I Now Know What Label to Give Myself

OK, I know.

Some of you are thinking, ‘I already have a label for you.’

But I’m worried what that label might be.

So I thought I would try to take control of the situation and give myself a label, at least as far as my philosophy of life is concerned, and perhaps one that describes my political views as well.

I came across this new word/label while reading David Brooks’ wonderful book, The Road to Character. The book looks at the lives of prominent people, from Augustine to Dwight Eisenhower, and offers insights into what makes that person a person of character.

One of the people featured in the book is Mary Anne Evans, who went by the pen name George Eliot, perhaps best known for the novel Middlemarch. Brooks describes Evans as a “meliorist and a gradualist, believing that people and society were best reformed by slow stretching, not by sudden rupture.”

I had never come across the word “meliorist”, but it intrigued me enough to look it up on Google.

Here’s a definition I found at thefreedictionary.com:

  1. The belief that the human condition can be improved through concerted effort.
  2. The belief that there is an inherent tendency toward progress or improvement in the human condition.

That definition certainly seems to be in sync with how I view the world. I then dug a little bit deeper (well, as deep as Wikipedia will take you), and found some more:

Meliorism is an idea in metaphysical thinking holding that progress is a real concept leading to an improvement of the world. It holds that humans can, through their interference with processes that would otherwise be natural, produce an outcome which is an improvement over the aforementioned natural one.

Meliorism, as a conception of the person and society, is at the foundation of contemporary liberal democracy and human rights and is a basic component of liberalism.

Another important understanding of the meliorist tradition comes from the American Pragmatic tradition. One can read about it in the works of Lester Frank Ward, William James, Ralph Nader, and John Dewey.

Meliorism has also been used by Arthur Caplan to describe positions in bioethics that are in favor of ameliorating conditions which cause suffering, even if the conditions have long existed (e.g. being in favor of cures for common diseases, being in favor of serious anti-aging therapies as they are developed).

I bolded what I consider the key parts of the description that seem to be in agreement with my views of the world, as well as the names of two people that I admire, Ralph Nader and John Dewey (I don’t know much about the other people mentioned, hopefully none of them are serial murderers).

When I look at the definition, I find it hard to think that there might be people who don’t believe that through concerted effort the human condition can be improved. That seems to be a fatalistic, depressing view of life.

And who wouldn’t be in favor of of cures for common diseases or anti-aging therapies?

Perhaps one part of the definition some people may not feel a connection with is the idea of liberalism. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia page on liberalism:

Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Whereas classical liberalism emphasises the role of liberty, social liberalism stresses the importance of equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas and programmes such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, gender equality, and international cooperation.

That all sounds perfect to me; can’t find anything to disagree with. It seems similar to social democracy, which I am also a fan of.

So hello, my name is Jim Borden, and I am a meliorist.