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Can we make the world a “better place”?

February 21, 2013

I just received my copy of “Polyfidelity: Sex in the Kerista Commune and Other Related Theories on How to Solve the World’s Problems.” It’s a book of writings and artwork published by the Kerista Commune.

My first skim through the book impressed upon me the utopian views of the Keristans. They really wanted to create a utopia. Their unabashed desire for utopia raised a question which I have not yet adequately answered for myself.

Can we make the world a “better place”?

Evolutionary science reminds us that change is simply change. It’s never change for the better or for the worse. Evolution is not a steady progression towards an ideal. It’s just change.

Social science reminds us that ideas of “good” and “bad”, “better” and “worse”, are social constructions tied to specific historical times and specific social places. What some people see as making the world better, other people see as making the world worse. It’s all relative. There is no absolute basis for prioritizing one social construction above another social construction.

So what are we doing as activists? Are we making the world a “better place”? Can we really say a change is a change for the “good” or a change for the “better”? On the other hand, would we really be satisfied with any change at all, as long as it is change? A resurgence of the extreme political right, with all its hatreds, would be a change–yet hardly a change that would satisfy us.

Richard Rorty might say something like this: Of course values of “good” and “bad”, “better” and “worse”, are social constructions and therefore completely relative to historical times and places. So what? The fact that we can’t provide an absolute philosophical foundation for what we consider “good” or “better” has nothing to do with the pragmatic usefulness of “good” or “better.” We can let ongoing social conversations about “good” and “better” guide our actions aimed at social change. That’s all we can do…and so that’s enough.

But is it enough?

The inability to get legally married distresses many same-sex couples. Yet, passing laws that allow same-sex marriage causes genuine distress in many fundamentalist christians. We can denigrate the distress of the fundamentalist christians–they are distressed because of their own ignorance, indoctrination, phobias, and hatreds. The implication is that fundamentalist christians have a wrongheaded view of the world and so deserve their distress. Or at least they are expected to alleviate their own distress by changing how they look at the world (i.e., giving up some of their religious beliefs).

Make no mistake. I fully and completely support the legalization of same-sex marriage. It’s a matter of giving LGBT people their human rights regarding marriage and family. I won’t let the distress of people who oppose same-sex marriage prevent me from advocating and working for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

But am I making the world a “better place” by working to legalize same-sex marriage?  Says who? Why is it okay for me to act in a way that alleviates distress for some while causing distress for others?

What do you think?



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