Does existentialism imply moral relativism?

Not at all. Existentialist thinkers have tended to resist what we might call deference to the “oughts” of normative ethics — or any idea that there is a moral ordering to which humanity is obligated to submit or conform — but at the same time they also tend to elevate certain virtues regarding how a person lives: virtues like authenticity, engagement, follow-through, avoiding self-contradiction and so on. So we could describe the central tenet of existentialist “ethics” as actively choosing a consistent ethical framework with which to engage the world, and then sticking to it. Again, however, this is not done out of social obligation or reflexive conformance, but because an existentialist chooses to do this as a reliable expression of who they are. As a subtler distinction, if an existentialist is committed to being “free,” and resists being subjugated to the impositions of culture, they must nevertheless operate within cultural boundaries towards their chosen outcome, but again will do so by their own choice, and according to their own reasons. So in this sense, an existentialist, a humanist and a Jesuit could conceivably all appear (from the outside) to be operating according to the same moral convictions…but really have quite different interior pathways for arriving at a given decision.

My 2 cents.

What's the root of immorality in the world?

Here would be my top six root causes of immorality, in no particular order:

1. Ignorance (often of the damage being done and/or a better way to accomplish the same ends).

2. Lack of empathy or concern for others (and consequently putting one’s own ego, whims and desires first).

3. Willfullness — knowing what the constructive or kind thing to do is, and simply not doing it out of spite, immaturity, uncontrolled destructive impulses, anger, nihilism, despair, woundedness, etc.

4. Feeding the wrong wolf within: constantly reinforcing antisocial and injurious habits.

5. Systemic perversion of the good — environments that encourage self-destructive, antisocial and morally corrosive behaviors (by amplifying fear, perverse rewards, dysfunctional relationships, etc.) and perpetuate systemic oppression and coercion.

6. Drowning out our inner Light, and thereby losing our moral compass. That is, not listening to the quiet, still voice within that is grounded in love, and instead being blown hither-and-thither by the desires of others and demands of a materialistic world.

My 2 cents.

Why isn't there an overarching philosophical system to live optimally with respect to human nature, history lessons, and reality?

Great question!

Here’s my take: I agree that there seem to be different philosophical and/or religious systems that attempt to encompass “human nature, history lessons and reality,” and yet seem to come to different conclusions. Why hasn’t any one of them won out over the others? Well, mainly I think it is because of some recurring barriers that are cultural, systemic and “structural” in terms of human propensities. Some of these barriers include:

1. A strong psychosocial impulse for people to conform to the tribe they were raised in, or in which they have found a sense of belonging or emotional resonance.

2. Lots of cultural institutions that formalize, systematize and dogmatize barrier #1 — and profit from it in terms of wealth, influence and power — so that conformity and membership are perpetuated, and doubts, questions and internal evolution are discouraged.

3. The inability of most people to be rational or evidence-based in their beliefs, so that emotions and social relations end up playing a dominant role in how those beliefs are formed and maintained. For example, Ayn Rand’s “objectivism” isn’t objective or rational at all — and in fact isn’t based in any proven evidence. It’s just Ayn Rand’s fantasy of “how things ought to be.” But folks who have embraced what is really quite a silly worldview will claim that it is “rational” and “objective” and grounded in “human nature, history lessons and reality,” when in fact it isn’t at all. In the same way, the cultural mainstream (in the U.S. and many other places) will alternately embrace scientific consensus or reject scientific consensus…and this rejection or acceptance is very willy-nilly, and not grounded in careful consideration of evolving evidence.

4. Our dominant political economy (i.e. highly commercialized crony capitalism) externalizes and commoditizes all wisdom and knowledge — while infantilizing people’s self-concept and social habits at the same time — so that people become dependent on external answers and authorities, and do not learn to think critically or be thoughtfully introspective. They do not know how to seek truth, and are discouraged from doing so by well-funded propaganda. Combined with the increasing complexity and rapid change of modern times, this has lead to an epidemic of reflexive self-stupefaction and rejection of nuanced or complex explanations…usually in favor of knee-jerk ideological adherence.

5. An unfortunate intersection of the Dunning–Kruger effect (–Kruger_effect), the standard bell curve distribution of intelligence, and the types of intelligences our modern culture reinforces as desirable or superior. This is a lengthy topic to explore, but basically we have built a society in which people of relatively limited or mono-dimensional intelligence are able to succeed in popular culture or in our economic materialism, so that natural propensities to become arrogant and overconfident (when one is actually ignorant, misinformed or just not that bright) are made much, much worse. I can think of no better illustration of this than our current POTUS.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, IMO…but I think they provide some explanations about why there is no overarching and cohesive philosophical system that appeals to everyone — or indeed adequately integrates all of our current understanding of “human nature, history lessons and reality.” However, there have been efforts to unify the many different fields of knowledge under an “integral” umbrella (i.e. the work of Ken Wilber, Jean Gebser, Sri Aurobindo, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, etc.), and develop a unitive, overarching framework for philosophy. Not all of these efforts have been entirely successful, but I think they point us in a helpful direction, and offer perspectives and tools that can inform our own attempts to navigate “big” questions.
In my own work, I’ve begun a project called Sector Theory 1.0, which attempts to sketch out an epistemology for how to navigate and integrate as much data, information, knowledge and wisdom as possible into our ongoing philosophical synthesis. It’s an ongoing and evolving effort, but perhaps it will be of interest to you.

My 2 cents.

Anarchism: How would an anarchist society defend itself against externalities and foreign military invasion?

One reason that many anarchist cooperatives have not survived all that long throughout history has been because their emphasis — for the most part — was on peaceful cooperation, rather than aggressive military build-up. Until the rest of the globe catches up in terms of moral maturity, anarchist experiments are going to be subject to external aggression — especially if they have control over desirable resources, or are a perceived threat to established hegemony. So I think civic conditions have to evolve a bit all around the world for anarchism to work well. That said, it is conceivable that technological advances will provide superagency to smaller and smaller groups, so that a relatively tiny anarchist cooperative could say “Hey, if you invade us, we’ll unleash X technology to decimate your troops…” or some such, providing the leverage needed to achieve detente. Really, any military spending in the context of a “mentally healthy” world will come to be viewed as silliness, and when self-governance through direct democracy along with relaxation of the profit motive (and transition of private ownership back to the commons) remove the incentives and pathways for despots, tyrants, megalomaniacs and psychopaths to rise to power as they do today, there likely won’t be as much need to arm up. That, at least, would be my hope. :-)

My 2 cents.

What is the relationship between mysticism and philosophy?

I think they are inseparable on a fundamental level, but represent divergent processes and emphases in their methodology. In the Western tradition before Aristotle, mysticism and philosophy felt synonymous. Aristotle is probably the first to tease the two apart — or at least isolate different processes and categories of exploration. But within Aristotle’s differentiations we see the seeds of what later became empiricism, rationalism, and the full-throated speculations of metaphysics. In other words, we see a drifting apart of that which is observable, that which is logically reasoned out, and that which is understood at a deeper level of experiential insight. Later, we would see Thomas Aquinas wrestle with this very same drifting apart, but he would try to honor all trajectories…while also integrating them. It is this tension — along with its attempted resolution — that we can observe repeated in the Western tradition as a fairly contiguous thread through Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Tielhard de Chardin, William James and many others. At the same time, we find thinkers like Bacon, Nietzsche, Russel, Husserl and Wittgenstein steering away from such integration or reconciliation— or even deferent consideration of the intuitive or speculative at all — in favor of the concrete, observable and analytical. Still, I suppose we could say that in the Western canon carries a drumbeat of mysticism forward well into 20th Century philosophy, before postmodernism began to more systematically snuff it out. Since then, however, we have seen a resurgence of the integration among the integralizing crowd (Gebser, Wilber, Rosenstock-Huessy) — and one that for me appears very promising. In fact, this is where I live philosophically, and how I arrived at my own multidialectical synthesis and Sector Theory.

In the Eastern traditions, this process of divergence didn’t occur in the same way — in fact, to my eye the Cartesian divisions never really happened at all, and mysticism and philosophy remained intertwined in a much more persistent and harmonious way up into modern times. There were still sages who focused more on the pragmatic than the esoteric (such as Confucius), but like Plato they apparently didn’t feel the need to distance themselves from mystical perceptions and conceptions. In this light, it is somewhat ironic that it is popular in the West to approach Buddhism or Yoga as a “philosophy of life,” or view meditation as a way to simply recondition the mind into healthier cognitive habits, while ignoring or minimizing the spiritual/mystical/metaphysical elements of these practices and traditions. This is just what we do in Western culture…whereas many Eastern cultures do not appear to have the same (IMO unhealthy) compulsion.

In any case, I feel like I have meandered a bit, but hopefully touched on why mystical and philosophical processes are really aiming toward the same end: understanding self and mind, understanding the world, understanding the nature of reality and truth, developing both knowledge and wisdom about what is. Depending on the school of thought — or mystical practice — these are all just different input streams to fortify human understanding, and deserving of our careful consideration.

My 2 cents.

Why is it immoral to hate people because of their religion? Religion is a number of views which you consider right. Isn’t it okay to judge people based on their views and their decisions?

Well, first off hate is generally either counterproductive or destructive — it very rarely helps alter an undesirable situation. In fact I would say that hate reliably makes everything worse for everyone involved. Also, hate most often issues from fear, ignorance and deep personal wounding…rather than, say, a place of clear-headed righteous indignation or concern for the well-being of others. When we watch children lash out at someone and scream “I hate you!” we instinctively know, as adults, that they are just hurting and irrational little toddlers. Hate therefore requires us to examine our own situation — our own hearts, reflexive prejudices, uninformed reactions, etc. — to see what needs healing. It doesn’t indicate anything about the object of our hate…anything at all, really, except that the object reminds us of our own immaturity, lack of compassion, and lack of skillfulness.

As for religion having some special class in terms of the judgments, prejudices or condemnations that may inspire fear and discomfort, I think the problem arises when we lump a bunch of folks into one big bucket. When we say “all white people are X,” or “all Americans are y,” or “all Muslims are z,” we are applying a generalization that is usually a) not very accurate or insightful, or b) has lots of individual exceptions. In other words, a particular “white American Muslim” won’t actually conform to any of the projected stereotypes — in fact, a LOT of them won’t. So what is the point of such generalizations? Generally, it is to create an “Us vs. Them” mentality, or an “ingroup vs. outgroup” orientation, that helps us feel better about ourselves, and perhaps a little more powerful. It assuages our insecurities and props up a weak and vulnerable sense of self. Unfortunately, this is precisely what leaders of hate groups and hate movements are counting on to gain more followers. And why do they want more followers? To empower themselves, because they are feeling the same vulnerability and insecurity.

So how can we address our own sense of fear, vulnerability, discomfort, confusion, insecurity and weak sense of self that leads us to hate a particular religion? That is a much larger conversation, but I would say it begins with educating ourselves about different cultures and peoples, traveling abroad, making friends with a different worldview and breaking bread with them in their homes, taking a long hard look at our own reflexive beliefs and attitudes, and beginning to heal some of our own emotional brokenness and loneliness. In my personal discipline, called Integral Lifework, the objective is to nourish every dimension of our being so that we won’t feel insecure, disempowered and hurting…and this process of self-care can go a long way toward healing the need to hate anyone or anything.

My 2 cents.

What do you think of Thomas Aquinas?

I think Aquinas was brilliant, methodical, insightful, prolific, influential, flexible in his thought, and rightly credited much of his own trajectory to Aristotle. In this sense, I think it is fruitful for anyone interested in philosophy or theology to study his work. Of all of his contributions, one theme that has always struck me as particularly important is his assertion that faith need not operate independently of reason, and vice versa; and, more specifically, that insight and understanding (about God, nature, virtues, etc.) can be arrived at via both avenues and without inherent contradiction. They are simply different forms or avenues of knowledge. This was and remains a fairly major departure from many theologians before and after Aquinas, and is (I suspect) why the rigor of his deliberations was so rewarding. That said, I suspect Aquinas himself, in his last year on this Earth, seems to have realized that this departure from fideism may not have beeb sound as he at first believed…But alas, we can’t really know that this is the case, because he didn’t write about this realization — he just stopped writing altogether. For more discussion of this last point, see T Collins Logan's answer to What could St Thomas Aquinas have seen in his mystical experience?.

Why is philosophy important?


1. You could be guided through life solely by your physical impulses and appetites; or

2. You could be guided through life by unquestioning conformance to societal norms and expectations; or

3. You could be guided by promptings of your innermost being — the questing curiosity of your mind, heart and spirit.

What would you prefer? What would bring you the most joy, satisfaction and meaning in life? I suppose the answers to such questions will help someone understand why philosophy is useful…and perhaps important.

Of course, this very Q&A is a philosophical exercise. So I suppose the real answer to this question can be found by answering another one: Why do you ask?

My 2 cents.

How would you define the Hegelian concept "inverted world"?

Well you’ve picked a good one here IMO. Mine is probably not the most popular interpretation, but it’s how I grasp Hegel’s concepts at this time….

The whole of Hegel’s work basically points to a substantial disconnect between how we conceive of the world around us, ourselves, our consciousness…well, everything really…and what actually is. He is grappling with the essences of things — the things-in-themselves — before our perception and consciousness take hold of them. And his central point — and one reflected by his frequent use of the term Verkehrte — is that we get things turned around, entirely twisted, and utterly mistaken, by holding onto our representations of them (i.e. in our mind). Our highest virtue is to let go of this misapprehension…because it is false. And Hegel posits that this is precisely what spirit prompts us to do.

In this sense, when we think we are being rational and systematic; when we amplify our conclusions in cultural agreement; when we codify “the truth” in rigid ways…we are essentially turning reality upside down. We are missing the mark. And the more we invest in these false (i.e. incomplete) representations, the further away we get from what is. So the spirit’s movement — indeed the very dynamism of life itself — is all about rectifying what presents as the arrogant misunderstanding of human intellect, and getting closer and closer to the Absolute. And Hegel assures us that this evolution is possible and evident; that the seeds for both our own misery and misapprehensions AND our liberation from those mistakes are within us — an imperative of the spirit’s movement in the world. But this isn’t a purely analytical exercise…oh no. Not at all.

Anywho…that’s my take.


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, a more collective 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, reliably contributes to all sorts of evildoing.

And of course attempts to explain the nature of evil are also not new. Many 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 and specialization 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, isolation and specialization 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 specialized 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 agency — 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, specialization, 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, specialization 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 (eliminating ACA cost-sharing subsidies, etc.). 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 such a 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 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, permissive of an "anything goes" mentality with regard to wealth creation. 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 accordance with that belief. 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 that embody my preferred causality, assiduously avoiding empirical research that debunks the travesty of "trickle down" economics, or that proves most conceptions of the Laffer curve to be laughable.

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 to force that causation in my own life, the lives of 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 in their rulings, or for legislators who create tax breaks for 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 growth-dependent markets. And, on a global level, I will advocate neoliberal policies that 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 fortunes. In these ways, I can help generate short-term surges of narrowly distributed prosperity that do indeed reward those who have already amassed significant wealth, and who will vociferously confirm that everyone else in society is benefitting as well...even when they are not.

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, 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, specialization 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 in the dissatisfaction, resentment and anger they evoke; and, via populist rhetoric, generally emboldening prejudice and hate against groups that threaten white male power.

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 renewal of income inequality, race and gender prejudices, lack of economic mobility, and cultural and systemic scapegoating of non-white "outsiders;" pervasive increase in societal instability and potential for both violent crime and institutional violence; mutually antagonistic identity politics and class conflict that amplifies polarization and power differentials; 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, specialization, complexity and technology to this mixture just amplifies the instability and extremism, increasing the felt impacts of ever-multiplying fascistic constraints and controls. Ultimately all of this results in increasing poverty and strife, and in pervasive deprivations of liberty for all but a select few.

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 (see the essays page on this website), 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 the mess we have created. 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 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 through more layers 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 (and within ourselves), 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, as do websites like,,, and — that model ways to peek 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...? Even the most concerted efforts to deceive, distract and medicate us into conformance with virtual causality will fail, if we stop consuming them.

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.


Following up on some feedback I received after initially posting this essay....

Petyr Cirino pointed out that a powerful influence in modern society is our immersion in the 24-hour news cycle, which often results in a strong identification with the same. To be connected at-the-hip with nearly every noteworthy or sensational event around the globe, within minutes or hours of its occurrence, has come to dominate our sense of the world around us, what demands our emotional investment and prioritization from moment-to-moment, and is a determining factor in how we interact with people we know and familiar threads of thinking, how we view the people or thinking we don't know or understand, and how we feel about our lives and ourselves. The deluge of information and "newsworthy" events also tends to distract us from more immediate causality, contributing to an ever-expanding insulation from the real world and the abstraction of our interpersonal connections. Along with other mass media, the 24-hour news cycle consequently helps fuel, shape and sustain the causal troika to an astonishing degree. So it follows that divorcing ourselves from that cycle would be a helpful cofactor in first slowing, then remedying the perpetuation of misattribution, masking and forcing — for ourselves, and in how we amplify the troika in our relationships, social interactions, thinking and learning.

Ray Harris observed that limited cognitive capacity — along with a need to protect that capacity from too much information — may also play a role in evoking and energizing the causal troika. I think this is undoubtedly true, and would include it as a feature or consequence of complexity. Specifically, I think there is a snowball effect where complexity drives specialization, specialization generates insular language and relationships, and insular language and relationships contributes to isolation via homogenous communities and thought fields. These specialized islands barely comprehend each other, let alone regularly dialogue with each other, and cognitive capacity certainly plays a role in this phenomenon. I would also include other aspects of mind that contribute to troika formation, and which are also entangled with complexity, specialization and isolation. For example: how gullible someone is, how disciplined they are in their critical reasoning, how educated they are in general, how tribal their thinking becomes, etc. Addressing these tendencies may also become part of a long-term remedy, but of course there are genetic, dietary, cultural and relational factors involved here as well. It seems that any attempts to manage the troika tendency, or compensate for it in media and communication, would therefore require consideration of a sizable matrix of interdependent factors. Or maybe a majority of humans just need to become smarter, better educated, and learn how to think carefully and critically...? Certainly, we can encourage this through ongoing cultural liberalization — we just need to attenuate the influences of capitalism in order for that liberalization to take its fullest course.

What are the objectives of metaphysics?

In my view (and in my own work), metaphysics has the following central objectives:

1. Understanding and defining the nature of being and existence, inclusive of primary causal relationships (i.e. between subjects, objects, what existed before, etc.).

2. Appreciating and describing the interactions of consciousness with being and existence, the interpenetration of being and knowing, and the modalities of spacetime within which such interactions take place.

3. Differentiating categories and conditions of truth. For example, the universal from the particular, the absolute or immutable from the contingent, the eternal from the emergent, etc.

4. Differentiating all such metaphysical conceptions from “what actually is” (as an acceptance of human limitations), or iteratively refining those conceptions to integrate new observations and evidences.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Can wisdom be mechanized and proceduralized, and if so, what are some of the issues involved in doing so?

IMO wisdom cannot be mechanized — at least not the spirit of what wisdom is really all about (i.e. multifaceted efficacy). It can be “proceduralized” to a limited degree, in that certain input streams, aptitudes and processing techniques can be encouraged that tend to permit available wisdom to percolate up through our intentions and actions (for example, certain types of meditation). But there is no guaranteed approach in my experience. In this sense we could equate characteristics of wisdom with compassion, in that there are ways to inspire or induce those characteristics (or mimic them), but that a rigid enforcement of authentic compassionate responses is really not a practical or “procedural” possibility. Further, the difference between imitations and the real thing are fairly pronounced.

With that said, I once formulated a “pathway” to wisdom that looked something like this:

data/observation → education/information/contextualization → insight/knowledge → compassionate/inclusive intentionality (i.e. “for the good of All”) → application/testing/efficacy → experiential feedback → ongoing practice + fine-tuning → additional multidimensional input streams (emotional + somatic + spiritual + analytical intelligence) → discernment → consistent operationalization + values alignment→ wisdom.

As you can see, this isn’t really a formula or procedure as much as a loose container for a combination of felt experiences, moments of insight, careful attention to consequences and conditions, and continuous adjustment; it is therefore inherently both multidimensional and emergent.

My 2 cents.

From Quora question:

Can an enlightened being feel pride?

LOL. Not if they want to remain enlightened, engage the world around them from an awakened state…or operationalize their insight. Pride indicates regression. I suppose it can and does arise in some vulnerable context (beings being beings), but it won’t have any staying power — there is nothing for it to latch onto. The moment the ego is invoked to be deliberately fed with pride, the I/Me/Mine rises up to obscure the unadorned reality that initially attenuated it. So perhaps we could say this is a case of greater/lesser, rather than either/or. But the lessening can be fairly complete, as a matter of consequential maturation. We might even say that experiencing pride is a good barometer of that maturation process.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What disagreement do you have with any of John Searles' major philosophical positions?

From what I’ve read, I probably have a 65/35 relationship with Searle’s work: 65% in agreement, 35% in disagreement. This hasn’t always been the case, as I initially found his naturalism and propensity to embrace “the myth of the given” (Sellars) — and then declare this to be “rational” when it is just another form of bias — rubbed me the wrong way. But the more I read, the more agreement I found. Here are examples of some current positions:

1. Disagreement with his intentionality or representational provision for mental states: desire can be just as amorphous and undirected as anxiety, for example. Similarly, non-conscious mentations are critical…and likely both vast and substantive supportive structures for consciousness…so I disagree with Searle’s seeming dismissal of anything that isn’t destined “to become conscious” — that is, directed or representational.

2. Agreement with mind being a biologically dependent phenomenon — up to a point. While his criticisms of AI resonate with my own views, I disagree that that there are no other, nonbiological structures in play for human beings; for example, transpersonal and transcendent ones.

3. Agreement with the importance of indeterminism in consciousness and free will…though I haven’t fully bought into quantum consciousness as a model yet (I just find it intriguing).

4. Agreement with Searle’s views about direct perception (of things-in-themselves), but I have arrived there differently, going beyond Searle’s subjectivity and biological dependencies, and instead making allowance for spiritual or mystical perception-cognition (*gnosis*).

5. Agreement — on the whole — with his proposed interplay of mentation, intentions, language and collective (institutional) reality. Brilliant stuff. Again, though, I would say “there is more;” for example, that there is intrinsic morality that is non-institutional.

I discuss many of my own views on these topics in my books, particularly Memory : Self (available here for perusal: Integral Lifework, Memory : Self), The_Goldilocks_Zone_of_Integral_Liberty, Sector Theory 1.0 – Todd's Take on Epistemology, etc.
My 2 cents.

Is there a necessary connection between meditation and morality? Is enlightenment linked to goodness? Is there a possibility that an enlightened person still do bad things?

A difficult question to answer — because there isn’t really a universal or absolute correlation between any of the events, qualities or outcomes described in the question. The answer to all three is really: “Sometimes.” Sometimes, with the right kind of meditation, for a person who is receptive and genuine in their intentions, morality is nudged in a more mature direction by meditation alone. In my Integral Lifework system, however, most often meditative practice would only address one or two of thirteen dimensions that require our attention, care and nurturing — and without engaging all the other dimensions as well, moral growth is a lot less likely. And even then, there will still be many moments of choice when a person must intend to grow, change and integrate their transformational experiences — rather than ignore, reject or suppress them (which can indeed happen) — so that moral maturity is emergent. In the same way, a person’s awakening to unitive consciousness/love-consciousness will sometimes inspire them to be kinder and more considerate of others as an organic consequence — to, in effect, develop skillfulness in their compassion — and sometimes, depending on their inherent character, require more deliberate cultivation. But here again there will be choices about whether an intentionality anchored in “the good of All” is acceptable, embraceable, or actualizeable. Again a person’s native propensities inform what is most likely: are they naturally prosocial? Do they have a mental illness? Are they perceptive? On the autism spectrum? Abused as a child? There are a lot of factors in play, and consistent focus over time is another hurdle in this regard. Once again multiple dimensions of a person come into play. But very often, at each stage in the processes of interior development and exterior operationalization, if a person turns away from the difficult realizations they are facing, they sometimes can and do act out in destructive ways towards themselves or others. So at any point along their journey, the option to drop out, act out, or backslide is always present — and usually less inadvertent that previously, because awareness and awakeness has increased. Here again, though, a choice. Over and over…so many choices. In my experience, most folks (myself included) will shy away from embracing really difficult ahas at one point or other…delaying or denying…and that itself can lead to difficult periods in which all three aspects of the question seem like a disconnected or arbitrary struggle — with lots of negative consequences. But…well…this only sometimes becomes a serious derailment or journey’s end.

My 2 cents.

How is fascism created from "capitalism in decline"?

Fascism is created from capitalism in decline via the following mechanisms:

1. Long-term decrease in real wages (i.e. loss of buying power, social status, etc.). Over time, it is inevitable that increased efficiencies, mass production and the search for cheaper labor and natural resources are exhausted — even as profit continues to be maximized at the same time — result in workers receiving less and less in real wages. And that is exactly what has happened in the U.S. since about 1972 — even as GDP and per capita productivity increased during that period, all that wealth went to the wealthiest owner-shareholders, and never “trickled down” to anyone else.

2. Loss of economic mobility. As income inequality expands, economic mobility decreases for the majority of a given population. So while they still are working just as hard (or even harder), the opportunities for advancement or even basic financial security evaporate.

3. Fewer jobs, and lower quality jobs. In order to fuel economic growth, the consumer base must expand as production costs shrink. This creates an ever-widening capture of cheap labor and resources, and an ever-enlarging global marketshare. Jobs must of necessity either be automated or exported away from affluent countries. Innovation can sometimes fill the job gap, but usually only for short periods.

4. A resulting frustration among formerly affluent populations. Factors 1–3 lead to increasing dissatisfaction and frustration among groups that had once held the most political, social and cultural capital. They become increasingly angry that the promise of economic freedoms and opportunities — and the cultural prestige — once afforded them has evaporated. But beyond that, there is real suffering as poverty begins to take root, and especially when yet another “false promise” in the form of increasing and inescapable debt adds fuel to resentments.

5. Xenophobic scapegoating and nationalistic romanticism. Someone has to pay for this loss of status, loss of affluence, and the snowball effect of failed promises. It could be anyone…and “big bad government” is a frequent target…but it is much easier and more concrete to scapegoat a powerless, vulnerable or “foreign” group than to rail agains more abstract institutions. Political scapegoating can, after all, backfire when half of the population is the group being targeted as scapegoats — they can rise up and exercise a dominant political will. But poor immigrants or helpless refugees fleeing violent oppression are much easier to villainize — especially when they are tarred and feathered as “attacking” a proud national heritage. It does not matter that that national heritage is being viewed through rose-colored distortions…only that it is being attacked by “Them.”

My 2 cents.

What is existential phenomenology?

My understanding of existential phenomenology is that it examines the synthesis between and among experience, perception, somatic knowledge, cognition and being. If we say that “experience = being, and being = experience” then what mitigates these equivalences? What role does consciousness or intentionality play? How much of this mitigation is reflexive, reactive or representational, and what might be preestablished, intrinsic or non-semiotic? Is there a way to perceive or conceive of “something -as-it-is” in its a bare, unornamented phenomenological ground? Or is everything always subjective or intersubjective? Is there a way to transcend (or burrow beneath) subject-object relations entirely? How does all of this impact experience and being? And so on. IMO existential phenomenology attempts to explore such questions with an eye towards an emergent gestalt, so it tends to conflict with more analytical traditions. I would even go so far as to say the approach suggests that nondiscursive, noncontextual and ineffable experiences have a useful place in all such questions and relationships; thus, for me at least, it helps provide a meaningful linkage between existentialism and mysticism.

My 2 cents.

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.


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:

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

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:

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:

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.

“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:

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.


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.


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.

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:

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:

What are the main flaws in Objectivism?

There are many, and many that have been widely discussed here on Quora. Please see:

T Collins Logan's answer to Why is Ayn Rand not received well in Academia?

T Collins Logan's answer to What was Ayn Rand wrong about?

Following up on these, the main problems are that a) humans aren’t primarily motivated by self-interest as Rand defines it, but by prosocial impulses, b) effective human reason and rationality are not confined to logic as Rand defines it (for example, human emotions - and empathy in particular - are key cofactors in human decision-making capacity and efficacy), c) human perception is highly variable and unreliable, in contradiction to Rand’s assertions, d) there is evidence that a priori knowledge is accessible and available to people who cultivate specific skills of insight, also in contradiction to Rand, e) her definition and consideration of free will are woefully incomplete. There is more, but these are some core issues that have been contradicted by a growing body of research since Rand’s initial proposals.

Hope that helps.

From Quora post:

Is calculated neglect the most powerful, most destructive weapon that no one sees, talks about, hears about or recognizes?

Thanks for the A2A Carl. Oh yes, absolutely I think you are correct. Calculated neglect (twin sibling to deceptive manipulation) is the Pit yawning behind the spectacle - the Abyss of Despair just beneath the superficial surface of panem et circenses. In terms of identification and disclosure, I think these are known threats to human well-being - and indeed human existence. But they are artfully concealed and (routinely) rhetorically dismissed. I find religious language from the Judeo-Christian tradition quite useful here. The references to the tactics and evidences of the Beast in Revelations, for example, align with surprisingly accuracy to globalized capitalism. And of course the warnings about evildoers in Proverbs are really…well…they are also spot on. In other words, whether one is religious or not, there is clear evidence that this kind of “evil” has been clearly identified - described in careful detail - for millennia. It’s just that we’ve gotten out of practice at recognizing it. We have, culturally and individually, lost our capacity for discernment.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

In layman's terms, what is philosopher Gianni Vattimo's idea of "weak thought"?

LOL. Reducing complex philosophical concepts to “layman’s terms” is perhaps itself a byproduct of weak thought - as we can only frame such discourse in the concepts we have learned via the culture through which we swim. Be that as it may….

My understanding is that Vattimo is passionately invested in the idea that nothing a priori - and most certainly not our “being/essence/ousia” - is self-evident, extant, or a reliable basis for philosophical disclosure. Thus to engage in a priori speculation is to demonstrate “weak thought.” We can only know (in the sense of strong thought, i.e. a posteriori “deductive cogency”) from our experience and, more reliably, what Vattimo calls “scientific calculation and technological organization.” Thus “Being” per se is fluid - it has no definite or stable structure. From Vattimo’s Weak Thought (2012): “One has access to Being not through presence but only through recollection, for Being cannot be defined as that which is but only that which is passed on [si tramanda].”

First I would say that this idea isn’t particular new - Proust makes clear reference to the same observations about transience and recollection in his writing. Of course I wouldn’t dream of implying that Vattimo is reappropriating here. I’m just saying it’s not particularly original.

Secondly I would say that Vattimo’s argument narrowly holds true for a very thin slice of concrete sequential reasoning, and not for the many other cognitive input streams humans have available to us (see Sector Theory 1.0 – Todd's Take on Epistemology). This is what I would call classic exclusionary bias. When Vattimo asserts that “we do not have pre-categorical or trans-categorical access to Being,” he is simply mistaken.

Lastly, where Vattimo seems to claim that the metaphysical tradition has no ”coherent unity,” IMHO he is evidencing his own incomplete understanding of that tradition - and his oversimplifying (or reducing) of its nuances - rather than any demonstrated continuity in his own logic.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Post-Postmodernity's Problem with Knowledge

Sell Sell Sell

This may actually be a pretty straightforward problem, with a challenging but nevertheless obvious solution. Here's my take....

I would propose there are nine primary forces at work in present-day knowledge generation, dissemination, evaluation and integration, which I would sketch out as the following inverted values hierarchy:

A. Titillation to entertain or make money.
B. Arrogant ideological agendas.
C. Tribalism and groupthink.
D. Extreme, self-protective specialization of informational domains and language.
E. Democratization and diffusion of knowledge.
F. Appreciation of an ever-increasing complexity and interdependence of all human understanding.
G. An understandable fluidity of exact knowledge.
H. Critical self-awareness.
I. The humbly inquisitive ongoing search for truth.

What seems immediately evident when looking these over is that personal and collective values have tremendous influence on the efficacy of a given approach to knowledge - and, perhaps most importantly, this influence can and does defy any institutions created to sustain a more diverse or fruitful values system. For example:

1. If the profit motive reigns supreme, then titillation to entertain or make money will trump all other variables. This has clearly had a role in news media, where entertainment and sensationalism have far outpaced accuracy or depth. More subtly, this has also had an impact on scientific research, where competition for grant money has distorted methodology and data in order to attract sufficient funding.

2. If a particular belief system is venerated above everything else, then arrogant ideological agendas destroy truth in favor of persuasive propaganda - especially when combined with tribalism and groupthink. We see this with religious indoctrination and exclusionary bias (i.e. denial of empirical evidence), with conservative news media that promote neoliberal political and economic agendas, and with the refusal of institutions of higher learning to allow truly diverse or controversial perspectives among their events and curricula.

3. When democratization and diffusion of knowledge is prioritized above every other value, then we end up with the armchair Dunning-Kruger effect, where folks believe they have mastered a complex discipline after reading a few Internet articles, and are then able to confidently refute (in their own estimation) the assessments of more educated and experienced practitioners in that field. Social media seems to provide considerable reinforcement of such knowledge-distorting self-importance - as do participatory systems and institutional dialogues that refuse to qualify or evaluate sources of information or their veracity, and give all input equal weight.

4. With extreme self-protective specialization, we end up with isolated islands of understanding that do not fully comprehend or appreciate each other - and in fact often can't function harmoniously together in society. One consequence of this are graduates of universities who are preoccupied with scholastic performance at the expense of actual learning, or who cannot understand their field in a way that actually adds value to its execution in the real world. In other words, an education system that rewards one narrow flavor of performance, while devaluing creative productivity in order to generate compliant specialists.

There are also some nasty values combinations in the post-postmodern era that seem increasingly pernicious in the destruction of knowledge, mainly because they deliberately exclude F, G, H & I - that is, the humbly inquisitive ongoing search for truth, fluidity of exact knowledge, critical self-awareness, and appreciation of ever-increasing complexity and interdependence. Really, whenever these four characteristics are deprioritized or absent, insight and understanding tends to be thoroughly crippled. But let's briefly take a closer look at each of these fundamentals....

What is "critical self-awareness?" I think it could be summarized many ways, such as taking one's own opinion with a grain of salt, or having a healthy sense of humor about one's own understanding, or being able to effectively argue against one's own position and appreciate its flaws - i.e. some of the central themes of postmodern thought. The "humbly inquisitive ongoing search" is certainly a kindred spirit here, but also implies that our journey towards the truth is never-ending; it's not just humility about conclusions, but about the process of seeking itself. Appreciating the "fluidity of exact knowledge" is an additional variable to balance out other, less rigorous impulses. It means there will be few black-and-white conclusions that are accurate; that ambiguity and imprecision are inevitable; that assertions should be tested in small arenas for limited periods, rather than as sweeping revisions; and so on. This fluidity does not, however, insist on a nihilistic or dismissive orientation to qualitative truth; on the contrary, it can recognize and integrate absolutes while remaining keenly aware of context. And, finally, "complexity and interdependence" means that we will of necessity be synthesizing a collective understanding together - there isn't much opportunity for elitist leadership or vanguardism, except perhaps in a few highly abstracted or technical areas. In other words, functional truth is perpetually intersubjective. At the same time - again as a balancing factor to the diffusion and democratization of knowledge - we will also need to appropriately weight the insights of experiential "experts" to help us navigate complexity.

These four characteristics can be viewed as attitudes, character traits, virtues, priorities, beliefs, operating assumptions, etc. The point is that if we prioritize these four above all considerations - subordinating our other beliefs, reflexes and desires to them - we can begin to formulate a healthy, fruitful relationship with knowledge, both culturally and interpersonally. If we don't prioritize these characteristics...well, then I suspect we'll keep making the same kinds of errors that have led us into our current state of apoplectic befuddledom. We simply can't afford to constrain the four essential qualities of truth-navigation in a straight jacket of what really should be extraneous and subordinated values and habits. And thus we arrive at a proposed values hierarchy that maximizes the utility of any approach to true and useful knowledge:

A. The humbly inquisitive ongoing search for truth.
B. Critical self-awareness.
C. An understandable fluidity of exact knowledge.
D. Appreciation of an ever-increasing complexity and interdependence of all human understanding.

E. Democratization and diffusion of knowledge.
F. Extreme, self-protective specialization of informational domains and language.
G. Tribalism and groupthink.
H. Arrogant ideological agendas.
I. Titillation to entertain or make money.

As you can see, this is simply an inverted version of the current status quo. Okay...if we can entertain this thesis, how do we get from here to there? Well I think education about this issue will help, but really we need to evaluate what is generating the memetic force of competing values hierarchies, and disable or de-energize that force wherever possible. How is it that titillation to entertain or make money has gained such prominence? Or that arrogant ideological agendas or tribalism and groupthink have usurped both the scientific method and common sense? Why has extreme, self-protective specialization so often shattered collaborative, interdisciplinary exchanges and synthesis? And how has the democratization and diffusion of knowledge rallied itself into such a farcical exaggeration...? Is there a common denominator for all of these trends...?

Well I think the answer is pretty straightforward, and I along with many others have been writing about it for a long time - it was Aristotle, I believe, who most clearly identified the same core issues we face today. The central problem is our highly corrosive form of capitalism. But perhaps I should forsake my own confidence for a moment and - applying the very virtues I've exalted here - humbly offer that a culture of acquisitiveness, infantilizing consumerism, competitive egotism and blindly irrational faith will likely not facilitate the four essential qualities humanity requires for thriving and productive knowledge. And I do believe this is a cultural decision - one in which we have all become complicit, and have all reinforced through tacit acceptance of the status quo. To break free of our shackles, we will need to let go of some of the habits and appetites we most covet and adore. But I could be wrong. Perhaps we can achieve equilibrium through our continued bluff and bluster, through ever-greater fabrications, self-deceptions and carelessly conspicuous consumption. That seems a risky bet to me...but again, I might be mistaken.

Can anybody simplify Hegel's theory of alienation?

This is a tough one but I’ll give it a shot….

My understanding of Hegel here is that, in order for consciousness to understand itself, it enters into an ongoing synthesis of self-discovery. This self-discovery occurs through first observing an object “outside” itself, then realizing that the object is really a subjective conception of that object, and then realizing that, via experience, a sort of confirmation of the subjective conception can then be verified or negated. Once experience moderates the subjective conception of an object, an objective understanding of that object becomes a bit more real…a bit more objectively concrete. This dialectical synthesis of subject-object relations is thus the process whereby consciousness can ultimately recognize its own functions…and by implication can recognize itself as an object as well. So, through experience, consciousness advances closer and closer to an “absolute” understanding of the subject-object relationship, inclusive of its own subject-object existence.

What is alienation, then? Alienation would be not understanding the process as just described - whereby consciousness is alienated from both a more accurate understanding of its own function, a more accurate understanding of the world in which it exists, and a more accurate understanding of the dynamic relationship between the two. In this way spirit is also alienated from material existence. Can consciousness ever completely overcome this hurdle? Hegel indicates several milestones in its progress, but I seem to recall he also indicates the process is ongoing. It also appears evident that consciousness isn’t always aware of its various levels of alienation…and that becoming aware is not only a healthy part of our growth, but that deliberately invoking alienation (as when consciousness objectifies itself) is a means of achieving greater understanding. The key, it would seem, is for us to remember our previous errors in understanding (i.e. our misunderstanding of the stimulative subject-object interaction), and continually moving to the next horizon of dialectical awareness. And of course all of this is cradled within a unitive spirit, which continually supports and integrates the interplay of subject and object.

Now this dialectic can also be applied to cultural development and our context of “self” within society, so that culture itself evolves to support more and more complete self-realization with a more unitive aspect (with the self becoming less differentiated from others), thereby (ideally) alleviating alienation in both individual consciousness and society. This is what Marx then took and ran with in advancing his own variations on history and human value.

So…I don’t think that was terribly simple, but perhaps it will help. Please let me know if it does.

From Quora post:

Some people say that people should be able to be slaves if they consent to it. Why is this morally wrong?

Here are some different takes on why voluntary enslavement is morally wrong, assuming that the “slavery” involved is for a prolonged period of time and for purposes that primarily benefit the slaveowner (i.e. not just an afternoon of bondage fun and games):

1. Such an agreement is immoral because extinguishing one’s own agency - even voluntarily - and participating in the extinguishment of another person’s agency are both heinous interferences with a person’s individual sovereignty and liberty. They are, effectively, akin to suicide and murder.

2. Such an agreement is immoral because the volunteer abdicates personal and social responsibility regarding how they live their life - that is, they are shirking their sociopolitical obligations and their individual quest for meaning and purpose.

3. Such an agreement is morally wrong because it violates the spiritual principle of reciprocation: that because the Universe has conspired in favor of our consciousness, we should conspire in favor of the Universe.

4. In an Aristotelian sense (somewhat ironically, as the case may be), such an agreement is morally wrong because it a) demonstrates a lack of courage, b) abdicates temperance to another’s will, c) disables the capacity to be just or good (i.e. to effect justice against wrongs in society).

5. Such an agreement is morally wrong because it artificially imposes a power dynamic that inevitably (historically and as shown by psychological experiments) leads to exploitation, degradation and generational disadvantage.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What is the difference between liberty and autonomy?

Autonomy is the ability to act on your own, from your own initiative, according to your own values, in order of your own priorities, and without reliance on someone or something else to actualize a given objective. In this sense autonomy is individualistic in its orientation, and is concerned most with an individual’s self-directed thought and action.

Liberty is a much broader and deeper semantic container, with many other components and considerations. In an individual context, having autonomy is just one facet of liberty. Additional facets include lack of substantive interference with autonomous thought and action, and productive conditions that facilitate individual ability to self-actualize, and even enhance opportunities and capacities to do so. In a more collective context, liberty is a consensus expectation of mutual (passive) permission and (active) support for maximized autonomy. This is where “enhanced opportunities and capacities” become a collective, mutually beneficial consideration.

However, in a collective context there is the added layer of an agreed-upon values framework. In other words, a framework within which some actions are permitted, but others are not. This is where the intersect of collective standards of liberty and individual aspirations of autonomy can potentially interfere with each other, and it has frequently been the aim of civil society at various points in history to reconcile the two.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

I can't get over the meaninglessness of life. Everything we do is an invented meaning, is there any universal meaning in life?

If I told you what the meaning of life was, it wouldn’t be particularly meaningful to you. Because you need to experience the answer for yourself. So I can encourage you to look within, to open yourself up to a deeper experience of life, to nourish all of your dimensions of being, to flourish in heart, mind, spirit, body and soul. I might also offer a few tools - meditation, time in Nature, time alone, deeper friendships, encountering excellence, breaking out of your routine, letting go of pain and grief, and so on - but again, you would need to take responsibility yourself for employing them. But really, the primary means of overcoming that existential, often overwhelming sense that life is meaningless…is to just accept it. That is a beginning. After that, if you nurture every aspect of your being (see Integral Lifework Home), you might find a spark or two of meaning will ignite within your heart and mind.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

Todd's Take on Epistemology: Sector Theory 1.0

Pieces of this particular puzzle have been knocking around in my head for some time. In particular, those already familiar with my essay on Constructive Integralism will encounter a familiar feel...but now it's in a simple infographic! Actually the graphic is not-so-simple, and requires some further (and likely ongoing) clarification. However, most of the pieces are there, and perhaps the underlying concepts will gel more quickly for some folks in this format.

A couple of introductory notes:

1) The "realm of exclusionary bias or conditions" includes descriptions of widely researched conditions and characteristics - some clinical, some subclinical or forme fruste - that have a known impact on neuroplasticity, perceptive ability and general flexibility of thought. This is a deliberate effort to group similar cognitive tendencies into affinitive buckets for a given sector. However, they aren't intended to ascribe causality.

2) Please assume that all of the lines that divide the circle (and create the sectors) have arrows indicating the relationship between the "exclusionary barrier" and the realm of exclusionary bias - those go hand-in-hand.

3) Abbreviations are as follows: GOB = ground of being; PPD = Paranoid Personality Disorder; ICD = Impulse Control Disorder; NPD - Narcissistic Personality Disorder; OCPD = Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (not to be confused with OCD!)

4) Although I discuss it within the FAQ, a more extensive elaboration of the Omega Point at the center of the circle will be a project for a later time - though I suspect some folks may already intuit the direction I am going. The processes represented by the Sector model are akin to those discussed at length in the Constructive Integralism paper, but with ontological as well as epistemological implications.

5) My usage of specific terms is discussed in detail among my other works - primary drives, for example, as well as ground of being, codependence, agape, hyperrational (also see Constructive Integralism essay), rigidified associations (or rigid "chained associations"), memory field, and so on. Please forgive my lack of detailed definitions here; instead, I have linked them to the source material in this paragraph - so you can simply follow the link and perform a search within that document on the linked term. Please note that, since the source material is in different formats, the search facility available to each also operates differently. For example, for the Publitas books, you will need to "open" the book and select the magnifying glass icon on the left, then enter the search term in the text window above it. For PDF files, you can open them in your browser viewer and use the browser search facility (command + F), or download them and use the search facility within Adobe Acrobat or other PDF viewer.

6) Implicit to Sector Theory is that all sectors must be included in the final integration to approach a virtual approximation of what knowledge is true, reliable and cohesive. To exclude any sector completely is to initiate an unacceptable bias, and either muddy the truth or miss it altogether. It is of course understood that "truths" operating within a given sector do not necessarily require involvement from other sectors. But there's the rub, because over-reliance on any one sector inevitably results in Cartesian, reductionist distortions that exclude completeness and complexity, even for what is perceived as basic, rudimentary information. This has been an understandable consequence of the specialization and separation of disciplines in the modern age, but it seems long overdue that we move beyond it to a more inclusive, integralizing understanding. In many ways this framework echoes Integral Lifework itself, where all dimensions of being require attention and compassion in order for the whole to thrive.

7) I plan to add additional FAQs to the section after the graphic in the coming weeks...stay tuned....

Lastly, a special thanks to Ray Harris for challenging me to clarify my epistemological positions. here it is...enjoy.


Why Sectors in a Circle?

There are a number of aspects to this representation. One is the obvious allusion to Aristotle and the Tao. Another is a differentiation of the unique perception-cognition available to us in each sector - that is, multiple ways of knowing. Another is the principle I've promoted in much of my writing that we tend towards two orientations with respect to knowing, identity, morality, wisdom and so forth: one is to look within, concentrating and distilling our attention and perception, listening attentively and letting go of preconceptions, and then relying on that process to both inform and measure our progress; the other is to become dependent on resources and authorities outside of ourselves or our own judgment, to externalize and diffuse our points of reference as they become ordered and organized by someone or something else, and to avoid internal inquiry. The wedge shape of a circle's sector is an elegant representation of these two directions, with the wider end projecting into an homogenizing externalization of our consciousness (i.e. the "realm of exclusionary bias and conditions"), and the narrowing end refining, concentrating and distilling our consciousness into an eventual "single-pointedness" of clarity. You will also notice left-right distinctions that roughly mirror some neurological brain structures - though this is more to illustrate contrasts and dialectical tensions inherent to our cognitive input streams. Although each sector represents a unique perception-cognition processing space, their boundaries (both functional and structural) tend to be soft, flexible, permeable and interpenetrating rather than impermeable and fixed. All of this becomes important in appreciating balance between contrasting sectors and groups of sectors, and encouraging synthesis rather than excluding inputs - because all sectors have something to contribute. There is also the issue of temporal speed and orientation, which tends to be different within each sector, and which I cover in the "What is the Integral-Contextual Crucible?" FAQ answer below. Lastly, the size of any given sector will vary from one person to the next, based on native tendencies, learned habits and nurtured facilities. Their representation here is ad hoc.

What is the Exclusionary Barrier?

Now the "either exclusionary barrier or integrative faculties" ring within the circle is really a kind of semi-permeable cell wall around our innermost processing centers. It represents the ideas illustrated by the following belief/learning flow diagrams:

The first diagram illustrates how we can easily ignore, resist or exclude new information that does not conform to our current understanding; the second diagram illustrates how we can more thoughtfully evaluate and integrate such new information. Rigid exclusion or more fluid integration - sometimes these become a reflex, sometimes a choice...but always, eventually, they become part of our cultivated habits. It is simple to observe how confirmation bias, logical fallacies, cognitive dissonance and other impedances to learning and growth can be represented by these diagrams. It is also easy to observe how different sectors can have different permeability and flow for each of us.

How Does Sector Theory Compare With - Or Add To - Traditional Proposals?

This is an extensive topic that will need to be elaborated upon with additional detail, but the basic ideas are as follows....

Traditional Western epistemology would define "knowledge" as a) a sincere belief that is b) factually true and is c) justifiable, as applied primarily to a priori and a posteriori propositional knowledge. Although there is broad agreement regarding the first two components, over time there has been significant variability and discussion around approaches to the justification question, and Sector Theory tends to focus on this area along with some other unsettled challenges. For example, Sector Theory seeks to:

1) More comprehensively account for justification, inclusive of diverse perception-cognition processes (including those that are nonrational, non-discursive, preconceptual, etc.), different forms of evidence, moral (deontological) components and the impact of moral development, internalistic vs externalistic qualities, and testing for reliability and operational efficacy in the real world.

2)(a) Differentiate modes of introduction for all knowledge that account for interior and exterior emphases. For example, formal inculcation will usually arrive via exterior introduction, whereas deductive reasoning will arrive via interior introduction.

2)(b) In a similar way - though as a subtly different phenomenon - describe how the justification orientations of each sector will be either externalistic or internalistic. For example, the discursive sector will tend towards internalistic justifications, while the empirical observation sector will tend towards externalistic justifications.

3) Elevate the issue of exclusionary bias, and how that bias (as an over-reliance on one sector or another) can color the same evidence, perception, logic, justification, etc. - even for two different people confronted with precisely the same information (and even via the same modes of introduction) - which consequently leads them to different but equally justifiable conclusions.

4) Speak to the Gettier problem by providing additional avenues of exposing false beliefs and accounting for defeating propositions.

5) Include additional areas of knowledge in the mix, such as procedural knowledge, relational knowledge (i.e. knowledge by acquaintance), other forms of non-propositional knowledge...and indeed wisdom.

6) Address the issue of time, along with some intimately related phenomenological and ontological implications.

Why is any of this important? Because traditional Western models tend to reinforce and enable an atomistic, materialistic, mechanistic, Cartesian, reductionist the point of disconnection with operational reality. This is not a new criticism of epistemology. In this sense, Sector Theory aims to introduce a dynamic, multipersepectival pragmatism that expands traditional proposals without obliterating them. Those proposals are, after all, limited only because they represent the perception-cognition processes of certain sectors, while inadvertently excluding others.

What Is The Role Of Language In Sector Theory?

Appreciating the role of language is a profound piece of this knowledge puzzle, because each sector relies on and effectively amplifies its own unique vocabulary, grammar, information organization style, communication style and even cultural-linguistic milieux - an often self-contained form of language that best facilitates that sector's inputs and perception-cognition. We can observe evidence of this fairly easily by examining the literature of specialized fields of study: Buddhist sutras that explore the gnosis sector are grounded in language that is fairly inaccessible to many other sectors - just as mathematical proofs that inhabit the systematizing sector are most appreciated in that sector, or poetry that navigates the somatic-aesthetic sector has greatest utility there, or the tacit and unconscious understanding that inhabits the social sector is most useful for social interactions, or the dense and interrelated data of the empirical observation sector has greatest relevance to scientific study. In fact we can quickly recognize just how robust our own utilization of any sector is when we encounter new language that resonates with a flavor of perception-cognition that we routinely inhabit and integrate, or when we take stock of the vocabulary of our own experiences, perceptions and sensitivity in a given sector (for example, our emotional vocabulary). By the same token, when we feel alienated by new language - or it seems strange or unfamiliar - this can indicate that the sectors such language is describing are inaccessible, challenging or uncomfortable for us.

What is also quite fascinating is how some language is able to unify several sectors into a symphonic expression - here I'm thinking mainly of dance, instrumental music, graphic art, sculpture, poetry, song and other art forms; but indeed among humanity's greatest scientists we also find poetic, deeply felt sentiments in response to observations of the elegant order of Nature and the Universe. In other words, there is linguistic evidence of unitive movement across multiple sectors. In all of these instances, I think there is also a strong correlation between our language facility - even if that "language" is more of a felt sense or ineffable intuition - within and across multiple sectors, and our ability to utilize, integrate, and harmonize their input streams.

How Does "Faith" Play Into Any Of This?

Faith becomes part of the discussion for me because the variations of faith relevant to knowledge seem to be widely misunderstood. My approach to the question of faith is discussed in detail in this previous blog post: "Faith" as an Intentionally Cultivated Quality of Character. In that essay I assert that associating "belief" with "faith" is an incorrect approach to spiritually authentic faith, which is much more an expression of trust and hope, and one that is grounded in devotion, trustworthiness, and stick-to-itiveness inspired by love. Spiritually authentic faith is not dependent on a particular belief or dogma, but is a way of being and doing that honors relationship; that is, it is a carefully cultivated prosocial character trait. In Sector Theory I would tentatively observe that spiritually authentic faith is a product of experiences, insights and knowledge that arises primarily from an intersection and synthesis of right-hemisphere sectors as they are currently defined - though the left-hemisphere sectors can be involved as well. So this is one way to approach spiritually authentic faith, and one we might say is not only independent of religious beliefs, but frequently contradicts them.

There is another kind of "faith," however, which is much more common in our daily vernacular, and that is the casual equating of faith and belief. This kind of faith has a spectrum of quality and depth, from irrational reflexive carefully rationalized assertion justified by unreliable conclusion grounded in evidence that is continually revisited and tested, and remains persuasive. Eric Fromm would likely describe one end of this spectrum as "irrational faith," and other end of this spectrum as "rational faith." What I would assert in Sector Theory is that this spectrum of faith exists within all sectors. In fact, the spectrum predictably traverses the axis in each sector between the realm of truth and the realm of exclusionary bias. When discussing faith in the more casual or conversational sense - the sense that equates it with belief - I think each sector evoking its own spectrum of faith has profound consequences. Why? Because it effectively means that we can drift into both rational and irrational faith, or belief that is justifiable and belief that is unjustifiable, regardless of the basis of our knowledge and the individual sectors involved. This should be substantial wake-up call for any of us who believe we are safe and secure in our knowledge and beliefs, simply because the sectors we prefer are reinforced by our chosen tribe, culturally favored, historically ascendent, or intellectually in vogue.

I would then take this one step further in saying that, unless as many sectors as possible harmonize around a given belief - unless the elements of a particular flavor of faith honor a healthy majority of sectors - then the resulting dissonance will tend to push a particular faith towards the unjustifiable end of the spectrum. That is, the end of the spectrum that revels in exclusionary bias. So this is yet one more reason why respectful and compassionate integration of all sectors is the aim of Sector avoid the calamities of irrational faith.

What is the Integral-Contextual Crucible?

Explaining this concept is challenging. The essay Managing Complexity with Constructive Integralism begins to wrangle together many of the ideas I've introduced in writing over the years that speak to the essence of this concept. But, frankly, even that essay and all of the other writing it references are still not the full picture. My goal here will be to distill and refine the main idea just a little bit more...and to do so as briefly and concisely as possible. I suspect this will still be just one more step in an ongoing process.

I've called this a crucible because it can perform several unique functions. For example, it can separate out desirable elements from less desirable ones, or extract a rare essence from an obscuring muddle of factors. It can also combine seemingly mundane ingredients (experiences, insights, sensations, perceptions, observations) in ways that create new substances and structures that have unusual properties. A crucible performs these functions under specific conditions as well; for example, with the application of extremely high energies, with just the right combination and proportions of ingredients, with just the right container materials, and so on. As a metaphor, the crucible is very useful.

The term "integral-contextual" has a specific meaning here as well: to integrate and harmonize within a broadening comprehension of context, inclusive of all apparent paradoxes. Now because every sector has its own inherent contexts, and because the relationships between sectors often introduce additional contexts, we are already brushing up against orders of magnitude in contextual complexity. For example, the mimetic-semantic sector alone has cascading memeplexes of context, some of which seem to operate entirely independently of each other. When these intersect in any way with, say, contexts that evolve in the social sector, the result is a snowballing tug-of-war over which contexts have primacy in which environments and situations, over which evidence is reliable or applicable in each context, how all contexts integrate with or revise an existing values hierarchy...the snowball can quickly can get out of hand. On top of this, we could throw in the tensions between interior and exterior justifications - that is, between the realm of truth that inhabits our interiority, and the external authorities and influences that pull us toward the realm of exclusionary bias. And the incredible human being - with all its intrinsic intelligences and vast capacity for perception, experience, learning and memory - somehow navigates all of this while performing countless other tasks and maintaining myriad relationships. Even as the contextual storm approaches an infinite number of often competing combinations, we somehow manage to manage it - and often in a fairly unconscious way. It is an awe-inspiring feat.

But the main point here is that the integral-contextual process is occurring whether we intend it to or not. And so the question becomes one of conscious, active engagement: how can we participate in our own integral-contextual journey in the most fruitful and skillful way?

First let's touch upon the concept of a neutral holding field. In order to navigate complexity - and indeed fully integrate all the sectors in this model - we need to cultivate some safe interior spaciousness. The neutral holding field is just that: a place where all contradictory and competing concepts, information, experience, insights, observations, etc. can peacefully coexist...without favoritism or exclusion. In the chart, that is effectively the space between the inner ring and the outer ring around all sectors. We can think of it as the workbench where we have set all of our ingredients in preparation for adding them to the crucible; they are all on the same plane of consideration.

Remembering that we will require high levels of energy to "heat up" our crucible, where will that energy come from? Thankfully, we have a number of sources to choose from - human beings are superb at generating immense interior and exterior energies from next to nothing. But which ones will work best for us here...? Will power, because it is most concerned with immediate action, reification and operationalization, tends to magnetize anything floating around in a neutral holding field, causing them to crash into each other or quickly clump into amorphous blobs. So we need to relax our will a bit, and allow that to be at rest. And this means that the many of the more petulant offspring of our will also need to take a nap: anger, egoic cravings, acquisitiveness, jealousy...these sorts of critters. And how can we accomplish this? Most often this will be a consequence of the mental, emotional and physical self-discipline that emerge from consistent meditation practices. There are other roads to a neutral holding field, but meditation has proven to be quite reliable when it is engaged with the right intention. I discuss this "letting go" in more detail in other writings (such as Essential Mysticism), but the basic idea is that a neutral holding field is a cultivated condition.

Which leads us back to the question of which energy will work to energize the crucible. In short, the ideal energy source also happens to tie neatly into the ideal intentionality behind meditation practice: a compassionate affection that aims for the good of All. This is the primary unitive engine for our crucible, and a critical filtering mechanism as well (in terms of discernment and skillfulness). And although we sometimes think of compassion, love or agape as quiet, soft, caring, quiet, generous gentleness, the reality is that these have high-octane, explosive, exponentially amplifying characteristics as well. In fact, I would say that the only energy equal to the task of integrating infinite complexity is infinite love-consciousness. It can integrate, harmonize and unify just about anything. But where does that unitive energy come from? Ah...well that is a topic I'd like to explore in another section of this FAQ, but suffice it to say, for now, that it can be unleashed through the same process that creates the stillness of a neutral holding field: meditation.

There is also another kindred energy in play, and although I believe it issues from a similar Source, its characteristics are quite different. It is the energy of a tidal zone, or of changing seasons, or the tension between dialectic components, or of a musical progression that yearns for resolution, or indeed of emergent complexity itself. It is the energy of evolution, synergy and synthesis. As such, this energy is not really a conscious choice. We can encourage circumstances (in our environment, in our relationships, in our minds) to allow this energy to emerge and play itself out in a co-creative fashion...but we have no real control or influence over it. It was before us, and remains beyond us. And although we might also associate this continually emerging force with agape, it is not really the same vocabulary of experience as our embracing charitable love-consciousness. It is, perhaps, a different order of the same energy, but again it is outside our realm of choice, intention and volition. Nevertheless, this force plays a critical role in generating interior and exterior momentum and growth - and in supercharging the integral-contextual crucible.

[As a side note: Those familiar with Ken Wilber's work will recognize echoes of his definitions of "eros" and "agape" amid my descriptions of these multiple facets of agape. However, I don't divide the "transcending to unify" from the "reaching down to include" forms of love in the same way; in fact I think it is an error to make that division or use these descriptions. Instead, I tend to refer to the difference as an intrinsically emergent (an immanence, if you will) vs. a conscious response or choice of love-consciousness (as a component of growth and moral development). This latter formulation is as much a cooperative mechanism for transcendence as it is a recognition of what is already here, now.]

The terms a friend recently used in exploring this territory are emission and attraction, and I think those are excellent descriptors. The convergence and integralization of all sectors (and all the seemingly disparate material and energy produced within those sectors) that occurs within the crucible is a product of attraction, of unitive power. At the same time, emission is also simultaneously occurring - from within the crucible into all other sectors. Truth is radiating outward and modifying all information it encounters. And yet...when those emissions "forget" where they came from - when they disconnect from the integral realm of truth entirely - they can revert back to a state of incompleteness, of partial truths, in which they appear to operate within each sector. And so the process begins a byproduct of the tidal currents of existence. In this sense questions about absolute truths vs. relative ones, or interior vs. exterior justifications, or qualities of logic and evidence, or transcending and including each realm of conception...all of these distinctions begin to dissolve. There is an ebb-and-flow, a relinquishment and recapitulation, a cycle of apprehension and actualization that is in constant flux. We might call it the pneuma of wisdom; the breath of truth.

As a final note, there is also the issue of time - both processing rates and time orientation or context - that extends from each sector into the crucible. Each of the sectors represented tends to operate at a unique processing rate, and with a unique orientation to past, present and future. Some can process very quickly...seemingly instantaneously...and may be primarily future-oriented. Others are very slow...glacial even...and preoccupied with the past. Some hum along at a more conversational processing rate, and are quite comfortable in the present. And in some of them time does not seem to exist at all, or seem to operate with past, present and future as concurrent contexts. Previously (in the book True Love) I had organized these processing speeds into just five spacetime designations: mental, emotional, somatic, spiritual and soul. But as the Sector Theory chart illustrates, there are at least twice that number of sectors...and possibly more that I have failed to include. And all of them can operate at their own unique processing speed. Why is this important? Because, just as we can become biased about the sector within which we prefer to operate, excluding one or more of the others, we can also become biased about the processing speed we prefer. And this is a fairly counterproductive tendency when it comes to the many nuances, insights, connections and conclusions among different kinds of knowledge. So, both within the neutral holding field that surrounds the crucible, and within the crucible itself, our expectations and operations regarding time will also require suspension.

To summarize, then: the formula - if we can call it that - for activating the crucible is mainly a product of interior discipline. And, like various forms of meditation, this interior discipline is not simply a metacognitive process, or felt experience, or intellectual intuition, or anything that could be confined to one sector. It is, instead, an opening up of a particular quality of interior space and time that welcomes the input streams of all sectors into convergence. The specifics of the practice are not the focus of this FAQ, but they are amply covered in the writings referenced throughout my elaborations here. did I arrive at any of these conclusions? Well I bet you can probably guess by now: via meditation and mystical practice; in other words, through a slow and difficult opening to sectors that have often been neglected in the scientific era (gnosis, somatic-aesthetic, intuitive-empathic), a gradual application of that understanding and awareness in the integration of multiple sectors, which in turn stimulated a modicum of discernment, and eventually a clearer appreciation for my own responsibility to actively introduce and refine that synthesis. This is what led me to the conclusion that consciously engaging the integral-contextual crucible was necessary. I hope I have conveyed some spark of illumination as to why.

What Importance Do Ethics and Moral Development Hold in This Model?

Here we can again find a parallel between Integral Lifework's nourishment dimensions and sectors of knowledge. Our moral maturity will act as a clarifying and focusing lens for all sectors, changing how we view and weigh the information in each sector prior to integration, the quality and sophistication of integrative capacity we bring to bear on that information over time, and how we apply our most distilled and integral understandings in real world environments, relationships and situations as we mature. One of the more pronounced aspects of this moral development is the importance and role of morality itself - that is, its involvement in various ethical systems and our willingness to consistently apply those ethics. Moral sensitivity and ethical frameworks will also have a strong influence on how we view various sectors outside of our habitual comfort zone: Can we tolerate them? Can we accept them? Can we value and trust them? Can we actively expand them? Can we appreciate them as equal contributors? Can we openly and eagerly integrate their information? In this sense the habits of externalizing, exclusionary bias are either a consequence of moral immaturity, or can become a substantive barrier to moral growth. The more calcified and reflexive our rejection of any sector becomes, and the more deeply ingrained our habit of over-reliance on preferred input streams, the more suppressed our interior evolution and moral sensitivities will be. In contrast, if we cultivate multiple sectors and consciously reinforce their unitive synthesis in the realm of truth, a natural byproduct of this effort is an encouragement of moral development and operationalization.

For an overview of the phases of moral orientation that I believe roughly track a progressing maturity, check out my Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations chart.

What Is The Realm of Truth?

In an Hegelian sense this would be where Absolute Knowledge comes to fruition - where subjective and objective conceptions are reconciled; where the external object and internal subject become more intimate. But, across all sectors, this process of de-alienation is occurring iteratively - in higher and higher orders of resolution throughout a gradual embrace by the integral-contextual crucible. Are there subordinate, "less complete" truths? Of course, that would be the isolated, still differentiated knowledge within each sector and time-space - where subject-object relations remain less intimate and more alienated.

Another way of describing the realm of truth is as the outer courtyards of the residence of suchness, where the phenomenological foundations of perception-cognition begin to intersect with the ontological foundations of existence. Here words and concepts begin to fall away from integrated material, hinting at their unitive essences. Differentiation and non-differentiation comfortably coexist in this space, as do structure and structurelessness, content and contentlessness, infinite time and its collapsed finitudes, and the spontaneous arising of inter-paradigmatic and rhizomatic interactions with new information.

What is the Omega Point?

As I began to summarize my thoughts about this, I realized a full elucidation of the Omega Point will be a much larger undertaking; so I will be writing another blog post or essay and linking to it here. In brief, however, I have come to accept the proposal that the Source of all sectors of knowledge and all modes of experience is the same as the Source of all strata of existence and being, which in turn has been mirrored and amplified in the perceptions, structures and processes of consciousness itself (at a quantum level). Consciousness, then, in conjunction with spirit, helps synergize a reflective, participatory interplay between the unmanifest and manifest, so that the Universe may become aware, the Source be able to understand itself more fully, this teleios can express itself with spontaneously creative freedom, and the Perfect, Absolute Unity return to itself as a single point in spacetime. These are all facets of the Omega Point. Much of this isn't new - as those who have studied mysticism, the history of philosophy, and the physical nature of our Universe will recognize - but my aim has been to cobble together some clearer phenomenological, developmental and metaphysical models to encompass the whole.

Understandably, there are a lot of different components to this proposal that will be covered in more detail later on, but only a few central conclusions that impact the sector model, so I'll touch on those here. The first is that love-consciousness is the carrier frequency throughout every phase of origination, differentiation, integration and unity; it is a fundamental constant and cofactor, energizing and shaping every process - both observable and unobservable. The second is that our primary drives (to exist, explore, affect and adapt) both manifest and construct an evolutionary impulse across all dimensions of existence; they are our persisting co-creative instruments, and thus deserve special attention as they generate enduring artifacts of will. And lastly, the reason there is such beautiful symmetry between origination and unification is that the manifest has never been orphaned from the unmanifest - the Omega Point is the beginning, the end, and everything in-between. It is merely our finite understanding - our small part in the forgetting, reflecting and remembering - that fractures that continuity in being and time.

However - and this is a departure from variations of the anthropic principle - I believe there is an important caveat to keep in mind: we cannot assume humanity is a particularly accurate, artful or necessary representation of any of this. Making such a characterization leads us into an anthropocentric trap, where humanity retains an inflated significance that may in fact need to be earned...if it is valid at all. Copernicus revisited. Instead, I would say homo sapiens is much more likely to be one of many expressions of evolutionary energy across many variations of spacetime - and perhaps we are even particularly limited, flawed or ultimately vestigial with respect to an emergent self-awareness of the Source. The humans of this Universe may not even be the best representations of ourselves. And, surely, consciousness and complexity have found additional vessels, and likely ones more suited to the journey than we are. So the outcome of the Universe may be a given, but humanity's role and destiny are not. Which implies, I think, the necessity of conscious and continuous engagement. As I have written before regarding what I feel is an imperative reciprocation: "Because the Universe has conspired in favor of my consciousness, my consciousness conspires in favor of the Universe."

Ouroboros - The Eternal Return

More FAQs to come....

What arguments are there for or against the existence of free will?

In my musings on this topic I’ve taken an approach that creates some metrics for evaluating whether free will is actually in play, and whether its qualities are adequately sustained in a “Goldilocks Zone” of operational efficacy. My conclusion is that free will is essentially emergent and fluid. In other words, the absolutes of a free will/no free will debate are a bit nonsensical, because we cannot step outside of our Universe to observe the infinite interdependencies of its beginning, middle and end. But we can assess the relative free will of our individual and collective existence, if we develop a careful enough way of describing it. We can understand it qualitatively. And because free will, liberty, freedom, individual sovereignty and autonomy all interrelate, I believe they should be incorporated into one semantic container in the course of that description.

So to explore these ideas in more detail, in The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom, I go describe the generative components of free will this way:

Free will is a synthesis of the subjective felt experience of free will, the intersubjective social agreements that ensure it, the interobjective systems and conditions that facilitate self-determinant choices and activities, participatory mechanisms that support and moderate these factors in the most diffused and egalitarian ways, and objective metrics for all of these factors that continually assess their efficacy and contribute to an ongoing synthesis.

To better define the key factors of a synthesis of integral liberty:

1. Subjective felt experience of free will as individual sovereignty over choices from moment-to-moment, as well as regarding future plans, as observed in the energization and active expression of four primary drives (to** exist,** to **express**, to **affect**, and to **adapt**).

2. Ongoing, constantly renewed and reinforced intersubjective social agreement that individual sovereignty should be collectively supported and maximized, acknowledging that without such agreement and intent, individual sovereignty will inevitably be either compromised, interfered with, or entirely inaccessible. Further, there should be ongoing communal engagement and dialectic around this agreement and its characteristics; this is a dynamic rather than static process, and would need to be customized to unique variables at cultural and community levels.

3. Interobjective systems, conditions and artifacts that foster the felt experience of individual sovereignty and ongoing intersubjective social agreement. Although still malleable and customizable, there would likely be little debate about these universal processes, and they would have cross-cultural value and representation as relatively static features and functions of society. Thus these become social objects, systems, artifacts and conditions that relate to each other and society in fixed ways, rather than via dialogical dynamics between individuals and groups.

4. Participatory mechanisms with built-in accountability for supporting, enriching, moderating and promoting all other factors in the most egalitarian, diffused and distributed fashion. These could include distributed, daily direct democracy; Open Source initiatives and petitions; regular community meetings and online forums; participatory economics; worker- owned cooperatives; community management of banks and land; as well as civic lotteries for citizen commissions and all levels of polycentric governance networks.

5. Objective metrics employed at frequent and regular intervals for all of these factors to assess their ongoing efficacy in generating the greatest authentic liberty, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration.”

Once we have defined free will according to these perspectives, we can begin to assess where we operate in the spectrum of freedom. Again - whether there is or is not free will in some absolute sense isn’t really a practical consideration, but whether we are or are not operating in a manner consistent with a felt reality of free will and its ongoing mental causation is, I think, quite useful.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

What do you consider to be the limits of your responsibilities both personal and social?

Personally I don’t believe there are any limits to my responsibilities other than pragmatically; that is, what I can realistically accomplish. Fundamentally, I owe everything I have, am and will ever be to my society, and likewise am deeply indebted to every personal relationship in my life for nourishing and nurturing me and inspiring me to grow. What mitigates my responsibilities - that is, the quality and extent of my “response” to these incredible gifts - is my time, energy, accessible resources, life-balance, integrity in adhering to my own values hierarchy, and the priorities, agreements and contracts I have already committed to. In other words: where one area of indebtedness competes with another area of indebtedness, I am forced to prioritize and of necessity exclude some actions. There is only so much time in a day. However, if I had unlimited time, unlimited resources, and unlimited personal energy, then my responses from a place of affectionate compassion (on a good day) or dutiful obligation (on a baseline day) would be equally limitless.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: