On a more dialectical materialist understanding of “be the change you wish to see in the world”

being the change

It’s isn’t that “be the change you wish to see in the world” is outright false–it’s just that it’s not magic. There is no such thing as something like a “personality wave” that floats off of individuals and wafts over society, sight unseen, changing it. The world is not changed whatsoever by the attitude of a hermit, no matter how gracious that hermit may be.

This process, where one person’s attitude contagiously changes other people’s attitudes, only happens in concrete circumstances. Specifically, people adopt the attitudes of individuals they see in positions of authority, visibility, and respect–positions of power.

If one wants to “be-the-change” (verb) as a method of contagiously changing the world, it is not enough to only have the virtuous attitude one wants to spread to others: one also must have power, and on top of that something to do with that power that does not compromise that virtue.

What is the uncompromisedly virtuous thing to do with power? That is the real question.

I would say that it’s to work selflessly to create a society that promotes the universal development of virtue while perpetually seeking to empower others to do the same.

What is virtue? I think a virtuous attitude is one that understands its self-interest in the most expansive way possible–a virtuous attitude is one that believes, “I will flourish most in a whole world that is also maximally flourishing.”

What sort of world would that be? One where the material and social conditions were set up to always allow and encourage all people to seek mutually satisfactory, symbiotic solutions to their conflicts and never create any irreconcilable conflicts of basic interest between any two individuals.

But capitalism divides society into two classes of people with absolutely irreconcilable basic interests: “There can be no peace between the person who is down and the man who builds on their back.” This is how it will always be as long as capitalism exists.

So if one wants to “be-the-change” to contagiously bring more virtue into the world, one must have power. And the only uncompromisedly virtuous thing to do with power is to work selflessly to create the conditions for a universally virtuous society while perpetually empowering others to do the same. Thus, if one wants to contagiously “be-the-change” more virtue into the world, one must become an organizer building toward communism. And the more effectively one organizes in building toward communism, the more effective and contagious one’s “being-the-change” will be–that is, the more people will look up to one and adopt one’s virtuous attitude.

It is also worth acknowledging that there is a feedback loop here (what we would call a dialectical relationship): since being virtuous is essential to organizing that is building toward communism, the more virtuous one is, the better an organizer one will be. And likewise, the more effective an organizer building toward communism one becomes, the more one will be surrounded by other such effective organizers, whose virtue one will also absorb contagiously.

This feedback loop for contagiously “being-the-change” into the world, though, requires both virtue AND power–not just virtue alone.