It’s difficult to summarize just how extensive the impacts of consumerism on the individual and society are. I think the easiest way to begin that conversation is to list some semantic containers that encompass negative aspects of consumerism. Three of the most well-defined containers are economic materialism, conspicuous consumption, and commodification. Here is a brief overview of each:
In essence, these three habits alone contribute to an accelerating amplification of deleterious “non-material” impacts on the individual and society, which include:
1. The general devaluing of human trust relationships in favor of transactional relationships — in other words, the eroding of interpersonal trust and, by extension, community and societal trust. This of course expands into regional, national, and international attitudes and practices as well, so that we come to rely solely on transactional evidence of trust, rather than a more cultural cooperation, interdependence, and exchange.
2. The “externalization” of all personal and collective priorities, growth, meaning, and power, rather than development of internal qualities. For example, the belief that one’s possessions, material wealth, and physical characteristics are more important in attracting friends and romantic partners that internal qualities like honesty, compassion, empathy, generosity, and so forth. Or that one’s self-worth is likewise dependent on consuming and owning material things, rather than on the qualities of one’s own character. Or that social status and popularity propelled by such externals is more important than the quality and depth of our interpersonal relationships (that is, the shared feelings of connection and commitment our friendships evoke). This externalizing attitude is then expanded to include all of society and our national identity: instead of demonstrating good citizenship (in our community, or as a nation in global affairs) we become more concerned with clawing after power, status, and control, as those are our “external” proofs of success in the world…rather than the quality of relationship our nation has with other nations.
3. The overall cheapening of human life and disrespect for our fellow human beings — or anything in life that doesn’t achieve sufficient “exchange value.” This is perhaps the most deleterious impact of consumerism, when our prioritization of acquiring material things, reliance on consumption for social status, and projection of this material valuation and standards on others erodes our fundamental respect and compassion for others and any valuations of intangible benefits of being live. Consider that commodification intentionally erases the constructive societal value of everything in favor of its “exchange” value in the marketplace — what better way is there to cheapen and denigrate the intrinsic value of everything in life (art, love, joy, intimacy, humanity, compassion, etc.) than to force everything into tidy, sterile boxes of monetary valuation? Paul Piff at UC Berkeley has done some interesting research related to this, documenting the negative impact of personal wealth on prosocial behaviors.
4. An undermining of happiness as individuals and society as a whole. The vast majority of longterm research in this arena has demonstrated that enduring happiness does not rely on consuming or possessing material things. Instead, happiness is primarily dependent on strong interpersonal bonds with other people — and the deepening trust, intimacy, and contentment this produces. Consuming things does stimulate short bursts of dopamine, but not oxytocin, which loving human relationships stimulate. Interestingly, healthy oxytocin levels actually reduce our need to consume calories. Perhaps it also reduces our “need” to consume other material things….?
5. Interference with spiritual, emotional, and moral development (again as individuals and society as a whole). This is a more subtle principle, and I can only speak from personal observation and experience on this matter. A materialism-consumerism orientation to the world will reliably retard our spiritual, emotional, and moral growth, keeping us “infantilized” and forever dependent. This is really an extension of the “externalization” principle alluded to earlier, but with a much more insidious and profound impact. I think this is why nearly every spiritual tradition encourages relinquishing our acquisitiveness and our trust in material possessions for our sense of self-worth or existential security. If we can’t learn to “let go” of our need to acquire and possess stuff, we will never cultivate the internal growth necessary to be spiritually, emotionally, and morally mature. Why? The mechanisms become intuitively obvious to anyone who has practiced such “letting go” with persistant discipline, but I would equate the process to *a child’s individuating from their parents*. There is a quality of interior self-sufficiency and an independence of will that is unattainable if we remain attached to material things. We simply cannot become mature adults if we are forever suckling at the teat of consumerism.
Some additional reading related to this topic, in no particular order:
An “Us vs. Them” mentality amplified by regressive cultural norms, for-profit media (including social media) that relies on provoking extreme emotional reactions in order to make money, disinformation campaigns funded by both U.S. corporations and foreign governments in order to consolidate power or disrupt threats to power, underlying and toxic levels of individualism and materialism inherent to commercialistic culture, technologically and commercially driven change occurring at a breakneck pace that inherently alienates folks with non-adaptive constitutions, demographic shifts that also make many people feel uneasy or insecure about their assumed position of privilege in society, exponential complexity and interdependency across all of society that is disorienting and destabilizes cultural traditions and norms, and an unsustainable economic system that has been breaking down for some time….
In other words: a perfect storm.
All of these pressures combine to create real tension and pain across multiple segments of society, and exacerbate differences in how people react to that tension and pain. For one type of group in particular, the disruption and discomfort is very acute — those with a naturally tribalistic, fear-based, morally immature disposition (i.e. a strong “I/Me/Mine” or “We/Us/Ours” moral bias). There is a growing visceral and irrational reactivity among this group, which mainly inhabits the conservative end of the political spectrum (about 35% of conservatives) but is also present in the liberal/progressive end of the political spectrum (about 14% of progressives). These folks are unfortunately mired in low emotional and general intelligence, high levels of willful ignorance, reflexive greed, racial and cultural prejudices, fear, pathological selfishness, and an enduring sense of victimhood and self-righteous indignation. I personally have begun to wonder if the amplification of these negative traits are at least partly the result of epigenetic breakdown of the human genome as a consequence of environmental toxins and stress — but that is another, more challenging topic to explore another time.
But of course such traits are being manipulated by the aforementioned media and disinformation campaigns, along with commercialistic culture, which use them to energize a collective Dunning-Kruger effect and illusory truth effect that result in automatic consumption of untruths, snowballing extremist views, conspiracy thinking, and an increasingly volatile and polarized mindset that unfortunately tends to vote, consume, and donate money entirely contrary to those people’s own best interests, and in contradiction to their deeply held and frequently expressed values.
Freedom is a type of cultural currency — a coin with two sides.
On one side of the coin is insulation from economic insecurity, acute lack of opportunity, and deprivation of social capital. I call this “freedom from poverty,” where poverty comes in many forms but always has the same effect: it robs us of the operational capacity to exercise most freedoms, and interferes mightily with exercising liberty. Another way to describe this is for everyone in society to be provided the same existential foundations and available choices — a level playing field across many dimensions of life that liberates us from being oppressed and restricted in real terms.
The other side of the liberty coin is collective agreement to support the liberty of others, regardless of who those others are and whether they are “just like me.” This equates a high level of tolerance and acceptance of differences between people. However, the presumption is that many core values are shared across all differences, so that this collective agreement is not too onerous, distasteful, or amoral. We agree to operate a certain way as a society so that everyone else’s freedoms are maximized. This is the basis of the rule of law.
Good government’s role is to facilitate both sides of the freedom coin when society is not able to do so on its own. When societies are culturally immature — as is the case with the U.S.A where I live — they require a bit more involvement from government to create both freedom from poverty and an effective rule of law. When the citizenry is morally immature and generally ignorant, government intervenes to create “civil society” by bolstering these two arenas. Over time, as societies mature into a more morally advanced arrangement and all citizens acquire broader foundations of knowledge, government’s role can attenuate as both sides of the liberty coin become the de facto reality of cultural practices and standards; that is, civil society can be supported increasingly by perversive culture rather than by government.
The common denominator for all such arrangements is progressive democracy, where citizens have increasingly direct control over how both freedom from poverty and the rule of law are implemented in their community, region, and nation. Democracy becomes a sort of banking system that stores up and protects this wealth of liberty and regulates how it is exchanged and shared within society. But again, democracy can only be effective in this regard when citizens are maturing morally and accumulating sound knowledge.
How to effectively encourage, fortify, and enhance the moral creativity of society so that our “freedom coin” is actually increasing in value has been a long-term aim of my research and writing. For more on this and all-of-the-above, please see the resources below.
His conclusion covered in that post, however, is this: “Yet possibly these objections are to a great extent met by our old answer, that if the people are not utterly degraded, although individually they may be worse judges than those who have special knowledge — as a body they are as good or better.”
It’s tentative, but this is really the basis for a functional democracy. In the same vein, Thomas Jefferson famously said: "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people," which is really a variation on the same themes that Aristotle opines about regarding democracy.
The greatest argument against democracy, therefore, is an ignorant and ‘utterly degraded’ electorate. And, unfortunately, we have seen strong evidence of this in far-right populism around the globe, rather profoundly in the MAGA movement in the U.S., and in the blindly unquestioning support of murderous dictators like Putin by a majority (roughly 70%) of the Russian people. We are living through a period where exactly what Aristotle and Jefferson warned us about is taking place.
My 2 cents.
Comment from David Daniel
"Very educational. But it doesn't really address my question. What is the argument against democracy? Is there one to be had? It is obvious to me that our current democracy has been degraded in a way that Aristotle predicted but is this, in itself, an adequate argument against undertaking the project of democracy.?
I suppose it can be said that many have predicted the failure of democracy but, if it does fail it will be the failure of the participants who make it so. Does that mean that it was a bad idea in the first place? Does that mean that we are not socially and politically evolved enough to run a democracy? Have we just failed at this run through and it should be tried again? Or are we all just better off to live in our misery and let someone else make the decisions for us?"
Good points and here is how I would address them…
1. The problems we are having with democracy (and which indeed were predicted) are not an inherent flaw of democracy itself. They are, rather, a problem of implementing democracy without paying attention to the ongoing education of citizens and moral evolution of a given culture. Without attention to and investment in education and moral maturity, democracy will ultimately fail.
2. In our current landscape, the biggest challenge has been implementing democracy in concert with capitalism. Despite neoliberal rhetoric to the contrary, democracy and capitalism are fundamentally at odds with each other, and that tension has currently resolved in favor of empowering the owner-shareholder class, rather than the worker-consumer class. Why? Well because the very “education” and information available to most of society — and the perpetuation of many cultural institutions — arrives via a mass media that is completely subjugated to the profit motive. And these de facto sources of plutocratic influence are intensively engaged in distorting information and education to deceive and manipulate the voting public to vote against their own best interests, and support self-serving plutocratic agendas instead.
3.We could say that a “perfect” democracy is as romantic an ideal as a benevolent dictatorship, that is true. But IMO a democracy will inherently be more agile, responsive, resilient, and ultimately successful…IF (and only if) other forces don’t interfere with it. Currently, those with the highest concentrations of political, social, and material capital have far too much influence over executive governance, legislation, elections, education, advertising, mass media, and persuasive information in the world’s democracies. We essentially have subjugated democratic institutions to “crony capitalism.” If we could diffuse material concentrations of wealth and political concentrations of influence, democratic institutions could easily begin to recover on their own.
4. How can we know any of these assumptions are valid? Because of research by folks like Elinor Ostrom and the broader examples of successful left-anarchist societies. Ostrom documented countless organically-arising examples of what she called “common pool resource management” all around the globe. In these examples, there was no government involvement, and no property ownership, but instead self-directed, democratic or consensus resource management of common natural resources by small communities. Likewise, the examples of left-anarchist societies (List of anarchist communities) that deliberately diffused political and economic power, and again made all decisions democratically or via consensus, show us that democracy can thrive when it is not corroded and corrupted by the profit motive and generational accumulations/concentrations of capital.
I would say rarely if ever. Remember that the very definition of this term is (from Merriam-Webster): if “a desired result is so good or important that any method, even a morally bad one, may be used to achieve it…” The clear implication is that specifically morally questionable means are justified by a “good or important” end.
But that’s just hogwash.All intentions and subsequent actions must be guided by a moral framework, or morality just doesn’t exist. Folks will often rationalize immoral or destructive means to achieve a goal they believe is important — but rationalization is all they are engaged in, not serious moral reasoning. The value of an outcome is utterly compromised by such toxic self-justificaiton — the outcome cannot be evaluated in isolation from the means used to achieve it.
Imagine if you will the most beautiful sculpture ever created — let’s say it’s of a benevolent angel. The sculpture brings everyone to tears of awe when they see it, causes emotional wounds to heal, calms bitterness and hatred between angry combatants who enter into its presence, and even inspires people to perform profound acts of kindness and generosity after seeing it.
The problem? The sculpture is made from the skin, blood, and bones of a thousand children who were tortured and killed to provide those materials. Someone who confidently claims that “the end justify the means” could shrug that torture and murder of children off…but by any definition they would be considered a psychopath.
So when someone begins to tout that philosophy, be very wary. They are well on their way to amoral chaos or serious mental illness…if they haven’t already arrived there.
Digging into the assumptions behind this question we discover some interesting contradictions — and likely a misunderstanding of the causality in play regarding certain outcomes.
The greatest drivers of change in the developed world actually do not include “progressivism.” That is a complete misunderstanding of causality in both history and current conditions. The biggest drivers of change include:
1.The profit motive as expressed in corporate commercialism — which has completely changed both the political power structure in the U.S. and globally through concentrations of wealth and plutocratic influence, and completely changed culture through “newer is better” Kool-Aid and commercialized homogenization across previously diverse cultures as well. When cookie-cutter legislation written by and for corporations (via A.L.E.C.) is passed in every state legislature, and every U.S. consumer is using the same products, listening to the same corporate-controlled media, and working under conditions and wages dictated by corporate investors, then “progressive” agendas really represent just a tiny drop of influence in the hurricane of dynamic capitalism — it is capitalism that is the juggernaut instigating and steering the direction of much of our culture and politics.
2. Technology — the industrial revolution, the information age, the rise of automation, and complex systems managed by algorithms and AI…you really can’t place any of these at the feet of progressives either. Our species is addicted to technological innovation. And it is a pretty unstoppable force at this point in terms of the impact it has on culture, learning, information propagation, and indeed human development. Progressives may celebrate technology in their policy proposals — but no more than conservatives celebrate and reinforce technology with their spending habits.
3. Scientific inquiry and knowledge — this has created enormous common sense incentives for changing certain traditional practices and revising traditional views about how the world works. When science discovers that a new way of doing things (or a new way of thinking about things) is advantageous and beneficial to everyone, then this creates tension with previous conceptions, habits, and beliefs. Here progressives do tend to be more emphatic than conservatives about promoting science and scientific understanding, that is true. But it is scientific discovery itself that is most often introducing and propagating the change.
These three forces have accelerated cultural shifts that likely would have taken decades or centuries to occur in pre-industrial mass societies. Have progressives often championed certain themes, practices, perspectives, and values that were accelerated by the breakneck growth of capitalism, science, and technology? Well sure…but saying progressives were responsible for these changes is putting the cart before the horse.
I noticed in some of the comments in this thread that critical race theory was raised as a concern. Let’s put that into the context I have sketched out here. Slavery was a key component in the development of capitalism (see Beckert, Baptiste, Johnson, et al for this linkage) — but in particular it was integral to the economic strength and success of Southern states. Technology (industrialization) was responsible for the economic strength of Northern states — and for an alternative to slavery in the production of goods — both of which rapidly undermined the usefulness of slavery and its economic status and preference. And of course industrial production was also integral to the development of capitalism. Interestingly, it was conservative Christians who were frequently at the forefront of championing equal human rights and emancipation of slaves in the first anti-slavery political movements. However, you’ll notice there aren’t any progressives involved here…in fact the progressive movement hadn’t even started yet. So the cultural shift away from slavery was driven by technology, an evolving economic system, and conservative values in this instance…and not progressives.
And this is the pattern that repeats itself even when progressives came on the scene: it was other primary forces that sparked changed, rather than progressivism itself. Progressivism arose in part as an affirmative response to some of these forces (technology and science in particular), and in part as a countervailing response to the abuses of capitalism. Progressivism was itself a consequence of these forces — one of many changes they inspired.
With respect to the evolution of CRT, all that progressives did was apply scientific inquiry to history in an attempt to identify patterns that kept occurring over time. That’s it. In the case of critical race theory, the understanding of history around the oppression of people of color seemed to indicate that white people sought to maintain their privileged advantage in society simply — this wasn’t always a conscious thing, but it seemed evident in many civic institutions and cultural practices. But this pattern of tacit prejudice did become an enormous blindspot in mainstream understanding, with even the history and practice of slavery being an example of this oversight. Unfortunately, there are a lot of other institutional, political, and legal examples of oppression that can also be explained as protecting the social and economic advantages of white people — so the hypothesis (which is really all CRT actually is) has gained a lot of traction over time. It’s just a pretty good explanation of certain dynamics in U.S. history.
But is the approach valid? I think the point is that CRT can be reasonably discussed and debated. But as the current anti-CRT movement also vehemently opposes any examination of racism in the U.S., we could say that, whether intended or not, the anti-CRT movement is itself an example of (mainly) white people suppressing any exposure of their own privilege and advantage in society — both historical and current — and/or the prejudice they may perpetuate without even being aware of it.
So, on the one hand, progressives do tend to promote technology and scientific understanding as solutions for longstanding problems. But, on the other, they often oppose corporate commercialism’s influence on how things change, even as conservatives tend to promote unchecked growth and change when it benefits the profit motive. So no one is innocent of advocating for change. In a way both progressives and consrervatives are equally both promoters and gatekeepers of change.
Lastly, trying to claim progressivism is some sort of Marxist academic takeover of America (i.e. the “cultural Marxism” attack) is utter hogwash. A thoughtful and observant person doesn’t have to be Marxist to see the problems inherent to capitalism, neoliberalism, and plutocracy.
So, as usual, such things are more nuanced than any black-and-white rhetoric. Putting a more nuanced spin on it, this question could be restated this way: “Does the runaway innovation and cultural change fueled by technology, science, and capitalism have no limits? Will the hunger for constant change inspired by these forces remain unchecked? Do conservatives recognize that their opposition to cultural change is contradicted and undermined by their support of commercialism, corporate agendas, and expanding the political power of owner-shareholders? And do progressives recognize their role in moderating the corrosive influence of plutocracy as inherently ‘conservative’…?“
I’ll restrict my comments to progressives in the U.S.A. as that is what I know the most about.
At the granular level, there have been a number of progressive policies that started out with good intentions but eventually led to unintended consequences — especially when there were major economic and/or cultural shifts over time. One example is recycling: it used to make a lot of economic sense because the U.S. exported its raw recycling materials to China, but China has long since shut that gravy train down, leaving certain types of recycling like plastics completely untenable. Additionally, the early recycling of post-consumer paper waste actually produced a lot of toxic pollution that was potentially more ecologically damaging than harvesting trees. Then again, recycling programs have reduced landfill materials and extended the life of many dumps in large municipalities for decades…so it’s a mixed bag. But because recycling remains popular as a virtue-signaling activity among progressives, progressive politicians are hesitant to champion new policies that correct for new conditions on the ground. I think there are several examples similar to this, but it is by no means a majority of progressive policies, just a select few that remain problematic.
In terms of overarching policies, however, I think there are three areas where progressive ideology (or at least the beliefs of most progressives who hold public office) has been corrupted by neoliberal propaganda in very destructive ways:
1. The idea that corporations should be treated as “persons” in terms of free speech, political contributions and lobbying, receiving welfare, receiving aid when they are in distress (i.e. bailouts), and so on — when this is clearly the most toxic and corrosive thing that can happen in democracy, as it allows huge concentrations of wealth to create huge concentrations of influence and power (i.e. super PACs funded by dark money, the astonishing reach of the American Legislative Exchange Council, etc.). It has already turned the U.S.A. into a plutocracy, with really no end in sight.
2. The idea that a progressive arrogance or superiority complex has alienated rural white voters — when that alienation is instead clearly the result of rightwing propaganda around an invented “culture war,” along with the economic suffering created by rightwing economic policies like supply side economics, opposition to minimum wage, dismantling of unions, etc.
3. The idea that radical rightwing distortions of fact, deliberately manipulative disinformation, and extreme and hateful views need to somehow be “heard” or incorporated into our political dialogue — when in reality this far right ideology (anti-government, anti-democracy, seditionist, xenophobic, racist, religious fundamentalist, Trump cultist, willfully ignorant, etc.) is profoundly opposed to the values expressed by the U.S. Constitution and to democratic civil society itself…and really shouldn’t be honored, acknowledged, or accepted as “reasonable” within a sane political discourse. Instead, this increasingly deranged extremism should be called out — and dismissed — for what it really is: spastic wackadoodle wholesale destruction of democracy fomented in broken brains by the plutocratic masters of hoodwinking propaganda.
Essentially, then, progressives do make errors in some policies that they then fail to correct because of the virtue-signaling popularity of those policies….But the much more significant failure of progressives is buying into the idea that plutocracy, disinformation, deception, hate-centric beliefs, strident proclamations from ignorance, liberal-shaming, and outright lunacy should be “welcomed” on equal footing into our political discourse. This greater mistake of tolerating and engaging with the far right’s broken brain ideas — if it continues —will inevitably lead to the final downfall of the United States itself.
Unfortunately, like many physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual challenges, it is nearly impossible to “diagnose” what is going on without a lot more information — and it is questionable whether online discussions can provide an adequate back-and-forth to get to the bottom of something. Then there is the issue of getting multiple opinions…some of which are informed and experienced, and some of which are not.
That said, what you are describing could be any of the following:
1. A consequence of emotional stress (at work, in close relationships, etc.).
2. A consequence of changes to habits of diet, sleep, exercise.
3. A lack of adequate exposure to sunlight that has induced Seasonally Affective Disorder.
4. A vitamin D or vitamin B12 deficiency.
5. A temporary and natural “blip” in one’s confidence or faith regarding past assumptions and experiences in spiritual matters.
6. A consequence of some two years of COVID-related disruption to collective and interpersonal well-being.
7. A genetic predisposition to depression that is just now manifesting itself.
8. Unresolved childhood trauma that is percolating up after years of being repressed/denied.
9. A consequence of too much alcohol or other substance (or of ending a dependency on a substance — like quitting smoking).
10. The side effects of a chronic infection or inflammatory disorder.
And we could easily explore another dozen possibilities. Hopefully you see the problem here in terms of there not being enough information to make even a guess about what is going on.
So…I would recommend first seeing a primary care physician and getting a standard physical and blood tests (a standard metabolic panel, for example, will indicate certain deficiencies, infections, etc.). If that doesn’t prove useful, I would then see a well-recommended therapist. And, if none of those produce any fruit, then yes, there may possibly be a spiritual component to what you are going through.
However, the dark night of the soul is generally a bit more extreme than the symptoms you describe. It is also rarely (if ever, from my observation) a spontaneous or uninvited experience. The dark night is almost always the consequence of disciplined and sustained spiritual practices over time.
LOL. Really? Well let me first say that the door to much propaganda in the world today is something very sneaky, something called “reasonableness.” In the case of neoliberal market fundamentalists like Mankiw, that “reasonableness” is describing “principles of economics” that, taken individually and in (academic and ideological) isolation, may seem reasonable. In fact one could debate each of Mankiw’s principles ad nauseum, and still be operating within his ideological framework — because of how he restricts the scope of the conversation. You see the problem? If you ask me “what are the principles of a stable romantic relationship,” I could respond: “Well, first off both people in the relationship need to buy the right kind of clothing. Second, they both need to listen to the same kind of music. Third, there needs to be a clear, preexisting understanding of what each person’s role should be….” And so on. And I could keep elaborating on these “principles” as if they actually correlated with every dimension of a human relationship…when clearly they would not. They would, in reality, be confined by a very narrow perspective on relationship that I was effectively imposing on the conversation. And the more emphatically I insisted that nothing else need be included — while I actively excluded very important additional or alternate factors — the more I could perpetuate a discussion that is boundarized by my own biases. And that is precisely what Mankiw is doing…just like many neoliberals before him. I often flag this sort of behavior as ideologically fascist, with the poster child of the technique — in economics at least — being Milton Friedman.
That said, what issues do I have with Mankiw’s 10 principles themselves? That would be a very lengthy conversation. At a 10,000-foot level, I would say they are “half-truths that add up to delusional bupkis.” More specifically, behavioral economics has clearly demonstrated that consumers are not rational operators, and that principles 1–4 are not only oversimplifications, but actually distort or distract from the microeconomic dynamics that are really in play. Human decision trees are not analytically neat-and-tidy, they are messy, impulsive and emotional; and, in fact, marketing knowingly exploits that unstable irrationality to condition completely counterfactual, counterproductive, unhealthy, demeaning and dangerous consumption patterns in consumers. For crying out loud…this is obvious to anyone who observes or researches real-world consumer responses to corporate coercion and manipulation.
After 1–4, Mankiw gets a bit more sneaky with 5–7. He uses the phrasing “trade can,” “markets are usually,” and “governments can sometimes,” and of course we can’t really argue those points, because…well…they are in fact reasonable. Except…well…are they? It is when Mankiw elaborates on these points further (in his writings, etc.) that we see the depth of his blindness — how he does not appreciate or address the complex interdependencies involved, or the widely demonstrated externalities and causal chains, or in fact the well-established track record of what actually works in the real world…and what really doesn’t. This is where we can get lost in the weeds, but suffice it to say that Mankiw doesn’t begin to fully enumerate all of the inputs and outputs of trade, or the complex landscape of variables that influence those inputs and outputs, or, indeed, the disastrous consequences of what can fairly be described as “Mankiw-esque” market fundamentalist policies we have witnessed in the past. His ideas live in a bubble — applicable to what I call “a unicorn market,” one that has never and will never exist.
Principles 8–10, along with most of Mankiw’s thinking, are just more conceptual trickle-down from outdated classical economics. But (and this is pretty ironic IMO) unlike Smith, Ricardo et al, Mankiw fairly reliably excludes the common good from being part of serious deliberation. In other words, he drifts into the realm of laissez-faire that classical economists actually warned about. Where, as Smith wrote: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” But are points 8–10 accurate in any way? Sure…again if you exclude all sorts of other factors, causes, variables, evidences, etc. that are critical to a complete macroeconomic picture, Mankiw’s points provide a partial, highly tailored framing of causal relationships. So, if a person ignores how markets actually function, the corruptive influences of crony capitalism, how boardroom decisions are actually made, why financialization has displaced production for massive wealth generation, why monopolies occur, where Keynes was proven correct (and what monetary policies actually work), why growth-dependent economies boom-and-bust, etc…and instead pines away for a juicy young unicorn to sate their every neoliberal appetite, well then: Mankiw is the porn for them!
Let me just call out one specific example of Mankiw’s delusional approach. His prescription for most resource allocation challenges is to privatize them — like many neoliberals, Mankiw believes private property is the panacea for all ills. However, Elinor Ostrom demonstrated in her common pool resource management research that the tragedy of the commons need not exist where self-organized, self-managed sharing of common resources is approached a certain way, and she goes on to enumerate observed principles that have been successful. Essentially, there are widely employed systems of access to and utilization of common resources around the globe that completely sidestep the tragedy of the commons without private ownership or government intervention. Hmmm. How could this be? In Mankiw’s unicorn universe, it can’t be, since there will always be free riders and excessive inefficiencies when privatization is absent. But again, Ostrom was just documenting what she observed in the real world, so Mankiw is just, well…wrong. Hence the nature of the problem with most of Mankiw’s thinking — and indeed most market fundamentalist thinking (i.e. Randian objectivists, anarcho-capitalists, individualist economic materialists, Austrian School evangelists, etc.).
Yes, CATO is extremely influential — often because they do credible and interesting research. However, they are part of the movement started in the early 1970s, inspired by the 1972 “Powell Memo,” that sought to combat the influence of socially liberal movements in the 1960s that constrained corporate power in politics, regulated industry, strengthened civil society, and undermined reckless profit seeking. CATO pretends to be pro-capitalist “right-libertarian” (historically a bit of an oxymoron, as libertarianism had been anti-capitalist for a century until Friedman, Rothbard, et al distorted its principles in service to corporate profit) but really CATO promotes crony capitalism — just like Milton Friedman did. And of course the ongoing influences of wealthy neoliberals like Koch, Bradley, and Scaife have just made that trend continually worse.
As to what I think of them, as I mentioned they actually have produced some interesting research — sometimes revealing counterintuitive causality or unintended consequences regarding certain policies and practicies (along the lines of Freakonomics). But these occasionally interesting and factual insights are overwhelmed by a mission to disrupt civil society and effective governance as we know it, and perpetuate deceptions on various topics (such as climate change, the effectiveness of government and government solutions, the ability of free markets to solve complex problems like health care, education, social security, and so on). On these and other topics that serve a neoliberal agenda, CATO consistently promotes deliberately deceptive or skewed data, and sometimes even misinformation, that transparently serves their donors’ capital accumulation. Below is just one example of deliberate deception — please note that this was from a full page newspaper ad that CATO created, promoted, and paid for:
"We, the undersigned scientists, maintain that the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated. Surface temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest and there has been no net global warming for over a decade now. After controlling for population growth and property values, there has been no increase in damages from severe weather-related events. The computer models forecasting rapid temperature change abjectly fail to explain recent climate behavior. Mr. President, your characterization of the scientific facts regarding climate change and the degree of certainty informing the scientific debate is simply incorrect."
There are a number of reasons why technology innovation has the appearance of slowing down — and in some cases really is slowing down. Among them are:
1. Much of the low hanging fruit (technological solutions to universal human challenges) has already been invented, developed, and refined.
2. Much of what remains is more complicated, takes more time, and costs more to research and develop.
3. There are efforts by well-established industries that dominate a given sector to discourage or constrain innovation — the most obvious example being the petroleum industry’s funding of climate change and alternative energy skepticism.
4. Over the past fifty years, commercialism has created tremendous downward pressure on technology costs while generating extremely high expectations of technology benefits. That’s simply not a winning formula.
5. Complexity and massive interdependence across complex systems in modern technology itself is interfering with both rapid development and disruptive innovation. It just takes longer to ensure integration, compatibility, and even moderate levels of future-proofing.
6. Another consequence complexity is a lack of extensibility, and how that impacts costs. A simple example of this is writing a piece of software that is backwards compatible with several iterations of hardware. At a certain point it becomes too difficult to accomplish in a profitable way, which in turn places an increasing cost burden for innovation on consumers — not just monetarily, but also in new learning curves. Buying a new smartphone or laptop every year is a pretty hefty expectation. Therefore a balance has to be struck between rapidity of innovation based on technology, and rapidity of deployment based on consumer acceptance and willingness to bear all of the costs.
Actually this question goes to much deeper issues, which IMO are really “the questions behind the question.” Here are some of those:
1. Why do so many Republican rank-and-file allow themselves be influenced by misinformation and conspiracy theories from highly biased media and/or obvious disinformation campaigns?
2. Why do so many Republicans mistrust scientific evidence from multiple credible sources in favor of their armchair Internet rants, ignorant talk show personalities, a handful of tribal authorities, and manufactured propaganda and groupthink?
3. Why do so many Republicans lack the critical thinking skills to recognize the contradictions and hypocrisy in their own beliefs and assumptions — and indeed how those beliefs and assumptions run counter to both their own stated values, an their own best interests?
4. Why did 70 million Republicans allow themselves to be utterly deceived and hoodwinked by a mentally ill, megalomaniacal con artist running for President?
5. Why do Republicans consistently misunderstand causal relationships, so that they are always promoting “solutions” that just make problems worse?
6. Why are Republicans just plain mistaken about so many things, to the point where they are becoming completely disconnected from reality…?
We can use the instance of anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-precaution backlash regarding COVID as an example that sheds light on all of these questions…and some possible answers.
So here goes….
1.A lot of conservative ideology is rooted and energized by fear. You could really pick almost any conservative position and explain at least part of it’s appeal in its answering specific fears — or amplifying and justifying them. In the case of vaccines, it’s irrational fear of Bill Gates, of “big bad government” pushing some hidden agenda, of the medical industry hiding risks from consumers, of COVID itself being a conspiracy, and so on. These are all fear-based reasons for resisting common sense measures to lesson the impact of the virus or even stop its spread altogether.
2.Certain “trigger concepts” are used by Republican leaders to garner votes, and by conservative talk-show hosts increase their viewership to sell more advertising. An example is “the defense of liberty” concept, which is a wonderful ideal of course but really has nothing to do with taking a vaccine or wearing a mask. We all make minor sacrifices of personal liberties in order for society to function — and wearing a mask or receiving a vaccine is not any different than driving on the right-hand side of the road, stopping at a red light, defecating in a restroom instead of on the sidewalk, hunting during hunting season, or shoveling the sidewalk in front of our house in winter. These are not “oppressive and arbitrary” edicts from big bad government, they are common sense choices we make so that civil society can remain…well…civil and reasonably safe. But the point is that the “defense of liberty” trigger is a manipulative call-to-arms to unify an angry, irrational mob who doesn’t realize how utterly silly they are behaving.
3. Republicans have become poster-children for an extreme intersection of “the illusory truth effect” and the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” The illusory truth effect is when people start believing something is true simply because a lot of other people keep repeating it. The Dunning-Kruger effect is the phenomenon of becoming more confident the more ignorant we are. Everyone does these unfortunate things…it’s normal human behavior. It’s just that Republicans have amplified these faults to an extraordinary degree, turning them into an art form of mass hysteria proportions.
4. Probably the biggest lever modern conservative politicians use to get their constituents to do anything is “Us verses Them” rhetoric. It doesn’t matter if an idea or approach from the political opposition is sensible, logical, evidence-based, or obvious…it has to be opposed because it issued from “Them.” Republicans have become so conditioned to barking at this siren that they don’t even realize they are just being manipulated. And because of that conditioning, conservatives remain perpetually ignorant and alienated from fellow human beings who may hold different views, but actually share many of the same values.
5. Conservatives tend to be deeply tribal, with a strong need to belong to their group and remain loyal to it, regardless of how that choice may hurt them or those they love. Republicans are so caught up in their identity as “Republicans” or “conservatives” that they never question all the sacrifices they make just to belong — sacrifices to reason, to common sense, to their own well being and the safety and security of their families, and even to the success and thriving of the U.S. itself.
So just with those five issues, we can begin to understand how difficult it will be for the ship of U.S. politics to change its course. Republicans will have tremendous difficultly breaking loose from this downward spiral unless they consider doing one or more of the following:
1. Stop being afraid all the time. Have a little faith in humanity, in themselves, and in professed spiritual beliefs.
2. Become more educated about what facts are, how science works, evidence-based decision making, and so on.
3. Stop listening to the lies, misinformation, and distortions of conservative mass and social media. Just change the channel.
4. Let go of the need to belong to the conservative tribe as a central pillar of identity.
5. Become more self-aware about logical fallacies and cognitive dissonance.
6. Start reaching out to progressive pinko commies in the community and becoming friends with them — in order to bridge the divide of ignorance and alienation that has been so carefully engineered.
7. Realize at long last that all of us are being manipulated 24/7 purely for money and votes, and fight back by questioning what is being spoon fed to us.
Yes of course. Throughout human history innovation and social responsibility — which I would define more broadly as creativity and prosociality — have existed and thrived without the profit motive. In fact the profit motive interferes mightily with both more often than not.
On the one hand the profit motive channels innovation and creativity into a very narrow focus of only what increases profit, abandoning anything that doesn’t promise return on investment. For example, we often see real innovation crowded out by “cheaper and more efficient” forms of production and service delivery, because those types of innovation guarantee greater profitability. Most of the big leaps forward in more creative and life changing innovation, in fact, have arisen through academic and government research, by inventors fiddling in their workshop for fun, artists creating masterpieces for their loved ones, philosophers struggling to answer complex moral questions, or mathematicians solving challenging equations — all because that particular mountain was simply there to climb, not because they would make a buck off of it. The results were then put into production by for-profit companies who reap all the rewards from someone else’s creativity. The profit motive doesn’t have much at all to do with the innovation, just its mass production. This is the case with everything from cell phone technology to medical advances to major changes in the structure of society.
The profit motive has also long demonstrated it can often be at odds with social responsibility and prosociality. There have been countless instances where the profit motive has created oppressive or life threatening conditions and consequences for workers and consumers — and the history of capitalism has mainly been about civil society correcting those abuses (child labor laws, worker safety laws, consumer protections, environmental protections, strengthening democracy against cronyism and plutocracy, etc.). And the oppressive and exploitative conditions created by the profit motive have often threatened the stability, liberty, and thriving of civil society itself. Although it is true that capitalism and the profit motive have provided an extraordinary engine for productivity and economic growth, it has been civic institutions, democratic reforms, educational institutions, and the expansion of civil rights that have established or strengthened conditions that support creativity, innovation, social responsibility, and general societal cohesion — particularly in the face of a countervailing atomistic individualism and commercialistic materialism inspired by the profit motive.
This is not the narrative that the “market fundamentalist” or pro-capitalist folks appreciate or even understand. They are often blind to the antagonisms of liberty, creativity, and civil society that the profit motive has wrought.
But again, if we study the grand arc of human history, most of the greatest innovations, and the greatest evolutions in civil society itself, have been utterly divorced from the profit motive. Humans just love to create, to connect with each other and create community, and to build institutions and civic structures that support those impulses. The profit motive is tolerated because it has lead to a rapid expansion of material wealth and technological conveniences — it has facilitated creature comforts and material security. But it has also eroded society at the same time, which is why it has had to be constantly managed and constrained.
Thanks for the question. A few thoughts for your consideration….
1. I don’t think it was Murdoch’s intention to “discredit or destroy” the (rationalist, empiricist, volantarist, etc.) moral philosophies of her contemporaries. That really wasn’t her style IMO. Instead, I think she was just calling some basic assumptions of these modes of thinking into question — being skeptical of what we might describe as a scientism that rejects metaphysical and even multidimensional aspects of reality and consciousness. Murdoch mainly offers us an invitation to look at things more carefully, in order to see “things as they really are” with greater breadth and inclusivity.
2. Further, although Murdoch does rely heavily on Plato’s metaphors, they are really just a starting point for discussion rather than an endpoint; Plato’s cave, fire, and sun are merely a vocabulary of framing that permits her to expound more deeply on the nature of “the Good.” Plato’s terminology is a lever to help Murdoch accomplish some heavy lifting…not the object that is being lifted.
3. I think Murdoch intuited that something was amiss in contemporary assumptions regarding human rationality, human will, or a locus of consciousness fixated on the self (what we might call egoic consciousness) being able to adequately navigate moral complexity or fully comprehend or describe “the Good.” She further intuited that certain qualities of love were involved in both pursuit of that good, and in its apprehension and reification. And, perhaps most importantly, Murdoch intuited that, although “the Good” may sometimes seem ineffable or indefinable in purely rational terms, it is nevertheless discernible and obvious — and even reflexive — in the context of human relationships, choices and intentions when selfless love is in play.
4. Finally, Murdoch hints that the ego’s impedances to conceiving of and actualizing “the Good” may be the same barriers that rationalist/empiricist/volantarist philosophies encounter when navigating morality itself. I.e. that they are preoccupied with the fire in the cave, and have not yet ventured out into the sunlight — they are relying on false light to illuminate the indescribable.
It is heartbreaking for me to encounter responses to this question that sidestep discernment and wisdom around this issue. Sure, obviously history is written by the “winners.” Sure, folks at different ideological extremes have opposing views of what is “right,” while also expressing the same level of confidence in their views. Sure, people’s attitudes about behaviors, events and priorities change over time. All of this is true. But the conclusion that we should, therefore, abandon all hope of perceiving or understanding “who is on the right side of history” seems to me a rather lazy, cynical, and irresponsible excuse for not paying better attention to the human condition and civil society — and becoming more educated about them. In fact, such casual surrender to willful or despairing ignorance seems to reflect the sort of solipsistic nihilism that has routinely gotten folks into trouble…and indeed often places them on the “wrong” side of history.
So how do we discern who is on the right or wrong side of history? Of course we could begin with our own personal values hierarchy, but that wouldn’t be entirely helpful — in isolation, what do our own personal value or morals have to do with the larger arc of human history, after all? What we can do instead is look back over the history of human existence and civilization and track what the core characteristics of “right” and “wrong” have looked like, and observe how those tendencies have played out over time. Through that lens, we can assess who ends up occupying the “right” and “wrong” sides of history itself, and we can then attempt to project those standards and patterns onto current events.
Although initially requiring a lot of careful research, it’s a relatively simple exercise once the data is compiled. This process is in part what my book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle sets out to do, and you can read it for free via the link provided here.
At the risk of oversimplifying, I’ll summarize the main points:
1. Humans are prosocial critters, and thier prosociality has been key to human survival and the evolution of civilization itself — and also relatively uniform in its expression in terms of promoted behaviors and social mores (sure, there is variability, but the broad strokes are the same).
2. There is also a predictable progression of the individual and collective moral maturity process that reflects ever-widening spheres of inclusion for our prosocial impulses (i.e. we include larger and larger spheres of interaction and relationship in our caring as we morally mature).
3. As long as conditions are supportive, that moral progression is a natural, easily observable phenomenon in individuals and across every society we know of…and continues in those around the globe today. However, that progression is not fixed, fast, orderly, or immune to regression…it is instead messy and organic, and often slow (hence we need remember the “long” part of “the arc of the universe is ***long***, but it bends towards justice”.
4. Despite the “messiness” of our moral evolution, it then becomes quite clear who or what is on the “right” or “wrong” side of history — it is simply a matter of mapping those people and events within a progression of prosocial characteristics. To that end, please see this chart: https://www.level-7.org/resources/Developmental_CorrelationsV2.pdf
Lastly, those who have developed even a little bit in terms of their moral maturity will quickly recognize what is or is not prosocial in both modern times and history — that is, what is or is not beneficial to civil society over time. **However, this level of discernment and wisdom may seem mysterious or perplexing to those operating in the lower strata of moral development.** Those who aren’t as advanced shouldn’t be belittled for that (unless, perhaps, their arrogant willfulness demands it…), but instead encouraged to heal, mature, and grow.
For further reading, I would also recommend this essay:
It would be utterly absurd to assume this dispute isn’t settled. Such doubt would be equivalent to asserting the “debate” between humorism and modern medicine isn’t settled, or the “debate” between flat eartherism and the established scientific view of planetary formation is still being “debated.” There are no such “debates.” There are simply ideologically brainwashed adherents who are lost in tribal groupthink on one side, with zero empirical evidence to support the vast majority of their suppositions (i.e. freshwater folks)…and those who rely on an ever-evolving body of evidence and real-world observations to shape their worldview on the other side (saltwater folks). The irony, of course, is that freshwater folks really do believe they are promoting a “rational” view. LOL.
Now, to be fair, there are a handful (but only a handful) of instances where individual aspects of freshwater theory has — historically at least — seemed to align with reality. I’m not going to elaborate on specifics because it will only feed the crazies. How does it feed them? Through a joyfully deranged marriage of partial reinforcement and the illusory truth effect.
Suffice it to say that data supporting most freshwater hypotheses are not only sparse, but completely overwhelmed by the avalanche of data that support most (though not all) saltwater hypotheses, and refute freshwater assumptions in the process.
In essence, to assert that there is still a “debate” between freshwater and saltwater perspectives is really just invoking false equivalence — for example, elevating the unicorns and fairy tales of the Chicago School to be (falsely) equivalent to time-proven Keynesian efficacy, only because they are both described as “macroeconomic theory.”
That would be an almost accurate statement, yes. The challenge (as with almost all attempts at summarizing complex philosophy) is that Popper uses a lengthy, layered sequence of arguments to explain why utopian thinking is problematic — or rather, tends to lead to self-defeating outcomes. Essentially, he argues that it is impossible to fully anticipate or predict how humans will actually behave within a given utopian structure or system, and that, without the ability to modify or evolve such a structure or system in response to those unpredictable events, there will inevitably be unanticipated consequences that undermine the utopia. Which is why, he insists, utopian “central planning” will inevitably lead to totalitarian/authoritarian oppressions — thereby ‘choking its own refutations’ and any chance of healing itself and fulfilling its vision.
Whether this is a valid argument has a lot to do with one’s view of historicism — i.e. whether there is a predictable (at least in the broadest strokes) progression of human society over time — and whether it is at all possible to fully anticipate or accelerate that evolution. My own view is that both assumptions are valid, but that imposing a top-down hierarchical structure or system is the wrong way to go about encouraging change, and indeed can lead to the sorts of problems Popper identified (especially when there are no strong, resilient democratic institutions to check authoritarian tendencies). However, IMO it is possible to encourage societal evolution by facilitating and expanding what I call the “moral creativity” of society — that is, an environment that encourages moral maturation individually and collectively. This is, however, an organic grass roots process centered around community-level relationships, rather than a top-down program that can be imposed on people. You can read more about my thinking on this here: https://level-7.org/Philosophy/Prosociality/
Thanks for the question. Here are some reasons why I think authoritarianism is on the rise:
1. White men have lost status in society. This is frightening. So, in their insecurity and fear, they turn to strongman leaders who seem like carnival mirror imitations of masculinity but whose pedantic, overconfident, authoritarian style reassures these insecure white men that someone is still on their side.
2. Modernity is increasingly complex, confusing, overwhelming, and scary. Rapid change — both cultural and technological — is increasingly alienating many people who feel excluded or left behind by those changes. Authoritarian leaders can appeal to this disorientation, confusion, and anxiety, and create scapegoats that have nothing to do with the actual causes, but are very useful in ginning up votes. These leaders also tend to appeal to nationalism, which helps restore pride.
3. There is increasing exploitation, abuse, and enslavement of the have-nots by the haves everywhere around the globe. This makes people want to rebel, to regain agency and self-respect, and some authoritarian candidates have a knack for hoodwinking people into believing that they (those candidates) have all of the answers to restore freedom and dignity to folks who feel beaten down. In reality, however, authoritarians usually oppose the real remedy democracy itself — and good government and civil society — making these the “bogeyman” that have caused all the problems for the have-nots. In reality, it is big business, crony capitalism, and capture of elections and government itself by wealthy owner-shareholders that have created this imbalance and oppression. But authoritarian leaders are usually in bed with those same plutocrats, and not at all interested in addressing the underlying problems. So in fact the problems just get worse.
4. The masses have been numbed into complacency, indifference, and apathy by a moderate level of wealth, entertainment, constant calls to action (from politicians, advertising, etc.), poor diets, lots of propaganda and disinformation, a decline in IQ and education, and other things that distract or impede them from taking appropriate action or even clearly understanding the problem. I see this as a modern version of “the spectacle,” with many other characteristics and contributing factors that you can read about here: L7 The Spectacle
I think that there are a few principles that might aspire to “the most important principles in political philosophy,” and I’ve listed them below. I don’t, however, think there is any single political philosophy that can claim primacy as “the most important in history.”
Some principles that became quite influential, if not universal, throughout history around the globe:
1. That rulers — or anyone with disproportionate concentrations power — should be just and good to those they rule or control…and, if they aren’t, that they should be usurped or replaced in some fashion (democracy, violent revolution, communism, anarchism, etc. all sprang from this central idea)
2. That all human beings share the same fundamental rights (under the law, in political representation, economically, socially, etc.)
3. That “civil society” is not only predicated on the previous two principles, but that it exists to benefit everyone in society (i.e. provide safety and security under the rule of law, material opportunity, freedom, and even the pursuit of happiness…)
4. That religion and governance do not mix well…but scientific evidence and reasoning bolsters sound governance
5. That the civic responsibility for all-of-the-above falls upon everyone equally — that everyone is individually and collectively accountable for the fulfillment and defense of these principles.
Sadly, although these principles have led to some of the grandest, most prosperous, most free, and most advanced societies on Earth, they seemingly are being forgotten to an astonishing and rapid degree. Like spoiled children, modern citizens do not seem to understand or appreciate what they have…until it starts to be taken away.
This has been a central focus of my own philosophical reading, research, musings, and writing for many decades. It took me a while to arrive at these conclusions…but what follows is where I have landed for the moment.
I should first give a nod to the lineage of the dialectical epistemic mode in Western philosophy, where we see the primary evolution from Plato and Aristotle up through Hegel. I also think Calvinist multiperspectivalism adds to this tradition, with a synthesis of three perspectives. Beginning with Gebser we begin to see a new definition of “multiperspectival” among integral philosophers, and really this is the beginning of what I would call “high-level dialectical thinking.” In this form of analysis, many perspectives contribute to an additive synthesis.
Finally, there is a parallel lineage in Eastern philosophy and mysticism as well, which leads to subtly different epistemic assumptions: that some understanding can’t be logically derived, but only “known” in a more felt or spiritual sense, described with terms like “gnosis,” “kensho,” and “bodhi.” This illuminating awareness also encompasses multiple perspectives in its interpenetrating understanding — it can integrate without negation just as Western dialectical and integral methods attempt to do.
This is not to say that Western philosophy doesn’t brush up against sympathetic ideas — it does. I think arriving at Aristotle’s moderation, or Fichte’s intellectual intuition, or Heinlein’s “grok” all seem to require a similar flavor non-analytical insight.
All of this led me to a very particular conclusion: there are many ways of knowing, and many ways of integrating that knowledge, so that a true “synthesis” of understanding that encompasses all experiences, insights, and perspectives requires a different framing than what either Western or Eastern philosophical traditions had to offer alone.
Sector Theory is how I would represent “high-level dialectical thinking.” The term I like to use for the fundamental process is “multidialectical synthesis.” What makes Sector Theory unique, however, are the definitions of the sectors themselves. These sectors aren’t always equal contributors — it requires discernment and wisdom to know which combination of sectors should have primacy in a given situation or realm of understanding — but Sector Theory asserts that all should be considered and weighed carefully together for the most complete understanding possible.
I think it is a lofty ideal, but that it has never really existed in the U.S. “Principled conservatives” claim to base their ideology on actual sources like the Constitution, or the intent of the Founding Fathers expressed in the Federalist Papers and other essays and letters of the period, or the writings of Adam Smith and John Locke, or the Judeo-Christian ethics of the Bible, or other similarly vaunted authorities of the past.
The problem, of course, is that most of this framing has been achieved through radical reinterpretations of those sources by more recent thinkers, and the “core principles” have become severely distorted so that the new lens of conservative values teeters on a cherry-picked mountain of half-truths. This has been going on for a long time in the U.S. and elsewhere, as conservative religious and political figures have sought to harness authoritative source material to justify their own power, influence, wealth, and gender and racial superiority. Citing such authorities in conservative propaganda makes it a lot easier to persuade a conservative-leaning rank-and-file to vote a certain way and dutifully conform to the party line.
I suppose some examples would be helpful here, and there are many. It’s just that you have to really study that source material carefully to understand just how distorted conservative reinterpretations have become. Take women’s rights as one example. Established culture always trumps religion, and the Europeans conformed what was actually a radically feminist Christianity to their own misogynistic cultural tendencies, and that misogynistic strain of Christianity then migrated to the New World. If we spend any time at all studying the acts of Jesus and the writings of the Apostle Paul, we quickly realize that they both promoted a woman’s spiritual authority and position in the Church as being equal to a man’s, and frequently deferred to female leaders and influencers in critical situations. The words and deeds of the New Testament are radically feminist in this sense. That is…except for two (and only two) verses in the epistles (i.e. the letters at the end of the NT) that denigrate women and put them in subjection to men, and which conservatives have often liked to cite to justify ongoing oppression of women. However, nearly all — and certainly all of the most credible — modern Christian scholars recognize that these epistles are rife with interpolated verses…that is, with verses that were written centuries later and inserted into those texts…and due to their style and content these epistles were very likely written or rewritten at a much later time than the rest of the New Testament. Again though, we’re talking about two verses that contrast the majority of other NT writings that quite markedly liberate women from oppression and inequality.
So, as I say, this “cherry-picking” of conservative authorities has been going on for a long time. The same is true of Adam Smith, who promoted “good government” and its control over and taxation of commerce so that workers and the poor would be protected from the abuses of big business. Hmmm….why is it we never hear conservatives quote Adam Smith’s discussion of good government? Because it doesn’t conform to their narrative about unfettered free enterprise being synonymous with liberty and American patriotism. And of course similar distortions have arisen around how the U.S. Constitution is interpreted, which clearly states government is to provide for the common welfare of the United States, enshrines enduring socialist institutions like the Postal Service, and so on. Equally distressing, conservative distortions go so far as to invent — in what is a stark contrast to “principled” originalist or textualist interpretations of the Constitution — self-serving ideas about what a particular passage means. For nearly 200 years the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” was understood to relate to the “well regulated Militia” referenced in the same Amendment — even among conservative SCOTUS Justices. But, thanks to modern conservatives and the revisionist judicial activism of Antonin Scalia in his DC v Heller ruling, Amendment II now somehow refers to personal self-defense…!
Essentially, then, conservatives have traditionally begun with a self-serving objective — usually having to do with creating or maintaining white male pseudo-Christian privilege and wealth in society — and then carefully gleaning selective passages from authoritative sources from the past to support those self-serving objectives. These distorted justifications then become their “conservative principles.” Ironically, most of these self-protective and highly destructive conservative ideological habits can be quickly countered with other selective references from those very same sources — for example, both Jesus Christ and Adam Smith frequently warned of the dangers of greed and lust for power, the toxicity of lording it over others, and so on.
But in my experience very few “principled conservatives” spend much time really understanding or even reading those original sources. Some do, and their views are much more nuanced (but not at all popular among other conservatives!). Instead, the average “principled conservative” relies on the reinterpretations of much later thinkers and influencers who became conservative authorities in their own right — Hayek and Friedman, Gingrich and Buchanon, Scalia and Rehnquist, Graham and Falwell, the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation, Breitbart and Blaze, Buckley and Limbaugh, and so on. So with each passing generation, the abstraction from first principles becomes more and more elaborate and rationalizing…until we end up with a fascist, racist ignoramus embodying the very worst of human nature, and 70 million GOP voters supporting it as their “conservative” choice for POTUS.
Essentially, then, the principles of “principled conservatives” have become very far removed from the ideals of the original thinkers that supposedly inform them, and are reduced and upended into the very things those authorities warned against and attempted to countervail:
“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…” — Jesus Christ (Matt 20:25–26)
“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” — Apostle Paul (Rom 13:3–7)
“We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax. It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need.” — Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to George Wythe, 1786
The challenge as I see it is the weaponization of malicious deception through mass and social media. Take propaganda and disinformation. Before record broadcasts, mass media, and the Internet, this was limited to influencing those within hearing distance of a live speaker — or to those willing to read and absorb someone’s writing — and thus only seemed to propagate slowly over months and years. Mass movements were sparked by radical and revolutionary thought, to be sure, but the time these took to gain any substantive momentum in society afforded a modicum of wisdom, measured consideration, thoughtful discourse, and common sense to be injected into that process…well, at least most of the time. Humans have always been susceptible to groupthink and the lemming effect. But before the modern information revolution, the ability to hoodwink large numbers of people took some very committed effort and time.
Nowadays, however, disinformation disseminates in hours or days, capturing millions of uncritical and gullible minds so that substantive shifts in attitudes and behaviors can have a widespread — and often dominant — impact on communities and societies. I call this the superagency effect, and it is similar to other ways that technology allows us to project and amplify person or collective will in unprecedented ways…often facilitating great harm on an ever-growing scale.
So I think this change in the potential consequences of malicious deception — the amplification of harm, if you will — should inform our definitions of free speech, and the collectively agreed-upon ways we decide to manage free speech. I think this is part of what the Fairness Doctrine in the U.S. was intended to address: the advent of news media broadcasting to every home in America invited some sort of oversight to ensure what was being communicated in an ever-more-centrally coordinated way, by relatively few authoritative or trusted figures, offered equal time to multiple perspectives…and encouraged some of those perspectives to be controversial. Since the original Fairness Doctrine only applied to broadcast licenses, it of course would not have done much to curtail the explosion of propaganda and conspiracy outlets on cable and the Internet unless updated to address those new media (and there was, actually, a failed attempt to do this), but the point is that the concern about the ubiquity of these forms of persuasive communication has always been pretty obvious.
And of course this concern doesn’t only apply to ideological propaganda. It also applies to advertising, which has successfully convinced millions to buy things they don’t need, or become addicted or dependent for many years, or injure their health and well-being with caustic consumables. Again, all because of the power and reach of mass media.
So the vaunted ideal of free speech has to be understood in this broader context. The speed and destructive power of malicious deception in the current era cannot be understated. It has undermined legitimately elected governments, endangered individual and collective human health, propagated irrational fears and hatred that have lead to human tragedy and death, and wreaked havoc on the ecology of planet Earth — all with astonishing swiftness and scope.
Therefore, some sort of collectively agreed-upon mechanism — and ideally one that is implemented and managed by an informed democratic process — should be put in place to ensure some standard of truthfulness and fact-checking, representation of diverse and controversial perspectives, and diffusing or disabling of disinformation and malicious deception. The key, again, will be in the quality and fairness of the “regulatory” process itself — aiming for something more democratic and not autocratic.
My take, as someone who has read both Sartre in French and Hegel in German, is that learning the language alone is certainly helpful, but does not guarantee understanding. As others here have said, each philosopher has their own distinct language — some even invented their own vocabulary for ideas they otherwise found impossible to communicate. There is also the issue of language period — the phrasing, syntax, vocabulary, and cultural references of a specific time can add to the potential confusion.
So my recommendation would be to both learn German, and study the original text alongside two or three well-respected translations in your native tongue. This approach has afforded me many interesting surprises and insights. On the one hand, you will see how different translators grapple with difficult passages and you can then perhaps gain addition insight from that. On the other, you may very well discover that none of the translations really captures the nuance of the original language as you read it. These are exciting learning experiences.
For me, reading Hegel in German was very difficult, and reading Sartre in French was relatively easy — and this was despite my German being much more advanced than my French! Nevertheless, I don’t think I would have arrived at the understanding I have now of each thinker; still humbly incomplete, but more clear-eyed and balanced, I think, than what some professors and commentators I’ve encountered over the years have attempted to convey.
In other words…I would recommend digging into philosophy with a “multiperspectival” or “integral” discipline, where you weigh several vectors of investigation against each other, and synthesize your own conclusions. I would describe this as a multidialectical approach. At the same time, it should be warned, this method will not help you pass exams or be more popular in a given philosophy club; in fact it may hinder you. All-too-frequently, you may be scoffed at by someone who insists their professor’s views on a given philosopher are more sound than your speculation. It won’t matter that you explain a given position, just that you are somehow impugning a vaunted authority on the matter. In academia, conformance of thinking is often much more important (for decent grades, at least) than thinking deeply or critically.
Okay…probably offered more than the OP wanted to know. But there it is.
Here is the underlying problem as I see it: Blind, uncritical, or unthinking adherence to any “ism” is always misguided. There are good ideas — great ideas, even — available in every camp, but when loyalty and lockstep adherence to a given tribal membership or belief system becomes more important than discerning which ideas are good and which are bad, or even than having an intellectually honest dialogue with others with different perspectives and strategies, then that “ism” is just a restrictive and destructive straight jacket.
Right now, there is some of this behavior on both the Left and the Right. However, lockstep conformance and uncritical groupthink have lately become much more common on the conservative end of the spectrum. And this is the real problem, more than anything else IMO. Add to this that many of the ideas being championed by conservatives are informed by non-factual assumptions (climate change is a hoax; face masks won’t help control COVID; free markets and the profit motive always solve complex problems; the U.S. was founded by Christians for Christians; etc.), a profound misunderstanding of causality (for example: Planned Parenthood clinics do not increase abortions rates, they actually decrease abortion rates; stopping immigration will never restore U.S. jobs; there is no widespread election fraud; and so on); affection for policies and practices that have clearly proven ineffective or outright failures (supply-side economics; war on drugs; austerity measures; nation building; structural adjustment policies; deregulation; etc.), and opposition to policies and practices that work exactly as intended (Head Start; ACA; Keynesian macroeconomics; etc.). In short: modern-day conservatives just get most things terribly wrong.
As to the “underlying principles,” well sure, there is some really good stuff to be found among the more thoughtful conservative thinkers of past eras. And there is no reason to abandon the inclusion of intellectually honest conservatives in modern discourse. It’s just…there don’t seem to be many intellectually honest ones around right now, and a lot more ideas on the progressive side that are guided by scientific evidence and practices proven in the real world.
For folks like Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln I think “being true” meant to be loyal, steadfast, committed, uncompromising, self-sacrificing, and universal in liberty’s championing and application — and most particularly in the context of how liberty is defended, reenforced, and facilitated through prudent and generous governance, and a wise shaping of the rule of law. Such passion and devotion to human liberty was, after all, one potent impetuous for the U.S. Constitution itself.
Being “true to liberty” today, however, apparently has much more to do with one’s “right” to:
- Consume conspicuously and destructively
- Maintain unearned, inherited privilege and wealth
- Be free from any consequences or accountability for wrongs committed
- Provoke acts of violence, hatred, and vicious racism and xenophobia through “free speech” across social and mass media
- Hoard military style weapons of mass lethality
- Whine constantly about being a “victim” while perpetrating horrific abuses and unlawful acts
- Proudly promote policies that undermine one’s own fundamental civil rights and economic interests
So things are a bit upside down today, at least among those who bray the most loudly about being true to “freedom” and “liberty” as they have redefined it.
1. Encourage alignment of our political economy with basic prosocial values and strong civil society — instead of promoting lowest-common-denominator animalism, individualist materialism, and tribalism.
2. Criminalize crony capitalism and corruption of democratic institutions in service of wealth, and jail the worst offenders.
3. Replace “corporate personhood” with another legal entity status for corporations that has more limited rights. Corporations aren’t people, and don’t deserve the same rights and privileges as people.
4. Give up on for-profit market solutions for certain complex problems that can be solved in better ways — healthcare is a good example, as many other countries have demonstrated.
5. Don’t treat advocates of the Chicago School, Austrian School, Virginian School, or Randian objectivism as anything but mildly deranged ideological cranks chasing after unicorns. And definitely don’t let anyone mistakenly believe that the policies and practices promoted by these folks have led to anything but abject and repeated failures and thoroughly debunked theories….
6. Look seriously at commons-centric solutions that do not rely on private ownership but instead promote communal responsibility and collaboration.
7. Focus on evidence-based, scientifically informed, carefully piloted policies with clear metrics to measure their success.
8. Promote broad, frequent, and well-documented education about economics itself and what has really worked well in the real world.
9. Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine so that propaganda outlets can no longer call themselves “news organizations.”
10. Hold social media accountable for propagation of toxic content that deceives and manipulates folks into voting against their own best interests (economically and otherwise).
I think there are at least two sides to this issue, as there are for most. On one side is a desire to create “safe spaces” for folks who — for a very wide variety of reasons — do not feel safe. On the other is a desire for what we might call “rough liberty;” that is, liberty with no constraints. One side sees the other as course, cruel, discompassionate, and trying to impose their values on others. And the other side sees that side as weak, overly picky, too touchy-feely, and…trying to impose their values on others.
Notice the common denominator: trying to impose one’s own values on others. The real disconnect, IMO, is that neither side can see that really they are doing exactly the same thing, expecting the same thing, and behaving just as whiny and reactive about the same thing as they accuse the other side of being.
What I believe is at the root of this self-righteous expectation at both extremes is a deep, reflexive, highly emotional, and basically immature sense of entitlement. Both sides really perceive the other’s actions as an affront to an entitled expectation — they both have the attitude of very spoiled children who are used to getting their own way, and then throw a tantrum when they don’t get what they want.
All the other discussion around this issue — such as what type of morality in in play, or view of liberty, or attitude towards rules, or varying takes on civil society and the social contract, etc. — are all secondary. These are higher level and important discussions, to be sure, but with respect to political correctness and cancel culture they are just noise. Why? Because the root behaviors and underlying values are actually identical on both sides of this issue.
As I have said many times here on Quora, what really needs to happen to heal this situation — especially in the U.S.A. — is for citizens to grow up. To become morally mature adults who take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences of those actions, and care deeply and unquestioningly about their fellow citizens without overly reactive attempts to try to control them. This is the only way forward…instead of acting like whiny little kids complaining about conditions they don’t like, and then blaming everyone but themselves for the situation they in fact have created themselves.
There are so many reasons to make socialism a reality. Let me count the ways…
1. To counter and eventually heal the horrific exploitations, injuries, and lethalities of capitalism — for workers, consumers, the poor, etc.
2. To counter the unsustainable economic growth-dependencies of capitalism that cannot persist indefinitely anyway.
3. To counter the extractive devastation and depletion of natural resources under capitalism that is exhausting the planet.
4. To counter the many negative externalities of capitalism — most acutely and emergent ecological and societal damage from climate change.
5. To introduce democracy into economics and ownership in the same way, and for the same reasons, that modern democracies (and especially direct or semi-direct democracies) aim to make government more egalitarian and inclusive for everyone.
6. Because concentrations of wealth ALWAYS lead to concentrations of power, and to the oppression and even enslavement of those who have less.
8. If you are a spiritual person of any faith (or no faith at all), and you practice a bit of spiritually-based discernment and wisdom, you will come to realize that socialism follows the spiritual principles taught in all spiritual traditions, and is the wisest course of economic organization for human beings to follow.
Of course it depends on what types of regulation we are talking about, and in which industries — and, more than that, which specific regulations are being discussed. Broad generalizations are troublesome here because they often seem ideologically driven, and are pretty easy to nitpick into dust. At the same time, to do this topic justice we would probably get lost in the minutiae of specific examples in specific industries at specific junctures in history, and miss the forest for the trees…
So after several years researching this topic I’ll shoot from the hip on this and offer what I suspect to be a few “somewhat sound” overarching principles:
1. Deregulation for its own sake is almost always a bad idea — unless something else (incentives, new technology, new business models, new civic institutions, etc.) is deliberately and thoughtfully considered or generated in place of the regulations being retired. In other words, if there is a provably better way to achieve a given outcome, then by all means let's abandon regulations perceived to be holding us back. But “the market” does not — and never has — offered those solutions on its own, and too often the result of deregulation is a Wild West with excessively unpredictable results. The religious conviction that markets can solve complex problems without any oversight or constraints is just that: a religious conviction, with very little basis in observable fact.
2. In reality, there have to be carefully engineered metrics that evaluate outcomes in order to understand what is required to anticipate and manage externalities and social risk. That is where complexity is killing us right now — our systems, technology, and relationships are evolving quickly and incredibly difficult to grok, and it’s even more difficult to craft adequate policies to address them (and the larger the scope of such policy, the more difficult it becomes). And because all of society is morphing so rapidly, it can be counterproductive to apply rules and metrics we used in our past analysis to what we can only vaguely predict for the near future. It’s like trying to catch a train while riding on a bicycle, only to have that train turn into a rocket that launches itself into space. So, without actually deliberately slowing all this progress, growth, and innovation, most regulation is a shot in the dark — a necessary shot (if we lack other structures to achieve similar ends), but less and less likely to have predictive efficacy.
3. That said, costs of deregulation are generally easier to predict than benefits. Why? Because very often there were pragmatic “learned from experience” reasons regulations were put in place initially. Not always, but nearly so, deregulation is a knee-jerk right-libertarian/neoliberal response to bureaucratic interference with profit, and rarely if ever attempts to fully appreciate or understand benefits beyond profit — or costs beyond loss of profit. Have there been some measurable additional benefits for narrowly focused examples of deregulation? Of course. It’s easy to cherry-pick positive examples — but again that’s missing the forest for the trees. On the whole, deregulation without a thoughtful substitute has been disastrous in terms of negative externalities and measurable loss of benefit to society. And that social cost is the more nuanced outcome that pro-deregulation folks don’t want to acknowledge or address.
4. It’s okay to be inefficient. It’s another tangential discussion, but large corporations are not any more efficient than government is — and sometimes they are much worse. Regardless, if inefficiency means, for example, that innovation happens a little more slowly and deliberately, then that’s actually okay if we frame things with concepts like “the precautionary principle.” Again, we have to decide on our metrics — and what outcomes we really value the most.
If I attempt to use some examples to support these broad statements, they can (and will) be easily picked apart. But I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to carefully evaluate the following points to gain insight into what the true costs and benefits of deregulation really are:
1. The deregulation of the airline industry in the U.S. and its impact on rural America in particular.
2. Various deregulations of the banking industry in the U.S. and the measurable consequences of socialized risks for privatized gains.
3. The health impacts on U.S. citizens from the countervailing efforts of coal, tobacco, agriculture, and petroleum industries to rid themselves of regulation and/or achieve regulatory capture of government.
4. Now…who benefited from the deregulation in all of the above instances? It generally wasn’t consumers — or, if so, only a narrow slice of consumers. It also wasn’t workers (or, if so, again only a select few). It wasn’t society as a whole. So….who benefited the most? Well, owner-shareholders of course. And let’s not pretend that “trickle down” supply side fantasies have ever been realized — it has never happened. The benefits remain neatly with those owner-shareholders, their families, and perhaps a few lucky charities, favored financial institutions, and the more loyal and obsequious politicians.
5. Lastly, amplifying the “folllow-the-money” theme, who will benefit most from deregulation of (or lack of regulation for) the Internet? Public lands? Air and water quality? Obamacare? The stock exchange? It’s really not that difficult to understand what (and who) is really motivating most deregulation. It’s just really easy to obscure those causal sparks with distracting rhetoric about “liberty” or “efficiency.”
In any case, these examples would be a good place to start. I can happily offer more upon request.
Funny thing is…in the original thought experiment Hardin uses the variable of cattle that are privately owned. And, because the cattle are privately owned, the common resource used for grazing is abused by those private owners. If the cattle had also been collectively “owned” (i.e. considered an extension of the commons) this thought experiment would not have resulted in the same tragedy. So, contrary to the popular misconception that the lack of regulation of that commons was the problem, it was actually the private ownership of cattle and the unenlightened self-interest of the cattle herders that lead to the tragedy.
Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize-winning research on common pool resource management demonstrated that the real-world versions of the commons (i.e. not a flawed thought experiment) actually worked quite well all around the globe — and without either private ownership or government regulation intersecting those arrangements. The collectively-managed commons that disallowed private property and State oversight worked just fine — in fact it flourished, and demonstrates a way forward for us all.
You can read more about the criteria she discovered worked best in common pool resource management here: Ostrom Design Principles
My parents divorced when I was barely a year old, and I bounced back and forth between them for all of my youth. Their parenting styles were very different, and they were very different kinds of people with very different interests and values, but interestingly they both tried mightily to shield me from the same thing: Television. Radio was fine, but they felt TV was corrosive. I’m not really sure why they both felt so strongly about this, and they are both gone now, so I can’t ask them. But my sense is that my mom didn’t want me exposed to violence and horror (both fictional and in the news), and my dad just thought TV was a frivolous waste of time — a trivial and valueless distraction. My mom didn’t have a TV in her home at all, and the one at my dad’s was a tiny black-and-white set that spent most of its time stored in a closet.
As a consequence, even as an adult, when a TV is turned on in a room I am mesmerized by it. I can’t hold a conversation with someone or really even take my eyes off the screen. I’m fascinated! I never got into the habit of watching much TV — perhaps one or two shows during the 90’s when I was living alone. Even then, I always found the advertising very invasive and frustrating, and would usually turn off the show I was watching as the frequency and duration of commercials increased towards the end of the show.
One of my primary recreational activities, however, was watching movies in the theater. Oh boy did I love movies! And now that digital streaming is available I do gobble up movies from my living room couch.
But as for broadcast TV, or even cable, I just don’t watch anything they offer except occasional news broadcasts.
If we’re being intellectually honest, it is incredibly difficult to do this — not because there aren’t some (not a lot, but some) sources of “objective” information to consult, but because our own confirmation bias and what I call “exclusionary bias” so often come into play even when we do consult those objective sources. Add to this that search engine algorithms will customize search results to our existing preferences, and we begin to see the problem of just how difficult this journey is. And all of this can apply to anything from understanding Dark Matter to voting for a candidate to buying a new car.
So I prefer the term “intersubjective” in most situations — that is, attempting to find the intersections of various (inherently subjective) perspectives on a given topic — who ideally are themselves relying on objective data — then adding my own data analysis to the mix, and finally synthesizing a sort of quasi-objective conclusion from that intersubjectivity. This is where the term “grokking” comes into play as well. It is important to at least attempt to grok one’s way to a sense of truth or insight about complex topics, because there is so much information and potential complexity involved.
All of this takes time and effort, of course. And it can be quite a challenge to carve out sufficient time and effort in a given day to navigate an especially complex issue. In fact, a central malady of our times is that, even as the world around us reveals itself as increasingly complex, multidimensional, and indeed multivalent, we are asked to hurry, to make quick decisions, to get tasks done quickly, to “take someone’s word” for a given truth, to conform our thinking or virtue-signal our loyalties, and to consume consume consume. In other words: we are under tremendous pressure to discard careful and nuanced thought, and grab onto fast moving trains of advertising, political propaganda, shallow scientific reporting, and reflexive groupthink.
So, really, the answer to this question for me is that yes, I do try, but often I end up being pretty selective about which topics I treat so carefully and thoroughly.
This is a specious distinction used mainly for propaganda purposes.
Fairness of distribution is tied to a presumption of equality. Regardless of how someone begins their life in society — rich or poor, male or female, black or white — they should have barriers sufficiently mitigated by society so that their opportunities are truly equal. That is the heart of most philosophical frameworks which include equality of outcome as a desirable goal: there really is very little difference between authentic equality of opportunity and pragmatic equality of outcome in these frameworks, because for opportunity to be effectively equal, similar outcomes must be realistically achievable.
Although Jordan Peterson may burst a blood vessel throwing up straw men fallacies to undermine this simple truth, all his bullying bluster around this issue has no real substance.
This has been a long time in the making. Here are the primary reasons why conservative-leaning folks in the U.S. have succumbed to anti-intellectualism and science denialism:
1. Science skepticism and denialism have been carefully engineered by large corporations and the think tanks and media that they fund in order to protect corporate profits. This has been going on for a very long time in the U.S.A., and you can read about it here: Neoliberal Science Skepticism
2. Mistrust of education is, in part, a necessary “Us vs. Them” tribalistic groupthink that rejects what is perceived to be a threat to traditional values, traditional gender roles, traditional religious knowledge, traditional support of capitalism, traditional views of “American exceptionalism,” and other sacred cows of conservative American culture. When an educational process presents information or insights that contradict, revise, or evolve these cultural assumptions in any way, that is considered heretical and worthy of being burned at the stake. But this is only part of the formula. The other part is the creation of a “socialist bogeyman” that embodies all of these “un-American” tendencies to question the status quo — conservatives will sometimes refer to this imaginary bogeyman as “cultural Marxism.” The bogeyman is mainly used to frighten conservative rank-and-file into lockstep conformance (in voting, campaign contributions, consuming the right news media, etc.) in order to constrain “the godless socialist threat.”
3. The anti-expert revolution is mainly a result of the first two influences converging with the consequences of the Internet — and social media in particular. The Internet notoriously leveled the playing field of knowledge sourcing, so that an unemployed, uneducated, emotionally stunted nerd living in his mother’s basement could achieve the same “authority” with his armchair pedantry as a degreed expert with decades of experience in that field. Add to this the many deliberate distortions of fact by trolls and professional disinformation campaigns that the Internet and especially social media afforded, and the initially obvious divide between verifiable truth and absurd conspiracy has become increasingly muddied. What at first was a noble democratization of knowledge has become a free-for-all of “alternative facts.”
4. Lastly we have the issue of American gullibility. The spectacle of U.S. commercialistic culture has conditioned many Americans to believe things they are told in advertisements, on talk shows, or by religious authorities and ideological zealots. This is how scientology came into being, how Ayn Rand came to be considered a “philosopher” which she clearly is not, how Milton Friedman hoodwinked folks into thinking crony capitalism was “libertarian,” and how utter lackwits like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump became POTUS. Some 50% of the U.S. is addicted to being conned — being gullible rubes is just part of their cultural identity. So when a charismatic celebrity tells conservatives that climate change is a hoax, or that cigarettes don’t cause cancer, or that “freedom” means letting corporations completely control our lives, many of those Americans just desperately want to believe…to uncritically consume falsehood rather than accept responsibility for being well-informed.
Thanks for the question. In answer to “As an outsider, can you accept China don't want democracy as they value unity, prosperity & stability much more important? Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves? What the West really want from China?” I think it would be helpful to break the question into parts. So…
1. “As an outsider, can you accept China don't want democracy as they value unity, prosperity & stability much more important?” There are a number of challenges with this question. The first is the false dichotomy between “unity, prosperity, and stability” and “democracy.” The two are not mutually exclusive. To insist that they are seems a bit like propaganda to me. That is not to say that unity, prosperity, and stability can’t be achieved without democracy — or that they always exist in a democracy. It’s just not a mutually exclusive choice.
The second challenge with this question centers around what the people of China “want.” Hong Kong is now subject to China, and the people of Hong Kong overwhelmingly want democracy. Taiwan desires independence from China, and its people want to continue their democracy as well. The Tibet “government in exile” is democratic, and some proportion of people of Tibet would like to regain their independence from China. So to say that “China doesn’t want democracy” is actually not a complete or true statement.
2. “Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves?” This a little trickier to answer. I believe there are two primary issues in play. The first is that folks in Western developed nations are generally pretty arrogant about their way of life being superior to everyone else’s. This is cultural to a large degree, but it is also economic because of the West’s historic relative wealth and privilege, and its historic military strength.
The second issue centers around compassion and concern for other human beings. Now there will always be people who judge other cultures without really understanding them, and so their concerns may sometimes be misplaced. But in China’s case, there really are some very dire conditions for some segments of China’s population. The rural poor in China — certainly as compared to much wealthier city dwellers — have a comparatively rough time of it. This is true even for those who travel to cities for work, but must leave their families and children behind for months on end. From the outside looking in, the way the rural poor are treated looks a lot like the very sorts of capitalist oppression and exploitation Marx decried.
Religious and cultural minorities also have a tough time in China — especially those like the Uighurs who ended up in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. This treatment looks just as bad as the “ethnic cleansing” and degradation that has occurred throughout history in other parts of the world — for example, what happened to many Native American tribes in the U.S.A.
And of course many of the people of Tibet and Hong Kong feel very oppressed by China — and many people in Taiwan live in constant fear of oppression issuing from China.
Taken altogether, it is I think fair and reasonable for a caring and compassionate person to have concern for some segments of China’s population, and want to help or advocate for them in some way. Yes…this can seem a bit arrogant — especially when folks advocating may be pretty ignorant about China in most other respects — but I do think it honestly comes from a genuinely charitable mindset.
3. Then we come to “What the West really want from China?” That is probably the easiest part of the question to answer. There are really two very different expectations that many folks living in the West have regarding China. The first is that the Chinese people succeed and thrive — regardless of the political economy in which they live. For example, there is real worry that climate change will cause profound damage in China — especially it terms of its water supplies and its ability to grow food. And that is a very worrisome prospect, so there is hope that China will engineer a way out of this impending disaster. There is also a fair amount of awe and inspiration in seeing China progress in its Belt and Road Initiative — and I think many people have been rooting for China to succeed there.
The second expectation is that China not become more aggressive militarily, or attempt to expand its territory and maritime control, or become so dominant economically that it dictates trade policy across Asia and the rest of the globe. This is a very real fear — and unfortunately China has poured fuel on that fear in some of its expansionist behaviors and rhetoric of late (i.e. South China Sea, Taiwan, India’s Ladakh region, Hong Kong, Himalayas, etc.). To make things worse, conservatives in the West have tended to trump up the threat China poses to the West, which has only made things worse. Of course, countries like Japan and India have expressed much more concern and unease about China’s recent behaviors and rhetoric than anyone in the West has done.
4. Lastly, we need to talk about Xi. There is no escaping that he is behaving more and more like a dangerous authoritarian dictator. His creation of a cult-of-personality around himself; his removing anyone in opposition from power; his ending his own term limits in office; his increase of mass surveillance, censorship, and highly coordinated human rights violations; and so on. I think that history has taught us that such behaviors from a leader are incredibly toxic to the ultimate well-being of a nation and its citizens. Xi’s rule will not end well. In the West, we have our own failings in leadership, but can be very grateful that democracy has removed some of them (such as Donald Trump). If Chinese government offered another civic mechanism besides democracy to remove Xi from power, I wonder if the advocacy of democracy for the Chinese people would be as great as it is.
Future outcomes are not the central metric of morality — nor, alternatively, a foundational notion of prosociality — for deontic and virtue ethics. At the same time, deontology and virtue ethics do not discard or discount outcomes entirely…but outcomes aren’t the primary frame within which morality or prosociality are navigated, as is the case with consequentialism. And of course various modes of consequentialism can incorporate elements of duty and character, too. These are not necessarily either/or distinctions, but instead a matter of emphasis, primacy, or priority in each approach in order to achieve similar prosocial outcomes. A values hierarchy if you will.
We could summarize the idea in this oversimplified way:
Why do I say “oversimplified?” Because there are variations within each ethics orientation that change the priorities represented in this chart. I suspect there are even specific situations where all three approaches to normative ethics result in the very same shared prioritization. So we might say the chart above represents strong tendencies in each system, rather than rigid absolutes.
You would need to narrow that down a bit, IMO, perhaps to a specific area of knowledge. There are so many myths “widely circulated as truth” it would take several pages to list them all. Here is a list that just scratches the surface:
- That hair and finger nails continue growing after death (they don’t)
-That capitalist markets are responsible for our greatest innovations (they aren’t — publicly funded research is)
- That material wealth makes you happy (it doesn’t)
- That atheism isn’t a faith-based religion (it is)
- That humans are the only species to use tools or symbols (we aren’t)
- That Catherine the Great died trying to have sex with a horse (she didn’t)
- That freedom is an individualist construct (it’s not — to actualize “freedom” requires collective agreement, or it can’t exist)
- That love and hate are opposites (they aren’t — indifference is the opposite of both love and hate)
- That cracking your knuckles leads to arthritis (it doesn’t)
- That humans can easily make rational, logic-based choices (we generally can’t — we’re almost always relying on emotion to make our final decisions and act on them, and then we just post-rationalize them)
- That body heat escapes mostly from our head (it doesn’t)
Why would you think that atheism is a faith-based religion? Could you also clarify what do you mean by the term religion and faith.
I disagree with the statement but am curious to know why someone would think that!
It’s a potent myth that atheism isn’t a faith-based religion, and plenty of folks believe it. However, by any definition, atheism exhibits all the characteristics of other faith-based religions — really in all but a few inconsequential things, like showy architecture and elaborate ceremony. But to arrive at this understanding usually requires a specific semantic framing, which goes something like this….
Consider that, objectively, the only rational position a person can hold about deity is agnosticism. One can perhaps lean in one direction or another (towards theism or towards atheism) and still remain rationally fixed in the agnostic spectrum. But once one fully crosses over to either theism or atheism then, to paraphrase Rumi, rationality is left at the door.
To elaborate extensively on this may seem a bit tedious to the uninitiated, but suffice it to say that when I assert that “there is no God” to the degree that I am utterly confident and comfortable ridiculing and scoffing at those who assert there is one, and indeed I actively support propagation of my own beliefs as the only truth, and then seek to create a sort of club of a superior-minded view whose members all share that inviable certainty and propensity to evangelize, well…I have basically created religion.
Why? Because these behaviors exhibit pedantic dogma, a purity test for membership, a desire to “prove” the rightness of one’s position and win others over to the same view, and the maintaining of a persistently blind and irrefutable belief that willfully rejects any additional evidence (i.e. the question of God’s existence is settled). And ALL of this relies on faith (trust) in a faculty of reason that actually isn’t being rationally exercised — because of its rigid investment in the previously enumerated conditions (dogma, purity, imperviousness to evidence, apologetics, group identity, etc.). Ergo, if it looks like a duck….
Now, are there degrees of faith-based religiosity when it comes to atheism? Certainly, just as there are for other religions. We could even say that atheism’s religiosity can intersect with agnosticism (again, an agnostic who leans towards atheism, but who would nevertheless identify as an agnostic)…but atheism’s religiosity can also intersect with religious fundamentalism in its more extreme forms. One need only observe the ludicrous pomposity of some atheist vs. theist debates on social media to confirm this.
Thanks for the question. Here are some of the top reasons why folks in the U.S. are so “fervently capitalist” and suspicious of “socialism” and social liberalism:
1. Our commercialistic and religious fundamentalist cultures have made us a lot more gullible. We respond to advertising and marketing as if it is truth — which is great for companies selling products, and great for ideologues, con artists, and cult leaders selling lies. Consequently, when right-wing propaganda (Red Scares, “cultural marxism,” McCarthyism, Trumpism, Jordan Peterson, and other neoliberal disinformation) demonizes socialism and liberalism — or makes socialists and liberals scapegoats for outcomes that are actually caused by capitalism (like unemployment, income inequality, influx of immigrants, etc.) — Americans are just more likely to believe the hype. When I lived in Germany, I was stunned by how much more informed and cautiously critical even German kids were than most American adults.
2. Partial reenforcement is powerful. It is absolutely true than one-in-a-million people in the U.S. can work their way from poverty into affluence, and an even smaller number can become extremely wealthy. America really is the land of opportunity. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. Most businesses fail. Most people do not realize their dreams. And most people who try to become wealthy remain poor. Psychologically, though, this reality doesn’t matter, because if even one person in the U.S. wins a major national lottery and becomes a millionaire, people will still believe becoming a millionaire by playing that lottery (or starting a business, or inventing something, or writing books, or performing music, etc.) “is a real possibility.” Which, of course, it is…it’s just not very likely at all.
4. Lastly, there are nut-job market fundamentalist outliers who are very vocal. Just like Twitter “cancel culture” doesn’t represent most left-leaning folks, there are frothing-at-the-mouth far-right crazies who get a lot of attention on the Internet and in mass media, but who don’t represent a majority of more centrist right-leaning Americans. I’m speaking of course of fans of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and other thought leaders for the broken brain crowd — many of whom subscribe to the right-libertarian movement funded by the Koch brothers.
As a consequence of one or more of the above influences, U.S. citizens have the appearance of being rugged individualists who conflate freedom with laissez-faire capitalism. But that really isn’t true. In the U.S., as elsewhere, the embracing of socialist and liberal policies has actually made capitalism much more successful and enduring (see ). At least…they have up until now…
There are many ways to mitigate the harmful practices of capitalism. There have been the injections of socialist ideals into mixed economies (you can read more about this here: How Socialist Contributions to Civil Society Saved Capitalism From Itself). There have been left-anarchist experiments — see List of anarchist communities - Wikipedia. There have been authoritarian communist experiments (U.S.S.R., China, etc.) which have drawn a lot of criticism, mainly because they haven’t been very democratic, and have been equally exploitative — a sort of “state capitalism” run amok. There have also been what Elinor Ostrom called “common pool resource management” arrangements that have worked well for managing the commons (see Ostrom Design Principles). And there have been many additional proposals as well that offer an alternative political economy (here is my own: L e v e l - 7 Overview).
In many of these experiments, some combination of worker-ownership (of the means of production) and public ownership of natural resources (e.g. the commons) have been in play. The challenge, though, is that when these systems are competing with capitalism — or embedded inside global capitalism and subjugated to it — the negative externalities of the global capitalist system are still wreaking havoc on people’s lives, on the environment, and on the planet as a whole. Growth-dependent industrial capitalism is simply too caustic and destructive to continue at such a large scale.
I personally am not a fan of “statist” solutions (see graphic below), and would rather see democratic institutions thrive in a more horizontally collective way. Any concentrations of power end up also concentrating wealth and privilege…that is just how humans get corrupted. Without strong democratic institutions participating in all decisions — at every level — there will always be those who game the system to their own advantage, and to the detriment of everyone else. So diffusion of power and diffusion of wealth must go hand-in-hand (this is why right-libertarian solutions will never work, and why statist governments tend to get “captured” by special interests).
The last issue is that of private property itself, which tends to undermine both personal and collective liberty, and a strong civil society. I’ll offer two essays regarding this:
My advice: don’t get sucked into arguments with anyone who promotes the Austrian School (or the Chicago School, or the Virginian School, or Ayn Rand style laissez-faire). If someone identifies as subscribing to these ideologies, just smile and politely exit the conversation. Why? Well, for one, these are what I call “unicorn” economic theories — they have no basis in the real world, have never been effective when implemented, and nearly all of their tenets have been repeatedly debunked. For another, anyone who subscribes to these idealogies is probably a) not the sharpest tool in the shed; b) brainwashed by market fundamentalist groupthink and not susceptible to reason; c) trapped within malicious logical fallacies and half-truths just as Friedman, Mises, Rothbard and Buchanan were; and/or d) suffering from mental illness or serious childhood trauma. From many years of personal experience attempting to bridge the divide between evidence, reason, and the Austrian School fantasies, I can tell you it’s pretty pointless. You’ll just confuse them at best — or enrage and alienate them at worst.
So, if you want to look at some more interesting and valid critiques of socialism (with some interesting solutions included), read Alec Nove’s The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisited. And if you want to become conversant in a more sane and rational approach to market fundamentalism that acknowledges its inherent flaws, read Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia.
It’s not. At all. The politicization of mask-wearing was manufactured by politicians and other folks in power who want to manipulate people into fear-based reasoning. And it has absolutely nothing to do with “freedom.”
The reasoning is pretty simple: If you don’t wear a mask, you can infect other people. Not because you become sick, or have a fever, or have any sign of COVID-19, but because “asymptomatic” carriers of COVID-19 — and even those who’ve just been infected within the last few days but aren’t showing symptoms yet — can infect everyone around them really easily. Contrary to the misrepresentations posted in some of the answers in this thread, ALL of the science confirms that mask-wearing slows or stops the spread of COVID. That is in fact how other countries have successfully reduced community spread (sometimes down to zero!): mandatory mask-wearing in public.
So in this context, wearing a mask is pretty much identical to not constantly spraying machine gun fire into the air while walking around in a crowd. It doesn’t matter that the person spraying bullets doesn’t “intend harm” to others, because there is a very high likelihood they will harm someone by behaving this way. It’s really a simple cause-and-effect relationship: spraying bullets in the air in crowded areas is going to kill some people. What solidifies this comparison is the fact that, by not wearing a mask, it is also LOT more likely that the mask-rebel themselves will contract COVID and become a spreader — making the risk exponentially higher to everyone around them.
Here are some other things that are reasonably unlawful and highly dangerous, and are in the same category as not wearing a mask in public during COVID:
- Driving a vehicle at high speed down a street crowded with pedestrians.
- Having lots of unprotected sex with strangers every day against their will, when there is an increasing likelihood (from this very behavior) that we are transmitting a lethal STD.
- Being the driver of a school bus full of children who parks the bus across a busy train track several times a day because we insist we deserve to have a nap anywhere we want (and nobody can tell us we can’t nap anywhere we want to!)
- Inviting our friends over for a fun-filled evening at our home and feeding them carcinogenic foods for dinner (because hey, WE don’t think carcinogens cause cancer, and we don’t believe the scientists who do!).
Again, though, this is really about politicians creating divisions, polarization, and “Us vs Them” rhetoric, so that their followers can be easily manipulated to feel angry, afraid, and be lured into lockstep loyalty with deceptive groupthink.
I suppose the easiest way to summarize this idea is to say that folks who refuse to wear a mask during the COVID pandemic are basically unwilling or unable to question propaganda and indoctrination, and seemingly would rather kill people than offend their peers or educate themselves about doing the right thing.
After living in different parts of the U.S., and in Europe for a few years as well, here are some broad generalizations I would make for why folks become liberal instead of conservative:
1. Emotional intelligence. The higher someone’s empathy, compassion, and overall EQ, the more they seem to gravitate towards progressive ideas.
2. Education. The more educated people are, the more likely they are to lean liberal.
3. Urban living. Urban living exposes people to different cultures, lifestyles, belief systems, and political leanings — and demands a higher level of tolerance and “getting along” with such diverse folks. Urban living also amplifies the impact of each person’s behavior on everyone around them. These things make a progressive mindset a much easier, more productive, and more prosocial orientation than being conservative in urban environments.
4. Love of science. It’s hard to be conservative if you’re passionate about scientific inquiry that constantly revises previous assumptions and beliefs.
5. Distaste for greed and selfishness. Liberals tend to be motivated by concern and caring for everyone in society, rather than by accumulating wealth or power for themselves.
6. Identifying as a world citizen, rather than only as an American. This doesn’t mean anti-American, it just means seeing the whole planet as home, and feeling a sense of duty to the Earth and all its inhabitants — and then wanting to act (and vote, and consume, etc.) accordingly.
7. A sense that liberty is more about removing barriers to shared opportunity for everyone, rather than enforcing any individualistic “rights.”
8. Love of Nature. It’s hard to be a conservative nowadays if you believe humans should respect and protect the natural world, rather than exploit it, destroy it, and use it up.
9. Authentic spirituality. I don’t really believe you can be an authentic Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu and vote conservative at this point in time. Those faith traditions — and many others around the world — are pretty incompatible with current conservative attitudes, policies, and ideals.
10. A desire for “good government” (that is, one that governs for the public good) rather than fortifying crony capitalist plutocracy.
11. Favoring evidence-based goals and policies. Progressives tend to rely on proven solutions, rather than ideologically pure but untested experiments (or worse, on ideas that have demonstrated failure over and over again).
12.Critical thinking. The logical fallacies, conspiracy theories, and denial of reality that has been running amok in conservative groupthink of late is just too distasteful and alienating for anyone who has learned to reflect carefully and critically.
13. An inquisitive nature, with openness to new ideas.
14. A propensity for love-centric reasoning, rather than fear-centric reasoning.
15. Having wisdom and discernment.
There are, of course, folks who are liberal or conservative because their parents were one way or the other, or all of their peers growing up were liberal or conservative, but that’s sort of a default conformist or reactionary reflex, rather than a motivating rationale….
I think “politics becoming culture” in the sense of supplanting culture has been with the U.S. from its inception. The self-liberation from British tyranny was chiefly a cultural act, clothed in a loud and flashy political veneer/justification. And although, on-and-off over the decades, the U.S. has developed various regional sub-cultures that outshine its political currents for a time, these sub-cultures ultimately end up intersecting and merging with the political narrative. U.S. politics is like the Borg in this regard. Perhaps this is a feature of democracy itself — or of a democracy that has always been steeped in media, commercialism, and commoditization — where so much can be determined at a national level. Everything ultimately becomes political, because politics impacts nearly everything in our lives.
As a student (briefly) at the University of Washington in Washington State, and then as an employee of the same institution for many years — working in several different departments on campus — I can honestly say that the whole “left-wing indoctrination” diatribe of the right-wing conspiracy theorists is absolute bunk.
The reality is that there are all sorts of personal bias and political leanings among professors, students, and staff. Sometimes there is a bit more right-leaning bias in some departments (like the Business School, which is one of the places where I worked). And in some there is a sort of enforced neutrality that may have leanings one way or another among faculty and staff, but tries very hard not to let it show — this was true at the Graduate School of Public Affairs, where I also worked for a time. And yes, sometimes there is a left-leaning bias, such as in the fine arts and literature departments. But you couldn’t generalize too rigidly about any of these places, because there were almost always exceptions.
What DOES happen, and I think this is what upsetting to conservatives, is that tacit assumptions and culturally adopted ideas students bring with them to university DO get challenged and sometimes upended or contradicted with a preponderance of evidence and a little critical thinking. That is very scary to some folks, who hold on a little too tightly to a certain way of thinking for their sense of security and identity.
Thank you for the question.
There seem to be multiple issues and assumptions in this question, so I’ll try to tease those apart….
1. The “West” is not monolithic. So although many of the points below apply elsewhere in the western world, I will concentrate mainly on the U.S.
2. Is there a cultural revolution goin on in the U.S.? Yes, though it’s been a very slow moving one. Essentially, the wealth, status, and cultural relevance of a more conservative rural and blue collar white America is being usurped by urban, high-tech, more progressive and multicultural America. The rural and former industrial areas of the U.S. are getting hollowed out, and populations are increasingly concentrated in urban centers.
3. Socialist ideas, as implemented alongside markets in Western countries (see mixed economy), have always help fix the worst problems and abuses of capitalism. You can read more about this here: How Socialist Contributions to Civil Society Saved Capitalism From Itself. Marxist-Leninist forms of authoritarian communism, however, eventually were perceived as threats to the U.S. This was framed as an ideological and cultural clash (around liberty, economic opportunity, collective morality, etc.), but really was much more about economic competition between Western crony capitalism where corporations held much of the economic and political power, and communist “state” capitalism, where officials in the Communist Party held that power. This competition over control of capital has been the source of most anti-communist rhetoric in the U.S. (see Red Scare).
4. A separate — and more legitimate IMO — conflict between Marxism-Leninism and civil society in the West centers around the issue of democracy: the empowering of people to self-determination. This has been playing out acutely in Hong Kong. The fundamental difference between a Communist Party with a “president for life” and governments with officials who can regularly be voted into and out of office is profound — in both perception of a lust for power, and its actual diffusion. Of course, there are differing levels of democracy, too: Switzerland’s semi-direct democracy empowers the local and national electorate much more than the representative democracy of the U.S., for example. What the people of Hong Kong are resisting is losing even the semblance of local democratic self-determination.
5. Mao Zedong was actually, in the early stages of his ideas about communism, more attracted to Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism than to Marxism-Leninism. If Mao had followed his initial leanings regarding revolution, China would be a very different place — and Hong Kong would not be rebelling against centralized control. A main difference with Kropotkin is that there are no centralized controls — or any possibility of an authoritarian government — because decisions are made locally and more democratically.
Taken altogether, the main contrast and conflict in this context between “the West” (mainly the U.S.A.) and “communism” (mainly as implemented in mainland China) centers around two tug-of-wars:
1. In the economic system: Between plutocratic crony capitalist controls and centralized authoritarian controls over capital (really this means between private ownership of the means of production by a select few vs. public ownership of the means of production that is also controlled by a select few…so interestingly the end result is strikingly similar).
2. In the political system: Between democratic civil society and authoritarian, non-democratic centralized controls (again, though, the ultimate outcome in plutocratic crony capitalism in the U.S. ends up looking very similar to communist China in real terms…just with the constant threat of disruption to plutocracy, as Donald Trump is finding out firsthand).
If China became more democratic — with more diffused and distributed power across a strong civil society, and as Mao initially envisioned via Kropotkin’s influence — then “the West” would have a much weaker case when arguing that China is “less free.” Even allowing Hong Kong more self-determination, as China initially agreed to do when it took over from Great Britain, would go a very long way toward easing tensions. But, as throughout most of human history, concentrations of capital and concentrations of political influence nearly always go hand-in-hand. Greed for wealth ends up marrying itself to greed for power. Some of the most notable exceptions have, again, been anarcho-communist and other libertarian socialist experiments. For examples of those, see: List of anarchist communities.
Thank you for the question. The problem the OP is facing is the second part of the question: “to convince liberal friends of more radical change.” Remember what happened to the Occupy movement? The problem wasn’t that folks needed to be convinced — I think most left-leaning people understand that capitalism is hugely problematic and increasingly unsustainable. The problem is having a clear vision about what to do about it.
To that end, I came up with this website: L e v e l - 7 Overview, where I outline twelve “Articles of Transformation” — proposals for how a new political economy that replaces capitalism would look and function. Intrinsic to those twelve articles are the many flaws in capitalism that need to be addressed. Again, though, the main objective is to propose a workable alternative. I would also recommend taking a quick look at this page on the website, which describes various forms of activism with links to resources: L e v e l - 7 Action
Lastly, it would probably be helpful to share how Noam Chomsky discusses the flaws of the capitalism that exists today, as he does such a great job:
1. A lot of Americans are exceedingly susceptible to malicious media influence, emotional reasoning, and charismatic hucksters and con men. There are a number of factors that contribute to this — many of which are cultural or which have been part of U.S. society for many decades — and likely all of them must be addressed in some way:
A. Every American should commit to improving their critical thinking and discernment skills. This begins at home and in K-12 education, but also should be reinforced by remedial classes for adults — as a free community service and advertised with PSAs — on identifying propaganda and logical fallacies, and differentiating between credible sources of information and those with manipulative agendas.
B. Mass media has to become more neutral, fact-based, and disconnected from the agendas of wealthy stakeholders and foreign disinformation campaigns. There are many ways to do this, such as reviving the FCC fairness doctrine, treating social media similarly to other news media, verifying the identity of everyone who participates in online discussions, and so forth — but we need to end the spirals of amplified nonsense that entice people into fear-mongered, self-destructive, crazed, conspiracy groupthink.
C. Along similar lines, there must be some mechanisms that help us all quickly differentiate factual and expert insights from armchair opinions and conspiracy rants — in all media, but especially social media. There are tools like Media Bias/Fact Check, PolitiFact, and Snopes.com that can be very helpful. But for social media, I’ve been thinking about something like an Information Clearinghouse structured like the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site, where both experts and the general public weigh in on various topics to help folks navigate them. Perhaps links to such resources could automatically populate all social media posts, so that folks could easily and quickly access better information. The “democratization of knowledge” that the Internet has afforded us is revolutionary…but it has also diluted the meaning of truth and facts to an almost comical degree.
D. There will need to be an attenuation of (or countervailing forces that disrupt or ward against) for-profit marketing and advertising practices in the U.S. that condition consumers to constantly respond to commercial calls-to-action. This conditioning begins at a very young age, so that Americans believe they must reflexively consume things outside themselves — including information and perceived “truth” — in order to nourish themselves and fortify their self-concept. In essence, commercialism infantilizes Americans so that they become dependent on (or even addicted to) external guidance and stimulation. How can we change this? By disallowing advertising to children, for one. By critiquing/satirizing ads (When I lived in Germany, they did this with stick-figure cartoons after each TV advertisement that made fun of inflated advertising claims). By ending direct advertising from pharmaceutical companies. By encouraging more holistic self-care. There are really a lot of tried-and-true approaches from other countries and cultures that could help.
2. Much of rural and blue collar white America is really suffering from profound poverties. Not just economic, but cultural, intellectual, and in their collective esteem and identity. This suffering has largely been ignored by the political class in the U.S., who has either been focused on enriching corporations (often at the expense of jobs and economic mobility for rural white America), or on promoting a flavor cultural progressivism that is very alien — or alienating — to rural and blue collar white America. This suffering is further exacerbated by the cultural, economic, technological, and demographic shifts occurring in the U.S. which have, by and large, been inevitable. Enriching culture, jobs, economic mobility, human diversity, and interesting opportunities, experiences, and life choices have all been concentrated in urban areas of the U.S. for many decades now. This began with the industrial revolution of the 1800s, has accelerated since, and came to a head in the neoliberal financialization of the U.S. economy beginning in the 1980s. It has been further exacerbated by what I call “neoliberal carpetbagging” in rural areas — persuading rural populations to fulfill corporate agendas (crony capitalism, monopolization, etc.) in agriculture, energy production, resource extraction, retail, and countless other sectors — that further decimates rural economies and cultures. And those “left behind” in rural America and former industrial centers have increasingly felt disconnected from — or even adamantly opposed to — the socioeconomic shifts associated with these changes. But cities, and especially those with high-tech and gig jobs, are where multicultural population continues to concentrate and grow, and rural America and former industrial centers continue to be hollowed out. So there is anguish among those who feel left behind, and grief, and anger…and Donald Trump simply tapped into those intense (and increasingly desperate) emotions when no one else running for President could.
Are there ways to relieve some of the suffering of rural and blue collar white America? Sadly, nothing Donald Trump has done — or has proposed — will do that in a substantive way, and many things he has pursued (like ending the Affordable Care Act, initiating a trade war with China, etc.) either have made, or would make, the situation much worse. Mr. Trump offered a rallying cry and temporary emotional bandage for his voters, and little else. Even his many judicial appointments to SCOTUS and lower courts will do little to mitigate the forward march of change that a large slice of America so fears and rails against — because, ultimately, those changes will be facilitated by legislation enacted/supported by the ever-increasing urban, multicultural majorities around the U.S. In this way the “progressive agenda” is just playing catch-up with on-the-ground change that is occurring at breakneck speeds. However, let’s be clear: a prominent feature of financialization is that all companies, across all industries, become solely fixated on pleasing shareholders, and do not care about the concerns of consumers or labor — eventually, that will destroy the relative affluence and status of high-tech and gig workers just as it did factory workers. So ultimately, no one will be immune from the same fate.
So is there a way to help rural and blue collar white America, and ease their pain? In the short run, probably not, because that pain is too acute, and has been horrifically amplified by propaganda discussed in point #1 above. In the longer run, though, healing could arrive through forms of subsidiarity (pushing decision-making and policy implementation to the most local level possible), providing targeted economic opportunities for rural America (a green tech revolution could be huge in this regard), aggressively countering neoliberalism and the ongoing financialization of the economy, and efforts at urban-rural cultural reconciliation — such as increasing dialogue between rural and urban voters, and between folks with different educational, economic, and ethnic backgrounds — and increasing joint activities between those groups to solve common challenges. But ending the forward march of inevitable change is probably not an available option for much of America, so outreach to help rural and blue collar white America cope with that change — counseling resources, support groups, and the like — may be an important consideration.
3. The cultural and intellectual isolation of rural and blue collar white America has permitted “Us vs. Them” thinking to take root, and consequently enabled othering and the scapegoating of outsiders. Immigrants, people of color, and “coastal elite” liberals have almost nothing at all to do with the pain rural and blue collar white America has been feeling. This scapegoating is just a trick used by politicians, crony capitalists, and nefarious foreign actors to persuade rural and blue collar white citizens to vote a certain way, give money to certain candidates, or mobilize against straw man threats. Although the solutions proposed in points #1 and 2 above may help diffuse or disrupt this trend, there is something deeper and more pervasive in rural/blue collar white America that needs to be addressed. I don’t think it’s productive to call it “racism,” “classicism,” or “sexism,” or any other “ism,” because although those definitely exist, *such designations miss the root causes*, which are:
A. Lack of exposure to and positive interaction with different cultures, racial groups, religions, values hierarchies, and ways of life.
B. Lack of broader, deeper, non-America-centric education about the world and human history.
There are ways to address both of these deficits, such as wholesale changes to K-12 education style and curricula across the U.S. (for example, increasing parental involvement, elevating more diverse and even contradictory perspectives, etc.); encouraging cultural exchange programs that involve rural and blue collar white folks and their children (having young people live for a few months with a family abroad could be very effective), incentivized service that exposes people to other regions, practices, and cultures (in the military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, etc.), and so on. This isn’t an impossible task…but of course it is still impacted by most of the other considerations discussed here. In fact, if all of the other points aren’t addressed in some way, there will likely be vigorous resistance to broadening and deepening education and cultural exposure experiences from rural and blue collar white America itself.
4. The U.S. two-party system with high voter apathy and poor voting access unfortunately lends itself to polarization and the disempowering of diverse perspectives and political orientations beyond those two parties. In addition, the presidential form of democracy has led to an increasingly autocratic executive branch. In other systems, such as parliamentary democracies, there can be a much more diverse representation of perspectives, a more vigorous incentive to work out compromises that benefit more constituents or represent varied ideological approaches, and more distributed and diffused concentrations of power. I am also a fan of semi-direct democracy as practiced in Switzerland, which again pushes decision making down to more localized levels (subsidiarity), affords the electorate the direct means (referenda) of opposing or redirecting legislation passed by their representatives, as well as an avenue to enact legislation directly via initiatives (see This is how Switzerland’s direct democracy works for more info). And I think strongly incentivized voting with effortless voting access would go a long way toward encouraging Americans to be more engaged and committed to self-governance, regardless of what system we have in place (see Incentivizing Participation Would Increase Voter Turnout and Political Information). Although it would require a Constitutional amendment to make some of these changes, I suspect the U.S. will need to seriously consider doing something to fix what is broken.
5. We also have a perfect storm right now, in that we are overwhelmed with ever-increasing complexity — in how our world works, and in how we understand it — while at the same time that traditional values, cultural attitudes, and social roles are being upended or ridiculed. This means that men and women in the U.S. are no longer sure what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine;” that many folks simply find it easier to deny science than to attempt to understand its subtleties and perpetual evolutions; that “intellectualism” has become distasteful because it so often challenges or questions many beliefs and practices folks hold dear; that countless traditional phrases and attitudes are now suspect because they lack “wokeness;” that the seemingly bone-deep and enduring racism of some white communities is being reversed and used against them. The result? A “strongman” leader who is profoundly ignorant, misogynistic, racist, endlessly pedantic, and basically dead wrong on everything he opines about has become an attractive antidote to the overwhelming complexity and cultural fluidity of our times. What is the solution? I honestly don’t know. Maybe, as a culture, we need to recover our sense of humor about many of these things. Maybe we need to let go of reflexively judging each other, and just accept our differences. Maybe relieving some of the stressors and suffering described in other points will help folks let go of their prejudices and trying to control each other. Again…I’m not sure what will work best. I do know from experience, however, that compassion for — and radical acceptance of — what often seems like a combative diversity of values and ideals will go a long way toward healing the discord.
6. This point is probably going to be more controversial and hard to stomach for some people in the U.S., but after living abroad myself, I think it has a fair amount of truth: much of the U.S. is culturally immature, and at an adolescent stage of development as a nation. This is evidenced by individualistic and tribalistic morality (only considering I/Me/Mine or “what’s best for those just like me” in one’s moral reasoning, as well as prioritizing a need to belong and conform to a particular tribe above everything else); spiritual immaturity (dogmatic, black-and-white legalism and fundamentalism, instead of compassion-centric attitudes and practices); emotional immaturity (blaming others for problems we ourselves created, throwing tantrums when we don’t get our way, confusing willful selfishness with “freedom,” etc.); intellectual immaturity (excessive confirmation bias, tolerance of cognitive dissonance, closed-mindedness, logical fallacies, conspiracy thinking, etc.), and so on. It will simply take time for Americans to mature past this phase — perhaps another fifty years or more before U.S. Americans even catch up with the maturity of many older cultures.
7. Lastly, there were some 81 million people in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election who decided enough was enough, and that it was time to reject divisive rhetoric of hate and lies in the hope of rekindling governance of compassion, inclusion, reason, and truth. That’s sort of a big deal…especially considering that Joe Biden, who represented this return to sanity, received more votes than any other Presidential candidate in U.S. history. Hopefully this will mean there is real promise of healing and a semblance of unity to move the U.S. forward through a very difficult period. And yet, if the other considerations mentioned earlier are not addressed in substantive ways, we may see nativist, self-centric populism rear its ugly head once more….
So that’s my 2 cents. Hopefully it will help folks outside the U.S. appreciate at least some of the factors in play in the current election.
I am a big fan of Paulo Freire’s views on the power and purpose of education. Here is an overview that captures much of that — with the expressed aim of providing tools for self-liberation:
And if education is to empower us toward self-liberation — providing the tools, resources, and vision for any kind of positive change — a central emphasis will need to be an underlying philosophy that supports active participation in society. A constant drumbeat of the importance of civic responsibility, if you will — as well as how to avoid non-participation and tokenism. Arnstein’s “Ladder of Citizen Participation” provides an outline of such personal and collective agency:
But at the core of such an education model, there must be an acceptance of the necessary evolutions and divergence of critical thinking from any presumed norms. This is what so upsets traditionalists and conservatives…but it is absolutely essential to navigating nuance and complexity. An example of this cognitive process:
Of course, there must also be truth-telling about systems of oppression. This is also distasteful for those who value and even revere those systems — and who may conflate them with tribal loyalties, patriotism, or even religious devotion. But again, it is absolutely necessary to reveal the man behind the curtain (or behind the bread and circuses, as the case may be…).
And, lastly, as part of a participatory landscape, education must itself model equality, democracy, diffusion of authority, subsidiarity, collaboration, egalitarianism, and so on. We cannot teach liberation from oppression within a system of education that is rigidly prescriptive, proscriptive, hierarchical, and authoritarian.
This is probably the most widely propagated misunderstanding in modern times about Aristotle’s thinking — a longstanding misuse of what Aristotle wrote in Politics about the different forms and flavors of democracy. You can read a translation of what Aristotle actually wrote here: The Internet Classics Archive. Basically, Aristotle is most critical of certain manifestations of democracy, and actually praises other variations, though of course he places his vision of polity above them all as the best form of government to serve the common good. But the gross generalization one often hears today that Aristotle disdained all democracy as “mob rule” is not accurate. Aristotle’s thinking on democracy is nuanced, and he often will answer his own objections about it.
I’ll offer just two sections in Politics for consideration. The first is this, from Book Three, Part Eleven, in which Aristotle seems to extoll the benefits of “the wisdom of the multitude,” as long as special knowledge isn’t required to make a judgement — or, alternatively, if those who vote are well-educated! — and the crowd making the judgement isn’t “utterly degraded” (i.e. mindless brutes): (my emphasis added below)
“The principle that the multitude ought to be supreme rather than the few best is one that is maintained, and, though not free from difficulty, yet seems to contain an element of truth. For the many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse. For each individual among the many has a share of virtue and prudence, and when they meet together, they become in a manner one man, who has many feet, and hands, and senses; that is a figure of their mind and disposition. Hence the many are better judges than a single man of music and poetry; for some understand one part, and some another, and among them they understand the whole. There is a similar combination of qualities in good men, who differ from any individual of the many, as the beautiful are said to differ from those who are not beautiful, and works of art from realities, because in them the scattered elements are combined, although, if taken separately, the eye of one person or some other feature in another person would be fairer than in the picture. Whether this principle can apply to every democracy, and to all bodies of men, is not clear….For a right election can only be made by those who have knowledge; those who know geometry, for example, will choose a geometrician rightly, and those who know how to steer, a pilot; and, even if there be some occupations and arts in which private persons share in the ability to choose, they certainly cannot choose better than those who know. So that, according to this argument, neither the election of magistrates, nor the calling of them to account, should be entrusted to the many. Yet possibly these objections are to a great extent met by our old answer, that if the people are not utterly degraded, although individually they may be worse judges than those who have special knowledge — as a body they are as good or better.”
Later on, in Book Four, Part Four, Aristotle opines that the rule of law and equality of participation permit a successful constitutional democracy to flourish. The problem arises when there is no justice — no supreme rule of law — and the will of the majority begins behaving like a monarch. Aristotle further warns that, in such conditions, demagogues tend to rise to power. Of special note is the following section — please read it carefully:
“At all events this sort of democracy, which is now a monarch, and no longer under the control of law, seeks to exercise monarchical sway, and grows into a despot; the flatterer is held in honor; this sort of democracy being relatively to other democracies what tyranny is to other forms of monarchy. The spirit of both is the same, and they alike exercise a despotic rule over the better citizens. The decrees of the demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant; and the demagogue is to the one what the flatterer is to the other. Both have great power; the flatterer with the tyrant, the demagogue with democracies of the kind which we are describing. The demagogues make the decrees of the people override the laws, by referring all things to the popular assembly. And therefore they grow great, because the people have all things in their hands, and they hold in their hands the votes of the people, who are too ready to listen to them. Further, those who have any complaint to bring against the magistrates say, 'Let the people be judges'; the people are too happy to accept the invitation; and so the authority of every office is undermined.”
Sound familiar? This is, after all, what has been happening in the U.S. of late: the rule of law has been undermined, there is no equality of democratic participation or representation, and a flatterer has been enabled by a popular assembly to exercise despotic whims and override a more deliberative democracy subject to the rule of law.
With Politics having been available for the past 2,370 years, perhaps we should have seen this current devolution coming….?