Regenerative Mindset, Habits & Economies



A Critical Shift Away from an Extractive Downward Spiral

We can no longer maintain an opportunistic, ever-expanding extractive mindset toward planet Earth’s ecosystems and resources, toward human labor and creativity, toward the cooperative infrastructure of civil society, or in the “taking for granted” of life itself. Our extractive habits are unsustainable in economic terms, but more critically they are destroying everything around us at an accelerating pace. To fully appreciate both our extractivist habits and their consequences, please consult the following resources:

“Deep Adaptation: A Map for Avoiding Climate Tragedy” by Professor Jem Bendell (full paper available here; editorial article available here)

UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’ (Detailed report overview with many key statistics here; full “advanced unedited” IPBES report here)

“Capitalism is destroying the Earth. We need a new human right for future generations” — Guardian article by George Monbiot here.

“Extractivism and neoextractivism: two sides of the same curse” by Alberto Acosta (full essay available here)

The only solution is to shift as rapidly and all-inclusively as possible to regenerative solutions — and a regenerative state of mind. Collectively and individually, there is really no other choice. Why? Because hopes that global capitalism can be reigned in or civilized are naive and Pollyannish — as all such efforts are routinely undermined by enormously well-funded and fanatical neoliberal investment in the extractive status quo. Because trust that human innovation will address the most serious consequences of extractivism with new technologies is contradicted by the enormous complexities of natural ecosystems, the stunning scale and current momentum of the problems we must address, and the dismal track record of a majority previous technologies that created unanticipated negative externalities. Our only reasonable option is to implement regenerative systems and vigorously restrain and extinguish extractive systems.

And again, these changes are not restricted to how humanity views and utilizes natural resources — that is really just the tip of the iceberg. Equally import are how we view people — human creativity, labor, economic behavior, social behavior, spirituality, etc. — as well as how we view the institutions of civil society, and how we view both the wonder of Nature and the miracle of life itself. Does everything exist merely to be used up and exploited? Or does everything in this amazing reality have intrinsic value apart from any utilization by humanity? This is the fundamental question we must answer in order to guide effective transformations of our old, self-destructive habits into new, sustainable and thriving ones.


If These Concerns Are the Primary Drivers of Reform, How Can We Change?

What do “regenerative solutions” look like, then? Certainly there are many proposed frameworks for sustainability that have already proven themselves on various scales — many of which are described in proposals on my Level 7 website, or would easily dovetail with those proposals. Successful recycling programs and materials sourcing, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture have demonstrated genuine promise in their workability and scalability — even using capitalist metrics, they have increasingly been able to compete with traditional extractive models in terms of productivity and efficiency. As for human exploitation, worker-owned and managed cooperatives, Open Source production, P2P models, and commons-centric governance likewise have an established a meaningful track record of self-sustaining success — again even when using capitalist metrics to evaluate them, they often exceed the productivity and efficiency of traditional exploitative models.

Apart from the understandable resistance of established power and wealth to what will inevitably be a self-sacrificial change, what is the barrier, then, to transitioning away from extraction and exploitation? What is stopping us, and how can we overcome that barrier? Is there something more deeply rooted in our psyche that prevents us from moving forward. . .?

This is my intuition: that we need to fall in love again — with everything that our hectic, worried, materialistic, technological lifestyle has distanced us from. We need to re-invoke some of the mystery and wonder that once existed for us as we beheld the magnificence of Nature on a daily basis. We need to reconnect with each other in more personal ways — as neighbors, as community members, as citizens and fellow travelers of a rich cultural heritage. We need to cultivate more gratitude regarding the stunning gift our very existence. We must abandon a mechanistic, individualistic, reductionist and profit-centric view of ourselves and the world around us, and reacquaint ourselves with the felt experience of community and mystery. And we must not only grudgingly allow the possibility that life on Earth has intrinsic value, but actually celebrate it as we honor all species, all ecosystems, all habitats, all beings — including each other. In other words: we must return to more authentic, intimate and wonder-filled relationship with All That Is.

This is not a new concern, or a new remedy. Writers, activists, leaders, organizations and movements since capitalism first clawed its way to prominence have warned us of its dangers. However, this re-invocation of mystery has often been framed as an individual journey or choice — sometimes mystical, sometimes psychological, sometimes inviting methodological holism or integralism — but I would contend that this individualistic framing is itself destined to fail. A disproportionate emphasis on individual transformation and development is, in fact, just a new manifestation of the underlying error, confining the solution to the same atomistic, alienated, disconnected separateness that is causing the problem. The re-invocation of mystery must therefore be deeper, more encompassing, and more pervasive and participatory for any enduring, systemic transformation to take effect. It cannot be restricted to “me,” or “my tribe,” or “our community,” or even “our species” or “our planet,” for the egotism of individualism is too easily converted into the arrogance of anthropocentrism.

No, the smallest scope of this shift in relationship must, of necessity, be “All Life,” and then cascade through all other strata of being from there. To love all of life itself, to cherish it and commit ourselves to its thriving a a whole, is the beginning of cultivating kind, compassionate, caring relationships with everything else. And humanity must, as a whole, participate in this renewed relationship. We must all collectively revive a worshipful passion for the sacredness of life — certainly here on Earth, but really all of its forms wherever they may be found. And we must operationalize that passion within every system, every institution, every mutual agreement, every law, every collaboration and competition, every collective act. We must all live this truth together as if our lives depend on it — because, in light of the cataclysm we have created, our lives do in fact depend on it.

Yes, there will always be outliers, rebels, egoists and psychopaths, some of whom will continue to attain positions of power and influence. And there will be plutocratic pushback against all reforms challenge the supremacy of greed. But despite corporate capitalism’s endless efforts to reenforce, elevate and amplify such antisocial aberrations — through its heartless obsession with transactional relationships, commodification, externalized dependencies, self-indulgent hedonism, and the almighty dollar — that is not who we human beings are in our heart-of-hearts. Instead, we want to belong, we want to contribute, we want to care and be cared for, we want to love and be loved, and we long to have our intrinsic value and worth acknowledged. That is the basis of society itself — and family, friendship, and lasting romance — rather than the will-to-profit. So it follows that if we can, altogether, remember who we really are, then all the wonder and mystery of our relationship with life itself can be restored.

First Steps

In many ways what we are aiming for here is recovering a long-abandoned faith. Not faith in the sense of a blindly adherent belief system — and not the faith of any particular religious tradition — but faith as an intentional quality of character that trusts in certain fundamental realities: realities like the interdependence of all living things; the true miracle of existence; the joy of connectedness and belonging available to all; the power of lovingkindness; and the awe that we can be conscious of any of this. A faith that leads us to conclude with gratitude that, because the Universe has conspired in favor of our consciousness, our consciousness can now conspire in favor of the Universe. A faith that inspires us to celebrate rather than exploit, to regenerate rather than extract, to create rather than destroy. A felt experience of trust in the triumph of love over fear. A faith in life itself.

If such an intuition is correct, it demands that any reformation or revolution begin with this shift in focus, however that can be accomplished. As a small first step in this direction, consider the following short exercise with one or more friends and loved ones, and — if it feels helpful and right to you — practice and share it with others. And if it doesn’t work for you, perhaps you can come up with your own participatory practice that inspires a similar result.

In a quiet space, free of technological interruptions, have everyone join hands, and describe the following steps:

1) With heads bowed and eyes closed, take three deep, slow and even breaths to calm and center the body and mind.

2) Then, take three more slow and even breaths, and silently say to yourselves “May our faith reawaken” as you exhale each time. Focus on the meaning of those words.

3) After three repetitions, open your eyes and look at each other.

4) Breathe in slowly together, and then, as you all exhale, speak aloud in unison: “May our faith reawaken.”

5) Listen to each other, see each other, and again feel the meaning of those words in that moment.

6) Repeat the slow intake of breath and speaking the phrase aloud together two more times ― as an affirmation and encouragement.

7) Afterwards, pause for a few moments to allow this experience to settle and sink in.

We can of course make this exercise more specific by adding to the phrase: “May our faith in each other reawaken,” or in humanity, or in the power of compassion, or in life itself, and so on. But if we were all to consecrate our day, our actions, our relationships, our intentions, and our purpose with this kind of mutual affirmation and opening up — with a clear understanding of what it invokes regarding a sacred relationship with all of life — could such a small spark make a difference? Could it ignite a unity of compassionate restoration, and energize a critical transformation? Could it reawaken a quality of relationship with ourselves and everything around us that will restore balance and harmony?

In my teaching and coaching, I am always amazed at the power that connectedness and shared intention can create in small groups. That observation is what inspires this exercise, and the entire framework of Community Coregroups that I discuss in much of my writing.

Short Discourse On Insecurity: Why We Can’t Fix the World by Blaming Others



What if, suddenly out of the blue, I insisted that you stop trying to control other people?


What if I said that, when you try to control what other people say or what they do, it’s just a symptom of your own insecurity? And what if I said you needed to do some tough personal work on yourself first, before trying to make other people conform to your expectations of how they should act towards you? And what if I said that, eventually, if you actually did that tough personal work, you’d almost certainly stop trying to control others anyway?

How would that make you feel? And, most importantly, would it change your behavior at all…?

Or would it just piss you off? Perhaps make you challenge my self-appointed role in policing your behavior? Would you maybe ask: “Who the heck are YOU to tell me what I can and can’t do???”

Okay then. So now consider the following situations:

- A woman doesn’t like the way a man is touching her arm.

- A transgender person wants coworkers to use their chosen pronoun.

- A gay person is offended by the homophobic jokes of fellow students.

- A Vegan is horrified when someone brings a meat dish to a potluck at their home.

- A person of color feels alienated by a politician using coded language – language that reveals prejudice or even hatred towards their race.

- A religious person feels persecuted and excluded by a law, a business practice or a cultural tradition that belittles or contradicts their beliefs.

- A person of a particular political persuasion believes another group routinely looks down on them, dismisses their ideas, and laughs at their beliefs.

- A member of one socioeconomic class feels targeted and oppressed by members of other socioeconomic classes.

- A politically correct audience is angry and judgmental about a comedian’s sense of humor regarding any-of-the-above.

These examples aren’t meant to be equivalant, but in any of these situations there can be real emotional pain involved – a genuine felt experience of demeaning oppression – that could lead to debilitating despair over time. But, even though real harm may be occurring, does the offended person have the right to demand that those causing offense be ridiculed, shamed, accused or blamed? To demand that they apologize, admit they were wrong, and commit to changing their behavior? To insist they be punished in some way – that they resign, be fired, lose status, be publicly harassed, or are deserving of threats and intimidation? To essentially become an example of accountability for all similar wrongs experienced in society...a scapegoat for those collective ills?

Can you see what is really happening here?

It isn’t just that the abused is turning into an abuser – it can be much subtler and more insidious than that. For if each of these individuals (or groups of folks) insists that everyone else conform to their particular standard of conduct, to respect their particular sensitivities, to always consider their feelings and perspective and honor their particular belief system…well, then this leads to everyone constantly policing everyone else’s behavior, and thereby amplifies mistrust and even hatred. And this, in turn, has everyone pissing everyone else off, to the point where we all declare: “Hey, what gives YOU the right to tell me what I’m allowed to say or do?!” And so we all begin to resent the shackles that our society seems to be placing on us; we all begin to question whether living in harmony with each other is really worth it – and whether our civic institutions are all that important…or worth preserving. We begin to doubt the very foundations of civil society itself.

And yet there is increasingly a reliance on impersonal institutions, the court of public opinion in mass media, and often disproportionate personal punishments to correct what are essentially ongoing cultural and interpersonal challenges. Whether it is a left-leaning social justice warrior or right-leaning religious conservative, promoting the imposition of personal preferences via such impersonal mechanisms is actually destroying the social cohesion required to repair these longstanding problems.


And this is where we have arrived in the U.S. culture of 2019. In every corner of our current political, religious, racial, and economic landscape, folks are arming themselves with accusations against other people who don’t seem to respect or honor a particular boundary or standard of behavior. Everyone is able to take offense, and demand that everyone else change. And then the most impersonal, coercive and punitive of institutional tools are used to seek remedy. It is as if we have arrived in George Orwell’s 1984 – or even Golding’s Lord of the Flies – or the worst periods of the Soviet era, or Nazi Germany, or the darkest days of McCarthyism, or the ugly history of the Inquisition…times when folks were ratting each other out to gain praise from those in power, or achieve brief political advantage over someone else, or garner a little more social capital in circumstances where they felt disempowered, or were simply taking revenge on people they didn’t like – and then taking pleasure in their suffering. And, as a consequence, in every one of these historical situations, civil society itself was eventually degraded by pervasive mistrust and mutual oppression.

Is that what we want? Do we want to head any further down this dark and dismal path?

If not, then we need to rethink what is becoming a reflexive and widespread culture of blaming, accusing, ridiculing, shaming, and punishing.

For at its core, when we ask other people to change their behavior to make us feel more comfortable or safe, we are actually giving away our power. We are offering them all the agency in a given situation, and abdicating our own. We are reinforcing our victim status, and strengthening the bullies even as we attempt to punish them. Often, we may even be galvanizing opposing tribes against any hope of reconciliation. We are, in effect, perpetuating both conflict and our own disempowerment at the same time, rather than solving the underlying problems. And as we give away our own power – while at the same time challenging and undermining everyone else’s – we end up destroying the voluntary trust, empathy and compassion that bind society together. Instead, we replace it with fear.

So…what is the alternative?

There are many observable options that have proven more effective, so why not return to those? For example, in each of the awkward and uncomfortable situations described above:

1. We can fortify our own emotional constitution, instead of taking offense. We can become stronger and more secure in who we are, without expecting others to respect or honor us. This may require some real interior work on our part – some genuine fortification of spirit, mind and heart – but the result will be that we won’t constantly require others to conform to our expectations anymore.

2. We can calmly ask for what we want – not as a self-righteous demand, but as a favor from someone who says that they want to have a professional or personal relationship with us. If they really care about us, perhaps they will at least try. But if our response is met with scorn, dismissiveness or skepticism, we have the option of letting it go. After all, that person’s approval, acceptance and conformance is not required…because we have become more confident and secure in ourselves. We don’t need to demand their conformance – and why would we want it, if it doesn’t come from a place of respect, understanding and compassion?

3. We can accept where other people are, let go of judgement, and be a positive example for them. This is what authentic, effective leaders (and parents, and managers) do: they lead by steadfast and dedicated example…not through blaming, threats, accusations or fear of punishment. Bullying is the easy way out. We can do better.

4. We can passively, actively and nonviolently resist. We can refuse to participate in activities, systems, environments and relationships that demean who we are and what we believe. We can then vote to support compassionate candidates and friendly initiatives. We can purchase goods and services from those who are supportive to our identity and beliefs. And we can do this without hatred, without fear and anxiety, without shame or blame.

5. We can create supportive communities, while also cultivating challenging relationships that bridge differences. We can surround ourselves with like-minded folks who nurture and encourage who we are and what we believe – especially in our closest relationships. At the same time, we can also cultivate friendships and social or professional connections with people who are different, who disagree, who aren’t as accepting or as tolerant. For how else can we teach by example, or demonstrate compassion, empathy, tolerance and acceptance if we don’t have such diverse relationships in our lives?

6. We can be brave…and bravely be ourselves. We can speak our truth, share our perspectives, broadcast our preferences, celebrate our identity, and proudly honor our chosen tribe…without making others feel belittled, excluded, accused, blamed or shamed. We can joyfully be who we are, while also being welcoming and kind at the same time. We can be stalwart in our own principles, while being generous towards those who do not share them. This is what real power and agency looks like.

7. We can recover our sense of humor. Perhaps it’s time to allow just a little bit of playfulness back into our lives and public discourse. A little bit of good-natured joshing. Humor isn’t by definition “mean-spirited.” There is a difference between a joke and a slight – and often this is has just as much to do with how the humor is received, as with how it is intended. If we are always reactive, always defensive, always on-edge…well, we are not likely to be able to create or maintain the relationships required to heal a polarized society. Perhaps, if we let a little humor back into our world, we wouldn’t all be so angry, defensive and fearful so much of the time.

These are the methods that make a real difference over time, that can effectively heal through compassionate and welcoming personal relationships, rather than deepening divides with institutional vindictiveness and “Us vs. Them” groupthink.


In essence, if we want everyone in a diverse and multifaceted society to thrive together, then we all must assert our own place and space to do that – not by demanding others create that space for us, but by claiming it ourselves and standing firm…without anger or condemnation towards anyone else. In essence, we need to stop blaming and accusing. This is not easy, but it demonstrates genuine strength of character. And it is the content of our character by which we all would prefer to be judged, isn’t it? I think we need to return to this standard of measure, if we want to avoid spiraling backwards and downwards, into the greatest horrors of human history.

Just my 2 cents.

The Evolution of Capital



At the prompting of Lincoln Merchant, I have cobbled together my current thinking on a definition of “capitalism.” I am grateful to Lincoln for encouraging me to distill something concise and concrete from an admittedly tangled jumble of assumptions, observations and definitions floating around in my head. Hopefully this quick overview will suffice – though I suspect it still requires refinement.

To begin, I view capitalism as the natural consequence of feudalism and mercantilism, where capitalism maintains similar economic, racial, class and other sociopolitical power structures and stratification found in these systems, but morphs and reworks these components to support larger scales of production, adapts them to larger human populations, takes better advantage of rapidly emerging technologies, creates more diverse opportunities to become an owner-shareholder and concentrate wealth, and encourages (and exploits) a more economically mobile worker-consumer class out of what had been serfs, vassals and slaves. However, for the purposes of this discussion, all of those morphed components can be conveniently distilled into some form of “capital.” The basic definition of such capital would sound something like this:

Capital is anything that can be shared or accumulated to gain and maintain individual and societal existential security or advantage – that is, to support human thriving.


There are therefore many recognized forms of capital that fulfill this function – many of which mingle and overlap – which have played a role in most cultures throughout human history, and were certainly present in forms of political economy prior to capitalism. We could call these original, simple forms of capital:

1. Social capital: tangible and intangible resources made available through immediate relationships with others – through family ties, geographical communities, institutional and affinity group memberships, social networks, shared class stratum, and spontaneous agreement around values and ideology

2. Cultural capital: acquired skills, education, style and appearance (racial capital is a subset of cultural capital) – all of which facilitate social mobility and accumulation of social capital

3. Natural capital: wildly occurring land, plants and animals, water, air, minerals, etc.

4. Intellectual capital: ideas, knowledge, information, methods, etc.

5. Creative capital: human labor, inventiveness and ingenuity

6. Attraction capital: confidence, happiness and satisfaction, cultural “success” signaling, promise of pleasurable outcomes, vitality and charisma

7. Technological capital: technological advancements of any kind, i.e. “new tools”

8. Energy capital: the energy available to power any given closed system, the harnessing of which must generally comply with the laws of thermodynamics

9. Agency capital: natural ability to exercise agency in the world (i.e. to exist, express, affect and adapt – via self-directed volition, in willing concert with others…rather than through coercion, deception and manipulation)

10. Political capital: social capital and agency capital that have been consolidated into positions of power, privilege and influence

11. Temporal capital: the passage, measurement, estimation and active apportioningof time as a critical contributive factor to all goals, metrics and processes

12. Spiritual capital: intrinsic individual and collective spiritual capacities that have transformative influence

Capitalism, as it evolved into its modern form, concerned itself mainly with actively organizing, managing and combining these original, simple forms of capital towards a very specific end: the production of additional, more complex and abstracted forms of capital that permit every form of capital to be harnessed for the purpose of exchange and accumulation. We could therefore describe these additional forms of capital as complex, secondary forms, which include:

1. Private capital: the designation of “private ownership” for as many categories of capital as possible, in order to facilitate exchange and accumulation

2. Commodified/objectified capital: the creation or designation of tradable “objects” of value from other forms of capital (i.e. services, ideas, goods, etc.)

3. Productive capital: engineered and accumulated inputs that are focused solely on the production of goods, services, ideas and other commodified capital (this includes circulating capital/intermediate goods; fixed/physical capital, etc.)

4. Financial capital: a system of money – and currency itself, as a representation of value – that permits accumulations of debt, equity and interest in the course of production and exchange

5. Competitive capital: a tactical or strategic competitive advantage in production (product differentiation, persuasive marketing, monopolization, engineered scarcity, “noncompetitive” business practices, cronyism, regulatory capture, revolving door politics, etc.)

6. Entrepreneurial capital: the skills and ability to create enterprise, innovate, adapt and succeed in a competitive marketplace

7. Global capital: the plutocratic coordination of all political, cultural and economic systems into a global, interdependent conglomerate through which all capital flows can be managed, controlled and directed

Ultimately, these complex, secondary forms of capital have their own singular objective of aggregating and concentrating all capital within the capitalist system into profit. What is profit? In the simplest terms, it is the ability to extract value from a system of production and exchange. But what is “profit” for? What aim does it have? Why does profit exist? Here we come full circle, because aside from hoarding for its own sake, the consequences of generating and accumulating profit are a perceived and actual increase in “individual and societal existential security and advantage” – at least for owner-shareholders. How does profit achieve this? By representing a distilled, transmutable, extensible and durable form of surplus capital that arises independently from other capital, and which in turn facilitates ROI and IRR. In other words, profit becomes an abstract but enduring representation of extracted value, a “distilled” representation which itself can be converted into many of other forms of capital (thus “transmutable”), while nevertheless maintaining autonomous facility for its own enlargement (thus “extensible and durable”). It is really quite ingenious…almost magical in its inventiveness. Profit therefore equates a mutually accepted reservoir for transactional power by aggregating, concentrating and superseding all other forms of capital, and then creating value from itself.

At this point we can reflect on how the power structures of feudalism and mercantilism reassert themselves in capitalism. As in feudalism, capitalism tends towards winner-take-all scenarios, where the greatest security and advantage is afforded owner-shareholders (nobles) who can accumulate and secure wealth for their progeny; a small group with exceptional talents, skills, inheritance or luck can increase their economic freedom and mobility (freemen, franklins); and the vast majority of worker-consumers lack any real economic freedom and mobility, and remain as exploited labor (serfs, vassals and slaves) for the owner-shareholders. In order protect and expand these power dynamics, crony capitalism creates a similar relationship between corporations and elected government that merchants had with aristocracy under mercantilism – where workers were oppressed for the benefit of the State, and the State expanded its power through corporate monopolies in international trade. Even where capitalism diverges from these old institutions and relationships, it still maintains similar hierarchies in all of the systems it creates. Perhaps this is why there is such a natural antagonism between democracy and capitalism: the former aims to diffuse power and promote egalitarian distributions and protections (i.e. civil rights and civic institutions) for all classes, while the latter is still aiming to concentrate controls, power and influence for the owner-shareholder class to enlarge their profits. In so many ways, capitalism is really new wine in old wine skins…albeit much more voluminous, complex, and effective wine.

So an approximation of capital’s evolution within capitalism might look like this:



The kernel of truth in ideologies like pro-capitalist market fundamentalism is that there is, in fact, a normal and natural inclination among human beings to increase their own existential security and advantage – their own thriving. However, a disconnect occurs when capitalism is consequently described as an obvious or inevitable outcome of that impulse. There are, after all, many other ways to structure society – and to interact with original, simple capital – so that a greater level of individual and collective security and advantage is facilitated. History is replete with examples that do not include features like private ownership, or prioritizing individual transactions above communal sharing, or emphasizing competitive advantage over collaboration. These include both naturally occurring, self-organized, commons-centric solutions that have endured around the globe (as elaborated in Elinor Ostrom’s common pool resource management research); consciously engineered commons-centric arrangements that have likewise demonstrated success in the real world (such as the societies in Spain, Ukraine and Korea that were modeled on Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism); and experiments that illustrate how original, simple capital can either remain “shared” as a public good within the commons to varying degrees (direct democracy, Open Source, Creative Commons, P2P, National Parks, public highways, etc.), or can be more sustainably and collectively managed (Transition Towns, worker-owned enterprise, community NGOs, non-profit cooperatives, etc.).

In these alternatives to capitalism, we observe mainly one type of secondary, complex capital: common capital. There is, however, no longer a need for surplus capital. Common capital designates “common ownership” for as many categories of capital as possible, so they are treated as public goods, available to all for collective benefit. Most of the other forms of secondary, complex capital found in capitalist systems either don’t exist, or are greatly attenuated, deprioritized or transformed. For example, there could still be competitive, entrepreneurial, or financial capital, but they have a more egalitarian, mutually nourishing expression. The consequence of such arrangements is that existential security and advantage – human thriving – is provided for everyone is society, and the old power dynamics and hierarchy of feudalism and mercantilism fade away. In addition, as demonstrated by Ostrom’s research, tragedies of the commons are easily averted, so that the original, simple forms of capital can be preserved. This is the real meaning of “sustainability” in commons-centric systems.

An approximation of the commons model might look like this:



It is important to recognize that, although ingenious in many ways, capitalist activity is entirely invented; there is nothing natural about the process of managing, concentrating and accumulating other forms of capital so they facilitate private property, free enterprise or competitive markets – and there is no reason that all capital must become transactional in nature, or must result in profits. These are, rather, evidence of a highly inventive species…and perhaps a fairly insecure and immature culture as well. For if all forms of capital can be negotiated purely through transactional relationships, then any need for interpersonal trust, spontaneous reciprocation, or genuine depth of emotional connection can be attenuated or even eliminated. And if, as many researchers suggest,[1] prosociality evolved mainly to facilitate existential security and advantage for tribes, families and individuals, then there is no longer a strong need for prosociality itself in capitalist societies, since original, simple capital has been pervasively overtaken by complex, secondary forms. The development of these complex, secondary forms understandably disrupts collective valuation of the original, simpler forms – it subjugates them to rigidly hierarchical transactional priorities, and disallows more subtle and dynamic relational priorities. Ideas, friendships, creativity, technological tools, the natural world and so on no longer sustain intrinsic, facilitative value for individuals and society – certainly not in the context of survival. Instead, the focus of human energies, interactions and agency becomes centered around the secondary forms that assure advantage and security within a capitalist system. Very much like losing oneself in a video game, or gambling in a casino with no windows or clocks, capitalism creates an ecosystem that is increasingly disconnected from preceding social and ecological systems. Reality becomes externality. And profit, in turn, becomes an end-in-itself, usurping the value of all other forms of capital; and all existential security and advantage is then (philosophically and pragmatically) concentrated into the surplus capital of profit.

The corrosive qualities of capitalism’s secondary forms of capital have of course been intuitively predicted by socialists and anarchists over previous centuries.[2] There are also increasing observations among modern disciplines that outline some of the least attractive psychological and sociological impacts of capitalist systems;[3] that is, what we might call a “casino effect” or “video game effect” on the human psyche. We also have fairly strong evidence that modern capitalism isn’t sustainable, mainly because of snowballing negative externalities that are destroying the original, simple forms of capital.[4] Over the course of being privatized and commodified, natural capital is polluted and depleted; agency capital is abdicated and externalized; social capital becomes isolated, diluted and fragile; political capital is corrupted; spiritual capital is corroded and distorted; cultural capital is homogenized; and so on. So one benefit of appreciating the evolution of capital as outlined here is the potential explanation for why these failures are occurring…and will continue to occur under capitalism. It also suggests how a commons-centric vision can restore more pristine and flourishing versions of original capital and collective thriving. Despite its initial impetus to improve human existential security and advantage – and its spectacular interim success in economic growth and wealth creation – capitalism is now actually undermining and annihilating that security, even as it continues to ensure superficial and temporary advantages for a select few.

There are other characteristics of capitalism that are contributing to its instability and decline, and these can also be described according to dynamics of different forms of capital as we have defined them. As described in Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, profits that have been increasing regardless of the rate of economic growth are concentrated in the owner-shareholder class, amplifying economic inequality and the potential for societal instability. Piketty argues this concentration is by design, and points to factors like inheritance that perpetuate unequal distribution. Consider, then, that this process is easily understood by examining the different forms of capital, and how they interact both qualitatively and quantitatively. Certain types of capital have hard limits: natural and energy capital are inherently limited and finite. Other types of capital have soft limits: technological, social, and cultural capital, while amplifying other forms of capital, have diminishing impact as scale and complexity increases. Some types of capital are effectively limitless: creative, intellectual, and indeed agency capital can perpetually expand through other forms of capital – especially the secondary, more complex forms – as those forms are aggregated and consolidated. And some capital is both finite and limitless: temporal capital, for instance, which alternately constrains, distills or expands other forms of capital, depending on how it is applied.

Can you see what is happening here? The efficiency by which capitalism concentrates and combines various forms of capital inherently creates tremendous tensions and imbalance between finite categories of capital and infinite categories of capital. And that conflict inevitably results in unsustainability. In the simplest of examples, we cannot produce more orange juice if there is a finite supply of oranges, we cannot convince every consumer they need four additional smartphones, and it becomes more and more challenging to generate private capital if nearly everything is already privately owned (at least, it becomes decreasingly easy to do so). At the same, we also cannot reliably extract value from creative or intellectual capital when it is ubiquitous and instantly accessible to all, or transfer so much social and agency capital into political capital that it produces fascism (at least not without perilous consequences), or demand that time capital always conform to rigidly constrained expectations where organic variability (in humans and the rest of the natural world) is involved. But as capitalism is growth-dependent and profit-dependent, it insists that resolving these tensions somehow be made predictable, constant and profitable. Capitalism thus keeps setting one form of capital in opposition to other forms in untenable ways, exciting a self-sabotaging conflict. And while certain innovations, newfound resources, and increased efficiencies have aided capitalism’s eternal quest for more, most of that low-hanging fruit has already been harvested; the expectation of resolving these conflicts – or profiting from them – has become an asymptotic wager. And, eventually, likely in our not-to-distant future, this wager will effectively arrive at a dead end where progress is indistinguishable from stasis, even as the most destructive externalities of capitalism continue unabated.

Which is why we must return to commons-centric proposals in the hope of restoring sanity to managing and utilizing all forms of capital. The pressure cooker needs to be vented and reduced from boil to a pleasant simmer, so that we have a hope of balancing the finite and the infinite, instead of pitting them against each other. In essence, humanity must humbly awaken to its limitations, and let go of vestigial hierarchical systems. We must stand down, and simplify. And that is what the unitive, egalitarian, ecologically responsible, prosocially restorative elegance of common capital proposals offer us.

(The most current version of this paper is available at www.tcollinslogan.com/Evolution_of_Capital.pdf)

For further exploration of alternative political economy, please visit www.level-7.org

[1]http://socialinteractionlab.psych.umn.edu/sites/g/files/pua1356/f/2010/2010/Simpson%20%26%20Beckes%20(Prosocial%20chapter,%202010).pdf, https://www.sarah-brosnan.com/research/the-evolution-of-prosocial-behavior, http://www.professormarkvanvugt.com/publications/articles/21-evolution-and-cooperation/125-the-evolutionary-psychology-of-human-prosociality-adaptations,-byproduct,-and-mistakes.html

[2]See Godwin, Paine, Thoreau, Proudhon, Owen, Fourier, Bakunin, Marx, Kropotkin, DuBois, Robinson et al.

[3]https://www.researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/16246606_Paul_K_Piff, http://www.tcollinslogan.com/code-3/images/StupefactionOfHumanExperience.pdf

[4]https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/does-capitalism-have-to-be-bad-for-the-environment/, https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/04/the-externalities-of-global-warming/, http://www.level-7.org/Challenges/Capitalism/

Grace



Unconditional condition of being
Felt substance of reality
Destroyed and transformed
In Spirit’s fire:
Phoenix daemon
Ill-fitted with flesh
Lavishing heart that loves, is loved
     in the fierceness of Kali.

Mind distilled by breaking
Breaking in, out, loose, free
A gift so great
It can’t be carried
Only given, constantly given
In glorious rivers
     from the Center of All
Fountains of service, compassion and kindness
Flowing without constraint
Into an aching world.

Suffering
A long dark night
     alone and forsaken
Death in the absence of Light
Then knowledge: wisdom and agape
Blazing beacon of return
Annihilating every fear
And every ignorance
For skillful bodhicitta.

I am no more
Beyond Nothing
There is only YES
Joyful sorrow tips the precious oil
Upon His feet
Released at last
Soul shattering with gratitude
Devotion weeps.

Peace be with you.
It was only ever Peace.

The Shedding Tree



At length I understand
What this vague tickling sensation is
This loosening and lifting
Like forgetful daydreams
Between one room and the next:
It’s one more leaf of me, drifting loose
Wending on a breeze of years
Slowly, inevitably, settling to earth.
What was it once?
What marks the feud of my denuding?
Perhaps it is a memory of France in summer
Or some simple skill – like sketching – that my body now finds strange
Or an extra surge of strength on winded climbs
Maybe a kettle full of turgid words, boiled completely dry
Or some delicate, fluttering, once-cherished yearning….?
Or wait…was it something else
Something more important
Woven deeper and more intimate…?
I don’t know.
I. Don’t. Know.
And in not knowing I lose more
Than all the precious selves I’ve stored
A barren ignorance crawls forth
Like Proustian sleep
While chilling winter
Storms my leafless limbs.
Such stillness
On this privileged ground
Gone cold beneath the heaping foliage of life
I am bereft and overwhelmed
In unkempt gloom
Gray gray gray!
And yet…and yet –
Defiant, my reach of bony branch
Jagged and accusatory
Against indifferent and implacable sky
…another vague, tickling sensation in reply.
Then, sensing what is leaving…has left
Burrowing through vague aromas of decay
I try to remember
Intricate, infinite, fiercely desperate
I try to remember
Those many paths that brought me here
I try to remember
And in my clambering effort
The leaves that grace my feet
Sweet and soft and bronzed by time
Reward me with a childhood game
Oh yes, frolicking amid the scent of fall
Oh yes…
That memory is wholly mine
Before I gift it to oblivion.

Some thoughts about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez


After reading through a number of articles and news about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, four things have become very clear to me:

1) Ocasio-Cortez has a vision – and it’s a vision that is not only a direct threat to a plutocratic “old guard” of Republican crony capitalists, but also antagonizes more mainstream elements of the Democratic Party as well. The key components of that vision are captured in the Green New Deal, which you can read about here: https://ocasio2018.com/green-new-deal (see item 6 on that page for an overview of objectives). In essence, by simply promoting the views that she holds, Ocasio-Cortez has created a plethora of instant enemies in Washington DC, among neoliberal think tanks and conservative news outlets, and in the Red Scare reflexes of countless right-leaning Americans.

2) Ocasio-Cortez is young – she was 28 when she began running for office – and has made the same sort of mistakes that both seasoned politicians and rookies make when speaking to the press. However, she is held to a much different standard than most other politicians: she is certainly more relentlessly demeaned, derided and rebuked in condescending ways than…wait for it…any male candidates and politicians who make similar gaffs have been. Certainly the right-wing voices that most boisterously attack her remain noticeably silent regarding our current POTUS, who perpetrates much more grievous, malicious and destructive misstatements with zero accountability.

3) However, some of Ocasio-Cortez’s mistakes are similar in flavor to things Sarah Palin said in her initial interviews: they reveal substantive gaps in learning and understanding about some fundamental issues of public policy. Some of these gaps are surprising, given the fact that Ocasio-Cortez graduated cum laude with a BA in international relations (with a minor in economics). A striking difference, though, is that Ocasio-Cortez can admit she doesn’t know something, or has made a mistake, and that she needs to learn more about a given topic. In fact, she has said this a lot. Another striking difference is that Ocasio-Cortez, at age 29, has never held any public office…unlike Palin, who made arguably worse blunders at age 44 after serving in public office for 16 years (most notably Governor of Alaska for two of those).

4) Ocasio-Cortez is actually pretty bright (Boston University’s Associate Provost and Dean of students Kenneth Elmore said Ocasio-Cortez was “brilliant — she is boldly curious and always present. She makes me think and could always see multiple sides of any issue.”) and she certainly has some compelling perspectives to share. I’ve listed some of her quotes below. Again, though, what I think we can glean from those perspectives is a direct challenge to the old-white-male-plutocracy; that is, the neoliberal elite that have comfortably captured U.S. government for some time now. And THAT is why right-leaning folks are so riled up about her. So the attacks will keep coming, this is certain. In the meantime, I’m hoping Ocasio-Cortez will grow into her elected position, become a bit more media savvy, and polish her public policy chops a bit before doing any more interviews.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Quotes:

“I can't name a single issue with roots in race that doesn't have economic implications, and I cannot think of a single economic issue that doesn't have racial implications. The idea that we have to separate them out and choose one is a con.”

“When we talk about the word 'socialism,' I think what it really means is just democratic participation in our economic dignity and our economic, social, and racial dignity. It is about direct representation and people actually having power and stake over their economic and social wellness, at the end of the day.”

“At Standing Rock, we experienced, first-hand, people coming together in their communities and trying to use the levers of representative democracy to try and say, 'We don't want this in our community; we don't want this in our backyard,' and corporations using their monetary influence to completely erode that process.”

“The thing that’s hard is that you’re supposed to be perfect all the time on every issue and every thing. What people forget is that if we want everyday working-class Americans to run for office and not, these, like, robots, then we have to acknowledge and accept imperfection and growth and humanity in our government.”

“I do think that sometimes, especially coming into this going straight from activism to being a candidate or to being a person who potentially, you know, looks like will be holding political office soon, I think we expect our politicians to be perfect and fully formed and on point on every single issue.”

“I think there's a weapon of cynicism to say, 'Protest doesn't work. Organizing doesn't work. Y'all are a bunch of hippies. You know, it doesn't do anything,' because, frankly, it's said out of fear, because it is a potent force for political change.”

“Democrats are a big tent party, you know, I'm not trying to impose an ideology on all several hundred members of Congress. But I do think that, once again, it's not about selling an - ism, or an ideology, or a label or a color. This is about selling our values.”

“The biggest hurdle that our communities have is cynicism - saying it's a done deal, who cares; there's no point to voting. If we can get somebody to care, it's a huge victory for the movement and the causes we're trying to advance.”

“In the wealthiest nation in the world, working families shouldn’t have to struggle. It’s time for a New York that’s good for the many. I am an educator, organizer, Democratic Socialist, and born-and-raised New Yorker running to champion working families in Congress. It is well past time that we in NY-14 had a true, lobbyist-free representative who lives in our community and fights on behalf of Bronx and Queens families. This movement for Congress is about education and healthcare; it’s about housing, jobs, justice, and civil rights. It’s is about preparing for the future of our environment, energy, and infrastructure. It’s about championing the dignity of our neighbors. And it’s about getting money out of politics.”

“Amazon is a billion-dollar company. The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”
“We’re looking at our phones until we literally lose consciousness. If our leaders don’t learn to communicate in an engaging manner, our entertainers will become politicians. That’s what we have now.”

“It’s about conversation, not combativeness. Doesn’t mean everyone agrees always, but it does mean we bring folks together and focus on finding solutions.”

"Your attempt to strip me of my family, my story, my home, and my identity is exemplary of how scared you are of the power of all four of those things."

“We may be devastated. We may be disappointed. But we will not be deterred.”

“We are all capable of awakening and commitment. And because of that, we can all be great.”

Breaking Bread with the Republican Hive-Mind: How to Have A Happy Thanksgiving & Other Holidays Amid A Political Storm


This past Friday, on Bill Maher’s last show of the year, he offered a simple recommendation for creating a more harmonious Thanksgiving for all of us: DON’T DISCUSS POLITICS. Pick any other topic and discuss that instead,he exclaimed. And – at a time when our political discourse frequently descends into unhinged rants and hateful name-calling – I think he has a very good point. In fact, it might be a helpful idea to ask everyone coming together for a holiday gathering if they would commit to avoiding political topics and debates altogether during those special times. However, in the event that political topics do arise during your Thanksgiving celebration or other holiday (or even on your FB page), here are some tips on how to mitigate the more unfortunate elements of Republican Hive-Mind thought and behavior:

1. Be a much-needed model for empathy, and affirm a conservative’s emotions, instead of engaging around facts. Nearly all of the pedantic rhetoric that circulates on Right-wing media and all social media is emotionally based. Whether it comes in the form of blaming, conspiracy-mongering, stalwart patriotism, hate speech, self-victimization, dramatic exaggerations, “alternative facts,” anecdotes or personal narratives – whatever is being invoked as part of the propaganda, it’s really all about generating a particular range of emotions. These emotions include pride, group loyalty, grief, anger, indignation, moral superiority, alienation, bewilderment, mistrust of outsiders…all of these and more can be tangled together in the Hive-Mind’s striving for a self-righteous sense of certainty. And as most of us who have tried to reason with our conservative friends have experienced, facts and evidence usually get angrily dismissed or disputed when these emotions are in play. At its core, contradicting Right-wing emotional narratives with facts can be both threatening and embarrassing for conservatives, often resulting in increasingly defensive and emphatic retorts. Essentially, they feel they must double-down on the initial emotion in order to maintain their convictions.

So when you witness the eye-roll, the red face, the frowning shaking of the head, the squint of anger, the arrogant thrust of chin, the pointing finger of accusation, flexing fists that clench at certitude, the flat tone of negation and denial…recognize and affirm what is really going on. These are just irrational emotions, so treat them as such. This can be as simple as saying “You seem pretty upset about this,” or “I can see you feel very strongly about that,” or “It sounds like you don’t agree with what’s been going on,” and so on. By simply affirming their emotional state, you can diffuse escalation…at least a little. But remember, the toughest part may be stopping yourself from adding a rejoinder like “but did you know….” or “an interesting fact about that is…” or “that’s true, but there is another variable to consider….” None of these attempts to clarify a broader, more inclusive truth are likely to succeed. And this inability to engage in intellectually honest discourse can be upsetting until we realize what’s really going on: it is like attempting to reason with a flaming barrel of gasoline.

2. Connect with common experiences and emotions. There is every reason to remain open, intimate and sharing with folks who have lost themselves in the Republican Hive-Mind. We are all human, and we all have more in common than what makes us different. And that commonality is where we can connect with almost anyone. I myself have one or two ultra-conservative friends, as well as some conservative-leaning family members, and I value those relationships because of our shared interests, shared experiences, shared enjoyment of each other’s company, and shared appreciation for how supportive and caring we can be for one another (in everything but our politics!). That connection, admiration and camaraderie does not need to be jeopardized by political differences. So turning to any area of mutual connection can be a peaceful balm and joy in the face of daunting political divides. The problem, of course, is that this connection may be more difficult to achieve with strangers or on the Internet – or with new invitees to our holiday celebrations. Which is why we must take special care to invoke that common ground as we get to know someone new.

3. Make attempts to distract conservatives away from Hive-Mind delusions. Anyone paying much attention to Right-wing media over the past few decades will have noticed the lockstep conformance of propaganda across all such media into a profoundly unified groupthink. There is almost no deviation of opinions or attitudes around a given hot-topic-of-the-moment – or in the policies, views of history, attitudes about other cultures, favorite authorities, explanations for current events, or even the preferred vocabulary that is used to describe conservative alternative realities. The continuity of conformance is stunning. This web of interconnected groupthink is so tightly woven, in fact, that we will hear the same phrases and assertions from different sources (and from our friends on Facebook) all around the U.S. on the very same day – often in the same hour. This is how the Republican Hive-Mind is maintained over time, because this synchronization results in a powerful “illusory truth effect,” where the endless repetition of falsehoods makes them seem true. The illusory truth effect is so powerful, in fact, that it can override preexisting knowledge we already have. And this happens really fast – faster than most people can come to an informed opinion on a given topic. Which is why conservatives can be so confident and certain about their opinions so quickly. So…don’t follow them down that rabbit hole. Instead, change the topic to something you know isn’t in the conservative propaganda lexicon, and try to do so without contradicting them, once again affirming the emotional content of their opinions without revisiting familiar Hive-Mind topics.

4. Remember that feeling provoked or belittled just goes with the territory – and don’t take it personally. Since it is fueled by strongly felt emotions, the Republican Hive-Mind will routinely attempt to arouse passions in others, prompt conflict-seeking attitudes, or encourage folks to become agitated and combative. Using phrases like “libtard;” or attacking public figures you admire or respect; or accusing people they are debating (or “all liberals,” as the case may be) of being uninformed, ignorant or brainwashed; or beginning their arguments with a harsh dismissal of something you know to be true…. All of these are standard tactics to put a perceived opponent off-balance, stimulate an emotional response, while at the same time facilitating quick agreement among those who support a conservative viewpoint. But we just can’t take it personally! This isn’t about truth, remember, or even a coherent ideology. This is about proving loyalty to a particular set of values and ideals, or demonstrating membership in a conservative tribe, or daring others to cross the moat of irrational convictions that protects every conservative from facing uncomfortable truths. In the game of King of the Mountain that is constantly playing out inside the minds of devoted Republicans, such provocations are a kind of “defense through preemptive attack,” a way to feel safe, secure and protected inside of their delusions. In today’s supercharged discourse, this is a default starting position for a lot of folks. But you don’t have to join the fray. Although it can still hurt to be attacked, we don’t have to answer aggression with aggression. Instead, we can use humor to deflect accusations and antagonisms, or agree with some aspect of what is being said to diffuse the onslaught, or just point out calmly that, hey…this or that was kind of a hurtful, dickhead thing to say.

Now…anyone who has interacted with folks who are victims of cults, brainwashing or other forms of abuse will recognize some of these approaches. That is because what is happening on the Right side of the political spectrum – as amplified by the “Trump Effect” – is a consequence of extreme stress, duress, fear and anxiety. Place anyone under similar strain, and they will start exhibiting behaviors that look a lot the consequences of emotional trauma. Unfortunately, conservative-leaning folks already have a hard-wired tendency to tolerate cognitive dissonance to a much higher degree than other groups – which means that what they believeto be true can exist much farther outside of actual, observable evidence. And when that evidence becomes more and more difficult to ignore (as with climate change, for example), such cognitive dissonance can amplify to toxic and disruptive “fight or flight” reflexes. Conservatives also exhibit a strong tendency to prefer black-and-white, simplified, easy-to-grasp explanations for “why things are” – reflexively opposing nuance and uncertainty – and in a world of increasing complexity, such desires often can’t be satisfied without unconscious or deliberate fabrication (what I call “misattribution of causation”). Add to this the real suffering that arises out of losing more and more social status and privilege in society – as most white men with traditional values, and especially those who live in rural areas, have been experiencing for decades in the U.S.A. – and you have a formula for heightening real distress. Add to this tragedy that this distress has been capitalized upon by unscrupulous opportunists who seek power and wealth, and who then sell vulnerable conservatives on authoritative, Strong Man fixes. In order to further their own agenda, those Strong Man carpetbaggers have made Republican distress a lot worse, perpetuating the cycle of abuse. The result is truly heartbreaking, and demands that we have compassion for conservatives who have been lied to, manipulated and encouraged to support agendas that are effectively amplifying their suffering. So yes, at this point in time, managing interactions with someone utterly lost in the Republican Hive-Mind is a lot like managing interactions with a volatile, severely abused person who is operating mainly form emotional reasoning and fear-based reflexes.

** But wait! What if someone who joins you for Thanksgiving or another holiday, or friends you on Facebook, just won’t cease in their combative political grandstanding, pedantry and debate?! **

Well…unfortunately this does happen. People who have been horribly mistreated often have trouble appreciating boundaries, or gaining clear awareness about their own behaviors, or responding to the techniques outlined above in a constructive way. It happens. So…what can we do?

1. You can gently remind them of any agreement they have made to avoid discussing politics, be civil, etc. in your group activity. You could even implore them, out of a sense of friendship or familial bond with you, to let go of their need to discuss politics. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s worth a try!

2. You could leave, or ask them to leave. When someone has worked themselves into a frenzy around a hotly contested Hive-Mind trigger, sometimes it’s a good idea to just exit the situation – or ask them to do so (if it’s hour home, or your Facebook page). That’s the unfortunate state of affairs we are in right now, where no amount of good intentions, patience, compassion or listening to the other side seems to make a difference in how the discourse progresses. Hive-Mind propaganda is a powerful drug.

3. You can wait patiently, quietly and passively for them to calm down. If everyone else in your gathering is also doing this, then a Hive-Mind rant can eventually run out of steam. But this may demand tremendous self-control on your part, since pretty much any reaction can be (and often is) misinterpreted by a conservative as judgement or dismissiveness. I’m always surprised how even the kindest, most well-intentioned responses can be twisted into a perceived attack. So…silence can truly be golden.

4. Watch out for well-known tricks and techniques to suck others into a debate or confrontation. We’ve already touched on preemptive emotional attacks, but there are many other methods programmed into Hive-Mind thinking that can take over a conversation. Here are just a few of the more common hooks, many of which are rooted in what we call “logical fallacies:”

a. Making a reasonable opening statement that everyone can agree with, and then using it to justify a position that has nothing to do with that statement.

b. The pigeon-holing label game: “Are you a Marxist? Communist? Bleeding Heart Liberal? Intellectual? Atheist? Socialist?” and so on. This is the Hive-Mind’s way of trivializing and dismissing anything outside of its own groupthink, turning outsiders into simplified stereotypes. Once a label has been applied, the next step is claiming full knowledge of the outsider perspective: “So you believe that [fill in the blank].”

c. Feigning openness to having someone challenge, disprove or debate a Hive-Mind position, but then never allowing that person to actually do so (i.e. through constantly interrupting them, or debating accepted definitions of words, or challenging every point of logic, or talking more loudly over them, or dismissing widely accepted facts, or abruptly exiting the conversation, changing the topic, etc.).

d. Making an outrageous, one-sided, overly simplified or absurd claim to provoke a response, then declaring an unaccepting reaction as being “typical condescending Left-wing arrogance” (or the like). Even though the Hive-Mind adherent has initiated the provocation, they can immediately claim to be a victim of “liberal” prejudice.

e. Promoting false equivalence. For example, claiming that white supremacist hate speech is just as valid a form of free speech as someone advocating GLBTQ rights; or that the “liberal bias” of Left-leaning news media is no different than the outright lies of the Alt-Right conspiracy outlets; or that progressive academic, evidence-based approaches are just as flawed as the fake science funded by neoliberal think tanks; or that Democrat efforts to register new voters is just “the other side of the coin” of Republican efforts to disenfranchise those same voters; or that repealing Obamacare is just as complete a healthcare strategy as Obamacare itself; that Donald Trump’s relentless denigration of women, minorities, immigrants and the disabled is no different than Hillary Clinton’s reference to “deplorable” Trump supporters; and so on.

f. Overwhelming someone with a deluge of proposed facts, which are then combined in such as a way as to lead to a predetermined, ideologically conformist outcome. Lots of really smart, well-read conservative folks have used this technique to wear down progressives who don’t have the same depth of knowledge in a particular area (such as the history of military conflicts, or the evolution of natural monopolies, or the writings of conservative religious thinkers, or the intricacies of the Austrian School of economics, etc.). It’s effective, because a progressive can’t argue from a place of ignorance, and the information being presented can seem superficially valid. Unfortunately, the information often either isn’t valid, or doesn’t support particular conclusions the way the Hive-Mind has indoctrinated its members to believe – the dots don’t really connect in the way they are represented. But how would you know, if you’ve never studied all the writings of Ludwig von Mises? I can tell you from experience, however, that it won’t matter if you have studied a particular topic in-depth, because either you will have to accept the Hive-Mind groupthink on a given topic, or risk being branded a liberal heretic.

Lastly, even if you are surrounded by fellow progressive-minded folks on Thanksgiving, it can still be a good idea to avoid politics. After all, despite the encouraging Blue Wave of the midterm elections, there is still a lot of bad news coming out of Washington DC and elsewhere. The Trumpster Fire is still burning bright, and the political landscape remains pretty frustrating and depressing for even the most level-headed citizen. So again, perhaps picking another topic – any topic at all – to avoid politics at your Thanksgiving or holiday celebration will allow your meal to digest a little more easily, and your heart to remain light, merry, and brimming with fellowship.

Just my 2 cents. Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving.

What cognitive process do politicians try to leverage by repeating the same "talking points" over and over again with the hopes that eventually you will agree with them?

It’s called “the illusory truth effect.” Very powerful. So powerful that it can override pre-existing knowledge. I’ve experienced this in several instances myself — even going into the situation knowing something for a certainty beforeheand. It doesn’t matter. Our memory formation is wired for reinforcement, and will adapt our understanding according to the newest information…even if that information is false. It’s pretty crappy situation in the context of attempts to manipulate voters through social media, or perpetuate propaganda, or sell consumers stuff they don’t need.

Here are some useful articles on the topic:

The science behind why fake news is so hard to wipe out

https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/xge-0000098.pdf

My 2 cents.

What do you think about what Jordan Peterson said in his conversation with Helen Lewis that equality of outcome is a pathological wish and doctrine?

Thanks for the question (in reference to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZYQpge1W5s), but my god that was an incredibly painful video to attempt to watch — simply because of the level of aggressive combativeness in play. And so, alas, I couldn’t find the relevant bit in this video (though I actually scanned through most of it…Ack!). However, I have heard Peterson riff on “equality of outcome” in several other interviews and lectures, so I have a pretty good idea of why he doesn’t like it. In essence, he believes that the only realistic avenue for achieving equality of outcome is to impose it — via the tyrannical force of authoritative institutions. He will then use things like Soviet era agricultural disasters or the failures of affirmative action hiring to exemplify just how tyrannical and ridiculous striving for equality of outcomes ends up becoming.

The problem, of course, is that Peterson is shoehorning or conflating a lot of subtly different concepts into one very narrow box of his choosing. He is also missing the forest for the trees. Probably the best way to appreciate his error is to understand the idea that “fairness” of distribution is tied to a presumption of equality. In other words, that regardless of how someone begins their life in society — rich or poor, male or female, black or white — they should have sufficient barriers mitigated by society so that their opportunities are truly equal. That is the heart of most philosophical frameworks which include equality of outcome as a desirable goal: there really is very little difference between authentic equality of opportunity and pragmatic equality of outcome in these frameworks, because for opportunity to be effectively equal, similar outcomes must be realistically achievable.

As a simplified example, imagine that two runners are set to race around a track. One of them has shoes, is well-rested, has had regular meals for the past week, has had time to train and prepare for the race, and really wants to win. The other runner has no shoes, is emaciated, hasn’t slept well or eaten in the last few days, and doesn’t have a complete understanding of what a competitive “race” really is (let alone had time to train for it). In Peterson’s vision of the world, once the parameters of such a race are set, and both runners are placed in the same starting positions on the track, then they effectively have “equal opportunity.” Any attempt to level the playing field between them is, for Peterson, an interference with merit. And such interference is anathema to Peterson, ostensibly because it’s “Marxist” (it isn’t Marxist, actually, but anything with the remotest hint of Marx will generally set Peterson off into irrational and pedantic histrionics). No, but seriously, Peterson really hates the idea that any external agency or institution can judge the requirements necessary to achieve equity in such situations.

Now Peterson does have a point: it is very difficult to know how to structure society so that distributions are actually fair (and not punitive, or gamed, or generating unanticipated consequences, or ultimately biased and unfair, etc.). But this is really where Peterson doesn’t “get” the forest of successful civic institutions, and fixates instead of instances of failure (i.e. the trees). Where the intent of a given system of shared opportunity — and the people operating within it — is genuinely grounded in the presumption of equality, it actually works pretty well. Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel-prize-winning research into real-world examples of common pool resource management has definitively proven this to be the case. These CPRMs were organic, self-organized and self-managed systems all around the globe. No imposition of government tyranny was required to make them work. So really, Peterson’s argument is specious because he (apparently?) just isn’t aware of such real world instances.

Anywho, my fun meter has peaked on this topic, but hopefully this can help others navigate these treacherous waters.

My 2 cents.

"Nature taken in its abstract sense, cannot be “unconscious,” as it is the emanation from, and thus an aspect (on the manifested plane) of the ABSOLUTE Consciousness". Does this answer the question of

Thank you for the question Otto. I feel the challenge here is that we humans tend to project our conceptions of consciousness into such inquiries and definitions, when really whatever consciousness exists beyond our own ordinary consciousness is either a) completely beyond our ability to comprehend or categorize, or b) only intuitable in brief flashes of insight. So when we infer various qualities of consciousness against the backdrop of the Absolute — or within the context of its emanations — we immediately begin confining what we mean by “consciousness” to a pretty limited (and thus likely inaccurate) semantic container. Trying to then communicate this with what we assume to be commonly agreed-upon terms can often muddy the water further (at least in my experience). So we may indeed be able to sketch out some assumptions about essential or fundamental qualities of consciousness expressed in, say, the felt experience of perpetual unfolding of Divine Being in our material plane, but I suspect we will always have to hold these insights lightly, acknowledging they are just fingers pointing at the moon, and not the moon itself. That said, understanding this is IMO a worthwhile pursuit…if one that can only be answered satisfactorily via deep meditation.

My 2 cents.

Is there such thing as a rich man or poor man mentality? I read someone that suggested one could be stuck in a poor man mentality and had to change

Thanks for the question Richard. Well let’s see….

Both rich and poor can feel entitled — a poor person might feel entitled to justice or recompense from the rich because their family has been exploited by plutocrats for generations, and a rich person might feel entitled to keep all of their money regardless of how it was earned, and resentful that they should pay any of it in taxes to help poor people.

Both rich and poor can feel like victims — of prejudice, persecution, false accusations, exclusion, etc. merely for the state of being rich or poor.

Both rich and poor can arrive at their condition without much choice or effort, but still feel responsible for it — a poor person may feel guilty and reprimand themselves for not going to college or not earning a decent wage, and a rich person may feel proud of the social status their inherited wealth has provided them. But, in both cases, circumstances entirely out of their control — which they were born into — may have been the single greatest influence on their current state.

Both rich and poor can be deluded about how success actually occurs — Consider that 50% of all small businesses fail after their first five years, and that most people’s dreams or passions are not valued by society at all (i.e. no one will pay for those people to “follow their dream”). Taken together, there is no guaranteed formula for ending up wealthy or in poverty. People often do everything right, and end up with nothing. Others do everything wrong, and are wildly successful. Sure, there are a very tiny few who come out on top, and that leads everyone else to speculate about how it happened. The fact that it is essentially arbitrary just doesn’t sit well with the meaning-making human psyche.

I could go on, but my point is that the “mentality” of rich and poor has more in common than not. It’s just human mentality. So the real question then becomes about living one’s life. What style of thinking will bring the most happiness, contentment, and positive sense of purpose — regardless of income or material accumulations? Hint: it has nothing to do with money.

My 2 cents.

Is the capitalist system fueled by lies when you boil it down? Why or why not?

Thanks for the question Randall. Of course it is. Capitalism is dependent on continuous growth, but it also aims for increased efficiencies — both of these are motivated by a desire to enlarge profits, but the two expectations actually work against each other. If I create a really good product that “sells itself,” and is also durable and easy to maintain, then as soon as everyone who recognizes the benefit of that product (for them) purchases one, I will go out of business. So I either have to a) convince others who do not need or want my product (i.e. who don’t recognize its benefits) to purchase one, b) persuade customers who have already purchased one that they need a “newer, better” model, c) offer additional services and products to augment the original purchase, d) make sure other companies with competitive products can somehow be constrained, e) change the production quality of my product so that it will continually break and require replacement or repair….or some other strategy along these lines. You see the problem? In order for my business to grow, innovation isn’t enough. I have to start being a little…shall we say…deceptive, or coercive, or manipulative, or underhanded. There is really no way around it. And the larger my company, and the longer it remains in the marketplace, the greater such pressures will become. Hence the drive towards monopoly.

But, in most developed civil societies, there are laws that protect consumers to a limited extent, so this limits what my business can do to maintain growth. So the easiest course is usually to lie…to falsely inflate quality, or functionality, or durability, or prestige, etc. It’s called marketing, and it’s how most products and services that have little or no actual value to consumers can become wildly profitable. For example, how many people do you think knew they had “restless leg syndrome” before they were sold a pharmaceutical solution for their “disorder” on TV…? I would estimate that more than 60% of purchases in the U.S. are driven by such artificially generated demand. Which is why the U.S. doesn’t produce very much any more domestically in terms of manufactured goods…the diminishing return on profits as the U.S. market became saturated, and domestic labor and materials costs increased at the same time, became untenable. That’s why companies have had to outsource. And it’s also why the U.S. economy has been “financialized.” It’s much easier to grow profit through speculative investments and consumer debt than it is via manufacturing — because it’s using other people’s money. And once consumers start accumulating debt — or become addicted to stock market or futures gambling, as the case may be — that condition generally persists. Forever. And as real wages have remained flat for many decades, and the cost of living has increased, and people kept being sold things they don’t need…well…we ended up with the main driver of the U.S. economy being speculation and debt maintenance. And how did consumers get suckered into such a situation? Well they were lied to of course, and then given some cheese every once-in-a-while to condition a compulsive reflex to keep buying and investing indefinitely.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Joan Spark:

The way currencies work are the driving force behind the growth demand for the economy.

And as you have noticed, the real economy can’t keep up with that demand, exponential demand to be precise. At best a real economy can do linear growth, which - tadum - produces growth rates that trend towards zero.

This means, as the holder of money have leverage over every other participants in the economy (monopoly, why is another matter) they extract the exponential demand out of a system that at best grows linearly.. which leads to your observation: “..real wages have remained flat for many decades, and the cost of living has increased, and people kept being sold things they don’t need”

Shall I go on?

TL;DR: you’re blaming the wrong guy. Capitalism is not the problem, monopolies under private control which create cronyism are the problem.


You are touching on a larger conversation in macroeconomic theory around aggregate demand, and I would agree that you have part of the picture in view. But that wasn’t really what I was aiming at — which was more microeconomic in focus. There is a lot of ground to cover in AD, and monetary variables are just one set among many inputs. I don’t disagree that cronyism and clientism amplify the preexisting antagonisms of market economies…but they only make them worse, they don’t initiate the problems. It’s like negative externalities, or opportunity costs, or perverse incentives, or moral hazards…these things are already in play, but some conditions have a fertilizing effect.

What is compassion?

Thanks for the question Avishek. I would say authentic compassion has four primary components — ideally all of these are present as a reflexive and unselfconscious orientation to others, but sometimes they require additional, more conscious cultivation:

1) A felt experience of affection, concern, caring and kindness that is informed by empathy and a deep respect for the other’s being.

2) The felt experience is amplified by a generous and unconditional intentionality: a desire to aid, comfort, nurture, encourage and support the other’s being, with no expectation of reciprocation or reward.

3) These feelings and intentions are then skillfully operationalized as love-in-action, within the context of the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration.

4) Efficacy in this operationalization requires discernment, insight, wisdom, humility, and a willingness to continually observe outcomes and adjust methods to improve skillfulness.

The question of how to measure outcomes also becomes important over time. For example, authentic compassion tends to relieve dissonance, ignorance, confusion, suffering and pain for all involved — while at the same time nudging joy, harmony, peace, excellence and truth into the foreground. Authentic compassion also propagates and enlarges itself: compassion begets compassion, becoming a strong force or field that unifies and harmonizes everything it embraces.

Lastly, because these ideas about compassion are so specific, I will often use the term agape instead.

My 2 cents.

Does libertarianism require a higher than average level of social capital in order to work on a large scale?

Thanks for the question Olga. First, I would qualify “higher than average” to be relative to what we have now…which is a fairly broken and meager social interconnectivity. Things like social media (and communications media and technology) have tended to supplant real relations, and created an increasing poverty of social capital — at least that which transcends mere “relationships of convenience” or tribal conformance.

With that said, right-libertarians tend to idealize contractual, voluntary, individualistic relations that do not require social capital to function. Social agreement, sure…but not any complex interdependent social networks…no. Right-libertarian arrangements would still benefit from social capital…but it isn’t a prerequisite IMO.

Left-libertarians, on the other hand, tend to view social relations (usually at the community level, and in a horizontally collectivist sense) as a key component of effective governing of the commons, and are less reliant on contractual obligations. So left-libertarian proposals definitely would benefit from “higher than average social capital” to function well…and really as a prerequisite.

Again…this is all relative to the current paucity of social capital in Western cultures.

My 2 cents.

What is the ideal distribution of wealth in a society?

Thanks for the question Chris. Tom Gregory has a great answer regarding the Gini distribution. I would only offer a slightly different “intersubjective” take….

IMO, the values of society (or “values hierarchies” in the sense of social mores and ethical assumptions) should move away from valuing material wealth entirely. In itself, the obsession with economic materialism is destructive to social cohesion, prosocial traits in individuals, and the growth and stability of civil society. Paul Piff’s research has been pretty conclusive in this regard. The more we fixate on material wealth distribution, the more we remain distracted by class, social status, inequalities, competition for resources, consumerism and a host of other maladies that drive the collective mental illness and corrosion of civil society we are experiencing today.

The alternative is to just let go of economic materialism altogether. Let go of wealth accumulation, the profit motive, the moral infancy of I/Me/Mine, and indeed the conflation of “freedom” and affluence. To do this, I suspect we will need to develop a different orientation to private property itself — reinvoking a mode of collectively shared resources without demanding ownership, a mode that has been successful across many different cultures around the globe. To appreciate this shift, I recommend reading Private Property As Violence.

Are religions the manifestation of the human tendency to live in denial?

Thanks for the question Carl.

I would separate “religion” into two distinct categories or aspects, both of which can be found in almost all religions:

1) The esoteric, the mystical, the spiritual, the enigmatic, the intuitive, the acquiescent

2) The exoteric, the institutional, the dogmatic, the hierarchical, the rationalizing, the dominating

If there is a “spiritual” dimension of existence (even if it is exclusively part of our interiority), then aspect #1 is really just the sensitivity to, interest in, and exploration of that dimension. I would call this kind of religion an “openness to the infinite,” or spiritual curiosity if you will. I think most mystical traditions (Sufism, contemplative Christianity, Toaism, Kabbalah, Hindu mysticism, much of historical Buddhism, etc.) fall mainly in this category, and actually end up in conflict with traditions that emphasize the second aspect. This aspect of religion does not “live in denial,” because it is constantly questioning along deeper and deeper lines of inquiry. If you spend time with any of the great mystical traditions, it quickly becomes evident that they are attempting to penetrate truths beneath the surface of more superficial, materialistic presentations of reality.

The second aspect is all about control, power, orthodoxy, tribalism, and so on — also very common characteristics of human institutions. It is aspect #2 that tends to slip into greater and greater cognitive dissonance as it attempts to maintain its primacy over other social structures and centers of gravity in society — it perpetuates denial as a primary feature of its striving for dominance.

My 2 cents

Do you believe that there is an absolute and objective "good" or "bad" in nature or do you believe that everything is relative and subjective?

Thanks for the question Bruce. First...I can only speak for humanity. I cannot speak for all of Nature. For humans, however, I believe there are values hierarchies that plot along a spectrum, and I’ve included a first draft of a chart that describes that spectrum below. The idea here is that there are indeed absolutes…but those absolutes intersect in different ways, at different times, in different people…to be expressed as what someone will inevitably perceive as a “relative and subjective” difference. In other words, the contexts of culture, time-in-history, underlying belief system and so on shape how a given values hierarchy (and how it is actualized) plot along the spectrum, and how it is understood. But although the perspectives on a given values hierarchy may shift — be refined over time, be critiqued, be valorized or devalorized, etc. — the position of that values hierarchy is actually pretty fixed.

To appreciate the backdrop of concepts from which this chart was derived, see this article: Functional Intelligence



I hope this was helpful.

If spiritual counselors, teachers, and mystics all tell me that “suffering” is a catalyst for a spiritual “awakening”, then why isn’t it comfortable for these experts to re-frame this as a spiritual “

Some possibilities (as pure speculation):

1) Perhaps they’ve overstated their case. Suffering ***may*** be an opportunity for growth. It also may be just plain old run-of-the-mill suffering that every human being has to deal with as a feature of life on Earth, or it may indicate some underlying condition that requires conventional medical treatment, or it may simply indicate situational conditions that can and should be remedied, or it may be the consequence of arbitrary events that have no intrinsic meaning at all. But shoehorning ALL suffering into the context of being an “awakening catalyst” is a bit…well…presumptuous IMO. Thus assigning some external spiritual agency to such conditions or events would, I think, be uncomfortable…since it wouldn’t make a lot of sense in these other instances.

2) They may not have specific discernment into your situation, but are instead stating a general principle, and are trying to avoid influencing you to externalize your own agency. In Western commercialized cultures, it has become second nature to give away our own agency in favor of external solutions. “The Devil made me do it” is really no different than believing wearing a particular brand of clothing or cologne/perfume will result in finding the perfect romantic partner. In the context of healing arts (inclusive of conventional medicine), when a client refuses to take responsibility for their own well-being and prefers to project healing power onto their physician, practitioner, drug, supplement, magical object or whatever…then the healing process has been sabotaged. No real healing will take place (other than the placebo that results from the client’s investment in the external solution). This is a real problem right now in capitalist society. So perhaps — consciously or unconsciously — the folks you are consulting are trying to steer you away from this particular addiction to externalization.

3) In the U.S. at least, one of the consequences of the widespread abuse of “New Age” approaches to wellness has been a mistrust of externalized spiritual agency of any kind. There have been too many abuses by gurus, mediums, psychics and the like asserting knowledge of spiritual causality purely for personal profit or celebrity. Thus attributing anything to a conscious spiritual intervention smacks of “woo-woo” in a bad way for most people who have either been conned or deceived…or who are aware of these deceptive practices that have occurred in the past. Personally, I don’t have a problem framing things this way when it is warranted, though I am still very cautious about leaping to that conclusion too quickly.

4) You and the folks you are consulting with may just be misunderstanding each other.

My 2 cents.

There are two forces in the world today, the drive toward collectivity and the drive toward individuality. They seem to be at odds. How do we appreciate the best of both?

Thanks for the great question. IMO the solution is to veer away from vertical forms of both individualism and collectivism, and toward horizontal forms that incorporate the best of both. Here is a chart that helps appreciate this difference:



As you can see, an additional consideration (in terms of political economy) is the “materialist-proprietarian” vs. “egalitarian-commons” axis. I tend to aim for the egalitarian-commons side of this spectrum, because I believe it harmonizes much more readily with both democracy and compassionate consideration of other human beings.

My 2 cents.

What gives ownership of property its legitimacy?

Thanks for the question.

What gives ownership of property its legitimacy? Only the fabricated architecture of the rule of law as created from whole cloth by human beings, usually to facilitate material security in isolation from society…and of course to facilitate trade. But extending personal sovereignty over one’s own mind and body into property — as in the longstanding tradition of Locke’s theory of labor appropriation — is a convenient, self-justifying fiction that borders on ridiculous. It’s little different than a dog believing it “owns” a patch of grass that it has peed upon, or a bird “owning” a tree where it has built its nest, or a hunter “owning” a wild animal they caught in a snare…these are all just variations of a King of the Mountain children’s game. There is no “natural law” that extends “mind and body” into property of any kind…only made-up belief constructed to justify appropriation, defense of property, and commerce.

As I discuss at length in these essays: Integral Liberty and Property As Violence,
property ownership is actually a non-rational impulse that interferes mightily with liberty, is predicated on ego-centrism and atomistic individualism, and is incompatible with the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). It is, essentially, a very immature and irrational way of interacting with our environment (unless you are a dog, a bird, a bear, etc.) that ends up reflexively depriving everyone else of their liberties. In this sense, ownership is primarily an antisocial behavior, regularly violating the non-aggression principle. Someday — hopefully in the not-too-distant future for humanity’s sake — we will begin to shift back into the more sane, rational and prosocial mode of possessing things temporarily for their utility, enjoyment or resource contribution, but without the childish need to “own” them during this temporary possession. We’re getting there…slowly…with concepts like Open Source. But we have a long way to go.

My 2 cents.

Does Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature" suggest or claim that the "ethics" of people have changed over time?

I would say Pinker’s observations are explainable by the rise of civil society and the stabilization of its institutions over time. Ethics have not really evolved all that much during recorded history — not in the broadest moral sensibilities and contracts at least. Sure, there is variation across different cultures…but really no more variation over the grand arc of history than is evidenced in current cultural differences. The ancient Greeks had an advanced civil society with many of the benefits of modern democracies, and we have State-sanctioned genocide today just as we have had for the past two thousand years. The apparent reduction (per capita) of violence, war, etc. that Pinker explores is really not a consequence of ethics changing, IMO, but of civic institutions relieving many of the pressures that produce unethical behaviors. We are shaped by our environments to the extent that our natural propensities will be amplified by either a sense of safety, social support and relative affluence, or by insecurity, fear, deprivation and violence. We have always had (and probably always will have) the capacity to behave like animals, or like saints, but our experiences will encourage one cluster of habits over the other. So the greater the civic stability, the greater the potential for widespread prosocial behaviors.

Just my 2 cents.

Why are more people calling for a Socialist society?

Thank you for the question Rachel. Some possibilities:

1) Because capitalism has been failing most people for a really long time.

2) Because nearly ALL of the social safety nets, worker protections, consumer protections and other benefits for the non-wealthy in the U.S. are a consequence of policies championed by socialists or inspired by socialism. Child labor laws, worker unions, socialized medicine (Medicare) and so on are all a consequence of socialistic values and ideology.

3) Because the lies and deceptions of neoliberal propaganda (i.e. “trickle-down economics always works”, “all forms of socialism have always failed,” etc.) are becoming more and more obvious, and people just aren’t being deceived as easily.

4) Because people see how socialized systems and socialistic values in other countries have been quite successful.
Because, despite concerted efforts from neoiberals and right-libertarians to deny or distort the reality, a “mixed economy” like that of the U.S. is a mixture of socialism and capitalism…and has been for a very long time.

In other words, people are calling for a more socialistic society because they are waking up from the spectacle that has kept them from seeing how rational, compassionate and commonsensical such a society really is.

My 2 cents.

Does a right exist if no one defends it?

Ah. Good one.

I think the answer to this question depends on the level of moral maturity involved. An immature person will tend to disregard the rights of others unless someone (or some thing) is present to enforce or defend those rights. A moral grown-up, on the other hand, will recognize the importance of such rights even if there is no one and no thing present to enforce or defend those rights. This is true of most ethics. The morally mature person may choose to work hard whether their boss or coworkers are watching or not, because they believe it is the right thing to do; whereas the morally immature person may only work hard to impress upon those watching them that they are indeed “a hard worker,” or to reap some sort of advantage or reward. Really what defines being an adult has a lot to do with this willing acceptance of societal expectations without expectation of reward (i.e. simply because it is prosocial), while refining one’s own conscience to act in the spirit of those expectations on the other. A child, in contrast, might only follow the letter-of-the-law while someone is watching, and be excited and thrilled to deviate from societal expectations if nobody is looking.

These contrasting levels of moral maturity quickly become evident in contexts like driving a car: the mature person “drives carefully and responsibly” out of compassion for their fellow human beings, polite consideration that reflects prosocial intentions, and acknowledgement that the rule of law is necessary on public roads to prevent utter chaos and death; the immature person thinks the rules don’t apply to them, that other people’s safety doesn’t really matter, and that their own self-gratification and arbitrary impulses should guide their driving habits. In such a situation, the moral adult has little fear of police presence on a highway, whereas the moral child tends to be a bit more angry and fearful in the midst of their egocentric rebellion. So we might say that, for the moral toddler at least, a right may not exist if their is no one to defend it.

Thanks for the question.

Has the rise of the gig economy contributed to greater wealth disparity and inequality as Thomas Piketty suggests in this chart?

(see: https://www.quora.com/link/A-simple-chart-shows-what-some-economists-consider-to-be-the-most-striking-development-in-40-years-of-the-US-economy)

LOL. This question really tickled me, so thanks for the question.

It’s not the correlation I find interesting, but the causal phrasing. “Has the rise of the gig economy…” (as if it were some spontaneous thing) “…contributed to great wealth disparity…?” Both are the consequence of precisely the same downward pressures on wages, employment security, and economic mobility…and the same upward pressures on wealth concentration. These two forces have been in play for quite a while now (over fifty years), and certain consequences (like the weakening of unions, loss of entire sectors of blue collar jobs, the financialization and automation of the economy, and so on) are inevitable. To understand the underlying mechanisms, one has to reframe the discussion around growth-dependent capitalism itself, and its constant shifting reach for cheap labor and cheap resources in order to sustain that growth, while still enlarging the profits of owner-shareholders as an “acceptable” return. The gig economy had to happen in this context — just as corporations had to start shifting away from full-time employment to contract labor. Both wealth disparity and job insecurity are absolutely deliberate in this context. Until we rethink these fundamental expectations of capitalism, it’s only going to amplify such trends.

My 2 cents.

Could “trickle down economics” ever work like the Republicans say it will?

No it will not…and never has. After ALL Republican historical tax cuts for the wealthy aimed to “stimulate the economy,” low-end wages remained stagnant, the number of folks living in poverty remained the same or increased, and income inequality consistently increased. In addition, the central claim to fame for supply-siders is that tax cuts stimulate economic growth…but at the macro level this has been extremely hit-and-miss (see links below). But, more importantly, there has not been any substantive or sustained “trickle-down” to the poor as a consequence of tax cuts for the rich, ever. All other statistics are largely irrelevant in this context, because the sole measure of whether trickle down and other supply-side fantasies (i.e. the Laffer curve is laughable) actually work is whether poor people get any less poor. Well, they don’t. So it’s just B.S. to talk about economic indicators at a macro level that benefit the wealthy, when what happens to the poor (in terms of real wages, numbers of folks in poverty, etc.) is so clearly neutral or negative. Here are some decent articles that cover this topic (you will need to follow links and refs in them to burrow down to the actual data):

How Much Do Tax Cuts Really Matter? (Summary of Census Bureau reports on income and poverty across multiple U.S. administrations.)

Tax Cuts Won’t Make America Great Again

Trickle-Down Tax Cuts Don’t Create Jobs - Center for American Progress

How past income tax rate cuts on the wealthy affected the economy

Tax Cuts: Myths and Realities

Now of course if you do a Google search on this topic you will find endless articles from the Heritage Foundation, CATO Institute, American Enterprise Institute and other neoliberal think tanks that prop up supply-side fantasies with cherry-picked statistics. It’s really shameful…but this deluge of propaganda serves these neoliberal institutions well: they have forever been the champions of corporate plutocrats, after all.

What are the pros and cons of the perennial philosophy?

Thanks for the question Jeff.

The pros are the real possibility of intuiting nuanced unities among all spiritual traditions, which in turn lead to a deeper appreciation of both spiritual substrata (ground of being, gnosis, sophia, etc.), and the metathemes that have informed humanity’s spiritual and moral journeys — and indeed influenced cultural developments — for millenia. The cons are, as Thomas Merton succinctly surmised, that undisciplined Perrenialism can become “loose and irresponsible syncretism which, on the basis of purely superficial resemblances and without serious study of qualitative differences, proceeds to identify all religions and all religious experiences with one another….”

My 2 cents.

Why does society have outcasts?

Thanks for the question Deiter. Please prepare yourself for a self-indulgent rant on my part.

A lot of folks who allude to Surowiecki’s “wisdom of the crowds” do not realize this refers to a disorganized, non-self-aware, diffused, uncoordinated and essentially arbitrary intersection of public intuitions and insights. Anything more organized and self-aware, on the other hand, rapidly develops one or more weaknesses related to conformative groupthink. We hear regular complaints about bureaucracy, inefficiency, turf wars and serfdoms, quid pro quo dealings, corruption, the lemming effect, gridlock, complacency, and a host of other issues that plague organizations larger than a few individuals. Essentially, humans suck at “big,” as it too often tends towards unskillful, inept, or just plain stupid.

Now I won’t go into why this seems to be a recurring problem — it could be something as simple as the combination of the Dunbar limit, the inherent paralyzing effect of rigid hierarchies, a genetically programmed propensity toward tribalism, and an institutional version of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Again…not the focus of this answer. What I do want to elaborate on is the necessity of outliers in any such institutional ecosystems. Without outliers, the quicksand of organizational inertia will always destroy that organization from the inside out. Not in any exciting sort of implosion, but through a slow, insidious rot. Outliers provide the necessary injection of challenging the hierarchy, outsider insights, and “creative destruction” that allows revisions and evolutions to occur in an otherwise frozen soup of conformance.

A lot of folks have intuited aspects of this principle and its importance in society. Colin Wilson, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Gebser and many others have explored the significance of outsider experience, thought, art and contributions to society. And this is not a new idea…perhaps you will recall Jesus saying “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” So the idea that the outlier, outsider, or outcast in this same sense must bear the burden of isolation and rejection in order to rejuvenate society — and indeed human civilization — from the outside has persisted throughout millennia.

As another take, in-groups like to scapegoat outcasts, so outcasts perform an important function there as well — diffusing tension, exciting group unity, voicing taboo sentiments, diluting hierarchical control and power, etc. Consider the “class clown” or the King’s Fool. There is, I believe, something inherently necessary about the outcast — something essential to the thriving of society itself. Certainly to the arts. Reframing common experiences and the status quo as absurd parodies of themselves is perhaps what comedians, social critics and theatre have provided since the beginning of history.

So society has outcasts to preserve itself. Without them, it would disintegrate.

My 2 cents.

Are addictions a byproduct of evolution, or do they serve a purpose? Things like opiates, caffeine, and sugar seem to have both good and bad effects.

Addiction is, IMO, woefully misunderstood by both modern science and mainstream folklore. Of the ten answers so far in this thread, all of them miss the mark. Biochemistry can help us understand mechanisms of physiological response, but not the causality of addiction itself. Not by a long shot.

In Integral Lifework, most addiction is the consequence what I call “substitution nourishment.” This is when some dimension of our being isn’t being nurtured or nourished, and we attempt to compensate for that deficit in other areas. The areas can be completely unrelated — and there are thirteen I have identified so far, which makes for some odd remedies. For example, one of my clients with OCD who was addicted to caffeine and certain sexual fetishes lost both his compulsions and his cravings when he began to create real intimacy with people — both romantically and in friendships. The caffeine and fetishes were no longer required to “offset” his loneliness, isolation and intimacy starvation. And I’ve seen a similar pattern repeated many time in many other clients.

Is there good data to back up this assertion? Not really. The Rat Park study points in a helpful direction, but the study was poorly constructed IMO. But this is the direction we need to look in in order to understand addiction.

Now I did say “most” addiction, and that is because some addictions are more structural in nature, and there is a growing understanding around genetic markers for certain sensitivities/vulnerabilities. That is a separate topic. But even in such “structural” instances, if all thirteen dimensions of our being are attended to and in harmony with each other, then even those vulnerabilities have less pull on a whole and healthy human being.

My 2 cents.

What saying or event from the past has had such a profound influence on you that it currently affects your actions and way of life?

Thanks for the question. Well, in terms of “sayings,” there are many — things that were said by my friends when I was young, things I read in books over the years, things a teacher or mentor shared, things I heard at rallies and speeches, things a poet or musician crafted…so many. I think it is the totality of these influential pronouncements over time that led me to appreciate the power of language itself — to capture sentiment, to peel back the onion of insight, to generate sudden “ahas,” and do forth. And that appreciation has certainly stuck with me. It is a large part of what shaped my own desire to write essays and books, create music and songs, and for a few years to act on stage. Even in the midst of a casual conversation, I am fascinated with capturing the essence of an idea, experience or emotion in words…obsessed even. So the recognition of the beauty and power of language certainly persists, even into the briefest exchanges. And of course it is very likely why I participate in Quora.

In terms of influential events, well, those are equally plentiful, and what I have often written about — including how they have shaped my self-concept and ways of being. My book Memory : Self is focused mainly on this interplay.

But is there just one of each that I could point to as more profoundly influential than all the others? I suspect it would be different pairing on different days, depending on my mood — and certainly the emphasis has changed at different times in my life — so I’ll just share what bubbles up right now:

1) When I was twelve or thirteen years old, my dad, a clinical psychologist, explained the bell curve of human intelligence to me. He showed how most people hover within a few points of the mean IQ of 100. I was astonished. 100? Really? And only a slim percentage ranged 120 or above? I was stunned. How was that possible?! At that moment I began to realize one reason why so many really, really bad decisions get made both collectively and individually in human society: human being just aren’t that bright, on-the-whole. That’s not to say we can’t learn how to make wise decisions, or have profound insights into our condition, or even come up with some very clever ideas about how to solve complex problems. The history of human civilization is proof that, at least sometimes, humans can get things right. However, that history — including the very recent history of the past few years — also evidences that people can be really profound idiots. So having a way to frame this, to understand it in a statistical sense, has been very helpful. And of course that same bell curve applies to all sorts of other metrics, too…So, thanks Dad!

2) I think my own (albeit gradual and reluctant) spiritual awakening has informed my life in persisting and transformative ways.

3) Anyone who has had an abusive childhood knows that negative self-talk and downward emotional spirals can persist even with lots of therapy, lots of positive accomplishments, and lots of healthy relationships well into adult life. At age 52 I am still dealing with that childbhood trauma…and “managing” my own interior responses to that trauma as they are triggered (or just spontaneously well up) in the present. So…there’s that.

4) In terms of life events, what has always surprised and comforted me is the kindness I have seen in people — towards each other and towards me. I think having witnessed such kindness helps me have hope, even my darkest moments.

5) Marcus Aurelius said something that has stuck with me ever since I first read it, and it has been quite helpful in maintaining perspective: “People exist for one another. Teach them then, or bear with them.”

My 2 cents.

How would you criticize W.D. Ross's works about the prima facie duties or moral guidelines?

Thanks for the question Zahin. On the whole, I agree with Ross on nearly everything, so it would be difficult to criticize him in any substantive way. One area in which I think he could have explored and elaborated a broader foundation was in the prioritization of duties (with the aim of resolving conflicting obligations). I do think there are clear avenues of achieving this — and indeed for any situation — via meta-ethical principles (in the form of consistent values hierarchies) and synthesis (how fulfillment impulses for primary drives interact, etc.). That said, the reliance on a developed moral sense (what I refer to in my own writing as “moral maturity”), inclusive of moral intuitions and self-evident responsibilities, is ultimately a sophisticated and nuanced arbiter of such conflicts, and this is precisely what Ross seems to promote. So…I can’t really be all that critical. IMO, Ross pretty much nails it, it’s just that his exploration is incomplete.

My 2 cents.

How Wealthy Trump Supporters Will Overturn Democratic Wins in November 2018

Current excitement about a "Blue Wave" of Democratic wins in November is, I believe, woefully misplaced...for the simple reason that the wealthiest Trump supporters (inclusive of Vladamir Putin) will use every underhanded tool at their disposal to prevent or reverse any Democratic victories they can. What these powers-that-be care most about is winning by any means possible - they will lie, cheat, steal, harass, sue, bully, intimidate and hoodwink in order to hold on to their political influence. How do we know this? Because we've seen it in many recent local and national elections:

1. Outrageous gerrymandering of congressional districts to favor Republicans.

2. Relentless disenfranchisement of Democrat voters, the poor, people of color, etc. and/or preventing them to vote on election day.

3. Aggressive attempts to hack into all levels of the election process, and the DNC, in order to disrupt free and fair elections.

4. Lockstep passage of legislation - coordinated by A.L.E.C., the State Policy Network, etc. - at the national and State levels to disrupt anything progressive: environmental protections, worker protections, unions, consumer health and safety, voting rights, etc...

5. Highly targeted deceptive manipulations on social media to persuade voters of ridiculous claims.

6. Threats, intimidation, fear-mongering and punitive policies from the White House itself to further disrupt and divide the Democratic base.

7. Relentless, carefully orchestrated smear campaigns.

8. Invented or manufactured crises that are then shamelessly blamed on Democrats.

So why should anything be different in 2018...and what other tactics can we look forward to? Court challenges for any election outcomes or lower court rulings that don't favor Republicans? Sure, with a new far-Right Supreme Court Justice on the bench, this will almost certainly be a tactic.

In the past, the only thing that has consistently countered such nefarious "win-at-all-costs" Right-wing strategies on a large scale has been a broad upwelling of authentic populist grassroots excitement for a given candidate or agenda. This is what propelled Obama to his initial victory, what energized Bernie's rise to prominence, and what promises to undermine the centrist DNC status quo as it did with New York's election of Ocasio-Cortez.

But we should always keep in mind that whatever has worked previously to elevate the will of the people into our representative democracy will always be countered by new deceptions, new backroom dark money dealings, new astroturfing campaigns, and new methods of hoodwinking by those on the Right who want to destroy our civic institutions. Nothing on the Left can compare - in scope or the amount of money spent - to how the Koch brothers coopted the Tea Party, how the Mercer family funded Breitbart and manipulated social media through Cambridge Analytica, what Rupert Murdoch accomplished with FOX News, or how the Scaife and Bradley foundations fund fake science to weaken or reverse government regulations. Billions have been spent to deceive Americans and create "alternative narratives" that spin any and all public debate toward conservative corporate agendas. And when the Supreme Court upheld the "free speech" of corporate Super PACs funded with dark money in its Citizens United ruling, that just opened the floodgates for more of the same masterful deception.

So don't count on a Blue Wave to save us from a truly deranged Infant-in-Chief and his highly toxic agenda. Civil society - and the checks and balances of power for the U.S. Republic itself - will very likely continue to be methodically demolished and undermined by neoliberal plutocrats. I wish this was mere pessimistic speculation…but I really don't believe it is. As just one example of the effectiveness of these sneaky destroyers of democracy, consider how well-organized, well-funded, and effective the "science skepticism" of the past few decades has been. Take a few minutes to absorb the graphic illustration below, and then ask yourself:

1. Do we have caps on carbon emissions, and the necessary investment in green energy technology to replace fossil fuels, to avoid further escalation of climate change?

2. Have neonicotinoid insecticides been banned so essential bee populations can be saved?

3. Has the marketing of nicotine vaping products to teenagers been stopped to prevent them from lifelong addiction and health hazards?

4. Has the proliferation of GMOs been seriously slowed until we can better understand its long-term impacts?

5. Do a majority of Americans even believe any of these issues are even an urgent concern…?


Neoliberal Self-Protective Propaganda Machine


Along the same lines, how good are working conditions at the largest U.S. companies? How high are those worker's wages? Will Social Security be able to pay 100% of benefits after 2034? Are wildly speculative investments on Wall Street being well-regulated? Are U.S. healthcare costs coming down? Are CEOs being held accountable for corporate malfeasance…and if so, how many have actually gone to jail?

The answer to these and countless similar questions informs us about the direction the U.S. is taking, and how nothing that interferes with corporate profits or the astounding wealth of their owner-shareholders will be allowed to flourish as long as conservative Republican (and possibly even centrist Democrats) hold power. In short, elected officials friendly to corporatocracy need to keep getting elected to keep this gravy train in motion. And so there is no cost too great to expend in order for them to win, and the highest concentrations of wealth in the history of the world have brought all of their resources to bear to perpetuate those wins. This is why a Blue Wave alone cannot triumph in November. Perhaps, if every single Left-leaning voter - together with every single Independent-minded voter - comes out to make their voices heard at the ballot box, it just might make enough difference. And I do mean every single one. But a Blue Wave alone will probably not be enough. In effect, what America requires for a return to sanity and safety is what we might call a Blue-Orange Tsunami - perhaps even one with a tinge of Purple, where Independents, Democrats and the few sane Republicans remaining unite their voices and votes against a highly unstable fascistic threat.

Short of this, there is just too much money in play, carefully bending mass media, social media, news media, scientific research, legislators, election systems, judges, government agencies, public opinion and the President himself to its will.

REFERENCES

https://www.businessinsider.com/partisan-gerrymandering-has-benefited-republicans-more-than-democrats-2017-6
https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/how-the-gop-rigs-elections-121907/
https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/26/us/2016-presidential-campaign-hacking-fast-facts/index.html
https://www.brookings.edu/articles/alecs-influence-over-lawmaking-in-state-legislatures/
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/19/facebook-political-ads-social-media-history-online-democracy
https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/16/trump-california-census-342116
https://slate.com/human-interest/2018/07/james-gunn-dan-harmon-mike-cernovich-the-far-rights-pedophilia-smear-campaign-is-working.html
https://www.mediamatters.org/research/2016/03/16/lies-distortions-and-smears-how-right-wing-medi/209051

What do you think of Benjamin Cain's views of science, philosophy, anthropocentrism, and sanity expressed in "The Heartless Vision of Nature?"

Thanks for the question Michelle. I must first admit that I’m not a good candidate for videos, as I find the format painfully slow in its conveyances of themes and perspectives. Instead, I read the following writing of Benjamin Cain (hoping to find similar points there) in order to answer the OP’s question:

Scientism and the Artistic Side of Knowledge

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Scientism and the Scapegoating of Philosophy

Here is my take so far:

Cain is spot on regarding scientism — its sentiments are not a careful integration of the scientific method into our approach to knowledge, but rather an arrogant attitude about the superiority of scientific pursuits over all other human aptitudes and interests — and of the dominion of human reasoning and worldviews over everything else in Nature (i.e. the anthropocentrism theme). In reality, of course, science is just one more facet of the human exploration (i.e. Cain’s pluralism), and humans are just one outcome of Nature’s vast experiments.

I’ve taken similar issues on myself in essays like this one: Sex at Dawn: The Fallacies of Simulated Science — in which I attempt to differentiate between popular notions of science, and actual scientific thinking. Another attempt to broaden critical reflection and process beyond various patterns of exclusionary bias (including scientism) can be found here: Sector Theory 1.0 — Todd’s Take on Epistemology.

Some caveats: When Cain’s criticisms of Tyson (in second linked essay) begin framing him within neoliberalism, I think that goes a tad too far. In reality, Tyson’s attitudes and methods may indeed lend themselves to perpetuating a neoliberal agenda (by supporting capitalism’s growth-dependent innovations)…but I don’t believe they are deliberately propagating the same. In the same vein, Cain tends to overgeneralize about “scientists” in ways that don’t help his arguments. Though Cain’s observations are appropriate for the culture of science and scientific institutions (and broader cultural attitudes towards science), they simply do not apply to “all scientists.” In other words, he would do better off using his term “scientismist” instead during any such rants. That said, the first linked essay, “Scientism and the Artistic Side of Knowledge,” is much more carefully constructed and worded.

All-in-All, I think Cain has some interesting things to say, and should be seriously considered as a contributive perspective. He does not promote, as Joe Velikovsky asserts in his post, “anti-science nonsense;” Cain’s perpective is neither anti-science nor nonsensical. He is simply asserting that, in a cultural, psychological and epistemic sense, “science is not the only story worth telling.” That is, science does not yet offer a complete picture of all aspects of existence and experience…so why are so many folks so emotionally (and irrationally) committed to insisting that it does? Further, Cain argues that scientific knowledge itself is fraught with the same intuitive, prejudging shortcomings (or advantages, depending on your perspective) as all other human methodologies. Cain’s is a well-reasoned criticism — and I think it takes particular aim at the non-scientific use of scientific knowledge (i.e. scientism as a sort of religion). One would think rational folks would appreciate that distinction….

My 2 cents.

What does social construction of reality mean? What does this concept say about the nature of society? What is the meaning of truth?

Thanks for the A2A Dawn. To me it speaks to the synthesizing capacity of human beings in groups — especially regarding things like social roles and mores, expectations regarding prosocial behavior, definitions of wrong-doing, values prioritizations, constructs around “meaning,” prejudices, etc. — and that this can be both conscious and unconscious. In my discussions of “moral creativity” (see L7 Prosociality) I promote the idea that we can have an active role in our own moral development and expressions…both individually and collectively…and that this will be reflected in the shape of our society. Our systems, institutions, cultural traditions, economic practices and so forth will reenforce and perpetuate certain assumptions about the world around us — and about the dominant forces within ourselves. The nature/nurture question is therefore more about our ongoing chosen emphasis than any chicken or egg, as our interpretations of everything will conform to that emphasis. And although stepping back from such perpetuation requires effort, it isn’t all that difficult. Unless, of course, our investment in a given position is tied closely to things like perceived survival, thriving, loss, threat, power, status, belonging, cherished relationships, etc. In other words, we are only rigidly conformist when we believe the stakes are high. And that, unfortunately, is what those who wield power and influence are constantly trying to do: convince us that the stakes are high, and that we have a lot to lose by not conforming to a given narrative regarding “what is.” None of this has much to do with “truth,” IMO…only with the operational parameters of acceptable information. Does it threaten? Then it can’t be true. Does it console and comfort? Then it must be true. So the more we can be persuaded or coerced about the “acceptability” of some given information in this high-stakes context, the more likely we are to incorporate that information around our preexisting bias. All-the-while, the context may have been synthesized purely through fear-induced groupthink. This is how, as an enduring analogy, Golding’s “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.” equates to “Lock her up!” I.e. this is how we create reality distortions we believe to be true.

My 2 cents.

What is the difference between voluntaryism and agorism?

Agorism is Konkin’s Rothbardian wet dream, with some later infusions of counter-establishment activism. It is utterly confused and self-contradictory form of right-libertarianism — and to invest in Agorism (or even entertain Konkin’s ideas as well-reasoned) is to bend one’s own thinking into such pretzels as to potentially break important cognitive capacities. In part I think this is due to Konkin’s ignorance: for example, he misuses terms (like “Left-Libertarian”) without any understanding of their history or context. In part, however, this is just due to crooked logic; Konkin is kin to Ayn Rand in this regard.

Voluntaryism (not to be confused with voluntarism!) is a much broader container, built around mutual consent. As a tool to evaluate (and avoid) Statist impositions, it seems to be a useful concept. As a sort of moral standard, it is not as helpful. When married to capitalism (or defending property ownership, etc.), voluntaryism begins to twist its proponent’s thinking into rather nasty knots…like wage slavery being okay as long as it’s contractual (i.e. there is no recognition of coercive power structures).

I hope this was helpful.

What were Ayn Rand's great sins?

Rand’s sins are legion, but here are the most egregious from my perspective:

1) Her misunderstanding and frequent misapplication of Aristotle.

2) Her promoting cigarettes as a “Promethean muse” that had no health risks.

3) Her unprincipled hypocrisy (in the same breath that she didn’t take responsibility for her cigarette-induced lung disease, she became dependent on the socialized safety nets she railed against).

4) Her bizarre assertions about human psychology, which really have no basis in anything scientific or even careful observations, but are purely Rand’s own inventions.

5) Her misunderstanding of causality regarding personal success, power and wealth accumulation (i.e. these do not materialize magically out of thin air as a consequence of individual effort or entrepreneurial spirit, but are wholly dependent on a supportive framework of civil society, generations of education and cooperation, the interdependence of human relationships, and — in Rand’s conceptions in particular — the availability of capital).

6) Her perpetual conflation of rhetoric and emotional reasoning with logic and objectivity. In other words, Rand would espouse various claims as if they were the consequence of logical argument, when they were really just layers of one fallacy upon another — with their fundamental justification being the sheer force of Rand’s personal will and imagination.

7) Her corrosive and destructive views about femininity, male-female dynamics, sexuality, romantic love, and even sexual intercourse itself.

8-) Her astounding arrogance that, despite a great deal of evidence in support of everything listed above, Rand believed she was making a meaningful contribution to philosophical discourse…and that more people should follow her prescriptions.

My 2 cents.

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

STOP

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

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

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

As always, feedback is welcome via emailing [email protected]

How would you convince socialists to become libertarian?

Thanks for the question John. I had to chuckle a bit when I saw this question…

The main challenge in any conversation — persuasive or otherwise — is that everyone share the same definitions of terms. If they don’t it will be impossible to communicate. In other words, we need to synchronize our knowledgbase. In this case, the terms “libertarian” and “socialist” have very broad definitions, and there is no better example of that than the fact that several answers so far confidently assert that it is “impossible” to persuade socialists to become libertarians, while at the same time I myself (along with countless others in the present day and throughout history) am a libertarian socialist. So there’s the source of the chuckling. Ha.

Unfortunately, there are a number of barriers to education and subsequent knowledgeable synchronization. One is ideological resistance (we might call this “willful ignorance” that bubbles up from deeply cherished beliefs). Another is subjection to years of misinformation and propaganda. Another is a simple desire to avoid embarrassment when someone discovers their own mistaken understanding. Another is ego — just ‘wanting to be right,’ because that is very important to some people’s self-concept. There are other barriers, but these seem fairly common.

So how do we approach these barriers or mitigate them? First, although it’s fairly rare to do this successfully in today’s sociopolitical landscape, offering some educational resources may spark curiosity and willingness to be educated in some people. Sometimes just asking a person if they are interested in learning about X or Y can open that door. To that end, a person could be offered some or all of the following resources:

1) Watching a few of the plentiful videos of Noam Chomsky discussing socialism, liberalism, capitalism, libertarianism, and the language and history around these ideas. Here is one:

https://youtu.be/Qc6AgXVNNsY

2) Reading up on the history of anarchism, libertarian socialism and anarcho-capitalism in books like Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible.

3) Appreciating how right-libertarianism (that is, capitalistic libertarianism) developed as a uniquely American flavor of libertarianism (via Mencken, Rothbard, Nozick, Mises, et al — there is a fairly good overview here: Right-libertarianism - Wikipedia), and how it was then entirely coopted by neoliberalism (see L7 Neoliberalism)

4) Appreciating just how pervasive, corrosive and distorted right-wing propaganda has become. Brock’s book Blinded by the Right might be helpful in this regard, and a Harvard study on how propaganda shaped the 2016 election can be found here: https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstre...

In any case, that’s a start. A person’s response to this initial exposure and education will help determine next steps. Are they surprised by what they learn? Are they willing to admit the extent of their own ignorance? Do they turn to poorly informed, knee-jerk polemics, ad hominem attacks or name-calling to reject the information? Do they express a thirst for additional information? How to handle each of these responses is a separate and often challenging question in itself.

I hope this was helpful.

What are the best nondual statements from Jesus?

Thanks for the question Pete. A number of verses come to mind, but to appreciate why they express nonduality may require some contemplation. First, I would recommend comparing parallel verses of what Jesus says about “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” across the gospels (i.e. Matthew 5:3/Luke 6:20; Matthew 19:14/Mark 10:13–14; etc.). and then just carefully examine what all Jesus says regarding that kingdom. That will be an eye-opener for some folks, and certainly speaks to nondual themes.

I would then turn to the Gospel of John, beginning with this:

John 17:20–23

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

And then some of the rest…

John 6:35–40

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John 7:16–18

“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”

John 8:3–11

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

John 10:34–36


Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

John 12:24–25

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

John 15:4–5

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

—————

These are some of the easier verses. There are others that require a bit more time and openness to grok and fully receive within a nondual context. For example, John 11:9 “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.” Or John 13:20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” IMO, both of these verses have not been adequately interpreted by most scholars, because they speak to a deeper, more unitive truth than is apparent on the surface (and even seems confusing).

My 2 cents.

What life choices can individuals make to insulate against the negative impacts of neoliberal policies?

There have been a number of proposals over the years that have attempted to “self-liberate” from what amounts to neoliberal oppression — many of which were proposed prior to neoliberal ideology even taking root. For example:

1) Various forms of counterculture — some embedded in the mainstream, and some retreating to isolated communes, etc.

2) Various top-down socialistic reforms that attempt to insulate entire segments of society — or all of society — from the impact of runaway crony capitalism through government programs, safety nets, publicly owned assets and services, etc.

3) Worker solidarity movements that permit organized labor to wrestle controls away from the owner-shareholder class.

4) The formation of a well-educated, affluent middle class with progressive values that can counter neoliberal agendas through NGOs, community organizing, community banking, electing progressive candidates, writing and passing progressive initiatives, and mass media counter-narratives.

5) Subversive activism that seeks to disrupt neoliberal agendas, such as hacktivism, sabotaging WTO meetings, ecoterrorism, etc.

6) Modeling alternatives that exit the self-destructive spiral of a neoliberal status quo. Low carbon lifestyles, Permaculture and
7) Transition Towns, becoming Vegan, and so on.

Thus far, such efforts have slowed the forward march of neoliberalism, to be sure…but neoliberal activists are themselves very skilled, well-organized and well-funded in their own efforts to move their plutocratic vision forward, often coopting counter-narratives and undermining radical efforts. Consider how the Koch brothers took over the Tea Party movement, for example, or how the Kitchen Cabinet manipulated Reagan’s populism to their own ends, or how a Patriot Act inspired by foreign terrorism empowered a neoliberal government to crack down more forcefully on its own citizen subversives, or how alternative culture has simply been been commoditized to further feed corporate profits, or how evangelical Christians in the U.S. are now almost totally in the thrall of the commercialist, corporationist Beast. It’s stunning, really.

Which leads us to the question: what else can we do, either individually or collectively? I think the desire to “check out” of a toxic political economy altogether, and hide ourselves away off-the-grid or in some developing country, can be very enticing. It’s also pretty selfish, however…in some ways playing right into the “I/Me/Mine” individualism that feeds the disintegration of civil society itself. Another, perhaps more responsible approach would be to try David Holmgren’s “Crash on Demand or how to opt out the corporate fascism.” I think he has some good ideas there that could lead to major reform. But really I think the best method is to walk right past the low-hanging fruit, and aim much higher. Which means reforming the underlying political economy itself, rather than attempting a Band-Aid approach to countering neoliberalism. To that end, I’ve cobbled together a “multi-pronged” system for transformative activism here: L e v e l - 7 Action. The basic idea is that if we work towards ALL of the threads of change agency described there, we just might be able to undermine a neoliberal status quo in enduring and sustainable ways. At this point it’s just my own vision, but hey…why not aim high? Why not try to alter the underlying, causal factors that keep leading us down the same self-destructive path…?

My 2 cents.

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

I’m fairly certain that Rousseau, Wittgenstein, Aquinas, Sartre, Marcus Aurelius, Hegel and many other great thinkers would heartily agree with this question's sentiment. It takes real courage to remain vigilant about our own epistemic assumptions — and the conclusions we reach while relying upon them. Add to this our natural fallibility, ego attachments, fear of what we do not comprehend, and tendency to cling to the comfort of what is familiar…and, well…our ship of inquiry will always crash upon the rocks of self-reference eventually. But that doesn’t mean we can’t build a new ship, hoist our sales and seek a new course of insight. We need only be cognizant the breath that animates that quest, the buoyancy of mind that keeps us afloat, and the awareness that steers our course. And yes…we can still “love the truth” as an unknown objective, as a glint of light luring us from just beyond the horizon; to intuit its presence or catch the briefest glimpse with some fragment of our faculties does not negate devotion. Indeed it can inspire it, despite our apprehension about probing the unknowable. Perhaps it is easier to fall in love with mystery — or what mystery evokes in our imagination — rather than with our own settled beliefs. Or at least the love feels more genuine, and less contrived and pretentious.

I think what often steers us back to the perceived safety of that rocky shoreline is our fear that we will drift without a compass, or sight of land, or lose the motivating pneuma that makes our sails swell so pregnantly with purpose. But the intrinsic passion for truth will call from the open ocean, even when we are rudderless and adrift in the doldrums of our gravest stupidities. Even into the last instant, when the parched intellect is sure of its extinguishment, there can be truth…and love of truth…if we are open to it. Which is why the comforts of the settled shore, the habitual status quo, the camaraderie of cracking fires and shared soup, the coddling sleep upon still rocks — even if all of these are equally mere inventions of the mind — will always still the seeker within more readily than death. And so the morning after is itself a revelation, a revision of each old truth with something new, if we are willing to venture once more out to sea. All the greatest thinkers experienced this, which is why their thinking evolved over time, and why they often abandoned initial modes and premises and foundations for a better design or broader vision…or dismissed their previous assertions as faulty precursors for a more precipitous leap into the vast unknown.

My 2 cents.

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

Basically Aquinas argues from the position that — logically, intuitively, observationally, analogically — there can't be an infinite regress of causes, and he does this along several lines of reasoning. In essence, in order for God to be God, that prime mover can’t have a preceding cause. It would negate the primacy (and thus the divinity) of that mover. To appreciate both the context and the details of his arguments, it would be helpful to read the entirely of his discussion on the existence of God at the beginning of Summa Theologiae. You can read that online here: The existence of God (Prima Pars, Q. 2)

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

What is an object? It’s a thing, right? Just a thing…basically only valuable in terms of its utility or commodification. Its function or someone’s desire for it determines its purpose and worth. But is that what a human being is? Just a thing…? A thing that it only valuable because of its utility or someone’s desire for it, and without any other essence or purpose? Is our only function to…ultimately…be objectified by others? To be used? Meditate on this for a bit. “Private property” is, in its most essential characteristic, the “thingification” of the world; that is, the forceful categorization and boundarizing of everything as “stuff.” That is, as objects that are used, and only valuable because of their utility and desirability, and not because they have any intrinsic value or purpose that transcends material exchanges or the capricious whims of humans. Ownership is enslavement to the will of the owner. This is a pretty profound observation, don’t you think? And yet it escapes most people that everything they do — and everything they are — in a capitalist system distances them from their own intrinsic, non-material value, and turns them into an object…a slave. Thus private property, as the primary building block of a capitalist system, ultimately results in the commodification of the human spirit…and in a society that is mired in cultural poverty and alienation.

This is what Marx is getting at with his theory of alienation and “self-estrangement.” And IMO it is incredibly important to understand this component of Marx’s thinking, because everything else in his philosophy flows out from this central observation. Thus the capture and imprisonment of all natural things into a state of “private property” destroys their inherent value — strips them of their essence — and replaces that inherent value with commodification. In the same way, the “commodified” human being relinquishes their will, their choice, their imagination, their self-determination, their creativity, their social relations and fundamental purpose…purely in order to serve the will of profit. To be a slave. To be a thing. When understood in this way, it is no surprise at all that Marx was so opposed to private property. As comprehensive definitions of “evil” in humanistic terms, private property’s annihilation of our humanity presents a fairly compelling case. It does require some thoughtful effort to awaken to this perspective…but once we wake up, it’s pretty hard not to see why Marx was so passionate about moving beyond the capitalist status quo as quickly as possible, and to return all “property” to the commons.

For my own take on the problems with private property, please consider reading this essay: IntegralLiberty.pdf

My 2 cents.

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

Great question — thanks Danijel.

So here’s my take….

1) Some words are purely representational and symbolic.

2) Some words — or bodies of words — may actually embody the essence-of-a-thing, or “the thing as-it-is.”

3) And some words or bodies of words may actually create a thing.

In my view these three different operations of language are usually unconscious — humans don’t, in general, actively navigate the world around them via consciously ‘code-switching’ between these operations. Some may try to do this…usually those who have spent their lives intending to either a) understand and appreciate their own consciousness and agency in the world in an intuitive and introspective way, or b) have been educated about a particular approach to consciousness and agency in a systematic way. Still, extensive mastery of language in this context is IMO extremely rare.

Some examples will probably be helpful here. The first case — pure representation — is fairly easy to grasp and likely needs no examples (it seems as though the question itself is predicated on this assumption). The second case, embodying essence, is perhaps a fundamental function of consciousness itself, as evident in an infant’s gurgling as it is in a poet’s gift or a mystic’s insights. We see this in the phonemes “ma,” “muh” and “meh” which are an almost universal component of all the words referring “mother” or “motherly” in any language. How is this possible, unless there is some basic, essential unity-of-association between a given sound and its particular representation (or evocation) in our emotional experience…? In other words, in some instances a given word touches upon “the thing as-it-is” — at least in the context of universal human experience and response.

Poetic and mystical examples follow along similar lines, with kindred or identical sounds, words and phrases in many different languages (which do not share common linguistic roots) evoking similar meanings, contexts or experiences. Atman, alma, anda, pneuma, arima, anima, anam, jan (жан), neshama (נֶפֶשׁ) all relate to spirit or soul, for example. Likewise, metaphors that relate to happiness as a “rising up” experience are cross-cultural, near universals, as are idioms expressing anger or frustration that relate to being enclosed and trying to get out. Some linguistic theorists surmise that such universals reflect our common neurophysiology, or parallel developments in culture, and these are certainly viable explanations. Some behavioral scientists have even suggested that “moral grammar” — and the culture that arises around it — is itself a feature of our biology. Another explanation is that there are universal patterns, structures, energies and processes that occur on a quantum level across all of biology and consciousness — again, just a theory. And, adding to the mix, there are also intuitions of a unitive principle behind all consciousness and spirit. These theories are themselves representations from one perspective. From another perspective they are sussing out a shared ground — of being, becoming, evolving, a common cascade of interdependencies, and so on; that is, they are embodying essence. Personally, I’m willing to bet that all of these theories offer a piece of the puzzle (that is, that all of them have some degree of descriptive accuracy).

Lastly, we come to creative language. On one level, this idea is as simple as one person writing fiction, and another “experiencing” that story as a felt reality in their own mind. On another level, there is the suggestion that language itself has formative and projective capacity on human development and activity (Sapir-Whorf, etc.) — movements like “nonviolent communication” have been heavily influenced by this line of thinking. And on yet another level, there is the concept of logos within various Christian and Hermetic traditions, and the panentheism across various other traditions, that link mind and language and unfolding reality in interpenetrating ways. Even certain schools of philosophy have addressed the possibility of the projective capacity of mind on reality (from various forms of dualism all the way up to quantum consciousness), and here language can become a component of that projection as well. I’m covering a lot of ground here that probably requires more detailed elaboration, but the basic idea is that “a word” is much more than a description of a concept — it has its own substance, its own energy, its own essence, which links it more directly to the creation of other phenomena.

So this is a fascinating question, with substantial capacity for ever-broadening exploration. The danger, I think, is trying to reduce language and thought to mere representation, when there may be a lot more going on….

My 2 cents.

Comment by Danijel Starcevic: "Really interesting perspective, especially the part about the “ projective capacity of mind on reality”, with language being a component of that projection. Are there any modern scientific inquiries into this?"


LOL. No. At least not mainstream stuff. Bohm’s “implicate order,” Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance” and László's “Akashic field” theory are about as close as you’ll likely get to actual science along these lines — and the implications for language are mostly my own, even in those instances. Interesting reading though. :-) Most of what I’m referencing is more esoteric in nature. Can it be directly experienced? Sure. Can it be replicated in a double-blind experiment? Not so much. I’m wondering if “the observer effect” actually has an impact on this — trying to measure something that reacts to the measurement instrument. Just a thought….

What do libertarians and progressives have in common?

Since the OP used a lower-case “l” for “libertarian,” I’m assuming this question is not restricted to U.S.-style right-libertarianism, that is…“Libertarianism” with a capital “L.” Left-libertarianism, which has been the dominant school of libertarian thought around the globe for many decades, has a tremendous overlap with with progressivism. In fact, you can’t really differentiate a “progressive” from a left-libertarian, as their goals are identical. The only reason methods may differ is that “progressivism” does not distinguish or emphasize one system of government over another — it is primarily focussed on improving freedoms, well-being, opportunities and conditions for everyone…by any means possible. Libertarianism, on the other hand, is opposed to State-centric solutions, and solutions that impose the will of any number of folks on everyone else. Essentially, progressives aren’t as picky about government, as long as government is moving a progressive agenda (civil liberties, economic opportunity and stability, scientific knowledge and education, etc.) forward.

Now…in the U.S. specifically things have become very different around these terms/ideologies. Why? I discuss some of the reasons why here: see “How has (Tea Party) Libertarianism become conflated with or gobbled up by anarcho-capitalism and laissez-faire capitalism in the U.S.A.?” at this link L7 Neoliberalism. Basically, pro-capitalist ideologies have almost entirely captured Libertarian thinking in the U.S., whereas throughout the rest of history — and throughout the rest of the globe — left-libertarianism has been markedly anti-capitalist, even though many left-leaning forms of libertarianism are still pro-market and pro-competition (the left-right division here centers around private property…but that is another discussion). At the same time, those who self-identify as “progressives” in the U.S. have tended to be pretty pro-Statist in how they aim to solve problems. Essentially, then, even though the underlying objectives may be very similar, the methods of U.S. progressives and U.S. Libertarians are in opposition, with “government can’t do anything right, and taxation is theft,” on the one hand, and “government offers the best solutions, as funded by higher taxes” on the other. That’s a pretty extreme tension.

Of course, the neoliberal, laissez-faire, Austrian School, Randian objectivist and other market fundamentalist folks are generally delighted that right-libertarians (many of whom will self-identifity as anarcho-capitalist or “AnCap”) have joined their club. Personally, I think this is very sad, as it is a gross distortion of traditional libertarianism to believe commercialist corporationism supports liberty. It doesn’t. Instead, it reliably produces slavery. Even if, in Nozick’s words, that slavery is “voluntary,” it’s still slavery, and not freedom. This is a more complex discussion, but you can explore the subtleties of the issues involved my essay here: IntegralLiberty.pdf.

So, as others have pointed out in their answers, it really would be great if right-libertarians in the U.S. recognized how much more common ground they have with progressives than, say, with right-wing religious conservatives — and for U.S. progressives to recognize how much more common ground they have with a right-libertarian vision of civil liberties than with, say, neoliberal “centrists” like the Clintons. Really the only folks who reliably win from these divisions are crony capitalist plutocrats…and so, IMO, it would be great if Americans woke up to this reality and formed some anti-neoliberal, pro-democracy coalitions.

Is Marx’s theory of surplus value still relevant?

Yes Marx’s concept of surplus value is still relevant. But it really, really bothers neoliberal propagandists, Austrian School pundits, and other market fundamentalists that anyone is still brazen enough to use the term. These pro-capitalist folks will rail against its usage and belittle anyone who believes that this or any other ideas from Marx are still relevant. But don’t let them distract you. I think you are on the right track if you are trying to understand Marx’s insights through a modern lens. Probably the best modern example that conforms to Marx’s concerns about “surplus value” is the power that wealthy shareholders who purchase a lot of shares have over how a company does business, and the benefits that they reap from that involvement. Such a person might own a large amount of stock in a company and, even though that stock is a very tiny fraction of their own personal portfolio, they might wish to exert enormous influence as, say, an activist investor. They are, essentially, trying to maximize their personal profits — and this always comes at the expense of workers and consumers. A recent example is what happened at Qualcomm, which now has to execute a huge employee layoff to satisfy investors after the failed Broadcom takeover bid (again, to increase profits). These investors are not adding any value to an enterprise, they are just trying extract value from it. This is the concept that Marx was trying to “prove” with his surplus value calculations in Capital III — and, if you bypass the math, and instead examine the spirit of what Marx was trying to say about exploitation and the profit motive, you’ll begin to grasp the scope and intent of his insights.

A similar concept, and one well worth researching, is “rent-seeking,” where someone manipulates an environment to increase personal or corporate profits (such as lobbying or regulatory capture, for example), again without adding any real value to the equation.

Now it is easy to pick apart Marx’s arguments in Capital, and to say that certain details of his calculations are no longer relevant. But this entirely misses the narrative that Marx was trying to construct about the nature, methods and consequences of capitalism. And that narrative is very much still true today.

My 2 cents.

What is the relationship between utility and value?

Hi Carl — thanks for the question. I suspect our fundamental attitudes about valuation are not that far apart, as we have both come to similar conclusions about that which is “life sustaining” having authentic “value.” I attempt to address this in my consideration of “holistic value,” but that formula also includes human-perceived-utitilty as part of the calculus. Anything that contradicts or undermines holistic value (but nevertheless commands high exchange value) is categorized as having “perverse utility.” There is a brief overview of the concept here: L7 Holistic Value, and here is how I summarize and expand on it a bit in my essay “Reframing Profit”:

“In Level 7, for-profit and non-profit designations can be addressed to some degree via the collectively designated holistic value for a given product or service, as this valuation process will inherently expand or contract potential profitability. How do we arrive at holistic value? In brief we can apply the following formula, which expands slightly upon previous conceptions described in Political Economy and the Unitive Principle:


As part of this process, we can even target the "fulcrum's plane" of ideal nourishment to refine holistic value with objective metrics – metrics which can then be made available to all via the Public Information Clearinghouse.”


Now this essay (as well as what I cover in the Unitive Principle book) is really discussing a transitional state of affairs. It is a compromise that attempts to reconcile human machinations and culture with Nature’s underlying order (as embodied in Integral Lifework’s “multidimensional nourishment” and the unitive principle itself). To appreciate what I’m aiming for here, I recommend reading the entire overview of L7 Property Position. I believe you will intuit what I’m headed with these ideas…

Looking forward to your thoughts Carl.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Carl Leitz: "Brilliant and deep insights here - it's discouraging to realize how much more we need to know just to be able to scratch the surface of what there is to know."


The challenge, I think, is that we are still in the relative dark ages with respect to developing an ethical and egalitarian political economy. Not just in conception, but in the groundwork necessary for implementation. So a lot of fundamentals have to be revisited — and in some cases reinvented. And we can’t always rely on all of the tools or concepts (or language) already in use, because they are…well…essentially toxic. But they are also complex, and well-established. So it’s a bit like saying to the modern economist: “Hey, so we need to stop using leeches. Yes, I know we have been using them for a while, but they don’t really work….” And the reaction is often, I would suppose, not unlike how the “doctors” of the middle ages would have reacted: incredulity and reflexive rejection of the truth. (sigh) So we have a long way to go….

What's the speech that converted you to socialism?

What an interesting assumption! I think I’ve always been a socialist at heart, so various socialist proposals have resonated with my native sensibilities whenever I encountered them. So at first I didn’t really think any particular speech had ‘lured me into the fold’ as it were. But as I thought back, I then remembered listening to Ronald Reagan once, when I was about fourteen and living in West Germany, and realizing even at that age what an incredible idiot he was, and this, in turn, sparked me into deeper thinking about much of what Reagan seemed to be trying to do with his policies and rhetoric. At that time, I also recalled that a representative from an Oil and Gas company who had given a lecture at a local High School near me (this was back in the States, before I left for Germany) sounded strangely similar in both tone and nonsensical language. There was a similar easygoing, deceptive slipperiness in them both. And so something “clicked” for me at the time — something came together about being lied to by public figures who were trying to get people to support a given outcome. And what was that outcome? What were these liars and cajoling buffoons trying to persuade people to do…? It was answering that question, I think, that somehow watered the seeds of socialism deep within, and recalled to my mind the songs of Pete Seeger that I had listened to as a youngster, and indeed learned to sing myself. Songs like John Henry, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer, This Land is Your Land, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and many others; songs that instilled a sense of pride and rightness around a love of justice, a shared sense of place and purpose with folks from all walks of life, and a mistrust of rigid rules, institutions and authoritative systems.

What began to emerge was a realization that those who craved power and wealth — and deceived others into supporting their efforts — were the same folks who liked to impose rigid rules and perpetuate authoritative and destructive systems that benefitted themselves. And these folks were, by self-identification, nearly always devoted capitalists and corporatists. And I think that, within this ripening context, when I was introduced to the New Testament, I found it particularly striking that Jesus and his followers so pointedly amplified freedom, generosity, justice and kindness for the common and oppressed person, while ridiculing and reviling those wealthy, authoritative power-brokers of their time who were perpetrating most of the oppression. It was all coming together nicely, you see? And so, many years later, what was probably a timely anointing of this gestation process was encountering the work of Noam Chomsky, whose clear and unapologetic voice indicted the very same oppressive systems and institutions, while lauding the benefits of socialistic and anti-capitalist sentiments and practices — in his case leaning towards left-anarchism. Taken altogether, it was quite a tapestry of influences that all ultimately converged on libertarian socialism. But, really…when it comes right down to it…it was that one absurd speech from Ronald Reagan that nudged me most forcefully away from everything crony capitalism has come to represent, and indeed what it still perpetuates in our modern political economy.

My 2 cents.

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

Politicians? I wasn’t aware they cared about democracy at all. They certainly don’t in my country (U.S.A.). Thanks to the dogged efforts of neoliberal owner-shareholders, U.S. democracy has become little more than crony, clientist state capitalism. “Representative” democracy mainly represents a relatively small number of wealthy owner-shareholders, not the broader electorate who has been hoodwinked into voting against their own interests.

As for intellectuals, I think the promotion of direct democracy and consensus democracy are often discussed in a future-looking way by academics because these approaches hold a lot of promise, and have been fairly successful wherever they’ve been tried.

Yes, I do believe intellectual capacity is decreasing in the developed world, even as it increases in developing countries. However, it doesn’t require a brilliant intellect to envision or practice new forms of direct or consensus democracy. It just requires a bit of education, a level moral maturity that recognizes the importance of civic responsibility and participation, and an attenuation of “I/Me/Mine” economic materialism.

My 2 cents.

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

Is this a college essay question? I hope not.

Rawls’ maximin preference has nothing to do with risk aversion. This is a misreading of the context for his original position. He simply emphasizes that a system that minimizes negative outcomes and opportunity costs in fundamental ways will maximize potential benefits across all of society — including the ability to take future risks. And because decisions from the original position inherently aim to decide pervasive systemic foundations for everyone in society, hogtying the proposed universality of justice and fairness for the sake of some minimal, targeted perceived utility is…well…it’s just shortsighted. Even if that perceived utility appears to be a form of freedom, the cost is simply too great (again, within the pervasive and perpetual context that Rawls has defined for this exercise) to sacrifice what I would call the foundations of freedom itself — i.e. what Rawl’s discusses as the social minimums of liberty, opportunity, education, etc. for everyone — in order to facilitate some much more narrowly defined goal. In this respect, arguments against Rawls do tend to be a bit myopic and blinkered. Remember that Rawls’ veil of ignorance demands such systemic conditions be optimally defined without any knowledge of one’s position, resources and opportunities. Thus maximin becomes a sensible starting point for that discussion.

My 2 cents.

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

Absolutely. AnCap likes to frame “coercion” as a feature of the State, but ignores how it also manifests in free enterprise. Capitalists regularly coerce consumers and workers — regardless of whether the State aids or legitimizes these actions. This is true even for small business…not just monopolies. But monopolies — which can occur (and have occurred) naturally, and without mechanisms of the State — often amplify the scope and intensity of that coercion. Capitalism, by its very nature, encourages coercive practices — the company store, truck systems, share cropping, wage slavery, debt slavery, deliberately addictive products and services, brutally non-competitive practices, deceptive manipulation of consumers through fear and threats, etc. have always surfaced spontaneously in capitalist systems — and thus there is really nothing inherently “free” about a free market. Most market fundamentalists, including anarcho-capitalists, will rail against these characterizations of inherent coercion…but I’ve yet to encounter a valid counterargument that wasn’t steeped in neoliberal hoodwinking, irrational knee-jerk bias, ideological groupthink, and unsubstantiated beliefs about “unicorn” economics. Folks will just want to believe what they want to believe, and when you get a large enough group of them agreeing on what are often bizarre cognitive distortions, no amount of reasoning “from the outside” can free them from their delusions. It’s a sad state of affairs for the human species, and if we can’t break free of these immature, tribalistic mindsets, it does not bode well for our humanity’s future….

My 2 cents.