Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades

On Empowerment and Inspiring Goodness

In previous essays I have laid out my views on what constitutes morality and justice, on the will that is our vehicle in the pursuit thereof, and of the political structures within which such pursuit would best be carried out, and justice best achieved. In this essay, I will now discuss the topic of what I call "empowerment": the inspiration of the will to actively pursue the good, the moral, or the just, whether that be in the service of achieving such an ideal political structure, or in more humble matters of individual people's personal lives. Empowerment is the state of the will being (or the process of it becoming) fully free or self-directed.

We cannot empower someone just by telling them what to do, even if they are asking what to do to be empowered; for empowerment is not a set of actions but rather a mode of operation of the will. We cannot simply tell them to operate their will in that way either, for there is a bootstrapping problem there; they couldn't do that unless they were already empowered to begin with. Instead, we must somehow inspire them to exercise their will, give them (and even more importantly, show them that they have) opportunity and motive to take the initiative of their own accord.

The principle vehicle for inspiring other people to pursue goodness, to empower them, is thus to show them, not merely tell them but actually demonstrate in practice, that achieving goods is actually possible, and thus that there is hope for them if they try to do so themselves. At the same time, we must also show them that achieving goods is not a foregone conclusion that someone else will always handle for them without any action on their own part, because if they thought that was the case they would have no motive to try to act themselves. So to that end, we need to point out to them how any authorities on justice that they may be tempted to rely on are fallible, and that without their personal action such authorities may fail, not necessarily catastrophically or globally, but in any particular case, in which cases the individuals involved will need to be ready to pick up that slack and stand up to injustice themselves.

So we can empower people by doing good by them, helping them flourish, but we must be sparing in our direct help, lest they come to rely upon us, take our help for granted, and deem it unnecessary for them to try to act themselves. Instead, we need to help people to help themselves, to require that they take initiative in trying to pursue their own good, but to stand by and hold their hand while they get a bearing for it, to ensure that their early attempts are successful, and build in them the confidence and skill that they will need to continue pursuing goodness on their own. It will of course take much of such inspiration for such empowerment to stick permanently, and the challenges that we help people to overcome to build that empowerment must start out small enough for them to have a chance of success at them even with our help, but as they become increasingly empowered we can continue to help them tackle still greater and greater challenges, eventually building a momentum of achievement that can continue even without our further help.

But doing good not only for oneself, but also for others, can also help to cultivate that feeling of empowerment, the feeling that achieving justice oneself is both possible and necessary. So more than merely helping people to help themselves, we can also enlist them to help us help other people to help themselves, with the promise that doing so will in turn empower them, help them learn to help themselves, and in doing so begin to build the groundwork for the kind of joint, mutual pursuit of goodness necessary to underpin a governmental structure that does not itself violate the kind of liberal deontology I have earlier advocated in the very process of trying to defend it.

An analogous process is also required for inspiring the kind of practices necessary to underpin an academic structure that does not itself violate the kind of critical epistemology I have earlier advocated in the very process of trying to defend that.


Continue to the next essay, On Enlightenment and Inspiring Truth.