Christianity, Neoliberalism, & Right-Wing Populism: A Faustian Bargain




Here is an excerpt from my latest essay exploring the incompatibility between conservative Christianity and the New Testament's central Christian values and ideals.

"...my current thinking about this has distilled the primary dichotomy down to underlying contrasting views about freedom and equality. This may be just one more oversimplification, but here are the basic propositions:

1. Progressives view freedom and equality as collective agreements, supported by evolving cultural norms and the rule of law, that facilitate the most comprehensive collective benefit possible for everyone in society. In other words, progressives view equality between all citizens, and the maximization of freedom for each individual, as a consequence of mutually agreed societal expectations. And why are those agreements important? Because they can achieve egalitarian outcomes across all of society. Importantly, the equality and freedom of all people are predetermined assumptions about both ideal individual rights and the ideal conditions in which they ought to live. Therefore, progressivism tends to view itself as inherently aspirational, aiming for “life as it could be,” in perpetual opposition to a flawed status quo.

2. Conservatives view freedom as a natural right of every person that facilitates their ability to pursue beneficial outcomes according to their skills, aptitudes, and capacity to compete with others. Equality is likewise viewed more through a lens of merit – it is less a predetermined assumption about all people being equal, and more a possibility of achieving equal standing in society that can be earned through demonstrated effort. And what is the presupposed outcome? That some people will be winners, with a greater experience of equality and freedom, and some people will be losers, with less of that experience –but the conservative accepts this as the natural and somewhat fixed order of things. Therefore, conservativism tends to view itself as inherently pragmatic, embracing the status quo of “how things are” – a static view of cultural norms that benefit those who achieve privilege and position – and defending ways those norms can predictably continue.


Much time and effort could be spent appreciating the subtleties of this topic – details like equality of outcome verses equality of opportunity, facilitation of agency verse extinguishment of agency, positive verses negative liberty, and so on – but it seems to me that this boils down to different approaches to ending poverty, deprivation and oppression in their many forms. The conservative views the world as rich with opportunities, with the only major barriers to actualized freedom and equality – and the consequent attenuation of poverty, deprivation, and oppression – being interference or competition from other individuals, and interference or competition from civic institutions. The progressive, on the other hand, views the world as encumbered with many structural and pervasive cultural barriers (racism, sexism, classicism, ageism, tribalism, etc.) that need to be removed through collective agreements –most often embodied in civic institutions and the rule of law – in order for freedom and equality to be actualized, and for poverty, deprivation, and oppression to be vanquished. At its core, therefore, this remains a diametric opposition.

But which approach does the New Testament endorse? What does Jesus promote? For me this is where things get really interesting. Because the New Testament consistently presents very much the same contrast we see embodied in progressivism and conservativism. With regard to “the world as it is,” there are frequent reminders in scripture that the world cannot be changed, that its machinations, power structures, oppressions, arrogance, striving, and injustices must be accepted and its burdens dutifully borne. At the same time, the kingdom of God is promoted as “the world as it should be,” full of compassion, forgiveness, kindness, humility, generosity, and mutual aid. Christians are encouraged again and again not to conform to the world’s values, priorities, and divisive norms, but instead to evidence the fruit of the spirit of Christ (Gal 5:22) by reforming personal priorities and values – and the collective priorities and values within the Church – to reflect a new way of being. In fact, such reformation is itself proof of the kingdom of God’s establishment in the world. And what characterizes that new way of being? The virtues of righteousness, peace, trust, and agape that we explored in the earlier table, 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.

What is the first step to losing democracy?

Democracy has always been pretty fragile, but it has some natural enemies. I think we can easily observe four categories of those enemies to democracy:

1. Some enemies can be characterized as those persons or groups who do not wish to cede power or wealth — or those who wish to accumulate more power and wealth than others in society. We might call these “active external antagonists.”

2. There are the inherent characteristics of the electorate, which are what we might call the “passive internal barriers,” such as apathy, ignorance, low intelligence, immaturity, or gullibility.

3. There are then “passive external barriers” such as the lack of adequate or reliable information to make complex voting decisions, or logistic or institutional difficulties in voting or registering to vote.

4. And finally there is “active internal sabotage,” where voters remain willfully ignorant on issues that require their vote, actively shun voting as a consequence of conspiracy beliefs, adopt an ideology that opposes democratic institutions and practices, or consciously abdicate their own agency through misplaced faith in an individual or political party (and just vote in lockstep conformance with that party).

So the “first step to losing democracy” can really be any of these enemies gaining a sufficient foothold in society to undermine its democratic institutions. More alarmingly, there might be combinations of these enemies occurring at the same time. As a worst-case-scenario, we would see ALL of these enemies converge on democracy in the same period of time. Unfortunately, that appears to be the condition of many democracies around the globe right now.

As an example, I can speak to what is occurring in the U.S. in this regard. Here is how those enemies have been rearing their ugly heads over the past few election cycles:

1. Active external antagonists: On the one hand, we have special interests with enormous wealth who have captured election campaigns, lobbying efforts, and consequently control legislation and regulatory agencies. This group can broadly be characterized as “neoliberal crony capitalists.” On the other hand, we have the “active measures” from Russia and other state actors who seek to confuse, disrupt and distort democracy in the U.S.

2. Passive internal barriers: This has been a pervasive downward spiral in the U.S. for many decades — apathy, ignorance, low IQ, immaturity, and gullibility have been hallmarks of the American electorate across all parties and affiliations. This may be cultural, it may be a consequence of Americans “relaxing” into relative affluence and comfort, it may be the result of a passive consumer mindset that is conditioned to be “sold” on every idea or decision, or all of these things.

3. Passive external barriers: Although logistic and institutional difficulties have increasingly been engineered by the GOP (through voter disenfranchisement, reduced voting locations and times, barriers to voter registration, gerrymandering, and other strategies, etc.), there is also the issue of real and exponential complexity in voting decisions. Also, although there is good, reliable information available for voters, it is increasingly challenging to differentiate it from the much louder noise and distraction of propaganda media outlets.

4. Active internal sabotage: Certain ideologies and beliefs have taken root in the U.S. that amplify pessimism, disinterest, and even despair and hostility regarding voting and democracy. These can be found across the entire political spectrum, but seem to be concentrated (and much more aggressive) in the far Left and far Right. Sometimes, the aim of these ideologies is to dismantle democracy and democratic governments entirely. Somewhat ironically, a common theme among these disaffected voters is that they would like to have “more freedom” than the current system affords them, but of course by not participating in or undermining democracy, they are self-oppressing: reducing their own agency and freedom to pre-democracy levels.

So we aren’t in a great place right now. To restore democracy — which after all is the greatest collective expression of human freedom that has ever arisen in the world — we all likely need to a) re-engage in democracy as actively and thoughtfully as possible, and b) forcefully oppose and reform the internal and external “enemies” to democracy described above. If we can do this, I think there is hope. But we may genuinely be running out of time….

Some additional references:

Neoliberalism
Disinformation (includes links to more reliable information sources)
The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom (essay)

Is now the time that the world could potentially drop money entirely and spontaneously collaborate and share without coercion? What can be done to help trigger this?

Thanks for the question.

First, that’s already happening. Established movements/practices like P2P and Open Source, for example, as well as the democratization of knowledge and creative sharing via the Internet, and efforts to return economies to a commons-centric model. The “trigger” has simply been the desire to create and collaborate, while sidestepping an obsession with ownership and profit, often with very specific and pragmatic ends (in the real world). So in both the digital realm, and the material realm, “spontaneously collaborating and sharing without coercion” is a fait accompli.

In terms of expanding just these two approaches, efforts are underway. Check out the P2P Foundation, Creative Commons, http://commonstransition.org and of course Wikipedia.

In terms of “how we get there,” well, certainly educating ourselves (and helping educate others) about the current models is an important part of the mix — and, perhaps more than that, creating a positive vision around them. At the same time, encouraging folks to question the destructive aspects of capitalism is also important — to help them recognize that we do, in fact, need to change our systems and philosophy of production and distribution in order to survive as a species.

There are also forms of activism that can help “trigger” a change. I cover some of those here: L e v e l - 7 Action. There is a lot to take in on that web page, but the essential idea is a multi-pronged approach to change that addresses many different levels and arenas of engagements. Please consider spending some time there and following the links to more in-depth discussions of many topics.

In a very real sense, the current COVID-19 pandemic may help folks reevaluate the inherent flaws of our global economic system, and perhaps consider some of these alternatives.

I hope this was helpful.

Is there such a thing as traditional progressivism?

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.

Today, Donald Trump said the COVID-19 lockdown in America could be in effect until July or August. What will happen to the people who are forced to stay home from work and can’t pay rent or bills?

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.

Why does a person's response to COVID-19 often correlate to their position on the political spectrum?

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.

What do you think of the survey that found socialism is now the favorable majority view with Democrats under the age of 30?

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.

What have you contributed to society that makes you believe that you have the right to expect your neighbors to be obligated to pay for your education, healthcare, childcare, vacations, etc?

What a delightfully inane question. Thank you for the opportunity to entertain.

Some questions that we might ponder to burrow down to the heart of this matter, run along these lines:

What have you contributed to society that makes you believe you have the right to expect your neighbors to be obligated to pay for…

1. Firefighters to save you from a burning building while you sleep?
2. Roads for you to drive to work on?
3. A standing army to defend your community from foreign invaders?
4. Police officers to answer a 911 call when someone breaks into your home, threatens your family, or mugs you in the street?
5. Government funded research into vaccines for deadly diseases that would otherwise never be developed?
6. Emergency disaster assistance when a tornado, flood or fire wipes out your entire town?
7. Medical facilities to treat you if you are “out of network,” don’t have adequate insurance coverage, and don’t have enough money to pay out-of-pocket?

And so on…

There are so many things we take for granted as a “right,” when really they are the privileges that societal organization affords us because we have all agreed to cooperate in that society and abide by its rules. In reality, we are all just entitled “freeloaders” when we expect civil society to function at all on our behalf. After all, what have we, personally, done to contribute to the structures, agreements, benefits, protections, and rights of that society? What have we, individually, done to build up or maintain any of privileges society grants us? Usually absolutely nothing…except pay taxes, and conform to the rule of law, both of which many people only do grudgingly.

Really, there are just a few central questions that we need to answer for ourselves:

1. Which civic institutions do we wish to prioritize as the most important, and which members of society do we want to primarily benefit from them? (These are really two sides of the same coin IMO)
2. In whom do we wish to vest the power to make decisions about the prioritization of civic institutions and who benefits from them? In other words, do we want a democratic process, an autocratic process, an oligarchic process….?
3. How do we wish to pay for these civic institutions, manage them, and maintain them?

To say that rule of law that prevents people from randomly murdering each other without consequence is somehow different from young children having unfettered access to healthcare is really an arbitrary distinction — as human beings will die if either consideration is neglected. Until most of society substantively agrees on answers to the three questions above, the rejection of one benefit over another is equally arbitrary, and often based on selfish advantage or consideration. For example: “Why should I pay school bonds when I don’t have any kids?” If everyone thought this way, societal cohesion would quickly disintegrate (and perhaps that is what we see happening in the world right now…).

That said, I am a libertarian socialist, so I’m not really a big fan of large central government. I like diffused, distributed solutions. You can read about my ideas here: L e v e l - 7 Overview

My 2 cents.

Was it really socialism that "destroyed" Venezuela?

Venezuela’s decline gets discussed quite a bit, and there are wide ranging opinions about it — many of which seem to contain both kernels of truth, and evidence of bias. It’s difficult to find a balanced assessment.

That said, I’ll offer what I believe to be the chief elements of Venezuela’s destabilization and decline, in their rough order of impact and importance:

1. Decades of pervasive and severe corruption — in both government and business independently…and as a “crony capitalist” combination of the two.

2. The predictable course of “the resource curse,” as a consequence of huge oil reserves, the country’s over-dependence on that single source of wealth, and the unreliability and decline in profitability of those reserves.

3. Authoritarian mismanagement and incompetence — Chávez, and then Maduro, could have ruined any form of political economy with their heavy-handed incompetence, but in this particularly case it was clearly a megalomaniacal, utterly failed implementation of a socialistic state-directed economy. (see T. Collins Logan's answer to What are the different types of socialism?)

4. Amplification of problems by sanctions — although there is substantive debate around both the extent of this amplification, and the efficacy of sanctions in achieving intended aims, the sanctions certainly aren’t helping the people of Venezuela in the short run.

I have included some links below to support each of this assertions.

But why is Venezuela’s form of political economy such a “hot topic” right now? Mainly, it is because of right-wing propaganda that has sought to demonize anything that opposes or constrains free market capitalism, or in any way disrupts the gravy train of corporate wealth generation and accumulation that pro-capitalist policy provides. Calling anything that fails “socialism,” and anything that succeeds “capitalism,” has been a favorite conservative tactic since the first “Red Scare” after WWI. In reality, most successful economies in the world are mixed economies that have both socialist and capitalist elements.

I hope this was helpful.

Corruption in Venezuela - Wikipedia

Venezuela Corruption Report

Cronyism Damaged Venezuela before Chavez

How Hugo Chávez Blew Up Venezuela’s Oil Patch

Venezuela and the “resource curse”

International sanctions during the Venezuelan crisis - Wikipedia

Mixed economy - Economics Help

Is the United States at a point in its existence where the people are just going to have to give socialism a try to demonstrate that it does or does not work?

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….

Which principle should a society put as priority first, freedom or equality?

This is a funny question. Why? Because:

1. You can easily have lots of freedom without equality — if you are rich, or if you exit society altogether. So a society that places “freedom” first, without establishing equality, could just be an oppressive, classist, plutocratic society that alienates all the poor people into running away from it.

2. Although it is much more difficult, it is possible to engineer a society that has a lot of equality, but a lot less freedom — to the point of being oppressive. This is what science fiction novels about dystopian futures warn us against, and what propaganda about former Soviet countries has harped upon.

3. Therefore, the only formula that will really work for those who want a society that has both freedom and equality is to place the highest priority on “equality of freedom.” If everyone’s freedom is equal, then that constitutes true equality…and maximizes freedom to the greatest degree. As to how to achieve this, here is an essay that discusses a possible approach: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom

My 2 cents.

Do tax cuts hurt the economy?

Yes. The key to understanding why is something called “counter-cyclical fiscal policy.” Basically, if there is a sudden economic downturn (recession), a government can decrease taxes and increase deficit spending to “counter” the downturn. But, if tax revenues are already so low that deficit spending is already a runaway train (as in our current situation in the U.S.), there isn’t a lot of wiggle room, if any, to enact counter-cyclical policies. Eventually, perpetual deficit spending also tends to crowd out private investment over time, as interest rates begin to rise as a natural consequence of all that deficit spending. And this further contracts growth.

So although cutting taxes is an attractive short-term stimulus tactic, it generally is more of a “placebo” effect on economic expansion…and the economy will almost inevitably swing in the opposite direction (i.e. contract) over time. Which means that, as a rather nasty amplifying effect when recession inevitably arrives, the government will abruptly be saddled with a massive debt burden that now costs more and more to service (again, as interests rates rise as a consequence of constant deficit spending) — the debt servicing will become more and more a preoccupation of future budgets, which will cast around for cuts to anything and everything else, thus further weakening the economy. Alternatively, the federal government can become insolvent — which may actually be the irrational aim of certain neoliberal conservatives who dislike government “interference” in markets, and seek a purer laissez-faire economy.

In any case this is why “procyclical” policy (i.e. what the Trump administration is engaged in now) is pretty reckless.

My 2 cents.

How do you defeat an ideology without using force or repression?

This is a really great question — and one that is particularly relevant to the challenges we face on planet Earth.

Here are a few of the top considerations:

1. Any approach must be multi-pronged to address the many different stimulators of change (and many different resistors to change). We cannot rely on one, simplistic approach — no matter how attractive it may seem. This has always been true to a certain degree, but it is especially true in today’s complex, highly interconnected and interdependent, massively scaled society.

2. It is also important to appreciate that culture, more than any other factor, is probably the strongest driver of both the status quo, and potential change. Unless we address culture as a primary part of the mix, change may occur briefly, but it will not “stick.”

3. In dealing with ideology specifically, it is helpful to understand how that ideology came to prominence, and attempt address the same drivers with alternative ideas. One of the more effective ways of doing this is to evaluate the “values hierarchy” involved — that is, which values is a given ideology appealing to first and foremost, and what are the cascading values that support the primary values — that create the deeper foundation. You can read about this idea here: Functional Intelligence. The idea is that any new ideology will need to be essentially better satisfying and reifying that values hierarchy.

4. But being “better” actually isn’t enough. Any new idea must also be “stronger” (I mean in the memetic, cultural sense), more compelling, and more persuasive than the old idea. Being “better” (more efficient, more rational, more effective, more grounded in evidence) is an important starting point — but the new idea also has to “have legs;” it has to be able to self-perpetuate, self-propagate, and endure. It has to sell itself.

5. Once these prerequisites are met, the next step is to implement a plan of influence, disruption of the status quo, and change — and this plan must include specific, well-defined goals for an outcome. This is the piece that many “idealists” completely miss: they believe that ideas will stand on their own. But human beings learn best through imitation, through following a demonstrated example, and look to the reenforcement of peers, media and culture to maintain the momentum of any set of ideals. So any new direction has to demonstrate its merit…and this is really the hurdle that keeps many new ideas from ever taking root.

I will provide an example of what I am talking about. Please visit this site: L e v e l - 7 Overview. It attempts to provide many of the pieces to cultural change described above. For example:

1. On the home page there are seven “Articles of Transformation” that embody the values hierarchy of Level 7 proposals, and some specific goals for the reification of those values. Those values — and the philosophy that supports them — are more carefully laid out in the “Design Principles” outlined in each of those Articles.

2. Then there is a L e v e l - 7 Action section on the site. This defines the multi-pronged approach necessary to migrate away from status quo ideologies and practices to more sustainable and equitable ones. It includes these fronts of change activism, with resources to support them:

a.Constructive grass-roots populism
b.Disrupting the status quo
c.Exposing misinformation and pro-corporatocracy PR campaigns
d.Recruiting elite change agents
e.Community-centric pilot projects
f.Individual development and supportive networking
g.Socially engaged art, and visionary art that inspires transformation

If I myself had infinite time, infinite resources, and infinite personal talents to do so, I would attempt to be involved in all of this. I believe that, if I could write a novel that illustrated the Level 7 vision, that might be very persuasive on a memetic, cultural level. If I could establish “Community Coregroups” in different cities, as described on the site above, this would also be extremely helpful. If I could design and champion demonstrative pilot projects (Land Trusts, NGOs, citizens councils, etc.) in multiple localities, this also would be ideal. And so on. But I’m not really at liberty to do any of those things in my current situation. Some of the other “prongs,” however, are things I can accomplish, and I’m attempting to do that. But no one can take this task on alone.

This presents both a profound difficulty and a profound opportunity: this can’t be a one-person effort, not in today’s world, but we also now have unprecedented ability to connect and coordinate within society — in ways we never had before. This new connectivity is really how movements like the Arab Spring were able to happen. However, just as one person cannot save us all, one single idea cannot save us all, either. What we are really talking about — and what the OP’s question is inadvertently alluding to — is that “ideology” has become a sort of snowballing memeplex of many different ideologies glued haphazardly together. Sometimes that memeplex can even be full of internal contradictions, and so tangled up in values hierarchies that seem to oppose each other, that it is impossible to tease it apart or “fix” from within. So an entirely new memeplex must be presented to replace nearly ALL of the existing, status quo tangle of ideologies. A new cohesive vision that integrates the best parts of previous ideologies, which is what Level 7 attempts to be. And this, too, requires multiple layers of expertise, multiple prongs of engagement, and multiple avenues of exemplification and mimesis to understand, advocate, and implement.

I hope this was helpful.

Who is the superior public intellectual, Noam Chomsky or Thomas Sowell?

Calling Thomas Sowell a “public intellectual” strains that term to its limits — so I’m not sure why he is being compared to Noam Chomsky at all. Sowell, like Chomsky, does offer public opinions, so that is where they intersect. But only fairly uneducated, uninformed or ideologically brainwashed people would ever take Sowell’s incoherent musings seriously — as virtually every position he holds has been undermined by overwhelming evidence over and over again, and for many years now. Sowell has basically parroted neoliberal groupthink in everything he has written or said — so of course he’s received honors from the likes of the American Enterprise Institute. But I’m sincerely bewildered that anyone could believe Sowell actually “thinks” very much at all…let alone “intellectually…” as the arc of his work is basically elaborate rationalizations of borrowed regurgitation (of Friedman, Hayek, et al).

That said, Sowell has made some salient and seemingly carefully considered observations over his many years of opining (his criticisms of Donald Trump, for example). But these have been the exception rather than the rule, as most of what he believes is utter nonsense.

Thus Chomsky wins this comparison by default — because even if you don’t agree with Chomsky’s views, his thinking is at least well-researched, original, and indeed “intellectual” in its breadth and depth…a level to which Sowell simply has not yet risen.

My 2 cents.

Does equal opportunity lead to equal outcomes?

One way to approach this question is to ask: “Do outcomes differ based upon available resources, opportunities, conditions and relationships?” And the answer to that is an unequivocal “Yes!”

Okay, then if we aim to “level the playing field,” so that everyone in society has (roughly) equivalent quantities and qualities of resources, opportunities, conditions and relationships, will this result in a greater “equality of outcomes?” Well, it will — and does — tend to provide a higher probability that more people will achieve the same fulfillment of personal agency in measurable accomplishments. Essentially, it helps remove barriers that otherwise would — and do — exist. At the same time, this aim is a rather herculean task in the context of deeply persistent cultural racism, classism, sexism, ageism, and tribalism. It is, frankly, nearly impossible to “level the playing field” when any of these cultural prejudices are in play — because they will override and negate any and all “equality of opportunity.”

So then the question becomes: how can we encourage attenuation of these deep-seated prejudices? And for me, that is the much more interesting (and relevant) question.

My 2 cents.

Can we end capitalism?

First of all, capitalism is already striving mightily to end itself — by being inherently unsustainable, extractive, exploitative, and fraught with negative externalities that seem to balloon exponentially with each passing year — so we may not need to take active steps to end it.

That said, plenty of folks have offered viable alternatives to traditional capitalism, and proven that they work quite well. These include:

- Left-anarchist mass societies (see List of anarchist communities), some of which still exist today.

- Non-profit worker’s cooperatives (see List of worker cooperatives), many of which have done better than competing capitalist enterprises.

- The “common pool resource management” examples documented by Elinor Ostrom’s research, most of which arose organically as a non-capitalist, non-statist approach to managing the commons.

- Some pretty nifty market socialist approaches that create an interesting hybrid (one example being Switzerland’s non-profit health insurance system).

There are of course many other approaches that include “lessons learned” from failed socialist experiments — the book The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisited by Alec Nove comes to mind.

And here is my own offering: L e v e l - 7 Overview

Really capitalism hasn’t been around that long — it was a natural evolution from feudalism and mercantilism, and has never been entirely free of crony capitalist corruption. Mixed economies that combined capitalism, socialism and strong civic institutions offset some of the worst abuses of capitalism in most of the developed world for a few decades, but even those efforts are now failing. So again…capitalism is already ending itself.

The real question, IMO, is whether we will be able to arrest the free fall and introduce something new before everything crashes and burns.

Stay tuned….

Do left-wing ideas stand up to intellectual inquiry better than right-wing ideas?

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.

What are some writers similar or complementary to Noam Chomsky?

Thanks for the question. In no particular order, these writers explore many of the same problems that Chomsky identifies, and with a similar level of complexity and supportive evidence:

- Naomi Klein
- Chris Hedges
- Yanis Varoufakis
- Greg Palast
- George Monbiot

And here are some folks who also explore these problems, and offer some remedies — mainly on the economic side, in answer to what could broadly be called “neoliberal, crony capitalist oligarchy:”

- Thorstein Veblen
- E.F. Schumacher
- Thomas Picketty
- Amartya Sen
- Elinor Ostrom
- Alec Nove

Here are some writers who look more deeply at the systems-level problems of industrial capitalism, and propose some ways out of the mess:

- Howard Odum
- David Holmgren
- Peter Pogany

And here are two folks who recognize many of the challenges described or addressed by many of the above authors, and offer their own unique take on either the nature of the problem, or a route to positive transformation of what is broken:

- Paulo Freire
- Paul Piff

And then their are the origins of the libertarian socialism that Chomsky subscribes to — the names and ideas of whom you will hear Chomsky reference from time-to-time:

- William Godwin
- Murray Bookchin
- Peter Kropotkin
- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
- Mikhail Bakunin
- Rudolph Rocker

Lastly, there are my own writings and proposals, which you can find available for free on this website: L e v e l - 7 Overview (https://www.level-7.org).

My 2 cents.

The term "intellectual" is increasingly used in a derogatory sense, evoking a certain left-wing elitism. What should intellectuals do to escape this stereotype?

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.

Does socialism mean rejecting the idea that it's acceptable to make self-interest your primary concern?

An interesting question but an odd one, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. But I’ll give it my best shot….

1. Socialism is really about moral maturity. A mature person can have self-interest, while also caring about others. They can promote their own position and advantage, while also desiring to lift others up at the same time. Their “primary concern” can be “the good of All,” without necessarily sacrificing their own well-being.

2. Socialism is also about sharing both responsibility and benefits with everyone. It recognizes that there is no “individual right” without the agreement of the collective to support that right. “Self-interest” without civil society is just thuggery, but self-interest in the context of civic responsibilities and privileges that everyone shares becomes collective self-interest. In other words, “self-interest” becomes less individualistic/atomistic.

3. Socialism aspires to pure democracy. The most successful socialist experiments are those with the most vigorous democracy — because the more distributed power becomes, the more inherently equitable society (and wealth distribution, etc.) becomes.

Socialism is often misunderstood for two simple reasons: First, because of pro-capitalist propaganda that attacks straw men that socialism isn’t; and second, because socialist implementations occur across a spectrum — including intersections and combinations with capitalism.

My 2 cents.

If corporations create jobs and pay people who then pay taxes, how would/is increasing the taxes corporations pay help the economy?

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.

Is there any single doctrine which all anarchists embrace?

All anarchists are opposed to tyranny. The differences arise around the sources of that tyranny, and how best to mitigate them.

How would you describe socialism to a teenager?

It depends on the form of socialism. For libertarian socialism, it’s pretty simple, really: Democracy runs everything. Democracy governs the workplace. Democracy governs how the economy is structured and run. Democracy determines what is most important to society — at the community level, for the priorities of research and development, regarding whether or not to build national infrastructure, etc. And so on. And this is all done via consensus, direct democracy, nested elected councils, or a similar diffused form of democratic decision-making.

Of course, that is only one form of socialism. Here are some of the others, for which the answer would be different:

T. Collins Logan's answer to What are the different types of socialism?

My 2 cents.

What did Adam Smith outline about the dangers of capitalism?

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.

Is individualism the motivating force of capitalism?

Thanks for the question.

No, I don’t think individualism writ large is the motivating force of capitalism. I would break down capitalism’s motivations this way:

1. Acquisitiveness towards property, wealth and power seems to be a primary driver — especially in order to gain social position and prestige, and to exercise such collected power and wealth independently of government, society, or even moral expectations. In essence, we could say this is “selfish accumulation,” which is a rather ugly facet of individualism, especially when combined with lording it over other people. But individualism has other, more positive aspects — such as freedom of thought, creative freedom, expressive freedom, freedom of choice, etc. — for which capitalism falsely claims to provide advantages. In reality, capitalism deprives most people of most individual freedoms — through coercive marketing, addictive products, titillating groupthink, wage slavery, debt slavery, and so on — so it can’t claim the more positive benefits of individualism at all.

2. A mistaken but widespread belief that capitalist markets provide the best solutions to human challenges. In reality, capitalist markets provide profitable products and services to people by persuading them that those products and services solve certain challenges — even if they really don’t. Think of pharmaceutical products marketed to treat a certain condition that don’t outperform placebo or cheaper treatment options (this happens a lot). In fact, capitalism is quite ingenious at inventing “needs” that never existed, then synthesizing demand for products and services that fulfill those previously nonexistent “needs.”

3. A mistaken belief that wealth itself solves human challenges. Sure, lifting folks out of poverty is great, and capitalism has been pretty good at that. But at what price? This is the faulty reasoning of the capitalist, who tends to ignore the importance of strong civic institutions to sustain society over time; or the need to consider and plan for negative externalities (i.e. pollution, carbon emissions, destruction of ecosystems that support all life, etc.) created by rising standards of living in the industrial age; or how wealth in excess can make people childish, callous and disconnected from others (see Paul Piff’s research on this). In other words, wealth alone doesn’t solve some very important fundamental challenges…and in fact can make them worse.

4. A sort of anthropocentrism and egocentrism — a belief that humans are entitled to do anything they want, both collectively and individually. Again, this isn’t really “individualism,” it’s more akin to a mental illness like Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

My 2 cents.

Is it true that a "far left" political position is necessary to counter an existential threat to humanity?

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

5. Neo-Marxists

6. Environmentalists

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.

How would a non-capitalist society promote self-motivation and personal drive?

This question reveals the destructive tendency of capitalism to condition folks to falsely believe they require “external” motivations to do things. It really is a profound disconnect from how humans actually operate, which is mainly from intrinsic motivation — at least until that spark is repeatedly discouraged, snuffed out, and replaced with external drivers and addictions. Capitalism’s primary self-perpetuating mechanism is persuading and coercing consumers to consume, and that means creating dependency on such consumption — a process I call infantilization or toddlerization — and annihilating all self-sufficiency and self-directedness in the process. Ironically, this is often “sold” as freedom of choice…a sort of appeal to individualistic gratification. But it’s actually quite the opposite, because it removes the only substantive choice available to liberate oneself from addictive cycles of craving and buying.

So, to the contrary, people don’t need “society” to promote self-motivation and personal drive. It pre-exists and is hard-wired into most people. All any “non-capitalist” society would really need to do is to is resist interfering with this intrinsic capacity. Humans are quite ingenious about inventing things to do, as well as the reasons to do them — think of every folk tradition that predated capitalism, every creative act (symphony, painting, sculpture, poem) that wasn’t done for profit, every idea that was written down and shared because its author thought it was compelling, every invention and scientific discovery that occurred from the the pure joy of researching and experimenting. Really…human existence is mostly about such natural inspiration. Capitalism just commoditizes this output for a buck…and then perpetuates the myth that the only reason we do anything is for personal gain. It’s quite laughable.

Of course, capitalism isn’t the only system that exploits people or aims to interfere with self-sufficiency and create habitual dependence — that’s a longstanding goal of many systems of social enslavement, from dogmatic and controlling religious institutions, to political tribalism and purity testing, to authoritarian and plutocratic governance, to fear-mongering disinformation campaigns. It’s all basically about the same thing: an attempt to control masses of people for the benefit of a few ruling or affluent elite.

Which means that simply removing capitalism is not sufficient…we must also remain vigilant toward the many other faces of oppression.

I hope this was helpful.

What are the different forms and meanings of entitlement in American social and political discourse?

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.

What possible ethical justification is there for taxation? Is it not by definition extortion?

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.

Is communism fundamentally incompatible with democracy?

Here are some democratic (or, better yet, consensus-driven) communist mass societies:

1. Free Territory of Ukraine
(1918 - 1921)

2. Rojava (in Northern Syria)
(2012 - Present)

3. Revolutionary Catalonia
(1936–1939)

4. Korean People's Association in Manchuria
(1929–1931)

5. Morelos Commune
(1913 - 1917)

You will find other examples here: List of anarchist communities

Now one could nit-pick that these aren’t nation states…but they are certainly self-contained autonomous regions, some of which being quite large. One could also argue that many didn’t endure for very long — but that wasn’t a consequence of any inherent lack of viability, but instead most often the result of violent, authoritarian rulers who didn’t want them to exist. So either argument would be splitting hairs IMO.

In any case, these and many other examples throughout history (such as the Paris Commune, which Marx himself admired) demonstrate that communism (and socialist anarchism) are not incompatible with democracy…at all.

My 2 cents.

What are some examples of how deregulation hurts consumers?

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.

What big-name corporation has been proven to have done the most harm to the environment?

Thanks for the question Nick. The real problem here is that nearly every “big-name corporation” is competing for the honor of “doing the most harm to the environment.” Your pick of the litter:

1. Chemical pollution (Dow-DuPont, Northrup Grumman, Honeywell, Koch Industries, etc.)

2. Oil & Gas greenhouse emissions (ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Shell, etc.)

3. Plastic polluters (Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, etc.)

4. Toxic air polluters (Boeing, BASF, Huntsman, General Electric, Eastman Chemical, LyondellBassell, etc.)

5. Deforestation (Palm Oil, Beef Cattle, Soybeans — mostly state-owned companies in Madagascar, Nigeria, China, etc.)

If you pick the worst-of-the-worst, who actually pollute in MULTIPLE ways to an astounding degree (air, water, persistent chemicals, greenhouse gases, etc.), then the list gets smaller:

1. DowDupont

2. Koch Industries

3. ExxonMobil

4. Northrup Grumman

5. Shell

6. Berkshire Hathaway

7. LyondellBassell

8. BASF

9. Celanese

Here’s some helpful resources: Top 100 Polluter Indexes, Powerbrokers of Zero Deforestation

My 2 cents.

What are the implications of trying to achieve socialism through revolutionary means?

Thank you for the question John.

We have learned an important lesson from history: whatever characterizes a revolution will tend to manifest in the new system at some point. So violent revolutions almost always result in an oppressive system, and nonviolent revolutions almost always result in a peaceful, more egalitarian one. We even see this reflected in political campaigns and leadership: the strategies and rhetoric that a given politician uses to “win” are often reflected in their leadership style. Basically, then, the ends never justify the means…instead, the means inhabit the ends. Many have spoken to this idea in politics specifically in “prefigurative politics.” I have expanded the principle into something I call Revolutionary Integrity.

If this principle is true, then it is very important to carefully think through what characteristics will dominate a given social movement or “revolutionary” change. In the link above I have provided several links that outline varieties of nonviolent activism. My own proposals regarding activism and revolutionary methods that avoid overtly harming human beings, and attempt to conform (for the most part, at least) to the principle of revolutionary integrity, can be found here: L e v e l - 7 Action

My 2 cents.

What does personal liberty have to do with individualism?

Individualism and personal liberty can intersect, but they can also contradict and interfere with each other. So this can be a complex subject to parse. If I insist, for example, that my individual liberty always outweighs my social or civic responsibility, then I may end up interfering with other people’s liberty (and, consequently, invite interference with my own liberty, if I support such a society). Maybe I want to drive on the wrong side of the road, or take things from stores without paying for them, or pee in my neighbor’s fountain. To assert that I have the “right” to do these things despite social agreements not to do them is an extreme individualistic assertion.

In reality, no personal freedom would exist at all unless everyone else in my community or society agrees that it should — this is the error of much individualist thinking. When individualism places personal agency above everything else, it defeats the conditions that permit freedom to exisst at all.

At the same time, if I sacrifice all of my personal agency in service to collective systems and expectations, then I have also extinguished my personal liberty. By denying any importance of my own individuality — and supporting such a view as the status quo of my community and culture — I have done just as much harm to freedom as if I overemphasized my individuality.

So perhaps you can see the conundrum.

There is a balance between too much individualism and too much collectivism — both of which can extinguish personal liberty at their extremes — and a correlation between too little personal liberty and too little collective agreement.

I wrote an essay about this topic a while back that may be of interest: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom

My 2 cents.

What most undermines a democratic society?

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.

Why is there a wave of right-wing governments across the globe?

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 are the different types of socialism?

Thanks for the question.

Historically, there have been many variations of proposed and realized socialism – so many, in fact, that you could write a lengthy book about them and still likely not be able to include them all. In addition, socialist philosophies have evolved considerably over time. What holds all of them together is, I think, a fundamental belief that capitalism must either be reigned in or eliminated in order for inequality to be reduced, and for individual and collective freedoms and well-being to be ensured.

That said, I would probably break down socialism in its current forms into these categories:

1. Authoritarian State Socialism – such as Marxism-Leninism as widely implemented, with strict central planning of the economy, all productive enterprise owned by the State, and the State controlled by the select few of a single party.

2. Democratic Socialism – a democratic and decentralized version of socialism that opposes authoritarian forms like Marxism-Leninism, and where more open democratic controls manage the means of production and economic planning, with worker self-management as a key feature. This form of socialism has traditionally relied on representative democracy to further socialist reforms.

3. Market Socialism – is socialistic in that all free enterprise is publicly owned and managed, and workers and society benefit from all productivity; is market-based in that competition exists between free enterprise, and the economy tends to be less centrally planned.

4. Mixed Economies/New Deal Socialism/Social Democracy – free enterprise co-exists with central regulation of the economy, some socialized production, and welfare programs, with markets ultimately subject to representative democratic controls.

5. Libertarian Socialism – a broad umbrella in itself, this includes many proposals for non-State-centric (minarchist or anarchist) socialist political economies that emphasize highly distributed collective and egalitarian solutions, worker self-management, attenuation or elimination of private property, and governance via direct democracy, nested councils, etc. (rather than representative democracy). An example of libertarian socialism that has gained popularity and real-world examples in recents years is municipalism (see Which municipalism? Let's be choosy).

6. Anarcho-Communism – a form of Libertarian Socialism that has been implemented at various scales throughout history, and differentiates itself mainly in that it seeks a more complete, Stateless anarchy and facilitates individual agency above collective or communal concerns.

There are actually many other forms of socialism as well. The chart below plots what some of these look like in relation to more capitalist or "proprietarian" traditions of political economy.

I hope this was helpful.


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?

This has always been a pretty humorous issue to my thinking, mainly because of the source — and because it’s part of a pattern. Consider what’s really going on here:

- Extracting natural resources from the planet — which is really held in common and belongs to everyone — and then selling them for private profit isn’t theft…but taxes are.

- Exploiting workers — their time, their effort, their creativity — in order to, once again, accumulate private profit that is not shared with those workers isn’t theft…but taxes are.

- Property ownership (think of patents or land ownership in particular) that excludes everyone from using or sharing in the benefits of that property — even if the property isn’t being used at all by its owner — isn’t theft…but taxes are.

Using services provided by the government, but not paying for them, isn’t theft…but taxes are.

Can you see the pattern here? It’s really a sort of childish, selfish, whiny entitlement — and it is utterly hypocritical, along the lines of “everyone else should have to pay ME for things I think are important, but that same standard shouldn’t apply to ME…I should not have to pay others for something just because THEY think it is important…”

This mindset embraces an utterly perverse and unworkable conception of freedom, a la adolescent pseudophilosophies like that of Ayn Rand. Why is it unworkable? Because it corrodes the prosocial foundations of civil society itself, where we collectively and democratically agree to limit our own selfishness, acquisitiveness and self-indulgence for the sake of societal stability and collective thriving. We relax I/Me/Mine for the good of All. That’s what adulthood looks like.

Of course, if enough folks don’t agree to given tax, and want to vote it out of existence, they can do that. But that means — in the context of the State — that they will need to give up something in return. A protection, a privilege, or possibly a perceived right. Not appreciating this leads to…well…soaring deficits.

My 2 cents.

What's wrong with a moderate level of gun regulation like waiting periods, strict and comprehensive background checks (including for gun shows) and requiring safety training? Moderate regulation may b

“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.

What is philosophy's take on economics?

That’s a big question, and answers will vary depending on what time periods you are interested in, as well as which schools of philosophy you consult. As a gross generalization (with plentiful exceptions), we might say that for most of its history economics has been primarily philosophical in its basis, with several attempts to justify philosophical positions with empirical observations (Marx was one of the first to attempt this in a systematic way). More recently, however, different schools of economics have been able to start with empirical observations, and extrapolate evaluative metrics and systemic frameworks from there — microeconomics through a lens of behavioral science is one such attempt. Also, if you have a chance to peruse Freakonomics podcasts and literature, there are some very interesting “evidence-based” approaches to economics to be found there. At the macroeconomic level, however, the complexity of analysis has far exceeded most cohesive, integrated models except in retrospect: that is, we can look back on past events and analyze the data to derive some useful principles. Even then, however, ideology has often driven conclusions. There is also the challenge of “the myth of the given” with respect to capitalism: economics presupposes that capitalism can be understood in economic terms, and so an entire language of economic terms has grown up around its analysis of capitalism. But could it be that all of this is just invention? That economics (as a science) really can’t “get its head” around capitalism entirely — and certainly not empirically? This is not a widely-held view among economists…but I suspect that, if you queried some philosophers about economics, this is an hypothesis they might entertain.

My 2 cents.

Why do people seem so surprised about inequality of wealth, the 10% having holdings, when so few save, even those that could?

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.

The Evolution of Capital



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

5. Creative capital: human labor, inventiveness and ingenuity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

An approximation of the commons model might look like this:



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the best books that explain libertarian conservatism ideals and philosophy?

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.

Do you agree with Milton Friedman's statement: "Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself"?

Thank you for the question.

This quote is from Ch.1 of Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. The chapter, entitled “The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom,” is a tour-de-force of propagandized half-truths. In one unsupported claim after another, Friedman insists a specific flavor of economic freedom that he believes necessary is more important to personal liberty than political or civic freedoms. He doesn’t offer any real data on this, he just keeps repeating this claim over and over again, thus generating what is called an “illusory truth effect.” Friedman — along with many other neoliberal evangelists — does this a lot in his writing and speaking: and many people have been hoodwinked into believing neoliberal propaganda extolling market fundamentalism as a consequence of precisely this technique.

The reality, however, is that political freedoms (i.e. civil liberties, and strong civic institutions that protect those rights, etc.) facilitate smoothly running, productive, wealth-creating market-centric economic systems, which in turn can — with the right political economy in place — facilitate economic freedoms supportive of civil society. It is a symbiotic relationship, which is likely why ALL of the most successful economies in the world have been (and still are) “mixed economies.” That is what the actual evidence supports — and not Milton Friedman’s version of laissez faire. Interestingly, Friedman actually hints at this symbiosis in the referenced chapter (describing the failure of freedom in fascist States like Nazi Germany that nevertheless had competitve free enterprise), he just ignores his own observations about it in favor of his preferred — and unsupported — conclusions. To do this, Friedman constantly makes untrue claims, for example: “there are only two ways of co-ordinating the economic activities of millions” (incorrect, there are many more ways…but those alternatives don’t serve Friedman’s arguments); “The consumer is protected from coercion by the seller because of the presence of other sellers with whom he can deal” (incorrect, whoever has the biggest marketing budget — or most persuasive advertising — can undermine all competition…and that marketing can indeed rely on coercion through fear-mongering); “It is a mark of the political freedom of a capitalist society that men can openly advocate and work for socialism” (incorrect, it is a mark of a strong civil society that folks can advocate for a particular ideology…and much of civil society in capitalist countries was strengthened by socialist efforts, see How_Socialism_Saved_Capitalism_From_Itself.pdf).

As to this specific quote, it is nested in the context of Friedman’s belief that: “So long as effective freedom of exchange is maintained, the central feature of the market organization of economic activity is that it prevents one person from interfering with another in respect of most of his activities.” Friedman believed that markets protected all the players involved from coercion. The problem, of course, is that they really don’t. Billion-dollar marketing campaigns can deceive consumers into buying things they don’t want or need, and then become addicted to/dependent on those products. Business owners can coerce workers into horrible working conditions, and keep them there with subsistence wages. Activist shareholders can coerce businesses into really bad business decisions (for the longterm viability of the business itself, for consumers, for workers, etc.). And of course this doesn’t even touch on the horrific negative externalities of a given industry (like Oil & Gas, or Big Tobacco, or Industrial Agriculture, etc.). You see the problem? Capitalist markets alone don’t do squat for the supportive conditions of liberty itself…in fact, they can quickly undermine it (research “resource curse” countries for examples of this).

So Friedman’s assertion about arguments “against the free market” not appreciating freedom is simply an ideological distortion: because Friedman badly wants capitalist markets to fundamentally equate freedom, he assumes anyone opposed to them must be opposed to freedom.

In any case, to dig more deeply into this topic, I recommend reading this essay:

The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty.pdf

My 2 cents.

Is anarchism a feasible idea? Could an entire society of anarchists work?

Thanks for the question, James. Of course certain kinds of anarchism are feasible, and for fairly large societies. There is historical evidence of this in the following places:

Free Territory - Wikipedia

Strandzha Commune - Wikipedia

Guangzhou - Wikipedia

Revolutionary Catalonia - Wikipedia

(you can see a full list here: List of anarchist communities - Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, many folks don’t know of these experiments, some of which endured for years before they were violently suppressed (usually by authoritarian dictators…and, rather ironically, “communist” ones of the Stalinist variety). Peter Kropotkin inspired many of these experiments, and I would encourage reading him (Conquest of Bread is a good place to start).

One interesting place to watch is the anarchist region of Northern Syria (previously called Rojava). You can read about it here: Syria's Kurds Experiment With Democracy Amid Civil War. It’s still thriving today…although with the U.S. abandoning Syrians now, it may not endure much longer.

Lastly, we must recognize that only left-anarchist experiments have been successfully tried. These actually fall under the “libertarian socialism” heading. Right-libertarianism, “Libertarian” with a capital “L,” or anarcho-capitalism, has never been successful.

My 2 cents.

Why was the FCC Fairness Doctrine revoked in 1987? What have been the consequences in the 30 years since, intended and otherwise?

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:

L7 Neoliberalism (covers neoliberal propaganda efforts and agendas)

L7 Opposition (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.

If you were the mayor of a town, what rules would you enact?

Oh thank you for this! My mayoral edicts:

1. Only popcorn would be served in restaurants from 3–5 p.m.

2. Large animal veterinarians would be given special privileges at all public water fountains.

3. Strong smells would be banned. Permanently.

4. A radio signal would be beamed out into space requesting that our neighborly alien visitors stop beaming stupid rays at planet Earth (we would promise not to leave the solar system if we could just regain a few IQ points!)

5. On alternate Thursdays, MAGA hats would be piled up and burned in the public square to the tune of Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”

6. Only homeless people would be allowed to vote…until there was no more homelessness, and then everyone else could vote again.

7. Open carry would be permitted for everyone in town, under the following conditions: 1) Firearms must only be loaded with rubber bullets, and 2) Anyone riding an e-scooter on city sidewalks at unsafe speeds must be fired at.

8. In order to test Elinor Ostrom’s common pool resource management schema, all common spaces will be converted to alfalfa fields for grazing free range Alpacas that belong to everyone.

9. Anyone caught trying to sell something to people that they don’t need or want (goods, services, religion, etc.) will be subject to fifteen minutes of public caning for each offense.

10. Anyone who parks their car across multiple parking spaces to keep it safe from dings and scratches will have their driving privileges revoked within the city limits for five years.

11. City employees will dress up as frail elderly people and solicit fellow citizens for help; good samaritans will then be rewarded with a modest “Basic Income” salary for life.

12. Free classes in formal second-order magic will be taught at public libraries on a daily basis.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I think it’s a start….

Some thoughts about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez


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

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

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

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

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

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Quotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could "Medicare for all" succeed when the program spends 3% of GDP to cover only 15% of the population (3/.15=20% of GDP)?

First, from CMS.gov: “Per person personal health care spending for the 65 and older population was $18,988 in 2012, over 5 times higher than spending per child ($3,552) and approximately 3 times the spending per working-age person ($6,632).”

With a more granular distribution curve you’re going to see the 20% GDP for everyone droping to around .42/.15 = 2.8% GDP. So that’s the first correction to your math.

Second, if Medicare is the only game in town for most healthcare coverage (aside from boutique stuff) then the leverage Medicare will have to negotiate prices is going to be TREMENDOUS. This is why Canada and the UK pay a lot less for the same drugs used in the U.S. — about 1/6 to 1/3 of U.S. prices. Although the margins aren’t as great for medical devices, we could see 50% reductions there as well. And of course removing the bloated private insurers (with much higher admin overhead, and of course impatient shareholders) from the equation means that services will be roughly 40% lower too (this is based on how much less Medicare pays for the same procedures already, compared to private insurers). Even by conservative estimates, this means that overall healthcare costs will be reduced, on average, by AT LEAST 50%. Which brings the total coverage number down to at least 1.4% GDP.

If what has happened in other countries is any indication, all of this will also have the effect of INCREASING the total number of healthcare consumers over time, while REDUCING the per capita outlays over time — especially since every $1 spent on preventative care saves about $6 in lifetime costs. I’d predict, then, that this last bit will result in a wash (i.e. more healthcare consumers at net lower lifetime outlays). And, as preventative care and predictive diagnostics (via genetic testing, etc.) become more refined, I think we’ll see those costs drop even further.

Which means that fee-for-service models are going to eventually become unprofitable anyway…so why not abandon them now?! :-)

My 2 cents.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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