The Underlying Causes of Left vs. Right Dysfunction in U.S. Politics


To support a new framing of this longstanding issue, my latest essays covers many different facets and details that impact the polarization of Left/Right discourse. However, its main focus centers around the concept of personal and collective agency. That is, how such agency has been effectively sabotaged in U.S. culture and politics for both the Left and the Right, and how we might go about assessing and remedying that problem using various tools such as a proposed "agency matrix." The essay then examines a number of scenarios in which personal-social agency plays out, to illustrate the challenge and benefits of finding a constructive solution - one that includes multiple ideological and cultural perspectives.

Essay link in PDF: The Underlying Causes of Left vs. Right Dysfunction in U.S. Politics

Also available in an online-viewable format at this link.

As always, feedback is welcome via emailing

What do socialists think of impossibilism, the view that capitalist reform is counterproductive to the achievement of socialism?

I think there are several issues in play, all interacting with each other to create “the perfect storm:”

1. The Spectacle - Consumers become infantilized dependents of a capitalist system, always looking for something to buy to cure their woes. Reforms are often just another “commodity” peddled by plutocrats to pacify the exploited.

2. Superficiality - Many reforms are just wolves in sheep’s clothing. Consider B-Corps or “benefit corporations:” the objective may be noble, but many companies simply jump through the requisite hoops to differentiate themselves from competitors for the sake of profit - without any real commitment to the values they say they promote.

3. Unintended Outcomes via Values Inversion - Without changing the fundamental orientation of society to prioritize civil society and collective well-being above rent seeking, all reforms in capitalism will ultimately replicate the unhealthy priority of profit over people. It is inescapable; to rephrase a well-known adage: the arc of capitalism is long, and it always bends towards greed. For more on this topic, consider reading Reframing Profit.

4. Pernicious Corrosion - Capitalism is toxic to human being and planet Earth. Why try to perpetuate it at all…? For more on this, see The Case Against Capitalism.

However, even though I feel strongly about all of these issues, I believe there is an important demarcation between highly destructive chaos and a moderately destructive status quo. In other words: complete breakdown of our current system is not likely to result in an anarchist paradise, but something much worse (and much less facilitative of socialist ideals) than building on the democratic civic foundations that have already been laid. So the goal is to foment revolutionary transformations that can use at least some of our civic institutions and systems as a launching point. For more on why I think this, consider reading: Revolutionary Integrity.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Revolutionary Integrity: Chaotic Transitions vs. Compassionate Transformation

There is a potent mythology circulating within our modern Zeitgeist that revolutionary transitions must be chaotic, disruptive and destructive. I think this is a mistaken assumption, but it is grounded in reliable observations and experiences that permeate history, psychology, biology, spirituality, politics and personal growth. First we can take a look at those evidences, and then some alternative examples from which we can discern a more sensible course for constructive change.

Where did this investment in chaotic transitions come from? Here are a few of the enduring memes circulating today:

• From ancient times, the Greek, Judeo-Christian, Hindu and other mythological metaphors of violent destruction and rebirth: the fiery rebirth of the Phoenix; the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (and other “dying-and-rising God” narratives – see Dying-and-Rising-God); the Great Flood myths; and the trials and temptations of the Hero’s Journey (Campbell); the chaotic End Times scenarios from various spiritual traditions, etc.

• Milton Friedman’s theory that, in order to implement a new policy or system, one must engineer an economic and/or political crises, accelerate a nascent crisis, or simply take advantage of a crisis in process at a regional, national or international level. Friedman demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach in different countries during his lifetime in order to promote a neoliberal ideology. Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism explores this process in vivid detail.

• Clear evidence that, in natural ecosystems, death is a necessary component of ongoing viability: one species will routinely consume another; parents must die for their offspring to flourish; evolutionary adaptation generally follows a fitness advantage passed on and refined in subsequent generations; and so on.

• The belief embodied in many spiritual traditions that each individual must relinquish a sense of self-importance or ego-identity in order to grow spiritually; a “death-to-self,” obliteration of individual ego, or realization of “no-self” is a necessary component of spiritual maturity.

• “Hitting bottom” in the Twelve-Step tradition. In this view of addiction and recovery, a person’s self-destructive behaviors must first produce substantive and irrefutable damage in their lives before they will consider seeking help or beginning the road to recovery.

• The observations of historians, philosophers and economists that cultural revolutions and societal advancements throughout history have been facilitated by highly volatile historical circumstances, rebellious grass-roots movements, new information or disruptive technologies. From religious wars to new economic systems to new forms of government to advances in individual and collective freedoms, turmoil seems to have been a reliable precursor for change.

However, I think this widespread assumption that chaotic transitions are inevitable is no longer as reliable as it perhaps once was. There are a number of reasons for this, and here are what I believe to be the most important ones:

• Superagency – Individually and collectively, humanity has exponentially increased its power through communication, transportation, industrialization, militarization and other technology. This has an amplifying effect on both deliberate outcomes and unanticipated ones, so that each personal, regional and cultural choice produces an enormous cascade of enduring consequences. In this context, previous patterns of death and rebirth cannot apply; the scope and reach of human will have now obliterated any Phoenix opportunity. And as our technology and population footprint expands, compassionate transformation must replace chaotic transitions as our standard of change – or the human species and possibly even the Earth itself are not likely to survive.

Exponential Complexity – This is close kin to superagency in terms of its impact on change. The level of complexity with which the modern world operates – and upon which an ever-increasing number of human beings rely for existence – has surpassed the level of any of the take-down-and-rebuild upheaval witnessed by previous eras. Our systems of commerce, resource distribution, healthcare, global transportation, energy, food production, education, research, innovation and just about everything else require extraordinary coordination, standards-based planning and specialized skillsets to implement and maintain. Rebuilding such complexity in a new form from the ashes of chaotic collapse is simply unrealistic and naïve.

Strong Evidence for Alternative Approaches – For me this begins at the individual level, witnessing how client-based psychotherapy grounded in trusting relationships are so much more successful than confrontation groups or highly directive approaches; because empowering the client allows them to heal themselves and keep using tools to maintain their own well-being. In organizations, I have witnessed firsthand the constructive impact of shifting from top-down management styles to more inclusive, bottom-up decision-making as the result of a voluntary choice to empower workers – and of course this has been documented in many places (see Elinor Ostrom’s research on Common Pool Resource Management schemas arising organically around the globe also has demonstrated the viability of bottom-up, collective decision-making. On larger scales, throughout recorded history we have successful nonviolent movements in many countries (see Nonviolent Resistance and Nonviolent Revolution). Although the outcomes often involve compromise, nonviolent approaches have provided a more fluid avenue to healing and reconciliation among opposing viewpoints (for more information on nonviolent action, visit And finally we have the evidence of state initiatives and referenda in the U.S., and of a more pervasive direct democracy in Switzerland at all levels of government, which came about without a single riot or drop of blood.

In my own efforts to envision and reify positive change on many different levels, I have sought to explore and embody transformative practices and ideals that are fundamentally constructive, additive and synergistic – a multidialectical synthesis rather than an inherently dominating or destructive process. Which is why I am calling this compassionate transformation. It involves these primary components, the details of which are discussed in more detail throughout my writings about Integral Lifework:

• An acknowledgement of personal responsibility, consciousness and planning to bring about constructive change; a commitment to personal agency must supersede reliance on institutional agency or externalized dependence – which ultimately lead to disconnection, apathy and self-disempowerment.

• The persistent guiding intentionality to work toward outcomes that provide the greatest good, for the greatest number of people, for the greatest duration – doing so skillfully, in ways that acknowledge and support both obvious and obscured interdependence.

• A focus on nourishing, nurturing and strengthening all dimensions of being in ourselves and others, with the primary aim of exercising compassionate affection, but also to encourage moral maturity and higher altitudes of individual and collective moral function. Our core strengths, resilience and creativity will issue from these mutually supportive relationships.

• A profound investment in understanding, respecting, including, honoring and celebrating diverse experiences, perspectives, cultural traditions and levels of understanding in all participatory mechanisms, while at the same time integrating them (in the sense of interculturalism), rather than encouraging isolation or separateness. Here we appreciate our togetherness, necessary interdependence, and uniqueness all-at-once.

• Patience and acceptance with the process of healing, educating and transforming self, family, community and civil society. This will be a difficult challenge. There will be setbacks. All of us are likely to stumble through confusion, loss, distractions and emotional turmoil; there will be internal chaos in the midst of liberation. And the only meaningful answer to this pain is self-directed compassion - a stubbornly enduring love-consciousness.

At the same time, I recognize that some things do pass away in the process; the synthesis may sometimes be subtractive regarding previous perspectives, memes, values systems or ideologies. For example, regarding the state of our current political economy, we do need to disrupt the status quo’s glamorous spectacle of excess and distraction, built as it is on unsustainable overconsumption and self-absorbed materialism. Together, we must prompt an awakening of conscious participation from our fellow worker-consumers, and definitively end the exploitative reign of owner-shareholders. And yes, this will likely involve attenuation of individualism, acquisitiveness and ego. But it is not necessary to drag “the man behind the curtain” out into the public square and flog him to death, or burn his palace to the ground. We can wreak havoc on the illusion, overturn the banksters’ tables, and eliminate complacency and dependency among our fellow citizens…without inducing chaos or a complete breakdown of society. Instead we can remove the curtain, throw open the palace gates, inspire and educate mass movements, and demand pervasive change – all without rancor, murder or rage. The more profound difference between compassionate transformation and chaotic transition in this regard is that our grounding attitude is a letting go – a careful, caring and tempered relinquishment of previous patterns, rather than their violent or aggressive destruction, oppression or repression. Passion with compassion; activism with humility. This is not passive by any means, but accepting, supportive, nonjudgmental and active from a place of loving kindness; it just invites the same collective participation it designs into reforms, and doesn’t excuse itself to lord it over others “for their own good.”

This combination of reasoning is what led me to promote what I call revolutionary integrity. Many throughout recent history, from Gandhi to Friere to Martin Luther King, have expressed the intuitive logic of embodying the values one desires for the future in the current modes of revolutionary action. Carl Boggs, Wini Breines and others wrote extensively about this idea with respect to sociopolitical movements of the sixties and seventies, describing it as prefigurative politics. Many years earlier, Ralph W. Sockman said this about the issue: "Be careful that victories do not carry the seed of future defeats." And long before this, a rebel from Nazarus told his overzealous disciple: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” So this is really the core of what revolutionary integrity is about: we are just amplifying the assumption that, if we don’t embody our values in a transformational process, we will in fact sabotage the outcome. The means must embody the ends. There will be re-synthesis and adjustment along the way – that is obvious, as ideological and methodological purity almost always obstruct common sense solutions – but this does not mean that our quality of dialogue, standards of ethics, the vision towards which our incremental steps lead, the intensity of compassion with which we regard all participants, or the humility by which we relinquish personal opportunities at power for the common good will ever be compromised in any way. But if we insist that crisis is a necessary precondition for change, we will be inviting crisis to be an integral part of whatever new systems we invent.

In a very real sense, our lingering attachment to the idea of chaotic transitions is a substantive impediment to collective progress. It is a sign of our vestigial attachment to patterns of behavior which probably made sense when ancient tribes found themselves under constant threat of conflict, resource scarcity, existential uncertainty and violent power struggles. It is much like an abusive family’s expectation that all their communication and emotion be mired in excessive drama; or how a codependently enmeshed couple might catastrophize all disagreements and disconnections; or how someone with a personality disorder might threaten to commit suicide if someone doesn’t return their phone call. And perhaps it will take a generation or two of promoting holistic, multidimensional nourishment, healing from trauma, breaking familial cycles of abuse, and relaxing PTSD-like cultural reflexes in order to fully open ourselves up to more complete and effective ways of compassionately being. But I sincerely believe that is exactly what we need to do to both envision an egalitarian, thriving future for humanity, and to actualize it.

My 2 cents.

How can I contribute more to society?

Thanks for the A2A. This is a huge question and could take you in many different directions depending on how you begin to answer it. So I’ll focus mainly on that beginning. In order to ferret out how you - with your unique values, resources, perspective and abilities - can best contribute to society, you will first need to:

Clearly define your personal, interpersonal and social values. I saw that you began to do this in your response to one of the answers here, but IMO you could really drill down deep to understand and document what you think is most important in your relationships, your personal standards of ethics, and in what you believe to be societal standards and mechanisms for good.
Clearly understand what you bring to the table. What are you strengths, aptitudes, skills and resources? What is your work style, relationship style and communication style? What are you really good at, and what do you enjoy doing the most?

Begin to explore how your values intersect with your individual strengths, aptitudes, skills and resources. This can be the trickiest part of the process, and it is important to avoid locking yourself into a single trajectory too quickly - instead, you can remain open, and look at what is already being done in the world that resonates with both what you care about, and what you are good at.
Identify communities, collaborators and institutions that support your values and strengths. Make an extensive list of these, research them online, and talk with as many people as possible about the options that already exist (there are likely many!). There are probably whole communities whose philosophy of values and approaches to societal contribution align closely with yours.

Try things on for size. Try out a number of different possibilities that you think will allow your values and strengths to be put to good use. Take some classes in a promising field, do some volunteering at a promising organization or work in an entry level position, engage in some activism with a like-minded group of folks, etc.

Be willing to start something on your own if you need to. For me, it became clear after a few decades of “trying things on for size” that there wasn’t a prefect match for me already out in the world in terms of a career, volunteer organization, community, etc. So I started my own business, wrote exclusively about what I was passionate about, and began more informally connecting with folks who had similar values and concerns.

This can be a lengthy process - it took me nearly twenty years to figure all of this out. So be patient, and persistent. Also, to begin with step #1, check out the Self-Assessment Resources on my Integral Lifework website.

I hope this was helpful.

What should we as a society do to end capitalism?

I’m going to sidestep the details of your post - I think I understand what you’re getting at so I will answer the main question instead.

To end capitalism, which I agree would be a very wise, important and increasingly pressing direction to take, will require a multi-pronged approach, and a different emphasis of approach in different parts of the world. Here are some possible components that could be combined into different transformative forces to bring about that change:

1. Disrupt the status quo. There are countless ways to do this, but essentially we need to make “business as usual” unprofitable for corporations and shareholders, while at the same time reducing access to commercialistic distractions that have medicated consumer-workers into a sort of reflexively compliant, self-gratifying infantilized state. The choices here are things likes hacktivism, boycotts, disruption of commercial transportation and communication, etc.

2. Educate the consumer-worker. The neoliberal propaganda you see reflected in many of the answers in this thread must be countered with both facts about our current reality (i.e. the consequences of capitalism that are destructive to civil society, nature, human health, etc.), as well as a new vision about how we can move forward.

3. Educate the owner-shareholder. There are plenty of wealthy people in the world who understand the problems inherent to our current form of capitalism, and who see the wisdom of moving away from it. We can provide them with resources, information, alternative proposals, etc. to allow them to help enable such a transition.

4. Empower the consumer-worker. We can return democracy to the people, removing it from the hands of corporations and their wealthy shareholders where it is now. One way to do this would be to follow Switzerland’s implementation of direct democracy to counterbalance our corrupted legislative processes. In the same way, all institutions and organizations can shift away from owner-shareholder control to consumer-worker control; this has already been successfully modeled around the world. Essentially, this is just implementing direct democracy in all enterprises and institutions, and can be accomplished via any number of mechanisms, from consumer-worker organizing to legislation to the philanthropic acts of the owner-shareholders themselves.

5. Decentralize political and economic institutions and controls. In the words of E.F. Schumacher, “Small is Beautiful.” Every business, institution, process, etc. can orbit around community-level decision-making. This reflects the principle of “subsidiarity” and is essential to preventing the inefficiencies and disconnected abstraction of decision-making that occur through larger central government controls - or via large corporate monopolies. This process of decentralization can also be accomplished voluntarily - once enough consumer-workers and owner-shareholders have awoken from their consumption-medicated sleep.

6. Make rational, world-tested choices about which services and products should be generated via not-for-profit mechanisms. For me this is a pretty long list, and includes things like healthcare, mass transit, energy production, public safety, education, water, roads, communications infrastructure, credit unions, etc. I call these “essential infrastructure and services,” and see them as falling under common ownership and management (i.e. all of society).

7. Institute a system of social credits that moves us away from a money-based economy. It will take time to accomplish this, and it could happen gradually in conjunction with an exchange economy, but the valuation of goods and services would be based on a more multifaceted assessment (inclusive of a more comprehensive array of externalities) via direct democracy. I call this “holistic value.” Ultimately, I also think the concept of private property also has to be relinquished for humanity to gain true freedom, but that process may take a few generations.

8. Encourage moral maturity, and hold everyone accountable. This is probably the most challenging aspect of transformative change. As individuals, as cultures, as a society - perhaps even as a species - we really need to grow up. The materialistic individualism that capitalism reinforces works mightily against this maturation process, keeping us fixated on lust for stimulation and stuff, childish power trips, competing with each other and so forth. So the dismantling of capitalism alone (if it is done in a compassionate, inclusively democratic and orderly manner) should help people nurture a sense of civic participation and communal identity that capitalism destroys. But we probably also need to encourage moral maturity - looking beyond I/Me/Mine - through various culturally encouraged practices. My own approach to this is Integral Lifework. In terms of accountability, social credits could be accumulated for actively participating in civil society, and earning those credits could at a minimum provide access to higher quantities or qualities of “essential infrastructure and services.” In the opposite direction, there could be social credit penalties (less access to services, lower quality services, social debits, etc.) for not participating in civil society or violating its agreements. But really direct democracy itself creates an excellent self-regulating means of accountability: when government is authentically by the people, the people come to recognize their own responsibility.

Unlike many revolutionary radicals of the past, I do not believe that forceful expropriation of property or persecution of the elite is a wise course; in fact I think violence begets violence, and the methods of any revolution will taint the new systems and institutions that follow from that revolution. I also disagree with those who would encourage the hastening of capitalism’s “natural conclusion,” or letting everything crash and burn to see what arises from the ashes. The problem with this approach is that humanity has become far too powerful - and its society and infrastructure far too complex - to permit a constructive catastrophic reset. Higher-order solutions require a solid foundation of civil society, technological stability and peace. Like any other form of suicide, our options become rather limited after we make a self-destructive decision. In the same way, we will want to move forward on all of the components discussed here, rather than just a few of them; all of the pieces are required for any transformation to sustain itself over time.

As to proposals of what a post-capitalist political economy could look like, I’ve written a few essays and a book on that topic.

My 2 cents.