Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

'Mind Your Own Business' - How We Are All Living In a J.S. Mill World

John Stuart Mill wrote in 'On Liberty': "All that makes existence valuable to anyone depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the action of other people." This striking quote is a good entry point to Mill's consideration of freedom as a choice of what kind of coercion we submit to.

In Mill's life, I see that there are two forms of opinion:

1. Reasoned Judgments with evidence supporting,


2. Love and passion backed with experience, true motive and practice.

JS Mill has both forms. But here is a man who lived a virtual world, feeling false passions, loving what he was always taught to love, and praciting his father's will until he fell in love. That he didn't abandon intellectual life altogether is a pretty grand drama to me.

The question which Mill seems to have lived is: what does theory look like in practice? What role does idea play in forming motive passions that infuse powerful opinions? From these questions arises the theory of representation and his (in my opinion) extreme views on liberty.

Mill's first principle: the only good motive for coercion is self-protection.

This is flat out useless as a practical standard of political power. The 'self' that is protected of a gang of thieves is not the same 'self' that is protected within a cloister of monks. 'Self' is a moving target, dependent on context for validity. So this rational ideal of coercion is only valid for rational agents. And, to be honest, rational agency is a little thin on the ground in human history so far.

Mill qualifies this standard by limiting it to those who can be convinced or pursuaded, but again... this is a hopelessly idealistic burden for reason to carry alone. Mill quite overrates the power of reason to effect pursuasion in my opinion - but this comes back to my enquiry on theory and practice, reason and passion.

Freedom that matters, for Mill: the right to go chasing your own unharming good in your own unharming way. This is the liberal enlightenment view of freedom without an end (telos), or freedom as an end in itself.

What is the latest application of freethinking liberal philosophy for Mill? I can sum it in four words: MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

From all this, I conclude that we are living in a John Stuart Mill kind of world. When I walk down the street and nobody says hello to me, that's because they are free not to. Courtesy and community are secondary or irrelevant. The key consideration of a liberal society is that you mind your own business.

This also accounts both for the intense sense of alienation in the West, on the one hand, and the strong sense of purpose and rational passion in Western liberal movements. All three of these qualities - the alienation, the passion, and the MYOB - are all essential traits of JS Mill's personality.

When I walk past a sloppy drunk, a glossy hiphopper, a neat businesswoman, a greasy mechanic, and more ethicities than i can name, with a perfect equanimity and complete indistraction from my own affairs - when I walk this way I see I live in the world of John Stuart Mill's imagining, from almost two centuries ago.

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