In the past year, I have noticed that the Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) has come to the right answer long before I or most people did, on a surprising number of things, in a surprising range of domains. And yet, I do not feel inclined to become one of them. Giving credit where credit is due is a basic part of good discourse, so I feel that I owe an explanation.
The virtues of the Society of Friends are the virtues of liberalism: they cultivate honest discourse and right action, by taking care not to engage in practices that destroy individual discernment. The failings of the Society of Friends are the failings of liberalism: they do not seem to have the organizational capacity to recognize predatory systems and construct alternatives.
Fundamentally, Quaker protocols seem like a good start, but more articulated structures are necessary, especially more closed systems of production.Continue reading →
At the dinner table of the Beeminder family, who had generously invited me to stay with them during my recent travels, I accidentally took the butter knife for my own. As an indirect result, the knife of Danny and Bethany’s daughter Faire was accidentally conscripted as the butter knife, leaving her with none, so she complained. Bethany offered her own knife as a replacement. But Faire didn’t accept this solution. She clearly felt strongly about it, she even raised her voice, and she refused to be satisfied with a stopgap solution that deprived someone else of a knife. Her true objection wasn’t that she herself lacked a knife, but that it was unfair for a person at the table to lack a knife. She demanded a systemic solution. The situation was resolved when I noticed my extra knife and gave it to her in recompense - because this was a fair solution.
Her indignation was a profoundly moral one, and it reminded me of a story of my own moral indignation.