What is the most important political philosophy in history?


I think that there are a few principles that might aspire to “the most important principles in political philosophy,” and I’ve listed them below. I don’t, however, think there is any single political philosophy that can claim primacy as “the most important in history.”

Some principles that became quite influential, if not universal, throughout history around the globe:

1. That rulers — or anyone with disproportionate concentrations power — should be just and good to those they rule or control…and, if they aren’t, that they should be usurped or replaced in some fashion (democracy, violent revolution, communism, anarchism, etc. all sprang from this central idea)

2. That all human beings share the same fundamental rights (under the law, in political representation, economically, socially, etc.)

3. That “civil society” is not only predicated on the previous two principles, but that it exists to benefit everyone in society (i.e. provide safety and security under the rule of law, material opportunity, freedom, and even the pursuit of happiness…)

4. That religion and governance do not mix well…but scientific evidence and reasoning bolsters sound governance

5. That the civic responsibility for all-of-the-above falls upon everyone equally — that everyone is individually and collectively accountable for the fulfillment and defense of these principles.

Sadly, although these principles have led to some of the grandest, most prosperous, most free, and most advanced societies on Earth, they seemingly are being forgotten to an astonishing and rapid degree. Like spoiled children, modern citizens do not seem to understand or appreciate what they have…until it starts to be taken away.

My 2 cents.

How do you model high-level dialectical thinking?

This has been a central focus of my own philosophical reading, research, musings, and writing for many decades. It took me a while to arrive at these conclusions…but what follows is where I have landed for the moment.

I should first give a nod to the lineage of the dialectical epistemic mode in Western philosophy, where we see the primary evolution from Plato and Aristotle up through Hegel. I also think Calvinist multiperspectivalism adds to this tradition, with a synthesis of three perspectives. Beginning with Gebser we begin to see a new definition of “multiperspectival” among integral philosophers, and really this is the beginning of what I would call “high-level dialectical thinking.” In this form of analysis, many perspectives contribute to an additive synthesis.

Finally, there is a parallel lineage in Eastern philosophy and mysticism as well, which leads to subtly different epistemic assumptions: that some understanding can’t be logically derived, but only “known” in a more felt or spiritual sense, described with terms like “gnosis,” “kensho,” and “bodhi.” This illuminating awareness also encompasses multiple perspectives in its interpenetrating understanding — it can integrate without negation just as Western dialectical and integral methods attempt to do.

This is not to say that Western philosophy doesn’t brush up against sympathetic ideas — it does. I think arriving at Aristotle’s moderation, or Fichte’s intellectual intuition, or Heinlein’s “grok” all seem to require a similar flavor non-analytical insight.

All of this led me to a very particular conclusion: there are many ways of knowing, and many ways of integrating that knowledge, so that a true “synthesis” of understanding that encompasses all experiences, insights, and perspectives requires a different framing than what either Western or Eastern philosophical traditions had to offer alone.

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



Sector Theory is how I would represent “high-level dialectical thinking.” The term I like to use for the fundamental process is “multidialectical synthesis.” What makes Sector Theory unique, however, are the definitions of the sectors themselves. These sectors aren’t always equal contributors — it requires discernment and wisdom to know which combination of sectors should have primacy in a given situation or realm of understanding — but Sector Theory asserts that all should be considered and weighed carefully together for the most complete understanding possible.

My 2 cents.

What do you think about 'principled conservatism'?

I think it is a lofty ideal, but that it has never really existed in the U.S. “Principled conservatives” claim to base their ideology on actual sources like the Constitution, or the intent of the Founding Fathers expressed in the Federalist Papers and other essays and letters of the period, or the writings of Adam Smith and John Locke, or the Judeo-Christian ethics of the Bible, or other similarly vaunted authorities of the past.

The problem, of course, is that most of this framing has been achieved through radical reinterpretations of those sources by more recent thinkers, and the “core principles” have become severely distorted so that the new lens of conservative values teeters on a cherry-picked mountain of half-truths. This has been going on for a long time in the U.S. and elsewhere, as conservative religious and political figures have sought to harness authoritative source material to justify their own power, influence, wealth, and gender and racial superiority. Citing such authorities in conservative propaganda makes it a lot easier to persuade a conservative-leaning rank-and-file to vote a certain way and dutifully conform to the party line.

I suppose some examples would be helpful here, and there are many. It’s just that you have to really study that source material carefully to understand just how distorted conservative reinterpretations have become. Take women’s rights as one example. Established culture always trumps religion, and the Europeans conformed what was actually a radically feminist Christianity to their own misogynistic cultural tendencies, and that misogynistic strain of Christianity then migrated to the New World. If we spend any time at all studying the acts of Jesus and the writings of the Apostle Paul, we quickly realize that they both promoted a woman’s spiritual authority and position in the Church as being equal to a man’s, and frequently deferred to female leaders and influencers in critical situations. The words and deeds of the New Testament are radically feminist in this sense. That is…except for two (and only two) verses in the epistles (i.e. the letters at the end of the NT) that denigrate women and put them in subjection to men, and which conservatives have often liked to cite to justify ongoing oppression of women. However, nearly all — and certainly all of the most credible — modern Christian scholars recognize that these epistles are rife with interpolated verses…that is, with verses that were written centuries later and inserted into those texts…and due to their style and content these epistles were very likely written or rewritten at a much later time than the rest of the New Testament. Again though, we’re talking about two verses that contrast the majority of other NT writings that quite markedly liberate women from oppression and inequality.

So, as I say, this “cherry-picking” of conservative authorities has been going on for a long time. The same is true of Adam Smith, who promoted “good government” and its control over and taxation of commerce so that workers and the poor would be protected from the abuses of big business. Hmmm….why is it we never hear conservatives quote Adam Smith’s discussion of good government? Because it doesn’t conform to their narrative about unfettered free enterprise being synonymous with liberty and American patriotism. And of course similar distortions have arisen around how the U.S. Constitution is interpreted, which clearly states government is to provide for the common welfare of the United States, enshrines enduring socialist institutions like the Postal Service, and so on. Equally distressing, conservative distortions go so far as to invent — in what is a stark contrast to “principled” originalist or textualist interpretations of the Constitution — self-serving ideas about what a particular passage means. For nearly 200 years the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” was understood to relate to the “well regulated Militia” referenced in the same Amendment — even among conservative SCOTUS Justices. But, thanks to modern conservatives and the revisionist judicial activism of Antonin Scalia in his DC v Heller ruling, Amendment II now somehow refers to personal self-defense…!

Essentially, then, conservatives have traditionally begun with a self-serving objective — usually having to do with creating or maintaining white male pseudo-Christian privilege and wealth in society — and then carefully gleaning selective passages from authoritative sources from the past to support those self-serving objectives. These distorted justifications then become their “conservative principles.” Ironically, most of these self-protective and highly destructive conservative ideological habits can be quickly countered with other selective references from those very same sources — for example, both Jesus Christ and Adam Smith frequently warned of the dangers of greed and lust for power, the toxicity of lording it over others, and so on.

But in my experience very few “principled conservatives” spend much time really understanding or even reading those original sources. Some do, and their views are much more nuanced (but not at all popular among other conservatives!). Instead, the average “principled conservative” relies on the reinterpretations of much later thinkers and influencers who became conservative authorities in their own right — Hayek and Friedman, Gingrich and Buchanon, Scalia and Rehnquist, Graham and Falwell, the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation, Breitbart and Blaze, Buckley and Limbaugh, and so on. So with each passing generation, the abstraction from first principles becomes more and more elaborate and rationalizing…until we end up with a fascist, racist ignoramus embodying the very worst of human nature, and 70 million GOP voters supporting it as their “conservative” choice for POTUS.

Essentially, then, the principles of “principled conservatives” have become very far removed from the ideals of the original thinkers that supposedly inform them, and are reduced and upended into the very things those authorities warned against and attempted to countervail:

“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…” — Jesus Christ (Matt 20:25–26)

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” — Apostle Paul (Rom 13:3–7)

“We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax. It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need.” — Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom

“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to George Wythe, 1786

There are so many more examples…!

My 2 cents.

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

The challenge as I see it is the weaponization of malicious deception through mass and social media. Take propaganda and disinformation. Before record broadcasts, mass media, and the Internet, this was limited to influencing those within hearing distance of a live speaker — or to those willing to read and absorb someone’s writing — and thus only seemed to propagate slowly over months and years. Mass movements were sparked by radical and revolutionary thought, to be sure, but the time these took to gain any substantive momentum in society afforded a modicum of wisdom, measured consideration, thoughtful discourse, and common sense to be injected into that process…well, at least most of the time. Humans have always been susceptible to groupthink and the lemming effect. But before the modern information revolution, the ability to hoodwink large numbers of people took some very committed effort and time.

Nowadays, however, disinformation disseminates in hours or days, capturing millions of uncritical and gullible minds so that substantive shifts in attitudes and behaviors can have a widespread — and often dominant — impact on communities and societies. I call this the superagency effect, and it is similar to other ways that technology allows us to project and amplify person or collective will in unprecedented ways…often facilitating great harm on an ever-growing scale.

So I think this change in the potential consequences of malicious deception — the amplification of harm, if you will — should inform our definitions of free speech, and the collectively agreed-upon ways we decide to manage free speech. I think this is part of what the Fairness Doctrine in the U.S. was intended to address: the advent of news media broadcasting to every home in America invited some sort of oversight to ensure what was being communicated in an ever-more-centrally coordinated way, by relatively few authoritative or trusted figures, offered equal time to multiple perspectives…and encouraged some of those perspectives to be controversial. Since the original Fairness Doctrine only applied to broadcast licenses, it of course would not have done much to curtail the explosion of propaganda and conspiracy outlets on cable and the Internet unless updated to address those new media (and there was, actually, a failed attempt to do this), but the point is that the concern about the ubiquity of these forms of persuasive communication has always been pretty obvious.

And of course this concern doesn’t only apply to ideological propaganda. It also applies to advertising, which has successfully convinced millions to buy things they don’t need, or become addicted or dependent for many years, or injure their health and well-being with caustic consumables. Again, all because of the power and reach of mass media.

So the vaunted ideal of free speech has to be understood in this broader context. The speed and destructive power of malicious deception in the current era cannot be understated. It has undermined legitimately elected governments, endangered individual and collective human health, propagated irrational fears and hatred that have lead to human tragedy and death, and wreaked havoc on the ecology of planet Earth — all with astonishing swiftness and scope.

Therefore, some sort of collectively agreed-upon mechanism — and ideally one that is implemented and managed by an informed democratic process — should be put in place to ensure some standard of truthfulness and fact-checking, representation of diverse and controversial perspectives, and diffusing or disabling of disinformation and malicious deception. The key, again, will be in the quality and fairness of the “regulatory” process itself — aiming for something more democratic and not autocratic.

My 2 cents.

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

My take, as someone who has read both Sartre in French and Hegel in German, is that learning the language alone is certainly helpful, but does not guarantee understanding. As others here have said, each philosopher has their own distinct language — some even invented their own vocabulary for ideas they otherwise found impossible to communicate. There is also the issue of language period — the phrasing, syntax, vocabulary, and cultural references of a specific time can add to the potential confusion.

So my recommendation would be to both learn German, and study the original text alongside two or three well-respected translations in your native tongue. This approach has afforded me many interesting surprises and insights. On the one hand, you will see how different translators grapple with difficult passages and you can then perhaps gain addition insight from that. On the other, you may very well discover that none of the translations really captures the nuance of the original language as you read it. These are exciting learning experiences.

For me, reading Hegel in German was very difficult, and reading Sartre in French was relatively easy — and this was despite my German being much more advanced than my French! Nevertheless, I don’t think I would have arrived at the understanding I have now of each thinker; still humbly incomplete, but more clear-eyed and balanced, I think, than what some professors and commentators I’ve encountered over the years have attempted to convey.

In other words…I would recommend digging into philosophy with a “multiperspectival” or “integral” discipline, where you weigh several vectors of investigation against each other, and synthesize your own conclusions. I would describe this as a multidialectical approach. At the same time, it should be warned, this method will not help you pass exams or be more popular in a given philosophy club; in fact it may hinder you. All-too-frequently, you may be scoffed at by someone who insists their professor’s views on a given philosopher are more sound than your speculation. It won’t matter that you explain a given position, just that you are somehow impugning a vaunted authority on the matter. In academia, conformance of thinking is often much more important (for decent grades, at least) than thinking deeply or critically.

Okay…probably offered more than the OP wanted to know. But there it is.

My 2 cents.

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

Here is the underlying problem as I see it: Blind, uncritical, or unthinking adherence to any “ism” is always misguided. There are good ideas — great ideas, even — available in every camp, but when loyalty and lockstep adherence to a given tribal membership or belief system becomes more important than discerning which ideas are good and which are bad, or even than having an intellectually honest dialogue with others with different perspectives and strategies, then that “ism” is just a restrictive and destructive straight jacket.

Right now, there is some of this behavior on both the Left and the Right. However, lockstep conformance and uncritical groupthink have lately become much more common on the conservative end of the spectrum. And this is the real problem, more than anything else IMO. Add to this that many of the ideas being championed by conservatives are informed by non-factual assumptions (climate change is a hoax; face masks won’t help control COVID; free markets and the profit motive always solve complex problems; the U.S. was founded by Christians for Christians; etc.), a profound misunderstanding of causality (for example: Planned Parenthood clinics do not increase abortions rates, they actually decrease abortion rates; stopping immigration will never restore U.S. jobs; there is no widespread election fraud; and so on); affection for policies and practices that have clearly proven ineffective or outright failures (supply-side economics; war on drugs; austerity measures; nation building; structural adjustment policies; deregulation; etc.), and opposition to policies and practices that work exactly as intended (Head Start; ACA; Keynesian macroeconomics; etc.). In short: modern-day conservatives just get most things terribly wrong.

As to the “underlying principles,” well sure, there is some really good stuff to be found among the more thoughtful conservative thinkers of past eras. And there is no reason to abandon the inclusion of intellectually honest conservatives in modern discourse. It’s just…there don’t seem to be many intellectually honest ones around right now, and a lot more ideas on the progressive side that are guided by scientific evidence and practices proven in the real world.

My 2 cents.

What does it mean to be true to liberty?

For folks like Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln I think “being true” meant to be loyal, steadfast, committed, uncompromising, self-sacrificing, and universal in liberty’s championing and application — and most particularly in the context of how liberty is defended, reenforced, and facilitated through prudent and generous governance, and a wise shaping of the rule of law. Such passion and devotion to human liberty was, after all, one potent impetuous for the U.S. Constitution itself.

Being “true to liberty” today, however, apparently has much more to do with one’s “right” to:

- Consume conspicuously and destructively

- Maintain unearned, inherited privilege and wealth

- Be free from any consequences or accountability for wrongs committed

- Provoke acts of violence, hatred, and vicious racism and xenophobia through “free speech” across social and mass media

- Hoard military style weapons of mass lethality

- Whine constantly about being a “victim” while perpetrating horrific abuses and unlawful acts

- Proudly promote policies that undermine one’s own fundamental civil rights and economic interests

So things are a bit upside down today, at least among those who bray the most loudly about being true to “freedom” and “liberty” as they have redefined it.

My 2 cents.

Do you normally look at most situations from multiple objective viewpoints? Why or why not?

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

Why do people confuse equality of opportunity and equality of outcome?

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.

Why is the West so sure they know what's the best for China more than Chinese themselves?

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.

Why are deontological and virtue ethics not viewed as a subset of consequentialism?

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.

What are the top 10 or 20 reasons to be Liberal instead of Conservative?


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.

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

This is probably the most widely propagated misunderstanding in modern times about Aristotle’s thinking — a longstanding misuse of what Aristotle wrote in Politics about the different forms and flavors of democracy. You can read a translation of what Aristotle actually wrote here: The Internet Classics Archive. Basically, Aristotle is most critical of certain manifestations of democracy, and actually praises other variations, though of course he places his vision of polity above them all as the best form of government to serve the common good. But the gross generalization one often hears today that Aristotle disdained all democracy as “mob rule” is not accurate. Aristotle’s thinking on democracy is nuanced, and he often will answer his own objections about it.

I’ll offer just two sections in Politics for consideration. The first is this, from Book Three, Part Eleven, in which Aristotle seems to extoll the benefits of “the wisdom of the multitude,” as long as special knowledge isn’t required to make a judgement — or, alternatively, if those who vote are well-educated! — and the crowd making the judgement isn’t “utterly degraded” (i.e. mindless brutes): (my emphasis added below)

“The principle that the multitude ought to be supreme rather than the few best is one that is maintained, and, though not free from difficulty, yet seems to contain an element of truth. For the many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse. For each individual among the many has a share of virtue and prudence, and when they meet together, they become in a manner one man, who has many feet, and hands, and senses; that is a figure of their mind and disposition. Hence the many are better judges than a single man of music and poetry; for some understand one part, and some another, and among them they understand the whole. There is a similar combination of qualities in good men, who differ from any individual of the many, as the beautiful are said to differ from those who are not beautiful, and works of art from realities, because in them the scattered elements are combined, although, if taken separately, the eye of one person or some other feature in another person would be fairer than in the picture. Whether this principle can apply to every democracy, and to all bodies of men, is not clear….For a right election can only be made by those who have knowledge; those who know geometry, for example, will choose a geometrician rightly, and those who know how to steer, a pilot; and, even if there be some occupations and arts in which private persons share in the ability to choose, they certainly cannot choose better than those who know. So that, according to this argument, neither the election of magistrates, nor the calling of them to account, should be entrusted to the many. Yet possibly these objections are to a great extent met by our old answer, that if the people are not utterly degraded, although individually they may be worse judges than those who have special knowledge — as a body they are as good or better.

Later on, in Book Four, Part Four, Aristotle opines that the rule of law and equality of participation permit a successful constitutional democracy to flourish. The problem arises when there is no justice — no supreme rule of law — and the will of the majority begins behaving like a monarch. Aristotle further warns that, in such conditions, demagogues tend to rise to power. Of special note is the following section — please read it carefully:

“At all events this sort of democracy, which is now a monarch, and no longer under the control of law, seeks to exercise monarchical sway, and grows into a despot; the flatterer is held in honor; this sort of democracy being relatively to other democracies what tyranny is to other forms of monarchy. The spirit of both is the same, and they alike exercise a despotic rule over the better citizens. The decrees of the demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant; and the demagogue is to the one what the flatterer is to the other. Both have great power; the flatterer with the tyrant, the demagogue with democracies of the kind which we are describing. The demagogues make the decrees of the people override the laws, by referring all things to the popular assembly. And therefore they grow great, because the people have all things in their hands, and they hold in their hands the votes of the people, who are too ready to listen to them. Further, those who have any complaint to bring against the magistrates say, 'Let the people be judges'; the people are too happy to accept the invitation; and so the authority of every office is undermined.”

Sound familiar? This is, after all, what has been happening in the U.S. of late: the rule of law has been undermined, there is no equality of democratic participation or representation, and a flatterer has been enabled by a popular assembly to exercise despotic whims and override a more deliberative democracy subject to the rule of law.

With Politics having been available for the past 2,370 years, perhaps we should have seen this current devolution coming….?

My 2 cents.

Do you agree that we need a mix of conservative and liberal views to have a successful society instead of having it one way or the other?

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.

8-) 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.

How do political ideologies negatively affect us?

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:

What did Alexis de Tocqueville mean: The more equal human beings became in their condition-intellectually, politically, and spiritually, and economically-the less able they were to act as individuals

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.

What steps could be taken to bring the current extreme political ideologies on both sides somewhat back to the center?

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.

Is it just to scuttle the livelihoods of 10's of millions to save the lives of thousands?

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.

Can an ideology (especially, a dogma), in general, escape from the burden of a follower’s misdeed committed for that ideology, even if the view itself doesn’t encourage people to act that way?

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.

Do Americans make everything political?

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.

How would a utilitarian answer to John Rawls’ theory of justice?

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.

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

This is a funny question. Why? Because:

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

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

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

Here are a few of the top considerations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this was helpful.

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

Does equal opportunity lead to equal outcomes?

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

Can liberty and justice be quantified? If yes, what units could we use to measure them?

There have been several attempts to do this already, using different approaches and metrics (influenced by different ideological preferences). Some examples below.

Freedom House offers three different reports on different measures of freedom — political freedom and democracy; freedom of the press/media; and freedom of the Internet: Reports | Freedom House

Reporters without Borders offers a “World Press Freedom Index:” 2019 World Press Freedom Index | Reporters Without Borders

The Heritage Foundation offers an “Index of Economic Freedom:” Promoting Economic Opportunity and Prosperity by Country

The CATO Institute offers a “Human Freedom Index” that combines their metrics for civil and economic freedom: Human Freedom Index

I have been playing with ideas about individual and collective agency, and how we might approach creating metrics for them — this is related because both liberty and justice seem directly tied to this. Here are two essays that explore these ideas:

The Underlying Causes of Left vs. Right Dysfunction in U.S. Politics

The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom

I hope this was helpful.

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

If by “intellectual inquiry” you mean critical, evidence-based evaluation or scrutiny, then I honestly don’t know of a single, current “right-wing” idea that stands up to it at all. There are a few left-wing ideas that falter as well, but far more that have been validated by the test of time. Most right-wing ideas are not just on the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of science — they are also on the wrong side of common sense. A very brief list of right-wing concepts that have proven to be disastrously wrong-headed include such central tenets as:

1. Trickle-down (supply-side) economics — an utter failure.

2. Economic austerity measures — also an utter failure.

3. Free-market solutions can solve any problem — no they can’t; for example: healthcare.

4. Corporations can be left to self-regulate — another epic fail: e-cigarettes; Boeing 737-Max; savings and loan crisis; mortgage-backed securities meltdown; Oxycodone; coal mining deaths; etc.

5. Opposition to teaching children sex-education or allowing them access to birth control — STDs and teen pregnancies abound everywhere this has been tried.

6. Climate change isn’t caused by people — yes it is.

7. Cigarettes don’t cause cancer — yes they do.

8. Good jobs are being stolen by immigrants — no they’re not, they’re being stolen by outsourcing and automation by companies that wan’t to increase their profits instead of pay decent wages.

9. Gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry — that’s just dumb…and oppressive.

10. Black people shouldn’t be allowed to vote — also stupid and oppressive.

11. Women shouldn’t be allowed control over their own bodies — um…well, just wow.

12. Invading Iraq was the best way to fight Islamic extremism — LOL.

13. Obamacare has been a disaster — nope: it’s doing pretty much everything it promised to do (though it didn’t fare as well in Republican States that resisted Medicare expansion, and Republican efforts to sabotage Obamacare are weakening that success further).

14. Innovation comes from private enterprise — nope. Most “outside the box” thinking that has lead to major innovations was the result of academic or government-funded research (think the Internet, GPS, bar codes, microchips, wind energy, touch screens, etc.). Oops!

15. Capitalism lifts people out of poverty — wrong again: civil society (civic institutions, the rule of law, democracy, etc.) lifts people out of poverty in capitalist countries…in countries without strong civic institutions, the “capitalists” are just brutish thugs who keep all of the wealth for themselves.

16. Socialism has always failed. Really? The U.S. Postal Service? The Federal Reserve? The U.S. Highway System? The U.S. Military? NASA? K-12 Education? Public Lands? Public utility companies? Public transit? Social Security? Medicare and Medicaid? The FDA? Are all of these socialist enterprises failures…?

We could go on…and it would be exhausting…but this is why it so difficult for progressives to find common ground with American conservatives. Conservatives are just…well, unable to get their facts straight or clearly see the actual causes of the problems they want to solve.

My 2 cents.

What are some writers similar or complementary to Noam Chomsky?

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

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

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

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

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

- Howard Odum
- David Holmgren
- Peter Pogany

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

- Paulo Freire
- Paul Piff

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

Do you think the “state of nature” is better described by Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau?

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.

Why isn't there a philosopher/philosophical movement that is as broadly popular in the public consciousness today, as Sartre and existentialism were in the 1950s

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.

What did Adam Smith outline about the dangers of capitalism?

Thanks for the question.

It’s a challenge, I think, for anyone to pick passages out of Smith’s work that apply exactly to today’s context of modern capitalism. Those who are friendly to classical liberalism and neoliberalism have made many errors doing so, and those who feel modern capitalism is problematic have also made errors picking-and-choosing from Smith’s work. With that caveat, here’s what I think might be relevant to this question:

1. The problem of business interests being at odds with public interests, and business having too much influence over both commerce and government. Smith touches on this frequently in Wealth of Nations, and uses the argument to encourage vigilant and thoughtful governmental oversight of business so that the public’s interests may be protected and business influence be reined in — Smith calls this “good government.” Without good government, Smith warns, the purveyors of commerce gain too much power. Why is this problematic? Because Smith observes that this particular breed of folks cannot be trusted with the public good; he writes of them: “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.” (Bk 1, Ch.11) Further, Smith observes that such men often come to operate according to a disturbing principle: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” (Bk 3, Ch.4)

2. The “absurd tax” of monopolies, and — once again — the dangers of their influence on government. Also not serving the public’s interests are monopolies that eliminate competition — which Smith warns are a natural objective of business, in order to maximize profits. “To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch.11) In addition, monopolies can gain inordinate coercive influence over government itself: “like an overgrown standing army, they have become formidable to the government, and upon many occasions intimidate the legislature. The member of parliament who supports every proposal for strengthening this monopoly, is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth render them of great importance. If he opposes them, on the contrary, and still more if he has authority enough to be able to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor the highest rank, nor the greatest public services, can protect him from the most infamous abuse and destruction, from personal insults, nor sometimes from real danger, arising from the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolists.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 4, Ch.2)

3. The lack of representation of worker interests and needs. “In the public deliberations, therefore, [the laborer’s] voice is little heard and less regarded, except upon some particular occasions, when his clamor is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but for their own particular purposes.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch.11) Smith does seem to think laborers aren’t always capable of constructive input to government — because of their lack of education, information and time — but he clearly doesn’t trust businesses to represent worker interests either.

My 2 cents.

Please note: excerpts from Smith’s Wealth of Nations in the above answer can easily be found via a full search string in quotes.

What could be your excuse to not vote?

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.

Where is the fine line between religion and common sense?

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.

What did you do for the greater good?

Well thanks for the question, but answering it with any confidence seems like the height of hubris. So I’ll begin with this caveat: I don’t think the ultimate impact of anyone’s individual actions will be known for a very long time — likely not in their lifetime. Which means that our most earnest intentions — and our attempts to become skillful at reifying well-meaning outcomes — is about all we can really use as a metric in-the-moment. It’s the”skillful” part of this equation that is the real challenge IMO.

With that said, I do actively cultivate a personal aim for the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration, with the greatest skillfulness in much of what I do in my creative work, interpersonal relationships, habits of consumption, social media communication, advocacy for various causes, and political activism. Some examples of such aims that could, possibly (hopefully), bear fruit over time:

1. Practicing genuine caring, kindness and constructive support in as many interactions as possible with strangers, family and friends.

2. Capturing or expressing wonder, beauty, gratitude, mystery, love, sadness, and other impactful experiences in my creative work (photography (http://toadlandproductions.com), music (https://soundcloud.com/t-collinslogan/tracks), poetry (https://www.tcollinslogan.com/poetry/index.html), etc.)

3. Advocating, educating and writing (https://www.tcollinslogan.com) about the problems of crony capitalism, as well as the positive, more egalitarian and democratic alternatives to crony capitalism (see also L e v e l - 7 Overview)

4. Avoiding conspicuous overconsumption, and paying attention to environmentally friendly sourcing of goods and services.

5. Promoting multidimensional self-care through Integral Lifework coaching.

6. Supporting organizations that I believe facilitate positive change (see Constructive Organizations)

7. Voting for candidates and initiatives that most closely reflect as many of these values as possible, and participating in political and information campaigns at the grass roots level.

Will any of these efforts make any difference at all? Will they truly bear fruit for a “greater good?” Who knows…it just seems like it’s worth a try. :-)

My 2 cents.

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

Thank you for the question John.

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

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

My 2 cents.

What does personal liberty have to do with individualism?

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

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

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

So perhaps you can see the conundrum.

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

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

My 2 cents.

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

Here are the top five reasons why there is a wave of right-wing governments across the globe:

1. Global corporate capitalism, as coordinated and directed by the wealthiest owner-shareholders around the world, is creating huge wealth disparities, increasingly destructive negative externalities (climate change, unbreathable air, undrinkable water, rapid species extinction, etc.), and exaggerated economic instability (boom/bust cycles that are increasingly extreme). This trend understandably frightens people, and they want a scapegoat for their fears. The far-right rhetoric blames progressive social policies, recent waves of immigrants, and “government interference in free markets,” in simplistic, polemic rhetoric. None of these are the real causal factors behind what so frightens right-leaning folks…but they sure are easy targets for polarizing propaganda. It’s really easy to get scared people to vote against their own best interests, and ignore the real “man behind the curtain” (i.e. those wealthy owner-shareholders) who doesn’t want to be held accountable.

2. The actual solutions to many of these modern challenges are complex, nuanced, contingent, dynamic and abstract. To even fully comprehend some of the problems humanity faces requires an advanced understanding of specialized disciplines that take years to learn (i.e. economics, climate science, biology, medicine, genetics, etc.). Consequently, it’s difficult to explain how to move forward to “the average voter,” and much easier to hoodwink them. And the conservative, right-leaning voters around the world have often had an uneasy relationship with evidence-based, scientific approaches, often mistrusting experts and academia on a fundamental level. And yet, these same conservative “average voters” feel empowered by misinformation they find on social media, in sensationalist journalism, on conspiracy websites, and through other unreliable sources. This creates a false sense of confidence (see Illusory truth effect and Dunning–Kruger effect), which combines with tribalistic “Us vs. Them” emotional reactivism, and in turn leads to mass movements that are highly irrational and easily manipulated. Unfortunately for those who gravitate towards the far-right end of the political spectrum, nearly all of the most strident, deceptive and manipulative propaganda today is housed in their media. So instead of becoming educated with real evidence or persuaded by rational reasoning, the right-leaning person becomes increasingly deceived and deluded.

3. Some rather unsavory folks with self-serving agendas have decided to double down on this ongoing deception. Whether it’s the fake science and science skepticism (such as climate denial) funded by the Koch brothers and neoliberal think tanks; or the “active measures” of Vladimir Putin aimed at dividing, angering and confusing folks all around the globe; or the strategic social media influence campaigns from Cambridge Analytica; or the lies and exaggerations of a mentally unstable President Trump — all of these sources are just engineering and promoting their own accumulation of wealth and power. It’s a pretty simple and transparent strategy…just “follow the money.” And social media platforms have now provided a powerful, dopamine-addiction-driven tool to entrain mindless conformance among targeted groups of users. For more discussion of this pernicious pattern, see The Opposition.

4. Progressives and technocrats are generally TERRIBLE at explaining their positions and the rationale for approaching complex problems a certain way. To them, the situation and its solutions are painfully obvious…but very few have the gift of translating that “obviousness” into clear, easily shared memes on social media, or humorous quips on talk shows, or simplistic black-and-white tropes that uneducated folks can latch onto. This is one reason I have proposed creating a Public Information Clearinghouse to help the “average voter” understand complex issues and appreciate evidence-based solutions.

5. I think…and this is perhaps the hardest thing to accept, let alone articulate…that humanity is getting dumber. Perhaps as a consequence of a combination of things — stress, pollutants, reliance on technology, poor diets, fast-paced lifestyles, etc. — or epigenetic changes that have been amplified by this same combination of factors, human beings aren’t thinking very clearly or cleverly. And there is also an increase — especially among conservatives and the far-right — to actively suppress their own intelligence. It’s quite disturbing to witness the extraordinary levels of cognitive dissonance conservatives must sustain to hold onto their most cherished but misguided beliefs. And this “cultivated stupidity” has a collective snowball effect, which again is just amplified into lockstep in-group conformance by the mass media that crafts these deceptive narratives and perpetuates them.

So don’t allow yourself to be hoodwinked by the right-wing propaganda about why there is a wave of right-wing movements. :-) Over many decades, socially conservative, market fundamentalist, greed-centric crony capitalists have created the conditions that now make them so fearful and unhappy. But they are not willing to take responsibility for what they have done, and instead seek to blame others. It's a very human failing, but promises to be particularly disastrous in this situation — because it avoids engaging the actual causes for impending calamity.

My 2 cents.

Are Christian values incompatible with right wing political views?

Yes, absolutely. Some examples:

1. Jesus was a radical feminist — not just for his time, but even by standards of the late 1950s.

2. Jesus promoted economic attitudes and practices that can best be described as anarcho-communist— and fundamentally at odds with capitalism and neoliberalism.

3. Jesus consistently respected and honored Nature — something that has been present in previous conservative values, but has been almost completely abandoned by modern day conservatives.

4. Jesus rejected the legalism and dogma of religious conservatives in his day — in fact the attitudes and rigidity of modern Christian conservatives very much resemble those of the Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus railed against.

5. Jesus didn’t condemn “sinners” shunned by society, but forgave and embraced them — modern conservatives do pretty much the opposite, especially to any class of “sinner” they don’t understand or are culturally prejudiced against.

6. Jesus advocated caring for the poor, orphaned, widowed, etc. — conservatives consistently defund programs that have proven effective in helping these groups.

So, really, modern conservatives — and most certainly those who have embraced Donald Trump as their folk hero — are living, voting, opining and acting in complete contradiction to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Then again…this is exactly what the New Testament predicted would happen in the apostate Church. So…modern conservatives are at least fulfilling prophecy in that regard.

My 2 cents.

What is the most 'real' philosophy historically (subjective question perhaps)?

What a great question to consider, Nathan. Thanks.

I can only ponder this by dialing through the many definitions of “real” — the many parameters ascribed to the idea — and then applying those to various branches of philosophy. What is “real”…genuine, fundamental, practical, actual, precise, independently existent…for metaphysics, logic, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, logic, etc.? Is it possible to encompass all of this definitively?

A first impulse was to dismiss that such comprehensive intersection could ever occur — nearly all philosophy is inherently speculative, after all.

Yet, even though these variables frame a rather large semantic container for “real philosophy,” I find myself recalling those philosophers whose thinking operated across many of these dimensions, and whose conclusions gained momentum in a sort of inclusive resonance in meaningful and enduring ways. These form a loose constellation that could — in an intersubjective way — act as a finger pointing toward the moon.

Skipping across the centuries, a few glittering points shine back from the infinite….Lao Tzu. Heraclitus. Aristotle. The Prajnaparamita. Marcus Aurelius. Aquinas. Hafez. John of the Cross. Bacon. Descartes. Spinoza. Leibniz. Rousseau. Godwin. Hegel. Mill. Emerson. Darwin. Thoreau. Marx. Green. James. Kropotkin. Dewey. Whitehead. Sartre. Rawls. Chomsky…and many others worthy of mention.

All of them contribute something vital, IMO. No single one of these — or the philosophies they represent — rises above the others. They are all essential to our understanding of what actually is.

Which leads me to conclude that there is no single “real philosophy,” other than the multidialectical synthesis of everything in this vast constellation of knowing — a virtual point that floats lightly among them, as an intersection of the best each has to offer.

The “real” is, after all, forever additive.

My 2 cents.

What do you, as an anarcho-socialist, think of the notion propagated by right-wing libertarians that taxation is theft imposed by the government on citizens?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

What are the biggest unanswered philosophical questions?

Thanks for the question Arslan. Many thorough, compelling and persuasive attempts have been made to answer these questions, but my take is that they are still substantively “unanswered:”

1. What is the nature of being? Of existence? Of reality?

2. How do we know what we know — in the most inclusive, integrative and balanced way? And what is the most constructive relationship, and most dependable process, we can create when interacting with both the known and the unknown?

3. What is the nature of consciousness? And what is language’s role in it?

4. What ethical framework — both collectively and individually — has the highest efficacy for holistic thriving over the long-term? That is, not just for human thriving, but for humans and everything that human behaviors impact?

5. What is “that certain something” that great art captures/represents? (i.e. Kandinsky’s “Stimmung”)

6. What approaches to political economy will solve the dire global cataclysm our current political economy has created?

7. When will humanity (as a whole) begin paying attention to the greatest philosophers who ever lived? (For example, when will every eighth-grade student know Aristotle’s core positions on important topics?)

My 2 cents.

Regenerative Mindset, Habits & Economies



A Critical Shift Away from an Extractive Downward Spiral

We can no longer maintain an opportunistic, ever-expanding extractive mindset toward planet Earth’s ecosystems and resources, toward human labor and creativity, toward the cooperative infrastructure of civil society, or in the “taking for granted” of life itself. Our extractive habits are unsustainable in economic terms, but more critically they are destroying everything around us at an accelerating pace. To fully appreciate both our extractivist habits and their consequences, please consult the following resources:

“Deep Adaptation: A Map for Avoiding Climate Tragedy” by Professor Jem Bendell (full paper available here; editorial article available here)

UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’ (Detailed report overview with many key statistics here; full “advanced unedited” IPBES report here)

“Capitalism is destroying the Earth. We need a new human right for future generations” — Guardian article by George Monbiot here.

“Extractivism and neoextractivism: two sides of the same curse” by Alberto Acosta (full essay available here)

The only solution is to shift as rapidly and all-inclusively as possible to regenerative solutions — and a regenerative state of mind. Collectively and individually, there is really no other choice. Why? Because hopes that global capitalism can be reigned in or civilized are naive and Pollyannish — as all such efforts are routinely undermined by enormously well-funded and fanatical neoliberal investment in the extractive status quo. Because trust that human innovation will address the most serious consequences of extractivism with new technologies is contradicted by the enormous complexities of natural ecosystems, the stunning scale and current momentum of the problems we must address, and the dismal track record of a majority previous technologies that created unanticipated negative externalities. Our only reasonable option is to implement regenerative systems and vigorously restrain and extinguish extractive systems.

And again, these changes are not restricted to how humanity views and utilizes natural resources — that is really just the tip of the iceberg. Equally important are how we view people — human creativity, labor, economic behavior, social behavior, spirituality, etc. — as well as how we view the institutions of civil society, and how we view both the wonder of Nature and the miracle of life itself. Does everything exist merely to be used up and exploited? Or does everything in this amazing reality have intrinsic value apart from any utilization by humanity? This is the fundamental question we must answer in order to guide effective transformations of our old, self-destructive habits into new, sustainable and thriving ones.


If These Concerns Are the Primary Drivers of Reform, How Can We Change?

What do “regenerative solutions” look like, then? Certainly there are many proposed frameworks for sustainability that have already proven themselves on various scales — many of which are described in proposals on my Level 7 website, or would easily dovetail with those proposals. Successful recycling programs and materials sourcing, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture have demonstrated genuine promise in their workability and scalability — even using capitalist metrics, they have increasingly been able to compete with traditional extractive models in terms of productivity and efficiency. As for human exploitation, worker-owned and managed cooperatives, Open Source production, P2P models, and commons-centric governance likewise have an established a meaningful track record of self-sustaining success — again even when using capitalist metrics to evaluate them, they often exceed the productivity and efficiency of traditional exploitative models.

Apart from the understandable resistance of established power and wealth to what will inevitably be a self-sacrificial change, what is the barrier, then, to transitioning away from extraction and exploitation? What is stopping us, and how can we overcome that barrier? Is there something more deeply rooted in our psyche that prevents us from moving forward. . .?

This is my intuition: that we need to fall in love again — with everything that our hectic, worried, materialistic, technological lifestyle has distanced us from. We need to re-invoke some of the mystery and wonder that once existed for us as we beheld the magnificence of Nature on a daily basis. We need to reconnect with each other in more personal ways — as neighbors, as community members, as citizens and fellow travelers of a rich cultural heritage. We need to cultivate more gratitude regarding the stunning gift our very existence. We must abandon a mechanistic, individualistic, reductionist and profit-centric view of ourselves and the world around us, and reacquaint ourselves with the felt experience of community and mystery. And we must not only grudgingly allow the possibility that life on Earth has intrinsic value, but actually celebrate it as we honor all species, all ecosystems, all habitats, all beings — including each other. In other words: we must return to more authentic, intimate and wonder-filled relationship with All That Is.

This is not a new concern, or a new remedy. Writers, activists, leaders, organizations and movements since capitalism first clawed its way to prominence have warned us of its dangers. However, this re-invocation of mystery has often been framed as an individual journey or choice — sometimes mystical, sometimes psychological, sometimes inviting methodological holism or integralism — but I would contend that this individualistic framing is itself destined to fail. A disproportionate emphasis on individual transformation and development is, in fact, just a new manifestation of the underlying error, confining the solution to the same atomistic, alienated, disconnected separateness that is causing the problem. The re-invocation of mystery must therefore be deeper, more encompassing, and more pervasive and participatory for any enduring, systemic transformation to take effect. It cannot be restricted to “me,” or “my tribe,” or “our community,” or even “our species” or “our planet,” for the egotism of individualism is too easily converted into the arrogance of anthropocentrism.

No, the smallest scope of this shift in relationship must, of necessity, be “All Life,” and then cascade through all other strata of being from there. To love all of life itself, to cherish it and commit ourselves to its thriving a a whole, is the beginning of cultivating kind, compassionate, caring relationships with everything else. And humanity must, as a whole, participate in this renewed relationship. We must all collectively revive a worshipful passion for the sacredness of life — certainly here on Earth, but really all of its forms wherever they may be found. And we must operationalize that passion within every system, every institution, every mutual agreement, every law, every collaboration and competition, every collective act. We must all live this truth together as if our lives depend on it — because, in light of the cataclysm we have created, our lives do in fact depend on it.

Yes, there will always be outliers, rebels, egoists and psychopaths, some of whom will continue to attain positions of power and influence. And there will be plutocratic pushback against all reforms challenge the supremacy of greed. But despite corporate capitalism’s endless efforts to reenforce, elevate and amplify such antisocial aberrations — through its heartless obsession with transactional relationships, commodification, externalized dependencies, self-indulgent hedonism, and the almighty dollar — that is not who we human beings are in our heart-of-hearts. Instead, we want to belong, we want to contribute, we want to care and be cared for, we want to love and be loved, and we long to have our intrinsic value and worth acknowledged. That is the basis of society itself — and family, friendship, and lasting romance — rather than the will-to-profit. So it follows that if we can, altogether, remember who we really are, then all the wonder and mystery of our relationship with life itself can be restored.

First Steps

In many ways what we are aiming for here is recovering a long-abandoned faith. Not faith in the sense of a blindly adherent belief system — and not the faith of any particular religious tradition — but faith as an intentional quality of character that trusts in certain fundamental realities: realities like the interdependence of all living things; the true miracle of existence; the joy of connectedness and belonging available to all; the power of lovingkindness; and the awe that we can be conscious of any of this. A faith that leads us to conclude with gratitude that, because the Universe has conspired in favor of our consciousness, our consciousness can now conspire in favor of the Universe. A faith that inspires us to celebrate rather than exploit, to regenerate rather than extract, to create rather than destroy. A felt experience of trust in the triumph of love over fear. A faith in life itself.

If such an intuition is correct, it demands that any reformation or revolution begin with this shift in focus, however that can be accomplished. As a small first step in this direction, consider the following short exercise with one or more friends and loved ones, and — if it feels helpful and right to you — practice and share it with others. And if it doesn’t work for you, perhaps you can come up with your own participatory practice that inspires a similar result.

In a quiet space, free of technological interruptions, have everyone join hands, and describe the following steps:

1) With heads bowed and eyes closed, take three deep, slow and even breaths to calm and center the body and mind.

2) Then, take three more slow and even breaths, and silently say to yourselves “May our faith reawaken” as you exhale each time. Focus on the meaning of those words.

3) After three repetitions, open your eyes and look at each other.

4) Breathe in slowly together, and then, as you all exhale, speak aloud in unison: “May our faith reawaken.”

5) Listen to each other, see each other, and again feel the meaning of those words in that moment.

6) Repeat the slow intake of breath and speaking the phrase aloud together two more times ― as an affirmation and encouragement.

7) Afterwards, pause for a few moments to allow this experience to settle and sink in.

We can of course make this exercise more specific by adding to the phrase: “May our faith in each other reawaken,” or in humanity, or in the power of compassion, or in life itself, and so on. But if we were all to consecrate our day, our actions, our relationships, our intentions, and our purpose with this kind of mutual affirmation and opening up — with a clear understanding of what it invokes regarding a sacred relationship with all of life — could such a small spark make a difference? Could it ignite a unity of compassionate restoration, and energize a critical transformation? Could it reawaken a quality of relationship with ourselves and everything around us that will restore balance and harmony?

In my teaching and coaching, I am always amazed at the power that connectedness and shared intention can create in small groups. That observation is what inspires this exercise, and the entire framework of Community Coregroups that I discuss in much of my writing.

Is it wise to avoid power in order to avoid responsibility?

Interesting question — thanks Robert.

I don’t think power and responsibility are necessarily connected.

First I would say it is wise to avoid striving after power, and avoid holding “excessive” power, in order to avoid the corrosive effects of both. Striving for power is just another form of greed or acquisitiveness, and generally undermines well-being and personal relationships. By “excessive” power I mean having so much power or money that it leads you to the mistaken belief that you are better than others, entitled to lording it over them, are endowed with some sort of special position in society, etc. This is is the kind of power that corrupts people, makes them callous and indifferent, and essentially turns folks without exceptional innate constitutions or a powerful empathic reflex into narcissistic psychopaths. In this case, those with “too much power” actually abdicate their social and civic obligations because they can. They excise themselves from accountability, and look down on “the little people” who are held accountable. In other words, too much power creates an escape hatch for personal responsibility. This is why so many folks who grow up affluent (or members of an entitled elite in a given culture) have difficulties in this area. And we certainly can see many “powerful” people who continually evade any sort of accountability or responsibility for their entire lives.

In terms of avoiding responsibility, we can certainly choose to do that (drop out of society, become alienated from family, shirk civic obligations, reject expectations at work, avoid any sort of commitments to friends, etc.), but this will generally interfere with our own emotional or psychosocial development. Becoming more responsible (i.e. having integrity, following through, aligning actions with expressed intent, agreeing to certain societal or relationship norms, etc.) is basically what “growing up” is all about. Adults are responsible, children are not. But since our current culture (in the U.S. at at least) encourages a prolonged adolescence, many young people are essentially refusing to become adults. It’s a sort of epidemic. Entire ideologies (like Ayn Rand’s objectivism, certain flavors of right-libertarianism, individualistic materialism, etc.) are actually grounded in the adolescent attitude that people have no real responsibility to society or obligations to other people. But this of course flies in the face of the agreements and trust upon which all civil society is constructed, and how all relationships mature beyond transactional shallowness.

So we can have power and avoid responsibility, and have no power and choose to be responsible. And, when choosing to be responsible, this can be done in an attitude of service, with humility and care for others, so that gaining more responsibility does not feel like “having more power.”

I hope this was helpful.

What are the benefits in studying eastern philosophy in comparison to western philosophy?

Thanks for the question.

IMO it is essential to study both. At a thematic level, there are profound intersections that help reenforce and illuminate each other (Confucius and Aristotle, Lao Tzu and Heraclitus, etc.). As well as different methodologies (for example, the koan) to understanding a challenging concept or work through philosophical quandaries. There is the occasional bias that Eastern philosophy is somehow “more religious” than Western philosophy, but that pretty much ignores the dominant influence of Judaism, neoplatonism and Christianity on 1,000+ years of Western thought — as well as what is really a primarily “philosophical” framework of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian Eastern traditions. As a loose generalization: in the West we have a centuries-long pattern of religious thought with a thin veneer of philosophy, and in the East we have a centuries-long pattern of philosophy with a thin veneer of religiosity. You say po-TAY-to, I say po-TAH-to.

My 2 cents.

Why are deep thinkers rare in society (i.e. Western Civilization)? What is the epitome of deep when deep is oftentimes undervalued by mainstream enthusiasts?

Fantastic question — thanks Elijah.

The main reason deeply contemplative folks are rare in Western society is, I think, representative of a nexus of cultural factors:

1. An emphasis on analytical reductionism at one extreme, superstition at the other, and groupthink all across the middle. In other words…there isn’t much encouragement to think about topics, conditions, experiences, etc. in multifaceted or holistic ways — and instead there is a lot of pressure to conform to ideas and beliefs that signal membership in a particular group or tribe.

2. A highly commercialized externalization of authority and “speeding up” of all decision-making to facilitate transactions. It is much easier to get folks to buy things (or vote a particular way) if they learn to reflexively and rapidly respond to “calls-to-action” from external authorities and influencers. In other words, “you can’t be happy/sexy/accepted/affluent/classy/sophisticated/important/righteous UNLESS YOU BUY [fill in the blank with product or service] OR VOTE FOR [politician or initiative].” It is also important to keep the engines of capitalism running full speed ahead because capitalism is dependent on growth — which discourages slower, more thoughtful decision-making in favor of quick transactions that facilitate profit. Bigger/newer/faster/better often trumps all other considerations. And when you combine multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns with the tendencies described in point #1, you can easily produce a pervasive lemming-effect through mass media.

3. Technology that abbreviates thought, communication, and connection — and keeps it shallow. Social media, texting, email…even phone calls are really poor substitutions for breaking bread with folks and having deep, meaningful, emotionally and intellectually rich conversations. But that’s how most of us in the West are communicating with each other nowadays.

4. A longstanding prejudice against both intellectualism and intuition. Aligning with point #2, Western culture discourages folks from trusting either our own critical thinking ability or our intuitive hunches. Instead, these interior capacities become suspect. I don’t know where these prejudices came from, but any nerdy or mystical kid who was routinely tormented by jocks and bullies in school knows how prevalent the prejudices are.

5. Thinking deeply is hard, and humans have become lazy and addicted to convenience and comfort. In the developed world, life has become pretty luxurious. There isn’t much existential worry for citizens of Western countries — or much reason to think carefully or in a concentrated way to preserve a lowest-common-denominator of well-being. I think that has encouraged us to relax our reflective abilities.

Okay…that’s my 2 cents.

How do you recognize true wisdom?

By living it and honestly assessing the outcome. Are the results a deeper understanding, a more profound sense of harmony and connection, a more enduring compassionate affection, a higher efficacy of service and generosity, and a quieting of ego and striving? Then wisdom was probably in play.

My 2 cents.

What is philosophy's take on economics?

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

My 2 cents.

Does W. V. O. Quine's criticism of logical positivism apply to Scientism?

Thanks for the question. Simply put: Quine’s critique tends to support and even exemplify scientism, rather than undermine it. He is basically saying that there isn’t really any kind of “so-called knowledge” that can’t be empirically verified, implying that a scientific approach is humanity’s best avenue for pursuing knowledge. That is, if our insights lack predictive efficacy, then maybe we don’t really “know” what we think we do. We might call this assertion an “a posteriori epistemic bias,” an example of postmodern rejection of all other conceptions, traditions or forms of knowledge. Quine seems to believe this is “pragmatism,” but I would reject that characterization.

My 2 cents.

Short Discourse On Insecurity: Why We Can’t Fix the World by Blaming Others



What if, suddenly out of the blue, I insisted that you stop trying to control other people?


What if I said that, when you try to control what other people say or what they do, it’s just a symptom of your own insecurity? And what if I said you needed to do some tough personal work on yourself first, before trying to make other people conform to your expectations of how they should act towards you? And what if I said that, eventually, if you actually did that tough personal work, you’d almost certainly stop trying to control others anyway?

How would that make you feel? And, most importantly, would it change your behavior at all…?

Or would it just piss you off? Perhaps make you challenge my self-appointed role in policing your behavior? Would you maybe ask: “Who the heck are YOU to tell me what I can and can’t do???”

Okay then. So now consider the following situations:

- A woman doesn’t like the way a man is touching her arm.

- A transgender person wants coworkers to use their chosen pronoun.

- A gay person is offended by the homophobic jokes of fellow students.

- A Vegan is horrified when someone brings a meat dish to a potluck at their home.

- A person of color feels alienated by a politician using coded language – language that reveals prejudice or even hatred towards their race.

- A religious person feels persecuted and excluded by a law, a business practice or a cultural tradition that belittles or contradicts their beliefs.

- A person of a particular political persuasion believes another group routinely looks down on them, dismisses their ideas, and laughs at their beliefs.

- A member of one socioeconomic class feels targeted and oppressed by members of other socioeconomic classes.

- A politically correct audience is angry and judgmental about a comedian’s sense of humor regarding any-of-the-above.

These examples aren’t meant to be equivalant, but in any of these situations there can be real emotional pain involved – a genuine felt experience of demeaning oppression – that could lead to debilitating despair over time. But, even though real harm may be occurring, does the offended person have the right to demand that those causing offense be ridiculed, shamed, accused or blamed? To demand that they apologize, admit they were wrong, and commit to changing their behavior? To insist they be punished in some way – that they resign, be fired, lose status, be publicly harassed, or are deserving of threats and intimidation? To essentially become an example of accountability for all similar wrongs experienced in society...a scapegoat for those collective ills?

Can you see what is really happening here?

It isn’t just that the abused is turning into an abuser – it can be much subtler and more insidious than that. For if each of these individuals (or groups of folks) insists that everyone else conform to their particular standard of conduct, to respect their particular sensitivities, to always consider their feelings and perspective and honor their particular belief system…well, then this leads to everyone constantly policing everyone else’s behavior, and thereby amplifies mistrust and even hatred. And this, in turn, has everyone pissing everyone else off, to the point where we all declare: “Hey, what gives YOU the right to tell me what I’m allowed to say or do?!” And so we all begin to resent the shackles that our society seems to be placing on us; we all begin to question whether living in harmony with each other is really worth it – and whether our civic institutions are all that important…or worth preserving. We begin to doubt the very foundations of civil society itself.

And yet there is increasingly a reliance on impersonal institutions, the court of public opinion in mass media, and often disproportionate personal punishments to correct what are essentially ongoing cultural and interpersonal challenges. Whether it is a left-leaning social justice warrior or right-leaning religious conservative, promoting the imposition of personal preferences via such impersonal mechanisms is actually destroying the social cohesion required to repair these longstanding problems.


And this is where we have arrived in the U.S. culture of 2019. In every corner of our current political, religious, racial, and economic landscape, folks are arming themselves with accusations against other people who don’t seem to respect or honor a particular boundary or standard of behavior. Everyone is able to take offense, and demand that everyone else change. And then the most impersonal, coercive and punitive of institutional tools are used to seek remedy. It is as if we have arrived in George Orwell’s 1984 – or even Golding’s Lord of the Flies – or the worst periods of the Soviet era, or Nazi Germany, or the darkest days of McCarthyism, or the ugly history of the Inquisition…times when folks were ratting each other out to gain praise from those in power, or achieve brief political advantage over someone else, or garner a little more social capital in circumstances where they felt disempowered, or were simply taking revenge on people they didn’t like – and then taking pleasure in their suffering. And, as a consequence, in every one of these historical situations, civil society itself was eventually degraded by pervasive mistrust and mutual oppression.

Is that what we want? Do we want to head any further down this dark and dismal path?

If not, then we need to rethink what is becoming a reflexive and widespread culture of blaming, accusing, ridiculing, shaming, and punishing.

For at its core, when we ask other people to change their behavior to make us feel more comfortable or safe, we are actually giving away our power. We are offering them all the agency in a given situation, and abdicating our own. We are reinforcing our victim status, and strengthening the bullies even as we attempt to punish them. Often, we may even be galvanizing opposing tribes against any hope of reconciliation. We are, in effect, perpetuating both conflict and our own disempowerment at the same time, rather than solving the underlying problems. And as we give away our own power – while at the same time challenging and undermining everyone else’s – we end up destroying the voluntary trust, empathy and compassion that bind society together. Instead, we replace it with fear.

So…what is the alternative?

There are many observable options that have proven more effective, so why not return to those? For example, in each of the awkward and uncomfortable situations described above:

1. We can fortify our own emotional constitution, instead of taking offense. We can become stronger and more secure in who we are, without expecting others to respect or honor us. This may require some real interior work on our part – some genuine fortification of spirit, mind and heart – but the result will be that we won’t constantly require others to conform to our expectations anymore.

2. We can calmly ask for what we want – not as a self-righteous demand, but as a favor from someone who says that they want to have a professional or personal relationship with us. If they really care about us, perhaps they will at least try. But if our response is met with scorn, dismissiveness or skepticism, we have the option of letting it go. After all, that person’s approval, acceptance and conformance is not required…because we have become more confident and secure in ourselves. We don’t need to demand their conformance – and why would we want it, if it doesn’t come from a place of respect, understanding and compassion?

3. We can accept where other people are, let go of judgement, and be a positive example for them. This is what authentic, effective leaders (and parents, and managers) do: they lead by steadfast and dedicated example…not through blaming, threats, accusations or fear of punishment. Bullying is the easy way out. We can do better.

4. We can passively, actively and nonviolently resist. We can refuse to participate in activities, systems, environments and relationships that demean who we are and what we believe. We can then vote to support compassionate candidates and friendly initiatives. We can purchase goods and services from those who are supportive to our identity and beliefs. And we can do this without hatred, without fear and anxiety, without shame or blame.

5. We can create supportive communities, while also cultivating challenging relationships that bridge differences. We can surround ourselves with like-minded folks who nurture and encourage who we are and what we believe – especially in our closest relationships. At the same time, we can also cultivate friendships and social or professional connections with people who are different, who disagree, who aren’t as accepting or as tolerant. For how else can we teach by example, or demonstrate compassion, empathy, tolerance and acceptance if we don’t have such diverse relationships in our lives?

6. We can be brave…and bravely be ourselves. We can speak our truth, share our perspectives, broadcast our preferences, celebrate our identity, and proudly honor our chosen tribe…without making others feel belittled, excluded, accused, blamed or shamed. We can joyfully be who we are, while also being welcoming and kind at the same time. We can be stalwart in our own principles, while being generous towards those who do not share them. This is what real power and agency looks like.

7. We can recover our sense of humor. Perhaps it’s time to allow just a little bit of playfulness back into our lives and public discourse. A little bit of good-natured joshing. Humor isn’t by definition “mean-spirited.” There is a difference between a joke and a slight – and often this is has just as much to do with how the humor is received, as with how it is intended. If we are always reactive, always defensive, always on-edge…well, we are not likely to be able to create or maintain the relationships required to heal a polarized society. Perhaps, if we let a little humor back into our world, we wouldn’t all be so angry, defensive and fearful so much of the time.

These are the methods that make a real difference over time, that can effectively heal through compassionate and welcoming personal relationships, rather than deepening divides with institutional vindictiveness and “Us vs. Them” groupthink.


In essence, if we want everyone in a diverse and multifaceted society to thrive together, then we all must assert our own place and space to do that – not by demanding others create that space for us, but by claiming it ourselves and standing firm…without anger or condemnation towards anyone else. In essence, we need to stop blaming and accusing. This is not easy, but it demonstrates genuine strength of character. And it is the content of our character by which we all would prefer to be judged, isn’t it? I think we need to return to this standard of measure, if we want to avoid spiraling backwards and downwards, into the greatest horrors of human history.

Just my 2 cents.

How can you determine spiritual progress?

Thank you for the question.

We could simplify (or refine) all of this into the one primary indicator of spiritual progress: the scope and skillfulness of our compassion. That is really what is reflected in different descriptions of both insight and growth among various traditions. Is our compassion deepening and distilling? Is our love expanding to embrace more and more within and without? Is our ability to translate that affection into helpful, healing, creative and supportive action becoming more fluid, unselfconscious and efficacious? Then our journey has been profitable in a spiritual sense. Everything outside of this is, I think, secondary…in orbit around this central theme.

I hope this was helpful.