The Problem of Virtual Causality: Superagency, Cognitive Errors, and the Nature of Good and Evil

(Special thanks to Petyr Cirino, whose thoughtful exchanges with me inspired this particular essay.)

As daily events around the world illustrate, we have unquestionably arrived at the age of human superagency — in terms of both positive and negative impacts. On smaller scales of individuals and groups, there are the negative impacts of mass shootings, suicide bombers, toxic waste leaks, chemical plant explosions, contamination of water supplies with heavy metals, contamination of local food chains with pathogens or harmful chemicals, and other disruptions of limited scope. And of course the positive side of this local superagency includes the complex interdependent systems and services that support burgeoning municipalities and allow them to thrive. So in both constructive and destructive ways, we can easily see how complexity, technology and superagency are linked. On the national and global scale, superagency manifests on the one hand as disruption of everything from infrastructure and commerce to news and elections by a small group of dedicated hackers or activists, to the accelerating extinction of well-established species all around the planet as a consequence of human activities, to the radioactive contamination of vast swathes of air and water after a nuclear power plant meltdown, to the extreme temperatures and chaotic weather patterns resulting from over a century of human industry. On the positive side, humanity has been able to extract and distribute limited resources far and wide on a global scale, linked and negotiated disparate cultures and language around the planet to the benefit of many, and generated and shared huge amounts of knowledge and information to an impressive degree. At these larger scales, complexity and technology are also intimately entangled with superagency, but such impacts seem to depend more on the collective habits and influence of huge populations than on individuals or groups. Ultimately, it seems to have been the aggregate of individual, group and global population impacts that constitute a tipping point for the blossoming of human superagency on planet Earth.

But why does this matter?

One conventional answer is that this matters because our superagency has far outpaced our moral maturity; that is, our ability to manage superagency at any level — individually, tribally or globally — in a consistently beneficial or even sane fashion. Of course this is not a new observation: social critics, philosophers, prophets and artists throughout history have often observed that humanity is not very gifted at managing our own creative, acquisitive or political prowess; from the myths of Icarus and Midas, to the admonitions of Aristotle and Solomon, to tales of Frankenstein and Godzilla, the cautionary narratives of precipitous greed, clever invention and unabashed hubris have remained virtually unbroken across the span of human civilization. But should this perennial caution be our primary concern? Don't civil society, advancing education, widespread democracy and rigorous science mitigate the misuse or overreach of personal and collective power? Don't such institutions in fact provide a bulwark against an immature or degraded morality's ability to misuse humanity's greatest innovations and accomplishments? Aren't these the very failsafes intended to insulate society from its most irrational and destructive impulses...?

First, I would attempt to answer such questions by observing that moral maturity — along with all the societal institutions created to maintain and protect it — has been aggressively undermined by capitalist enterprise to an astonishing degree: via the infantilization and isolation of consumers, the substitution of internal creative and interpersonal riches with external commodities, the glorification of both greed and material accumulation, and the careful engineering of our addiction to comfort. But these concerns are the focus of much of my other writing (see The Case Against Capitalism), not to mention the more deft and compelling writings of countless others, so I won't dwell on them here. Instead, I would turn some attention to what is perhaps an even more pernicious tendency in human affairs, one that has persisted for just as long as all these other degrading impulses and influences. Yes, in a globally collective sense, our moral maturity and capacity for positive moral creativity has seemingly regressed or stagnated even as our superagency has increased — and yes, capitalism is largely to blame for the most recent downward spirals. But there is something more basic and instrumental in our psyche that energizes greed, hubris, arrogance and reckless destruction...something fundamental to our being that needs to be called out. Something that, by any measure, that reliably contributes to all sorts of evildoing.

And of course attempts to explain the nature of evil are also not new. Others have attempted to ferret out the source of our darkest impulses, accrediting them to supernatural beings — Aite, Eris, Angra Mainyu, Satan, demons and mazzikim, bhoot and Pishacha, etc.— or describing it in terms of psychological phenomena like selfish compulsions and egotism, death drives (Todestriebe), maladaptive behaviors, severe mental disorders, and so forth. But identifying a more accurate underlying causal pattern will, I think, require a departure from these traditional frameworks. Instead, perhaps we can evaluate a series of straightforward cognitive errors that supportively interconnect, amplify and then calcify over time to create a specific, deleterious and measurable impact on both human interiority and society. Perhaps "evil" can, on some basic level, be defined as a simple cognitive mistake, and "good" as the correction of that mental error.

A Corrosive Troika Defined

With respect to causality, there appear to be three consistent factors that continually surface across the vast terrain of human affairs:

1. Misattribution of causation (as an unintentional mistake or conditioned response)

2. Intentional masking of causation (as deliberate and targeted distortions that reinforce misattribution); and

3. Willful forcing of causation (designed to support and reinforce deliberate distortions)

Together these create a virtual causality — that is, causality that is almost completely disconnected or substantially insulated from reality, while still imitating certain believable elements of the real world amid elaborate rationalizations. It is this pretend causality that entices a willing suspension of disbelief — for those who are vulnerable, coerced, deceived or conformist — that perpetuates self-insulation and additional supportive distortions. So let's take a careful look at each of these components, in order to appreciate just how instrumental they are in everything human beings think, feel and do, and how the modern age is shaping them.

I. Misattribution

Humans make this cognitive mistake so often it seems almost ridiculous to point it out: we blame the wrong culprit for our problems, and consequently pursue the wrong solutions to fix them. Add some additional, deleterious unintended consequences to these kinds of mistakes, and the resulting conditions could easily be described as "what leads to much suffering in the world;" that is, what has perpetuated much of the destruction, unhappiness, suffering, pain and annihilation throughout human history. The dangers of misattributed causation are identified in many if not most wisdom traditions — we can discern this in admonitions about judging others to quickly, gossiping about our suspicions, bearing false witness, words spoken in anger, living by the sword, throwing the first stone, revenge, showy public worship, etc., along with repeated encouragement to forgive without conditions, be patient and longsuffering, generous and caring, humble and trusting. Such concerns are certainly echoed in more recent empirical and rationalist approaches to both knowledge and socially constructive behaviors as well; for example, research in psychology around the misattribution of arousal to incorrect stimuli, or the application of the scientific method in understanding and resolving complex empirical challenges. But sometimes the obvious and longstanding begs restating, so we'll briefly address it here.

Let's consider a few relatively neutral examples, then drill down to a few more compelling, nuanced and disturbing details. For example, most reasonably perceptive adults might agree from their own direct observations, fairly straightforward and simplistic reasoning, or trusted sources of learning that:

1. Sunlight warms the Earth.

2. Submerging crusty pots and pans in water for a time makes them easier to clean.

3. Regularly and violently beating a domesticated animal will eventually induce behavioral problems in that animal.

4. A sedentary lifestyle, devoid of exercise and full of rich foods, will lead to chronic health problems.

5. Smiling at people with genuine openness and affection generally encourages openness and a positive emotional response in return.

6. A heavy object dropped from the second floor of a building onto someone's head is likely to kill them.

7. Really awful things happen to perfectly decent, undeserving people with some regularity.

8. Choosing "the easy way out" of a given situation — that is, a choice that seeks to fortify personal comfort or avoids personal accountability — is often much less fruitful or constructive in the long run than making a harder, more uncomfortable choice that embraces personal responsibility.

There are probably hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of such causal chains that most people have internalized and rely upon to navigate their day-to-day lives. We may not always be consistent in our reasoning and application of them, and there are often exceptions or special conditions that moderate the efficacy of our causal predictions, but on-the-whole we usually learn over time which causal attributions are correct, and which are mistaken. That is...unless something interrupts that learning process.

And this is where I feel the discussion becomes interesting. For it is my contention that many characteristics of modern society not only disrupt our ability to learn and predict accurate causal relationships, but actually encourage distortions and misattributions. How? Here again we will see how complexity, technology, and superagency strongly facilitate the disconnect...but also that we can add isolation to the mix as well. If, over the course childhood, my entire reference set for understanding causal relationships is defined by television and video games, and I have never thoroughly tested any of the assumptions inculcated through those media, how will I ever escape their fictional depictions? At around age eight or nine, I myself attempted to duplicate some of the crazy stunts Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner performed in Warner Brothers cartoons. I quickly learned that gravity, momentum, inertia, the velocity of falling objects, and host of other principles of physics were grossly misrepresented in those TV shows. I also learned that I did not recover from serious injury nearly as quickly as Wily Coyote did. But what if I hadn't learned any of this through experience? What I had always been insulated from real-world testing and consequences? What if I kept assuming that the fiction I was being shown for entertainment was the actual truth...?

I find this a handy metaphor for modern society, because, throughout most early stages of development, human beings can now remain completely insulated from experiences that shape our understanding of actual causality. Over the years I have witnessed young people trying to ride a horse, play an instrument, write a story, draw a picture, shoot a gun, drive a car, run a race, play a sport, build a tree house, use martial arts...and a host of other activities or skills...simply by imitating what they saw in a movie, played in a video game, or read in a book. And of course that doesn't work — because they do not understand the subtleties of the causal relationships involved. This is what competently learning a skill most often represents: appreciating all of the causal relationships that influence a given outcome, and practicing each one in turn until they are mastered individually and conjointly. What application of force, in which direction, using which tool at which angle and with what kind of finesse, results in unscrewing a rusty bolt on an old bicycle? Knowing the answers to all the steps in a causal chain, especially through personal experience, is what most reliably produces predictive efficacy over time. But if I've never actually ridden a horse, or hiked a mountain, or slaughtered a chicken, or grown food in a garden, or learned to shoot a bow and arrow, or installed a fence, or built a house, or felled a tree, or any number of other activities that might have been the common experience of folks a mere generation or two ago, how can I presume to know how the world around me really works, or how to accomplish the simplest tasks without the aid of technology, advanced tools or specialized workers on which most of the developed world has now come to rely?

Well I can't, and no amount of assistance from my iPad, smartphone or virtual assistant is going to help me develop a felt, somatic-intuitive understanding of basic causal principles — let alone more complex causal chains. I will remain blissfully ignorant of how things work. However, these same technologies also provide an ever-advancing level of virtual pseudoagency — by turning home appliances on or off, monitoring a child's activities, video conferencing with coworkers, ordering groceries to be delivered, recording a threatening phone call, troubleshooting a vehicle's error codes, managing finances, donating to a charity or political campaign, signing a petition, etc. — so that I begin to believe that I really have no need to grasp those causal principles. In fact, the increasing scope of that virtual pseudoagency begins to feel a lot like superagency itself, even though the only causal relationship I am required to maintain is the one with my iPad, smartphone or virtual assistant. Here again, complexity, technology, superagency and isolation conspire to support my entanglement with virtual causality. And if I confine myself to the same routines, the same environments, the same social groups and virtual communities, the same homogenous culture and mass is possible for me to remain disconnected and insulated from authentic causality for my entire life. So, just hold that thought if you will.....

Let's now examine a second set of causal relationships that are a bit more abstracted from direct experience, rely on more complex reasoning, or encourage us to develop greater trust in authoritative sources of information:

1. Human industry has been accelerating the warming of the planet to levels that will likely destabilize human civilization, and eventually endanger all other life on Earth.

2. Travelling through space at velocities approaching the speed of light slows down time for the traveller relative to the space being travelled through.

3. Gun ownership may make people feel safer, but as a statistical reality it places them at much higher risk of being shot themselves.

4. One of the best ways to mitigate the most pernicious negative impacts of drug addiction on individuals and society is to legalize, tax and regulate drugs, and then allow them to be administered in a controlled environment with medical oversight, and by folks who are also trained in providing treatment and resources to anyone who is willing and able to overcome their addiction.

5. Quantum entanglement (what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance") indicates an immediate relationship between particles over vast distances, potentially negating the speed of light as a limiting factor of data transmission.

6. Educating people from an early age about safe sex, family planning and child rearing, and allowing them easy, affordable access to reproductive healthcare and choices, is one of the most effective ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies and abortions.

7. Corporate monopolies can often be much more inefficient, coercive, exploitative and corrosive to civil society and individual well-being than the bureaucratic or cumbersome institutions of democratically elected governments.

8. Educating and empowering women to become more economically self-sufficient, and more intellectually and emotionally self-directed, is likely the single most effective means of raising a culture out of poverty, slowing overpopulation, and strengthening local civil society over a short period of time.

Now you will notice that this second set of causal relationships has some notable differences from the first set. Each statement has required more words for an accurate description, for example, and a deeper and broader contextualization. The causality being described can also be much larger in scope, and causal chains much more subtle, abstract or tenuous. And even as these relationships are increasingly distanced from direct experience and observation, they also tend to involve more complexity and interdependency, making them that much more difficult to grasp. Still, any reasonable person who has carefully and thoroughly educated themselves about each of these issues will eventually acquire a justifiable level of confidence in the stated conclusions, because, with sufficient attention, diligence and effort, the causal relationships actually become just as obvious as the ones in the first set.

But wait....let's return to the problem of lacking experiential (felt, somatic-intuitive) understanding about the real world. As very few people will have the chance to experience any of the causal relationships in the second set in a subjective, firsthand way, an additional challenge is created: we will then often be forced to rely on the few people who have the knowledge, expertise and experience to educate us about these causal relationships. And we will need to be able to trust their judgment — and often their exclusive superagency — at least to some degree, even though we may not fully comprehend what they are describing in a fully multidimensional way. And, as we shall see, this whole enterprise is subject to a host of additional influences and caveats, so that we may once again find ourselves relying on our iPad, smartphone or virtual agent to support our understanding. Once again our technology, isolation, superagency and complexity conspire to add more distance and effort to clear or accurate causal comprehensions. Now consider the accelerating complexity of every gadget, tool and system upon which we rely to navigate the complexity of our world to levels beyond our basic knowledge, and the distance increases further still. And as we anticipate the imminent expansion of virtual reality technology itself into more and more areas of our lives, we can begin to imagine just how disconnected human beings will inevitably become — from each other, from themselves, and from the causal workings of the world.

With this is mind, for many people there is also a pronounced gap of doubt between these two sets of causal relationships, with the second set seeming much more tentative, conditional or questionable. For these skeptics, it often will not matter how much evidence is presented in support of any given conclusion...especially if that conclusion contradicts their values system, or challenges certain fundamental assumptions they hold about the world, or is perceived to undermine their preferred information authorities, or pokes and prods at their sense of identity or place in society. Given the choice, the skeptic may instead opt for tolerating higher and higher levels of cognitive dissonance. Of course, the highest level of understanding about these topics may again just be armchair expertise, with no real-world experience to back it up. In such cases, it might seem easy to attribute what are essentially irrational or ill-informed doubts about complex but verifiable attributions of causation to ignorance alone — or to cognitive bias, the Dunning-Kruger effect, tribal groupthink, being intimidated by complexity, ideological brainwashing and manipulation, abject stupidity, or some other equally dismissive explanation. In fact I have made this judgmental error myself, often amid roiling frustration that someone really seems to believe that, to paraphrase Asimov, their ignorance is "just as good as" rigorous investigation and knowledge.

But this has been, I now suspect, a glaringly lazy oversimplification; itself yet another misattribution of causation. Instead, what I now believe is actually happening is something much more intricate, and much more intriguing.

II. Masking

There are plentiful reasons why an individual or group might be strongly motivated to persuade themselves or coerce others into believing that one thing is responsible for certain outcomes, when it is really something else entirely. Consider such real-world conditions as:

1. I want to sell you something that you don't really want or need, and in order to part you from your money, I fabricate causal relationships to facilitate that end. For example, claiming that if you purchase a certain supplement, you won't need to exercise or change your diet to lose weight. Or that if you make a given long-term investment, you will be able to retire from your job decades earlier than you would otherwise. Or that if you trust in the products, services or advice I am selling you, you will achieve happiness, romance, social status, or a desirable level of financial success. And so on. This is perhaps the most pervasive example of intentional causal masking and deliberate deception — except of course when the salesperson (or friend, or coworker, or public official, etc.) may actually believe that the causal relationship is real, in which case they were just hoodwinked into complicity.

2. I am confused, fearful, insecure and frustrated by an increasingly complex and incomprehensible world — a world in which my identity is uncertain, my role in society is uncertain, my existential purpose has come into question, and I am simply unable to navigate the complexity around me with any self-assurance that I have any real agency or efficacy. I am also feeling increasingly lonely, isolated and disenfranchised by fast-paced, constantly changing urbanization and leapfrogging technologies, in combination with the pressure-cooker-effect of burgeoning population density. I feel I am in desperate competition — for both resources and achieving any personal value to society — with everything and everyone around me...and I feel that I am losing that race. So I latch onto a group, belief or ideology that helps relieve the panic, and inherent to that process is my masking away the actual causes of my existential pain and suffering, and investing in much simpler (but inaccurate) causal relationships through which I can imagine that I have more influence or control. And thus I may join a religious group, or political party, or online community, and actively surrender my own critical reasoning capacity in favor of comforting groupthink or ingroup/outgroup self-justifications.

3. Some impactful life experience or insight has inspired a reframing of all of my consequent observations and experiences according to a new paradigm — a paradigm that radically departs from previous assumptions, and applies a new filter for causation across all interactions and explanations. For example, after surviving a brutally violent event, I feel the need to protect myself and everyone I care about with elaborate and oppressive safety rules, rigid communication protocols, expensive security technology, and a host of lethal weapons. After my experiences, I simply view all interactions and situations as potentially dangerous and requiring a high degree of vigilance and suspicion. In my revised worldview, everything and everyone has become a potential threat, and I must always be prepared for the worst possible outcome. In this way I have masked all causal relationships with potential calamity and catastrophe — and actively persuade others to do the same. In this sense, I have become conditioned to partial reinforcement — similarly to a gambler who wins intermittently, or a mouse who receives a chunk of cheese at arbitrary intervals for pushing on a button in his cage; whether that partial reinforcement invoked positive or negative consequences, I will insist on maintaining masked causation in order to prop up my compulsions.

4. I have made an error in judgment tied to investment of emotions or efforts, which was then followed by other errors required to support that initial error in judgment, until a long series of decisions and continued investment has created its own momentum and gravitational mass, and now seems an inescapable trajectory for my life and my identity. Perhaps I became invested in some logical fallacy or bias (confirmation bias, appeal to authority or tradition, slippery slope fallacy, vacuous truths, courtesy bias, hot-hand fallacy, etc. — see more at Wikipedia), or initially overestimated my own knowledge or competence in some area, or trusted the advice of some cherished mentor, or took on some tremendous risk or commitment I didn't fully understand, or simply fell into a counterproductive habit that initially seemed acceptable...but has led me down an ever-darkening road. Whatever the case, I now find myself rationalizing each new decision in support of a long chain of mistaken judgments, and must of necessity consciously or unconsciously mask all causal relationships to protect my own ego or self-concept.

Regardless of the impetus, once this masking process begins, it can rapidly become self-perpetuating, a runaway train of misinformation and propaganda that eventually acquires institutional structures like rigidity, bureaucratic legalism, self-protective fervor, a dearth of self-awareness, and so on. In fact, potent beliefs and indeed entire ideologies have sprung forth from such synthesis, to then be aggressively propagated by adherents, with all provable causes forcefully rejected in favor of fabrications that conform to the new, hurriedly institutionalized worldview.

Recalling the two sets of causal relationships mentioned previously, our modern context of isolation, complexity, technology and superagency certainly seems to lend itself to both the masking process and its runaway propagation and institutionalization. It has become much easier, in other words, to mask the second set of seemingly more abstracted and complex causal relationships — or to invoke vast clouds of hazy interdependencies in either set —so that causation can be craftily shaped into an occluded, subjective miasma of "alternative facts." And although deities, fate, synchronicity, mischievous spirits and superstitious agency may still be credited with many bewildering events, there is now an industrial strength, global communications network that can instantly shape and amplify false explanations for a wide array of phenomena. Via social media, troll farms, sensational journalism, conspiracy theorists, pedantic talk-show hosts and the like, we have a well-established, widely trusted platform to breed outrageous distortions of the truth. And we can easily discern — from the consistency of the distortions over time, and by whom and what they vilify — that the primary aim of nearly all such efforts is to mask the actual causes of countless economic, social, political and moral problems, and redirect the attentions and ire of loyal audiences to oversimplified explanations, straw man arguments, and xenophobic scapegoats. It is professional-grade masking at its finest.

That said, in the age of instant information access and pervasive mass media aggregation and dissemination, I would contend it has now become critical for these propaganda engines to excel beyond spinning evidence or cherry-picking supportive data, and to begin engineering events that align with a given narrative in order to secure enduring conformance. In other words, to reach past merely masking causation into the realm of actually reshaping it. This is what the deliberate, willful forcing of causation seeks to accomplish, and why extraordinary amounts of effort and resources — at least equivalent to those being expended on causal masking itself — have been spent in its pursuit.

III. Forcing

Willful forcing in this context is primarily about the intentional, frequently sustained manufacturing of causal evidence. For example, lets say I am seething with jealousy over a coworker's accomplishments, and I am filled with a petty lust to sabotage them. At first, I might attempt to mask the cause of their success with malicious gossip: what they did wasn't all that great, or they must have cheated along the way, or the boss was favoring them with special help, or the coworker must have been performing favors for others to achieve such results. But if masking the actual cause of their success (that is, their credible competence, talent, hard work, etc.) isn't having sufficient effect, and I am still raging with vindictive spite, well then perhaps arranging some fake proof of my coworker's faults or failures will do the trick. Perhaps leaking a confidential memo from human resources about accusations of sexual misconduct? Or feeding them subtly incorrect data on their next project? Or maybe promising them cooperation and assistance in private, then denying it in public when it sabotages their efforts? If I keep at this long enough, I just might induce some real failures and shatter the "illusion" of my coworkers success. This is what willful forcing looks like, and is sort of connivance we might expect from TV dramas. But nobody really does this in the real world...right?

Unfortunately, it happens all the time — and increasingly on larger and larger scales as facilitated by the global reach of technology, capitalism, media and culture. We've seen such tactics used in the take-downs of political leaders, in the character assassinations of journalists and celebrities, in carefully orchestrated attacks on government and corporate whistleblowers, in how various activist movements are dismissively characterized in mass media, and in the billions spent to turn public opinion against beneficial public policies and legislation that might undermine established wielders of power. But is any of this "forcing" creating a causal relationship that wasn't already there...? Well, as one example, if reports of what happened during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election are accurate, then forcing did occur, via DNC efforts that deliberately undermined Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton; Republican state legislatures that deliberately suppressed Democratic voters with voter ID laws, restricted polling times and places, and other such tactics; and Russian hackers that aimed to alienate Blue Dog Democrats and independent voters away from voting for Hillary Clinton. Assertions that any individual or party who appeared to be leading in the polls actually did not have enough votes to win was...well...carefully engineered to be true. This is what causal forcing looks like on a larger scale.

In a more sustained forcing effort over a longer period, the Affordable Care Act has also become a particularly potent example. In this case, there was a pronounced lack of initial cooperation from conservative state legislatures, relentless and well-funded anti-Obamacare propaganda to maintain negative sentiments across the electorate, and dozens of efforts in the U.S. House and Senate to repeal the ACA itself — all of which has now been followed by the even more deliberate defunding and insurance market destabilizing efforts from the Trump administration via executive action. And all of this contributed to fulfilling the causal masking that was broadcast from those opposed to government oversight of U.S. healthcare — during the ACA's creation and passage, and every day since then. In other words, years of carefully planned and executed sabotage have been forcing the invented causality of claims like "Obamacare is a total failure and will collapse on its own" to become true.

It isn't always necessary to force causal relationships, of course, to maintain lockstep conformance. There are plentiful examples in politics of people continuing to vote for a candidate or party who never fulfills any campaign promises...ever. But we must remember that masking — and all individual and collective investment in masking — only requires partial reinforcement from observations and experience, an ongoing emotional investment, a blindness to our own hypocrisy or groupthink, and a conditioned receptivity to deceptive salesmanship. So as long as there is occasional proof that some authority we trust got something right, or some attitude we hold is justifiable, or the ideology we have chosen will still offer us acceptance and community, or the rabbit hole we've ventured down with an endless chain of bad choices has few or delayed palpable consequences...well, then those who wish to influence the masses only need to effectively force causation in the rare now-and-again.

Still, I would contend that a consistent pattern of fabrication has been emerging over many decades now: first misattribution, then masking, then forcing, all eventually leading to calamity and ruin in human relations and civil society — and disruption of our relationships with everything around us — thereby generating a closed loop of virtual causality. But in case these assertions seem contrived, let's take a closer look at additional real-world examples.

Virtual Causality in Action

Initially, I considered using "trifecta" to describe this particular trio of causal entanglements, because the motivations behind it appear to be all about winning; that is, it is employed primarily to shape a status quo that either directly benefits those who crave more power, influence or social and material capital, or directly injures or oppresses anyone interfering with that desired status quo. Thus the troika often becomes the trophy, the prize-in-itself, as its inventions and propagation become emblematic of such self-serving success — in other words, a trifecta. But really, this need not be the specific intent behind causal distortions; in fact I would say that the virtual causality troika is unwaveringly damaging in human affairs, regardless of its intent. Let's examine some evidence for this....

If out of fear, discomfort, confusion, ignorance or social conformance I begin to misattribute homosexuality to a personal choice — rather than the innate, genetic structures and proclivities, which are almost certainly the reality for most gay people — and then link that assertion to tribal groupthink and an appeal to my favorite authorities, an almost effortless next step is intentionally or reflexively masking the actual causality with my own preferred beliefs. That mask may be projected into many shapes: perhaps an unhealthy or perverse interest was encouraged in a person's youth that led them to "choose" being gay; or perhaps they were sexually abused by a parent, older sibling or family friend; or maybe there are emotional, social or cognitive impairments that have led them to fear the opposite sex; and so on. There can be quite elaborate masking narratives if the need for self-justifying beliefs is strong enough. From there, perhaps because the misattribution itself is so heartbreakingly mistaken, there is a corresponding urge to force the desired, invented causation. Which leads me to author studies that "prove" early sexualization of children and/or permissive parenting somehow encourages sexual deviance, promiscuity or gender instability; or to engineer "gay deprogramming" efforts that "prove" gay people can become straight; or creating dogmatic propaganda that authentic marriage can only be between "a man and a woman," that gay parents can never be allowed to adopt children because it is "unnatural," that gay people can't hold jobs where they could potentially "corrupt" children, and other such constructions that create an environment where gay people are in some way prevented from becoming successful and happy in their relationships, families, and jobs — and indeed their overall integration in society — thus adding to my "proof" that being gay is not natural, healthy or wise. And this is how misattribution easily leads to masking, which then begs the reinforcement of forcing.

So in that potent and seemingly enduring real-world example, the deleterious effects seem closely tied to fearful and dismissive intent. But what about the other end of the spectrum? Consider the beliefs of many people in modern culture regarding the desirability of wealth, and in particular the necessity of commercialistic capitalism in order to create a thriving and happy lifestyle for everyone. Much of the time, this isn't a nefarious or malevolent intent — folks may actually believe that everyone aggressively competing with each other for more and more wealth is "a good thing," and, further, that such pursuits are morally neutral; in other words, anything goes. And if I truly embrace this belief, I will tend to mask my own observations about the world, about history and economics, about social movements, about government and everything else in accordanc with that belief. And in my unconsciously reflexive confirmation bias, I will only recognize arguments and evidence that seem to support my beliefs. That is, I will mask the actual causality behind events and data with my preferred causality. Then, because my beliefs are not really supported by careful analysis of available evidence — and are in fact thoroughly contradicted by a preponderance of data — I will eventually go beyond seeking out research, media and authorities that amplify my preferred causation, and begin trying to force that causation in my own life and the lives, those I can personally influence, and via my political leanings and spending habits. On a collective scale, I will vote to have judges appointed who favor corporations, or for legislators who create tax breaks to reward the wealthy, or for Presidents who promise to remove regulatory barriers to corporate profits. On a personal level, I will explode my own debt burden in order to appear more affluent, and constantly and conspicuously consume to prop up a growth-dependent economy. And, on a global level, I will advocate neoliberal policies to exploit cheap labor and resources in developing countries, and the ruination of my planet and all its species of plant and animal, in service to the very few who are exponentially increasing their personal wealth without benefit to anyone else.

In this second example, there can be a truly optimistic and benevolent intent in play — a person may really believe their misattribution, masking and forcing will have a positive impact. But the results of the disconnect between actual causality and invented causation still wreaks the same havoc on the world. For in this case we know that it is not wealth alone — operating in some sort of market fundamentalist vacuum — that lifts people out of poverty or liberates them from oppressive conditions. It is civil society, education, democracy, accessible healthcare, equal rights protected by the rule of law, and the grateful and diligent civic engagement by responsible citizens, and much more; this cultural context is absolutely necessary to enable freedoms and foster enjoyment of the fruits of our labor. Without a substantive and enduring matrix of these complex and interdependent factors, history has shown without exception that wealth production alone results in callous and brutal enslavement of everyone and everything to its own ends, so that to whatever extent we fuel our greed, we fuel destruction of our society and well-being to the same degree.

Here again we can recognize that isolation, complexity, technology and superagency tend to obscure causality even as they amplify our ability to mask or force causal relationships. So on the one hand, it is more difficult to tease out cause-and-effect in complex, technologically dependent economic systems, but, once certain key effectors are identified, human superagency then makes it much easier to manipulate temporary outcomes or perceptions of longer-term outcomes. And this is precisely why the troika we've identified can maintain the appearance of victory within many dominant mediaspheres, noospheres and Zeitgeists — at local, national and global levels. To appreciate these dynamics is to have the veil between what is real and what is being sold as reality completely removed — in this and many other instances. Otherwise, if we cannot remove that veil, we will remain trapped in a spectacle of delusion that perpetuates the greatest suffering for the greatest number for the greatest duration.

As to how pervasive and corrosive virtual causality has become in various arenas of life, that is probably a broader discussion that requires more thorough development. But, more briefly, we can easily observe a growing body of evidence that has widely taken hold in one important arena. Consider the following example and its consequences:

Perceived Problem: Social change is happening too quickly, destabilizing traditional roles and identities across all of society, and specifically challenging assumptions about the "rightful, superior position" of men over women, white people over people of color, adults over children, humans over Nature, and wealthy people over the poor.

Actual Causes: Liberalization of culture, education, automation, economic mobility and democratization have led to wealthy white men losing their status, position and power in society, so that they feel increasingly vulnerable, insecure and threatened. And while their feelings of entitlement regarding the power they are losing have no morally justifiable basis — other than the arbitrary, serendipitous or engineered advantages of past traditions, institutions and experiences — these wealthy white men have become indignant, enraged and desperate. So, rather than accepting a very reasonable equalization of their status and sharing their power with others, they are aggressively striving to reconstitute a perceived former glory.

Misattributions: Recreational use of illicit drugs, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, lack of parental discipline, immorally indulgent entertainment media, immigrants or races with different values, governmental interference with personal liberty and moral standards, and liberal academic indoctrination have all contributed to the erosion of traditional family values and cohesion, resulting in an unnatural and destructive inversion of power dynamics in society and the easily grasped consequences of interpersonal and group conflict, increases in violent behaviors and crime, and general societal instability.

Causal Masking: Establishing think tanks and funding research that supports these causal misattributions with cherry-picked data; using mass media with a dedicated sympathetic bias to trumpet one-sided propaganda about these same causal misattributions; invoking religious sentiments and language that similarly cherry-pick scriptural and institutional support for sympathetic groupthink and activism; generating cohesive political platforms and well-funded campaigns grounded in these misattributions and the dissatisfaction, resentment and anger they evoke; and generally emboldening prejudice and hate against groups that threaten while male power in all public rhetoric.

Causal Forcing: The strident dismantling of public education and access to higher education; cancelling or defunding successful government programs; capturing or neutering regulatory agencies; destroying social safety nets; rejecting scientific and statistical consensus in all planning and policy considerations; and engineering economic, social and political environments that favor the resurgence of wealthy white male privilege and influence. In other words, removing any conditions that encourage equitable resource distribution, sharing of social capital, and access to economic opportunity, and restoring as many exclusive advantages as possible for wealthy white men.

Consequences: A pervasive increase in societal instability and potential for violence; mutually antagonistic identity politics and class conflict that amplifies polarization; coercive use of force by the State to control the increasing instability; and gradual but inevitable exacerbation of injustice and systemic oppression. Adding superagency, isolation, complexity and technology to this mixture just amplifies the instability and extremism, along with the felt impacts of multiplying constraints and controls.

Countering Virtual Causality with a Greater Good

In response to the dilemmas created by the troika we've discussed so far, I 've been aiming to work through some possible solutions for several years now. I began with a personal realization that I had to address deficits in my own well-being, deficits created by years of conforming to toxic cultural expectations about my own masculinity, and the equally destructive path of individualistic economic materialism which I had thoughtlessly followed throughout much of my life. I encountered an initial door to healing through studying various mystical traditions and forms of meditation, which resulted in my books The Vital Mystic and Essential Mysticism. However, I also realized that this dimension was only part of the mix; there were at least a dozen other dimensions of my being that required equal attention and nurturing. As I explored these facets of well-being, I arrived at the Integral Lifework system of transformative practice, my books True Love and Being Well, essays exploring compassionate multidimensional nourishment, and the onset of an Integral Lifework coaching practice.

But something was still missing — something more causally fundamental that was hinted at in my previous experiences — and that is when I expanded my attentions to larger cultural, political and economic concerns. I began writing about the failures of capitalism, the distortions of religion and spirituality in commercialistic societies, the need for more holistic appreciations of liberty and knowledge, and the imperative of constructive moral creativity — offering a handful of what I believed to be fruitful approaches in these areas. Much of this culminated in the book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle, and then in my Level website, which explore some initial ways out of this mess. Throughout these efforts, I presented what I believed to be some of the central causal factors involved in our current systemic antagonisms and failures, and some proposed next steps to actualize and sustain positive change. Of course what I have outlined in my work is just one way to frame all of these situations and factors, and, regardless of our intentions, there will likely be many details and variables yet to be worked through. This is why piloting different participatory, distributed and egalitarian options will be so important in the coming decade. The main point, however, is that, just as so many others have recognized, humanity cannot continue along its present course.

So this essay regarding virtual causality is an extension of this same avenue of considerations and concerns by burrowing down into one more layer of the onion — just one more piece of the puzzle, one more way to evaluate the current predicament...and perhaps begin navigating our way out of it. It seems to me that recognizing the cognitive distortions behind causal misattribution, masking and forcing are a central consideration for any remedy in the short and long term. These are the specific drivers underlying much of the evil in the world, perpetuating false promises that will only lead us over the cliff of our own demise. And in order to operationalize more constructive, prosocial, compassion-centered values, relationships and institutions on any scale — that is, to counter the corrosive troika and promote the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration — we must address those cognitive distortions head on. We must end the reign of lies, and reinstate a more honest, open and well-reasoned relationship with causality. We must resist the false reality we are being sold, and open our eyes, hearts, spirits and minds to what really is.

How do we do this? Well, my own life's work describes one avenue, through which I advocate specific individual and collective efforts to reverse our downward spiral. But as I cruise around the Internet from day to day, I encounter countless and varied ideas, practices and resources supportive of positive change. Really, the answers are already out there, just waiting for us to embrace them. All we really need to do to begin this journey is let go of the causal misattributions, masking and forcing that intrinsically fuel our perpetual fear, mistrust, anger and groupthink, and turn instead toward what is verifiably true — as complex, nuanced, ambiguous and counterintuitive as that truth may be. And there are already meaningful efforts along these lines within some disciplines — Freakonomics comes to mind — that model ways to peak through the veil of our mistaken assumptions and beliefs. We just require more of these, across all disciplines and all media, along with open accessibility and the encouragement to seek them out. How hard could this be...?

Lastly there are a handful of feasible personal practices that will help resolve part of this challenge. I discuss them in more detail in my writings on Integral Lifework, but essentially they include reconnecting with aspects of ourselves and our environment that modern life often encourages us to neglect. For example: spending alone time in nature; creating a disciplined habit of meditative introspection; investing regular time and energy in a supportive community that shares our values; shifting how we consciously process our experiences, from fast-paced analytical decision-making, to slower body-centered felt experience, to even slower heart-grounded intelligence; making sure we have space and time in our day for creative self-expression; and additional personal patterns that unplug us from electronic dependencies, naturally attenuate modern compulsions and addictions, and encourage both holistic self-care and compassionate engagement with others. Such practices are a powerful means of revitalizing the innate resilience, intelligence and creativity that millions of years of evolution have gifted our species. By returning to our authentic selves, we can regain an inner compass to help navigate these complicated and often alienating times.

When I was a technical consultant, there was a term for carelessly hurtling forward to keep pace with current technology, implementing the latest trends as soon as they emerged: we called it "riding the bleeding edge." The allusion was deliberate, because new tech could be risky, could fail, and might lack both support and future development. Instead, in my consulting I advocated a different approach: extending legacy systems and future-proofing them, or adding new technology that would integrate with legacy systems (or run in parallel with minimal cost) that offered extensibility for future technology integration — a bridge if you will. There was nothing particularly flashy about what I was doing, but this approach solved some fairly complex challenges, lowered hidden costs (such as retraining staff on new systems, or hiring expertise to support new technologies), and leveraged institutional knowledge and existing technical competencies. In my view, we need to do something similar for modern society, slowing down wide-scale deployment of "bleeding edge" innovation, and revisiting basic legacy components of human interaction and well-being. We need to create a bridge to our future selves that leaves as few people behind as possible, while preparing us for new ways of being and doing.

But our very first step must be to abandon virtual causality altogether, and reconnect with the real world in whatever ways we can.

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How easy is it to convert a semi-automatic rifle to an automatic?

There is a LOT of ideologically-driven B.S. about this issue floating around the web — from all sides, really. Perhaps as a consequence of this, all of the answers in this Quora thread (see below) that indicate some sort of excessive expense or technical knowledge being required to convert a stock semi-auto to full-auto are…well, let’s just say they’re either ignorant, lying, or sidestepping the obvious. So here’s the (obvious) scoop on this:

For about $200 in parts, $30 in really simple tools, basic familiarity with firearms, some average DIY aptitude, and less than a half hour of time, you can convert any over-the-counter AR-15 to a fully automatic weapon. And here’s the real interesting rub: you can do this “legally” in many jurisdictions whose laws haven’t caught up with burst fire conversion kits.

The concept in play is called “bump firing.” Basically it uses a sliding stock firing action to harness recoil, so that with very little skill (most people can get the hang of it on a first or second try), a shooter can fire at close to the same rate as a fully automatic weapon, and do so continuously. With a little practice, a shooter can unload clips just as quickly as many fully automatic weapons. Here are two example videos (using the YouTube search string “bump fire stock ar 15”):

Seasoned bump-fire shooter with $99 kit:

Pretty obvious amateurs giving bump-fire a try:

Again…this is all with legal, over-the-counter stuff using very basic knowledge.

The answer to this question, therefore, is: ridiculously easy, cheap, and (in many jurisdictions) legal.

And yes…to answer the obvious follow-up question…according to the AP and Time (, the Las Vegas shooter had bump stocks in his hotel room. So…yeah.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Beyond "Wokeness:" Getting to the Real Roots of the Problem

Photo by Marion S. Trikosko - Library of Congress Collection (Public Domain)

First and foremost I'd like to advocate the principle of garbage in, garbage out: If we all don't have good information, we're going to make bad decisions -- especially about causes, effects and the best chance for a reasonable remedy. In the case of race relations in the U.S., there seems to be an endless amount of distraction and misdirection -- a smokescreen cast between those who care about healing the divisions in our country, and what is really perpetuating the divide. And there is tremendous energy behind that smoke, keeping the propaganda spewing forth at high volume, front-and-center, across all kinds of media. So, in the spirit of a storm to chase the smokescreen away, I will offer what I think are some high-quality truths about what underlies the sad state of race relations in the U.S.A., with supporting references at the end of the article.

#1) What looks like clear and indisputable evidence of racism is often a highly targeted and thinly veiled form of capitalist exploitation. In a very real sense, the loudest common denominator of oppression and exploitation in the U.S. is the profit motive. Here are some potent examples of what I mean:

a) Who targets communities of color in their aggressive marketing of tobacco products and alcohol on local neighborhood billboards? Tobacco and alcohol companies. Who has been complicit in the high concentrations of carryout stores selling tobacco and alcohol products in communities of color -- higher concentrations of such stores, in fact, than in any other neighborhoods in the U.S.? Tobacco and alcohol companies. Who has created customized brands of tobacco and alcohol products for marketing to communities of color, including products that are more addictive, more potent and more toxic than those sold elsewhere? Tobacco and alcohol companies. But of course no one is holding tobacco and alcohol companies accountable -- not for their role in perpetuating alcohol and nicotine addiction in black and brown neighborhoods, not for the disproportionate disease and mortality caused by alcohol and tobacco among people of color, and not for the societal destruction they are perpetuating in poor communities.

b) Who benefits most from the militarization of the police, or having assault-style weapons in the hands of both criminals and law-abiding citizens? Gun and military hardware manufactures. And who was responsible for lobbying to relax gun regulations, while marketing fear and paranoia across America at the same time? Gun and military hardware manufactures. Who benefits from flooding our inner cities with handguns, and flooding rural communities with panic that their gun rights will be taken away? Gun and military hardware manufactures. Who benefits from the escalation of gang-related, drug-related and terrorism-related violence involving their guns and equipment, as well as the defensive outfitting of communities overwhelmed by such challenges? Gun and military hardware manufactures. It seems Eisenhower's infamous "military-industrial-congressional complex" has figured out that what they have always aimed to achieve on a global scale can also be implemented on national, state and local scales as well. But of course no one is holding gun and military hardware manufacturers accountable for their role in promoting gun violence or the proliferation of military-style equipment. In fact, the puppet politicians of these corporations have passed laws that protect the companies from liability.

c) Who benefits the most from the "three strike" or minimum sentencing laws that swell U.S. prison populations? Privately owned, for-profit prisons. Who has benefitted most from "the war on drugs" and harsher immigration policies? Privately owned, for-profit prisons. Who benefits from inflating monetary penalties on minor infractions into unpayable debt that triggers warrants, arrests and jail time? Privately owned, for-profit prisons. In fact, which companies make the most money off of the U.S. justice system overall? Privately owned, for-profit prisons. And who has been lobbying legislatures and funding candidates to expand their corporate profits through more aggressive laws and penalties that just happen to impact the poor and people of color the most...? Privately owned, for-profit prisons. But of course no one is holding these companies accountable for the devastating consequences of their systemized greed.

d) Who initiated slavery of indigenous peoples and captured Africans in the Americas, and for what purpose? Capitalists, in order to increase efficiency and profitability of their production. Who perpetuated post-Civil War versions of slavery in sharecropping, truck systems, company stores, etc.? Capitalists, in order to increase efficiency and profitability of their production. Who has invented new forms of wage and debt slavery in the current day, fighting vigorously to keep minimum wages below subsistence levels, and consumers perpetually in debt? Capitalists, in order to increase efficiency and profitability of production. Who benefits most from "welfare-to-work" programs that only offer shabby, low-paying and demeaning jobs? Capitalists, in order to increase efficiency and profitability of production. Who still perpetuates exploitation of child labor around the globe, and benefits most from sweat shops and horrific labor conditions both abroad in developing countries, and using immigrant labor in the U.S.? Capitalists, in order to increase efficiency and profitability of production. And yet, too few people think to blame capitalism itself for these problems.

e) Who benefits the most from union-breaking policies and disruption of community organizing efforts? Capitalists and the puppet politicians who help funnel wealth and power to corporations. Who benefits the most from making tensions around race relations all about ethnicity and culture, and from making sure working folks from different backgrounds are angrily divided against each other? Capitalists and the puppet politicians who help funnel wealth and power to corporations. And who is laughing all the way to the bank when "race riots," social unrest, violence and death all across America are portrayed in the corporate-owned media as have nothing at all to do with oppression and exploitation of the working class by wealthy owner-shareholders? Capitalists and the puppet politicians who help funnel wealth and power to corporations. But here again, too few people think to blame capitalism itself for these problems.

#2) Although there is much evidence to support issue #1 above, epidemic levels of white privilege, systemic racism and white supremacist extremism are real, and still persist. But shouldn't we still ask whom these prolific cultural diseases really serve...? This is the tricky part, because on the surface it really does seem like such reflexes and patterns are mainly about deep-seated fear and hatred of a particular ethnic or cultural group, and that deliberately disrupting the well being, economic mobility, social status and political influence of these targeted groups is mainly a consequence of that fear, hatred and ignorance. Except...well...let's consider the ultimate outcome of disenfranchising any homogenous group, depriving them access to decent education and employment, disproportionately persecuting and imprisoning them, interfering with their voting and other civil rights, or otherwise "keeping them down." Again, who benefits the most...?

When Republicans rolled back minority voting rights protections in the South, whom did that help in subsequent elections? And when Republicans have thrown up all kinds of hurdles to vote within various regions -- hurdles like requiring voter IDs, or reducing polling places and hours, or changing polling places at the last minute, or removing "suspected felons" from voter rolls -- whom have these hurt the most in terms of voter access? And when an unqualified and mentally unstable Republican candidate ran for President in 2016, and then won the election using flagrantly racist and xenophobic rhetoric to "fire up" his base, who actually benefitted from his ascendance to power? It certainly wasn't the poor, fearful and uneducated white folks who helped vote him into office. And whom do conservative judges, appointed by Republicans, favor when a case between worker or consumer rights and the privileges and power of a corporation comes before their bench? Again, it isn't the workers and consumers, and it's certainly not any poor people. And who benefits most from the legislation written by A.L.E.C. that is passed by Republican-controlled legislatures all around the U.S.? It's not the working class people who live in those states. In all of these cases, all we need to do is follow the money. It is the wealthiest of the wealthy who fund the campaigns of these Republican officials, and who ultimately benefit from these laws. Which is also why Republicans work so hard to roll back any kind of taxes or regulation -- or undermine, disempower or disembowel the regulatory agencies they oversee -- in the name of "smaller government." We know who consistently benefits, and who consistently suffers.

In short: the primary beneficiaries of conservative Republican politics are the enormous concentrations of corporate wealth and power, as wielded by the most privileged owner-shareholders. And it is the working poor of any and all ethnicities, cultures and immigration status who are consistently used, abused and trampled underfoot...even as they are persuaded with outrageous propaganda and false promises to vote for and embrace ideologies and candidates that contradict their own expressed values and interests.

"Hey who got the politicians in they back pocket
Pimp slap pump that gimme that profit..."
- Get Busy, The Roots

Now I will not say that Democrats have been innocent in this puppet play -- for they, too, have been funded by dark money and become subject to corporate influence. I think this is especially true as Democrats seek higher office, become career politicians, and accumulate more influence and power. But at least, along the way, Democrats have with one hand tended to promote social justice, minimum wage increases and wage equality, social safety nets, workplace protections, a level playing field for all religions and genders and races, consumer protections, compassionate laws, law enforcement oversight and justice system reforms...even as they may still throw a bone or two to their corporate campaign contributors with their other hand. At least many Democrats often try to free themselves of the fetters of greedy corporations and the damage these capitalists perpetually do to our society. Which again is why most of the huge concentrations of capitalist wealth in the U.S.A. is used to elect pro-corporate Republicans to office, and to disrupt and discredit both Democratic candidates, and as many Democratic voters as possible. And we need not guess where the latest phony rhetoric around "voter fraud" will be focused: it will be just one more tool to undermine the Democratic base. So although Democrat politicians may still be culpable and complicit at times, they at least attempt to balance the scales and listen to the needs of regular working folk. Republicans? Generally, they tend to almost exclusively serve the corporate Beast with cold-hearted, lock-step conformance.

All of this is why I do not believe the primary issue we must identify and confront is a fundamental conflict between black and white -- or any other skin colors. This is instead mainly a conflict between the "haves" who want to expand their ill-gotten gains, and the "have-nots" who are constantly being manipulated, misled, exploited and oppressed. And of course this insight was shared by many of the greatest civil rights leaders throughout history. Martin Luther King decried the poverty of the U.S. and our need to "question the capitalist economy;" as early as 1952 he wrote that "capitalism has outlived its usefulness." For King, democratic socialism was an obvious avenue for the U.S. to reinvent itself in a more truly democratic political economy. Malcolm X also summed things up simply when he said: "You can't have capitalism without have to have someone else's blood to suck to be a capitalist." He, too, believed the central struggle was not really "a racial conflict of black against white," but rather "the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter." Many other human and civil rights champions -- from Gandhi to the Dalai Lama -- have also concluded that the battle against systemic oppressions cannot be separated from the problems inherent to Western-style capitalism; the two go hand-in-hand.

In more recent times, anti-capitalist rhetoric has gained some traction -- from Black Lives Matter; during the Occupy movement; in a broader awareness of writers and speakers like Alicia Garva, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Thomas Picketty, Greg Palast and Noami Klein; from socially conscious hip-hop; in the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign; in the earnest activism of Elizabeth Warren; in the evolving discussions around "racial capitalism" -- but populist passions in this arena often tend to be tepid or short-lived. Even well-meaning academics like Cornel West will agree with Marxist critiques of capitalism and its perpetuation of structural racism, and even promote the "overlapping goals" of democratic socialism and antiracism, but will then ask us to increase our awareness of other power relationships in society, other longstanding threads of racism that predate capitalism, and the "Eurocentrism" inherent to left-leaning revolutionary ideologies...and to do so with seemingly equal energy and attention. And although all of this should undoubtedly become part of the picture, unless the enduring roots of capitalism itself can be excised from our political economy, it simply won't matter how we engage these other cultural issues. Because capitalism will automatically either utilize some other longstanding prejudice, or invent an entirely new one, in order to engineer the mindless, tribalistic, infantilizing conformance that facilitates conspicuous consumption and enduring class divisions. It's simply how capitalism is done.

So yes, there is real and potent racism that arises within cultural and historical contexts...but its perpetuation and amplification is used mainly as a tool by capitalists and their puppet politicians to perpetuate capitalist-imperialist power. And yes, like the other tools being used -- gender discrimination, misogyny and patriarchy, religious persecution and exclusion, anti-intellectualism and science skepticism, irrational fear and paranoia about government, etc. -- racism also stands alone as a grave concern that needs to be addressed. But the far greater corrosive influence arising across the political spectrum is the greed and lust for dominance that fortifies insidious crony capitalism, where plutocrats rule all races in the U.S.A. and around the globe. It is this corporatocracy that employs racism and these other tools as a social means to its nefarious economic ends. For all such efforts aim to enrich and empower the corporate elite, and perpetuate their position of privilege -- regardless of race, gender, identity or beliefs. And the resulting destructive inequity is, in fact, what the entirety of our capitalist system is built upon. It is feudalism with a new coat of paint, and until that feudalism is brought to an end, oppression and exploitation will generate new forms and tools to combine with the old ones, just to keep the gears of commerce well-greased.

Who then will hold the corporations, shareholders and the capitalist system itself accountable for the perpetuation of inequality and injustice?

Here's what we can do. First, I think delving beyond "wokeness" to the deeper, more pervasive roots of the problem is an important first step. The actual primary antagonist here needs to be clearly defined and called out. And if that primary antagonist is in fact our capitalist system, then we all need to start thinking about moving beyond capitalism to something better. Something more egalitarian, more compassionate, more democratic, more sustainable, more environmentally responsible, and more kind. Throughout that process, we can certainly recognize that hatred, fear, prejudice, inequality, injustice and a host of other critical issues also need to be addressed in a new design. In fact that is what many of my own Level 7 proposals are about, and I would encourage you to check them out (and I invite your feedback and ideas as well). But the main call-to-action here is to get this conversation going, and not allow ourselves to be distracted by the noise and propaganda. For our feudal lords take great delight in the masses being redirected away from the man behind the curtain, and while we focus on the sensational tools they are using to manipulate, divide and distract us, they will continue to amass malfeasant mammon and consolidate their power. Most certainly we can and should be motivated by a fervent desire to end all manifestations of oppression, exploitation, disenfranchisement and marginalization...these are all noble and essential aims. But if the very foundation of our society is a political economy that thrives on enriching a tiny percentage of plutocrats at the expense of everyone and everything else, then we can't just put a Band-Aid on the symptoms and ignore the deep festering rot underneath. We need to get more than "woke;" we need to get fierce.

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What is Max Stirner's philosophy?

Okay...people write entire dissertations on topics like this…so trying to shoehorn Stirner’s version of egoism into a brief post is…well, it’s pretty daunting, and likely pretty irresponsible as well. Be that as it may, I’ll offer some avenues of further study to explore a bigger picture of Stirner’s thought field after attempting a brief scatterplot.

With that caveat here’s a ridiculous oversimplification of Stirner: Human beings will maximize their autonomy by not subjugating their thoughts or will to anything or anyone. That’s pretty much the core assumption behind most of Stirner’s work as I interpret it. But this isn’t nihilistic bravado, moral relativism, “doing whatever you want,” or even pursuing rational self-interest — it is, more accurately, self-mastery via unfettered individualism.

There is an important contrast here to consider, and that is what Stirner saw as cultural forces and individual habits that he believed to be historically destructive to individual autonomy. Things like unquestioning conformance and groupthink, institutional or cultural conditioning, obsessive individual appetites, rigid rules and codes uniformly imposed upon members of a family, workplace, religion or society…and so on. Stirner saw these forces — and I think rightly so — as oppressive and coercive. And in response, he asserted that real “freedom” could only be achieved by rejecting such external and internal impositions.

Now here’s the thing about this message: it has validity, up to a point. In behavioral terms we could say such a reaction is even a necessary stage of development. Adolescent rebellion against familial and societal expectations can lead to a healthy and productive process of individuation. And before that, during early childhood, the emergence of the distinct individual ego seems an important process that differentiates I/Me/Mine from one’s parents and siblings. So as points of departure — as iterations of personal will in new contexts — these are helpful “egoic” events. But to be forever “stuck” in such a state…well, that becomes problematic. In the context of any civil society beyond a ruggedly individualist Wild West, for example, it actually becomes completely unworkable. Unfortunately, because certain cultures (the U.S. in particular) celebrate this type of individualism (or “atomism”), and mistakenly conflate it with personal sovereignty and liberty, it has been perpetuated as such. Further, Stirner’s projection of personal ego into property seems to reinforce a very individualistic flavor of economic materialism (again, seemingly quite prevalent in the U.S.).

The rather disastrous result of such memes is that right-leaning Libertarians, devotees of Ayn Rand, neoliberal market fundamentalists, and individualist anarchists (again, mainly in the U.S.) often get “stuck” in this terrible-twos/adolescent twilight. They do not realize that there are many, many more stages of ego development beyond these initial assertions of personal will. And that, in fact, ego must eventually attenuate to facilitate prosocial cohesion, and ultimately be relinquished altogether to evolve the greater good. (To appreciate why either of these is the case, I can provide additional resources or answer questions upon request). In a way, Stirner’s egoism is a sort of Peter Pan Syndrome where adherents reject even the most temporary, voluntary or conditional personal subjugation in order to defend their “right” to a particular flavor of individualistic freedom. At a certain point, this tendency becomes more than just willful immaturity…it devolves into a sort of irrational psychosis. (In fact, I think we are witnessing exactly this in Donald Trump’s antics as POTUS.)

That said, to really appreciate the specifics of Stirner’s arguments, we would need to study Hegel, Fichte, Feuerbach, Spinoza and Bauer — and all of these within an envelope of the Kantian lexicon. Only then will we grok what Stirner is aiming for with his “ownness” and his navigation of subject, substance, particularity, universality, and so on. So that is where I would begin for further study. This will help us understand the “why” of Stirner’s quest — but, unfortunately, it may not fully justify his conclusions.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Is it possible to love everyone?

This is a challenging question, IMO, mainly because there is such a diversity of conceptions and attitudes about “love” in modern culture. In ancient Greece, they used several different words for love in different contexts, but in modern English our distinctions get a bit muddied. I have spent the past thirty years or so meditating on this issue and writing about it — and still find it difficult to reduce down to simplified definitions. Which means that answering this question will require laying some groundwork first….

What spiritual traditions are talking about when they use the phrase “loving everyone” is really three distinctly different components:

1) The first is having a certain perspective about all human beings (including ourselves) that recognizes human frailty, bad choices, imperfections and weaknesses in everyone, and nevertheless accepts, forgives and is kind to all. This is really more of a behavioral and intellectual discipline that is grounded in humility and functional compassion regarding the well-being of ourselves and others.

2) The second is a felt experience of affection that occurs through spiritual practice; this is difficult to describe without personally encountering it, but imagine feeling the same depth of love you might feel for your own child, a favorite sibling or your closest friend, but for everyone and everything at once. This is a profound apprehension that can happen spontaneously in peak experiences of consciousness, or as the result of disciplined mystical activation practices (see my book Essential Mysticism for elaboration of this process, online for free here: Essential Mysticism); in fact that is what many spiritual practices in various traditions seek to induce.

3) The third aspect of “loving everyone” is inherent to the ideas of discernment, skillfulness, and understanding the relationship dynamics in play. In other words, whether we are exercising disciplined humility (#1), or experiencing an aha moment of universal love (#2), we will want to know whether our behavior and decisions have efficacy with respect to loving others — that is, that they have the desired trajectory, interplay and consequences. This also means developing some metrics around this objective, and understanding what “unskillful” love (such as codependence) looks like.

In the highest order of what I call the unitive principle — that is, a mature and skillful universal loving kindness — all three of these facets of “loving everyone” are developed and refined. In fact, that process never ends…it is a dynamic and fluid interaction within and without. But there is an important conditionality to this journey: it is dependent on our level of moral development (or ego development, if you will). We will not be able to operate beyond our level of moral maturity — at least not for sustained periods of time without the possibility of burn-out. This is because love-consciousness has everything to do with our personal identity and attachment to that identity, as well as how expansive or inclusive our identity becomes. This is a much more complicated topic, but here is a chart that shows the progression of moral development and its correlation to both identity and our ability to “love everyone” in skillful and sustainable ways:

Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations

I hope this was helpful.

Was Karl Marx actually a socialist?

There is a lot of confusion around this topic, in no small degree because pro-capitalist, neoliberal market fundamentalists in the U.S. and elsewhere have worked very hard to promote propaganda that keeps anything to do with Marx rather confused (for some elaboration on this, check out the post WWI and WWI “Red Scares”).

Here’s how I would lay things out:

The two main threads of socialism that were championed during the 1800s where social democracy and communism. Marx stepped into this debate with a theory of “historical materialism” that asserted that a specific order of evolution and revolution would occur in human society — one relating to the inherent conflict between the classes that form around different modes of production. It’s an interesting theory with quite a few salient observations about observable dynamics in history (such as the influence of modes of production on sociopolitical systems and consciousness), but it is also very simplistic…which has made if fairly easy to criticize. However, a moneyless, wageless, classless society was always the endgame of historical materialism as Marx envisioned it. And of course this would be facilitated through social ownership of the means of production…which is, of course, socialism.

But then came Vladimir Lenin, who asserted that “socialism” was actually an interim stage in the evolution from capitalism to stateless communism. And because of this interjection of differentiation, the waters became a lot muddier. Before Lenin, a more consistent differentiator between communism and socialism was that communism promoted atheism, whereas socialism did not. But after Lenin, communism was promoted as the endgame superior to socialism, and so perpetuating “socialism” per se would be — in this context at least — antagonistic to an evolution into communism. And for these and other reasons, Marx became forever disassociated with threads of social democracy that evolved in Europe and elsewhere, and which have resulted in the many mixed economies that attempt to balance the worst distortions of capitalism with socialist institutions.

Now something to note…and this is kind of important IMO…is that Marx was pretty permissive regarding violent expropriation, and pretty noncommittal about promoting specific forms of democracy. Marx did praise the democratic process he observed of the Paris Commune — which was itself aiming for social democracy — but apart from that, much of his language leans toward rhetoric like “the dictatorship of the proletariat.” In Capital, Marx does indicate that capitalism’s transformation of “scattered private property” into “capitalist private property” is inherently more violent and oppressive than the transformation of capitalist private property into socialized property: “In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers; in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.” But apart from that comparison, he gives every indication that a revolutionary transition away from capitalism is going to be messy — and not just in terms of counterrevolution. Instead Marx fetishizes the proletariat as an idealized champion of moral rectitude in an unjust class division, and the bourgeoisie as the villains who must be overthrown. And of course this could only embolden the Bolsheviks in their murderous consolidation of power, Pol Pot’s brutal methods, and so on. In any case, I think these two issues — a lackluster and unspecific promotion of democracy, and a permissive attitude (or presumption of inevitability) towards violent revolutions — were Marx’s greatest errors.

With all of this said, the one point the OP is definitely getting wrong is asserting that Marx “never says that the proletariat is justified in revolting or that society will be better off afterwards.” The whole point of Marx’s theory of history and (and advocacy of proletariat self-governance) is liberation — emancipation really — and an end to oppression and exploitation. That’s a really difficult point to miss if Marx’s writings are taken as a whole: he is completely oriented to remedying the problems of capitalism, and insists that such remedies will, in fact, arise of their own dialectic, evolutionary imperative.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this excerpt of Marx…because it is so wonderfully concise, and so insightfully accurate, in elaborating the very problems of capitalism we see manifesting in full force today:

From Marx’s Capital, Vol.1, Part VIII:

“As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the labourers are turned into proletarians, their means of labour into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever extending scale, the co-operative form of the labour-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as the means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and this, the international character of the capitalistic régime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”

My 2 cents.

The dharma seems to unfold by itself in an awakened mind. What do you think?

Perhaps the critical modifier in this question is “seems.”

It seems as though most everything is mainly “seeming” to us humans. That seems to be our lot — with our limited perceptions and often predictable cognitive and emotional patterns. Further, it seems there is a differentiation between “what seems,” and “what is,” so that we value them differently.

At the same time, we also have tremendous capacity to project our conclusions about “what seems” onto our conceptions about “what is” and vice versa, and there is ongoing debate about whether such projection actually changes “what is,” or is just more seeming.

From another perspective, is this “seeming” actually an undifferentiated part of “what is,” or is it somehow independent from it? Some have concluded that both of these — as well as the questions evoked by the relationship — are constructs abstracted from the ultimate ground from which all of them have arisen, so that the constructs may be different in character or quality, but not in substance.

But can “what is” actually be perceived in an unadorned way, via some special faculty of our consciousness? And can our consciousness then encounter the ultimate ground beyond both “what is” and “what seems?”

If we define “awakening” as being somehow involved in these patterns of discovery, revelation and exploration, then perhaps we could also say that echoes or representations of the dharma filter into this process as a perceived “unfolding.” This might be our subjective experience of our consciousness brushing up against an ultimate ground, and of our hearts, minds and being effectively undergoing a transformative influence — into a more active embodying of those echoes and representations. Or…we could simply be recognizing how we have always been part of the dharma, with nothing really changing except our awareness.

But is our perception accurate in either case? Or is it just more “seeming?” Are we imitating dharma, becoming part of dharma, recognizing the imminence of dharma within and without, reinforcing an invented “dharma construct,” or something else…? Have we clarified an important differentiation, or relinquished that differentiation in our acquiescence? Have we “arrived” somewhere, or have we simply “let go?” Have we created and rationalized a more elaborate set of constructs, or have all constructs been annihilated in the crucible of unadorned perception?

From Quora

What do Keynesian and Austrian economists agree about?

LOL. This question got a healthy chuckle out of me. About the only intersect that I can think of is that they both acknowledge the existence of money and markets. Aside from that, I’d say searching for further intersects is like trying to find common ground between the Phoenix (an imaginary bird with no empirical basis) and a Penguin (an actual bird, but one that “flies” underwater) - they are both “birds” in the broadest sense, but that’s about it. Really the Austrian School is more of an individualistic economic materialist religion that has never borne any actual fruit in the real world other than failure, whereas what Keynes observed and proposed — albeit still in the philosophical sphere that economics occupies — has been repeatedly validated by actual historic trends, policies and events.

Comment from Sean King: "…You do know that the concept of opportunity cost was borne from the Austrian School right? And the marginal revolution? It would be one thing to argue that the Austrian hasn't made any significant advances since its revival in the 70s. I'd disagree with you but I could understand that. But to outright dismiss its contributions to our understanding of markets is irresponsible."

That is a fair critical tack to take with my very brief answer — though I would say that, at least at 30,000 feet, the Austrian School has been more wrong than right in its assertions. At a more granular level, however, Menger, von Wieser et al made some pretty salient observations that did contribute to our understanding and dialogue overall. I don’t disagree with that. But there is a BIG difference between accurately observing certain components in economic forces, events or metrics, and then using those observations to create an overall system that demonstrates predictive efficacy. Big difference indeed — and that is what I was speaking to, because that is where the Austrian approach has failed, and where Keynes has prevailed.

As a separate, more specific consideration of the two issues you raised, von Wieser wasn’t the first to observe or describe opportunity cost…he was just the first to attach a very catchy phrase to it — and one that stuck. As for marginal utility, again it was von Wieser who seems to have come up with a useful term that endured, but this concept is widely accepted to have originated with Bernouilli, was then developed by Menger and his non-Austrian contemporaries, all before culminating in the work of Marshal, von Wieser et al. So I wouldn’t say you can really lay the marginal revolution at the feet of the Austrian school…only that they helped support and expand the concept of subjective valuation.

As for being irresponsible, I don’t mean to be dismissive out-of-hand, it’s just that most of what I have encountered in Austrian-leaning thinking (particularly at the Mises/Rothbard end of the spectrum) has proven itself to be utter nonsense in the realm of real-world policy consequences.

From Quora:

How can property rights be justified without appealing to capitalist culture?

This is a pretty squirrelly topic, because so many assumptions have been made over time that have no “universal” basis or ground; in other words, they don’t have empirical validity that is replicable across all cultures around the globe, or throughout all of history…and sometimes they don’t have a clear logical basis either. For example:

Theory of labor appropriation: Based on the faulty assumption that primitive peoples throughout history claimed “ownership” when they applied their labor to land, objects they created, etc. This is actually a pretty modern idea (in terms of the total span of human culture and civilization). Locke actually used the Native Americans for his example - and he was just wrong. In actuality most Native American tribes either had no conception of “ownership” at all, or a collective (tribal) view of ownership or use — especially regarding land, hunting rights, etc. Locke was, well, just mistaken — as countless others have been who haven’t actually studied cultural anthropology when making assertions about primitive cultures.

The tragedy of the commons: A thought experiment that was repeated and amplified over decades to justify ownership and private control of resources. The irony, however, is that Elinor Ostrom documented dozens of instances of “common pool resource management” in cultures all around the globe that shared a non-depleting egalitarian access to the commons without mishap…and without either government ownership or private ownership.

Property rights as “natural rights” extending from sovereignty over one’s own person for one’s survival via mixing with labor: As the Austrian School (Rothbard, Hoppe) philosophically argued variation of Locke’s labor appropriation, this really just becomes an absurd extension of individualistic economic materialism, assuming (completely without rational or empirical basis) that social agreements, cultural preconditions, cooperative prosociality and all the other hallmarks of human civilization aren’t necessary or required for human survival; that instead they can be replaced with 100% self-sufficiency. In essence, it is an article of faith grounded in individualistic (atomistic) beliefs that are not supported by empirical research on how homo sapiens has actually survived and thrived as a species. This thesis becomes even more absurd when it extends beyond “personal” possessions (a knife, a jacket, a blanket, wild-harvested food or anything used for survival in a given moment) to things that will be utilized by everyone (i.e common resources) just because the “rightful owner” was “the first to show up and claim it.” Here there is an even greater leap of faith. It’s all very silly, and Hoppe and Rothbard can never really justify their positions other than to say, well…it makes sense to them (i.e. using statements like “how could it be otherwise?”).

So we can conclude fairly easily that conceptions of private property are a faith-based enterprise that contradicts both sound reasoning and empirical facts. What we do know, however, is that private property (as either a universally accepted principle or as a feature of law) is most certainly necessary for capitalism to function, so much so that anarcho-capitalists, laissez-faire neoliberals, Randian objectivists and other market fundamentalists will scrabble tooth-and-nail to justify the concept. The irony, however, is that liberty is greatly impeded by the concept of private property; in fact we could say that private property is itself one of the most profound sources of interference to freedom that humanity has every invented. To appreciate why this is the case, I recommend this essay: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty (scroll down linked page to read it - no need to sign into Academia)

Ultimately, then, the answer to the OP’s question is: No, property rights can’t be justified in a rational or empirical way that promotes either liberty or personal sovereignty, and are actually intrinsically antagonistic to both. Private property is a very handy concept for the haves to exploit the have-nots, however…and so it evokes religious conviction among the pro-capitalist crowd.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Steeve Chaboussie: "And yet, I’m pretty sure you lock your door. I am genuinely interested with how you reconcile that with “So we can conclude fairly easily that conceptions of private property are a faith-based enterprise that contradicts both sound reasoning and empirical facts.”

There was a time when everyone in a given culture would “cross themselves” whenever someone looked at them in a strange way, o perhaps pointed at them with an index finger. There was a time when various cultures felt compelled to sacrifice animals on altars to appease their gods. There was a time when it was “common sense” that the Earth was flat and the Sun and Moon revolved around it. Today we have equally irrational beliefs that guide our daily lives. Beliefs about the importance of “knocking on wood,” or that certain numbers are “lucky” for us, or that people of a certain skin color — or accent, country of origin, etc. — should be feared, or that synchronistic events must inherently “mean” something. Our species is, essentially, predisposed to superstition, irrationality and rationalization. Which is where the fear-based reasoning that enshrines private property in law (and fences off yards, and locks doors) comes from. It isn’t rational, it isn’t necessary, and in terms of the evolution of civil society, it isn’t “natural” in the sense it has been argued to be for the last few hundred years. It is instead an invention of our superstitious, fearful, systematizing minds. That was my point.

Now, if your are asking if I participate in this delusion along with everyone else…well of course I do. Because that is currently how we have restricted freedoms in civil society to an immense degree: by cordoning off 99% of the world around us as “privately owned” and inaccessible to non-owners. People who do not respect these artificial, fear-based boundaries are considered to be “breaking the law,” and because those who willfully and knowingly “break the law” in this way generally have nefarious agendas in mind, it would be unwise not to conform to the societal standards as they have evolved — despite the ridiculousness of their underlying premise. In the same way, a nudist who believes wearing clothes is…well…just a silly convention that hides or attempts to shame the natural beauty of all human bodies will also wear clothes in public. We conform — to whatever degree we must — in order to survive.

This is how I reconcile the hypocrisy of many of my own behaviors that I fundamentally despise. I also allow people to pay me for the services I provide — I would prefer they didn’t, as I find it distasteful and undermining of relationship and trust — but there is currently no other means for me to reliably obtain food and shelter for my family. And yes, I have tried some alternatives, and admire planned communities that attempt to do the same, but we are so embedded in a commercialistic, capitalistic society that “stepping outside” of it fully is extremely difficult. In fact, the only folks I know who have done so with ongoing success have had to leave the U.S. altogether…and many of them are still struggling to live according to their principles without external support.

However, these de facto conditions of “private property oppression” are not immutable, and my hope is that more and more inquisitive and thoughtful folks will gradually wake up to the fact that these conditions need to change in order to maximize the promises of democracy and liberty. It’s why I have been working to promote Level 7 proposals. But we shall see….

The Venus Project: What do people think about the Resource Based Economy predicted by Jacques Fresco?

I see lots of encouraging intentions - in fact I was delighted to find intersections in some of Fresco's work and my own - but I also encountered quite a few problems with Fresco's proposals.

The main problematic issues as I see them:


Fresco frequently alludes to the idea that we can't solve resource scarcity issues using the same old tools that got us into the current mess. Unfortunately, he does not approach technology and science with exactly the same rigor, instead elevating them to a vaunted "solution"s status rather than acknowledging that they are really inherent to many of the challenges in modernity. Alas, this is magical thinking.

Breaking this down...As a former IT expert with some twenty years of experience with complex computing technologies, I would say that relying on computing and technology to manage production and resource allocation is extremely foolish. Technological determinism - or "technology as panacea" in this case - is a consequence of not knowing how fragile and easily disrupted technological systems inherently are, especially as they increase in complexity. A la Kurzweil and others, it's become a bit of religious conviction that some sort of tipping point "is bound to occur" that frees humanity of its labors and existential challenges. From the perspective of someone who has spent nearly half of his life installing, building, programing and maintaining all manor of technology-dependent "cybernetic solutions" to complex problems, I'm here to tell you it simply will not work. Certainly not in our lifetime...and probably not ever. It is instead a romantic religious conviction cradled in a love of science fiction...and nothing more. Well, actually, it is something more...because such reliance (on any scale) inevitably leads to abrupt and calamitous unintended consequences.

Along the same lines, the scientific method should certainly be part of a larger toolbox in problem-solving...but we shouldn't place it on a pedestal. It has been much too easy to "capture" scientific research and decision-making and processes with opposing values sets, so that science can be used to justify completely different conclusions or reinforce preexisting biases. This is in large part because - in the same spirit as Fresco - many folks romanticize "logical" deductive reasoning, imagining that it is somehow independent of emotions, interpersonal relationships, spiritual perceptions, cultural conditioning, or indeed somatic patterns and proclivities. But it isn't - reason is one small part of a larger organism we call "consciousness." The reductionism inherent to Fresco's investment in science is just a problematic as relying solely on reading pigeon entrails - it excludes too much of the human experience. To appreciate what I'm alluding to, consider reading my essays on Sector Theory and Managing Complexity.

Which leads to the next point...


Values hierarchies are a reflection of moral development; without specific attention to how we mature our ethical frameworks individually and collectively, there will be no stable solutions available to replace the current self-destructive maelstrom. Human beings will undermine any and all systems whenever their values diverge from it. This is a central consideration of my own Level 7 proposals, and unless I’ve missed something, Fresco seems to rather polyannishly sidestep it (i.e. saying instead that it “will emerge naturally” as resource abundance is actualized - see Values | The Venus Project). I don’t entirely disagree with his sentiment here, but I also think moral development itself should be a more consciously and carefully considered facet of any effective proposal.


There is very little acknowledgement of the current population problem in the Venus Project. Our planet actually can't sustain the Earth's current population at developed countries' consumption levels - even if we "build everything to last" and maximize the efficiency of production as Fresco proposes - and certainly not for the population projected over the next hundred years.'s just not possible. So reducing population has to be part of the mix...which again invokes issue #2 above. It's also a fundamental test of Fresco's target to produce "only what is needed;" folks routinely confuse needs and wants for all sorts of complex psychosocial reasons. Until families around the globe embrace the reality that it is immoral and reckless to have more than one or two children, all proposed systems will inevitable be under tremendous pressure to stratify the "haves" and "have-nots," simply out of practical necessity. Fresco tries to brush such concerns aside with his conviction that people will change their minds when presented with "scientific proof" of what they need...but again, this is more evidence of romantic idealism.

With these prominent exceptions, I actually agree with much of what Fresco says about property, currency, democracy, pilot projects and so forth. I just have different ways to address the same challenges. And that raises one last critical concern: the distributed and diffused nature of human social function. I think one reason many libertarian socialist proposals encourage reliance on community-level organization is because that is where humans are most comfortable - their circle of relationships can only be so big, and their engagement in self-governance and indeed productive activities can only extend as far as our wiring for emotional and social intersubjectivity. This sidestepping of subsidiarity is a major flaw in Fresco's understanding of human beings, which frankly presents to me a bit like how someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder might see the world; again, it misjudges the relationship between moral maturity and prosocial choices.

(See my Level 7 website for further discussion of many of the issues alluded to above….)

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Do you believe synthetic a priori knowledge exists? Why or why not?

Well I think this question touches on what has been a demonstrably unresolvable question. Even as Kant’s initial analytic–synthetic dichotomy has morphed over time - sometimes into divergent subsets, sometimes entirely contested or negated - our fundamental query just scurries deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. So even as I explain my position, it’s going to become obvious that my position is - like all others in this arena IMO - essentially indefensible. Be that as it may, here is my own multidialectical approach to the question, which is necessarily grounded in ALL of the following statements sharing the same neutral holding space:

1. Nearly all experience is abstracted/mediated by perception-cognition, which is in turn conditioned and constrained by conceptual enculturation and language…unless and until these contexts are stripped away and noumenon can be apprehended directly.

2. Nondiscursive and non-sensible insight can be both intuited and reasoned out, while either remaining entirely aloof from experiential validation and sensory perceptions, or even held in contradiction to them.

3. Peak experiences of gnosis — as a consequence of the disciplined stripping-away of reflexive knowledge and sensorial reactivity — can likewise introduce entirely new “ahas” that are not linguistically or conceptually anchored or contextualized, but nevertheless can be experientially validated.

4. The semantic containers of reason are infinitely maleable, so that the same information can have entirely different meanings…without end.

5. Emotional, spiritual, somatic, experiential and analytical contributions to rational extrapolations are all equally necessary, valid and in fact interdependent.

6. Both a priori and a posteriori assertions or propositions can be false, incomplete, or subject to revision — in other words, both can be inaccurate or unreliable.

Therefore, synthetic a priori knowledge exists…but we cannot be certain if it exists or operates independently of these factors, faculties and conditions; is a consequence of their multidialectical synthesis; is a hallmark of the creativity of consciousness — or an indication of a collective unconscious; or is a gift from the gods. We can, however, apprehend it via intellectual intuition…which is of course something that Kant (rather ironically?) rejected, while other philosophers did not.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Why isn't libertarian socialism more popular?

IMO there are three potent reasons for this situation….

1. Libertarian socialism is a well-rounded ideology that countervails every aspect of the current status quo. In other words, it inherently opposes neoliberalism, market fundamentalism, crony-capitalism, conspicuous consumption, economic materialism, individualism, atomism, egotism, etc. As such, it is anathema to nearly all corporate-controlled media, habituated consumer dependencies, apathetic and plutocratically captured democratic processes, and the economic patterns and civic institutions that concentrate wealth and oligarchic power.

2. The term “libertarian” has been coopted by anarcho-capitalists in the U.S., who in turn have consistently been manipulated to serve a neoliberal agenda (i.e. Koch brothers capturing the Tea Party, Friedman and Mises pretending to be libertarian, etc.). At the same time, the Red Scare rhetoric after both World Wars has poisoned American attitudes about “socialism” to the extent that most Americans don’t know they live in a partly-socialized country (i.e. a “mixed economy”). As a result, the term “libertarian socialism” strikes many Americans as confusing or contradictory…the achievement of over a century of propaganda.

3. Some libertarian socialist ideas can be difficult to explain in a sound bite; there are no libertarian socialist equivalents of “free markets!” or “no more taxes!” or “get out the vote!” or “equality now!”

Why isn’t Noam Chomsky ever interviewed on any mainstream media outlet? Why don’t high school students in the U.S. learn about the successful libertarian socialist enclaves that once existed in Spain or the Ukraine? Why isn’t what’s happening right now in Rojava avidly debated in either mainstream media or on college campuses? Well because these realities threaten the lucrative status quo…and we can’t have that, can we?

My 2 cents.

Does libertarianism lead to social darwinism?

I’m left-libertarian so I’m not a fan of Mises or anarcho-capitalism. In fact I think capitalism, private property and unregulated market environments are pretty destructive to civil society on the whole, and individual liberty in particular. But that’s another discussion. Because this question seems to be targeting right-libertarian thinking, it’s only fair for me to say I’m answering from a perspective that is critical of that end of the libertarian spectrum….

So to answer this question as amended to read “right-libertarianism:” Yes, absolutely right-libertarianism promotes a form of social darwinism. The reason is that right-libertarianism celebrates the profit motive, which inevitably encourages the following selective characteristics:

1. The lowest-common-denominator of I/Me/Mine moral function, where individualistic economic materialism subjugates prosocial traits to grubby egotism and acquisitiveness.

2. The toddlerization of consumers into perpetual dependence on unhealthy commercial products and services.

3. De facto wage-slavery (albeit contractual and voluntary) that likewise disrupts self-sufficiency and personal growth.

4. Multi-generationally amplified cognitive stupefaction via inherited concentrations of private property and wealth.

5. A persistent isolation and atomization of the individual that disrupts psychosocial well-being, interpersonal relationships, cultural capacities and skillfulness, and (ultimately) evolutionary advantages through group selection.

6. Disregard for any other externalities of commercial production (environmental pollution, stress-related illness, decreasing food quality, poor socialization, etc.) *that have a demonstrated negative epigenetic impact*.

Over time, the amplification of such characteristics through the market dynamics, products and services inherent to profit-centric owner-shareholder enterprise models will inevitably decimate the human species. It’s already happening, and the only current bulwark against a steepening downward spiral is regulatory oversight…which is also failing. As the State can never adequately react to the fluid and persistent energies of the profit motive (or worse, succumbs to its capture), this will always be a losing battle; the organs of the State are simply too cumbersome, while rent-seeking is a wily and pernicious viper. That is, unless and until: All enterprise submits to worker self-management, community level oversight, and daily democratic controls; all resources are freed of private ownership and returned to the commons; and profit is redefined to support civil society rather than undermine it. If not, humanity is doomed to become dumber, less healthy, and more ethically incompetent with each generation. There can still be competition and indeed limited markets in a left-libertarian world, but those mechanisms will be subjected to the collectively agreed upon priorities of civil society - instead of the other way around as things are today. Essentially, then, market fundamentalism has to go the way of all other forms of fundamentalism to avoid any new mutations of feudalism that can degrade our genome.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Why is MLK so admired?

1. Because he led an entire nation out of an ingrained habit of brutal racial oppression.

2. Because he accumulated tremendous political and interpersonal influence over time.

3. Because he inspired people to act on principle, instead of accepting the status quo.

4. Because he was willing to take tremendous personal risks to advance the freedoms of others.

5. Because he arose as the figurehead of an era for a national movement - he was at the right place at the right time - and he bore that burden with grace.

6. Because he was an eloquent and inspirational speaker.

7. Because, like Gandhi, he was able to do all of this without violence; he was a man of peace, but he moved mountains where others could not.

8. Because he did not give up. Ever.

From Quora:

What are some of the principles of moral creativity?

I discussed the importance of moral creativity in my book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle. So it's nice to have the opportunity to promote the concept.

In a general sense, moral creativity indicates both the preconditions for moral development, and the ongoing synthesis of moral maturity; it describes an aspect of the human condition in which our collective beliefs, aspirations, values and strength of character shape the trajectory of our society over time. In a meta-ethical sense, it is akin to saying "we create our own moral realities," but this does not mean those realities are purely subjective, arbitrary or relativistic. As an example, I write in Political Economy and the Unitive Principle:

"If we accept the belief that a cohesive and compassionate society, a just and moral society, is desirable and worthwhile, we tend to assign moral weight to this belief. So it follows that the degree to which we are willing to invest in society - from the perspective of embracing collective responsibilities - may depend on our relationship with that basic assumption, the quality of our imagination, our capacity for love, and whatever innate proclivities we possess to make such an investment. In essence, it will depend not only on the quality and quantity of affection for our fellow human beings, but also on our creative capacities for expression."

Expanding on this basic idea, I would assert that mature moral creativity represents an intersect between functional intelligence and advanced moral development; in other words, it indicates a high level of self-actualization and integrity in our ability to operationalize our values hierarchy, while at the same time being primarily motivated and guided by inclusive and "wise" moral sensibilities. But there's the rub: this can't happen in a vacuum. The conditions that support the development and expression of all moral imagination are social, cultural and systemic in nature - in order for mature moral creativity to thrive, it must be intersubjectively and interobjectively excited and reinforced. So there is a synthesis of factors that depends on both nature and nurture.

Now this might still be considered a fairly abstruse explanation, and it is dependent on a lot of other concepts that I've developed over time they may not be familiar. So I'll offer yet another way to approach the importance of moral creativity....

Let's say moral function runs along a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is emotionally repressive, antisocial and destructive conditioning that is rooted mainly in fear, and is centered around amplifying and justifying individual egoic impulses (I/Me/Mine). At the other end of the spectrum is a emotionally expressive, prosocial and constructive mutually affirming interplay that is rooted mainly in love (agape), and is centered around amplifying and enhancing collective well-being. In this context, moral creativity describes both the consequence and supportive conditions of this mutually affirming interplay; it is a semantic container for the generative and expressive social dynamics of a compassion-centered moral function, patterns of thought and behavior that invite ever-enlarging and more inclusive arenas of action and intention. So, instead of limiting moral judgments to black-and-white dualism, a vast array of subtle variables and perspectives can be included - ambiguity and uncertainty among them. As such, mature moral creativity can become a self-reinforcing upwards spiral toward the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration...rather than a downward spiral into the freezing wasteland of an isolated, atomistic, self-serving ego that can't help but oversimplify and reduce moral judgments to vacuous polemic. At is my contention that this is the fundamental belief that can (even if it is not self-evident to the skeptic) generate its own positive consequences. As is the case with most assertions regarding prosociality, the proof will be in the pudding.

Lastly, we might still ponder: why is moral creativity socially dependent - or in any way conditional? Shouldn't it flow naturally and effortlessly from an individual's state-of-being, regardless of conditions or precursors? In rare instances, and with sufficient strength of character, a person of high functional intelligence and advanced moral orientation could operate as a rebellious non-conformist in a less developed, unsupportive society - at least for a while. But the interpersonal tensions such a contrast will inevitably produce most often lead to mistrust, derision, ostracism and conflict - a consequence at the heart of the saying "a prophet is never welcome in their home town." In order for advanced moral function to bear fruit - that is, to instigate an advanced morally creative synthesis - there must at a minimum be sufficient social acceptance of a majority of goals and values represented by the proposed moral position, so that it can be collectively reified. This is, in fact, an extremely critical consideration, and it is why the fortified islands of I/Me/Mine that are supported by individualistic, economically materialistic cultures are so antagonistic to human development. It is also why - and this is a main thrust of my book - advanced political economies will ultimately fail without careful attention to the issue of moral creativity.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Jeff Wright: "This is a comprehensive and also very clearly stated answer / analysis. A lot of the explanatory effort hinges on deconstructing an individualist paradigm of intelligence and social action / agency (and consequently creativity and morality).

Regarding “a prophet is never welcome in their home town”, this brings to mind a Sufi story about another side of this phenomenon, a town where, it seems, everyone is a prophet. A town where, it seems, it’s more or less clear to all that morality is an emergent, collective property of the community....

From (Helminski, Living Presence, p.125)

A Sufi came to a remote village where he knew no one. After meeting some people he found that those of this village had an unusual hunger for spiritual knowledge. They invited him to share his knowledge at a gathering they would arrange. Although this Sufi was not yet fully confident that he could transmit spiritual knowledge, he accepted their invitation. Many people attended that gathering and the Sufi found his audience to be extremely receptive to what he had to say, and most significantly, he found that he was able to express the teachings he had received with an eloquence he had never before experienced. He went to sleep that night feeling very pleased.

The next day he met one of the elders of the village. They greeted each other as brothers, and the elder expressed his gratitude for the previous evening. The Sufi was beginning to feel very special. He even reasoned to himself that he had been guided to this village to impart the wisdom that he has accumulated through his long years of training and service. Perhaps, if these people were sincere, he could stay with them for a while and really offer them some extended instruction in the Way of Love and Remembrance. They were certainly a deserving and sincere community. Just then, the elder invited him to another gathering that evening.

The villagers assembled again that evening, but this time one of them was chosen at random to address the gathering. He, to, gave a most eloquent discourse, full of wisdom and love. After the meeting the Sufi again met with the elder. "As you can see," the elder began, "the Friend speaks to us in many forms. We are all special here and we are all receptive to the Truth and so the Truth can easily express Itself. Know that the "you" who felt special last night and the "you" who felt diminished tonight are neither real. Prostrate them before the inner Friend if you want to find wisdom and be free of judging yourself harshly."

I also think your line of analysis here is refreshingly beyond Wilber (known as an “integral” theorist and even biasing this field of concern) and his seeming fixation on individualism as the site of development of consciousness (moral intelligence, etc.).

A great story - thank you Jeff!

Yes, I think it is hard to break free of individualistic thinking when one’s surrounding relationships and culture are constantly reinforcing and elevating that perspective. In fact this phenomenon (with Wilber and other thinkers) would be an example of precisely what I’m alluding to in my answer. I think there is a tacit understanding of this when folks express sentiments about “operating within the Zeitgeist” or “navigating the contemporary noosphere,” but language itself can begin to exclude important possibilities due to such bias. And of course most of the time I think we are relatively unaware of this phenomenon and its impact on our own insights and development - fish in the sea and all that.

Comment from Jeff Wright: "All true. I think we have most to gain theoretically by regarding individualistic and collective thinking / intelligence as dual, complementary, and co-constituting. I’ve seen nothing in Wilber’s recent missives indicating an awareness of this issue. On the contrary, it has been centered around a kind of projection where individuals of a certain level of conscious development (according to his way of thinking) are (collectively) projecting an unhealthy influence on society as a whole. But in my view this gets pretty close to the sociological theory of “moral panic” and its “folk devils”, which mirrors the conservative right’s construct of immigrants as blameworthy problem-causers.

Meanwhile theories of collective moral intelligence seem undeveloped across the board .. moral panic theory is a gesture in that direction, but I’ve not found much in either sociology or social psychology that comes to grips with this. I believe it’s currently emergent knowledge, that’s still in the zone of not having a recognizable formulation. One of the difficult issues (and avenues of approach) to emergent knowledge is determining in what ways current conditions are unique and in what ways they recapitulate past historical situations (such as the “gilded age” and plutocracy of the industrial revolution of a century ago, followed by emergence of labor power and social welfare governance).

This potentially opens the way for an analysis of the current clash of value paradigms that can validate concerns while questioning specific interpretations, for groups and individuals in multiple political groupings. Meanwhile, the blind spots — the water surrounding the fish — need further articulation. You’re doing that with your analysis of the structural conditions surrounding consciousness, moral creativity, and other modes of understanding.

Do you know of any relevant work regarding this question of emergent social knowledge and its boundary phenomena?"

Jeff great observations and I think you might enjoy the European tradition of “social anthropology,” especially in its qualitative methods around precisely the area you seem to be narrowing in on here. Social anthropology operates entirely differently than the “cultural anthropology” studies we have in the States - or than the emphasis on quantitative analysis in sociology. Again, imagine intersubjective methods to evaluate anthropology of social knowledge (cultural constructions and narratives, etc). In any case I think this may be one place to look. If you find some interesting reading, please let me know - I think you’re onto something. :-)

What is the things-in-themselves philosophy in simple terms? What are some illustrative examples to help me understand it?

An interesting topic…here’s my take.

From a Kantian perspective, we have what I would call categories of abstraction in our encounters with and understandings about “what is.” They are:

1. The thing-in-itself (i.e. “what is”).

2. Positive and negative noumena (i.e. unknowable and knowable conceptions of “what is.”)

3. The unknown something (i.e. a given transcendental object within the noumenon).

4. Perceived phenomena (i.e. representations to ourselves of that unknown something).

5. Concepts and categories of understanding to boundarize and organize all-of-the-above, often via dualistic contrasts (i.e. space and time; cause and effect; existence and non-existence; plurality and totality; possible and impossible, activity and passivity, etc).

6. That which can be intuited, but remains unknown.

This is a very fancy way of saying that “what is” (i.e. the thing-in-itself) is separated from the objects of thought that represent it by a vast mediating chasm of a priori processes and imperfect perceptions. It is this chasm that many philosophers have attempted to bridge or explain in various ways. For example, I would say this is what Hegel’s subject/object dialectics regarding alienation from the Absolute seeks to address. It is also what many cognitive and spiritual disciplines (in particular, those from contemplative, mystical and enlightenment schools) seek to engage through “direct apprehension” of the noumenous/numinous (i.e. via unmediated experiential gnosis). In other words, other approaches before and after Kant embrace some version of the “intellectual intuition” that he mostly dismissed, specifically to navigate the mediating chasm Kant seemed to view as insurmountable.

As for examples, consider of the adage: “Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses.” Kant was simply saying: “Hey, we’re all wearing rose-colored glasses…we just don’t realize it.” If it were possible to take those glasses off, we could finally apprehend what really is (the thing-in-itself).

My 2 cents.

Is it harder for a rational logical formally educated mind to achieve spiritual awakening?

I think focusing this question a bit more in terms of time and place would be helpful. For example, we could say:

1. In the postmodern era among Western societies, it has become vogue to remain skeptical and even cynical about anything that lacks an emperical basis. In fact, we could say that over-emphasis (in education, but also culturally) on reductionist analysis and purely rational justifications would make it much more challenging to allow other input streams. In particular, anything smacking of “spirituality” seems to have garnered a reflexive disdain for those who gravitate toward empiricism, so that an almost irrational skepticism becomes an insurmountable obstacle.

2. In many Eastern cultures the exploration of ontological questions does not exclude spirituality or non-rational experiences and inputs. In fact various philosophical traditions are as much “spiritual” as they are “rational,” and do not prioritize one input stream over another in the course of self-examination of interpretation of peak experiences. Such a culture (and educational milieux), therefore, does not feel the need to reflexively dismiss the non-empirical in the same manner that Western culture seems to cultivate.

These are gross generalizations, but hopefully you can weave between the obvious extremes here.

My 2 cents.

Why did the Supreme Court decline to hear the case regarding the right to bear arms in public, Peruta v. California?

Thanks for the A2A. So here’s the really funny thing about this situation….

You’ve got two Constitutional originalists/textualists who wanted to proceed with these cases - Justices Gorsuch and Thomas. The assumption of pro-gun-rights folks is that, because these two Justices are hard-right-leaning, then “obviously” they would uphold District of Columbia v. Heller’s distinction that the 2nd Amendment need not apply strictly or exclusively to militia (which contradicted U.S. v. Miller and some 70 years of stare decisis), and perhaps expand upon it. Which is actually a really, really funny assumption, because that is what the U.S. Constitution says the “right to keep and bear arms” is for: a well-regulated militia. That was indisputable - both in a historical context and in any reasonable originalist or textualist reading of the 2nd Amendment…until Heller in 2008. And yet…well, there’s the rub…because really Gorsuch and Thomas are what we would call “fair-weather” originalists/textualists, in that they mainly apply that standard when it suits their conservative ideological bias, just as happened in Heller. In the current instance, however, authentic textualism/originalism clearly would NOT serve gun advocates.

In any case…aside from this rather humorous irony, I suspect the main reason SCOTUS sidestepped this issue is because it would be inherently “activist” to issue a ruling on these laws that potentially could spawn a reinterpretation of every gun restriction on the books around the U.S. - and years of litigation along with that. Again, though…judicial activism is SUPPOSED to be something that conservatives dislike. And yet…not in this instance. :-0

So basically, it was a reasonable and sound decision to avoid a de facto rewriting of established law, while also avoiding exposure of an underlying hypocrisy among right-leaning judiciary and citizens in the U.S. It’s really a win-win for everyone involved.

But of course hypocrites understandably tend not to see it that way. :-)

My 2 cents.

Comment from Andrew Mateskon: "Take a look at the hilarity of the most famous textualist, Scalia, in Green v. Bock Laundry. Suddenly, the written word as known by the authors doesn't matter, but the context and surrounding law does."

Well at least he’s being partly intellectually honest in admitting that strict textualism “produces an absurd, and perhaps unconstitutional, result.” LOL. But to then invent his own arbitrary “benign fiction” for what the word “defendant” really meant in 609(a) is of course equally absurd. It seems textualism is a bit like the literalism of religious fundamentalists: “Since this is what we want the text to mean, this is what it literally means. Then we need not have any doubts.”

Comment from Matthew Moore: "Actually read DC vs Heller. You will be enlightened. The individual (non-militia) view is based on the 14th Amendment and the speeches and writings of it’s authors and ratifiers."

Oh I’m pretty familiar with it. The point is that Scalia’s majority decision is not remotely justifiable purely on a textualist basis. Instead, it’s a fishing expedition for a particular ideological reading outside of the actual text itself. It’s the epitome of hypocrisy in that regard. I’m not saying the favorable arguments don’t have merit…that is a different discussion… I am saying that they just don’t have textualist merit, not by any stretch of the imagination. That is what I mean by “fair-weather” textualism/originalism.

What could enlightenment mean, for a collective?

I think “collective enlightenment” (or enlightenment across a collective) would involve the following elements or characteristics:

1. Compassion, mutual concern and agape (love-in-action) as the primary driver for all intra- and inter-collective action, with ego taking a distant backseat (where it is present at all).

2. A celebratory cooperation around sustaining the greatest good, for the greatest number for the greatest duration (i.e. the profoundly inclusive good of All).

3. A fairly thorough letting go of judgmental and/or hierarchical differentiation between members.

4. A pronounced attenuation of individual and collective emphasis on ownership, personal status, social capital, economic materialism, self-serving achievement and other I/Me/Mine-orientations.

5. A felt reality of internal and external unity of identity and purpose.

6. A fluid expounding and acceptance of iterative, multiperspectival truth - both in terms of cultural norms and personal beliefs.

7. A marked absence of tribalism, dualistic tension, and Us. vs. Them polemics.

8. A relaxation of acquisitiveness across all arenas (knowledge, wealth, political influence, beauty, abilities, experiences, accomplishments, accolades, etc.)

9. An explosion of individual and collective creative self-expression.

10. Improved skillfulness in actualizing/reifying all-of-the-above.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Comment from Jeff Wright: "Regarding (7), it’s worth thinking about what “consciousness raising” (i.e. a path towards enlightenment) would look like for a specific collective identity / tribe, such as working class conservatives. How could this be formulated as a Quora question?"

Jeff I’m a big proponent of “creating space” for growth — I think the impulse to evolve (individually and collectively) is present in all of us. In fits and starts and easily derailed, to be sure, but it’s there. What happens to undermine it’s natural unfolding is distraction, substitution nourishment, dependencies and addictions — I use an expanded description of The Spectacle to describe this. Once this interference is removed or attenuated, then the door can open to positive growth and change. But unless and until such barriers are removed, humanity will devolve rather than evolve (or at least be held back) in terms of mature moral orientation and unitive/collective thinking. Their moral creativity will be stunted. So disrupting the status quo and alleviating the collective self-medication and deliberate deceptions must — IMO —happen first, before there is any hope of remedy for the group you allude to. Why first (and not just concurrently)? Because higher-order evolutionary memes are too subtle, too gentle, too nuanced and ambiguous to compete with I/Me/Mine or tribalistic fear. They are just too easy to ignore, dismiss or trample as billions is being spent on creating loud, angry, insistent distractions. It’s like a child in a war zone quietly saying “we should just love each other” as bombs are going off all around her. We need to end the war that has been engineered to keep us from hearing that small, delicate voice of compassionate truth. When folks are relieved of fear, crisis and propaganda, they tend to open up to their own higher Selves. So the question then becomes: how can we end the plutocratic, mostly neoliberal choke-hold on media, the political narrative, religion, conceptions of freedom, economics and so on. I think that is the first step in the process.

What essential principles of critical thought would you include in a high school level crash course on critical thinking?

Great question, thanks. Here are some fundamentals I would include, keeping the high school audience in mind:

1. The psychology of rationalization. I think this is probably the most important bit - learning just how creative human beings can be at inventing self-justifications for various beliefs or conclusions. An open class discussion that invites students to offer their own beliefs around a topic, then to critique rationalizing elements of each others’ reasoning, can be a great way to break the ice on critical thinking.

2. Common logical fallacies. After covering the basics, this can be turned into fun group exercises, where students “catch” each other making one or more errors while presenting their reasoning based on cases you provide (i.e. as they draw conclusions from a set of facts on a specific topic…)

3. The Socratic method. Seems like this could be a great in-class exercise, especially within a broader conversation about dialectics.

4. The flaws in empiricism, and the iterative process for truth. This can be a helpful longer-term homework assignment - giving students the names of researchers who have made incorrect assessments of their data (or been unable to clearly see what the data was really conveying), or where peer review and replication have reinforced incomplete or incorrect conclusions, etc. - and encouraging the students to find out what the errors were, why they may have occurred, and how the initial assertions were later revised by later research. This is a great way to “reverse engineer” critical thinking by helping students recognize real-world errors or incompleteness.

5. Freakonomics. Assigning the original book and/or some of the subsequent podcasts to help students sharpen their critical thinking skills and avoid jumping to “obvious” or premature conclusions.

6. Self-critique. If students are advanced enough I think a powerful culminating homework assignment could be having them identify their own patterns of logical fallacies, rationalizations, premature suppositions and errors in reasoning. This is, after all, what we would hope they will take with them into the real world.

If possible, I would also touch on the importance of emotions in what we believe to be rational thought or decision-making. Lots of good research on this.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Did Milton Friedman really help the Chilean economy to prosper?

This is one of the funniest bits of propaganda the neoliberals, anarcho-capitalists and other market fundamentalists will throw around. It is almost ENTIRELY FALSE. In fact, the only reason anyone believes a “Chilean Miracle” happened at all is because…well…Milton Friedman boasted that it did. Utter hogwash though. Here’s what the consequences of 7 years of Friedman’s policies (recommended by him personally, and by his Chicago Boys to Pinochet) actually were:

1. Unemployment first increased to 14%…then to 20%.

2. Sub-poverty population increased from 20% to 40%.

3. Real wages fell by 20%.

4. National output initially fell by 15% and then only ever leveled out (never got above pre 1970 levels)

5. Per capita GDP grew only 1.5%/year, as compared to several times that nearly everywhere else in Latin America.

6. Well-paying, working-class jobs evaporated (i.e. income disparity increased across population due to a “hole in the middle”)

7. Inflation reduced from 500% to 10% (really the only good thing that happened, economically, as a consequence of neoliberal policies)

8. A handful of folks got rich.

And of course all of these metrics reversed or improved once the neoliberal policies under Pinochet were abandoned….

So basically, Friedman’s “miracle” was to devastate most of the Chilean population.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the atrocities of the Pinochet regime - but really, if Milton Friedman was such a “champion” of individual liberty, why didn’t he loudly and soundly criticize Pinochet’s murderous oppression of the Chilean people…? Utter hypocrisy. Even more bizarrely, even as Friedman would insist Chicago School reforms helped the country economically (despite all evidence to the contrary), he would also take credit for Chile’s transition back to democracy, insisting that Chicago School policies were what led to that event. But this is astounding and delusional, really, since that transition was a consequence of pressures from the rest of the military leaders, who continued (yes, even after the referendum) to insulate their power from civilian control. In other words…they just wanted to get rid of Pinochet!

The video below is one of the funniest (or saddest, depending on how you feel about mental illness) snapshots of how Friedman would later try to distance himself from Pinochet while simultaneously taking credit for imaginary “miracles.” Watching it closely we can witness how Friedman’s ego delights in his delusions:


My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Why isn't feudalism considered an early stage in the development of capitalism?

Well Marx certainly thought it was a preceding stage (see historical materialism). But really I would go so far as to say that capitalism is just another expression of feudalism - or a thinly veiled morphing of the same thing. To wit:

Lords & Nobility in their fiefdoms = Wealthy owner-shareholders, whose only real status comes from their ownership of private property, and who routinely pass that property, wealth and status on to their offspring.

Vassals & Knights = Career politicians who defend the wealthy owner-shareholders and fulfill their agendas, and who in turn have privilege and influence because of the wealth of those corporate Lords.

Serfs & Peasants = Worker-consumers who owe fealty to their political vassals and corporate Lords, must fight and die to protect the privileges of their owner-shareholders, must demonstrate lockstep loyalty to their political party, and must provide all of the labor to their corporate Lords in exchange for subsistence wages.

Homage = The tribalistic loyalty rituals demanded of worker-consumers in service to corporations and political parties. For example, at political rallies and fundraisers, or at corporate “team building” events that indoctrinate workers with a corporate brand, or in the mandatory consumption of some product or service to maintain social status.

Freemen = Small, independent business owners who will never become wealthy, but who can maintain some independence by paying rents to the owner-shareholders instead of pledging fealty.

So capitalism is really just a slight-of-hand that allows people the illusion that “anyone can become a Lord.” In reality, that possibility is like winning the lottery: very, very few people get to become wealthy owner-shareholders. So the same, essentially feudalistic arrangement continues under a capitalistic bait-and-switch deception. Sure…the same percentage of the worker-consumers could potentially earn their way to “freeman” status as peasants could under feudalism…but moving beyond that to become a wealthy owner-shareholder…well, that blessing is in largest part bestowed on the children of those who already have the wealth.

Now there is one striking difference between feudalism and capitalism: instead of a King with a Divine Right to rule over everyone, capitalism installs the striving for profit itself as the Ruler of All, and dismisses anyone who does not honor and worship greed and mammon as a witch or a heretic, wholly deserving of persecution and a lowly lot in life. In a way, capitalism exerts the same oppression of the poor as feudalism did, only justifying it with “the Divine Right of Wealth.”

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

What is the difference between liking and loving?

I have what I think is a bit of a different take on this, which has informed my work in couples coaching, individual coaching and in my own spiritual practice and relationships.

First, please have a look at this chart, which I call the Relationship Matrix:


When we examine the characteristics of our relationships with other people using the Relationship Matrix, two things usually become increasingly clear:

1. In any given relationship, there may be a different emphasis in each of the four quadrants when relating to the other person.

2. There is a spectrum of combined characteristics from these quadrants that informs our subjectively felt experience of affection and compassion towards other people, and which helps define and differentiate “like” vs. “love.”

For example, couples who fall deeply in love with each other often find a strong intersection in ALL four quadrants. Over time, their relationship will continue to grow and deepen when those intersections persist - even as the emphasis might change and vary. Relationships falter - both initially and over longer periods - when these intersections “get out of sync;” that is, when one party is operating with different assumptions about each quadrant, or is experiencing the relationship differently from the other person in each quadrant.

Lastly, I would say that as we mature (spiritually, morally and relationally), the arena of our affectionate compassion expands outward. We “fall in love” with a larger and larger circle of inclusion beyond our familial and romantic relationships. We first come to care more inclusively - even about things (and people) we don’t particularly “like” - and then we find ourselves wanting what is best for them…and ultimately what does the greatest good, for the greatest number for the greatest duration (i.e. “the good of All”). But what is interesting to me is that, when we are young and immature, we are generally drawn mainly to things and people that we “like” (i.e. have low-level intersections with in one or more quadrants); but when we grow wiser, with more experience and insight, we let go of “liking” as a prerequisite for our interest and concern, and ground our actions and intentions in a deeper, more abiding stream of love.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” To what extent do you agree with this Karl Marx quote?

This is one of a few areas where I think Marx oversimplifies things - mainly because he restricts the definition of “class” to an individual or group’s relationship to the means of capitalist production, and consequent self-identification and collective affinities as a consequence of that specific relationship. Because of this narrow focus, Marx then centered his ideas about class conflict around the bourgeoisie (those who control production, and benefited most from it) and the proletariat (those who don’t control production, and are exploited by it). And I think this was an overly reductive error.

As to why…well let’s start with some factors - in addition to, or aside from, control of production - that contribute to power differentials, freedoms, agency and so forth in civil society:

1. Economic status and mobility - from abject poverty to rentier, there are plenty of conditions and privileges that have nothing to do with control over production.

2. Race/ethnicity - this has a tremendous impact on freedoms, agency, opportunity, institutional bias, justice, etc. and also have nothing to do with control over production.

3. Gender & sexual orientation - ibid.

4. Native intelligence and levels of education or language ability - ibid.

5. Physical disability - ibid.

6. **Religious beliefs** - ibid (though more so in some societies or periods of history than in others…)

There are other variables, but this provides a general idea about how different “classes” of people can percolate up out of any given population, and how these class variables can potentially overlap or countervail each other. From thirty-thousand feet, Marx may have wanted to sort all of these different characteristics into his two major class distinctions, but that can result in a pretty inaccurate snapshot.

Let’s examine just one potent example to illustrate this point. A rentier does not - unless they are an activist investor - exert much control over production…if any at all. They are often purely beneficiaries of abstracted instruments of investment, having very little idea or concern about how their investments accrue, or how they impact society. So how, according to Marx’s definition of class, are they participating in class struggle? Through indulgent consumption of certain goods and services? Through supporting certain political causes? Through supporting certain types of capitalist? Okay…but what does that have to do with control over the means of production…?

Now what I do think Marx got right was that human history is very often energized by the struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed - within a given society, or between different societies. But this oppressive relationship can exist outside of the confines of control over the means of production (or exploitation by the means of production): to wit, women’s rights, or the cultural scapegoating of certain ethnic minorities, or prejudices around someone’s age or physical appearance, and so on. So while economic status certainly has a huge impact on oppressive relationships, so does the color of one’s skin (i.e. “white privilege”), or one’s gender, or whom one falls in love with, etc. Thus “class conflict” is IMO trumped by “the struggle between oppressors and the oppressed;” they may intersect, but they are not always the same.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

Given that we can't know for absolute certainty, what are your personal theories regarding the story (legend) (truth) of Christian figure of Jesus?

I don’t mean to be entirely dismissive, but for me this question verges on absurd. Not that I haven’t encountered it before — in fact my first interactions with Christians who were striving to convert me centered around the various approaches to evidence or “proofs” concerning the person of Jesus and his miraculous acts. In the context of many Christian believers I met, it was these proofs that justified their beliefs…and so I think they assumed that the copious amounts of what they considered persuasive evidence would rock my world (though for some I suspect this was more about reinforcing their own self-justifications). But there was always something…well…that felt like a serious falling short on this particular road to any meaningful conclusions about Jesus and the Divine. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it…and so I shrugged off this rationalistic approach, along with many of these overeager evangelists.

Time passed.

Then one day - at the encouragement of a friend - I decided to read the Gospel of John. And the more I read it, the more a lot of things began to fall into place for me — in terms of understanding the early Christian message, and also understanding myself and what was really important to me. This has to do with what I would call “the felt reality of truth.” To know something in one’s bones in a non-rational but nevertheless profoundly persuasive way. I didn’t know Rumi at that time, but he spoke to this experience artfully:

“Intellect is good and desirable to the extent it brings you to the King's door. Once you have reached His door, then divorce the intellect! From this time on, the intellect will be to your loss and a brigand. When you reach Him, entrust yourself to Him! You have no business with the how and the wherefore. Know that the intellect's cleverness all belongs to the vestibule. Even if it possesses the knowledge of Plato, it is still outside of the palace.”

And of course the non-rational gravity well that the Gospel of John describes is all about agape — Divine love. Something Rumi and Hafiz also expounded upon extensively, and their writing would later me into “a felt reality of truth” in much the same way that the Gospel of John did. Some other Christian and Jewish texts have had a similar effect — Psalms, Ecclesiastes, The Shepherd of Hermes, The Gospel of Thomas - but the Gospel of John really grabbed me in a way that was meaningful…and enduring. Because it spoke to my heart in a language that my heart knew, but my mind…well…it didn’t really understand anything at all.

In any case, this message of love “rang true” in ways that invited relationship with the Divine. And so I embarked on a journey to intimately know “the enigma in the mirror;” to explore and eventually embrace a deep and abiding love affair with God. And without the Jesus described in the Gospel of John — without the words and deeds attributed to him in that book — I would not have experienced this transformation. I would certainly still be a spiritual person, indeed I would be a mystical person, and perhaps even a person who learned over time how to be more compassionate and kind to others…but I would not have become devoted to love itself. And I don’t think I would have been as empowered in this journey (in a spiritual sense) to seek the good of All.

So for my experience of faith (and I do not mean belief, but Faith as an Intentionally Cultivated Quality of Character), this Quora question is a mighty distraction from what I feel is essential - from what I now discern to be important and vital in my own religious experience. And, further, I would say that I “know” (in the sense of gnosis and sophia) the spiritual truth of love as an “absolute certainty.” How do I know? Because I was willing to practice, as best I could, the mindset, attitude and relating to others that the story of Jesus conveys — and because I was willing to invite holy spirit to assist me in these interior and exterior efforts.

In this context - the context of experiential certainty of transformative power - “personal theories” about Jesus of Nazareth are intellectual exercises, distractions that do little more than inflame egos into defending or assailing them. Perhaps, as the question poses, such theories can form the basis of a “rational discussion” that appeals to some - perhaps to a fruitful dialectic. But for me it is like trying to explain what it feels like to jump naked off of a cliff into an icy lake…using math, when it really should be poetry.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

How did GA Cohen argue that financial inequality limits freedom/choice?

In capitalist societies (or any society supremely boundarized by private property ownership), money facilitates choice. The less money a person has, the less choices they have, until…ultimately, if they have no money at all…their choices become so limited that they have virtually no “freedom” by any standard. I expand upon the same basic ideas in my paper The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty, where I quote Cohen:

“Consider those goods and services, be they privately or publicly provided, which are not provided without charge to all comers. Some of the public ones depend on special access rules (you won’t get a state hospital bed if you are judged to be healthy, or a place in secondary school if you are forty years old). But the private ones, and many of the public ones, are inaccessible save through money: giving money is both necessary for getting them, and, indeed, sufficient for getting them, if they are on sale. If you attempt access to them in the absence of money, then you will be prey to interference.”

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

What does the end-game for critics of gun-control look like?

Unfortunately many such “debates” in the U.S. have been cast in really extreme, black-and-white polemics. It’s sad…especially because a functional democracy depends on people working out their differences…but IMO the folks at the top who have pretty much all of the influence and power are quite happy to keep it for themselves, and let the rabble fight tooth-and-nail over issues like this one. I’ll expand on this point in a moment, but first….

To break down the “endgame,” I think you have to look at it from multiple angles. Here are a few of those:

1. As I have friends and family who are lifelong NRA members, I can say that, for them, this is really about government staying out of the average person’s business. When pressed (by me) on this issue, a lot of the high-minded rhetoric they might use in public kinda flies out the window, and we get down to a heart-felt statement like: “I just want to be left alone.” Usually there are a few more colorful ways they might express this idea…but that’s really at the core of their feelings about gun control. So for them, the “endgame” is…well…to be left to their own judgement and desires. As long as no one is being harmed (by them), the government should just leave things be.

2. From the research I’ve done on the U.S. firearms industry, a very different endgame is in play. They want to sell weapons. And the larger the variety that can be sold, the more money they will make. In fact that’s pretty much why we have the AR platform for civilians now: after military sales began to drop off, firearms mfrs worked hard to change laws so that modified versions of military hardware could be sold to civilians. Also, the more fears about guns or ammo scarcity can be stoked, the greater the rush to buy more guns and ammo - so that has also been a factor in increased sales. And all of this worked - the weapons industry made a killing (so to speak). If you follow the money behind the lobbying, legislation and elected officials who expanded military-style weapons sales into America’s heartland, or who funds radio talk shows that stoke people’s fears about gun and ammo scarcity, you’ll find some owner-shareholders of U.S. gun makers who are now very happy with their investment in this…er…marketing and advertising.

3. From the perspective of the NRA, I’d have to say the endgame is at least in part about maintaining that organization’s political capital - their institutional status and influence. It doesn’t really matter who is beating the drum on a given weaponry issue, if the NRA membership comes to believe in the rhetoric, then the NRA has to snap to attention and lobby on behalf of the new trend…or they will lose their position of authority regarding guns.

4. Remember those “folks at the top” I mentioned? Well they have another endgame in mind that often involves techniques like dividing and conquering, engineering lots of “panem et circenses,” and offering us a heaping bucket of nationalistic populism on the side. It’s become pretty clear that their endgame is to keep large portions of American citizenry so at odds with each other that we can never see the forest, and keep beating our heads against the trees. These elite are delighted to stoke the fires of passion for the Constitution at one end of the spectrum, while at the same time generating propaganda about how “the liberals are going to take away all our guns,” and then funding lobbying efforts to - for example - restrict the data that law enforcement collects on gun usage in America, so that everyone can remain completely in the dark on the real statistics. It’s not that those statistics would necessarily benefit one side or the other…that’s not the point. The point is that it keeps us ignorant and therefore at each other’s throats. And what’s really interesting is that, when you discuss gun control anywhere in the U.S., you will hear EXACTLY the same arguments from the pro-gun crowd, and EXACTLY the same arguments from the anti-gun crowd. And how can this be? Well, I think it’s because the wealthy elite have worked hard and long to ensure polarization in the populace, spoon-feeding everyone their lines in a farcical play, so that they are so distracted by each other they don’t see the man behind the curtain. And what’s the endgame of those particular wizards? To remain unnoticed as they play puppet master to us all….

So that’s what I think the endgame is, from a number of different perspectives. There are some other positions in the mix…but they seem pretty rare. I think mine is one of them. The “endgame” I’d like to see, as someone who enjoys plinking on the back 40, is that the culture of violence in the U.S. be healed, those who are disenfranchised and oppressed be re-integrated as a valued part of society, and mental illness be addressed very early on in people’s lives (in other words, approached like physical illness, and proactively treated). Ultimately, I think such measures will lead to a world where guns no longer have such a destructive impact on society. But we have a long way to go…and for now, the proliferation of weapons that are becoming more and more lethal isn’t going to do anything - IMHO - but fan the flames of polarization and destruction.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

What do socialists think of impossibilism, the view that capitalist reform is counterproductive to the achievement of socialism?

I think there are several issues in play, all interacting with each other to create “the perfect storm:”

1. The Spectacle - Consumers become infantilized dependents of a capitalist system, always looking for something to buy to cure their woes. Reforms are often just another “commodity” peddled by plutocrats to pacify the exploited.

2. Superficiality - Many reforms are just wolves in sheep’s clothing. Consider B-Corps or “benefit corporations:” the objective may be noble, but many companies simply jump through the requisite hoops to differentiate themselves from competitors for the sake of profit - without any real commitment to the values they say they promote.

3. Unintended Outcomes via Values Inversion - Without changing the fundamental orientation of society to prioritize civil society and collective well-being above rent seeking, all reforms in capitalism will ultimately replicate the unhealthy priority of profit over people. It is inescapable; to rephrase a well-known adage: the arc of capitalism is long, and it always bends towards greed. For more on this topic, consider reading Reframing Profit.

4. Pernicious Corrosion - Capitalism is toxic to human being and planet Earth. Why try to perpetuate it at all…? For more on this, see The Case Against Capitalism.

However, even though I feel strongly about all of these issues, I believe there is an important demarcation between highly destructive chaos and a moderately destructive status quo. In other words: complete breakdown of our current system is not likely to result in an anarchist paradise, but something much worse (and much less facilitative of socialist ideals) than building on the democratic civic foundations that have already been laid. So the goal is to foment revolutionary transformations that can use at least some of our civic institutions and systems as a launching point. For more on why I think this, consider reading: Revolutionary Integrity.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

When is persuasion a form of bad manipulation?

Some insights on this have become a lot clearer to me in the last few years….

The way I would frame this issue is in the context of expressions of personal will, and the impacts of those expressions on both the human agency of others and, ultimately, the good of All.

Inherent to my persuading someone is an impact on their agency - the imposition of my will on theirs. Beyond a specific threshold, this imposition is inherently problematic, regardless of intent or outcome. And what is the threshold? Well, it will be different for different people. Issues like personality disorders, anxiety disorders, PTSD, codependence, differences in social status (including gender status, familial status, positional influence, etc.), and level of ego development (e.g. moral maturity) can all result in a very different threshold for different people…or the same person in different situations. It is therefore incumbent upon me, wherever possible, to understand and appreciate the context and subjective conditions involved. For if I knowingly and willfully impose my will on someone and deprive them of agency, I consider this destructive manipulation.

The challenge here, of course, is in the phrase “wherever possible.” In posting this answer, I could conceivably persuade someone subject to the very vulnerabilities I’ve described to do something “against their will.” But I really can’t know that, can I? So the best I can do in this context is try to state my case and “let the chips fall where they may.” That changes in interpersonal situations, where I can hopefully be more sensitive and perceptive. Even so, some portion of responsibility still rests on a person who is easily persuaded (against their will) to signal their own vulnerability. Likewise, I am also responsible for communicating my own vulnerabilities to others in this regard. But of course both of these situations depend on a fair amount of self-awareness, ability to communicate, and self-control….

Which leads us to intent: what do I intend? If my intentions are sincerely focused on the good of the person I am trying to persuade, issuing from a place of compassion and affection, perhaps this can mitigate some level of manipulation (as imposition of will). Any parent knows this has to be true in regarding their children! But I must also be aware that, to whatever degree possible, if I really do wish for the good of others, then I need to empower them to make the best decisions on their own…that is, to provide good information and - whenever possible - insulate them from persuasion. If mutually agreed to, this helps keep everyone’s agency intact, and (in my observation and experience) enhances efficacy and positive outcomes ten-fold. Indeed, this is also true of parenting.

Lastly we come to outcomes: what is the result? The good of All - that is: the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration? Of course this may be desired, but it is never guaranteed - just as the effectiveness of any approach to ethics is not always certain. Which is why wisdom comes into play - including factors of discernment, awareness, insight, timing, etc. And indeed constant practice and discipline; this is how ideal and praxis intersect.

So for shorthand, we could use the formula: compassionate intentions + situational awareness + self-awareness + appreciation of cultural/power dynamics + situationally adaptive skillfulness + predictive efficacy = non-manipulative persuasion.

As you can see, there is quite a complex balancing act here. And honestly I believe many cultural value systems promote this balancing act in the normal course of human interaction - in other words, it is tacitly implicit, and transmitted by example. Unfortunately, some cultures (and indeed some individuals) lack the emotional intelligence, language and perceptive ability to recognize, internalize or actualize such a formula. And such challenges can then be exacerbated by commercialism, consumerism, individualism, materialism, selfishness, family abuse, workplace stress, social injustice and so forth. For those cultures where tacit understanding and transmission are absent…or for individuals and relationships that have yet to fully invest in such compassionate dynamics…well, then it would have to become a more conscious enterprise. The challenge then becomes that, for certain folks who routinely capitalize on manipulative persuasion (i.e. profit-driven marketing and advertising, religious zealots, political ideologues, etc.), there is tremendous resistance to such awareness, sensitivity and caring about the agency of others.

My 2 cents.


What are your thoughts on the 19th century publisher and anarchist Benjamin Tucker?

I think Tucker is important because he is representative of a flavor of individualism that has amplified itself in the U.S. anarchist tradition in fairly pronounced - if not unique - ways over time, and which continues to do so today. In other words, he is an important part of that canon. In addition, as a publisher and translator, he was also an instrumental and seminal influence in the U.S. movement, bringing truly original and disruptive ideas (such as Nietzsche and Stirner) into the fray. As a consequence of all of this, I would also say that Tucker occupied a singular position in promoting some of the fundamental errors in the thinking of individualists, egoists and anarcho-capitalists over time. These include:

1. Differentiating economic equality from equality of liberty (i.e. from individual or collective agency). We simply can’t do this and remain intellectually honest, because concentrations of wealth always result in concentrations of influence and/or formalized political power. There is simply no precedent for real-world situations unfolding differently (whether government is involved or not). Because of this, liberty is always negatively impacted by economic inequality, which becomes de facto coercion. This is an inescapable truth, and is perhaps best illustrated both the consequences of natural monopolies throughout history, and by Nozick’s theoretical elaboration on the inevitability of “voluntary slavery” in laissez-faire environments.

2. Misunderstanding the relationship between collective agreement in civil society and individual liberty (individual agency). Without the collective agreement expressed in and by civil society and its institutions (and I do not mean the State, but what can be diffused and distributed civic mechanisms), individual liberty either does not exist, or it becomes an arduous process of constant renegotiation that itself is prohibitive to agency. One the one hand, it would be like having to negotiate how to progress in a safe and orderly fashion through each intersection when driving - at each intersection, over and over again, coming to a mutual voluntary agreement about how to proceed. And on the other, the individualist anarchist is simply not recognizing the facilitation of liberty that civil society (again, ideally in diffused and distributed capacities) establishes over time; that liberty is in fact positively created by the very conventions that individualists tend to rail against. As I write in “The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty:”

“It doesn’t require much investigation to realize that… the idealized pinnacle of individual sovereignty in modern society is supported by an endless intersection of facilitative factors, like the majority of mass for an iceberg that lies below the water but is invisible to the casual eye.”

3. Being overly attached to the Labor Theory of Value and its corollary/extension via private property and labor appropriation. For me this is the least subtle problem with individualist variations of anarchism. Firstly, this belief inevitably results in the entire world being fenced off by those actively employing their own precious portion of private land for their own purposes, thus depriving anyone else of the freedom to access and use that land. This is simply an untenable proposition, given (among many other reasons) the fact that land is limited, but human population keeps growing. Secondly, what constitutes labor or utility is entirely subjective. If I spit on a stick, am I adding value? If I plant trees on my property to create artwork that is only viewable from space, can’t I claim utility in perpetuity (or at least as long as the trees are alive)? These are just some of the problems inherent to the LTV and theory of labor appropriation, making their suppositions either absurd, or ultimately dependent on the same institutionalized collective agreements that individualists strive to shirk.

4. A tendency to reject a priori, intuitive, emotional, relational and spiritual dimensions of human cognition and experience - in favor of empiricism, reductionism, solipsism, nihilism and egoistic utility. This has always been - and continues to be - one of the biggest divides in philosophy. In my view, it is inherently problematic to exclude any of the input streams available to human experience and consciousness, or claim - as an arbitrary and capricious value judgment - that only one of them has primacy over all of the others. I have written about what I think the model should be: integrating all available input streams in a balanced, careful and conscious way. You can read about that here: Sector Theory 1.0 – Todd's Take on Epistemology; and here: Managing Complexity with Constructive Integralism. (the full PDFs are also available here: Essays by T.Collins Logan)

At the same time, Tucker’s thinking is so diverse that I also find myself agreeing with at least some of it - such as his description of the Four Monopolies and concerns with what came to be called “rent-seeking” behaviors (i.e. what Tucker calls “usury”).

My 2 cents.


A Healthcare System for California That Could Work

This is doable. To get there, here are what I believe to be the primary considerations for making an affordable healthcare system a reality - in California, or anywhere else in the U.S. for that matter:

1. Controlling runaway administrative overhead.

2. Mandating the negotiation of uniform fees for all medical products, services and procedures.

3. Incentivizing positive health outcomes and preventative care, instead of perpetuating a fee-for-service model that maximizes profit instead.

4. Providing a secondary insurance market for boutique or elective medical products and services.

5. Ending direct advertising of healthcare products and services to consumers, and providing better vetted and participatory data for patients to make decisions about their own care.

6. Identifying a reliable source of revenue to pay for the new system.

What we are aiming for here is a way to maintain quality and choice for everyone who needs healthcare and wants to preserve options that are important to them, while containing costs and disrupting perverse incentives. Right now the opposite is increasingly true: choices can be limited, costs excessive, and both care providers and medical product suppliers are incentivized primarily by profit. Here is how we might address these core considerations, one at a time....

1) Controlling Runaway Administrative Overhead

Right now the administrative overhead of private, for-profit health insurers runs upwards of 20%, whereas, in contrast, Medicare administration costs are under 2%. Insurers currently have no incentive to lower these costs - which is likely why they have continued to rise, which has contributed to escalating premiums. Containing such runaway administrative costs does not, however, require us to create a single-payer system. In Switzerland, private (but non-profit) health insurers compete with each other for customers, under government regulations that - among other things - guarantee certain levels of coverage and cap administrative overhead. The focus, of course, is to shift healthcare itself from a for-profit enterprise to a non-profit enterprise. Why? Because illness and poor health actually increase profits in the current U.S. healthcare system, thus creating self-perpetuating perverse incentives.

2) Mandating Negotiation of Uniform Fees

To contain costs, there is no reason that healthcare providers and medical manufacturers should not submit to fixed price negotiations in order to participate in the California healthcare market. Fees can be indexed using a number of factors, such as the necessity for everyone's basic care, production costs plus a fixed profit margin, cost-saving innovations, and so forth. In other words, products and services that lower overall costs while healing chronic conditions and improving long-term health outcomes could be rewarded with higher profit margins, while the more specialized and expensive products and services that simply mitigate chronic symptoms in the short term, and are less curative overall, would be provided much smaller profit margins. The goal here would be to incentivize actual healing and wellness rather than a gravy train of ever-increasing profits. As just one example, pharmaceuticals are subject to price controls in every other developed country, so that U.S. consumer pay between 30% and 300% higher drug prices than everyone else.

3) Incentivizing Positive Health Outcomes

Along the same lines, why could healthcare providers and medical manufacturers be rewarded for improving patient health outcomes (say, above an established baseline)? For example, a primary care doctor who sees more patients and keeps all of them more healthy than his fellow practitioners with a similar patient demographic should receive a nice fat bonus, don't you think? Why should doctors be rewarded for seeing patients more often, or ordering more tests, or prescribing more drugs, if their approaches do not improve the health and well-being of their patients? Again, the system we have now is upside down in terms of incentives. In fact, there should probably also be mechanisms for disciplining doctors, service providers and medical product manufacturers who are either contributing to poor health outcomes, are ignoring proven curative but low-cost approaches, or are otherwise operating in a profit-centric, rather than wellness-centric, orientation.

4) Secondary Boutique Insurance

There will be folks who want special advanced treatments, alternative treatments with as-yet-unproven efficacy, more expensive pharmaceuticals, elective surgeries and so forth - so why should they not have access to those options? This is where the traditional model of health insurance could operate similarly to how it always has - except of course that the insurance would be targeted to inherently more expensive products and procedures. There will be a market for this - even if it is expensive and its related costs continue to rise - so it might be worth the experiment. At the same time, any patient should also be able to obtain a desired form of treatment as an out-of-pocket expense.

5) Ending Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Advertising, & Providing Better Data

The U.S. is the only developed country on the planet that permits pharmaceuticals to advertise directly to consumers. This is, frankly, a ridiculous practice, and has led to countless problems in treating all manner of conditions - both real and imagined. Shouldn't a patient be made aware of all of the options available, including which are most effective, which are most costly, which have been in use the longest, etc.? Of course - but this is not what for-profit advertising offers consumers. Instead, a web-based information clearinghouse that is overseen by doctors and other medical professionals can provide educational information on the efficacy of all manner of treatments and technologies. In addition, patients could also weigh-in with their own experiences, ask questions, etc. It would then be incumbent upon California regulatory mechanisms to make sure the data was accurate, and that contributors are real and not just medical industry advertising bots.

6) A Reliable Revenue Stream for the New Healthcare System

Prop 13 Reform

I think a main component of the solution is obvious and straightforward - because we can fix a gaping hole in California's tax landscape at the same time. Article XIII of the California Constitution needs to be amended to eliminate Prop 13 benefits for corporations, commercial property owners and developers, while retaining Prop 13 tax increase limits for residential homeowners. Since this initiative was intentionally deceptive when first proposed and passed - being sold as protection for retired homeowners with a fixed income, when really it was a huge windfall for corporations - it's long overdue to be amended. And of course the fact that commercial property ownership changes hands more slowly (or more deceptively, thanks to some sly legal maneuvering) than residential property just adds insult to injury - making those same vulnerable homeowners liable for a larger and larger share of the tax burden. The solution? A split-roll tax initiative (or legislative amendment) that keeps the protections for residential homeowners, but returns commercial property taxes to current values. One estimate (see puts the annual revenue increase from such reform at $9 Billion.

Closing Other CA Corporate Tax Loopholes

According to a recent review performed by State Auditor Elanie Howle
of California's six largest corporate tax incentives, there is approximately $2.6 Billion in tax breaks that have either never been reviewed to determine whether they are actually fulfilling their intended purpose. One of them, for "research and development," is $1.5 Billion all on its own. And, unlike most other states, California has no regular review process for these tax breaks!

And...well...the rest is math. Let's start with the estimated $400 Billion for the current single-payer proposal (SB-562). If $200 Billion can be reallocated from existing Federal, State and local healthcare funds, that leaves $200 Billion. And if administrative overhead can be reduced by 90% (as proposed above in item #1), then the rest of the funding required could be generated by some combination of: closing California's gaping corporate tax loopholes (#6); proposed pricing controls (#2); the transfer of high-cost or ineffective treatments and technologies to boutique supplemental insurance (#4); a reduction in advertising-generated demand (#5); and incentivizing lower-cost, more highly effective healthcare overall (#3). Whatever costs can't be met by these efforts could conceivably be covered through a variable, progressively tiered tax on all Californians. Also, the proposals I've offered here do not require a single-payer system - though that is certainly one framework that could integrate all of these variables.


There are a number of different scenarios that can successfully provide higher quality, lower-cost healthcare to Californians. The major barrier to such solutions has traditionally been the lobbying of medical service providers, insurers and product manufacturers who profit most when patients either a) don't get well, or b) otherwise require expensive specialties, drugs, medical devices or procedures in an ongoing way. But the current, corporate-controlled environment turns the priorities of healthcare upside down. Lobbyists should not be able to override a common sense approach to fixing these problems in California and other places in the U.S. To date, even well-meaning initiatives and State assembly bills have fallen woefully short of addressing some of these longstanding. If elected politicians cannot be swayed to do what's right for Californians, perhaps we need to approach this issue via the initiative process.


This approach to CA healthcare was inspired by the Level 7 philosophy and approaches: see

Also, here is a thoughtful overview of how the current single-payer proposal could work, with some caveats:

Is there evidence against (substance) dualism?

I suspect that will depend on what you will accept as evidence. Some possible avenues of exploration:

1. Quantum physics.

2. Unio mystica or “nondual” peak experience.

3. Sartre’s existential nausea.

4. Perceptions evoked by psilocybin.

On the other hand, we also have what can be considered “supportive” evidence for substance dualism, such as:

1. Experiencing astral projection.

2. Ian Stevenson’s research on reincarnation.

3. The reports of various religious adherents regarding visiting other realms of existence.

4. Encountering a ghost or spiritual entity.

Then again, having researched and/or personally experienced all of these myself, I’d have to say that dualism (of any sort) is an operational state that pulls at our consciousness like gravity, while nonduality is an enveloping and interpenetrating foundational substrate that - in a cyclical and iterative dialectic of creation and destruction - both generates and dissipates that duality. I suspect that the relationship between the two even hints at the origins of consciousness itself…like the impact of tidal zones on evolution. They are not, therefore, mutually exclusive, but synergistically linked.

My 2 cents.


Black & White

In school
I always struggled
with multiple choice questions
those black-and-white options
never sufficient
– whether two, five or seven –
because so much seemed in-between
so much life in the shadows
rich earth full of endless microbes
and squirming worms.
But this world pares through pairing
excluding, dismissing, casting out
while darkness seethes
and Light blinds
until – all too soon – we turn away.

What is the sacred movement
of the unseen?
Waves across eons
heating inner spaces
bringing forth life
despite the Night:
I do not believe the Universe
was a snap decision!
So why do we rush in
to pound such lovely,
uniquely-shaped pegs
into ill-fitting holes?

I see the blisters and blood
across my palms
from force of willful effort
and I think: "I am an idiot,"
still struggling with those
multiple choice questions
still stumbling, not knowing
if it is truly dark
or I have trapped my heart
in the cold comfort
of dualistic craving.

What percentage of philosophers accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason?

I would offer two ways of approaching this question:

1. What percentage of philosophers - historically or contemporarily - explicitly and intentionally subscribe to, support or expand upon the PSR as a philosophical principle?

2. What percentage of philosophers - historically or contemporarily - unconsciously or implicitly demonstrate some acceptance or utilization of the PSR in their work?

These are very different questions, and the first is much easier to answer than the second. As to the first, the percentage is relatively small when including ALL philosophers in the West. The PSR wasn’t explicit until Leibniz, and since then has been the subject to a fair amount of debate - with just a handful of folks arguing for some version of the PSR. We might arrive at a formal percentage of around 15–20% of pro-PSR, post-Leibniz philosophers in this way - though of course debates over variations/extensions of the PSR have continued to this day.

The second question is much more difficult and conditional, relying on subjective assessments of an implicit reliance on - or demonstration of - the PSR, rather than explicit statements by the philosopher in question. It also will vary widely depending on which particular definition of the PSR is being employed (there are many - see Kant, Shopenhauer, Wolff, Hume, Leibniz, etc.). However, if we were to take every definition of the PSR into consideration, it becomes pretty clear that - at some point or other - nearly all philosophers in the West either employed a version of the PSR in their thinking, or it was otherwise implicit in their style of reasoning. Thus, using this approach to survey all philosophers in the West throughout recorded history, we arrive at close to 100%.

The real issue at hand, IMO, is what constitutes a priori (deductive) processes. That is really the ultimate “ground” from which the PSR arises, and why it is so difficult to escape. In psychological terms, we might say that PSR actually stands for the “principle of sufficient rationalization.” Human beings are quite clever at ordering their suppositions, evidence, language, semantics and logic around what they want to believe. And of course this includes the use of a posteriori (inductive) processes - resulting in various forms of bias. In other words, our tendency is to reinforce or affirm a priori beliefs with a posteriori experiential knowledge, despite all efforts at analytical rigor. Stepping back a bit, it is really rather humorous when philosophy attempts to escape the fetters of its own contingent parameters: to think itself out of a maze created by - and conditioned upon - human thought.

So I would say that, when attempting to answer such questions, it is important to examine one’s epistemology, hermeneutics and what I would call “semantic containers” (affinities/categorizations of thought and experience) before diving in. Because it is likely our methodology for defining, say, what a “brute fact” is, or what constitutes causality, that will likely be distorted by our a priori conditions - often to the point of glaring internal contradictions.

My 2 cents.

Why are people like Noam Chomsky (considered the greatest philosopher today) never interviewed on major media stations?

Chomsky’s views were not considered all that radical or non-mainstream in the 1960s, when institutions, government, corporations and the societal status quo were being challenged and questioned en masse. He was part of the populist wave of salient criticism and intellectualism of that era.

However, since the concerted neoliberal efforts to recapture media, cultural institutions and government since the early 1970s (see Lewis Powell’s Memorandum: Attack On American Free Enterprise System), Chomsky has been pushed farther and farther out of the mainstream - and certainly the mainstream media.

Just consider how successful the neoliberal agenda has been on several fronts in its expenditure of billions to increase its cultural and institutional controls over civil society - and most particularly with respect to the media - while lining the pockets of the wealthy along the way:

1. Election of **Idiot #1** (Ronald Reagan) as puppeteered by the Kitchen Cabinet, resulting (among many other neoliberal priorities) in the end of the Fairness Doctrine and a generally persisting “anti-government” populism, regressive taxation and militarism

2. Complete takeover of the IMF/World Bank to facilitate self-enriching globalization

3. Creation and lavish funding of conservative/far right media

4. Further globalization under Clinton, as well as a more aggressive onset of regulatory capture

5. Installation of **Idiot #2 **(George W. Bush) under the careful handling of Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, with a handsome war profiteering success and decimation of government institutions, and near complete regulatory capture

6. Inventing then corrupting the Tea Party movement

7. At long last capturing the election process itself (dark money protected under corporate personhood “free speech” via Citizens United)

8. Election of **Idiot #3 **(Donald Trump) as a direct consequence of the economic impact of neoliberal policies on the folks who so angrily blamed everyone BUT the neoliberals!

Now how could the media, who are so carefully directed by these wealthy elite, ever interview someone who pulls back the curtain to reveal the aging rich white dude pulling all the levers…? We’re much more likely to witness Milton Friedman’s artful propaganda being replayed instead…because that feeds the false narrative rather than contradicting it. And, as a final nail in the coffin of Chomsky’s media viability, he of course says and writes stuff like this: What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream, which basically explains that mass media - even public and academic media - is a parasite feeding off corporate wealth and, unwittingly or complicity, fulfilling their agendas.

My 2 cents.

What are the biggest current blind spots or uninvestigated areas in sociology?

Thanks for the A2A, but wow this is a really broad question. Those familiar with sociology know it has almost endless specializations and variations - both theoretical and applied - so it is a bit difficult to generalize. Also I haven’t really kept up with the intradisciplinary literature for more than a handful of sub-specialties, so I’m likely only speaking to a very narrow slice of the overall picture. Lastly, I would say some of these issues apply to much of academia.

Hmmm…blind spots. Okay:

1. Predictive methodologies seem woefully underdeveloped in sociology. This would be an ideal field to aggregate diverse metrics for predictive analysis for all sorts of sociological impacts and change that are, in fact, already being studied independently of each other.

2. Postmodernism seems to have shattered interest in a cohesive theory of sociology. IMO, academia could and should be making a concerted effort to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I recognize that there have been recent individual efforts at doing this, but (and I’d love to be corrected on this point) I’m not aware of any sustained, broadly-inclusive, widely coordinated projects to resolve this lingering issue.

3. The distance between the dots in economic sociology that take on big-picture, meta-analysis of capitalism is far too great. When was the last major publication in this arena? Nee & Swedberg in 2005…or Fligstein’s work around the same time? And before them, Polanyi? And before that…Weber & Marx…? IMO such broad considerations should have been at the forefront of economic sociology in a consistent way. Too often this topic has been ceded to economists…who almost always arrive on the scene with an indoctrinated axe to grind. Again, though, please let me know if I’ve missed some notable, more recent contributions.

So there are three. Let me know what you think.


What are some reasons on why Anarcho-Capitalism doesn't work?

Here are the basic failure points in anarcho-capitalism, as evidenced by what we know of history:

1. Natural monopolies occur even if there is no government. And once those monopolies occur, there is no longer competition, and the advantages of a free market evaporate.

2. Voluntary contracts can still be coercive, exploitative and oppressive if there is no other way to survive except to submit to them. In anarcho-capitalism, there is nothing standing in the way of of the “haves” effectively enslaving the “have-nots” in exactly this voluntary fashion.

3. Private property is tyrannically oppressive to liberty - the “fencing off” of the world to first-come, first-serve opportunists effectively eliminates liberty and opportunity for everyone who shows up late. Multi-generationally this exacerbates capricious inequity, especially if children can inherit what they haven’t earned. The same is true of wealth accumulation and its relationship to power. Private ownership and its inevitable concentrations of capital ultimately consolidates power and freedom around a select few.

4. The profit motive has been predictably corrosive to social cohesion and civil society in its amplification of individualist materialism, rewarding of psychopathic egotism, and toddlerization of dependent consumers. It’s just not a good idea to rely on the profit motive to sustain civil society. You usually end up with despots and thugs in fairly short order.

5. For any form of anarchism to function, the entire society - down to every outlier - must voluntarily agree to whatever basic assumptions and expectations are in play for things like commerce, transportation, communication, morality and the other nuts-and-bolts of civil society to function reliably. And frankly we just aren’t there yet - the diversity of such assumptions and expectations is just too great.

My 2 cents.


What reduces your free will?

A wide range of internal and external influences or conditions that constrain our ability to either formulate independent thought and action, or to follow through with them or expand on them. In my paper The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom, I call these “variations of poverty.” They include things like:

· Poverty of existential security – lack of food, shelter, clothing, safety from harm.

· Poverty of justice and equality – experience of social prejudice, disruption of ability to obtain competent legal representation, inferior treatment under the rule of law, unequal treatment in the workplace, etc.

· Poverty of economic freedom – disrupted ability to generate disposable income or access desired goods, lack of opportunity to trade, disruption to development of desired skills and abilities, lack of employment opportunity.

· Poverty of trust and social capital – experience of alienation or disenfranchisement, lack of access to supportive social networks, consistently encountering closed doors rather than open ones.

· Poverty of knowledge & information – lack of access to established knowledge, or to accurate and independently verified new information.

· Poverty of self-reliance – disrupted capacity for confidence or independence, and lack of access to tools or experience that support a belief in own self-efficacy.

· Poverty of education – disrupted ability to think critically (i.e. carefully evaluate new information, challenge internalized assumptions, relax cognitive bias, escape conditioned habits), learn valuable skills, or gain a well-rounded understanding and appreciation of the world through diverse, interdisciplinary learning.

· Poverty of moral development – disrupted ability to mature past an egoic, tribal, or individualistic orientation (I/Me/Mine or Us vs. Them).

· Poverty of access or opportunity for advancement – being “in the right place at the right time” never seems to happen, no viable pathways out of one’s current situation seem available, no amount of effort seems to change these conditions, and barriers to access and opportunity persist.

· Poverty of emotional intelligence – disrupted ability to interpret social cues, facial expressions, emotional content of interpersonal exchanges, or to empathize with the experiences of others.

· Poverty of love – disrupted ability to develop compassionate affection for self and others, or experiencing a consistent lack of compassion from others.

· Poverty of self-expression – lack of opportunity and support for creative, athletic, intellectual or other form of self-expression.

· Poverty of spaciousness – lack of discretionary time, quiet, solitude.

· Poverty of common property – lack of resources held in common, or lack of access to those resources.

· Poverty of physical or mental health – poor nutrition, excessive stress, unhealthy family dynamics, genetic predispositions for illness or substance abuse, subjection to psychologically incompatible or physically harmful environments.

· Poverty of perception and awareness – disrupted ability to see past the spectacle, perceive or process things multidimensionally, or maintain a neutral holding field while assessing complex information.

· Poverty of spirit – disruption of connection with higher Self, spiritual insights and gnosis, and/or relationship with divine mystery.

· Poverty of holistic perspective and vision – disrupted ability to comprehend the bigger picture, cultivate a guiding purpose and intentionality, or to keep these in mind throughout the trials of daily life.

My 2 cents.


What is The Night of the World, as Hegel puts in?

Cheng Wen pretty much nails it. Here’s what I would add:

In one sense the “night of the world” is the undifferentiated unity of everything - of existence and non-existence, of being and non-being, of the “I” and everything that “I” symbolically projects within itself and outside of itself (including itself). From this perspective it is close kin to what Sartre would later describe as evoking an overwhelming experience of existential nausea. In another sense it is the fundamental consciousness of the soul (human/Divine Spirit) that intuits this undifferentiated unity as a negation to itself, and responds by differentiating, symbolizing, “naming” and organizing…thereby synthesizing an active interdependence of being. In another sense, the “night of the world” has the flavor of Jung’s collective unconscious. What Hegel then alludes to is that we can glimpse this night in ourselves and in others for the briefest of instants…and it is terrifying in its power of negation and nothingness. As a former existentialist and current mystic, I can attest to the accuracy of Hegel’s depiction of this encounter - both as an intellectual intuition, and as a felt experience of mystical gnosis.


Georg Hegel (philosopher, author): What is the Hegelian concept of freedom?

Hegel’s conception of freedom contained these essential ingredients:

1. As a precondition of freedom, the individual may unconsciously or reflexively conform to social norms - and to the order of community and State - while at the same time cultivating a voluntary choice to do so (ideally as a consequence of learning, thinking, intuiting and understanding the deeper currents in play…such as the next three ingredients).

2. While inherently an expression of Divine, universal spirit that self-actualizes through human beings, the individual spirit can become aware of that essence, relationship and purpose, and in the process actualize its own freedom and will.

3. While previous iterations of society and the individual have inherently been more self-limiting and less free, they provide the groundwork and context for the next iteration of actualization, which is less limited and more free.

4. While the individual is alienated from a full understanding of themselves, their society and the world around them, they have very little freedom. But once they apply a rationally speculative dialectic process to these subject-object relations, they can liberate themselves from that ignorance.

To appreciate how all of these syntheses aggregate and interact within Hegel’s worldview, I recommend researching the term Aufheben, and then widening your reading out from there.

My 2 cents.


What are the philosophical responses to emotivism?

I will approach this from my own framework regarding moral judgements.

To reduce moral judgements to any one thing is, in my view, an error. Why? Because they represent - realistically, pragmatically, observably, developmentally - a much more complex intersection of factors. These might include:

1. Innate, genetic predispositions (for example, a prosocial disposition vs. an antisocial one)

2. Learned and integrated responses from modeling observed in childhood (family of origin, peers, etc.)

3. Predictably observable, cross-culturally consistent stages of moral development (Kohlberg et al)

4. Conditioned conformance to societal norms (to facilitate survival, acceptance, social agreement, etc.)

5. Intuitions informed by emotional sensitivity and empathy, somatic responses, spiritual insights, intellectual leaps of deduction and synthesis, etc.

6. Conclusions and convictions that result from s reasoned analysis of prosocial efficacy (utilitarianism, virtue ethics, etc.)

7. Inculcation of formalized belief systems (religious education, military codes-of-conduct, study of philosophy of ethics, etc.)

Now of course most people do not consciously synthesize their values hierarchy - but neither do they reflexively adopt a rigid, unchanging one. So there is a spectrum of convictions, learned behaviors, experiences, insights and so forth that fluidly shape and maintain each individual’s moral thought-field. In addition, most moral responses are context-sensitive, and moral judgements in-the-moment will shift based on the relationships involved, being observed by others, the expectation of social obligation and reciprocation, current mental or emotional state, and so forth. These variables are what inevitably generate tensions between our ideal self, our perceived self, and our actual habits and proclivities as reflected back to us by others.

So can we really - with any intellectual honesty - maintain the meta-ethical position that individual moral judgements can be reduced to subjective emotions, or collective moral standards to a consensus agreement around such reactions? I really don’t think we can. In fact I think it would be a particularly foolish oversimplification.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What is the most practical solution to identity politics?

The most practical solution to identity politics is to abandon individualistic materialism as our dominant belief system. If people view themselves as uniquely different (both individually and as part of a particular tribe), and they view themselves (and their tribe) as having to maintain aggressive competition with everyone else in order to survive or thrive, the result will always be a corrosion of social cohesion and amplification of disunity. On a fundamental level, the fracturing of civil society by identity politics is really a direct consequence of I/Me/Mine commercialistic corporatism - because differences in wealth, economic mobility and economic opportunity have driven the oppression of marginalized groups that, consequently, came to rely on identity politics for internal cohesion and self-liberation. And so, when we grow beyond the moral immaturity of our addictions to capitalism and consumerism, our desire to cling to a distinct, oppressed identity will attenuate. We will begin to focus on what is most fruitful for all of society - the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration - rather than scrabbling to secure on own little piece of the pie.

Half-measures would be things like unification of vision - in terms of collective goals - along with enhancing shared values, a collective narrative, and civic institutions that promote a more egalitarian political economy. In other words, mechanisms that enhance social equality in both civil rights and economic status. This has been the progressive agenda from the beginning, contrary to what folks like Charles Tips seem to believe. However, in the face of a juggernaut of capitalism and its inherent class divisions - divisions enhanced by the neoliberal propaganda that champions I/Me/Mine individualistic materialism - such progressive, egalitarian ideals are constantly being beaten down in favor of wealthy (and primarily white) folks expanding and securing their power.

We can see that identity politics remains useful in uniting those who feel oppressed, but it has been destructive to a sense of unity, common purpose, and collective responsibility and equality. Somewhat ironically, it is really the consequence of neoliberal, pro-capitalist rhetoric and activism that identity politics has been embraced by the poor and middle-class white folks with whom Trump’s vitriolic blather resonated. The bigger picture, however, is that nearly everyone is being oppressed by our current capitalist system - this reality is, after all, how the “identity” of the 99% could so easily gel during the Occupy Movement. But, as long as we all continue to invest in individualistic materialism, rather than evolving egalitarian collectivist perspectives and solutions, we will continue to feel isolated, frustrated and alienated - both as identity tribes, and as individuals.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

How did Aristotle influence the development of the West?

What a great question.

I might be overstating this…since I am a big fan of Aristotle…but I would say that Aristotle’s impact on Western civilization is probably only equalled by one other historical figure: Jesus of Nazareth. Although others - such as Aristotle’s teacher Plato - laid much of the groundwork for what became the philosophical tradition in the West, it was Aristotle who, more than any single influence, framed the trajectory of empirical observation, civic obligation and ethics, metaphysics, and analytic/reflective analysis that would lead to formal Christian theology, the scientific revolution, and the Enlightenment. Now I realize this may seem like an outrageous statement on the surface, but we can actually follow Aristotle’s profound influence on nearly all subsequent developments over the centuries - across innumerable hard and soft disciplines and specialities, including:

Civics and Democracy

Virtue Ethics


Christian Theology






Keep in mind, however, that I am not saying Aristotle’s conclusions were always correct or upheld by later thinkers and research. In fact you could say that Aristotle became important precisely because so many historically influential writers and researchers attempted to refute his assertions (sometimes succeeding, and sometimes not). In other words, Aristotle’s positions show up in nearly all of the later dialectics within areas of study to which he contributed (or invented)…all the way up into modern times. It’s incredible, really. As just one less-well-known example, most people in the West are familiar with Freud’s assertions about the pleasure principle, libido, id and ego in human motivation and ideation, and consider him to be the father of modern psychology. Except…well…it was Aristotle who first elaborated on those very same observations, though he named them differently. We could say with some confidence that Aristotle is the patron saint of the intellectual academic tradition itself. Aristotle has been so influential, in fact, that some less scrupulous authors have used his name to bolster their own positions. One of the more notable figures who did this was Ayn Rand, who very clearly misunderstood Aristotle on a fundamental level, but nevertheless claimed to derive many of her ideas from his writing.

So a modern citizen of the West can effectively thank Aristotle for living in democracies with institutions of higher learning, technologies and medicine that resulted from empirical science, a strong cultural tradition of analytical analysis and problem-solving, a much greater awareness of the human condition and the workings of the psyche, and the lingering (albeit waning and/or commodified) legacy of neoplatonic mysticism. What we can’t thank Aristotle for is capitalism, which we know from his writings he would have found repulsive, unethical and debasing.

Lastly, we should also not forget that Aristotle was also revered in Eastern cultures that came in contact with his teachings.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Socialists: How would you deal with the "incentive" problem?

I'm asking in the context of current reality, not in a post-scarcity society. In a world of “from each according his ability, and to each according to his needs”, how would you induce people to work, rather than mooch? How do you avoid having high performers create black markets or leave?

So first I had a good chuckle over the ideological distortions among many pro-capitalist answers. Wake up folks. The data is in. This very old question has been thoroughly answered by real-world successes. For example:

1. **Open Source.** Many years ago I implemented Linux across hundreds of enterprise servers. It worked better (was more scalable, reliable and faster) than every other commercially available server environment. And all of the software running on those boxes was also Open Source. Some of it was authored by coders with pseudonyms, and supported by the faceless, nameless geeks in discussion groups. None of this software production cost anything. No one was rewarded. No one got an “attaboy” or ego boost from my implementations. All of the Linux-based environments were a product of passionate devotion to intelligent, flexible, open design. And because nearly all of the initial implementations were on old, retired hardware destined for the trash heap, there wasn’t even any capital outlay for that (it was like giving Moore’s Law a kick in the nads).

2. **Publicly Funded Research & Innovation.** Again returning to the tech industry, you know who created most of the innovations we rely upon today in our most beloved computing gadgets? Publicly funded academic and government research. Yup. And these students and researchers weren’t incentivized by the profit motive either. They were curious, or competing with their peers, or stubborn problem solvers…not folks working on commission or hoping for juicy patent windfalls.

3. **For Fun, Passion or Compassion.** There are clubs, societies, non-profit NGOs, government agencies, charities and a host of other organizations around the globe that engage the world with innovation, highly professional services, excellent products and high levels of productivity because they care. And the more they care, the harder they work, the more they innovate, the more they create…and so on.

The only reason that these obvious examples seem to be persistently overlooked by market fundamentalists is that they don’t want to see or acknowledge the obvious contradictions to their most cherished beliefs. Classic confirmation bias. In other words, the answer to “Where is John Galt” seems to be “He has no idea, because he can’t see the glaring truths in front of his face.”

My 2 cents.

Comment from Pieter Rossouw: "Great valid point. But, it’s hard to eat or drink Linux and if I wore it to town to see a movie I would be arrested. All 3 your points were made possible by wealth created by free markets affording the creators a good basic standard of living."

Ah that is the fantastical narrative that neoliberals, anarcho-capitalists, Randian objectivists and the like would have us believe. But it is false. What created the conditions for the activities, pursuits and values I’ve described was not “free markets,” but civil society. Without civil society - the rule of law, the willing sense of political obligation, the mutual generosity and support, the active engagement in society’s betterment, protections for the marginalized and exploited, the elevation of prosocial behaviors, etc. - there would be no “good basic standard of living.” There would be no social good at all…just thuggery. All of the wealth would simply concentrate in a few lucky thieves and cunning opportunists. That is the true nature of unrestrained capitalism and laissez-faire “free markets” - at least as demonstrated throughout history and into modern times. It is a lovely fantasy, to be sure, for us to believe that natural monopolies do not occur, that slavery does not occur, that oppression and exploitation do not occur, and that capitalism left unchecked does not simply result in a brutal resurgence of feudalism. But this fantasy is a distortion (and/or a nefarious hoodwink) that we need to leave behind - IMO as soon as possible, so that we can focus on what really matters.

From Quora post:

How can educated, intelligent people believe in a god without proof of one?

Because they don’t limit themselves to an extraordinarily narrow, mechanistic or reductionist slice of acceptable “proof.” Almost all discussions of “proof” regarding any given POV (for, against, agnostic, etc.) are understandably restricted to the kinds of proof that are acceptable to the belief systems of those participating. This is a classic example of confirmation bias and it’s sibling exclusionary bias across all spectra of beliefs. It’s very human, but it’s inherently polarizing. There are people who don’t “believe” that human beings ever walked on the moon, or that anthropomorphic climate change is real, or that Donald Trump is an idiot, or that cigarettes cause lung cancer, or that eating lots of beef is unhealthy, or that extraterrestrial life is possible, or that fine art is culturally important, or that wealth doesn’t provide happiness, or that empathy is a critical component of human relationships. It doesn’t matter how much evidence we offer…they just won’t accept evidence contrary to their belief investment. In fact there is ample research to suggest that countervailing “proof” just amplifies cognitive dissonance and pushback. In other words, humans are pretty consistently irrational beings - and most especially when they “believe” they are being rational. So for one person, there are qualities of proof that allow them to accept a spiritual dimension of existence, whereas another person just doesn’t trust those flavors of proof at all. And since we tend to be aggressively self-justifying regarding our beliefs, of course we also “believe” that our particular standard of proof is superior to those who disagree with us. IMO this is really the heart of substantial disconnect between theists and non-theists. Beyond that, there is also a frequent inability to accept the other person’s position at all - not even in a speculative sense - so that opposition becomes that much more entrenched. It’s silly, really, because when one person says “my experience has shown me that trusting in, and relating to, the Divine is a worthwhile, self-justifying and intrinsically valuable practice,” that is not inherently contradictory to another person saying “my experience has shown me that trusting in and relating to the Divine is a fruitless superstition with no intrinsic value at all.” These are two separate experiential truths, and both are inarguably true from the perspective of the issuer. At this point, asserting that one position has intellectual voracity and ego superiority to the other is vainglorious masturbation…but that never stopped anyone from dismissing another’s belief as being “without proof.” Just as, in fact, this question has done.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: