Pending a fuller elaboration of a social anarchist system of ethics I’m currently developing, I thought I’d share what I consider to be some good guiding principles (virtues) of solarpunk as an approach to the world.
The ethical system is going to be a form of consequentialism which incorporates elements of virtue ethics, drawing a lot from the evolutionary ethics of Peter Kropotkin, the moral scepticism of people like Max Stirner and J. L. Mackie, and various utilitarian philosophers such as William Godwin, John Stewart Mill, R.M. Hare, and Peter Singer. For the moment I’m calling it affinitarian ethics, as it takes affinity – to persons, nonhuman animals, ecology, and even concepts – as a starting-point for the consideration of ethical questions.
Looking back through the catalogue of social anarchist approaches to ethics, I think it’s fair to say that while they didn’t have a common established ethical code to draw from, most anarchists landed on a kind of rough consequentialism, often informed by what would now be called virtue ethics, as neither of those terms existed as they do today.
In fact, you could see this project of affinitarian ethics as an attempt to update the ethical framework of Kropotkin in particular, as laid out in his essay Anarchist Morality and unfinished book Ethics. Kropotkin, being the perennial scientist, started from an evolutionary basis, and deemed “the good” as whatever helped a species to thrive in their evolutionary development – a roughly consequentialist position. In turn, he believed that while the path to achieving the good was contextual, depending on the stage and situation of a given society’s evolution, it was generally satisfied through actions which emphasised mutual aid, voluntary cooperation, and personal self-realisation.
Towards the end of Anarchist Morality, he put forward three general principles of action, each of which he felt balanced the other two out. He called these:
— Fecundity of will
— Mental fertility
Or, to translate these in more straightforward language: vitality, reason (intellectual vigilance), and compassion.
It is these three excellences of character (virtues) which I believe make for wonderful key traits of the solarpunk worldview.
- 1. Vitality: A love for life and a desire for self-directedness (autonomy) and self-fulfilment (eudaemonia) for all living beings.
- 2. Reason: A critical and intellectual attitude towards solving problems and overturning the rigidities of established dogmas. The ethos of science and rationalism.
- 3. Compassion: A caring and cooperative approach to cultivating empathy and kindness in oneself – and solidarity, equality, and mutual aid in society as a whole.
Each of these three virtues, as Kropotkin made clear, complement and reinforce the other two.
Reason without compassion can be hard-headed and callous, compassion without reason can be soft-headed and sentimental, and vitality without reason or compassion can be directionless and unintentionally destructive.
In combination, they also naturally lead to other liberatory values: vitality plus compassion is complementarity (unity-in-diversity); reason plus compassion is compassionate rationalism; and vitality plus reason make ecological humanism.
Together they imply the need for a social order which enables the fullest possible self-development of the individual in a liberatory and cooperative society of equals; the unity of freedom, equality, and solidarity.
Though one doesn’t – and shouldn’t – have to wait for a post-scarcity anarchist utopia to live life in these ways.
They are positive values which need to be practiced in the here-and-now; planted in our behaviours as the seeds which will make the new world grow within the shell of the old one.