What do you think of western civilization?

The question to Gandhi is now being asked again, this time by educated, sophisticated Chinese of each other.

This was the topic of a four-hour phone call a few nights ago between Chinese PhDs, both with extensive American experience and important midlevel career positions. 

In a word, their conclusion was the same as Gandhi’s – it would be a good idea. 

 Has Trump has been doing God’s work?

 

For years, some evangelical leaders have been touting Trump as the wolf-king, anointed by God to enact the Christian right agenda.  Symbols are important in this swamp-fevered world, and Trump’s immorality is actually a positive sign of his worthiness.  Go figure.

Four years ago, Peter Montgomery noted 25 Religious Right Justifications for Supporting Donald Trump.  Christian right leaders spoke endlessly of Trump as a chosen vessel for God's will, saying things like "God has picked him up" and that Trump is "literally splitting the kingdom of darkness right open" and that "the Lord has put His favor upon him."

Now I wonder if the coronavirus is a symbol from God as well, a sign of displeasure.  Is God finished with Trump?  Is Trump past his heavenly use-by date?

What is this moral freedom business?

Part 4  Solving the government’s problem under agency as freedom

All governments have two main tasks to fulfill, regardless of their culture or political system - provide sufficient personal freedom for people to conduct daily affairs, and maintain social order so that personal freedom can be exercised and the culture can function.  Personal freedom is freedom to buy and sell, make choices about work and leisure.  Social order is conducted via law and regulation and custom and etiquette. Civil society also functions as a mechanism of social control, as a transmitter of values. Governments have to provide for both tasks simultaneously.

Ci Jiwei describes two ways of securing agency for individuals –  agency as freedom and agency as identification.  It is this ability to exercise individual agency that contributes to a sense of human dignity – that one’s thoughts and hopes are considered in the world.  

Both ways are valid approaches to securing dignity if they function as intended. Both can fail.  But there is an aspect to agency as freedom as a social stabilizer that makes the government’s job of providing for freedom and order much easier.  I want to discuss that here.

What is this moral freedom business?

Part 3 – How freedom and identification fail

 

The two models - agency through freedom and agency through identification - are culturally determined.  A child must be acculturated to use freedom in decision-making or defer to an exemplar. No society adopt one or the other completely, but the social tendencies run deep, particularly in China and in the US.  Think of “freedom” in the US, and perhaps “harmony” in China.  Those words might well describe the political and social culture of each country. 

What is this moral freedom business?

 Part 2  Agency through identification

 

Moral philosophers – Ci Jiwei, Joseph Chan, and many others, probably beginning with Kant – define several kinds of freedom - personal freedom, economic freedom, political freedom and moral freedom.  For my purposes here – and as Ci and Chan do as well – I merge personal and economic freedom, and political and moral freedom.  That seems to me a reasonable change that does no harm to the discussion. 

Every society necessarily allows for some personal freedom – traveling to work, some form of leisure, some choices about buying personal items. 

Not so for moral freedom.

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