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, 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.

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.

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

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

Here are a few of the top considerations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this was helpful.

What is the relationship between trauma and the formation of rigid ideological stances?

This is a great question - thanks.

I’ll offer two avenues for consideration:

1. My own experiences and observations. Without exception, every single person I have ever known — and every author or thinker I have ever read — who has held extreme ideological views has, at some point, experienced pronounced or prolonged trauma prior to age 25. There also seems to be a strong correlation between the severity, duration, nature of trauma, and the age in which it occurred, and the types of ideological and emotional distortions that manifest later on. In a fairly concrete sense, I would say that extreme trauma, combined with a lack of opportunity and/or willingness to heal, the weaknesses of a person’s innate psychological constitution, and early exposure to extreme ideologies, nearly always result in fanaticism of some kind. This is also a fairly predictable formula for the triggering of genetic dispositions toward mental illness. We might even roughly generalize that extreme ideological stances are forms of mental illness.

In attempting to understand this pattern, observed so consistently over many years, I’ve hypothesized that trauma encourages “exclusionary bias;” that is, denying some forms of information and experience (that are internally or externally generated) to have any influence over our perception-cognition. The chart in this article outlines some of these relationships: Sector Theory 1.0 – Todd's Take on Epistemology

2. More formal research. An increasing body of research seems to indicate that childhood trauma and non-supportive environments retards development and cripples judgement and ideation in adulthood. The predictable consequence is that ideologies that capitalize on fear, make negative assumptions about people and outcomes, are disconnected from reality and concrete evidence, offer formulaic responses to risk, distort (attenuate or exaggerate) compassionate consideration of others, suppress flexible emotional/empathetic responses in favor of detached analytical judgement, perpetuate self-victimization identities, or appeal to an immature or juvenile mindset of rebellion and nonconformism, will all be more attractive to someone whose development has been affected by trauma. I’ve offered some resources on this research below.


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3731065/
http://resources.css.edu/academics/med/2015conferenceresources/children-and-trauma.pdf

Understanding the Impact of Trauma

Assessing and addressing the impact of childhood trauma: Understanding why childhood trauma leads to an increased risk for psychosis

https://www.ohiocasa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/F07.pdf

Child Trauma Effects Often Last Into 50s and Beyond

I hope this was helpful.

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

Does equal opportunity lead to equal outcomes?

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this was helpful.

Can we end capitalism?

First of all, capitalism is already striving mightily to end itself — by being inherently unsustainable, extractive, exploitative, and fraught with negative externalities that seem to balloon exponentially with each passing year — so we may not need to take active steps to end it.

That said, plenty of folks have offered viable alternatives to traditional capitalism, and proven that they work quite well. These include:

- Left-anarchist mass societies (see List of anarchist communities), some of which still exist today.

- Non-profit worker’s cooperatives (see List of worker cooperatives), many of which have done better than competing capitalist enterprises.

- The “common pool resource management” examples documented by Elinor Ostrom’s research, most of which arose organically as a non-capitalist, non-statist approach to managing the commons.

- Some pretty nifty market socialist approaches that create an interesting hybrid (one example being Switzerland’s non-profit health insurance system).

There are of course many other approaches that include “lessons learned” from failed socialist experiments — the book The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisited by Alec Nove comes to mind.

And here is my own offering: L e v e l - 7 Overview

Really capitalism hasn’t been around that long — it was a natural evolution from feudalism and mercantilism, and has never been entirely free of crony capitalist corruption. Mixed economies that combined capitalism, socialism and strong civic institutions offset some of the worst abuses of capitalism in most of the developed world for a few decades, but even those efforts are now failing. So again…capitalism is already ending itself.

The real question, IMO, is whether we will be able to arrest the free fall and introduce something new before everything crashes and burns.

Stay tuned….

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

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

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

2. Economic austerity measures — also an utter failure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

What are some writers similar or complementary to Noam Chomsky?

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

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

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

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

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

- Howard Odum
- David Holmgren
- Peter Pogany

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

- Paulo Freire
- Paul Piff

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

The term "intellectual" is increasingly used in a derogatory sense, evoking a certain left-wing elitism. What should intellectuals do to escape this stereotype?

The really humorous thing about this dynamic (i.e. stereotyping “intellectuals” — or subject experts — as elitists who are out of touch with common experience) is that the folks usually using that stereotype it are even more out-of-touch with reality than “intellectuals” are. The anti-intellectual sentiment coming from right-wing propaganda is quite deliberate in this respect: it wants to villainize anything that is grounded in critical thinking, science, evidence and data — usually in favor of ideological principles that are routinely undermined by that data. Hence climate crisis is a left-wing conspiracy invented by academics to get grant money; solid historical economic data that shows how “trickle-down” theory (supported by the laughable “Laffer curve”) and austerity policies fail utterly can likewise be dismissed as “elitist” fabrication; statistics that prove how abortions decline wherever Planned Parenthood has a well-funded presence is crushed by hateful vitriol from pro-life folks who fervently believe Planned Parenthood should be defunded; science that proves cigarette use is linked to cancer becomes part of a “liberal anti-business agenda;” and so on ad nauseum. Such has been the relentless drumbeat of conservative think tanks since the early 1970s.

But can you see the problem? The folks who attack intellectualism (and/or left-wing elitism) have to do so to defend their completley-detached-from-reality beliefs and distortions of fact. Which is of course advantageous to the wealthy conservative owner-shareholders who benefit the most from voters, politicians and talkshow hosts parroting right-wing lunacy. Hence voting Republican in the U.S. has become synonymous with supporting unicorn policies and practices that maintain plutocracy and insulate the wealthiest elite, while effectively knee-capping scientific counter-narratives that could actually benefit everyone else. Critical thinking and actual evidence-based approaches simply cannot be allowed!

So I will proudly say “Yes, I tend to trust well-educated experts who’ve spent their lives researching and testing ideas with real-world data.” You say these are “intellectuals?” I say they are simply competent — much more so than armchair bombasts who believe in unicorns.

As to why folks who decry intellectualism are so confident in their armchair fantasies, I recommend reading up on the Dunning–Kruger effect.

Does socialism mean rejecting the idea that it's acceptable to make self-interest your primary concern?

An interesting question but an odd one, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. But I’ll give it my best shot….

1. Socialism is really about moral maturity. A mature person can have self-interest, while also caring about others. They can promote their own position and advantage, while also desiring to lift others up at the same time. Their “primary concern” can be “the good of All,” without necessarily sacrificing their own well-being.

2. Socialism is also about sharing both responsibility and benefits with everyone. It recognizes that there is no “individual right” without the agreement of the collective to support that right. “Self-interest” without civil society is just thuggery, but self-interest in the context of civic responsibilities and privileges that everyone shares becomes collective self-interest. In other words, “self-interest” becomes less individualistic/atomistic.

3. Socialism aspires to pure democracy. The most successful socialist experiments are those with the most vigorous democracy — because the more distributed power becomes, the more inherently equitable society (and wealth distribution, etc.) becomes.

Socialism is often misunderstood for two simple reasons: First, because of pro-capitalist propaganda that attacks straw men that socialism isn’t; and second, because socialist implementations occur across a spectrum — including intersections and combinations with capitalism.

My 2 cents.

What part of "Shall not be infringed" does the government not understand?

Well I’d say that, considering the level of debate around the 2nd Amendment over many decades now, no one really understands in any absolute sense what isn’t supposed to be infringed — and that includes governments at all levels. The wording of that single sentence is not clear. On the one hand, Amendment II seems to indicate that the federal government can’t infringe upon the right of states to have militias made of ordinary citizens. On the other, it also seems to indicate that citizens should be allowed to individually keep and carry arms — ostensibly for service in such a militia. But it really isn’t very clear beyond that what other conditions “shall not be infringed.”

Now, mainly as a consequence of military firearms manufacturers needing a new market as their military product orders declined, the debate about the 2nd has shifted. Should AR-15s be purchased by individual citizens, so they can participate in state militias to resist federal government tyranny? Well…okay, sure. But that’s not why they’re being purchased — and the original intent of the 2nd (if we in fact can discern it) doesn’t work very well as justification to sell military weapons to individual civilians who aren’t participating in a state militia. Which is why the propaganda and marketing focus shifted to a more absolute right than what is actually stated: the right to “keep and bear arms” for personal protection — or for personal resistance to government as a more general principle.

The problem, of course, is that the “personal protection” argument — which can in fact be supported by the many of the discussions, practices and documents from the period in which the 2nd was written — can rationally only be applied to non-military weapons. Individual citizens don’t need to protect themselves from the incursions of other nation states, or brigades of rogue soldiers that happen to show up at their door. That’s what the state militias are for. And indeed the “individual resistance to tyrannical government” argument really doesn’t have any historical basis…it’s quite an imaginative invention that has no support in documents and reports contemporary to the writing of Amendment II.

So…we have a right to personally bear arms that are suitable for personal defense as one possible thing “not to be infringed;” and we have the right to personally keep arms in readiness for participation in a state militia as the other thing “not to be infringed.” And therein lies the problem: because at the time of the writing of Amendment II, those two separate conditions were served by the very same firearms: muskets and pistols. You see the problem? It made complete sense at the time the 2nd was written not to differentiate between different weapons for different purposes…because they were one-and-the-same at that time.

Within a century, however, the two groups of weapons increasingly diverged, in both their specialized application and their lethality…and continued to do so more and more over subsequent decades. Hence individual citizens didn’t own machine guns for personal protection, and the military didn’t rely on compact 25mm purse pistols to defeat enemy combatants in the field. At the same time, a common sense distinction between the two types of weapons endured right up through the 1960s — and various laws (1934 NFA, 1968 GCA) were written to clarify that distinction. Interestingly, these laws also identified a third category of weapons and modifications: those designed for or associated with criminal activity — such as sawed off shotguns, silencers, explosive devices, etc. And so we arrived at the rather extreme separation in categories of weapons and specialized functions that we see today, ones that common sense can still discern: explosive devices, missiles and poison gas are not the same thing — and simply do not serve the same purposes — as a handgun.

But then, when it became clear by the early 1970s that public sentiment and national politics were opposed to large scale wars, and sales of military weapons by firearms manufacturers began to plummet, those companies strategized a new tactic that they continue to employ today: Every American had a Constitutional right to own military weapons! (see articles below) By the the 1980s, that tactic was in full swing, and the “common sense distinction” that had existed for two centuries evaporated. So that’s how things got so confused…or rather, that’s how the firearms manufacturers were able to muddy the waters. These companies lobbied for the ability to sell military firearms to civilians in order to enlarge their market — ignoring what had become a very large difference is weapons specialization, and using the 2nd Amendment and an implicit threat of government oppression as a smokescreen for their deceptive manipulations. And of course influential groups like the NRA, which were initially supportive of moderate gun control measures, were then taken over by those who supported the loosening of restrictions that benefited gun manufacturers (see 'Revolt at Cincinnati' molded modern NRA).

And, as it turned out, a spirit of Constitutional righteousness combined with fear of oppression and the “helplessness” of not owning a gun was a great sales tool. Gun profits soared.

Then, after firearms manufacturers had “militarized” the civilian U.S. population, they obviously needed to militarize law enforcement to match that rising firepower — and another juicy market for their products was born.

All of this has been, essentially, the perversion of the Constitution — and the annihilation of common sense — just to make a buck.

My 2 cents.

How it started: Militarization of Civilian Market.pdf

Using fear to sell guns: Fear Is the NRA and Gun Industry’s Deadliest Weapon

Gun profits soar: Gun boom: Smith & Wesson profits double, sales soar 40%

How it all fits together: San Bernardino shooting: US gun sales soar as new front opens in push for gun control

How it keeps happening: How Military Guns Make the Civilian Market

The militarization of law enforcement: We now have a terrifying, militarized law enforcement system

Comment from Ben Andrews: "I would say that the distinction between military and non-military weapons is facile. Like so many distinctions with regard to firearms, this military/ personal one is drawn after the fact, at a point convenient to the classifier."


LOL. I think everything posted on social media is facile, Ben. :-) The level of complexity of most topics here on Quora goes far beyond what brief statements can capture. I still try to add supportive links for folks to follow up and explore with more depth, but I find very few fellow Quorans actually take the time to read them. Everyone seems to want neat, easy-to-chew packages of info. This is understandable, given the firehose of information coming at us from all directions in the current age. But for the purposes of real, substantive discussions…well, it’s a little frustrating, to be sure.

That said, specialization occurs in every industry, and has snowballed with the industrial and technological revolutions. There are tools and gadgets in each profession now that are totally unrecognizable to every other profession. The same thing has happened with specialized language. It’s one of the reasons, I think, that society itself is fragmenting: people literally can’t understand each other. The only force countervailing this is mass media, which tends to overly simplify and gloss over any level of detail or specificity, in order to achieve a lowest-common-denominator stream of easily-digested communication. The only real remedy is…again…for folks to take actual time and effort to more thoroughly research something.

In this case, firearms have not been immune to specialization across different fields. Although there have always been specialized applications (neither deck cannon nor dueling pistols would likely be used for hunting in the 1700s, for example), those specializations have snowballed like everything else. The ~$1,300 SSK Contender, MOA Maximum, or Freedom Arms 2008 are single-shot pistols or hunting game. No one would ever consider these practical for self-defense or military applications. And yet this highly specialized style of firearm has a growing market. Likewise the Rheinmetall MG3 really only has one purpose: mowing down humans at 1,300 rounds per minute — again, not really useful for plinking, target practice or game. There are firearms that have some history of multiple specialties, like certain hunting rifles used for sniper applications (Remington Model 700, for example), but even here you won’t see any hunting rifle listed in the top choices for snipers nowadays — instead, you’ll see highly customized firearms like the Steyr SSG 69…which, again, isn’t generally used for anything else.

So this is the state of affairs for most technology. Just buying a tool in a hardware store can be overwhelming to folks who don’t know what specific type of hammer, wrench or saw they need for their specific application. The same is true of paint for a specific surface or condition. Or clothing for a specific activity. And so on.

So this is really not an “after-the-fact” distinction. In reality, companies spend tremendous $$$ on R&D to develop new specialized lines of products that appeal to experts, hobbyists and professionals in a given field or activity. And, of course, this intended, planned and executed differentiation is why civilians can’t easily purchase an M16, and must make do with an AR15.

Hopefully this is a slightly less facile explanation of specialization.

Why does California have high taxes, high poverty rates, and so many homeless despite all its wealth?

I don’t mean to be flippant, but deepening income inequality is a problem everywhere there is capitalism.

As to California specifically, “high taxes” is a bit of an incorrect stereotype. If you look at a combined burden of local sales tax rates, state income tax rates, estate and inheritance tax rates, and property tax rates, California is actually pretty low compared to many other states (NY State, for example) — especially for middle and lower income folks. And, in fact, there have also been tax revolts over time — everything from Prop 13 (limits property tax increases) to revoking a luxury tax on expensive vehicles statewide. In both cases, these taxes used to pay for a lot of public programs and services…and now that money is gone.

What is really burdensome in CA (especially where I live, in San Diego) is the overall cost of living — food, medical expenses, gasoline, water, energy, apartment rental, home purchases…pretty much EVERYTHING costs more in CA (Sperling’s Best Places puts San Diego at 160% of the U.S. average). And, let me tell you, 160% is painfully high. Now combine this with the fact that wages are very depressed in California — and especially SoCal — to the tune of about 65% of similar metropolitan areas. So you pay more to live here, but earn less. They call this the “sun dollar” tax: because it’s sunny, beautiful weather, you have to pay extra for it. It’s also a consequence of having a LOT of cheap professional labor from Mexico making daily trips across the border to fulfill routine business and consumer needs — this takes a sizable chunk out of local business revenues in some industries, and depresses prices across the board for many goods and services.

Homelessness happens because of many of these economic factors…but the homeless population in California has also grown because people will come here from other places in the U.S. due to the climate year-round. It’s really a great place to be homeless — you aren’t likely to freeze to death.

But again…the reason all of this happens DESPITE really successful wealth production in California is because capitalism doesn’t distribute the wealth it generates — instead that wealth accumulates with owner-shareholders (many of whom may not even live in the state), who don’t necessarily spend that money in California either…and certainly not a lot of it on poor and homeless folks.

My 2 cents.

How does culture affect the emergence and survival of democracy?

What a great question.

In my own work across multiple disciplines, a theme that keeps recurring is that culture is one of the strongest memetic forces in existence — culture dominates nearly every human action and decision, both individually and collectively. Culture is often stronger than religion — so strong that religion tends to conform to culture over time. Culture is stronger than political economy — it informs how governance and economy actually function, regardless of expressed ideals or principles. I’ll offer a few examples that seem to nibble around the edges of cultural dominance:

1. Russian culture habitually gravitates toward strong man autocrats, regardless of their underlying system of government. Tsars were replaced with authoritarian dictators, despite communism and then democracy claiming to represent “the will of the people.” The failure of communism and democracy in Russia are, IMO, a product of a deep and enduring cultural propensity to elevate and uphold a strong man autocrat.

2. Genital mutilation of girls and women continues to occur even where it opposed or unsupported by the dominant religion for centuries. FGM is not supported by the Quran, nor by a majority of hadith (though there are some that seem to support a more limited practice), and some fatwas have even been issued forbidding it — and yet is occurs Muslim countries as a routine practice. It also occurs in neighboring Christian countries, where it has no scriptural basis and was opposed by the earliest Christian missionaries. Why does it persist? Because this *****cultural practice***** preceded both of these religions…and those cultures won’t let it die.

3. Misogyny and oppression of women persists in cultures where Christianity is the dominant religion — despite the fact that the New Testament is full of liberating feminist themes that were truly extraordinary for their time (see excerpt from A Progressive’s Guide to the New Testament.pdf). Again, this is because the culture preceding exposure to Christianity was profoundly patriarchal, often treating women as mere property or brood mares, and those cultural practices and attitudes simply resisted religious reforms.

4. Democracy consistently fails when the culture in which it is being implemented has preexisting power structures that oppose democratic civic institutions. This has been almost universally true — whether it is the consequences of the Arab Spring, U.S. “nation-building,” or some other abrupt introduction of democracy. Whenever the existing cultural power hierarchies (i.e.deference to military or religious authority; deep-seated tribalistic conflicts; economies and governments where bribes, kickbacks and corruption are the norm; etc.) is challenged by democracy, democracy eventually fails.

5. Even where democracy thrives for a time, it can eventually be eroded by culture. There is probably no better example of this than the United States. Although founded on the democratic principles of a republic, the U.S. has also had deeply-seated plutocratic, racist, patriarchal memes in its culture from the beginning. For example, a majority of the Founding Fathers envisioned wealthy white men who owned land as having the most justifiable power in society — at first, those were often the only citizens who could even vote (for U.S. Senators, in certain localities, etc.). Even John Adams — frequently the most progressive-thinking Founder — believed women and the poor should be excluded from voting (see John Adams letter to to James Sullivan). And so, over time, we saw the continued march of racist, sexist plutocracy weakening democratic institutions in the U.S. The invention of “corporate personhood” by a court clerk in 1886; resistance to voting rights for minorities and women for over a century; today, the active disenfranchisement of minority communities by the GOP; unfettered corporate influence in U.S. politics (via lobbyists, A.L.E.C., RAGA, Citizens United ruling, etc.); revolving door politics; and of course neoliberal crony capitalism that captures elected officials and regulatory agencies (see L7 Neoliberalism). So the U.S., once envisioned as a beacon of democratic values, has become a de facto oligarchy. In the same way, the cultural meme of “rugged individualism” has also undermined democratic function, as it confuses atomism and egotistical self-absorption with a “liberty” that must actually be agreed upon by everyone in society (see The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty).

So the answer to the OP’s question: “How does culture affect the emergence and survival of democracy?” Is that strong cultural memes simply preempt or override interobjective structures in society as a matter of social function. It is more important what I learn from my parents, peers, immediate community and cultural tribe than any formalized, institutional elements of civil society. Democracy may seem like a great idea to a society longing to be free — just as a particular religion may seem like it resonates with prosocial values that are important to a given society — but longstanding cultural practices and groupthink can override or undermine both. Nowhere is this more evident than the election of someone like Donald Trump to office, with his ongoing support from Christian evangelicals and other religious conservatives — a person who demonstrates disdainful disregard for democratic civic institutions and most spiritual values, but is wildly popular among the cultural proponents of plutocracy, corporatocracy, misogyny, patriarchy, xenophobia, and the superiority of the white race.

My 2 cents.

DEATH DRIVE - ONE

Within us
both hidden in Shadow
and exposed by Light
as primal as the urge to fuck
destruction haunts our being –
more enthralling
than potent swarms
of tiny deaths
more fundamental than fear
able to discard guilt and doubt
like wisps of ashen doll
along with other childish things –
this is the enigma
we now see face to face:

There is a lie about what evil is.

All being is Light
there is no darkness in it
except the occlusions of ignorance.
Each iteration, expression
manifestation of existence
is love in different form
and only love
from unskilled and muddled brutality
to deluded passions
to perfectly crafted kindness;
So what we believe to be wrong, or bad
or the meanest opposing antagonist
is simply one part of love’s continuum
misunderstanding its own.

Within the mind
negation is no enemy
and emptiness can be full;
within the world
death entwines the genesis of rebirth
and deepest night
invites the sun’s return;
within our hearts
acquiescence opens us
to peace
and letting go
bringing clarity and strength.

But in the realm of spirit
in the Before, where love was born
annihilation has a different heft.
For here, return to nothingness is so complete
that even its conception is bereft:
the will to destroy
regressing to an ever-earlier state
defies the Absolute itself.

A contrast can be made this way….
To behold the face of the Divine
and then be rendered mute
in fiercest sundering of soul
is a soaring acclamation: “YES!”
within silence as a whole;
But Outer Darkness is just that –
it is outside all realms of love
not night with promise
of some future day
but eternal absence of the Light.

This is the truest evil
– the ever-present first
the “NO!” devouring itself
the prime annihilation –
which we confront today.

This is the gnashing maw of death
that deniers of science embrace;
this is the Beast
that evangelicals beckon
with reckless political choice;
this is the extinguishing flame
that industrial commerce
demands consume the Earth;
this is the calamity
that picky liberals
bring upon themselves
when they stay home on election day;
this is what childish, spiteful populism
hateful of progressive change
has voted into being.

And of course this is not new –
just one more cycle
where the center cannot hold –
every age has its genocides
from Holocaust to Holodomor
Armenia to Circassia
Algeria to the Americas;
its ruthless dictators
Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun
Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin
Augusto Pinochet, Queen Mary I
Tamerlane, Pope Innocent III;
its chaotic groupthink
Dancing plagues and the Spanish Inquisition
The Great Fear and Irish Fright
Clown sightings and “Strawberries with Sugar.”
So easily…too easily
we spiral hysterically
into ruin.

Our Death Drive is real
its longing for regression overwhelms
and though hope seems vanquished
and common sense crippled
and lunacy ascendant
(surely even demons
shriek in terror at such folly)
we still reside in love –
we still inhabit that continuum
no matter how foolish we become.

So if you know what evil truly is
and endeavor to resist
with earnest mind and heart
calling on your highest art –
the spirit of a perfect love
that leads to sacred sense –
well then
perhaps all this silliness
can be undone.

If corporations create jobs and pay people who then pay taxes, how would/is increasing the taxes corporations pay help the economy?

Thanks for the question. A positive relationship between corporate tax cuts and “encouraging investment” that leads to economic growth is a fairy tale unsupported by data. It is, in fact, very similar to the fairy tale regarding supply side “trickle down” theory, which has also been soundly debunked (see The IMF Confirms That 'Trickle-Down' Economics Is, Indeed, a Joke).

Just let the data speak for itself. Take a look at Corporate tax rates and economic growth since 1947. Although there is a superficial correlation between higher(not lower) corporate tax rates and better GDP growth, there is not much evidence that lower corporate tax rates increase GDP growth. The net effect is statistically pretty neutral.

However, how those tax dollars are spent (and when in the business cycle they are spent) can result in highly variable impacts on the economy — which is why there is such a wide range of “multiplier” estimates for government spending (frequently between 1 and 3). In general, government expenditures during recession have a much larger positive impact than during an economic boom. Expenditures on infrastructure may provide an immediate boost to certain industries, but then a much longer and more gradual multiplier as new business expansion is built upon that infrastructure. In the same vein, government spending that results in free education can have a substantial impact on economic growth many years after those students graduate and become productive contributors to the economy.

But probably the highest “multiplier-friendly” activity the government can do is research: there is lot of research the private sector simply won’t do — and hasn’t done in the past — which leads to new innovations, technological advances, and even entire new industries. Many of the things we rely on today (cell phones, the Internet, computers, life-saving drugs, etc.) were mainly the consequence of government research that was then used to deliver products to the marketplace by private companies. And of course whenever government programs are able to put more money into the the hands of consumers, while at the same time government is directly spending on goods services, this can stimulate aggregate demand (and, consequently, GDP) much more than business investment alone ever could.

At the same time, there are of course lots of things government spends money on that aren’t really all that great in the multiplier department. A good example is defense spending. Some research (see Mercatus Center study at George Mason U) suggests that the multiplier impact of defense spending on the U.S. economy is less than 1. The hypothesis is that in defense industries specifically, government spending “crowds out” private sector spending. So again it does make a difference how the money gleaned from corporate taxes is spent.

But if government doesn’t have money to spend, then clearly either there is going to be less of a multiplier, or there or going to be government deficits. Now the impact on deficits on the economy is a bit more complex, so I’m going to duck that one for now. But suffice it to say that long-term deficits can actually mess up the economy in a number of unsavory and dramatic ways.

My 2 cents.

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

They are all mistaken — probably owing to a shared, pernicious infection of individualist thinking — but I will order them according to who I think is least wrong:

1. Rousseau — surprisingly interesting insights about two central drives in primitive consciousness, but unaware of the group selection research since his time that establishes the centrality of prosociality for human survival.

2. Locke — offers an attractive vision that justifies features of civil society, but makes glaring mistakes with respect to his observations of primitive culture (for example, regarding private property’s existence there). Once again…if only he had access to the research we have today!

3. Hobbes — seemingly immersed in observations of high-testosterone, high resource-scarcity cultures only, and so unable to offer much insight about generalities of the human condition.

My 2 cents.

Is there any single doctrine which all anarchists embrace?

All anarchists are opposed to tyranny. The differences arise around the sources of that tyranny, and how best to mitigate them.

Which is the more complicated: for a right-wing person to understand a left-wing person or for a left-wing person to understand a right-wing person?

Thanks for the question, but I think that not only is it difficult to generalize in this area, but that it’s a moving target — the landscape is constantly changing. With that said, here is how I would approach some relevant characteristics:

1. My experience is that, on an interpersonal level, left-leaning and right-leaning people who have an honest, intimate and open friendship can come to understand each others’ position quite easily over time. Why? Because they build trust through friendship, and the politics are secondary.

2. It might be fairly easy to say that, the dumber and more ignorant two people are — and the more extreme their opposing political positions — the more challenging it will be for them to come to fruitful insight of each other’s POV. But, more importantly, if they already feel hostile and alienated towards each other, and are isolated from each other in terms of any interpersonal connection or shared experience, it might be pretty impossible for them to bridge the distance between their positions…ever.

3. Empathy is a powerful perceiver and communicator. If folks of opposing views have “strong empathy muscles,” they probably can achieve a basic understanding of each other’s perspectives with some concerted effort.

4. With all of these caveats, I would still have to say that I encounter more people with what we might call “identical, lockstep, reflexively regurgitated groupthink” on the right-leaning end of the spectrum than on the left-leaning end — and part of that groupthink is to deliberately distort and misunderstand left-leaning positions. That is not to say this same phenomenon doesn’t exist on the Left…it does…it’s just a lot more rare.

We can see a parallel example in media: if you compare the extreme bias and low factuality (or conspiracy-mongering) of media outlets on a site like Media Bias/Fact Check - Search and Learn the Bias of News Media (http://mediabiasfactcheck.com), the ratio of really “out there” right-wing media outlets to left-wing ones is about 10 to 1. That is, there are roughly ten times the number of right-wing media sources that are basically promoting yellow journalism, counterfactual reporting and conspiracy propaganda. In my experience, that’s about the same ratio of right-wing folks who can’t understand the other side vs. left-wing folks who can’t understand the other side.

My 2 cents.

Why can’t people agree to disagree when it comes to politics?

Thanks for the question. My take on why we can’t agree about politics:

1. Tribalistic groupthink: for many people, it’s more important to belong to a group and feel safe or superior than be open to other people’s perspectives. Hence “us vs. them” or “ingroup vs. outgroup” is a natural and persisting tension.

2. Different information sources and authorities. There is a lot of deceptive propaganda out there that is peddled as “news” or “fact.” Adding to this are phenomena like Illusory truth effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_truth_effect). This means that when someone proposes an opinion or solution based on actual facts and provable evidence, it can’t be accepted by the peddlers of deception and their followers. This is a difficult gap to bridge.

3. Variations in intelligence and critical thinking capacity. For one person, a perspective may seem obviously false or ridiculous because that person is more intelligent and thinks more carefully than the person offering the “ridiculous” perspective. But they can’t just say “hey that’s really stupid” without being offensive….

4. Variations in real-life experience. City-dwellers live a much different existence than someone raised in a rural town. Folks who graduate with an advanced degree from college have a different take on education than someone who dropped out of high school. Someone who grew up in a hunting culture with family members in the military has a very different attitude about guns than someone who was raised in a pacifist Vegan household. And so on. Such differences in lived experience have an enormous impact on ideological and political beliefs and convictions.

5. Ego. Sometimes folks can’t agree — or even agree to disagree — because they are emotionally invested in winning. This is pretty immature, but also pretty common.

6. Engineered division. As to why we can’t seem to overcome all of these barriers to agreement, let’s not forget that it’s not to the advantage of the powers-that-be that any agreement be reached. Whether it’s the rabid partisanship encouraged in primary elections, or the “purity tests” with which each political tribe judges its members, or the “active measures” of Russia and China to amplify confusion and division among voters — all of this is driven by a “we must win at any cost” agenda.

My 2 cents.

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

Here are the primary disruptors of the status, popularity and trust of philosophy and philosophers, as I see them, in rough chronological order:

1. The predisposition of consumerist culture to believe what we are “sold” — through advertising, marketing, etc. — seems to have created fertile ground for hucksters and con artists. By orienting our thinking and convictions (along with buying and voting choices) around what we are conditioned by advertising and marketing to believe, we essentially forfeited our critical thinking and reliance on interior and traditional (folk/religious) wisdom and common sense.

2. In tandem with well-established consumerism, a cultural movement grounded in postmodern sentiments began to question everything: traditional values and institutions; the principles of past religious and philosophical thinking and doctrine; the veracity of anything claiming to be “truth;” and so on. Ironically, this was at least in part a consequence of postmodern (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism) philosophers introducing memes of doubt and relativism.

3. The popularity and name recognition of pretenders who diluted the credibility of social sciences seems to have accelerated the slippery slope created by consumerism and postmodernism. Folks such as Ayn Rand and L.Ron Hubbard, for example, who not only departed from academic discipline and rigor, but had little if any honest, carefully considered, or sincere a posteriori or a priori basis for many of their claims. In other words: we saw a decline in trust because of the popularity of irresponsible hacks who called themselves “philosophers.” These folks pitched pseudo-philosophy as being equivalent to actual academic discipline…which, in turn, added to burgeoning postmodern skepticism.

4. Then conservative think tanks were created that, beginning in the early 1970s, made well-funded and highly organized efforts to discredit academia and intellectuals (i.e. what became attacks like the “cultural Marxism” conspiracy, etc.). Why? Mainly in reaction to the cultural revolution of the 1960s, which was perceived to put the gravy train of corporate America in jeopardy (see The Powell Memo). But also as a consequence of a growing political influence of religious conservatives who were opposed to science, education and critical thinking. (see The Religious Right's Power Grab: How Outside Activists Became Inside Operatives | Religion & Politics)

5. Next came the steady weakening of academic institutions — both K-12 and higher education. There are a number of reasons this occurred — an increase in for profit institutions, the prioritization of test scores and homogenous curricula, a shift of academic focus away from arts and social sciences into STEM and business, and of course the ongoing assault on “the life of the mind” by conservative ideology and activism.

6. In parallel with weakening education, there was a mass media revolution and the democratization of knowledge — as amplified by the profit motive: broadcast TV, cable TV, the Internet, media streaming services (podcasts, YouTube, Netflix), and social media. This rapid evolution, accelerated and sustained by massive for profit enterprise, watered down the importance of expertise, research and academic rigor, replacing it with a vast army of armchair pundits and conspiracy mongers who could spout unfounded knee-jerk opinions that had equal or greater weight (in these media) to the opinions of academics, writers, researchers, scientists, philosophers, etc. Combined with the Dunning–Kruger effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect), this trend snowballed into its current and fairly complete disconnection from facts, critical thinking and evidence.

7. The mass media weaponization of “active measure” disinformation campaigns by nefarious state actors (see L7 Opposition (https://www.level-7.org/Challenges/Opposition/)). This is kind of the final nail in the coffin, if you will. When Russia, China and others began to create troll farms, hijack social media to spread division and confusion, and fund “alternative media” that furthered conspiracies and deceptions, the dilution of intellectual honesty — and “false equivalence” of pure invention with facts — was complete.

And that’s pretty much how we arrived in the mess where we are today.

My 2 cents.

Why do people dislike people with borderline personality disorder? Why are people mean to them?

This is a tough question to answer — mainly because I don’t know the questioner's situation or why they are asking this question. However, if they have been diagnosed with BPD and are observing this reaction from others, then I would offer the following, based on several years living with folks with BPD, attending BPD support groups and therapy, and studying up on BPD….

1. Part of the problem is perception and lack of education. If someone doesn’t understand the Borderline diagnosis, they will tend to make incorrect assumptions about what “looks like” sabotaging, manipulative, deceptive, or destructive behavior…but which is really just an overwhelming self-preservation response from someone with BPD. Borderline’s aren’t intending to act they way they sometimes do, they are coping with a powerful flood of heightened emotions with a primal and reflexive panic. These self-preservation responses can override all rational attempts to manage them differently (on the part of the person who has BPD) — and all rational attempts a friend or loved one might make to mitigate them. Imagine being so flooded by, for example, fear or anxiety that the only actions that seems available are to lash out, or lie, or run away, or try to desperately force the situation into a different condition. So the friends, coworkers, loved ones, relatives, etc. may simply not understand the immensely strong emotions the person with BPD is feeling in these instances…and so the Borderline’s actions seem inexplicable or inexcusable.

2. BPD can be extremely difficult to treat. One of very few effective options available is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which provides a set of tools (practices, habits, thought patterns, etc.) that help Borderlines manage the intense emotional turmoil they experience — and help manage the negative impacts of common BPD behaviors on others. If a Borderline hasn’t ever engaged in DBT training and support groups, then it’s possible whatever therapy they try will have very limited effect. And this can be incredibly frustrating for everyone involved — for the Borderline and for everyone else in their life who is placing hope that therapy (or medications, etc.) will result in healing or constructive change. And if multiple therapeutic techniques are attempted — and fail to help — that can lead to everyone involved feeling more mistrust, exasperation, frustration, antagonism, etc.

3. Of course there are people who are mean to others and dislike them simply because they themselves are immature, and don’t care about trying to understand the other person — or to have compassion for them. This is often just a hallmark of immaturity and selfishness, in my experience. It wouldn’t matter if the person being disliked had BPD or red hair…the self-centered nasty person would be mean because that’s just who they are. Or — ironically — perhaps they themselves have a personality, emotional or mental disorder that is causing them to be mean…?

4. Just as with some other personality disorders (and some other mental illness diagnoses), someone suffering from BPD can feel sad, angry, depressed, paranoid, or judged by others in various situations, even when the other people involved aren’t actually trying to be mean — and don’t actually dislike them, aren’t judging them, aren’t angry, etc. This is one of the saddest situations that anyone trying to befriend or support a Borderline can experience: *to be suspected or accused of being mean, or of disliking their friend or loved one with BPD, when they really don’t feel that way at all. *It can be heartbreaking until everyone involved (including the Borderline) can eventually learn that these suspicions and fears are manifestations of a mental illness, and not actually real. It’s very hard to arrive at this place of neutral, non-judgmental awareness of these strong negative emotions, but that is what anyone with BPD — or anyone who is in a relationship with someone with BPD — must learn to do. Again, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy training and ongoing support groups can be incredibly helpful in this regard.

5. Lastly I would like to share one of the foundational pillars of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is available for everyone involved in these situations — for the Borderline themselves, and for the people in their life who wish to support them. And it’s just what it sounds like: acceptance without judgement, without expecting or forcing a change, without retaliating or punishing, without feeling shame. Just acceptance…and letting go. In my experience radical acceptance is extraordinarily liberating, and healing, for everyone involved. In fact can be a necessary and constructive first step in mending any tumultuous relationship.

I hope this was helpful info.

How would you describe socialism to a teenager?

It depends on the form of socialism. For libertarian socialism, it’s pretty simple, really: Democracy runs everything. Democracy governs the workplace. Democracy governs how the economy is structured and run. Democracy determines what is most important to society — at the community level, for the priorities of research and development, regarding whether or not to build national infrastructure, etc. And so on. And this is all done via consensus, direct democracy, nested elected councils, or a similar diffused form of democratic decision-making.

Of course, that is only one form of socialism. Here are some of the others, for which the answer would be different:

T. Collins Logan's answer to What are the different types of socialism?

My 2 cents.

What did Adam Smith outline about the dangers of capitalism?

Thanks for the question.

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

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

Is individualism the motivating force of capitalism?

Thanks for the question.

No, I don’t think individualism writ large is the motivating force of capitalism. I would break down capitalism’s motivations this way:

1. Acquisitiveness towards property, wealth and power seems to be a primary driver — especially in order to gain social position and prestige, and to exercise such collected power and wealth independently of government, society, or even moral expectations. In essence, we could say this is “selfish accumulation,” which is a rather ugly facet of individualism, especially when combined with lording it over other people. But individualism has other, more positive aspects — such as freedom of thought, creative freedom, expressive freedom, freedom of choice, etc. — for which capitalism falsely claims to provide advantages. In reality, capitalism deprives most people of most individual freedoms — through coercive marketing, addictive products, titillating groupthink, wage slavery, debt slavery, and so on — so it can’t claim the more positive benefits of individualism at all.

2. A mistaken but widespread belief that capitalist markets provide the best solutions to human challenges. In reality, capitalist markets provide profitable products and services to people by persuading them that those products and services solve certain challenges — even if they really don’t. Think of pharmaceutical products marketed to treat a certain condition that don’t outperform placebo or cheaper treatment options (this happens a lot). In fact, capitalism is quite ingenious at inventing “needs” that never existed, then synthesizing demand for products and services that fulfill those previously nonexistent “needs.”

3. A mistaken belief that wealth itself solves human challenges. Sure, lifting folks out of poverty is great, and capitalism has been pretty good at that. But at what price? This is the faulty reasoning of the capitalist, who tends to ignore the importance of strong civic institutions to sustain society over time; or the need to consider and plan for negative externalities (i.e. pollution, carbon emissions, destruction of ecosystems that support all life, etc.) created by rising standards of living in the industrial age; or how wealth in excess can make people childish, callous and disconnected from others (see Paul Piff’s research on this). In other words, wealth alone doesn’t solve some very important fundamental challenges…and in fact can make them worse.

4. A sort of anthropocentrism and egocentrism — a belief that humans are entitled to do anything they want, both collectively and individually. Again, this isn’t really “individualism,” it’s more akin to a mental illness like Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

My 2 cents.

Is it true that a "far left" political position is necessary to counter an existential threat to humanity?

Unfortunately, many discussions around this topic reflect a profound, heart-stopping, mind-boggling ignorance about a) the nature of the current existential threats to humanity, and b) the nature of what “far left” represents. This ignorance goes a long way toward enabling the worst human habits and systems of our status quo to continue its dazzling downward spiral. In part, this appears to be ignorance stemming from right-wing misinformation (or disinformation/propaganda, as the case may be), and in part this ignorance seems just a reflection of poorly educated people trying to grapple with problems they don’t understand — and don’t have the discipline to learn about or carefully consider. The rest of the mix just appears to reflect a sort of native abject stupidity, and we can’t do much about that. But for those who are open to learning and self-improvement — or who are willing see through the propaganda — I’ll try to offer some clarity.

Nearly all of the “existential threats” to humanity — and planet Earth for that matter — are a consequence of a snowballing nexus of these global factors:

1. A style of extractive capitalism that is rapidly exhausting natural resources, while grossly polluting and destroying ecosystems necessary for the survival of life at the same time, in order to prop up a modern first-world lifestyle of overconsumption and excessive waste. The industrial and technological revolutions of the past two centuries have made this extractive capitalist engine so powerful (and the overconsumptive lifestyle so entrenched) that it has become extremely efficient in its destructive capacities — and very difficult to stop.

2. Rapid population growth coupled with equally rapid and expanding economic growth that has amplified these negative impacts in exponential ways…with no obvious end in sight, outside of eventual chaotic collapse.

3. Pro-capitalist sentiments and political forces (i.e. market fundamentalists, plutocrats, neoliberals, right-Libertarians, traditional conservatives, corporate investors, etc.) that have tirelessly sought to protect the extractive capitalist engine that generates their wealth, even while seeking to destroy or cripple countervailing influences that could moderate their self-serving greed or mitigate wantonly destructive consequences of that greed. Part of that self-protective strategy, it should be noted, is the advocacy of unproven or disproven economic theories (Austrian School, etc.), conspiracy theories, weakening of government oversight, “science skepticism” bolstered by fake research, and social and systemic approaches that have not been proven or are not evidence-based.

The “far Left” is comprised mainly of the following groups — who consistently attempt to support their positions with actual science and evidence-based approaches:

1. Left anarchists/libertarian socialists

2. Social progressives

3. Social democrats

4. Democratic socialists

5. Neo-Marxists

6. Environmentalists

It should be noted that these groups do not support Soviet-Style Communism — the bogeyman that many posts in this thread stand up as their straw man to tear down. In fact, most groups mainly aim to gentle the toxic strain of capitalism that dominates the global economy today, reining it in with democratic controls, worker empowerment, a strong bulwark of regulatory oversight, and a shifting of ownership away from wealthy owner-shareholders who have been such poor stewards of corporate power, and into the hands of public control. Essentially, the “far Left” is all about increasing economic, political and environmental democracy — a strengthening of civil society — and eliminating plutocratic corruption of civic institutions.

As such, the “far Left” is almost certainly the best bet — as a starting point at least — for reversing our current descent into self-destruction.

However, there is one small problem with the “far Left” as so defined being the savior of humanity and planet Earth: none of its constituent groups have addressed the issue of population very vocally or aggressively. Some environmentalists will meekly raise the issue…but that’s about it. Most other groups equivocate, downplay concerns, or hold a false optimism about global populations leveling themselves out over time. So although the “far Left” gaining more influence could soften the toxic impact of extractive capitalism, and perhaps delay the “existential threats” we face for a time, unless and until the population crisis is actively engaged as well, the far Left’s salvation will be tenuous at best.

My 2 cents.

What could be your excuse to not vote?

Voting is not an optional privilege, it is a civic obligation — a payment back to society for having roads, electricity, social safety nets, the rule of law, and so on. And with the scale and urgency of challenges we currently face around the globe (the resurgence of fascism; climate crisis; an accelerating loss of species and habitats from human misuse and mismanagement; and so on), “not voting” is akin to lighting oneself on fire — and then allowing those flames to spread and consume everything and everyone around us. Therefore no rationale “to not vote” matters: it’s basically a criminal offense, much like not stopping to aid a dying person on the side of the road.

That said, it is certain that selfishness, laziness, childishness, egotism, ignorance, stupidity and vindictiveness will become excuses for some people not to vote. Unfortunately, we’ve managed to engineer a modern society where such traits are vaunted and rewarded — heck, you can even become President of the United States by flaunting such traits. So that is a sad state of affairs.

But again, in the current context, not voting is simply lighting oneself on fire, and to do so with strong conviction is both suicidal and, ultimately, homicidal.

My 2 cents.

How would a non-capitalist society promote self-motivation and personal drive?

This question reveals the destructive tendency of capitalism to condition folks to falsely believe they require “external” motivations to do things. It really is a profound disconnect from how humans actually operate, which is mainly from intrinsic motivation — at least until that spark is repeatedly discouraged, snuffed out, and replaced with external drivers and addictions. Capitalism’s primary self-perpetuating mechanism is persuading and coercing consumers to consume, and that means creating dependency on such consumption — a process I call infantilization or toddlerization — and annihilating all self-sufficiency and self-directedness in the process. Ironically, this is often “sold” as freedom of choice…a sort of appeal to individualistic gratification. But it’s actually quite the opposite, because it removes the only substantive choice available to liberate oneself from addictive cycles of craving and buying.

So, to the contrary, people don’t need “society” to promote self-motivation and personal drive. It pre-exists and is hard-wired into most people. All any “non-capitalist” society would really need to do is to is resist interfering with this intrinsic capacity. Humans are quite ingenious about inventing things to do, as well as the reasons to do them — think of every folk tradition that predated capitalism, every creative act (symphony, painting, sculpture, poem) that wasn’t done for profit, every idea that was written down and shared because its author thought it was compelling, every invention and scientific discovery that occurred from the the pure joy of researching and experimenting. Really…human existence is mostly about such natural inspiration. Capitalism just commoditizes this output for a buck…and then perpetuates the myth that the only reason we do anything is for personal gain. It’s quite laughable.

Of course, capitalism isn’t the only system that exploits people or aims to interfere with self-sufficiency and create habitual dependence — that’s a longstanding goal of many systems of social enslavement, from dogmatic and controlling religious institutions, to political tribalism and purity testing, to authoritarian and plutocratic governance, to fear-mongering disinformation campaigns. It’s all basically about the same thing: an attempt to control masses of people for the benefit of a few ruling or affluent elite.

Which means that simply removing capitalism is not sufficient…we must also remain vigilant toward the many other faces of oppression.

I hope this was helpful.

What are the different forms and meanings of entitlement in American social and political discourse?

Thanks for the question.

What’s really interesting about this question is how folks in different economic strata (and different disciplines) usually think they have some unique take on “entitlements” — a definition or locus that is entirely separate from other definitions and framing. In reality, however, most are really all talking about two sides of the same coin: either the feeling of “being entitled to” something, or receiving some benefit or advantage that other people view the recipients “feel entitled to” (whether they actually do or not). What this all seems to circle around are feelings of jealousy or resentment from those who aren’t receiving some benefit or advantage someone else is receiving, or feelings of self-righteous certainty about ownership or deservedness of a benefit or advantage. In reality, folks of all walks of life — and across all disciplines — can and do experience both of these feelings at one time or another. These are common human reactions, easily tracing back to the sibling and peer rivalries of childhood. And, really, no one is immune.

So the rich or lucky may feel entitled to the profits from money they inherited or stumbled upon by chance; the poor or unlucky may feel entitled to charity; the addicted or chronically ill may feel entitled to care and support; the academic researcher may feel entitled to data that aids in their research; the professional journalist may feel entitled to “the truth;” a customer may feel entitled to receive a reliable product or courteous service; a company may feel entitled to disregard the interests of stakeholders when distributing profits; the oppressed and exploited may feel entitled to speak truth to power; a parent may feel entitled to lord it over their own children; one child may feel entitled to hit another child when they feel wronged by them; and so on. And, from the outside looking in, all of these instances can appear to be “entitlements” that aren’t necessarily earned, just, reasonable or fair. They are instead merely negotiated arrangements or cultural habits within an ever-evolving status quo — transactional usurpations of relational trust that societies of scale tend to deploy — and nothing more.

As I mull this over, it seems as though both accusations regarding the entitlements for others, and presumptions of entitlement for ourselves, are both just really primitive, immature and unproductive responses to the messy economic and status arrangements of what is admittedly a pretty dysfunctional society. They are much like a dog barking and whining when we are eating a piece of meat…or that same dog biting our hand when we try to take a piece of meat out of their bowl. It doesn’t really matter how either we are the dog came by that meat…the sense of “entitlement” is really just a variation of “I want…gimme now…you can’t have!”

My 2 cents.