Are reason and humaneness all we need? A response to Harvey’s transcendental politics


On Transcendental Politics, Steve Harvey writes a sort of meme:

The only thing we need to convince anyone of, including ourselves, is to strive, in earnest, to be rational and humane.

I respond:

One of the major differences between transcendental politics and an integral politics, I think, shows up in this quote. An integral politics recognizes that people develop along a spectrum of many stations of life. So it’s possible to paint a portrait of human nature as ascending from pre-rational to rational to trans-rational, for sure (though that view privileges rationality and one could choose other focal points as well).

From an integral view, the notion that we need to convince others to be rational could do harm by disrupting someone’s natural developmental process if they’re at pre-rational levels or encourage wallowing in complacency if they’re at a rational level or discourage the elevation of discourse into rational-plus levels if that’s where they’re at. (There isn’t just one level that is properly called rational, and many different personality types that can use rational argument to advance divergent ends, so even this nuanced statement is too simple.)

Two more points briefly. One: The “including ourselves” part is also difficult to agree to owing to the fact that different stations of life value rationality and humanity in different ways. What about vital energy, emotion, vision-logic, para-normal faculties, meta-mental intuition, overmind awareness, mystical gnosis, nondual realization, or the holism of an artist? I can’t read your statement without putting the word “merely” in front of rational because that’s how it will commonly be taken, and so I can’t assent to it.

Two and finally: There’s a reason you have to say both “rational” and “humane”, and that’s the fact that it’s not obvious that acting one way leads to the other. I happen to think there’s a good case to be made within the wisdom of classical liberalism from Locke to Rawls that says that a rational view of the human condition leads naturally to a perspective from nowhere that insists on the reasonableness of doing no harm to others at least and proactively arranging society in just ways that redistribute unearned advantages at the most. However, there are alternative philosophical traditions that also have merit from the social Darwinists and Nietzscheans who say that rationality is a mask that needs to be tossed off to embrace our brute natures because that is who we really are and must be lest we wallow in mediocrity; as well as the Augustinian tradition within Christianity, highlighted in the 20th century by Reinhold Niebuhr among others, which believes that reason is depraved and distorted by our sinful natures and our salvation (politically as well as soteriologically) lies in transcending reason, not wallowing in it. Personally my proclivities lie in the direction of blending the insights of the classical liberals, Darwinists, and Augustinians as they seem fitting in particular contexts and constructs and resisting any ideology that too narrowly highlights a partial truth in the matter.

Other than these three points, I think your meme is good, Steve. Good day.

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