So a guy goes to a car dealership, and the salesman convinces him that this one car he’s interested in gets 50 mpg, does 0–60 in 4 seconds, and has a 5-year worry-free warranty. The dealership has one in a sweet metallic red, and so the guy buys it. He loves the car. Shows if off to his friends. Sometimes he just drives it around town for no other reason than because he’s enjoying driving it so much. But pretty soon he realizes that the salesman was…let’s say not quite telling the truth about the car. It only gets 15 mpg. It does 0–60 in about 7 seconds. And when the fuel pump quits after just two months…it turns out the “worry free” warranty doesn’t cover that (or much else that is likely to fail on the vehicle). The thing is, though, he still really loves the car. He’s willing to deal with all the problems because he still enjoys the pure pleasure of driving it around. Even after the dash instruments start failing one by one. Even after the timing belt breaks after 50K miles and the engine requires a total rebuild. Even after the chrome flakes off of all the detail work. Even after the squeaks all around the car get so loud that he can’t drown them out anymore with the car’s underpowered stereo system.
This has been a pretty a common American experience. And the thing is, getting angry at politicians or one political party isn’t going to fix this situation - because it has nothing to do with them. The guy should have done his research. He should have listened to some friends who told him to avoid this particular brand of car. He should have been more careful and thoughtful and maybe not believed a salesman who just wanted to make a quick buck. But he didn’t. And he has no one to blame but himself. But…instead of owning up to his mistakes and admitting he was hoodwinked, the guy is furious with anyone who points out he was deceived, or corrects him for trying to blame his bad choices on “government regulation,” or tries to explain that the problems with his car really have nothing to do with unions, but instead were decisions made in corporate board rooms so that shareholders could line their pockets with just a little more profit.
But the really sad thing is that, when the car finally breaks down completely after 100K miles, guess where this guy goes to buy another? The same dealership? The same salesman? A later model of the same shitty car…? No way! He’s finally “wised up” and gone to the competing dealership across the street, where the salesman welcomes him with open arms and convinces him to buy the latest model of THAT brand…which gets 50 mpg, does 0–60 in 4 seconds, and has a 5-year worry-free warranty (all of this isn’t true, just as it wasn’t the last time, but he doesn’t check the facts…). And so he buys the car - without doing the research, or listening to his friends, or questioning whether the salesman is telling the truth. And as he drives away, he shakes his fist out the car window at the dealership where he bought his first car, yelling “This is my ‘fuck you’ PROTEST VOTE!”
So…really, what’s the point of trying to listen to the concerns of such a mindless, irrational consumer who is so easily and perpetually hoodwinked by lies and deceptions? I mean, really it’s on him to recognize his own mistakes, and to take responsibility for all the bad stuff that has happened to him. And until he takes responsibility and stops blaming others for his problems…well, things are not going to change. Not for him, and not for anyone else like him in America.
An important questions, given today’s polarized landscape. Here are what I believe to be the top influences on people’s political beliefs:
2. Indoctrination and conformance of family, community, peers, coworkers, etc.
3. Level and quality of education.
4. Exposure to propaganda.
5. Native and learned critical thinking capacity.
6. Level of self-awareness.
7. Native tolerance for cognitive dissonance.
8. Native (or learned?) propensity to be motivated by fear rather than more positive emotions.
9. Need to belong to a group (and remain in lockstep with one’s “tribe”).
10. Native or learned ability to hold one’s own beliefs in a neutral space, and either revise or expand them when we encounter verifiable evidence — see diagram below.
11. An understanding and acceptance of science and the scientific method.
12. A native propensity to gravitate towards conspiracy theories.
My 2 cents.
The wrong-headedness of the latest SCOTUS ruling in favor of evangelical web designer Lori Smith is obvious to thoughtful Constitutional and Biblical scholars -- as it doesn't reflect the values, sentiments, and standards embodied in either document. The previous day's ruling on affirmative action at Harvard is likewise transparently oblivious to the racial realities of American culture and history. But the question to my mind is: Why is this happening? Why are folks who say they are committed to longstanding principles of the U.S. Constitution, the New Testament, and indeed civil society itself so eager to abandon those principles?
Well, I think it is all about fear. A deep, abiding terror that one's status and privilege of being "White and Right" is severely threatened by the natural, normal evolution of a morally maturing culture. It is a knee-jerk grasping after the power and wealth that will inevitably be lost as a more equitable arrangement of civil society is achieved.
And I don't see an end to that grasping. As long as this fear-powered conservatism energizes our electorate and our government officials, these irrational and hypocritical patterns will continue to amplify themselves. What the U.S. Constitution and the New Testament actually promote are concepts like equitable justice, inalienable and universal human rights, the criticality of a strong and democratic civil society, and the unfailing power of a generous and accepting spirit, a reflexive willingness to help others, and an unconditional compassion for our fellow human beings.
Will the overarching principles of love and equality, so venerated by some previous generations, prevail...? Or will we continue to slide backwards into selfishness and prejudice?
Well I suppose we will see how folks decide to vote in the upcoming 2024 elections and beyond...and who decides to abdicate their responsibilities and not vote at all.
Thank you for the question. Here are what I believe are some contributing factors that have gained increasing prominence in the past couple of decades:
1. A deliberate, carefully planned effort on the part of political activists, think tanks, and corporate media to divide, polarize, and demonize across the political spectrum in order to secure votes, increase campaign contributions and media viewership, and secure political status. It is much easier to appeal to fear and anxiety, play the blame game, and energize “Us vs. Them” polemics than to thoughtfully explore nuanced political philosophy and policy positions.
2. A downward spiral of biased media reporting that was instigated by ending the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. As a consequence of that very ill-informed decision, consumers of news media are simply often not presented both sides of the argument on political issues in any meaningful or reasonable way.
3. Social media echo chambers, the illusory truth effect, and consequent groupthink. When algorithms and like-minded groups of users amplify extreme, biased, and often false information that confirms their worst fear and mistrust, there is no longer room for discussion. Political topics become too highly charged with emotional rhetoric to allow moderating (or even true) viewpoints.
4. An unfortunate dumbing down of the U.S. voting public. There are likely a lot of factors contributing to this — poor nutrition, increased collective stress and anxiety, incomplete education, epidemic levels of ADHD, cultural opposition to “intellectualism,” etc. — but it is increasingly obvious that a lot of folks cannot reason critically at all, and instead quickly race down a rabbit hole of logical fallacies and contradictory assumptions.
5. Overwhelming input streams that folks often just don’t know how to manage, leading to feeling paralyzed, confused, and consequently more vulnerable to the influencing factors listed above. For example: way too much information funneled at all of us 24/7 from all directions at once; increasing complexity in nearly every decision we need to make; equally increasing pressure to make important decisions at much higher quantities and at much faster rates than many previous generations; accelerating technological and cultural changes that are increasingly difficult to track, let alone accept or fully incorporate on cultural and interpersonal levels.
6. A consumerist culture than encourages us to “bandwagon.” We are conditioned from early childhood to be guided by advertising and cultural norms that basically say “Hey, you don’t need to have your own agency or be thoughtfully informed, instead you just need to buy this or that and we’ll solve all your problems for you.” This conditioning runs so deep in U.S. culture that many folks simply conform to the latest cultural fads — which often originate at the fringe extremes of the political spectrum — in order to feel a sense of belonging and empowerment.
7. State-funded disinformation from hostile foreign actors that takes advantage of all-of-the-above and makes them much worse to serve the agendas of that country.
My 2 cents.
When very large and powerful government institutions are not held accountable by a functional democracy, then those institutions will certainly run amok over the citizenry and compromise other freedoms and rights in civil society — including the right to vote. This has tended to happen either where citizens are apathetic about their participation in the democratic process (as has been the case in the U.S.A. for many decades), or in places where a populist strongman deliberately consolidates their own power and undermines democracy itself (as has been the case of late in places like Turkey, Russia, Hungary, India, and multiple nations in Africa and Latin America).
But if the democratic institutions and public participation in democracy are strong, and authoritarian/autocratic leaders are voted out of office before they can wreak substantial damage on civil society, then the size of the government is not relevant, IMO. In the U.S.A., where the government is very large, Trump’s elevation to POTUS definitely woke up the country in terms of stimulating a more passionate participation in democracy…and his being voted out after one term likely saved U.S. democracy. But the size of the U.S. government did not really play into these variables.
What is much more critical in the preservation of democracy is carefully mitigating large concentrations of wealth and power and their impact on democratic institutions. The greatest erosion of democracy in the U.S. can easily be laid at the feet of the largest corporations, corporate media organizations, and wealthy campaign contributors. Their level of interference with functional democracy in the U.S. is truly astonishing — and it’s getting worse. To appreciate how organized and extensive this interference is, take a look into the history of American neoliberalism, which has relentlessly and systematically sought to consolidate wealth and power in the hands of as few people as possible
(see link below), and effectively crippled democracy in the process.
No, the tyranny of the majority is not an unavoidable weakness of democracy. In fact there are so many welll-practiced and time-proven ways to effectively diffuse and countervail this possibility that its ascendence is really the exception rather than the norm.
Successful mitigation includes things like:
1. Implementing subsidiarity, so that democratic decisions are diffused down to the community level. At the same time avoiding concentrations of centralized political and economic power becomes a critical countervailing strategy.
2. Ensuring the electorate is well-educated about its responsibility to govern for the good of everyone in society, and is operating at a level of moral maturity that reflexively supports and enhances this view.
3. Strengthening egalitarian rule of law, and egalitarian civil society generally, to support an equality of rights, opportunity, ability, and enforcement across society — all of which inherently aim to compensate for existing inequalities and at least attempt to level the playing field.
4. Institute truly independent checks and balances to ensure no single institution, governing body, or system has absolute authority over any aspect of society. Interestingly, one way to accomplish this is by implementing direct democratic controls over representative bodies as some constitutions allow.
Sadly, what has become much more problematic is the “tyranny of the minority,” where a smaller group that has gathered an inordinate amount of economic and political power to itself runs roughshod over democracy and civil society to maintain its own privilege, influence, and wealth.
My 2 cents.
It’s difficult to summarize just how extensive the impacts of consumerism on the individual and society are. I think the easiest way to begin that conversation is to list some semantic containers that encompass negative aspects of consumerism. Three of the most well-defined containers are economic materialism, conspicuous consumption,
Here is a brief overview of each:
In essence, these three habits alone contribute to an accelerating amplification of deleterious “non-material” impacts on the individual and society, which include:
1. The general devaluing of human trust relationships
in favor of transactional relationships — in other words, the eroding of interpersonal trust and, by extension, community and societal trust. This of course expands into regional, national, and international attitudes and practices as well, so that we come to rely solely on transactional evidence of trust, rather than a more cultural cooperation, interdependence, and exchange.
2. The “externalization” of all personal and collective priorities, growth, meaning, and power,
rather than development of internal qualities. For example, the belief that one’s possessions, material wealth, and physical characteristics are more important in attracting friends and romantic partners than internal qualities like honesty, compassion, empathy, generosity, and so forth. Or that one’s self-worth is likewise dependent on consuming and owning material things, rather than on the qualities of one’s own character. Or that social status and popularity propelled by such externals are more important than the quality and depth of our interpersonal relationships (that is, the shared feelings of connection and commitment our friendships evoke). This externalizing attitude is then expanded to include all of society and our national identity: instead of demonstrating good citizenship (in our community, or as a nation in global affairs) we become more concerned with clawing after power, status, and control, as those are our “external” proofs of success in the world…rather than the quality of relationship our nation has with other nations.
3. The overall cheapening of human life and disrespect for our fellow human beings — or anything in life that doesn’t achieve sufficient “exchange value.”
This is perhaps the most egregious impact of consumerism, when our prioritization of acquiring material things, reliance on consumption for social status, and projection of material valuation and standards on others erodes our fundamental respect and compassion for others and any valuations of the intangible
benefits of being live. Consider that commodification intentionally erases the constructive societal value of everything in favor of its “exchange” value in the marketplace — what better way is there to cheapen and denigrate the intrinsic value of everything in life (art, love, joy, intimacy, humanity, compassion, etc.) than to force everything into tidy, sterile boxes of monetary valuation? Paul Piff at UC Berkeley has done some interesting research related to this, documenting the negative impact of personal wealth on prosocial behaviors.
4. An undermining of happiness as individuals and society as a whole.
The vast majority of long-term research in this arena has demonstrated that enduring happiness does not rely on consuming or possessing material things. Instead, happiness is primarily dependent on strong interpersonal bonds with other people — and the deepening trust, intimacy, and contentment this produces. Consuming things does stimulate short bursts of dopamine, but not oxytocin, which loving human relationships stimulate. Interestingly, healthy oxytocin levels actually reduce our need to consume calories. Perhaps it also reduces our “need” to consume other material things….?
5. Interference with spiritual, emotional, and moral development
(again as individuals and society as a whole). This is a more subtle principle, and I can only speak from personal observation and experience on this matter. A materialism-consumerism orientation to the world will reliably retard our spiritual, emotional, and moral growth, keeping us “infantilized” and forever dependent. This is really an extension of the “externalization” principle alluded to earlier, but with a much more insidious and profound impact. I think this is why nearly every spiritual tradition encourages relinquishing our acquisitiveness and our trust in material possessions for any sense of self-worth or existential security. If we can’t learn to “let go” of our need to acquire and possess stuff, we will never cultivate the internal growth necessary to be spiritually, emotionally, and morally mature. Why? The mechanisms become intuitively obvious to anyone who has practiced such “letting go” with persistent discipline, but I would equate the process to a child’s individuating from their parents.
There is a quality of interior self-sufficiency and an independence of will that is unattainable if we remain attached to material things. We simply cannot become mature adults if we are forever suckling at the teat of consumerism.
Some additional reading related to this topic, in no particular order:
My 2 cents.
An “Us vs. Them” mentality amplified by regressive cultural norms, for-profit media (including social media) that relies on provoking extreme emotional reactions in order to make money, disinformation campaigns funded by both U.S. corporations and foreign governments in order to consolidate power or disrupt threats to power, underlying and toxic levels of individualism and materialism inherent to commercialistic culture, technologically and commercially driven change occurring at a breakneck pace that inherently alienates folks with non-adaptive constitutions, demographic shifts that also make many people feel uneasy or insecure about their assumed position of privilege in society, exponential complexity and interdependency across all of society that is disorienting and destabilizes cultural traditions and norms, and an unsustainable economic system that has been breaking down for some time….
In other words: a perfect storm.
All of these pressures combine to create real tension and pain across multiple segments of society, and exacerbate differences in how people react to that tension and pain. For one type of group in particular, the disruption and discomfort is very acute — those with a naturally tribalistic, fear-based, morally immature disposition (i.e. a strong “I/Me/Mine” or “We/Us/Ours” moral bias). There is a growing visceral and irrational reactivity among this group, which mainly inhabits the conservative end of the political spectrum (about 35% of conservatives) but is also present in the liberal/progressive end of the political spectrum (about 14% of progressives). These folks are unfortunately mired in low emotional and general intelligence, high levels of willful ignorance, reflexive greed, racial and cultural prejudices, fear, pathological selfishness, and an enduring sense of victimhood and self-righteous indignation. I personally have begun to wonder if the amplification of these negative traits are at least partly the result of epigenetic breakdown of the human genome as a consequence of environmental toxins and stress — but that is another, more challenging topic to explore another time.
But of course such traits are being manipulated by the aforementioned media and disinformation campaigns, along with commercialistic culture, which use them to energize a collective Dunning-Kruger effect and illusory truth effect that result in automatic consumption of untruths, snowballing extremist views, conspiracy thinking, and an increasingly volatile and polarized mindset that unfortunately tends to vote, consume, and donate money entirely contrary to those people’s own best interests, and in contradiction to their deeply held and frequently expressed values.
For more on all of this, please read:
My 2 cents.
Freedom is a type of cultural currency — a coin with two sides.
On one side of the coin is insulation from economic insecurity, acute lack of opportunity, and deprivation of social capital. I call this “freedom from poverty,”
where poverty comes in many forms but always has the same effect: it robs us of the operational capacity to exercise most freedoms, and interferes mightily with exercising liberty.
Another way to describe this is for everyone in society to be provided the same existential foundations and available choices — a level playing field across many dimensions of life that liberates us from being oppressed and restricted in real terms.
The other side of the liberty coin is collective agreement to support the liberty of others,
regardless of who those others are and whether they are “just like me.” This equates a high level of tolerance and acceptance of differences between people. However, the presumption is that many core values are shared across all differences, so that this collective agreement is not too onerous, distasteful, or amoral. We agree to operate a certain way as a society so that everyone else’s freedoms are maximized. This is the basis of the rule of law.
Good government’s role is to facilitate both sides of the freedom coin when society is not able to do so on its own.
When societies are culturally immature — as is the case with the U.S.A where I live — they require a bit more involvement from government to create both freedom from poverty and an effective rule of law. When the citizenry is morally immature and generally ignorant, government intervenes to create “civil society” by bolstering these two arenas. Over time, as societies mature into a more morally advanced arrangement and all citizens acquire broader foundations of knowledge, government’s role can attenuate as both sides of the liberty coin become the de facto reality of cultural practices and standards; that is, civil society can be supported increasingly by perversive culture rather than by government.
The common denominator for all such arrangements is progressive democracy, where citizens have increasingly direct control over how both freedom from poverty
and the rule of law
are implemented in their community, region, and nation. Democracy becomes a sort of banking system that stores up and protects this wealth of liberty and regulates how it is exchanged and shared within society. But again, democracy can only be effective in this regard when citizens are maturing morally and accumulating sound knowledge.
How to effectively encourage, fortify, and enhance the moral creativity of society so that our “freedom coin” is actually increasing in value has been a long-term aim of my research and writing. For more on this and all-of-the-above, please see the resources below.
Level 7 Philosophy
The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty
Private Property as Violence
My 2 cents.
I would say rarely if ever. Remember that the very definition of this term is (from Merriam-Webster): if “a desired result is so good or important that any method, even a morally bad one, may be used to achieve it…” The clear implication is that specifically morally questionable means are justified by a “good or important” end.
But that’s just hogwash. All intentions and subsequent actions must be guided by a moral framework, or morality just doesn’t exist. Folks will often rationalize immoral or destructive means to achieve a goal they believe is important — but rationalization is all they are engaged in, not serious moral reasoning. The value of an outcome is utterly compromised by such toxic self-justificaiton — the outcome cannot be evaluated in isolation from the means used to achieve it.
Imagine if you will the most beautiful sculpture ever created — let’s say it’s of a benevolent angel. The sculpture brings everyone to tears of awe when they see it, causes emotional wounds to heal, calms bitterness and hatred between angry combatants who enter into its presence, and even inspires people to perform profound acts of kindness and generosity after seeing it.
The problem? The sculpture is made from the skin, blood, and bones of a thousand children who were tortured and killed to provide those materials. Someone who confidently claims that “the end justify the means” could shrug that torture and murder of children off…but by any definition they would be considered a psychopath.
So when someone begins to tout that philosophy, be very wary. They are well on their way to amoral chaos or serious mental illness…if they haven’t already arrived there.
My 2 cents.
LOL. Really? Well let me first say that the door to much propaganda in the world today is something very sneaky, something called “reasonableness.” In the case of neoliberal market fundamentalists like Mankiw, that “reasonableness” is describing “principles of economics” that, taken individually and in (academic and ideological) isolation, may seem reasonable. In fact one could debate each of Mankiw’s principles ad nauseum, and still be operating within his ideological framework — because of how he restricts the scope of the conversation. You see the problem? If you ask me “what are the principles of a stable romantic relationship,” I could respond: “Well, first off both people in the relationship need to buy the right kind of clothing. Second, they both need to listen to the same kind of music. Third, there needs to be a clear, preexisting understanding of what each person’s role should be….” And so on. And I could keep elaborating on these “principles” as if they actually correlated with every dimension of a human relationship…when clearly they would not. They would, in reality, be confined by a very narrow perspective on relationship that I was effectively imposing on the conversation. And the more emphatically I insisted that nothing else need be included — while I actively excluded very important additional or alternate factors — the more I could perpetuate a discussion that is boundarized by my own biases. And that is precisely what Mankiw is doing…just like many neoliberals before him. I often flag this sort of behavior as ideologically fascist, with the poster child of the technique — in economics at least — being Milton Friedman.
That said, what issues do I have with Mankiw’s 10 principles themselves? That would be a very lengthy conversation. At a 10,000-foot level, I would say they are “half-truths that add up to delusional bupkis.” More specifically, behavioral economics has clearly demonstrated that consumers are not rational operators, and that principles 1–4 are not only oversimplifications, but actually distort or distract from the microeconomic dynamics that are really in play. Human decision trees are not analytically neat-and-tidy, they are messy, impulsive and emotional; and, in fact, marketing knowingly exploits that unstable irrationality to condition completely counterfactual, counterproductive, unhealthy, demeaning and dangerous consumption patterns in consumers. For crying out loud…this is obvious to anyone who observes or researches real-world consumer responses to corporate coercion and manipulation.
After 1–4, Mankiw gets a bit more sneaky with 5–7. He uses the phrasing “trade can,” “markets are usually,” and “governments can sometimes,” and of course we can’t really argue those points, because…well…they are in fact reasonable. Except…well…are they? It is when Mankiw elaborates on these points further (in his writings, etc.) that we see the depth of his blindness — how he does not appreciate or address the complex interdependencies involved, or the widely demonstrated externalities and causal chains, or in fact the well-established track record of what actually works in the real world…and what really doesn’t. This is where we can get lost in the weeds, but suffice it to say that Mankiw doesn’t begin to fully enumerate all of the inputs and outputs of trade, or the complex landscape of variables that influence those inputs and outputs, or, indeed, the disastrous consequences of what can fairly be described as “Mankiw-esque” market fundamentalist policies we have witnessed in the past. His ideas live in a bubble — applicable to what I call “a unicorn market,” one that has never and will never exist.
Principles 8–10, along with most of Mankiw’s thinking, are just more conceptual trickle-down from outdated classical economics. But (and this is pretty ironic IMO) unlike Smith, Ricardo et al, Mankiw fairly reliably excludes the common good from being part of serious deliberation. In other words, he drifts into the realm of laissez-faire that classical economists actually warned about. Where, as Smith wrote: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” But are points 8–10 accurate in any way? Sure…again if you exclude all sorts of other factors, causes, variables, evidences, etc. that are critical to a complete macroeconomic picture, Mankiw’s points provide a partial, highly tailored framing of causal relationships. So, if a person ignores how markets actually function, the corruptive influences of crony capitalism, how boardroom decisions are actually made, why financialization has displaced production for massive wealth generation, why monopolies occur, where Keynes was proven correct (and what monetary policies actually work), why growth-dependent economies boom-and-bust, etc…and instead pines away for a juicy young unicorn to sate their every neoliberal appetite, well then: Mankiw is the porn for them!
Let me just call out one specific example of Mankiw’s delusional approach. His prescription for most resource allocation challenges is to privatize them — like many neoliberals, Mankiw believes private property is the panacea for all ills. However, Elinor Ostrom demonstrated in her common pool resource management research that the tragedy of the commons need not exist where self-organized, self-managed sharing of common resources is approached a certain way, and she goes on to enumerate observed principles that have been successful. Essentially, there are widely employed systems of access to and utilization of common resources around the globe that completely sidestep the tragedy of the commons without private ownership or government intervention. Hmmm. How could this be? In Mankiw’s unicorn universe, it can’t be, since there will always be free riders and excessive inefficiencies when privatization is absent. But again, Ostrom was just documenting what she observed in the real world, so Mankiw is just, well…wrong. Hence the nature of the problem with most of Mankiw’s thinking — and indeed most market fundamentalist thinking (i.e. Randian objectivists, anarcho-capitalists, individualist economic materialists, Austrian School evangelists, etc.).
My 2 cents.
Yes of course. Throughout human history innovation and social responsibility — which I would define more broadly as creativity and prosociality — have existed and thrived without the profit motive. In fact the profit motive interferes mightily with both more often than not.
On the one hand the profit motive channels innovation and creativity into a very narrow focus of only what increases profit, abandoning anything that doesn’t promise return on investment. For example, we often see real innovation crowded out by “cheaper and more efficient” forms of production and service delivery, because those types of innovation guarantee greater profitability. Most of the big leaps forward in more creative and life changing innovation, in fact, have arisen through academic and government research, by inventors fiddling in their workshop for fun, artists creating masterpieces for their loved ones, philosophers struggling to answer complex moral questions, or mathematicians solving challenging equations — all because that particular mountain was simply there to climb, not because they would make a buck off of it. The results were then put into production by for-profit companies who reap all the rewards from someone else’s creativity. The profit motive doesn’t have much at all to do with the innovation, just its mass production. This is the case with everything from cell phone technology to medical advances to major changes in the structure of society.
The profit motive has also long demonstrated it can often be at odds with social responsibility and prosociality. There have been countless instances where the profit motive has created oppressive or life threatening conditions and consequences for workers and consumers — and the history of capitalism has mainly been about civil society correcting those abuses (child labor laws, worker safety laws, consumer protections, environmental protections, strengthening democracy against cronyism and plutocracy, etc.). And the oppressive and exploitative conditions created by the profit motive have often threatened the stability, liberty, and thriving of civil society itself. Although it is true that capitalism and the profit motive have provided an extraordinary engine for productivity and economic growth, it has been civic institutions, democratic reforms, educational institutions, and the expansion of civil rights that have established or strengthened conditions that support creativity, innovation, social responsibility, and general societal cohesion — particularly in the face of a countervailing atomistic individualism and commercialistic materialism inspired by the profit motive.
This is not the narrative that the “market fundamentalist” or pro-capitalist folks appreciate or even understand. They are often blind to the antagonisms of liberty, creativity, and civil society that the profit motive has wrought.
But again, if we study the grand arc of human history, most of the greatest innovations, and the greatest evolutions in civil society itself, have been utterly divorced from the profit motive. Humans just love to create, to connect with each other and create community, and to build institutions and civic structures that support those impulses. The profit motive is tolerated because it has lead to a rapid expansion of material wealth and technological conveniences — it has facilitated creature comforts and material security. But it has also eroded society at the same time, which is why it has had to be constantly managed and constrained.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. A few thoughts for your consideration….
1. I don’t think it was Murdoch’s intention to “discredit or destroy” the (rationalist, empiricist, volantarist, etc.) moral philosophies of her contemporaries. That really wasn’t her style IMO. Instead, I think she was just calling some basic assumptions of these modes of thinking into question — being skeptical of what we might describe as a scientism that rejects metaphysical and even multidimensional aspects of reality and consciousness. Murdoch mainly offers us an invitation to look at things more carefully, in order to see “things as they really are” with greater breadth and inclusivity.
2. Further, although Murdoch does rely heavily on Plato’s metaphors, they are really just a starting point for discussion rather than an endpoint; Plato’s cave, fire, and sun are merely a vocabulary of framing that permits her to expound more deeply on the nature of “the Good.” Plato’s terminology is a lever to help Murdoch accomplish some heavy lifting…not the object that is being lifted.
3. I think Murdoch intuited that something was amiss in contemporary assumptions regarding human rationality, human will, or a locus of consciousness fixated on the self (what we might call egoic consciousness) being able to adequately navigate moral complexity or fully comprehend or describe “the Good.” She further intuited that certain qualities of love were involved in both pursuit of that good, and in its apprehension and reification. And, perhaps most importantly, Murdoch intuited that, although “the Good” may sometimes seem ineffable or indefinable in purely rational terms, it is nevertheless discernible and obvious — and even reflexive — in the context of human relationships, choices and intentions when selfless love is in play.
4. Finally, Murdoch hints that the ego’s impedances to conceiving of and actualizing “the Good” may be the same barriers that rationalist/empiricist/volantarist philosophies encounter when navigating morality itself. I.e. that they are preoccupied with the fire in the cave, and have not yet ventured out into the sunlight — they are relying on false light to illuminate the indescribable.
I hope this was helpful.
It is heartbreaking for me to encounter responses to this question that sidestep discernment and wisdom around this issue. Sure, obviously history is written by the “winners.” Sure, folks at different ideological extremes have opposing views of what is “right,” while also expressing the same level of confidence in their views. Sure, people’s attitudes about behaviors, events and priorities change over time. All of this is true
. But the conclusion that we should, therefore, abandon all hope of perceiving or understanding “who is on the right side of history” seems to me a rather lazy, cynical, and irresponsible excuse for not paying better attention to the human condition and civil society — and becoming more educated about them. In fact, such casual surrender to willful or despairing ignorance seems to reflect the sort of solipsistic nihilism that has routinely gotten folks into trouble…and indeed often places them on the “wrong” side of history
So how do we discern who is on the right or wrong side of history? Of course we could begin with our own personal values hierarchy, but that wouldn’t be entirely helpful — in isolation, what do our own personal value or morals have to do with the larger arc of human history, after all? What we can do instead is look back over the history of human existence and civilization and track what the core characteristics of “right” and “wrong” have looked like, and observe how those tendencies have played out over time. Through that lens, we can assess who ends up occupying the “right” and “wrong” sides of history itself, and we can then attempt to project those standards and patterns onto current events.
Although initially requiring a lot of careful research, it’s a relatively simple exercise once the data is compiled. This process is in part what my book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle
sets out to do, and you can read it for free via the link provided here.
At the risk of oversimplifying, I’ll summarize the main points:
1. Humans are prosocial critters, and thier prosociality has been key to human survival and the evolution of civilization itself — and also relatively uniform in its expression in terms of promoted behaviors and social mores (sure, there is variability, but the broad strokes are the same).
2. There is also a predictable progression of the individual and collective moral maturity process that reflects ever-widening spheres of inclusion for our prosocial impulses (i.e. we include larger and larger spheres of interaction and relationship in our caring as we morally mature).
3. As long as conditions are supportive, that moral progression is a natural, easily observable phenomenon in individuals and across every society we know of…and continues in those around the globe today. However, that progression is not fixed, fast, orderly, or immune to regression…it is instead messy and organic, and often slow (hence we need remember the “long” part of “the arc of the universe is ***long***, but it bends towards justice”.
4. Despite the “messiness” of our moral evolution, it then becomes quite clear who or what is on the “right” or “wrong” side of history — it is simply a matter of mapping those people and events within a progression of prosocial characteristics. To that end, please see this chart: https://www.level-7.org/resources/Developmental_CorrelationsV2.pdf
Lastly, those who have developed even a little bit in terms of their moral maturity will quickly recognize what is or is not prosocial in both modern times and history — that is, what is or is not beneficial to civil society over time. **However, this level of discernment and wisdom may seem mysterious or perplexing to those operating in the lower strata of moral development.** Those who aren’t as advanced shouldn’t be belittled for that (unless, perhaps, their arrogant willfulness demands it…), but instead encouraged to heal, mature, and grow.
For further reading, I would also recommend this essay:
The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty
And for a deeper dive into my own theorizing about the nature of love — which is the basis of prosociality — and the human condition, please check out this book (also free to read):
My 2 cents.
That would be an almost accurate statement, yes. The challenge (as with almost all attempts at summarizing complex philosophy) is that Popper uses a lengthy, layered sequence of arguments to explain why utopian thinking is problematic — or rather, tends to lead to self-defeating outcomes. Essentially, he argues that it is impossible to fully anticipate or predict how humans will actually behave within a given utopian structure or system, and that, without the ability to modify or evolve such a structure or system in response to those unpredictable events, there will inevitably be unanticipated consequences that undermine the utopia. Which is why, he insists, utopian “central planning” will inevitably lead to totalitarian/authoritarian oppressions — thereby ‘choking its own refutations’ and any chance of healing itself and fulfilling its vision.
Whether this is a valid argument has a lot to do with one’s view of historicism — i.e. whether there is a predictable (at least in the broadest strokes) progression of human society over time — and whether it is at all possible to fully anticipate or accelerate that evolution. My own view is that both assumptions are valid, but that imposing a top-down hierarchical structure or system is the wrong way to go about encouraging change, and indeed can lead to the sorts of problems Popper identified (especially when there are no strong, resilient democratic institutions to check authoritarian tendencies). However, IMO it is possible to encourage societal evolution by facilitating and expanding what I call the “moral creativity” of society — that is, an environment that encourages moral maturation individually and collectively. This is, however, an organic grass roots process centered around community-level relationships, rather than a top-down program that can be imposed on people. You can read more about my thinking on this here: https://level-7.org/Philosophy/Prosociality/
Thanks for the question. Here are some reasons why I think authoritarianism is on the rise:
1. White men have lost status in society. This is frightening. So, in their insecurity and fear, they turn to strongman leaders who seem like carnival mirror imitations of masculinity but whose pedantic, overconfident, authoritarian style reassures these insecure white men that someone is still on their side.
2. Modernity is increasingly complex, confusing, overwhelming, and scary. Rapid change — both cultural and technological — is increasingly alienating many people who feel excluded or left behind by those changes. Authoritarian leaders can appeal to this disorientation, confusion, and anxiety, and create scapegoats that have nothing to do with the actual causes, but are very useful in ginning up votes. These leaders also tend to appeal to nationalism, which helps restore pride.
3. There is increasing exploitation, abuse, and enslavement of the have-nots by the haves everywhere around the globe. This makes people want to rebel, to regain agency and self-respect, and some authoritarian candidates have a knack for hoodwinking people into believing that they (those candidates) have all of the answers to restore freedom and dignity to folks who feel beaten down. In reality, however, authoritarians usually oppose the real remedy democracy itself — and good government and civil society — making these the “bogeyman” that have caused all the problems for the have-nots. In reality, it is big business, crony capitalism, and capture of elections and government itself by wealthy owner-shareholders that have created this imbalance and oppression. But authoritarian leaders are usually in bed with those same plutocrats, and not at all interested in addressing the underlying problems. So in fact the problems just get worse.
4. The masses have been numbed into complacency, indifference, and apathy by a moderate level of wealth, entertainment, constant calls to action (from politicians, advertising, etc.), poor diets, lots of propaganda and disinformation, a decline in IQ and education, and other things that distract or impede them from taking appropriate action or even clearly understanding the problem. I see this as a modern version of “the spectacle,” with many other characteristics and contributing factors that you can read about here: L7 The Spectacle
My 2 cents.
I think that there are a few principles that might aspire to “the most important principles in political philosophy,” and I’ve listed them below. I don’t, however, think there is any single political philosophy that can claim primacy as “the most important in history.”
Some principles that became quite influential, if not universal, throughout history around the globe:
1. That rulers — or anyone with disproportionate concentrations power — should be just and good to those they rule or control…and, if they aren’t, that they should be usurped or replaced in some fashion (democracy, violent revolution, communism, anarchism, etc. all sprang from this central idea)
2. That all human beings share the same fundamental rights (under the law, in political representation, economically, socially, etc.)
3. That “civil society” is not only predicated on the previous two principles, but that it exists to benefit everyone in society (i.e. provide safety and security under the rule of law, material opportunity, freedom, and even the pursuit of happiness…)
4. That religion and governance do not mix well…but scientific evidence and reasoning bolsters sound governance
5. That the civic responsibility for all-of-the-above falls upon everyone equally — that everyone is individually and collectively accountable for the fulfillment and defense of these principles.
Sadly, although these principles have led to some of the grandest, most prosperous, most free, and most advanced societies on Earth, they seemingly are being forgotten to an astonishing and rapid degree. Like spoiled children, modern citizens do not seem to understand or appreciate what they have…until it starts to be taken away.
My 2 cents.
This has been a central focus of my own philosophical reading, research, musings, and writing for many decades. It took me a while to arrive at these conclusions…but what follows is where I have landed for the moment.
I should first give a nod to the lineage of the dialectical epistemic mode in Western philosophy, where we see the primary evolution from Plato and Aristotle up through Hegel. I also think Calvinist multiperspectivalism adds to this tradition, with a synthesis of three perspectives. Beginning with Gebser we begin to see a new definition of “multiperspectival” among integral philosophers, and really this is the beginning of what I would call “high-level dialectical thinking.” In this form of analysis, many perspectives contribute to an additive synthesis.
Finally, there is a parallel lineage in Eastern philosophy and mysticism as well, which leads to subtly different epistemic assumptions: that some understanding can’t be logically derived, but only “known” in a more felt or spiritual sense, described with terms like “gnosis,” “kensho,” and “bodhi.” This illuminating awareness also encompasses multiple perspectives in its interpenetrating understanding — it can integrate without negation just as Western dialectical and integral methods attempt to do.
This is not to say that Western philosophy doesn’t brush up against sympathetic ideas — it does. I think arriving at Aristotle’s moderation, or Fichte’s intellectual intuition, or Heinlein’s “grok” all seem to require a similar flavor non-analytical insight.
All of this led me to a very particular conclusion: there are many ways of knowing, and many ways of integrating that knowledge, so that a true “synthesis” of understanding that encompasses all experiences, insights, and perspectives requires a different framing than what either Western or Eastern philosophical traditions had to offer alone.
This is how I arrived at Sector Theory
, an overview of which is represented in the graphic below. This epistimic framework is still under development (I’m currently working slowly on version 2.0), but you can read a summary of version 1.0 here: https://www.academia.edu/32747714/Sector_Theory_1_0_Todds_Take_on_Epistemology
Sector Theory is how I would represent “high-level dialectical thinking.” The term I like to use for the fundamental process is “multidialectical synthesis.” What makes Sector Theory unique, however, are the definitions of the sectors themselves. These sectors aren’t always equal contributors
— it requires discernment and wisdom to know which combination of sectors should have primacy in a given situation or realm of understanding — but Sector Theory asserts that all should be considered and weighed carefully together for the most complete understanding possible.
My 2 cents.
I think it is a lofty ideal, but that it has never really existed in the U.S. “Principled conservatives” claim to base their ideology on actual sources like the Constitution, or the intent of the Founding Fathers expressed in the Federalist Papers and other essays and letters of the period, or the writings of Adam Smith and John Locke, or the Judeo-Christian ethics of the Bible, or other similarly vaunted authorities of the past.
The problem, of course, is that most of this framing has been achieved through radical reinterpretations of those sources by more recent thinkers, and the “core principles” have become severely distorted so that the new lens of conservative values teeters on a cherry-picked mountain of half-truths. This has been going on for a long time in the U.S. and elsewhere, as conservative religious and political figures have sought to harness authoritative source material to justify their own power, influence, wealth, and gender and racial superiority. Citing such authorities in conservative propaganda makes it a lot easier to persuade a conservative-leaning rank-and-file to vote a certain way and dutifully conform to the party line.
I suppose some examples would be helpful here, and there are many. It’s just that you have to really study that source material carefully to understand just how distorted conservative reinterpretations have become. Take women’s rights as one example. Established culture always trumps religion, and the Europeans conformed what was actually a radically feminist Christianity to their own misogynistic cultural tendencies, and that misogynistic strain of Christianity then migrated to the New World. If we spend any time at all studying the acts of Jesus and the writings of the Apostle Paul, we quickly realize that they both promoted a woman’s spiritual authority and position in the Church as being equal to a man’s, and frequently deferred to female leaders and influencers in critical situations. The words and deeds of the New Testament are radically feminist in this sense. That is…except for two (and only two) verses in the epistles (i.e. the letters at the end of the NT) that denigrate women and put them in subjection to men, and which conservatives have often liked to cite to justify ongoing oppression of women. However, nearly all — and certainly all of the most credible — modern Christian scholars recognize that these epistles are rife with interpolated verses…that is, with verses that were written centuries later and inserted into those texts…and due to their style and content these epistles were very likely written or rewritten at a much later time than the rest of the New Testament. Again though, we’re talking about two verses that contrast the majority of other NT writings that quite markedly liberate women from oppression and inequality.
So, as I say, this “cherry-picking” of conservative authorities has been going on for a long time. The same is true of Adam Smith, who promoted “good government” and its control over and taxation of commerce so that workers and the poor would be protected from the abuses of big business. Hmmm….why is it we never hear conservatives quote Adam Smith’s discussion of good government? Because it doesn’t conform to their narrative about unfettered free enterprise being synonymous with liberty and American patriotism. And of course similar distortions have arisen around how the U.S. Constitution is interpreted, which clearly states government is to provide for the common welfare of the United States, enshrines enduring socialist institutions like the Postal Service, and so on. Equally distressing, conservative distortions go so far as to invent — in what is a stark contrast to “principled” originalist or textualist interpretations of the Constitution — self-serving ideas about what a particular passage means. For nearly 200 years the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” was understood to relate to the “well regulated Militia” referenced in the same Amendment — even among conservative SCOTUS Justices. But, thanks to modern conservatives and the revisionist judicial activism of Antonin Scalia in his DC v Heller ruling, Amendment II now somehow refers to personal self-defense…!
Essentially, then, conservatives have traditionally begun with a self-serving objective — usually having to do with creating or maintaining white male pseudo-Christian privilege and wealth in society — and then carefully gleaning selective passages from authoritative sources from the past to support those self-serving objectives. These distorted justifications then become their “conservative principles.” Ironically, most of these self-protective and highly destructive conservative ideological habits can be quickly countered with other selective references from those very same sources — for example, both Jesus Christ and Adam Smith frequently warned of the dangers of greed and lust for power, the toxicity of lording it over others, and so on.
But in my experience very few “principled conservatives” spend much time really understanding or even reading those original sources. Some do, and their views are much more nuanced (but not at all popular among other conservatives!). Instead, the average “principled conservative” relies on the reinterpretations of much later thinkers and influencers who became conservative authorities in their own right — Hayek and Friedman, Gingrich and Buchanon, Scalia and Rehnquist, Graham and Falwell, the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation, Breitbart and Blaze, Buckley and Limbaugh, and so on. So with each passing generation, the abstraction from first principles becomes more and more elaborate and rationalizing…until we end up with a fascist, racist ignoramus embodying the very worst of human nature, and 70 million GOP voters supporting it as their “conservative” choice for POTUS.
Essentially, then, the principles of “principled conservatives” have become very far removed from the ideals of the original thinkers that supposedly inform them, and are reduced and upended into the very things those authorities warned against and attempted to countervail:
“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…” — Jesus Christ (Matt 20:25–26)
“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” — Apostle Paul (Rom 13:3–7)
“We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax. It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need.” — Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to George Wythe, 1786
There are so many more examples…!
My 2 cents.
The challenge as I see it is the weaponization of malicious deception through mass and social media. Take propaganda and disinformation. Before record broadcasts, mass media, and the Internet, this was limited to influencing those within hearing distance of a live speaker — or to those willing to read and absorb someone’s writing — and thus only seemed to propagate slowly over months and years. Mass movements were sparked by radical and revolutionary thought, to be sure, but the time these took to gain any substantive momentum in society afforded a modicum of wisdom, measured consideration, thoughtful discourse, and common sense to be injected into that process…well, at least most of the time. Humans have always been susceptible to groupthink and the lemming effect. But before the modern information revolution, the ability to hoodwink large numbers of people took some very committed effort and time.
Nowadays, however, disinformation disseminates in hours or days, capturing millions of uncritical and gullible minds so that substantive shifts in attitudes and behaviors can have a widespread — and often dominant — impact on communities and societies. I call this the superagency effect, and it is similar to other ways that technology allows us to project and amplify person or collective will in unprecedented ways…often facilitating great harm on an ever-growing scale.
So I think this change in the potential consequences of malicious deception — the amplification of harm, if you will — should inform our definitions of free speech, and the collectively agreed-upon ways we decide to manage free speech. I think this is part of what the Fairness Doctrine in the U.S. was intended to address: the advent of news media broadcasting to every home in America invited some sort of oversight to ensure what was being communicated in an ever-more-centrally coordinated way, by relatively few authoritative or trusted figures, offered equal time to multiple perspectives…and encouraged some of those perspectives to be controversial. Since the original Fairness Doctrine only applied to broadcast licenses, it of course would not have done much to curtail the explosion of propaganda and conspiracy outlets on cable and the Internet unless updated to address those new media (and there was, actually, a failed attempt to do this), but the point is that the concern about the ubiquity of these forms of persuasive communication has always been pretty obvious.
And of course this concern doesn’t only apply to ideological propaganda. It also applies to advertising, which has successfully convinced millions to buy things they don’t need, or become addicted or dependent for many years, or injure their health and well-being with caustic consumables. Again, all because of the power and reach of mass media.
So the vaunted ideal of free speech has to be understood in this broader context. The speed and destructive power of malicious deception in the current era cannot be understated. It has undermined legitimately elected governments, endangered individual and collective human health, propagated irrational fears and hatred that have lead to human tragedy and death, and wreaked havoc on the ecology of planet Earth — all with astonishing swiftness and scope.
Therefore, some sort of collectively agreed-upon mechanism — and ideally one that is implemented and managed by an informed democratic process — should be put in place to ensure some standard of truthfulness and fact-checking, representation of diverse and controversial perspectives, and diffusing or disabling of disinformation and malicious deception. The key, again, will be in the quality and fairness of the “regulatory” process itself — aiming for something more democratic and not autocratic.
My 2 cents.
My take, as someone who has read both Sartre in French and Hegel in German, is that learning the language alone is certainly helpful, but does not guarantee understanding. As others here have said, each philosopher has their own distinct language — some even invented their own vocabulary for ideas they otherwise found impossible to communicate. There is also the issue of language period — the phrasing, syntax, vocabulary, and cultural references of a specific time can add to the potential confusion.
So my recommendation would be to both learn German, and study the original text alongside two or three well-respected translations in your native tongue. This approach has afforded me many interesting surprises and insights. On the one hand, you will see how different translators grapple with difficult passages and you can then perhaps gain addition insight from that. On the other, you may very well discover that none of the translations really captures the nuance of the original language as you read it. These are exciting learning experiences.
For me, reading Hegel in German was very difficult, and reading Sartre in French was relatively easy — and this was despite my German being much more advanced than my French! Nevertheless, I don’t think I would have arrived at the understanding I have now of each thinker; still humbly incomplete, but more clear-eyed and balanced, I think, than what some professors and commentators I’ve encountered over the years have attempted to convey.
In other words…I would recommend digging into philosophy with a “multiperspectival” or “integral” discipline, where you weigh several vectors of investigation against each other, and synthesize your own conclusions. I would describe this as a multidialectical approach. At the same time, it should be warned, this method will not help you pass exams or be more popular in a given philosophy club; in fact it may hinder you. All-too-frequently, you may be scoffed at by someone who insists their professor’s views on a given philosopher are more sound than your speculation. It won’t matter that you explain a given position, just that you are somehow impugning a vaunted authority on the matter. In academia, conformance of thinking is often much more important (for decent grades, at least) than thinking deeply or critically.
Okay…probably offered more than the OP wanted to know. But there it is.
My 2 cents.
Here is the underlying problem as I see it: Blind, uncritical, or unthinking adherence to any “ism” is always misguided. There are good ideas — great ideas, even — available in every camp, but when loyalty and lockstep adherence to a given tribal membership or belief system becomes more important than discerning which ideas are good and which are bad, or even than having an intellectually honest dialogue with others with different perspectives and strategies, then that “ism” is just a restrictive and destructive straight jacket.
Right now, there is some of this behavior on both the Left and the Right. However, lockstep conformance and uncritical groupthink have lately become much more common on the conservative end of the spectrum. And this is the real problem, more than anything else IMO. Add to this that many of the ideas being championed by conservatives are informed by non-factual assumptions (climate change is a hoax; face masks won’t help control COVID; free markets and the profit motive always solve complex problems; the U.S. was founded by Christians for Christians; etc.), a profound misunderstanding of causality (for example: Planned Parenthood clinics do not increase abortions rates, they actually decrease abortion rates; stopping immigration will never restore U.S. jobs; there is no widespread election fraud; and so on); affection for policies and practices that have clearly proven ineffective or outright failures (supply-side economics; war on drugs; austerity measures; nation building; structural adjustment policies; deregulation; etc.), and opposition to policies and practices that work exactly as intended (Head Start; ACA; Keynesian macroeconomics; etc.). In short: modern-day conservatives just get most things terribly wrong.
As to the “underlying principles,” well sure, there is some really good stuff to be found among the more thoughtful conservative thinkers of past eras. And there is no reason to abandon the inclusion of intellectually honest conservatives in modern discourse. It’s just…there don’t seem to be many intellectually honest ones around right now, and a lot more ideas on the progressive side that are guided by scientific evidence and practices proven in the real world.
My 2 cents.
For folks like Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln I think “being true” meant to be loyal, steadfast, committed, uncompromising, self-sacrificing, and universal in liberty’s championing and application — and most particularly in the context of how liberty is defended, reenforced, and facilitated through prudent and generous governance, and a wise shaping of the rule of law. Such passion and devotion to human liberty was, after all, one potent impetuous for the U.S. Constitution itself.
Being “true to liberty” today, however, apparently has much more to do with one’s “right” to:
- Consume conspicuously and destructively
- Maintain unearned, inherited privilege and wealth
- Be free from any consequences or accountability for wrongs committed
- Provoke acts of violence, hatred, and vicious racism and xenophobia through “free speech” across social and mass media
- Hoard military style weapons of mass lethality
- Whine constantly about being a “victim” while perpetrating horrific abuses and unlawful acts
- Proudly promote policies that undermine one’s own fundamental civil rights and economic interests
So things are a bit upside down today, at least among those who bray the most loudly about being true to “freedom” and “liberty” as they have redefined it.
My 2 cents.
If we’re being intellectually honest, it is incredibly difficult to do this — not because there aren’t some (not a lot, but some) sources of “objective” information to consult, but because our own confirmation bias and what I call “exclusionary bias” so often come into play even when we do consult those objective sources. Add to this that search engine algorithms will customize search results to our existing preferences, and we begin to see the problem of just how difficult this journey is. And all of this can apply to anything from understanding Dark Matter to voting for a candidate to buying a new car.
So I prefer the term “intersubjective” in most situations — that is, attempting to find the intersections of various (inherently subjective) perspectives on a given topic — who ideally are themselves relying on objective data — then adding my own data analysis to the mix, and finally synthesizing a sort of quasi-objective conclusion from that intersubjectivity. This is where the term “grokking” comes into play as well. It is important to at least attempt to grok one’s way to a sense of truth or insight about complex topics, because there is so much information and potential complexity involved.
All of this takes time and effort, of course. And it can be quite a challenge to carve out sufficient time and effort in a given day to navigate an especially complex issue. In fact, a central malady of our times is that, even as the world around us reveals itself as increasingly complex, multidimensional, and indeed multivalent, we are asked to hurry, to make quick decisions, to get tasks done quickly, to “take someone’s word” for a given truth, to conform our thinking or virtue-signal our loyalties, and to consume consume consume. In other words: we are under tremendous pressure to discard careful and nuanced thought,
and grab onto fast moving trains of advertising, political propaganda, shallow scientific reporting, and reflexive groupthink.
So, really, the answer to this question for me is that yes, I do try, but often I end up being pretty selective about which topics I treat so carefully and thoroughly.
Along these lines, folks interested in multidimensional analysis of complexity might be interested in this essay: Sector Theory 1.0 – Todd's Take on Epistemology
This is a specious distinction used mainly for propaganda purposes.
Fairness of distribution is tied to a presumption of equality. Regardless of how someone begins their life in society — rich or poor, male or female, black or white — they should have barriers sufficiently mitigated by society so that their opportunities are truly equal. That is the heart of most philosophical frameworks which include equality of outcome as a desirable goal: there really is very little difference between authentic equality of opportunity and pragmatic equality of outcome in these frameworks, because for opportunity to be effectively equal, similar outcomes must be realistically achievable.
Although Jordan Peterson may burst a blood vessel throwing up straw men fallacies to undermine this simple truth, all his bullying bluster around this issue has no real substance.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. In answer to “As an outsider, can you accept China don't want democracy as they value unity, prosperity & stability much more important? Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves? What the West really want from China?” I think it would be helpful to break the question into parts. So…
1. “As an outsider, can you accept China don't want democracy as they value unity, prosperity & stability much more important?” There are a number of challenges with this question. The first is the false dichotomy between “unity, prosperity, and stability” and “democracy.” The two are not mutually exclusive. To insist that they are seems a bit like propaganda to me. That is not to say that unity, prosperity, and stability can’t be achieved without democracy — or that they always exist in a democracy. It’s just not a mutually exclusive choice.
The second challenge with this question centers around what the people of China “want.” Hong Kong is now subject to China, and the people of Hong Kong overwhelmingly want democracy. Taiwan desires independence from China, and its people want to continue their democracy as well. The Tibet “government in exile” is democratic, and some proportion of people of Tibet would like to regain their independence from China. So to say that “China doesn’t want democracy” is actually not a complete or true statement.
2. “Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves?” This a little trickier to answer. I believe there are two primary issues in play. The first is that folks in Western developed nations are generally pretty arrogant about their way of life being superior to everyone else’s. This is cultural to a large degree, but it is also economic because of the West’s historic relative wealth and privilege, and its historic military strength.
The second issue centers around compassion and concern for other human beings. Now there will always be people who judge other cultures without really understanding them, and so their concerns may sometimes be misplaced. But in China’s case, there really are some very dire conditions for some segments of China’s population. The rural poor in China — certainly as compared to much wealthier city dwellers — have a comparatively rough time of it. This is true even for those who travel to cities for work, but must leave their families and children behind for months on end. From the outside looking in, the way the rural poor are treated looks a lot like the very sorts of capitalist oppression and exploitation Marx decried.
Religious and cultural minorities also have a tough time in China — especially those like the Uighurs who ended up in Xinjiang “re-education” camps. This treatment looks just as bad as the “ethnic cleansing” and degradation that has occurred throughout history in other parts of the world — for example, what happened to many Native American tribes in the U.S.A.
And of course many of the people of Tibet and Hong Kong feel very oppressed by China — and many people in Taiwan live in constant fear of oppression issuing from China.
Taken altogether, it is I think fair and reasonable for a caring and compassionate person to have concern for some segments of China’s population, and want to help or advocate for them in some way. Yes…this can seem a bit arrogant — especially when folks advocating may be pretty ignorant about China in most other respects — but I do think it honestly comes from a genuinely charitable mindset.
3. Then we come to “What the West really want from China?” That is probably the easiest part of the question to answer. There are really two very different expectations that many folks living in the West have regarding China. The first is that the Chinese people succeed and thrive — regardless of the political economy in which they live. For example, there is real worry that climate change will cause profound damage in China — especially it terms of its water supplies and its ability to grow food. And that is a very worrisome prospect, so there is hope that China will engineer a way out of this impending disaster. There is also a fair amount of awe and inspiration in seeing China progress in its Belt and Road Initiative — and I think many people have been rooting for China to succeed there.
The second expectation is that China not become more aggressive militarily, or attempt to expand its territory and maritime control, or become so dominant economically that it dictates trade policy across Asia and the rest of the globe. This is a very real fear — and unfortunately China has poured fuel on that fear in some of its expansionist behaviors and rhetoric of late (i.e. South China Sea, Taiwan, India’s Ladakh region, Hong Kong, Himalayas, etc.). To make things worse, conservatives in the West have tended to trump up the threat China poses to the West, which has only made things worse. Of course, countries like Japan and India have expressed much more concern and unease about China’s recent behaviors and rhetoric than anyone in the West has done.
4. Lastly, we need to talk about Xi. There is no escaping that he is behaving more and more like a dangerous authoritarian dictator. His creation of a cult-of-personality around himself; his removing anyone in opposition from power; his ending his own term limits in office; his increase of mass surveillance, censorship, and highly coordinated human rights violations; and so on. I think that history has taught us that such behaviors from a leader are incredibly toxic to the ultimate well-being of a nation and its citizens. Xi’s rule will not end well. In the West, we have our own failings in leadership, but can be very grateful that democracy has removed some of them (such as Donald Trump). If Chinese government offered another civic mechanism besides democracy to remove Xi from power, I wonder if the advocacy of democracy for the Chinese people would be as great as it is.
My 2 cents.
Because they aren’t.
Future outcomes are not the central metric of morality — nor, alternatively, a foundational notion of prosociality — for deontic and virtue ethics. At the same time, deontology and virtue ethics do not discard or discount outcomes entirely…but outcomes aren’t the primary frame within which morality or prosociality are navigated, as is the case with consequentialism. And of course various modes of consequentialism can incorporate elements of duty and character, too. These are not necessarily either/or distinctions, but instead a matter of emphasis, primacy, or priority in each approach in order to achieve similar prosocial outcomes. A values hierarchy if you will.
We could summarize the idea in this oversimplified way:
Why do I say “oversimplified?” Because there are variations within each ethics orientation that change the priorities represented in this chart. I suspect there are even specific situations where all three approaches to normative ethics result in the very same shared prioritization. So we might say the chart above represents strong tendencies in each system, rather than rigid absolutes.
My 2 cents.
After living in different parts of the U.S., and in Europe for a few years as well, here are some broad generalizations I would make for why folks become liberal instead of conservative:
1. Emotional intelligence. The higher someone’s empathy, compassion, and overall EQ, the more they seem to gravitate towards progressive ideas.
2. Education. The more educated people are, the more likely they are to lean liberal.
3. Urban living. Urban living exposes people to different cultures, lifestyles, belief systems, and political leanings — and demands a higher level of tolerance and “getting along” with such diverse folks. Urban living also amplifies the impact of each person’s behavior on everyone around them. These things make a progressive mindset a much easier, more productive, and more prosocial orientation than being conservative in urban environments.
4. Love of science. It’s hard to be conservative if you’re passionate about scientific inquiry that constantly revises previous assumptions and beliefs.
5. Distaste for greed and selfishness. Liberals tend to be motivated by concern and caring for everyone in society, rather than by accumulating wealth or power for themselves.
6. Identifying as a world citizen, rather than only as an American. This doesn’t mean anti-American, it just means seeing the whole planet as home, and feeling a sense of duty to the Earth and all its inhabitants — and then wanting to act (and vote, and consume, etc.) accordingly.
7. A sense that liberty is more about removing barriers to shared opportunity for everyone, rather than enforcing any individualistic “rights.”
8. Love of Nature. It’s hard to be a conservative nowadays if you believe humans should respect and protect the natural world, rather than exploit it, destroy it, and use it up.
9. Authentic spirituality. I don’t really believe you can be an authentic Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu and vote conservative at this point in time. Those faith traditions — and many others around the world — are pretty incompatible with current conservative attitudes, policies, and ideals.
10. A desire for “good government” (that is, one that governs for the public good) rather than fortifying crony capitalist plutocracy.
11. Favoring evidence-based goals and policies. Progressives tend to rely on proven solutions, rather than ideologically pure but untested experiments (or worse, on ideas that have demonstrated failure over and over again).
12.Critical thinking. The logical fallacies, conspiracy theories, and denial of reality that has been running amok in conservative groupthink of late is just too distasteful and alienating for anyone who has learned to reflect carefully and critically.
13. An inquisitive nature, with openness to new ideas.
14. A propensity for love-centric reasoning, rather than fear-centric reasoning.
15. Having wisdom and discernment.
There are, of course, folks who are liberal or conservative because their parents were one way or the other, or all of their peers growing up were liberal or conservative, but that’s sort of a default conformist or reactionary reflex, rather than a motivating rationale….
My 2 cents.
This is probably the most widely propagated misunderstanding in modern times about Aristotle’s thinking — a longstanding misuse of what Aristotle wrote in Politics
about the different forms and flavors of democracy. You can read a translation of what Aristotle actually wrote here: The Internet Classics Archive
. Basically, Aristotle is most critical of certain manifestations of democracy, and actually praises other variations, though of course he places his vision of polity above them all as the best form of government to serve the common good. But the gross generalization one often hears today that Aristotle disdained all democracy as “mob rule” is not accurate. Aristotle’s thinking on democracy is nuanced, and he often will answer his own objections about it.
I’ll offer just two sections in Politics
for consideration. The first is this, from Book Three, Part Eleven
, in which Aristotle seems to extoll the benefits of “the wisdom of the multitude,” as long as special knowledge isn’t required to make a judgement — or, alternatively, if those who vote are well-educated! — and the crowd making the judgement isn’t “utterly degraded” (i.e. mindless brutes): (my emphasis added below)
“The principle that the multitude ought to be supreme rather than the few best is one that is maintained, and, though not free from difficulty, yet seems to contain an element of truth. For the many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse. For each individual among the many has a share of virtue and prudence, and when they meet together, they become in a manner one man, who has many feet, and hands, and senses; that is a figure of their mind and disposition. Hence the many are better judges than a single man of music and poetry; for some understand one part, and some another, and among them they understand the whole. There is a similar combination of qualities in good men, who differ from any individual of the many, as the beautiful are said to differ from those who are not beautiful, and works of art from realities, because in them the scattered elements are combined, although, if taken separately, the eye of one person or some other feature in another person would be fairer than in the picture. Whether this principle can apply to every democracy, and to all bodies of men, is not clear….For a right election can only be made by those who have knowledge; those who know geometry, for example, will choose a geometrician rightly, and those who know how to steer, a pilot; and, even if there be some occupations and arts in which private persons share in the ability to choose, they certainly cannot choose better than those who know. So that, according to this argument, neither the election of magistrates, nor the calling of them to account, should be entrusted to the many. Yet possibly these objections are to a great extent met by our old answer, that if the people are not utterly degraded, although individually they may be worse judges than those who have special knowledge — as a body they are as good or better.
Later on, in Book Four, Part Four
, Aristotle opines that the rule of law and equality of participation permit a successful constitutional democracy to flourish. The problem arises when there is no justice — no supreme rule of law — and the will of the majority begins behaving like a monarch. Aristotle further warns that, in such conditions, demagogues tend to rise to power. Of special note is the following section — please read it carefully:
“At all events this sort of democracy, which is now a monarch, and no longer under the control of law, seeks to exercise monarchical sway, and grows into a despot; the flatterer is held in honor; this sort of democracy being relatively to other democracies what tyranny is to other forms of monarchy. The spirit of both is the same, and they alike exercise a despotic rule over the better citizens. The decrees of the demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant; and the demagogue is to the one what the flatterer is to the other. Both have great power; the flatterer with the tyrant, the demagogue with democracies of the kind which we are describing. The demagogues make the decrees of the people override the laws, by referring all things to the popular assembly. And therefore they grow great, because the people have all things in their hands, and they hold in their hands the votes of the people, who are too ready to listen to them. Further, those who have any complaint to bring against the magistrates say, 'Let the people be judges'; the people are too happy to accept the invitation; and so the authority of every office is undermined.”
Sound familiar? This is, after all, what has been happening in the U.S. of late: the rule of law has been undermined, there is no equality of democratic participation or representation, and a flatterer has been enabled by a popular assembly to exercise despotic whims and override a more deliberative democracy subject to the rule of law.
having been available for the past 2,370 years, perhaps we should have seen this current devolution coming….?
My 2 cents.
Yes…but with certain caveats.
Ideological differences can critical to refining, distilling, and improving any perspective, but only if the following elements are present during that process:
1) Relying on actual facts and provable evidence when making assertions.
2) Applying wisdom and discernment to each situation that aligns with expressed values, rather than contradicting them.
3) Avoiding the traps of propaganda, deception, logical fallacies, and exclusionary bias (i.e. ignoring critical and relevant info).
4) Defining clear metrics for testing an idea (in a pilot, etc.) and then carefully measuring the results of the test to see if objectives have actually been met.
5) Developing a multifaceted, broadly educated populace that understands both current science and the lessons of history in a more-than-superficial way.
6) Appreciating the expertise of folks who’ve spent their lives in a given profession…and not making the mistake of believing one’s own armchair opinion is equivalent to that expertise.
7) Hate speech, brazen sexism and racism, xenophobia, bullying, and other strong but irrational prejudices should be excluded for constructive dialogue to occur.
Sensationalist journalism and social media meme-storms can’t be the basis of the exchange — there needs to be real, thoughtful, caring, substantive dialogue.
There are other important elements in the same spirit — but I think you can see what I’m getting at here. We can and should have a diverse dialogue, but not at the expense of truth, kindness, rationality, or wisdom.
My 2 cents.
Most political ideology is focused on achieving desired outcomes that align with what are perceived to be shared values, beliefs, social norms, and qualities of “rightness” and virtue for society. However, there is a spectrum of approaches to reifying such shared values, where at one extreme the features of a political ideology are caustic, destructive, and ultimately self-defeating, and at the other extreme the features facilitate and support those values in enduring ways. Another way of stating this is that one end of the spectrum cultivates the seeds of dissonance, conflict, and turmoil that lead to its undoing, while the other end of the spectrum nurtures self-supporting harmony, stability, and peace. The following chart contrasts and compares features of these different ends of the spectrum:
He was a brilliant thinker, an excellent writer who structured his arguments very carefully (most of the time), and someone who was far ahead of his era in many of his insights involving several areas of philosophy. Further, I think it is a shame that many of those insights — and in particular in the area of political economy — have frequently been overlooked or forgotten. Russell of course led the charge in analytical philosophy, and deservedly gets most of the credit for that initial trajectory. With all of this said, however, I disagree vehemently with Russell around both his characterizations of Hegel, and his pro-atheist, anti-Christian arguments. In these areas, I think Russel held such a profound bias that it clouded and muddied his thinking, so that his usual qualities of brilliance, insight and articulate communication were all but lost when he engaged with these topics.
Comment from Arslan Baig:
Thanks for the detailed answer. But, I’m a little curious to know more about your disagreement with Russel and why you think he was biased in those areas as you mention in the answer. As I remember, correct me if I’m wrong,
Wasn’t Bertrand Russel regarded himself to be a Critical minded agnostic?
Russell was an atheist by any careful observation (and by his own admission, when he is describing his views “in practical terms” accessible to a “popular audience”). He described himself as an agnostic so as to be consistent with his own rationalism to a “purely philosophic” audience. This very difference is one of the evidences of his bias. For example, he states plainly in “Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?”
the following: “There is exactly the same degree of possibility and likelihood of the existence of the Christian God as there is of the existence of the Homeric God.” Not exactly an agnostic statement…and none of the rest of that essay is agnostic in tone. And tone is important, IMO.
I think Russell really despised established institutionalized religion — just as he really despised Hegel’s conception and justifications of the State — and Russell was indeed treated rather unfairly both by the Christian Church of his day, and proponents of Hegelian idealism…so perhaps his strong emotions around these topics were justified! But to read Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell
is to encounter some fairly pedestrian distortions and misunderstandings of the Christian tradition — ones that plainly illustrate that Russell did not care to understand that tradition on anything more than a superficial and condescending level.
Regarding Hegel, I actually agree with his criticism of Hegel’s justification of the State and (to a lesser degree) Hegel’s approach to history. There are some real problems there. But after a successful critique of Hegel’s weaknesses in these areas, Russell then dismisses the mystical/metaphysical/spiritual aspects of Hegel’s philosophy, and demonstrates a rather poor understanding of Hegel in the process. Again, I think Russell simply didn’t like Hegel’s assertions in arenas that appear “non-rational” in nature, and wasn’t willing to entertain Hegel’s lengthy discussions of them to fully appreciate what, for example, is really meant by intellectual intuition, or the importance of a more holistic understanding of any whole to fully comprehend constituent parts of that whole, or what “Aufhebung” is really achieving. To Russell’s highly reactive ear, Hegel just didn’t satisfy a “rational” approach in terms Russell could appreciate (or perhaps even understand).
Russell just “didn’t get it,” and so he rejected Hegel’s insights without (IMO) navigating their nuances. On a simpler, more emotional level, Russel probably also didn’t like Hegel’s inclusion of the Divine in his conceptions — a bias that most atheists tend to hold without appreciating the knee-jerk irrationality of their own distaste.
Comment from Arslan Braig:
What is your honest opinion on Russell tea pot argument/anology? Do you agree or disagree with his statements?
Note: I think it's safe to suggest that, this is were the entire notion of “the burden of proof is only on believers” initially comes from.
Russell's teapot - Wikipedia
LOL. Russel’s teapot is meaningless blather, I’m afraid. A person’s (or group of people’s) direct experience of a condition may have several explanations that are open to debate, sure. But to say this or that subjectively or collectively experienced condition is ABSOLUTELY non-factual/trivial/and or absurd (i.e. a teapot in space) for everyone — simply because the skeptic hasn’t experienced it themselves — is just arrogance.
It’s a manifestation of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where confidence rises proportionately to a lack of knowledge or understanding. Russell reveals his ignorance in this regard, but he asserts the primacy of logic in his own analogy because he reduces “faith” to an irrational belief. Sure, Russell (and many other atheists) frequently hypothesize that such beliefs are the shifting sands upon which the houses of religion are built. But this is simply not the case. Nearly all of the world’s “faith traditions” were actually originally grounded in direct experiential insights and intuitions of their earliest proponents (and replications of those experiences in generations of adherents), the characteristics of which share profound similarities across different belief systems (the Perennial philosophy
hypothesis). Again, however, someone who hasn’t experienced these “evidences” themselves will remain skeptical — in fact I would say agnosticism, as a consequence of healthy skepticism, is really the only logical conclusion one could have without encountering such supporting evidence oneself. That’s completely understandable IMO. Atheism, on the other hand, often drifts into territory that is quite irrational and unhealthily dismissive in its skepticism; and to then impose one’s own ignorance on others by insisting that their experiences are invalid is, as I said, just plain old arrogance.
As to the actual causes
of those “faith-inspiring” experiences, we can certainly debate whether there is in fact anything “spiritual” or Divine in play (or just some bizarre neurological hiccup in the hippocampus instead, etc.). That is a secondary debate that is well worth having IMO. But Russell (and others, such as Dawkins, in his earlier work) often focus primarily on the belief itself
— that is, on the contextual explanation of a “believer” that they happen to disagree with — as an a priori
invention reinforced by group delusion. But these writers shy away from fully exploring or understanding the a posteriori apprehension/intuition that was instead initiated through direct experience.
This is probably the greatest misunderstanding atheists perpetuate as they attempt to explore “faith” as a concept. Faith, in the sense that I and countless other spiritually-oriented writers over centuries have defined it, IS NOT BELIEF. It is instead a quality of character that grows out of direct experience and embodiment of love. I write about this here: “Faith” as an Intentionally Cultivated Quality of Character.
Is the Divine a teapot in space for some people who CLAIM to adhere to a particular faith tradition? Or a spaghetti monster? A Santa Claus? A Cosmic Crutch? Oh sure. There are a lot of those types of “believers of convenience” IMO. But to point to those examples of faith and confidently deny that anything more authentic exists is, again, just another manifestation of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
I hope this was helpful!
I think what Tocqueville is getting at is a principle he proposed in his On Democracy in America
. He is basically positing that democracy’s pursuit of equality can result in a sort of self-imposed tyranny of uniform individualism
that does not tolerate variation, exceptions, or conditionality in its governance.
Here is a relevant excerpt (quoted from Democracy In America Bk.4, Ch.2
“The very next notion to that of a sole and central power, which presents itself to the minds of men in the ages of equality, is the notion of uniformity of legislation. As every man sees that he differs but little from those about him, he cannot understand why a rule which is applicable to one man should not be equally applicable to all others. Hence the slightest privileges are repugnant to his reason; the faintest dissimilarities in the political institutions of the same people offend him, and uniformity of legislation appears to him to be the first condition of good government. I find, on the contrary, that this same notion of a uniform rule, equally binding on all the members of the community, was almost unknown to the human mind in aristocratic ages; it was either never entertained, or it was rejected…..On the contrary, at the present time all the powers of government are exerted to impose the same customs and the same laws on populations which have as yet but few points of resemblance. As the conditions of men become equal amongst a people, individuals seem of less importance, and society of greater dimensions; or rather, every citizen, being assimilated to all the rest, is lost in the crowd, and nothing stands conspicuous but the great and imposing image of the people at large. This naturally gives the men of democratic periods a lofty opinion of the privileges of society, and a very humble notion of the rights of individuals; they are ready to admit that the interests of the former are everything, and those of the latter nothing.”
Essentially, then, Tocqueville perceives the eventual consequence of democracy’s pursuit of equality — which he nevertheless values and favors — as homogenization of a society’s collective self-concept in “the great and imposing image of the people at large;” in essence, in civil society. So the question then becomes: is the cohesion and apparent necessity of uniformity of governance
for civil society a desirable outcome for democratic systems?
We could observe that, right now in the U.S., the “individualistic” spirit of many folks seems to chomp at the bit of such uniformity. In fact some have speculated that reactive conservative extremism over the years (the Moral Majority, Tea Party, Trumpism, etc.) has arisen in response to exactly this imposition of a more progressive flavor of uniform equality — and hence, is perceived to have legislated uniformity on folks who really didn’t want it. Ironically, these conservative movements have then sought to impose what was merely their own flavor of uniformity on everyone else, and so were committing exactly the same error. As Tocqueville summarized: “Our contemporaries are therefore much less divided than is commonly supposed; they are constantly disputing as to the hands in which supremacy is to be vested, but they readily agree upon the duties and the rights of that supremacy. The notion they all form of government is that of a sole, simple, providential, and creative power. All secondary opinions in politics are unsettled; this one remains fixed, invariable, and consistent.” In other words, when a conservative government aims to legislate that abortion is illegal, or that massive corporate campaign contributions constitute free speech, or that the priority of government spending should be on the military, or that social security should be privatized…and so on…it is, essentially, imposing exactly the same uniformity of governance
on the whole of society that conservatives frequently complain “the liberal agenda” has been doing — just conservative variations on the same theme.
And yet…and this is precisely the point Tocqueville eventually drives home…such uniformity is likely an inevitable, even necessary consequence of democracy. The danger, he warns, is that democracies acquiescing to centralized power — who nevertheless remain enthralled with individualistic obsessions — leads to a condition where citizens only care about their own immediate interests, and become utterly disinterested in (and ignorant about) society as a whole and in its governance via the State. They then rely almost entirely on their representatives in government to make decisions. I think Tocqueville was particularly prescient in this regard, because that is pretty much the space much of the U.S. electorate was inhabiting prior to 2016.
How can this pitfall be averted? Tocqueville addresses this in Bk.2 Ch.3 (my emphasis in bold):
“It is difficult to draw a man out of his own circle to interest him in the destiny of the State, because he does not clearly understand what influence the destiny of the State can have upon his own lot. But if it be proposed to make a road cross the end of his estate, he will see at a glance that there is a connection between this small public affair and his greatest private affairs; and he will discover, without its being shown to him, the close tie which unites private to general interest.
Thus, far more may be done by entrusting to the citizens the administration of minor affairs than by surrendering to them the control of important ones, towards interesting them in the public welfare, and convincing them that they constantly stand in need one of the other in order to provide for it…Local freedom, then, which leads a great number of citizens to value the affection of their neighbors and of their kindred, perpetually brings men together, and forces them to help one another, in spite of the propensities which sever them.”
Essentially, Tocqueville is advocating one of my own favorite principles: subsidiarity.
Empower people to govern themselves at the local level, and they will begin to appreciate the intersect with larger and larger circles of collective concern. And, even more than that, by empowering autonomous democratic institutions at the local level (all the way down to the local community), participants will learn how to contribute reflexively to the public good. As Tocqueville writes: “Men attend to the interests of the public, first by necessity, afterwards by choice: what was intentional becomes an instinct; and by dint of working for the good of one’s fellow citizens, the habit and the taste for serving them is at length acquired.”
This is, I think, what had been lost to much of America for many years: that active engagement in local self-governance for the public good. It was a profoundly unfortunate development in the U.S., because it allowed obsessive self-interest to override any sense of political obligation. Thankfully, though, the rise of Donald Trump seems to have single-handedly turned the tide, so that America’s citizens are once more awakened to their collective responsibilities — if only to avoid the insidious despotism that Tocqueville warned would rise up in the absence of our constant wakefulness.
My 2 cents.
I think that’s actually pretty simple. Here are a few things that would help roll back extremist influence in society very quickly:
1) Reinstate and vigorously enforce The Fairness Doctrine in all news media — including social media (which, really, is just another platform for news media propagation). This would greatly reduce propaganda news outlets at both ends of the spectrum.
2) Reverse the divisive rules changes in DC that have prevented bipartisan dialogue and compromise: Abolish the Hastert Rule in the House; reverse Gingrich’s three-day work week and return it to five days, encouraging members of Congress to remain in DC and foster cross-the-isle relationships (this is what Gingrich wanted to destroy…and it worked); and so on.
3) End gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement. When large numbers of folks feel like their views and priorities are not represented by elected officials, they become more extreme in their views.
4) Increase direct democratic controls over ALL legislation (via referenda, etc.) up to and including at the federal level, and allow recall elections for ANY misbehaving elected officials (all the way up to US Senators). More effective and immediate democracy is a great mitigator of extremism — at least it tends to be over time.
5) Completely ban all special interest lobbying and enact sweeping campaign finance reform (for example, allow only public funding of campaigns).
6) Institute a public Information Clearinghouse
of reviewed and rated information that helps folks navigate complex issues in order to vote on them in an informed way.
I’ve offered some additional ideas here: L7 Direct Democracy
And if these are simple ideas, why haven’t they happened? Why, indeed, have they been vigorously opposed? Well, because the neoliberal plutocrats who hold most of the power are quite happy to perpetuate division and extremism to manipulate voters and legislators into doing their bidding. It’s very transparent, and has been going on for a long time in the U.S. and elsewhere.
My 2 cents.
This is a false choice.
The impact on jobs and the economy is temporary, not permanent. Also the numbers used aren’t even close to correct. The question would be much more accurately stated: “Should tens of millions of people experience a temporary loss of income — for perhaps a few months — so that a few million people’s lives will be saved?”
That is a bit closer to the mark in terms of tradeoffs. As to whether that is “just” or not, I suppose it comes down to the morality you are operating on — whether temporary economic suffering somehow trumps careless and avoidable death in your worldview. In reality, the economic impact of COVID-19 is much worse because we have structured our society to funnel all the wealth to a few people, while leaving the majority of the working population in debt and without much savings or assets. So the bigger question really is:
“Is it just that tens of millions of millions of people are so vulnerable to COVID-19’s economic impacts, mainly because a few thousands have accumulated all the wealth in society?”
My 2 cents.
Yes it can — but if and only if an “alternative interpretation” of a dogmatic worldview can easily be generated or argued. Since most group ideologies are grounded in their broader culture, and most individual ideologies are shaped by life experiences and that person’s native proclivities, it is relatively easy to separate out what a specific ideology may actually teach from what some fanatic group or individual lunatic believes. If, however, an “alternative interpretation” isn’t easily available, that’s when things become problematic. For example, it is very difficult to find anything redeeming in most white supremacist writings — there is no rational “alternative interpretation” that makes them less racist, irrational, or toxic. At the other extreme, a person who reads the Quran isn’t likely to arrive at the conclusion that it encourages all nonbelievers to be killed — because that’s not what the Quran teaches. In other words, it’s quite easy to arrive at an “alternative interpretation” of the intent of the passages in the Quran that advocate self-defense. So in this case even when some Muslims are engaged in violent fanaticism, even a non-believer can rationally conclude that these fanatics are acting out of their own selfish reasons, or have been manipulated and deceived, rather than really being justified by the ideology (Islam) they claim to espouse.
My 2 cents.
Unfortunately, at this point we have to.
This wasn’t always the case. At one time, you could live in a small community that was insulated from other communities, from the rest of the country, and from the rest of the world.
That really isn’t true anymore. A single national election can determine (and has determined) the following — as have the critical mass of our daily purchasing decisions, the media we consume and support, where we decide to live and pay taxes, how we raise our children, and so on:
1. Whether or not the women in your community can get an abortion.
2. Whether or not you and your family will have healthcare.
3. Whether or not your community has more than one employer — or any at all — due to trade policies (voting in elections) and consumption habits (voting with your dollars).
4. Whether or not you can own a gun, carry a gun, the type of gun, etc.
5. Whether or not a local business can pollute the air or water nearby, or be held accountable for the illness and death that pollution causes over time.
6. Whether or not the BLM land or National Forest near your town becomes primarily an industrial center for raw materials extraction, or primarily a recreational area now and for future generations, or some balance of both.
7. Whether or not you and your children receive a decent education — or any college education at all.
8. Whether or not mass media can fabricate news or be required to provide balanced viewpoints (i.e. the Fairness Doctrine…gone now)
9. Whether or not you can buy something made anywhere but China.
10. Whether or not countless species of animals go extinct each year.
11. Whether or not future generations have anything left of the Earth to enjoy or thrive in (i.e. responding to climate crisis, avoiding nuclear war, etc.).
12. Whether or not someone who lives next door or very far away — even in another country — has a say in any of these matters in their own lives.
I could go on…but I’m sure you see the point. Because of the massive complexity and interdependencies of our current economic and legal systems, it is almost impossible to remain isolated and pretend that how we act (and vote, and consume) individually or locally doesn’t have a cascading impact on everyone else — both in our immediate community and all around the world, and both now and in the future. This is a de facto condition of modernity…to ignore it is just to remain willfully ignorant.
Therefore, everything really is political, now more than ever, and the question becomes: Will I pretend to be an atom who can act any way I please, engaging in life as merely a series of impersonal transactions, without acknowledging the impact of my choices on everyone and everything else, and fantasize that I have no responsibility to consider that impact? Or will I accept the impacts and influence of my choices on others and the world around me, the persisting and expanding relationships between my life and everyone and everything else’s, take responsibility for those relationships, and live more carefully and caringly…?
My 2 cents.
I suspect this is far too broad a question to answer definitively without additional qualification. Here are some considerations that would probably be productive additions to the mix:
1. Which utilitarian — or which “flavor” of utilitarianism (i.e. “negative;” “act;” “rule;” “motive;” etc.) — is being consulted.
2. Whether that utilitarian/flavor of utilitarianism includes something close to a Rawlian characterization of justice as fairness (in contrast to liberty or equality alone, for example) in the moral framing of their version of utility.
3. Whether or not a particular utilitarian (regardless of their flavor of utilitarianism) agrees with Rawlian logic (i.e. his “two principles of justice” and veil-of-ignorance test). If they do, then they might exclaim: “Good job Rawls!” if Rawlian logic facilitates conditions they would agree with. If they don’t agree — or they can’t envision a supportive level of facilitation for conditions they would value — well then they wouldn’t be as laudatory.
Without such qualification, it is nigh unto impossible to estimate a generic response. As one approach, I would recommend taking just one prominent thinker — say Karl Popper — and attempting to analyze Rawlian proposals within just his elucidation of negative utility and critiques of utopianism. This would still be speculative, but likely much more fruitful (and certainly more focused) than attempting to anticipate every possible variation of utilitarian response.
My 2 cents.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They are all mistaken — probably owing to a shared, pernicious infection of individualist thinking — but I will order them according to who I think is least wrong:
1. Rousseau — surprisingly interesting insights about two central drives in primitive consciousness, but unaware of the group selection research since his time that establishes the centrality of prosociality for human survival.
2. Locke — offers an attractive vision that justifies features of civil society, but makes glaring mistakes with respect to his observations of primitive culture (for example, regarding private property’s existence there). Once again…if only he had access to the research we have today!
3. Hobbes — seemingly immersed in observations of high-testosterone, high resource-scarcity cultures only, and so unable to offer much insight about generalities of the human condition.
My 2 cents.
Here are the primary disruptors of the status, popularity and trust of philosophy and philosophers, as I see them, in rough chronological order:
1. The predisposition of consumerist culture to believe what we are “sold”
— through advertising, marketing, etc. — seems to have created fertile ground for hucksters and con artists. By orienting our thinking and convictions (along with buying and voting choices) around what we are conditioned by advertising and marketing to believe, we essentially forfeited our critical thinking and reliance on interior and traditional (folk/religious) wisdom and common sense.
2. In tandem with well-established consumerism, a cultural movement grounded in postmodern sentiments began to question everything:
traditional values and institutions; the principles of past religious and philosophical thinking and doctrine; the veracity of anything claiming to be “truth;” and so on. Ironically, this was at least in part a consequence of postmodern (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism
) philosophers introducing memes of doubt and relativism.
3. The popularity and name recognition of pretenders who diluted the credibility of social sciences seems to have accelerated the slippery slope created by consumerism and postmodernism.
Folks such as Ayn Rand and L.Ron Hubbard, for example, who not only departed from academic discipline and rigor, but had little if any honest, carefully considered, or sincere a posteriori
or a priori
basis for many of their claims. In other words: we saw a decline in trust because of the popularity of irresponsible hacks who called themselves “philosophers.”
These folks pitched pseudo-philosophy as being equivalent to actual academic discipline…which, in turn, added to burgeoning postmodern skepticism.
4. Then conservative think tanks were created that, beginning in the early 1970s, made well-funded and highly organized efforts to discredit academia and intellectuals
(i.e. what became attacks like the “cultural Marxism” conspiracy, etc.). Why? Mainly in reaction to the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which was perceived to put the gravy train of corporate America in jeopardy (see The Powell Memo
). But also as a consequence of a growing political influence of religious conservatives who were opposed to science, education and critical thinking. (see The Religious Right's Power Grab: How Outside Activists Became Inside Operatives | Religion & Politics
5. Next came the steady weakening of academic institutions
— both K-12 and higher education. There are a number of reasons this occurred — an increase in for profit institutions, the prioritization of test scores and homogenous curricula, a shift of academic focus away from arts and social sciences into STEM and business, and of course the ongoing assault on “the life of the mind” by conservative ideology and activism.
6. In parallel with weakening education, there was a mass media revolution and the democratization of knowledge — as amplified by the profit motive:
broadcast TV, cable TV, the Internet, media streaming services (podcasts, YouTube, Netflix), and social media. This rapid evolution, accelerated and sustained by massive for profit enterprise, watered down the importance of expertise, research and academic rigor, replacing it with a vast army of armchair pundits and conspiracy mongers who could spout unfounded knee-jerk opinions that had equal or greater weight (in these media) to the opinions of academics, writers, researchers, scientists, philosophers, etc. Combined with the Dunning–Kruger effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect
), this trend snowballed into its current and fairly complete disconnection from facts, critical thinking and evidence.
7. The mass media weaponization of “active measure” disinformation campaigns by nefarious state actors (see L7 Opposition (https://www.level-7.org/Challenges/Opposition/)).
This is kind of the final nail in the coffin, if you will. When Russia, China and others began to create troll farms, hijack social media to spread division and confusion, and fund “alternative media” that furthered conspiracies and deceptions, the dilution of intellectual honesty — and “false equivalence” of pure invention with facts — was complete.
And that’s pretty much how we arrived in the mess where we are today.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question.
It’s a challenge, I think, for anyone to pick passages out of Smith’s work that apply exactly to today’s context of modern capitalism. Those who are friendly to classical liberalism and neoliberalism have made many errors doing so, and those who feel modern capitalism is problematic have also made errors picking-and-choosing from Smith’s work. With that caveat, here’s what I think might be relevant to this question:
1. The problem of business interests being at odds with public interests, and business having too much influence over both commerce and government. Smith touches on this frequently in Wealth of Nations, and uses the argument to encourage vigilant and thoughtful governmental oversight of business so that the public’s interests may be protected and business influence be reined in — Smith calls this “good government.” Without good government, Smith warns, the purveyors of commerce gain too much power. Why is this problematic? Because Smith observes that this particular breed of folks cannot be trusted with the public good; he writes of them: “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.” (Bk 1, Ch.11) Further, Smith observes that such men often come to operate according to a disturbing principle: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” (Bk 3, Ch.4)
2. The “absurd tax” of monopolies, and — once again — the dangers of their influence on government. Also not serving the public’s interests are monopolies that eliminate competition — which Smith warns are a natural objective of business, in order to maximize profits. “To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch.11) In addition, monopolies can gain inordinate coercive influence over government itself: “like an overgrown standing army, they have become formidable to the government, and upon many occasions intimidate the legislature. The member of parliament who supports every proposal for strengthening this monopoly, is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth render them of great importance. If he opposes them, on the contrary, and still more if he has authority enough to be able to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor the highest rank, nor the greatest public services, can protect him from the most infamous abuse and destruction, from personal insults, nor sometimes from real danger, arising from the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolists.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 4, Ch.2)
3. The lack of representation of worker interests and needs. “In the public deliberations, therefore, [the laborer’s] voice is little heard and less regarded, except upon some particular occasions, when his clamor is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but for their own particular purposes.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch.11) Smith does seem to think laborers aren’t always capable of constructive input to government — because of their lack of education, information and time — but he clearly doesn’t trust businesses to represent worker interests either.
My 2 cents.
Please note: excerpts from Smith’s Wealth of Nations in the above answer can easily be found via a full search string in quotes.
Voting is not an optional privilege, it is a civic obligation — a payment back to society for having roads, electricity, social safety nets, the rule of law, and so on. And with the scale and urgency of challenges we currently face around the globe (the resurgence of fascism; climate crisis; an accelerating loss of species and habitats from human misuse and mismanagement; and so on), “not voting” is akin to lighting oneself on fire — and then allowing those flames to spread and consume everything and everyone around us. Therefore no rationale “to not vote” matters: it’s basically a criminal offense, much like not stopping to aid a dying person on the side of the road.
That said, it is certain that selfishness, laziness, childishness, egotism, ignorance, stupidity and vindictiveness will become excuses for some people not to vote. Unfortunately, we’ve managed to engineer a modern society where such traits are vaunted and rewarded — heck, you can even become President of the United States by flaunting such traits. So that is a sad state of affairs.
But again, in the current context, not voting is simply lighting oneself on fire, and to do so with strong conviction is both suicidal and, ultimately, homicidal.
My 2 cents.
In most traditions that “fine line” is to simply be guided by love instead of dogma or rigid doctrine on the one hand, or cultural traditions on the other. Dogma is a kind of black-and-white reasoning that sees all situations through the lens of lockstep conformance. What is considered “common sense” can often be a cultural reflex that isn’t carefully thought through. Love, which in most religions was the original basis or inspiration of all primary religious tenets, is able to see through the eyes of compassion, acceptance, encouragement and support — it doesn’t rely on dogma. And when we can practice skillful compassion, which discerns the most constructive way to respond in each unique situation, we demonstrate wisdom. Ultimately, both “common sense” (cultural) and “religious” (dogmatic) responses to a given challenge become much more effective when framed with wisdom and compassion. In my experience, both common sense and religious doctrine are softened and refined by skillful compassion.
My 2 cents.