Aren't many philosophers not lovers of truth, because they end up loving their truth (ideas) rather than the truth?

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.

How would Aquinas answer the objection 'Who caused God?'?

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)

Marx and Engels advocate the abolition of private property. What are the justifications? Why this advocacy was considered so revolutionary?

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.

Let's say we form a word for an object given by our perception. The object can be animate or inanimate. Do you think the word refers to the actual thing or our idea/concept of the thing?

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 a thing.

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….

What do libertarians and progressives have in common?

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.

Is Marx’s theory of surplus value still relevant?

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.

What is the relationship between utility and value?

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's the speech that converted you to socialism?

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.

Why do politicians and intellectuals not look beyond democracy? Has the intellectual capacity of man gone down, or democracy really is the end of history?

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.

Why does the original position of Rawls assume people will be conservative about taking risks?

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.

In an anarcho-capitalist society, would coercion exist? Why (not)?

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.

Where is Marx's ‘capital’ error?

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.

Is middle America at risk of being permanently shut out from the modern economy? What policies, if any, would help revitalize these communities?

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.

Is is possible to have the moral high ground… and be wrong? Examples?

LOL.

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.

Some examples….

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.

How do you explain the difference between Marxism, socialism, and communism in brief to a child?

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!

8-) 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.

What is your opinion on the irresponsible corporate behavior that we have identified behind the Cambridge Analytica Scandal and the related Facebook data breach?

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.

What are the examples of the political left explicitly claiming to be more "tolerant" than the right?

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.

What is the history of Left vs. Right in the U.S.A.?

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:

http://tcollinslogan.com/LeftVRight.htm

Is Peter Thiel correct that in stating that less democracy is desirable and required to save capitalism?

Well…hmm…Thiel appears to exhibit some fairly psychopathic ideation, along with a paucity of emotional intelligence — a combination that is routinely rewarded by modern capitalism. Among the many things he simply doesn’t understand or appreciate is human motivation itself: why do people do what they do? In his universe, the will to power/wealth/superiority is really the only viable, universal prime cause. There is nothing else. This fundamental failure (of both imagination and cogent observation of the human condition) could have been influenced by Thiel’s exposure to folks like Rothbard, Rand, Friedman, Mises and the like; but I think the starting point in this case is just an inner brokenness and lack of cognitive-emotive facility. Thiel is stuck.

And it is that stuckness — that profound limitation — which leads Thiel to his conclusions about democracy. It’s a bit like a child insisting that a dog ate his homework. Blaming welfarism, feminism, progressivism, socialism…or any other “social justice” agenda for the failures of capitalism is…well, it’s just stupid. Really stupid. Capitalism is its own worst enemy, and, with a brief and unique exception of laissez faire in Sweden during the late 1800s, has otherwise universally ended up eating its own tail without socialistic and democratic reforms. Why? Because of natural monopolies, resource depletion, market saturation, the spread of price-inelastic demand across most commodities, lack of profit incentive for public goods, increasing concentrations of wealth and exponentially expanding wealth disparities, negative externalities, inevitable wage stagnation, and a host of other factors. Democracy has absolutely nothing to do with any of these. In fact, it is usually democracy and socialized approaches that contain capitalism’s drive to self-immolate; they are the only reason capitalism’s inevitable death has been delayed.

So, just like the Presidential candidate Thiel supported, and the counterproductive US economic agenda playing itself out now around the globe, Thiel’s ideas in this area are woefully misinformed and, ultimately, really destructive.

My 2 cents.

What keeps people from seeing through Trump’s corrupt heart?

In all seriousness, while it’s always dangerous to presume we know what’s goin on within anyone else’s heart, I think there is enough evidence to support an assumption that Trump is, at best, horrifically self-absorbed and self-serving, destructively impulsive and highly irrational, a compulsive liar, recklessly overconfident in his own abilities, and misinformed to a truly alarming degree…all while holding the most powerful elected office on planet Earth. There are other characteristics that are evident, to be sure, but these alone should allow us to speculate with a fair amount of confidence about the “corruptness” of Trump’s interiority. “Corrupt” is of course a morally loaded term, and I think Trump is likely more amoral…with loyalty to his person (along with an unseemly expectation for flattery) being the only really “moral” priority in his emotional vocabulary. That said…why is it that so many people simply cannot see the obviousness of this man’s chaotic buffoonery, and just how destructive it is to the well-being of everyone…? There are a few options to consider:

1. Projection and denial. People do tend to project what they want to see on others — especially leaders and celebrities — and especially when some of the other factors listed below are in play….

2. Desperation and feelings of victimhood. I think some of the more sympathetic answers touch on this one. Basically, people who feel left behind hear promises that sound pretty good to them about being re-included (culturally, economically, etc.). Of course, compared to a majority of other people on the planet, Trump voters have had it pretty darn good…and for a very long time, and have contributed to their own situation by participating in conspicuous consumption, undisciplined spending and increased debt, poor self-care, and buying into fear-mongering. So the feelings of desperation and victimhood are…well…in many cases a good example of misattributed causality (and lack of personal accountability).

3.Low IQ or low EQ. Some research indicates that human IQ appears to have been declining in developed countries over the past couple of decades, even as population has increased. Simply put, there are just a lot more dumb people in the world. Along the same lines, it appears obvious (to me at least) that the EQ of conservative-leaning Americans has always been low…and appears to be getting lower. This combination of low IQ and EQ understandably leads to very poor decisions.

4. Consumer conditioning. This is a subtler issue, but equally pervasive. People who live in commercialistic cultures like the U.S. have been conditioned — over multiple generations — to respond to false advertising (miracle diets, etc.), to trust con artists (TV evangelists, pyramid schemes, etc.), and otherwise invest in “consuming” solutions for their problems, while taking little responsibility for the actual causes…or eventual consequences. This is a prominent feature of Western style capitalism, and it has contributed immensely to poor political reasoning and choices, and lethargic participation in democratic institutions.

5. Many folks were duped by Trump, and are now embarrassed to admit it…so now they are “doubling down” on their bad decision. When people are hoodwinked by conspiracy theories, deceptive campaign promises, distortions of reality, fake news, social media memes engineered by foreign States, and all manner of other nefarious things that were in play in the 2016 elections, they may feel compelled to invest more and more in their mistaken judgements in order to self-justify and post-rationalize to save face.

6. A “deluding influence.” This may be a tough one for non-religious folks to swallow, but perhaps there is some supernatural force at work here, causing people “to believe what is false.” Or perhaps it’s not supernatural at all, but a consequence of poor diets, pesticides and electromagnetic pollution. Or maybe solar flare activity is causing it. Or some sort of epigenetic breakdown induced by high-stress wage slavery…? I dunno, but it does seem as though “crazy” is the new normal.

My 2 cents.

Why are Western democracies failing...?

Thanks for the question.

Michael Kupperberg makes an excellent point in his answer, as does Jeff Franz-LIen in his comments to it. (See original Quora question here: https://www.quora.com/Be-it-resolved-that-Western-democracies-are-failing-What-is-your-case-for-the-affirmative) This “left behind” cultural and economic phenomenon is certainly one piece of the picture. Here are some thoughts on the rest of that picture…

1. **Western democracies have lost their way because they have forgotten what democracy is about: thoughtful engagement in democratic institutions by the electorate itself. **In large part this has been engineered by the folks who want to retain power and wealth: wherever the electorate can be effectively manipulated, demoralized and/or disenfranchised to produce desired outcomes, methods will be used aggressively to do so. As a result of the “consumer” mentality in Western democracies (i.e. thinking they can remain disengaged, spoon-fed information, and called-to-action only once every few years to response to well-funded ad campaigns), the electorates of those countries are increasingly subject to coercive manipulation. We see this over-and-over again with surveys that show those who voted for something (Prop 8 in California, Brexit in the UK, etc.) sour to what they voted for in growing numbers AFTER the election is over and they begin to check the facts. The well-funded persuaders and manipulators, on the other hand, are well-versed in tactics that evoke strong short-term emotions around a given issue, and thus secure the passing or defeating of a given candidate or legislation. But the blame can also be laid (and should be laid, more vocally, IMO) at the feet of lazy voters who don’t educate themselves about a given candidate or issue, and just wait to be told how to vote by their favorite authorities (news media, talk show hosts, blogs, campaign ads, etc.).

2. **The world has become much more complex, interdependent, and multifaceted — making democratic decisions much more difficult.** Black-and-white reasoning doesn’t work well for most modern, highly nuanced issues, which inherently invoke myriad interdependencies. Throw some unintended consequences into the mix, along the deliberate corruption of data and information warfare (i.e. climate change deniers, disallowing the CDC to collect gun violence statistics, etc.), and the picture becomes so muddy that people really don’t understand the parameters of a given political position, policy or other important and pressing issues. Of course, this situation is taken advantage of by those same nefarious actors called out in issue #1 above, making the situation much more confusing and challenging than it otherwise would be.

My 2 cents.

What actions can we do that contribute to humanity becoming a spacefaring civilization?

Get our collective act together. This would include:

1. Ending militarism and WMD.

2. Moving away from highly toxic and destructive crony capitalism to a more egalitarian political economy.

3. Thinking more collectively about solving problems that affect all of us — rather than individualistically about what “works best for ME.”

4. Being more understanding and inclusive about “difference” (If our societies are intolerant of LGBTQ, women, or people with different skin tones, how could we ever learn to get along with aliens?).

5. Exercising the “precautionary principle” regarding new technologies and innovations, instead of rushing to adopt them.

6. Getting more of a handle on our own well-being, in a truly holistic and harmonious sense. If we aren’t truly “well” — mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually — then we shouldn’t be spreading our illnesses around the galaxy (remember Smallpox and Native Americans…?).

7. And, as a general principle that influences all of the above, becoming much better at understanding and addressing our own limitations and shortcomings — individually and collectively.

In other words, we need to grow up a bit as a species. For some time I have theorized that other spacefaring intelligences are likely patiently waiting for us to mature enough to meet them. I would speculate that, right now, they are very disappointed in human beings, who seem to be moving backwards rather than forwards in terms of societal stability and individual development.

My 2 cents.

Let's say we form a word for an object given by our perception. The object can be animate or inanimate. Do you think the word refers to the actual thing or our idea/concept of the thing?

Great question — thanks for the question 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 a thing.

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.

I am Interested in the overview of the current debates about the nature of the mind, which book(s) do you recommend?

Thanks for the question Danijel. Hmmm. There are a number of academic-flavored surveys available that cover different theories of consciousness…is that what you are looking for? There is William Seagar’s latest edition of Theories of Consciousness, for example. Then you have various proponents of their own approaches who will elaborate — in the course of describing their own work — on contrasting approaches. The work of Chalmers, Searle, Dehaene, Damasio, etc. all do this to varying degrees. There are also some good summaries online, such as this one: Consciousness (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). If you haven’t already read it, I also recommend McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary for a compelling interdisciplinary narrative. Another book that I found helpful was Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology. To complete a multidimensional picture, IMO van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score adds an essential element to the mix. And, lastly, I would offer you my own Memory : Self to round out the recommendations. Many of these books — the last three in particular — focus on different aspects of mind, but will nevertheless help construct a well-rounded picture of the debates that percolate through our modern discourse.

My 2 cents.

Does capitalism have a negative affect on people’s sanity?

The evidence keeps accumulating that conditions which are amplified by capitalist values, work environments and economic systems do seem to have a negative impact on human well-being overall — and yes, specifically on human mental health. Some of this appears to be direct causality, and some of it more indirect. For example:

1) Accelerating (technological and societal) change driven by rapid product cycles and growth-dependent production induces stress, which in turn increases stress-related mental illness and dysfunction (depression, anxiety, etc.) to clinical levels. Would this still occur if there wasn’t so much pressure, created by the profit motive, to constantly produce and consume “bigger, better, faster, cheaper, easier” products? Possibly, but likely not at the same pace, or with such a precipitous impact.

2) Many products are designed to become addictive — or at least to create a dependent consumer — again in service to the profit motive. Everything from cigarettes to fast food to social media to video games have been designed from the ground up to “hook” consumers into ever-increasing and prolonged use. This, in turn, has led to some fairly serious mental health impacts, such as ADHD, cognitive impairments and distortions linked with prolonged sleep deprivation, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, emotional dysregulation, and so forth.

3) Capitalist work environments create some of the most emotionally and mentally antagonistic conditions humanity has ever seen. Humans performing highly repetitive tasks for excessively long work-days and work-weeks, while under constant stress of losing their job if they don’t perform; high-pressure sales environments where employees are likewise subject to constant fear of not meeting quotas, and viciously compete with each other for sales; corporate culture that constantly lies to employees to extract the tiniest bit more productivity from them, and encourages them to lie to customers to maintain profits and avoid losses. These environments create stressed, fearful, reactive, deceitful human beings who, in turn, are rewarded for essentially harming each other and the customers they serve. This is a pretty pathological situation, and shapes pretty pathological people.

4) The more indirect consequences of capitalism on mental health are a result of negative externalities. Chemical pollutants from “rush to market” mass production, poor nutrition from foods designed to maximize profit, disregard for electromagnetic pollution, and other environmental impacts almost certainly have a deleterious effect on human mental health. In fact, these may be impacting the human genome itself, as we have seen a marked rise in things like autism spectrum disorder.

These are just a few examples, but the real issue is the epigenetic impact of these capitalist pressures on the human species. Our children are now inheriting the mental illnesses induced by capitalist environments and culture…which means that, even if we counter the causes, the negative impacts will still be passed on to future generations. It’s a pretty bad situation. I liken it to Colony Collapse Disorder among bee populations: eventually, capitalism will so thoroughly undermine human well-being that our entire society will simply fail. It’s just a matter of time.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Isaac Armstrong: "I wish I could upvote this, as I agree with most points made, but autism spectrum disorder’s rise is probably a consequence of expanding the range of diagnosis, for example the documents that resulted in me being diagnosed with developmental delays with autism like symptoms on review based on newer diagnostic requirements consistently results in a diagnosis of autism - something about a vital symptom for diagnosis that is no longer required.

I remember reading somewhere that even earlier than that, it was defined only in the exact form that the guy who gave it the name autism saw it, most definitely not including aspergers in the autism spectrum disorders.
This is a bit of a long comment so thanks for reading it and in summary autism spectrum disorder is not a good measure as it has been broadened."


Thanks Isaac. I have read about the diagnosis issue before and agree that this is a huge variable that must be accounted for — especially in epidemiological analysis of ASD going back any number of decades (as reinforced by studies like this one: Diagnostic change and the increased prevalence of autism | International Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic). However, even though genetics alone does account for some 50% of ASD, there is increasing evidence that environmental triggers (including some we can squarely place at the feet of capitalism) play a significant role in ASD’s phenotypical expression. You may be interested in this article regarding environmental factors: Environmental factors influencing the risk of autism As well as this one regarding genome-wide analysis: The Role of Epigenetic Change in Autism Spectrum Disorders. There is growing evidence (in studies that control for the very diagnostic variables you allude to) that the etiology of ASD is linked to risk factors that are indeed increasing, and that ASD itself is indeed increasing among the population. For more about this: The prevalence puzzle: Autism counts and Socioeconomic Status and the Increased Prevalence of Autism in California. I think the most definitive research is yet to be completed…but it IS underway. Take a look at CRAIG NEWSCHAFFER’s work and this: EARLI Study - Research Into Early Causes of Autism.

I hope this is helpful info.

Is pastoral art/literature an expression of human disdain towards urbanization and the alienation of people from their species-essence (human nature) in a capitalist society?

Thanks for the question Douglas.

This question (or some version of it) has actually been widely debated in the arts, philosophy and even religion for many decades. A fairly pervasive view is that yes, many of the creative, philosophical and spiritual subjects and expressions (across all mediums, really) just after the industrial revolution began were a reaction to that industrialization and the alienation of human beings from natural environments, from their historical social relationships, and indeed from their spiritual nature. This observed pattern/reaction was a fairly dominant feature of discourse at that time, and has persisted across multiple fields of study. Here is just one example of that view (from Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution):

“Romanticism was also closely tied to the Industrial Revolution in Europe. From the latter decades of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, most of Europe and particularly what is now the United Kingdom saw a massive migration of rural workers into large metropolitan areas. These workers were making the jump in order to work in the large factories that were springing up all over metropolitan areas as manufacturing capacity, aided by steam engines and copious supplies of coal, exploded all across Europe. Romanticism also played upon this drastic societal change, as many in Europe witnessed the large-scale pollution of coal-burning industry and the problems it caused, including water pollution and incredibly poor air quality for many major cities, as well as the many health problems that sprang up in its wake. Romanticism emphasized nature over industry, a point where again we can see the dominant force of the age (the Industrial Revolution) itself helping to create an art movement that began as a foil to that dominant force and then grew.”


Along with the Romanticism of the visual arts, literature and even music, there was also an equivalent romanticism in philosophy and a parallel transcendentalism in spirituality. Here alienation from Nature itself was a chief concern — as was the Enlightenment’s seeming overdependence on empiricism, rationalism and reductionism (a la Descartes, etc.). From 19th Century Romantic Aesthetics:

“We have fallen out with nature, and what was once (as we believe) One is now in conflict with itself, and mastery and servitude alternate on both sides. It often seems to us as if the world were everything and we nothing, but often too as if we were everything and the world nothing. (Hölderlin, Preface to Hyperion, HSA 3: 326).”


And from Romanticism:

“Philosophical Romanticism holds that the universe is a single unified and interconnected whole, and full of values, tendencies and life, not merely objective lifeless matter. The Romantic view is that reason, objectivity and analysis radically falsify reality by breaking it up into disconnected lifeless entities, and the best way of perceiving reality is through some subjective feeling or intuition, through which we participate in the subject of our knowledge, instead of viewing it from the outside. Nature is an experience, and not an object for manipulation and study, and, once experienced, the individual becomes in tune with his feelings and this is what helps him to create moral values.”

One of the more influential thinkers and writers of this era was Henry David Thoreau, and I would encourage you to read any-and-all of his writings here: Thoreau’s Writings. It’s actually pretty entertaining reading, and IMO still holds relevance and potency.

As you know, Marx himself expounded extensively about a similar flavor of alienation, unnatural rearrangement of social relations, and destruction of the creative capacities and nature of human beings. His take, however, was that the heart of the problem was less empiricism or rationalism, but rather capitalism in concert with industrialization — and in fact he sought to examine the underlying socio-economic dynamics using the tools of the Enlightenment (math, science, rational discourse, etc).

Since the time of those initial reactions and expressions, advanced human societies have largely adapted to urban, industrialized life, along with its cultural diversity and affluence, individualistic isolation, increased pollution and violence, wide array of interests and discourse, etc. — that is, its many pluses and minuses. There are still movements that seek to reconnect people with each other and with Nature, as well as intermittent cultural convulsions when modernity’s negative externalities become too dangerous or extreme (the 1960s in the U.S. was, I think, a fairly pronounced example of this). But for the most part, like proverbial frogs in a pot of water that is slowly coming to a boil, human beings have largely become numb to the deleterious impacts of industrialized, urbanized life. In fact, some folks will fiercely defend its “advantages.” But, as increasing breakdowns and challenges seem to attest — and here I am referring to everything from increases in mental illness and autism, to increases in cancer and diabetes, to the steady decline in human IQ, to the increasing depression and anxiety of each generation, to the increasing homogenization and nutritional emptiness of our food supply, etc. — the “frog” of humanity is slowly being destroyed by everything the Romantics were railing against.

My 2 cents.

Why do American Christians tend to gravitate towards free-markets and economic liberty, instead of socialism?

Thanks for the question Alex.

I think the OP’s question is based on a popular misconception. If you look at the data (see Pew’s Religious Landscape Study), those who self-identify as Christian in the U.S. are actually fairly evenly divided between liberal and conservative viewpoints (i.e. pro-government programs to help the poor vs. anti-government, pro life vs. pro choice, supportive of same-sex marriage vs. opposed, protecting the environment vs. less business regulation, etc.). It is true that these proportions don’t mirror the general population precisely — Christians do tend to skew slightly more conservative on certain social, political and economic issues. Again however, within the Christian community, folks are fairly evenly divided between liberal and conservative viewpoints.

So that leaves us with two distinct questions:

1) Why are misconceptions about U.S. Christians so out-of-line with the available data?

2) Why do any Christians at all “gravitate towards free-markets and economic liberty, instead of socialism?”

These are fairly easy to answer, IMO.

First, pervasive misconceptions about Christians and Christian beliefs have persisted for millenia…so that’s not exactly new. What is new is a media landscape that loves sensationalism, and that reliably turns its attention to the most vocal and “colorful” variations of any given group. All environmentalists aren’t vegans, all gun owners don’t love the NRA, all Muslims aren’t terrorists or terrorist supporters, and all Christians don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the strong cultural memes that circulate via mass media are compelled to capitalize on loud, combative, sensational extremes so they can maximize advertising dollars. So those who passively and unquestioningly consume that media can arrive at some pretty bizarre generalizations about various groups. Not that those generalizations have no basis, but they tend to focus on highly exaggerated “far end of the spectrum” squeaky wheels. Can we even generalize that U.S. Christians “believe in God?” Sure, that usually holds…but even in this instance there are plentiful exceptions (the Pew study reference above indicates only 76% of Christians are “absolutely certain” in the existence of God…).

Second, there have been concerted efforts by Right-leaning political interests in the U.S. to capture various groups, and generate opposition to others, for their own nefarious ends. You have the Southern Strategy, two Red Scares, the McCarthy era, and a consistent propaganda effort since about 1972 (by neoliberal think tanks, wealthy donors, conservative media, etc.) to demonize socialism and “big bad government,” and lionize free markets and “more efficient” business solutions that can supposedly remedy ALL social and civic issues. It is no accident that the term “godless communists” entered the popular vernacular, was perpetuated there, and was relentlessly associated with anything that interfered with corporate power and profits. For some time, part of the neoliberal objective has clearly been to consolidate very different ideologies under one single, pro-corporate, anti-government agenda. Each targeted group (fiscal conservatives, religious conservatives, right-libertarians, gun-lovers, immigrant-haters, etc.) has been carefully marketed an appealing brand of political groupthink that claims to champion their key concerns. In reality, of course, those key concerns are always subjugated to the primary aim of disabling government in favor of enriching a few owner-shareholders at everyone else’s expense. It’s little more than a long con.

So, you might then ask, why don’t Christians see through the sham? This leads into an interesting discussion about whether culture determines religious orthodoxy, or religion influences culture. I think there is some give-and-take there, but that established cultural programming usually wins out in the end. Historically and into modern times, “Christian” nations generally do not reflect Christ-like values, but rationalize or justify pre-existing cultural values via distorted religious legalism. If all U.S. Christians really wanted to emulate Christ and follow biblical teachings, they would have difficulty being conformant capitalists at all — and certainly would not support the “greed, guns and greatness are good” sentiments that so permeate the political Right today. Authentic Christian believers do, in fact, tend to be much more Left-leaning and socialistic. I actually wrote a book about this issue, A Progressive's Guide to the New Testament, which covers the evidence to support this view with great care.

My 2 cents.

What is humanity's biggest ignorance that prevents human progress?

Ignorance of our own ignorance, coupled with our willful tendencies to conceal and deny how ignorant we are whenever confronted with the fact.

If I could drop this act
Of eating clouds and stars and dreams
And sculpting meaning
From my own excrement
I might wield my sword of chance
With greater purpose.
But in forgetting what I never knew
I pound my chest
And bark my truth
Offering in willful confidence
A beacon to the rudderless.
Now aimless on a pond
The scent of steaming light
Creeps through hearty reeds
Lifting mind and spirit
Toward spacious absence.
I cannot rest
I cannot rest
For these long histories
Some pageantry is due.


My 2 cents.

How should I go about thinking for myself and not just regurgitating ideas I learn from other people?

Without knowing more about your personality, experiences, aptitudes and interests, it is difficult to offer anything but the most generic advice. Keeping that in mind, here is what I would encourage you to do to help formulate your own opinions about things:

1) Drastically reduce social media immersion, 24/7 mass media stimulation, and entertainment media immersion. In other words, limit your interaction with these media to an hour or two each day…max. Maybe even take a “media vacation” 1–2 days each week (on weekends, etc.). This also includes music and podcast consumption (even as “background” noise). The objective here is to give your mind a rest…and some spaciousness.

2) Wean yourself off of regular MJ use. It’s going to interfere mightily with your ideation, introspection and reflection capacities, as well as your ability to emotionally mature. Occasional recreation is not what I would be concerned about — it’s daily use (or several times a week) of the latest high-THC varieties that tends to create serious problems over time.

3) Learn to meditate. This takes time and discipline — and experimentation with different techniques — but it will help you focus inward and gain more internal reliance, rather than orienting all thoughts and emotions to external inputs. It will also help you manage anxiety and depression. If you can develop a healthy, regular habit of daily mediation, this will vastly enhance your abilities to navigate ideas, formulate your own thoughts, and intuit what is most important to you.

4) Consume carefully. What you eat, what you read, what you watch, what you listen to (music, podcasts, whatever), whom you spend time around…even what you spend time thinking or fantasizing about. Garbage in, garbage out. What you reinforce with constant exposure and focus will become your mind’s primary orientation, locus of energy, and interest…but you get to control this if you choose.

5) Spend regular time alone in Nature. Here again, this is about spaciousness. Creating space and time for different aspects of your being to expand, find their own level, and prompt you into an authentic relationship with your own interiority.

I hope this was helpful! :-)

Is anything you do that doesn’t hurt people or property okay?

Thanks for the question. That may be a good place to start, but it really doesn’t get you very far down the road to a complete — comprehensive — ethical framework. For example:

1) Inaction can cause harm — because we aren’t actively stopping harm from occurring — and so counteracting or preventing harm entails more than just “avoiding” actively harming someone.

2) Sometimes choosing to harm people or property is necessary to prevent even greater harm. If I know a truck full of explosives is being driven toward an elementary school full of children with destructive intent, I would have no moral qualms about shooting the driver and causing an accident or explosion that destroys that truck and a bunch of empty vehicles parked in the school parking lot.

3) Even a simple definition of “harm nothing and no one” requires wisdom and discernment to be effective — to know how to avoid or prevent harm requires perceptiveness, insight, experience, careful reflection, compassion, etc. And developing such wisdom and discernment requires self-awareness, personal discipline…and often conscious alignment with a greater context.

4) As for “a greater context,” let’s say you decide that the greater context is “doing the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration.” That entails a lot more work, focus and learning than just avoiding or preventing harm in your personal interactions. So developing that context is just as important as having a personal ethical standard of “do no harm.” Again, though, this requires quite a bit of additional effort…and time.

These are the sorts of things that moderate both the “anything you do” part of the OP’s question, and the “do no harm” part as well. Having a worthwhile intent is not the same as developing “predictive efficacy;” and without being skilled and insightful about how our choices will impact others, we actually have little more chance at “harming nothing and no one” than someone rolling a die to decide what to do. If we are sincere about the kindness of our intent, we can’t just stick our heads in the ground and hope for the best…we have to engage the world around us, learn a lot about it, learn how to think both critically and intuitively, and work with others, so that we can navigate the astounding complexities that lie between our intent and a genuinely positive outcome.

My 2 cents.

Which countries are poised to gain the most from America being absent from world politics?

In proposed order of the overall scope of benefit:

China
Russia

Turkey

Pakistan

Iran (though this will likely be countered by Israel)

Eurogroup’s power to self-servingly utilize EU (that is, not the EU member countries…just their financial puppet masters)

African, Asian, Middle-Eastern and South American petty dictators and authoritarians.

Canada and Mexico (as a joint trading block)

Pacifica/Cascadia/New California/etc. — should such a new nation form out of secession.

India (if it can ever get its act together)

My 2 cents.

What are the things we know to be undeniably true, from which we hold all else to be true or false?

Thanks for the question. Of that which seems difficult to question:

1) Mind is.

From which follows:

1) Mind discerns and isolates through differentiation — operationally and imaginatively — and thereby boundarizes the ‘real’ as it interacts with lived experience.

2) Mind generates consensus reality in communication with other minds, within shared experiences and boundaries.

3) Mind seeks to extend its emergence beyond the limitations of perception-cognition, with speculative results that soften and, ultimately, reunite initial differentiations.

4) In the course of conceiving of its own extinguishment and error, mind challenges everything it has come to ‘know.’

That’s about as far as I would go regarding fundamentals.

My 2 cents.

What is creative thinking? How do you become a creative thinker?

Thanks for the question. There are several different types of creative thinking, and each has its own combination of supportive conditions and factors that serve it — often varying from one person to the next. Here is an initial take on how I would map those out….

1) Creative problem solving under pressure.

2) Serendipitous inspired insight that leads to innovation.

3) Creative self-expression in an organized form.

4) Creative communication.

5) Outlier thinking (thinking “outside the box”).

6) Discernment and wisdom.

7) Moral creativity.

Now each of these has its own specific definition, context, application and supportive conditions, and generalizing about them all is probably going to miss the mark. But — again as a very loose generalization — there are a number of common factors engaged to varying degrees, including:

1) Letting go of analytical rigor and rapid-cycling “head time” — along with its associated high-pressure intentional focus — to allow alternate input streams (emotional, somatic, spiritual, relational, etc.) to percolate through our awareness.

2) Holding everything involved in a given situation very lightly…what I call “the art of suspension…” so that no particular input or concern dominates.

3) Relinquishing personal ego-attachments to outcomes (i.e. expectations of praise, monetary rewards, career success, etc.).

4) Preparation and self-discipline — personal education, training and skill development in the form of creativity being practiced.

5) Looking inward rather than outward (i.e. relying on the still voice and spaciousness within to evoke and distill creativity, rather than on external stimuli or conditions).

6) Isolation from a deluge of cultural memes — that is, insulating oneself from a constant barrage of media, cultural inputs and expectation, etc.

I would also say that, beyond “creative thinking” itself, these conditions and practices also encourage excellence in creative thinking, choices, expression and follow-through.

My 2 cents.

Why are economists giving up on Milton Friedman theories?

Thanks for the question. So here’s the deal with Friedman…

IMO a lot of his theories sound really good — especially to those who lean toward market fundamentalism (Austrian School folks, Rothbardian right-libertarians, Randian objectivists, neoliberals, etc.). And Friedman’s self-confident style of discourse — often pedantic and even combative — has added to his appeal…again, especially for certain kinds of personalities and ideological leanings. And one lasting truth is that Friedman does have some interesting ideas, and that some of those ideas have what we might call “partial merit.” Friedman’s monetarism is a good example, since it only holds true under very specific conditions — conditions that support a relatively constant and self-adjusting velocity of money. And since there have been short periods where this kind of predictability and stability were available, Friedman’s views were vindicated by the use of monetary tools at those times. But when new variables have been introduced into the picture — indeed when the larger, longer and predictable macroeconomic economic cycles are taken into account — then the stability of monetary velocity and long-term “neutrality” break down…and break down fast. And Friedman’s prescriptions break down right along with them.

There are things I like about Fiedman — his promotion of guaranteed minimum income, for example — but, like many of his other ideas, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support the efficacy of that approach. And…and this is the really important point IMO…there is a LOT of evidence that whenever Friedman or his Chicago Boys got involved in economic policy in a given country or region, things got pretty bad for those populations. All around the globe, developing countries in particular are still reeling from the structural adjustment policies, aggressive privatization, loosening of government regulation and other bad advice that Friedman promoted over 40+ years. And this is why economists are “giving up” on Friedman’s ideas…not because they don’t have “partial merit,” because they do. But they also — by and large — have had pretty disastrous results whenever they were not implemented within, and constrained by, what is essentially a more Keynesian macroeconomic framework.

In this particular case (the linked article for the OP’s question), the “permanent income hypothesis” again sounded really good — reasonable, predictable, rules-based. Friedman was a genius at bringing order to chaos. It’s just, well…people, and markets, and the consequences of economic policies, and the highly variable inputs and outputs of all human systems, remain pretty chaotic regardless of the rules (or, in this case, expectations) imposed on them.

My 2 cents.

Is it possible to imagine a pure economic action independent of politics?

Thanks for the question. Like many others, I see them as inseparably intertwined. There are folks (usually on the market fundamentalist end of the spectrum, such as anarcho-capitalists) who like to believe that economic systems can somehow operate independently of politics — and that, in fact, this is a desirable state. And, as an ideal, I can see why it would be an attractive fantasy: rational actors motivated purely by efficiency and utility, exchange value dictated solely by demand and supply, etc. But in the real world, economic choices always involve political causality, and vice versa; motivations and calculations are not rational, but psychosocial within a given cultural context. Which is, I suspect, why the term “political economy” came into being.

That said, can we “imagine” conditions where the two are teased apart? Well, interestingly, if we go far enough downstream in terms of individual transactions, econometrics, automated trades and the like, it is possible to divorce politics from the conversation altogether, and just focus on the math. But, in isolation, that doesn’t really help us manage the overall economic system — or navigate it with any amount of insight or wisdom. Purely mathematical maps must be augmented by behavioral and sociopolitical maps to flesh out the macro and micro economics in play enough to, say, develop policies and strategies. So it is possible to analyze and act in brief, targeted bursts of “non-political economic action,” but it is like any other specialized discipline or activity that is superficially isolated from its larger context: it is not the full picture.

My 2 cents.

When we fail to grow spiritually for one of many reasons, is it because of the lure of the world?

Thanks for the question.

As with many activities that aim for positive outcomes, distraction is probably the biggest hindrance — a distraction that redirects our energies away from spiritual growth into something else. The subtlety, however, is in just how many forms of distraction there are. Some examples:

1) Gratifying our own ego to feel more important, ethical, disciplined…or indeed “spiritual.”

2) Worrying and obsessing over our spiritual purity, progress, efficacy, etc., to a degree where anxiety and guilt are our predominant emotions.

3) Becoming inflexible, legalistic and black-and-white regarding our certainties: not allowing for nuance, subjective differences, alternate explanations, gradations of truth, etc.

4) Looking for external signs and affirmation that we are “on the right path;” things like synchronicity, affluence, open doors, manifestations of personal will, etc.

5) Becoming preoccupied with future outcomes instead of experiencing the joy of the present moment.

6) Grounding all reasoning, emotions, choices, activities and imagination in an “I/Me/Mine” orientation of self-absorption…with only a veneer of consideration for anyone or anything else.

7) Resisting a felt reality of authentic compassion for self and others, and instead just going through the motions of what generosity, caring and kindness are “supposed” to look like.

8-) Looking outward, instead of inward, for answers.

9) Getting caught up in what everyone else is doing in order to feel comforted and accepted — then rationalizing that it serves a noble end.

10) Operating in “head time” rather than “heart time” or “spirit time;” that is, confusing busyness with carefully considered action, or quickly consuming mass media with gaining wisdom, or rushing to protest injustice with more discerning activism.

11) Forgetting our Divine purpose, and substituting it with the convenient passions-of-the-moment.

So we could attribute some number of these distractions to “the lure of the world,” sure. But would that be an accurate description? Would it really get at the heart of the impedance to what we believe to be spiritual progress…? I think you can probably see the trap here. Our conceptions of what spirituality is “supposed” to look like are just as problematic as other distractions that we attribute to an external cause. Everything that hinders us is a distraction…it is simply a matter of identifying the distractions for what they are, and moving beyond them…letting them go.

Along these lines, I would encourage you to read C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. He dances neatly through many subtleties of distraction that we often overlook.

My 2 cents.

In what ways does Donald Trump misrepresent America to the world?

Thanks for the question.

To provide a little backdrop, I lived in (West) Germany during the Ronald Reagan administration, in an area of Frankfurt that saw a lot of hostility towards Americans generally, so I’ve seen firsthand how a President can influence people’s opinions of U.S. Citizens. In that case, Reagan reinforced a broadly held view in Europe of people in the U.S. being uninformed or ignorant to a comic degree (Germans in bars would all burst out laughing every time Reagan was interviewed, because of all the factual mistakes he made), that Americans are painfully unaware of their own ignorance and misinformation, and that we nevertheless are overly confident about what we know…especially regarding what we believe is true and morally right. I used to refer to this phenomenon as “the Texas ignorance/arrogance amplification spiral” (because it seemed like every Texan I met exhibited the behavior to an exaggerated degree), until researchers identified it as the Dunning–Kruger effect.

And when Americans later also elected George W. Bush to POTUS twice, it confirmed the same prejudice regarding Americans being overconfident and uninformed (the term I would frequently hear in Germany was “Idioten” or “idiots”). And Trump? Well he is really — from a European perspective at least — a predictable extension of that same pattern of electing goofy dipshits who seem to have little grasp of reality (or any demonstrated intelligence about navigating it) to POTUS, thus reinforcing that a large number of people in the U.S. seem to celebrate being “cocky but incompetent.”

To further illustrate how pervasive this perspective on Americans had become, I once stayed in a lovely hotel in Galway where a huge oil painting of a Confederate General was hung above the main stairway. The Irish patrons (at least the ones who disdained an America wielding so much global power with such demonstrated ignorance of the world around them) loved to ask American guests at the hotel what they thought of the painting. At one point, they would then ask, “Do you know who that is…?” Not many of the American guests — often well-educated by U.S. standards, as well as affluent — could identify the General…or even knew he was wearing a Confederate uniform. Some could, but those Irish patrons loved to demonstrate that even the bellhops and maids in the hotel knew the history of the U.S. Civil War better than many Americans did.

Okay…with that said, how does “The Donald” misrepresent America to the rest of the world? Well, you’ll recall that Trump didn’t win the popular vote, and that a LOT of Democrats didn’t vote at all in 2016. You’ll also recall that G.W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore as well. And, interestingly, global confidence in the U.S. Presidency was very low for both Trump and G.W. Bush (plummeting to below 25% (see Around the world, favorability of the U.S. and confidence in its president decline). Now these are just two comparative data plots, but what they reveal is that in at least these two instances, a majority of U.S. voters didn’t trust or want Dunning-Kruger Presidents…and the rest of the world agreed with them. There is other data that supports the view that a majority of U.S. citizens are actually in synch with the more enlightened policies of other developed countries (i.e. stats about gun control, campaign reform, progressive taxation, single payer healthcare, etc.), and that successive generations in the U.S. have been straining against harmful conservative policies and distortions of fact that basically favor wealthy corporate shareholders above everyone else. Change is immanent, IMO, as we will likely see in 2018 and 2020 if U.S. media and elections are hijacked and manipulated. And THAT is why Trump misrepresents America to the world: because he is the last gasp of a dying, minority breed of uninformed, arrogant Dunning-Kruger citizenry. The rest of us — the majority of folks who live and vote in the U.S. — desperately yearn for progressive change.

My 2 cents.

What is the moral basis for the existence of government?

Thanks for the question.

First, I would say that government has no moral basis (or authority) unless it has been granted them by its citizens. There are various mechanisms to do this — to temporarily transfer collective moral agency to elected representatives and civic institutions, for example — that are grounded in an ongoing collective agreement, and allow adjustment, accountability and malleability over time. It is in these cases that we can say that the moral will of the populace is being expressed by its government, and thereby providing its “moral basis.”

Second, as a fine example, I would encourage examining John Rawls’ “original position” argument as one morally framed approach to governance (i.e. one that promotes fairness, justice and equality according to the most generous definitions of those terms as broadly accepted values). His thought experiment is very simple, very clear, and very “reasonable.” And within his arguments, the moral authority of representatives operating behind Rawls’ veil of ignorance becomes self-evident.

Third, I would say that the morality of government must therefore reflect the moral maturity of its populace. This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the equation, because once the two (collective will vs. civic institutions) starts getting out-of-synch, the the moral agreements that justify government break down. Such an unfortunate state of disequilibrium is pretty much where we are today in the U.S., where some 30% of the electorate has regressed to a level of moral immaturity that is aggressively corroding more advanced civic institutions.

Fourth, I would loudly assert that this isn’t the end of the conversation — not even the beginning of the end — because there are so many other considerations. For example, there are additional features that bolster the intimacy and harmony between collective will and civic institutions: things like subsidiarity, direct democracy, egalitarian efficiency, critically reflective participatory action, reducing interference with liberty…and many more. These really must be considered in the context of any “moral basis” for government, because they directly impact the efficacy, stability and continuity of the collective agency that governance manifests.

For more on how I would propose approaching all of this (and why), consider checking out L e v e l - 7 Philosophy and “The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty” at Essays by T.Collins Logan.

My 2 cents.

Do you feel US society today lacks compassion and understanding in one another's political views?

Actually I think the lack of compassion and understanding has been pretty one-sided for a very long time, but that it has slowly been spreading to become a more universal reaction, as a consequence of increasing exasperation.

For many decades, both hate speech and hateful actions against “libtards,” “commies,” “faggots,” “nigger-lovers,” “feminazis,” and many other groups characterized as residing on the Left end of the political spectrum was propagated and amplified mainly by the right-leaning conservatives of the U.S. And you could hear this seething vitriol — with lots of nationalistic sentiment, fear-mongering and Us vs. Them propaganda — on conservative talk radio 24/7 for many years. But the progressives just didn’t use the same approach — at least not in the same aggressive spirit, or using the same threatening and hurtful language. You might indeed hear a fair amount of condescension and dismissiveness from the Left, to be sure: phrases like “Bible-thumper,” “redneck,” “gun-lover” and the like were commonly used by liberals to describe conservatives in the U.S. But you wouldn’t hear the same kind of hate, or raging anger, or irrational fear. And, interestingly, unlike the corrosively derisive language that conservatives employed, many right-wing folks proudly embraced those liberal labels (i.e. “redneck,” “gun-lover,” etc.) as if they were a badge of honor. So even though liberals often raised a “we’re smarter and more educated than you” flag against the conservative’s “holier than thou” standard, that’s really as far as the liberals went in the mainstream. There was disbelief and disdain, to be sure…but not the same deep-seated fear and hate, and indeed a fair amount of compassion could be found among liberals regarding how rank-and-file conservatives were being manipulated and lied to by their wealthy handlers. It was only at the very radical fringes on the Left that you found militant activists willing to use underhanded, vindictive or violent methods to counter right-wing agendas. But again, on the conservative end of the spectrum, such tactics and genuinely discompassionate sentiments were regularly invoked by conservative media outlets, think tanks, and political candidates as they encouraged every Republican into lockstep conformance.

But I think those many decades of one-sided hatefulness may be coming to an end. The 2016 election tipped the scales. When Michelle Obama said “when they go low, we go high,” that was emblematic of the Left’s last stand for compassion and understanding; it’s what a lot of liberals really felt in their heart-of-hearts about the right way to think and act. But it failed. So a lot of folks — especially the young Bernie Sanders supporters who felt betrayed by the DNC — took note of the hateful tactics of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign, and began to spout some aggressive, passionate, condemnatory rhetoric of their own. And, sadly, a lot of that rhetoric has begun to mirror the Right’s longstanding tactics, style and spirit. And so the tide is turning on the Left away from mere condescension, disbelief and genuine pity and compassion for Republicans, toward a right-wing flavor of judgmental anger. It’s very sad for me to see, and it does not bode well for the U.S. political process.

So that would be my first point: yes, each side is becoming ever more polarized in its lack of compassion and understanding….but I think it is important to acknowledge that the Right has held that position for many years longer than the Left. The Republican Party has been such a magnet for hate and fear-mongering that Southern Democrats who were angry and fearful about Black voting rights and the end of Jim Crow switched over to the Republican Party so they could continue to fight against those progressive changes. And you could even say — when you consider things like climate denial, evolution denial, voodoo economics, rejection of science, suspicion and resentment of public education, and so on — that conservatives have perfected a lack of understanding to an absurd degree…an extent where “alternative facts” very disconnected from reality have become all-to-real for them. Clearly, considering how Republicans vote regarding helping the poor, women, minorities, the environment, consumer protections, worker protections, benefits to children, and a host of other issues, compassion and kindness have long been absent from their political ideology. Which is all to say that malicious intent (the will to power of the “haves”) has always been loudly present in the right-wing agenda, and almost entirely absent from the policies championed by progressives on behalf of the “have-nots.”

I do believe, however, that many folks on the Left and the Right are tired of fighting. They want peace…they long for compromise. And yet…the programming and propaganda that energize hateful polemics are very strong…so that may yet have to run its course. So those who long for harmony will have to wait. “It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, when the tunnel is on fire.” Still…I believe there is Light, and that Light will prevail in the end. It will just be a very difficult road for all of us to arrive there.

My 2 cents.

What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?


As a simplified summary, wisdom is knowledge applied with compassion.

As a more formalized and detailed procedure:

data/observation → education/information/contextualization → insight/knowledge → compassionate/inclusive intentionality (i.e. “for the good of All”) → application/testing/efficacy → experiential feedback → ongoing practice + fine-tuning → additional multidimensional input streams (emotional + somatic + spiritual + analytical intelligence) → discernment → consistent operationalization + values alignment→ wisdom.

My 2 cents.

How can I become more tolerant of people who are different than me?

Thanks for the question.

I think the answer is dependent on a) the issues you are intolerant of, and why; b) how that intolerance expresses itself; and c) your level of self-awareness and well-being. For example:

1) If your intolerance issues from a place of personal pain, and you are lashing out at others who “touch a raw nerve” in your own struggles, then addressing that pain and struggling within yourself is going to be quite helpful in reducing your judgement and increasing your tolerance.

2) If your intolerance issues from a place of arrogance and condescension, then appreciating your own limitations, areas you’ve made mistakes, and potentially unjustified self-confidence will be helpful in reducing judgement and increasing tolerance.

3) If you find it really hard to forgive others for harms they commit — against yourself or anyone else — then you may be holding some harsh judgments against your own past failings or be more insecure than you realize in some area or other. So, in this instance, you’ll want to learn how to have compassion for yourself, so that you can in turn have more compassion for others.

4) If your intolerance stems from ignorance — from a lack of experiences and exposure to folks who are different — then befriending them and immersing yourself in their world will be quite helpful.
If your intolerance is highly reactive, and seems to be uncontrollable or reflexive, then there may be an underlying mental illness, neurochemical issues, or cognitive and/or emotional deficit. In this case, seeking help from medical doctors and psychotherapists may be your best bet.

5) Intolerance, impatience, irritability, and black-and-white emotional responses can also be the consequence of not nourishing one or more aspects of your being. Consider taking this free self-assessment to see what those areas might be, and then try to address them: https://www.integrallifework.com...

As you can see, there could be a lot of different influences at play — and the ones I’ve covered don’t come close to all the different factors that could be energizing this dynamic. It’s great that you’ve observed it…I recommend patience with yourself and continuing to reach out for help in order to heal and grow.

My 2 cents.

What do civilians of former communist countries in Eastern Europe think about communism?

Well it appears that neoliberal propagandists are still up to their old tricks — trying to remake communism into an all-bad Boogeyman that must be feared and loathed. If the anti-Communist answers so far in this thread really are from folks who lived under communism in the former Eastern Bloc, then they are not representative of the majority. For example, according to a number of studies from a couple of years ago (see links at Polls show: Eastern Europeans miss Communism):

- 72% of Hungarians polled said their country is worse off economically than it was under communism. Only 8% believed things were better.

- 63% of Romanians said life was better under communism, while 23% claimed their lives were worse. 68% said communism was a good idea that had been poorly implemented.

- 81% of Serbians said living was better under communism, and 45% trusted civic institutions under communism more than they did at the time of the poll.

- Residents from 7 out of 11 member countries said their countries were harmed more than benefited by the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

It also depends who is being asked — see:
Have living standards in Eastern Europe decreased after Communism? - Debating Europe and The Post-Communist Generation in the Former Eastern Bloc. Even among those more successful countries, sentiments are still divided — mainly with younger generations believing their lives are better off without the communism they never experienced, while older generations maintain quite a bit of nostalgia for those times. You would think that East Germany would be prominent exception, but even there more than half of the population either thinks things were better before capitalism, or were about the same (see: Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism)

Also, young people who weren’t alive when the U.S.S.R. collapsed will not recall that older people and the poor all across Eastern Europe were protesting their loss of pensions, healthcare, social services, etc. when it happened. And in the U.S., the neoliberal propagandists like to talk about all the terrible things that were going on in the former U.S.S.R., and are loath to admit any positive accomplishments. And of course this is reinforced by Hollywood depictions and the very real history of horrific problems during the Soviet era. But the fact is that those populations did have pensions and healthcare, and that the poor in many cases had a higher and more secure standard of living than the poor in those countries do today under capitalism.

Pro-capitalist pundits love to tout the wonders of the profit motive, but remain blind to what collectivist or nonprofit approaches can achieve. Frankly I think they are terrified by the prospect of socialist success stories, including recognizing America’s success as the result of a mixed economy (i.e. with both socialist and profit-centric elements). Such successes, after all, mean that capitalist owner-shareholders could lose some of their control over worker-consumers and other resources, and not be able to continue manipulating and exploiting them to enlarge their own personal wealth. Perhaps that is why neoliberals are still trying so hard to tear down successful socialist institutions in the U.S.A….?

My 2 cents.

Why is property considered a social construct or a social thing and not something else like natural? I just don't see how it's a social thing.

Property ownership is an entirely contrived and arbitrary social construct. The only thing “natural” about it is the selfish desire to keep things we want to ourselves, or “marking our territory” to attract a mate or feel less threatened. But such primitive instincts are not, in themselves, justified or “right” until society agrees that they are. And there are a LOT of primitive instincts (for example: to kill others, to have sex all the time with different people, to keep eating even whey we’re full, to destroy stuff for fun, to steal things we want, etc.) that are NOT sanctioned by society. So why do we sanction the concept of private property? Why does that have a special, elevated position among all of our animalistic impulses…? Getting down to exactly why this is the case can take some digging into our own tacit assumptions about “why things are.” Most of the time, we operate on an immense framework of culturally programmed reflexes, and have very little awareness why we do the things we do — or believe the things we believe. It takes real effort to challenge that programming, and even more effort to undo it.

My 2 cents.

What is the relationship between political and economic freedom?

They are inseparably linked — and as yet very few societies have been able to champion both at the same time. To have sufficient agency to claim to be “free,” there must of necessity be both egalitarian economic mobility and opportunity, and the broadest consensus of democratic will in self-governance. Sure, civic institutions and competitive markets are helpful first steps…but until you also ensure equity of economic and political influence for every individual, then concentrations of economic power will always coincide with concentrations of political power — it is inevitable and unstoppable. That is why it is so important to extend and support democratic mechanisms across all aspects of society — including economic systems, institutions and processes. This has been the primary failing of modern democratic societies, and why they are increasingly being “captured” by plutocrats and crony capitalism. To reverse this trend, we must move toward a political economy that champions equity rather than arbitrary privilege, and consensus and direct/semi-direct democratic mechanisms rather than insulated party bureaucracies.

My 2 cents.

Everything is also nothing. In order to be everything (infinite) it has to include nothingness. Is this correct?

The stumbling block here is that different realms of conception are being mixed together — like oil and water. In mathematics, integers range from negative infinity…through zero…to infinity. In philosophy and spirituality, nothingness or void can be included in definitions of an Absolute that encompasses all existence. However, there is also the concept of non-existence which is outside of existence, and by definition outside of conceptions of the Absolute as well. Other terms — such as “emptiness” or “unmanifest” — can refer to the potential for existence that is noncontingent, and thus imply a certain something that is neither nothingness nor non-existence. In physics, informal reference to “nothingness” is actually the majority of what exists as empty space — what is between all matter — but which is quite busy at the quantum level. And all of these are semantic distinctions which do not equate each other. Infinity is not equal to the Absolute, and nothingness and void are not equal to non-existence, nor is “empty space” the same as “unmanifest,” and so on. The error of the OP’s proposition is in ignoring these semantic differences.

My 2 cents.