure how to fund a robust social safety net or how exactly to reduce rent-seeking, bigotry, and violence. There are policies I support, obviously. To name a few:
Lowering defense spending
Opening the borders
Defunding the DHS, CIA, and FBI
Eliminating all corporatism
Decriminalizing all victimless crimes
Replacing prisons with community service, mental healthcare, and conservatorship
Replacing all assistance and wealth transfer programs like Social Security with a UBI
I think these would create a ton of wealth and reduce rent-seeking, bigotry, and violence considerably.
But I’m still not sure how a more equal distribution of resources would impact economic growth or the best ways to more equally distribute resources.
This post is mostly questions. But as one of you so kindly pointed out to me recently, maybe that’s for the best.