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.
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.
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.
This has been a long time in the making.
Here are the primary reasons why conservative-leaning folks in the U.S. have succumbed to anti-intellectualism and science denialism:
1. Science skepticism and denialism have been carefully engineered by large corporations and the think tanks and media that they fund in order to protect corporate profits. This has been going on for a very long time in the U.S.A., and you can read about it here: Neoliberal Science Skepticism
2. Mistrust of education is, in part, a necessary “Us vs. Them” tribalistic groupthink that rejects what is perceived to be a threat to traditional values, traditional gender roles, traditional religious knowledge, traditional support of capitalism, traditional views of “American exceptionalism,” and other sacred cows of conservative American culture. When an educational process presents information or insights that contradict, revise, or evolve these cultural assumptions in any way, that is considered heretical and worthy of being burned at the stake. But this is only part of the formula. The other part is the creation of a “socialist bogeyman” that embodies all of these “un-American” tendencies to question the status quo — conservatives will sometimes refer to this imaginary bogeyman as “cultural Marxism.” The bogeyman is mainly used to frighten conservative rank-and-file into lockstep conformance (in voting, campaign contributions, consuming the right news media, etc.) in order to constrain “the godless socialist threat.”
3. The anti-expert revolution is mainly a result of the first two influences converging with the consequences of the Internet — and social media in particular. The Internet notoriously leveled the playing field of knowledge sourcing, so that an unemployed, uneducated, emotionally stunted nerd living in his mother’s basement could achieve the same “authority” with his armchair pedantry as a degreed expert with decades of experience in that field. Add to this the many deliberate distortions of fact by trolls and professional disinformation campaigns
that the Internet and especially social media afforded, and the initially obvious divide between verifiable truth and absurd conspiracy has become increasingly muddied. What at first was a noble democratization of knowledge has become a free-for-all of “alternative facts.”
4. Lastly we have the issue of American gullibility. The spectacle
of U.S. commercialistic culture has conditioned many Americans to believe things they are told in advertisements, on talk shows, or by religious authorities and ideological zealots. This is how scientology came into being, how Ayn Rand came to be considered a “philosopher” which she clearly is not, how Milton Friedman hoodwinked folks into thinking crony capitalism was “libertarian,” and how utter lackwits like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump became POTUS. Some 50% of the U.S. is addicted to being conned — being gullible rubes is just part of their cultural identity. So when a charismatic celebrity tells conservatives that climate change is a hoax, or that cigarettes don’t cause cancer, or that “freedom” means letting corporations completely control our lives, many of those Americans just desperately want to believe…to uncritically consume falsehood rather than accept responsibility for being well-informed.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. In answer to “As an outsider, can you accept China don't want democracy as they value unity, prosperity & stability much more important? Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves? What the West really want from China?” I think it would be helpful to break the question into parts. So…
1. “As an outsider, can you accept China don't want democracy as they value unity, prosperity & stability much more important?” There are a number of challenges with this question. The first is the false dichotomy between “unity, prosperity, and stability” and “democracy.” The two are not mutually exclusive. To insist that they are seems a bit like propaganda to me. That is not to say that unity, prosperity, and stability can’t be achieved without democracy — or that they always exist in a democracy. It’s just not a mutually exclusive choice.
The second challenge with this question centers around what the people of China “want.” Hong Kong is now subject to China, and the people of Hong Kong overwhelmingly want democracy. Taiwan desires independence from China, and its people want to continue their democracy as well. The Tibet “government in exile” is democratic, and some proportion of people of Tibet would like to regain their independence from China. So to say that “China doesn’t want democracy” is actually not a complete or true statement.
2. “Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves?” This a little trickier to answer. I believe there are two primary issues in play. The first is that folks in Western developed nations are generally pretty arrogant about their way of life being superior to everyone else’s. This is cultural to a large degree, but it is also economic because of the West’s historic relative wealth and privilege, and its historic military strength.
The second issue centers around compassion and concern for other human beings. Now there will always be people who judge other cultures without really understanding them, and so their concerns may sometimes be misplaced. But in China’s case, there really are some very dire conditions for some segments of China’s population. The rural poor in China — certainly as compared to much wealthier city dwellers — have a comparatively rough time of it. This is true even for those who travel to cities for work, but must leave their families and children behind for months on end. From the outside looking in, the way the rural poor are treated looks a lot like the very sorts of capitalist oppression and exploitation Marx decried.
Religious and cultural minorities also have a tough time in China — especially those like the Uighurs who ended up in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. This treatment looks just as bad as the “ethnic cleansing” and degradation that has occurred throughout history in other parts of the world — for example, what happened to many Native American tribes in the U.S.A.
And of course many of the people of Tibet and Hong Kong feel very oppressed by China — and many people in Taiwan live in constant fear of oppression issuing from China.
Taken altogether, it is I think fair and reasonable for a caring and compassionate person to have concern for some segments of China’s population, and want to help or advocate for them in some way. Yes…this can seem a bit arrogant — especially when folks advocating may be pretty ignorant about China in most other respects — but I do think it honestly comes from a genuinely charitable mindset.
3. Then we come to “What the West really want from China?” That is probably the easiest part of the question to answer. There are really two very different expectations that many folks living in the West have regarding China. The first is that the Chinese people succeed and thrive — regardless of the political economy in which they live. For example, there is real worry that climate change will cause profound damage in China — especially it terms of its water supplies and its ability to grow food. And that is a very worrisome prospect, so there is hope that China will engineer a way out of this impending disaster. There is also a fair amount of awe and inspiration in seeing China progress in its Belt and Road Initiative — and I think many people have been rooting for China to succeed there.
The second expectation is that China not become more aggressive militarily, or attempt to expand its territory and maritime control, or become so dominant economically that it dictates trade policy across Asia and the rest of the globe. This is a very real fear — and unfortunately China has poured fuel on that fear in some of its expansionist behaviors and rhetoric of late (i.e. South China Sea, Taiwan, India’s Ladakh region, Hong Kong, Himalayas, etc.). To make things worse, conservatives in the West have tended to trump up the threat China poses to the West, which has only made things worse. Of course, countries like Japan and India have expressed much more concern and unease about China’s recent behaviors and rhetoric than anyone in the West has done.
4. Lastly, we need to talk about Xi. There is no escaping that he is behaving more and more like a dangerous authoritarian dictator. His creation of a cult-of-personality around himself; his removing anyone in opposition from power; his ending his own term limits in office; his increase of mass surveillance, censorship, and highly coordinated human rights violations; and so on. I think that history has taught us that such behaviors from a leader are incredibly toxic to the ultimate well-being of a nation and its citizens. Xi’s rule will not end well. In the West, we have our own failings in leadership, but can be very grateful that democracy has removed some of them (such as Donald Trump). If Chinese government offered another civic mechanism besides democracy to remove Xi from power, I wonder if the advocacy of democracy for the Chinese people would be as great as it is.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. Here are some of the top reasons why folks in the U.S. are so “fervently capitalist” and suspicious of “socialism” and social liberalism:
1. Our commercialistic and religious fundamentalist cultures have made us a lot more gullible.
We respond to advertising and marketing as if it is truth — which is great for companies selling products, and great for ideologues, con artists, and cult leaders selling lies. Consequently, when right-wing propaganda (Red Scares, “cultural marxism,” McCarthyism, Trumpism, Jordan Peterson, and other neoliberal
disinformation) demonizes socialism and liberalism — or makes socialists and liberals scapegoats for outcomes that are actually caused by capitalism (like unemployment, income inequality, influx of immigrants, etc.) — Americans are just more likely to believe the hype. When I lived in Germany, I was stunned by how much more informed and cautiously critical even German kids were than most American adults.
2. Partial reenforcement is powerful.
It is absolutely true than one-in-a-million people in the U.S. can work their way from poverty into affluence, and an even smaller number can become extremely wealthy. America really is the land of opportunity. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.
Most businesses fail. Most people do not realize their dreams. And most people who try to become wealthy remain poor. Psychologically, though, this reality doesn’t matter, because if even one person in the U.S. wins a major national lottery and becomes a millionaire, people will still believe becoming a millionaire by playing that lottery (or starting a business, or inventing something, or writing books, or performing music, etc.) “is a real possibility.” Which, of course, it is…it’s just not very likely at all.
3. Americans actually don’t reject socialist/liberal policies — or, rather, they are raging hypocrites about it.
The regions of the U.S. that are the most heavily pro-capitalist and anti-socialist are also reliably where the largest dependency on government programs can be found (see PolitiFact - 'Red State Socialism' graphic says GOP-leaning states get lion's share of federal dollars
). It’s pretty funny, actually. Also, according to most polls, whenever socialist and liberal policies are described to respondents without loaded trigger language (for example, describing features of the Affordable Care Act but not calling it “Obamacare”), the response from a significant majority polled is positive. Most Americans actually like “liberal” policies — until they are told by right-wing media outlets and authorities that they shouldn’t (see Majority of Americans support progressive policies such as higher minimum wage, free college,
and Working-Class Americans in All States Support Progressive Economic Policies - Center for American Progress Action
4. Lastly, there are nut-job market fundamentalist outliers who are very vocal.
Just like Twitter “cancel culture” doesn’t represent most left-leaning folks, there are frothing-at-the-mouth far-right crazies who get a lot of attention on the Internet and in mass media, but who don’t represent a majority of more centrist right-leaning Americans. I’m speaking of course of fans of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and other thought leaders for the broken brain crowd — many of whom subscribe to the right-libertarian movement funded by the Koch brothers.
As a consequence of one or more of the above influences, U.S. citizens have the appearance of being rugged individualists who conflate freedom with laissez-faire capitalism. But that really isn’t true. In the U.S., as elsewhere, the embracing of socialist and liberal policies has actually made capitalism much more successful and enduring (see ). At least…they have up until now…
My 2 cents.
It’s not. At all. The politicization of mask-wearing was manufactured by politicians and other folks in power who want to manipulate people into fear-based reasoning. And it has absolutely nothing to do with “freedom.”
The reasoning is pretty simple: If you don’t wear a mask, you can infect other people. Not because you become sick, or have a fever, or have any sign of COVID-19, but because “asymptomatic” carriers of COVID-19 — and even those who’ve just been infected within the last few days but aren’t showing symptoms yet — can infect everyone around them really easily. Contrary to the misrepresentations posted in some of the answers in this thread, ALL of the science confirms that mask-wearing slows or stops the spread of COVID. That is in fact how other countries have successfully reduced community spread (sometimes down to zero!): mandatory mask-wearing in public.
So in this context, wearing a mask is pretty much identical to not constantly spraying machine gun fire into the air while walking around in a crowd. It doesn’t matter that the person spraying bullets doesn’t “intend harm” to others, because there is a very high likelihood they will harm someone by behaving this way. It’s really a simple cause-and-effect relationship: spraying bullets in the air in crowded areas is going to kill some people. What solidifies this comparison is the fact that, by not wearing a mask, it is also LOT more likely that the mask-rebel themselves will contract COVID and become a spreader — making the risk exponentially higher to everyone around them.
Here are some other things that are reasonably unlawful and highly dangerous, and are in the same category as not wearing a mask in public during COVID:
- Driving a vehicle at high speed down a street crowded with pedestrians.
- Having lots of unprotected sex with strangers every day against their will, when there is an increasing likelihood (from this very behavior) that we are transmitting a lethal STD.
- Being the driver of a school bus full of children who parks the bus across a busy train track several times a day because we insist we deserve to have a nap anywhere we want (and nobody can tell us we can’t nap anywhere we want to!)
- Inviting our friends over for a fun-filled evening at our home and feeding them carcinogenic foods for dinner (because hey, WE don’t think carcinogens cause cancer, and we don’t believe the scientists who do!).
Again, though, this is really about politicians creating divisions, polarization, and “Us vs Them” rhetoric, so that their followers can be easily manipulated to feel angry, afraid, and be lured into lockstep loyalty with deceptive groupthink.
I suppose the easiest way to summarize this idea is to say that folks who refuse to wear a mask during the COVID pandemic are basically unwilling or unable to question propaganda and indoctrination, and seemingly would rather kill people than offend their peers or educate themselves about doing the right thing.
My 2 cents.
After living in different parts of the U.S., and in Europe for a few years as well, here are some broad generalizations I would make for why folks become liberal instead of conservative:
1. Emotional intelligence. The higher someone’s empathy, compassion, and overall EQ, the more they seem to gravitate towards progressive ideas.
2. Education. The more educated people are, the more likely they are to lean liberal.
3. Urban living. Urban living exposes people to different cultures, lifestyles, belief systems, and political leanings — and demands a higher level of tolerance and “getting along” with such diverse folks. Urban living also amplifies the impact of each person’s behavior on everyone around them. These things make a progressive mindset a much easier, more productive, and more prosocial orientation than being conservative in urban environments.
4. Love of science. It’s hard to be conservative if you’re passionate about scientific inquiry that constantly revises previous assumptions and beliefs.
5. Distaste for greed and selfishness. Liberals tend to be motivated by concern and caring for everyone in society, rather than by accumulating wealth or power for themselves.
6. Identifying as a world citizen, rather than only as an American. This doesn’t mean anti-American, it just means seeing the whole planet as home, and feeling a sense of duty to the Earth and all its inhabitants — and then wanting to act (and vote, and consume, etc.) accordingly.
7. A sense that liberty is more about removing barriers to shared opportunity for everyone, rather than enforcing any individualistic “rights.”
8. Love of Nature. It’s hard to be a conservative nowadays if you believe humans should respect and protect the natural world, rather than exploit it, destroy it, and use it up.
9. Authentic spirituality. I don’t really believe you can be an authentic Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu and vote conservative at this point in time. Those faith traditions — and many others around the world — are pretty incompatible with current conservative attitudes, policies, and ideals.
10. A desire for “good government” (that is, one that governs for the public good) rather than fortifying crony capitalist plutocracy.
11. Favoring evidence-based goals and policies. Progressives tend to rely on proven solutions, rather than ideologically pure but untested experiments (or worse, on ideas that have demonstrated failure over and over again).
12.Critical thinking. The logical fallacies, conspiracy theories, and denial of reality that has been running amok in conservative groupthink of late is just too distasteful and alienating for anyone who has learned to reflect carefully and critically.
13. An inquisitive nature, with openness to new ideas.
14. A propensity for love-centric reasoning, rather than fear-centric reasoning.
15. Having wisdom and discernment.
There are, of course, folks who are liberal or conservative because their parents were one way or the other, or all of their peers growing up were liberal or conservative, but that’s sort of a default conformist or reactionary reflex, rather than a motivating rationale….
My 2 cents.
I think “politics becoming culture” in the sense of supplanting culture has been with the U.S. from its inception. The self-liberation from British tyranny was chiefly a cultural act, clothed in a loud and flashy political veneer/justification. And although, on-and-off over the decades, the U.S. has developed various regional sub-cultures that outshine its political currents for a time, these sub-cultures ultimately end up intersecting and merging with the political narrative. U.S. politics is like the Borg in this regard. Perhaps this is a feature of democracy itself — or of a democracy that has always been steeped in media, commercialism, and commoditization — where so much can be determined at a national level. Everything ultimately becomes political, because politics impacts nearly everything in our lives.
My 2 cents.
As a student (briefly) at the University of Washington in Washington State, and then as an employee of the same institution for many years — working in several different departments on campus — I can honestly say that the whole “left-wing indoctrination” diatribe of the right-wing conspiracy theorists is absolute bunk.
The reality is that there are all sorts of personal bias and political leanings among professors, students, and staff. Sometimes there is a bit more right-leaning bias in some departments (like the Business School, which is one of the places where I worked). And in some there is a sort of enforced neutrality that may have leanings one way or another among faculty and staff, but tries very hard not to let it show — this was true at the Graduate School of Public Affairs, where I also worked for a time. And yes, sometimes there is a left-leaning bias, such as in the fine arts and literature departments. But you couldn’t generalize too rigidly about any of these places, because there were almost always exceptions.
What DOES happen, and I think this is what upsetting to conservatives, is that tacit assumptions and culturally adopted ideas students bring with them to university DO get challenged and sometimes upended or contradicted with a preponderance of evidence and a little critical thinking. That is very scary to some folks, who hold on a little too tightly to a certain way of thinking for their sense of security and identity.
My 2 cents.
Here’s my take, in no particular order:
1. A lot of Americans are exceedingly susceptible to malicious media influence, emotional reasoning, and charismatic hucksters and con men.
There are a number of factors that contribute to this — many of which are cultural or which have been part of U.S. society for many decades — and likely all of them must be addressed in some way:
A. Every American should commit to improving their critical thinking and discernment skills. This begins at home and in K-12 education, but also should be reinforced by remedial classes for adults — as a free community service and advertised with PSAs — on identifying propaganda and logical fallacies, and differentiating between credible sources of information and those with manipulative agendas.
B. Mass media has to become more neutral, fact-based, and disconnected from the agendas of wealthy stakeholders and foreign disinformation campaigns. There are many ways to do this, such as reviving the FCC fairness doctrine
, treating social media similarly to other news media, verifying the identity of everyone who participates in online discussions, and so forth — but we need to end the spirals of amplified nonsense that entice people into fear-mongered, self-destructive, crazed, conspiracy groupthink.
C. Along similar lines, there must be some mechanisms that help us all quickly differentiate factual and expert insights from armchair opinions and conspiracy rants — in all media, but especially social media. There are tools like Media Bias/Fact Check
, and Snopes.com
that can be very helpful. But for social media, I’ve been thinking about something like an Information Clearinghouse
structured like the Rotten Tomatoes
movie review site, where both experts and the general public weigh in on various topics to help folks navigate them. Perhaps links to such resources could automatically populate all social media posts, so that folks could easily and quickly access better information. The “democratization of knowledge” that the Internet has afforded us is revolutionary…but it has also diluted the meaning of truth and facts to an almost comical degree.
D. There will need to be an attenuation of (or countervailing forces that disrupt or ward against) for-profit marketing and advertising practices in the U.S. that condition consumers to constantly respond to commercial calls-to-action. This conditioning begins at a very young age, so that Americans believe they must reflexively consume things outside themselves — including information and perceived “truth” — in order to nourish themselves and fortify their self-concept. In essence, commercialism infantilizes Americans so that they become dependent on (or even addicted to) external guidance and stimulation. How can we change this? By disallowing advertising to children, for one. By critiquing/satirizing ads (When I lived in Germany, they did this with stick-figure cartoons after each TV advertisement that made fun of inflated advertising claims). By ending direct advertising from pharmaceutical companies. By encouraging more holistic self-care. There are really a lot of tried-and-true approaches from other countries and cultures that could help.
2. Much of rural and blue collar white America is really suffering from profound poverties.
Not just economic, but cultural, intellectual, and in their collective esteem and identity. This suffering has largely been ignored by the political class in the U.S., who has either been focused on enriching corporations (often at the expense of jobs and economic mobility for rural white America), or on promoting a flavor cultural progressivism that is very alien — or alienating — to rural and blue collar white America. This suffering is further exacerbated by the cultural, economic, technological, and demographic shifts occurring in the U.S. which have, by and large, been inevitable. Enriching culture, jobs, economic mobility, human diversity, and interesting opportunities, experiences, and life choices have all been concentrated in urban areas of the U.S. for many decades now. This began with the industrial revolution of the 1800s, has accelerated since, and came to a head in the neoliberal financialization
of the U.S. economy beginning in the 1980s. It has been further exacerbated by what I call “neoliberal carpetbagging” in rural areas — persuading rural populations to fulfill corporate agendas (crony capitalism, monopolization, etc.) in agriculture, energy production, resource extraction, retail, and countless other sectors — that further decimates rural economies and cultures. And those “left behind” in rural America and former industrial centers have increasingly felt disconnected from — or even adamantly opposed to — the socioeconomic shifts associated with these changes. But cities, and especially those with high-tech and gig jobs, are where multicultural population continues to concentrate and grow, and rural America and former industrial centers continue to be hollowed out. So there is anguish among those who feel left behind, and grief, and anger…and Donald Trump simply tapped into those intense (and increasingly desperate) emotions when no one else running for President could.
Are there ways to relieve some of the suffering of rural and blue collar white America? Sadly, nothing Donald Trump has done — or has proposed — will do that in a substantive way, and many things he has pursued (like ending the Affordable Care Act, initiating a trade war with China, etc.) either have made, or would make, the situation much worse. Mr. Trump offered a rallying cry and temporary emotional bandage for his voters, and little else. Even his many judicial appointments to SCOTUS and lower courts will do little to mitigate the forward march of change that a large slice of America so fears and rails against — because, ultimately, those changes will be facilitated by legislation enacted/supported by the ever-increasing urban, multicultural majorities around the U.S. In this way the “progressive agenda” is just playing catch-up with on-the-ground change that is occurring at breakneck speeds. However, let’s be clear: a prominent feature of financialization is that all companies, across all industries, become solely fixated on pleasing shareholders, and do not care about the concerns of consumers or labor — eventually, that will destroy the relative affluence and status of high-tech and gig workers just as it did factory workers. So ultimately, no one will be immune from the same fate.
So is there a way to help rural and blue collar white America, and ease their pain? In the short run, probably not, because that pain is too acute, and has been horrifically amplified by propaganda discussed in point #1 above. In the longer run, though, healing could arrive through forms of subsidiarity (pushing decision-making and policy implementation to the most local level possible), providing targeted economic opportunities for rural America (a green tech revolution could be huge in this regard), aggressively countering neoliberalism
and the ongoing financialization of the economy, and efforts at urban-rural cultural reconciliation — such as increasing dialogue between rural and urban voters, and between folks with different educational, economic, and ethnic backgrounds — and increasing joint activities between those groups to solve common challenges. But ending the forward march of inevitable change is probably not an available option for much of America, so outreach to help rural and blue collar white America cope with that change — counseling resources, support groups, and the like — may be an important consideration.
3. The cultural and intellectual isolation of rural and blue collar white America has permitted “Us vs. Them” thinking to take root, and consequently enabled othering and the scapegoating of outsiders.
Immigrants, people of color, and “coastal elite” liberals have almost nothing at all to do with the pain rural and blue collar white America has been feeling. This scapegoating is just a trick used by politicians, crony capitalists, and nefarious foreign actors to persuade rural and blue collar white citizens to vote a certain way, give money to certain candidates, or mobilize against straw man threats. Although the solutions proposed in points #1 and 2 above may help diffuse or disrupt this trend, there is something deeper and more pervasive in rural/blue collar white America that needs to be addressed. I don’t think it’s productive to call it “racism,” “classicism,” or “sexism,” or any other “ism,” because although those definitely exist, *such designations miss the root causes*, which are:
A. Lack of exposure to and positive interaction with different cultures, racial groups, religions, values hierarchies, and ways of life.
B. Lack of broader, deeper, non-America-centric education about the world and human history.
There are ways to address both of these deficits, such as wholesale changes to K-12 education style and curricula across the U.S. (for example, increasing parental involvement, elevating more diverse and even contradictory
perspectives, etc.); encouraging cultural exchange programs that involve rural and blue collar white folks and their children (having young people live for a few months with a family abroad could be very effective), incentivized service that exposes people to other regions, practices, and cultures (in the military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, etc.), and so on. This isn’t an impossible task…but of course it is still impacted by most of the other considerations discussed here. In fact, if all of the other points aren’t addressed in some way, there will likely be vigorous resistance to broadening and deepening education and cultural exposure experiences from rural and blue collar white America itself.
4. The U.S. two-party system with high voter apathy and poor voting access unfortunately lends itself to polarization and the disempowering of diverse perspectives and political orientations beyond those two parties. In addition, the presidential form of democracy has led to an increasingly autocratic executive branch.
In other systems, such as parliamentary democracies, there can be a much more diverse representation of perspectives, a more vigorous incentive to work out compromises that benefit more constituents or represent varied ideological approaches, and more distributed and diffused concentrations of power. I am also a fan of semi-direct democracy as practiced in Switzerland, which again pushes decision making down to more localized levels (subsidiarity), affords the electorate the direct means (referenda) of opposing or redirecting legislation passed by their representatives, as well as an avenue to enact legislation directly via initiatives (see This is how Switzerland’s direct democracy works
for more info). And I think strongly incentivized
voting with effortless voting access would go a long way toward encouraging Americans to be more engaged and committed to self-governance, regardless of what system we have in place (see Incentivizing Participation Would Increase Voter Turnout and Political Information
). Although it would require a Constitutional amendment to make some of these changes, I suspect the U.S. will need to seriously consider doing something to fix what is broken.
5. We also have a perfect storm right now, in that we are overwhelmed with ever-increasing complexity — in how our world works, and in how we understand it — while at the same time that traditional values, cultural attitudes, and social roles are being upended or ridiculed.
This means that men and women in the U.S. are no longer sure what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine;” that many folks simply find it easier to deny science than to attempt to understand its subtleties and perpetual evolutions; that “intellectualism” has become distasteful because it so often challenges or questions many beliefs and practices folks hold dear; that countless traditional phrases and attitudes are now suspect because they lack “wokeness;” that the seemingly bone-deep and enduring racism of some white communities is being reversed and used against them. The result? A “strongman” leader who is profoundly ignorant, misogynistic, racist, endlessly pedantic, and basically dead wrong on everything he opines about has become an attractive antidote to the overwhelming complexity and cultural fluidity of our times.
What is the solution? I honestly don’t know. Maybe, as a culture, we need to recover our sense of humor about many of these things. Maybe we need to let go of reflexively judging each other, and just accept our differences. Maybe relieving some of the stressors and suffering described in other points will help folks let go of their prejudices and trying to control each other. Again…I’m not sure what will work best. I do know from experience, however, that compassion for — and radical acceptance of — what often seems like a combative diversity of values and ideals will go a long way toward healing the discord.
6. This point is probably going to be more controversial and hard to stomach for some people in the U.S., but after living abroad myself, I think it has a fair amount of truth: much of the U.S. is culturally immature, and at an adolescent stage of development as a nation.
This is evidenced by individualistic and tribalistic morality (only considering I/Me/Mine or “what’s best for those just like me” in one’s moral reasoning, as well as prioritizing a need to belong and conform to a particular tribe above everything else); spiritual immaturity (dogmatic, black-and-white legalism and fundamentalism, instead of compassion-centric attitudes and practices); emotional immaturity (blaming others for problems we ourselves created, throwing tantrums when we don’t get our way, confusing willful selfishness with “freedom,” etc.); intellectual immaturity (excessive confirmation bias, tolerance of cognitive dissonance, closed-mindedness, logical fallacies, conspiracy thinking, etc.), and so on. It will simply take time for Americans to mature past this phase — perhaps another fifty years or more before U.S. Americans even catch up with the maturity of many older cultures.
7. Lastly, there were some 81 million people in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election who decided enough was enough, and that it was time to reject divisive rhetoric of hate and lies in the hope of rekindling governance of compassion, inclusion, reason, and truth.
That’s sort of a big deal…especially considering that Joe Biden, who represented this return to sanity, received more votes than any other Presidential candidate in U.S. history. Hopefully this will mean there is real promise of healing and a semblance of unity to move the U.S. forward through a very difficult period. And yet, if the other considerations mentioned earlier are not addressed in substantive ways, we may see nativist, self-centric populism rear its ugly head once more….
So that’s my 2 cents. Hopefully it will help folks outside the U.S. appreciate at least some of the factors in play in the current election.
I am a big fan of Paulo Freire’s views on the power and purpose of education. Here is an overview that captures much of that — with the expressed aim of providing tools for self-liberation:
And if education is to empower us toward self-liberation — providing the tools, resources, and vision for any kind of positive change — a central emphasis will need to be an underlying philosophy that supports active participation in society. A constant drumbeat of the importance of civic responsibility, if you will — as well as how to avoid non-participation and tokenism. Arnstein’s “Ladder of Citizen Participation” provides an outline of such personal and collective agency:
But at the core of such an education model, there must be an acceptance of the necessary evolutions and divergence of critical thinking from any presumed norms. This is what so upsets traditionalists and conservatives…but it is absolutely essential to navigating nuance and complexity. An example of this cognitive process:
Of course, there must also be truth-telling about systems of oppression. This is also distasteful for those who value and even revere those systems — and who may conflate them with tribal loyalties, patriotism, or even religious devotion. But again, it is absolutely necessary to reveal the man behind the curtain (or behind the bread and circuses, as the case may be…).
And, lastly, as part of a participatory landscape, education must itself model equality, democracy, diffusion of authority, subsidiarity, collaboration, egalitarianism, and so on. We cannot teach liberation from oppression within a system of education that is rigidly prescriptive, proscriptive, hierarchical, and authoritarian.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. The concepts and practices of “political correctness” did not, contrary to propaganda perpetuated by right-wing media, begin with the Frankfurt School or Marxism. And they are also not exclusive to “liberals” or the Left. In reality, versions of “political correctness” go back a very long way (likely thousands of years) in human society — they just weren’t called that in earlier times.
So…what is “political correctness” then? It appears to simply be a variation on some long-established patterns infecting human society and social groups:
1) In-group/out-group identification and bias.
2) Attempts to assert control, authority, and agency in contexts where such power may not be readily be available (or is being actively oppressed).
3) Self-righteous moral justification through a) framing certain interactions as variations of oppression/victimization/threat; and b) asserting protective alliances/championing on behalf of those who are oppressed/victimized/threatened.
4) Aggressive scapegoating that reenforces all-of-the-above.
And what are some groups or movements have been guilty of these patterns in recent history? Well, there are quite a few:
- WWII Red Scare/McCarthyism
- The most extreme (fundamentalist) white evangelical Christians
- Militant religious fundamentalists among other religions
- Most white supremacist groups
- The more radical 2nd Amendment activists
- Many hardcore MAGA Trump devotees
- Increasing numbers of young left-wing activists on college campuses
- The more radical/fringe LGBTQ activists
- The most extreme environmental activists
- The most extreme minority rights activists
- Many militant vegans I have known
- Supporters of nationalistic, populist fascist dictators all around the globe
And of course all of this “PC reactivity” is just amplified and propagated by far-right and far-left media outlets, the unfettered propaganda memes of social media, Russian troll farms and other disinformation efforts, and so on. Sometimes mainstream media is guilty of propagation too (coverage of Trump in 2016 is good example of this).
But this isn’t a new phenomenon. I would say the “self-policing” that liberals do (i.e. fear of being politically incorrect) isn’t much different from the similar fear that anyone in the above-mentioned groups feels as they are striving to maintain their position and social capital within those groups. Does a fundamentalist Christian tell their congregation they’ve discovered how great Buddhist meditation is? Does a Trump supporter who is beginning to doubt the wisdom of that support share such doubt with their MAGA-hat-wearing relatives? Does a leading member of a radical environmental activism movement who decides to take a job in the Oil and Gas industry worry about losing their community of friends…?
You get the idea.
These patterns of judging and ostracizing others in order to elevate ourselves within our group and secure social capital probably have been part of human society all the way back to our cave-dwelling days — and fearing that judgement and ostracism has likewise been part of nearly every human community. Think of the hysteria over “witches” in Europe and the Americas, or why Nero threw Christians to lions, or why various genocides have taken place throughout history…these very much appear to be variations on the same theme.
Eventually, we may grow out of this immature phase of fear-based tribalism and groupthink (you can read my thoughts about that evolution here: Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations
). But we do appear to have a long way to go as a species….
My 2 cents.
Yes…but with certain caveats.
Ideological differences can critical to refining, distilling, and improving any perspective, but only if the following elements are present during that process:
1) Relying on actual facts and provable evidence when making assertions.
2) Applying wisdom and discernment to each situation that aligns with expressed values, rather than contradicting them.
3) Avoiding the traps of propaganda, deception, logical fallacies, and exclusionary bias (i.e. ignoring critical and relevant info).
4) Defining clear metrics for testing an idea (in a pilot, etc.) and then carefully measuring the results of the test to see if objectives have actually been met.
5) Developing a multifaceted, broadly educated populace that understands both current science and the lessons of history in a more-than-superficial way.
6) Appreciating the expertise of folks who’ve spent their lives in a given profession…and not making the mistake of believing one’s own armchair opinion is equivalent to that expertise.
7) Hate speech, brazen sexism and racism, xenophobia, bullying, and other strong but irrational prejudices should be excluded for constructive dialogue to occur.
Sensationalist journalism and social media meme-storms can’t be the basis of the exchange — there needs to be real, thoughtful, caring, substantive dialogue.
There are other important elements in the same spirit — but I think you can see what I’m getting at here. We can and should have a diverse dialogue, but not at the expense of truth, kindness, rationality, or wisdom.
My 2 cents.
First off, it’s much worse than this question supposes. Majority Republican states in the U.S. are by far the largest beneficiaries of ALL government programs. There are some exceptions to this pattern, like New Mexico (which is more of a swing state), but in general it is Republican-majority “red” states who rely the most heavily on socialized support systems. Some detailed recent data on this can be found here: Most & Least Federally Dependent States.
There are many simple comparisons you can find around the web, and here’s an example:
Essentially, the higher taxes paid by “blue” states subsidize the populations of “red” states that pay lower taxes (discussion of that here: AP FACT CHECK: Blue high-tax states fund red low-tax states
Now, many of the posts in this thread quibble over what “socialism” actually is. In short, it is widely acknowledged by everyone who studies political and economic systems and history that there are many different forms of socialism, and the strict and narrow “dictionary definition” of socialism (or capitalism, for that matter) that folks like to use in their arguments simply isn’t sufficient. The fact is that the U.S. and most other affluent, developed countries in the world are “mixed economies
” of both socialism and capitalism. I’ve broken things out into a bit more detail here: What are the different forms of socialism?
So the reality is that, yes, Republicans who claim to be opposed to “socialism” regularly depend on socialism to survive and thrive.
BUT — and this is a pretty major caveat — those same Republicans are also constantly working to dismantle and/or privatize any and all forms of socialist institution in the U.S.A. Whether it’s Obamacare, Medicaid, Social Security, or the U.S. Postal Service, Republicans have been trying to obliterate many manifestations of socialism in the U.S. as a central plank of a conservative political agenda. But why are they doing this, if the vast majority of the Republican rank-and-file voters rely on these programs…? Well because what Republican leadership (and think tanks, and wealthy campaign donors, and right-wing propaganda media outlets) really want to do is eliminate what they call “the halo effect” of any successful government programs, a positive perception among voters which — horror of horrors — threatens to make “socialism” look attractive! You can read about this here: Opinion | Covid-19 Brings Out All the Usual Zombies
This does seem a bit contradictory, to be sure, but it gets even more interesting when we look at the kinds of “socialism” that Republicans actually promote
— and rarely oppose. These are things like subsidies to big corporations, huge government bailouts of entire industries, tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, and lucrative no-bid military contracts. You can read about the GOP’s affinity for corporate welfare here: Corporate welfare state: GOP tax plan showers millionaires with $17 billion tax break
and here: How Scott Walker and the GOP Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Corporate Welfare | Michael Rieger
So we’re left scratching our heads…Is all of this a sort of disjointed, self-contradictory hypocrisy without any guiding principles at all? Or does U.S. conservatism have an ideological anchor? Some core values that steer its ship? Well…there really is only one central theme that aligns with all Republican praxis, and that is a devotion to socializing risks and costs, and privatizing benefits and profits.
That is, distributing costs and risks across all of society (i.e. all taxpayers), while concentrating profits and benefits in a select few (i.e. wealthy owner-shareholders), with horrific consequences for civil society. You can view videos of Noam Chomsky interviewed about this here: Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges discuss the history of neoliberalism and Chomsky's new book "Requiem for the American Dream"
And also read more about this here: How to Prepare for the Next Pandemic
There is, of course, another way to describe this behavior, and that was a phrase Adam Smith coined in his Wealth of Nations: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”
So, in essence, conservatives love and support socialism when it benefits them, and vehemently dislike socialism when it benefits anyone who doesn’t vote Republican.
My 2 cents.
I think that’s actually pretty simple. Here are a few things that would help roll back extremist influence in society very quickly:
1) Reinstate and vigorously enforce The Fairness Doctrine in all news media — including social media (which, really, is just another platform for news media propagation). This would greatly reduce propaganda news outlets at both ends of the spectrum.
2) Reverse the divisive rules changes in DC that have prevented bipartisan dialogue and compromise: Abolish the Hastert Rule in the House; reverse Gingrich’s three-day work week and return it to five days, encouraging members of Congress to remain in DC and foster cross-the-isle relationships (this is what Gingrich wanted to destroy…and it worked); and so on.
3) End gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement. When large numbers of folks feel like their views and priorities are not represented by elected officials, they become more extreme in their views.
4) Increase direct democratic controls over ALL legislation (via referenda, etc.) up to and including at the federal level, and allow recall elections for ANY misbehaving elected officials (all the way up to US Senators). More effective and immediate democracy is a great mitigator of extremism — at least it tends to be over time.
5) Completely ban all special interest lobbying and enact sweeping campaign finance reform (for example, allow only public funding of campaigns).
6) Institute a public Information Clearinghouse
of reviewed and rated information that helps folks navigate complex issues in order to vote on them in an informed way.
I’ve offered some additional ideas here: L7 Direct Democracy
And if these are simple ideas, why haven’t they happened? Why, indeed, have they been vigorously opposed? Well, because the neoliberal plutocrats who hold most of the power are quite happy to perpetuate division and extremism to manipulate voters and legislators into doing their bidding. It’s very transparent, and has been going on for a long time in the U.S. and elsewhere.
My 2 cents.
Here is an excerpt from my latest essay exploring the incompatibility between conservative Christianity and the New Testament's central Christian values and ideals.
"...my current thinking about this has distilled the primary dichotomy down to underlying contrasting views about freedom and equality.
This may be just one more oversimplification, but here are the basic propositions:
1. Progressives view freedom and equality as collective agreements, supported by evolving cultural norms and the rule of law, that facilitate the most comprehensive collective benefit possible for everyone in society. In other words, progressives view equality between all citizens, and the maximization of freedom for each individual, as a consequence of mutually agreed societal expectations. And why are those agreements important? Because they can achieve egalitarian outcomes across all of society. Importantly, the equality and freedom of all people are predetermined assumptions about both ideal individual rights and the ideal conditions in which they ought to live. Therefore, progressivism tends to view itself as inherently aspirational, aiming for “life as it could be,” in perpetual opposition to a flawed status quo.
2. Conservatives view freedom as a natural right of every person that facilitates their ability to pursue beneficial outcomes according to their skills, aptitudes, and capacity to compete with others. Equality is likewise viewed more through a lens of merit – it is less a predetermined assumption about all people being equal, and more a possibility of achieving equal standing in society that can be earned through demonstrated effort. And what is the presupposed outcome? That some people will be winners, with a greater experience of equality and freedom, and some people will be losers, with less of that experience –but the conservative accepts this as the natural and somewhat fixed order of things. Therefore, conservativism tends to view itself as inherently pragmatic, embracing the status quo of “how things are” – a static view of cultural norms that benefit those who achieve privilege and position – and defending ways those norms can predictably continue.
Much time and effort could be spent appreciating the subtleties of this topic – details like equality of outcome verses equality of opportunity, facilitation of agency verse extinguishment of agency, positive verses negative liberty, and so on – but it seems to me that this boils down to different approaches to ending poverty, deprivation and oppression in their many forms.
The conservative views the world as rich with opportunities, with the only major barriers to actualized freedom and equality – and the consequent attenuation of poverty, deprivation, and oppression – being interference or competition from other individuals, and interference or competition from civic institutions. The progressive, on the other hand, views the world as encumbered with many structural and pervasive cultural barriers (racism, sexism, classicism, ageism, tribalism, etc.) that need to be removed through collective agreements –most often embodied in civic institutions and the rule of law – in order for freedom and equality to be actualized, and for poverty, deprivation, and oppression to be vanquished. At its core, therefore, this remains a diametric opposition.
But which approach does the New Testament endorse? What does Jesus promote? For me this is where things get really interesting. Because the New Testament consistently presents very much the same contrast we see embodied in progressivism and conservativism. With regard to “the world as it is,” there are frequent reminders in scripture that the world cannot be changed, that its machinations, power structures, oppressions, arrogance, striving, and injustices must be accepted and its burdens dutifully borne. At the same time, the kingdom of God
is promoted as “the world as it should be,” full of compassion, forgiveness, kindness, humility, generosity, and mutual aid. Christians are encouraged again and again not to conform to the world’s values, priorities, and divisive norms, but instead to evidence the fruit of the spirit of Christ (Gal 5:22
) by reforming personal priorities and values – and the collective priorities and values within the Church – to reflect a new way of being. In fact, such reformation is itself proof of the kingdom of God’s establishment in the world. And what characterizes that new way of being? The virtues of righteousness, peace, trust,
that we explored in the earlier table (see below), and which are embodied in progressive praxis.
This contrast between the way of the world and the way of the spirit is really the central drama of all New Testament scripture.
As Jesus personifies the way of the spirit in all of his interactions and pronouncements, he is confronted with antagonism from the status quo – from those who wish to preserve the way of the world and their own places of power and privilege within it. Jesus and his Apostles become ambassadors of a more egalitarian ideal, an aspirational vision of “life as it could be” in the kingdom of God, and thereby encounter tremendous resistance and resentment from those who currently benefit from the status quo, and therefore feel threatened by anything that challenges its power structures. This is why the Pharisees and Sadducees were enraged by Jesus’ pronouncements, why the Romans were concerned by Jesus’ rise in popularity, and what ultimately resulted in Jesus being condemned to death by crucifixion. Jesus was the radical progressive visionary of his time, while the pragmatic and entrenched conservatives were, in fact, the ones responsible for his death."
You can read the full essay via this link.
Thanks for the question. My take is that there are many different reasons why COVID-19 is still being politicized and a unified effort is so challenging here in the U.S. — some of the reasons are more obvious, some more subtle. Here are a few that come to mind:
1) The profound political polarization of the country perpetuates partisan polemics — about everything. Nothing, really, can escape this gravity well right now.
2) Lots of folks are benefitting from politicization of COVID-19 — politicians taking a political stance to help them stay in office, companies and media outlets rushing to fulfill the latest priorities of the current political agenda, and so on.
3) There is a paucity of trustworthy leadership, competence and appropriate knowledge at both the national and state levels of government. This is true for both the legislative and executive branches. And, without these qualities, all the really remains is rhetoric, persuasion, and “Us vs. Them” jockeying to move the policy needle in any direction. It’s a sad situation.
4) The American electorate has an unfortunate habit of “going with their gut” instead of really thinking things through carefully. This is a gross overgeneralization of course — there are plenty of thoughtful voters out there — but, on the whole, I think this has been a pervasive problem. And one of the consequences is that these people’s opinions are not usually shaped by facts or logic, but by emotional appeals, groupthink, and the magnetism of their chosen “authority” on a given subject. It is, essentially, the perfect environment for political propaganda and maneuvering to shape all public discourse and narratives around something like COVID-19.
5) Most politicians — especially those who have survived a pretty hostile environment and remained in office for years — reflexively act on political instinct first, and everything else second. It’s behavioral conditioning because of an antagonistic status quo.
My 2 cents.
Unfortunately, at this point we have to.
This wasn’t always the case. At one time, you could live in a small community that was insulated from other communities, from the rest of the country, and from the rest of the world.
That really isn’t true anymore. A single national election can determine (and has determined) the following — as have the critical mass of our daily purchasing decisions, the media we consume and support, where we decide to live and pay taxes, how we raise our children, and so on:
1. Whether or not the women in your community can get an abortion.
2. Whether or not you and your family will have healthcare.
3. Whether or not your community has more than one employer — or any at all — due to trade policies (voting in elections) and consumption habits (voting with your dollars).
4. Whether or not you can own a gun, carry a gun, the type of gun, etc.
5. Whether or not a local business can pollute the air or water nearby, or be held accountable for the illness and death that pollution causes over time.
6. Whether or not the BLM land or National Forest near your town becomes primarily an industrial center for raw materials extraction, or primarily a recreational area now and for future generations, or some balance of both.
7. Whether or not you and your children receive a decent education — or any college education at all.
8. Whether or not mass media can fabricate news or be required to provide balanced viewpoints (i.e. the Fairness Doctrine…gone now)
9. Whether or not you can buy something made anywhere but China.
10. Whether or not countless species of animals go extinct each year.
11. Whether or not future generations have anything left of the Earth to enjoy or thrive in (i.e. responding to climate crisis, avoiding nuclear war, etc.).
12. Whether or not someone who lives next door or very far away — even in another country — has a say in any of these matters in their own lives.
I could go on…but I’m sure you see the point. Because of the massive complexity and interdependencies of our current economic and legal systems, it is almost impossible to remain isolated and pretend that how we act (and vote, and consume) individually or locally doesn’t have a cascading impact on everyone else — both in our immediate community and all around the world, and both now and in the future. This is a de facto condition of modernity…to ignore it is just to remain willfully ignorant.
Therefore, everything really is political, now more than ever, and the question becomes: Will I pretend to be an atom who can act any way I please, engaging in life as merely a series of impersonal transactions, without acknowledging the impact of my choices on everyone and everything else, and fantasize that I have no responsibility to consider that impact? Or will I accept the impacts and influence of my choices on others and the world around me, the persisting and expanding relationships between my life and everyone and everything else’s, take responsibility for those relationships, and live more carefully and caringly…?
My 2 cents.
The roots of progressive ideals can easily be traced to the Enlightenment in Europe, where increased understanding and knowledge through reason and scientific inquiry were intended to bring about improved conditions for everyone in society. This was in contrast to the established “traditions” of that time, and so the idea of progress for the betterment of humanity became associated with the Enlightenment itself. And since two core tenets championed by Enlightenment thinkers were liberty and equality, the process of social reform (and revolution) to upend the old traditions and social order also became associated with the Enlightenment.
Now the initial inspiration for the progressive movement in the U.S. was a response to the rise of industrial capitalism, along with its abuses of workers and concentrations of wealth in a small elite, initially during the Gilded Age. In a way, the power of large corporations became a stand-in for the social hierarchies and abuses of old that the Enlightenment sought to address: capitalism replaced feudalism but mirrored the same oppressive power structures as the wealthy owner-shareholders took the place of aristocracy. In this sense progressivism echoed socialism’s response to the same challenges — and with many of the same proposals (worker solidarity, civil rights, etc.). But it is really only at that thirty-thousand-foot level that we can draw parallels between those two movements — or track their evolution over time — but we can see inclinations of the Enlightenment reflected in both. Progressives were primarily interested in returning “power to the people,” and having representatives of local and federal government be much more responsive to the electorate than to special interests like the wealthy elite. Initially progressives focused primarily on empowering and protecting white, working poor folks and their families in this way — and included women’s suffrage in that mix. While socialism of that time also shared this focus, only some socialists advocated advocated as vehemently for strengthening democracy overall.
Today, although it not as coordinated or clearly defined a movement, the central tenets that continue to guide progressives is strengthening civil rights and civil society in opposition to plutocratic oppressions, and continuing to champion liberty and equality. So we can say that these have remained the “traditional values” of progressivism since its beginnings.
Interestingly, what has also persisted in progressive ideas and strategies since the beginning is an almost ridiculous (in terms of effectiveness) diversity of approaches. There has never really been uniform agreement among progressives about how to solve the wealth concentration problem, worker empowerment problem, or improving our elected representation problem. Which is why someone might indeed ask the question of whether “traditional progressivism” has really ever existed. So we can say that the intentions — the goals and aspirations — of progressives have always been the same, and unifying in that respect. But methods…no, that’s always been a hodgepodge of tactics and proposals. In fact, sometimes these have been contradictory approaches — for example, some have emphasized centralized federal government solutions, while others emphasized more localized or distributed solutions (via community organizations, NGOs, etc.); some have emphasized collective solidarity (in unions, civil rights movements, etc.) while others have seemed more individualistic (individual freedom of choice, abortion rights, etc.). These differences probably owe themselves to different conceptions of both liberty and equality.
Lastly, there are some reliable commonalities between most, if not all, modern progressives. The original emphasis on liberty and equality is still present, but it has expanded considerably since the Enlightenment. Today these values are championed not just for white working poor, their families, and women’s suffrage, but also for expanding the same rights and protections to people of color, to animals and the environment, to the sick and elderly, to the LGBTQ community, and so on. And the approaches to championing these interests still rely on reason and scientific inquiry to a substantive degree. The ultimate aim? To improve conditions for everyone — this is still how progress is defined — in opposition to those who would prefer to retain the old hierarchies and concentrations of wealth and power. Fighting plutocratic oppression with democracy and strong civil society is really still the heart and soul of progressivism, and what makes it a longstanding “tradition” in almost every respect.
My 2 cents.
First I would encourage everyone not to listen to anything Trump says…ever.
Any sensible person with an average IQ can observe that Trump can’t stop lying and contradicting himself. At every turn, he has downplayed the severity of COVID-19 and its impacts. Trump is, by almost any measure, an incompetent idiot. So instead, we should all become a bit more educated about the details of the novel coronavirus ourselves. Here is a page with helpful links and a frequently-updated overview: COVID-19 Overview
As to the impact on those under a “stay-at-home” order….
The potential negative impacts are both economic and psychological. Some people (like me, to be honest) are natural hermits who are perfectly happy spending time alone, and can keep themselves occupied and entertained without a lot of social interaction. Others are wired to be much more social, engaged, and entertained through interactions and activities that involve many people. This latter group will undoubtedly suffer a great deal during this period of social distancing — in particular I’m thinking of young people whose entire self-concept and self-esteem may be grounded in their social interactions. So having online activities and ways to connect virtually may be very important, and it seems as though there is already recognition of this and attempts to increase such online activity options. Nevertheless, depression and anxiety may be real battles for large numbers of highly social people right now. To address that challenge, I recommend folks take a look at the thirteen dimensions of nourishment (there is a free overview and self-assessment on the Integral Lifework
website), and see if they can add some activities that nourish parts of themselves they may be neglected.
On the economic side of things, the situation could get very dire for those who have lost all of their income. There are several efforts at the state and federal levels to help people — from direct monetary payouts, to temporary debt and recurring bills forgiveness, to free medical care for COVID-19 tests and treatment. The benefits of these efforts will become clearer in the coming weeks, and they will certainly help cushion the blow. But they will only be effective for the short-term. The more permanent solution will be a) a COVID-19 vaccine, which is likely 12–18 months away; or b) a more successful and reliable COVID-19 treatment than anything tried so far — which could arrive much more quickly than a vaccine. Once either or both of these are in place, then economic recovery can begin in earnest. At the same time, this may also be a helpful moment in human history to reevaluate whether neoliberal crony capitalism — with all of its inherent resource depletion, worker exploitation, negative externalities (like climate change), and economic inequalities — should remain our primary global political economy. It just might be time for a change that would help us be better prepared for future crises like COVID-19. To that end, here is a link to an alternative political economy that is more equitable, sane and sustainable: L e v e l - 7 Overview.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question.
There are a few factors in play I think. First, there is a fair amount of research that shows differences in right-leaning an left-leaning people — both in terms of the values (or “virtues”) that are most important to them, and in the emotions with which they most frequently operate and are motivated. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which from the lists below. Of course, there are also folks who are closer to the middle, sharing characteristics of both groups. But in times of crisis, polarization tends to be even greater, so for now we’ll just look at the two extremes….
Characteristics of Group A:
1. More closed-minded and reactive to things that are new or “different”
2. Strong fear-based reasoning, often centered around losing status (both personally and for their group)
3. High tolerance of cognitive dissonance (when facts don’t match beliefs) and rejection of evidence that contradicts their beliefs — sometimes to the point of rather stubborn stupidity
4. Strong sense of loyalty to own tribe and traditions, resulting in reflexive “Us vs. Them” reasoning
5. Highly skeptical of science, government institutions, genuine altruism, collective concerns, leveling the economic playing field for everyone, and the importance of civil society itself
6. Insists that private enterprise is “more efficient” than government in providing public goods (healthcare, utilities, etc.)
Characteristics of Group B:
1. More open-minded and accepting of things that are new or “different”
2. Strong inclusive and compassion-centered reasoning, sometimes to the detriment of their own status and the status of their group
3. Low tolerance for cognitive dissonance, and fairly frequent updating of position based on new evidence
4. Hardly any loyalty to own tribe and traditions, and so sometimes creating “circular firing squads” within leadership
5. Strongly motivated to embrace science and justify positions and policies with scientific evidence; more trusting of government institutions; confident that altruism is real and important; and generally more invested in collective concerns, leveling the economic playing field for everyone, and the importance of civil society itself
6. Is skeptical of the profit motive’s efficacy in navigating or providing public goods
Now inject a new crisis into the situation: a previously unknown and highly contagious virus that requires close coordination between all governmental institutions; demands reliance on scientific data to plan an effective response; is indifferent to status and partisanship (i.e. doesn’t favor one group over another); and reveals profound weaknesses in privatization of public goods, where the profit motive simply doesn’t work for the scale of response required.
I think when we break down the political spectrum to these kinds of characteristics, it quickly becomes evident why left-leaning folks tend to respond one way, while right-leaning folks tend to respond in an opposite fashion.
My 2 cents.
The right-wing propaganda machine has finally lost some of its momentum and, as embodied in the idiocy of Trump, is being abandoned as a farce. The echoes of that propaganda still persist in the fear-mongering around a Sanders nomination — from media on the Left and the Right — but folks are beginning to see through the supposed “moderate” critique to what it really is: the decades-long disinformation campaign of right-wing think tanks, ideological politics, and thought leaders
that strives to reject all socialist ideas. This started all the way back with the Red Scare of WWI, was amplified by the neoliberalism of Hayek, Mises and Friedman, came to a head in the era of McCarthyism, resurged in the 1970s after the panicked Lewis Powell Memo
(a reaction to the populist revolts of the 1960s), resurged again in the “trickle down” economics of Thatcher and Reagan, was championed even more when the Tea Party movement was coopted by crony capitalists like the Koch brothers, and has now come to a ludicrous climax in the election of an impulsive, megalomaniacal fool as POTUS.
To understand why this conservative “anti-socialist” movement has persisted for so long, just follow the money. The U.S. has had a mixed economy — with elements of both socialism and capitalism — for over a century, but wealthy owner-shareholders always want more. And that means they strive for weaker government and “less interference” from pesky regulations, human rights, environmental protections, etc. This has always been about the rich wanting to get richer, and the only answer to Adam Smith’s “vile maxim” (i.e. “all for ourselves, and nothing for other people”
) has been the stronger, more democratic civil society championed by socialism (see How Socialist Contributions to Civil Society Saved Capitalism From Itself
). To appreciate just how hard neoliberal conservatives have fought to control and consolidate wealth, I recommend perusing this web page, and then following some of its links: L7 Neoliberalism
Along the same lines, folks are beginning to realize that democratic socialism (as exemplified by much of Northern Europe) is NOT the same thing as authoritarian communism (i.e. Soviet-Style communism) — despite the ongoing right-wing propaganda to the contrary. (For more on this see http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/democratic-socialist-countries/
In essence…young folks are becoming better educated about what democratic socialism really is. However…stay tuned for the right-wing propaganda machine to begin spouting lies about how socialism “always fails,” etc.
My 2 cents.
The U.S., along with most of the rest of the developed world, has already proven that “mixed economies
” (mixing socialism with capitalism) can be very productive, as long as corporate power and wealth can be moderated by civil society (civic institutions, democracy, the rule of law, regulatory enforcement, etc.). Most other experiments (including those with socialism) have succeeded most when democracy and actual diffusion of power and wealth were strong. So really, what the U.S. needs to “try” is a return to this sensible balance.
Right now, big money and big corporations pretty much own the U.S. outright — the voice of the people, and any real distribution of power and wealth, has been defeated by relentless neoliberal policies, leaders and politics…since about the time of Reagan. But if we can take a clear, propaganda-free look at the negative externalities of capitalism (like climate change), and work hard to rein in the influence of the owner-shareholder class, then the U.S. just might be able to regain a healthy trajectory. Does this mean “more socialism?” From the perspective of conservative, free market fundamentalists — it sure does seem like a bit more public ownership and control over things the plutocrats would rather keep for themselves. In terms of enacting Soviet-style Communism, absolutely not
. Fear of that outcome is pure propaganda. But those wealthy owner-shareholders just don’t want to let go of the control and influence they have right now…and that could in fact bring the U.S.A. to its knees.
We shall see….
If by “intellectual inquiry” you mean critical, evidence-based evaluation or scrutiny, then I honestly don’t know of a single, current “right-wing” idea that stands up to it at all. There are a few left-wing ideas that falter as well, but far more that have been validated by the test of time. Most right-wing ideas are not just on the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of science — they are also on the wrong side of common sense. A very brief list of right-wing concepts that have proven to be disastrously wrong-headed include such central tenets as:
1. Trickle-down (supply-side) economics — an utter failure.
2. Economic austerity measures — also an utter failure.
3. Free-market solutions can solve any problem — no they can’t; for example: healthcare.
4. Corporations can be left to self-regulate — another epic fail: e-cigarettes; Boeing 737-Max; savings and loan crisis; mortgage-backed securities meltdown; Oxycodone; coal mining deaths; etc.
5. Opposition to teaching children sex-education or allowing them access to birth control — STDs and teen pregnancies abound everywhere this has been tried.
6. Climate change isn’t caused by people — yes it is.
7. Cigarettes don’t cause cancer — yes they do.
8. Good jobs are being stolen by immigrants — no they’re not, they’re being stolen by outsourcing and automation by companies that wan’t to increase their profits instead of pay decent wages.
9. Gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry — that’s just dumb…and oppressive.
10. Black people shouldn’t be allowed to vote — also stupid and oppressive.
11. Women shouldn’t be allowed control over their own bodies — um…well, just wow.
12. Invading Iraq was the best way to fight Islamic extremism — LOL.
13. Obamacare has been a disaster — nope: it’s doing pretty much everything it promised to do (though it didn’t fare as well in Republican States that resisted Medicare expansion, and Republican efforts to sabotage Obamacare are weakening that success further).
14. Innovation comes from private enterprise — nope. Most “outside the box” thinking that has lead to major innovations was the result of academic or government-funded research (think the Internet, GPS, bar codes, microchips, wind energy, touch screens, etc.). Oops!
15. Capitalism lifts people out of poverty — wrong again: civil society (civic institutions, the rule of law, democracy, etc.) lifts people out of poverty in capitalist countries…in countries without strong civic institutions, the “capitalists” are just brutish thugs who keep all of the wealth for themselves.
16. Socialism has always failed. Really? The U.S. Postal Service? The Federal Reserve? The U.S. Highway System? The U.S. Military? NASA? K-12 Education? Public Lands? Public utility companies? Public transit? Social Security? Medicare and Medicaid? The FDA? Are all of these socialist enterprises failures…?
We could go on…and it would be exhausting…but this is why it so difficult for progressives to find common ground with American conservatives. Conservatives are just…well, unable to get their facts straight or clearly see the actual causes of the problems they want to solve.
My 2 cents.
The really humorous thing about this dynamic (i.e. stereotyping “intellectuals” — or subject experts — as elitists who are out of touch with common experience) is that the folks usually using that stereotype it are even more out-of-touch with reality than “intellectuals” are.
The anti-intellectual sentiment coming from right-wing propaganda is quite deliberate in this respect: it wants to villainize anything that is grounded in critical thinking, science, evidence and data — usually in favor of ideological principles that are routinely undermined by that data.
Hence climate crisis is a left-wing conspiracy invented by academics to get grant money; solid historical economic data that shows how “trickle-down” theory (supported by the laughable “Laffer curve”) and austerity policies fail utterly can likewise be dismissed as “elitist” fabrication; statistics that prove how abortions decline wherever Planned Parenthood has a well-funded presence is crushed by hateful vitriol from pro-life folks who fervently believe Planned Parenthood should be defunded; science that proves cigarette use is linked to cancer becomes part of a “liberal anti-business agenda;” and so on ad nauseum. Such has been the relentless drumbeat of conservative think tanks since the early 1970s.
But can you see the problem? The folks who attack intellectualism (and/or left-wing elitism) have to do so to defend their completley-detached-from-reality beliefs and distortions of fact.
Which is of course advantageous to the wealthy conservative owner-shareholders who benefit the most from voters, politicians and talkshow hosts parroting right-wing lunacy. Hence voting Republican in the U.S. has become synonymous with supporting unicorn policies and practices that maintain plutocracy and insulate the wealthiest elite, while effectively knee-capping scientific counter-narratives that could actually benefit everyone else. Critical thinking and actual evidence-based approaches simply cannot be allowed!
So I will proudly say “Yes, I tend to trust well-educated experts who’ve spent their lives researching and testing ideas with real-world data.” You say these are “intellectuals?” I say they are simply competent — much more so than armchair bombasts who believe in unicorns.
As to why folks who decry intellectualism are so confident in their armchair fantasies, I recommend reading up on the Dunning–Kruger effect
Well I’d say that, considering the level of debate around the 2nd Amendment over many decades now, no one really understands in any absolute sense what isn’t supposed to be infringed — and that includes governments at all levels. The wording of that single sentence is not clear.
On the one hand, Amendment II seems to indicate that the federal government can’t infringe upon the right of states to have militias made of ordinary citizens. On the other, it also seems to indicate that citizens should be allowed to individually keep and carry arms — ostensibly for service in such a militia. But it really isn’t very clear beyond that what other conditions “shall not be infringed.”
Now, mainly as a consequence of military firearms manufacturers needing a new market as their military product orders declined, the debate about the 2nd has shifted. Should AR-15s be purchased by individual citizens, so they can participate in state militias to resist federal government tyranny? Well…okay, sure. But that’s not why they’re being purchased — and the original intent of the 2nd (if we in fact can discern it) doesn’t work very well as justification to sell military weapons to individual civilians who aren’t participating in a state militia. Which is why the propaganda and marketing focus shifted to a more absolute right than what is actually stated: the right to “keep and bear arms” for personal protection — or for personal resistance to government as a more general principle.
The problem, of course, is that the “personal protection” argument — which can in fact be supported by the many of the discussions, practices and documents from the period in which the 2nd was written — can rationally only be applied to non-military weapons.
Individual citizens don’t need to protect themselves from the incursions of other nation states, or brigades of rogue soldiers that happen to show up at their door. That’s what the state militias are for. And indeed the “individual resistance to tyrannical government” argument really doesn’t have any historical basis…it’s quite an imaginative invention that has no support in documents and reports contemporary to the writing of Amendment II.
So…we have a right to personally bear arms that are suitable for personal defense as one possible thing “not to be infringed;” and we have the right to personally keep arms in readiness for participation in a state militia as the other thing “not to be infringed.” And therein lies the problem: because at the time of the writing of Amendment II, those two separate conditions were served by the very same firearms: muskets and pistols.
You see the problem? It made complete sense at the time the 2nd was written not to differentiate between different weapons for different purposes…because they were one-and-the-same at that time.
Within a century, however, the two groups of weapons increasingly diverged, in both their specialized application and their lethality…and continued to do so more and more over subsequent decades. Hence individual citizens didn’t own machine guns for personal protection, and the military didn’t rely on compact 25mm purse pistols to defeat enemy combatants in the field. At the same time, a common sense distinction between the two types of weapons endured right up through the 1960s — and various laws (1934 NFA, 1968 GCA) were written to clarify that distinction. Interestingly, these laws also identified a third category of weapons and modifications: those designed for or associated with criminal activity
— such as sawed off shotguns, silencers, explosive devices, etc. And so we arrived at the rather extreme separation in categories of weapons and specialized functions that we see today, ones that common sense can still discern: explosive devices, missiles and poison gas are not the same thing — and simply do not serve the same purposes — as a handgun.
But then, when it became clear by the early 1970s that public sentiment and national politics were opposed to large scale wars, and sales of military weapons by firearms manufacturers began to plummet, those companies strategized a new tactic that they continue to employ today: Every American had a Constitutional right to own military weapons! (see articles below) By the the 1980s, that tactic was in full swing, and the “common sense distinction” that had existed for two centuries evaporated. So that’s how things got so confused…or rather, that’s how the firearms manufacturers were able to muddy the waters.
These companies lobbied for the ability to sell military firearms to civilians in order to enlarge their market — ignoring what had become a very large difference is weapons specialization, and using the 2nd Amendment and an implicit threat of government oppression as a smokescreen for their deceptive manipulations. And of course influential groups like the NRA, which were initially supportive of moderate gun control measures, were then taken over by those who supported the loosening of restrictions that benefited gun manufacturers (see 'Revolt at Cincinnati' molded modern NRA
And, as it turned out, a spirit of Constitutional righteousness combined with fear of oppression and the “helplessness” of not owning a gun was a great sales tool.
Gun profits soared.
Then, after firearms manufacturers had “militarized” the civilian U.S. population, they obviously needed to militarize law enforcement to match that rising firepower — and another juicy market for their products was born.
All of this has been, essentially, the perversion of the Constitution — and the annihilation of common sense — just to make a buck.
My 2 cents.
How it started: Militarization of Civilian Market.pdf
Using fear to sell guns: Fear Is the NRA and Gun Industry’s Deadliest Weapon
Gun profits soar: Gun boom: Smith & Wesson profits double, sales soar 40%
How it all fits together: San Bernardino shooting: US gun sales soar as new front opens in push for gun control
How it keeps happening: How Military Guns Make the Civilian Market
The militarization of law enforcement: We now have a terrifying, militarized law enforcement system
Comment from Ben Andrews: "I would say that the distinction between military and non-military weapons is facile. Like so many distinctions with regard to firearms, this military/ personal one is drawn after the fact, at a point convenient to the classifier."
LOL. I think everything posted on social media is facile, Ben.
The level of complexity of most topics on Quora goes far beyond what brief statements can capture. I still try to add supportive links for folks to follow up and explore with more depth, but I find very few fellow Quorans actually take the time to read them. Everyone seems to want neat, easy-to-chew packages of info. This is understandable, given the firehose of information coming at us from all directions in the current age. But for the purposes of real, substantive discussions…well, it’s a little frustrating, to be sure.
That said, specialization occurs in every industry, and has snowballed with the industrial and technological revolutions. There are tools and gadgets in each profession now that are totally unrecognizable to every other profession. The same thing has happened with specialized language. It’s one of the reasons, I think, that society itself is fragmenting: people literally can’t understand each other. The only force countervailing this is mass media, which tends to overly simplify and gloss over any level of detail or specificity, in order to achieve a lowest-common-denominator stream of easily-digested communication. The only real remedy is…again…for folks to take actual time and effort to more thoroughly research something.
In this case, firearms have not been immune to specialization across different fields. Although there have always been specialized applications (neither deck cannon nor dueling pistols would likely be used for hunting in the 1700s, for example), those specializations have snowballed like everything else. The ~$1,300 SSK Contender, MOA Maximum, or Freedom Arms 2008 are single-shot pistols or hunting game. No one would ever consider these practical for self-defense or military applications. And yet this highly specialized style of firearm has a growing market. Likewise the Rheinmetall MG3 really only has one purpose: mowing down humans at 1,300 rounds per minute — again, not really useful for plinking, target practice or game. There are firearms that have some history of multiple specialties, like certain hunting rifles used for sniper applications (Remington Model 700, for example), but even here you won’t see any hunting rifle listed in the top choices for snipers nowadays — instead, you’ll see highly customized firearms like the Steyr SSG 69…which, again, isn’t generally used for anything else.
So this is the state of affairs for most technology. Just buying a tool in a hardware store can be overwhelming to folks who don’t know what specific
type of hammer, wrench or saw they need for their specific application. The same is true of paint for a specific surface or condition. Or clothing for a specific activity. And so on.
So this is really not an “after-the-fact” distinction. In reality, companies spend tremendous $$$ on R&D to develop new specialized lines of products that appeal to experts, hobbyists and professionals in a given field or activity. And, of course, this intended, planned and executed differentiation
is why civilians can’t easily purchase an M16, and must make do with an AR15.
Hopefully this is a slightly less facile explanation of specialization.
I don’t mean to be flippant, but deepening income inequality is a problem everywhere there is capitalism.
As to California specifically, “high taxes” is a bit of an incorrect stereotype. If you look at a combined burden of local sales tax rates, state income tax rates, estate and inheritance tax rates, and property tax rates, California is actually pretty low compared to many other states (NY State, for example) — especially for middle and lower income folks. And, in fact, there have also been tax revolts over time — everything from Prop 13 (limits property tax increases) to revoking a luxury tax on expensive vehicles statewide. In both cases, these taxes used to pay for a lot of public programs and services…and now that money is gone.
What is really burdensome in CA (especially where I live, in San Diego) is the overall cost of living — food, medical expenses, gasoline, water, energy, apartment rental, home purchases…pretty much EVERYTHING costs more in CA (Sperling’s Best Places puts San Diego at 160% of the U.S. average). And, let me tell you, 160% is painfully high. Now combine this with the fact that wages are very depressed in California — and especially SoCal — to the tune of about 65% of similar metropolitan areas. So you pay more to live here, but earn less. They call this the “sun dollar” tax: because it’s sunny, beautiful weather, you have to pay extra for it. It’s also a consequence of having a LOT of cheap professional labor from Mexico making daily trips across the border to fulfill routine business and consumer needs — this takes a sizable chunk out of local business revenues in some industries, and depresses prices across the board for many goods and services.
Homelessness happens because of many of these economic factors…but the homeless population in California has also grown because people will come here from other places in the U.S. due to the climate year-round. It’s really a great place to be homeless — you aren’t likely to freeze to death.
But again…the reason all of this happens DESPITE really successful wealth production in California is because capitalism doesn’t distribute the wealth it generates — instead that wealth accumulates with owner-shareholders (many of whom may not even live in the state), who don’t necessarily spend that money in California either…and certainly not a lot of it on poor and homeless folks.
My 2 cents.
both hidden in Shadow
and exposed by Light
as primal as the urge to fuck
destruction haunts our being –
than potent swarms
of tiny deaths
more fundamental than fear
able to discard guilt and doubt
like wisps of ashen doll
along with other childish things –
this is the enigma
we now see face to face:
There is a lie about what evil is.
All being is Light
there is no darkness in it
except the occlusions of ignorance.
Each iteration, expression
manifestation of existence
is love in different form
and only love
from unskilled and muddled brutality
to deluded passions
to perfectly crafted kindness;
So what we believe to be wrong, or bad
or the meanest opposing antagonist
is simply one part of love’s continuum
misunderstanding its own.
Within the mind
negation is no enemy
and emptiness can be full;
within the world
death entwines the genesis of rebirth
and deepest night
invites the sun’s return;
within our hearts
acquiescence opens us
and letting go
bringing clarity and strength.
But in the realm of spirit
in the Before, where love was born
annihilation has a different heft.
For here, return to nothingness is so complete
that even its conception is bereft:
the will to destroy
regressing to an ever-earlier state
defies the Absolute itself.
A contrast can be made this way….
To behold the face of the Divine
and then be rendered mute
in fiercest sundering of soul
is a soaring acclamation: “YES!”
within silence as a whole;
But Outer Darkness is just that –
it is outside all realms of love
not night with promise
of some future day
but eternal absence of the Light.
This is the truest evil
– the ever-present first
the “NO!” devouring itself
the prime annihilation –
which we confront today.
This is the gnashing maw of death
that deniers of science embrace;
this is the Beast
that evangelicals beckon
with reckless political choice;
this is the extinguishing flame
that industrial commerce
demands consume the Earth;
this is the calamity
that picky liberals
bring upon themselves
when they stay home on election day;
this is what childish, spiteful populism
hateful of progressive change
has voted into being.
And of course this is not new –
just one more cycle
where the center cannot hold –
every age has its genocides
from Holocaust to Holodomor
Armenia to Circassia
Algeria to the Americas;
its ruthless dictators
Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun
Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin
Augusto Pinochet, Queen Mary I
Tamerlane, Pope Innocent III;
its chaotic groupthink
Dancing plagues and the Spanish Inquisition
The Great Fear and Irish Fright
Clown sightings and “Strawberries with Sugar.”
So easily…too easily
we spiral hysterically
Our Death Drive is real
its longing for regression overwhelms
and though hope seems vanquished
and common sense crippled
and lunacy ascendant
(surely even demons
shriek in terror at such folly)
we still reside in love –
we still inhabit that continuum
no matter how foolish we become.
So if you know what evil truly is
and endeavor to resist
with earnest mind and heart
calling on your highest art –
the spirit of a perfect love
that leads to sacred sense –
perhaps all this silliness
can be undone.
Thanks for the question. A positive relationship between corporate tax cuts and “encouraging investment” that leads to economic growth is a fairy tale unsupported by data. It is, in fact, very similar to the fairy tale regarding supply side “trickle down” theory, which has also been soundly debunked (see The IMF Confirms That 'Trickle-Down' Economics Is, Indeed, a Joke
Just let the data speak for itself. Take a look at Corporate tax rates and economic growth since 1947
. Although there is a superficial correlation between higher
(not lower) corporate tax rates and better GDP growth, there is not much evidence that lower corporate tax rates increase GDP growth. The net effect is statistically pretty neutral.
However, how those tax dollars are spent (and when in the business cycle they are spent) can result in highly variable impacts on the economy — which is why there is such a wide range of “multiplier” estimates for government spending (frequently between 1 and 3). In general, government expenditures during recession have a much larger positive impact than during an economic boom. Expenditures on infrastructure may provide an immediate boost to certain industries, but then a much longer and more gradual multiplier as new business expansion is built upon that infrastructure. In the same vein, government spending that results in free education can have a substantial impact on economic growth many years after those students graduate and become productive contributors to the economy.
But probably the highest “multiplier-friendly” activity the government can do is research: there is lot of research the private sector simply won’t do — and hasn’t done in the past — which leads to new innovations, technological advances, and even entire new industries. Many of the things we rely on today (cell phones, the Internet, computers, life-saving drugs, etc.) were mainly the consequence of government research that was then used to deliver products to the marketplace by private companies. And of course whenever government programs are able to put more money into the the hands of consumers, while at the same time government is directly spending on goods services, this can stimulate aggregate demand (and, consequently, GDP) much more than business investment alone ever could.
At the same time, there are of course lots of things government spends money on that aren’t really all that great in the multiplier department. A good example is defense spending. Some research (see Mercatus Center study at George Mason U) suggests that the multiplier impact of defense spending on the U.S. economy is less than 1. The hypothesis is that in defense industries specifically, government spending “crowds out” private sector spending. So again it does make a difference how the money gleaned from corporate taxes is spent.
But if government doesn’t have money to spend, then clearly either there is going to be less of a multiplier, or there or going to be government deficits. Now the impact on deficits on the economy is a bit more complex, so I’m going to duck that one for now. But suffice it to say that long-term deficits can actually mess up the economy in a number of unsavory and dramatic ways.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question, but I think that not only is it difficult to generalize in this area, but that it’s a moving target — the landscape is constantly changing. With that said, here is how I would approach some relevant characteristics:
1. My experience is that, on an interpersonal level, left-leaning and right-leaning people who have an honest, intimate and open friendship can come to understand each others’ position quite easily over time. Why? Because they build trust through friendship, and the politics are secondary.
2. It might be fairly easy to say that, the dumber and more ignorant two people are — and the more extreme their opposing political positions — the more challenging it will be for them to come to fruitful insight of each other’s POV. But, more importantly, if they already feel hostile and alienated towards each other, and are isolated from each other in terms of any interpersonal connection or shared experience, it might be pretty impossible for them to bridge the distance between their positions…ever.
3. Empathy is a powerful perceiver and communicator. If folks of opposing views have “strong empathy muscles,” they probably can achieve a basic understanding of each other’s perspectives with some concerted effort.
4. With all of these caveats, I would still have to say that I encounter more people with what we might call “identical, lockstep, reflexively regurgitated groupthink” on the right-leaning end of the spectrum than on the left-leaning end — and part of that groupthink is to deliberately distort and misunderstand left-leaning positions. That is not to say this same phenomenon doesn’t exist on the Left…it does…it’s just a lot more rare.
We can see a parallel example in media: if you compare the extreme bias and low factuality (or conspiracy-mongering) of media outlets on a site like Media Bias/Fact Check - Search and Learn the Bias of News Media (http://mediabiasfactcheck.com
), the ratio of really “out there” right-wing media outlets to left-wing ones is about 10 to 1. That is, there are roughly ten times the number of right-wing media sources that are basically promoting yellow journalism, counterfactual reporting and conspiracy propaganda. In my experience, that’s about the same ratio of right-wing folks who can’t understand the other side vs. left-wing folks who can’t understand the other side.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. My take on why we can’t agree about politics:
1. Tribalistic groupthink:
for many people, it’s more important to belong to a group and feel safe or superior than be open to other people’s perspectives. Hence “us vs. them” or “ingroup vs. outgroup” is a natural and persisting tension.
2. Different information sources and authorities.
There is a lot of deceptive propaganda out there that is peddled as “news” or “fact.” Adding to this are phenomena like Illusory truth effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_truth_effect
). This means that when someone proposes an opinion or solution based on actual facts and provable evidence, it can’t be accepted by the peddlers of deception and their followers. This is a difficult gap to bridge.
3. Variations in intelligence and critical thinking capacity.
For one person, a perspective may seem obviously false or ridiculous because that person is more intelligent and thinks more carefully than the person offering the “ridiculous” perspective. But they can’t just say “hey that’s really stupid” without being offensive….
4. Variations in real-life experience.
City-dwellers live a much different existence than someone raised in a rural town. Folks who graduate with an advanced degree from college have a different take on education than someone who dropped out of high school. Someone who grew up in a hunting culture with family members in the military has a very different attitude about guns than someone who was raised in a pacifist Vegan household. And so on. Such differences in lived experience have an enormous impact on ideological and political beliefs and convictions.
Sometimes folks can’t agree — or even agree to disagree — because they are emotionally invested in winning. This is pretty immature, but also pretty common.
6. Engineered division.
As to why we can’t seem to overcome all of these barriers to agreement, let’s not forget that it’s not to the advantage of the powers-that-be that any agreement be reached. Whether it’s the rabid partisanship encouraged in primary elections, or the “purity tests” with which each political tribe judges its members, or the “active measures” of Russia and China to amplify confusion and division among voters — all of this is driven by a “we must win at any cost” agenda.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question.
It’s a challenge, I think, for anyone to pick passages out of Smith’s work that apply exactly to today’s context of modern capitalism. Those who are friendly to classical liberalism and neoliberalism have made many errors doing so, and those who feel modern capitalism is problematic have also made errors picking-and-choosing from Smith’s work. With that caveat, here’s what I think might be relevant to this question:
1. The problem of business interests being at odds with public interests, and business having too much influence over both commerce and government. Smith touches on this frequently in Wealth of Nations, and uses the argument to encourage vigilant and thoughtful governmental oversight of business so that the public’s interests may be protected and business influence be reined in — Smith calls this “good government.” Without good government, Smith warns, the purveyors of commerce gain too much power. Why is this problematic? Because Smith observes that this particular breed of folks cannot be trusted with the public good; he writes of them: “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.” (Bk 1, Ch.11) Further, Smith observes that such men often come to operate according to a disturbing principle: “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.” (Bk 3, Ch.4)
2. The “absurd tax” of monopolies, and — once again — the dangers of their influence on government. Also not serving the public’s interests are monopolies that eliminate competition — which Smith warns are a natural objective of business, in order to maximize profits. “To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch.11) In addition, monopolies can gain inordinate coercive influence over government itself: “like an overgrown standing army, they have become formidable to the government, and upon many occasions intimidate the legislature. The member of parliament who supports every proposal for strengthening this monopoly, is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth render them of great importance. If he opposes them, on the contrary, and still more if he has authority enough to be able to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor the highest rank, nor the greatest public services, can protect him from the most infamous abuse and destruction, from personal insults, nor sometimes from real danger, arising from the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolists.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 4, Ch.2)
3. The lack of representation of worker interests and needs. “In the public deliberations, therefore, [the laborer’s] voice is little heard and less regarded, except upon some particular occasions, when his clamor is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but for their own particular purposes.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch.11) Smith does seem to think laborers aren’t always capable of constructive input to government — because of their lack of education, information and time — but he clearly doesn’t trust businesses to represent worker interests either.
My 2 cents.
Please note: excerpts from Smith’s Wealth of Nations in the above answer can easily be found via a full search string in quotes.
Unfortunately, many discussions around this topic reflect a profound, heart-stopping, mind-boggling ignorance about a) the nature of the current existential threats to humanity, and b) the nature of what “far left” represents. This ignorance goes a long way toward enabling the worst human habits and systems of our status quo to continue its dazzling downward spiral. In part, this appears to be ignorance stemming from right-wing misinformation (or disinformation/propaganda, as the case may be), and in part this ignorance seems just a reflection of poorly educated people trying to grapple with problems they don’t understand — and don’t have the discipline to learn about or carefully consider. The rest of the mix just appears to reflect a sort of native abject stupidity, and we can’t do much about that. But for those who are open to learning and self-improvement — or who are willing see through the propaganda — I’ll try to offer some clarity.
Nearly all of the “existential threats” to humanity — and planet Earth for that matter — are a consequence of a snowballing nexus of these global factors:
1. A style of extractive capitalism that is rapidly exhausting natural resources, while grossly polluting and destroying ecosystems necessary for the survival of life at the same time, in order to prop up a modern first-world lifestyle of overconsumption and excessive waste. The industrial and technological revolutions of the past two centuries have made this extractive capitalist engine so powerful (and the overconsumptive lifestyle so entrenched) that it has become extremely efficient in its destructive capacities — and very difficult to stop.
2. Rapid population growth coupled with equally rapid and expanding economic growth that has amplified these negative impacts in exponential ways…with no obvious end in sight, outside of eventual chaotic collapse.
3. Pro-capitalist sentiments and political forces (i.e. market fundamentalists, plutocrats, neoliberals, right-Libertarians, traditional conservatives, corporate investors, etc.) that have tirelessly sought to protect the extractive capitalist engine that generates their wealth, even while seeking to destroy or cripple countervailing influences that could moderate their self-serving greed or mitigate wantonly destructive consequences of that greed. Part of that self-protective strategy, it should be noted, is the advocacy of unproven or disproven economic theories (Austrian School, etc.), conspiracy theories, weakening of government oversight, “science skepticism” bolstered by fake research, and social and systemic approaches that have not been proven or are not evidence-based.
The “far Left” is comprised mainly of the following groups — who consistently attempt to support their positions with actual science and evidence-based approaches:
1. Left anarchists/libertarian socialists
2. Social progressives
3. Social democrats
4. Democratic socialists
It should be noted that these groups do not support Soviet-Style Communism — the bogeyman that many posts in this thread stand up as their straw man to tear down. In fact, most groups mainly aim to gentle the toxic strain of capitalism that dominates the global economy today, reining it in with democratic controls, worker empowerment, a strong bulwark of regulatory oversight, and a shifting of ownership away from wealthy owner-shareholders who have been such poor stewards of corporate power, and into the hands of public control. Essentially, the “far Left” is all about increasing economic, political and environmental democracy — a strengthening of civil society — and eliminating plutocratic corruption of civic institutions.
As such, the “far Left” is almost certainly the best bet — as a starting point at least — for reversing our current descent into self-destruction.
However, there is one small problem with the “far Left” as so defined being the savior of humanity and planet Earth: none of its constituent groups have addressed the issue of population very vocally or aggressively. Some environmentalists will meekly raise the issue…but that’s about it. Most other groups equivocate, downplay concerns, or hold a false optimism about global populations leveling themselves out over time. So although the “far Left” gaining more influence could soften the toxic impact of extractive capitalism, and perhaps delay the “existential threats” we face for a time, unless and until the population crisis is actively engaged as well, the far Left’s salvation will be tenuous at best.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question.
What’s really interesting about this question is how folks in different economic strata (and different disciplines) usually think they have some unique take on “entitlements” — a definition or locus that is entirely separate from other definitions and framing. In reality, however, most are really all talking about two sides of the same coin: either the feeling of “being entitled to” something, or receiving some benefit or advantage that other people view the recipients “feel entitled to” (whether they actually do or not). What this all seems to circle around are feelings of jealousy or resentment from those who aren’t receiving some benefit or advantage someone else is receiving, or feelings of self-righteous certainty about ownership or deservedness of a benefit or advantage. In reality, folks of all walks of life — and across all disciplines — can and do experience both of these feelings at one time or another. These are common human reactions, easily tracing back to the sibling and peer rivalries of childhood. And, really, no one is immune.
So the rich or lucky may feel entitled to the profits from money they inherited or stumbled upon by chance; the poor or unlucky may feel entitled to charity; the addicted or chronically ill may feel entitled to care and support; the academic researcher may feel entitled to data that aids in their research; the professional journalist may feel entitled to “the truth;” a customer may feel entitled to receive a reliable product or courteous service; a company may feel entitled to disregard the interests of stakeholders when distributing profits; the oppressed and exploited may feel entitled to speak truth to power; a parent may feel entitled to lord it over their own children; one child may feel entitled to hit another child when they feel wronged by them; and so on. And, from the outside looking in, all of these instances can appear to be “entitlements” that aren’t necessarily earned, just, reasonable or fair. They are instead merely negotiated arrangements or cultural habits within an ever-evolving status quo — transactional usurpations of relational trust that societies of scale tend to deploy — and nothing more.
As I mull this over, it seems as though both accusations regarding the entitlements for others, and presumptions of entitlement for ourselves, are both just really primitive, immature and unproductive responses to the messy economic and status arrangements of what is admittedly a pretty dysfunctional society. They are much like a dog barking and whining when we are eating a piece of meat…or that same dog biting our hand when we try to take a piece of meat out of their bowl. It doesn’t really matter how either we are the dog came by that meat…the sense of “entitlement” is really just a variation of “I want…gimme now…you can’t have!”
My 2 cents.
This question smacks of political propaganda and disinformation. Vladimir Putin’s “active measures” — propaganda that aims to disrupt and confuse people in target countries — include just this sort of message: “You can’t trust the press. They’re lying to you. You can’t trust the government. You can’t trust each other….”
and so on. The way this question is phrased presumes that Americans don’t trust their own media…which actually isn’t true of ALL Americans…just the ones who’ve bought into that Russian propaganda.
The reality is that major conservative media outlets like Fox News do lie to their viewers all the time. However, those viewers still “trust” FOX to tell the truth…which has indeed been fairly disastrous for our democracy. In other words, because some people DO trust fake news, they are woefully misinformed and make very bad decisions. Unfortunately, it is mostly right-leaning media that tend to have the strongest bias and the least factual reporting (see http://mediabiasfactcheck.org (http://mediabiasfactcheck.org)), and indeed far-right media that has the highest conspiracy and propaganda tendencies. It is also right-wing media that parrots Russian propaganda that mass media can’t be trusted. The irony of this situation is pretty extreme, don’t you think…?
According to the most recent Gallup
data, 69% of Democrats trust mass media, but only 15% of Republicans do. And liberal-leaning media actually has much higher factual reporting, and less extreme bias (again see http://mediabiasfactcheck.org
). So you can see the effect here: Republicans distrust factual reporting in mainstream media with a left-leaning bias, but trust fake news outlets like FOX that peddle Russian conspiracies! They’ve got things upside down!
So sure…the Republican mistrust in news media is having a negative impact on U.S. democracy. It’s how Donald Trump — likely the worst President in U.S. history and a truly awful human being — was elected and remains popular. And this horrific presidency, with its corrosive policies and fear-mongering, continues to be very damaging to America and the rest of the planet.
With that said, here is a Pew Research article with a deeper look at perceptions of media trustworthiness and democracy, with several relevant links:
An update on our research into trust, facts and democracy (https://www.pewresearch.org/2019/06/05/an-update-on-our-research-into-trust-facts-and-democracy/
For more on Russian disinformation, check out these links:
From Russia with Likes (Part 1) | Your Undivided Attention
The disinformation age: a revolution in propaganda
My 2 cents.
No, taxation is not extortion — at least not in mature democracies, because folks get to vote on what the taxes are used for, and how much they are. In places like Switzerland, which has semi-direct democracy, the electorate can assert direct control over the national budget and spending priorities with only 100K votes. In the U.S., such a level of direct influence is restricted to referenda and initiatives at a more local or state levels. The feeling that taxation is extortion or theft often stems from folks who either don’t agree with how tax revenues are being spent, or who aren’t involved enough in their own governance to know how decisions get made. There are also, among many anti-tax movements I have observed, strong sentiments regarding not wanting to help the poor, minorities, immigrants, etc. And of course there is also dissatisfaction with mismanagement or inefficiency that can occur in any large bureaucracy — be it the federal government or a large corporation.
In terms of morality, the agreements around taxes are grounded in the most basic notion of reciprocity — about things that otherwise wouldn’t get done at the scale and consistency required for a functional society. Roads, physical infrastructure, national defense, the rule of law, social safety nets, regulation of industry, and many other aspects and institutions of civil society would simply not be accomplished without centrally coordinated systems and standards. So, in order for that society to function — for it to create the foundations for liberty that can be shared by all — folks agree to pay taxes. It’s a relationship that is outlined in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8), in terms of what federal government is supposed to provide for the taxes it collects. Simple reciprocity.
You might also be interested in this: T. Collins Logan's answer to What do you, as an anarcho-socialist, think of the notion propagated by right-wing libertarians that taxation is theft imposed by the government on citizens?
My 2 cents.
First, let’s remember that regulations are usually put in place when a problem has already been identified: when worker or consumer health, wealth and safety have already been jeopardized by business practices already in play. With that said, some of the worst examples of how deregulation (or not implementing or enforcing existing regulation…which is essentially the same thing
) hurts consumers and workers:
1. FDA “delayed review” of e-cigs (2017):
Vaping deaths and latest wave of teen nicotine addiction.
2. Trump rollbacks of OSHA and other worker safety regulations (2017):
steady increases in worker fatalities and injuries, especially in the mining industry.
3. Rollback of FCC oversight (2017–2018):
allowed carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) to sell geolocation data of customers to bounty hunters, stalkers and other nefarious surveillance.
4. Non-enforcement of existing EPA regulations (2017–2019):
increasing health risks to workers, consumers and children from pesticides and petrochemicals; increasing health risks and shortened life expectancy for millions of people due to air and water pollution (see A Breath of Bad Air: Cost of the Trump Environmental Agenda May Lead to 80 000 Extra Deaths per Decade
5. Deregulation of airlines (1978):
loss of rural routes and service frequency to remote areas and low-volume airports (with the remaining service at much higher prices); decline in consumer safety; “sardine can” seating; nickel-and-dime-you-to-death pricing on everything (luggage, food, drinks, etc.); longer average travel and wait times; many lost jobs; etc. [Something very similar happened with the deregulation of railroads in 1976 and 1980, which likewise led to the abandonment of passenger rail service to rural areas.]
6. Deregulation of banking industry (repeal of Glass-Steagall 1999; deregulation of savings and loan industry in 1982) and lack of SEC oversight:
the 2008 economic crash; the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s & 1990s.
7. Deregulation of energy industry (1990s):
higher cost of energy; more interruptions and outages with supply; awe-inspiring financial misconduct and fraud (Enron); lack of innovation and new energy sources development.
8. Ending the “Fairness Doctrine” (1987):
opened the door to highly biased, inaccurate and deceptive “news” organizations (mainly right-wing like FOX News), that helped deepen polarization and paranoia in America, and eroded trust in journalism.
9. Deregulation of telecommunications (1996):
Rapid consolidation of media ownership into just a handful of companies (Clear Channel, etc.) who standardized content across all regions — leading to the loss of local news, local arts and entertainment performers and programming, and a general homogenization of broadcasts into identical, nationwide programs that, consequently, homogenized thought across America as well. The 1996 Telecommunications Act deregulating cable also led to much higher prices across the cable industry.
The list goes on…but these are some of the obvious ones. We will very likely have even more data on negative consequences of deregulation in the years after the Trump Presidency’s aggressive agenda has played out. In particular, the promised deregulation of the FDA approval process on medical products will likely have a devastating effect on human health.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Thomas. Some good answers so far. Here are my 2 cents:
1. “Active measures” by Russia and other state actors that deliberately aim to polarize, confuse and disinform.
2. Newt Gingrich by sabotaging D.C. “cross-the-isle” cooperation and relationships.
3. Ronald Reagan by ending the Fairness Doctrine.
4. Dennis Hastert by creating the “majority of the majority” rule in the House.
5. Social media by facilitating hostile anonymity, radicalization, and in-group bubbles.
6. The Citizens United
7. Right-wing groupthink, propaganda and conspiracy media.
8. Left-wing extreme identity politics (now adopted by the Right as well).
9. Koch brothers via massive funding of propaganda and anti-government rhetoric.
10. Neoliberal crony capitalists by corrupting democracy (ALEC, revolving door government, regulatory capture, pro-corporate justices, etc.) and accelerating huge wealth inequality (i.e. Austrian, Chicago and Virginia School economics).
11. Lewis Powell via his 1972 memo.
12. Evangelicals by force-feeding a socially conservative agenda down the throats of all Americans through their alliance with corporate America.
13. The cultural and political revolutionaries of the 1960s that sparked the conservative backlash that has endured ever since.
14. SCOTUS appointments that have consistently placed warped, often ludicrous ideological decisions above both common sense and the civil rights enshrined in the Constitution: Scalia, Thomas, Rehnquist, etc.
15. James M. Buchanon (see The Missing Link
That would be a difficult leap, because if there is agreement on “explicit” meaning, then Article V would have to be invoked to change it, and a “living constitutionalist” approach would not apply. If the meaning is unclear — subject to evolving interpretation — then judicial history has also already been “explicit” about how a given issue should be handled (stare decisis). So this begs the question: what is the reason for departure in either case? The real problem, IMO, is folks thinking they know what the Constitution “explicitly” means in instances that may actually be pretty difficult to parse (the 2nd Amendment is, unfortunately, a very good example). But all sides of the interpretation argument are projecting modern contextual and linguistic assumptions (embedded as they are in political bias) onto a 230-year-old document, whether they realize it or not — textualists/constructionists do this just as often as intentionalists, pragmatists, etc.
To address such challenges, Hegel and others promoted the idea of “historicism,” where we resist projecting our own current understanding backwards onto folks who wrote in different times, and instead rigorously explore the immediate history, culture, education, etc. of those times that influenced the writer’s thinking. This is difficult to do, but it seems to me the only way forward in terms of finding common ground about what the Constitution really meant at the time.
Unfortunately, the political pressures of today are so intense — and some judges are so profoundly influenced by them — that there is decreasing consistency about Constitutional interpretation from the bench. To date this has evidenced much more at the right-leaning end of the judicial spectrum, but it sometimes occurs with left-leaning folks as well. And when such inconsistency manifests at the level of SCOTUS, it has devastating consequences for the rule of law (i.e. it induces instability across all of society). It’s a sad state of affairs, regardless.
Lastly, I think the framers would take issue with many rulings today not because they aren’t logically consistent with a given hermeneutic, but because they depart so radically from common sense. Hence the “doctrine of absurdity” comes to the rescue (even though it shouldn’t have to).
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Randall.
My take on what most undermines a democratic society:
1. An uneducated electorate.
2. An electorate with a “consumerist” mindset that — even if they are well-educated — waits to be “sold” on a candidate or legislation, rather than actively participating in self-governance.
3. Crony capitalism (i.e. revolving door politics, regulatory capture, dark money funding political campaigns, etc.) and its handmaiden, neoliberalism
4. Huge concentrations of wealth — which lead to huge concentrations of power (i.e. plutocracy, corporatocracy, kleptocracy).
5. The weakening or active destruction of other civic institutions that support democracy (i.e. corruption or capture of the justice system, legislature, executive, election system, etc.).
At this juncture, ALL of these undermining factors have advanced fairly far in the U.S.,
which is really pushing democracy to the brink of collapse here. It’s a shame, but it’s also pretty obvious to anyone who has been paying attention, and has been advancing for many decades.
My 2 cents.
Here are the top five reasons why there is a wave of right-wing governments across the globe:
1. Global corporate capitalism, as coordinated and directed by the wealthiest owner-shareholders around the world, is creating huge wealth disparities, increasingly destructive negative externalities (climate change, unbreathable air, undrinkable water, rapid species extinction, etc.), and exaggerated economic instability (boom/bust cycles that are increasingly extreme). This trend understandably frightens people, and they want a scapegoat for their fears.
The far-right rhetoric blames progressive social policies, recent waves of immigrants, and “government interference in free markets,” in simplistic, polemic rhetoric. None of these are the real causal factors behind what so frightens right-leaning folks…but they sure are easy targets for polarizing propaganda. It’s really easy to get scared people to vote against their own best interests, and ignore the real “man behind the curtain” (i.e. those wealthy owner-shareholders) who doesn’t want to be held accountable.
2. The actual solutions to many of these modern challenges are complex, nuanced, contingent, dynamic and abstract. To even fully comprehend some of the problems humanity faces requires an advanced understanding of specialized disciplines that take years to learn (i.e. economics, climate science, biology, medicine, genetics, etc.). Consequently, it’s difficult to explain how to move forward to “the average voter,” and much easier to hoodwink them.
And the conservative, right-leaning voters around the world have often had an uneasy relationship with evidence-based, scientific approaches, often mistrusting experts and academia on a fundamental level. And yet, these same conservative “average voters” feel empowered by misinformation they find on social media, in sensationalist journalism, on conspiracy websites, and through other unreliable sources. This creates a false sense of confidence (see Illusory truth effect
and Dunning–Kruger effect
), which combines with tribalistic “Us vs. Them” emotional reactivism, and in turn leads to mass movements that are highly irrational and easily manipulated. Unfortunately for those who gravitate towards the far-right end of the political spectrum, nearly all of the most strident, deceptive and manipulative propaganda today is housed in their media. So instead of becoming educated with real evidence or persuaded by rational reasoning, the right-leaning person becomes increasingly deceived and deluded.
3. Some rather unsavory folks with self-serving agendas have decided to double down on this ongoing deception. Whether it’s the fake science and science skepticism
(such as climate denial) funded by the Koch brothers and neoliberal think tanks; or the “active measures” of Vladimir Putin aimed at dividing, angering and confusing folks all around the globe; or the strategic social media influence campaigns from Cambridge Analytica; or the lies and exaggerations of a mentally unstable President Trump — all of these sources are just engineering and promoting their own accumulation of wealth and power.
It’s a pretty simple and transparent strategy…just “follow the money.” And social media platforms have now provided a powerful, dopamine-addiction-driven
tool to entrain mindless conformance among targeted groups of users. For more discussion of this pernicious pattern, see The Opposition
4. Progressives and technocrats are generally TERRIBLE at explaining their positions and the rationale for approaching complex problems a certain way.
To them, the situation and its solutions are painfully obvious…but very few have the gift of translating that “obviousness” into clear, easily shared memes on social media, or humorous quips on talk shows, or simplistic black-and-white tropes that uneducated folks can latch onto. This is one reason I have proposed creating a Public Information Clearinghouse
to help the “average voter” understand complex issues and appreciate evidence-based solutions.
5. I think…and this is perhaps the hardest thing to accept, let alone articulate…that humanity is getting dumber. Perhaps as a consequence of a combination of things — stress, pollutants, reliance on technology, poor diets, fast-paced lifestyles, etc. — or epigenetic changes that have been amplified by this same combination of factors, human beings aren’t thinking very clearly or cleverly. And there is also an increase — especially among conservatives and the far-right — to actively suppress their own intelligence. It’s quite disturbing to witness the extraordinary levels of cognitive dissonance conservatives must sustain to hold onto their most cherished but misguided beliefs. And this “cultivated stupidity” has a collective snowball effect
, which again is just amplified into lockstep in-group conformance by the mass media that crafts these deceptive narratives and perpetuates them.
So don’t allow yourself to be hoodwinked by the right-wing propaganda about why there is a wave of right-wing movements.
Over many decades, socially conservative, market fundamentalist, greed-centric crony capitalists have created the conditions that now make them so fearful and unhappy. But they are not willing to take responsibility for what they have done, and instead seek to blame others. It's a very human failing, but promises to be particularly disastrous in this situation — because it avoids engaging the actual causes for impending calamity.
My 2 cents.
“What’s wrong with a moderate level of gun regulation” is that, in the United States, there are a lot of extremely irrational, fearful, self-righteous folks who allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by the firearms industry.
It wasn’t until after the firearms industry realized that its military weapon sales were tanking (i.e. no more wars) that the 2nd Amendment suddenly had more to do with personal gun ownership and self-defense, and not with well-regulated militias. This was part of a deliberate propaganda campaign to deceive and mislead American consumers. If not for the desire of gun mfrs to market military style weapons to civilians, there would likely only be a few fringe extremists who believe what is now fairly mainstream among card-carrying NRA members.
And of course it’s not infringement. You need a license and training to drive a car lawfully. You need a license and training to serve food to people safely. You need a license and training to build a house for someone. You need a license and training to operate a ham radio out of the privacy of your home. All of this has to do with public safety.
And for folks to say that applying what is a normal and reasonable consideration for other potentially harmful skills and privileges in society to guns is somehow unreasonable or unconstitutional
…well, what can I say? It frankly boggles the mind…until you realize these folks have been spoon fed their talking points by the companies that make assault weapons.
Unfortunately, it’s not all that surprising that this has happened in the U.S. Americans are hard-wired from birth to believe false advertising…it’s just part of our commercialistic culture: we tend to believe what we are sold.
Oh…and rest assured that nearly all of the claims that “gun regulations don’t solve or stop anything” are statistically dead wrong. Just more lies to sell more guns.
Lots of studies show that gun regulation has a positive impact on reducing crime stats and accidental death and homicide stats (both in the U.S. and in other countries). Again though…truth and evidence don’t matter to a lot of 2nd Amendments defenders, as they’re drunk on the Cool-Aid of “alternative facts.”
That said, here are some articles that may be of interest to reasonable, sane people who haven’t bought into the pro-gun-mfr-lobby con-job
How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment
How The Gun Industry Funnels Tens Of Millions Of Dollars To The NRA
State Gun Laws That Actually Reduce Gun Deaths
States with strict gun laws have fewer firearms deaths. Here's how your state stacks up
Firearm Laws and Firearm Homicides
The Supreme Court’s Worst Decision of My Tenure
(re: Columbia v. Heller)
My 2 cents.
Well take your pick:
1. The U.S.-based firearms industry has tremendous sway over U.S. politics through aggressive and well-funded lobbying efforts, complete capture of the NRA, additional lobbying and legislative influence through the NSSF and ALEC, and a decades-long campaign of amping up irrational fear and paranoia among lawful gun owners.
The U.S. would not have so many assault weapons in civilian hands had the firearms industry not used their leverage to market weapons that were — let’s not forget — illegal to manufacture in the U.S. for a decade after the Cleveland Elementary, Luby’s and California Street shootings. Why did gun makers do this? To make money of course. When military sales of the AR15 began to wane (not enough wars to increase orders!), they needed a new market. And, thanks to their ability to hoodwink the American public and influence Congress, they got one.
2. The U.S. Second Amendment is fairly unique among modern democracies, and wasn’t particularly well-written regarding the purpose of the “right to bear arms.”
Was it intended to create well-regulated state militias that could, at the state level, resist a federal government’s overreach? Or was it intended to allow every citizen in the U.S. to own military weapons (by extension up to and including nuclear missiles) so that they could defend themselves from their own government’s tyranny, if required? Until very recently (Columbia v Heller
, 2008), SCOTUS consistently linked gun ownership rights to militia membership. But clearer writing would have helped prevent the Second Amendment’s misuse IMO.
3. Let’s face it: a lot of Americans just aren’t that bright, don’t think about things very carefully, seem to be very gullible, and are particularly prone to the Dunning–Kruger effect.
I’m not sure if it’s the prevailing U.S. diet, or the constant deluge of advertising and mindless media, or a poor education system, or something in our water…but the average U.S. citizen just can’t seem to think very critically or clearly — certainly as compared to the folks in other developed countries I have lived in. In addition, there has been a concerted effort on the Right-leaning end of the political spectrum to “dumb down” their rank-and-file even further: by demeaning academia and defunding K-12 education; by trumpeting anti-intellectual rhetoric in conservative mass media; by actively opposing science with well-funded “Science Skepticism” campaigns; and by generally dismissing evidence and facts in favor of magical thinking and logical fallacies.
And this has been going on for many decades now. Just consider the election of Republican presidents Reagan, G.W. Bush and Trump. These men were verifiable idiots, and yet conservatives championed them as competent leaders. I don’t think any other developed democracy has ever fallen prey to this level of stupidity.
4. Guns are fun.
As a privileged white male in the richest society on Earth, I myself believe I am entitled to playing with the toys I want to play with. Having anyone tell me I can’t play with the toys I want is disheartening, and generally leads me into a bout of cranky pouting. And yes, I do like guns — including the most powerful military versions — and have liked them all of my life. The only reason I support various gun control measures is because I believe it is necessary to sacrifice at least some of my own whims, impulses and childish toy-obsessions in order for other people to feel free and safe. That’s kind of the deal I think folks need to make for civil society to exist at all: we can’t always have everything we want…not even our favorite toys. But I guess not everyone in the U.S. shares that point of view, which means a lot of other privileged folks maintain a perpetual tantrum when it looks like some of their favorite toys might be taken away.
My 2 cents.
A Critical Shift Away from an Extractive Downward Spiral
We can no longer maintain an opportunistic, ever-expanding extractive mindset toward planet Earth’s ecosystems and resources, toward human labor and creativity, toward the cooperative infrastructure of civil society, or in the “taking for granted” of life itself. Our extractive habits are unsustainable in economic terms, but more critically they are destroying everything around us at an accelerating pace. To fully appreciate both our extractivist habits and their consequences, please consult the following resources:
“Deep Adaptation: A Map for Avoiding Climate Tragedy”
by Professor Jem Bendell (full paper available here
; editorial article available here
UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’
(Detailed report overview with many key statistics here
; full “advanced unedited” IPBES report here
“Capitalism is destroying the Earth. We need a new human right for future generations”
— Guardian article by George Monbiot here
“Extractivism and neoextractivism: two sides of the same curse”
by Alberto Acosta (full essay available here
The only solution is to shift as rapidly and all-inclusively as possible to regenerative solutions — and a regenerative state of mind. Collectively and individually, there is really no other choice. Why? Because hopes that global capitalism can be reigned in or civilized are naive and Pollyannish — as all such efforts are routinely undermined by enormously well-funded and fanatical neoliberal investment
in the extractive status quo. Because trust that human innovation will address the most serious consequences of extractivism with new technologies is contradicted by the enormous complexities of natural ecosystems, the stunning scale and current momentum of the problems we must address, and the dismal track record of a majority previous technologies that created unanticipated negative externalities. Our only reasonable option is to implement regenerative systems and vigorously restrain and extinguish extractive systems.
And again, these changes are not restricted to how humanity views and utilizes natural resources
— that is really just the tip of the iceberg. Equally important are how we view people — human creativity, labor, economic behavior, social behavior, spirituality, etc. — as well as how we view the institutions of civil society, and how we view both the wonder of Nature and the miracle of life itself. Does everything exist merely to be used up and exploited? Or does everything in this amazing reality have intrinsic value apart from any utilization by humanity? This is the fundamental question we must answer in order to guide effective transformations of our old, self-destructive habits into new, sustainable and thriving ones.
If These Concerns Are the Primary Drivers of Reform, How Can We Change?
What do “regenerative solutions” look like, then? Certainly there are many proposed frameworks for sustainability that have already proven themselves on various scales — many of which are described in proposals on my Level 7 website
, or would easily dovetail with those proposals. Successful recycling programs and materials sourcing, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture have demonstrated genuine promise in their workability and scalability — even using capitalist metrics, they have increasingly been able to compete with traditional extractive models in terms of productivity and efficiency. As for human exploitation, worker-owned and managed cooperatives, Open Source production, P2P models, and commons-centric governance likewise have an established a meaningful track record of self-sustaining success — again even when using capitalist metrics to evaluate them, they often exceed the productivity and efficiency of traditional exploitative models.
Apart from the understandable resistance of established power and wealth to what will inevitably be a self-sacrificial change, what is the barrier, then, to transitioning away from extraction and exploitation? What is stopping us, and how can we overcome that barrier? Is there something more deeply rooted in our psyche that prevents us from moving forward. . .?
This is my intuition: that we need to fall in love again
— with everything that our hectic, worried, materialistic, technological lifestyle has distanced us from. We need to re-invoke some of the mystery and wonder that once existed for us as we beheld the magnificence of Nature on a daily basis. We need to reconnect with each other in more personal ways — as neighbors, as community members, as citizens and fellow travelers of a rich cultural heritage. We need to cultivate more gratitude regarding the stunning gift our very existence. We must abandon a mechanistic, individualistic, reductionist and profit-centric view of ourselves and the world around us, and reacquaint ourselves with the felt experience of community and mystery. And we must not only grudgingly allow the possibility that life on Earth has intrinsic value, but actually celebrate it as we honor all species, all ecosystems, all habitats, all beings — including each other. In other words: we must return to more authentic, intimate and wonder-filled relationship with All That Is.
This is not a new concern, or a new remedy. Writers, activists, leaders, organizations and movements since capitalism first clawed its way to prominence have warned us of its dangers. However, this re-invocation of mystery has often been framed as an individual journey or choice — sometimes mystical, sometimes psychological, sometimes inviting methodological holism or integralism — but I would contend that this individualistic framing is itself destined to fail. A disproportionate emphasis on individual transformation and development is, in fact, just a new manifestation of the underlying error, confining the solution to the same atomistic, alienated, disconnected separateness that is causing the problem. The re-invocation of mystery must therefore be deeper, more encompassing, and more pervasive and participatory for any enduring, systemic transformation to take effect. It cannot be restricted to “me,” or “my tribe,” or “our community,” or even “our species” or “our planet,” for the egotism of individualism is too easily converted into the arrogance of anthropocentrism.
No, the smallest scope of this shift in relationship must, of necessity, be “All Life,”
and then cascade through all other strata of being from there. To love all of life itself, to cherish it and commit ourselves to its thriving a a whole, is the beginning of cultivating kind, compassionate, caring relationships with everything else. And humanity must, as a whole, participate in this renewed relationship. We must all collectively revive a worshipful passion for the sacredness of life — certainly here on Earth, but really all of its forms wherever they may be found. And we must operationalize that passion within every system, every institution, every mutual agreement, every law, every collaboration and competition, every collective act. We must all live this truth together as if our lives depend on it — because, in light of the cataclysm we have created, our lives do in fact depend on it.
Yes, there will always be outliers, rebels, egoists and psychopaths, some of whom will continue to attain positions of power and influence. And there will be plutocratic pushback against all reforms challenge the supremacy of greed. But despite corporate capitalism’s endless efforts to reenforce, elevate and amplify such antisocial aberrations — through its heartless obsession with transactional relationships, commodification, externalized dependencies, self-indulgent hedonism, and the almighty dollar — that is not who we human beings are in our heart-of-hearts.
Instead, we want to belong, we want to contribute, we want to care and be cared for, we want to love and be loved, and we long to have our intrinsic value and worth acknowledged. That is the basis of society itself — and family, friendship, and lasting romance — rather than the will-to-profit. So it follows that if we can, altogether, remember who we really are, then all the wonder and mystery of our relationship with life itself can be restored.
In many ways what we are aiming for here is recovering a long-abandoned faith. Not faith in the sense of a blindly adherent belief system — and not the faith of any particular religious tradition — but faith as an intentional quality of character that trusts in certain fundamental realities:
realities like the interdependence of all living things; the true miracle of existence; the joy of connectedness and belonging available to all; the power of lovingkindness; and the awe that we can be conscious of any of this. A faith that leads us to conclude with gratitude that, because the Universe has conspired in favor of our consciousness, our consciousness can now conspire in favor of the Universe. A faith that inspires us to celebrate rather than exploit, to regenerate rather than extract, to create rather than destroy. A felt experience of trust in the triumph of love over fear. A faith in life itself.
If such an intuition is correct, it demands that any reformation or revolution begin with this shift in focus, however that can be accomplished. As a small first step in this direction, consider the following short exercise with one or more friends and loved ones, and — if it feels helpful and right to you — practice and share it with others. And if it doesn’t work for you, perhaps you can come up with your own participatory practice that inspires a similar result.
In a quiet space, free of technological interruptions, have everyone join hands, and describe the following steps:
1) With heads bowed and eyes closed, take three deep, slow and even breaths to calm and center the body and mind.
2) Then, take three more slow and even breaths, and silently say to yourselves “May our faith reawaken” as you exhale each time. Focus on the meaning of those words.
3) After three repetitions, open your eyes and look at each other.
4) Breathe in slowly together, and then, as you all exhale, speak aloud in unison: “May our faith reawaken.”
5) Listen to each other, see each other, and again feel the meaning of those words in that moment.
6) Repeat the slow intake of breath and speaking the phrase aloud together two more times ― as an affirmation and encouragement.
7) Afterwards, pause for a few moments to allow this experience to settle and sink in.
We can of course make this exercise more specific by adding to the phrase: “May our faith in each other
reawaken,” or in humanity,
or in the power of compassion,
or in life itself,
and so on. But if we were all to consecrate our day, our actions, our relationships, our intentions, and our purpose with this kind of mutual affirmation and opening up — with a clear understanding of what it invokes regarding a sacred relationship with all of life — could such a small spark make a difference? Could it ignite a unity of compassionate restoration, and energize a critical transformation? Could it reawaken a quality of relationship with ourselves and everything around us that will restore balance and harmony?
In my teaching and coaching, I am always amazed at the power that connectedness and shared intention can create in small groups. That observation is what inspires this exercise, and the entire framework of Community Coregroups
that I discuss in much of my writing.
Fantastic question — thanks Elijah.
The main reason deeply contemplative folks are rare in Western society is, I think, representative of a nexus of cultural factors:
1. An emphasis on analytical reductionism at one extreme, superstition at the other, and groupthink all across the middle. In other words…there isn’t much encouragement to think about topics, conditions, experiences, etc. in multifaceted or holistic ways — and instead there is a lot of pressure to conform to ideas and beliefs that signal membership in a particular group or tribe.
2. A highly commercialized externalization of authority and “speeding up” of all decision-making to facilitate transactions. It is much easier to get folks to buy things (or vote a particular way) if they learn to reflexively and rapidly respond to “calls-to-action” from external authorities and influencers. In other words, “you can’t be happy/sexy/accepted/affluent/classy/sophisticated/important/righteous UNLESS YOU BUY [fill in the blank with product or service] OR VOTE FOR [politician or initiative].” It is also important to keep the engines of capitalism running full speed ahead because capitalism is dependent on growth — which discourages slower, more thoughtful decision-making in favor of quick transactions that facilitate profit. Bigger/newer/faster/better often trumps all other considerations. And when you combine multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns with the tendencies described in point #1, you can easily produce a pervasive lemming-effect through mass media.
3. Technology that abbreviates thought, communication, and connection — and keeps it shallow. Social media, texting, email…even phone calls are really poor substitutions for breaking bread with folks and having deep, meaningful, emotionally and intellectually rich conversations. But that’s how most of us in the West are communicating with each other nowadays.
4. A longstanding prejudice against both intellectualism and intuition. Aligning with point #2, Western culture discourages folks from trusting either our own critical thinking ability or our intuitive hunches. Instead, these interior capacities become suspect. I don’t know where these prejudices came from, but any nerdy or mystical kid who was routinely tormented by jocks and bullies in school knows how prevalent the prejudices are.
5. Thinking deeply is hard, and humans have become lazy and addicted to convenience and comfort. In the developed world, life has become pretty luxurious. There isn’t much existential worry for citizens of Western countries — or much reason to think carefully or in a concentrated way to preserve a lowest-common-denominator of well-being. I think that has encouraged us to relax our reflective abilities.
Okay…that’s my 2 cents.
What if, suddenly out of the blue, I insisted that you stop trying to control other people?
What if I said that, when you try to control what other people say or what they do, it’s just a symptom of your own insecurity? And what if I said you needed to do some tough personal work
on yourself first, before trying to make other people conform to your expectations of how they should act towards you? And what if I said that, eventually, if you actually did that tough personal work, you’d almost certainly stop trying to control others anyway?
How would that make you feel? And, most importantly, would it change your behavior at all…?
Or would it just piss you off? Perhaps make you challenge my self-appointed role in policing your behavior? Would you maybe ask: “Who the heck are YOU to tell me what I can and can’t do???”
Okay then. So now consider the following situations:
- A woman doesn’t like the way a man is touching her arm.
- A transgender person wants coworkers to use their chosen pronoun.
- A gay person is offended by the homophobic jokes of fellow students.
- A Vegan is horrified when someone brings a meat dish to a potluck at their home.
- A person of color feels alienated by a politician using coded language – language that reveals prejudice or even hatred towards their race.
- A religious person feels persecuted and excluded by a law, a business practice or a cultural tradition that belittles or contradicts their beliefs.
- A person of a particular political persuasion believes another group routinely looks down on them, dismisses their ideas, and laughs at their beliefs.
- A member of one socioeconomic class feels targeted and oppressed by members of other socioeconomic classes.
- A politically correct audience is angry and judgmental about a comedian’s sense of humor regarding any-of-the-above.
These examples aren’t meant to be equivalant, but in any of these situations there can be real emotional pain involved – a genuine felt experience of demeaning oppression
– that could lead to debilitating despair over time. But, even though real harm may be occurring, does the offended person have the right to demand that those causing offense be ridiculed, shamed, accused or blamed? To demand that they apologize, admit they were wrong, and commit to changing their behavior? To insist they be punished in some way – that they resign, be fired, lose status, be publicly harassed, or are deserving of threats and intimidation? To essentially become an example of accountability for all similar wrongs experienced in society...a scapegoat for those collective ills?
Can you see what is really happening here?
It isn’t just that the abused is turning into an abuser – it can be much subtler and more insidious than that. For if each of these individuals (or groups of folks) insists that everyone else conform to their particular standard of conduct, to respect their particular sensitivities, to always consider their feelings and perspective and honor their particular belief system…well, then this leads to everyone constantly policing everyone else’s behavior, and thereby amplifies mistrust and even hatred.
And this, in turn, has everyone pissing everyone else off, to the point where we all declare: “Hey, what gives YOU the right to tell me what I’m allowed to say or do?!”
And so we all begin to resent the shackles that our society seems to be placing on us; we all begin to question whether living in harmony with each other is really worth it – and whether our civic institutions are all that important…or worth preserving. We begin to doubt the very foundations of civil society itself.
And yet there is increasingly a reliance on impersonal institutions, the court of public opinion in mass media, and often disproportionate personal punishments to correct what are essentially ongoing cultural and interpersonal challenges. Whether it is a left-leaning social justice warrior or right-leaning religious conservative, promoting the imposition of personal preferences via such impersonal mechanisms is actually destroying the social cohesion required to repair these longstanding problems.
And this is where we have arrived in the U.S. culture of 2019. In every corner of our current political, religious, racial, and economic landscape, folks are arming themselves with accusations against other people who don’t seem to respect or honor a particular boundary or standard of behavior. Everyone is able to take offense, and demand that everyone else change.
And then the most impersonal, coercive and punitive of institutional tools are used to seek remedy. It is as if we have arrived in George Orwell’s 1984
– or even Golding’s Lord of the Flies
– or the worst periods of the Soviet era, or Nazi Germany, or the darkest days of McCarthyism, or the ugly history of the Inquisition…times when folks were ratting each other out to gain praise from those in power, or achieve brief political advantage over someone else, or garner a little more social capital in circumstances where they felt disempowered, or were simply taking revenge on people they didn’t like – and then taking pleasure in their suffering. And, as a consequence, in every one of these historical situations, civil society itself was eventually degraded by pervasive mistrust and mutual oppression.
Is that what we want? Do we want to head any further down this dark and dismal path?
If not, then we need to rethink what is becoming a reflexive and widespread culture of blaming, accusing, ridiculing, shaming, and punishing.
For at its core, when we ask other people to change their behavior to make us feel more comfortable or safe, we are actually giving away our power.
We are offering them all the agency in a given situation, and abdicating our own. We are reinforcing our victim status, and strengthening the bullies even as we attempt to punish them. Often, we may even be galvanizing opposing tribes against any hope of reconciliation. We are, in effect, perpetuating both conflict and our own disempowerment at the same time, rather than solving the underlying problems. And as we give away our own power – while at the same time challenging and undermining everyone else’s – we end up destroying the voluntary trust, empathy and compassion that bind society together. Instead, we replace it with fear.
So…what is the alternative?
There are many observable options that have proven more effective, so why not return to those? For example, in each of the awkward and uncomfortable situations described above:
1. We can fortify our own emotional constitution, instead of taking offense.
We can become stronger and more secure in who we are,
without expecting others to respect or honor us. This may require some real interior work on our part – some genuine fortification of spirit, mind and heart – but the result will be that we won’t constantly require others to conform to our expectations anymore.
2. We can calmly ask for what we want
– not as a self-righteous demand, but as a favor from someone who says that they want to have a professional or personal relationship with us. If they really care about us, perhaps they will at least try. But if our response is met with scorn, dismissiveness or skepticism, we have the option of letting it go. After all, that person’s approval, acceptance and conformance is not required…because we have become more confident and secure in ourselves. We don’t need to demand their conformance – and why would we want it, if it doesn’t come from a place of respect, understanding and compassion?
3. We can accept where other people are, let go of judgement, and be a positive example for them.
This is what authentic, effective leaders (and parents, and managers) do: they lead by steadfast and dedicated example…not through blaming, threats, accusations or fear of punishment.
Bullying is the easy way out. We can do better.
4. We can passively, actively and nonviolently resist.
We can refuse to participate in activities, systems, environments and relationships that demean who we are and what we believe. We can then vote to support compassionate candidates and friendly initiatives. We can purchase goods and services from those who are supportive to our identity and beliefs. And we can do this without hatred, without fear and anxiety, without shame or blame.
5. We can create supportive communities, while also cultivating challenging relationships that bridge differences.
We can surround ourselves with like-minded folks who nurture and encourage who we are and what we believe – especially in our closest relationships. At the same time, we can also cultivate friendships and social or professional connections with people who are different, who disagree, who aren’t as accepting or as tolerant. For how else can we teach by example, or demonstrate compassion, empathy, tolerance and acceptance if we don’t have such diverse relationships in our lives?
6. We can be brave…and bravely be ourselves.
We can speak our truth, share our perspectives, broadcast our preferences, celebrate our identity, and proudly honor our chosen tribe…without making others feel belittled, excluded, accused, blamed or shamed. We can joyfully be who we are, while also being welcoming and kind at the same time. We can be stalwart in our own principles, while being generous towards those who do not share them. This is what real power and agency looks like.
7. We can recover our sense of humor.
Perhaps it’s time to allow just a little bit of playfulness back into our lives and public discourse. A little bit of good-natured joshing. Humor isn’t by definition “mean-spirited.” There is a difference between a joke and a slight – and often this is has just as much to do with how the humor is received, as with how it is intended.
If we are always reactive, always defensive, always on-edge…well, we are not likely to be able to create or maintain the relationships required to heal a polarized society. Perhaps, if we let a little humor back into our world, we wouldn’t all be so angry, defensive and fearful so much of the time.
These are the methods that make a real difference over time, that can effectively heal through compassionate and welcoming personal relationships, rather than deepening divides with institutional vindictiveness and “Us vs. Them” groupthink.
In essence, if we want everyone in a diverse and multifaceted society to thrive together, then we all must assert our own place and space to do that – not by demanding others create that space for us, but by claiming it ourselves and standing firm
…without anger or condemnation towards anyone else. In essence, we need to stop blaming and accusing. This is not easy, but it demonstrates genuine strength of character. And it is the content of our character by which we all would prefer to be judged, isn’t it? I think we need to return to this standard of measure, if we want to avoid spiraling backwards and downwards, into the greatest horrors of human history.
Just my 2 cents.
Thanks for the question.
I think mainly it’s a matter of scale. The gap between that upper 10% and everyone else is almost too vast to comprehend.
Then there is the issue of what “savings” can actually accomplish. Even though I learned about the miracle of compound interest in my early 20s, the most outrageous predictions about my own potential wealth after 40 years of saving could never come close to what the upper 10% have amassed individually today. A couple of million maybe. But 200 Billion…?
People can intuitively grasp that not saving has consequences — especially if they’re going into debt at the same time in order to consume conspicuously. Almost everyone I know who is over 60 has looked back on their lives with chagrin regarding how they spent everything they earned. At the same time, many would not have made different choices. They don’t regret traveling in Europe in their 20s and meeting the love of their life overseas. They don’t regret buying expensive instruments and making music with friends. They don’t regret paying off their college loans, or buying their dream house on some wooded acreage. So what quality of life is anyone really willing to sacrifice in order to amass more wealth…? But the conspicuous consumption issue…or not budgeting…or not planning financially at all…well, that’s probably an issue of education more than anything else. I was very conscious about what I was sacrificing (over the longer term) by traveling, eating well, going to concerts, etc. But I don’t think most people are all that aware…until it’s too late.
And that brings us to what the “surprise” is really all about: an awakening to an unpleasant situation that was truly unexpected. I am currently helping manage the finances and healthcare of family members with dementia. Some of those family members had saved quite a bit. Some saved nothing. In both cases, they weren’t at all prepared for what was coming. ALL of their resources will be exhausted LONG BEFORE they arrive at the final stages of care. ALL OF THEM. And so for the ones who saved, it really didn’t matter that much — they are still suffering and will continue to suffer, and there will very likely be nothing left to pass on to their beneficiaries…little safety or comfort for themselves, and no legacy for their loved ones, despite all that careful saving and planning.
So even the objective of amassing wealth loses its allure in the face of such circumstances. If things are going to end like that regardless, then why NOT spend everything now to enjoy life?
And this speaks to a much more fundamental problem IMO: the reliance on individual or familial wealth to navigate well-being, instead of developing a more compassionate civil society with supportive institutions. It points, I think, to the fundamental flaw in the materialist/individualist mindset.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. I think that kind of depends on what you want to know. For example:
Want to understand the “populist” conceptions of the right-libertarian movement? Read Ayn Rand. She’s not libertarian but more laissez-faire (and in fact criticized libertarianism), but many folks conflate her “objectivist” philosophy with justifications for right-libertarian ideals. Of course, genuinely thoughtful folks don’t really take Ayn Rand seriously, as so many of her assertions are either purely invented or just plain mistaken. In the same vein, you could also consult Ludwig von Mises of the Austrian School — completely separate angle from Rand that brush up against populist libertarianism, but equally crackpot and arriving at similarly non-evidenced-based conclusions.
Want to understand some broadly-held, philosophical foundations for right-libertarianism? Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman are very popular among the deeper-thinking crowd. However, these two are not very…shall we say…disciplined or clear thinkers themselves — their work is sometimes laden with logical fallacies, contradictions and baseless assumptions. However, to understand the central tenets of modern right-libertarianism today, they are fairly go-to authors.
Want to dig deep and really get your head around right-libertarianism? To rigorously delve into more intellectually honest and nuanced underpinnings of right-libertarian ideology, I would check out these two books:
Friedrich Hayek’s The Transmission of the Ideals of Freedom, and
Robert Nozik’s Anarchy, State and Utopia
IMO these two thinkers are able to more honestly engage the challenges of their own ideology, and are capable of real nuance and abstraction around complex issues. They are simply much more sophisticated. As a left-libertarian myself, I have respect for these authors, and have been happy to engage their writing in order to refine my own ideas (often opposing ideas…but not always!).
My 2 cents.
Thank you for the question.
Reagan’s recision of the Fairness Doctrine had huge and enduring consequences regarding news media and information delivery in the U.S.…and the action was not “inevitable” as some have suggested.
Consider the Fairness Doctrine terms “honest, equitable and balanced,” and then consider how the Fairness Doctrine applied those to “controversial matters” that were in the public’s interest to report
. This is the heart of the Fairness Doctrine: to inform U.S. citizens in a balanced way regarding diverse perspectives around critical issues.
The spirit of the Fairness Doctrine was to prevent biased or misleading journalism and media coverage, and to represent as many different perspectives on a given issue as possible — and especially opposing viewpoints — as fairly as possible. In essence, this was an effort to discourage propaganda in U.S. media that served private agendas.
Propaganda is often, after all, simply reporting one side of a given issue.
You’ll notice that other answers so far completely leave this critical point out.
Now, why did the FCC revoke the Fairness Doctrine? The Reagan administration framed the revocation under “concerns about free speech;” in other words, that the FCC’s continued enforcement could potentially
interfere with some forms of free speech in media (there was no evidence that this was the case, only that this could be a concern). Even if such concerns had been validated, this simply would have required additional legislation to refine the Fairness Doctrine from Congress — but such worries are completely and utterly contradicted by the subsequent explosion of alternative media platforms (cable TV, Internet streaming, etc.). Do you see the problem with some of the other answers now…? If the main concern about the Fairness Doctrine (from conservatives at the time) was really impingement of free speech, how could “the Fairness Doctrine being outdated” due to a plethora of alternative media platforms also be a central consideration…? This is a duplicitous ruse. We know this because there is ALSO the issue of the 1986 SCOTUS ruling that affirmed the FCC’s ability to enforce the Fairness Doctrine on teletext technology…opening the door for its application to other media platforms as well.
We can even speculate that this expansion of FCC authority over newly emerging media stoked efforts by conservatives to eliminate the Fairness Doctrine completely.
Now, it is important to appreciate that Congress DID update the Fairness Doctrine, at the time of its revocation, to address some of these issues…but Reagan vetoed that legislation anyway.
So, in reality, conservatives just didn’t like the way the Fairness Doctrine was being applied by the FCC, or how Fairness Doctrine cases had played out in the courts, or how it was already being applied to future information technologies. THAT is the real reason conservatives wanted it gone. Why? Well, not only did the Fairness Doctrine dampen neoliberal propaganda efforts, it also did not allow conservatives to restrict progressive opinions being broadcast on publicly funded media (like NPR/PBS) when conservatives controlled the FCC (this was decided in the 1984 SCOTUS ruling FCC v. League of Women Voters of California
.) In other words: the Fairness Doctrine was useless to conservatives who wanted to promote their own agenda while suppressing progressive ideologies…and they just could not stand for that.
And what has happened since? Propaganda has taken over conservative for-profit media, and conservatives have both doggedly sought to defund publicly funded non-profit media, and to disallow the FCC to regulate ANY media with fairness in mind. For example, the latest repeal of Net Neutrality by a conservative-controlled FCC is completely consistent with such efforts — why not let corporations decide who gets access to what and when? Neoliberals simply do not want there to be “honest, equitable and balanced” coverage of controversial issues — not even if propaganda is being funded by Russia on Facebook or Twitter! They believe “the market” can and should determine all outcomes — in other words, whoever has the most money to begin with, or who can most effectively deceive and manipulate people, should determine what information is available to the public.
So…again, WHY are conservatives so concerned about the consumers and voters having access to good, balanced information? Well, we’ve seen exactly why over the intervening years since the Fairness Doctrine was revoked:
- The Oil & Gas industry
doesn’t want you to know about the realities of climate change.
- The Pharmaceutical industry
doesn’t want you to know how dangerous and/or ineffective their drugs actually are.
- The Tobacco industry
doesn’t want you to know about the real health risks of tobacco and vaping.
- The wealthiest owner-shareholders
don’t want you to know that trickle-down economics has never, ever worked — and that economic nationalism won’t ever bring certain jobs back to the U.S.A. — but that conservative economic policies instead enrich only those wealthy few.
- Evangelical Christians
don’t want you to know that Planned Parenthood is a much more effective way to prevent abortions than outlawing abortions has ever been.
- The Firearms industry
doesn’t wan’t you to have statistics about just how lethal their products actually are — or how rarely those weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens actually prevent crime.
- (And so on with all sorts of other vested interests: agriculture, petrochemicals, insurance, financial institutions, etc.)
You see the pattern? There is a tremendous amount of money at stake — and the underpinnings of tribal belief systems along with it. Facts, evidence and statistics almost universally undermine conservative positions…so why would conservatives EVER wan’t news and information media to really be “honest, equitable and balanced?”
So…what happened? Well, if you do some research on this you’ll see that ALL conservative news media is, in fact, not just heavily biased towards supporting untruths, they are also more prone to deliberate counterfactual reporting, sometimes even fabricating stories that support neoliberal agendas and a conservative worldview. In contrast, left-leaning media can indeed be biased, but doesn’t approach the level of deceptive misinformation and outright lies that are perpetrated by right-leaning media.
And so, as with any democracy, the quality of information that a voting population has is going to determine the quality of politicians they elect, and the agendas that are moved forward in government. Which is how we’ve arrived at a Trump presidency and Republican Party that is so woefully disconnected from reality — to a degree that is clearly harmful to the well-being of citizens in the U.S. and around the globe. And this is what Reagan’s revoking the Fairness Doctrine and blocking its revision by Congress has gifted to the American people and the world.
Lastly, in addition to helping neoliberal propaganda efforts, ending the Fairness Doctrine has also helped even more nefarious efforts — such as the “active measures” of Russian intelligence — to distort public information and perception as well. It is more than a little ironic that Ronald Reagan, champion of anti-Soviet rhetoric and disruption of the Soviet Union itself, was single-handedly responsible for the ability of an ex-KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, to directly manipulate the American public today. See the link below for more on that.
In closing, here are some resources I would recommend to more thoroughly understand and navigate these issues:
(covers neoliberal propaganda efforts and agendas)
(covers Russia’s “active measures”)
Media Bias/Fact Check - Search and Learn the Bias of News Media
(great resource for checking media bias and accuracy)
My 2 cents.