What are some lessons from the July 13th assassination attempt?


The tragedy that occurred at the July 13th Pennsylvania rally is one more heartbreaking indicator o­­f the spiraling crisis in America's body politic. It is unfortunate evidence that our collective moral compass continues to be crippled and distorted by angry, hateful political rhetoric. By rhetoric that seeks to defame and ridicule political opponents, promote baseless conspiracy theories, and wantonly encourage political violence – all in service to purely political ends. Before any other considerations, this angry and hateful rhetoric has to stop. Yes, there are other critical challenges to consider, other legitimate sources of grievance, and other serious fractures in civil society that must be healed. But it is a hateful, misleading, and demeaning polemic – issued constantly by pundits and politicians and then amplified across our media – that has too often become the spark that ignites flames of murderous rage. Our only bulwark against this manipulation is to demand that it end right now. Across the political spectrum, and from all corners of the media, this must be our unwavering ultimatum and committed call to action. A unity of moral clarity to reject hateful lies may be our only hope to avert a rapidly worsening, maliciously perpetuating political calamity.

In modern developed countries, how do the concentration of wealth and power lead to fascism?

You could say that a large number of populist movements throughout history have arisen from very similar conditions and narratives — and that holds true of current fascist movements around the globe. These shared conditions and narratives include:

  • Enduring and increasing economic inequality and lack of economic mobility.
  • Anxiety over a perceived loss of status and influence among groups who formerly considered themselves to be among society’s more privileged.
  • Frustration with the status quo, and mistrust of existing methods of remedy, equalization, and empowerment (i.e. government, civic institutions, political leadership, democratic elections, etc.).
  • Deteriorating economic conditions — or fears about deteriorating economic conditions.
  • Deep mistrust — usually racist at its core — about outsiders polluting or corrupting an otherwise “pure and good” society.

What makes fascism unique in its response to these common factors is that fascist movements tend to make fundamental errors about the underlying causes of these undesirable conditions and narratives. For example, fascism tends to blame a particular group in society — such as immigrants, or a “corrupt elite,” or certain racial, religious, or political groups — for all undesirable conditions and felt realities, without establishing a factual bases for those accusations. But the false narratives are extremely effective in uniting angry adherents in an “Us vs. Them” influence campaign of nationalistic and often religious fervor. Historically this can spread like wildfire across society without mass media, but today mass media and especially social media effectively fan those flames and accelerate the spread of fascist ideology.

It should be noted that fascism has never been spontaneous — it is carefully cultivated through disinformation and emotional appeals. Yes, the conditions (the frustrations, the inequity, the dissatisfaction, the fears) are real, but they are manipulated with carefully crafted misleading narratives and false promises to empower opportunistic leaders.

There is also usually a central leadership figure — often a pedantic strongman gifted in hateful rhetoric — offering themselves as the “only solution” to society’s woes, and constantly keeping folks angry, fearful, and motivated. These fascists leaders have nearly always promoted overly simplified solutions to complex problems, and successfully vilified certain members of society as scapegoats to take the blame.

We see all of this being replicated around the world today in various movements — and in the style and rhetoric of what are most often populist far-right political leaders. In the U.S., the strongest fascist tendencies were traditionally held by white supremacist groups, but we have now seen those tendencies infect and overtake the Christian nationalism in the MAGA movement as well.

I hope this was helpful. Here are some links to explore this topic further:





Our False-Choice Dilemma and the Importance of Voting

It is very easy to become disenchanted with U.S. politics. Years ago, as a party delegate in the Washington State Presidential primaries when I was in my late teens, I was asked by the DNC to switch the votes I represented – some 34,000 voters at the state convention – to support the candidate the party decided was most likely to be the winner in other states. I was devastated, as that seemed like a betrayal of those voters, who had absolutely no say in the matter. But that is how things in the real world of our current two-party system are decided. For me, it was the beginning of a harsh and depressing learning curve about that system, the flaws of the electoral college, and how actual “representative” power is brokered by a relatively small number of affluent folks in the U.S. at both state and federal levels. Frankly, it seemed very corrupt, and undermined my youthful idealism for years afterward.

But I still believe voting is incredibly important, and I wanted to share why, even after observing even more disappointing conditions in the U.S. political system over the intervening decades, I still vote regularly at every local, state, and federal election – and perhaps more importantly, why I work very hard to be the most informed voter I can be in each of those elections.

First, I think it is critical to explore some of the profound weaknesses of status quo democracy in U.S. politics, just so we can be very clear about how bad things have become, and what we must do to set them aright. After all those unfortunate details, I’ll explain why I think informed voting nevertheless remains a powerful individual and collective act to support U.S. civil society, and share some of the tools I use to stay informed enough to vote most effectively.

A “top six” list of factors that have undermined the U.S. democratic system:

1. A two-party stranglehold on U.S. politics. Since the early 1800s, the U.S. democratic system has not allowed third parties to have much power in our country, with very few third-party candidates getting elected to any office over the past two centuries. At the state level in particular it is extremely difficult to even get a third-party candidate onto a ballot. And for the rare third-party candidate who does get elected to have any influence, they must align themselves with Republicans or Democrats in order to govern (i.e. get legislation passed, etc.). At the national level, third parties have routinely fractured and diluted either Democrat or Republican votes, allowing the opposing side’s candidates to win – although the ideas of third-party candidates who do well can often influence political discourse and policy on both ends of the political spectrum. (Read more about this here).

2. Massive amounts of “dark money” in political campaigns. This is a result of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that allowed unlimited amounts of dark money –money that cannot be traced to any single source – to be used by super PACs in political campaigns. The ruling protects such unlimited spending by corporations and wealthy donors as “free speech,” even though political contributions had been much more strictly and transparently limited before this change. As a consequence of the Citizens United ruling, a very small group of extremely wealthy special interests have disproportionately influenced outcomes in local, state, and federal elections, sometimes spending a billion or more dollars during each election cycle. (Read more about this here and here)

3. The fundamental structure of the U.S. political system. The framers of the U.S. Constitution did their best to balance many competing concerns around a fledgling democracy, but some of their decisions clearly lacked adequate foresight, resulting in barriers to an equitable democracy they could not anticipate. Take for example the allocation of only two senators to each state. This has resulted in California, with a population of 39 million people, having the same representation in the U.S. Senate as Wyoming, with a population of only 500,000 people. The electoral college system, similarly intended to allow all U.S. states to have similarly imbalanced influence in presidential elections, ends up negating a huge number of individual votes. For example, in those same two states, Wyoming has one electoral vote for every 190,000 voters, while California has one electoral vote to every 700,000 voters. Additionally, 48 states have “winner-take-all” systems for awarding their electors, rather than awarding votes proportionally to the candidates that folks in those states actually voted for. As a result, the winner of U.S. popular vote can, and has, contradicted the electoral college results in national elections – in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016. (Read more about this here and here)

4. Distortions and deceptions across mass media and the Internet. Three things have undermined the ability of mass media to adequately and factually inform U.S. voters in recent history. First, in 1987, the FCC abolished the “Fairness Doctrine” after Ronald Reagan vetoed legislation to continue that 40-year policy. This dealt a devastating blow to balanced, less biased, more factual reporting in U.S. news, and resulted in a new breed of news broadcasting that unabashedly pandered to special interests and amplified political propaganda. Second, foreign state governments began carefully crafting misinformation and disinformation campaigns to mislead voters in the U.S. – campaigns that really caught fire with the advent of the Internet in the 1990s. Third, the success of social media platforms in the 2000s then rewarded carefully crafted misinformation and disinformation campaigns by propagating them broadly and rapidly with outrageous claims and other “click bait” that appealed to existing fears, indignation, and political biases. (Read more about this here, here, and here).

5. Fake research to support fake “truth” and science skepticism. In the early 1970s, well-funded conservative think tanks were created to influence U.S. policy, persuade elected and appointed officials, and shape voter thinking around certain topics. Probably the best examples of these efforts are pro-tobacco and anti-climate change propaganda, and the campaign to excite deeper skepticism about science itself – all of which began back in the 1970s and continue into the present day. The impact of these think tanks has been far-reaching, including everything from inviting sitting Supreme Court Justices to attend all-expenses-paid “informational retreats” where they were subjected to persuasive faulty research and overt indoctrination, to shaping the political narrative in the U.S. by routinely providing “experts” who discredit factual data to be interviewed on news media outlets. An astonishing amount of false information has now been accepted as gospel in the United States as a result of these efforts, and had exactly the desired effect on election and legislative outcomes. (Read more about this here, here, and here)

6. Deliberate and systematic sabotaging of the voting process through the courts or legislation. Such efforts include partisan redistricting/gerrymandering at the state level, disrupting new voter registration, disenfranchisement of poor voters and voters of color with new voting rules that disproportionately impact them (for example, rolling back protections of the Voting Rights Act in the South beginning in 2013 led to many new, restrictive state laws), and promoting nonfactual conspiracy theories about election fraud that actually lead – rather contrarily – to the intimidation and quitting of election officials, or to states withdrawing from systems like “ERIC” that actually reduce the chances of voter fraud. (Read more about this here, here, and here)

So how should we react to these discouraging conditions…?

Well certainly the easiest decision would be to throw up our hands, disengage from this unfortunate reality, and stop voting. According to a 2023 PEW Research study, a majority of Americans surveyed felt exhausted and angered by U.S. politics – citing many of the concerns outlined above – and this was despite some of the highest turnouts in the previous three U.S. elections. That said, the higher-than-average voter turnout meant that, across those three elections (2018, 2020, and 2022), only 37% of eligible voters voted in all three elections. This is a pretty dismal level of consistent engagement. (Read more about this here)

Thomas Jefferson’s old adage certainly holds that “the government you elect is the government you deserve,” especially if we don’t vote at all. At the same time, Jefferson also opined: “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.” And I think his point is essential to a functional democracy: without being as well-informed as we can be, voters will tend to fall under the spell of “tyranny and oppressions of body and mind,” and either lose interest in their own governance…or subscribe to fear-based conspiracies about it. Jefferson sums things up this way: “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights."

So that is how I arrived at my convictions to remain well-informed and engaged with the political process, even after learning about how vulnerable, threatened, or corrupted our democratic institutions have become. Thinking we accomplish anything by not voting – or by voting for a third-party candidate – is the false choice we have to resist. We know this because of past election outcomes, where third party candidates and/or lack of voter participation contributed directly to candidates being elected POTUS who did not win the popular vote – this was a determining factor in both the 2000 and 2016 elections (read about these here). Instead, we must at least attempt to counter any corrosive sabotage of our democratic systems, or things will become much worse over time. Why will they get worse? Because there are those who would prefer not to allow messy democracy to interfere with their hold on power, and – as evidenced by the “top six” issues listed above – they are relentless in their self-serving pursuit of political power.

What tools, then, are available to us to remain informed, engaged, and vigilant?

First and foremost, to appreciate how biased and/or factual information from a particular news outlet will be, please check out https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/

Then, from my experience, some of the more trustworthy sources of news and well-vetted information include:

Worldpress.org (World Press Review — includes different perspectives from all around the globe)
News.Gallup.com (Gallup News; see also Gallup Reports)
Reuters.com (Reuters)
PewResearch.org (Pew Research)
ICIJ.org (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists)
Opensecrets.org (Open Secrets)
Politifact.com (Politifact)
Snopes.com (Snopes)
Factchequeado.com (fact checking in Spanish)

In contrast, below is a list of sources I have concluded are nearly always either highly biased, counterfactual, or have a specific agenda to manipulate the truth to some nefarious end (such as to sew discord, misinform, evoke fear or irrational doubts, etc.). Due to a baked-in business model of creating sensational but shallow takes on current events in order to lure viewers, a majority of social media (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Truth Social, etc.) memes, influencers, and podcasts also tend to be much less reliable. Here, then, is a list of the most questionable sources:

RT.com (Russia Today, RT News)
SputnikNews.com and Radio Sputnik (Sputnik News, formerly RIA Novosti and Voice of Russia)
Infowars.com (InfoWars)
TheSun.co.uk (The Sun)
Voltairenet.org (Voltaire Network)
Oann.com (One American News Network)
FoxNews.com (Fox News)
Breitbart.com (Breitbart)
TheEpochTimes.com (The Epoch Times and NTD TV)

And lastly, here are some personal favorites that I find very interesting (though admittedly some of these are more biased than others), and which I often rely upon to help me navigate the nuances of many compelling issues in the news:

Ground.news (Ground News captures current news stories through left, right, and center lenses of bias – and highlights "blind spots" where particular news is neglected or ignored by certain media)
Guardian.com (The Guardian)
Politico.com (Politico)
NPR.org (National Public Radio) and PBS.org (Public Broadcasting Service)
NYTimes.com (New York Times)
TheAtlantic.com (The Atlantic)
Vice.com (VICE News)

In addition, I will often do a deep dive into local media regarding a given candidate or issue for municipal and state ballots. This can be time consuming, but I usually come up with some very interesting nuggets that help me decide how to vote – and really I might spend a similar amount of time shopping for new hiking boots. And sure, I will also watch debates, listen to interviews, and – whenever possible – speak with politicians one-on-one. These efforts nearly always assist with voting decisions which would otherwise be more like throwing a dart at a dartboard than making an informed choice.

Lastly, it is critical that we surround ourselves with people who value rigorous inquiry, appreciate nuance and resist black-and-white thinking, can revise their positions based on reliable new data, aren’t prone to conspiracy thinking, and aren’t overly invested in a belief that “all truth” is relative or subjective. Without these supportive relationships, it can become increasingly difficult to maintain our convictions, or translate them into meaningful and effective action. And it really doesn’t matter whether such folks agree with our positions on various topics or not – in fact it’s healthy to engage in debates where our points of view are challenged, and where we might discover unsupportable assumptions and bias in our thinking or conclusions. I’ve always found such discussions extremely helpful in avoiding my own reflexive groupthink, and helping uncover logical fallacies I may have overlooked. But it is essential that such engagement is grounded in a shared valuation of vetted information sources, carefully evaluated evidence, and an ability to suspend aggressive certainties in favor of a more tentative humility and openness.

I hope this was helpful, and please feel free to email me your questions about any of these topics at [email protected].

What philosophy has society taken out of balance? Has this notion ever shifted from one extreme to the exact opposite extreme?

This is an interesting question, and yes, there are a lot of examples of this occurring. One that springs to mind is the devolution of classical liberalism. Concepts of “liberty” and “fee markets” championed by proponents of classical liberalism in the 17th and 18th centuries were initially dependent on a strong civil society, but became more and more distorted and disconnected from that prerequisite over time. By the late 18th thorugh early 20th centuries, the initial ideas of a strong civil society with “good government” (Adam Smith) as a counterbalance to corporate malfeasance, capture of government by the wealthy, and abuse and exploitation of workers were completely abandoned by those claiming to be the disciples of classical liberalism (such as the authors of the “Austrian School”). By the time Milton Friedman and the Chicago School came into vogue, the wanton abandon for individualistic enrichment and empowerment had completely discarded any concerns at all for civil society, and actually encouraged corporate capture of government and other characteristics of crony capitalism in order to amplify self-enrichment. Randian objectivism then just added fuel to the same solipsistic fire. “Laissez faire” evolved into a sort of joke that every credible economist and social scientist understood to be a toxic delusion. This is how we arrived at what we call “neoliberalism” today.

There are many other examples of this sort of bizarre distortion of first principles in favor of grossly self-serving and destructive “opposites” — often ones that somehow retain the same name. Christianity is a potent poster child. Democracy is another. Hegelian dialectics, Existentialism, concepts of patriotism and nationalism…there seem to have been many such flip-flops over the years, where what was claimed to arise out of certain concepts, practices, and ideals ended up representing countervailing antagonism to those very same original principles. This seems to have been a very common pattern throughout human history, alas.

My 2 cents.

What does an individual owe society?

A morally mature adult owes society their commitment to maintaining that society in prosocial ways. After all, we owe everything we are — absolutely everything — to the civic institutions, rule of law, cultural expectations, economic stability and opportunity, political freedoms, human rights, educational opportunities, and other supportive structures that society provides. These are what form our identity and sense of belonging, and offer us existential security and pathways to aspiration.

It is utterly absurd, immature, and profoundly selfish for anyone to assert that they “owe society nothing.” Such sentiments are caustic and destructive to the promises of freedom, agency, and happiness that developed societies aim to accomplish for all individuals. In the context of modern society, individualistic materialism has unfortunately devolved into a sort of narcissistic solipsism, and if that devolution continues it will not end well for either society or its individuals.

Now, it is also true that society can do harm — it can use institutional, economic, and cultural hierarchy to oppress and deprive some people of the very freedoms, opportunities, and agency that it secures for other groups. And this inequality is a real challenge that we must address, so that there is a realistically “level playing field” for everyone to achieve their potential. This is why I personally advocate for arrangements of political economy that diffuse and distribute both power and wealth, rather than allow them to become concentrated. We are a long way from accomplishing this in much of the world, but there is a way to achieve it. My thoughts on that in the link below.


Is human nature greedy? What does this imply for the feasibility of anarchism and socialism?

According to research in evolutionary psychology, biology, sociology, and a handful of other disciplines, prosociality is a fundamental human trait that has consistently preserved human communities through many challenges throughout history by enhancing group fitness — at least there is a growing body of research pointing in this direction (see this link). As an antisocial trait, greed is generally antagonistic to group fitness even if it benefits the individual.

Unfortunately, there is a relatively recent mythology — invented without supportive evidence by Austrian School economist and Randian objectivists, among others — that humans are purely self-interested, individualistic, and materialistic critters. These sources do not substantiate these claims but insist they are self-evident primary characteristics of human behavior and decision-making.

But they are simply wrong.

It does not take much effort to confirm the primacy of prosociality in human nature. Just do an academic search on “evolution,” “prosocial behaviors” and “group fitness.”

One recent problem is that, as a society, we have been “feeding the wrong wolf.” Modern commercialistic culture has been reinforcing individualistic materialism and narcissistic selfishness — regularly rewarding these pathological, antisocial behaviors. In a sense, we have collectively been suppressing prosocial impulses in favor of antisocial ones.

If this continues, it will not end well.

However, with respect the the “feasibility of anarchism and socialism,” that’s already been established through left-anarchist examples. See:


Is there really such a thing as "The Woke Mob?"

My take on this is that there is indeed an extreme form of progressive activism that, although it doesn't represent a majority of left-leaning folks, does end up getting a lot of attention in political discourse...especially in right-leaning media.

Here is how I would define what that extreme looks like, why it isn't productive, and what a more mature and effective response looks like:

To understand what I mean by "intersectional disempowerment," this link is a fairly comprehensive discussion of the power dynamics of "intersectionality" by the Scottish government.

A Parable for Modern Politics

So a guy goes to a car dealership, and the salesman convinces him that this one car he’s interested in gets 50 mpg, does 0–60 in 4 seconds, and has a 5-year worry-free warranty. The dealership has one in a sweet metallic red, and so the guy buys it. He loves the car. Shows if off to his friends. Sometimes he just drives it around town for no other reason than because he’s enjoying driving it so much. But pretty soon he realizes that the salesman was…let’s say not quite telling the truth about the car. It only gets 15 mpg. It does 0–60 in about 7 seconds. And when the fuel pump quits after just two months…it turns out the “worry free” warranty doesn’t cover that (or much else that is likely to fail on the vehicle). The thing is, though, he still really loves the car. He’s willing to deal with all the problems because he still enjoys the pure pleasure of driving it around. Even after the dash instruments start failing one by one. Even after the timing belt breaks after 50K miles and the engine requires a total rebuild. Even after the chrome flakes off of all the detail work. Even after the squeaks all around the car get so loud that he can’t drown them out anymore with the car’s underpowered stereo system. This has been a pretty a common American experience. And the thing is, getting angry at politicians or one political party isn’t going to fix this situation - because it has nothing to do with them. The guy should have done his research. He should have listened to some friends who told him to avoid this particular brand of car. He should have been more careful and thoughtful and maybe not believed a salesman who just wanted to make a quick buck. But he didn’t. And he has no one to blame but himself. But…instead of owning up to his mistakes and admitting he was hoodwinked, the guy is furious with anyone who points out he was deceived, or corrects him for trying to blame his bad choices on “government regulation,” or tries to explain that the problems with his car really have nothing to do with unions, but instead were decisions made in corporate board rooms so that shareholders could line their pockets with just a little more profit. But the really sad thing is that, when the car finally breaks down completely after 100K miles, guess where this guy goes to buy another? The same dealership? The same salesman? A later model of the same shitty car…? No way! He’s finally “wised up” and gone to the competing dealership across the street, where the salesman welcomes him with open arms and convinces him to buy the latest model of THAT brand…which gets 50 mpg, does 0–60 in 4 seconds, and has a 5-year worry-free warranty (all of this isn’t true, just as it wasn’t the last time, but he doesn’t check the facts…). And so he buys the car - without doing the research, or listening to his friends, or questioning whether the salesman is telling the truth. And as he drives away, he shakes his fist out the car window at the dealership where he bought his first car, yelling “This is my ‘fuck you’ PROTEST VOTE!” So…really, what’s the point of trying to listen to the concerns of such a mindless, irrational consumer who is so easily and perpetually hoodwinked by lies and deceptions? I mean, really it’s on him to recognize his own mistakes, and to take responsibility for all the bad stuff that has happened to him. And until he takes responsibility and stops blaming others for his problems…well, things are not going to change. Not for him, and not for anyone else like him in America.

How is the U.S. economy doing as of the end of Aug. 2023?

IMO the waters are very muddy right now. There are strong indicators of both fundamental strength and fundamental fragility in the U.S. economy (and the global economy as well). Currently, these strengths and fragilities balance each other out to some degree. And that caveat — “to some degree” — is important. Through economic, political, and military lenses, there is a high amount of volatility right now. The future is uncertain. I’ll throw out just a few variables so you can see what I mean:

1. China’s economy is currently tanking, even as they increase military saber-rattling over their geographical influence.

2. The U.S. bond yield curve is still inverted…and getting more pronounced.

3. U.S. labor force participation remains at a strong 62.6% (highest since March, 2020) and the U-6 unemployment rate has fractionally decreased. However, at the same time, the total number of new jobs created is slowly going down.

4. Credit is tightening — everywhere.

5. U.S. inflation is cooling (core inflation of 4.7% is the slowest gain in 20 months).

6. U.S. sovereign debt has been downgraded.

7. Half of the U.S. electorate remains in the thrall of a deluded con man, and their fundamental beliefs about all manner of things (including what policies will best protect democracy and preserve a strong economy moving forward) are totally at odds with reality.

8. In the U.S. and elsewhere, there has been an uptick in business investment (both public and private projects).

So…is it a complete wash? Well, in my humble opinion, it is for now. But any of these factors could easily be disrupted by current events. For example, what if Vladimir Putin — or Saudi’s MBS — decide to curtail oil production (and thereby spike gas prices) just to make Joe Biden look bad during the 2024 election? Such tactics are almost a given at this point, and these would add unwelcome pressure to the U.S. and global economies. With other factors like the ones described above still in play, what do you think will happen in terms of inflation controls and economic recovery? I don’t think the delicate balance of pros and cons would hold — there would be a major disruption, and possibly a crash.

This highly volatile situation is why it is simply not possible to look at just one metric — like employment — and come to any firm conclusions one way or another.

My 2 cents.

What influences people’s political beliefs?

An important questions, given today’s polarized landscape. Here are what I believe to be the top influences on people’s political beliefs:

1.Native intelligence.

2. Indoctrination and conformance of family, community, peers, coworkers, etc.

3. Level and quality of education.

4. Exposure to propaganda.

5. Native and learned critical thinking capacity.

6. Level of self-awareness.

7. Native tolerance for cognitive dissonance.

8. Native (or learned?) propensity to be motivated by fear rather than more positive emotions.

9. Need to belong to a group (and remain in lockstep with one’s “tribe”).

10. Native or learned ability to hold one’s own beliefs in a neutral space, and either revise or expand them when we encounter verifiable evidence — see diagram below.

11. An understanding and acceptance of science and the scientific method.

12. A native propensity to gravitate towards conspiracy theories.

My 2 cents.

Why U.S. Conservatives Are Abandoning Their Values

Justice & Tradition

The wrong-headedness of the latest SCOTUS ruling in favor of evangelical web designer Lori Smith is obvious to thoughtful Constitutional and Biblical scholars -- as it doesn't reflect the values, sentiments, and standards embodied in either document. The previous day's ruling on affirmative action at Harvard is likewise transparently oblivious to the racial realities of American culture and history. But the question to my mind is: Why is this happening? Why are folks who say they are committed to longstanding principles of the U.S. Constitution, the New Testament, and indeed civil society itself so eager to abandon those principles?

Well, I think it is all about fear. A deep, abiding terror that one's status and privilege of being "White and Right" is severely threatened by the natural, normal evolution of a morally maturing culture. It is a knee-jerk grasping after the power and wealth that will inevitably be lost as a more equitable arrangement of civil society is achieved.

And I don't see an end to that grasping. As long as this fear-powered conservatism energizes our electorate and our government officials, these irrational and hypocritical patterns will continue to amplify themselves. What the U.S. Constitution and the New Testament actually promote are concepts like equitable justice, inalienable and universal human rights, the criticality of a strong and democratic civil society, and the unfailing power of a generous and accepting spirit, a reflexive willingness to help others, and an unconditional compassion for our fellow human beings.

Will the overarching principles of love and equality, so venerated by some previous generations, prevail...? Or will we continue to slide backwards into selfishness and prejudice?

Well I suppose we will see how folks decide to vote in the upcoming 2024 elections and beyond...and who decides to abdicate their responsibilities and not vote at all.

The Hallmarks of Bad Information – Misinformation, Disinformation, Propaganda & How We Can Manage It

We live in a world where lies run rampant, where public figures consistently misrepresent the truth, and where once trusted news sources are no longer viewed as reliable. More than ever before, it is now our individual responsibility to discern what is true and what is not, and to recognize when we become the target of deliberate hoodwinking. It is no exaggeration to claim that the durability of our political systems, the stability of our society, and the health of our planet increasingly depend on our vigilance in this arena. What follows is a brief but detailed overview of how to identify bad information, how we can protect ourselves from it, and how we can best respond to its increasingly loud and invasive presence in our lives.

First, what constitutes “bad information?”

Here are some of the hallmarks that help us quickly and reliably identify misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and manipulative deception:

1. Partial truths that rush to a sweeping conclusion. One of the most common techniques of communicating bad information is to offer only a small portion of cherry-picked facts for a given situation, deliberately omitting additional information that could provide a more balanced or measured perspective, and then quickly rushing into what is usually an extreme and unreasonable conclusion fueled solely on that partial information.

2. Fear or hate mongering – often involving conspiracy thinking and demonizing particular individuals or groups – followed by urgent and imperative calls to action. Negative emotion can be profoundly persuasive, even when the accusations being made have no evidence to support them. And once we have been caught up in strong feelings of foreboding or dislike, our rational faculties tend to shut down, and we may make decisions or take action based on strong emotions alone. And propagators of bad information know this, deliberately using it to their advantage to persuade us to conclude or do things we normally wouldn’t.

3. Visceral and vehement rejection of any reliable sources of information. Those who perpetuate bad information cannot tolerate or allow sources of more accurate information to be consulted by anyone, so they will attack them endlessly – though here again often without evidence to support their accusations.

4. The illusory truth effect. The illusory truth effect is when everyone begins to believe falsehoods are true simply because they get repeated by lots of people – because we are hearing them from multiple sources, the untruths begins to feel familiar and acceptable. Mainly as a consequence of the Internet, enduring falsehoods can now be spread very quickly all around the globe and become accepted into the mainstream as widely believed “truth” in this way.

5. Tribal conformance and groupthink. This technique relies on peer pressure and perceived threats to identity and belonging within a given group to generate lockstep conformance – often within a rigid set of values, priorities, and beliefs. Members of that tribe must, of necessity, conform to a given conclusion or course of action, and endlessly parrot particular talking points, to avoid being kicked out of their tribe. As inherently social creatures who crave acceptance and belonging, these are powerful pressures to keep us in line and make us feel we must propagate bad information…or else.

6. Reliance on a cult of personality or an idealized self-image. In an age of media celebrities who boisterously portray themselves as champions and heroes without any real evidence or history of their actually being that, adoring followers are lured into accepting falsehoods without question and then vehemently defending those falsehoods. They are, after all, defending a champion and hero that has inspired their adoration and made them feel important and “part of something,” perhaps even making them feel better about themselves and closer to an idealized version of who they want to be.

7. Projection, false equivalence, and whataboutism. These techniques attempt to paint the opposition with the flaws, faults, mistakes, and failings of the person trying to defend themselves or make their case. For example, someone who is profoundly corrupt or immoral asserting that their opponent is actually the one who is corrupt or immoral; this is projection. Or a politician claiming that an opposing party’s policies or practices have been just as flawed and destructive as their own, when this is only partially true; this is false equivalence. And, finally, when cornered with undeniable evidence of their own misdoings or malfeasance, someone may counter that their accusers have done something similar, when once again this may be only partially true or even false; this is whataboutism.

8. The constant promotion of other logical fallacies – such as ad hominem attacks, straw man arguments, the bandwagon effect, slippery slope fallacies, appeals to authority, appeals to emotion, false dilemmas, appeals to ignorance, false cause, manufacturing a “big lie,” and many others. Getting to know what these logical fallacies look and sound like can be very eye-opening – but they do take a bit of time and effort to fully appreciate (see References and Resources section below for more). In brief: ad hominem is simply attacking the character of a person rather than responding to their actual arguments; straw man is misrepresenting the opposing viewpoint so that refuting it doesn’t address the actual argument; bandwagon is claiming that because “everyone already knows” something to be true, is common knowledge, or will succeed, then it must be so; slippery slope is claiming that even a small admission, concession, or seemingly insignificant course of action will inevitably lead to much broader and disastrous results; appeal to authority asserts that because a trusted person or source claims something is true, it must be true; appeal to emotion is just that – there is no rational reasoning or factual evidence involved; false dilemma is insisting the only available choices are between two black-and-white extremes, when in reality there are more nuanced alternatives; appeal to ignorance takes advantage of our not having contrary, factual information to contradict the appeal; false cause links an incorrect cause to a given outcome; a “big lie” is a distortion of factual reality that is so grandiose and extreme – and repeated so often – that uncritical hearers begin to believe it.

9. The appearance of reasonableness. This is, for me at least, one of the more insidious techniques used in bad information. The objective here is to make an argument – usually one based on partial information, logical fallacies, or distortions of fact – in a reasonable, logical, and confident way that makes a given opponent or their viewpoint seem extreme, irrational, or hyperbolic. This technique is often combined with other methods meant to provoke the opposition into emotional reactions or overstatement of their position, and thereby undermining the credibility of their viewpoint.

How can we best respond to and mitigate these influences?

As you can see, there are a lot of tools in the bad information toolkit. And, unfortunately, once we become conditioned to respond to these tools, it is very difficult to free ourselves from their influence and not react impulsively or reflexively when they are used. In fact, one of the most effective ways to manage our immersion in bad information is simply to delay our response. To create a healthy space – in terms of time, emotions, and reflexive thinking – between the initial information we are receiving and how we choose to react to it. It’s a lot like creating space between other kinds of reflexive reaction. For example, if someone aggressively shoves me out of their way to cut past me in line, I might feel a reflexive urge to shove them back, or grab hold of them, or yell out “Hey, you can’t do that!” But if I instead insert a pause in my reaction, take a calming breath, and reflect for a moment about how best to respond, I can short-circuit my own visceral reactivity. Dealing with bad information can benefit from the same kind of patience and self-discipline.

Of course, being well-informed is also highly advantageous, so that when we are presented with partial truths, logical fallacies, or deceptive arguments we can more easily dismiss them because we know what the actual truth is. Amid today’s 24/7 fire hose of mass media – and with digital devices as our constant companions, delivering this firehouse with algorithmic amplification designed to keep our interest – the deluging clamor for our attention can be very challenging to manage.

So here are some helpful ways to buffer ourselves from the onslaught of such unfiltered, often questionable information:

1. Be proactive in how information is consumed. For example, avoid remaining logged into social media or receiving social media notifications on your digital devices. If we allow algorithms to decide what information we should receive, then most research indicates (see References and Resources) that we will receive what provokes our emotional engagement with that social media platform. Why? Simply because more engagement from us results in more ad revenue for those companies. This, in turn, results in what researchers call “computational propaganda.” So instead, if we deliberately choose to seek out specific information more proactively, we can protect ourselves from these profit-driven algorithms.

2. Be proactive in our selection of information sources – and even then, check the facts. This can take some effort to figure out, but eventually we can gather together a number of sources that provide high quality, factual information about our areas of interest. One way to vet the bias and factuality of potential news sources is https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/. And for reliable, in-depth research on many cultural and political issues, we can consult https://www.pewresearch.org/. To verify questionable information, I recommend consulting http://snopes.com/, https://www.politifact.com/, or https://www.factcheck.org/. And to appreciate how money intersects with politics in the U.S., https://www.opensecrets.org/ is an excellent resource.

In terms of the current political landscape in the U.S.A., it can quickly and easily be confirmed (see References and Resources) that the most prolific perpetrators of bad information practices are conservative pundits; the Republican Party and its political candidates; right-leaning U.S. media, bloggers, think tanks, and talk-show hosts; the official state-run media of Russia and China; and the efforts of social media troll farms and other “active measures” maintained by those same countries. Of course, you will want to evaluate and verify these claims yourself, but I think it is important to call out the most nefarious and destructive influences in U.S. politics right now.

Has this always been the case? With respect to Russia, this has definitely been the case since the Soviet era, but China seems to be a relative newcomer to the media-shaping game. Regarding the GOP in the U.S., it hasn’t always been this bad. In my opinion there have previously been reputable and responsible conservative-leaning media and pundits in the U.S. that would have called into question many of the claims being made by Republicans today. At the same time, conservatives have also executed long-term, well-funded efforts to discredit inconvenient facts that threated corporate profits – often through relentless “science skepticism” attacks (e.g. regarding tobacco risks, climate change, acid rain, pesticides, etc.). With equal fervor, conservatives have assaulted government programs and policies that protect consumers, workers, and the poor, usually with some flavor of fear mongering. These efforts include “red scare” anti-socialist propaganda techniques, as well as amping up rhetoric over “culture war” hot button issues (gay marriage and transgender rights; abortion rights; family values; parents’ rights; etc.) to agitate and motivate the Republican rank-and-file.

Do Democrats and those on the political left use similar tactics to persuade and manipulate people? And are left-leaning media, think tanks, and pundits as prolific in their propaganda, misinformation, or disinformation? Again, you will want to research and confirm the realities for yourself. But currently, although the left-leaning side of the political spectrum has sometimes been guilty of using similar tactics, it would be a grossly exaggerated false equivalence to say that Democratic politicians fabricate lies at the same rate as Republicans – or that Democrats rely on misinformation, disinformation, and logical fallacies to the same degree as the GOP. Left-leaning think tanks also tend to approach issues in a more even-handed, evidence-based, and scientific way than conservative ones. And in this moment of history, mainly driven by the extraordinary antics of Donald Trump and his “MAGA” followers, the GOP has gone down a rabbit hole of creating its own alternative realities. We could even say that, to exemplify the most potent examples of every “bad information” technique outlined here, we need only observe the copious pedantic claims uttered by Mr. Trump and his political supporters and media pundits.

As just a handful of examples of what right-leaning America has consistently gotten wrong, yet promoted as “truth” in order to win elections, sell ads, and raise donations:

• Joe Biden really did win the 2020 election, and zero evidence has been presented to the contrary despite repeated lawsuits.

• Donald Trump really did break the law in the willful hoarding of classified documents after he left office – and no, his evasive and obstructive behavior regarding those documents goes far beyond anything Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, or Mike Pence did by comparison.

• Climate change is a real, scientifically validated event, and not a liberal conspiracy.

• Immigrants had nothing to do with the decline in jobs or wages in the U.S.A. over the last few decades. Instead, it was mainly corporate greed and the natural consequence of those corporations seeking cheaper labor and resources abroad and automating production and services.

• Tax cuts have never “paid for themselves;” that is, conservative trickle-down economics has never helped the poor or working class, but only enriched the owner-shareholders of big business and other wealthy folks.

• Vladimir Putin is not an underdog victimize by “western aggression” who nobly aims to preserve Russia’s status in the world – he is a brutal, murderous, megalomaniacal dictator hell-bent on expanding his own political power and the economic and political influence of Russia so that he can increase his own personal wealth and that of the oligarchs who enable him.

• Obamacare has actually helped millions of people obtain health insurance who couldn’t do so previously, and has helped reduce health care costs overall. And there were never any government “death panels” triaging patient healthcare.

• Deregulation has not helped American consumers or saved U.S. industries – with very few exceptions, it has consistently hurt both.

• There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Saddam Hussein had zero ties to the terrorists responsible for 9/11.

• Neither the recent escalation of inflation, nor the ballooning federal deficit, can be laid at the feet of Democrats or Joe Biden. While the legislation and executive policies of both parties have certainly contributed, the lion’s share of irresponsible spending, overly aggressive tax cuts, and disastrous economic and public health policies contributing to both inflation and the federal deficit can be laid squarely at the feet of Republicans – and indeed Donald Trump.

It is therefore not surprising that the GOP is so profoundly committed to false narratives and misinformation – because the facts on the ground make them look really bad.

But 70+ million voters in the U.S. continue to be utterly conned and hoodwinked into believing these lies and many more – and into consistently voting against their own expressed values and best interests.

These are truly extraordinary times.

References and Resources:


Why are there so precious few who truly get both sides of the political spectrum?

Thank you for the question. Here are what I believe are some contributing factors that have gained increasing prominence in the past couple of decades:

1. A deliberate, carefully planned effort on the part of political activists, think tanks, and corporate media to divide, polarize, and demonize across the political spectrum in order to secure votes, increase campaign contributions and media viewership, and secure political status. It is much easier to appeal to fear and anxiety, play the blame game, and energize “Us vs. Them” polemics than to thoughtfully explore nuanced political philosophy and policy positions.

2. A downward spiral of biased media reporting that was instigated by ending the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. As a consequence of that very ill-informed decision, consumers of news media are simply often not presented both sides of the argument on political issues in any meaningful or reasonable way.

3. Social media echo chambers, the illusory truth effect, and consequent groupthink. When algorithms and like-minded groups of users amplify extreme, biased, and often false information that confirms their worst fear and mistrust, there is no longer room for discussion. Political topics become too highly charged with emotional rhetoric to allow moderating (or even true) viewpoints.

4. An unfortunate dumbing down of the U.S. voting public. There are likely a lot of factors contributing to this — poor nutrition, increased collective stress and anxiety, incomplete education, epidemic levels of ADHD, cultural opposition to “intellectualism,” etc. — but it is increasingly obvious that a lot of folks cannot reason critically at all, and instead quickly race down a rabbit hole of logical fallacies and contradictory assumptions.

5. Overwhelming input streams that folks often just don’t know how to manage, leading to feeling paralyzed, confused, and consequently more vulnerable to the influencing factors listed above. For example: way too much information funneled at all of us 24/7 from all directions at once; increasing complexity in nearly every decision we need to make; equally increasing pressure to make important decisions at much higher quantities and at much faster rates than many previous generations; accelerating technological and cultural changes that are increasingly difficult to track, let alone accept or fully incorporate on cultural and interpersonal levels.

6. A consumerist culture than encourages us to “bandwagon.” We are conditioned from early childhood to be guided by advertising and cultural norms that basically say “Hey, you don’t need to have your own agency or be thoughtfully informed, instead you just need to buy this or that and we’ll solve all your problems for you.” This conditioning runs so deep in U.S. culture that many folks simply conform to the latest cultural fads — which often originate at the fringe extremes of the political spectrum — in order to feel a sense of belonging and empowerment.

7. State-funded disinformation from hostile foreign actors that takes advantage of all-of-the-above and makes them much worse to serve the agendas of that country.

My 2 cents.

Does a big government lead to the fall of democracy?

When very large and powerful government institutions are not held accountable by a functional democracy, then those institutions will certainly run amok over the citizenry and compromise other freedoms and rights in civil society — including the right to vote. This has tended to happen either where citizens are apathetic about their participation in the democratic process (as has been the case in the U.S.A. for many decades), or in places where a populist strongman deliberately consolidates their own power and undermines democracy itself (as has been the case of late in places like Turkey, Russia, Hungary, India, and multiple nations in Africa and Latin America).

But if the democratic institutions and public participation in democracy are strong, and authoritarian/autocratic leaders are voted out of office before they can wreak substantial damage on civil society, then the size of the government is not relevant, IMO. In the U.S.A., where the government is very large, Trump’s elevation to POTUS definitely woke up the country in terms of stimulating a more passionate participation in democracy…and his being voted out after one term likely saved U.S. democracy. But the size of the U.S. government did not really play into these variables.

What is much more critical in the preservation of democracy is carefully mitigating large concentrations of wealth and power and their impact on democratic institutions. The greatest erosion of democracy in the U.S. can easily be laid at the feet of the largest corporations, corporate media organizations, and wealthy campaign contributors. Their level of interference with functional democracy in the U.S. is truly astonishing — and it’s getting worse. To appreciate how organized and extensive this interference is, take a look into the history of American neoliberalism, which has relentlessly and systematically sought to consolidate wealth and power in the hands of as few people as possible (see link below), and effectively crippled democracy in the process.



Why are people afraid of the far right rather than the far left in general?

It’s really pretty simple :

1. Right-wing extremists have been responsible for the vast majority of domestic terrorism in the U.S.A. over the last few decades — and for the vast majority of murders in the course of that political violence as well.

2. Conspiracy theories, groupthink, and brainwashing are present on the far Left, but in only a fairly small percentage (my research estimates about 14% of the Left has succumbed to such maladies). On the right, however, I estimate the numbers to be closer to 35%. If we assume the U.S. electorate to be about equality divided, this means there are more than twice as many folks who are willfully deluded on the Right than on the Left. We should be afraid of giving such folks more political power, right? For example, electing 2020 election deniers to oversee future elections, etc.

3. The “Trump effect.” 70 million people voted a skeevy conman with serious mental issues and a huge ego into office. Putting someone like Trump in the most powerful position on the planet is just…inexcusable. The amount of damage Trump did to the global reputation of the U.S., to our domestic rule of law, to democracy, and to civil society itself is truly epic. And, needless to say, his antics nearly destroyed the GOP as well.

4. The far Right is utterly misinformed about…well…most things, really. Most of the concepts in far-Right ideology represent what I call “broken brain syndrome,” having no basis in fact or good evidence, often promoting strategies that have never demonstrated any causal link with the problems they want to solve. The far-Right rank-and-file are poster children for the Dunning-Kruger effect, where their profound ignorance makes them overconfident. That’s an inherently dangerous combination. And although folks may find the far Left’s vision of the future (i.e. less capitalism, greater democracy, etc.) unattractive, there simply isn’t as much counterfactual fervor there. Those on the far Left are generally much better educated about facts, history, and evidence than those on the far Right.

5. Far Left solutions have actually been tried and have succeeded historically all around the world (for example, take a look at these left-anarchist communities: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anarchist_communities). Far Right solutions either have not been tried, or they have utterly failed (examples: austerity measures by conservative policymakers around the globe, Milton Friedman's disastrous interventions in Chile, nearly all deregulation in the U.S., the World Bank's structural adjustment policies in the developing world, etc).

6. As you can see from far-Right-leaning discussion of this and almost every other topic, they lie. A lot. For example, take a look at the "factual reporting" ratings of nearly all far right media sources on www.mediabiasfactcheck.com, and then review how many of those extreme rightwing bias sources are rated as "conspiracy-pseudoscience." Shouldn’t we be hesitant to trust liars?

My 2 cents.

Is the “tyranny of the majority” an unavoidable weakness of democracy?

No, the tyranny of the majority is not an unavoidable weakness of democracy. In fact there are so many welll-practiced and time-proven ways to effectively diffuse and countervail this possibility that its ascendence is really the exception rather than the norm.

Successful mitigation includes things like:

1. Implementing subsidiarity, so that democratic decisions are diffused down to the community level. At the same time avoiding concentrations of centralized political and economic power becomes a critical countervailing strategy.

2. Ensuring the electorate is well-educated about its responsibility to govern for the good of everyone in society, and is operating at a level of moral maturity that reflexively supports and enhances this view.

3. Strengthening egalitarian rule of law, and egalitarian civil society generally, to support an equality of rights, opportunity, ability, and enforcement across society — all of which inherently aim to compensate for existing inequalities and at least attempt to level the playing field.

4. Institute truly independent checks and balances to ensure no single institution, governing body, or system has absolute authority over any aspect of society. Interestingly, one way to accomplish this is by implementing direct democratic controls over representative bodies as some constitutions allow.

Sadly, what has become much more problematic is the “tyranny of the minority,” where a smaller group that has gathered an inordinate amount of economic and political power to itself runs roughshod over democracy and civil society to maintain its own privilege, influence, and wealth.

My 2 cents.

I have a million dollars and you don't. Are we really "equal under the law?"

This question seems focused around whether folks have equal rights when they have different resources. And yes of course in practice the haves and have-nots are not really equal “under the law” or in many other contexts. Some examples:

1. Your million dollars can buy you an excellent lawyer, whereas my lack thereof may mean I must rely on an overworked and underpaid pubic defender. Any reasonable and observant person knows that many innocent poor people go to jail simply because they do not have a competent defense, whereas many rich people avoid court judgements altogether because they have excellent and expensive attorneys. In addition, due to how cash bail laws work in reality in the U.S., a poor person is often not able to post cash bail, and thus loses their job because they remain absent from work (and then their housing after that, etc.) before they have even gone to trial. In essence, then, a poor person is often punished as “guilty” with pretrial incarceration, where a rich person is not. That is certainly not “equality under the law.”

2. If circumstances beyond my control (natural disasters, pandemics, economic downturns, a physical disability, a sudden illness, etc.) cause me to lose my job and become homeless, my choices will be very limited if I don’t have someone to advocate for me or help me with my situation. Statistically, I am very likely to remain homeless, jobless and/or sick. You, on the other hand, can much more easily relocate, stay in a hotel, buy a new home outright, get the healthcare you need, and so on. You have a much greater probability of recovering or adapting — much more easily than me. But the point is that “under the law” we may appear to have equal opportunity to rent or own a home, or be protected in some way from further calamity, yet in reality we really don’t.

3. If you start a family and end up with a special needs child, that million dollars will come in very handy in assisting your child with special education, custom equipment, therapies, and so on, so that they may actually be able to become functional and independent over time. If my family suffers the same challenges, the likelihood that my child will gain the same level of independence and function is (statistically and realistically) much lower. Once again, “under the law” both of our children may have a right to equal levels of education or healthcare…but in reality your child will effectively have “more rights.”

I could go on, but these examples will hopefully shed light on the reality that a paucity of personal resources has very clear negative impacts on personal liberty, and an abundance of personal resources has very clear positive impacts, even under laws designed to treat them equally. To believe otherwise is the result of either ignorance of the realities of being poor, or ideological convictions that also have no basis in fact.

My 2 cents.

Question from John Anderson:

I am decidedly in the “poor person” category. I have also been on the losing end of a court case against a wealthy person. I am not blind to the advantage of having wealth, especially as it applies to the ability to hire better lawyers. That doesn’t change my view on the nature of my equality under the law with that person. I had as much right as he did to hire better lawyers even if I hadn’t the ability. The fact I could not afford to do so is not proof of a lack of the right to do so. Both he and I had to make our case before the judge. The very fact that we both did so is in fact proof (in my mind, anyway) that we were both equal under the law. I was not barred from appearing before the judge to argue my case. There was no assumption of guilt for me, nor prohibition against making whatever arguments I could to defend my position. And of course, like everyone who goes before the judge, I thought my position just and his unjust, and felt wronged by the judge’s decision. I also admit that the other man felt every bit as justified in his position as I did, and was gratified that the judge ruled with him. Our sense of justice is often subjective.

I can’t afford to purchase a new house on the beach, but I have the right to do so. No law forbids me from doing so or permits only those with a certain level of wealth to do so. I can’t act well enough to be the next Batman, but I have the right to do so. No law forbids me or allows only actors of a certain ability. I can’t run fast enough, catch well enough, etc. to play in the upcoming Superbowl, but I have the right to do so. No law forbids me from doing so or permits only those with a minimum physique, etc. If I wanted to, I could take acting lessons, I could hit the gym, I could invest wisely, and gain the skills to be the next Batman, or the muscle to be the Superbowl MVP, or the wealth to buy that beach house. There is no law that forbids from doing any of those -I am limited only by my current bank accounts, skills, fitness.

Wealth, like skill, good looks, physical strength and intelligence, conveys advantages or privileges, not rights. Beauty, physical stature and abilities, natural intelligence, aptitude and ingenuity, are all often inherited from our parents. Why shouldn’t wealth be, if they have it to give? Who has the right to decide how to dispose of their wealth?

You argue your point very well! And I do appreciate the distinction between “ability” and “availability” that you are making. If rights are only meant to convey equivalent “availability” rather than equivalent “ability,” then my side of this argument has no merit.

Except protected rights ARE also meant to convey equivalent ability, and not just the same availability. We are not talking about sports, or fame, or in fact the earning of wealth itself — all of which could fairly fall within the “ability” framework of your argument. We are instead talking about equality under the law, which has always expressly implied more than just equal “availability.” Some examples:

1. If I can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed on my behalf. Why? Using your argument, I should be able to bone up on the law and defend myself, or take out a loan against my house to hire a good attorney, etc. Right? Except that’s not a realistic expectation, and so public defenders have been part of proposed equal ABILITY of an adequate self-defense. These attorneys would not exist if equivalent ability was not part of the equation of equal justice.

2. In the same way, a variety of special protections exist under the law for the disabled, children, the elderly, and so forth. Why? If these individuals are expected to somehow rise to the occasion when given the same “availability” of their protected rights — regardless of their objective abilities (or lack thereof) — why should they receive any special treatment at all? Because part of equal rights under the law is to attempt (successfully or not) to level the playing field with respect to one’s ability to execute or achieve those rights.

3. In an admittedly extreme extension of logic, if I am accused of vehicular homicide but subsequently end up in a coma from a brain aneurysm, according to your reasoning I should be tried in absentia for my crimes. It’s not the court’s fault (or the victim’s family’s fault, or society’s fault) that I can’t stand trial. Justice must be served. Except, as I’m sure you would agree, I must be “competent to stand trial” before that trial can proceed. Ergo: I must have adequate “ability” to answer for my alleged crime.

So, to put a very fine point on it, in any court of law, if my advantage in ability is extraordinary, and my opponent has profound deficits in their ability, there is not going to be anything close to “equality under the law” unless a judge makes special provisions on my opponent’s behalf, or both parties are forced into one of many leveling processes (such as mitigation, expedited jury trials, etc.). This is a well-known problem with many imperfect solutions. And, unfortunately, a hefty wallet can almost always find ways around these leveling approaches.

In reality, corporate officers of corporations who have knowingly killed tens of thousands of people through deliberate malfeasance (tobacco, pharmaceutical, and petrochemical industries for example) have never been held accountable for their genocidal profit campaigns. But innocent people who can’t afford a good defense have ended up on death row with alarming frequency. So anyone sincerely concerned with justice must ask: “Why is this so?”

Well…it’s for precisely the same reason that the wealthiest corporations often pay little to no taxes: they can afford the expertise to skirt “equality under tax law” and tilt the scales in their favor.

I hope this clarifies things a bit.

What are some things conservatives are right about?

Sadly, almost nothing. I’m not talking about the values that conservatives espouse — such as the importance of family and personal responsibility, the importance of the rule of law and being fiscally responsible, the valuing of the U.S. Constitution and expectations of personal liberty, etc. — many of which I myself agree with. No, the real problem is how conservatives allow themselves to be hoodwinked into believing utterly false claims about causality and therefore into promoting policies and praxis resulting in outcomes that completely undermine and contradict the values they espouse.

Take the example of abortion. Reducing the frequency of abortions seems like a good thing to almost everyone, regardless of where they are in the ideological or political spectrum. The problem is that the conservative approach — to overturn Roe v. Wade and, ultimately, to ban abortions altogether — simply isn’t effective. In fact, decades of data demonstrate that communities where Planned Parenthood has a long-term presence have evidenced a steady reduction in total abortions over time…even as populations in those areas grow…so that per capita abortions steeply decline. So this “liberal/progressive” approach to reducing abortions actually works, even though it flies in the face of conservative claims about “how liberals just want to kill more babies,” or that Planned Parenthood is an evil emblem of this baby-killing frenzy. And we know that, historically, women will still seek abortions whether they are legal or not. Lastly, SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade in the way that it did essentially threatens several longstanding protections of personal liberties (gay marriage, mixed race marriage, parental decision-making, right to contraception, etc.). So despite the rhetorical “virtue signaling” of the abortion bans we see being legislated in conservative states, real-world evidence and outcomes tend to contradict what conservatives claim the root of the problem to be, and their solutions undermine the very personal liberty conservatives claim to support!

And this is true across the board — in the flavor of crony shareholder capitalism that conservative policies promote, in the level of government corruption and law-breaking that politicians elected by conservatives carry out, in the failure of conservative economic policies, in their persistant undermining of democratic institutions, etc. The way conservatives go about reifying their values nearly always either falls short or makes things much worse — often smacking of hypocrisy and invoking high levels of cognitive dissonance within the conservative tribe. Thus conservatives seem to demonstrate a really terrible track record in areas where they are constantly accusing or attacking liberals and progressives. And this hypocritical spiral has extended all the way up to conservative Supreme Court Justices, who are shamelessly “activist” in their revision of 200 years of stare decisis (yet only regarding conservative hot-button issues, and little else). It’s more than a little astonishing.

Why does this happen with such frequency? Why are conservatives so often mistaken? Well…because the folks who work very hard (and spend lots of money) hoodwinking conservatives are benefitting from the false narratives about causality and preferred policy approaches.

Let’s look at just one potent example that spells this out really clearly. Consider that firearms manufacturers — via intense lobbying, funding of pro-gun candidates, generation of endless Second Amendment propaganda and fear-mongering, and long-term intimate relationships with “gun rights” organizations — have been very successful in persuading conservatives that civilians “need” to own lots of weapons, including military weapons. According to gun makers, owning a military weapon is a Constitutional right that is constantly under threat from gun-fearing libtards and the nanny state! But wait…who is this really benefiting from these endless and well-funded persuasion efforts? Well the firearms manufacturers of course! All that propaganda and lobbying directly increases firearm manufacturer profits in a world where starting wars that enlist mass armies has become much less popular, and the sale of military weapons to such armies has consequently become much less profitable. Gun manufacturers just needed to find a new market…and by hoodwinking conservatives, they did just that.

And this is how almost all conservative groupthink is generated…and how the conservative voting base is “energized:” it’s mostly just simple hoodwinking for profit. When we follow the money behind any conservative propaganda, it always leads to folks who want to enrich themselves directly — or empower themselves politically so that they can further enrich themselves.


Some additional examples of conservative hypocrisy illustrated below from this website: www.realmajority.us

On the agenda and tactics of neoliberalism: https://level-7.org/Challenges/Neoliberalism/

On the nature of conservative “culture wars” and conning Christians into supporting right-wing agendas:

How can we fight disinformation and misinformation without censoring people?

There are a number of approaches that have worked in the past in the U.S. and in other countries, and they very likely could help now. I’ve listed some below. However, defensive tribalism around conspiracy groupthink has progressed to a level where it will likely take a generation or more to fish the crazies and their families out of the rabbit hole they’ve chosen to inhabit.

Some helpful tools:

1. Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine for anyone who claims to be a “news” outlet (including Youtube channels, etc.) AND have the FCC oversee something similar for moderating social media.

2. Educate people about how to identify state-sanctioned disinformation techniques, partisan propaganda, logical fallacies, and the human psychology behind things like Dunning-Kruger effect and the illusory truth effect. At the same time, educate them about how to find more reliable sources of information. I’ve written about much of this here: https://level-7.org/Challenges/Opposition/

3. Increase critical thinking skills training at all levels of education.

4. Use humor to expose and diffuse false information

5. Hold people (and companies) criminally accountable for hate speech or any misinformation they propagate that results in people being injured, targeted, shamed, etc.

6. End privately funded political campaigns and all political advertising funded by superPACs, and instead allow only publicly funded campaigns for political office, with equal and balanced time for all candidates across all media (part of what the Fairness Doctrine used to promote).

I think that’s a start. But it is important to appreciate that there is a deep and abiding hunger among a lot of folks to sustain and amplify gossip, prejudice, anger, dissatisfaction, and “Us vs. Them” rhetoric. Unhappy people like to collect others with similar grievances and fears around themselves. It’s a very old and enduring human trait. And in order to combat that, humanity just needs to grow up a bit — morally and culturally. We all need to become a bit more prosocial as a species, and cultivate conditions that promote what I call “moral creativity.” I write about this here: https://level-7.org/Philosophy/Prosociality/

My 2 cents.

What are the causes of inflation in the US?

You’ll notice there isn’t one simple answer…but unfortunately that’s what a lot of folks would like — and certainly what political pundits and talkshow hosts are willing to sell us. :-(

Recent causes for inflation in the U.S. — really none of which can be “blamed” on any one political party or candidate — include:

1) Government stimulus spending during the COVID pandemic. This put more $$ in people’s hands to spend and many of them did.

2) Reluctance of Federal Reserve to address inflation sooner. Many influential economists (and folks in Fed itself) believed initial spikes of inflation were “transitory.” But they were wrong.

3) Russian aggression against Ukraine and consequent sanctions. The war itself was hugely disruptive to supplies of everything from oil and natural gas to grain, palladium (used in fuel cells and catalytic converters) and potash (a component of fertilizer production) — and the sanctions levied against Russia then amplified this effect.

4) Supply chain and transport problems around the globe. In addition to the war in Ukraine, a lot of this of this was COVID-related on a global scale, but some of it was also more localized. For example, there were oil refinery problems in the U.S. that added to oil production woes, a particular region of China that couldn’t produce microchips for several months, etc. Regardless, even as demand ramped up, supply chains remained choked…and many of those conditions continue to persist.

5) Pent up demand during COVID. This is actually a biggie, because that pent up demand is still in play — folks are still spending gobs of $$$ on things they couldn’t do during the pandemic, like travel and eating out.

6) Conspiracy thinking. This is actually a pretty nasty feature of U.S. culture that is really hurting the U.S. economy. As just one example, the resistance to COVID vaccination was really, really stupid and probably prolonged the negative economic impacts of COVID on the U.S. economy — and extended all COVID-related inflationary factors — for many more months than necessary.

7) Global economic shifts and expanding excessive consumption. Some twenty years ago the U.S. was able to source really cheap labor and raw materials from developing countries like China, Korea, India, etc. This resulted in much cheaper prices for U.S. consumers. But, as a consequence, Americans who make up only 5% of the global population were using some 50% of global resources. But now, the economies of the developing world have grown tremendously, and billions of their citizens are now much wealthier and expect a higher standard of living — along with higher wages. And of course those new consumers now have need of those same resources that were previously dedicated to supplying goods to Americans. Add to this that, globally, those raw materials are becoming more scarce even as demand for them grows around the globe. So…do you see the problem here? Americans can no longer expect cheap goods from China in particular the way they once did…so prices would have risen in the U.S. regardless of any of the other factors listed here. And the cost of doing business in the U.S. is just rising…period. Developing countries aren’t even willing to buy our garbage anymore! So guess who has to pay more for dealing with that garbage? We do.

8-) Anti-immigrant policies and sentiment in the U.S.. This is actually one of the dumbest “let’s shoot ourselves in the foot” developments in American politics. Blaming immigrants for our problems isn’t just mistaken, it’s really harmful to the U.S. economy. Particularly in agriculture, the U.S. relies almost entirely on immigrant workers to keep Americans fed…and big ag really has never cared if those workers were legal or not. So when politicians amplify fear over a “crisis at the border” and enact policies that keep immigrants from supplying U.S. companies with much-needed cheap labor, guess who pays the price? American consumers of course.

9) OPEC oil production policies. On the heals of oil sanctions against Russia, OPEC’s decision to cut back production was a really, really bad idea — basically a “punch in the gut” to the global economy at the worst possible time.

10) Corporate greed. This includes things like reluctance of banks to pass on increased interest rates to consumers. You may have noticed that mortgage lenders are happy to charge 7%+ on 30-year mortgages, but savings accounts in banks are still only providing less than an unchanged 1% interest. Then you have oil companies raking in ridiculously high profits (the highest in their entire history!) just because they can. This level of greed has plagued corporate America for a long time, but it seems particularly bad right now. And of course it’s not restricted to the U.S. And all of this opportunistic greed is what’s helping make prices on everything very high…and likely will keep those prices from going down even when all of the other inflationary pressures are relieved.

11) Labor shortages and consequent increases in salary. This has been falsely blamed on COVID stimulus and folks choosing not to work because they were receiving COVID relief and unemployment benefits. In reality, this is a much more complicated situation that involves a host of factors — things like folks leaving the workforce due to burnout (especially among what we discovered to be “essential workers” during COVID), early retirement, a sea change in attitudes about work commitment (i.e. “the great resignation” and other gen z attitude shifts), worker deaths and disability from COVID, and major career path shifts due to COVID impacts on certain industries (for example, restaurant workers who were laid off during COVID choosing new careers).

12) Some unfortunately timed fulfillments of campaign promises. On one side, student loan forgiveness could likely become an inflation stimulator if those are allowed to proceed. On the other side, any and all tax cuts have almost certainly helped induce inflation. Here we really can blame the politicians on both the Left and the Right…even though they are just following through on their campaign promises to voters.

13) Financial “psychologics” that are disconnected from reality. This is more subtle, but the U.S. stock market is a very good example. As a consequence of both institutional “build it and they will come” optimism and a huge spike in irrationally exuberant retail investors, the stock market has almost zero correlation with real-world economic indicators. This has been a long-term problem for sure, but essentially the opportunity to make a lot of money in speculative investing, which in turn supercharges valuation and reduces perceived risk, leads to everyone (consumers, corporations, government agencies, etc.) operating as if everything is golden and wonderful…when really the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes (or is wearing moldy rags…!). This false optimism and misplaced enthusiasm actually places a lot of upward pressure on everything from consumer prices to worker salaries, even as it encourages company’s to spend gobs of money because, well, they falsely believe in their own inflated valuation. It’s a pretty nasty cycle!

There are additional factors (after I finished writing this post I realized several more that should have been included) but this captures some pretty substantive issues. And, as you can see, we can’t really pin things on any one thing. It’s complicated. And we certainly can’t blame any one party or individual political leaders for inflation. That’s just a really ignorant knee-jerk response out fear and frustration.

My 2 cents.

Are there spiritual and non-material impacts of consumerism in the life of the individual and society? What are these impacts if any?


It’s difficult to summarize just how extensive the impacts of consumerism on the individual and society are. I think the easiest way to begin that conversation is to list some semantic containers that encompass negative aspects of consumerism. Three of the most well-defined containers are economic materialism, conspicuous consumption, and commodification. Here is a brief overview of each:




In essence, these three habits alone contribute to an accelerating amplification of deleterious “non-material” impacts on the individual and society, which include:

1. The general devaluing of human trust relationships in favor of transactional relationships — in other words, the eroding of interpersonal trust and, by extension, community and societal trust. This of course expands into regional, national, and international attitudes and practices as well, so that we come to rely solely on transactional evidence of trust, rather than a more cultural cooperation, interdependence, and exchange.

2. The “externalization” of all personal and collective priorities, growth, meaning, and power, rather than development of internal qualities. For example, the belief that one’s possessions, material wealth, and physical characteristics are more important in attracting friends and romantic partners than internal qualities like honesty, compassion, empathy, generosity, and so forth. Or that one’s self-worth is likewise dependent on consuming and owning material things, rather than on the qualities of one’s own character. Or that social status and popularity propelled by such externals are more important than the quality and depth of our interpersonal relationships (that is, the shared feelings of connection and commitment our friendships evoke). This externalizing attitude is then expanded to include all of society and our national identity: instead of demonstrating good citizenship (in our community, or as a nation in global affairs) we become more concerned with clawing after power, status, and control, as those are our “external” proofs of success in the world…rather than the quality of relationship our nation has with other nations.

3. The overall cheapening of human life and disrespect for our fellow human beings — or anything in life that doesn’t achieve sufficient “exchange value.” This is perhaps the most egregious impact of consumerism, when our prioritization of acquiring material things, reliance on consumption for social status, and projection of material valuation and standards on others erodes our fundamental respect and compassion for others and any valuations of the intangible benefits of being live. Consider that commodification intentionally erases the constructive societal value of everything in favor of its “exchange” value in the marketplace — what better way is there to cheapen and denigrate the intrinsic value of everything in life (art, love, joy, intimacy, humanity, compassion, etc.) than to force everything into tidy, sterile boxes of monetary valuation? Paul Piff at UC Berkeley has done some interesting research related to this, documenting the negative impact of personal wealth on prosocial behaviors.

4. An undermining of happiness as individuals and society as a whole. The vast majority of long-term research in this arena has demonstrated that enduring happiness does not rely on consuming or possessing material things. Instead, happiness is primarily dependent on strong interpersonal bonds with other people — and the deepening trust, intimacy, and contentment this produces. Consuming things does stimulate short bursts of dopamine, but not oxytocin, which loving human relationships stimulate. Interestingly, healthy oxytocin levels actually reduce our need to consume calories. Perhaps it also reduces our “need” to consume other material things….?

5. Interference with spiritual, emotional, and moral development (again as individuals and society as a whole). This is a more subtle principle, and I can only speak from personal observation and experience on this matter. A materialism-consumerism orientation to the world will reliably retard our spiritual, emotional, and moral growth, keeping us “infantilized” and forever dependent. This is really an extension of the “externalization” principle alluded to earlier, but with a much more insidious and profound impact. I think this is why nearly every spiritual tradition encourages relinquishing our acquisitiveness and our trust in material possessions for any sense of self-worth or existential security. If we can’t learn to “let go” of our need to acquire and possess stuff, we will never cultivate the internal growth necessary to be spiritually, emotionally, and morally mature. Why? The mechanisms become intuitively obvious to anyone who has practiced such “letting go” with persistent discipline, but I would equate the process to a child’s individuating from their parents. There is a quality of interior self-sufficiency and an independence of will that is unattainable if we remain attached to material things. We simply cannot become mature adults if we are forever suckling at the teat of consumerism.

Some additional reading related to this topic, in no particular order:



My 2 cents.

In your opinion, what is dividing society currently?

An “Us vs. Them” mentality amplified by regressive cultural norms, for-profit media (including social media) that relies on provoking extreme emotional reactions in order to make money, disinformation campaigns funded by both U.S. corporations and foreign governments in order to consolidate power or disrupt threats to power, underlying and toxic levels of individualism and materialism inherent to commercialistic culture, technologically and commercially driven change occurring at a breakneck pace that inherently alienates folks with non-adaptive constitutions, demographic shifts that also make many people feel uneasy or insecure about their assumed position of privilege in society, exponential complexity and interdependency across all of society that is disorienting and destabilizes cultural traditions and norms, and an unsustainable economic system that has been breaking down for some time….

In other words: a perfect storm.

All of these pressures combine to create real tension and pain across multiple segments of society, and exacerbate differences in how people react to that tension and pain. For one type of group in particular, the disruption and discomfort is very acute — those with a naturally tribalistic, fear-based, morally immature disposition (i.e. a strong “I/Me/Mine” or “We/Us/Ours” moral bias). There is a growing visceral and irrational reactivity among this group, which mainly inhabits the conservative end of the political spectrum (about 35% of conservatives) but is also present in the liberal/progressive end of the political spectrum (about 14% of progressives). These folks are unfortunately mired in low emotional and general intelligence, high levels of willful ignorance, reflexive greed, racial and cultural prejudices, fear, pathological selfishness, and an enduring sense of victimhood and self-righteous indignation. I personally have begun to wonder if the amplification of these negative traits are at least partly the result of epigenetic breakdown of the human genome as a consequence of environmental toxins and stress — but that is another, more challenging topic to explore another time.

But of course such traits are being manipulated by the aforementioned media and disinformation campaigns, along with commercialistic culture, which use them to energize a collective Dunning-Kruger effect and illusory truth effect that result in automatic consumption of untruths, snowballing extremist views, conspiracy thinking, and an increasingly volatile and polarized mindset that unfortunately tends to vote, consume, and donate money entirely contrary to those people’s own best interests, and in contradiction to their deeply held and frequently expressed values.

For more on all of this, please read:




My 2 cents.

What does freedom mean to you, and what do you expect from your government?

Freedom is a type of cultural currency — a coin with two sides.

On one side of the coin is insulation from economic insecurity, acute lack of opportunity, and deprivation of social capital. I call this “freedom from poverty,” where poverty comes in many forms but always has the same effect: it robs us of the operational capacity to exercise most freedoms, and interferes mightily with exercising liberty. Another way to describe this is for everyone in society to be provided the same existential foundations and available choices — a level playing field across many dimensions of life that liberates us from being oppressed and restricted in real terms.

The other side of the liberty coin is collective agreement to support the liberty of others, regardless of who those others are and whether they are “just like me.” This equates a high level of tolerance and acceptance of differences between people. However, the presumption is that many core values are shared across all differences, so that this collective agreement is not too onerous, distasteful, or amoral. We agree to operate a certain way as a society so that everyone else’s freedoms are maximized. This is the basis of the rule of law.

Good government’s role is to facilitate both sides of the freedom coin when society is not able to do so on its own. When societies are culturally immature — as is the case with the U.S.A where I live — they require a bit more involvement from government to create both freedom from poverty and an effective rule of law. When the citizenry is morally immature and generally ignorant, government intervenes to create “civil society” by bolstering these two arenas. Over time, as societies mature into a more morally advanced arrangement and all citizens acquire broader foundations of knowledge, government’s role can attenuate as both sides of the liberty coin become the de facto reality of cultural practices and standards; that is, civil society can be supported increasingly by perversive culture rather than by government.

The common denominator for all such arrangements is progressive democracy, where citizens have increasingly direct control over how both freedom from poverty and the rule of law are implemented in their community, region, and nation. Democracy becomes a sort of banking system that stores up and protects this wealth of liberty and regulates how it is exchanged and shared within society. But again, democracy can only be effective in this regard when citizens are maturing morally and accumulating sound knowledge.

How to effectively encourage, fortify, and enhance the moral creativity of society so that our “freedom coin” is actually increasing in value has been a long-term aim of my research and writing. For more on this and all-of-the-above, please see the resources below.


Level 7 Philosophy

The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty

Private Property as Violence

My 2 cents.

What is the case to be made against democracy? Is there a legitimate case to be made for denying power to the people?

What Aristotle wrote about some of the weaknesses of democracy is summarized here:

Was Aristotle right when he said "democracy inevitably degenerates into despotism"? Why?

His conclusion covered in that post, however, is this: “Yet possibly these objections are to a great extent met by our old answer, that if the people are not utterly degraded, although individually they may be worse judges than those who have special knowledge — as a body they are as good or better.”

It’s tentative, but this is really the basis for a functional democracy. In the same vein, Thomas Jefferson famously said: "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people," which is really a variation on the same themes that Aristotle opines about regarding democracy.

The greatest argument against democracy, therefore, is an ignorant and ‘utterly degraded’ electorate. And, unfortunately, we have seen strong evidence of this in far-right populism around the globe, rather profoundly in the MAGA movement in the U.S., and in the blindly unquestioning support of murderous dictators like Putin by a majority (roughly 70%) of the Russian people. We are living through a period where exactly what Aristotle and Jefferson warned us about is taking place.

My 2 cents.

Comment from David Daniel

"Very educational. But it doesn't really address my question. What is the argument against democracy? Is there one to be had? It is obvious to me that our current democracy has been degraded in a way that Aristotle predicted but is this, in itself, an adequate argument against undertaking the project of democracy.?

I suppose it can be said that many have predicted the failure of democracy but, if it does fail it will be the failure of the participants who make it so. Does that mean that it was a bad idea in the first place? Does that mean that we are not socially and politically evolved enough to run a democracy? Have we just failed at this run through and it should be tried again? Or are we all just better off to live in our misery and let someone else make the decisions for us?"

Good points and here is how I would address them…

1. The problems we are having with democracy (and which indeed were predicted) are not an inherent flaw of democracy itself. They are, rather, a problem of implementing democracy without paying attention to the ongoing education of citizens and moral evolution of a given culture. Without attention to and investment in education and moral maturity, democracy will ultimately fail.

2. In our current landscape, the biggest challenge has been implementing democracy in concert with capitalism. Despite neoliberal rhetoric to the contrary, democracy and capitalism are fundamentally at odds with each other, and that tension has currently resolved in favor of empowering the owner-shareholder class, rather than the worker-consumer class. Why? Well because the very “education” and information available to most of society — and the perpetuation of many cultural institutions — arrives via a mass media that is completely subjugated to the profit motive. And these de facto sources of plutocratic influence are intensively engaged in distorting information and education to deceive and manipulate the voting public to vote against their own best interests, and support self-serving plutocratic agendas instead.

3.We could say that a “perfect” democracy is as romantic an ideal as a benevolent dictatorship, that is true. But IMO a democracy will inherently be more agile, responsive, resilient, and ultimately successful…IF (and only if) other forces don’t interfere with it. Currently, those with the highest concentrations of political, social, and material capital have far too much influence over executive governance, legislation, elections, education, advertising, mass media, and persuasive information in the world’s democracies. We essentially have subjugated democratic institutions to “crony capitalism.” If we could diffuse material concentrations of wealth and political concentrations of influence, democratic institutions could easily begin to recover on their own.

4. How can we know any of these assumptions are valid? Because of research by folks like Elinor Ostrom and the broader examples of successful left-anarchist societies. Ostrom documented countless organically-arising examples of what she called “common pool resource management” all around the globe. In these examples, there was no government involvement, and no property ownership, but instead self-directed, democratic or consensus resource management of common natural resources by small communities. Likewise, the examples of left-anarchist societies (List of anarchist communities) that deliberately diffused political and economic power, and again made all decisions democratically or via consensus, show us that democracy can thrive when it is not corroded and corrupted by the profit motive and generational accumulations/concentrations of capital.

My 2 cents.

Can the ends justify the means?

I would say rarely if ever. Remember that the very definition of this term is (from Merriam-Webster): if “a desired result is so good or important that any method, even a morally bad one, may be used to achieve it…” The clear implication is that specifically morally questionable means are justified by a “good or important” end.

But that’s just hogwash. All intentions and subsequent actions must be guided by a moral framework, or morality just doesn’t exist. Folks will often rationalize immoral or destructive means to achieve a goal they believe is important — but rationalization is all they are engaged in, not serious moral reasoning. The value of an outcome is utterly compromised by such toxic self-justificaiton — the outcome cannot be evaluated in isolation from the means used to achieve it.

Imagine if you will the most beautiful sculpture ever created — let’s say it’s of a benevolent angel. The sculpture brings everyone to tears of awe when they see it, causes emotional wounds to heal, calms bitterness and hatred between angry combatants who enter into its presence, and even inspires people to perform profound acts of kindness and generosity after seeing it.

The problem? The sculpture is made from the skin, blood, and bones of a thousand children who were tortured and killed to provide those materials. Someone who confidently claims that “the end justify the means” could shrug that torture and murder of children off…but by any definition they would be considered a psychopath.

So when someone begins to tout that philosophy, be very wary. They are well on their way to amoral chaos or serious mental illness…if they haven’t already arrived there.

My 2 cents.

Do progressives have a limiting principle, a point where "this much change is sufficient" or is progressivism simply a direction without a limit?

Digging into the assumptions behind this question we discover some interesting contradictions — and likely a misunderstanding of the causality in play regarding certain outcomes.

The greatest drivers of change in the developed world actually do not include “progressivism.” That is a complete misunderstanding of causality in both history and current conditions. The biggest drivers of change include:

1.The profit motive as expressed in corporate commercialism — which has completely changed both the political power structure in the U.S. and globally through concentrations of wealth and plutocratic influence, and completely changed culture through “newer is better” Kool-Aid and commercialized homogenization across previously diverse cultures as well. When cookie-cutter legislation written by and for corporations (via A.L.E.C.) is passed in every state legislature, and every U.S. consumer is using the same products, listening to the same corporate-controlled media, and working under conditions and wages dictated by corporate investors, then “progressive” agendas really represent just a tiny drop of influence in the hurricane of dynamic capitalism — it is capitalism that is the juggernaut instigating and steering the direction of much of our culture and politics.

2. Technology — the industrial revolution, the information age, the rise of automation, and complex systems managed by algorithms and AI…you really can’t place any of these at the feet of progressives either. Our species is addicted to technological innovation. And it is a pretty unstoppable force at this point in terms of the impact it has on culture, learning, information propagation, and indeed human development. Progressives may celebrate technology in their policy proposals — but no more than conservatives celebrate and reinforce technology with their spending habits.

3. Scientific inquiry and knowledge — this has created enormous common sense incentives for changing certain traditional practices and revising traditional views about how the world works. When science discovers that a new way of doing things (or a new way of thinking about things) is advantageous and beneficial to everyone, then this creates tension with previous conceptions, habits, and beliefs. Here progressives do tend to be more emphatic than conservatives about promoting science and scientific understanding, that is true. But it is scientific discovery itself that is most often introducing and propagating the change.

These three forces have accelerated cultural shifts that likely would have taken decades or centuries to occur in pre-industrial mass societies. Have progressives often championed certain themes, practices, perspectives, and values that were accelerated by the breakneck growth of capitalism, science, and technology? Well sure…but saying progressives were responsible for these changes is putting the cart before the horse.

I noticed in some of the comments in this thread that critical race theory was raised as a concern. Let’s put that into the context I have sketched out here. Slavery was a key component in the development of capitalism (see Beckert, Baptiste, Johnson, et al for this linkage) — but in particular it was integral to the economic strength and success of Southern states. Technology (industrialization) was responsible for the economic strength of Northern states — and for an alternative to slavery in the production of goods — both of which rapidly undermined the usefulness of slavery and its economic status and preference. And of course industrial production was also integral to the development of capitalism. Interestingly, it was conservative Christians who were frequently at the forefront of championing equal human rights and emancipation of slaves in the first anti-slavery political movements. However, you’ll notice there aren’t any progressives involved here…in fact the progressive movement hadn’t even started yet. So the cultural shift away from slavery was driven by technology, an evolving economic system, and conservative values in this instance…and not progressives.

And this is the pattern that repeats itself even when progressives came on the scene: it was other primary forces that sparked changed, rather than progressivism itself. Progressivism arose in part as an affirmative response to some of these forces (technology and science in particular), and in part as a countervailing response to the abuses of capitalism. Progressivism was itself a consequence of these forces — one of many changes they inspired.

With respect to the evolution of CRT, all that progressives did was apply scientific inquiry to history in an attempt to identify patterns that kept occurring over time. That’s it. In the case of critical race theory, the understanding of history around the oppression of people of color seemed to indicate that white people sought to maintain their privileged advantage in society simply — this wasn’t always a conscious thing, but it seemed evident in many civic institutions and cultural practices. But this pattern of tacit prejudice did become an enormous blindspot in mainstream understanding, with even the history and practice of slavery being an example of this oversight. Unfortunately, there are a lot of other institutional, political, and legal examples of oppression that can also be explained as protecting the social and economic advantages of white people — so the hypothesis (which is really all CRT actually is) has gained a lot of traction over time. It’s just a pretty good explanation of certain dynamics in U.S. history.

But is the approach valid? I think the point is that CRT can be reasonably discussed and debated. But as the current anti-CRT movement also vehemently opposes any examination of racism in the U.S., we could say that, whether intended or not, the anti-CRT movement is itself an example of (mainly) white people suppressing any exposure of their own privilege and advantage in society — both historical and current — and/or the prejudice they may perpetuate without even being aware of it.

So, on the one hand, progressives do tend to promote technology and scientific understanding as solutions for longstanding problems. But, on the other, they often oppose corporate commercialism’s influence on how things change, even as conservatives tend to promote unchecked growth and change when it benefits the profit motive. So no one is innocent of advocating for change. In a way both progressives and consrervatives are equally both promoters and gatekeepers of change.
Lastly, trying to claim progressivism is some sort of Marxist academic takeover of America (i.e. the “cultural Marxism” attack) is utter hogwash. A thoughtful and observant person doesn’t have to be Marxist to see the problems inherent to capitalism, neoliberalism, and plutocracy.

So, as usual, such things are more nuanced than any black-and-white rhetoric. Putting a more nuanced spin on it, this question could be restated this way: “Does the runaway innovation and cultural change fueled by technology, science, and capitalism have no limits? Will the hunger for constant change inspired by these forces remain unchecked? Do conservatives recognize that their opposition to cultural change is contradicted and undermined by their support of commercialism, corporate agendas, and expanding the political power of owner-shareholders? And do progressives recognize their role in moderating the corrosive influence of plutocracy as inherently ‘conservative’…?“

My 2 cents.

Which policy preference do you feel progressives are on the wrong side of history with and why?

I’ll restrict my comments to progressives in the U.S.A. as that is what I know the most about.

At the granular level, there have been a number of progressive policies that started out with good intentions but eventually led to unintended consequences — especially when there were major economic and/or cultural shifts over time. One example is recycling: it used to make a lot of economic sense because the U.S. exported its raw recycling materials to China, but China has long since shut that gravy train down, leaving certain types of recycling like plastics completely untenable. Additionally, the early recycling of post-consumer paper waste actually produced a lot of toxic pollution that was potentially more ecologically damaging than harvesting trees. Then again, recycling programs have reduced landfill materials and extended the life of many dumps in large municipalities for decades…so it’s a mixed bag. But because recycling remains popular as a virtue-signaling activity among progressives, progressive politicians are hesitant to champion new policies that correct for new conditions on the ground. I think there are several examples similar to this, but it is by no means a majority of progressive policies, just a select few that remain problematic.

In terms of overarching policies, however, I think there are three areas where progressive ideology (or at least the beliefs of most progressives who hold public office) has been corrupted by neoliberal propaganda in very destructive ways:

1. The idea that corporations should be treated as “persons” in terms of free speech, political contributions and lobbying, receiving welfare, receiving aid when they are in distress (i.e. bailouts), and so on — when this is clearly the most toxic and corrosive thing that can happen in democracy, as it allows huge concentrations of wealth to create huge concentrations of influence and power (i.e. super PACs funded by dark money, the astonishing reach of the American Legislative Exchange Council, etc.). It has already turned the U.S.A. into a plutocracy, with really no end in sight.

2. The idea that a progressive arrogance or superiority complex has alienated rural white voters — when that alienation is instead clearly the result of rightwing propaganda around an invented “culture war,” along with the economic suffering created by rightwing economic policies like supply side economics, opposition to minimum wage, dismantling of unions, etc.

3. The idea that radical rightwing distortions of fact, deliberately manipulative disinformation, and extreme and hateful views need to somehow be “heard” or incorporated into our political dialogue — when in reality this far right ideology (anti-government, anti-democracy, seditionist, xenophobic, racist, religious fundamentalist, Trump cultist, willfully ignorant, etc.) is profoundly opposed to the values expressed by the U.S. Constitution and to democratic civil society itself…and really shouldn’t be honored, acknowledged, or accepted as “reasonable” within a sane political discourse. Instead, this increasingly deranged extremism should be called out — and dismissed — for what it really is: spastic wackadoodle wholesale destruction of democracy fomented in broken brains by the plutocratic masters of hoodwinking propaganda.

Essentially, then, progressives do make errors in some policies that they then fail to correct because of the virtue-signaling popularity of those policies….But the much more significant failure of progressives is buying into the idea that plutocracy, disinformation, deception, hate-centric beliefs, strident proclamations from ignorance, liberal-shaming, and outright lunacy should be “welcomed” on equal footing into our political discourse. This greater mistake of tolerating and engaging with the far right’s broken brain ideas — if it continues —will inevitably lead to the final downfall of the United States itself.

My 2 cents.

Of late, I’ve been questioning my spiritual practice, feeling anxious and emotional, tearful, and I don't know why? Could this be "the dark night of the soul"?

Thank you for this question.

Unfortunately, like many physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual challenges, it is nearly impossible to “diagnose” what is going on without a lot more information — and it is questionable whether online discussions can provide an adequate back-and-forth to get to the bottom of something. Then there is the issue of getting multiple opinions…some of which are informed and experienced, and some of which are not.

That said, what you are describing could be any of the following:

1. A consequence of emotional stress (at work, in close relationships, etc.).

2. A consequence of changes to habits of diet, sleep, exercise.

3. A lack of adequate exposure to sunlight that has induced Seasonally Affective Disorder.

4. A vitamin D or vitamin B12 deficiency.

5. A temporary and natural “blip” in one’s confidence or faith regarding past assumptions and experiences in spiritual matters.

6. A consequence of some two years of COVID-related disruption to collective and interpersonal well-being.

7. A genetic predisposition to depression that is just now manifesting itself.

8. Unresolved childhood trauma that is percolating up after years of being repressed/denied.

9. A consequence of too much alcohol or other substance (or of ending a dependency on a substance — like quitting smoking).

10. The side effects of a chronic infection or inflammatory disorder.

And we could easily explore another dozen possibilities. Hopefully you see the problem here in terms of there not being enough information to make even a guess about what is going on.

So…I would recommend first seeing a primary care physician and getting a standard physical and blood tests (a standard metabolic panel, for example, will indicate certain deficiencies, infections, etc.). If that doesn’t prove useful, I would then see a well-recommended therapist. And, if none of those produce any fruit, then yes, there may possibly be a spiritual component to what you are going through.

However, the dark night of the soul is generally a bit more extreme than the symptoms you describe. It is also rarely (if ever, from my observation) a spontaneous or uninvited experience. The dark night is almost always the consequence of disciplined and sustained spiritual practices over time.

I hope this was helpful.

What do you think of Mankiw's “10 Principles of Economics”?

LOL. Really? Well let me first say that the door to much propaganda in the world today is something very sneaky, something called “reasonableness.” In the case of neoliberal market fundamentalists like Mankiw, that “reasonableness” is describing “principles of economics” that, taken individually and in (academic and ideological) isolation, may seem reasonable. In fact one could debate each of Mankiw’s principles ad nauseum, and still be operating within his ideological framework — because of how he restricts the scope of the conversation. You see the problem? If you ask me “what are the principles of a stable romantic relationship,” I could respond: “Well, first off both people in the relationship need to buy the right kind of clothing. Second, they both need to listen to the same kind of music. Third, there needs to be a clear, preexisting understanding of what each person’s role should be….” And so on. And I could keep elaborating on these “principles” as if they actually correlated with every dimension of a human relationship…when clearly they would not. They would, in reality, be confined by a very narrow perspective on relationship that I was effectively imposing on the conversation. And the more emphatically I insisted that nothing else need be included — while I actively excluded very important additional or alternate factors — the more I could perpetuate a discussion that is boundarized by my own biases. And that is precisely what Mankiw is doing…just like many neoliberals before him. I often flag this sort of behavior as ideologically fascist, with the poster child of the technique — in economics at least — being Milton Friedman.

That said, what issues do I have with Mankiw’s 10 principles themselves? That would be a very lengthy conversation. At a 10,000-foot level, I would say they are “half-truths that add up to delusional bupkis.” More specifically, behavioral economics has clearly demonstrated that consumers are not rational operators, and that principles 1–4 are not only oversimplifications, but actually distort or distract from the microeconomic dynamics that are really in play. Human decision trees are not analytically neat-and-tidy, they are messy, impulsive and emotional; and, in fact, marketing knowingly exploits that unstable irrationality to condition completely counterfactual, counterproductive, unhealthy, demeaning and dangerous consumption patterns in consumers. For crying out loud…this is obvious to anyone who observes or researches real-world consumer responses to corporate coercion and manipulation.

After 1–4, Mankiw gets a bit more sneaky with 5–7. He uses the phrasing “trade can,” “markets are usually,” and “governments can sometimes,” and of course we can’t really argue those points, because…well…they are in fact reasonable. Except…well…are they? It is when Mankiw elaborates on these points further (in his writings, etc.) that we see the depth of his blindness — how he does not appreciate or address the complex interdependencies involved, or the widely demonstrated externalities and causal chains, or in fact the well-established track record of what actually works in the real world…and what really doesn’t. This is where we can get lost in the weeds, but suffice it to say that Mankiw doesn’t begin to fully enumerate all of the inputs and outputs of trade, or the complex landscape of variables that influence those inputs and outputs, or, indeed, the disastrous consequences of what can fairly be described as “Mankiw-esque” market fundamentalist policies we have witnessed in the past. His ideas live in a bubble — applicable to what I call “a unicorn market,” one that has never and will never exist.

Principles 8–10, along with most of Mankiw’s thinking, are just more conceptual trickle-down from outdated classical economics. But (and this is pretty ironic IMO) unlike Smith, Ricardo et al, Mankiw fairly reliably excludes the common good from being part of serious deliberation. In other words, he drifts into the realm of laissez-faire that classical economists actually warned about. Where, as Smith wrote: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” But are points 8–10 accurate in any way? Sure…again if you exclude all sorts of other factors, causes, variables, evidences, etc. that are critical to a complete macroeconomic picture, Mankiw’s points provide a partial, highly tailored framing of causal relationships. So, if a person ignores how markets actually function, the corruptive influences of crony capitalism, how boardroom decisions are actually made, why financialization has displaced production for massive wealth generation, why monopolies occur, where Keynes was proven correct (and what monetary policies actually work), why growth-dependent economies boom-and-bust, etc…and instead pines away for a juicy young unicorn to sate their every neoliberal appetite, well then: Mankiw is the porn for them!

Let me just call out one specific example of Mankiw’s delusional approach. His prescription for most resource allocation challenges is to privatize them — like many neoliberals, Mankiw believes private property is the panacea for all ills. However, Elinor Ostrom demonstrated in her common pool resource management research that the tragedy of the commons need not exist where self-organized, self-managed sharing of common resources is approached a certain way, and she goes on to enumerate observed principles that have been successful. Essentially, there are widely employed systems of access to and utilization of common resources around the globe that completely sidestep the tragedy of the commons without private ownership or government intervention. Hmmm. How could this be? In Mankiw’s unicorn universe, it can’t be, since there will always be free riders and excessive inefficiencies when privatization is absent. But again, Ostrom was just documenting what she observed in the real world, so Mankiw is just, well…wrong. Hence the nature of the problem with most of Mankiw’s thinking — and indeed most market fundamentalist thinking (i.e. Randian objectivists, anarcho-capitalists, individualist economic materialists, Austrian School evangelists, etc.).

My 2 cents.

What do you think about the Cato Institute (their policies and proposals), and can they be considered an influential think tank?

Yes, CATO is extremely influential — often because they do credible and interesting research. However, they are part of the movement started in the early 1970s, inspired by the 1972 “Powell Memo,” that sought to combat the influence of socially liberal movements in the 1960s that constrained corporate power in politics, regulated industry, strengthened civil society, and undermined reckless profit seeking. CATO pretends to be pro-capitalist “right-libertarian” (historically a bit of an oxymoron, as libertarianism had been anti-capitalist for a century until Friedman, Rothbard, et al distorted its principles in service to corporate profit) but really CATO promotes crony capitalism — just like Milton Friedman did. And of course the ongoing influences of wealthy neoliberals like Koch, Bradley, and Scaife have just made that trend continually worse.

As to what I think of them, as I mentioned they actually have produced some interesting research — sometimes revealing counterintuitive causality or unintended consequences regarding certain policies and practicies (along the lines of Freakonomics). But these occasionally interesting and factual insights are overwhelmed by a mission to disrupt civil society and effective governance as we know it, and perpetuate deceptions on various topics (such as climate change, the effectiveness of government and government solutions, the ability of free markets to solve complex problems like health care, education, social security, and so on). On these and other topics that serve a neoliberal agenda, CATO consistently promotes deliberately deceptive or skewed data, and sometimes even misinformation, that transparently serves their donors’ capital accumulation. Below is just one example of deliberate deception — please note that this was from a full page newspaper ad that CATO created, promoted, and paid for:

"We, the undersigned scientists, maintain that the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated. Surface temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest and there has been no net global warming for over a decade now. After controlling for population growth and property values, there has been no increase in damages from severe weather-related events. The computer models forecasting rapid temperature change abjectly fail to explain recent climate behavior. Mr. President, your characterization of the scientific facts regarding climate change and the degree of certainty informing the scientific debate is simply incorrect."

For more, see:

And here is more info on the broader and deeper neoliberal trend that CATO aims to serve…basically, we just need to “follow the money” to understand CATO’s tactics and motivations:


My 2 cents.

Why has tech innovation slowed? Is it because of free market capitalism?

There are a number of reasons why technology innovation has the appearance of slowing down — and in some cases really is slowing down. Among them are:

1. Much of the low hanging fruit (technological solutions to universal human challenges) has already been invented, developed, and refined.

2. Much of what remains is more complicated, takes more time, and costs more to research and develop.

3. There are efforts by well-established industries that dominate a given sector to discourage or constrain innovation — the most obvious example being the petroleum industry’s funding of climate change and alternative energy skepticism.

4. Over the past fifty years, commercialism has created tremendous downward pressure on technology costs while generating extremely high expectations of technology benefits. That’s simply not a winning formula.

5. Complexity and massive interdependence across complex systems in modern technology itself is interfering with both rapid development and disruptive innovation. It just takes longer to ensure integration, compatibility, and even moderate levels of future-proofing.

6. Another consequence complexity is a lack of extensibility, and how that impacts costs. A simple example of this is writing a piece of software that is backwards compatible with several iterations of hardware. At a certain point it becomes too difficult to accomplish in a profitable way, which in turn places an increasing cost burden for innovation on consumers — not just monetarily, but also in new learning curves. Buying a new smartphone or laptop every year is a pretty hefty expectation. Therefore a balance has to be struck between rapidity of innovation based on technology, and rapidity of deployment based on consumer acceptance and willingness to bear all of the costs.

Hope this helps.

Why do we have a national Republican vaccine backlash while the protection of all citizens should be the top priority for any political party?

Actually this question goes to much deeper issues, which IMO are really “the questions behind the question.” Here are some of those:

1. Why do so many Republican rank-and-file allow themselves be influenced by misinformation and conspiracy theories from highly biased media and/or obvious disinformation campaigns?

2. Why do so many Republicans mistrust scientific evidence from multiple credible sources in favor of their armchair Internet rants, ignorant talk show personalities, a handful of tribal authorities, and manufactured propaganda and groupthink?

3. Why do so many Republicans lack the critical thinking skills to recognize the contradictions and hypocrisy in their own beliefs and assumptions — and indeed how those beliefs and assumptions run counter to both their own stated values, an their own best interests?

4. Why did 70 million Republicans allow themselves to be utterly deceived and hoodwinked by a mentally ill, megalomaniacal con artist running for President?

5. Why do Republicans consistently misunderstand causal relationships, so that they are always promoting “solutions” that just make problems worse?

6. Why are Republicans just plain mistaken about so many things, to the point where they are becoming completely disconnected from reality…?
We can use the instance of anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-precaution backlash regarding COVID as an example that sheds light on all of these questions…and some possible answers.

So here goes….

1.A lot of conservative ideology is rooted and energized by fear. You could really pick almost any conservative position and explain at least part of its appeal in how it answers specific fears — or amplifies and justifies them. In the case of vaccines, it’s irrational fear of Bill Gates, of “big bad government” pushing some hidden agenda, of the medical industry hiding risks from consumers, of COVID itself being a conspiracy, and so on. These are all fear-based reasons for resisting common sense measures to lessen the impact of the virus or even stop its spread altogether.

2.Certain “trigger concepts” are used by Republican leaders to garner votes, and by conservative talk-show hosts to increase their viewership to sell more advertising. An example is “the defense of liberty” concept, which is a wonderful ideal but really has nothing to do with taking a vaccine or wearing a mask. We all make minor sacrifices of personal liberties in order for society to function — and wearing a mask or receiving a vaccine is not any different than driving on the right-hand side of the road, stopping at a red light, defecating in a restroom instead of on the sidewalk, hunting during hunting season, or shoveling the public walkways in front of our house in winter. These are not “oppressive and arbitrary” edicts from big bad government, they are common sense choices we make so that civil society can remain…well…civil and reasonably safe. But the point is that the “defense of liberty” trigger is a manipulative call-to-arms to unify an angry, irrational mob who doesn’t realize how utterly silly they are behaving.

3. Republicans have become poster-children for an extreme intersection of “the illusory truth effect” and the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” The illusory truth effect is when people start believing something is true simply because a lot of other people keep repeating it. The Dunning-Kruger effect is the phenomenon of becoming more confident the more ignorant we are. Everyone does these unfortunate things…it’s normal human behavior. It’s just that Republicans have amplified these faults to an extraordinary degree, turning them into an art form of mass hysteria proportions.

4. Probably the biggest lever modern conservative politicians use to get their constituents to do anything is “Us verses Them” rhetoric. It doesn’t matter if an idea or approach from the political opposition is sensible, logical, evidence-based, or obvious…it has to be opposed because it issued from “Them.” Republicans have become so conditioned to howling at this siren that they don’t even realize they are just being manipulated. And because of that conditioning, conservatives remain perpetually ignorant and alienated from fellow human beings who may hold different views, but actually share many of the same values.

5. Conservatives tend to be deeply tribal, with a strong need to belong to their group and remain loyal to it, regardless of how that choice may hurt them or those they love. Republicans are so caught up in their identity as “Republicans” or “conservatives” that they never question all the sacrifices they make just to belong — sacrifices to reason, to common sense, to their own well being and the safety and security of their families, and even to the success and thriving of the U.S. itself.

So with those five considerations, we can begin to understand how difficult it will be for the ship of U.S. politics to change its course. Republicans will have tremendous difficultly breaking loose from this downward spiral unless they consider doing one or more of the following:

1. Stop being afraid all the time. Have a little faith in humanity, in themselves, and in their own professed spiritual beliefs.

2. Become more educated about what facts are, how science works, evidence-based decision making, and so on.

3. Stop listening to the lies, misinformation, and distortions of conservative mass and social media. Just change the channel.

4. Let go of the need to belong to the conservative tribe as a central pillar of identity.

5. Become more self-aware about logical fallacies and cognitive dissonance.

6. Start reaching out to progressive pinko commies in the community and become friends with them — in order to bridge the divide of ignorance and alienation that has been so carefully engineered by conservative puppet masters.

7. Realize at long last that all of us are being manipulated 24/7 purely for money and votes, and fight back by questioning what is being spoon fed to us.

My 2 cents.

Can innovation and social responsibility replace the profit motive?

Yes of course. Throughout human history innovation and social responsibility — which I would define more broadly as creativity and prosociality — have existed and thrived without the profit motive. In fact the profit motive interferes mightily with both more often than not.

On the one hand the profit motive channels innovation and creativity into a very narrow focus of only what increases profit, abandoning anything that doesn’t promise return on investment. For example, we often see real innovation crowded out by “cheaper and more efficient” forms of production and service delivery, because those types of innovation guarantee greater profitability. Most of the big leaps forward in more creative and life changing innovation, in fact, have arisen through academic and government research, by inventors fiddling in their workshop for fun, artists creating masterpieces for their loved ones, philosophers struggling to answer complex moral questions, or mathematicians solving challenging equations — all because that particular mountain was simply there to climb, not because they would make a buck off of it. The results were then put into production by for-profit companies who reap all the rewards from someone else’s creativity. The profit motive doesn’t have much at all to do with the innovation, just its mass production. This is the case with everything from cell phone technology to medical advances to major changes in the structure of society.

The profit motive has also long demonstrated it can often be at odds with social responsibility and prosociality. There have been countless instances where the profit motive has created oppressive or life threatening conditions and consequences for workers and consumers — and the history of capitalism has mainly been about civil society correcting those abuses (child labor laws, worker safety laws, consumer protections, environmental protections, strengthening democracy against cronyism and plutocracy, etc.). And the oppressive and exploitative conditions created by the profit motive have often threatened the stability, liberty, and thriving of civil society itself. Although it is true that capitalism and the profit motive have provided an extraordinary engine for productivity and economic growth, it has been civic institutions, democratic reforms, educational institutions, and the expansion of civil rights that have established or strengthened conditions that support creativity, innovation, social responsibility, and general societal cohesion — particularly in the face of a countervailing atomistic individualism and commercialistic materialism inspired by the profit motive.

This is not the narrative that the “market fundamentalist” or pro-capitalist folks appreciate or even understand. They are often blind to the antagonisms of liberty, creativity, and civil society that the profit motive has wrought.

But again, if we study the grand arc of human history, most of the greatest innovations, and the greatest evolutions in civil society itself, have been utterly divorced from the profit motive. Humans just love to create, to connect with each other and create community, and to build institutions and civic structures that support those impulses. The profit motive is tolerated because it has lead to a rapid expansion of material wealth and technological conveniences — it has facilitated creature comforts and material security. But it has also eroded society at the same time, which is why it has had to be constantly managed and constrained.

My 2 cents.

Did Iris Murdoch, in "The Sovereignty of Good" effectively discredit or even destroy non-Platonistic philosophical approaches, particularly Empiricist, Ontic – centered philosophies?

Thanks for the question. A few thoughts for your consideration….

1. I don’t think it was Murdoch’s intention to “discredit or destroy” the (rationalist, empiricist, volantarist, etc.) moral philosophies of her contemporaries. That really wasn’t her style IMO. Instead, I think she was just calling some basic assumptions of these modes of thinking into question — being skeptical of what we might describe as a scientism that rejects metaphysical and even multidimensional aspects of reality and consciousness. Murdoch mainly offers us an invitation to look at things more carefully, in order to see “things as they really are” with greater breadth and inclusivity.

2. Further, although Murdoch does rely heavily on Plato’s metaphors, they are really just a starting point for discussion rather than an endpoint; Plato’s cave, fire, and sun are merely a vocabulary of framing that permits her to expound more deeply on the nature of “the Good.” Plato’s terminology is a lever to help Murdoch accomplish some heavy lifting…not the object that is being lifted.

3. I think Murdoch intuited that something was amiss in contemporary assumptions regarding human rationality, human will, or a locus of consciousness fixated on the self (what we might call egoic consciousness) being able to adequately navigate moral complexity or fully comprehend or describe “the Good.” She further intuited that certain qualities of love were involved in both pursuit of that good, and in its apprehension and reification. And, perhaps most importantly, Murdoch intuited that, although “the Good” may sometimes seem ineffable or indefinable in purely rational terms, it is nevertheless discernible and obvious — and even reflexive — in the context of human relationships, choices and intentions when selfless love is in play.

4. Finally, Murdoch hints that the ego’s impedances to conceiving of and actualizing “the Good” may be the same barriers that rationalist/empiricist/volantarist philosophies encounter when navigating morality itself. I.e. that they are preoccupied with the fire in the cave, and have not yet ventured out into the sunlight — they are relying on false light to illuminate the indescribable.

I hope this was helpful.

How do we know who is on the right vs. the wrong side of history today?

It is heartbreaking for me to encounter responses to this question that sidestep discernment and wisdom around this issue. Sure, obviously history is written by the “winners.” Sure, folks at different ideological extremes have opposing views of what is “right,” while also expressing the same level of confidence in their views. Sure, people’s attitudes about behaviors, events and priorities change over time. All of this is true. But the conclusion that we should, therefore, abandon all hope of perceiving or understanding “who is on the right side of history” seems to me a rather lazy, cynical, and irresponsible excuse for not paying better attention to the human condition and civil society — and becoming more educated about them. In fact, such casual surrender to willful or despairing ignorance seems to reflect the sort of solipsistic nihilism that has routinely gotten folks into trouble…and indeed often places them on the “wrong” side of history.

So how do we discern who is on the right or wrong side of history? Of course we could begin with our own personal values hierarchy, but that wouldn’t be entirely helpful — in isolation, what do our own personal value or morals have to do with the larger arc of human history, after all? What we can do instead is look back over the history of human existence and civilization and track what the core characteristics of “right” and “wrong” have looked like, and observe how those tendencies have played out over time. Through that lens, we can assess who ends up occupying the “right” and “wrong” sides of history itself, and we can then attempt to project those standards and patterns onto current events.

Although initially requiring a lot of careful research, it’s a relatively simple exercise once the data is compiled. This process is in part what my book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle sets out to do, and you can read it for free via the link provided here.

At the risk of oversimplifying, I’ll summarize the main points:

1. Humans are prosocial critters, and thier prosociality has been key to human survival and the evolution of civilization itself — and also relatively uniform in its expression in terms of promoted behaviors and social mores (sure, there is variability, but the broad strokes are the same).

2. There is also a predictable progression of the individual and collective moral maturity process that reflects ever-widening spheres of inclusion for our prosocial impulses (i.e. we include larger and larger spheres of interaction and relationship in our caring as we morally mature).

3. As long as conditions are supportive, that moral progression is a natural, easily observable phenomenon in individuals and across every society we know of…and continues in those around the globe today. However, that progression is not fixed, fast, orderly, or immune to regression…it is instead messy and organic, and often slow (hence we need remember the “long” part of “the arc of the universe is ***long***, but it bends towards justice”.

4. Despite the “messiness” of our moral evolution, it then becomes quite clear who or what is on the “right” or “wrong” side of history — it is simply a matter of mapping those people and events within a progression of prosocial characteristics. To that end, please see this chart: https://www.level-7.org/resources/Developmental_CorrelationsV2.pdf

Lastly, those who have developed even a little bit in terms of their moral maturity will quickly recognize what is or is not prosocial in both modern times and history — that is, what is or is not beneficial to civil society over time. **However, this level of discernment and wisdom may seem mysterious or perplexing to those operating in the lower strata of moral development.** Those who aren’t as advanced shouldn’t be belittled for that (unless, perhaps, their arrogant willfulness demands it…), but instead encouraged to heal, mature, and grow.

For further reading, I would also recommend this essay:

The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty

And for a deeper dive into my own theorizing about the nature of love — which is the basis of prosociality — and the human condition, please check out this book (also free to read):

True Love

My 2 cents.

Whatever happened to the dispute between freshwater economists (that emphasize the importance of free markets) versus saltwater economists (that emphasize market failures). Was that dispute resolved?

It would be utterly absurd to assume this dispute isn’t settled. Such doubt would be equivalent to asserting the “debate” between humorism and modern medicine isn’t settled, or the “debate” between flat eartherism and the established scientific view of planetary formation is still being “debated.” There are no such “debates.” There are simply ideologically brainwashed adherents who are lost in tribal groupthink on one side, with zero empirical evidence to support the vast majority of their suppositions (i.e. freshwater folks)…and those who rely on an ever-evolving body of evidence and real-world observations to shape their worldview on the other side (saltwater folks). The irony, of course, is that freshwater folks really do believe they are promoting a “rational” view. LOL.

Now, to be fair, there are a handful (but only a handful) of instances where individual aspects of freshwater theory has — historically at least — seemed to align with reality. I’m not going to elaborate on specifics because it will only feed the crazies. How does it feed them? Through a joyfully deranged marriage of partial reinforcement and the illusory truth effect.

Suffice it to say that data supporting most freshwater hypotheses are not only sparse, but completely overwhelmed by the avalanche of data that support most (though not all) saltwater hypotheses, and refute freshwater assumptions in the process.
In essence, to assert that there is still a “debate” between freshwater and saltwater perspectives is really just invoking false equivalence — for example, elevating the unicorns and fairy tales of the Chicago School to be (falsely) equivalent to time-proven Keynesian efficacy, only because they are both described as “macroeconomic theory.”

My 2 cents.

Did Popper believe that any idea of Utopia is necessarily closed owing to the fact that it chokes its own refutations?

That would be an almost accurate statement, yes. The challenge (as with almost all attempts at summarizing complex philosophy) is that Popper uses a lengthy, layered sequence of arguments to explain why utopian thinking is problematic — or rather, tends to lead to self-defeating outcomes. Essentially, he argues that it is impossible to fully anticipate or predict how humans will actually behave within a given utopian structure or system, and that, without the ability to modify or evolve such a structure or system in response to those unpredictable events, there will inevitably be unanticipated consequences that undermine the utopia. Which is why, he insists, utopian “central planning” will inevitably lead to totalitarian/authoritarian oppressions — thereby ‘choking its own refutations’ and any chance of healing itself and fulfilling its vision.
Whether this is a valid argument has a lot to do with one’s view of historicism — i.e. whether there is a predictable (at least in the broadest strokes) progression of human society over time — and whether it is at all possible to fully anticipate or accelerate that evolution. My own view is that both assumptions are valid, but that imposing a top-down hierarchical structure or system is the wrong way to go about encouraging change, and indeed can lead to the sorts of problems Popper identified (especially when there are no strong, resilient democratic institutions to check authoritarian tendencies). However, IMO it is possible to encourage societal evolution by facilitating and expanding what I call the “moral creativity” of society — that is, an environment that encourages moral maturation individually and collectively. This is, however, an organic grass roots process centered around community-level relationships, rather than a top-down program that can be imposed on people. You can read more about my thinking on this here: https://level-7.org/Philosophy/Prosociality/

Why is authoritarianism on the rise?

Thanks for the question. Here are some reasons why I think authoritarianism is on the rise:

1. White men have lost status in society. This is frightening. So, in their insecurity and fear, they turn to strongman leaders who seem like carnival mirror imitations of masculinity but whose pedantic, overconfident, authoritarian style reassures these insecure white men that someone is still on their side.

2. Modernity is increasingly complex, confusing, overwhelming, and scary. Rapid change — both cultural and technological — is increasingly alienating many people who feel excluded or left behind by those changes. Authoritarian leaders can appeal to this disorientation, confusion, and anxiety, and create scapegoats that have nothing to do with the actual causes, but are very useful in ginning up votes. These leaders also tend to appeal to nationalism, which helps restore pride.

3. There is increasing exploitation, abuse, and enslavement of the have-nots by the haves everywhere around the globe. This makes people want to rebel, to regain agency and self-respect, and some authoritarian candidates have a knack for hoodwinking people into believing that they (those candidates) have all of the answers to restore freedom and dignity to folks who feel beaten down. In reality, however, authoritarians usually oppose the real remedy democracy itself — and good government and civil society — making these the “bogeyman” that have caused all the problems for the have-nots. In reality, it is big business, crony capitalism, and capture of elections and government itself by wealthy owner-shareholders that have created this imbalance and oppression. But authoritarian leaders are usually in bed with those same plutocrats, and not at all interested in addressing the underlying problems. So in fact the problems just get worse.

4. The masses have been numbed into complacency, indifference, and apathy by a moderate level of wealth, entertainment, constant calls to action (from politicians, advertising, etc.), poor diets, lots of propaganda and disinformation, a decline in IQ and education, and other things that distract or impede them from taking appropriate action or even clearly understanding the problem. I see this as a modern version of “the spectacle,” with many other characteristics and contributing factors that you can read about here: L7 The Spectacle

My 2 cents.

What is the most important political philosophy in history?

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.

My 2 cents.

How do you model high-level dialectical thinking?

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.

This is how I arrived at Sector Theory, an overview of which is represented in the graphic below. This epistimic framework is still under development (I’m currently working slowly on version 2.0), but you can read a summary of version 1.0 here: https://www.academia.edu/32747714/Sector_Theory_1_0_Todds_Take_on_Epistemology

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.

My 2 cents.

What do you think about 'principled conservatism'?

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

There are so many more examples…!

My 2 cents.

What kinds of limits, if any, on free speech should we accept in a free society?

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 2 cents.

Will learning German help me understand Heidgger, Hegel and Kant’s writings better?

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.

My 2 cents.

Is conservatism inherently bad or misguided, or is it only how the principles are applied? What about liberalism/progressivism?

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.

My 2 cents.

What does it mean to be true to liberty?

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.

My 2 cents.

Which concepts do you think politicians should champion that would improve the economy?

My top 10 list for the U.S.A.:

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).

For more ideas, see L e v e l - 7 Overview

My 2 cents.

Do those who support cancel culture wish for a steady expansion of the sphere in which individuals' actions are bound by fixed rules?

I think there are at least two sides to this issue, as there are for most. On one side is a desire to create “safe spaces” for folks who — for a very wide variety of reasons — do not feel safe. On the other is a desire for what we might call “rough liberty;” that is, liberty with no constraints. One side sees the other as coarse, cruel, discompassionate, and trying to impose their values on others. And the other side sees that side as weak, overly picky, too touchy-feely, and…trying to impose their values on others.

Notice the common denominator: trying to impose one’s own values on others. The real disconnect, IMO, is that neither side can see that really they are doing exactly the same thing, expecting the same thing, and behaving just as whiny and reactive about the same thing as they accuse the other side of being.

What I believe is at the root of this self-righteous expectation at both extremes is a deep, reflexive, highly emotional, and basically immature sense of entitlement. Both sides really perceive the other’s actions as an affront to an entitled expectation — they both have the attitude of very spoiled children who are used to getting their own way, and then throw a tantrum when they don’t get what they want.

All the other discussion around this issue — such as what type of morality in in play, or view of liberty, or attitude towards rules, or varying takes on civil society and the social contract, etc. — are all secondary. These are higher level and important discussions, to be sure, but with respect to political correctness and cancel culture they are just noise. Why? Because the root behaviors and underlying values are actually identical on both sides of this issue.

As I have said many times in my posts, what really needs to happen to heal this situation — especially in the U.S.A. — is for citizens to grow up. To become morally mature adults who take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences of those actions, and care deeply and unquestioningly about their fellow citizens without overly reactive attempts to try to control them. This is the only way forward…instead of acting like whiny little kids complaining about conditions they don’t like, and then blaming everyone but themselves for the situation they themselves have in fact created.

My 2 cents.

Why do most social media sites tend to lean left?

They don’t. The claim of anti-right bias is often “accusation by anecdote,” is politically motivated propaganda, and is not based in facts. See articles below.

What the Right Wing Got Wrong About Social Media Bias

The real bias on social networks isn’t against conservatives

Social media: Is it really biased against US Republicans?

That said, it’s a darn good thing social media is taking a stand against toxic and destructive falsehoods:


My 2 cents.

What is the justification for socialism?

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.

7. Because there are many examples of socialism working quite well over long periods of time — most notably in its non-Statist, anarchist/libertarian forms. You can read about those here: List of anarchist communities - Wikipedia

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.

9. Common sense.

My 2 cents.

What are the costs and benefits of economic deregulation?

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.

My 2 cents.