What can the results of the 2020 election tell us about the American people?

Here’s my take, in no particular order:

1. A lot of Americans are exceedingly susceptible to malicious media influence, emotional reasoning, and charismatic hucksters and con men. There are a number of factors that contribute to this — many of which are cultural or which have been part of U.S. society for many decades — and likely all of them must be addressed in some way:

A. Every American should commit to improving their critical thinking and discernment skills. This begins at home and in K-12 education, but also should be reinforced by remedial classes for adults — as a free community service and advertised with PSAs — on identifying propaganda and logical fallacies, and differentiating between credible sources of information and those with manipulative agendas.

B. Mass media has to become more neutral, fact-based, and disconnected from the agendas of wealthy stakeholders and foreign disinformation campaigns. There are many ways to do this, such as reviving the FCC fairness doctrine, treating social media similarly to other news media, verifying the identity of everyone who participates in online discussions, and so forth — but we need to end the spirals of amplified nonsense that entice people into fear-mongered, self-destructive, crazed, conspiracy groupthink.

C. Along similar lines, there must be some mechanisms that help us all quickly differentiate factual and expert insights from armchair opinions and conspiracy rants — in all media, but especially social media. There are tools like Media Bias/Fact Check, PolitiFact, and Snopes.com that can be very helpful. But for social media, I’ve been thinking about something like an Information Clearinghouse structured like the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site, where both experts and the general public weigh in on various topics to help folks navigate them. Perhaps links to such resources could automatically populate all social media posts, so that folks could easily and quickly access better information. The “democratization of knowledge” that the Internet has afforded us is revolutionary…but it has also diluted the meaning of truth and facts to an almost comical degree.

D. There will need to be an attenuation of (or countervailing forces that disrupt or ward against) for-profit marketing and advertising practices in the U.S. that condition consumers to constantly respond to commercial calls-to-action. This conditioning begins at a very young age, so that Americans believe they must reflexively consume things outside themselves — including information and perceived “truth” — in order to nourish themselves and fortify their self-concept. In essence, commercialism infantilizes Americans so that they become dependent on (or even addicted to) external guidance and stimulation. How can we change this? By disallowing advertising to children, for one. By critiquing/satirizing ads (When I lived in Germany, they did this with stick-figure cartoons after each TV advertisement that made fun of inflated advertising claims). By ending direct advertising from pharmaceutical companies. By encouraging more holistic self-care. There are really a lot of tried-and-true approaches from other countries and cultures that could help.

2. Much of rural and blue collar white America is really suffering from profound poverties. Not just economic, but cultural, intellectual, and in their collective esteem and identity. This suffering has largely been ignored by the political class in the U.S., who has either been focused on enriching corporations (often at the expense of jobs and economic mobility for rural white America), or on promoting a flavor cultural progressivism that is very alien — or alienating — to rural and blue collar white America. This suffering is further exacerbated by the cultural, economic, technological, and demographic shifts occurring in the U.S. which have, by and large, been inevitable. Enriching culture, jobs, economic mobility, human diversity, and interesting opportunities, experiences, and life choices have all been concentrated in urban areas of the U.S. for many decades now. This began with the industrial revolution of the 1800s, has accelerated since, and came to a head in the neoliberal financialization of the U.S. economy beginning in the 1980s. It has been further exacerbated by what I call “neoliberal carpetbagging” in rural areas — persuading rural populations to fulfill corporate agendas (crony capitalism, monopolization, etc.) in agriculture, energy production, resource extraction, retail, and countless other sectors — that further decimates rural economies and cultures. And those “left behind” in rural America and former industrial centers have increasingly felt disconnected from — or even adamantly opposed to — the socioeconomic shifts associated with these changes. But cities, and especially those with high-tech and gig jobs, are where multicultural population continues to concentrate and grow, and rural America and former industrial centers continue to be hollowed out. So there is anguish among those who feel left behind, and grief, and anger…and Donald Trump simply tapped into those intense (and increasingly desperate) emotions when no one else running for President could.

Are there ways to relieve some of the suffering of rural and blue collar white America? Sadly, nothing Donald Trump has done — or has proposed — will do that in a substantive way, and many things he has pursued (like ending the Affordable Care Act, initiating a trade war with China, etc.) either have made, or would make, the situation much worse. Mr. Trump offered a rallying cry and temporary emotional bandage for his voters, and little else. Even his many judicial appointments to SCOTUS and lower courts will do little to mitigate the forward march of change that a large slice of America so fears and rails against — because, ultimately, those changes will be facilitated by legislation enacted/supported by the ever-increasing urban, multicultural majorities around the U.S. In this way the “progressive agenda” is just playing catch-up with on-the-ground change that is occurring at breakneck speeds. However, let’s be clear: a prominent feature of financialization is that all companies, across all industries, become solely fixated on pleasing shareholders, and do not care about the concerns of consumers or labor — eventually, that will destroy the relative affluence and status of high-tech and gig workers just as it did factory workers. So ultimately, no one will be immune from the same fate.

So is there a way to help rural and blue collar white America, and ease their pain? In the short run, probably not, because that pain is too acute, and has been horrifically amplified by propaganda discussed in point #1 above. In the longer run, though, healing could arrive through forms of subsidiarity (pushing decision-making and policy implementation to the most local level possible), providing targeted economic opportunities for rural America (a green tech revolution could be huge in this regard), aggressively countering neoliberalism and the ongoing financialization of the economy, and efforts at urban-rural cultural reconciliation — such as increasing dialogue between rural and urban voters, and between folks with different educational, economic, and ethnic backgrounds — and increasing joint activities between those groups to solve common challenges. But ending the forward march of inevitable change is probably not an available option for much of America, so outreach to help rural and blue collar white America cope with that change — counseling resources, support groups, and the like — may be an important consideration.

3. The cultural and intellectual isolation of rural and blue collar white America has permitted “Us vs. Them” thinking to take root, and consequently enabled othering and the scapegoating of outsiders. Immigrants, people of color, and “coastal elite” liberals have almost nothing at all to do with the pain rural and blue collar white America has been feeling. This scapegoating is just a trick used by politicians, crony capitalists, and nefarious foreign actors to persuade rural and blue collar white citizens to vote a certain way, give money to certain candidates, or mobilize against straw man threats. Although the solutions proposed in points #1 and 2 above may help diffuse or disrupt this trend, there is something deeper and more pervasive in rural/blue collar white America that needs to be addressed. I don’t think it’s productive to call it “racism,” “classicism,” or “sexism,” or any other “ism,” because although those definitely exist, *such designations miss the root causes*, which are:

A. Lack of exposure to and positive interaction with different cultures, racial groups, religions, values hierarchies, and ways of life.

B. Lack of broader, deeper, non-America-centric education about the world and human history.

There are ways to address both of these deficits, such as wholesale changes to K-12 education style and curricula across the U.S. (for example, increasing parental involvement, elevating more diverse and even contradictory perspectives, etc.); encouraging cultural exchange programs that involve rural and blue collar white folks and their children (having young people live for a few months with a family abroad could be very effective), incentivized service that exposes people to other regions, practices, and cultures (in the military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, etc.), and so on. This isn’t an impossible task…but of course it is still impacted by most of the other considerations discussed here. In fact, if all of the other points aren’t addressed in some way, there will likely be vigorous resistance to broadening and deepening education and cultural exposure experiences from rural and blue collar white America itself.

4. The U.S. two-party system with high voter apathy and poor voting access unfortunately lends itself to polarization and the disempowering of diverse perspectives and political orientations beyond those two parties. In addition, the presidential form of democracy has led to an increasingly autocratic executive branch. In other systems, such as parliamentary democracies, there can be a much more diverse representation of perspectives, a more vigorous incentive to work out compromises that benefit more constituents or represent varied ideological approaches, and more distributed and diffused concentrations of power. I am also a fan of semi-direct democracy as practiced in Switzerland, which again pushes decision making down to more localized levels (subsidiarity), affords the electorate the direct means (referenda) of opposing or redirecting legislation passed by their representatives, as well as an avenue to enact legislation directly via initiatives (see This is how Switzerland’s direct democracy works for more info). And I think strongly incentivized voting with effortless voting access would go a long way toward encouraging Americans to be more engaged and committed to self-governance, regardless of what system we have in place (see Incentivizing Participation Would Increase Voter Turnout and Political Information). Although it would require a Constitutional amendment to make some of these changes, I suspect the U.S. will need to seriously consider doing something to fix what is broken.

5. We also have a perfect storm right now, in that we are overwhelmed with ever-increasing complexity — in how our world works, and in how we understand it — while at the same time that traditional values, cultural attitudes, and social roles are being upended or ridiculed. This means that men and women in the U.S. are no longer sure what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine;” that many folks simply find it easier to deny science than to attempt to understand its subtleties and perpetual evolutions; that “intellectualism” has become distasteful because it so often challenges or questions many beliefs and practices folks hold dear; that countless traditional phrases and attitudes are now suspect because they lack “wokeness;” that the seemingly bone-deep and enduring racism of some white communities is being reversed and used against them. The result? A “strongman” leader who is profoundly ignorant, misogynistic, racist, endlessly pedantic, and basically dead wrong on everything he opines about has become an attractive antidote to the overwhelming complexity and cultural fluidity of our times. What is the solution? I honestly don’t know. Maybe, as a culture, we need to recover our sense of humor about many of these things. Maybe we need to let go of reflexively judging each other, and just accept our differences. Maybe relieving some of the stressors and suffering described in other points will help folks let go of their prejudices and trying to control each other. Again…I’m not sure what will work best. I do know from experience, however, that compassion for — and radical acceptance of — what often seems like a combative diversity of values and ideals will go a long way toward healing the discord.

6. My last point is probably going to be more controversial and hard to stomach for some people in the U.S., but after living abroad myself, I think it has a fair amount of truth: much of the U.S. is culturally immature, and at an adolescent stage of development as a nation. This is evidenced by individualistic and tribalistic morality (only considering I/Me/Mine or “what’s best for those just like me” in one’s moral reasoning, as well as prioritizing a need to belong and conform to a particular tribe above everything else); spiritual immaturity (dogmatic, black-and-white legalism and fundamentalism, instead of compassion-centric attitudes and practices); emotional immaturity (blaming others for problems we ourselves created, throwing tantrums when we don’t get our way, confusing willful selfishness with “freedom,” etc.); intellectual immaturity (excessive confirmation bias, tolerance of cognitive dissonance, closed-mindedness, logical fallacies, conspiracy thinking, etc.), and so on. It will simply take time for Americans to mature past this phase — perhaps another fifty years or more before U.S. Americans even catch up with the maturity of many older cultures.

So that’s my 2 cents. Hopefully it will help folks outside the U.S. appreciate at least some of the factors in play in the current election.

What would you say is the role of education in reinforcing, revealing, and dismantling various forms of oppression?

I am a big fan of Paulo Freire’s views on the power and purpose of education. Here is an overview that captures much of that — with the expressed aim of providing tools for self-liberation:



And if education is to empower us toward self-liberation — providing the tools, resources, and vision for any kind of positive change — a central emphasis will need to be an underlying philosophy that supports active participation in society. A constant drumbeat of the importance of civic responsibility, if you will — as well as how to avoid non-participation and tokenism. Arnstein’s “Ladder of Citizen Participation” provides an outline of such personal and collective agency:



But at the core of such an education model, there must be an acceptance of the necessary evolutions and divergence of critical thinking from any presumed norms. This is what so upsets traditionalists and conservatives…but it is absolutely essential to navigating nuance and complexity. An example of this cognitive process:



Of course, there must also be truth-telling about systems of oppression. This is also distasteful for those who value and even revere those systems — and who may conflate them with tribal loyalties, patriotism, or even religious devotion. But again, it is absolutely necessary to reveal the man behind the curtain (or behind the bread and circuses, as the case may be…).



And, lastly, as part of a participatory landscape, education must itself model equality, democracy, diffusion of authority, subsidiarity, collaboration, egalitarianism, and so on. We cannot teach liberation from oppression within a system of education that is rigidly prescriptive, proscriptive, hierarchical, and authoritarian.

My 2 cents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

Why are liberals so afraid of saying something politically incorrect? Who started this trend?

Thanks for the question. The concepts and practices of “political correctness” did not, contrary to propaganda perpetuated by right-wing media, begin with the Frankfurt School or Marxism. And they are also not exclusive to “liberals” or the Left. In reality, versions of “political correctness” go back a very long way (likely thousands of years) in human society — they just weren’t called that in earlier times.

So…what is “political correctness” then? It appears to simply be a variation on some long-established patterns infecting human society and social groups:

1) In-group/out-group identification and bias.

2) Attempts to assert control, authority, and agency in contexts where such power may not be readily be available (or is being actively oppressed).

3) Self-righteous moral justification through a) framing certain interactions as variations of oppression/victimization/threat; and b) asserting protective alliances/championing on behalf of those who are oppressed/victimized/threatened.

4) Aggressive scapegoating that reenforces all-of-the-above.

And what are some groups or movements have been guilty of these patterns in recent history? Well, there are quite a few:

- WWII Red Scare/McCarthyism

- The most extreme (fundamentalist) white evangelical Christians

- Militant religious fundamentalists among other religions

- Most white supremacist groups

- The more radical 2nd Amendment activists

- Many hardcore MAGA Trump devotees

- Increasing numbers of young left-wing activists on college campuses

- The more radical/fringe LGBTQ activists

- The most extreme environmental activists

- The most extreme minority rights activists

- Many militant vegans I have known

- Supporters of nationalistic, populist fascist dictators all around the globe

And of course all of this “PC reactivity” is just amplified and propagated by far-right and far-left media outlets, the unfettered propaganda memes of social media, Russian troll farms and other disinformation efforts, and so on. Sometimes mainstream media is guilty of propagation too (coverage of Trump in 2016 is good example of this).

But this isn’t a new phenomenon. I would say the “self-policing” that liberals do (i.e. fear of being politically incorrect) isn’t much different from the similar fear that anyone in the above-mentioned groups feels as they are striving to maintain their position and social capital within those groups. Does a fundamentalist Christian tell their congregation they’ve discovered how great Buddhist meditation is? Does a Trump supporter who is beginning to doubt the wisdom of that support share such doubt with their MAGA-hat-wearing relatives? Does a leading member of a radical environmental activism movement who decides to take a job in the Oil and Gas industry worry about losing their community of friends…?

You get the idea.

These patterns of judging and ostracizing others in order to elevate ourselves within our group and secure social capital probably have been part of human society all the way back to our cave-dwelling days — and fearing that judgement and ostracism has likewise been part of nearly every human community. Think of the hysteria over “witches” in Europe and the Americas, or why Nero threw Christians to lions, or why various genocides have taken place throughout history…these very much appear to be variations on the same theme.

Eventually, we may grow out of this immature phase of fear-based tribalism and groupthink (you can read my thoughts about that evolution here: Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations). But we do appear to have a long way to go as a species….

My 2 cents.

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

Yes…but with certain caveats. Ideological differences can critical to refining, distilling, and improving any perspective, but only if the following elements are present during that process:

1) Relying on actual facts and provable evidence when making assertions.

2) Applying wisdom and discernment to each situation that aligns with expressed values, rather than contradicting them.

3) Avoiding the traps of propaganda, deception, logical fallacies, and exclusionary bias (i.e. ignoring critical and relevant info).

4) Defining clear metrics for testing an idea (in a pilot, etc.) and then carefully measuring the results of the test to see if objectives have actually been met.

5) Developing a multifaceted, broadly educated populace that understands both current science and the lessons of history in a more-than-superficial way.

6) Appreciating the expertise of folks who’ve spent their lives in a given profession…and not making the mistake of believing one’s own armchair opinion is equivalent to that expertise.

7) Hate speech, brazen sexism and racism, xenophobia, bullying, and other strong but irrational prejudices should be excluded for constructive dialogue to occur.

8-) Sensationalist journalism and social media meme-storms can’t be the basis of the exchange — there needs to be real, thoughtful, caring, substantive dialogue.

There are other important elements in the same spirit — but I think you can see what I’m getting at here. We can and should have a diverse dialogue, but not at the expense of truth, kindness, rationality, or wisdom.

My 2 cents.

How do political ideologies negatively affect us?

Most political ideology is focused on achieving desired outcomes that align with what are perceived to be shared values, beliefs, social norms, and qualities of “rightness” and virtue for society. However, there is a spectrum of approaches to reifying such shared values, where at one extreme the features of a political ideology are caustic, destructive, and ultimately self-defeating, and at the other extreme the features facilitate and support those values in enduring ways. Another way of stating this is that one end of the spectrum cultivates the seeds of dissonance, conflict, and turmoil that lead to its undoing, while the other end of the spectrum nurtures self-supporting harmony, stability, and peace. The following chart contrasts and compares features of these different ends of the spectrum:

What is your stance on people with mental illness, that are a danger to themselves and others, refusing to take their medication?

First, I think this speaks directly to the fundamental failures of both a medical system focused on profit, and the diseases of consumerist society that externalizes is agency and happiness into commercialized dependencies (on technology, pharmaceuticals, titillating self-distractions, self-medicating behaviors, etc.). Not only can we lay the epidemic levels of unhappiness at the feet of these causes, but also the horrific mishandling and counterproductive treatment of both serious and debilitating genetic or epigenetic psychological disorders (bipolar disorder, various personality disorders, schizophrenia, etc.) and what we could describe as more environmentally exacerbated or triggered conditions (PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc.). For-profit medicine and a culture of commoditized well-being have been disastrous amplifiers of mental illness in the modern world. To understand these impacts, check out:

1) Reviewing the Evidence for Mental Illness Being Epigenetic,

2) Epigenetics, Stress, and Their Potential Impact on Brain Network Function: A Focus on the Schizophrenia Diatheses, and

3) Consumerism and Well-Being in India and the UK: Identity Projection and Emotion Regulation as Underlying Psychological Processes.

So part of the answer to this question is addressing those underlying amplifiers: if we attenuate or eliminate these causal factors, there will be less mental illness in society — both in terms of stress-induced phenotypical expression of genetic disease, and crippling cognitive behavioral responses to stress. The principles of what is basically a preventative approach to mental illness have been demonstrated by a number of success stories. Check out 'Care BnB'- the town where mentally ill people lodge with locals and Soteria (psychiatric treatment) - Wikipedia, both of which essentially replace a transactional, commercialized model of treatment with a relational, community-centric one.

In addition, in my own L e v e l - 7 proposals, access to mental health resources is treated the same way as access to physical health resources: it’s integral to civil society and part of a “Universal Social Backbone” available to everyone without cost.

This is similar to a left-libertarian approach to criminality in society: by reducing the incentives to criminal activity, diffusing and reversing dysfunctional cultural norms that promote violence and coercion (including, and perhaps most especially, the concept of private property — see Private Property as Violence: Why Proprietarian Systems are Incompatible with the Non-Aggression Principle), and strengthening community-centric civil society at the same time, we may not be able to eliminate criminal behavior altogether, but we can greatly reduce it to the point where enduring interpersonal relationships and strong expectations of prosociality have a greater regulatory effect than policing ever could.

That said, the issues of personal agency and selfhood are also at the center of this question. I lean in the direction of personal agency trumping societal or institutional impositions of will. At the same time, I have a right-libertarian friend who was institutionalized and medicated under a 5150 (involuntary psychiatric commitment here in California), after planning and nearly executing his own suicide. I helped him through that time and afterward, and he has been thriving ever since and has been very grateful that others intervened as they did. He had been on the wrong medication (another consequence of a profit-driven medical system) that worsened his depression, but during his 5150 stay he received much more competent assessment and a much better treatment plan. Even as a lifelong libertarian, he has no problem with his involuntary commitment, because he knows he was not in his right mind at that time. In such cases, sanity is a more critical standard than agency, even (by most accounts) according to the perspective of the personal deemed “insane.”

My 2 cents.

How can a Christian live an unburdened life?

There are many roads to this possibility:

- By allowing every perceived burden to become a transformative opportunity for skillful compassion.

- By practicing radical acceptance of self, others, and all situations — also from a place of love.

- By letting go — by exercising a fundamental attitude of acquiescence — from an abundance of confidence that

- Holy Spirit works to the good of All in ways we cannot perceive or comprehend.

- By holding firmly, as a constant guiding light, to conditions of the heart and intentions of the will that support gratitude, lovingkindness, forgiveness, generosity, patience, and joy.

- By sidestepping the snares of willfulness, acquisitive materialism, self-centered individualism, anger, jealousy, and hate.

- By appreciating that we are doing the best that we can — that we are acting as skillfully and compassionately as possible — with the knowledge, resources, and limitations of our current circumstances.

My 2 cents.

Why do progressives lack an easily explained, competing economic theory to the conservative one?

This is a perfect example of a significant problem endemic our modern world, and that is that “easily explained” theories are usually inadequate, and do not capture reality — even partially.

There are sometimes notable exceptions, where gifted presenters capture fairly complex ideas using simple analogies, word pictures, graphic illustrations, etc. But these instances are pretty rare (for example, I’ve seen only a handful TED talks that actually pull this off), and usually limited to fields of study that can be communicated in a “concrete sequential” way. Particularly dynamic or fluid areas of study with many competing or conflicting dimensions and interdisciplinary dependencies really can’t be represented well in infographics — or, when they are, those representations can end up overly abbreviated and inadequate.

Economics is one of those complex and multifaceted areas of study. It is nearly impossible to shoehorn the complex thought of many accomplished economists’ theories into a simple, easily-grasped infographic. To do so would simply be an injustice to the original ideas. And this is becoming more the case, rather than less so, because so many disciplines have come to intersect with economics. Consider attempting to summarize how Marx, Keynes, Rawls, Veblen, Schumacher, Sen, Picketty, Ostrom, and many others who have contributed to “progressive” economic theory interact with and amplify each other’s observations and proposals! It would be a daunting task…and likely a fruitless one if we attempt to keep things “easily explained.”

At the other end of the spectrum (i.e. conservative/neoliberal economics), we have the Laffer curve, drawn on a napkin in a restaurant, which had no empirical basis or application but “made intuitive sense” in the political sphere, and so became part of an easy sell for trickle-down, supply side economic theory (which has since been debunked by real-world evidence). And we have catchy phrases like “rational actors” in the Austrian School, also without empirical basis, which nonetheless folks can easily grasp and agree with. In fact the list is pretty long for neoliberal economic tropes that have broad popular appeal, but no real-world evidence to support them.

This fundamental problem — what we might call the “pop-psych dilemma,” because it results in similar pseudoscientific consequences — can be found in many different disciplines. Some complex concepts are just really difficult to understand and communicate, and as our scientific framing of the world (or a particular area of study) becomes more and more complex, the ability to effectively communicate those concepts and their supportive evidence becomes increasingly difficult…certainly for anyone who wants simple, easy answers, and doesn’t want to spend time learning the subtleties of something new.

And that’s why sound bite emotional-appeal political discussions rarely go beyond the superficial catch phrases for a given topic. A sales pitch is hardly ever substantive — and that’s really all such policy discussions in mass media, social media, and the political sphere usually are.

Do you see the problem? The minute we make an “easily digestible” explanation of a complex topic (in economics, climate science, epidemiology, etc.) we are almost certainly going to get it wrong. We are going to distort truth to shoehorn complexity into an easily appreciated talking point.

Which is of course precisely what the champions of conservative/neoliberal economic policy tend to do: they convey simple, watered down word pictures of a worldview that is persuasive and sells well, but is ultimately just misleading and false. Milton Friedman was perhaps the greatest master of this technique: he just kept lying and distorting reality — passionately and entertainingly — until a lot of folks just started to believe him and parrot his words.

With all of this said, there are a few “progressive economists” who have tried to provide simplified representations of economic theory. I’m not a tremendous fan, for the very reasons I’ve just outlined here, though I do still find them entertaining. Some examples would be Ha Joon Chang and Robert Reich. Here’s a pretty good sample:


https://youtu.be/E9EzXHVYClI

IMO what we somehow need to do is encourage people to enjoy learning, enjoy being “intellectual,” enjoy rich and complex language and ideas — as part of our cultural norm. Then we might actually be able to make decent democratic decisions about these complex issues. Until then…well…we’re likely to just be hoodwinked by the slickest salesman.

My 2 cents.

If conservative Republicans dislike socialism, then why are so many still in favor of Social Security and Medicare?

First off, it’s much worse than this question supposes. Majority Republican states in the U.S. are by far the largest beneficiaries of ALL government programs. There are some exceptions to this pattern, like New Mexico (which is more of a swing state), but in general it is Republican-majority “red” states who rely the most heavily on socialized support systems. Some detailed recent data on this can be found here: Most & Least Federally Dependent States. There are many simple comparisons you can find around the web, and here’s an example:



Essentially, the higher taxes paid by “blue” states subsidize the populations of “red” states that pay lower taxes (discussion of that here: AP FACT CHECK: Blue high-tax states fund red low-tax states).

Now, many of the posts in this thread quibble over what “socialism” actually is. In short, it is widely acknowledged by everyone who studies political and economic systems and history that there are many different forms of socialism, and the strict and narrow “dictionary definition” of socialism (or capitalism, for that matter) that folks like to use in their arguments simply isn’t sufficient. The fact is that the U.S. and most other affluent, developed countries in the world are “mixed economies” of both socialism and capitalism. I’ve broken things out into a bit more detail here: What are the different forms of socialism?

So the reality is that, yes, Republicans who claim to be opposed to “socialism” regularly depend on socialism to survive and thrive.

BUT — and this is a pretty major caveat — those same Republicans are also constantly working to dismantle and/or privatize any and all forms of socialist institution in the U.S.A. Whether it’s Obamacare, Medicaid, Social Security, or the U.S. Postal Service, Republicans have been trying to obliterate many manifestations of socialism in the U.S. as a central plank of a conservative political agenda. But why are they doing this, if the vast majority of the Republican rank-and-file voters rely on these programs…? Well because what Republican leadership (and think tanks, and wealthy campaign donors, and right-wing propaganda media outlets) really want to do is eliminate what they call “the halo effect” of any successful government programs, a positive perception among voters which — horror of horrors — threatens to make “socialism” look attractive! You can read about this here: Opinion | Covid-19 Brings Out All the Usual Zombies

This does seem a bit contradictory, to be sure, but it gets even more interesting when we look at the kinds of “socialism” that Republicans actually promote — and rarely oppose. These are things like subsidies to big corporations, huge government bailouts of entire industries, tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, and lucrative no-bid military contracts. You can read about the GOP’s affinity for corporate welfare here: Corporate welfare state: GOP tax plan showers millionaires with $17 billion tax break and here: How Scott Walker and the GOP Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Corporate Welfare | Michael Rieger

So we’re left scratching our heads…Is all of this a sort of disjointed, self-contradictory hypocrisy without any guiding principles at all? Or does U.S. conservatism have an ideological anchor? Some core values that steer its ship? Well…there really is only one central theme that aligns with all Republican praxis, and that is a devotion to socializing risks and costs, and privatizing benefits and profits. That is, distributing costs and risks across all of society (i.e. all taxpayers), while concentrating profits and benefits in a select few (i.e. wealthy owner-shareholders), with horrific consequences for civil society. You can view videos of Noam Chomsky interviewed about this here: Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges discuss the history of neoliberalism and Chomsky's new book "Requiem for the American Dream" And also read more about this here: How to Prepare for the Next Pandemic.

There is, of course, another way to describe this behavior, and that was a phrase Adam Smith coined in his Wealth of Nations: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”

So, in essence, conservatives love and support socialism when it benefits them, and vehemently dislike socialism when it benefits anyone who doesn’t vote Republican.

My 2 cents.

Instead of a stateless world, why don't anarchists think that a small government is enough, like libertarianism or minarchism?

The question behind your question is, I think, really about hierarchies and the abuse of those hierarchies via concentrations of power. Once a hierarchy is in place, it just tends to be abused to accumulate power, and then either used for direct oppression and exploitation, or becomes corrupted/captured — as with crony capitalism, clientism, etc. So all traditional forms of left-anarchism and left-libertarianism (which are the same thing btw) have sought to minimize hierarchies, and replace them with diffusions of power — direct democracy, nested councils, subsidiarity, and other form of highly distributed self-governance — and diffusions of wealth (i.e. no private property rights, the commons, public ownership, etc.). There are many historic and present day examples of such left-libertarian experiments, all of which have worked pretty well.

Right-libertarianism, on the other hand, creates inadvertent hierarchies by allowing corporations, monopolies, and concentrations of private property ownership and wealth that ultimately behave just like State institutions (in terms of capacity for oppression and exploitation). Which is likely why there aren’t as many right-libertarian real-world examples — and certainly none on a large scale.

Now even when the objective is to avoid hierarchy and potential tyranny, some left-libertarian and right-libertarian proposals have included minarchist systems. The idea is to create dual systems of power that check-and-balance each other. And we actually see such dual systems working fairly well, even where the State is large — such as in the semi-direct democracy of Switzerland. Really, all that matters is that a political economy be designed so that power and wealth cannot concentrate anywhere, and will always be countered by democratic will.

One such hybrid option is my own L e v e l - 7 proposal. Eventually, the goal would be to attenuate the power of whatever vestigial State is left in place to coordinate things like infrastructure, technology standards, essential goods and services, etc., while strengthening direct democracy and localized civic institutions. But guarding against concentrations of power will, I suspect, always be a perpetual concern…..

My 2 cents.

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

I think what Tocqueville is getting at is a principle he proposed in his On Democracy in America. He is basically positing that democracy’s pursuit of equality can result in a sort of self-imposed tyranny of uniform individualism that does not tolerate variation, exceptions, or conditionality in its governance.

Here is a relevant excerpt (quoted from Democracy In America Bk.4, Ch.2):

“The very next notion to that of a sole and central power, which presents itself to the minds of men in the ages of equality, is the notion of uniformity of legislation. As every man sees that he differs but little from those about him, he cannot understand why a rule which is applicable to one man should not be equally applicable to all others. Hence the slightest privileges are repugnant to his reason; the faintest dissimilarities in the political institutions of the same people offend him, and uniformity of legislation appears to him to be the first condition of good government. I find, on the contrary, that this same notion of a uniform rule, equally binding on all the members of the community, was almost unknown to the human mind in aristocratic ages; it was either never entertained, or it was rejected…..On the contrary, at the present time all the powers of government are exerted to impose the same customs and the same laws on populations which have as yet but few points of resemblance. As the conditions of men become equal amongst a people, individuals seem of less importance, and society of greater dimensions; or rather, every citizen, being assimilated to all the rest, is lost in the crowd, and nothing stands conspicuous but the great and imposing image of the people at large. This naturally gives the men of democratic periods a lofty opinion of the privileges of society, and a very humble notion of the rights of individuals; they are ready to admit that the interests of the former are everything, and those of the latter nothing.”

Essentially, then, Tocqueville perceives the eventual consequence of democracy’s pursuit of equality — which he nevertheless values and favors — as homogenization of a society’s collective self-concept in “the great and imposing image of the people at large;” in essence, in civil society. So the question then becomes: is the cohesion and apparent necessity of uniformity of governance for civil society a desirable outcome for democratic systems?

We could observe that, right now in the U.S., the “individualistic” spirit of many folks seems to chomp at the bit of such uniformity. In fact some have speculated that reactive conservative extremism over the years (the Moral Majority, Tea Party, Trumpism, etc.) has arisen in response to exactly this imposition of a more progressive flavor of uniform equality — and hence, is perceived to have legislated uniformity on folks who really didn’t want it. Ironically, these conservative movements have then sought to impose what was merely their own flavor of uniformity on everyone else, and so were committing exactly the same error. As Tocqueville summarized: “Our contemporaries are therefore much less divided than is commonly supposed; they are constantly disputing as to the hands in which supremacy is to be vested, but they readily agree upon the duties and the rights of that supremacy. The notion they all form of government is that of a sole, simple, providential, and creative power. All secondary opinions in politics are unsettled; this one remains fixed, invariable, and consistent.” In other words, when a conservative government aims to legislate that abortion is illegal, or that massive corporate campaign contributions constitute free speech, or that the priority of government spending should be on the military, or that social security should be privatized…and so on…it is, essentially, imposing exactly the same uniformity of governance on the whole of society that conservatives frequently complain “the liberal agenda” has been doing — just conservative variations on the same theme.

And yet…and this is precisely the point Tocqueville eventually drives home…such uniformity is likely an inevitable, even necessary consequence of democracy. The danger, he warns, is that democracies acquiescing to centralized power — who nevertheless remain enthralled with individualistic obsessions — leads to a condition where citizens only care about their own immediate interests, and become utterly disinterested in (and ignorant about) society as a whole and in its governance via the State. They then rely almost entirely on their representatives in government to make decisions. I think Tocqueville was particularly prescient in this regard, because that is pretty much the space much of the U.S. electorate was inhabiting prior to 2016.

How can this pitfall be averted? Tocqueville addresses this in Bk.2 Ch.3 (my emphasis in bold):

“It is difficult to draw a man out of his own circle to interest him in the destiny of the State, because he does not clearly understand what influence the destiny of the State can have upon his own lot. But if it be proposed to make a road cross the end of his estate, he will see at a glance that there is a connection between this small public affair and his greatest private affairs; and he will discover, without its being shown to him, the close tie which unites private to general interest. Thus, far more may be done by entrusting to the citizens the administration of minor affairs than by surrendering to them the control of important ones, towards interesting them in the public welfare, and convincing them that they constantly stand in need one of the other in order to provide for it…Local freedom, then, which leads a great number of citizens to value the affection of their neighbors and of their kindred, perpetually brings men together, and forces them to help one another, in spite of the propensities which sever them.”

Essentially, Tocqueville is advocating one of my own favorite principles: subsidiarity. Empower people to govern themselves at the local level, and they will begin to appreciate the intersect with larger and larger circles of collective concern. And, even more than that, by empowering autonomous democratic institutions at the local level (all the way down to the local community), participants will learn how to contribute reflexively to the public good. As Tocqueville writes: “Men attend to the interests of the public, first by necessity, afterwards by choice: what was intentional becomes an instinct; and by dint of working for the good of one’s fellow citizens, the habit and the taste for serving them is at length acquired.”

This is, I think, what had been lost to much of America for many years: that active engagement in local self-governance for the public good. It was a profoundly unfortunate development in the U.S., because it allowed obsessive self-interest to override any sense of political obligation. Thankfully, though, the rise of Donald Trump seems to have single-handedly turned the tide, so that America’s citizens are once more awakened to their collective responsibilities — if only to avoid the insidious despotism that Tocqueville warned would rise up in the absence of our constant wakefulness.

My 2 cents.

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

I think that’s actually pretty simple. Here are a few things that would help roll back extremist influence in society very quickly:

1) Reinstate and vigorously enforce The Fairness Doctrine in all news media — including social media (which, really, is just another platform for news media propagation). This would greatly reduce propaganda news outlets at both ends of the spectrum.

2) Reverse the divisive rules changes in DC that have prevented bipartisan dialogue and compromise: Abolish the Hastert Rule in the House; reverse Gingrich’s three-day work week and return it to five days, encouraging members of Congress to remain in DC and foster cross-the-isle relationships (this is what Gingrich wanted to destroy…and it worked); and so on.

3) End gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement. When large numbers of folks feel like their views and priorities are not represented by elected officials, they become more extreme in their views.

4) Increase direct democratic controls over ALL legislation (via referenda, etc.) up to and including at the federal level, and allow recall elections for ANY misbehaving elected officials (all the way up to US Senators). More effective and immediate democracy is a great mitigator of extremism — at least it tends to be over time.

5) Completely ban all special interest lobbying and enact sweeping campaign finance reform (for example, allow only public funding of campaigns).

6) Institute a public Information Clearinghouse of reviewed and rated information that helps folks navigate complex issues in order to vote on them in an informed way.

I’ve offered some additional ideas here: L7 Direct Democracy

And if these are simple ideas, why haven’t they happened? Why, indeed, have they been vigorously opposed? Well, because the neoliberal plutocrats who hold most of the power are quite happy to perpetuate division and extremism to manipulate voters and legislators into doing their bidding. It’s very transparent, and has been going on for a long time in the U.S. and elsewhere.

My 2 cents.

What do you think of “doughnut economics”?

Thanks for the question.

Personally I appreciate the simplicity of Raworth’s model (pictured below, from https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/). There are undoubtedly nuanced variables within her “shortfall” and “overshoot” trajectories that require much more detailed elaboration, but this is really about vision IMO — and the ability to project that vision out into collective consciousness. The doughnut graphic is really helpful in that regard. So, as a fundamental re-framing of socioeconomic activities away from “infinite growth” (inherently unsustainable) to “living within our planetary boundaries,” I think this makes perfect sense.

Why did the left follow Marx and not Bakunin? Wouldn't the world have been better off if a stateless form of socialism had been tried instead of a totalitarian one?

So there are a number of facets with the OP’s question: “Why did the left follow Marx and not Bakunin? Wouldn't the world have been better off if a stateless form of socialism had been tried instead of a totalitarian one?” I’ll attempt to address those facets as we examine some possible answers….

1) The “Left” is not monolithic now, nor was it ever…from the very beginning. There were (and are) many forms of socialism — and many of them have been (and are being) tried in different parts of the world, and on different scales. This includes many forms of left-anarchism/libertarian socialism that aligned itself with the stateless vision that Bakunin promoted. In particular, societies inspired by Proudhon and Kropotkin fall into this category. For some of the many successful stateless examples of these, see: List of anarchist communities.

2) The thinking of these two influenced each other — there was a lot of cross-pollination between them. Much of Bakunin’s thinking is reflected in Marxism.

3) As to why Marx was generally more popular that Bakunin during their lifetimes and thereafter, there are a number of compelling theories, and frankly I don’t know which of them is correct. It could be that Bakunin was over-invested in leveraging the “educated elite” of his day to start a revolution and tended to ignore the working class, whereas Marx appealed more directly to the working class instead. It could be an issue of personal charisma. It could be that it was difficult for folks to envision Bakunin’s stateless society (as it still is today), but much easier to entertain the more gradual transition to communism that Marx proposed, along with his very catchy “dictatorship of the proletariat.” It could be that Engels’ eloquent and persistent championing of Marxism furthered it in ways with which Bakunin’s legacy and alliances simply couldn’t compete. Again, I don’t know. There has been much written about this…so perhaps doing more extensive research on this will help.

4) Yes, the world would be better off with stateless socialism. For a glimpse of that world, take a look at the list of anarchist communities in the link above. Some of them are still around and going strong.

My 2 cents.

Should everyone read Marx?

Absolutely and without question, YES, as Marx was arguably one of the most important and influential thinkers of the last 200 years.

That said, I would recommend beginning with some of his shorter pieces of writing, just to get a flavor and overview of his thought, prior to attempting Capital. And, when approaching Capital, I would take it in small chunks, rather than all-at-once.

But yes, for anyone who wants to understand much of what the past couple of centuries of human history — and especially the impact of industrial capitalism — are all about, Marx is an essential read. To not read him (or discount him, as some have done in posts here) is simply to remain ignorant and/or deceived about both the nature of capitalism and the nature of Marxism.

Interestingly, in reference to Adam Smith, Smith raised many of the same concerns about unfettered capitalism that Marx addresses in his writing — Marx just did so to a much more detailed and rigorous degree.

As to where to begin, I recommend the following links (to be read in the order they are listed). I think anyone who reads them with an open mind will be duly impressed with Marx’s clarity and accuracy of insight:

Marx 1844: Wages of Labour

Profit of Capital

Marx 1844: Rent of Land (note that Marx cites Smith extensively here)

Estranged Labour

Economic Manuscripts: Capital Vol. I

And of course it also helps to read a bit of Engels, particularly this:

Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy

Lastly, for a well-organized collection of — and access to — Marx’s work, I recommend this link: Marx & Engels Selected Works. It includes “a short list for beginners” which covers a lot of ground. However, I would still begin with the above-listed links first, before diving into anything else, as they provide helpful context for everything else.

My 2 cents.

What are the unspoken moral and ethical assumptions of common psychotherapy practices for the client?

Thanks for the question, Jeff.

I’d say “that depends.” It depends on the the training of the therapist, their level of moral development, their own personal ethical praxis, and the system within which the therapist is practicing. This introduces a lot of variables. For a client-centered practitioner who is forced to maximize client load and minimize interaction time in service to group practice profitability, corporate cost-saving mandates, or a paucity of insurance coverage for their chosen modality, all but the most bare-boned moral and ethical assumptions can practically be followed. And even then, it may only be according to the letter of the law, rather than its spirit. That said, the APA has developed a very robust Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct: https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/

Given that some methods like CBT and DBT have a mountain of evidence to support their efficacy, one could conclude that “all that really matters is to effectively teach these helpful cognitive behavioral tools, and the rest is up to the client’s willingness and compliance.” And there are certainly many therapists who either lack the internal psychosocial makeup to transcend this position, or who become exhausted enough by the constraints of for profit practice, that they arrive at this pragmatic distance from their clients.

But there are many therapists — and I would argue the really “good ones” — who recognize that their practice is really about relationship. That relationship has boundaries, to be sure, but it is deeply empathic, deeply committed, deeply involved in the client’s well-being. It is authentically engaged in the client’s perspective and felt reality, rather than merely prescriptive. And it is actively adapting to the client’s individual needs, rather than treating them as another cookie-cutter application of proven principles. In short: it embodies love.

In this latter, and arguably rarer, case, the unspoken moral and ethical assumptions run much deeper that the APA guidelines. The relationship isn’t just about client benefit, avoiding harm, and navigating a maze of laws — that’s a given. It is also about compassion, attentiveness, empathy, and a profound honoring of the client’s agency and personhood. And why is this considered important — if not critical? Because most “good” therapists know that a client’s trust, openness, and empowered agency are not just sacred and precious in the abstract, but are also primary factors in healing, growth and transformation itself. These features of the client relationship will contribute to potential outcomes in much more enduring and arguably richer and more fundamental ways.

So on the one hand there is the efficacy of technique, and on the other there is the efficacy of relationship. Whether this position is a common or not I will leave for others to judge and comment upon. I would say, however, that it is essential.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Jeff Wright:

I wonder if you’d be interested in taking it another step (because I could not make this more explicit in the original question)—

What are the unspoken moral and ethical assumptions that delimit what is and is not in the APA guidelines (since they represent a kind of social consensus reality orthodoxy about the relevance or absence of such themes within mainstream practice)? What would “run much deeper”?

This involves your highlighted themes of client, agency and personhood, so there are embedded implicit ideas about the nature and extent of those notions. And I believe those are the key points in any (deconstructive or reconstructive) inquiry into the sociology or philosophy of psychology and its practical applications. I was going to say “clinical applications” but that is a good example of a relevant tacit assumption.

And to put this in a less abstract frame, are you aware of ways that practicing therapists engage these questions in their own work, with or without the ability to articulate them?


To further answer the deeper, tacit moral and ethical assumptions question, here are some possibilities — perhaps not universal, but I suspect pervasively involved once again with the better/best therapists:

Client independence from care. That is, a level of health, wholeness and harmony that allows the client to be free of any form of mitigation or ongoing clinical support.

Client happiness and equanimity. Beyond mere increases in function, a desire for the client to feel fulfilled, at peace, etc.

Client momentum towards emotional growth and moral maturity. There are inevitably more profound evolutions in people when they engage thoughtfully in self-aware therapy. The hope is that they will really “grow up” beyond the infantilized and/or traumatized state in which they first presented. More than independence from care, this is about self-transformation.

Most importantly, that the therapist does not interfere with any of these liberating processes and conditions, but actually facilitates them earnestly and devotedly.

Comment from Jeff Wright:

Thanks. These are good statements of the main positive ideas of humanistic psychotherapy, the ideals of the “better/best therapists”.

However, tacit ethical assumptions are not limited to positive and aspirational ideals, the traditional moral focus on virtues, the “this is our best version of who we want to be”. They also embody negatives or shadow features. It’s possible I think that practitioners who work in public service settings are probably both more embedded in these and more aware of them, compared to those in private practice who work with voluntary, aspirational clients (“improve my life” or “suffer less”, or “be happier”).

There are assumptions that are widely operative within psychology and psychotherapy that express a “medical model” (based on various forms of scientism) pathology, disease, mechanization, depersonalization, individualization, disconnection and isolation of the person from their family, world, depoliticization, a turn away from social issues, and so on.

To understand some of these themes, one thing we can do is look at what gets initially emphasized and more easily carried forward through a paradigm change. For example, there were attempts at spiritualization in psychotherapy (a.ka. “transpersonal”), which never became mainstream, and more successful attempts to import ideas from Buddhism (e.g. “mindfulness”), and now more recently, “positive psychology”, which seems more successful at gaining traction in research-oriented psychology.


All true. I think what you’re touching on becomes much more specific with the modality/philosophy of care involved. Some are more somatic while others focus on relationships; some incorporate transpersonal considerations while others focus on cognitive-behavioral tools. With so much variation, it becomes difficult, I think, to make broad generalizations about pervasive moral and ethical assumptions. But it’s worth a try nonetheless! :-)

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




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

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

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

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


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

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

This contrast between the way of the world and the way of the spirit is really the central drama of all New Testament scripture. As Jesus personifies the way of the spirit in all of his interactions and pronouncements, he is confronted with antagonism from the status quo – from those who wish to preserve the way of the world and their own places of power and privilege within it. Jesus and his Apostles become ambassadors of a more egalitarian ideal, an aspirational vision of “life as it could be” in the kingdom of God, and thereby encounter tremendous resistance and resentment from those who currently benefit from the status quo, and therefore feel threatened by anything that challenges its power structures. This is why the Pharisees and Sadducees were enraged by Jesus’ pronouncements, why the Romans were concerned by Jesus’ rise in popularity, and what ultimately resulted in Jesus being condemned to death by crucifixion. Jesus was the radical progressive visionary of his time, while the pragmatic and entrenched conservatives were, in fact, the ones responsible for his death."



You can read the full essay via this link.

How else is wealth created besides labor?

Great question…but beware of propaganda.

Here are some of the many ways a capitalist view of “wealth” (as the accumulation of capital) is created, many of which have actually become much more common than “adding value with labor” in today’s highly financialized economy:

1) Buy cheap and sell high — without adding any value, but simply by timing the selling and buying the right way (this includes holding for a time, so that time does the work), or by exaggerating (persuading, cajoling, deceiving, “selling”) the value downward when purchasing, and then upward when selling.

2) Use leverage and debt — borrow against existing assets and invest(or lend out) at a higher rate of return than it costs to service the debt.

3) Lend money.

4) Charge rent for something that is already owned — this is income creation without adding value, and can occur over many generations after initial ownership (by a family or business) is established.

5) Gate-keeping — charging for access or the right to use anything, including someone else’s knowledge or innovation, some unimproved land, a road that was paid for by others, high speed Internet vs. low-speed (there is little difference between the two in provisioning — it’s merely a software setting), and so on.

Those are the biggies IMO. There are others that do require a little bit of labor for a disproportionately high return, and they are equally common today. These include creating artificial demand (direct consumer advertising by pharmaceuticals is a common locus for this), opportunistic market entry, privatization of publicly held resources, regulatory capture, etc. But any reasonable standard, these are all nefarious, unethical ways of creating wealth.

My 2 cents.

What is the saddest part of The Lord of the Rings?

There are two great sadnesses for me:

1) Then end of the books themselves — the end of the story and the parting from wonderful characters I had grown to love.

2) The passing away of magic, the other races of Middle Earth, the reverence for Nature, and the consequential ascendence of Man. More than the moment of departure “into the West” of specific characters, this was the end of an age.

These are of course echoes of other personal and cultural endings. Of my own childhood, of a romantic and magic-filled view of the world, of an ability to lose myself entirely in a work of fiction, of Tolkien himself as an author, of the power of books in the lives and minds of young people, of the richness and importance of folklore in earlier cultures and times, of the common belief in elves and faeries, etc.

But the larger metanarrative here is that human beings — with their industries, machines, brutal conflicts, self-absorbed ignorance, and feet of clay worldliness — would now become the dominant power of Earth…and all of the richness, knowledge, beauty, and complexity of Tolkein’s races, cultures, languages, and myths would fade away forever. The finality of that loss still haunts me, some 40+ years after reading LOTR.

At the heart of this, I think the resonance so many readers have felt is with Tolkien’s celebration of a profound mystery and beauty grounded in Nature. The Ents. The tree-dwelling Silvan Elves. The eagle Gwaihir’s critical aid to Gandalf. The tranquility and harmony of the Shire itself. All of these and so much more evoke the real magic woven into these books: a deeply felt sense of wonder for a natural world that transcends human pettiness and anthropocentric priority, and asks us all to live within it, as the hobbits and elves did, rather than dominating or subjugating Nature. And of course there was the warning of the fate of the Dwarves, who delved to greedily and deeply into Nature’s treasures.

And that resonance is most deeply felt by those of us who have, for many decades, sounded the alarm about the careless exhaustion, destruction and toxic pollution of species, habitats, and ecosystems of Earth. For me, this is the most heartbreaking message Tolkien delivered with LOTR: that human ascension would signal the end of Nature’s primacy, thriving, and very existence. And, so far at least, Tolkien was heartbreakingly prescient.

My 2 cents.

What books are good starting points for studying leftist libertarianism, socialist libertarianism and libertarian Marxism?

Thanks for the question. There are many excellent ones. Here are a few I would recommend as starters, listed in the order I think would be helpful:

An Anarchist FAQ

Demanding the Impossible - Peter Marshall

An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice - William Godwin

The Ecology of Freedom - Murray Bookchin

The Conquest of Bread - Peter Kropotkin

David Graeber - Debt: The First 5,000 Years

What is Property - Pierre Proudhon

My 2 cents.

Why is socialism so misunderstood by anti-socialists?

First of all: sigh.

Here are some of the reasons socialism is poorly understood — especially in the United States.

1) First, there is a lot of anti-socialist propaganda. The Red Scares after WWI and WWI, and then McCarthyism, generated some profound misinformation about socialism that has persisted to this day. Mainly, this propaganda was invented to protect wealthy owner-shareholders who were (and still are) terrified of losing control over the exploitative, extractive wealth creation that they benefit from. It’s why there is also anti-science propaganda, anti-education propaganda, anti-intellectualism propaganda, anti-expert propaganda, anti-government propaganda…it’s pretty endless. The idea is simple: maintain the status quo that funnels capital to the rich at the expense of everyone else. It’s a pretty strong motivation to dissuade people from looking at other ways to do things.

2) General ignorance about history and the positive models and impacts of socialism is another reason. There are many socialist countries that were never authoritarian communist like the U.S.S.R. or China. But folks don’t learn much about those in U.S. schools or from corporate controlled media. Some of those countries still exist. If an “anti-socialist” attempts to argue that socialism has never succeeded, I simply ask them to name some of the thriving examples of municipalism, anarcho-syndicalism, social democracy, and anarcho-communism that have existed and still exist, and explain why they think those countries are failures. But of course they never can, because all of the “anti-socialist” propagandists I have engaged (really without exception) are completely ignorant of those countries.

3) Ideological fervor and blindness. This is a pretty common problem among vocal anti-socialists who are deeply committed to capitalism. The discussion rarely centers around facts or evidence, and anti-socialist arguments quickly devolve into logical fallacies (straw man arguments, red herrings, false equivalence, confirmation bias, whataboutism, etc.). Just look at many of the posts in this thread, where the level of vitriolic frothing-at-the-mouth is fairly extreme. It’s hard to help such folks understand where they are mistaken. Generally, when I share corrective facts and narratives about socialism with “true believer” market fundamentalists (neoliberals, laissez-faire, Randian objectivists, Austrian School fans, Chicago School fans, etc.) the anti-socialists usually fall silent, dwindle into passive-aggressive sarcasm, or morph into sociopathic ranters.

4) Here there be trolls. Social media provides ideal hunting grounds for folks who just want to provoke and engage in rhetorical combat.

My 2 cents.

How does one reason for themselves and use critical thinking to interpret what they see and hear about COVID-19 at this time?

The sad reality right now (April 22, 2020) is that we just have be patient and wait. Careful, considered, critical reasoning won’t do much good without sufficient and accurate data — and that is really what we’re all lacking right now. Too many news, data, and information sources that are usually reliable have been propagating incomplete, inaccurate, lr even dangerous information from the very beginning of the pandemic. Many political leaders are of course even worse about conveying a nuanced and carefully considered understanding of COVID-19. And even medically savvy folks are struggling with what information they feel they can trust. As a consequence, a lot of people remain bewildered, afraid, and confused…and will likely have to remain in that state until we have more data. A lot more data. In perhaps two months’ time, we will hopefully have a much better picture of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how to manage it. For now…we must simply be prudent, and patient.

That said, I will offer a few resources that have been “better than average” IMO at conveying the evolving picture of COVID-19:

1) NBC Nightly News has done better than many other networks in the U.S. in providing carefully vetted, “cautiously accurate” information around COVID-19 in a very condensed format each night.

2) Science | AAAS and Science News Magazine are pretty reliable sources for ongoing developments, and delve into much greater depth.

3) STAT has been better than most at delivering accurate breaking scientific and medical news.

4) To get a very helpful picture of the global data on COVID-19, Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) - Statistics and Research at Our World In Data seems to be a great resource.

5) And of course the Coronavirus section of the W.H.O. website is…well…slightly better than mediocre, though sometimes slow to catch up on the latest developments.

And…well…that’s about it, unfortunately. I’ve been pretty appalled at the wild inaccuracy of many other news and information sources — including ones I have relied upon for many years. They are truly terrible right now.

Lastly, I’ll offer my own web page on COVID-19, which attempts to keep up-to-date on the latest information and provides resources for further research: COVID-19 Overview | Integral Lifework

Of course…this answer must itself be taken with a grain of salt, as I’m just clawing my way through a twilight of understanding like everyone else.

I hope this was helpful.

What made democracy stop at electing people? Why didn't it grow into a democracy where people vote for all (or most) major decisions that has real affects on their day to day lives?

So the OP is definitely onto something here. For one, direct and semi-direct democracies do exist where people continue to have a say in their own governance on nearly any issues they choose to engage on. Examples range from Switzerland (semi-direct) to Rojava and the Zapatistas (direct). And those systems work surprisingly well.

So why do we have representative democracies instead of direct or semi-direct democracies?


Well, the history of U.S. democracy provides a very good example of how this came about. Most of the Founding Fathers were, frankly, terrified of direct democracy, and echoes of those fears remain today when Quorans use terms like “mob rule” to characterize such a system. Instead, the Founders decided that the best way to moderate the “mob” of the electorate was to ensure only educated, wealthy, ostensibly white, landed gentry (men of course) could be appointed by states to the Senate, to act as a firewall against any overreach of the will of the people. Kinda funny, isn’t it? Not really democracy at all…but that non-democratic system remained in place in the U.S. until the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913. So for nearly the first century-and-a-half of U.S. “representative democracy” the voters couldn’t even elect their own representatives (senators in this case).

In short, the primary answer is fear that people wouldn’t be educated or world-wise enough to make good decisions. And we hear that same argument from many conservatives today. So who gets to decide, then? As it was in the beginning, so it remains today in the U.S.: Because of issues like corporate lobbyists such as A.L.E.C, massive amounts of dark money funding election campaigns because of Citizens United, and imbalanced corporate control of media messaging after the Fairness Doctrine was ended by Ronald Reagan, those with financial means and social capital and status have ended up making a lot of the most important decisions about who gets elected and what legislation gets passed. This is why the U.S.A. has always been a mix of democracy and plutocracy — with the balance leaning more and more toward plutocracy in recent election cycles.

Again, there are many direct and semi-direct democracies around the world that demonstrate how an engaged, thoughtful, and well-informed electorate can make excellent governance decisions about their own lives — both locally and nationally.

For more on this topic, I recommend these links:

Direct democracy - Wikipedia

The way to modern direct democracy in Switzerland

Switzerland: Swiss Direct Democracy

Why do people oppose opening the economy with social distancing guidelines?

It’s pretty simple: physical distancing isn’t enough to stop an explosive spread of coronavirus. In order to open the economy back up at all, we need to be able to contain, track and treat COVID-19 so that overall disruption and fatalities can be reduced. To do that will require:

1) Better, faster, more widely available testing of COVID-19 infection and antibodies.

2) Adequate supplies of effective masks for everyone who is out in public.

3) Financial support for folks who are at high risk and aren’t able to do their job.

4) A treatment that reduces lethality and permanent injury from infection.

5) And, ultimately, both a vaccine that works and broader herd immunity.

Right now, we have NONE of these things. So this is simply going to take time.

However, folks are also increasingly realizing that there is a larger issue in play: that we may not really want to “go back” to what we had before, and instead have an opportunity to address some pretty nasty systemic problems. Here is a great article about this:

We Are Living in a Failed State

My 2 cents.

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

This is a false choice.

The impact on jobs and the economy is temporary, not permanent. Also the numbers used aren’t even close to correct. The question would be much more accurately stated: “Should tens of millions of people experience a temporary loss of income — for perhaps a few months — so that a few million people’s lives will be saved?”

That is a bit closer to the mark in terms of tradeoffs. As to whether that is “just” or not, I suppose it comes down to the morality you are operating on — whether temporary economic suffering somehow trumps careless and avoidable death in your worldview. In reality, the economic impact of COVID-19 is much worse because we have structured our society to funnel all the wealth to a few people, while leaving the majority of the working population in debt and without much savings or assets. So the bigger question really is:

“Is it just that tens of millions of millions of people are so vulnerable to COVID-19’s economic impacts, mainly because a few thousands have accumulated all the wealth in society?”

My 2 cents.

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

Yes it can — but if and only if an “alternative interpretation” of a dogmatic worldview can easily be generated or argued. Since most group ideologies are grounded in their broader culture, and most individual ideologies are shaped by life experiences and that person’s native proclivities, it is relatively easy to separate out what a specific ideology may actually teach from what some fanatic group or individual lunatic believes. If, however, an “alternative interpretation” isn’t easily available, that’s when things become problematic. For example, it is very difficult to find anything redeeming in most white supremacist writings — there is no rational “alternative interpretation” that makes them less racist, irrational, or toxic. At the other extreme, a person who reads the Quran isn’t likely to arrive at the conclusion that it encourages all nonbelievers to be killed — because that’s not what the Quran teaches. In other words, it’s quite easy to arrive at an “alternative interpretation” of the intent of the passages in the Quran that advocate self-defense. So in this case even when some Muslims are engaged in violent fanaticism, even a non-believer can rationally conclude that these fanatics are acting out of their own selfish reasons, or have been manipulated and deceived, rather than really being justified by the ideology (Islam) they claim to espouse.

My 2 cents.

What are the differences between competition and cooperation?


They don’t need to be different. Friendly competition with the mutually agreed-upon goal of creating excellence and innovation is, in effect, “cooperation.” What has happened in some cultures — most notably here in the U.S. — is that “competition” takes on hostile, winner-take-all, zero-sum game characteristics. At the same time, “cooperation” is seen by these same hostile competitors as a weakness — an opportunity to exploit or gain advantage. To some degree, the profit motive combined with monopoly and expectations of scarcity (i.e. fear) tends to encourage this non-cooperative competitiveness. It seems to be a sort of malady of being culturally immature.

My 2 cents.

Why are people still thinking political even in this Covid-19 situation, instead of uniting all forces to overcome it?

Thanks for the question. My take is that there are many different reasons why COVID-19 is still being politicized and a unified effort is so challenging here in the U.S. — some of the reasons are more obvious, some more subtle. Here are a few that come to mind:

1) The profound political polarization of the country perpetuates partisan polemics — about everything. Nothing, really, can escape this gravity well right now.

2) Lots of folks are benefitting from politicization of COVID-19 — politicians taking a political stance to help them stay in office, companies and media outlets rushing to fulfill the latest priorities of the current political agenda, and so on.

3) There is a paucity of trustworthy leadership, competence and appropriate knowledge at both the national and state levels of government. This is true for both the legislative and executive branches. And, without these qualities, all the really remains is rhetoric, persuasion, and “Us vs. Them” jockeying to move the policy needle in any direction. It’s a sad situation.

4) The American electorate has an unfortunate habit of “going with their gut” instead of really thinking things through carefully. This is a gross overgeneralization of course — there are plenty of thoughtful voters out there — but, on the whole, I think this has been a pervasive problem. And one of the consequences is that these people’s opinions are not usually shaped by facts or logic, but by emotional appeals, groupthink, and the magnetism of their chosen “authority” on a given subject. It is, essentially, the perfect environment for political propaganda and maneuvering to shape all public discourse and narratives around something like COVID-19.

5) Most politicians — especially those who have survived a pretty hostile environment and remained in office for years — reflexively act on political instinct first, and everything else second. It’s behavioral conditioning because of an antagonistic status quo.

My 2 cents.

When is a conservatorship necessary?

This is a very difficult topic. I resisted conservatorship for my own mom when she began to show signs of dementia. I wanted to respect her independence and agency. Unfortunately, over the course of two years, she was victimized by numerous scams that depleted all of her supplemental income, and ran up a large amount of debt. She then began to have difficulty caring for herself physically. Initially, I took the route of adding some in-home support for her (she was still living in her own house at the time) — help with errands, nurse visits to monitor her medications and blood sugar, help with bathing, and so on. But those in-home resources began to report increasing concern about my mom’s behaviors and risk (leaving the stove on, leaving the front door open in winter, hostile outbursts, eating foods that made her conditions worse, poor personal hygiene, and so on). My mom did not seem to be “losing it,” she seemed okay to me. But I was in denial.

Then she had a stroke — one that was very likely caused by her poor compliance with diabetes treatment and diet.

After initial hospitalization and rehab, my mom returned home. Her stroke still wasn’t enough to convince me she couldn’t be independent, and she was still very high functioning. In discussing the situation with my mom she also made it clear the she wanted to “die at home” and didn’t want to move into assisted living or have more controls put on her life. She had always lived as a free spirit, and so this all made sense to me.

Then I discovered the scams, debt, and loss of resources — but only when my mom started to ask me for money. She had elaborate excuses about what had happened to her income, but eventually admitted that, in addition to clearing out all of her reverse mortgage, she was cashing her Social Security check each month and giving that to the scammers (in its entirety) as well. She didn’t see anything wrong with any of this, because….

She was told she had won two million dollars and a Mercedes, and that she needed to pay taxes on the prizes in order to receive her money and new car.

No matter how I tried to convince her that this was obviously a scam, she couldn’t be reasoned with. She was sure she had won a prize. She had even gone down to a local police station to show them the letter and complain about not receiving her winnings. And although the police then became aware of the fact she was being scammed, they could do nothing. When I spoke with them, they said “she is a willing party…unless she files a complaint herself, we can’t go after these scammers.” Apparently, this sort of scam on the elderly is reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S.A.

So, finally, the critical mass of red flags got through my denial, as my mom was now:

1. Not managing her chronic health conditions at all, and putting herself at risk.

2. Not managing her money at all, and not able to pay bills or buy food.

3. Not able to keep herself or her house clean.

4. Giving her money away — anytime she received any income (including from selling her beloved jewelry and collected art at a pawn shop!), she would call the scammers immediately to pay them. The scammers would then send a cab to pick up the money, sometimes even driving my mom to the bank or a Walmart to cash a check. It was insidious and constant. And if my mom wasn’t delivering, the scammers would call my mom ten or fifteen times each day to bully her into giving them more money.

So I called adult services (the “elder abuse” department) for the state and asked what I could do. The social worker there was amazing. She helped me jump through all of the hoops necessary to get my mom into conservatorship. Thankfully, my mom still trusted me enough that she agreed to one voluntarily. However, working with a local senior center in town, I was also able to have her assessed by a psychiatrist who confirmed the dementia diagnosis and evidence of incapacity to manage her financial affairs. This was a key step, and would have been even more necessary if my mom had not voluntarily entered conservatorship.

At first, I tried a third party conservator who lived in my mom’s town — I live on the other side of the U.S. so this seemed to make good sense. Unfortunately, the conservator, a former law enforcement officer, was almost as bad as the scammers and provided no services at all in exchange for high fees. This included not paying my mother’s bills, which sent everything into a deeper downward spiral.
Eventually, I had to become my mom’s conservator myself. This involved yet another trip to probate court and another authorization for me to become “conservator of person and estate” for my mom. Again, this was voluntary. It would have been much more difficult had my mom not allowed it voluntarily.

I then embarked on a year of daily management of my mom’s health and finances. If I had not become her conservator, she would have ended up on the street or worse…and I likely wouldn’t have found out until it was too late to help. Now she is in a dementia care facility and doing fairly well — and that transition, too, would likely not have happened had I not been involved in her care. As her dementia progressed, my mom’s confusion and aggressive behaviors were putting her at substantial risk. She needed 24/7 care.

But that didn’t mean I didn’t feel guilty about “putting her in a nursing home,” which was exactly what she said she didn’t want. I felt terrible, especially because in her first few weeks all she could do was beg to be taken home. You could say the final vindication for the decision to move her into care came when she had a serious cardiac event that required bypass surgery. Had she not been in care, she would have died two years ago. Right now, she is doing well, and I can visit her via video chat. She doesn’t know who I am anymore, but she always smiles and is delighted to see a face she at least knows is familiar and kind to her. Her old friends who all live nearby occasionally come to visit her, too, and that always brings her joy in-the-moment as well. And, a bit surprisingly, she loves the food at the facility and some of the activities there, like bowling.

So, via this not-easy-and-simple answer, I hope I have conveyed how difficult the conservatorship decision — and process — can be. There have been lots of other hiccups, too, such as making sure my mom’s financial resources continue to be managed so that her care can be paid for. There have been other medical crises. There have been psychiatric crises. There have been challenges dealing with Social Security, Medicare Part B insurance, and so on. It really never ends, and it is never easy. But my mom could not have navigated any of this herself.

I hope this was helpful.

COVID Easter 2020



My sanity is bound by hope
That after this entombed stillness
Of prescribed isolation
We will resurrect ourselves
Casting away the layered dressings
Of our self-wrought calamity
And breathe fresh morning air
Thoughtfully renewed
In the garden of Earth

What will this new life be?
What will define the yearning brightness
That penetrates our darkest hour?
What clarion lures us forth
From this uneasy sleep?
What, really, is the point
Of our return?

Is it a soaring stock market?
Feverish consuming of endless stuff?
A disregard for every living thing –
Even our own young?
Perpetual striving and toiling
To create another shiny lie
To summit in the dark?
Another hollow victory
Of affluent self-importance?

No…that is the chiseled rock
– An obsessive labor of futility –
That formed the cold and rigid damp
Of our own negation
That is the old way
Of unresurrected self
Blinded into foolishness
By a fixed and narcissistic gaze

To believe in the power
Of rebirth
Is to let go of childish things
And cleave to larger loves
A love of Others
In service and kindness
A love of Nature’s gifts
In respecting and protecting
A love of Beauty
In creating and enjoying
A love of Justice
In championing and obeying
A love of Sharing
In generosity and humility
And a love of Love itself
In remembering, and honoring, the Sacred

Without such reconsideration
We emerge from our tomb
Confused, rudderless, and distraught
Stumbling numbly
Backwards to Golgatha
Eager for the familiar comfort
Of being nailed up on a cross

Without grasping
This moment of renewal
We return to taunted suffering
Pierced by spears of debt
Where greed casts lots
For our lives and our possessions
Where all thirst is quenched
By vile distractions
And our soul cries out:
“Why have you abandoned me?”

This, now, is our chance
To ascend beyond the pettiness
Of “me” and “mine”
To roll away the stone
Of callous indifference
To shed the suffocating mask
Of fearful ignorance
This, now, is the Easter
Of humanity
The lush and fertile change
That delivers us
From ourselves

[Audio version: https://soundcloud.com/user-701150728/covid-19-easter-2020v2]

Where is the line between being highly creative and intellectual, versus being schizotypal?

Thanks for the question — I think it’s a very important one.

First some groundwork….

1. The opinion of many observers of human behavior is that insanity is a pervasive feature of the human condition. In fact, some would go so far to say that anyone presenting as perfectly normal should raise red flags, as they may be “faking it” in order to hide their genuine nature. I’m deliberately avoiding clinical language here, but the point is that, if we really dig around in people’s psyches, we will find evidence of all sorts of ideations and emotions that brush up against one or more particular disorders or dysfunctions. In fact this is likely just who we are as a species — perhaps such rich variation, including high intelligence, creativity, and psychiatric disorders, is a feature of consciousness itself.

2. The difference between someone who ends up receiving a specific DSM diagnosis, and someone deemed to be within a “normal” range, has mainly to do with three things: a) their level of functionality in routine daily life; b) their self-perception about their own level of function or level of distress; and c) a critical mass of formal and informal observations from others about their level of function or distress. A “high functioning, well-adjusted” person who is able to maintain relationships, avoid committing crimes, maintain a job, be satisfied and relatively at peace with their emotional experiences, not set off flares of concern in others who observe their behaviors, and so on will generally not be diagnosed unless and until some major crisis interferes with some or all of these metrics.

Okay, so keeping these fundamentals in mind, let’s now answer the question: ”Where is the line between being highly creative and intellectual, versus being schizotypal?”

There have actually been some hypotheses and research about correlations between intelligence, creativity, and mental illness. Here is a representative sample:

1. The rate of anxiety and mood disorders in Mensa members is over twice as high as in the general population, and they had a higher incidence of other psychiatric disorders as well. (High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities)

2. The rate of several psychiatric disorders in adolescents with low fluid intelligence is higher than the general population. (Fluid intelligence and psychiatric disorders in a population representative sample of US adolescents)

3. It may be that the only difference between creative genius and psychiatric disorders — and antisocial disorders in particular — is temperament (innate or acquired behavioral propensities), as both extremes exhibit many of the same capacities and deficits. (The Association Between Major Mental Disorders and Geniuses)

From the literature available (and of course there is a lot more), it would appear that there is as yet no firm consensus about the relationship between creativity, intelligence, and psychiatric disorders. But there is a lot of data. What we might tentatively conclude from that data — in combination with our own felt experiences, insights, and observations — is that the “line” between creative genius, high intelligence, and psychiatric disorder is quite fuzzy. Disorders, and perhaps especially of the antisocial variety, can correlate with low flexible intelligence and creative problem-solving (fluid intelligence), or coincide with creative genius. It is, in effect, a broad expanse of gray area that is not well understood or easily navigated.

However, what remains to guide that navigation are the aforementioned metrics — qualities of function, equanimity, relationship, sociality, distress and so on. If those qualities achieve “acceptable” levels for the individual, the individual’s intimate relationships and community, and social norms…well then, there is little cause for concern. If those qualities fall short in any of these arenas — either consistently or because of an acute crisis — then it is probably time to consider reaching out for supportive help for the affected parties.

So it really comes down to accurately and honestly assessing those metrics. In my own integral lifework practice, I expand those metrics into thirteen dimensions of well-being, and find that a major disruption or deficit in any one dimension is really enough to cause imbalances and suffering in someone’s life — and an indication that they need to address the neglected dimension(s). Here is a self-assessment for those thirteen dimensions (you can ignore the bit about submitting the assessment to me for review, and just use it as a guideline for your own self-care):
https://www.integrallifework.com/resources/NourishmentAssessmentV2.pdf

As indicated in the “Nourishment Assessment,” I do highly recommend you include others in the assessment process.

I hope this was helpful.

What is the first step to losing democracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some additional references:

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

Do Americans make everything political?

Unfortunately, at this point we have to.

This wasn’t always the case. At one time, you could live in a small community that was insulated from other communities, from the rest of the country, and from the rest of the world.

That really isn’t true anymore. A single national election can determine (and has determined) the following — as have the critical mass of our daily purchasing decisions, the media we consume and support, where we decide to live and pay taxes, how we raise our children, and so on:

1. Whether or not the women in your community can get an abortion.

2. Whether or not you and your family will have healthcare.

3. Whether or not your community has more than one employer — or any at all — due to trade policies (voting in elections) and consumption habits (voting with your dollars).

4. Whether or not you can own a gun, carry a gun, the type of gun, etc.

5. Whether or not a local business can pollute the air or water nearby, or be held accountable for the illness and death that pollution causes over time.

6. Whether or not the BLM land or National Forest near your town becomes primarily an industrial center for raw materials extraction, or primarily a recreational area now and for future generations, or some balance of both.

7. Whether or not you and your children receive a decent education — or any college education at all.

8. Whether or not mass media can fabricate news or be required to provide balanced viewpoints (i.e. the Fairness Doctrine…gone now)

9. Whether or not you can buy something made anywhere but China.

10. Whether or not countless species of animals go extinct each year.

11. Whether or not future generations have anything left of the Earth to enjoy or thrive in (i.e. responding to climate crisis, avoiding nuclear war, etc.).

12. Whether or not someone who lives next door or very far away — even in another country — has a say in any of these matters in their own lives.

I could go on…but I’m sure you see the point. Because of the massive complexity and interdependencies of our current economic and legal systems, it is almost impossible to remain isolated and pretend that how we act (and vote, and consume) individually or locally doesn’t have a cascading impact on everyone else — both in our immediate community and all around the world, and both now and in the future. This is a de facto condition of modernity…to ignore it is just to remain willfully ignorant.

Therefore, everything really is political, now more than ever, and the question becomes: Will I pretend to be an atom who can act any way I please, engaging in life as merely a series of impersonal transactions, without acknowledging the impact of my choices on everyone and everything else, and fantasize that I have no responsibility to consider that impact? Or will I accept the impacts and influence of my choices on others and the world around me, the persisting and expanding relationships between my life and everyone and everything else’s, take responsibility for those relationships, and live more carefully and caringly…?

My 2 cents.

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

Thanks for the question.

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this was helpful.

Is there such a thing as traditional progressivism?

The roots of progressive ideals can easily be traced to the Enlightenment in Europe, where increased understanding and knowledge through reason and scientific inquiry were intended to bring about improved conditions for everyone in society. This was in contrast to the established “traditions” of that time, and so the idea of progress for the betterment of humanity became associated with the Enlightenment itself. And since two core tenets championed by Enlightenment thinkers were liberty and equality, the process of social reform (and revolution) to upend the old traditions and social order also became associated with the Enlightenment.

Now the initial inspiration for the progressive movement in the U.S. was a response to the rise of industrial capitalism, along with its abuses of workers and concentrations of wealth in a small elite, initially during the Gilded Age. In a way, the power of large corporations became a stand-in for the social hierarchies and abuses of old that the Enlightenment sought to address: capitalism replaced feudalism but mirrored the same oppressive power structures as the wealthy owner-shareholders took the place of aristocracy. In this sense progressivism echoed socialism’s response to the same challenges — and with many of the same proposals (worker solidarity, civil rights, etc.). But it is really only at that thirty-thousand-foot level that we can draw parallels between those two movements — or track their evolution over time — but we can see inclinations of the Enlightenment reflected in both. Progressives were primarily interested in returning “power to the people,” and having representatives of local and federal government be much more responsive to the electorate than to special interests like the wealthy elite. Initially progressives focused primarily on empowering and protecting white, working poor folks and their families in this way — and included women’s suffrage in that mix. While socialism of that time also shared this focus, only some socialists advocated advocated as vehemently for strengthening democracy overall.

Today, although it not as coordinated or clearly defined a movement, the central tenets that continue to guide progressives is strengthening civil rights and civil society in opposition to plutocratic oppressions, and continuing to champion liberty and equality. So we can say that these have remained the “traditional values” of progressivism since its beginnings.

Interestingly, what has also persisted in progressive ideas and strategies since the beginning is an almost ridiculous (in terms of effectiveness) diversity of approaches. There has never really been uniform agreement among progressives about how to solve the wealth concentration problem, worker empowerment problem, or improving our elected representation problem. Which is why someone might indeed ask the question of whether “traditional progressivism” has really ever existed. So we can say that the intentions — the goals and aspirations — of progressives have always been the same, and unifying in that respect. But methods…no, that’s always been a hodgepodge of tactics and proposals. In fact, sometimes these have been contradictory approaches — for example, some have emphasized centralized federal government solutions, while others emphasized more localized or distributed solutions (via community organizations, NGOs, etc.); some have emphasized collective solidarity (in unions, civil rights movements, etc.) while others have seemed more individualistic (individual freedom of choice, abortion rights, etc.). These differences probably owe themselves to different conceptions of both liberty and equality.

Lastly, there are some reliable commonalities between most, if not all, modern progressives. The original emphasis on liberty and equality is still present, but it has expanded considerably since the Enlightenment. Today these values are championed not just for white working poor, their families, and women’s suffrage, but also for expanding the same rights and protections to people of color, to animals and the environment, to the sick and elderly, to the LGBTQ community, and so on. And the approaches to championing these interests still rely on reason and scientific inquiry to a substantive degree. The ultimate aim? To improve conditions for everyone — this is still how progress is defined — in opposition to those who would prefer to retain the old hierarchies and concentrations of wealth and power. Fighting plutocratic oppression with democracy and strong civil society is really still the heart and soul of progressivism, and what makes it a longstanding “tradition” in almost every respect.

My 2 cents.

What is the difference between thinking clearly and thinking deeply?

Interesting question. I experience those as two sides of the same coin…or two aspects of the same process. Depth is necessary to navigate complexity, weigh everything carefully and multidimensionally, allow lots of space for multiple vectors of cognition and insight — in order to arrive at the “aha.” Clarity is necessary to distill, to filter the muddy waters of cognition, to differentiate the signal from the noise, to discern and understand the “aha” when it presents itself. Both are forms of discipline that, in combination, can synthesize discernment and wisdom.

My 2 cents.

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

First I would encourage everyone not to listen to anything Trump says…ever. Any sensible person with an average IQ can observe that Trump can’t stop lying and contradicting himself. At every turn, he has downplayed the severity of COVID-19 and its impacts. Trump is, by almost any measure, an incompetent idiot. So instead, we should all become a bit more educated about the details of the novel coronavirus ourselves. Here is a page with helpful links and a frequently-updated overview: COVID-19 Overview

As to the impact on those under a “stay-at-home” order….

The potential negative impacts are both economic and psychological. Some people (like me, to be honest) are natural hermits who are perfectly happy spending time alone, and can keep themselves occupied and entertained without a lot of social interaction. Others are wired to be much more social, engaged, and entertained through interactions and activities that involve many people. This latter group will undoubtedly suffer a great deal during this period of social distancing — in particular I’m thinking of young people whose entire self-concept and self-esteem may be grounded in their social interactions. So having online activities and ways to connect virtually may be very important, and it seems as though there is already recognition of this and attempts to increase such online activity options. Nevertheless, depression and anxiety may be real battles for large numbers of highly social people right now. To address that challenge, I recommend folks take a look at the thirteen dimensions of nourishment (there is a free overview and self-assessment on the Integral Lifework website), and see if they can add some activities that nourish parts of themselves they may be neglected.

On the economic side of things, the situation could get very dire for those who have lost all of their income. There are several efforts at the state and federal levels to help people — from direct monetary payouts, to temporary debt and recurring bills forgiveness, to free medical care for COVID-19 tests and treatment. The benefits of these efforts will become clearer in the coming weeks, and they will certainly help cushion the blow. But they will only be effective for the short-term. The more permanent solution will be a) a COVID-19 vaccine, which is likely 12–18 months away; or b) a more successful and reliable COVID-19 treatment than anything tried so far — which could arrive much more quickly than a vaccine. Once either or both of these are in place, then economic recovery can begin in earnest. At the same time, this may also be a helpful moment in human history to reevaluate whether neoliberal crony capitalism — with all of its inherent resource depletion, worker exploitation, negative externalities (like climate change), and economic inequalities — should remain our primary global political economy. It just might be time for a change that would help us be better prepared for future crises like COVID-19. To that end, here is a link to an alternative political economy that is more equitable, sane and sustainable: L e v e l - 7 Overview.

My 2 cents.

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

Thanks for the question.

There are a few factors in play I think. First, there is a fair amount of research that shows differences in right-leaning an left-leaning people — both in terms of the values (or “virtues”) that are most important to them, and in the emotions with which they most frequently operate and are motivated. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which from the lists below. Of course, there are also folks who are closer to the middle, sharing characteristics of both groups. But in times of crisis, polarization tends to be even greater, so for now we’ll just look at the two extremes….

Characteristics of Group A:


1. More closed-minded and reactive to things that are new or “different”
2. Strong fear-based reasoning, often centered around losing status (both personally and for their group)
3. High tolerance of cognitive dissonance (when facts don’t match beliefs) and rejection of evidence that contradicts their beliefs — sometimes to the point of rather stubborn stupidity
4. Strong sense of loyalty to own tribe and traditions, resulting in reflexive “Us vs. Them” reasoning
5. Highly skeptical of science, government institutions, genuine altruism, collective concerns, leveling the economic playing field for everyone, and the importance of civil society itself
6. Insists that private enterprise is “more efficient” than government in providing public goods (healthcare, utilities, etc.)

Characteristics of Group B:

1. More open-minded and accepting of things that are new or “different”
2. Strong inclusive and compassion-centered reasoning, sometimes to the detriment of their own status and the status of their group
3. Low tolerance for cognitive dissonance, and fairly frequent updating of position based on new evidence
4. Hardly any loyalty to own tribe and traditions, and so sometimes creating “circular firing squads” within leadership
5. Strongly motivated to embrace science and justify positions and policies with scientific evidence; more trusting of government institutions; confident that altruism is real and important; and generally more invested in collective concerns, leveling the economic playing field for everyone, and the importance of civil society itself
6. Is skeptical of the profit motive’s efficacy in navigating or providing public goods

Now inject a new crisis into the situation: a previously unknown and highly contagious virus that requires close coordination between all governmental institutions; demands reliance on scientific data to plan an effective response; is indifferent to status and partisanship (i.e. doesn’t favor one group over another); and reveals profound weaknesses in privatization of public goods, where the profit motive simply doesn’t work for the scale of response required.

I think when we break down the political spectrum to these kinds of characteristics, it quickly becomes evident why left-leaning folks tend to respond one way, while right-leaning folks tend to respond in an opposite fashion.

My 2 cents.

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

The right-wing propaganda machine has finally lost some of its momentum and, as embodied in the idiocy of Trump, is being abandoned as a farce. The echoes of that propaganda still persist in the fear-mongering around a Sanders nomination — from media on the Left and the Right — but folks are beginning to see through the supposed “moderate” critique to what it really is: the decades-long disinformation campaign of right-wing think tanks, ideological politics, and thought leaders that strives to reject all socialist ideas. This started all the way back with the Red Scare of WWI, was amplified by the neoliberalism of Hayek, Mises and Friedman, came to a head in the era of McCarthyism, resurged in the 1970s after the panicked Lewis Powell Memo (a reaction to the populist revolts of the 1960s), resurged again in the “trickle down” economics of Thatcher and Reagan, was championed even more when the Tea Party movement was coopted by crony capitalists like the Koch brothers, and has now come to a ludicrous climax in the election of an impulsive, megalomaniacal fool as POTUS.

To understand why this conservative “anti-socialist” movement has persisted for so long, just follow the money. The U.S. has had a mixed economy — with elements of both socialism and capitalism — for over a century, but wealthy owner-shareholders always want more. And that means they strive for weaker government and “less interference” from pesky regulations, human rights, environmental protections, etc. This has always been about the rich wanting to get richer, and the only answer to Adam Smith’s “vile maxim” (i.e. “all for ourselves, and nothing for other people”) has been the stronger, more democratic civil society championed by socialism (see How Socialist Contributions to Civil Society Saved Capitalism From Itself). To appreciate just how hard neoliberal conservatives have fought to control and consolidate wealth, I recommend perusing this web page, and then following some of its links: L7 Neoliberalism

Along the same lines, folks are beginning to realize that democratic socialism (as exemplified by much of Northern Europe) is NOT the same thing as authoritarian communism (i.e. Soviet-Style communism) — despite the ongoing right-wing propaganda to the contrary. (For more on this see http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/democratic-socialist-countries/)

In essence…young folks are becoming better educated about what democratic socialism really is. However…stay tuned for the right-wing propaganda machine to begin spouting lies about how socialism “always fails,” etc.

My 2 cents.

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

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

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

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

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

And so on…

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

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

Suppose that I am born of water and of the Spirit and I enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:5). Will my past before I entered into the Kingdom of God remain forever outside the Kingdom of God?

It is unclear what the question means by “remain forever outside the Kingdom of God.” Certainly grace extends into both past and future, and nothing is beyond its reach.

In terms of how we live, however, I would offer the following contrast from the Apostle Paul:

1. What it means to live “inside” the Kingdom of God:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” — Romans 12:1–2

2. What is means to live “outside” the Kingdom of God:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath….” — Ephesians 2:1–3

But even this, too, has little to do with time: it is more a state of mind, a state of heart, a state of being. We cannot excise our past from who we are any more than we can deny the shortcomings or missteps we demonstrate in each emerging moment. Which is why grace is such a powerful force in the lives of those who accept it. At the same time, there is little benefit in receiving that grace if we can’t respond with gratitude, loving kindness, discipline, and devotion: “…faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” — James 2:17

So Christians are exhorted to demonstrate a transformation — not by denying the past, or suppressing it, or imagining that it is “outside” of the Kingdom of God, but by having compassion for that unenlightened soul that is still part of us, and choosing a path of hope and love that blesses and serves others, radiating God’s grace out into the world. This is how the Kingdom of God is “in our midst;” how it is created from moment to moment.

“…therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” — 1 Peter 4:7–11

I hope this was helpful.

Do your values align with the culture you currently participate in?

Thanks for the question.

Well, I have always felt like an outsider in most places I’ve lived. This includes New England, Washington State, Oregon, Germany, Arkansas and now Southern California. And this feeling of not being in sync with my surrounding culture has had a lot to do with differences in values. What’s interesting, though, is that each of these cultures have appreciated and encouraged certain values, while rejecting or de-emphasizing others — and it’s always been a different mix. For example:

1. In Germany and Massachusetts, being honest, open and forthright about opinions and insights was generally encouraged and supported, and a shared primary value with the surrounding culture — whereas that has not been true in Washington, Oregon, Arkansas or SoCal.

2. I’ve always found economic materialism, commercialism and a yearning for personal wealth to be distasteful if not immoral, and here again only some cultures seemed to support and encourage that view to varying degrees — in Washington, Oregon, Germany and Massachusetts there were plenty of folks who felt this way, but far fewer in SoCal.

3. I’ve always valued friendliness, engaging casually with strangers, and generally being prosocial and interested in the lives of others (even if I do not know them personally), and that value has certainly seemed honored and elevated in Southern California and Arkansas, but not as much in the other places I’ve lived.

4. I enjoy appreciating physical beauty in all things — animals and Nature, the human body, art, music, architecture, and so on — and that has been a shared value in SoCal more than any other place I’ve lived, and to a lesser degree in Massachusetts. But in Oregon, Germany, Arkansas and Washington, such appreciation just wasn’t an important part of the broader culture; the folks in these places could appreciate beauty, but it was less important afterthought rather than a central theme.

5. Active kindness and compassion towards everyone — and an emphasis on relationships rather than just “transactions” — has seemed a primary value for me that hasn’t resonated in vary many of these places. I would say Arkansas and Massachusetts generally shared this as a cultural priority, but it has rarely surfaced in the other places I have lived. This may have a bit more to do with “urban vs. rural” culture than regional characteristics, but even in a fairly big city like Little Rock, Arkansas, I felt the people were more compassionate and kind in general than they were in, say, rural Washington.

6. As a progressive-leaning person, I’m a fan of inclusiveness and equality, and not a fan of oppression and exclusion. What’s interesting to me is that how a region generally votes — or the widely held political affiliations of its population — doesn’t always correlate predictably with these values. I lived in Seattle, Washington at a time when it was “deep blue” Democrat politically, but found the region to be economically, racially and culturally segregated both geographically and culturally. It did not feel inclusive or accepting at all. In San Diego County, California, which is much more conservative politically than Seattle, there is a considerably more integrated, accepting and harmonious feel to the culture.

There are other examples of this selective “values affinity,” but these are likely enough to illustrate how there has never been a perfect fit in terms of values alignment.

My 2 cents.

Was it really socialism that "destroyed" Venezuela?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this was helpful.

Corruption in Venezuela - Wikipedia

Venezuela Corruption Report

Cronyism Damaged Venezuela before Chavez

How Hugo Chávez Blew Up Venezuela’s Oil Patch

Venezuela and the “resource curse”

International sanctions during the Venezuelan crisis - Wikipedia

Mixed economy - Economics Help

What are some interesting truths that mystics talk about?

What is interesting?

I suppose sharing some things that I find interesting….

- Our interiority has a lot of answers.

- At a fundamentally important level, there is no difference between this and that…between one thing and everything else.

- Having compassion for everyone and everything is a fulfilling — and ultimately necessary — condition of being; and if mystical practice doesn’t lead us to this space, then there may be something faulty with the practice (or how we are going about it).

- As above, so below…as within, so without.

- Ego throws up a lot of interference to both well-being and truth.

- Letting go — and not acting or reacting — often has great efficacy.

- Some important insights are ineffable.

- Mystical perception-cognition is accessible to most people, but one technique may be more constructive than another in helping open them to it.

- Reason can only lead you so far.

- Seemingly miraculous events often happen along the way, but they have little meaning or import.

- We are rarely as far along in our spiritual journey as we think we are.

My 2 cents.

Why is Sola Scriptura so important to Protestants, and what does it mean?

Luther’s ideal had a noble aim: to remove institutional authority and any elite classes from scriptural interpretation, and place interpretation in the hands of lay folk. Luther’s view of course coincided with the invention and widespread availability of the printing press, and with the consequent rise of literacy and availability of the Bible across Europe. Before this time, only a small percentage of Church members (probably less than 30%) would have been literate, and very few literate or non-literate churchgoers actually had familiarity with Biblical texts. By the end of the 1500s, both of these conditions saw a pronounced shift. So again…it was a noble ideal, especially in the context of the abuses of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy in preceding years. Consider how revolutionary the idea was that any and all individuals could learn about personal salvation and spiritual life without prostrating themselves to some hierarchical authority, or paying lots of money for it?! This was, essentially, the beginning of the democratization of Christian orthodoxy — the elevating of individual ability to formulate and navigate Christian principles on their own.

Of course, any good idea can be taken too far. Some evangelical denominations assert that the Bible basically interprets itself, and does not require any education, or understanding of historical Christian traditions — or any other sort of preparation or education — to understand. Again, this is very empowering for each individual Christian to be able to navigate their own faith — and this certainly seems like a positive thing. But it also introduces an inherent weakness that we see echoed across many different areas of expertise in modern times: that any armchair opinion is equivalent to a well-researched, well-educated, well-informed opinion from an expert in that field. Sometimes, this can be liberating. But quite often, cultural pressures and pervasive groupthink begin to poison the well via things like the Illusory truth effect. Just because “everyone in the Church” is repeating something over and over again does not make it true…and yet this is how much of scripture ends up getting interpreted in modern times among evangelical denominations.

We can then add these additional interferences to the mix, which further dilute the ability of a sola scriptura approach to bear consistent or reliable fruit:

1. Distortions due to biased translation of the Greek and Hebrew. Unless a reader educates themselves on the original Hebrew and Konai Greek in which the biblical texts were written, how can they know they aren’t being sold a particular doctrinal view because of a particular translator’s decisions…?

2. Distortions due the original selection and canonization of particular texts. Most of the New Testament as we know it today wasn’t formally canonized until 363 at the Council of Laodicea — that’s about 300 years after most of the texts were written. But as many who have researched the early Church know, many additional texts were also circulated among the earliest Churches, texts which are today considered “extra-biblical” or apocryphal. So why aren’t those texts part of the “infallible single authority” under the sola scriptura doctrine? That decision preceded sola scriptura…and therefore disrupts its purity as a standard.

3. Distortions due to legalistic, literalistic methods of interpretation. This is a subtler issue to discuss, as it is grounded in the concept of hermeneutics — that is, the principles that guide how we go about interpreting a given text. Unless those principles are clearly thought through, we can inadvertently misunderstand scripture by forcing a particular filter or bias of interpretation onto it. And, unfortunately, that happens a lot in denominations that push sola scriptura into the realm of nuda scriptura (i.e. “scripture left naked” of all traditional contexts).

Sola scriptura also had a rather devastating effect on something else over time — something which was a far more liberating and “democratizing” idea in early Christendom. And that was the promise that holy spirit would continue to provide Christians with guidance and wisdom in their spiritual lives. In this sense, most scripture is the “milk” of the Word — the easily digestible spiritual food for young babes in Christ, teaching the most basic concepts. And, of course, what is easier to do, learn to listen to the subtle inner promptings of spiritual insight — or accept the presence and power of “spiritual gifts” like prophecy — and then develop mature discernment over time, or to accept rigid legalistic interpretations of a written document that “keeps things simple?” Tellingly, both Jesus and the Apostle Paul exhorted early believers to develop more mature spiritual insight through agape, holy spirit, and disciplined practice — instead of relying on legalistic habits like those of the Pharisees and Sadducees, or relying on simplistic “milk,” and never moving beyond it. Yes, studying scripture is part of the mix…but only part. Developing deep discernment, and reliance on the guidance and gifts of holy spirit, takes discipline, focus, hard work, and time. And yet this is the truly liberating and enduring power that Jesus offered as part of a revolutionary shift: everyone and anyone could enter the holiest of holies; everyone and anyone could participate in the Kingdom of God; everyone and anyone could receive the holy spirit as helper and guide. But too many members of the Church — both centuries ago and today — are simply not interested in exercising this incredible privilege and gift. So they rely exclusively on scriptural authority instead.

Just my 2 cents.

P.S. I thought this article from a self-described evangelical was a thoughtful take on sola scriptura vs. nuda scriptura: Sola Scriptura … Not Nuda Scriptura!

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

I suspect this is far too broad a question to answer definitively without additional qualification. Here are some considerations that would probably be productive additions to the mix:

1. Which utilitarian — or which “flavor” of utilitarianism (i.e. “negative;” “act;” “rule;” “motive;” etc.) — is being consulted.

2. Whether that utilitarian/flavor of utilitarianism includes something close to a Rawlian characterization of justice as fairness (in contrast to liberty or equality alone, for example) in the moral framing of their version of utility.

3. Whether or not a particular utilitarian (regardless of their flavor of utilitarianism) agrees with Rawlian logic (i.e. his “two principles of justice” and veil-of-ignorance test). If they do, then they might exclaim: “Good job Rawls!” if Rawlian logic facilitates conditions they would agree with. If they don’t agree — or they can’t envision a supportive level of facilitation for conditions they would value — well then they wouldn’t be as laudatory.

Without such qualification, it is nigh unto impossible to estimate a generic response. As one approach, I would recommend taking just one prominent thinker — say Karl Popper — and attempting to analyze Rawlian proposals within just his elucidation of negative utility and critiques of utopianism. This would still be speculative, but likely much more fruitful (and certainly more focused) than attempting to anticipate every possible variation of utilitarian response.

My 2 cents.

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

The U.S., along with most of the rest of the developed world, has already proven that “mixed economies” (mixing socialism with capitalism) can be very productive, as long as corporate power and wealth can be moderated by civil society (civic institutions, democracy, the rule of law, regulatory enforcement, etc.). Most other experiments (including those with socialism) have succeeded most when democracy and actual diffusion of power and wealth were strong. So really, what the U.S. needs to “try” is a return to this sensible balance. Right now, big money and big corporations pretty much own the U.S. outright — the voice of the people, and any real distribution of power and wealth, has been defeated by relentless neoliberal policies, leaders and politics…since about the time of Reagan. But if we can take a clear, propaganda-free look at the negative externalities of capitalism (like climate change), and work hard to rein in the influence of the owner-shareholder class, then the U.S. just might be able to regain a healthy trajectory. Does this mean “more socialism?” From the perspective of conservative, free market fundamentalists — it sure does seem like a bit more public ownership and control over things the plutocrats would rather keep for themselves. In terms of enacting Soviet-style Communism, absolutely not. Fear of that outcome is pure propaganda. But those wealthy owner-shareholders just don’t want to let go of the control and influence they have right now…and that could in fact bring the U.S.A. to its knees.

We shall see….

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

This is a funny question. Why? Because:

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

Do tax cuts hurt the economy?

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

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

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

My 2 cents.