Archives for posts with tag: Revolution

Huge spoilers for The Good Place. Just a heads up. Really you shouldn’t read this if you haven’t seen the show.

As is made explicitly clear within the show, the Good Place/Bad Place distinction is inherently an immoral system. Frequent reference is made to the need for a Medium Place for those whose behaviour does not lie at either extreme. The show also raises the question about the potential for change within every human, and how their ethical existence might evolve if they evade death and are given enough time and opportunity to do so. Eternal punishment for sins committed in a finite world is thus grossly disproportionate.

There are further problems that the show does not illustrate. For example, Chidi has no intention to harm, but his actions nonetheless cause harm to those around him. He is qualified for eternal punishment. Tahani raises considerable amounts of money for charity, but does not do so out of pure altruism. She too “deserves” eternal punishment. This means that both the intent and the consequences must equally be measured, and there seems to be no margin for error.  Preventing every harmful accident is an extreme that few if any would be able to accomplish. This system also heavily disadvantages those not born into privilege, as the obstacles to walking the tightrope of sufficient morality would become nigh insurmountable. Stealing to eat has both negative intentions and consequences, reserving the hottest spot in the Bad Place for those unlucky enough to be born into poverty. Immanuel Kant, Chidi’s go-to moral philosopher, famously stated that ought implies can, which means that in order for an action to even be measured morally, one must possess the capability to perform it in the first place. If ability is neglected in moral measurement, that measurement ought to be rejected.

The Good Place - Season Pilot

Kant went to the Bad Place for telling the truth to a killer at the door.

Chidi ought to be smart enough to reject the Manichean dichotomy of the Good Place, but he does not. His aim, once he learns he is not in the Good Place, is to get in. He wishes to participate in this unjust system; not only participate, he believes he is entitled to benefit from it. Chidi wishes to benefit from a system that privileges an arbitrary elite at the expense of the vulgar majority. The question is why. The show, amazingly, answers this question as well.

Chidi was born in Nigeria, and was raised in Senegal. Chidi’s parents likely would have been alive and young enough to intimately experience the civil war that tore Nigeria apart shortly after it won its independence out from under British colonialism. They emigrated to Senegal and spoke French, which likely means that his parents would have been supporters of the Biafra and would have fled shortly after the war ended due to their position on the losing side. They chose Senegal, a former French colony used to bolster their slave trade. Chidi must have been raised by parents who spoke of an enlightened France that sought to protect the Biafra minority, all the while ignorant of France’s motives to maintain a competitive edge in their African imperialism against the waning British Empire.

Chidi is an intellectual, and a moral philosopher, raised in a former French colony, and it is almost certain that he would have read Frantz Fanon, an intellectual raised in the French colony in Algeria. Similarly he would have read Albert Memmi, from Tunisia under again, French colonialism. Fanon describes the reaction to the unjust system of colonialism as necessarily revolutionary, often violent, while Memmi offers one alternative: assimilation. Given his exposure and his race, Chidi would have had a reaction toward these calls to rebel given by his peers.

Chidi taught at universities in France and Australia: his colonizers, and another colony that effectively eliminated its colonized. Every single philosopher he mentions throughout the show is European. This shows that he rejects revolution against unjust systems, and indeed prefers to assimilate. What he must have missed, or purposefully ignored, in Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized is that those who choose to assimilate neglect the fact that the racism of the colonial system will never allow complete assimilation. The colonized, the Other, will never be welcome in the colony because the system was designed around the notion of their inherent inferiority. His constant global migration could be a reaction to the racism he continued to face, even in the academic elite, as he battled the cognitive dissonance of European exceptionalism against his lived reality.



Chidi, on the road to the Good Place, believes he is entitled to finally benefit from an unjust system. He had been trying to assimilate for so long that when he finally reaches what he believes is the Good Place, he never once questions it. In the 800+ reboots that the “Good Place” endures, Chidi is never the one who ever raises the question of the Good Place’s legitimacy. Even Jason figures it out, but Chidi is so blind by his desire for assimilation that he embraces his position within it every time. Chidi has internalized colonial racism to the extent that he can no longer question obviously and explicitly illegitimate systems.

The ethical response to an unethical system is revolution. Fanon quotes the famed Good Place entrepreneur Jesus Christ, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Rather than attempting to obtain a position of privilege over the oppressed majority, Chidi should voluntarily walk among those in the Bad Place, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and organize them against the Architects of their fate. Chidi would be quite happy in a library reading books for eternity, but to quote Fanon (referencing Marx) in Black Skin, White Masks, “What matters is not to know the world but to change it.”

I mean, that would never happen because the Good Place is written by liberals who think that charity is the epitome of moral excellence, but hey. Season 3, prove me wrong. Vive la révolution!

I had an interesting, albeit brief conversation with a particularly radical professor of mine who had recommended I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I had found an audio book version, and would listen to it while I was on the bus, getting groceries, or out for a walk. Meanwhile, while I was at home doing proper reading with words on a page, I was reading the book Germinal by Émile Zola. For those who may not know, both of these book share similar themes: depressingly abused working class families under the heel of oppressive capitalist structures eventually coming to realize that there are alternative solutions to the miseries of their existence. They both go into excruciating detail about the horrors these proletarians endure, and consuming both essentially simultaneously was quite a downer.

The conversation we had ended with her suggesting that the importance of these stories is the solidarity that we revolutionaries can embrace with the disenfranchised of the past. Those who fought before us join the ranks of those who fight at our sides, and together we stand with those who will continue to fight once we tire or fall. Like I said, quite radical. I mean I’m paraphrasing what she said, but the gist is there. We are stronger when we are many.

What I found interesting about this conversation was the undercurrent of broad acceptance of varying beliefs, not all of them “politically correct,” let’s say. Germinal was published in 1885, The Jungle in 1906. The views of men toward women were those that existed before women were even allowed to vote, and the portrayals of those relationships, marriage especially, are not particularly progressive by today’s standards. Domestic abuse was deemed somewhat reasonable, wives were expected to tend the home, proprietorship of female relatives was prevalent, etc. Could a revolutionary today stand next to someone like this?

Though certainly not a foundation of comprehensive political clout, Cracked released a video recently that said no, they couldn’t. They use the example of Bernie Sanders campaigning for an anti-abortion Democrat in a mayoral election. Sanders’s view is that progress can only be made with a Democrat majority, regardless of any singular view of one of its members, and thus is criticized for essentially abandoning the purity that is necessary to advance the approved goals of progressive politics. Those who differ on an issue would sideline the entire movement. If enough compromises are made, for example with pro-lifers, then the majority on that one issue would be lost, and progress on women’s health would be lost along with it.

Then again, there are others who condemn revolutionary purists. According to this view, revolutionaries need to chill the fuck out and stop finding literally everything so “problematic” and focus on large issues rather than day to day minutia. Self-righteous shaming serves only to alienate those who might want to learn and grow within progressive movements, and dogmatic zealotry is quite frankly annoying in anyone, regardless of cause.

The Jungle and Germinal become relevant once more because one must ask where the balance lies between solidarity and purity? Could a feminist today stand next to an unapologetic wife beater in the cause of worker’s rights? If she stands with him, could he be expected to stand with her? Reciprocity in compromise ought to be expected, but certainly in this case it seems unlikely. And should it? Are all causes equally valid to the point where we should stand in solidarity with everyone? Alleged feminists attack Islam on the whole because they believe that it is oppressive to women, and justify attacks on the Middle East based on this premise; is that a proper ally within the feminist movement?

This debate has been around for as long as people have been up in arms over social progress. Bakunin and Marx famously disagreed over the theoretical differences of Communism and Anarchism, which differ about as much as Protestantism and Catholicism; which is to say very little. About as much as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, really. Even within basically the same ideology, humans seem to dismiss solidarity for the sake of indistinguishable purity in almost every instance.

For this reason, traditionalism prevails almost every time. Factions develop almost naturally when change is demanded, and the common denominator among them all is some degree of contentedness with the status quo. Though each aspect may be different (working class males may be content with gender norms; white females may be content with racial disparities, etc.), the bond between every schism is the clenched hold on the way things are. Conservatism wins by default.

Pick your cause. Be specific in your goals, that way you don’t have to be specific with your allies. If your goals are vague, like ending racism, then just about anything can distract from that impossibility. If your goals are to end Stop-And-Frisk, then so long as everyone is on board with that, there are no problems. You might disagree with the person standing next to you on something else, but you’re both there for the same reason which means you’ve already got something in common. That commonality means that conversations will be easier, and conversing could create new allies in other areas, or help reevaluate some of your own beliefs. Purity matters in goals lest the conversation become bogged down by tangents, but it is much less important in ideology. Whatever the reason that someone got to their position is irrelevant, and demanding purity in ideology is characteristic of a cult.

Advancement isn’t going to happen in partisan politics; it will happen in movements driven by people wanting to make change. Sanders is right to an extent that Democrats will achieve more if there are more democrats, and Cracked is right that on a singular issue, diversity may topple that issue. However, letting politicians decide how things ought to be done is a terrible idea. How about we decide what the issues should be, and all we should expect from our politicians is to listen?

No one likes despotism. Well, I suppose those who derive auxiliary power to enforce the despot’s will might think it’s okay, but if we look at a dictatorship from behind Rawls’s veil of ignorance, then it is certainly not an optimal form of government. Generally authoritarianism, as the imposition of one person or group’s will onto the rest of society, is frowned upon with swathes of historical evidence showing why it might be politically gauche.

In Western culture today, the common authoritarian bogeyman is Donald Trump, who speaks of cracking down with full state authority on dissenters, journalists, and satirists in a picture-perfect representation of tyrannical authoritarianism. What about those attempting to resist Trump’s foreboding ascension? Progressive movements today have a complete disdain for authority, often avoiding leadership of any kind, as they attempt to revolutionize the practices of their country.

In Vladimir Lenin’s The State and Revolution, he says:

The anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.

When looking at the Russian communist revolution with this quotation (and many others from that book, holy) in mind, it is of little wonder that Joseph Stalin’s subsequent regime was so brutal. However, Lenin raises an important point. The very act of revolution is by its nature authoritarian. Even if your future utopia is a stateless one, as Lenin’s indeed was (though he did not consider it utopian), then achieving it will require the annexation of conflicting beliefs through some means or another, and then further displays of authority to maintain that foothold. One cannot be wholly anti-authoritarian and expect to make social change.

Considering how extreme the early communist rhetoric was, it is fairly simple to challenge it even in revolutionary terms. The more educated may cite ‘power-with’ as their response to the traditional, authoritarian ‘power-over’, where one utilizes whatever social authority they possess to work with those who hold less social power to ameliorate their position instead of simply demanding they follow certain criteria in order to conform to societal norms. However, if we consider this practice in the terms of social change, working with someone until they conform to the new paradigm sounds more like 1984 indoctrination rather than its touted anti-oppressive modality; an option not much improved over violent enforcement.

Slavoj Žižek chastises left wing practice in this capacity as a worse form of totalitarianism than its traditional counterpart. The example he uses is of a child not wanting to visit their grandmother. The traditional approach would be to force the child to visit their grandmother without regard for their feelings, but this new approach is different; Žižek dramatizes, “You know how much your grandmother loves you, but nonetheless I’m not forcing you to visit her; you should only visit her if you freely decide to do it.” Couched in this approach is the underlying pressure that not only must this child conform to the action that is demanded of them, but they must also want to conform. They must become the person who would willingly perform their social role.

Consider Kim Davis, the woman who refused to license same-sex couples. She was punished in the traditional sense, but the real vitriol was reserved for her characteristics as a person. Her failure was not so much in purposefully breaking this new law, but in her values. In order for her to truly belong within the new societal paradigm, she must not only license same-sex couples, she must want to do it as well. One may claim that these social movements are based on unalterable truths to which anyone could become enlightened should they receive the prerequisite education, but purporting a divine truth merely turns the process into a crusade rather than a simple revolution. There may no longer be rifles, bayonets, and cannons, but the authoritarianism is still present, with much bolder goals in mind.

Though it may sound like it due to the negative connotations of authoritarianism, this is not a condemnation of contemporary progressive movements. As Lenin says, change will always require some degree of authoritarianism. The condemnation occurs when the authoritarianism is obscured, dismissed, or ignored with the results being hypocrisy, delusion, or ineffectual soapboxing respectively. If we wish to avoid the devastation of Leninism, then rather than pretend it doesn’t exist, authoritarianism must be acknowledged and driven along a path that does not lead to a destructive state.

The biggest mistake of Leninism was the us-versus-them dichotomy from which a “proletarian dictatorship” (his words) was the outcome. Separating society into enemies and allies can only lead to oppression and bloodshed. This divisive dyad is still prevalent in the black versus white attitudes of the Black Lives Matter movement, or the women versus men attitudes of popular feminism. Even the term ally is indicative of this mentality; an ally against whom? The faceless Other who must be defeated. If we understand the intrinsic nature of authoritarianism within social change, the presence of this dichotomy is a serious concern. Inclusivity within social change is therefore paramount.

In addition, focusing on policies and practices would alleviate many of the dangers of authoritarianism. Most movements today prefer to prioritize personal identity and expression, again making the paradigm about the values and characteristics of the individual more so than the actual structures of society. The ostracization and shaming of a county clerk only becomes an arm of oppression after the structural foundation of the paradigm shift has been cemented in place. Of note: though Trump has declared gay marriage to be safe, it is important to bring up the potential damage he might cause against Planned Parenthood. Perhaps you might wonder if society had done more to silence pro-lifers when it had the chance, this structure would not be in jeopardy. This is true, but what kind of society would that be? If abortion is good for society, this can be shown through data on women’s health and autonomy, poverty and crime rates, and myriads of other information that could be attributed to the legality and availability of abortions. If it is not, perhaps on the grounds of morality or family cohesion, then there would need to be a weighing of the variables. In none of these instances is a shutting down of dissent necessary.

Alternatively, a path might be available that I will call skeptical authoritarianism. In it, I might recognize that in trying to create change I am imposing my will on others, just as those who seek to maintain the status quo or implement other forms of change are trying to impose their wills on me. If I maintain skeptical attitudes about the infallibility of my position, I may be able to, through dialogue, compromise with the Other. At best (from my perspective), I may make incremental change toward my ideal, but I may also in turn realize other truths that would be unavailable to me if I remained within my own echo chamber.

Fear of authoritarianism within a social movement is nonsensical. Leadership is not an inherent evil, nor is relativism an inherent good. Understanding the nature of change will lead to improved methods of implementing it. Failing to do so, or remaining purposefully oblivious, will either lead to further cycles of traditional revolution, totalitarianism, or annihilation.