It’s called “the illusory truth effect.” Very powerful. So powerful that it can override pre-existing knowledge.
I’ve experienced this in several instances myself — even going into the situation knowing something for a certainty beforeheand. It doesn’t matter. Our memory formation is wired for reinforcement, and will adapt our understanding according to the newest information…even if that information is false. It’s pretty crappy situation in the context of attempts to manipulate voters through social media, or perpetuate propaganda, or sell consumers stuff they don’t need.
Here are some useful articles on the topic:
The science behind why fake news is so hard to wipe out
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question (in reference to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZYQpge1W5s
), but my god that was an incredibly painful video to attempt to watch — simply because of the level of aggressive combativeness in play. And so, alas, I couldn’t find the relevant bit in this video (though I actually scanned through most of it…Ack!). However, I have heard Peterson riff on “equality of outcome” in several other interviews and lectures, so I have a pretty good idea of why he doesn’t like it. In essence, he believes that the only realistic avenue for achieving equality of outcome is to impose it — via the tyrannical force of authoritative institutions. He will then use things like Soviet era agricultural disasters or the failures of affirmative action hiring to exemplify just how tyrannical and ridiculous striving for equality of outcomes ends up becoming.
The problem, of course, is that Peterson is shoehorning or conflating a lot of subtly different concepts into one very narrow box of his choosing. He is also missing the forest for the trees. Probably the best way to appreciate his error is to understand the idea that “fairness” of distribution is tied to a presumption of equality.
In other words, that regardless of how someone begins their life in society — rich or poor, male or female, black or white — they should have sufficient barriers mitigated by society so that their opportunities are truly equal.
That is the heart of most philosophical frameworks which include equality of outcome as a desirable goal: there really is very little difference between authentic equality of opportunity and pragmatic
equality of outcome in these frameworks, because for opportunity to be effectively equal, similar outcomes must be realistically achievable.
As a simplified example, imagine that two runners are set to race around a track. One of them has shoes, is well-rested, has had regular meals for the past week, has had time to train and prepare for the race, and really wants to win. The other runner has no shoes, is emaciated, hasn’t slept well or eaten in the last few days, and doesn’t have a complete understanding of what a competitive “race” really is (let alone had time to train for it). In Peterson’s vision of the world, once the parameters of such a race are set, and both runners are placed in the same starting positions on the track, then they effectively have “equal opportunity.” Any attempt to level the playing field between them is, for Peterson, an interference with merit.
And such interference is anathema to Peterson, ostensibly because it’s “Marxist” (it isn’t Marxist, actually, but anything with the remotest hint of Marx will generally set Peterson off into irrational and pedantic histrionics). No, but seriously, Peterson really hates the idea that any external agency or institution can judge the requirements necessary to achieve equity in such situations.
Now Peterson does have a point: it is very difficult to know how to structure society so that distributions are actually fair (and not punitive, or gamed, or generating unanticipated consequences, or ultimately biased and unfair, etc.). But this is really where Peterson doesn’t “get” the forest of successful civic institutions, and fixates instead of instances of failure (i.e. the trees). Where the intent of a given system of shared opportunity — and the people operating within it — is genuinely grounded in the presumption of equality, it actually works pretty well. Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel-prize-winning research into real-world examples of common pool resource management has definitively proven this to be the case. These CPRMs were organic, self-organized and self-managed systems all around the globe. No imposition of government tyranny was required to make them work. So really, Peterson’s argument is specious because he (apparently?) just isn’t aware of such real world instances.
Anywho, my fun meter has peaked on this topic, but hopefully this can help others navigate these treacherous waters.
My 2 cents.
Thank you for the question Otto. I feel the challenge here is that we humans tend to project our conceptions of consciousness into such inquiries and definitions, when really whatever consciousness exists beyond our own ordinary consciousness is either a) completely beyond our ability to comprehend or categorize, or b) only intuitable in brief flashes of insight. So when we infer various qualities of consciousness against the backdrop of the Absolute — or within the context of its emanations — we immediately begin confining what we mean by “consciousness” to a pretty limited (and thus likely inaccurate) semantic container. Trying to then communicate this with what we assume to be commonly agreed-upon terms can often muddy the water further (at least in my experience). So we may indeed be able to sketch out some assumptions about essential or fundamental qualities of consciousness expressed in, say, the felt experience of perpetual unfolding of Divine Being in our material plane, but I suspect we will always have to hold these insights lightly, acknowledging they are just fingers pointing at the moon, and not the moon itself. That said, understanding this is IMO a worthwhile pursuit…if one that can only be answered satisfactorily via deep meditation.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Richard. Well let’s see….
Both rich and poor can feel entitled — a poor person might feel entitled to justice or recompense from the rich because their family has been exploited by plutocrats for generations, and a rich person might feel entitled to keep all of their money regardless of how it was earned, and resentful that they should pay any of it in taxes to help poor people.
Both rich and poor can feel like victims — of prejudice, persecution, false accusations, exclusion, etc. merely for the state of being rich or poor.
Both rich and poor can arrive at their condition without much choice or effort, but still feel responsible for it — a poor person may feel guilty and reprimand themselves for not going to college or not earning a decent wage, and a rich person may feel proud of the social status their inherited wealth has provided them. But, in both cases, circumstances entirely out of their control — which they were born into — may have been the single greatest influence on their current state.
Both rich and poor can be deluded about how success actually occurs — Consider that 50% of all small businesses fail after their first five years, and that most people’s dreams or passions are not valued by society at all (i.e. no one will pay for those people to “follow their dream”). Taken together, there is no guaranteed formula for ending up wealthy or in poverty. People often do everything right, and end up with nothing. Others do everything wrong, and are wildly successful. Sure, there are a very tiny few who come out on top, and that leads everyone else to speculate about how it happened. The fact that it is essentially arbitrary just doesn’t sit well with the meaning-making human psyche.
I could go on, but my point is that the “mentality” of rich and poor has more in common than not. It’s just human mentality. So the real question then becomes about living one’s life. What style of thinking will bring the most happiness, contentment, and positive sense of purpose — regardless of income or material accumulations? Hint: it has nothing to do with money.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Randall. Of course it is. Capitalism is dependent on continuous growth, but it also aims for increased efficiencies — both of these are motivated by a desire to enlarge profits, but the two expectations actually work against each other. If I create a really good product that “sells itself,” and is also durable and easy to maintain, then as soon as everyone who recognizes the benefit of that product (for them) purchases one, I will go out of business. So I either have to a) convince others who do not need or want my product (i.e. who don’t recognize its benefits) to purchase one, b) persuade customers who have already purchased one that they need a “newer, better” model, c) offer additional services and products to augment the original purchase, d) make sure other companies with competitive products can somehow be constrained, e) change the production quality of my product so that it will continually break and require replacement or repair….or some other strategy along these lines. You see the problem? In order for my business to grow, innovation isn’t enough. I have to start being a little…shall we say…deceptive, or coercive, or manipulative, or underhanded. There is really no way around it. And the larger my company, and the longer it remains in the marketplace, the greater such pressures will become. Hence the drive towards monopoly.
But, in most developed civil societies, there are laws that protect consumers to a limited extent, so this limits what my business can do to maintain growth. So the easiest course is usually to lie…to falsely inflate quality, or functionality, or durability, or prestige, etc. It’s called marketing,
and it’s how most products and services that have little or no actual value to consumers can become wildly profitable. For example, how many people do you think knew they had “restless leg syndrome” before they were sold a pharmaceutical solution for their “disorder” on TV…? I would estimate that more than 60% of purchases in the U.S. are driven by such artificially generated demand. Which is why the U.S. doesn’t produce very much any more domestically in terms of manufactured goods…the diminishing return on profits as the U.S. market became saturated, and domestic labor and materials costs increased at the same time, became untenable. That’s why companies have had to outsource. And it’s also why the U.S. economy has been “financialized.”
It’s much easier to grow profit through speculative investments and consumer debt than it is via manufacturing — because it’s using other people’s money. And once consumers start accumulating debt — or become addicted to stock market or futures gambling, as the case may be — that condition generally persists. Forever. And as real wages have remained flat for many decades, and the cost of living has increased, and people kept being sold things they don’t need…well…we ended up with the main driver of the U.S. economy being speculation and debt maintenance. And how did consumers get suckered into such a situation? Well they were lied to of course, and then given some cheese every once-in-a-while to condition a compulsive reflex to keep buying and investing indefinitely.
My 2 cents.
Comment from Joan Spark:
The way currencies work are the driving force behind the growth demand for the economy.
And as you have noticed, the real economy can’t keep up with that demand, exponential demand to be precise. At best a real economy can do linear growth, which - tadum - produces growth rates that trend towards zero.
This means, as the holder of money have leverage over every other participants in the economy (monopoly, why is another matter) they extract the exponential demand out of a system that at best grows linearly.. which leads to your observation: “..real wages have remained flat for many decades, and the cost of living has increased, and people kept being sold things they don’t need”
Shall I go on?
TL;DR: you’re blaming the wrong guy. Capitalism is not the problem, monopolies under private control which create cronyism are the problem.
You are touching on a larger conversation in macroeconomic theory around aggregate demand, and I would agree that you have part of the picture in view. But that wasn’t really what I was aiming at — which was more microeconomic in focus. There is a lot of ground to cover in AD, and monetary variables are just one set among many inputs. I don’t disagree that cronyism and clientism amplify the preexisting antagonisms of market economies…but they only make them worse, they don’t initiate the problems. It’s like negative externalities, or opportunity costs, or perverse incentives, or moral hazards…these things are already in play, but some conditions have a fertilizing effect.
Thanks for the question Avishek. I would say authentic compassion has four primary components — ideally all of these are present as a reflexive and unselfconscious orientation to others, but sometimes they require additional, more conscious cultivation:
1) A felt experience of affection, concern, caring and kindness that is informed by empathy and a deep respect for the other’s being.
2) The felt experience is amplified by a generous and unconditional intentionality: a desire to aid, comfort, nurture, encourage and support the other’s being, with no expectation of reciprocation or reward.
3) These feelings and intentions are then skillfully operationalized as love-in-action, within the context of the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration.
4) Efficacy in this operationalization requires discernment, insight, wisdom, humility, and a willingness to continually observe outcomes and adjust methods to improve skillfulness.
The question of how to measure outcomes also becomes important over time. For example, authentic compassion tends to relieve dissonance, ignorance, confusion, suffering and pain for all involved — while at the same time nudging joy, harmony, peace, excellence and truth into the foreground. Authentic compassion also propagates and enlarges itself: compassion begets compassion, becoming a strong force or field that unifies and harmonizes everything it embraces.
Lastly, because these ideas about compassion are so specific, I will often use the term agape instead.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Olga. First, I would qualify “higher than average” to be relative to what we have now…which is a fairly broken and meager social interconnectivity. Things like social media (and communications media and technology) have tended to supplant real relations, and created an increasing poverty of social capital — at least that which transcends mere “relationships of convenience” or tribal conformance.
With that said, right-libertarians tend to idealize contractual, voluntary, individualistic relations that do not require social capital to function. Social agreement, sure…but not any complex interdependent social networks…no. Right-libertarian arrangements would still benefit from social capital…but it isn’t a prerequisite IMO.
Left-libertarians, on the other hand, tend to view social relations (usually at the community level, and in a horizontally collectivist sense) as a key component of effective governing of the commons, and are less reliant on contractual obligations. So left-libertarian proposals definitely would benefit from “higher than average social capital” to function well…and really as a prerequisite.
Again…this is all relative to the current paucity of social capital in Western cultures.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Chris. Tom Gregory has a great answer regarding the Gini distribution. I would only offer a slightly different “intersubjective” take….
IMO, the values of society (or “values hierarchies” in the sense of social mores and ethical assumptions) should move away from valuing material wealth entirely. In itself, the obsession with economic materialism is destructive to social cohesion, prosocial traits in individuals, and the growth and stability of civil society. Paul Piff’s research has been pretty conclusive in this regard. The more we fixate on material wealth distribution, the more we remain distracted by class, social status, inequalities, competition for resources, consumerism and a host of other maladies that drive the collective mental illness and corrosion of civil society we are experiencing today.
The alternative is to just let go of economic materialism altogether. Let go of wealth accumulation, the profit motive, the moral infancy of I/Me/Mine, and indeed the conflation of “freedom” and affluence. To do this, I suspect we will need to develop a different orientation to private property itself — reinvoking a mode of collectively shared resources without demanding ownership, a mode that has been successful across many different cultures around the globe. To appreciate this shift, I recommend reading Private Property As Violence.
Thanks for the question Carl.
I would separate “religion” into two distinct categories or aspects, both of which can be found in almost all religions:
1) The esoteric, the mystical, the spiritual, the enigmatic, the intuitive, the acquiescent
2) The exoteric, the institutional, the dogmatic, the hierarchical, the rationalizing, the dominating
If there is a “spiritual” dimension of existence (even if it is exclusively part of our interiority), then aspect #1 is really just the sensitivity to, interest in, and exploration of that dimension. I would call this kind of religion an “openness to the infinite,” or spiritual curiosity if you will. I think most mystical traditions (Sufism, contemplative Christianity, Toaism, Kabbalah, Hindu mysticism, much of historical Buddhism, etc.) fall mainly in this category, and actually end up in conflict with traditions that emphasize the second aspect. This aspect of religion does not “live in denial,” because it is constantly questioning along deeper and deeper lines of inquiry. If you spend time with any of the great mystical traditions, it quickly becomes evident that they are attempting to penetrate truths beneath the surface of more superficial, materialistic presentations of reality.
The second aspect is all about control, power, orthodoxy, tribalism, and so on — also very common characteristics of human institutions. It is aspect #2 that tends to slip into greater and greater cognitive dissonance as it attempts to maintain its primacy over other social structures and centers of gravity in society — it perpetuates denial as a primary feature of its striving for dominance.
My 2 cents
Thanks for the question Bruce. First...I can only speak for humanity. I cannot speak for all of Nature. For humans, however, I believe there are values hierarchies that plot along a spectrum, and I’ve included a first draft of a chart that describes that spectrum below. The idea here is that there are indeed absolutes…but those absolutes intersect in different ways, at different times, in different people…to be expressed as what someone will inevitably perceive as a “relative and subjective” difference. In other words, the contexts of culture, time-in-history, underlying belief system and so on shape how a given values hierarchy (and how it is actualized) plot along the spectrum, and how it is understood. But although the perspectives on a given values hierarchy may shift — be refined over time, be critiqued, be valorized or devalorized, etc. — the position of that values hierarchy is actually pretty fixed.
To appreciate the backdrop of concepts from which this chart was derived, see this article: Functional Intelligence
I hope this was helpful.
Some possibilities (as pure speculation):
1) Perhaps they’ve overstated their case. Suffering ***may*** be an opportunity for growth. It also may be just plain old run-of-the-mill suffering that every human being has to deal with as a feature of life on Earth, or it may indicate some underlying condition that requires conventional medical treatment, or it may simply indicate situational conditions that can and should be remedied, or it may be the consequence of arbitrary events that have no intrinsic meaning at all. But shoehorning ALL suffering into the context of being an “awakening catalyst” is a bit…well…presumptuous IMO. Thus assigning some external spiritual agency to such conditions or events would, I think, be uncomfortable…since it wouldn’t make a lot of sense in these other instances.
2) They may not have specific discernment into your situation, but are instead stating a general principle, and are trying to avoid influencing you to externalize your own agency. In Western commercialized cultures, it has become second nature to give away our own agency in favor of external solutions. “The Devil made me do it” is really no different than believing wearing a particular brand of clothing or cologne/perfume will result in finding the perfect romantic partner. In the context of healing arts (inclusive of conventional medicine), when a client refuses to take responsibility for their own well-being and prefers to project healing power onto their physician, practitioner, drug, supplement, magical object or whatever…then the healing process has been sabotaged. No real healing will take place (other than the placebo that results from the client’s investment in the external solution). This is a real problem right now in capitalist society. So perhaps — consciously or unconsciously — the folks you are consulting are trying to steer you away from this particular addiction to externalization.
3) In the U.S. at least, one of the consequences of the widespread abuse of “New Age” approaches to wellness has been a mistrust of externalized spiritual agency of any kind. There have been too many abuses by gurus, mediums, psychics and the like asserting knowledge of spiritual causality purely for personal profit or celebrity. Thus attributing anything to a conscious spiritual intervention smacks of “woo-woo” in a bad way for most people who have either been conned or deceived…or who are aware of these deceptive practices that have occurred in the past. Personally, I don’t have a problem framing things this way when it is warranted, though I am still very cautious about leaping to that conclusion too quickly.
4) You and the folks you are consulting with may just be misunderstanding each other.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the great question. IMO the solution is to veer away from vertical
forms of both individualism and collectivism, and toward horizontal
forms that incorporate the best of both. Here is a chart that helps appreciate this difference:
As you can see, an additional consideration (in terms of political economy) is the “materialist-proprietarian” vs. “egalitarian-commons” axis. I tend to aim for the egalitarian-commons side of this spectrum, because I believe it harmonizes much more readily with both democracy and compassionate consideration of other human beings.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question.
What gives ownership of property its legitimacy? Only the fabricated architecture of the rule of law as created from whole cloth by human beings, usually to facilitate material security in isolation from society…and of course to facilitate trade. But extending personal sovereignty over one’s own mind and body into property — as in the longstanding tradition of Locke’s theory of labor appropriation — is a convenient, self-justifying fiction that borders on ridiculous. It’s little different than a dog believing it “owns” a patch of grass that it has peed upon, or a bird “owning” a tree where it has built its nest, or a hunter “owning” a wild animal they caught in a snare…these are all just variations of a King of the Mountain children’s game. There is no “natural law” that extends “mind and body” into property of any kind…only made-up belief constructed to justify appropriation, defense of property, and commerce.
As I discuss at length in these essays: Integral Liberty
and Property As Violence
property ownership is actually a non-rational impulse that interferes mightily with liberty, is predicated on ego-centrism and atomistic individualism, and is incompatible with the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). It is, essentially, a very immature and irrational way of interacting with our environment (unless you are a dog, a bird, a bear, etc.) that ends up reflexively depriving everyone else of their liberties. In this sense, ownership is primarily an antisocial behavior, regularly violating the non-aggression principle. Someday — hopefully in the not-too-distant future for humanity’s sake — we will begin to shift back into the more sane, rational and prosocial mode of possessing things temporarily for their utility, enjoyment or resource contribution, but without the childish need to “own” them during this temporary possession. We’re getting there…slowly…with concepts like Open Source. But we have a long way to go.
My 2 cents.
I would say Pinker’s observations are explainable by the rise of civil society and the stabilization of its institutions over time. Ethics have not really evolved all that much during recorded history — not in the broadest moral sensibilities and contracts at least. Sure, there is variation across different cultures…but really no more variation over the grand arc of history than is evidenced in current cultural differences. The ancient Greeks had an advanced civil society with many of the benefits of modern democracies, and we have State-sanctioned genocide today just as we have had for the past two thousand years. The apparent reduction (per capita) of violence, war, etc. that Pinker explores is really not a consequence of ethics changing, IMO, but of civic institutions relieving many of the pressures that produce unethical behaviors. We are shaped by our environments to the extent that our natural propensities will be amplified by either a sense of safety, social support and relative affluence, or by insecurity, fear, deprivation and violence. We have always had (and probably always will have) the capacity to behave like animals, or like saints, but our experiences will encourage one cluster of habits over the other. So the greater the civic stability, the greater the potential for widespread prosocial behaviors.
Just my 2 cents.
Thank you for the question Rachel. Some possibilities:
1) Because capitalism has been failing most people for a really long time.
2) Because nearly ALL of the social safety nets, worker protections, consumer protections and other benefits for the non-wealthy in the U.S. are a consequence of policies championed by socialists or inspired by socialism. Child labor laws, worker unions, socialized medicine (Medicare) and so on are all a consequence of socialistic values and ideology.
3) Because the lies and deceptions of neoliberal propaganda (i.e. “trickle-down economics always works”, “all forms of socialism have always failed,” etc.) are becoming more and more obvious, and people just aren’t being deceived as easily.
4) Because people see how socialized systems and socialistic values in other countries have been quite successful.
Because, despite concerted efforts from neoiberals and right-libertarians to deny or distort the reality, a “mixed economy
” like that of the U.S. is a mixture of socialism and capitalism…and has been for a very long time.
In other words, people are calling for a more socialistic society because they are waking up from the spectacle that has kept them from seeing how rational, compassionate and commonsensical such a society really is.
My 2 cents.
Ah. Good one.
I think the answer to this question depends on the level of moral maturity involved. An immature person will tend to disregard the rights of others unless someone (or some thing) is present to enforce or defend those rights. A moral grown-up, on the other hand, will recognize the importance of such rights even if there is no one and no thing present to enforce or defend those rights. This is true of most ethics. The morally mature person may choose to work hard whether their boss or coworkers are watching or not, because they believe it is the right thing to do; whereas the morally immature person may only work hard to impress upon those watching them that they are indeed “a hard worker,” or to reap some sort of advantage or reward. Really what defines being an adult has a lot to do with this willing acceptance of societal expectations without expectation of reward (i.e. simply because it is prosocial), while refining one’s own conscience to act in the spirit of those expectations on the other. A child, in contrast, might only follow the letter-of-the-law while someone is watching, and be excited and thrilled to deviate from societal expectations if nobody is looking.
These contrasting levels of moral maturity quickly become evident in contexts like driving a car: the mature person “drives carefully and responsibly” out of compassion for their fellow human beings, polite consideration that reflects prosocial intentions, and acknowledgement that the rule of law is necessary on public roads to prevent utter chaos and death; the immature person thinks the rules don’t apply to them, that other people’s safety doesn’t really matter, and that their own self-gratification and arbitrary impulses should guide their driving habits. In such a situation, the moral adult has little fear of police presence on a highway, whereas the moral child tends to be a bit more angry and fearful in the midst of their egocentric rebellion. So we might say that, for the moral toddler at least, a right may not exist if their is no one to defend it.
Thanks for the question.
LOL. This question really tickled me, so thanks for the question.
It’s not the correlation I find interesting, but the causal phrasing. “Has the rise of the gig economy…” (as if it were some spontaneous thing) “…contributed to great wealth disparity…?” Both are the consequence of precisely the same downward pressures on wages, employment security, and economic mobility…and the same upward pressures on wealth concentration. These two forces have been in play for quite a while now (over fifty years), and certain consequences (like the weakening of unions, loss of entire sectors of blue collar jobs, the financialization and automation of the economy, and so on) are inevitable. To understand the underlying mechanisms, one has to reframe the discussion around growth-dependent capitalism itself, and its constant shifting reach for cheap labor and cheap resources in order to sustain that growth, while still enlarging the profits of owner-shareholders as an “acceptable” return. The gig economy had to happen in this context — just as corporations had to start shifting away from full-time employment to contract labor. Both wealth disparity and job insecurity are absolutely deliberate in this context. Until we rethink these fundamental expectations of capitalism, it’s only going to amplify such trends.
My 2 cents.
No it will not…and never has. After ALL Republican historical tax cuts for the wealthy aimed to “stimulate the economy,” low-end wages remained stagnant, the number of folks living in poverty remained the same or increased, and income inequality consistently increased. In addition, the central claim to fame for supply-siders is that tax cuts stimulate economic growth…but at the macro level this has been extremely hit-and-miss (see links below). But, more importantly, there has not been any substantive or sustained “trickle-down” to the poor as a consequence of tax cuts for the rich, ever.
All other statistics are largely irrelevant in this context, because the sole measure of whether trickle down and other supply-side fantasies (i.e. the Laffer curve is laughable) actually work is whether poor people get any less poor.
Well, they don’t. So it’s just B.S. to talk about economic indicators at a macro level that benefit the wealthy, when what happens to the poor (in terms of real wages, numbers of folks in poverty, etc.) is so clearly neutral or negative. Here are some decent articles that cover this topic (you will need to follow links and refs in them to burrow down to the actual data):
How Much Do Tax Cuts Really Matter?
(Summary of Census Bureau reports on income and poverty across multiple U.S. administrations.)
Tax Cuts Won’t Make America Great Again
Trickle-Down Tax Cuts Don’t Create Jobs
- Center for American Progress
How past income tax rate cuts on the wealthy affected the economy
Tax Cuts: Myths and Realities
Now of course if you do a Google search on this topic you will find endless articles from the Heritage Foundation, CATO Institute, American Enterprise Institute and other neoliberal think tanks that prop up supply-side fantasies with cherry-picked statistics. It’s really shameful…but this deluge of propaganda serves these neoliberal institutions well: they have forever been the champions of corporate plutocrats, after all.
Thanks for the question Jeff.
The pros are the real possibility of intuiting nuanced unities among all spiritual traditions, which in turn lead to a deeper appreciation of both spiritual substrata (ground of being, gnosis, sophia, etc.), and the metathemes that have informed humanity’s spiritual and moral journeys — and indeed influenced cultural developments — for millenia. The cons are, as Thomas Merton succinctly surmised, that undisciplined Perrenialism can become “loose and irresponsible syncretism which, on the basis of purely superficial resemblances and without serious study of qualitative differences, proceeds to identify all religions and all religious experiences with one another….”
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Deiter. Please prepare yourself for a self-indulgent rant on my part.
A lot of folks who allude to Surowiecki’s “wisdom of the crowds” do not realize this refers to a disorganized, non-self-aware, diffused, uncoordinated and essentially arbitrary intersection of public intuitions and insights. Anything more organized and self-aware, on the other hand, rapidly develops one or more weaknesses related to conformative groupthink. We hear regular complaints about bureaucracy, inefficiency, turf wars and serfdoms, quid pro quo dealings, corruption, the lemming effect, gridlock, complacency, and a host of other issues that plague organizations larger than a few individuals. Essentially, humans suck at “big,” as it too often tends towards unskillful, inept, or just plain stupid.
Now I won’t go into why this seems to be a recurring problem — it could be something as simple as the combination of the Dunbar limit, the inherent paralyzing effect of rigid hierarchies, a genetically programmed propensity toward tribalism, and an institutional version of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Again…not the focus of this answer. What I do want to elaborate on is the necessity of outliers in any such institutional ecosystems. Without outliers, the quicksand of organizational inertia will always destroy that organization from the inside out. Not in any exciting sort of implosion, but through a slow, insidious rot. Outliers provide the necessary injection of challenging the hierarchy, outsider insights, and “creative destruction” that allows revisions and evolutions to occur in an otherwise frozen soup of conformance.
A lot of folks have intuited aspects of this principle and its importance in society. Colin Wilson, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Gebser and many others have explored the significance of outsider experience, thought, art and contributions to society. And this is not a new idea…perhaps you will recall Jesus saying “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” So the idea that the outlier, outsider, or outcast in this same sense must bear the burden of isolation and rejection in order to rejuvenate society — and indeed human civilization — from the outside has persisted throughout millennia.
As another take, in-groups like to scapegoat outcasts, so outcasts perform an important function there as well — diffusing tension, exciting group unity, voicing taboo sentiments, diluting hierarchical control and power, etc. Consider the “class clown” or the King’s Fool. There is, I believe, something inherently necessary about the outcast — something essential to the thriving of society itself. Certainly to the arts. Reframing common experiences and the status quo as absurd parodies of themselves is perhaps what comedians, social critics and theatre have provided since the beginning of history.
So society has outcasts to preserve itself. Without them, it would disintegrate.
My 2 cents.
Addiction is, IMO, woefully misunderstood by both modern science and mainstream folklore. Of the ten answers so far in this thread, all of them miss the mark. Biochemistry can help us understand mechanisms of physiological response, but not the causality of addiction itself. Not by a long shot.
In Integral Lifework, most addiction is the consequence what I call “substitution nourishment.” This is when some dimension of our being isn’t being nurtured or nourished, and we attempt to compensate for that deficit in other areas. The areas can be completely unrelated — and there are thirteen I have identified so far, which makes for some odd remedies. For example, one of my clients with OCD who was addicted to caffeine and certain sexual fetishes lost both his compulsions and his cravings when he began to create real intimacy with people — both romantically and in friendships. The caffeine and fetishes were no longer required to “offset” his loneliness, isolation and intimacy starvation. And I’ve seen a similar pattern repeated many time in many other clients.
Is there good data to back up this assertion? Not really. The Rat Park study points in a helpful direction, but the study was poorly constructed IMO. But this is the direction we need to look in in order to understand addiction.
Now I did say “most” addiction, and that is because some addictions are more structural in nature, and there is a growing understanding around genetic markers for certain sensitivities/vulnerabilities. That is a separate topic. But even in such “structural” instances, if all thirteen dimensions of our being are attended to and in harmony with each other, then even those vulnerabilities have less pull on a whole and healthy human being.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. Well, in terms of “sayings,” there are many — things that were said by my friends when I was young, things I read in books over the years, things a teacher or mentor shared, things I heard at rallies and speeches, things a poet or musician crafted…so many. I think it is the totality of these influential pronouncements over time that led me to appreciate the power of language itself — to capture sentiment, to peel back the onion of insight, to generate sudden “ahas,” and do forth. And that appreciation has certainly stuck with me. It is a large part of what shaped my own desire to write essays and books, create music and songs, and for a few years to act on stage. Even in the midst of a casual conversation, I am fascinated with capturing the essence of an idea, experience or emotion in words…obsessed even. So the recognition of the beauty and power of language certainly persists, even into the briefest exchanges. And of course it is very likely why I participate in Quora.
In terms of influential events, well, those are equally plentiful, and what I have often written about — including how they have shaped my self-concept and ways of being. My book Memory : Self is focused mainly on this interplay.
But is there just one of each that I could point to as more profoundly influential than all the others? I suspect it would be different pairing on different days, depending on my mood — and certainly the emphasis has changed at different times in my life — so I’ll just share what bubbles up right now:
1) When I was twelve or thirteen years old, my dad, a clinical psychologist, explained the bell curve of human intelligence to me. He showed how most people hover within a few points of the mean IQ of 100. I was astonished. 100? Really? And only a slim percentage ranged 120 or above? I was stunned. How was that possible?! At that moment I began to realize one reason why so many really, really bad decisions get made both collectively and individually in human society: human being just aren’t that bright, on-the-whole. That’s not to say we can’t learn how to make wise decisions, or have profound insights into our condition, or even come up with some very clever ideas about how to solve complex problems. The history of human civilization is proof that, at least sometimes, humans can get things right. However, that history — including the very recent history of the past few years — also evidences that people can be really profound idiots. So having a way to frame this, to understand it in a statistical sense, has been very helpful. And of course that same bell curve applies to all sorts of other metrics, too…So, thanks Dad!
2) I think my own (albeit gradual and reluctant) spiritual awakening has informed my life in persisting and transformative ways.
3) Anyone who has had an abusive childhood knows that negative self-talk and downward emotional spirals can persist even with lots of therapy, lots of positive accomplishments, and lots of healthy relationships well into adult life. At age 52 I am still dealing with that childbhood trauma…and “managing” my own interior responses to that trauma as they are triggered (or just spontaneously well up) in the present. So…there’s that.
4) In terms of life events, what has always surprised and comforted me is the kindness I have seen in people — towards each other and towards me. I think having witnessed such kindness helps me have hope, even my darkest moments.
5) Marcus Aurelius said something that has stuck with me ever since I first read it, and it has been quite helpful in maintaining perspective: “People exist for one another. Teach them then, or bear with them.”
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Zahin. On the whole, I agree with Ross on nearly everything, so it would be difficult to criticize him in any substantive way. One area in which I think he could have explored and elaborated a broader foundation was in the prioritization of duties (with the aim of resolving conflicting obligations). I do think there are clear avenues of achieving this — and indeed for any situation — via meta-ethical principles (in the form of consistent values hierarchies) and synthesis (how fulfillment impulses for primary drives interact, etc.). That said, the reliance on a developed moral sense (what I refer to in my own writing as “moral maturity”), inclusive of moral intuitions and self-evident responsibilities, is ultimately a sophisticated and nuanced arbiter of such conflicts, and this is precisely what Ross seems to promote. So…I can’t really be all that critical. IMO, Ross pretty much nails it, it’s just that his exploration is incomplete.
My 2 cents.
Current excitement about a "Blue Wave" of Democratic wins in November is, I believe, woefully misplaced...for the simple reason that the wealthiest Trump supporters (inclusive of Vladamir Putin) will use every underhanded tool at their disposal to prevent or reverse any Democratic victories they can. What these powers-that-be care most about is winning by any means possible
- they will lie, cheat, steal, harass, sue, bully, intimidate and hoodwink in order to hold on to their political influence. How do we know this? Because we've seen it in many recent local and national elections:
1. Outrageous gerrymandering of congressional districts to favor Republicans.
2. Relentless disenfranchisement of Democrat voters, the poor, people of color, etc. and/or preventing them to vote on election day.
3. Aggressive attempts to hack into all levels of the election process, and the DNC, in order to disrupt free and fair elections.
4. Lockstep passage of legislation - coordinated by A.L.E.C., the State Policy Network, etc. - at the national and State levels to disrupt anything progressive: environmental protections, worker protections, unions, consumer health and safety, voting rights, etc...
5. Highly targeted deceptive manipulations on social media to persuade voters of ridiculous claims.
6. Threats, intimidation, fear-mongering and punitive policies from the White House itself to further disrupt and divide the Democratic base.
7. Relentless, carefully orchestrated smear campaigns.
8. Invented or manufactured crises that are then shamelessly blamed on Democrats.
So why should anything be different in 2018...and what other tactics can we look forward to? Court challenges for any election outcomes or lower court rulings that don't favor Republicans? Sure, with a new far-Right Supreme Court Justice on the bench, this will almost certainly be a tactic.
In the past, the only thing that has consistently countered such nefarious "win-at-all-costs" Right-wing strategies on a large scale has been a broad upwelling of authentic populist grassroots excitement for a given candidate or agenda.
This is what propelled Obama to his initial victory, what energized Bernie's rise to prominence, and what promises to undermine the centrist DNC status quo as it did with New York's election of Ocasio-Cortez.
But we should always keep in mind that whatever has worked previously to elevate the will of the people into our representative democracy will always be countered by new deceptions, new backroom dark money dealings, new astroturfing campaigns, and new methods of hoodwinking by those on the Right who want to destroy our civic institutions. Nothing on the Left can compare - in scope or the amount of money spent - to how the Koch brothers coopted the Tea Party, how the Mercer family funded Breitbart and manipulated social media through Cambridge Analytica, what Rupert Murdoch accomplished with FOX News, or how the Scaife and Bradley foundations fund fake science to weaken or reverse government regulations. Billions have been spent to deceive Americans and create "alternative narratives" that spin any and all public debate toward conservative corporate agendas. And when the Supreme Court upheld the "free speech" of corporate Super PACs funded with dark money in its Citizens United
ruling, that just opened the floodgates for more of the same masterful deception.
So don't count on a Blue Wave to save us from a truly deranged Infant-in-Chief and his highly toxic agenda. Civil society - and the checks and balances of power for the U.S. Republic itself - will very likely continue to be methodically demolished and undermined by neoliberal plutocrats. I wish this was mere pessimistic speculation…but I really don't believe it is. As just one example of the effectiveness of these sneaky destroyers of democracy, consider how well-organized, well-funded, and effective the "science skepticism" of the past few decades has been. Take a few minutes to absorb the graphic illustration below, and then ask yourself:
1. Do we have caps on carbon emissions, and the necessary investment in green energy technology to replace fossil fuels, to avoid further escalation of climate change?
2. Have neonicotinoid insecticides been banned so essential bee populations can be saved?
3. Has the marketing of nicotine vaping products to teenagers been stopped to prevent them from lifelong addiction and health hazards?
4. Has the proliferation of GMOs been seriously slowed until we can better understand its long-term impacts?
5. Do a majority of Americans even believe any of these issues are even an urgent concern…?
Along the same lines, how good are working conditions at the largest U.S. companies? How high are those worker's wages? Will Social Security be able to pay 100% of benefits after 2034? Are wildly speculative investments on Wall Street being well-regulated? Are U.S. healthcare costs coming down? Are CEOs being held accountable for corporate malfeasance…and if so, how many have actually gone to jail?
The answer to these and countless similar questions informs us about the direction the U.S. is taking, and how nothing that interferes with corporate profits or the astounding wealth of their owner-shareholders will be allowed to flourish as long as conservative Republican (and possibly even centrist Democrats) hold power. In short, elected officials friendly to corporatocracy need to keep getting elected to keep this gravy train in motion. And so there is no cost too great to expend in order for them to win,
and the highest concentrations of wealth in the history of the world have brought all of their resources to bear to perpetuate those wins. This is why a Blue Wave alone cannot triumph in November. Perhaps, if every single Left-leaning voter - together with every single Independent-minded voter - comes out to make their voices heard at the ballot box, it just might make enough difference. And I do mean every single one. But a Blue Wave alone will probably not be enough. In effect, what America requires for a return to sanity and safety is what we might call a Blue-Orange Tsunami - perhaps even one with a tinge of Purple, where Independents, Democrats and the few sane Republicans remaining unite their voices and votes against a highly unstable fascistic threat.
Short of this, there is just too much money in play, carefully bending mass media, social media, news media, scientific research, legislators, election systems, judges, government agencies, public opinion and the President himself to its will.
Thanks for the question Michelle. I must first admit that I’m not a good candidate for videos, as I find the format painfully slow in its conveyances of themes and perspectives. Instead, I read the following writing of Benjamin Cain (hoping to find similar points there) in order to answer the OP’s question:
Scientism and the Artistic Side of Knowledge
Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Scientism and the Scapegoating of Philosophy
Here is my take so far:
Cain is spot on regarding scientism
— its sentiments are not a careful integration of the scientific method into our approach to knowledge, but rather an arrogant attitude
about the superiority of scientific pursuits over all other human aptitudes and interests — and of the dominion of human reasoning and worldviews over everything else in Nature (i.e. the anthropocentrism theme). In reality, of course, science is just one more facet of the human exploration (i.e. Cain’s pluralism), and humans are just one outcome of Nature’s vast experiments.
I’ve taken similar issues on myself in essays like this one: Sex at Dawn: The Fallacies of Simulated Science
— in which I attempt to differentiate between popular notions of science, and actual scientific thinking. Another attempt to broaden critical reflection and process beyond various patterns of exclusionary bias (including scientism) can be found here: Sector Theory 1.0 — Todd’s Take on Epistemology.
Some caveats: When Cain’s criticisms of Tyson (in second linked essay) begin framing him within neoliberalism, I think that goes a tad too far. In reality, Tyson’s attitudes and methods may indeed lend themselves to perpetuating a neoliberal agenda (by supporting capitalism’s growth-dependent innovations)…but I don’t believe they are deliberately propagating the same. In the same vein, Cain tends to overgeneralize about “scientists” in ways that don’t help his arguments. Though Cain’s observations are appropriate for the culture of science and scientific institutions (and broader cultural attitudes towards science), they simply do not apply to “all scientists.” In other words, he would do better off using his term “scientismist” instead during any such rants. That said, the first linked essay, “Scientism and the Artistic Side of Knowledge,” is much more carefully constructed and worded.
All-in-All, I think Cain has some interesting things to say, and should be seriously considered as a contributive perspective. He does not promote, as Joe Velikovsky asserts in his post, “anti-science nonsense;” Cain’s perpective is neither anti-science nor nonsensical. He is simply asserting that, in a cultural, psychological and epistemic sense, “science is not the only story worth telling.” That is, science does not yet offer a complete picture of all aspects of existence and experience…so why are so many folks so emotionally (and irrationally) committed to insisting that it does?
Further, Cain argues that scientific knowledge itself is fraught with the same intuitive, prejudging shortcomings (or advantages, depending on your perspective) as all other human methodologies. Cain’s is a well-reasoned criticism — and I think it takes particular aim at the non-scientific use of scientific knowledge (i.e. scientism as a sort of religion). One would think rational folks would appreciate that distinction….
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the A2A Dawn. To me it speaks to the synthesizing capacity of human beings in groups — especially regarding things like social roles and mores, expectations regarding prosocial behavior, definitions of wrong-doing, values prioritizations, constructs around “meaning,” prejudices, etc. — and that this can be both conscious and unconscious. In my discussions of “moral creativity” (see L7 Prosociality
) I promote the idea that we can have an active role in our own moral development and expressions…both individually and collectively…and that this will be reflected in the shape of our society. Our systems, institutions, cultural traditions, economic practices and so forth will reenforce and perpetuate certain assumptions about the world around us — and about the dominant forces within ourselves. The nature/nurture question is therefore more about our ongoing chosen emphasis
than any chicken or egg, as our interpretations of everything will conform to that emphasis. And although stepping back from such perpetuation requires effort, it isn’t all that difficult. Unless, of course, our investment in a given position is tied closely to things like perceived survival, thriving, loss, threat, power, status, belonging, cherished relationships, etc. In other words, we are only rigidly conformist when we believe the stakes are high. And that, unfortunately, is what those who wield power and influence are constantly trying to do: convince us that the stakes are high, and that we have a lot to lose by not conforming to a given narrative regarding “what is.” None of this has much to do with “truth,” IMO…only with the operational parameters of acceptable information. Does it threaten? Then it can’t be true. Does it console and comfort? Then it must be true. So the more we can be persuaded or coerced about the “acceptability” of some given information in this high-stakes context, the more likely we are to incorporate that information around our preexisting bias. All-the-while, the context may have been synthesized purely through fear-induced groupthink. This is how, as an enduring analogy, Golding’s “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.” equates to “Lock her up!”
I.e. this is how we create reality distortions we believe to be true.
My 2 cents.
Agorism is Konkin’s Rothbardian wet dream, with some later infusions of counter-establishment activism. It is utterly confused and self-contradictory form of right-libertarianism — and to invest in Agorism (or even entertain Konkin’s ideas as well-reasoned) is to bend one’s own thinking into such pretzels as to potentially break important cognitive capacities. In part I think this is due to Konkin’s ignorance: for example, he misuses terms (like “Left-Libertarian”) without any understanding of their history or context. In part, however, this is just due to crooked logic; Konkin is kin to Ayn Rand in this regard.
Voluntaryism (not to be confused with voluntarism!) is a much broader container, built around mutual consent. As a tool to evaluate (and avoid) Statist impositions, it seems to be a useful concept. As a sort of moral standard, it is not as helpful. When married to capitalism (or defending property ownership, etc.), voluntaryism begins to twist its proponent’s thinking into rather nasty knots…like wage slavery being okay as long as it’s contractual (i.e. there is no recognition of coercive power structures).
I hope this was helpful.
Rand’s sins are legion, but here are the most egregious from my perspective:
1) Her misunderstanding and frequent misapplication of Aristotle.
2) Her promoting cigarettes as a “Promethean muse” that had no health risks.
3) Her unprincipled hypocrisy (in the same breath that she didn’t take responsibility for her cigarette-induced lung disease, she became dependent on the socialized safety nets she railed against).
4) Her bizarre assertions about human psychology, which really have no basis in anything scientific or even careful observations, but are purely Rand’s own inventions.
5) Her misunderstanding of causality regarding personal success, power and wealth accumulation (i.e. these do not materialize magically out of thin air as a consequence of individual effort or entrepreneurial spirit, but are wholly dependent on a supportive framework of civil society, generations of education and cooperation, the interdependence of human relationships, and — in Rand’s conceptions in particular — the availability of capital).
6) Her perpetual conflation of rhetoric and emotional reasoning
with logic and objectivity.
In other words, Rand would espouse various claims as if they were the consequence of logical argument, when they were really just layers of one fallacy upon another — with their fundamental justification being the sheer force of Rand’s personal will and imagination.
7) Her corrosive and destructive views about femininity, male-female dynamics, sexuality, romantic love, and even sexual intercourse itself.
Her astounding arrogance that, despite a great deal of evidence in support of everything listed above, Rand believed she was making a meaningful contribution to philosophical discourse…and that more people should follow her prescriptions.
My 2 cents.
To support a new framing of this longstanding issue, my latest essays covers many different facets and details that impact the polarization of Left/Right discourse. However, its main focus centers around the concept of personal and collective agency
. That is, how such agency has been effectively sabotaged in U.S. culture and politics for both the Left and the Right
, and how we might go about assessing and remedying that problem using various tools such as a proposed "agency matrix." The essay then examines a number of scenarios in which personal-social agency plays out, to illustrate the challenge and benefits of finding a constructive solution - one that includes multiple ideological and cultural perspectives.
Essay link in PDF: The Underlying Causes of Left vs. Right Dysfunction in U.S. Politics
Also available in an online-viewable format at this academia.edu link
As always, feedback is welcome via emailing email@example.com
Thanks for the question John. I had to chuckle a bit when I saw this question…
The main challenge in any conversation — persuasive or otherwise — is that everyone share the same definitions of terms. If they don’t it will be impossible to communicate. In other words, we need to synchronize our knowledgbase. In this case, the terms “libertarian” and “socialist” have very broad definitions, and there is no better example of that than the fact that several answers so far confidently assert that it is “impossible” to persuade socialists to become libertarians, while at the same time I myself (along with countless others in the present day and throughout history) am a libertarian socialist.
So there’s the source of the chuckling. Ha.
Unfortunately, there are a number of barriers to education and subsequent knowledgeable synchronization. One is ideological resistance (we might call this “willful ignorance” that bubbles up from deeply cherished beliefs). Another is subjection to years of misinformation and propaganda. Another is a simple desire to avoid embarrassment when someone discovers their own mistaken understanding. Another is ego — just ‘wanting to be right,’ because that is very important to some people’s self-concept. There are other barriers, but these seem fairly common.
So how do we approach these barriers or mitigate them? First, although it’s fairly rare to do this successfully in today’s sociopolitical landscape, offering some educational resources may spark curiosity and willingness to be educated in some people. Sometimes just asking a person if they are interested in learning about X or Y can open that door. To that end, a person could be offered some or all of the following resources:
1) Watching a few of the plentiful videos of Noam Chomsky discussing socialism, liberalism, capitalism, libertarianism, and the language and history around these ideas. Here is one:
2) Reading up on the history of anarchism, libertarian socialism and anarcho-capitalism in books like Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible
3) Appreciating how right-libertarianism (that is, capitalistic libertarianism) developed as a uniquely American flavor of libertarianism (via Mencken, Rothbard, Nozick, Mises, et al — there is a fairly good overview here: Right-libertarianism - Wikipedia
), and how it was then entirely coopted by neoliberalism (see L7 Neoliberalism
4) Appreciating just how pervasive, corrosive and distorted right-wing propaganda has become. Brock’s book Blinded by the Right might be helpful in this regard, and a Harvard study on how propaganda shaped the 2016 election can be found here: https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstre...
In any case, that’s a start. A person’s response to this initial exposure and education will help determine next steps. Are they surprised by what they learn? Are they willing to admit the extent of their own ignorance? Do they turn to poorly informed, knee-jerk polemics, ad hominem attacks or name-calling to reject the information? Do they express a thirst for additional information? How to handle each of these responses is a separate and often challenging question in itself.
I hope this was helpful.
Thanks for the question Pete. A number of verses come to mind, but to appreciate why they express nonduality may require some contemplation. First, I would recommend comparing parallel verses of what Jesus says about “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” across the gospels (i.e. Matthew 5:3/Luke 6:20; Matthew 19:14/Mark 10:13–14; etc.). and then just carefully examine what all Jesus says regarding that kingdom. That will be an eye-opener for some folks, and certainly speaks to nondual themes.
I would then turn to the Gospel of John, beginning with this:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
And then some of the rest…
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
These are some of the easier verses. There are others that require a bit more time and openness to grok and fully receive within a nondual context. For example, John 11:9 “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.” Or John 13:20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” IMO, both of these verses have not been adequately interpreted by most scholars, because they speak to a deeper, more unitive truth than is apparent on the surface (and even seems confusing).
My 2 cents.
There have been a number of proposals over the years that have attempted to “self-liberate” from what amounts to neoliberal oppression — many of which were proposed prior to neoliberal ideology even taking root. For example:
1) Various forms of counterculture — some embedded in the mainstream, and some retreating to isolated communes, etc.
2) Various top-down socialistic reforms that attempt to insulate entire segments of society — or all of society — from the impact of runaway crony capitalism through government programs, safety nets, publicly owned assets and services, etc.
3) Worker solidarity movements that permit organized labor to wrestle controls away from the owner-shareholder class.
4) The formation of a well-educated, affluent middle class with progressive values that can counter neoliberal agendas through NGOs, community organizing, community banking, electing progressive candidates, writing and passing progressive initiatives, and mass media counter-narratives.
5) Subversive activism that seeks to disrupt neoliberal agendas, such as hacktivism, sabotaging WTO meetings, ecoterrorism, etc.
6) Modeling alternatives that exit the self-destructive spiral of a neoliberal status quo. Low carbon lifestyles, Permaculture and
7) Transition Towns, becoming Vegan, and so on.
Thus far, such efforts have slowed the forward march of neoliberalism, to be sure…but neoliberal activists are themselves very skilled, well-organized and well-funded in their own efforts to move their plutocratic vision forward, often coopting counter-narratives and undermining radical efforts. Consider how the Koch brothers took over the Tea Party movement, for example, or how the Kitchen Cabinet manipulated Reagan’s populism to their own ends, or how a Patriot Act inspired by foreign terrorism empowered a neoliberal government to crack down more forcefully on its own citizen subversives, or how alternative culture has simply been been commoditized to further feed corporate profits, or how evangelical Christians in the U.S. are now almost totally in the thrall of the commercialist, corporationist Beast. It’s stunning, really.
Which leads us to the question: what else can we do, either individually or collectively? I think the desire to “check out” of a toxic political economy altogether, and hide ourselves away off-the-grid or in some developing country, can be very enticing. It’s also pretty selfish, however…in some ways playing right into the “I/Me/Mine” individualism that feeds the disintegration of civil society itself. Another, perhaps more responsible approach would be to try David Holmgren’s “Crash on Demand or how to opt out the corporate fascism.”
I think he has some good ideas there that could lead to major reform. But really I think the best method is to walk right past the low-hanging fruit, and aim much higher. Which means reforming the underlying political economy itself, rather than attempting a Band-Aid approach to countering neoliberalism. To that end, I’ve cobbled together a “multi-pronged” system for transformative activism here: L e v e l - 7 Action.
The basic idea is that if we work towards ALL of the threads of change agency described there, we just might be able to undermine a neoliberal status quo in enduring and sustainable ways. At this point it’s just my own vision, but hey…why not aim high? Why not try to alter the underlying, causal factors that keep leading us down the same self-destructive path…?
My 2 cents.
I’m fairly certain that Rousseau, Wittgenstein, Aquinas, Sartre, Marcus Aurelius, Hegel and many other great thinkers would heartily agree with this question's sentiment. It takes real courage to remain vigilant about our own epistemic assumptions — and the conclusions we reach while relying upon them. Add to this our natural fallibility, ego attachments, fear of what we do not comprehend, and tendency to cling to the comfort of what is familiar…and, well…our ship of inquiry will always crash upon the rocks of self-reference eventually. But that doesn’t mean we can’t build a new ship, hoist our sales and seek a new course of insight. We need only be cognizant the breath that animates that quest, the buoyancy of mind that keeps us afloat, and the awareness that steers our course. And yes…we can still “love the truth” as an unknown objective, as a glint of light luring us from just beyond the horizon; to intuit its presence or catch the briefest glimpse with some fragment of our faculties does not negate devotion. Indeed it can inspire it, despite our apprehension about probing the unknowable. Perhaps it is easier to fall in love with mystery — or what mystery evokes in our imagination — rather than with our own settled beliefs. Or at least the love feels more genuine, and less contrived and pretentious.
I think what often steers us back to the perceived safety of that rocky shoreline is our fear that we will drift without a compass, or sight of land, or lose the motivating pneuma that makes our sails swell so pregnantly with purpose. But the intrinsic passion for truth will call from the open ocean, even when we are rudderless and adrift in the doldrums of our gravest stupidities. Even into the last instant, when the parched intellect is sure of its extinguishment, there can be truth…and love of truth…if we are open to it. Which is why the comforts of the settled shore, the habitual status quo, the camaraderie of cracking fires and shared soup, the coddling sleep upon still rocks — even if all of these are equally mere inventions of the mind — will always still the seeker within more readily than death. And so the morning after is itself a revelation, a revision of each old truth with something new, if we are willing to venture once more out to sea. All the greatest thinkers experienced this, which is why their thinking evolved over time, and why they often abandoned initial modes and premises and foundations for a better design or broader vision…or dismissed their previous assertions as faulty precursors for a more precipitous leap into the vast unknown.
My 2 cents.
Basically Aquinas argues from the position that — logically, intuitively, observationally, analogically — there can't be an infinite regress of causes, and he does this along several lines of reasoning. In essence, in order for God to be God, that prime mover can’t have a preceding cause. It would negate the primacy (and thus the divinity) of that mover. To appreciate both the context and the details of his arguments, it would be helpful to read the entirely of his discussion on the existence of God at the beginning of Summa Theologiae
. You can read that online here: The existence of God (Prima Pars, Q. 2)
What is an object? It’s a thing, right? Just a thing…basically only valuable in terms of its utility or commodification. Its function or someone’s desire for it determines its purpose and worth. But is that what a human being is? Just a thing…? A thing that it only valuable because of its utility or someone’s desire for it, and without any other essence or purpose? Is our only function to…ultimately…be objectified by others? To be used? Meditate on this for a bit. “Private property” is, in its most essential characteristic, the “thingification” of the world; that is, the forceful categorization and boundarizing of everything as “stuff.” That is, as objects that are used, and only valuable because of their utility and desirability, and not because they have any intrinsic value or purpose that transcends material exchanges or the capricious whims of humans.
Ownership is enslavement to the will of the owner. This is a pretty profound observation, don’t you think? And yet it escapes most people that everything they do — and everything they are — in a capitalist system distances them from their own intrinsic, non-material value, and turns them into an object…a slave. Thus private property, as the primary building block of a capitalist system, ultimately results in the commodification of the human spirit…and in a society that is mired in cultural poverty and alienation.
This is what Marx is getting at with his theory of alienation and “self-estrangement.” And IMO it is incredibly important to understand this component of Marx’s thinking, because everything else in his philosophy flows out from this central observation.
Thus the capture and imprisonment of all natural things into a state of “private property” destroys their inherent value — strips them of their essence — and replaces that inherent value with commodification. In the same way, the “commodified” human being relinquishes their will, their choice, their imagination, their self-determination, their creativity, their social relations and fundamental purpose…purely in order to serve the will of profit. To be a slave. To be a thing.
When understood in this way, it is no surprise at all that Marx was so opposed to private property. As comprehensive definitions of “evil” in humanistic terms, private property’s annihilation of our humanity presents a fairly compelling case. It does require some thoughtful effort to awaken to this perspective…but once we wake up, it’s pretty hard not to see why Marx was so passionate about moving beyond the capitalist status quo as quickly as possible, and to return all “property” to the commons.
For my own take on the problems with private property, please consider reading this essay: IntegralLiberty.pdf
My 2 cents.
Great question — thanks Danijel.
So here’s my take….
1) Some words are purely representational and symbolic.
2) Some words — or bodies of words — may actually embody the essence-of-a-thing, or “the thing as-it-is.”
3) And some words or bodies of words may actually create
In my view these three different operations of language are usually unconscious — humans don’t, in general, actively navigate the world around them via consciously ‘code-switching’ between these operations. Some may try to do this…usually those who have spent their lives intending to either a) understand and appreciate their own consciousness and agency in the world in an intuitive and introspective way, or b) have been educated about a particular approach to consciousness and agency in a systematic way. Still, extensive mastery of language in this context is IMO extremely rare.
Some examples will probably be helpful here. The first case — pure representation
— is fairly easy to grasp and likely needs no examples (it seems as though the question itself is predicated on this assumption). The second case, embodying essence
, is perhaps a fundamental function of consciousness itself, as evident in an infant’s gurgling as it is in a poet’s gift or a mystic’s insights. We see this in the phonemes “ma,” “muh” and “meh” which are an almost universal component of all the words referring “mother” or “motherly” in any language. How is this possible, unless there is some basic, essential unity-of-association between a given sound and its particular representation (or evocation) in our emotional experience…? In other words, in some instances a given word touches upon “the thing as-it-is” — at least in the context of universal human experience and response.
Poetic and mystical examples follow along similar lines, with kindred or identical sounds, words and phrases in many different languages (which do not share common linguistic roots) evoking similar meanings, contexts or experiences. Atman, alma, anda, pneuma, arima, anima, anam, jan (жан), neshama (נֶפֶשׁ) all relate to spirit or soul, for example. Likewise, metaphors that relate to happiness as a “rising up” experience are cross-cultural, near universals, as are idioms expressing anger or frustration that relate to being enclosed and trying to get out
. Some linguistic theorists surmise that such universals reflect our common neurophysiology, or parallel developments in culture, and these are certainly viable explanations. Some behavioral scientists have even suggested that “moral grammar” — and the culture that arises around it — is itself a feature of our biology. Another explanation is that there are universal patterns, structures, energies and processes that occur on a quantum level across all of biology and consciousness — again, just a theory. And, adding to the mix, there are also intuitions of a unitive principle behind all consciousness and spirit. These theories are themselves representations
from one perspective. From another perspective they are sussing out a shared ground — of being, becoming, evolving, a common cascade of interdependencies, and so on; that is, they are embodying essence
. Personally, I’m willing to bet that all of these theories offer a piece of the puzzle (that is, that all of them have some degree of descriptive accuracy).
Lastly, we come to creative language.
On one level, this idea is as simple as one person writing fiction, and another “experiencing” that story as a felt reality in their own mind. On another level, there is the suggestion that language itself has formative and projective capacity on human development and activity (Sapir-Whorf, etc.) — movements like “nonviolent communication” have been heavily influenced by this line of thinking. And on yet another level, there is the concept of logos
within various Christian and Hermetic traditions, and the panentheism across various other traditions, that link mind and language and unfolding reality in interpenetrating ways. Even certain schools of philosophy have addressed the possibility of the projective capacity of mind on reality (from various forms of dualism all the way up to quantum consciousness), and here language can become a component of that projection as well. I’m covering a lot of ground here that probably requires more detailed elaboration, but the basic idea is that “a word” is much more than a description of a concept — it has its own substance, its own energy, its own essence, which links it more directly to the creation
of other phenomena.
So this is a fascinating question, with substantial capacity for ever-broadening exploration. The danger, I think, is trying to reduce language and thought to mere representation,
when there may be a lot more going on….
My 2 cents.
Comment by Danijel Starcevic: "Really interesting perspective, especially the part about the “ projective capacity of mind on reality”, with language being a component of that projection. Are there any modern scientific inquiries into this?"
LOL. No. At least not mainstream stuff. Bohm’s “implicate order,” Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance” and László's “Akashic field” theory are about as close as you’ll likely get to actual science along these lines — and the implications for language are mostly my own, even in those instances. Interesting reading though.
Most of what I’m referencing is more esoteric in nature. Can it be directly experienced? Sure. Can it be replicated in a double-blind experiment? Not so much. I’m wondering if “the observer effect” actually has an impact on this — trying to measure something that reacts to the measurement instrument. Just a thought….
Since the OP used a lower-case “l” for “libertarian,” I’m assuming this question is not restricted to U.S.-style right-libertarianism, that is…“Libertarianism” with a capital “L.” Left-libertarianism, which has been the dominant school of libertarian thought around the globe for many decades, has a tremendous overlap with with progressivism. In fact, you can’t really differentiate a “progressive” from a left-libertarian, as their goals are identical. The only reason methods
may differ is that “progressivism” does not distinguish or emphasize one system of government over another — it is primarily focussed on improving freedoms, well-being, opportunities and conditions for everyone…by any means possible. Libertarianism, on the other hand, is opposed to State-centric solutions, and solutions that impose the will of any number of folks on everyone else. Essentially, progressives aren’t as picky about government, as long as government is moving a progressive agenda (civil liberties, economic opportunity and stability, scientific knowledge and education, etc.) forward.
Now…in the U.S. specifically things have become very different around these terms/ideologies. Why? I discuss some of the reasons why here: see “How has (Tea Party) Libertarianism become conflated with or gobbled up by anarcho-capitalism and laissez-faire capitalism in the U.S.A.?”
at this link L7 Neoliberalism
. Basically, pro-capitalist ideologies have almost entirely captured Libertarian thinking in the U.S., whereas throughout the rest of history — and throughout the rest of the globe — left-libertarianism has been markedly anti-capitalist, even though many left-leaning forms of libertarianism are still pro-market and pro-competition (the left-right division here centers around private property…but that is another discussion). At the same time, those who self-identify as “progressives” in the U.S. have tended to be pretty pro-Statist in how they aim to solve problems. Essentially, then, even though the underlying objectives may be very similar, the methods of U.S. progressives and U.S. Libertarians are in opposition, with “government can’t do anything right, and taxation is theft,”
on the one hand, and “government offers the best solutions, as funded by higher taxes”
on the other. That’s a pretty extreme tension.
Of course, the neoliberal, laissez-faire, Austrian School, Randian objectivist and other market fundamentalist folks are generally delighted
that right-libertarians (many of whom will self-identifity as anarcho-capitalist or “AnCap”) have joined their club. Personally, I think this is very sad, as it is a gross distortion of traditional libertarianism to believe commercialist corporationism supports liberty. It doesn’t. Instead, it reliably produces slavery. Even if, in Nozick’s words, that slavery is “voluntary,” it’s still slavery, and not freedom.
This is a more complex discussion, but you can explore the subtleties of the issues involved my essay here: IntegralLiberty.pdf
So, as others have pointed out in their answers, it really would be great if right-libertarians in the U.S. recognized how much more common ground they have with progressives than, say, with right-wing religious conservatives — and for U.S. progressives to recognize how much more common ground they have with a right-libertarian vision of civil liberties than with, say, neoliberal “centrists” like the Clintons. Really the only folks who reliably win from these divisions are crony capitalist plutocrats…and so, IMO, it would be great if Americans woke up to this reality and formed some anti-neoliberal, pro-democracy coalitions.
Yes Marx’s concept of surplus value is still relevant. But it really, really bothers neoliberal propagandists, Austrian School pundits, and other market fundamentalists that anyone is still brazen enough to use the term. These pro-capitalist folks will rail against its usage and belittle anyone who believes that this or any other ideas from Marx are still relevant. But don’t let them distract you. I think you are on the right track if you are trying to understand Marx’s insights through a modern lens. Probably the best modern example that conforms to Marx’s concerns about “surplus value” is the power that wealthy shareholders who purchase a lot of shares have over how a company does business, and the benefits that they reap from that involvement. Such a person might own a large amount of stock in a company and, even though that stock is a very tiny fraction of their own personal portfolio, they might wish to exert enormous influence as, say, an activist investor. They are, essentially, trying to maximize their personal profits — and this always comes at the expense of workers and consumers. A recent example is what happened at Qualcomm, which now has to execute a huge employee layoff to satisfy investors after the failed Broadcom takeover bid (again, to increase profits). These investors are not adding any value to an enterprise, they are just trying extract value from it. This is the concept that Marx was trying to “prove” with his surplus value calculations in Capital III — and, if you bypass the math, and instead examine the spirit of what Marx was trying to say about exploitation and the profit motive, you’ll begin to grasp the scope and intent of his insights.
A similar concept, and one well worth researching, is “rent-seeking,” where someone manipulates an environment to increase personal or corporate profits (such as lobbying or regulatory capture, for example), again without adding any real value to the equation.
Now it is easy to pick apart Marx’s arguments in Capital, and to say that certain details of his calculations are no longer relevant. But this entirely misses the narrative that Marx was trying to construct about the nature, methods and consequences of capitalism. And that narrative is very much still true today.
My 2 cents.
Hi Carl — thanks for the question. I suspect our fundamental attitudes about valuation are not that far apart, as we have both come to similar conclusions about that which is “life sustaining” having authentic “value.” I attempt to address this in my consideration of “holistic value,” but that formula also includes human-perceived-utitilty as part of the calculus. Anything that contradicts or undermines holistic value (but nevertheless commands high exchange value) is categorized as having “perverse utility.” There is a brief overview of the concept here: L7 Holistic Value
, and here is how I summarize and expand on it a bit in my essay “Reframing Profit
“In Level 7, for-profit and non-profit designations can be addressed to some degree via the collectively designated holistic value for a given product or service, as this valuation process will inherently expand or contract potential profitability. How do we arrive at holistic value? In brief we can apply the following formula, which expands slightly upon previous conceptions described in Political Economy and the Unitive Principle:
As part of this process, we can even target the "fulcrum's plane" of ideal nourishment to refine holistic value with objective metrics – metrics which can then be made available to all via the Public Information Clearinghouse.”
Now this essay (as well as what I cover in the Unitive Principle
book) is really discussing a transitional state of affairs.
It is a compromise that attempts to reconcile human machinations and culture with Nature’s underlying order (as embodied in Integral Lifework’s “multidimensional nourishment” and the unitive principle itself
). To appreciate what I’m aiming for here, I recommend reading the entire overview of L7 Property Position
. I believe you will intuit what I’m headed with these ideas…
Looking forward to your thoughts Carl.
My 2 cents.
Comment from Carl Leitz: "Brilliant and deep insights here - it's discouraging to realize how much more we need to know just to be able to scratch the surface of what there is to know."
The challenge, I think, is that we are still in the relative dark ages with respect to developing an ethical and egalitarian political economy. Not just in conception, but in the groundwork necessary for implementation. So a lot of fundamentals have to be revisited — and in some cases reinvented. And we can’t always rely on all of the tools or concepts (or language) already in use, because they are…well…essentially toxic. But they are also complex, and well-established. So it’s a bit like saying to the modern economist: “Hey, so we need to stop using leeches. Yes, I know we have been using them for a while, but they don’t really work….” And the reaction is often, I would suppose, not unlike how the “doctors” of the middle ages would have reacted: incredulity and reflexive rejection of the truth. (sigh) So we have a long way to go….
What an interesting assumption! I think I’ve always been a socialist at heart, so various socialist proposals have resonated with my native sensibilities whenever I encountered them. So at first I didn’t really think any particular speech had ‘lured me into the fold’ as it were. But as I thought back, I then remembered listening to Ronald Reagan once, when I was about fourteen and living in West Germany, and realizing even at that age what an incredible idiot he was, and this, in turn, sparked me into deeper thinking about much of what Reagan seemed to be trying to do with his policies and rhetoric. At that time, I also recalled that a representative from an Oil and Gas company who had given a lecture at a local High School near me (this was back in the States, before I left for Germany) sounded strangely similar in both tone and nonsensical language. There was a similar easygoing, deceptive slipperiness in them both. And so something “clicked” for me at the time — something came together about being lied to by public figures who were trying to get people to support a given outcome. And what was that outcome? What were these liars and cajoling buffoons trying to persuade people to do…? It was answering that question, I think, that somehow watered the seeds of socialism deep within, and recalled to my mind the songs of Pete Seeger that I had listened to as a youngster, and indeed learned to sing myself. Songs like John Henry, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer, This Land is Your Land, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and many others; songs that instilled a sense of pride and rightness around a love of justice, a shared sense of place and purpose with folks from all walks of life, and a mistrust of rigid rules, institutions and authoritative systems.
What began to emerge was a realization that those who craved power and wealth — and deceived others into supporting their efforts — were the same folks who liked to impose rigid rules and perpetuate authoritative and destructive systems that benefitted themselves. And these folks were, by self-identification, nearly always devoted capitalists and corporatists. And I think that, within this ripening context, when I was introduced to the New Testament, I found it particularly striking that Jesus and his followers so pointedly amplified freedom, generosity, justice and kindness for the common and oppressed person, while ridiculing and reviling those wealthy, authoritative power-brokers of their time who were perpetrating most of the oppression. It was all coming together nicely, you see? And so, many years later, what was probably a timely anointing of this gestation process was encountering the work of Noam Chomsky, whose clear and unapologetic voice indicted the very same oppressive systems and institutions, while lauding the benefits of socialistic and anti-capitalist sentiments and practices — in his case leaning towards left-anarchism. Taken altogether, it was quite a tapestry of influences that all ultimately converged on libertarian socialism. But, really…when it comes right down to it…it was that one absurd speech from Ronald Reagan that nudged me most forcefully away from everything crony capitalism has come to represent, and indeed what it still perpetuates in our modern political economy.
My 2 cents.
Politicians? I wasn’t aware they cared about democracy at all. They certainly don’t in my country (U.S.A.). Thanks to the dogged efforts of neoliberal owner-shareholders, U.S. democracy has become little more than crony, clientist state capitalism. “Representative” democracy mainly represents a relatively small number of wealthy owner-shareholders, not the broader electorate who has been hoodwinked into voting against their own interests.
As for intellectuals, I think the promotion of direct democracy and consensus democracy are often discussed in a future-looking way by academics because these approaches hold a lot of promise, and have been fairly successful wherever they’ve been tried.
Yes, I do believe intellectual capacity is decreasing in the developed world, even as it increases in developing countries. However, it doesn’t require a brilliant intellect to envision or practice new forms of direct or consensus democracy. It just requires a bit of education, a level moral maturity that recognizes the importance of civic responsibility and participation, and an attenuation of “I/Me/Mine” economic materialism.
My 2 cents.
Is this a college essay question? I hope not.
Rawls’ maximin preference has nothing to do with risk aversion. This is a misreading of the context for his original position. He simply emphasizes that a system that minimizes negative outcomes and opportunity costs in fundamental ways will maximize potential benefits across all of society — including the ability to take future risks. And because decisions from the original position inherently aim to decide pervasive systemic foundations for everyone in society, hogtying the proposed universality of justice and fairness for the sake of some minimal, targeted perceived utility is…well…it’s just shortsighted. Even if that perceived utility appears to be a form of freedom, the cost is simply too great (again, within the pervasive and perpetual context that Rawls has defined for this exercise) to sacrifice what I would call the foundations of freedom itself — i.e. what Rawl’s discusses as the social minimums of liberty, opportunity, education, etc. for everyone — in order to facilitate some much more narrowly defined goal. In this respect, arguments against Rawls do tend to be a bit myopic and blinkered. Remember that Rawls’ veil of ignorance demands such systemic conditions be optimally defined without any knowledge of one’s position, resources and opportunities. Thus maximin becomes a sensible starting point for that discussion.
My 2 cents.
Absolutely. AnCap likes to frame “coercion” as a feature of the State, but ignores how it also manifests in free enterprise. Capitalists regularly coerce consumers and workers — regardless of whether the State aids or legitimizes these actions. This is true even for small business…not just monopolies. But monopolies — which can occur (and have occurred) naturally, and without mechanisms of the State — often amplify the scope and intensity of that coercion. Capitalism, by its very nature, encourages coercive practices — the company store, truck systems, share cropping, wage slavery, debt slavery, deliberately addictive products and services, brutally non-competitive practices, deceptive manipulation of consumers through fear and threats, etc. have always surfaced spontaneously in capitalist systems — and thus there is really nothing inherently “free” about a free market. Most market fundamentalists, including anarcho-capitalists, will rail against these characterizations of inherent coercion…but I’ve yet to encounter a valid counterargument that wasn’t steeped in neoliberal hoodwinking, irrational knee-jerk bias, ideological groupthink, and unsubstantiated beliefs about “unicorn” economics. Folks will just want to believe what they want to believe, and when you get a large enough group of them agreeing on what are often bizarre cognitive distortions, no amount of reasoning “from the outside” can free them from their delusions. It’s a sad state of affairs for the human species, and if we can’t break free of these immature, tribalistic mindsets, it does not bode well for our humanity’s future….
My 2 cents.
So I think there are a number of different things to consider here, and that they often get conflated into a single, overarching criticism of Marx. They include:
1. The issue of Marx’s LTV itself, and of what constitutes surplus value
2. The issue of Marx’s definition of (and solution to ) “the transformation problem” of how commodity LTV-based values convert into exchange values.
3. The conclusions that Marx draws, in part from these first two issues, about the inevitability of workers rebelling against the capitalist system, and the form that will take.
Now IMO there is a lot of incoherent blathering focused around these subjects — particularly from the Austrian School folks. It is easy to become mightily distracted by the irrational, ideologically fervent dog-barking of the Austrian School and other free-market fundamentalists (Randian objectivists, neoliberals, right-libertarians, etc.), so I would advise against any engagement with those folks around this topic; their reasoning is simply too clouded with bias and incomplete information. There are also plenty of Marxists who have sought to refine, clarify or resolve some of the perceived problems with the above issues as well. Here again, there is fervent ideological bias (including an inability to admit that Marx made any kind of mistake) that can occlude some of the simpler approaches to understanding and resolving Marx’s “errors.” However, in this case, much of the thinking is still considerably more coherent than the Austrian School perspectives. Lastly, there are other, non-ideologically-based discussions of Marx that are probably worth exploring…especially if you enjoy diving into some fairly intricate math.
Okay…with all of this said, I’ll offer what I believe is a contrasting approach that attempts to “cut through the noise:” in this case just ignoring Marx’s mathematical models, ignoring the ideology that motivates his critics, and ignoring attempts to “post-rationalize” Marx’s claims by other Marxists. Instead, we can just look at the actual course of capitalism over time, then compare its practices, problems and trajectories to what Marx predicted (in terms of intermediate consequences). That is…examine the evolution of markets, monopolies, global trade, the impact of automation, the continued antagonisms of poor working conditions and low wages, the societal impact of consumerism and commodification, and so on, through a Marxian lens. And if we do so…when we examine the fundamental spirit
of Marx’s critiques of capitalism…what do we find?
We find that Marx was absolutely correct in both his observation of how fundamental problems of capitalism manifest in political economy, and his anticipation of future negative evolutions that have resulted from capitalism.
Is the math he used to justify his conclusions sound? IMO the math often falls short. Are his conclusions sound? IMO absolutely yes, on the whole, they are quite sound.
So the challenge is really avoiding getting lost in the weeds of particular arguments or mathematical proofs — a focus which is often what both Marx’s loudest critics and most passionate proponents prefer to focus upon. But if we can resist that impulse…if we can observe the massive forest that Marx paints for us in very broad brush strokes, instead of obsessing over the pattern of bark on a particular tree…there are some very valuable insights and lessons we can learn from good old Karl.
Now…about point #3, Marx’s “inevitable conclusions.” This is where I personally disagree with Marx the most. I don’t think violent revolution is necessary — and I feel it was a fatal mistake for Marx to predict (and thus promote) this flavor of expropriation, as it led to some of the darkest — and unnecessary, IMO — moments in socialism’s history. There are other reasons why I believe this was and is a general error in thinking about change, which I discuss here: Revolutionary Integrity
. However, once again this shouldn’t be conflated with his other conclusions and reasoning. Marx is complex enough that, if we are willing to take the time and effort, we can tease out the many different and fascinating threads in his writing and thought.
My 2 cents.
Comment from Matias Gimenez: "Marx proposes that eventually, capital owners would absorb everything, creating a ever shrinking pool of rich people, or bourgeois, and a ever growing mass of poor people, growing poorer generation after generation. Capitalism proved Marx wrong. Poverty descenced worldwide and wealth is at its highest for all humans, all of this without taking into account that the amount of rich people is actually growing."
Thanks for the feedback, Matias. I have heard this objection before, and think it fails to take something rather important into account: the impact that civil society (comprised of many socialist institutions and policies) has had on capitalism in terms of wealth production and distribution. When you remove the institutions and policies that strengthen civil society — and we have plenty of examples of places in the world and times in history where this was the case — Marx completely nails the outcome. When you factor those variables back in, they have indeed softened the outcomes Marx predicted, even though there is significant statistical support for growing wealth concentrations and disparities despite that softening. But the point is that without the mitigation of all sorts of structures that contain, restrict, regulate and “egalitarianize” capitalism, it would follow (and has followed) the trajectory Marx predicts. Socialism has manifested in many forms to ensure the slowing of the capitalist self-destructive spiral, in the form of unions and collective bargaining, wage laws, worker protections, child labor laws, etc. Add to these things consumer protections, environmental regulations, and the general rule of law in commerce…then add central controls (monetary policy, economic policy, financial regulations, etc.), and that completes the slowing down of many negative externalities as well as skyrocketing wealth disparity…and indeed encourages a broader platform of economic mobility. But make no mistake, the laissez-faire folks have always fought tooth-and-nail against these “socialist” intrusions into markets. This is the irony of modern neoliberalism: capturing the government and reversing socialistic reforms is what indeed improves short-term profits and wealth retainment for the owner-shareholder class…but it devastates the economic mobility and stable civil society that ensures a thriving, growing economy over the long-run.
It’s why trickle-down supply-side economics never works, and why it always has to be rescued from itself (again, via socialistic reforms and stronger civil society). So again…Marx was actually correct about capitalism, but socialism has helped address the worst offenses. That is why “mixed” economies around the globe are the only ones that have consistently thrived over time.
Comment by Ian Rae: "Neither did Marx think violent revolution was necessary as he said in those countries which were developed enough it wasn’t necessary, England for one."
Ian I think you are splitting hairs. Yes, England is cited as a singular European example where “social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means” (Engels re: Marx. Vol.1). This implies, in contrast with Marx’s frequent use of more violent language throughout all three volumes regarding both recurring crises and inevitable disruptions, catastrophes, attacks, rebellions, revolutions, etc. that England would be among very few exceptions. The historical and predictive picture Marx paints is otherwise pretty grim (in terms of revolution, counterrevolution, the degradation of the working class, inevitable conflict, etc.). But, more specifically, Marx’s violent-conflict-centric language here is striking: Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 136 November 1848
. And of course the Communist Manifesto
itself states plainly:
“Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie. In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.” And, later in the Manifesto: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”
Of course, later on Marx softened his tone, seeming to appreciate the potential role of democratic reforms more acutely. Frankly, I think he recognized his error. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make that error earlier on…though it was an understandable one in the context of his times.
Admittedly, Lenin entirely abandoned any reformist mechanisms or tone in favor of wholesale slaughter of all bourgeoisie resistance. This was an unfortunate evolution in Marxist-Leninism. But we cannot say that the seeds for this more egregious mistake weren’t sewn earlier by the language and attitudes of both Marx and Engels.
Follow up from Ian Rae: "At the time Marx wrote about violent revolution , the working class didn’t have the vote , so how else could they achieved power and even then Marx and Engels realised an overwhelming majority would need to understand the concept of socialism and want to organise for its inception."
That is simply not true, Ian. Aside from what was occurring in Great Britain, see: Corsican Constitution, Polish-Lithuanian Constitution, French Revolution & National Convention (male suffrage, etc.), and of course the U.S. Constitution…all of which occurred prior to first publications of Das Kapital, the Communist Manifesto, etc.
You could argue that Marx “awoke” to the power of democratic agency by observing the Paris Commune…sure. But lots of stuff was going on throughout Europe and all around the globe in terms of “revolutionary” democratic changes prior to that. Marx just wasn’t paying attention…or didn’t think those changes would be sufficient (at first). Hence Marx made a mistake. That’s all it was. Just a simple, human mistake. Which is why I find it a little bit silly that anyone would try to defend Marx’s choices as anything but that.
Thanks for the question.
This line of questioning has been around for many decades now. When I worked at a Public Policy Center in the 1990s, for example, the revitalization of failing rural communities centered around addressing precisely this concern. I also think the degradation of economic mobility and the U.S. middle class is so keenly felt right now that this alone contributed more than any other single factor to Donald Trump getting elected in 2016. There is a sense of desperation in the air. So what can be done….?
Here are a few options that IMO are worth reflecting upon:
1. Mixed economies have always thrived because they strike a balance between corporatocracy and maintaining a more egalitarian civil society. Right now civic institutions are under attack all around the globe, and most acutely in the U.S. Restoring those institutions (the rule of law, vibrant democracy, promotion of educational access and intellectual inquiry, the primacy of science, progressive taxation, robust social safety nets, etc.) is certainly a worthwhile objective in this regard. The challenge, of course, is that there is a well-organized, well-funded pro-corporate, market-centric neoliberal propaganda engines (see L7 Neoliberalism
) that have decimated the public discourse, obscured good data, and distorted truth in favor of laissez-faire and crony capitalism — thus counteracting the benefits of a more balanced or “mixed” approach. So part of the solution will have to be an aggressive effort to disrupt this propaganda campaign and undermine the false narrative created by right-wing think tanks and corporate media. This is doable…but it needs to become a central focus of progressive-leaning politics in the U.S. The liars and cheats need to be called out and shut down…and, optimistically, Trump may have become a catalyst for precisely this sort of shift in the Zeitgeist and populist activism. The impact the Parkland students have had (i.e. Florida gun legislation) is an example of what can happen when bullshit policies and ideology are confronted head-on by ordinary folk.
2. Raising awareness about the inevitable negative consequences of conspicuous consumption, unsustainable production practices, and self-sabotaging growth-dependent economics is also a key component. Here again we’ll need to counter pervasive neoliberal propaganda, but once ordinary folks understand that America has been — collectively, individually and nationally — living well beyond its means for some time now, this will help reintroduce a sense of “reasonableness” to the economic discussion, and indeed create more realistic expectations about the future. As a culture (and an economy), we simply can’t keep over-consuming while insisting the supply of cheap labor and abundant natural resources will remain unlimited forever. It’s just silly. But once we awaken to the realities of what “sustainability” looks and feels like, the economic disparities have a real opportunity to attenuate — if only because the wedge of scarcity can them become less wide, and less pointy.
3. Moral maturity is a big piece of this. It has always been the case that Americans lag behind other developed countries in the sophistication of their values hierarchy. The immature “I/Me/Mine” mentality (i.e. individualistic economic materialism) has consistently been a huge contributor to really unfortunate and self-sabotaging social, economic and political choices in the U.S. Of course, it does serve commercialistic consumerism quite well…when folks are infantilized and dependent, they buy stuff reflexively when they are “sold” on exciting self-centered benefits. So breaking free of this childishness is an essential process. Who do we do this? I have many ideas that I discuss in my Integral Lifework literature (see freely downloadable stuff at Integral Lifework Downloads
), but mainly it’s about self-nurturing across multiple dimensions of being. This is somewhat ironic because on the surface it still sounds self-absorbed, but consider that among the dimensions being supported are things like “Supportive Community,” “Fulfilling Purpose” and “Affirming Integrity.” In other words, many of the dimensions being addressed specifically challenge a self-centered ideation and identity. In any case, the underlying assumption is that when human beings are fully nurtured, they naturally express their prosocial tendencies…and prosocial tendencies are what “moral maturity” amplifies and supports.
4. Lastly, I think the ultimate solution will demand we depart from capitalism altogether, as it is that system which inherently generates inequality, scarcity and economic instability — but of course this will take both time and a very clear vision of where to go next. But before we can even have that discussion, the groundwork has to be addressed via the issues and activism described above. Otherwise, as when Klaatu offered his gift upon arriving on Earth, a reactive, fearful and immature populace will try to kill any new ideas.
My 2 cents.
Well that’s probably a very accurate description for just about every codependent action. The person acting as enabler (or “unskillful helper”) is certain they are acting out of compassion, caring and a strong desire to help…and therefore they think they have the “moral high ground” in taking a given action. The problem is that they are really just facilitating a destructive, abusive, compulsive, often hopelessly enmeshed downward spiraling relationship — that is, they are wrong in both their belief about where there motivations are coming from, and what their actions will achieve.
1) The parent who keeps giving their child sugar whenever the child throws a tantrum about wanting more. This isn’t loving at all…it’s indulgent and destructive. But the parent often is thinking something like “My child is suffering and needs my love! I must give them sugar to prove that I love them!”
2) The physically and emotionally abused partner who keeps returning to the relationship because they believe something like “My partner is wounded and hurting, and my abandoning them will make things worse! They don’t mean to be so abusive…they are just in so much pain they can’t help themselves….”
3) The friend of an alcoholic who “doesn’t want them to drink alone,” because that could lead to some very bad decisions…and so procures “good quality booze” to bring over to their friend, so they can get drunk together. You know…safely.
And so forth. In each case, the enabler/supporter rationalizes their actions based on what they believe is the “morally right” thing to do for the person they care about. They feel justified, and will even aggressively defend their decision. But they are really just perpetuating harm — in part out of ignorance and lack of skillfulness, but also in part because they are trying to heal something broken and wounded within themselves via that other wounded person.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. “Brief” isn’t going to cut it. Despite popular myths and misconceptions, you can’t impart real wisdom, history or quality information in a tweet…and even clever parables have their limitations. So discussing socialism in any meaningful way will take some time. The age of the child, and how much they already know about the world, will also require different approaches. But here’s one simplified version you could try:
First gather together a hammer, some of the child’s favorite toys, a pile of clothing, and a bag of unbuttered popcorn.
1) A long time ago, before your parents were even born, there were no factories. People often made things themselves at home (like this clothing, for example, or these toys, or this popcorn). Or, if they had enough money or a skill of equal value to trade with someone, they could have other people make these things for them. Other folks actually had servants or slaves to make things for them. But at that time, not everyone could have everything they wanted!
Imagine that. Some people could have lots of toys and clothes and popcorn…but most people could only have very little. And some people — the very poor and the slaves — might not have any at all. As a result, there were some very rich folks who had all of the money and freedom, and who controlled most of society — but all of the poor people (which was most of the people!
) had very little say in things.
2) Then the “capitalist” factories arrived. How this happened is another story in itself…but it changed everything
. Suddenly people didn’t make things at home anymore, or rely on a few skilled people to make them, or have slaves do the work. Instead, huge buildings full of workers made things…and made LOTS of them. Imagine a steady supply of toys, clothing and popcorn now available for everyone
. And one very promising hope was that the workers in the factories got paid money so they could (in theory, at least) buy some of the things they made! The basic idea here was that, because of factories, more and more people could have more and more stuff. Now, even the very poor people could get a job at a factory with the hope of buying some toys and clothes and popcorn!
3) This seems like a pretty good deal, right? But then people started noticing some not-so-good things about these factories — and the cities that grew around them. For example, the factories would hire anyone — including little kids not much older than you — and work them really hard
. Children, mothers and fathers all had really long work-days, too…sometimes ten hours or more…and without any breaks! Often the factories would keep people working all week long. No days off! And the working conditions were also often horrible and unsafe. Workers would get injured, or sick, from their jobs in the factories. Sometimes they even died or were maimed for life because conditions were so bad. And the worst thing was, the folks who ran the factories didn’t do anything to help the workers who were injured or sick
— they would just hire new ones to replace them instead. In addition to this, the wages paid to work at the factories were very low.
So low, in fact, that many factory workers often couldn’t even afford the things the factory made. And, lastly, the cities around these factories were becoming unbearably toxic with pollution from the factories. The air became unbreathable, lakes and streams became so polluted that all of the fish died and no one could drink the water, and even the soil itself became so spoiled that nothing would grow in it.
4) So where did the promise of spreading prosperity go…? Who was getting rich while everyone else was getting sicker and poorer, and the land, water and air was becoming poisoned? And who was actually buying what the factories made? It was the “capitalist” owners and managers of factories who were getting rich, and who could always afford to buy factory-made goods, and make the time to enjoy them if they wanted to.
Isn’t that interesting? So it ended up that the factory workers, who were risking their health and lives, gave up most of their time and well-being to make things for the factory owners and managers, who were enjoying most of the fruits of the workers’ labor. And those owners and managers got richer and richer, and bought more and more toys and clothes and popcorn, and had more and more time to enjoy life…while the factory workers just kept…well, slaving away at their jobs.
So this would be like me keeping all of your clothes, your toys, and this popcorn for myself…and not letting you have any, even though you yourself made the clothes, toys and popcorn! Do you think that is very nice?
5) Well, “socialists” didn’t think that this situation was very nice.
“Socialists” believed that everyone should benefit from the goods the factories made. These socialists also thought the factory owners had too much power, were being too greedy, and weren’t treating workers in a kind or humane way. So socialist movements tried to protect workers from harm, give them better wages, and offer them a better life that was less like a slave’s.
Many socialists thought the best way to do this was to have governments — which would be elected by a majority of workers — oversee how the factories were run. Some socialists thought that factories should be taken away from their original owners altogether! Other socialists believed that the government shouldn’t be involved at all, but instead that small cooperatives of people should control how things were made and distributed in their community…and between their community and other communities. But the idea was that, if the public — all of society — had a say in how toys and clothes and popcorn were produced and distributed, then there wouldn’t be so many poor people, or terrible working conditions, and a lot more folks could enjoy these things together.
Wouldn’t you like some popcorn? Well, lots of people agreed with this, but the question for socialists then became: how could society bring this new arrangement into being?
6) Now two of these socialists were named Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and they came up with a version of socialism called “Marxism.” Marx believed that, in order to make the capitalist factory owners kinder and more fair, there had to be a revolution led by the workers.
That is, he thought the only way to make socialism happen was through a big fight, where the working class rose up against the factory owners, and took the factories away from them by force. Eventually, Marx thought, this revolution would lead to an end result — many years in the future — where all people would live in more harmony with each other, and their wouldn’t be differences in class, or wealth, or political power, and everyone would be involved in making decisions together (including about how clothing was made, how toys and popcorn were shared, and so forth). This eventual conclusion of the revolution would be called “communism,”
and Marx famously described the communist ideal this way: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” So folks in a communist society would make toys and clothes and popcorn together, according to their ability, and then give those toys and clothes and popcorn to the folks who needed them.
7) Unfortunately, there was a big problem,
and that was that many of the people who tried to carry out Marx’s violent revolution (and much of this happened after Marx passed away) didn’t really follow through on the rest of his ideas. Instead of giving the power and authority in society to the workers, as other socialists (and Marx himself) had planned to do, they kept the power for themselves.
They did take the factories away from the rich owners, along with all the rich folks’ money, and used the workers to fight this violent and bloody takeover…again, using workers kind of like slave soldiers. But then the rulers of the revolution kept all of the money and power for themselves — and they ended up with all the best popcorn, all the best toys, and all the best clothes. So the basic situation — suffering workers slaving away for wealthy leaders who had all the control — really didn’t change. So the “revolution” never led to the “communist” ideal that Marx and Engels envisioned…even though it was still called “Communism” by many people!
Now in other places around the world, “socialism” was put into practice without a violent revolution. This is where our worker’s labor unions came from, and worker’s rights and protections at factories — so they could be safe and work a reasonable number of hours in a day, a reasonable number of days in a week, had time off for recreation, and so on. Socialists are why we have weekends and vacations!
You’ve probably also noticed that children like you aren’t working in very many factories anymore either, and that was because socialists advocated for laws making child labor illegal. And there are now also certain factories and services that are run by the government as well, so that everyone can have equal access to their products and service. This is called “socializing” something. So socialized medicine, socialized transportation, socialized retirement, and so forth…these are all a result of socialism, and help all of society have more freedom and feel safe, with everyone sharing the costs and benefits together. There are also companies that have “socialized” themselves — that is, given ownership of the factory to the workers, so the workers manage themselves. But the key to all of this…and this is important
…is that these “socialized” societies always have open and fair elections — they have a strong democracy, where everyone can vote. Because if the workers can’t vote, well then there won’t really be freedom and equality, will there? What if, whenever you asked for popcorn, or new clothes, or a new toy, I always said “No, you can’t have that?” That’s what a dictator or authoritarian does. In this way, socialism is really part of almost every capitalist, democratic country in the world today, and socialist ideas are used whenever their needs to be more freedom and equality in a society…as long as there is also democracy.
9) Finally, you have probably been wondering what this hammer is for, right? This hammer is the threat of fascism and totalitarianism.
I won’t go into what causes people to become fascists and totalitarians…that is a story for another time, but let’s just say it is a kind of mental illness that spreads through a mob. Fascists and totalitarians have no respect for equality, freedom or fairness…no respect for anyone but themselves, really. All they are really good at is destroying democracy and civil society — that is, taking away people’s freedoms and equality.
Imagine if I smashed all of your toys with this hammer! That wouldn’t be very nice, would it? But that is what fascists will do if you don’t give them whatever they want. They are big bullies. And that is why, when you are old enough to vote, you want to be very careful about who you vote for. Now, after we have put these clothes away, maybe you and I can have some popcorn together, and play with your toys. What do you think…?
My 2 cents.
As you can detect in many discussions around this topic, there are certainly delusional worldviews that seek to divorce corporations from civic responsibility. This is a fundamental sickness of modern capitalism: the assumption that “business” can be separated from morality or civil society. But all transactions are inherently moral transactions, reinforcing and reifying individual and collective behaviors and beliefs. There is no such thing as “just business.” Our purchasing choices, management choices, investment choices, employment choices and so on are all coherent expressions of our moral orientation. If we don’t believe they are, that just makes us nihilistic, atomistic or hedonistic. If we appreciate and attempt to navigate the moral weight of all such choices, this becomes an extension of our personal integrity and civic responsibility; it exemplifies our convictions about participating in prosocial arrangements in active, conscious ways…or not participating in them, as the case may be.
Acknowledging that we express and reinforce our personal and shared values through how we conduct commerce is no different than appreciating personal and collective accountability for any other actions we pursue. We are, in effect, participating in a democracy of sorts when we engage with markets in any way: we are contributing to the shape and substance of our society, and to the legacy we leave for future generations. Of course, those who either just want to make a buck or save a buck will always argue vehemently against this position…not because commerce is inherently morally neutral, but because those opportunists desire that commerce (and other people’s economic choices) be governed by wantonly self-serving impulses. This orientation can, after all, enhance profits in the short run. So, clearly, my opinion of Cambridge Analytica’s actions is that the owners, shareholders and employees of CA are morally reprehensible in their interference with democracy. And I think Facebook’s peeps should be extremely embarrassed and penitent for participating in CA’s misdeeds as well.
My 2 cents.
It’s easy to get lost in the weeds on questions like this one — not just because of strong biases, but because each perspective is generally convinced in the “obviousness” of their own position. Therefore, digging beneath the surface a bit, here are what I would say are relatively helpful examples….
1) On the issue of abortion, the Left does not enforce the choice to abort — nor condition the choice to abort upon socioeconomic status. In other words, although a Left-leaning clinician might counsel a young woman to consider abortion as an option, there really is very little in the way of coercion or reducing available options for that mother. For the Left, nurturing a pregnancy to full term isn’t a reprehensible, immoral or recklessly unwise decision…it just may be a risky one for some women — or some children. Thus the Left is tolerant of these two different choices. On the Right, however, the approach to abortion is very different: it is often never a choice…never a viable option…because it is considered immoral, reprehensible, and recklessly unwise to abort at all. In this instance, the Left demonstrates more tolerance by allowing a young woman to choose her course in life, whereas the Right demonstrates less tolerance by disallowing a woman that choice.
Now a person might argue: “What about the rights of the child? What about their choice?” But that really sidesteps the central issue here, because an unborn child has no actual agency in this situation. In other words, they have no say in the matter. For the Right to assert that abortion is morally reprehensible is therefore an imposition of their will on both mother and child. The Right essentially dismisses all actual agency (in both the mother and the child) in deference to the potential agency of the child at some point in the future, without actually facilitating that agency. That is a rather odd kind of intolerance of the real situation that mother is going through, in favor of promoting and imposing an imagined possibility some time in the future. This is why it is perceived as “anti-Choice” or “pro-birth” rather than authentically “pro-life” (by both the Left and many on the religious Right) when someone is militantly anti-abortion. For someone to be authentically “pro-life,” they would need to consider how to support and nurture the future child and that child’s actual agency — independent of the mother’s involvement — if they persuade a mother to bring her pregnancy to full term. Only then is a Right-leaning person actually offering a real choice to the mother and the child — only then are they supporting the independent agency of everyone involved. Recognizing and accepting such actual consequences of being authentically “pro-life” would go a long way to making those on the Right (social conservatives in this case) seem much more “tolerant.”
2) On the issue of gay marriage, the Left’s tolerance is framed by a recognition that a) there are gay people, b) those gay people fall in love and want to marry, and c) gay people marrying has absolutely no impact on the marriages of heterosexuals. Folks on the Right may disagree with these assertions, but the desire to prevent certain folks from marrying is an imposition of restrictive judgements on an arbitrarily targeted group of people — in this case without any real evidence that it would cause harm to anyone. Sure, there are wild theories about the “corrosive” influence of gay culture on heteronormative society…and that kind of fear-mongering propaganda is what got “marriage protection” legislation passed in several states in years past. But then, as more and more folks (in the political middle and even on the Right) began to recognize how silly and baseless these fears were, the legislation was reversed and the “tolerance” that the Left had for the GLBTQ community began to expand across the political spectrum.
These are just two examples, but perhaps they help clarify why the “tolerance” on the Left really is more pervasive than anything evidenced on the Right. As one last comparison, consider the issue of anti-Christian sentiments on the Left. As a long-time member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, I can easily confirm that there is a great deal of “intolerance” in that community towards Christian fundamentalism. Not all Christians, mind you, just those of the fundamentalist/literalist/ultra-conservative variety. But why? Why would UUs, who are incredibly tolerant and accepting of all faiths (there are Buddhists, mystics, atheists, Jewish folks, Pagans, Christians and all manner of other beliefs practiced in UU congregations!) get their panties in a bunch over Christian fundamentalists…? Again, I would say it is because Christian fundamentalists perpetually seek to forcefully impose their own strictures on others. Just as with the abortion and gay marriage examples, there is a sort of controlling, pedantic, “iron rod” approach among many on the Right regarding what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable and is consequently severely judged and controlled.
My 2 cents.
Many positions have changed over time in in both left-leaning and right-leaning U.S. politics, with each party alternately championing and then opposing the same position, so it's difficult to generalize. However, there are some central themes that separate the Left from the Right in U.S. politics, and I've attempted to cover those (with relevant exceptions) in the following link: