I think that there are a few principles that might aspire to “the most important principles in political philosophy,” and I’ve listed them below. I don’t, however, think there is any single political philosophy that can claim primacy as “the most important in history.”
Some principles that became quite influential, if not universal, throughout history around the globe:
1. That rulers — or anyone with disproportionate concentrations power — should be just and good to those they rule or control…and, if they aren’t, that they should be usurped or replaced in some fashion (democracy, violent revolution, communism, anarchism, etc. all sprang from this central idea)
2. That all human beings share the same fundamental rights (under the law, in political representation, economically, socially, etc.)
3. That “civil society” is not only predicated on the previous two principles, but that it exists to benefit everyone in society (i.e. provide safety and security under the rule of law, material opportunity, freedom, and even the pursuit of happiness…)
4. That religion and governance do not mix well…but scientific evidence and reasoning bolsters sound governance
5. That the civic responsibility for all-of-the-above falls upon everyone equally — that everyone is individually and collectively accountable for the fulfillment and defense of these principles.
Sadly, although these principles have led to some of the grandest, most prosperous, most free, and most advanced societies on Earth, they seemingly are being forgotten to an astonishing and rapid degree. Like spoiled children, modern citizens do not seem to understand or appreciate what they have…until it starts to be taken away.
This has been a central focus of my own philosophical reading, research, musings, and writing for many decades. It took me a while to arrive at these conclusions…but what follows is where I have landed for the moment.
I should first give a nod to the lineage of the dialectical epistemic mode in Western philosophy, where we see the primary evolution from Plato and Aristotle up through Hegel. I also think Calvinist multiperspectivalism adds to this tradition, with a synthesis of three perspectives. Beginning with Gebser we begin to see a new definition of “multiperspectival” among integral philosophers, and really this is the beginning of what I would call “high-level dialectical thinking.” In this form of analysis, many perspectives contribute to an additive synthesis.
Finally, there is a parallel lineage in Eastern philosophy and mysticism as well, which leads to subtly different epistemic assumptions: that some understanding can’t be logically derived, but only “known” in a more felt or spiritual sense, described with terms like “gnosis,” “kensho,” and “bodhi.” This illuminating awareness also encompasses multiple perspectives in its interpenetrating understanding — it can integrate without negation just as Western dialectical and integral methods attempt to do.
This is not to say that Western philosophy doesn’t brush up against sympathetic ideas — it does. I think arriving at Aristotle’s moderation, or Fichte’s intellectual intuition, or Heinlein’s “grok” all seem to require a similar flavor non-analytical insight.
All of this led me to a very particular conclusion: there are many ways of knowing, and many ways of integrating that knowledge, so that a true “synthesis” of understanding that encompasses all experiences, insights, and perspectives requires a different framing than what either Western or Eastern philosophical traditions had to offer alone.
Sector Theory is how I would represent “high-level dialectical thinking.” The term I like to use for the fundamental process is “multidialectical synthesis.” What makes Sector Theory unique, however, are the definitions of the sectors themselves. These sectors aren’t always equal contributors — it requires discernment and wisdom to know which combination of sectors should have primacy in a given situation or realm of understanding — but Sector Theory asserts that all should be considered and weighed carefully together for the most complete understanding possible.
I think it is a lofty ideal, but that it has never really existed in the U.S. “Principled conservatives” claim to base their ideology on actual sources like the Constitution, or the intent of the Founding Fathers expressed in the Federalist Papers and other essays and letters of the period, or the writings of Adam Smith and John Locke, or the Judeo-Christian ethics of the Bible, or other similarly vaunted authorities of the past.
The problem, of course, is that most of this framing has been achieved through radical reinterpretations of those sources by more recent thinkers, and the “core principles” have become severely distorted so that the new lens of conservative values teeters on a cherry-picked mountain of half-truths. This has been going on for a long time in the U.S. and elsewhere, as conservative religious and political figures have sought to harness authoritative source material to justify their own power, influence, wealth, and gender and racial superiority. Citing such authorities in conservative propaganda makes it a lot easier to persuade a conservative-leaning rank-and-file to vote a certain way and dutifully conform to the party line.
I suppose some examples would be helpful here, and there are many. It’s just that you have to really study that source material carefully to understand just how distorted conservative reinterpretations have become. Take women’s rights as one example. Established culture always trumps religion, and the Europeans conformed what was actually a radically feminist Christianity to their own misogynistic cultural tendencies, and that misogynistic strain of Christianity then migrated to the New World. If we spend any time at all studying the acts of Jesus and the writings of the Apostle Paul, we quickly realize that they both promoted a woman’s spiritual authority and position in the Church as being equal to a man’s, and frequently deferred to female leaders and influencers in critical situations. The words and deeds of the New Testament are radically feminist in this sense. That is…except for two (and only two) verses in the epistles (i.e. the letters at the end of the NT) that denigrate women and put them in subjection to men, and which conservatives have often liked to cite to justify ongoing oppression of women. However, nearly all — and certainly all of the most credible — modern Christian scholars recognize that these epistles are rife with interpolated verses…that is, with verses that were written centuries later and inserted into those texts…and due to their style and content these epistles were very likely written or rewritten at a much later time than the rest of the New Testament. Again though, we’re talking about two verses that contrast the majority of other NT writings that quite markedly liberate women from oppression and inequality.
So, as I say, this “cherry-picking” of conservative authorities has been going on for a long time. The same is true of Adam Smith, who promoted “good government” and its control over and taxation of commerce so that workers and the poor would be protected from the abuses of big business. Hmmm….why is it we never hear conservatives quote Adam Smith’s discussion of good government? Because it doesn’t conform to their narrative about unfettered free enterprise being synonymous with liberty and American patriotism. And of course similar distortions have arisen around how the U.S. Constitution is interpreted, which clearly states government is to provide for the common welfare of the United States, enshrines enduring socialist institutions like the Postal Service, and so on. Equally distressing, conservative distortions go so far as to invent — in what is a stark contrast to “principled” originalist or textualist interpretations of the Constitution — self-serving ideas about what a particular passage means. For nearly 200 years the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” was understood to relate to the “well regulated Militia” referenced in the same Amendment — even among conservative SCOTUS Justices. But, thanks to modern conservatives and the revisionist judicial activism of Antonin Scalia in his DC v Heller ruling, Amendment II now somehow refers to personal self-defense…!
Essentially, then, conservatives have traditionally begun with a self-serving objective — usually having to do with creating or maintaining white male pseudo-Christian privilege and wealth in society — and then carefully gleaning selective passages from authoritative sources from the past to support those self-serving objectives. These distorted justifications then become their “conservative principles.” Ironically, most of these self-protective and highly destructive conservative ideological habits can be quickly countered with other selective references from those very same sources — for example, both Jesus Christ and Adam Smith frequently warned of the dangers of greed and lust for power, the toxicity of lording it over others, and so on.
But in my experience very few “principled conservatives” spend much time really understanding or even reading those original sources. Some do, and their views are much more nuanced (but not at all popular among other conservatives!). Instead, the average “principled conservative” relies on the reinterpretations of much later thinkers and influencers who became conservative authorities in their own right — Hayek and Friedman, Gingrich and Buchanon, Scalia and Rehnquist, Graham and Falwell, the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation, Breitbart and Blaze, Buckley and Limbaugh, and so on. So with each passing generation, the abstraction from first principles becomes more and more elaborate and rationalizing…until we end up with a fascist, racist ignoramus embodying the very worst of human nature, and 70 million GOP voters supporting it as their “conservative” choice for POTUS.
Essentially, then, the principles of “principled conservatives” have become very far removed from the ideals of the original thinkers that supposedly inform them, and are reduced and upended into the very things those authorities warned against and attempted to countervail:
“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…” — Jesus Christ (Matt 20:25–26)
“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” — Apostle Paul (Rom 13:3–7)
“We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax. It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need.” — Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to George Wythe, 1786
The challenge as I see it is the weaponization of malicious deception through mass and social media. Take propaganda and disinformation. Before record broadcasts, mass media, and the Internet, this was limited to influencing those within hearing distance of a live speaker — or to those willing to read and absorb someone’s writing — and thus only seemed to propagate slowly over months and years. Mass movements were sparked by radical and revolutionary thought, to be sure, but the time these took to gain any substantive momentum in society afforded a modicum of wisdom, measured consideration, thoughtful discourse, and common sense to be injected into that process…well, at least most of the time. Humans have always been susceptible to groupthink and the lemming effect. But before the modern information revolution, the ability to hoodwink large numbers of people took some very committed effort and time.
Nowadays, however, disinformation disseminates in hours or days, capturing millions of uncritical and gullible minds so that substantive shifts in attitudes and behaviors can have a widespread — and often dominant — impact on communities and societies. I call this the superagency effect, and it is similar to other ways that technology allows us to project and amplify person or collective will in unprecedented ways…often facilitating great harm on an ever-growing scale.
So I think this change in the potential consequences of malicious deception — the amplification of harm, if you will — should inform our definitions of free speech, and the collectively agreed-upon ways we decide to manage free speech. I think this is part of what the Fairness Doctrine in the U.S. was intended to address: the advent of news media broadcasting to every home in America invited some sort of oversight to ensure what was being communicated in an ever-more-centrally coordinated way, by relatively few authoritative or trusted figures, offered equal time to multiple perspectives…and encouraged some of those perspectives to be controversial. Since the original Fairness Doctrine only applied to broadcast licenses, it of course would not have done much to curtail the explosion of propaganda and conspiracy outlets on cable and the Internet unless updated to address those new media (and there was, actually, a failed attempt to do this), but the point is that the concern about the ubiquity of these forms of persuasive communication has always been pretty obvious.
And of course this concern doesn’t only apply to ideological propaganda. It also applies to advertising, which has successfully convinced millions to buy things they don’t need, or become addicted or dependent for many years, or injure their health and well-being with caustic consumables. Again, all because of the power and reach of mass media.
So the vaunted ideal of free speech has to be understood in this broader context. The speed and destructive power of malicious deception in the current era cannot be understated. It has undermined legitimately elected governments, endangered individual and collective human health, propagated irrational fears and hatred that have lead to human tragedy and death, and wreaked havoc on the ecology of planet Earth — all with astonishing swiftness and scope.
Therefore, some sort of collectively agreed-upon mechanism — and ideally one that is implemented and managed by an informed democratic process — should be put in place to ensure some standard of truthfulness and fact-checking, representation of diverse and controversial perspectives, and diffusing or disabling of disinformation and malicious deception. The key, again, will be in the quality and fairness of the “regulatory” process itself — aiming for something more democratic and not autocratic.
My take, as someone who has read both Sartre in French and Hegel in German, is that learning the language alone is certainly helpful, but does not guarantee understanding. As others here have said, each philosopher has their own distinct language — some even invented their own vocabulary for ideas they otherwise found impossible to communicate. There is also the issue of language period — the phrasing, syntax, vocabulary, and cultural references of a specific time can add to the potential confusion.
So my recommendation would be to both learn German, and study the original text alongside two or three well-respected translations in your native tongue. This approach has afforded me many interesting surprises and insights. On the one hand, you will see how different translators grapple with difficult passages and you can then perhaps gain addition insight from that. On the other, you may very well discover that none of the translations really captures the nuance of the original language as you read it. These are exciting learning experiences.
For me, reading Hegel in German was very difficult, and reading Sartre in French was relatively easy — and this was despite my German being much more advanced than my French! Nevertheless, I don’t think I would have arrived at the understanding I have now of each thinker; still humbly incomplete, but more clear-eyed and balanced, I think, than what some professors and commentators I’ve encountered over the years have attempted to convey.
In other words…I would recommend digging into philosophy with a “multiperspectival” or “integral” discipline, where you weigh several vectors of investigation against each other, and synthesize your own conclusions. I would describe this as a multidialectical approach. At the same time, it should be warned, this method will not help you pass exams or be more popular in a given philosophy club; in fact it may hinder you. All-too-frequently, you may be scoffed at by someone who insists their professor’s views on a given philosopher are more sound than your speculation. It won’t matter that you explain a given position, just that you are somehow impugning a vaunted authority on the matter. In academia, conformance of thinking is often much more important (for decent grades, at least) than thinking deeply or critically.
Okay…probably offered more than the OP wanted to know. But there it is.
Here is the underlying problem as I see it: Blind, uncritical, or unthinking adherence to any “ism” is always misguided. There are good ideas — great ideas, even — available in every camp, but when loyalty and lockstep adherence to a given tribal membership or belief system becomes more important than discerning which ideas are good and which are bad, or even than having an intellectually honest dialogue with others with different perspectives and strategies, then that “ism” is just a restrictive and destructive straight jacket.
Right now, there is some of this behavior on both the Left and the Right. However, lockstep conformance and uncritical groupthink have lately become much more common on the conservative end of the spectrum. And this is the real problem, more than anything else IMO. Add to this that many of the ideas being championed by conservatives are informed by non-factual assumptions (climate change is a hoax; face masks won’t help control COVID; free markets and the profit motive always solve complex problems; the U.S. was founded by Christians for Christians; etc.), a profound misunderstanding of causality (for example: Planned Parenthood clinics do not increase abortions rates, they actually decrease abortion rates; stopping immigration will never restore U.S. jobs; there is no widespread election fraud; and so on); affection for policies and practices that have clearly proven ineffective or outright failures (supply-side economics; war on drugs; austerity measures; nation building; structural adjustment policies; deregulation; etc.), and opposition to policies and practices that work exactly as intended (Head Start; ACA; Keynesian macroeconomics; etc.). In short: modern-day conservatives just get most things terribly wrong.
As to the “underlying principles,” well sure, there is some really good stuff to be found among the more thoughtful conservative thinkers of past eras. And there is no reason to abandon the inclusion of intellectually honest conservatives in modern discourse. It’s just…there don’t seem to be many intellectually honest ones around right now, and a lot more ideas on the progressive side that are guided by scientific evidence and practices proven in the real world.
For folks like Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln I think “being true” meant to be loyal, steadfast, committed, uncompromising, self-sacrificing, and universal in liberty’s championing and application — and most particularly in the context of how liberty is defended, reenforced, and facilitated through prudent and generous governance, and a wise shaping of the rule of law. Such passion and devotion to human liberty was, after all, one potent impetuous for the U.S. Constitution itself.
Being “true to liberty” today, however, apparently has much more to do with one’s “right” to:
- Consume conspicuously and destructively
- Maintain unearned, inherited privilege and wealth
- Be free from any consequences or accountability for wrongs committed
- Provoke acts of violence, hatred, and vicious racism and xenophobia through “free speech” across social and mass media
- Hoard military style weapons of mass lethality
- Whine constantly about being a “victim” while perpetrating horrific abuses and unlawful acts
- Proudly promote policies that undermine one’s own fundamental civil rights and economic interests
So things are a bit upside down today, at least among those who bray the most loudly about being true to “freedom” and “liberty” as they have redefined it.
1. Encourage alignment of our political economy with basic prosocial values and strong civil society — instead of promoting lowest-common-denominator animalism, individualist materialism, and tribalism.
2. Criminalize crony capitalism and corruption of democratic institutions in service of wealth, and jail the worst offenders.
3. Replace “corporate personhood” with another legal entity status for corporations that has more limited rights. Corporations aren’t people, and don’t deserve the same rights and privileges as people.
4. Give up on for-profit market solutions for certain complex problems that can be solved in better ways — healthcare is a good example, as many other countries have demonstrated.
5. Don’t treat advocates of the Chicago School, Austrian School, Virginian School, or Randian objectivism as anything but mildly deranged ideological cranks chasing after unicorns. And definitely don’t let anyone mistakenly believe that the policies and practices promoted by these folks have led to anything but abject and repeated failures and thoroughly debunked theories….
6. Look seriously at commons-centric solutions that do not rely on private ownership but instead promote communal responsibility and collaboration.
7. Focus on evidence-based, scientifically informed, carefully piloted policies with clear metrics to measure their success.
8. Promote broad, frequent, and well-documented education about economics itself and what has really worked well in the real world.
9. Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine so that propaganda outlets can no longer call themselves “news organizations.”
10. Hold social media accountable for propagation of toxic content that deceives and manipulates folks into voting against their own best interests (economically and otherwise).
There are so many reasons to make socialism a reality. Let me count the ways…
1. To counter and eventually heal the horrific exploitations, injuries, and lethalities of capitalism — for workers, consumers, the poor, etc.
2. To counter the unsustainable economic growth-dependencies of capitalism that cannot persist indefinitely anyway.
3. To counter the extractive devastation and depletion of natural resources under capitalism that is exhausting the planet.
4. To counter the many negative externalities of capitalism — most acutely and emergent ecological and societal damage from climate change.
5. To introduce democracy into economics and ownership in the same way, and for the same reasons, that modern democracies (and especially direct or semi-direct democracies) aim to make government more egalitarian and inclusive for everyone.
6. Because concentrations of wealth ALWAYS lead to concentrations of power, and to the oppression and even enslavement of those who have less.
8. If you are a spiritual person of any faith (or no faith at all), and you practice a bit of spiritually-based discernment and wisdom, you will come to realize that socialism follows the spiritual principles taught in all spiritual traditions, and is the wisest course of economic organization for human beings to follow.
Of course it depends on what types of regulation we are talking about, and in which industries — and, more than that, which specific regulations are being discussed. Broad generalizations are troublesome here because they often seem ideologically driven, and are pretty easy to nitpick into dust. At the same time, to do this topic justice we would probably get lost in the minutiae of specific examples in specific industries at specific junctures in history, and miss the forest for the trees…
So after several years researching this topic I’ll shoot from the hip on this and offer what I suspect to be a few “somewhat sound” overarching principles:
1. Deregulation for its own sake is almost always a bad idea — unless something else (incentives, new technology, new business models, new civic institutions, etc.) is deliberately and thoughtfully considered or generated in place of the regulations being retired. In other words, if there is a provably better way to achieve a given outcome, then by all means let's abandon regulations perceived to be holding us back. But “the market” does not — and never has — offered those solutions on its own, and too often the result of deregulation is a Wild West with excessively unpredictable results. The religious conviction that markets can solve complex problems without any oversight or constraints is just that: a religious conviction, with very little basis in observable fact.
2. In reality, there have to be carefully engineered metrics that evaluate outcomes in order to understand what is required to anticipate and manage externalities and social risk. That is where complexity is killing us right now — our systems, technology, and relationships are evolving quickly and incredibly difficult to grok, and it’s even more difficult to craft adequate policies to address them (and the larger the scope of such policy, the more difficult it becomes). And because all of society is morphing so rapidly, it can be counterproductive to apply rules and metrics we used in our past analysis to what we can only vaguely predict for the near future. It’s like trying to catch a train while riding on a bicycle, only to have that train turn into a rocket that launches itself into space. So, without actually deliberately slowing all this progress, growth, and innovation, most regulation is a shot in the dark — a necessary shot (if we lack other structures to achieve similar ends), but less and less likely to have predictive efficacy.
3. That said, costs of deregulation are generally easier to predict than benefits. Why? Because very often there were pragmatic “learned from experience” reasons regulations were put in place initially. Not always, but nearly so, deregulation is a knee-jerk right-libertarian/neoliberal response to bureaucratic interference with profit, and rarely if ever attempts to fully appreciate or understand benefits beyond profit — or costs beyond loss of profit. Have there been some measurable additional benefits for narrowly focused examples of deregulation? Of course. It’s easy to cherry-pick positive examples — but again that’s missing the forest for the trees. On the whole, deregulation without a thoughtful substitute has been disastrous in terms of negative externalities and measurable loss of benefit to society. And that social cost is the more nuanced outcome that pro-deregulation folks don’t want to acknowledge or address.
4. It’s okay to be inefficient. It’s another tangential discussion, but large corporations are not any more efficient than government is — and sometimes they are much worse. Regardless, if inefficiency means, for example, that innovation happens a little more slowly and deliberately, then that’s actually okay if we frame things with concepts like “the precautionary principle.” Again, we have to decide on our metrics — and what outcomes we really value the most.
If I attempt to use some examples to support these broad statements, they can (and will) be easily picked apart. But I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to carefully evaluate the following points to gain insight into what the true costs and benefits of deregulation really are:
1. The deregulation of the airline industry in the U.S. and its impact on rural America in particular.
2. Various deregulations of the banking industry in the U.S. and the measurable consequences of socialized risks for privatized gains.
3. The health impacts on U.S. citizens from the countervailing efforts of coal, tobacco, agriculture, and petroleum industries to rid themselves of regulation and/or achieve regulatory capture of government.
4. Now…who benefited from the deregulation in all of the above instances? It generally wasn’t consumers — or, if so, only a narrow slice of consumers. It also wasn’t workers (or, if so, again only a select few). It wasn’t society as a whole. So….who benefited the most? Well, owner-shareholders of course. And let’s not pretend that “trickle down” supply side fantasies have ever been realized — it has never happened. The benefits remain neatly with those owner-shareholders, their families, and perhaps a few lucky charities, favored financial institutions, and the more loyal and obsequious politicians.
5. Lastly, amplifying the “folllow-the-money” theme, who will benefit most from deregulation of (or lack of regulation for) the Internet? Public lands? Air and water quality? Obamacare? The stock exchange? It’s really not that difficult to understand what (and who) is really motivating most deregulation. It’s just really easy to obscure those causal sparks with distracting rhetoric about “liberty” or “efficiency.”
In any case, these examples would be a good place to start. I can happily offer more upon request.
Funny thing is…in the original thought experiment Hardin uses the variable of cattle that are privately owned. And, because the cattle are privately owned, the common resource used for grazing is abused by those private owners. If the cattle had also been collectively “owned” (i.e. considered an extension of the commons) this thought experiment would not have resulted in the same tragedy. So, contrary to the popular misconception that the lack of regulation of that commons was the problem, it was actually the private ownership of cattle and the unenlightened self-interest of the cattle herders that lead to the tragedy.
Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize-winning research on common pool resource management demonstrated that the real-world versions of the commons (i.e. not a flawed thought experiment) actually worked quite well all around the globe — and without either private ownership or government regulation intersecting those arrangements. The collectively-managed commons that disallowed private property and State oversight worked just fine — in fact it flourished, and demonstrates a way forward for us all.
You can read more about the criteria she discovered worked best in common pool resource management here: Ostrom Design Principles
If we’re being intellectually honest, it is incredibly difficult to do this — not because there aren’t some (not a lot, but some) sources of “objective” information to consult, but because our own confirmation bias and what I call “exclusionary bias” so often come into play even when we do consult those objective sources. Add to this that search engine algorithms will customize search results to our existing preferences, and we begin to see the problem of just how difficult this journey is. And all of this can apply to anything from understanding Dark Matter to voting for a candidate to buying a new car.
So I prefer the term “intersubjective” in most situations — that is, attempting to find the intersections of various (inherently subjective) perspectives on a given topic — who ideally are themselves relying on objective data — then adding my own data analysis to the mix, and finally synthesizing a sort of quasi-objective conclusion from that intersubjectivity. This is where the term “grokking” comes into play as well. It is important to at least attempt to grok one’s way to a sense of truth or insight about complex topics, because there is so much information and potential complexity involved.
All of this takes time and effort, of course. And it can be quite a challenge to carve out sufficient time and effort in a given day to navigate an especially complex issue. In fact, a central malady of our times is that, even as the world around us reveals itself as increasingly complex, multidimensional, and indeed multivalent, we are asked to hurry, to make quick decisions, to get tasks done quickly, to “take someone’s word” for a given truth, to conform our thinking or virtue-signal our loyalties, and to consume consume consume. In other words: we are under tremendous pressure to discard careful and nuanced thought, and grab onto fast moving trains of advertising, political propaganda, shallow scientific reporting, and reflexive groupthink.
So, really, the answer to this question for me is that yes, I do try, but often I end up being pretty selective about which topics I treat so carefully and thoroughly.
This is a specious distinction used mainly for propaganda purposes.
Fairness of distribution is tied to a presumption of equality. Regardless of how someone begins their life in society — rich or poor, male or female, black or white — they should have barriers sufficiently mitigated by society so that their opportunities are truly equal. That is the heart of most philosophical frameworks which include equality of outcome as a desirable goal: there really is very little difference between authentic equality of opportunity and pragmatic equality of outcome in these frameworks, because for opportunity to be effectively equal, similar outcomes must be realistically achievable.
Although Jordan Peterson may burst a blood vessel throwing up straw men fallacies to undermine this simple truth, all his bullying bluster around this issue has no real substance.
This has been a long time in the making. Here are the primary reasons why conservative-leaning folks in the U.S. have succumbed to anti-intellectualism and science denialism:
1. Science skepticism and denialism have been carefully engineered by large corporations and the think tanks and media that they fund in order to protect corporate profits. This has been going on for a very long time in the U.S.A., and you can read about it here: Neoliberal Science Skepticism
2. Mistrust of education is, in part, a necessary “Us vs. Them” tribalistic groupthink that rejects what is perceived to be a threat to traditional values, traditional gender roles, traditional religious knowledge, traditional support of capitalism, traditional views of “American exceptionalism,” and other sacred cows of conservative American culture. When an educational process presents information or insights that contradict, revise, or evolve these cultural assumptions in any way, that is considered heretical and worthy of being burned at the stake. But this is only part of the formula. The other part is the creation of a “socialist bogeyman” that embodies all of these “un-American” tendencies to question the status quo — conservatives will sometimes refer to this imaginary bogeyman as “cultural Marxism.” The bogeyman is mainly used to frighten conservative rank-and-file into lockstep conformance (in voting, campaign contributions, consuming the right news media, etc.) in order to constrain “the godless socialist threat.”
3. The anti-expert revolution is mainly a result of the first two influences converging with the consequences of the Internet — and social media in particular. The Internet notoriously leveled the playing field of knowledge sourcing, so that an unemployed, uneducated, emotionally stunted nerd living in his mother’s basement could achieve the same “authority” with his armchair pedantry as a degreed expert with decades of experience in that field. Add to this the many deliberate distortions of fact by trolls and professional disinformation campaigns that the Internet and especially social media afforded, and the initially obvious divide between verifiable truth and absurd conspiracy has become increasingly muddied. What at first was a noble democratization of knowledge has become a free-for-all of “alternative facts.”
4. Lastly we have the issue of American gullibility. The spectacle of U.S. commercialistic culture has conditioned many Americans to believe things they are told in advertisements, on talk shows, or by religious authorities and ideological zealots. This is how scientology came into being, how Ayn Rand came to be considered a “philosopher” which she clearly is not, how Milton Friedman hoodwinked folks into thinking crony capitalism was “libertarian,” and how utter lackwits like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump became POTUS. Some 50% of the U.S. is addicted to being conned — being gullible rubes is just part of their cultural identity. So when a charismatic celebrity tells conservatives that climate change is a hoax, or that cigarettes don’t cause cancer, or that “freedom” means letting corporations completely control our lives, many of those Americans just desperately want to believe…to uncritically consume falsehood rather than accept responsibility for being well-informed.
Thanks for the question. In answer to “As an outsider, can you accept China don't want democracy as they value unity, prosperity & stability much more important? Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves? What the West really want from China?” I think it would be helpful to break the question into parts. So…
1. “As an outsider, can you accept China don't want democracy as they value unity, prosperity & stability much more important?” There are a number of challenges with this question. The first is the false dichotomy between “unity, prosperity, and stability” and “democracy.” The two are not mutually exclusive. To insist that they are seems a bit like propaganda to me. That is not to say that unity, prosperity, and stability can’t be achieved without democracy — or that they always exist in a democracy. It’s just not a mutually exclusive choice.
The second challenge with this question centers around what the people of China “want.” Hong Kong is now subject to China, and the people of Hong Kong overwhelmingly want democracy. Taiwan desires independence from China, and its people want to continue their democracy as well. The Tibet “government in exile” is democratic, and some proportion of people of Tibet would like to regain their independence from China. So to say that “China doesn’t want democracy” is actually not a complete or true statement.
2. “Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves?” This a little trickier to answer. I believe there are two primary issues in play. The first is that folks in Western developed nations are generally pretty arrogant about their way of life being superior to everyone else’s. This is cultural to a large degree, but it is also economic because of the West’s historic relative wealth and privilege, and its historic military strength.
The second issue centers around compassion and concern for other human beings. Now there will always be people who judge other cultures without really understanding them, and so their concerns may sometimes be misplaced. But in China’s case, there really are some very dire conditions for some segments of China’s population. The rural poor in China — certainly as compared to much wealthier city dwellers — have a comparatively rough time of it. This is true even for those who travel to cities for work, but must leave their families and children behind for months on end. From the outside looking in, the way the rural poor are treated looks a lot like the very sorts of capitalist oppression and exploitation Marx decried.
Religious and cultural minorities also have a tough time in China — especially those like the Uighurs who ended up in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. This treatment looks just as bad as the “ethnic cleansing” and degradation that has occurred throughout history in other parts of the world — for example, what happened to many Native American tribes in the U.S.A.
And of course many of the people of Tibet and Hong Kong feel very oppressed by China — and many people in Taiwan live in constant fear of oppression issuing from China.
Taken altogether, it is I think fair and reasonable for a caring and compassionate person to have concern for some segments of China’s population, and want to help or advocate for them in some way. Yes…this can seem a bit arrogant — especially when folks advocating may be pretty ignorant about China in most other respects — but I do think it honestly comes from a genuinely charitable mindset.
3. Then we come to “What the West really want from China?” That is probably the easiest part of the question to answer. There are really two very different expectations that many folks living in the West have regarding China. The first is that the Chinese people succeed and thrive — regardless of the political economy in which they live. For example, there is real worry that climate change will cause profound damage in China — especially it terms of its water supplies and its ability to grow food. And that is a very worrisome prospect, so there is hope that China will engineer a way out of this impending disaster. There is also a fair amount of awe and inspiration in seeing China progress in its Belt and Road Initiative — and I think many people have been rooting for China to succeed there.
The second expectation is that China not become more aggressive militarily, or attempt to expand its territory and maritime control, or become so dominant economically that it dictates trade policy across Asia and the rest of the globe. This is a very real fear — and unfortunately China has poured fuel on that fear in some of its expansionist behaviors and rhetoric of late (i.e. South China Sea, Taiwan, India’s Ladakh region, Hong Kong, Himalayas, etc.). To make things worse, conservatives in the West have tended to trump up the threat China poses to the West, which has only made things worse. Of course, countries like Japan and India have expressed much more concern and unease about China’s recent behaviors and rhetoric than anyone in the West has done.
4. Lastly, we need to talk about Xi. There is no escaping that he is behaving more and more like a dangerous authoritarian dictator. His creation of a cult-of-personality around himself; his removing anyone in opposition from power; his ending his own term limits in office; his increase of mass surveillance, censorship, and highly coordinated human rights violations; and so on. I think that history has taught us that such behaviors from a leader are incredibly toxic to the ultimate well-being of a nation and its citizens. Xi’s rule will not end well. In the West, we have our own failings in leadership, but can be very grateful that democracy has removed some of them (such as Donald Trump). If Chinese government offered another civic mechanism besides democracy to remove Xi from power, I wonder if the advocacy of democracy for the Chinese people would be as great as it is.
Future outcomes are not the central metric of morality — nor, alternatively, a foundational notion of prosociality — for deontic and virtue ethics. At the same time, deontology and virtue ethics do not discard or discount outcomes entirely…but outcomes aren’t the primary frame within which morality or prosociality are navigated, as is the case with consequentialism. And of course various modes of consequentialism can incorporate elements of duty and character, too. These are not necessarily either/or distinctions, but instead a matter of emphasis, primacy, or priority in each approach in order to achieve similar prosocial outcomes. A values hierarchy if you will.
We could summarize the idea in this oversimplified way:
Why do I say “oversimplified?” Because there are variations within each ethics orientation that change the priorities represented in this chart. I suspect there are even specific situations where all three approaches to normative ethics result in the very same shared prioritization. So we might say the chart above represents strong tendencies in each system, rather than rigid absolutes.
You would need to narrow that down a bit, IMO, perhaps to a specific area of knowledge. There are so many myths “widely circulated as truth” it would take several pages to list them all. Here is a list that just scratches the surface:
- That hair and finger nails continue growing after death (they don’t)
-That capitalist markets are responsible for our greatest innovations (they aren’t — publicly funded research is)
- That material wealth makes you happy (it doesn’t)
- That atheism isn’t a faith-based religion (it is)
- That humans are the only species to use tools or symbols (we aren’t)
- That Catherine the Great died trying to have sex with a horse (she didn’t)
- That freedom is an individualist construct (it’s not — to actualize “freedom” requires collective agreement, or it can’t exist)
- That love and hate are opposites (they aren’t — indifference is the opposite of both love and hate)
- That cracking your knuckles leads to arthritis (it doesn’t)
- That humans can easily make rational, logic-based choices (we generally can’t — we’re almost always relying on emotion to make our final decisions and act on them, and then we just post-rationalize them)
- That body heat escapes mostly from our head (it doesn’t)
Why would you think that atheism is a faith-based religion? Could you also clarify what do you mean by the term religion and faith.
I disagree with the statement but am curious to know why someone would think that!
It’s a potent myth that atheism isn’t a faith-based religion, and plenty of folks believe it. However, by any definition, atheism exhibits all the characteristics of other faith-based religions — really in all but a few inconsequential things, like showy architecture and elaborate ceremony. But to arrive at this understanding usually requires a specific semantic framing, which goes something like this….
Consider that, objectively, the only rational position a person can hold about deity is agnosticism. One can perhaps lean in one direction or another (towards theism or towards atheism) and still remain rationally fixed in the agnostic spectrum. But once one fully crosses over to either theism or atheism then, to paraphrase Rumi, rationality is left at the door.
To elaborate extensively on this may seem a bit tedious to the uninitiated, but suffice it to say that when I assert that “there is no God” to the degree that I am utterly confident and comfortable ridiculing and scoffing at those who assert there is one, and indeed I actively support propagation of my own beliefs as the only truth, and then seek to create a sort of club of a superior-minded view whose members all share that inviable certainty and propensity to evangelize, well…I have basically created religion.
Why? Because these behaviors exhibit pedantic dogma, a purity test for membership, a desire to “prove” the rightness of one’s position and win others over to the same view, and the maintaining of a persistently blind and irrefutable belief that willfully rejects any additional evidence (i.e. the question of God’s existence is settled). And ALL of this relies on faith (trust) in a faculty of reason that actually isn’t being rationally exercised — because of its rigid investment in the previously enumerated conditions (dogma, purity, imperviousness to evidence, apologetics, group identity, etc.). Ergo, if it looks like a duck….
Now, are there degrees of faith-based religiosity when it comes to atheism? Certainly, just as there are for other religions. We could even say that atheism’s religiosity can intersect with agnosticism (again, an agnostic who leans towards atheism, but who would nevertheless identify as an agnostic)…but atheism’s religiosity can also intersect with religious fundamentalism in its more extreme forms. One need only observe the ludicrous pomposity of some atheist vs. theist debates on social media to confirm this.
Thanks for the question. Here are some of the top reasons why folks in the U.S. are so “fervently capitalist” and suspicious of “socialism” and social liberalism:
1. Our commercialistic and religious fundamentalist cultures have made us a lot more gullible. We respond to advertising and marketing as if it is truth — which is great for companies selling products, and great for ideologues, con artists, and cult leaders selling lies. Consequently, when right-wing propaganda (Red Scares, “cultural marxism,” McCarthyism, Trumpism, Jordan Peterson, and other neoliberal disinformation) demonizes socialism and liberalism — or makes socialists and liberals scapegoats for outcomes that are actually caused by capitalism (like unemployment, income inequality, influx of immigrants, etc.) — Americans are just more likely to believe the hype. When I lived in Germany, I was stunned by how much more informed and cautiously critical even German kids were than most American adults.
2. Partial reenforcement is powerful. It is absolutely true than one-in-a-million people in the U.S. can work their way from poverty into affluence, and an even smaller number can become extremely wealthy. America really is the land of opportunity. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. Most businesses fail. Most people do not realize their dreams. And most people who try to become wealthy remain poor. Psychologically, though, this reality doesn’t matter, because if even one person in the U.S. wins a major national lottery and becomes a millionaire, people will still believe becoming a millionaire by playing that lottery (or starting a business, or inventing something, or writing books, or performing music, etc.) “is a real possibility.” Which, of course, it is…it’s just not very likely at all.
4. Lastly, there are nut-job market fundamentalist outliers who are very vocal. Just like Twitter “cancel culture” doesn’t represent most left-leaning folks, there are frothing-at-the-mouth far-right crazies who get a lot of attention on the Internet and in mass media, but who don’t represent a majority of more centrist right-leaning Americans. I’m speaking of course of fans of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and other thought leaders for the broken brain crowd — many of whom subscribe to the right-libertarian movement funded by the Koch brothers.
As a consequence of one or more of the above influences, U.S. citizens have the appearance of being rugged individualists who conflate freedom with laissez-faire capitalism. But that really isn’t true. In the U.S., as elsewhere, the embracing of socialist and liberal policies has actually made capitalism much more successful and enduring (see ). At least…they have up until now…
There are many ways to mitigate the harmful practices of capitalism. There have been the injections of socialist ideals into mixed economies (you can read more about this here: How Socialist Contributions to Civil Society Saved Capitalism From Itself). There have been left-anarchist experiments — see List of anarchist communities - Wikipedia. There have been authoritarian communist experiments (U.S.S.R., China, etc.) which have drawn a lot of criticism, mainly because they haven’t been very democratic, and have been equally exploitative — a sort of “state capitalism” run amok. There have also been what Elinor Ostrom called “common pool resource management” arrangements that have worked well for managing the commons (see Ostrom Design Principles). And there have been many additional proposals as well that offer an alternative political economy (here is my own: L e v e l - 7 Overview).
In many of these experiments, some combination of worker-ownership (of the means of production) and public ownership of natural resources (e.g. the commons) have been in play. The challenge, though, is that when these systems are competing with capitalism — or embedded inside global capitalism and subjugated to it — the negative externalities of the global capitalist system are still wreaking havoc on people’s lives, on the environment, and on the planet as a whole. Growth-dependent industrial capitalism is simply too caustic and destructive to continue at such a large scale.
I personally am not a fan of “statist” solutions (see graphic below), and would rather see democratic institutions thrive in a more horizontally collective way. Any concentrations of power end up also concentrating wealth and privilege…that is just how humans get corrupted. Without strong democratic institutions participating in all decisions — at every level — there will always be those who game the system to their own advantage, and to the detriment of everyone else. So diffusion of power and diffusion of wealth must go hand-in-hand (this is why right-libertarian solutions will never work, and why statist governments tend to get “captured” by special interests).
The last issue is that of private property itself, which tends to undermine both personal and collective liberty, and a strong civil society. I’ll offer two essays regarding this:
My advice: don’t get sucked into arguments with anyone who promotes the Austrian School (or the Chicago School, or the Virginian School, or Ayn Rand style laissez-faire). If someone identifies as subscribing to these ideologies, just smile and politely exit the conversation. Why? Well, for one, these are what I call “unicorn” economic theories — they have no basis in the real world, have never been effective when implemented, and nearly all of their tenets have been repeatedly debunked. For another, anyone who subscribes to these idealogies is probably a) not the sharpest tool in the shed; b) brainwashed by market fundamentalist groupthink and not susceptible to reason; c) trapped within malicious logical fallacies and half-truths just as Friedman, Mises, Rothbard and Buchanan were; and/or d) suffering from mental illness or serious childhood trauma. From many years of personal experience attempting to bridge the divide between evidence, reason, and the Austrian School fantasies, I can tell you it’s pretty pointless. You’ll just confuse them at best — or enrage and alienate them at worst.
So, if you want to look at some more interesting and valid critiques of socialism (with some interesting solutions included), read Alec Nove’s The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisited. And if you want to become conversant in a more sane and rational approach to market fundamentalism that acknowledges its inherent flaws, read Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia.
It’s not. At all. The politicization of mask-wearing was manufactured by politicians and other folks in power who want to manipulate people into fear-based reasoning. And it has absolutely nothing to do with “freedom.”
The reasoning is pretty simple: If you don’t wear a mask, you can infect other people. Not because you become sick, or have a fever, or have any sign of COVID-19, but because “asymptomatic” carriers of COVID-19 — and even those who’ve just been infected within the last few days but aren’t showing symptoms yet — can infect everyone around them really easily. Contrary to the misrepresentations posted in some of the answers in this thread, ALL of the science confirms that mask-wearing slows or stops the spread of COVID. That is in fact how other countries have successfully reduced community spread (sometimes down to zero!): mandatory mask-wearing in public.
So in this context, wearing a mask is pretty much identical to not constantly spraying machine gun fire into the air while walking around in a crowd. It doesn’t matter that the person spraying bullets doesn’t “intend harm” to others, because there is a very high likelihood they will harm someone by behaving this way. It’s really a simple cause-and-effect relationship: spraying bullets in the air in crowded areas is going to kill some people. What solidifies this comparison is the fact that, by not wearing a mask, it is also LOT more likely that the mask-rebel themselves will contract COVID and become a spreader — making the risk exponentially higher to everyone around them.
Here are some other things that are reasonably unlawful and highly dangerous, and are in the same category as not wearing a mask in public during COVID:
- Driving a vehicle at high speed down a street crowded with pedestrians.
- Having lots of unprotected sex with strangers every day against their will, when there is an increasing likelihood (from this very behavior) that we are transmitting a lethal STD.
- Being the driver of a school bus full of children who parks the bus across a busy train track several times a day because we insist we deserve to have a nap anywhere we want (and nobody can tell us we can’t nap anywhere we want to!)
- Inviting our friends over for a fun-filled evening at our home and feeding them carcinogenic foods for dinner (because hey, WE don’t think carcinogens cause cancer, and we don’t believe the scientists who do!).
Again, though, this is really about politicians creating divisions, polarization, and “Us vs Them” rhetoric, so that their followers can be easily manipulated to feel angry, afraid, and be lured into lockstep loyalty with deceptive groupthink.
I suppose the easiest way to summarize this idea is to say that folks who refuse to wear a mask during the COVID pandemic are basically unwilling or unable to question propaganda and indoctrination, and seemingly would rather kill people than offend their peers or educate themselves about doing the right thing.
After living in different parts of the U.S., and in Europe for a few years as well, here are some broad generalizations I would make for why folks become liberal instead of conservative:
1. Emotional intelligence. The higher someone’s empathy, compassion, and overall EQ, the more they seem to gravitate towards progressive ideas.
2. Education. The more educated people are, the more likely they are to lean liberal.
3. Urban living. Urban living exposes people to different cultures, lifestyles, belief systems, and political leanings — and demands a higher level of tolerance and “getting along” with such diverse folks. Urban living also amplifies the impact of each person’s behavior on everyone around them. These things make a progressive mindset a much easier, more productive, and more prosocial orientation than being conservative in urban environments.
4. Love of science. It’s hard to be conservative if you’re passionate about scientific inquiry that constantly revises previous assumptions and beliefs.
5. Distaste for greed and selfishness. Liberals tend to be motivated by concern and caring for everyone in society, rather than by accumulating wealth or power for themselves.
6. Identifying as a world citizen, rather than only as an American. This doesn’t mean anti-American, it just means seeing the whole planet as home, and feeling a sense of duty to the Earth and all its inhabitants — and then wanting to act (and vote, and consume, etc.) accordingly.
7. A sense that liberty is more about removing barriers to shared opportunity for everyone, rather than enforcing any individualistic “rights.”
8. Love of Nature. It’s hard to be a conservative nowadays if you believe humans should respect and protect the natural world, rather than exploit it, destroy it, and use it up.
9. Authentic spirituality. I don’t really believe you can be an authentic Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu and vote conservative at this point in time. Those faith traditions — and many others around the world — are pretty incompatible with current conservative attitudes, policies, and ideals.
10. A desire for “good government” (that is, one that governs for the public good) rather than fortifying crony capitalist plutocracy.
11. Favoring evidence-based goals and policies. Progressives tend to rely on proven solutions, rather than ideologically pure but untested experiments (or worse, on ideas that have demonstrated failure over and over again).
12.Critical thinking. The logical fallacies, conspiracy theories, and denial of reality that has been running amok in conservative groupthink of late is just too distasteful and alienating for anyone who has learned to reflect carefully and critically.
13. An inquisitive nature, with openness to new ideas.
14. A propensity for love-centric reasoning, rather than fear-centric reasoning.
15. Having wisdom and discernment.
There are, of course, folks who are liberal or conservative because their parents were one way or the other, or all of their peers growing up were liberal or conservative, but that’s sort of a default conformist or reactionary reflex, rather than a motivating rationale….
I think “politics becoming culture” in the sense of supplanting culture has been with the U.S. from its inception. The self-liberation from British tyranny was chiefly a cultural act, clothed in a loud and flashy political veneer/justification. And although, on-and-off over the decades, the U.S. has developed various regional sub-cultures that outshine its political currents for a time, these sub-cultures ultimately end up intersecting and merging with the political narrative. U.S. politics is like the Borg in this regard. Perhaps this is a feature of democracy itself — or of a democracy that has always been steeped in media, commercialism, and commoditization — where so much can be determined at a national level. Everything ultimately becomes political, because politics impacts nearly everything in our lives.
As a student (briefly) at the University of Washington in Washington State, and then as an employee of the same institution for many years — working in several different departments on campus — I can honestly say that the whole “left-wing indoctrination” diatribe of the right-wing conspiracy theorists is absolute bunk.
The reality is that there are all sorts of personal bias and political leanings among professors, students, and staff. Sometimes there is a bit more right-leaning bias in some departments (like the Business School, which is one of the places where I worked). And in some there is a sort of enforced neutrality that may have leanings one way or another among faculty and staff, but tries very hard not to let it show — this was true at the Graduate School of Public Affairs, where I also worked for a time. And yes, sometimes there is a left-leaning bias, such as in the fine arts and literature departments. But you couldn’t generalize too rigidly about any of these places, because there were almost always exceptions.
What DOES happen, and I think this is what upsetting to conservatives, is that tacit assumptions and culturally adopted ideas students bring with them to university DO get challenged and sometimes upended or contradicted with a preponderance of evidence and a little critical thinking. That is very scary to some folks, who hold on a little too tightly to a certain way of thinking for their sense of security and identity.
Thank you for the question.
There seem to be multiple issues and assumptions in this question, so I’ll try to tease those apart….
1. The “West” is not monolithic. So although many of the points below apply elsewhere in the western world, I will concentrate mainly on the U.S.
2. Is there a cultural revolution goin on in the U.S.? Yes, though it’s been a very slow moving one. Essentially, the wealth, status, and cultural relevance of a more conservative rural and blue collar white America is being usurped by urban, high-tech, more progressive and multicultural America. The rural and former industrial areas of the U.S. are getting hollowed out, and populations are increasingly concentrated in urban centers.
3. Socialist ideas, as implemented alongside markets in Western countries (see mixed economy), have always help fix the worst problems and abuses of capitalism. You can read more about this here: How Socialist Contributions to Civil Society Saved Capitalism From Itself. Marxist-Leninist forms of authoritarian communism, however, eventually were perceived as threats to the U.S. This was framed as an ideological and cultural clash (around liberty, economic opportunity, collective morality, etc.), but really was much more about economic competition between Western crony capitalism where corporations held much of the economic and political power, and communist “state” capitalism, where officials in the Communist Party held that power. This competition over control of capital has been the source of most anti-communist rhetoric in the U.S. (see Red Scare).
4. A separate — and more legitimate IMO — conflict between Marxism-Leninism and civil society in the West centers around the issue of democracy: the empowering of people to self-determination. This has been playing out acutely in Hong Kong. The fundamental difference between a Communist Party with a “president for life” and governments with officials who can regularly be voted into and out of office is profound — in both perception of a lust for power, and its actual diffusion. Of course, there are differing levels of democracy, too: Switzerland’s semi-direct democracy empowers the local and national electorate much more than the representative democracy of the U.S., for example. What the people of Hong Kong are resisting is losing even the semblance of local democratic self-determination.
5. Mao Zedong was actually, in the early stages of his ideas about communism, more attracted to Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism than to Marxism-Leninism. If Mao had followed his initial leanings regarding revolution, China would be a very different place — and Hong Kong would not be rebelling against centralized control. A main difference with Kropotkin is that there are no centralized controls — or any possibility of an authoritarian government — because decisions are made locally and more democratically.
Taken altogether, the main contrast and conflict in this context between “the West” (mainly the U.S.A.) and “communism” (mainly as implemented in mainland China) centers around two tug-of-wars:
1. In the economic system: Between plutocratic crony capitalist controls and centralized authoritarian controls over capital (really this means between private ownership of the means of production by a select few vs. public ownership of the means of production that is also controlled by a select few…so interestingly the end result is strikingly similar).
2. In the political system: Between democratic civil society and authoritarian, non-democratic centralized controls (again, though, the ultimate outcome in plutocratic crony capitalism in the U.S. ends up looking very similar to communist China in real terms…just with the constant threat of disruption to plutocracy, as Donald Trump is finding out firsthand).
If China became more democratic — with more diffused and distributed power across a strong civil society, and as Mao initially envisioned via Kropotkin’s influence — then “the West” would have a much weaker case when arguing that China is “less free.” Even allowing Hong Kong more self-determination, as China initially agreed to do when it took over from Great Britain, would go a very long way toward easing tensions. But, as throughout most of human history, concentrations of capital and concentrations of political influence nearly always go hand-in-hand. Greed for wealth ends up marrying itself to greed for power. Some of the most notable exceptions have, again, been anarcho-communist and other libertarian socialist experiments. For examples of those, see: List of anarchist communities.
Thank you for the question. The problem the OP is facing is the second part of the question: “to convince liberal friends of more radical change.” Remember what happened to the Occupy movement? The problem wasn’t that folks needed to be convinced — I think most left-leaning people understand that capitalism is hugely problematic and increasingly unsustainable. The problem is having a clear vision about what to do about it.
To that end, I came up with this website: L e v e l - 7 Overview, where I outline twelve “Articles of Transformation” — proposals for how a new political economy that replaces capitalism would look and function. Intrinsic to those twelve articles are the many flaws in capitalism that need to be addressed. Again, though, the main objective is to propose a workable alternative. I would also recommend taking a quick look at this page on the website, which describes various forms of activism with links to resources: L e v e l - 7 Action
Lastly, it would probably be helpful to share how Noam Chomsky discusses the flaws of the capitalism that exists today, as he does such a great job:
1. A lot of Americans are exceedingly susceptible to malicious media influence, emotional reasoning, and charismatic hucksters and con men. There are a number of factors that contribute to this — many of which are cultural or which have been part of U.S. society for many decades — and likely all of them must be addressed in some way:
A. Every American should commit to improving their critical thinking and discernment skills. This begins at home and in K-12 education, but also should be reinforced by remedial classes for adults — as a free community service and advertised with PSAs — on identifying propaganda and logical fallacies, and differentiating between credible sources of information and those with manipulative agendas.
B. Mass media has to become more neutral, fact-based, and disconnected from the agendas of wealthy stakeholders and foreign disinformation campaigns. There are many ways to do this, such as reviving the FCC fairness doctrine, treating social media similarly to other news media, verifying the identity of everyone who participates in online discussions, and so forth — but we need to end the spirals of amplified nonsense that entice people into fear-mongered, self-destructive, crazed, conspiracy groupthink.
C. Along similar lines, there must be some mechanisms that help us all quickly differentiate factual and expert insights from armchair opinions and conspiracy rants — in all media, but especially social media. There are tools like Media Bias/Fact Check, PolitiFact, and Snopes.com that can be very helpful. But for social media, I’ve been thinking about something like an Information Clearinghouse structured like the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site, where both experts and the general public weigh in on various topics to help folks navigate them. Perhaps links to such resources could automatically populate all social media posts, so that folks could easily and quickly access better information. The “democratization of knowledge” that the Internet has afforded us is revolutionary…but it has also diluted the meaning of truth and facts to an almost comical degree.
D. There will need to be an attenuation of (or countervailing forces that disrupt or ward against) for-profit marketing and advertising practices in the U.S. that condition consumers to constantly respond to commercial calls-to-action. This conditioning begins at a very young age, so that Americans believe they must reflexively consume things outside themselves — including information and perceived “truth” — in order to nourish themselves and fortify their self-concept. In essence, commercialism infantilizes Americans so that they become dependent on (or even addicted to) external guidance and stimulation. How can we change this? By disallowing advertising to children, for one. By critiquing/satirizing ads (When I lived in Germany, they did this with stick-figure cartoons after each TV advertisement that made fun of inflated advertising claims). By ending direct advertising from pharmaceutical companies. By encouraging more holistic self-care. There are really a lot of tried-and-true approaches from other countries and cultures that could help.
2. Much of rural and blue collar white America is really suffering from profound poverties. Not just economic, but cultural, intellectual, and in their collective esteem and identity. This suffering has largely been ignored by the political class in the U.S., who has either been focused on enriching corporations (often at the expense of jobs and economic mobility for rural white America), or on promoting a flavor cultural progressivism that is very alien — or alienating — to rural and blue collar white America. This suffering is further exacerbated by the cultural, economic, technological, and demographic shifts occurring in the U.S. which have, by and large, been inevitable. Enriching culture, jobs, economic mobility, human diversity, and interesting opportunities, experiences, and life choices have all been concentrated in urban areas of the U.S. for many decades now. This began with the industrial revolution of the 1800s, has accelerated since, and came to a head in the neoliberal financialization of the U.S. economy beginning in the 1980s. It has been further exacerbated by what I call “neoliberal carpetbagging” in rural areas — persuading rural populations to fulfill corporate agendas (crony capitalism, monopolization, etc.) in agriculture, energy production, resource extraction, retail, and countless other sectors — that further decimates rural economies and cultures. And those “left behind” in rural America and former industrial centers have increasingly felt disconnected from — or even adamantly opposed to — the socioeconomic shifts associated with these changes. But cities, and especially those with high-tech and gig jobs, are where multicultural population continues to concentrate and grow, and rural America and former industrial centers continue to be hollowed out. So there is anguish among those who feel left behind, and grief, and anger…and Donald Trump simply tapped into those intense (and increasingly desperate) emotions when no one else running for President could.
Are there ways to relieve some of the suffering of rural and blue collar white America? Sadly, nothing Donald Trump has done — or has proposed — will do that in a substantive way, and many things he has pursued (like ending the Affordable Care Act, initiating a trade war with China, etc.) either have made, or would make, the situation much worse. Mr. Trump offered a rallying cry and temporary emotional bandage for his voters, and little else. Even his many judicial appointments to SCOTUS and lower courts will do little to mitigate the forward march of change that a large slice of America so fears and rails against — because, ultimately, those changes will be facilitated by legislation enacted/supported by the ever-increasing urban, multicultural majorities around the U.S. In this way the “progressive agenda” is just playing catch-up with on-the-ground change that is occurring at breakneck speeds. However, let’s be clear: a prominent feature of financialization is that all companies, across all industries, become solely fixated on pleasing shareholders, and do not care about the concerns of consumers or labor — eventually, that will destroy the relative affluence and status of high-tech and gig workers just as it did factory workers. So ultimately, no one will be immune from the same fate.
So is there a way to help rural and blue collar white America, and ease their pain? In the short run, probably not, because that pain is too acute, and has been horrifically amplified by propaganda discussed in point #1 above. In the longer run, though, healing could arrive through forms of subsidiarity (pushing decision-making and policy implementation to the most local level possible), providing targeted economic opportunities for rural America (a green tech revolution could be huge in this regard), aggressively countering neoliberalism and the ongoing financialization of the economy, and efforts at urban-rural cultural reconciliation — such as increasing dialogue between rural and urban voters, and between folks with different educational, economic, and ethnic backgrounds — and increasing joint activities between those groups to solve common challenges. But ending the forward march of inevitable change is probably not an available option for much of America, so outreach to help rural and blue collar white America cope with that change — counseling resources, support groups, and the like — may be an important consideration.
3. The cultural and intellectual isolation of rural and blue collar white America has permitted “Us vs. Them” thinking to take root, and consequently enabled othering and the scapegoating of outsiders. Immigrants, people of color, and “coastal elite” liberals have almost nothing at all to do with the pain rural and blue collar white America has been feeling. This scapegoating is just a trick used by politicians, crony capitalists, and nefarious foreign actors to persuade rural and blue collar white citizens to vote a certain way, give money to certain candidates, or mobilize against straw man threats. Although the solutions proposed in points #1 and 2 above may help diffuse or disrupt this trend, there is something deeper and more pervasive in rural/blue collar white America that needs to be addressed. I don’t think it’s productive to call it “racism,” “classicism,” or “sexism,” or any other “ism,” because although those definitely exist, *such designations miss the root causes*, which are:
A. Lack of exposure to and positive interaction with different cultures, racial groups, religions, values hierarchies, and ways of life.
B. Lack of broader, deeper, non-America-centric education about the world and human history.
There are ways to address both of these deficits, such as wholesale changes to K-12 education style and curricula across the U.S. (for example, increasing parental involvement, elevating more diverse and even contradictory perspectives, etc.); encouraging cultural exchange programs that involve rural and blue collar white folks and their children (having young people live for a few months with a family abroad could be very effective), incentivized service that exposes people to other regions, practices, and cultures (in the military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, etc.), and so on. This isn’t an impossible task…but of course it is still impacted by most of the other considerations discussed here. In fact, if all of the other points aren’t addressed in some way, there will likely be vigorous resistance to broadening and deepening education and cultural exposure experiences from rural and blue collar white America itself.
4. The U.S. two-party system with high voter apathy and poor voting access unfortunately lends itself to polarization and the disempowering of diverse perspectives and political orientations beyond those two parties. In addition, the presidential form of democracy has led to an increasingly autocratic executive branch. In other systems, such as parliamentary democracies, there can be a much more diverse representation of perspectives, a more vigorous incentive to work out compromises that benefit more constituents or represent varied ideological approaches, and more distributed and diffused concentrations of power. I am also a fan of semi-direct democracy as practiced in Switzerland, which again pushes decision making down to more localized levels (subsidiarity), affords the electorate the direct means (referenda) of opposing or redirecting legislation passed by their representatives, as well as an avenue to enact legislation directly via initiatives (see This is how Switzerland’s direct democracy works for more info). And I think strongly incentivized voting with effortless voting access would go a long way toward encouraging Americans to be more engaged and committed to self-governance, regardless of what system we have in place (see Incentivizing Participation Would Increase Voter Turnout and Political Information). Although it would require a Constitutional amendment to make some of these changes, I suspect the U.S. will need to seriously consider doing something to fix what is broken.
5. We also have a perfect storm right now, in that we are overwhelmed with ever-increasing complexity — in how our world works, and in how we understand it — while at the same time that traditional values, cultural attitudes, and social roles are being upended or ridiculed. This means that men and women in the U.S. are no longer sure what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine;” that many folks simply find it easier to deny science than to attempt to understand its subtleties and perpetual evolutions; that “intellectualism” has become distasteful because it so often challenges or questions many beliefs and practices folks hold dear; that countless traditional phrases and attitudes are now suspect because they lack “wokeness;” that the seemingly bone-deep and enduring racism of some white communities is being reversed and used against them. The result? A “strongman” leader who is profoundly ignorant, misogynistic, racist, endlessly pedantic, and basically dead wrong on everything he opines about has become an attractive antidote to the overwhelming complexity and cultural fluidity of our times. What is the solution? I honestly don’t know. Maybe, as a culture, we need to recover our sense of humor about many of these things. Maybe we need to let go of reflexively judging each other, and just accept our differences. Maybe relieving some of the stressors and suffering described in other points will help folks let go of their prejudices and trying to control each other. Again…I’m not sure what will work best. I do know from experience, however, that compassion for — and radical acceptance of — what often seems like a combative diversity of values and ideals will go a long way toward healing the discord.
6. This point is probably going to be more controversial and hard to stomach for some people in the U.S., but after living abroad myself, I think it has a fair amount of truth: much of the U.S. is culturally immature, and at an adolescent stage of development as a nation. This is evidenced by individualistic and tribalistic morality (only considering I/Me/Mine or “what’s best for those just like me” in one’s moral reasoning, as well as prioritizing a need to belong and conform to a particular tribe above everything else); spiritual immaturity (dogmatic, black-and-white legalism and fundamentalism, instead of compassion-centric attitudes and practices); emotional immaturity (blaming others for problems we ourselves created, throwing tantrums when we don’t get our way, confusing willful selfishness with “freedom,” etc.); intellectual immaturity (excessive confirmation bias, tolerance of cognitive dissonance, closed-mindedness, logical fallacies, conspiracy thinking, etc.), and so on. It will simply take time for Americans to mature past this phase — perhaps another fifty years or more before U.S. Americans even catch up with the maturity of many older cultures.
7. Lastly, there were some 81 million people in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election who decided enough was enough, and that it was time to reject divisive rhetoric of hate and lies in the hope of rekindling governance of compassion, inclusion, reason, and truth. That’s sort of a big deal…especially considering that Joe Biden, who represented this return to sanity, received more votes than any other Presidential candidate in U.S. history. Hopefully this will mean there is real promise of healing and a semblance of unity to move the U.S. forward through a very difficult period. And yet, if the other considerations mentioned earlier are not addressed in substantive ways, we may see nativist, self-centric populism rear its ugly head once more….
So that’s my 2 cents. Hopefully it will help folks outside the U.S. appreciate at least some of the factors in play in the current election.
I am a big fan of Paulo Freire’s views on the power and purpose of education. Here is an overview that captures much of that — with the expressed aim of providing tools for self-liberation:
And if education is to empower us toward self-liberation — providing the tools, resources, and vision for any kind of positive change — a central emphasis will need to be an underlying philosophy that supports active participation in society. A constant drumbeat of the importance of civic responsibility, if you will — as well as how to avoid non-participation and tokenism. Arnstein’s “Ladder of Citizen Participation” provides an outline of such personal and collective agency:
But at the core of such an education model, there must be an acceptance of the necessary evolutions and divergence of critical thinking from any presumed norms. This is what so upsets traditionalists and conservatives…but it is absolutely essential to navigating nuance and complexity. An example of this cognitive process:
Of course, there must also be truth-telling about systems of oppression. This is also distasteful for those who value and even revere those systems — and who may conflate them with tribal loyalties, patriotism, or even religious devotion. But again, it is absolutely necessary to reveal the man behind the curtain (or behind the bread and circuses, as the case may be…).
And, lastly, as part of a participatory landscape, education must itself model equality, democracy, diffusion of authority, subsidiarity, collaboration, egalitarianism, and so on. We cannot teach liberation from oppression within a system of education that is rigidly prescriptive, proscriptive, hierarchical, and authoritarian.
This is probably the most widely propagated misunderstanding in modern times about Aristotle’s thinking — a longstanding misuse of what Aristotle wrote in Politics about the different forms and flavors of democracy. You can read a translation of what Aristotle actually wrote here: The Internet Classics Archive. Basically, Aristotle is most critical of certain manifestations of democracy, and actually praises other variations, though of course he places his vision of polity above them all as the best form of government to serve the common good. But the gross generalization one often hears today that Aristotle disdained all democracy as “mob rule” is not accurate. Aristotle’s thinking on democracy is nuanced, and he often will answer his own objections about it.
I’ll offer just two sections in Politics for consideration. The first is this, from Book Three, Part Eleven, in which Aristotle seems to extoll the benefits of “the wisdom of the multitude,” as long as special knowledge isn’t required to make a judgement — or, alternatively, if those who vote are well-educated! — and the crowd making the judgement isn’t “utterly degraded” (i.e. mindless brutes): (my emphasis added below)
“The principle that the multitude ought to be supreme rather than the few best is one that is maintained, and, though not free from difficulty, yet seems to contain an element of truth. For the many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse. For each individual among the many has a share of virtue and prudence, and when they meet together, they become in a manner one man, who has many feet, and hands, and senses; that is a figure of their mind and disposition. Hence the many are better judges than a single man of music and poetry; for some understand one part, and some another, and among them they understand the whole. There is a similar combination of qualities in good men, who differ from any individual of the many, as the beautiful are said to differ from those who are not beautiful, and works of art from realities, because in them the scattered elements are combined, although, if taken separately, the eye of one person or some other feature in another person would be fairer than in the picture. Whether this principle can apply to every democracy, and to all bodies of men, is not clear….For a right election can only be made by those who have knowledge; those who know geometry, for example, will choose a geometrician rightly, and those who know how to steer, a pilot; and, even if there be some occupations and arts in which private persons share in the ability to choose, they certainly cannot choose better than those who know. So that, according to this argument, neither the election of magistrates, nor the calling of them to account, should be entrusted to the many. Yet possibly these objections are to a great extent met by our old answer, that if the people are not utterly degraded, although individually they may be worse judges than those who have special knowledge — as a body they are as good or better.”
Later on, in Book Four, Part Four, Aristotle opines that the rule of law and equality of participation permit a successful constitutional democracy to flourish. The problem arises when there is no justice — no supreme rule of law — and the will of the majority begins behaving like a monarch. Aristotle further warns that, in such conditions, demagogues tend to rise to power. Of special note is the following section — please read it carefully:
“At all events this sort of democracy, which is now a monarch, and no longer under the control of law, seeks to exercise monarchical sway, and grows into a despot; the flatterer is held in honor; this sort of democracy being relatively to other democracies what tyranny is to other forms of monarchy. The spirit of both is the same, and they alike exercise a despotic rule over the better citizens. The decrees of the demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant; and the demagogue is to the one what the flatterer is to the other. Both have great power; the flatterer with the tyrant, the demagogue with democracies of the kind which we are describing. The demagogues make the decrees of the people override the laws, by referring all things to the popular assembly. And therefore they grow great, because the people have all things in their hands, and they hold in their hands the votes of the people, who are too ready to listen to them. Further, those who have any complaint to bring against the magistrates say, 'Let the people be judges'; the people are too happy to accept the invitation; and so the authority of every office is undermined.”
Sound familiar? This is, after all, what has been happening in the U.S. of late: the rule of law has been undermined, there is no equality of democratic participation or representation, and a flatterer has been enabled by a popular assembly to exercise despotic whims and override a more deliberative democracy subject to the rule of law.
With Politics having been available for the past 2,370 years, perhaps we should have seen this current devolution coming….?
Thanks for the question. The concepts and practices of “political correctness” did not, contrary to propaganda perpetuated by right-wing media, begin with the Frankfurt School or Marxism. And they are also not exclusive to “liberals” or the Left. In reality, versions of “political correctness” go back a very long way (likely thousands of years) in human society — they just weren’t called that in earlier times.
So…what is “political correctness” then? It appears to simply be a variation on some long-established patterns infecting human society and social groups:
1) In-group/out-group identification and bias.
2) Attempts to assert control, authority, and agency in contexts where such power may not be readily be available (or is being actively oppressed).
3) Self-righteous moral justification through a) framing certain interactions as variations of oppression/victimization/threat; and b) asserting protective alliances/championing on behalf of those who are oppressed/victimized/threatened.
4) Aggressive scapegoating that reenforces all-of-the-above.
And what are some groups or movements have been guilty of these patterns in recent history? Well, there are quite a few:
- WWII Red Scare/McCarthyism
- The most extreme (fundamentalist) white evangelical Christians
- Militant religious fundamentalists among other religions
- Most white supremacist groups
- The more radical 2nd Amendment activists
- Many hardcore MAGA Trump devotees
- Increasing numbers of young left-wing activists on college campuses
- The more radical/fringe LGBTQ activists
- The most extreme environmental activists
- The most extreme minority rights activists
- Many militant vegans I have known
- Supporters of nationalistic, populist fascist dictators all around the globe
And of course all of this “PC reactivity” is just amplified and propagated by far-right and far-left media outlets, the unfettered propaganda memes of social media, Russian troll farms and other disinformation efforts, and so on. Sometimes mainstream media is guilty of propagation too (coverage of Trump in 2016 is good example of this).
But this isn’t a new phenomenon. I would say the “self-policing” that liberals do (i.e. fear of being politically incorrect) isn’t much different from the similar fear that anyone in the above-mentioned groups feels as they are striving to maintain their position and social capital within those groups. Does a fundamentalist Christian tell their congregation they’ve discovered how great Buddhist meditation is? Does a Trump supporter who is beginning to doubt the wisdom of that support share such doubt with their MAGA-hat-wearing relatives? Does a leading member of a radical environmental activism movement who decides to take a job in the Oil and Gas industry worry about losing their community of friends…?
You get the idea.
These patterns of judging and ostracizing others in order to elevate ourselves within our group and secure social capital probably have been part of human society all the way back to our cave-dwelling days — and fearing that judgement and ostracism has likewise been part of nearly every human community. Think of the hysteria over “witches” in Europe and the Americas, or why Nero threw Christians to lions, or why various genocides have taken place throughout history…these very much appear to be variations on the same theme.
Eventually, we may grow out of this immature phase of fear-based tribalism and groupthink (you can read my thoughts about that evolution here: Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations). But we do appear to have a long way to go as a species….
Yes…but with certain caveats. Ideological differences can critical to refining, distilling, and improving any perspective, but only if the following elements are present during that process:
1) Relying on actual facts and provable evidence when making assertions.
2) Applying wisdom and discernment to each situation that aligns with expressed values, rather than contradicting them.
3) Avoiding the traps of propaganda, deception, logical fallacies, and exclusionary bias (i.e. ignoring critical and relevant info).
4) Defining clear metrics for testing an idea (in a pilot, etc.) and then carefully measuring the results of the test to see if objectives have actually been met.
5) Developing a multifaceted, broadly educated populace that understands both current science and the lessons of history in a more-than-superficial way.
6) Appreciating the expertise of folks who’ve spent their lives in a given profession…and not making the mistake of believing one’s own armchair opinion is equivalent to that expertise.
7) Hate speech, brazen sexism and racism, xenophobia, bullying, and other strong but irrational prejudices should be excluded for constructive dialogue to occur.
Sensationalist journalism and social media meme-storms can’t be the basis of the exchange — there needs to be real, thoughtful, caring, substantive dialogue.
There are other important elements in the same spirit — but I think you can see what I’m getting at here. We can and should have a diverse dialogue, but not at the expense of truth, kindness, rationality, or wisdom.
Most political ideology is focused on achieving desired outcomes that align with what are perceived to be shared values, beliefs, social norms, and qualities of “rightness” and virtue for society. However, there is a spectrum of approaches to reifying such shared values, where at one extreme the features of a political ideology are caustic, destructive, and ultimately self-defeating, and at the other extreme the features facilitate and support those values in enduring ways. Another way of stating this is that one end of the spectrum cultivates the seeds of dissonance, conflict, and turmoil that lead to its undoing, while the other end of the spectrum nurtures self-supporting harmony, stability, and peace. The following chart contrasts and compares features of these different ends of the spectrum:
First, I think this speaks directly to the fundamental failures of both a medical system focused on profit, and the diseases of consumerist society that externalizes is agency and happiness into commercialized dependencies (on technology, pharmaceuticals, titillating self-distractions, self-medicating behaviors, etc.). Not only can we lay the epidemic levels of unhappiness at the feet of these causes, but also the horrific mishandling and counterproductive treatment of both serious and debilitating genetic or epigenetic psychological disorders (bipolar disorder, various personality disorders, schizophrenia, etc.) and what we could describe as more environmentally exacerbated or triggered conditions (PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc.). For-profit medicine and a culture of commoditized well-being have been disastrous amplifiers of mental illness in the modern world. To understand these impacts, check out:
So part of the answer to this question is addressing those underlying amplifiers: if we attenuate or eliminate these causal factors, there will be less mental illness in society — both in terms of stress-induced phenotypical expression of genetic disease, and crippling cognitive behavioral responses to stress. The principles of what is basically a preventative approach to mental illness have been demonstrated by a number of success stories. Check out 'Care BnB'- the town where mentally ill people lodge with locals and Soteria (psychiatric treatment) - Wikipedia, both of which essentially replace a transactional, commercialized model of treatment with a relational, community-centric one.
In addition, in my own L e v e l - 7 proposals, access to mental health resources is treated the same way as access to physical health resources: it’s integral to civil society and part of a “Universal Social Backbone” available to everyone without cost.
This is similar to a left-libertarian approach to criminality in society: by reducing the incentives to criminal activity, diffusing and reversing dysfunctional cultural norms that promote violence and coercion (including, and perhaps most especially, the concept of private property — see Private Property as Violence: Why Proprietarian Systems are Incompatible with the Non-Aggression Principle), and strengthening community-centric civil society at the same time, we may not be able to eliminate criminal behavior altogether, but we can greatly reduce it to the point where enduring interpersonal relationships and strong expectations of prosociality have a greater regulatory effect than policing ever could.
That said, the issues of personal agency and selfhood are also at the center of this question. I lean in the direction of personal agency trumping societal or institutional impositions of will. At the same time, I have a right-libertarian friend who was institutionalized and medicated under a 5150 (involuntary psychiatric commitment here in California), after planning and nearly executing his own suicide. I helped him through that time and afterward, and he has been thriving ever since and has been very grateful that others intervened as they did. He had been on the wrong medication (another consequence of a profit-driven medical system) that worsened his depression, but during his 5150 stay he received much more competent assessment and a much better treatment plan. Even as a lifelong libertarian, he has no problem with his involuntary commitment, because he knows he was not in his right mind at that time. In such cases, sanity is a more critical standard than agency, even (by most accounts) according to the perspective of the personal deemed “insane.”
- By allowing every perceived burden to become a transformative opportunity for skillful compassion.
- By practicing radical acceptance of self, others, and all situations — also from a place of love.
- By letting go — by exercising a fundamental attitude of acquiescence — from an abundance of confidence that
- Holy Spirit works to the good of All in ways we cannot perceive or comprehend.
- By holding firmly, as a constant guiding light, to conditions of the heart and intentions of the will that support gratitude, lovingkindness, forgiveness, generosity, patience, and joy.
- By sidestepping the snares of willfulness, acquisitive materialism, self-centered individualism, anger, jealousy, and hate.
- By appreciating that we are doing the best that we can — that we are acting as skillfully and compassionately as possible — with the knowledge, resources, and limitations of our current circumstances.
This is a perfect example of a significant problem endemic our modern world, and that is that “easily explained” theories are usually inadequate, and do not capture reality — even partially.
There are sometimes notable exceptions, where gifted presenters capture fairly complex ideas using simple analogies, word pictures, graphic illustrations, etc. But these instances are pretty rare (for example, I’ve seen only a handful TED talks that actually pull this off), and usually limited to fields of study that can be communicated in a “concrete sequential” way. Particularly dynamic or fluid areas of study with many competing or conflicting dimensions and interdisciplinary dependencies really can’t be represented well in infographics — or, when they are, those representations can end up overly abbreviated and inadequate.
Economics is one of those complex and multifaceted areas of study. It is nearly impossible to shoehorn the complex thought of many accomplished economists’ theories into a simple, easily-grasped infographic. To do so would simply be an injustice to the original ideas. And this is becoming more the case, rather than less so, because so many disciplines have come to intersect with economics. Consider attempting to summarize how Marx, Keynes, Rawls, Veblen, Schumacher, Sen, Picketty, Ostrom, and many others who have contributed to “progressive” economic theory interact with and amplify each other’s observations and proposals! It would be a daunting task…and likely a fruitless one if we attempt to keep things “easily explained.”
At the other end of the spectrum (i.e. conservative/neoliberal economics), we have the Laffer curve, drawn on a napkin in a restaurant, which had no empirical basis or application but “made intuitive sense” in the political sphere, and so became part of an easy sell for trickle-down, supply side economic theory (which has since been debunked by real-world evidence). And we have catchy phrases like “rational actors” in the Austrian School, also without empirical basis, which nonetheless folks can easily grasp and agree with. In fact the list is pretty long for neoliberal economic tropes that have broad popular appeal, but no real-world evidence to support them.
This fundamental problem — what we might call the “pop-psych dilemma,” because it results in similar pseudoscientific consequences — can be found in many different disciplines. Some complex concepts are just really difficult to understand and communicate, and as our scientific framing of the world (or a particular area of study) becomes more and more complex, the ability to effectively communicate those concepts and their supportive evidence becomes increasingly difficult…certainly for anyone who wants simple, easy answers, and doesn’t want to spend time learning the subtleties of something new.
And that’s why sound bite emotional-appeal political discussions rarely go beyond the superficial catch phrases for a given topic. A sales pitch is hardly ever substantive — and that’s really all such policy discussions in mass media, social media, and the political sphere usually are.
Do you see the problem? The minute we make an “easily digestible” explanation of a complex topic (in economics, climate science, epidemiology, etc.) we are almost certainly going to get it wrong. We are going to distort truth to shoehorn complexity into an easily appreciated talking point.
Which is of course precisely what the champions of conservative/neoliberal economic policy tend to do: they convey simple, watered down word pictures of a worldview that is persuasive and sells well, but is ultimately just misleading and false. Milton Friedman was perhaps the greatest master of this technique: he just kept lying and distorting reality — passionately and entertainingly — until a lot of folks just started to believe him and parrot his words.
With all of this said, there are a few “progressive economists” who have tried to provide simplified representations of economic theory. I’m not a tremendous fan, for the very reasons I’ve just outlined here, though I do still find them entertaining. Some examples would be Ha Joon Chang and Robert Reich. Here’s a pretty good sample:
IMO what we somehow need to do is encourage people to enjoy learning, enjoy being “intellectual,” enjoy rich and complex language and ideas — as part of our cultural norm. Then we might actually be able to make decent democratic decisions about these complex issues. Until then…well…we’re likely to just be hoodwinked by the slickest salesman.
First off, it’s much worse than this question supposes. Majority Republican states in the U.S. are by far the largest beneficiaries of ALL government programs. There are some exceptions to this pattern, like New Mexico (which is more of a swing state), but in general it is Republican-majority “red” states who rely the most heavily on socialized support systems. Some detailed recent data on this can be found here: Most & Least Federally Dependent States. There are many simple comparisons you can find around the web, and here’s an example:
Now, many of the posts in this thread quibble over what “socialism” actually is. In short, it is widely acknowledged by everyone who studies political and economic systems and history that there are many different forms of socialism, and the strict and narrow “dictionary definition” of socialism (or capitalism, for that matter) that folks like to use in their arguments simply isn’t sufficient. The fact is that the U.S. and most other affluent, developed countries in the world are “mixed economies” of both socialism and capitalism. I’ve broken things out into a bit more detail here: What are the different forms of socialism?
So the reality is that, yes, Republicans who claim to be opposed to “socialism” regularly depend on socialism to survive and thrive.
BUT — and this is a pretty major caveat — those same Republicans are also constantly working to dismantle and/or privatize any and all forms of socialist institution in the U.S.A. Whether it’s Obamacare, Medicaid, Social Security, or the U.S. Postal Service, Republicans have been trying to obliterate many manifestations of socialism in the U.S. as a central plank of a conservative political agenda. But why are they doing this, if the vast majority of the Republican rank-and-file voters rely on these programs…? Well because what Republican leadership (and think tanks, and wealthy campaign donors, and right-wing propaganda media outlets) really want to do is eliminate what they call “the halo effect” of any successful government programs, a positive perception among voters which — horror of horrors — threatens to make “socialism” look attractive! You can read about this here: Opinion | Covid-19 Brings Out All the Usual Zombies
So we’re left scratching our heads…Is all of this a sort of disjointed, self-contradictory hypocrisy without any guiding principles at all? Or does U.S. conservatism have an ideological anchor? Some core values that steer its ship? Well…there really is only one central theme that aligns with all Republican praxis, and that is a devotion to socializing risks and costs, and privatizing benefits and profits. That is, distributing costs and risks across all of society (i.e. all taxpayers), while concentrating profits and benefits in a select few (i.e. wealthy owner-shareholders), with horrific consequences for civil society. You can view videos of Noam Chomsky interviewed about this here: Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges discuss the history of neoliberalism and Chomsky's new book "Requiem for the American Dream" And also read more about this here: How to Prepare for the Next Pandemic.
There is, of course, another way to describe this behavior, and that was a phrase Adam Smith coined in his Wealth of Nations: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”
So, in essence, conservatives love and support socialism when it benefits them, and vehemently dislike socialism when it benefits anyone who doesn’t vote Republican.
The question behind your question is, I think, really about hierarchies and the abuse of those hierarchies via concentrations of power. Once a hierarchy is in place, it just tends to be abused to accumulate power, and then either used for direct oppression and exploitation, or becomes corrupted/captured — as with crony capitalism, clientism, etc. So all traditional forms of left-anarchism and left-libertarianism (which are the same thing btw) have sought to minimize hierarchies, and replace them with diffusions of power — direct democracy, nested councils, subsidiarity, and other form of highly distributed self-governance — and diffusions of wealth (i.e. no private property rights, the commons, public ownership, etc.). There are many historic and present day examples of such left-libertarian experiments, all of which have worked pretty well.
Right-libertarianism, on the other hand, creates inadvertent hierarchies by allowing corporations, monopolies, and concentrations of private property ownership and wealth that ultimately behave just like State institutions (in terms of capacity for oppression and exploitation). Which is likely why there aren’t as many right-libertarian real-world examples — and certainly none on a large scale.
Now even when the objective is to avoid hierarchy and potential tyranny, some left-libertarian and right-libertarian proposals have included minarchist systems. The idea is to create dual systems of power that check-and-balance each other. And we actually see such dual systems working fairly well, even where the State is large — such as in the semi-direct democracy of Switzerland. Really, all that matters is that a political economy be designed so that power and wealth cannot concentrate anywhere, and will always be countered by democratic will.
One such hybrid option is my own L e v e l - 7 proposal. Eventually, the goal would be to attenuate the power of whatever vestigial State is left in place to coordinate things like infrastructure, technology standards, essential goods and services, etc., while strengthening direct democracy and localized civic institutions. But guarding against concentrations of power will, I suspect, always be a perpetual concern…..
I think what Tocqueville is getting at is a principle he proposed in his On Democracy in America. He is basically positing that democracy’s pursuit of equality can result in a sort of self-imposed tyranny of uniform individualism that does not tolerate variation, exceptions, or conditionality in its governance.
“The very next notion to that of a sole and central power, which presents itself to the minds of men in the ages of equality, is the notion of uniformity of legislation. As every man sees that he differs but little from those about him, he cannot understand why a rule which is applicable to one man should not be equally applicable to all others. Hence the slightest privileges are repugnant to his reason; the faintest dissimilarities in the political institutions of the same people offend him, and uniformity of legislation appears to him to be the first condition of good government. I find, on the contrary, that this same notion of a uniform rule, equally binding on all the members of the community, was almost unknown to the human mind in aristocratic ages; it was either never entertained, or it was rejected…..On the contrary, at the present time all the powers of government are exerted to impose the same customs and the same laws on populations which have as yet but few points of resemblance. As the conditions of men become equal amongst a people, individuals seem of less importance, and society of greater dimensions; or rather, every citizen, being assimilated to all the rest, is lost in the crowd, and nothing stands conspicuous but the great and imposing image of the people at large. This naturally gives the men of democratic periods a lofty opinion of the privileges of society, and a very humble notion of the rights of individuals; they are ready to admit that the interests of the former are everything, and those of the latter nothing.”
Essentially, then, Tocqueville perceives the eventual consequence of democracy’s pursuit of equality — which he nevertheless values and favors — as homogenization of a society’s collective self-concept in “the great and imposing image of the people at large;” in essence, in civil society. So the question then becomes: is the cohesion and apparent necessity of uniformity of governance for civil society a desirable outcome for democratic systems?
We could observe that, right now in the U.S., the “individualistic” spirit of many folks seems to chomp at the bit of such uniformity. In fact some have speculated that reactive conservative extremism over the years (the Moral Majority, Tea Party, Trumpism, etc.) has arisen in response to exactly this imposition of a more progressive flavor of uniform equality — and hence, is perceived to have legislated uniformity on folks who really didn’t want it. Ironically, these conservative movements have then sought to impose what was merely their own flavor of uniformity on everyone else, and so were committing exactly the same error. As Tocqueville summarized: “Our contemporaries are therefore much less divided than is commonly supposed; they are constantly disputing as to the hands in which supremacy is to be vested, but they readily agree upon the duties and the rights of that supremacy. The notion they all form of government is that of a sole, simple, providential, and creative power. All secondary opinions in politics are unsettled; this one remains fixed, invariable, and consistent.” In other words, when a conservative government aims to legislate that abortion is illegal, or that massive corporate campaign contributions constitute free speech, or that the priority of government spending should be on the military, or that social security should be privatized…and so on…it is, essentially, imposing exactly the same uniformity of governance on the whole of society that conservatives frequently complain “the liberal agenda” has been doing — just conservative variations on the same theme.
And yet…and this is precisely the point Tocqueville eventually drives home…such uniformity is likely an inevitable, even necessary consequence of democracy. The danger, he warns, is that democracies acquiescing to centralized power — who nevertheless remain enthralled with individualistic obsessions — leads to a condition where citizens only care about their own immediate interests, and become utterly disinterested in (and ignorant about) society as a whole and in its governance via the State. They then rely almost entirely on their representatives in government to make decisions. I think Tocqueville was particularly prescient in this regard, because that is pretty much the space much of the U.S. electorate was inhabiting prior to 2016.
How can this pitfall be averted? Tocqueville addresses this in Bk.2 Ch.3 (my emphasis in bold):
“It is difficult to draw a man out of his own circle to interest him in the destiny of the State, because he does not clearly understand what influence the destiny of the State can have upon his own lot. But if it be proposed to make a road cross the end of his estate, he will see at a glance that there is a connection between this small public affair and his greatest private affairs; and he will discover, without its being shown to him, the close tie which unites private to general interest. Thus, far more may be done by entrusting to the citizens the administration of minor affairs than by surrendering to them the control of important ones, towards interesting them in the public welfare, and convincing them that they constantly stand in need one of the other in order to provide for it…Local freedom, then, which leads a great number of citizens to value the affection of their neighbors and of their kindred, perpetually brings men together, and forces them to help one another, in spite of the propensities which sever them.”
Essentially, Tocqueville is advocating one of my own favorite principles: subsidiarity. Empower people to govern themselves at the local level, and they will begin to appreciate the intersect with larger and larger circles of collective concern. And, even more than that, by empowering autonomous democratic institutions at the local level (all the way down to the local community), participants will learn how to contribute reflexively to the public good. As Tocqueville writes: “Men attend to the interests of the public, first by necessity, afterwards by choice: what was intentional becomes an instinct; and by dint of working for the good of one’s fellow citizens, the habit and the taste for serving them is at length acquired.”
This is, I think, what had been lost to much of America for many years: that active engagement in local self-governance for the public good. It was a profoundly unfortunate development in the U.S., because it allowed obsessive self-interest to override any sense of political obligation. Thankfully, though, the rise of Donald Trump seems to have single-handedly turned the tide, so that America’s citizens are once more awakened to their collective responsibilities — if only to avoid the insidious despotism that Tocqueville warned would rise up in the absence of our constant wakefulness.
I think that’s actually pretty simple. Here are a few things that would help roll back extremist influence in society very quickly:
1) Reinstate and vigorously enforce The Fairness Doctrine in all news media — including social media (which, really, is just another platform for news media propagation). This would greatly reduce propaganda news outlets at both ends of the spectrum.
2) Reverse the divisive rules changes in DC that have prevented bipartisan dialogue and compromise: Abolish the Hastert Rule in the House; reverse Gingrich’s three-day work week and return it to five days, encouraging members of Congress to remain in DC and foster cross-the-isle relationships (this is what Gingrich wanted to destroy…and it worked); and so on.
3) End gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement. When large numbers of folks feel like their views and priorities are not represented by elected officials, they become more extreme in their views.
4) Increase direct democratic controls over ALL legislation (via referenda, etc.) up to and including at the federal level, and allow recall elections for ANY misbehaving elected officials (all the way up to US Senators). More effective and immediate democracy is a great mitigator of extremism — at least it tends to be over time.
5) Completely ban all special interest lobbying and enact sweeping campaign finance reform (for example, allow only public funding of campaigns).
6) Institute a public Information Clearinghouse of reviewed and rated information that helps folks navigate complex issues in order to vote on them in an informed way.
And if these are simple ideas, why haven’t they happened? Why, indeed, have they been vigorously opposed? Well, because the neoliberal plutocrats who hold most of the power are quite happy to perpetuate division and extremism to manipulate voters and legislators into doing their bidding. It’s very transparent, and has been going on for a long time in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Personally I appreciate the simplicity of Raworth’s model (pictured below, from https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/). There are undoubtedly nuanced variables within her “shortfall” and “overshoot” trajectories that require much more detailed elaboration, but this is really about vision IMO — and the ability to project that vision out into collective consciousness. The doughnut graphic is really helpful in that regard. So, as a fundamental re-framing of socioeconomic activities away from “infinite growth” (inherently unsustainable) to “living within our planetary boundaries,” I think this makes perfect sense.
So there are a number of facets with the OP’s question: “Why did the left follow Marx and not Bakunin? Wouldn't the world have been better off if a stateless form of socialism had been tried instead of a totalitarian one?” I’ll attempt to address those facets as we examine some possible answers….
1) The “Left” is not monolithic now, nor was it ever…from the very beginning. There were (and are) many forms of socialism — and many of them have been (and are being) tried in different parts of the world, and on different scales. This includes many forms of left-anarchism/libertarian socialism that aligned itself with the stateless vision that Bakunin promoted. In particular, societies inspired by Proudhon and Kropotkin fall into this category. For some of the many successful stateless examples of these, see: List of anarchist communities.
2) The thinking of these two influenced each other — there was a lot of cross-pollination between them. Much of Bakunin’s thinking is reflected in Marxism.
3) As to why Marx was generally more popular that Bakunin during their lifetimes and thereafter, there are a number of compelling theories, and frankly I don’t know which of them is correct. It could be that Bakunin was over-invested in leveraging the “educated elite” of his day to start a revolution and tended to ignore the working class, whereas Marx appealed more directly to the working class instead. It could be an issue of personal charisma. It could be that it was difficult for folks to envision Bakunin’s stateless society (as it still is today), but much easier to entertain the more gradual transition to communism that Marx proposed, along with his very catchy “dictatorship of the proletariat.” It could be that Engels’ eloquent and persistent championing of Marxism furthered it in ways with which Bakunin’s legacy and alliances simply couldn’t compete. Again, I don’t know. There has been much written about this…so perhaps doing more extensive research on this will help.
4) Yes, the world would be better off with stateless socialism. For a glimpse of that world, take a look at the list of anarchist communities in the link above. Some of them are still around and going strong.
Absolutely and without question, YES, as Marx was arguably one of the most important and influential thinkers of the last 200 years.
That said, I would recommend beginning with some of his shorter pieces of writing, just to get a flavor and overview of his thought, prior to attempting Capital. And, when approaching Capital, I would take it in small chunks, rather than all-at-once.
But yes, for anyone who wants to understand much of what the past couple of centuries of human history — and especially the impact of industrial capitalism — are all about, Marx is an essential read. To not read him (or discount him, as some have done in posts here) is simply to remain ignorant and/or deceived about both the nature of capitalism and the nature of Marxism.
Interestingly, in reference to Adam Smith, Smith raised many of the same concerns about unfettered capitalism that Marx addresses in his writing — Marx just did so to a much more detailed and rigorous degree.
As to where to begin, I recommend the following links (to be read in the order they are listed). I think anyone who reads them with an open mind will be duly impressed with Marx’s clarity and accuracy of insight:
Lastly, for a well-organized collection of — and access to — Marx’s work, I recommend this link: Marx & Engels Selected Works. It includes “a short list for beginners” which covers a lot of ground. However, I would still begin with the above-listed links first, before diving into anything else, as they provide helpful context for everything else.
I’d say “that depends.” It depends on the the training of the therapist, their level of moral development, their own personal ethical praxis, and the system within which the therapist is practicing. This introduces a lot of variables. For a client-centered practitioner who is forced to maximize client load and minimize interaction time in service to group practice profitability, corporate cost-saving mandates, or a paucity of insurance coverage for their chosen modality, all but the most bare-boned moral and ethical assumptions can practically be followed. And even then, it may only be according to the letter of the law, rather than its spirit. That said, the APA has developed a very robust Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct: https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/
Given that some methods like CBT and DBT have a mountain of evidence to support their efficacy, one could conclude that “all that really matters is to effectively teach these helpful cognitive behavioral tools, and the rest is up to the client’s willingness and compliance.” And there are certainly many therapists who either lack the internal psychosocial makeup to transcend this position, or who become exhausted enough by the constraints of for profit practice, that they arrive at this pragmatic distance from their clients.
But there are many therapists — and I would argue the really “good ones” — who recognize that their practice is really about relationship. That relationship has boundaries, to be sure, but it is deeply empathic, deeply committed, deeply involved in the client’s well-being. It is authentically engaged in the client’s perspective and felt reality, rather than merely prescriptive. And it is actively adapting to the client’s individual needs, rather than treating them as another cookie-cutter application of proven principles. In short: it embodies love.
In this latter, and arguably rarer, case, the unspoken moral and ethical assumptions run much deeper that the APA guidelines. The relationship isn’t just about client benefit, avoiding harm, and navigating a maze of laws — that’s a given. It is also about compassion, attentiveness, empathy, and a profound honoring of the client’s agency and personhood. And why is this considered important — if not critical? Because most “good” therapists know that a client’s trust, openness, and empowered agency are not just sacred and precious in the abstract, but are also primary factors in healing, growth and transformation itself. These features of the client relationship will contribute to potential outcomes in much more enduring and arguably richer and more fundamental ways.
So on the one hand there is the efficacy of technique, and on the other there is the efficacy of relationship. Whether this position is a common or not I will leave for others to judge and comment upon. I would say, however, that it is essential.
My 2 cents.
Comment from Jeff Wright:
I wonder if you’d be interested in taking it another step (because I could not make this more explicit in the original question)—
What are the unspoken moral and ethical assumptions that delimit what is and is not in the APA guidelines (since they represent a kind of social consensus reality orthodoxy about the relevance or absence of such themes within mainstream practice)? What would “run much deeper”?
This involves your highlighted themes of client, agency and personhood, so there are embedded implicit ideas about the nature and extent of those notions. And I believe those are the key points in any (deconstructive or reconstructive) inquiry into the sociology or philosophy of psychology and its practical applications. I was going to say “clinical applications” but that is a good example of a relevant tacit assumption.
And to put this in a less abstract frame, are you aware of ways that practicing therapists engage these questions in their own work, with or without the ability to articulate them?
To further answer the deeper, tacit moral and ethical assumptions question, here are some possibilities — perhaps not universal, but I suspect pervasively involved once again with the better/best therapists:
Client independence from care. That is, a level of health, wholeness and harmony that allows the client to be free of any form of mitigation or ongoing clinical support.
Client happiness and equanimity. Beyond mere increases in function, a desire for the client to feel fulfilled, at peace, etc.
Client momentum towards emotional growth and moral maturity. There are inevitably more profound evolutions in people when they engage thoughtfully in self-aware therapy. The hope is that they will really “grow up” beyond the infantilized and/or traumatized state in which they first presented. More than independence from care, this is about self-transformation.
Most importantly, that the therapist does not interfere with any of these liberating processes and conditions, but actually facilitates them earnestly and devotedly.
Comment from Jeff Wright:
Thanks. These are good statements of the main positive ideas of humanistic psychotherapy, the ideals of the “better/best therapists”.
However, tacit ethical assumptions are not limited to positive and aspirational ideals, the traditional moral focus on virtues, the “this is our best version of who we want to be”. They also embody negatives or shadow features. It’s possible I think that practitioners who work in public service settings are probably both more embedded in these and more aware of them, compared to those in private practice who work with voluntary, aspirational clients (“improve my life” or “suffer less”, or “be happier”).
There are assumptions that are widely operative within psychology and psychotherapy that express a “medical model” (based on various forms of scientism) pathology, disease, mechanization, depersonalization, individualization, disconnection and isolation of the person from their family, world, depoliticization, a turn away from social issues, and so on.
To understand some of these themes, one thing we can do is look at what gets initially emphasized and more easily carried forward through a paradigm change. For example, there were attempts at spiritualization in psychotherapy (a.ka. “transpersonal”), which never became mainstream, and more successful attempts to import ideas from Buddhism (e.g. “mindfulness”), and now more recently, “positive psychology”, which seems more successful at gaining traction in research-oriented psychology.
All true. I think what you’re touching on becomes much more specific with the modality/philosophy of care involved. Some are more somatic while others focus on relationships; some incorporate transpersonal considerations while others focus on cognitive-behavioral tools. With so much variation, it becomes difficult, I think, to make broad generalizations about pervasive moral and ethical assumptions. But it’s worth a try nonetheless!
Here is an excerpt from my latest essay exploring the incompatibility between conservative Christianity and the New Testament's central Christian values and ideals.
"...my current thinking about this has distilled the primary dichotomy down to underlying contrasting views about freedom and equality. This may be just one more oversimplification, but here are the basic propositions:
1. Progressives view freedom and equality as collective agreements, supported by evolving cultural norms and the rule of law, that facilitate the most comprehensive collective benefit possible for everyone in society. In other words, progressives view equality between all citizens, and the maximization of freedom for each individual, as a consequence of mutually agreed societal expectations. And why are those agreements important? Because they can achieve egalitarian outcomes across all of society. Importantly, the equality and freedom of all people are predetermined assumptions about both ideal individual rights and the ideal conditions in which they ought to live. Therefore, progressivism tends to view itself as inherently aspirational, aiming for “life as it could be,” in perpetual opposition to a flawed status quo.
2. Conservatives view freedom as a natural right of every person that facilitates their ability to pursue beneficial outcomes according to their skills, aptitudes, and capacity to compete with others. Equality is likewise viewed more through a lens of merit – it is less a predetermined assumption about all people being equal, and more a possibility of achieving equal standing in society that can be earned through demonstrated effort. And what is the presupposed outcome? That some people will be winners, with a greater experience of equality and freedom, and some people will be losers, with less of that experience –but the conservative accepts this as the natural and somewhat fixed order of things. Therefore, conservativism tends to view itself as inherently pragmatic, embracing the status quo of “how things are” – a static view of cultural norms that benefit those who achieve privilege and position – and defending ways those norms can predictably continue.
Much time and effort could be spent appreciating the subtleties of this topic – details like equality of outcome verses equality of opportunity, facilitation of agency verse extinguishment of agency, positive verses negative liberty, and so on – but it seems to me that this boils down to different approaches to ending poverty, deprivation and oppression in their many forms. The conservative views the world as rich with opportunities, with the only major barriers to actualized freedom and equality – and the consequent attenuation of poverty, deprivation, and oppression – being interference or competition from other individuals, and interference or competition from civic institutions. The progressive, on the other hand, views the world as encumbered with many structural and pervasive cultural barriers (racism, sexism, classicism, ageism, tribalism, etc.) that need to be removed through collective agreements –most often embodied in civic institutions and the rule of law – in order for freedom and equality to be actualized, and for poverty, deprivation, and oppression to be vanquished. At its core, therefore, this remains a diametric opposition.
But which approach does the New Testament endorse? What does Jesus promote? For me this is where things get really interesting. Because the New Testament consistently presents very much the same contrast we see embodied in progressivism and conservativism. With regard to “the world as it is,” there are frequent reminders in scripture that the world cannot be changed, that its machinations, power structures, oppressions, arrogance, striving, and injustices must be accepted and its burdens dutifully borne. At the same time, the kingdom of God is promoted as “the world as it should be,” full of compassion, forgiveness, kindness, humility, generosity, and mutual aid. Christians are encouraged again and again not to conform to the world’s values, priorities, and divisive norms, but instead to evidence the fruit of the spirit of Christ (Gal 5:22) by reforming personal priorities and values – and the collective priorities and values within the Church – to reflect a new way of being. In fact, such reformation is itself proof of the kingdom of God’s establishment in the world. And what characterizes that new way of being? The virtues of righteousness, peace, trust, and agape that we explored in the earlier table (see below), and which are embodied in progressive praxis.
This contrast between the way of the world and the way of the spirit is really the central drama of all New Testament scripture. As Jesus personifies the way of the spirit in all of his interactions and pronouncements, he is confronted with antagonism from the status quo – from those who wish to preserve the way of the world and their own places of power and privilege within it. Jesus and his Apostles become ambassadors of a more egalitarian ideal, an aspirational vision of “life as it could be” in the kingdom of God, and thereby encounter tremendous resistance and resentment from those who currently benefit from the status quo, and therefore feel threatened by anything that challenges its power structures. This is why the Pharisees and Sadducees were enraged by Jesus’ pronouncements, why the Romans were concerned by Jesus’ rise in popularity, and what ultimately resulted in Jesus being condemned to death by crucifixion. Jesus was the radical progressive visionary of his time, while the pragmatic and entrenched conservatives were, in fact, the ones responsible for his death."
Here are some of the many ways a capitalist view of “wealth” (as the accumulation of capital) is created, many of which have actually become much more common than “adding value with labor” in today’s highly financialized economy:
1) Buy cheap and sell high — without adding any value, but simply by timing the selling and buying the right way (this includes holding for a time, so that time does the work), or by exaggerating (persuading, cajoling, deceiving, “selling”) the value downward when purchasing, and then upward when selling.
2) Use leverage and debt — borrow against existing assets and invest(or lend out) at a higher rate of return than it costs to service the debt.
3) Lend money.
4) Charge rent for something that is already owned — this is income creation without adding value, and can occur over many generations after initial ownership (by a family or business) is established.
5) Gate-keeping — charging for access or the right to use anything, including someone else’s knowledge or innovation, some unimproved land, a road that was paid for by others, high speed Internet vs. low-speed (there is little difference between the two in provisioning — it’s merely a software setting), and so on.
Those are the biggies IMO. There are others that do require a little bit of labor for a disproportionately high return, and they are equally common today. These include creating artificial demand (direct consumer advertising by pharmaceuticals is a common locus for this), opportunistic market entry, privatization of publicly held resources, regulatory capture, etc. But any reasonable standard, these are all nefarious, unethical ways of creating wealth.
1) Then end of the books themselves — the end of the story and the parting from wonderful characters I had grown to love.
2) The passing away of magic, the other races of Middle Earth, the reverence for Nature, and the consequential ascendence of Man. More than the moment of departure “into the West” of specific characters, this was the end of an age.
These are of course echoes of other personal and cultural endings. Of my own childhood, of a romantic and magic-filled view of the world, of an ability to lose myself entirely in a work of fiction, of Tolkien himself as an author, of the power of books in the lives and minds of young people, of the richness and importance of folklore in earlier cultures and times, of the common belief in elves and faeries, etc.
But the larger metanarrative here is that human beings — with their industries, machines, brutal conflicts, self-absorbed ignorance, and feet of clay worldliness — would now become the dominant power of Earth…and all of the richness, knowledge, beauty, and complexity of Tolkein’s races, cultures, languages, and myths would fade away forever. The finality of that loss still haunts me, some 40+ years after reading LOTR.
At the heart of this, I think the resonance so many readers have felt is with Tolkien’s celebration of a profound mystery and beauty grounded in Nature. The Ents. The tree-dwelling Silvan Elves. The eagle Gwaihir’s critical aid to Gandalf. The tranquility and harmony of the Shire itself. All of these and so much more evoke the real magic woven into these books: a deeply felt sense of wonder for a natural world that transcends human pettiness and anthropocentric priority, and asks us all to live within it, as the hobbits and elves did, rather than dominating or subjugating Nature. And of course there was the warning of the fate of the Dwarves, who delved to greedily and deeply into Nature’s treasures.
And that resonance is most deeply felt by those of us who have, for many decades, sounded the alarm about the careless exhaustion, destruction and toxic pollution of species, habitats, and ecosystems of Earth. For me, this is the most heartbreaking message Tolkien delivered with LOTR: that human ascension would signal the end of Nature’s primacy, thriving, and very existence. And, so far at least, Tolkien was heartbreakingly prescient.
Here are some of the reasons socialism is poorly understood — especially in the United States.
1) First, there is a lot of anti-socialist propaganda. The Red Scares after WWI and WWI, and then McCarthyism, generated some profound misinformation about socialism that has persisted to this day. Mainly, this propaganda was invented to protect wealthy owner-shareholders who were (and still are) terrified of losing control over the exploitative, extractive wealth creation that they benefit from. It’s why there is also anti-science propaganda, anti-education propaganda, anti-intellectualism propaganda, anti-expert propaganda, anti-government propaganda…it’s pretty endless. The idea is simple: maintain the status quo that funnels capital to the rich at the expense of everyone else. It’s a pretty strong motivation to dissuade people from looking at other ways to do things.
2) General ignorance about history and the positive models and impacts of socialism is another reason. There are many socialist countries that were never authoritarian communist like the U.S.S.R. or China. But folks don’t learn much about those in U.S. schools or from corporate controlled media. Some of those countries still exist. If an “anti-socialist” attempts to argue that socialism has never succeeded, I simply ask them to name some of the thriving examples of municipalism, anarcho-syndicalism, social democracy, and anarcho-communism that have existed and still exist, and explain why they think those countries are failures. But of course they never can, because all of the “anti-socialist” propagandists I have engaged (really without exception) are completely ignorant of those countries.
3) Ideological fervor and blindness. This is a pretty common problem among vocal anti-socialists who are deeply committed to capitalism. The discussion rarely centers around facts or evidence, and anti-socialist arguments quickly devolve into logical fallacies (straw man arguments, red herrings, false equivalence, confirmation bias, whataboutism, etc.). Just look at many of the posts in this thread, where the level of vitriolic frothing-at-the-mouth is fairly extreme. It’s hard to help such folks understand where they are mistaken. Generally, when I share corrective facts and narratives about socialism with “true believer” market fundamentalists (neoliberals, laissez-faire, Randian objectivists, Austrian School fans, Chicago School fans, etc.) the anti-socialists usually fall silent, dwindle into passive-aggressive sarcasm, or morph into sociopathic ranters.
4) Here there be trolls. Social media provides ideal hunting grounds for folks who just want to provoke and engage in rhetorical combat.
The sad reality right now (April 22, 2020) is that we just have be patient and wait. Careful, considered, critical reasoning won’t do much good without sufficient and accurate data — and that is really what we’re all lacking right now. Too many news, data, and information sources that are usually reliable have been propagating incomplete, inaccurate, lr even dangerous information from the very beginning of the pandemic. Many political leaders are of course even worse about conveying a nuanced and carefully considered understanding of COVID-19. And even medically savvy folks are struggling with what information they feel they can trust. As a consequence, a lot of people remain bewildered, afraid, and confused…and will likely have to remain in that state until we have more data. A lot more data. In perhaps two months’ time, we will hopefully have a much better picture of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how to manage it. For now…we must simply be prudent, and patient.
That said, I will offer a few resources that have been “better than average” IMO at conveying the evolving picture of COVID-19:
1) NBC Nightly News has done better than many other networks in the U.S. in providing carefully vetted, “cautiously accurate” information around COVID-19 in a very condensed format each night.
5) And of course the Coronavirus section of the W.H.O. website is…well…slightly better than mediocre, though sometimes slow to catch up on the latest developments.
And…well…that’s about it, unfortunately. I’ve been pretty appalled at the wild inaccuracy of many other news and information sources — including ones I have relied upon for many years. They are truly terrible right now.
Lastly, I’ll offer my own web page on COVID-19, which attempts to keep up-to-date on the latest information and provides resources for further research: COVID-19 Overview | Integral Lifework
Of course…this answer must itself be taken with a grain of salt, as I’m just clawing my way through a twilight of understanding like everyone else.