July 17, 2007


Caption: Can we come out ahead?

Is there any hope for the human race? Will we ever semi get our act together before we spoil the world? The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant thought we just might have a chance.

That's the subject of his essay, Idea For A Universal History With A Cosmopolitan Purpose, which is the guiding thread through this week's Goat Rope.

If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.

One easy objection to the idea of hope and progress is the nasty side of human nature. Kant knew about that as well as anybody. In fact, he thought some of our nasty traits over time could make us nicer. Let's look at the argument.

Kant's Fourth Thesis in the essay says that

The means employed by Nature to bring about the development of all the capacities of men is their antagonism in society, so far as this is, in the end, the cause of a lawful order among men.

He calls this tendency "the unsocial sociability of men," which means both the human need for society and the need for individual distinction and competition for goodies, glory, esteem, etc....

This opposition it is which awakens all his powers, brings him to conquer his inclination to laziness and, propelled by vainglory, lust for power, and avarice, to achieve a rank among his fellows whom he cannot tolerate but from whom he cannot withdraw. Thus are taken the first true steps from barbarism to culture, which consists in the social worth of man; thence gradually develop all talents, and taste is refined; through continued enlightenment the beginnings are laid for a way of thought which can in time convert the coarse, natural disposition for moral discrimination into definite practical principles, and thereby change a society of men driven together by their natural feelings into a moral whole.

In other word, out of antagonism eventually develops sleeping human potential, including the potential for justice and mercy.

Thanks be to Nature, then, for the incompatibility, for the heartless competitive vanity, for the insatiable desire to possess and to rule! Without them, all the excellent natural capacities of humanity would forever sleep, undeveloped. Man wishes concord; but Nature knows better what is good for the race; she wills discord. He wishes to live comfortably and pleasantly; Nature wills that he should be plunged from sloth and passive contentment into labor and trouble, in order that he may find means of extricating himself from them...

One might protest to Nature that this is a pretty steep price to pay, but we weren't asked our opinions.

Next time: from competition to cooperation.

SHAKEUP AT MASSEY? Can anyone read these tea leaves?

One of Massey Energy Co.'s top executives has quit the troubled Richmond, Va.-based coal company.

H. Drexel Short resigned abruptly last Thursday, Massey said in a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission today. Longtime executive Mark A. Clemens to Drexel's old post of senior vice president of group operations, according to the filing.

Massey offered no explanation for Short's departure, though a separate news release thanked him for his many years of employment.

Short has been with the company since 1981 and is the third high-ranking executive to leave the company this summer. Massey is awash in lawsuits over its safety and environmental practices these days.

HEALTH CARE WOES. Here's a good one by Paul Krugman on the current state of U.S. health care. I love the lead:

Being without health insurance is no big deal. Just ask President Bush. “I mean, people have access to health care in America,” he said last week. “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

That oughta take care of it. Mission accomplished!


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