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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

How did Spinoza reconcile his faith in Christ with his philosophy of God?

Thank you for the question Roberto.

So getting to the heart of any answer to the question posed (“How did Spinoza [reconcile] his faith in Christ with his philosophy of God?” ) IMO will require reading through at least a few portions of his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. This work is much more accessible than his Ethics, and clearly spells out his views on both the nature and role of faith, the place that Jesus Christ holds with respect to knowledge of God, and indeed the “flexibility” of what remains — namely the specifics of revealed knowledge. This last part, which speaks to Spinoza’s philosophy of God, is the most critical to appreciate IMO — with respect to Spinoza’s thought, and to answering the OP’s question. Spinoza’s overarching message in Theologico-Politicus is that the details of any individual philosophy about the nature of the Divine are completely and overwhelmingly overrun by what scripture instructs us to do: namely, to be obedient to God in our love for others, regardless of our personal justification for doing so. This is Spinoza’s chief contribution to discussions of spiritual relationship with the Divine, and IMO deserves our full attention. His point is really just a variation on what Christ taught: that all the rules and justifications and dogma of religious orthodoxy are just chaff to be burned up in the fires of agape. To be kind and charitable and fiercely outspoken — often in self-sacrificial ways — for the good of others is the expression of God’s essence that embodies genuine obedience — that is, as opposed to following a rigid set of rules. At the same time, how a believer chooses to understand, evaluate and execute this mandate is really entirely up to them — according to the culture within which they live, their native intelligence and abilities, and (and here I am extending Spinoza’s logic rather than summarizing his POV) their level of spiritual and psychosocial development. That is how Spinoza explains the different individual expressions of faith and different collective religious dogmas, and why he dismisses their importance in anything but a facilitative sense. Again, though, all he is really doing here is reiterating and extending Christ’s central message.

In conclusion, then, there is nothing to reconcile: Spinoza’s view of Christ as the preeminent communicator of God’s essence — that is, the perfect expression of the Mind of God in word and deed — does not at all contradict, undermine or interfere with Spinoza’s view of God. They are, in fact, in complete harmony with each other — both regarding Spinoza’s view of God’s expression of essence or nature in Christ, and in the variability of philosophical viewpoints that serve that expression. Human philosophy is, for Spinoza, only superficially divergent from revealed knowledge — because both are bounded my human imagination and interpretation, and both are a superficial layering over the core tenets of salvation: to reify compassionate affection and joy in relationship with others as evidence of God/Christ/holy spirit-in-us. And so, when Spinoza elaborates in Ethics on God as “a substance consisting of infinite attributes,” and that human thought and intuition are an extension of the Mind of God as modes of one such attribute (thought), he is really just elaborating on all things in existence being a continuum of Divine essence. In this sense, all the previous discussion here (about Christ, revelation, faith, salvation, etc.) can be framed within the context of the myriad extensions and attributes (or expressions of essence, if you will) of the Divine interacting with each other according to their Divine nature. Human consciousness then becomes a veneer layered on top of this dynamic interplay, a partial component seeking to understand the whole. And, once that whole is understood according to the capacities available to us — once the veneer is removed to expose the essential unity of a Creation that is the cause of itself — this produces boundless joy for us. And the logos of Christ? It is a powerful nudge in that very direction.

So there is no contradiction or even tension the nature of Christ and the philosophy of God for Spinoza, there is only imperfect understanding that gradually gives way to an inherent harmony. Again, though, I would spend some quality time with Tractatus Theologico-Politicus to further appreciate Spinoza’s perspectives around theology in this regard.

My 2 cents.

How do you perceive relativism concerning religion, morality, and life in general? Do you believe in relativism in life? Why or why not?

Thanks for the question Dida. Here’s the current state of my thinking on this….

1) From the perspective of ignorance — the result of a lack of personal experience, or an absence of careful introspection, or an incomplete education in the history of sociology, philosophy, art, science, religion, etc. — all positions, assertions, insights and so forth may appear to be relative. In reality, they are not, and appearances can be deceiving…much like the shadows on the wall in Plato’s cave.

2) After a requisite amount of experience, introspection, education and integration, it becomes apparent that there are indeed many different positions along a given continuum of ever-increasing efficacy and certainty. At one end of that continuum are unskillful, uninformed, impulsive and conditioned/reflexive responses and actions that lack efficacy and certainty…despite feeling “relatively” true to the person acting them out — we might call this the “conditional” end of that continuum. At the other end of the continuum is highly refined, skillful, informed, carefully considered responses and actions that have a much higher level of predictive efficacy…even though the person acting them out may still have doubts; this is the more “absolute” end of the continuum. And all along that continuum are incremental shifts that lean in one directly or the other. I think research into the Dunning–Kruger effect sheds some light on this process across many different areas.

3) From a subjective point of view — or even across an entire homogenous culture — it can be difficult to appreciate why a given aesthetic, or value, or ethical standard, or cultural expectation seems so contradictory to those of someone else, or those of another culture. But again, this seeming begins to erode via emotional, intellectual, relational and indeed spiritual development that incorporates intersubjective and intercultural perspectives and experiences. The more absolute truths emerge not from an homogenous, sheltered and self-absorbed or protective existence, but from an open, engaging, porous synthesis through intimate interactions with others, empathic immersion in their experiences, and a fair amount of courage.

4) Thus mature wisdom tends to become more and more integral and integralizing — more able to suspend certainty in favor of holding all apparent contradictions lightly and compassionately until their fundamental ground (in shared, essential characteristics) becomes clear. Ultimately, this unitive process results in an enduring perception of the common underpinnings of seemingly divergent perspectives. But it is quite difficult to return to the cave and explain this illumination — and it takes time to free oneself from old emotional habits and modes of thinking that persist from earlier stages of development.

My 2 cents.

Is it possible to just leave everything behind and live as an anarcho-primitivist?

Sure. I’ve personally known people committed to rewilding themselves, and have studied a number of individual examples. I myself have experimented (both purposefully and by unintended accident) with various degrees of both exiting a highly destructive capitalist society, and returning to Nature. It’s not easy, and requires a lot of planning, preparation, education and training. It also requires adequate and compatible natural environs within which to survive. There is a broad spectrum of exit strategies and perspectives, and learning about as many as possible will be helpful. In my own case, each experience taught me a lot about my own limitations, how Nature is often uncooperative regarding human intentions and survival, and how such efforts are indeed liberating in unexpected ways. It also taught me just how much courage is required to self-liberate (be prepared to confront various levels of existential terror on a routine basis). If you are willing to carefully prepare, learn from others who have taken this journey, and be open to having your expectations radically rearranged, then this may be a worthwhile objective for you. Regardless of where you end up in the process, you may find some creative ways to “not participate” in the destruction of planet Earth — and to help others understand the benefits of doing so.

My 2 cents.

Is leisure (Plato) essential to gain wisdom?

Plato’s elevation of “contemplative leisure” should not be equated with modern concepts of affluence and “recreational time” IMO. A shepherd herding sheep all day has plenty of “contemplative leisure,” for example, as long as no crisis arises. As does a professional bricklayer who can lay bricks all day without really thinking about it. In this sense, the critical component in developing wisdom is time to think — time to integrate and evaluate and self-reflect. In many ways I suspect this is why so many people in modern developed countries are becoming increasingly unwise: they do not cultivate this spaciousness for their interiority, but instead are constantly seeking stimulation, titillation, comfort and escape. Indeed they seem to have too much leisure in this regard. So I would say that a conscious and active cultivation of contemplation — in any and all situations — is really at the heart of Plato’s concern…and it should still be for us today. And, lastly, there is also the cofactor of quality input streams — information that contributes to wisdom, rather than simply distracting or entertaining us, is also essential to contemplative insights. In other words, what we think about is just as important as how we think about it.

My 2 cents.

Can the human condition accurately be viewed as living in a prison?

Thanks for the question Joel. Well it certainly often feels — subjectively and collectively — like we are living in various prisons. For example:

1) The prison of our economic system, and our status within it (conspicuous consumption, wage and debt slavery, striving for affluence, “greed is good” acquisitiveness, etc.)

2) The prison of cultural expectations (getting married, procreating, achieving self-sufficiency, going to college, etc.)

3) The prison of conceptual dualism and its inevitable reductionism (left/right, moral/immoral, good/bad, ingroup/outgroup, etc.)

4) The prison of our investment in a particular worldview (i.e. ideological purity, exclusionary bias, a tendency toward tribalism, etc.)

5) The prison of our unconscious or unmanageable habitual behaviors (conditioned, impulsive, addictive, etc.)

6) The prison of our perception-cognition (i.e. the structural and conditioned limitations of our mind)

7) The prison of comfort (avoiding difficulty or confrontation, self-soothing behaviors, pleasure seeking, distraction, safe routines, etc.)

8-) The prison of our choices (i.e. the often unintended consequences of individual and collective investment)

There are more…many more…but we can feel trapped in a very real-seeming cage with regard to any of these methinks.

Often the best option people believe to be available is to learn how to acquiesce and integrate — to submit to these apparent cages and discover “freedom” in how they are navigated. Adolescents instinctively attempt to free themselves from these seeming impositions, but most often revert to a mimesis of their parent culture and the examples of their family of origin — they return to the river. It is a very rare exception that steps outside of the prison current, and most often these brave souls — the outliers by nature or choice — are ostracized, ignored, dismissed or neglected. And that is can be very painful existence for social critters like humans. An even rarer exception is the handful of outliers who demonstrate paths to some form of freedom — conscious interior will, cultural nonconformance, somatic reconditioning, psychosocial reprogramming, a new way of thinking, spiritual liberty — that inspires others to untether themselves.

My 2 cents.

What are the top 10 words of wisdom you can give to a man at the age of 30?

A fun challenge, thanks for the question. Here’s my 10-word offering:

“You aren’t what you feel/think, but what you do.”

My 2 cents.

Is the aim of all religions to teach only moral values?

Thanks for the question. In my opinion, it is not the primary aim of religions to teach moral values. Often, religious institutions will, over time, elevate moral correctness or dogma to an excessive level — seemingly just so that adherents can be more easily controlled, or to create a standard of conformance that qualifies as the appearance of being religious. But when we read the scriptures of the world’s spiritual traditions, it rapidly becomes clear that there is much, much more being discussed there than “100 things we must do,” and “100 things we must not do” in order to be a moral person. Instead, the focus is often on a much more subtle development of character, or a specific quality of faith, or a transformative change in attitude, or ways to develop discernment and wisdom, or a clearly defined avenue to “all spiritual truths” — moral and otherwise. So morality, as such, really becomes a secondary property of spirituality; advanced moral values are a natural outgrowth of spiritual maturity — evidence of our progress, if you will — rather than a central aim.

My 2 cents.

What should be humanity's primary goal in the long term?

Thank you for the question. For our overarching goal, I think we should aim to embody skillful compassion at all levels of human organization — as a species, as cultures and nations, as communities, as individuals. In other words, to have compassion for ourselves, for one another, for the Earth and all its wonderful forms of life, and in our interactions with species and places beyond the Earth’s sphere…and to exercise that compassion with increasing predictive efficacy. This latter aspect of the imperative — the skillfulness and effectiveness part — is what knowledge, technology, artistic expression, wisdom, discernment and so on can aid us with. But the primary imperative itself — to love — can only be achieved through individual and collective emotional commitment to nourishing and amplifying our existing prosocial traits; this must become the focus of human beings that subjugates all others. And right now, mainly because of our dominant forms of political economy and the prevailing cultural zeitgeist, we are failing at this imperative. We are not quieting our most corrosive and repulsive antisocial traits, but instead glorifying them. This choice — which is essentially a moral one — has been with us from the beginning of recorded history and likely (considering what modern primate research has revealed) long before. I suspect it will persist until the human species is extinct — which is likely to occur much sooner if we don’t change our course.

My 2 cents.

Do you believe truth is objective or subjective and does it affect your life in tangible ways?

“Truth” is a virtual point located between many different possibilities that are all equally true. This is the concept of multidialecticalism or constructive integralism. The moment we begin to constrain the conditions, context and containers for a given truth (for example, as objective, subjective, intersubjective, interobjective, universal, particular, etc.) is the moment we begin to lose our grip on the multiplicity of what is, and relegate it to black-and-white thinking. Extensions of Cartesian isolation of interdependent truths into “distinct substances” has led to temporarily convenient but ultimately unhelpful dualisms, divisions and specializations. It’s a mode of thought that has fueled the ascension of STEM, but is unsuitable to navigating infinite facets of nuance and complexity. Instead, our future demands we awaken to a more open holism of thought. This realization has had a profound impact on my life, my consciousness and my approaches to problem-solving, my understanding and integration of different fields, approaches to well-being, and conceptions of individual and collective transformation and growth.

My 2 cents.

What do we humans believe exists that isn't based on human assumptions?

Of course nearly everything is based on assumptions, which IMO is only a trap if:

a) We aren’t aware we are making those assumptions.

b) We don’t test them against our experience, observation, intuition and logic.

c) We don’t suspend or revise them when confronted with contrary evidence.

d) We aren’t vigilant and skeptical regarding our own certainties (i.e. we don’t hold our assumptions lightly)

All efforts at knowing are predicated upon certain assumptions — even if the assumption is that using a particular method, or symbolic language, or type of data, or quality of consciousness will ensure a high degree of validity. It may be that those assumptions are consistently proven — over and over again — by careful testing, and that they reliably enhance our predictive efficacy. But most proposed absolutes are either extremely difficult to prove, unknowable, or ineffable — because human perception-cognition is fallible. So really, asserting that “everything is based on human assumptions” is just a form of humility.

Vive l'Humilité.

Is nothingness just a belief or does nothingness actually exist?

LOL. Thanks for the question. So the answer is relatively simple IMO: There is a high likelihood that both conditions could be true at the same time. Nothingness — or non-existence — could only be a concept, and/or nothingness could hint at conditions that are one step further removed from non-existence as a concept. In other words, there is (1) our concept of nothingness, (2) our speculations about a non-existence that is once step further removed from our conceptions of nothingness, and (3) what actually is (or is not, as the case may be). If we are dualistic in our thinking, we will tend to force ourselves to choose one of these options. However, if we have experienced nondual windows of consciousness, we might be more willing to accept that either a) all three conditions may be true at the same time, b) all three conditions may be true at different times, c) only one or two of the three options may be true, or d) there are conditions that allow any of these options to be true at any given time.

Can you see what happens here? We can end up abstracting ourselves (causally and conceptually) so far from the initial ground of experiential knowing that — depending on how we integrate our new understanding — conceptualization itself loses meaning. And that points to another variable in the mix: the mode of perception-cognition that we are relying upon at any given moment to navigate any such waters. What about intuition? What about spiritual gnosis? What about mathematical proofs? What about logic? What about collective delusion? What about empirical observation? What about predictive efficacy? What about “common sense?” There are many ways of knowing, and all of them moderate the truth in ways that make what is actually true a virtual point suspended between limitless possibilities. Which IMO really leads us to a more pragmatic question of: how does nothingness — or your conception of nothingness — impact your choices in this moment…?

My 2 cents.

What are the difference between epistemology and metaphysics?

Thanks for the question. One take on the difference(s) between epistemology and metaphysics:

Epistemology is the predetermining and larger semantic container of the two, in that it explores and defines how we know what we know, and why we believe what we believe.

Metaphysics, in turn, influences epistemic proposals in its preliminary assumptions about the nature of being, which in turn shape the categories and processes of knowing — but it is still subordinate to epistemology (or, more precisely, nested within it), because all metaphysical discussion presupposes a given set of epistemic methods and assumptions.

That said, the two areas of consideration have often been intimately related, so that some might consider a “chicken-and-egg” dynamic in play. I would lean away from this being the case — it seems clear that epistemology ultimately provides the conceptual framework within which any metaphysical proposals will be constructed. Epistemology — in its formulations of language, hermeneutics, logic, etc. — offers us the foundation for all metaphysical inquiry.

Of course, in my own approach to epistemology (see Sector Theory 1.0 or http://www.tcollinslogan.com/res...) the gap between knowing and being seems to be narrowing, so that the differentiation I’ve just made is no longer as clear or assertive. Yes, I’m in danger of contradicting what I just said. Alas, I think this is the nature of the wily beast we call consciousness, so that we must always remain vigilant and open to revising our assumptions. :-)

My 2 cents.

What disciplines lead to wisdom?

Thanks for the question Kate. Some disciplines I believe have led to what little wisdom I have accumulated over the past five decades:

1) Meditation and introspection that leads to self-knowledge and intuitive insights.

2) Resisting exclusive reliance on external authorities to guide my choices.

3) Accepting that there are many sources of wisdom — many dimensions — within that can contribute: analytical intelligence, emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence, social intelligence, somatic intelligence, etc.

4) Personal failures and bad choices (and its necessary companions: stick-to-it-iveness and patience)

5) The ongoing adventure of human relationships.

6) Aiming to be a loving, creative presence in the world.

7) Mimesis: practicing/emulating something I didn’t understand (and often didn’t want to do) until it bore fruit in my life.

My 2 cents.

Is it true that morality is the tool used by the ruling class to restrain people? Do we need to be moral people?

Yes, morality has been a tool used to manipulate people — within all levels of society, not just the ruling class. And yes, we need to be moral people. The key is simply to be moral “for the right reasons.”

To elaborate, I have a number of habits, goals and choices that I believe to be moral. The question is, how did I arrive at these, and why am I committed to them. For example:

- Am I just blindly following what I have been taught, or what familial or cultural expectations demand of me?

- Am I motivated mainly be fear, guilt, attachment to comfort, or avoidance of personal pain?

- Do I even understand why I believe in certain values? Do I have any justification for them at all?
How skillful am I? What is my level of predictive efficacy in executing my chosen course? Do outcomes from my decisions and actions align with my intentions?

My contention would be that if I am not being motivated by love and compassion — for myself, for others, and indeed for all of planet Earth and the very essence of life itself — then my “moral” framework is counterfeit. It is not really grounded in my own moral convictions and perceptions. And if I then am unable to reify compassionate outcomes in my own life, or be helpful in doing the same in the lives of those around me — and do so via means that likewise conform to these orientations — then my level of skillfulness and discernment is insufficient for me to justify my own level of morality; I am not “being a moral person” in my own eyes. These are the fundamentals of my own ethical framework.

However, these fundamentals are not dependent on what anyone else believes, or what society expects, or what the ruling elite (or anyone else in a position of power) uses to manipulate others. They issue from my own inner contemplation, intuition and insights, and it is my own rigor in holding myself accountable that matters most to me…not how I am perceived by others. In this sense, “needing to be a moral person” becomes a quality of character that itself is grounded in loving kindness.

As a final note, I just want to point out that the current “ruling elite” in the United States have a demonstrated knack for moral hypocrisy, and for an “any means justifies our ends” lack of integrity. There appears to be no basis for their moralizing than a lust for power and wealth. This is often true of anyone who holds a position of power and influence for too long, and becomes corrupted by it.

My 2 cents.

Does existentialism imply moral relativism?

Not at all. Existentialist thinkers have tended to resist what we might call deference to the “oughts” of normative ethics — or any idea that there is a moral ordering to which humanity is obligated to submit or conform — but at the same time they also tend to elevate certain virtues regarding how a person lives: virtues like authenticity, engagement, follow-through, avoiding self-contradiction and so on. So we could describe the central tenet of existentialist “ethics” as actively choosing a consistent ethical framework with which to engage the world, and then sticking to it. Again, however, this is not done out of social obligation or reflexive conformance, but because an existentialist chooses to do this as a reliable expression of who they are. As a subtler distinction, if an existentialist is committed to being “free,” and resists being subjugated to the impositions of culture, they must nevertheless operate within cultural boundaries towards their chosen outcome, but again will do so by their own choice, and according to their own reasons. So in this sense, an existentialist, a humanist and a Jesuit could conceivably all appear (from the outside) to be operating according to the same moral convictions…but really have quite different interior pathways for arriving at a given decision.

My 2 cents.

What's the root of immorality in the world?

Here would be my top six root causes of immorality, in no particular order:

1. Ignorance (often of the damage being done and/or a better way to accomplish the same ends).

2. Lack of empathy or concern for others (and consequently putting one’s own ego, whims and desires first).

3. Willfullness — knowing what the constructive or kind thing to do is, and simply not doing it out of spite, immaturity, uncontrolled destructive impulses, anger, nihilism, despair, woundedness, etc.

4. Feeding the wrong wolf within: constantly reinforcing antisocial and injurious habits.

5. Systemic perversion of the good — environments that encourage self-destructive, antisocial and morally corrosive behaviors (by amplifying fear, perverse rewards, dysfunctional relationships, etc.) and perpetuate systemic oppression and coercion.

6. Drowning out our inner Light, and thereby losing our moral compass. That is, not listening to the quiet, still voice within that is grounded in love, and instead being blown hither-and-thither by the desires of others and demands of a materialistic world.

My 2 cents.

Why isn't there an overarching philosophical system to live optimally with respect to human nature, history lessons, and reality?

Great question!

Here’s my take: I agree that there seem to be different philosophical and/or religious systems that attempt to encompass “human nature, history lessons and reality,” and yet seem to come to different conclusions. Why hasn’t any one of them won out over the others? Well, mainly I think it is because of some recurring barriers that are cultural, systemic and “structural” in terms of human propensities. Some of these barriers include:

1. A strong psychosocial impulse for people to conform to the tribe they were raised in, or in which they have found a sense of belonging or emotional resonance.

2. Lots of cultural institutions that formalize, systematize and dogmatize barrier #1 — and profit from it in terms of wealth, influence and power — so that conformity and membership are perpetuated, and doubts, questions and internal evolution are discouraged.

3. The inability of most people to be rational or evidence-based in their beliefs, so that emotions and social relations end up playing a dominant role in how those beliefs are formed and maintained. For example, Ayn Rand’s “objectivism” isn’t objective or rational at all — and in fact isn’t based in any proven evidence. It’s just Ayn Rand’s fantasy of “how things ought to be.” But folks who have embraced what is really quite a silly worldview will claim that it is “rational” and “objective” and grounded in “human nature, history lessons and reality,” when in fact it isn’t at all. In the same way, the cultural mainstream (in the U.S. and many other places) will alternately embrace scientific consensus or reject scientific consensus…and this rejection or acceptance is very willy-nilly, and not grounded in careful consideration of evolving evidence.

4. Our dominant political economy (i.e. highly commercialized crony capitalism) externalizes and commoditizes all wisdom and knowledge — while infantilizing people’s self-concept and social habits at the same time — so that people become dependent on external answers and authorities, and do not learn to think critically or be thoughtfully introspective. They do not know how to seek truth, and are discouraged from doing so by well-funded propaganda. Combined with the increasing complexity and rapid change of modern times, this has lead to an epidemic of reflexive self-stupefaction and rejection of nuanced or complex explanations…usually in favor of knee-jerk ideological adherence.

5. An unfortunate intersection of the Dunning–Kruger effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect), the standard bell curve distribution of intelligence, and the types of intelligences our modern culture reinforces as desirable or superior. This is a lengthy topic to explore, but basically we have built a society in which people of relatively limited or mono-dimensional intelligence are able to succeed in popular culture or in our economic materialism, so that natural propensities to become arrogant and overconfident (when one is actually ignorant, misinformed or just not that bright) are made much, much worse. I can think of no better illustration of this than our current POTUS.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, IMO…but I think they provide some explanations about why there is no overarching and cohesive philosophical system that appeals to everyone — or indeed adequately integrates all of our current understanding of “human nature, history lessons and reality.” However, there have been efforts to unify the many different fields of knowledge under an “integral” umbrella (i.e. the work of Ken Wilber, Jean Gebser, Sri Aurobindo, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, etc.), and develop a unitive, overarching framework for philosophy. Not all of these efforts have been entirely successful, but I think they point us in a helpful direction, and offer perspectives and tools that can inform our own attempts to navigate “big” questions.
In my own work, I’ve begun a project called Sector Theory 1.0, which attempts to sketch out an epistemology for how to navigate and integrate as much data, information, knowledge and wisdom as possible into our ongoing philosophical synthesis. It’s an ongoing and evolving effort, but perhaps it will be of interest to you.

My 2 cents.

Anarchism: How would an anarchist society defend itself against externalities and foreign military invasion?

One reason that many anarchist cooperatives have not survived all that long throughout history has been because their emphasis — for the most part — was on peaceful cooperation, rather than aggressive military build-up. Until the rest of the globe catches up in terms of moral maturity, anarchist experiments are going to be subject to external aggression — especially if they have control over desirable resources, or are a perceived threat to established hegemony. So I think civic conditions have to evolve a bit all around the world for anarchism to work well. That said, it is conceivable that technological advances will provide superagency to smaller and smaller groups, so that a relatively tiny anarchist cooperative could say “Hey, if you invade us, we’ll unleash X technology to decimate your troops…” or some such, providing the leverage needed to achieve detente. Really, any military spending in the context of a “mentally healthy” world will come to be viewed as silliness, and when self-governance through direct democracy along with relaxation of the profit motive (and transition of private ownership back to the commons) remove the incentives and pathways for despots, tyrants, megalomaniacs and psychopaths to rise to power as they do today, there likely won’t be as much need to arm up. That, at least, would be my hope. :-)

My 2 cents.

What is the relationship between mysticism and philosophy?

I think they are inseparable on a fundamental level, but represent divergent processes and emphases in their methodology. In the Western tradition before Aristotle, mysticism and philosophy felt synonymous. Aristotle is probably the first to tease the two apart — or at least isolate different processes and categories of exploration. But within Aristotle’s differentiations we see the seeds of what later became empiricism, rationalism, and the full-throated speculations of metaphysics. In other words, we see a drifting apart of that which is observable, that which is logically reasoned out, and that which is understood at a deeper level of experiential insight. Later, we would see Thomas Aquinas wrestle with this very same drifting apart, but he would try to honor all trajectories…while also integrating them. It is this tension — along with its attempted resolution — that we can observe repeated in the Western tradition as a fairly contiguous thread through Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Tielhard de Chardin, William James and many others. At the same time, we find thinkers like Bacon, Nietzsche, Russel, Husserl and Wittgenstein steering away from such integration or reconciliation— or even deferent consideration of the intuitive or speculative at all — in favor of the concrete, observable and analytical. Still, I suppose we could say that in the Western canon carries a drumbeat of mysticism forward well into 20th Century philosophy, before postmodernism began to more systematically snuff it out. Since then, however, we have seen a resurgence of the integration among the integralizing crowd (Gebser, Wilber, Rosenstock-Huessy) — and one that for me appears very promising. In fact, this is where I live philosophically, and how I arrived at my own multidialectical synthesis and Sector Theory.

In the Eastern traditions, this process of divergence didn’t occur in the same way — in fact, to my eye the Cartesian divisions never really happened at all, and mysticism and philosophy remained intertwined in a much more persistent and harmonious way up into modern times. There were still sages who focused more on the pragmatic than the esoteric (such as Confucius), but like Plato they apparently didn’t feel the need to distance themselves from mystical perceptions and conceptions. In this light, it is somewhat ironic that it is popular in the West to approach Buddhism or Yoga as a “philosophy of life,” or view meditation as a way to simply recondition the mind into healthier cognitive habits, while ignoring or minimizing the spiritual/mystical/metaphysical elements of these practices and traditions. This is just what we do in Western culture…whereas many Eastern cultures do not appear to have the same (IMO unhealthy) compulsion.

In any case, I feel like I have meandered a bit, but hopefully touched on why mystical and philosophical processes are really aiming toward the same end: understanding self and mind, understanding the world, understanding the nature of reality and truth, developing both knowledge and wisdom about what is. Depending on the school of thought — or mystical practice — these are all just different input streams to fortify human understanding, and deserving of our careful consideration.

My 2 cents.

Why is it immoral to hate people because of their religion? Religion is a number of views which you consider right. Isn’t it okay to judge people based on their views and their decisions?

Well, first off hate is generally either counterproductive or destructive — it very rarely helps alter an undesirable situation. In fact I would say that hate reliably makes everything worse for everyone involved. Also, hate most often issues from fear, ignorance and deep personal wounding…rather than, say, a place of clear-headed righteous indignation or concern for the well-being of others. When we watch children lash out at someone and scream “I hate you!” we instinctively know, as adults, that they are just hurting and irrational little toddlers. Hate therefore requires us to examine our own situation — our own hearts, reflexive prejudices, uninformed reactions, etc. — to see what needs healing. It doesn’t indicate anything about the object of our hate…anything at all, really, except that the object reminds us of our own immaturity, lack of compassion, and lack of skillfulness.

As for religion having some special class in terms of the judgments, prejudices or condemnations that may inspire fear and discomfort, I think the problem arises when we lump a bunch of folks into one big bucket. When we say “all white people are X,” or “all Americans are y,” or “all Muslims are z,” we are applying a generalization that is usually a) not very accurate or insightful, or b) has lots of individual exceptions. In other words, a particular “white American Muslim” won’t actually conform to any of the projected stereotypes — in fact, a LOT of them won’t. So what is the point of such generalizations? Generally, it is to create an “Us vs. Them” mentality, or an “ingroup vs. outgroup” orientation, that helps us feel better about ourselves, and perhaps a little more powerful. It assuages our insecurities and props up a weak and vulnerable sense of self. Unfortunately, this is precisely what leaders of hate groups and hate movements are counting on to gain more followers. And why do they want more followers? To empower themselves, because they are feeling the same vulnerability and insecurity.

So how can we address our own sense of fear, vulnerability, discomfort, confusion, insecurity and weak sense of self that leads us to hate a particular religion? That is a much larger conversation, but I would say it begins with educating ourselves about different cultures and peoples, traveling abroad, making friends with a different worldview and breaking bread with them in their homes, taking a long hard look at our own reflexive beliefs and attitudes, and beginning to heal some of our own emotional brokenness and loneliness. In my personal discipline, called Integral Lifework, the objective is to nourish every dimension of our being so that we won’t feel insecure, disempowered and hurting…and this process of self-care can go a long way toward healing the need to hate anyone or anything.

My 2 cents.

What do you think of Thomas Aquinas?

I think Aquinas was brilliant, methodical, insightful, prolific, influential, flexible in his thought, and rightly credited much of his own trajectory to Aristotle. In this sense, I think it is fruitful for anyone interested in philosophy or theology to study his work. Of all of his contributions, one theme that has always struck me as particularly important is his assertion that faith need not operate independently of reason, and vice versa; and, more specifically, that insight and understanding (about God, nature, virtues, etc.) can be arrived at via both avenues and without inherent contradiction. They are simply different forms or avenues of knowledge. This was and remains a fairly major departure from many theologians before and after Aquinas, and is (I suspect) why the rigor of his deliberations was so rewarding. That said, I suspect Aquinas himself, in his last year on this Earth, seems to have realized that this departure from fideism may not have beeb sound as he at first believed…But alas, we can’t really know that this is the case, because he didn’t write about this realization — he just stopped writing altogether. For more discussion of this last point, see T Collins Logan's answer to What could St Thomas Aquinas have seen in his mystical experience?.

Why is philosophy important?

Hmm…well….

1. You could be guided through life solely by your physical impulses and appetites; or

2. You could be guided through life by unquestioning conformance to societal norms and expectations; or

3. You could be guided by promptings of your innermost being — the questing curiosity of your mind, heart and spirit.

What would you prefer? What would bring you the most joy, satisfaction and meaning in life? I suppose the answers to such questions will help someone understand why philosophy is useful…and perhaps important.

Of course, this very Q&A is a philosophical exercise. So I suppose the real answer to this question can be found by answering another one: Why do you ask?

My 2 cents.

How would you define the Hegelian concept "inverted world"?

Well you’ve picked a good one here IMO. Mine is probably not the most popular interpretation, but it’s how I grasp Hegel’s concepts at this time….

The whole of Hegel’s work basically points to a substantial disconnect between how we conceive of the world around us, ourselves, our consciousness…well, everything really…and what actually is. He is grappling with the essences of things — the things-in-themselves — before our perception and consciousness take hold of them. And his central point — and one reflected by his frequent use of the term Verkehrte — is that we get things turned around, entirely twisted, and utterly mistaken, by holding onto our representations of them (i.e. in our mind). Our highest virtue is to let go of this misapprehension…because it is false. And Hegel posits that this is precisely what spirit prompts us to do.

In this sense, when we think we are being rational and systematic; when we amplify our conclusions in cultural agreement; when we codify “the truth” in rigid ways…we are essentially turning reality upside down. We are missing the mark. And the more we invest in these false (i.e. incomplete) representations, the further away we get from what is. So the spirit’s movement — indeed the very dynamism of life itself — is all about rectifying what presents as the arrogant misunderstanding of human intellect, and getting closer and closer to the Absolute. And Hegel assures us that this evolution is possible and evident; that the seeds for both our own misery and misapprehensions AND our liberation from those mistakes are within us — an imperative of the spirit’s movement in the world. But this isn’t a purely analytical exercise…oh no. Not at all.

Anywho…that’s my take.

From https://www.quora.com/How-would-you-define-the-Hegelian-concept-inverted-world/answer/T-Collins-Logan

The Problem of Virtual Causality: Superagency, Cognitive Errors, and the Nature of Good and Evil



(Special thanks to Petyr Cirino, whose thoughtful exchanges with me inspired this particular essay.)


As daily events around the world illustrate, we have unquestionably arrived at the age of human superagency — in terms of both positive and negative impacts. On smaller scales of individuals and groups, there are the negative impacts of mass shootings, suicide bombers, toxic waste leaks, chemical plant explosions, contamination of water supplies with heavy metals, contamination of local food chains with pathogens or harmful chemicals, and other disruptions of limited scope. And of course the positive side of this local superagency includes the complex interdependent systems and services that support burgeoning municipalities and allow them to thrive. So in both constructive and destructive ways, we can easily see how complexity, technology and superagency are linked. On the national and global scale, a more collective superagency manifests on the one hand as disruption of everything from infrastructure and commerce to news and elections by a small group of dedicated hackers or activists, to the accelerating extinction of well-established species all around the planet as a consequence of human activities, to the radioactive contamination of vast swathes of air and water after a nuclear power plant meltdown, to the extreme temperatures and chaotic weather patterns resulting from over a century of human industry. On the positive side, humanity has been able to extract and distribute limited resources far and wide on a global scale, linked and negotiated disparate cultures and language around the planet to the benefit of many, and generated and shared huge amounts of knowledge and information to an impressive degree. At these larger scales, complexity and technology are also intimately entangled with superagency, but such impacts seem to depend more on the collective habits and influence of huge populations than on individuals or groups. Ultimately, it seems to have been the aggregate of individual, group and global population impacts that constitute a tipping point for the blossoming of human superagency on planet Earth.

But why does this matter?

One conventional answer is that this matters because our superagency has far outpaced our moral maturity; that is, our ability to manage superagency at any level — individually, tribally or globally — in a consistently beneficial or even sane fashion. Of course this is not a new observation: social critics, philosophers, prophets and artists throughout history have often observed that humanity is not very gifted at managing our own creative, acquisitive or political prowess; from the myths of Icarus and Midas, to the admonitions of Aristotle and Solomon, to tales of Frankenstein and Godzilla, the cautionary narratives of precipitous greed, clever invention and unabashed hubris have remained virtually unbroken across the span of human civilization. But should this perennial caution be our primary concern? Don't civil society, advancing education, widespread democracy and rigorous science mitigate the misuse or overreach of personal and collective power? Don't such institutions in fact provide a bulwark against an immature or degraded morality's ability to misuse humanity's greatest innovations and accomplishments? Aren't these the very failsafes intended to insulate society from its most irrational and destructive impulses...?

First, I would attempt to answer such questions by observing that moral maturity — along with all the societal institutions created to maintain and protect it — has been aggressively undermined by capitalist enterprise to an astonishing degree: via the infantilization and isolation of consumers, the substitution of internal creative and interpersonal riches with external commodities, the glorification of both greed and material accumulation, and the careful engineering of our addiction to comfort. But these concerns are the focus of much of my other writing (see The Case Against Capitalism), not to mention the more deft and compelling writings of countless others, so I won't dwell on them here. Instead, I would turn some attention to what is perhaps an even more pernicious tendency in human affairs, one that has persisted for just as long as all these other degrading impulses and influences. Yes, in a globally collective sense, our moral maturity and capacity for positive moral creativity has seemingly regressed or stagnated even as our superagency has increased — and yes, capitalism is largely to blame for the most recent downward spirals. But there is something more basic and instrumental in our psyche that energizes greed, hubris, arrogance and reckless destruction...something fundamental to our being that needs to be called out. Something that, by any measure, reliably contributes to all sorts of evildoing.

And of course attempts to explain the nature of evil are also not new. Many have attempted to ferret out the source of our darkest impulses, accrediting them to supernatural beings — Aite, Eris, Angra Mainyu, Satan, demons and mazzikim, bhoot and Pishacha, etc.— or describing it in terms of psychological phenomena like selfish compulsions and egotism, death drives (Todestriebe), maladaptive behaviors, severe mental disorders, and so forth. But identifying a more accurate underlying causal pattern will, I think, require a departure from these traditional frameworks. Instead, perhaps we can evaluate a series of straightforward cognitive errors that supportively interconnect, amplify and then calcify over time to create a specific, deleterious and measurable impact on both human interiority and society. Perhaps "evil" can, on some basic level, be defined as a simple cognitive mistake, and "good" as the correction of that mental error.

A Corrosive Troika Defined

With respect to causality, there appear to be three consistent factors that continually surface across the vast terrain of human affairs:

1. Misattribution of causation (as an unintentional mistake or conditioned response)

2. Intentional masking of causation (as deliberate and targeted distortions that reinforce misattribution); and

3. Willful forcing of causation (designed to support and reinforce deliberate distortions)


Together these create a virtual causality — that is, causality that is almost completely disconnected or substantially insulated from reality, while still imitating certain believable elements of the real world amid elaborate rationalizations. It is this pretend causality that entices a willing suspension of disbelief — for those who are vulnerable, coerced, deceived or conformist — that perpetuates self-insulation and additional supportive distortions. So let's take a careful look at each of these components, in order to appreciate just how instrumental they are in everything human beings think, feel and do, and how the modern age is shaping them.


I. Misattribution

Humans make this cognitive mistake so often it seems almost ridiculous to point it out: we blame the wrong culprit for our problems, and consequently pursue the wrong solutions to fix them. Add some additional, deleterious unintended consequences to these kinds of mistakes, and the resulting conditions could easily be described as "what leads to much suffering in the world;" that is, what has perpetuated much of the destruction, unhappiness, suffering, pain and annihilation throughout human history. The dangers of misattributed causation are identified in many if not most wisdom traditions — we can discern this in admonitions about judging others to quickly, gossiping about our suspicions, bearing false witness, words spoken in anger, living by the sword, throwing the first stone, revenge, showy public worship, etc., along with repeated encouragement to forgive without conditions, be patient and longsuffering, generous and caring, humble and trusting. Such concerns are certainly echoed in more recent empirical and rationalist approaches to both knowledge and socially constructive behaviors as well; for example, research in psychology around the misattribution of arousal to incorrect stimuli, or the application of the scientific method in understanding and resolving complex empirical challenges. But sometimes the obvious and longstanding begs restating, so we'll briefly address it here.

Let's consider a few relatively neutral examples, then drill down to a few more compelling, nuanced and disturbing details. For example, most reasonably perceptive adults might agree from their own direct observations, fairly straightforward and simplistic reasoning, or trusted sources of learning that:

1. Sunlight warms the Earth.

2. Submerging crusty pots and pans in water for a time makes them easier to clean.

3. Regularly and violently beating a domesticated animal will eventually induce behavioral problems in that animal.

4. A sedentary lifestyle, devoid of exercise and full of rich foods, will lead to chronic health problems.

5. Smiling at people with genuine openness and affection generally encourages openness and a positive emotional response in return.

6. A heavy object dropped from the second floor of a building onto someone's head is likely to kill them.

7. Really awful things happen to perfectly decent, undeserving people with some regularity.

8. Choosing "the easy way out" of a given situation — that is, a choice that seeks to fortify personal comfort or avoids personal accountability — is often much less fruitful or constructive in the long run than making a harder, more uncomfortable choice that embraces personal responsibility.


There are probably hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of such causal chains that most people have internalized and rely upon to navigate their day-to-day lives. We may not always be consistent in our reasoning and application of them, and there are often exceptions or special conditions that moderate the efficacy of our causal predictions, but on-the-whole we usually learn over time which causal attributions are correct, and which are mistaken. That is...unless something interrupts that learning process.

And this is where I feel the discussion becomes interesting. For it is my contention that many characteristics of modern society not only disrupt our ability to learn and predict accurate causal relationships, but actually encourage distortions and misattributions. How? Here again we will see how complexity, technology, and superagency strongly facilitate the disconnect...but also that we can add isolation and specialization to the mix as well. If, over the course childhood, my entire reference set for understanding causal relationships is defined by television and video games, and I have never thoroughly tested any of the assumptions inculcated through those media, how will I ever escape their fictional depictions? At around age eight or nine, I myself attempted to duplicate some of the crazy stunts Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner performed in Warner Brothers cartoons. I quickly learned that gravity, momentum, inertia, the velocity of falling objects, and host of other principles of physics were grossly misrepresented in those TV shows. I also learned that I did not recover from serious injury nearly as quickly as Wily Coyote did. But what if I hadn't learned any of this through experience? What I had always been insulated from real-world testing and consequences? What if I kept assuming that the fiction I was being shown for entertainment was the actual truth...?

I find this a handy metaphor for modern society, because, throughout most early stages of development, human beings can now remain completely insulated from experiences that shape our understanding of actual causality. Over the years I have witnessed young people trying to ride a horse, play an instrument, write a story, draw a picture, shoot a gun, drive a car, run a race, play a sport, build a tree house, use martial arts...and a host of other activities or skills...simply by imitating what they saw in a movie, played in a video game, or read in a book. And of course that doesn't work — because they do not understand the subtleties of the causal relationships involved. This is what competently learning a skill most often represents: appreciating all of the causal relationships that influence a given outcome, and practicing each one in turn until they are mastered individually and conjointly. What application of force, in which direction, using which tool at which angle and with what kind of finesse, results in unscrewing a rusty bolt on an old bicycle? Knowing the answers to all the steps in a causal chain, especially through personal experience, is what most reliably produces predictive efficacy over time. But if I've never actually ridden a horse, or hiked a mountain, or slaughtered a chicken, or grown food in a garden, or learned to shoot a bow and arrow, or installed a fence, or built a house, or felled a tree, or any number of other activities that might have been the common experience of folks a mere generation or two ago, how can I presume to know how the world around me really works, or how to accomplish the simplest tasks without the aid of technology, advanced tools or specialized workers on which most of the developed world has now come to rely?

Well I can't, and no amount of assistance from my iPad, smartphone or virtual assistant is going to help me develop a felt, somatic-intuitive understanding of basic causal principles — let alone more complex causal chains. I will remain blissfully ignorant of how things work. However, these same technologies also provide an ever-advancing level of virtual pseudoagency — by turning home appliances on or off, monitoring a child's activities, video conferencing with coworkers, ordering groceries to be delivered, recording a threatening phone call, troubleshooting a vehicle's error codes, managing finances, donating to a charity or political campaign, signing a petition, etc. — so that I begin to believe that I really have no need to grasp those causal principles. In fact, the increasing scope of that virtual pseudoagency begins to feel a lot like superagency itself, even though the only causal relationship I am required to maintain is the one with my iPad, smartphone or virtual assistant. Here again, complexity, technology, superagency, isolation and specialization conspire to support my entanglement with virtual causality. And if I confine myself to the same routines, the same environments, the same social groups and virtual communities, the same homogenous culture and mass media...it is possible for me to remain disconnected and insulated from authentic causality for my entire life. So, just hold that thought if you will.....

Let's now examine a second set of causal relationships that are a bit more abstracted from direct experience, rely on more complex reasoning, or encourage us to develop greater trust in authoritative sources of information:

1. Human industry has been accelerating the warming of the planet to levels that will likely destabilize human civilization, and eventually endanger all other life on Earth.

2. Travelling through space at velocities approaching the speed of light slows down time for the traveller relative to the space being travelled through.

3. Gun ownership may make people feel safer, but as a statistical reality it places them at much higher risk of being shot themselves.

4. One of the best ways to mitigate the most pernicious negative impacts of drug addiction on individuals and society is to legalize, tax and regulate drugs, and then allow them to be administered in a controlled environment with medical oversight, and by folks who are also trained in providing treatment and resources to anyone who is willing and able to overcome their addiction.

5. Quantum entanglement (what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance") indicates an immediate relationship between particles over vast distances, potentially negating the speed of light as a limiting factor of data transmission.

6. Educating people from an early age about safe sex, family planning and child rearing, and allowing them easy, affordable access to reproductive healthcare and choices, is one of the most effective ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies and abortions.

7. Corporate monopolies can often be much more inefficient, coercive, exploitative and corrosive to civil society and individual well-being than the bureaucratic or cumbersome institutions of democratically elected governments.

8. Educating and empowering women to become more economically self-sufficient, and more intellectually and emotionally self-directed, is likely the single most effective means of raising a culture out of poverty, slowing overpopulation, and strengthening local civil society over a short period of time.


Now you will notice that this second set of causal relationships has some notable differences from the first set. Each statement has required more words for an accurate description, for example, and a deeper and broader contextualization. The causality being described can also be much larger in scope, and causal chains much more subtle, abstract or tenuous. And even as these relationships are increasingly distanced from direct experience and observation, they also tend to involve more complexity and interdependency, making them that much more difficult to grasp. Still, any reasonable person who has carefully and thoroughly educated themselves about each of these issues will eventually acquire a justifiable level of confidence in the stated conclusions, because, with sufficient attention, diligence and effort, the causal relationships actually become just as obvious as the ones in the first set.

But wait....let's return to the problem of lacking experiential (felt, somatic-intuitive) understanding about the real world. As very few people will have the chance to experience any of the causal relationships in the second set in a subjective, firsthand way, an additional challenge is created: we will then often be forced to rely on the few people who have the specialized knowledge, expertise and experience to educate us about these causal relationships. And we will need to be able to trust their judgment — and often their exclusive agency — at least to some degree, even though we may not fully comprehend what they are describing in a fully multidimensional way. And, as we shall see, this whole enterprise is subject to a host of additional influences and caveats, so that we may once again find ourselves relying on our iPad, smartphone or virtual agent to support our understanding. Once again our technology, isolation, specialization, superagency and complexity conspire to add more distance and effort to clear or accurate causal comprehensions. Now consider the accelerating complexity of every gadget, tool and system upon which we rely to navigate the complexity of our world to levels beyond our basic knowledge, and the distance increases further still. And as we anticipate the imminent expansion of virtual reality technology itself into more and more areas of our lives, we can begin to imagine just how disconnected human beings will inevitably become — from each other, from themselves, and from the causal workings of the world.

With this is mind, for many people there is also a pronounced gap of doubt between these two sets of causal relationships, with the second set seeming much more tentative, conditional or questionable. For these skeptics, it often will not matter how much evidence is presented in support of any given conclusion...especially if that conclusion contradicts their values system, or challenges certain fundamental assumptions they hold about the world, or is perceived to undermine their preferred information authorities, or pokes and prods at their sense of identity or place in society. Given the choice, the skeptic may instead opt for tolerating higher and higher levels of cognitive dissonance. Of course, the highest level of understanding about these topics may again just be armchair expertise, with no real-world experience to back it up. In such cases, it might seem easy to attribute what are essentially irrational or ill-informed doubts about complex but verifiable attributions of causation to ignorance alone — or to cognitive bias, the Dunning-Kruger effect, tribal groupthink, being intimidated by complexity, ideological brainwashing and manipulation, abject stupidity, or some other equally dismissive explanation. In fact I have made this judgmental error myself, often amid roiling frustration that someone really seems to believe that, to paraphrase Asimov, their ignorance is "just as good as" rigorous investigation and knowledge.

But this has been, I now suspect, a glaringly lazy oversimplification; itself yet another misattribution of causation. Instead, what I now believe is actually happening is something much more intricate, and much more intriguing.


II. Masking

There are plentiful reasons why an individual or group might be strongly motivated to persuade themselves or coerce others into believing that one thing is responsible for certain outcomes, when it is really something else entirely. Consider such real-world conditions as:

1. I want to sell you something that you don't really want or need, and in order to part you from your money, I fabricate causal relationships to facilitate that end. For example, claiming that if you purchase a certain supplement, you won't need to exercise or change your diet to lose weight. Or that if you make a given long-term investment, you will be able to retire from your job decades earlier than you would otherwise. Or that if you trust in the products, services or advice I am selling you, you will achieve happiness, romance, social status, or a desirable level of financial success. And so on. This is perhaps the most pervasive example of intentional causal masking and deliberate deception — except of course when the salesperson (or friend, or coworker, or public official, etc.) may actually believe that the causal relationship is real, in which case they were just hoodwinked into complicity.

2. I am confused, fearful, insecure and frustrated by an increasingly complex and incomprehensible world — a world in which my identity is uncertain, my role in society is uncertain, my existential purpose has come into question, and I am simply unable to navigate the complexity around me with any self-assurance that I have any real agency or efficacy. I am also feeling increasingly lonely, isolated and disenfranchised by fast-paced, constantly changing urbanization and leapfrogging technologies, in combination with the pressure-cooker-effect of burgeoning population density. I feel I am in desperate competition — for both resources and achieving any personal value to society — with everything and everyone around me...and I feel that I am losing that race. So I latch onto a group, belief or ideology that helps relieve the panic, and inherent to that process is my masking away the actual causes of my existential pain and suffering, and investing in much simpler (but inaccurate) causal relationships through which I can imagine that I have more influence or control. And thus I may join a religious group, or political party, or online community, and actively surrender my own critical reasoning capacity in favor of comforting groupthink or ingroup/outgroup self-justifications.

3. Some impactful life experience or insight has inspired a reframing of all of my consequent observations and experiences according to a new paradigm — a paradigm that radically departs from previous assumptions, and applies a new filter for causation across all interactions and explanations. For example, after surviving a brutally violent event, I feel the need to protect myself and everyone I care about with elaborate and oppressive safety rules, rigid communication protocols, expensive security technology, and a host of lethal weapons. After my experiences, I simply view all interactions and situations as potentially dangerous and requiring a high degree of vigilance and suspicion. In my revised worldview, everything and everyone has become a potential threat, and I must always be prepared for the worst possible outcome. In this way I have masked all causal relationships with potential calamity and catastrophe — and actively persuade others to do the same. In this sense, I have become conditioned to partial reinforcement — similarly to a gambler who wins intermittently, or a mouse who receives a chunk of cheese at arbitrary intervals for pushing on a button in his cage; whether that partial reinforcement invoked positive or negative consequences, I will insist on maintaining masked causation in order to prop up my compulsions.

4. I have made an error in judgment tied to investment of emotions or efforts, which was then followed by other errors required to support that initial error in judgment, until a long series of decisions and continued investment has created its own momentum and gravitational mass, and now seems an inescapable trajectory for my life and my identity. Perhaps I became invested in some logical fallacy or bias (confirmation bias, appeal to authority or tradition, slippery slope fallacy, vacuous truths, courtesy bias, hot-hand fallacy, etc. — see more at Wikipedia), or initially overestimated my own knowledge or competence in some area, or trusted the advice of some cherished mentor, or took on some tremendous risk or commitment I didn't fully understand, or simply fell into a counterproductive habit that initially seemed acceptable...but has led me down an ever-darkening road. Whatever the case, I now find myself rationalizing each new decision in support of a long chain of mistaken judgments, and must of necessity consciously or unconsciously mask all causal relationships to protect my own ego or self-concept.

Regardless of the impetus, once this masking process begins, it can rapidly become self-perpetuating, a runaway train of misinformation and propaganda that eventually acquires institutional structures like rigidity, bureaucratic legalism, self-protective fervor, a dearth of self-awareness, and so on. In fact, potent beliefs and indeed entire ideologies have sprung forth from such synthesis, to then be aggressively propagated by adherents, with all provable causes forcefully rejected in favor of fabrications that conform to the new, hurriedly institutionalized worldview.

Recalling the two sets of causal relationships mentioned previously, our modern context of isolation, complexity, technology, specialization and superagency certainly seems to lend itself to both the masking process and its runaway propagation and institutionalization. It has become much easier, in other words, to mask the second set of seemingly more abstracted and complex causal relationships — or to invoke vast clouds of hazy interdependencies in either set —so that causation can be craftily shaped into an occluded, subjective miasma of "alternative facts." And although deities, fate, synchronicity, mischievous spirits and superstitious agency may still be credited with many bewildering events, there is now an industrial strength, global communications network that can instantly shape and amplify false explanations for a wide array of phenomena. Via social media, troll farms, sensational journalism, conspiracy theorists, pedantic talk-show hosts and the like, we have a well-established, widely trusted platform to breed outrageous distortions of the truth. And we can easily discern — from the consistency of the distortions over time, and by whom and what they vilify — that the primary aim of nearly all such efforts is to mask the actual causes of countless economic, social, political and moral problems, and redirect the attentions and ire of loyal audiences to oversimplified explanations, straw man arguments, and xenophobic scapegoats. It is professional-grade masking at its finest.

That said, in the age of instant information access and pervasive mass media aggregation and dissemination, I would contend it has now become critical for these propaganda engines to excel beyond spinning evidence or cherry-picking supportive data, and to begin engineering events that align with a given narrative in order to secure enduring conformance. In other words, to reach past merely masking causation into the realm of actually reshaping it. This is what the deliberate, willful forcing of causation seeks to accomplish, and why extraordinary amounts of effort and resources — at least equivalent to those being expended on causal masking itself — have been spent in its pursuit.


III. Forcing

Willful forcing in this context is primarily about the intentional, frequently sustained manufacturing of causal evidence. For example, lets say I am seething with jealousy over a coworker's accomplishments, and I am filled with a petty lust to sabotage them. At first, I might attempt to mask the cause of their success with malicious gossip: what they did wasn't all that great, or they must have cheated along the way, or the boss was favoring them with special help, or the coworker must have been performing favors for others to achieve such results. But if masking the actual cause of their success (that is, their credible competence, talent, hard work, etc.) isn't having sufficient effect, and I am still raging with vindictive spite, well then perhaps arranging some fake proof of my coworker's faults or failures will do the trick. Perhaps leaking a confidential memo from human resources about accusations of sexual misconduct? Or feeding them subtly incorrect data on their next project? Or maybe promising them cooperation and assistance in private, then denying it in public when it sabotages their efforts? If I keep at this long enough, I just might induce some real failures and shatter the "illusion" of my coworkers success. This is what willful forcing looks like, and is sort of connivance we might expect from TV dramas. But nobody really does this in the real world...right?

Unfortunately, it happens all the time — and increasingly on larger and larger scales as facilitated by the global reach of technology, capitalism, media and culture. We've seen such tactics used in the take-downs of political leaders, in the character assassinations of journalists and celebrities, in carefully orchestrated attacks on government and corporate whistleblowers, in how various activist movements are dismissively characterized in mass media, and in the billions spent to turn public opinion against beneficial public policies and legislation that might undermine established wielders of power. But is any of this "forcing" creating a causal relationship that wasn't already there...? Well, as one example, if reports of what happened during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election are accurate, then forcing did occur, via DNC efforts that deliberately undermined Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton; Republican state legislatures that deliberately suppressed Democratic voters with voter ID laws, restricted polling times and places, and other such tactics; and Russian hackers that aimed to alienate Blue Dog Democrats and independent voters away from voting for Hillary Clinton. Assertions that any individual or party who appeared to be leading in the polls actually did not have enough votes to win was...well...carefully engineered to be true. This is what causal forcing looks like on a larger scale.

In a more sustained forcing effort over a longer period, the Affordable Care Act has also become a particularly potent example. In this case, there was a pronounced lack of initial cooperation from conservative state legislatures, relentless and well-funded anti-Obamacare propaganda to maintain negative sentiments across the electorate, and dozens of efforts in the U.S. House and Senate to repeal the ACA itself — all of which has now been followed by the even more deliberate defunding and insurance market destabilizing efforts from the Trump administration via executive action (eliminating ACA cost-sharing subsidies, etc.). And all of this contributed to fulfilling the causal masking that was broadcast from those opposed to government oversight of U.S. healthcare — during the ACA's creation and passage, and every day since then. In other words, years of carefully planned and executed sabotage have been forcing the invented causality of claims like "Obamacare is a total failure and will collapse on its own" to become true.

It isn't always necessary to force causal relationships, of course, to maintain lockstep conformance. There are plentiful examples in politics of people continuing to vote for a candidate or party who never fulfills any campaign promises...ever. But we must remember that masking — and all individual and collective investment in masking — only requires partial reinforcement from observations and experience, an ongoing emotional investment, a blindness to our own hypocrisy or groupthink, and a conditioned receptivity to deceptive salesmanship. So as long as there is occasional proof that some authority we trust got something right, or some attitude we hold is justifiable, or the ideology we have chosen will still offer us acceptance and community, or the rabbit hole we've ventured down with an endless chain of bad choices has few or delayed palpable consequences...well, then those who wish to influence the masses only need to effectively force causation in the rare now-and-again.

Still, I would contend that a consistent pattern of fabrication has been emerging over many decades now: first misattribution, then masking, then forcing, all eventually leading to calamity and ruin in human relations and civil society — and disruption of our relationships with everything around us — thereby generating a closed loop of virtual causality. But in case these assertions seem contrived, let's take a closer look at additional real-world examples.


Virtual Causality in Action


Initially, I considered using "trifecta" to describe this particular trio of causal entanglements, because the motivations behind it appear to be all about winning; that is, it is employed primarily to shape a status quo that either directly benefits those who crave more power, influence or social and material capital, or directly injures or oppresses anyone interfering with that desired status quo. Thus the troika often becomes the trophy, the prize-in-itself, as its inventions and propagation become emblematic of such self-serving success — in other words, a trifecta. But really, this need not be the specific intent behind causal distortions; in fact I would say that the virtual causality troika is unwaveringly damaging in human affairs, regardless of its intent. Let's examine some evidence for this....

If out of fear, discomfort, confusion, ignorance or social conformance I begin to misattribute homosexuality to a personal choice — rather than the innate, genetic structures and proclivities, which are almost certainly the reality for most gay people — and then link that assertion to tribal groupthink and an appeal to my favorite authorities, an almost effortless next step is intentionally or reflexively masking the actual causality with my own preferred beliefs. That mask may be projected into many shapes: perhaps an unhealthy or perverse interest was encouraged in a person's youth that led them to "choose" being gay; or perhaps they were sexually abused by a parent, older sibling or family friend; or maybe there are emotional, social or cognitive impairments that have led them to fear the opposite sex; and so on. There can be quite elaborate masking narratives if the need for self-justifying beliefs is strong enough. From there, perhaps because the misattribution itself is so heartbreakingly mistaken, there is a corresponding urge to force the desired, invented causation. Which leads me to author studies that "prove" early sexualization of children and/or permissive parenting somehow encourages sexual deviance, promiscuity or gender instability; or to engineer "gay deprogramming" efforts that "prove" gay people can become straight; or creating dogmatic propaganda that authentic marriage can only be between "a man and a woman," that gay parents can never be allowed to adopt children because it is "unnatural," that gay people can't hold jobs where they could potentially "corrupt" children, and other such constructions that create an environment where gay people are in some way prevented from becoming successful and happy in their relationships, families, and jobs — and indeed their overall integration in society — thus adding to my "proof" that being gay is not natural, healthy or wise. And this is how misattribution easily leads to masking, which then begs the reinforcement of forcing.

So in such a potent and seemingly enduring real-world example, the deleterious effects seem closely tied to fearful and dismissive intent. But what about the other end of the spectrum? Consider the beliefs of many people in modern culture regarding the desirability of wealth, and in particular the necessity of commercialistic capitalism to create a thriving and happy lifestyle for everyone. Much of the time, this isn't a nefarious or malevolent intent — folks may actually believe that everyone aggressively competing with each other for more and more wealth is "a good thing," and, further, that such pursuits are morally neutral; in other words, permissive of an "anything goes" mentality with regard to wealth creation. And if I truly embrace this belief, I will tend to mask my own observations about the world, about history and economics, about social movements, about government and everything else in accordance with that belief. In my unconsciously reflexive confirmation bias, I will only recognize arguments and evidence that seem to support my beliefs. That is, I will mask the actual causality behind events and data that embody my preferred causality, assiduously avoiding empirical research that debunks the travesty of "trickle down" economics, or that proves most conceptions of the Laffer curve to be laughable.

Then, because my beliefs are not really supported by careful analysis of available evidence — and are in fact thoroughly contradicted by a preponderance of data — I will eventually go beyond seeking out research, media and authorities that amplify my preferred causation, and begin to force that causation in my own life, the lives of those I can personally influence, and via my political leanings and spending habits. On a collective scale, I will vote to have judges appointed who favor corporations in their rulings, or for legislators who create tax breaks for the wealthy, or for Presidents who promise to remove regulatory barriers to corporate profits. On a personal level, I will explode my own debt burden in order to appear more affluent, and constantly and conspicuously consume to prop up growth-dependent markets. And, on a global level, I will advocate neoliberal policies that exploit cheap labor and resources in developing countries, and the ruination of my planet and all its species of plant and animal, in service to the very few who are exponentially increasing their personal fortunes. In these ways, I can help generate short-term surges of narrowly distributed prosperity that do indeed reward those who have already amassed significant wealth, and who will vociferously confirm that everyone else in society is benefitting as well...even when they are not.

In this second example, there can be a truly optimistic and benevolent intent in play — a person may really believe their misattribution, masking and forcing will have a positive impact. But the results of the disconnect between actual causality and invented causation still wreaks the same havoc on the world. For in this case we know that it is not wealth alone — operating in some sort of market fundamentalist vacuum — that lifts people out of poverty or liberates them from oppressive conditions. It is civil society, education, democracy, accessible healthcare, equal rights protected by the rule of law, the grateful and diligent civic engagement by responsible citizens, and much more; this cultural context is absolutely necessary to enable freedoms and foster enjoyment of the fruits of our labor. Without a substantive and enduring matrix of these complex and interdependent factors, history has shown without exception that wealth production alone results in callous and brutal enslavement of everyone and everything to its own ends, so that to whatever extent we fuel our greed, we fuel destruction of our society and well-being to the same degree.

Here again we can recognize that isolation, complexity, technology, specialization and superagency tend to obscure causality even as they amplify our ability to mask or force causal relationships. So on the one hand, it is more difficult to tease out cause-and-effect in complex, technologically dependent economic systems, but, once certain key effectors are identified, human superagency then makes it much easier to manipulate temporary outcomes or perceptions of longer-term outcomes. And this is precisely why the troika we've identified can maintain the appearance of victory within many dominant mediaspheres, noospheres and Zeitgeists — at local, national and global levels. To appreciate these dynamics is to have the veil between what is real and what is being sold as reality completely removed — in this and many other instances. Otherwise, if we cannot remove that veil, we will remain trapped in a spectacle of delusion that perpetuates the greatest suffering for the greatest number for the greatest duration.

As to how pervasive and corrosive virtual causality has become in various arenas of life, that is probably a broader discussion that requires more thorough development. But, more briefly, we can easily observe a growing body of evidence that has widely taken hold in one important arena. Consider the following example and its consequences:

Perceived Problem: Social change is happening too quickly, destabilizing traditional roles and identities across all of society, and specifically challenging assumptions about the "rightful, superior position" of men over women, white people over people of color, adults over children, humans over Nature, and wealthy people over the poor.

Actual Causes: Liberalization of culture, education, automation, economic mobility and democratization have led to wealthy white men losing their status, position and power in society, so that they feel increasingly vulnerable, insecure and threatened. And while their feelings of entitlement regarding the power they are losing have no morally justifiable basis — other than the arbitrary, serendipitous or engineered advantages of past traditions, institutions and experiences — these wealthy white men have become indignant, enraged and desperate. So, rather than accepting a very reasonable equalization of their status and sharing their power with others, they are aggressively striving to reconstitute a perceived former glory.

Misattributions: Recreational use of illicit drugs, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, lack of parental discipline, immorally indulgent entertainment media, immigrants or races with different values, governmental interference with personal liberty and moral standards, and liberal academic indoctrination have all contributed to the erosion of traditional family values and cohesion, resulting in an unnatural and destructive inversion of power dynamics in society and the easily grasped consequences of interpersonal and group conflict, increases in violent behaviors and crime, and general societal instability.

Causal Masking: Establishing think tanks and funding research that supports these causal misattributions with cherry-picked data; using mass media with a dedicated sympathetic bias to trumpet one-sided propaganda about these same causal misattributions; invoking religious sentiments and language that similarly cherry-pick scriptural and institutional support for sympathetic groupthink and activism; generating cohesive political platforms and well-funded campaigns grounded in these misattributions — and in the dissatisfaction, resentment and anger they evoke; and, via populist rhetoric, generally emboldening prejudice and hate against groups that threaten white male power.

Causal Forcing: The strident dismantling of public education and access to higher education; cancelling or defunding successful government programs; capturing or neutering regulatory agencies; destroying social safety nets; rejecting scientific and statistical consensus in all planning and policy considerations; and engineering economic, social and political environments that favor the resurgence of wealthy white male privilege and influence. In other words, removing any conditions that encourage equitable resource distribution, sharing of social capital, and access to economic opportunity, and restoring as many exclusive advantages as possible for wealthy white men.

Consequences: A renewal of income inequality, race and gender prejudices, lack of economic mobility, and cultural and systemic scapegoating of non-white "outsiders;" pervasive increase in societal instability and potential for both violent crime and institutional violence; mutually antagonistic identity politics and class conflict that amplifies polarization and power differentials; coercive use of force by the State to control the increasing instability; and gradual but inevitable exacerbation of injustice and systemic oppression. Adding superagency, isolation, specialization, complexity and technology to this mixture just amplifies the instability and extremism, increasing the felt impacts of ever-multiplying fascistic constraints and controls. Ultimately all of this results in increasing poverty and strife, and in pervasive deprivations of liberty for all but a select few.


Countering Virtual Causality with a Greater Good


In response to the dilemmas created by the troika we've discussed so far, I 've been aiming to work through some possible solutions for several years now. I began with a personal realization that I had to address deficits in my own well-being, deficits created by years of conforming to toxic cultural expectations about my own masculinity, and the equally destructive path of individualistic economic materialism which I had thoughtlessly followed throughout much of my life. I encountered an initial door to healing through studying various mystical traditions and forms of meditation, which resulted in my books The Vital Mystic and Essential Mysticism. However, I also realized that this dimension was only part of the mix; there were at least a dozen other dimensions of my being that required equal attention and nurturing. As I explored these facets of well-being, I arrived at the Integral Lifework system of transformative practice, my books True Love and Being Well, essays exploring compassionate multidimensional nourishment (see the essays page on this website), and the onset of an Integral Lifework coaching practice.

But something was still missing — something more causally fundamental that was hinted at in my previous experiences — and that is when I expanded my attentions to larger cultural, political and economic concerns. I began writing about the failures of capitalism, the distortions of religion and spirituality in commercialistic societies, the need for more holistic appreciations of liberty and knowledge, and the imperative of constructive moral creativity — offering a handful of what I believed to be fruitful approaches in these areas. Much of this culminated in the book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle, and then in my Level 7.org website, which explore some initial ways out of the mess we have created. Throughout these efforts, I presented what I believed to be some of the central causal factors involved in our current systemic antagonisms and failures, and some proposed next steps to actualize and sustain positive change. Of course what I have outlined in my work is just one way to frame all of these situations and factors, and, regardless of intentions, there will likely be many details and variables yet to be worked through. This is why piloting different participatory, distributed and egalitarian options will be so important in the coming decade. The main point, however, is that, just as so many others have recognized, humanity cannot continue along its present course.

So this essay regarding virtual causality is an extension of this same avenue of considerations and concerns by burrowing through more layers of the onion — just one more piece of the puzzle, one more way to evaluate the current predicament...and perhaps begin navigating our way out of it. It seems to me that recognizing the cognitive distortions behind causal misattribution, masking and forcing are a central consideration for any remedy in the short and long term. These are the specific drivers underlying much of the evil in the world, perpetuating false promises that will only lead us over the cliff of our own demise. And in order to operationalize more constructive, prosocial, compassion-centered values, relationships and institutions on any scale — that is, to counter the corrosive troika and promote the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration — we must address those cognitive distortions head on. We must end the reign of lies, and reinstate a more honest, open and well-reasoned relationship with causality. We must resist the false reality we are being sold, and open our eyes, hearts, spirits and minds to what really is.

How do we do this? Well, my own life's work describes one avenue, through which I advocate specific individual and collective efforts to reverse our downward spiral. But as I cruise around the Internet from day to day, I encounter countless and varied ideas, practices and resources supportive of positive change. Really, the answers are already out there (and within ourselves), just waiting for us to embrace them. All we really need to do to begin this journey is let go of the causal misattributions, masking and forcing that intrinsically fuel our perpetual fear, mistrust, anger and groupthink, and turn instead toward what is verifiably true — as complex, nuanced, ambiguous and counterintuitive as that truth may be. And there are already meaningful efforts along these lines within some disciplines — Freakonomics comes to mind, as do websites like politifact.com, factcheck.org, opensecrets.org, and snopes.com — that model ways to peek through the veil of our mistaken assumptions and beliefs. We just require more of these, across all disciplines and all media, along with open accessibility and the encouragement to seek them out. How hard could this be...? Even the most concerted efforts to deceive, distract and medicate us into conformance with virtual causality will fail, if we stop consuming them.

Lastly there are a handful of feasible personal practices that will help resolve part of this challenge. I discuss them in more detail in my writings on Integral Lifework, but essentially they include reconnecting with aspects of ourselves and our environment that modern life often encourages us to neglect. For example: spending alone time in nature; creating a disciplined habit of meditative introspection; investing regular time and energy in a supportive community that shares our values; shifting how we consciously process our experiences, from fast-paced analytical decision-making, to slower body-centered felt experience, to even slower heart-grounded intelligence; making sure we have space and time in our day for creative self-expression; and additional personal patterns that unplug us from electronic dependencies, naturally attenuate modern compulsions and addictions, and encourage both holistic self-care and compassionate engagement with others. Such practices are a powerful means of revitalizing the innate resilience, intelligence and creativity that millions of years of evolution have gifted our species. By returning to our authentic selves, we can regain an inner compass to help navigate these complicated and often alienating times.

When I was a technical consultant, there was a term for carelessly hurtling forward to keep pace with current technology, implementing the latest trends as soon as they emerged: we called it "riding the bleeding edge." The allusion was deliberate, because new tech could be risky, could fail, and might lack both support and future development. Instead, in my consulting I advocated a different approach: extending legacy systems and future-proofing them, or adding new technology that would integrate with legacy systems (or run in parallel with minimal cost) that offered extensibility for future technology integration — a bridge if you will. There was nothing particularly flashy about what I was doing, but this approach solved some fairly complex challenges, lowered hidden costs (such as retraining staff on new systems, or hiring expertise to support new technologies), and leveraged institutional knowledge and existing technical competencies. In my view, we need to do something similar for modern society, slowing down wide-scale deployment of "bleeding edge" innovation, and revisiting basic legacy components of human interaction and well-being. We need to create a bridge to our future selves that leaves as few people behind as possible, while preparing us for new ways of being and doing.

But our very first step must be to abandon virtual causality altogether, and reconnect with the real world in whatever ways we can.

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Following up on some feedback I received after initially posting this essay....

Petyr Cirino pointed out that a powerful influence in modern society is our immersion in the 24-hour news cycle, which often results in a strong identification with the same. To be connected at-the-hip with nearly every noteworthy or sensational event around the globe, within minutes or hours of its occurrence, has come to dominate our sense of the world around us, what demands our emotional investment and prioritization from moment-to-moment, and is a determining factor in how we interact with people we know and familiar threads of thinking, how we view the people or thinking we don't know or understand, and how we feel about our lives and ourselves. The deluge of information and "newsworthy" events also tends to distract us from more immediate causality, contributing to an ever-expanding insulation from the real world and the abstraction of our interpersonal connections. Along with other mass media, the 24-hour news cycle consequently helps fuel, shape and sustain the causal troika to an astonishing degree. So it follows that divorcing ourselves from that cycle would be a helpful cofactor in first slowing, then remedying the perpetuation of misattribution, masking and forcing — for ourselves, and in how we amplify the troika in our relationships, social interactions, thinking and learning.

Ray Harris observed that limited cognitive capacity — along with a need to protect that capacity from too much information — may also play a role in evoking and energizing the causal troika. I think this is undoubtedly true, and would include it as a feature or consequence of complexity. Specifically, I think there is a snowball effect where complexity drives specialization, specialization generates insular language and relationships, and insular language and relationships contributes to isolation via homogenous communities and thought fields. These specialized islands barely comprehend each other, let alone regularly dialogue with each other, and cognitive capacity certainly plays a role in this phenomenon. I would also include other aspects of mind that contribute to troika formation, and which are also entangled with complexity, specialization and isolation. For example: how gullible someone is, how disciplined they are in their critical reasoning, how educated they are in general, how tribal their thinking becomes, etc. Addressing these tendencies may also become part of a long-term remedy, but of course there are genetic, dietary, cultural and relational factors involved here as well. It seems that any attempts to manage the troika tendency, or compensate for it in media and communication, would therefore require consideration of a sizable matrix of interdependent factors. Or maybe a majority of humans just need to become smarter, better educated, and learn how to think carefully and critically...? Certainly, we can encourage this through ongoing cultural liberalization — we just need to attenuate the influences of capitalism in order for that liberalization to take its fullest course.





What are the objectives of metaphysics?

In my view (and in my own work), metaphysics has the following central objectives:

1. Understanding and defining the nature of being and existence, inclusive of primary causal relationships (i.e. between subjects, objects, what existed before, etc.).

2. Appreciating and describing the interactions of consciousness with being and existence, the interpenetration of being and knowing, and the modalities of spacetime within which such interactions take place.

3. Differentiating categories and conditions of truth. For example, the universal from the particular, the absolute or immutable from the contingent, the eternal from the emergent, etc.

4. Differentiating all such metaphysical conceptions from “what actually is” (as an acceptance of human limitations), or iteratively refining those conceptions to integrate new observations and evidences.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-objectives-of-metaphysics/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Can wisdom be mechanized and proceduralized, and if so, what are some of the issues involved in doing so?

IMO wisdom cannot be mechanized — at least not the spirit of what wisdom is really all about (i.e. multifaceted efficacy). It can be “proceduralized” to a limited degree, in that certain input streams, aptitudes and processing techniques can be encouraged that tend to permit available wisdom to percolate up through our intentions and actions (for example, certain types of meditation). But there is no guaranteed approach in my experience. In this sense we could equate characteristics of wisdom with compassion, in that there are ways to inspire or induce those characteristics (or mimic them), but that a rigid enforcement of authentic compassionate responses is really not a practical or “procedural” possibility. Further, the difference between imitations and the real thing are fairly pronounced.

With that said, I once formulated a “pathway” to wisdom that looked something like this:

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.

As you can see, this isn’t really a formula or procedure as much as a loose container for a combination of felt experiences, moments of insight, careful attention to consequences and conditions, and continuous adjustment; it is therefore inherently both multidimensional and emergent.

My 2 cents.

From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/Can-wisdom-be-mechanized-and-proceduralized-and-if-so-what-are-some-of-the-issues-involved-in-doing-so/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Can an enlightened being feel pride?

LOL. Not if they want to remain enlightened, engage the world around them from an awakened state…or operationalize their insight. Pride indicates regression. I suppose it can and does arise in some vulnerable context (beings being beings), but it won’t have any staying power — there is nothing for it to latch onto. The moment the ego is invoked to be deliberately fed with pride, the I/Me/Mine rises up to obscure the unadorned reality that initially attenuated it. So perhaps we could say this is a case of greater/lesser, rather than either/or. But the lessening can be fairly complete, as a matter of consequential maturation. We might even say that experiencing pride is a good barometer of that maturation process.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/Can-an-enlightened-being-feel-pride/answer/T-Collins-Logan

What disagreement do you have with any of John Searles' major philosophical positions?

From what I’ve read, I probably have a 65/35 relationship with Searle’s work: 65% in agreement, 35% in disagreement. This hasn’t always been the case, as I initially found his naturalism and propensity to embrace “the myth of the given” (Sellars) — and then declare this to be “rational” when it is just another form of bias — rubbed me the wrong way. But the more I read, the more agreement I found. Here are examples of some current positions:

1. Disagreement with his intentionality or representational provision for mental states: desire can be just as amorphous and undirected as anxiety, for example. Similarly, non-conscious mentations are critical…and likely both vast and substantive supportive structures for consciousness…so I disagree with Searle’s seeming dismissal of anything that isn’t destined “to become conscious” — that is, directed or representational.

2. Agreement with mind being a biologically dependent phenomenon — up to a point. While his criticisms of AI resonate with my own views, I disagree that that there are no other, nonbiological structures in play for human beings; for example, transpersonal and transcendent ones.

3. Agreement with the importance of indeterminism in consciousness and free will…though I haven’t fully bought into quantum consciousness as a model yet (I just find it intriguing).

4. Agreement with Searle’s views about direct perception (of things-in-themselves), but I have arrived there differently, going beyond Searle’s subjectivity and biological dependencies, and instead making allowance for spiritual or mystical perception-cognition (*gnosis*).

5. Agreement — on the whole — with his proposed interplay of mentation, intentions, language and collective (institutional) reality. Brilliant stuff. Again, though, I would say “there is more;” for example, that there is intrinsic morality that is non-institutional.

I discuss many of my own views on these topics in my books, particularly Memory : Self (available here for perusal: Integral Lifework, Memory : Self), The_Goldilocks_Zone_of_Integral_Liberty, Sector Theory 1.0 – Todd's Take on Epistemology, etc.
My 2 cents.

Is there a necessary connection between meditation and morality? Is enlightenment linked to goodness? Is there a possibility that an enlightened person still do bad things?

A difficult question to answer — because there isn’t really a universal or absolute correlation between any of the events, qualities or outcomes described in the question. The answer to all three is really: “Sometimes.” Sometimes, with the right kind of meditation, for a person who is receptive and genuine in their intentions, morality is nudged in a more mature direction by meditation alone. In my Integral Lifework system, however, most often meditative practice would only address one or two of thirteen dimensions that require our attention, care and nurturing — and without engaging all the other dimensions as well, moral growth is a lot less likely. And even then, there will still be many moments of choice when a person must intend to grow, change and integrate their transformational experiences — rather than ignore, reject or suppress them (which can indeed happen) — so that moral maturity is emergent. In the same way, a person’s awakening to unitive consciousness/love-consciousness will sometimes inspire them to be kinder and more considerate of others as an organic consequence — to, in effect, develop skillfulness in their compassion — and sometimes, depending on their inherent character, require more deliberate cultivation. But here again there will be choices about whether an intentionality anchored in “the good of All” is acceptable, embraceable, or actualizeable. Again a person’s native propensities inform what is most likely: are they naturally prosocial? Do they have a mental illness? Are they perceptive? On the autism spectrum? Abused as a child? There are a lot of factors in play, and consistent focus over time is another hurdle in this regard. Once again multiple dimensions of a person come into play. But very often, at each stage in the processes of interior development and exterior operationalization, if a person turns away from the difficult realizations they are facing, they sometimes can and do act out in destructive ways towards themselves or others. So at any point along their journey, the option to drop out, act out, or backslide is always present — and usually less inadvertent that previously, because awareness and awakeness has increased. Here again, though, a choice. Over and over…so many choices. In my experience, most folks (myself included) will shy away from embracing really difficult ahas at one point or other…delaying or denying…and that itself can lead to difficult periods in which all three aspects of the question seem like a disconnected or arbitrary struggle — with lots of negative consequences. But…well…this only sometimes becomes a serious derailment or journey’s end.

My 2 cents.

How is fascism created from "capitalism in decline"?

Fascism is created from capitalism in decline via the following mechanisms:

1. Long-term decrease in real wages (i.e. loss of buying power, social status, etc.). Over time, it is inevitable that increased efficiencies, mass production and the search for cheaper labor and natural resources are exhausted — even as profit continues to be maximized at the same time — result in workers receiving less and less in real wages. And that is exactly what has happened in the U.S. since about 1972 — even as GDP and per capita productivity increased during that period, all that wealth went to the wealthiest owner-shareholders, and never “trickled down” to anyone else.

2. Loss of economic mobility. As income inequality expands, economic mobility decreases for the majority of a given population. So while they still are working just as hard (or even harder), the opportunities for advancement or even basic financial security evaporate.

3. Fewer jobs, and lower quality jobs. In order to fuel economic growth, the consumer base must expand as production costs shrink. This creates an ever-widening capture of cheap labor and resources, and an ever-enlarging global marketshare. Jobs must of necessity either be automated or exported away from affluent countries. Innovation can sometimes fill the job gap, but usually only for short periods.

4. A resulting frustration among formerly affluent populations. Factors 1–3 lead to increasing dissatisfaction and frustration among groups that had once held the most political, social and cultural capital. They become increasingly angry that the promise of economic freedoms and opportunities — and the cultural prestige — once afforded them has evaporated. But beyond that, there is real suffering as poverty begins to take root, and especially when yet another “false promise” in the form of increasing and inescapable debt adds fuel to resentments.

5. Xenophobic scapegoating and nationalistic romanticism. Someone has to pay for this loss of status, loss of affluence, and the snowball effect of failed promises. It could be anyone…and “big bad government” is a frequent target…but it is much easier and more concrete to scapegoat a powerless, vulnerable or “foreign” group than to rail agains more abstract institutions. Political scapegoating can, after all, backfire when half of the population is the group being targeted as scapegoats — they can rise up and exercise a dominant political will. But poor immigrants or helpless refugees fleeing violent oppression are much easier to villainize — especially when they are tarred and feathered as “attacking” a proud national heritage. It does not matter that that national heritage is being viewed through rose-colored distortions…only that it is being attacked by “Them.”

My 2 cents.

What is existential phenomenology?

My understanding of existential phenomenology is that it examines the synthesis between and among experience, perception, somatic knowledge, cognition and being. If we say that “experience = being, and being = experience” then what mitigates these equivalences? What role does consciousness or intentionality play? How much of this mitigation is reflexive, reactive or representational, and what might be preestablished, intrinsic or non-semiotic? Is there a way to perceive or conceive of “something -as-it-is” in its a bare, unornamented phenomenological ground? Or is everything always subjective or intersubjective? Is there a way to transcend (or burrow beneath) subject-object relations entirely? How does all of this impact experience and being? And so on. IMO existential phenomenology attempts to explore such questions with an eye towards an emergent gestalt, so it tends to conflict with more analytical traditions. I would even go so far as to say the approach suggests that nondiscursive, noncontextual and ineffable experiences have a useful place in all such questions and relationships; thus, for me at least, it helps provide a meaningful linkage between existentialism and mysticism.

My 2 cents.

Beyond "Wokeness:" Getting to the Real Roots of the Problem

Photo by Marion S. Trikosko - Library of Congress Collection (Public Domain)


First and foremost I'd like to advocate the principle of garbage in, garbage out: If we all don't have good information, we're going to make bad decisions -- especially about causes, effects and the best chance for a reasonable remedy. In the case of race relations in the U.S., there seems to be an endless amount of distraction and misdirection -- a smokescreen cast between those who care about healing the divisions in our country, and what is really perpetuating the divide. And there is tremendous energy behind that smoke, keeping the propaganda spewing forth at high volume, front-and-center, across all kinds of media. So, in the spirit of a storm to chase the smokescreen away, I will offer what I think are some high-quality truths about what underlies the sad state of race relations in the U.S.A., with supporting references at the end of the article.

#1) What looks like clear and indisputable evidence of racism is often a highly targeted and thinly veiled form of capitalist exploitation. In a very real sense, the loudest common denominator of oppression and exploitation in the U.S. is the profit motive. Here are some potent examples of what I mean:

a) Who targets communities of color in their aggressive marketing of tobacco products and alcohol on local neighborhood billboards? Tobacco and alcohol companies. Who has been complicit in the high concentrations of carryout stores selling tobacco and alcohol products in communities of color -- higher concentrations of such stores, in fact, than in any other neighborhoods in the U.S.? Tobacco and alcohol companies. Who has created customized brands of tobacco and alcohol products for marketing to communities of color, including products that are more addictive, more potent and more toxic than those sold elsewhere? Tobacco and alcohol companies. But of course no one is holding tobacco and alcohol companies accountable -- not for their role in perpetuating alcohol and nicotine addiction in black and brown neighborhoods, not for the disproportionate disease and mortality caused by alcohol and tobacco among people of color, and not for the societal destruction they are perpetuating in poor communities.

b) Who benefits most from the militarization of the police, or having assault-style weapons in the hands of both criminals and law-abiding citizens? Gun and military hardware manufactures. And who was responsible for lobbying to relax gun regulations, while marketing fear and paranoia across America at the same time? Gun and military hardware manufactures. Who benefits from flooding our inner cities with handguns, and flooding rural communities with panic that their gun rights will be taken away? Gun and military hardware manufactures. Who benefits from the escalation of gang-related, drug-related and terrorism-related violence involving their guns and equipment, as well as the defensive outfitting of communities overwhelmed by such challenges? Gun and military hardware manufactures. It seems Eisenhower's infamous "military-industrial-congressional complex" has figured out that what they have always aimed to achieve on a global scale can also be implemented on national, state and local scales as well. But of course no one is holding gun and military hardware manufacturers accountable for their role in promoting gun violence or the proliferation of military-style equipment. In fact, the puppet politicians of these corporations have passed laws that protect the companies from liability.


c) Who benefits the most from the "three strike" or minimum sentencing laws that swell U.S. prison populations? Privately owned, for-profit prisons. Who has benefitted most from "the war on drugs" and harsher immigration policies? Privately owned, for-profit prisons. Who benefits from inflating monetary penalties on minor infractions into unpayable debt that triggers warrants, arrests and jail time? Privately owned, for-profit prisons. In fact, which companies make the most money off of the U.S. justice system overall? Privately owned, for-profit prisons. And who has been lobbying legislatures and funding candidates to expand their corporate profits through more aggressive laws and penalties that just happen to impact the poor and people of color the most...? Privately owned, for-profit prisons. But of course no one is holding these companies accountable for the devastating consequences of their systemized greed.

d) Who initiated slavery of indigenous peoples and captured Africans in the Americas, and for what purpose? Capitalists, in order to increase efficiency and profitability of their production. Who perpetuated post-Civil War versions of slavery in sharecropping, truck systems, company stores, etc.? Capitalists, in order to increase efficiency and profitability of their production. Who has invented new forms of wage and debt slavery in the current day, fighting vigorously to keep minimum wages below subsistence levels, and consumers perpetually in debt? Capitalists, in order to increase efficiency and profitability of production. Who benefits most from "welfare-to-work" programs that only offer shabby, low-paying and demeaning jobs? Capitalists, in order to increase efficiency and profitability of production. Who still perpetuates exploitation of child labor around the globe, and benefits most from sweat shops and horrific labor conditions both abroad in developing countries, and using immigrant labor in the U.S.? Capitalists, in order to increase efficiency and profitability of production. And yet, too few people think to blame capitalism itself for these problems.

e) Who benefits the most from union-breaking policies and disruption of community organizing efforts? Capitalists and the puppet politicians who help funnel wealth and power to corporations. Who benefits the most from making tensions around race relations all about ethnicity and culture, and from making sure working folks from different backgrounds are angrily divided against each other? Capitalists and the puppet politicians who help funnel wealth and power to corporations. And who is laughing all the way to the bank when "race riots," social unrest, violence and death all across America are portrayed in the corporate-owned media as have nothing at all to do with oppression and exploitation of the working class by wealthy owner-shareholders? Capitalists and the puppet politicians who help funnel wealth and power to corporations. But here again, too few people think to blame capitalism itself for these problems.

#2) Although there is much evidence to support issue #1 above, epidemic levels of white privilege, systemic racism and white supremacist extremism are real, and still persist. But shouldn't we still ask whom these prolific cultural diseases really serve...? This is the tricky part, because on the surface it really does seem like such reflexes and patterns are mainly about deep-seated fear and hatred of a particular ethnic or cultural group, and that deliberately disrupting the well being, economic mobility, social status and political influence of these targeted groups is mainly a consequence of that fear, hatred and ignorance. Except...well...let's consider the ultimate outcome of disenfranchising any homogenous group, depriving them access to decent education and employment, disproportionately persecuting and imprisoning them, interfering with their voting and other civil rights, or otherwise "keeping them down." Again, who benefits the most...?

When Republicans rolled back minority voting rights protections in the South, whom did that help in subsequent elections? And when Republicans have thrown up all kinds of hurdles to vote within various regions -- hurdles like requiring voter IDs, or reducing polling places and hours, or changing polling places at the last minute, or removing "suspected felons" from voter rolls -- whom have these hurt the most in terms of voter access? And when an unqualified and mentally unstable Republican candidate ran for President in 2016, and then won the election using flagrantly racist and xenophobic rhetoric to "fire up" his base, who actually benefitted from his ascendance to power? It certainly wasn't the poor, fearful and uneducated white folks who helped vote him into office. And whom do conservative judges, appointed by Republicans, favor when a case between worker or consumer rights and the privileges and power of a corporation comes before their bench? Again, it isn't the workers and consumers, and it's certainly not any poor people. And who benefits most from the legislation written by A.L.E.C. that is passed by Republican-controlled legislatures all around the U.S.? It's not the working class people who live in those states. In all of these cases, all we need to do is follow the money. It is the wealthiest of the wealthy who fund the campaigns of these Republican officials, and who ultimately benefit from these laws. Which is also why Republicans work so hard to roll back any kind of taxes or regulation -- or undermine, disempower or disembowel the regulatory agencies they oversee -- in the name of "smaller government." We know who consistently benefits, and who consistently suffers.

In short: the primary beneficiaries of conservative Republican politics are the enormous concentrations of corporate wealth and power, as wielded by the most privileged owner-shareholders. And it is the working poor of any and all ethnicities, cultures and immigration status who are consistently used, abused and trampled underfoot...even as they are persuaded with outrageous propaganda and false promises to vote for and embrace ideologies and candidates that contradict their own expressed values and interests.

"Hey who got the politicians in they back pocket
Pimp slap pump that gimme that profit..."
- Get Busy, The Roots

Now I will not say that Democrats have been innocent in this puppet play -- for they, too, have been funded by dark money and become subject to corporate influence. I think this is especially true as Democrats seek higher office, become career politicians, and accumulate more influence and power. But at least, along the way, Democrats have with one hand tended to promote social justice, minimum wage increases and wage equality, social safety nets, workplace protections, a level playing field for all religions and genders and races, consumer protections, compassionate laws, law enforcement oversight and justice system reforms...even as they may still throw a bone or two to their corporate campaign contributors with their other hand. At least many Democrats often try to free themselves of the fetters of greedy corporations and the damage these capitalists perpetually do to our society. Which again is why most of the huge concentrations of capitalist wealth in the U.S.A. is used to elect pro-corporate Republicans to office, and to disrupt and discredit both Democratic candidates, and as many Democratic voters as possible. And we need not guess where the latest phony rhetoric around "voter fraud" will be focused: it will be just one more tool to undermine the Democratic base. So although Democrat politicians may still be culpable and complicit at times, they at least attempt to balance the scales and listen to the needs of regular working folk. Republicans? Generally, they tend to almost exclusively serve the corporate Beast with cold-hearted, lock-step conformance.

All of this is why I do not believe the primary issue we must identify and confront is a fundamental conflict between black and white -- or any other skin colors. This is instead mainly a conflict between the "haves" who want to expand their ill-gotten gains, and the "have-nots" who are constantly being manipulated, misled, exploited and oppressed. And of course this insight was shared by many of the greatest civil rights leaders throughout history. Martin Luther King decried the poverty of the U.S. and our need to "question the capitalist economy;" as early as 1952 he wrote that "capitalism has outlived its usefulness." For King, democratic socialism was an obvious avenue for the U.S. to reinvent itself in a more truly democratic political economy. Malcolm X also summed things up simply when he said: "You can't have capitalism without racism...you have to have someone else's blood to suck to be a capitalist." He, too, believed the central struggle was not really "a racial conflict of black against white," but rather "the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter." Many other human and civil rights champions -- from Gandhi to the Dalai Lama -- have also concluded that the battle against systemic oppressions cannot be separated from the problems inherent to Western-style capitalism; the two go hand-in-hand.

In more recent times, anti-capitalist rhetoric has gained some traction -- from Black Lives Matter; during the Occupy movement; in a broader awareness of writers and speakers like Alicia Garva, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Thomas Picketty, Greg Palast and Noami Klein; from socially conscious hip-hop; in the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign; in the earnest activism of Elizabeth Warren; in the evolving discussions around "racial capitalism" -- but populist passions in this arena often tend to be tepid or short-lived. Even well-meaning academics like Cornel West will agree with Marxist critiques of capitalism and its perpetuation of structural racism, and even promote the "overlapping goals" of democratic socialism and antiracism, but will then ask us to increase our awareness of other power relationships in society, other longstanding threads of racism that predate capitalism, and the "Eurocentrism" inherent to left-leaning revolutionary ideologies...and to do so with seemingly equal energy and attention. And although all of this should undoubtedly become part of the picture, unless the enduring roots of capitalism itself can be excised from our political economy, it simply won't matter how we engage these other cultural issues. Because capitalism will automatically either utilize some other longstanding prejudice, or invent an entirely new one, in order to engineer the mindless, tribalistic, infantilizing conformance that facilitates conspicuous consumption and enduring class divisions. It's simply how capitalism is done.

So yes, there is real and potent racism that arises within cultural and historical contexts...but its perpetuation and amplification is used mainly as a tool by capitalists and their puppet politicians to perpetuate capitalist-imperialist power. And yes, like the other tools being used -- gender discrimination, misogyny and patriarchy, religious persecution and exclusion, anti-intellectualism and science skepticism, irrational fear and paranoia about government, etc. -- racism also stands alone as a grave concern that needs to be addressed. But the far greater corrosive influence arising across the political spectrum is the greed and lust for dominance that fortifies insidious crony capitalism, where plutocrats rule all races in the U.S.A. and around the globe. It is this corporatocracy that employs racism and these other tools as a social means to its nefarious economic ends. For all such efforts aim to enrich and empower the corporate elite, and perpetuate their position of privilege -- regardless of race, gender, identity or beliefs. And the resulting destructive inequity is, in fact, what the entirety of our capitalist system is built upon. It is feudalism with a new coat of paint, and until that feudalism is brought to an end, oppression and exploitation will generate new forms and tools to combine with the old ones, just to keep the gears of commerce well-greased.

Who then will hold the corporations, shareholders and the capitalist system itself accountable for the perpetuation of inequality and injustice?


Here's what we can do. First, I think delving beyond "wokeness" to the deeper, more pervasive roots of the problem is an important first step. The actual primary antagonist here needs to be clearly defined and called out. And if that primary antagonist is in fact our capitalist system, then we all need to start thinking about moving beyond capitalism to something better. Something more egalitarian, more compassionate, more democratic, more sustainable, more environmentally responsible, and more kind. Throughout that process, we can certainly recognize that hatred, fear, prejudice, inequality, injustice and a host of other critical issues also need to be addressed in a new design. In fact that is what many of my own Level 7 proposals are about, and I would encourage you to check them out (and I invite your feedback and ideas as well). But the main call-to-action here is to get this conversation going, and not allow ourselves to be distracted by the noise and propaganda. For our feudal lords take great delight in the masses being redirected away from the man behind the curtain, and while we focus on the sensational tools they are using to manipulate, divide and distract us, they will continue to amass malfeasant mammon and consolidate their power. Most certainly we can and should be motivated by a fervent desire to end all manifestations of oppression, exploitation, disenfranchisement and marginalization...these are all noble and essential aims. But if the very foundation of our society is a political economy that thrives on enriching a tiny percentage of plutocrats at the expense of everyone and everything else, then we can't just put a Band-Aid on the symptoms and ignore the deep festering rot underneath. We need to get more than "woke;" we need to get fierce.



References:


https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2014/07/29/16/37/alcohol-and-tobacco-outdoor-advertising-in-minority-communities

http://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2000/alcohol-off-premises.html

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa55.htm

https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0208.pdf

https://broom02.revolvy.com/topic/Tobacco%20marketing%20and%20African%20Americans

http://academic.udayton.edu/health/01status/smoking/tobacco6.htm

http://www.vpc.org/studies/militarization.pdf

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/06/fully-loaded-ten-biggest-gun-manufacturers-america/

http://helenair.com/news/opinion/the-profits-of-police-militarization/article_fa9b3257-afb2-5b5a-8281-5a2f2e4ad60c.html

https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/08/19/police-militarization-how-its-happening-and-who-co.aspx

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/how-the-ar-15-became-mass-shooters-weapon-of-choice-w451452

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/04/28/how-for-profit-prisons-have-become-the-biggest-lobby-no-one-is-talking-about/?utm_term=.771b33cf7647

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/presumed-guilty-how-prisons-profit-the

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/13316-lobbying-for-lock-up-how-private-prisons-profit-from-the-criminalization-of-immigrants

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/04/exposing-alec-how-conservative-backed-state-laws-are-all-connected/255869/

http://billmoyers.com/episode/united-states-of-alec-a-follow-up/

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/10/voter-id-laws-minorities-111721

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/the-gops-stealth-war-against-voters-w435890

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/business/pro-business-decisions-are-defining-this-supreme-court.html

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/courts/reports/2012/08/13/11974/big-business-taking-over-state-supreme-courts/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/obery-m-hendricks-jr-phd/the-uncompromising-anti-capitalism-of-martin-luther-king-jr_b_4629609.html

http://www.racismreview.com/blog/2011/11/06/does-capitalism-systemic-racism/

http://socialistworker.org/2015/03/31/capitalism-racism-and-the-1-percent

http://www.socialismtoday.org/156/malcolm.html

http://race.eserver.org/toward-a-theory-of-racism.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/magazine/earning-the-woke-badge.html?_r=0

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/relevance-gandhi-capitalism-debate-rajni-bakshi

http://www.salon.com/2015/01/16/dalai_lama_self_identifies_as_a_marxist/

What is Max Stirner's philosophy?


Okay...people write entire dissertations on topics like this…so trying to shoehorn Stirner’s version of egoism into a brief post is…well, it’s pretty daunting, and likely pretty irresponsible as well. Be that as it may, I’ll offer some avenues of further study to explore a bigger picture of Stirner’s thought field after attempting a brief scatterplot.

With that caveat here’s a ridiculous oversimplification of Stirner: Human beings will maximize their autonomy by not subjugating their thoughts or will to anything or anyone. That’s pretty much the core assumption behind most of Stirner’s work as I interpret it. But this isn’t nihilistic bravado, moral relativism, “doing whatever you want,” or even pursuing rational self-interest — it is, more accurately, self-mastery via unfettered individualism.

There is an important contrast here to consider, and that is what Stirner saw as cultural forces and individual habits that he believed to be historically destructive to individual autonomy. Things like unquestioning conformance and groupthink, institutional or cultural conditioning, obsessive individual appetites, rigid rules and codes uniformly imposed upon members of a family, workplace, religion or society…and so on. Stirner saw these forces — and I think rightly so — as oppressive and coercive. And in response, he asserted that real “freedom” could only be achieved by rejecting such external and internal impositions.

Now here’s the thing about this message: it has validity, up to a point. In behavioral terms we could say such a reaction is even a necessary stage of development. Adolescent rebellion against familial and societal expectations can lead to a healthy and productive process of individuation. And before that, during early childhood, the emergence of the distinct individual ego seems an important process that differentiates I/Me/Mine from one’s parents and siblings. So as points of departure — as iterations of personal will in new contexts — these are helpful “egoic” events. But to be forever “stuck” in such a state…well, that becomes problematic. In the context of any civil society beyond a ruggedly individualist Wild West, for example, it actually becomes completely unworkable. Unfortunately, because certain cultures (the U.S. in particular) celebrate this type of individualism (or “atomism”), and mistakenly conflate it with personal sovereignty and liberty, it has been perpetuated as such. Further, Stirner’s projection of personal ego into property seems to reinforce a very individualistic flavor of economic materialism (again, seemingly quite prevalent in the U.S.).

The rather disastrous result of such memes is that right-leaning Libertarians, devotees of Ayn Rand, neoliberal market fundamentalists, and individualist anarchists (again, mainly in the U.S.) often get “stuck” in this terrible-twos/adolescent twilight. They do not realize that there are many, many more stages of ego development beyond these initial assertions of personal will. And that, in fact, ego must eventually attenuate to facilitate prosocial cohesion, and ultimately be relinquished altogether to evolve the greater good. (To appreciate why either of these is the case, I can provide additional resources or answer questions upon request). In a way, Stirner’s egoism is a sort of Peter Pan Syndrome where adherents reject even the most temporary, voluntary or conditional personal subjugation in order to defend their “right” to a particular flavor of individualistic freedom. At a certain point, this tendency becomes more than just willful immaturity…it devolves into a sort of irrational psychosis. (In fact, I think we are witnessing exactly this in Donald Trump’s antics as POTUS.)

That said, to really appreciate the specifics of Stirner’s arguments, we would need to study Hegel, Fichte, Feuerbach, Spinoza and Bauer — and all of these within an envelope of the Kantian lexicon. Only then will we grok what Stirner is aiming for with his “ownness” and his navigation of subject, substance, particularity, universality, and so on. So that is where I would begin for further study. This will help us understand the “why” of Stirner’s quest — but, unfortunately, it may not fully justify his conclusions.

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-is-Max-Stirners-philosophy/answer/T-Collins-Logan

The dharma seems to unfold by itself in an awakened mind. What do you think?


Perhaps the critical modifier in this question is “seems.”

It seems as though most everything is mainly “seeming” to us humans. That seems to be our lot — with our limited perceptions and often predictable cognitive and emotional patterns. Further, it seems there is a differentiation between “what seems,” and “what is,” so that we value them differently.

At the same time, we also have tremendous capacity to project our conclusions about “what seems” onto our conceptions about “what is” and vice versa, and there is ongoing debate about whether such projection actually changes “what is,” or is just more seeming.

From another perspective, is this “seeming” actually an undifferentiated part of “what is,” or is it somehow independent from it? Some have concluded that both of these — as well as the questions evoked by the relationship — are constructs abstracted from the ultimate ground from which all of them have arisen, so that the constructs may be different in character or quality, but not in substance.

But can “what is” actually be perceived in an unadorned way, via some special faculty of our consciousness? And can our consciousness then encounter the ultimate ground beyond both “what is” and “what seems?”

If we define “awakening” as being somehow involved in these patterns of discovery, revelation and exploration, then perhaps we could also say that echoes or representations of the dharma filter into this process as a perceived “unfolding.” This might be our subjective experience of our consciousness brushing up against an ultimate ground, and of our hearts, minds and being effectively undergoing a transformative influence — into a more active embodying of those echoes and representations. Or…we could simply be recognizing how we have always been part of the dharma, with nothing really changing except our awareness.

But is our perception accurate in either case? Or is it just more “seeming?” Are we imitating dharma, becoming part of dharma, recognizing the imminence of dharma within and without, reinforcing an invented “dharma construct,” or something else…? Have we clarified an important differentiation, or relinquished that differentiation in our acquiescence? Have we “arrived” somewhere, or have we simply “let go?” Have we created and rationalized a more elaborate set of constructs, or have all constructs been annihilated in the crucible of unadorned perception?

From Quora https://www.quora.com/The-dharma-seems-to-unfold-by-itself-in-an-awakened-mind-What-do-you-think/answer/T-Collins-Logan

The Venus Project: What do people think about the Resource Based Economy predicted by Jacques Fresco?

I see lots of encouraging intentions - in fact I was delighted to find intersections in some of Fresco's work and my own - but I also encountered quite a few problems with Fresco's proposals.

The main problematic issues as I see them:


(I)

Fresco frequently alludes to the idea that we can't solve resource scarcity issues using the same old tools that got us into the current mess. Unfortunately, he does not approach technology and science with exactly the same rigor, instead elevating them to a vaunted "solution"s status rather than acknowledging that they are really inherent to many of the challenges in modernity. Alas, this is magical thinking.

Breaking this down...As a former IT expert with some twenty years of experience with complex computing technologies, I would say that relying on computing and technology to manage production and resource allocation is extremely foolish. Technological determinism - or "technology as panacea" in this case - is a consequence of not knowing how fragile and easily disrupted technological systems inherently are, especially as they increase in complexity. A la Kurzweil and others, it's become a bit of religious conviction that some sort of tipping point "is bound to occur" that frees humanity of its labors and existential challenges. From the perspective of someone who has spent nearly half of his life installing, building, programing and maintaining all manor of technology-dependent "cybernetic solutions" to complex problems, I'm here to tell you it simply will not work. Certainly not in our lifetime...and probably not ever. It is instead a romantic religious conviction cradled in a love of science fiction...and nothing more. Well, actually, it is something more...because such reliance (on any scale) inevitably leads to abrupt and calamitous unintended consequences.

Along the same lines, the scientific method should certainly be part of a larger toolbox in problem-solving...but we shouldn't place it on a pedestal. It has been much too easy to "capture" scientific research and decision-making and processes with opposing values sets, so that science can be used to justify completely different conclusions or reinforce preexisting biases. This is in large part because - in the same spirit as Fresco - many folks romanticize "logical" deductive reasoning, imagining that it is somehow independent of emotions, interpersonal relationships, spiritual perceptions, cultural conditioning, or indeed somatic patterns and proclivities. But it isn't - reason is one small part of a larger organism we call "consciousness." The reductionism inherent to Fresco's investment in science is just a problematic as relying solely on reading pigeon entrails - it excludes too much of the human experience. To appreciate what I'm alluding to, consider reading my essays on Sector Theory and Managing Complexity.

Which leads to the next point...


(II)

Values hierarchies are a reflection of moral development; without specific attention to how we mature our ethical frameworks individually and collectively, there will be no stable solutions available to replace the current self-destructive maelstrom. Human beings will undermine any and all systems whenever their values diverge from it. This is a central consideration of my own Level 7 proposals, and unless I’ve missed something, Fresco seems to rather polyannishly sidestep it (i.e. saying instead that it “will emerge naturally” as resource abundance is actualized - see Values | The Venus Project). I don’t entirely disagree with his sentiment here, but I also think moral development itself should be a more consciously and carefully considered facet of any effective proposal.


(III)

There is very little acknowledgement of the current population problem in the Venus Project. Our planet actually can't sustain the Earth's current population at developed countries' consumption levels - even if we "build everything to last" and maximize the efficiency of production as Fresco proposes - and certainly not for the population projected over the next hundred years. Sorry...it's just not possible. So reducing population has to be part of the mix...which again invokes issue #2 above. It's also a fundamental test of Fresco's target to produce "only what is needed;" folks routinely confuse needs and wants for all sorts of complex psychosocial reasons. Until families around the globe embrace the reality that it is immoral and reckless to have more than one or two children, all proposed systems will inevitable be under tremendous pressure to stratify the "haves" and "have-nots," simply out of practical necessity. Fresco tries to brush such concerns aside with his conviction that people will change their minds when presented with "scientific proof" of what they need...but again, this is more evidence of romantic idealism.

With these prominent exceptions, I actually agree with much of what Fresco says about property, currency, democracy, pilot projects and so forth. I just have different ways to address the same challenges. And that raises one last critical concern: the distributed and diffused nature of human social function. I think one reason many libertarian socialist proposals encourage reliance on community-level organization is because that is where humans are most comfortable - their circle of relationships can only be so big, and their engagement in self-governance and indeed productive activities can only extend as far as our wiring for emotional and social intersubjectivity. This sidestepping of subsidiarity is a major flaw in Fresco's understanding of human beings, which frankly presents to me a bit like how someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder might see the world; again, it misjudges the relationship between moral maturity and prosocial choices.

(See my Level 7 website for further discussion of many of the issues alluded to above….)

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/The-Venus-Project-What-do-people-think-about-the-Resource-Based-Economy-predicted-by-Jacques-Fresco/answer/T-Collins-Logan