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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

What did you do for the greater good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

Regenerative Mindset, Habits & Economies



A Critical Shift Away from an Extractive Downward Spiral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

Okay then. So now consider the following situations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you see what is really happening here?

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

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


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

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

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

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

So…what is the alternative?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Just my 2 cents.

What is compassion?

Thanks for the question Avishek. I would say authentic compassion has four primary components — ideally all of these are present as a reflexive and unselfconscious orientation to others, but sometimes they require additional, more conscious cultivation:

1) A felt experience of affection, concern, caring and kindness that is informed by empathy and a deep respect for the other’s being.

2) The felt experience is amplified by a generous and unconditional intentionality: a desire to aid, comfort, nurture, encourage and support the other’s being, with no expectation of reciprocation or reward.

3) These feelings and intentions are then skillfully operationalized as love-in-action, within the context of the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration.

4) Efficacy in this operationalization requires discernment, insight, wisdom, humility, and a willingness to continually observe outcomes and adjust methods to improve skillfulness.

The question of how to measure outcomes also becomes important over time. For example, authentic compassion tends to relieve dissonance, ignorance, confusion, suffering and pain for all involved — while at the same time nudging joy, harmony, peace, excellence and truth into the foreground. Authentic compassion also propagates and enlarges itself: compassion begets compassion, becoming a strong force or field that unifies and harmonizes everything it embraces.

Lastly, because these ideas about compassion are so specific, I will often use the term agape instead.

My 2 cents.

Do you believe that there is an absolute and objective "good" or "bad" in nature or do you believe that everything is relative and subjective?

Thanks for the question Bruce. First...I can only speak for humanity. I cannot speak for all of Nature. For humans, however, I believe there are values hierarchies that plot along a spectrum, and I’ve included a first draft of a chart that describes that spectrum below. The idea here is that there are indeed absolutes…but those absolutes intersect in different ways, at different times, in different people…to be expressed as what someone will inevitably perceive as a “relative and subjective” difference. In other words, the contexts of culture, time-in-history, underlying belief system and so on shape how a given values hierarchy (and how it is actualized) plot along the spectrum, and how it is understood. But although the perspectives on a given values hierarchy may shift — be refined over time, be critiqued, be valorized or devalorized, etc. — the position of that values hierarchy is actually pretty fixed.

To appreciate the backdrop of concepts from which this chart was derived, see this article: Functional Intelligence



I hope this was helpful.

Does Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature" suggest or claim that the "ethics" of people have changed over time?

I would say Pinker’s observations are explainable by the rise of civil society and the stabilization of its institutions over time. Ethics have not really evolved all that much during recorded history — not in the broadest moral sensibilities and contracts at least. Sure, there is variation across different cultures…but really no more variation over the grand arc of history than is evidenced in current cultural differences. The ancient Greeks had an advanced civil society with many of the benefits of modern democracies, and we have State-sanctioned genocide today just as we have had for the past two thousand years. The apparent reduction (per capita) of violence, war, etc. that Pinker explores is really not a consequence of ethics changing, IMO, but of civic institutions relieving many of the pressures that produce unethical behaviors. We are shaped by our environments to the extent that our natural propensities will be amplified by either a sense of safety, social support and relative affluence, or by insecurity, fear, deprivation and violence. We have always had (and probably always will have) the capacity to behave like animals, or like saints, but our experiences will encourage one cluster of habits over the other. So the greater the civic stability, the greater the potential for widespread prosocial behaviors.

Just my 2 cents.

Why does society have outcasts?

Thanks for the question Deiter. Please prepare yourself for a self-indulgent rant on my part.

A lot of folks who allude to Surowiecki’s “wisdom of the crowds” do not realize this refers to a disorganized, non-self-aware, diffused, uncoordinated and essentially arbitrary intersection of public intuitions and insights. Anything more organized and self-aware, on the other hand, rapidly develops one or more weaknesses related to conformative groupthink. We hear regular complaints about bureaucracy, inefficiency, turf wars and serfdoms, quid pro quo dealings, corruption, the lemming effect, gridlock, complacency, and a host of other issues that plague organizations larger than a few individuals. Essentially, humans suck at “big,” as it too often tends towards unskillful, inept, or just plain stupid.

Now I won’t go into why this seems to be a recurring problem — it could be something as simple as the combination of the Dunbar limit, the inherent paralyzing effect of rigid hierarchies, a genetically programmed propensity toward tribalism, and an institutional version of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Again…not the focus of this answer. What I do want to elaborate on is the necessity of outliers in any such institutional ecosystems. Without outliers, the quicksand of organizational inertia will always destroy that organization from the inside out. Not in any exciting sort of implosion, but through a slow, insidious rot. Outliers provide the necessary injection of challenging the hierarchy, outsider insights, and “creative destruction” that allows revisions and evolutions to occur in an otherwise frozen soup of conformance.

A lot of folks have intuited aspects of this principle and its importance in society. Colin Wilson, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Gebser and many others have explored the significance of outsider experience, thought, art and contributions to society. And this is not a new idea…perhaps you will recall Jesus saying “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” So the idea that the outlier, outsider, or outcast in this same sense must bear the burden of isolation and rejection in order to rejuvenate society — and indeed human civilization — from the outside has persisted throughout millennia.

As another take, in-groups like to scapegoat outcasts, so outcasts perform an important function there as well — diffusing tension, exciting group unity, voicing taboo sentiments, diluting hierarchical control and power, etc. Consider the “class clown” or the King’s Fool. There is, I believe, something inherently necessary about the outcast — something essential to the thriving of society itself. Certainly to the arts. Reframing common experiences and the status quo as absurd parodies of themselves is perhaps what comedians, social critics and theatre have provided since the beginning of history.

So society has outcasts to preserve itself. Without them, it would disintegrate.

My 2 cents.

What does social construction of reality mean? What does this concept say about the nature of society? What is the meaning of truth?

Thanks for the A2A Dawn. To me it speaks to the synthesizing capacity of human beings in groups — especially regarding things like social roles and mores, expectations regarding prosocial behavior, definitions of wrong-doing, values prioritizations, constructs around “meaning,” prejudices, etc. — and that this can be both conscious and unconscious. In my discussions of “moral creativity” (see L7 Prosociality) I promote the idea that we can have an active role in our own moral development and expressions…both individually and collectively…and that this will be reflected in the shape of our society. Our systems, institutions, cultural traditions, economic practices and so forth will reenforce and perpetuate certain assumptions about the world around us — and about the dominant forces within ourselves. The nature/nurture question is therefore more about our ongoing chosen emphasis than any chicken or egg, as our interpretations of everything will conform to that emphasis. And although stepping back from such perpetuation requires effort, it isn’t all that difficult. Unless, of course, our investment in a given position is tied closely to things like perceived survival, thriving, loss, threat, power, status, belonging, cherished relationships, etc. In other words, we are only rigidly conformist when we believe the stakes are high. And that, unfortunately, is what those who wield power and influence are constantly trying to do: convince us that the stakes are high, and that we have a lot to lose by not conforming to a given narrative regarding “what is.” None of this has much to do with “truth,” IMO…only with the operational parameters of acceptable information. Does it threaten? Then it can’t be true. Does it console and comfort? Then it must be true. So the more we can be persuaded or coerced about the “acceptability” of some given information in this high-stakes context, the more likely we are to incorporate that information around our preexisting bias. All-the-while, the context may have been synthesized purely through fear-induced groupthink. This is how, as an enduring analogy, Golding’s “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood.” equates to “Lock her up!” I.e. this is how we create reality distortions we believe to be true.

My 2 cents.

Let's say we form a word for an object given by our perception. The object can be animate or inanimate. Do you think the word refers to the actual thing or our idea/concept of the thing?

Great question — thanks Danijel.

So here’s my take….

1) Some words are purely representational and symbolic.

2) Some words — or bodies of words — may actually embody the essence-of-a-thing, or “the thing as-it-is.”

3) And some words or bodies of words may actually create a thing.

In my view these three different operations of language are usually unconscious — humans don’t, in general, actively navigate the world around them via consciously ‘code-switching’ between these operations. Some may try to do this…usually those who have spent their lives intending to either a) understand and appreciate their own consciousness and agency in the world in an intuitive and introspective way, or b) have been educated about a particular approach to consciousness and agency in a systematic way. Still, extensive mastery of language in this context is IMO extremely rare.

Some examples will probably be helpful here. The first case — pure representation — is fairly easy to grasp and likely needs no examples (it seems as though the question itself is predicated on this assumption). The second case, embodying essence, is perhaps a fundamental function of consciousness itself, as evident in an infant’s gurgling as it is in a poet’s gift or a mystic’s insights. We see this in the phonemes “ma,” “muh” and “meh” which are an almost universal component of all the words referring “mother” or “motherly” in any language. How is this possible, unless there is some basic, essential unity-of-association between a given sound and its particular representation (or evocation) in our emotional experience…? In other words, in some instances a given word touches upon “the thing as-it-is” — at least in the context of universal human experience and response.

Poetic and mystical examples follow along similar lines, with kindred or identical sounds, words and phrases in many different languages (which do not share common linguistic roots) evoking similar meanings, contexts or experiences. Atman, alma, anda, pneuma, arima, anima, anam, jan (жан), neshama (נֶפֶשׁ) all relate to spirit or soul, for example. Likewise, metaphors that relate to happiness as a “rising up” experience are cross-cultural, near universals, as are idioms expressing anger or frustration that relate to being enclosed and trying to get out. Some linguistic theorists surmise that such universals reflect our common neurophysiology, or parallel developments in culture, and these are certainly viable explanations. Some behavioral scientists have even suggested that “moral grammar” — and the culture that arises around it — is itself a feature of our biology. Another explanation is that there are universal patterns, structures, energies and processes that occur on a quantum level across all of biology and consciousness — again, just a theory. And, adding to the mix, there are also intuitions of a unitive principle behind all consciousness and spirit. These theories are themselves representations from one perspective. From another perspective they are sussing out a shared ground — of being, becoming, evolving, a common cascade of interdependencies, and so on; that is, they are embodying essence. Personally, I’m willing to bet that all of these theories offer a piece of the puzzle (that is, that all of them have some degree of descriptive accuracy).

Lastly, we come to creative language. On one level, this idea is as simple as one person writing fiction, and another “experiencing” that story as a felt reality in their own mind. On another level, there is the suggestion that language itself has formative and projective capacity on human development and activity (Sapir-Whorf, etc.) — movements like “nonviolent communication” have been heavily influenced by this line of thinking. And on yet another level, there is the concept of logos within various Christian and Hermetic traditions, and the panentheism across various other traditions, that link mind and language and unfolding reality in interpenetrating ways. Even certain schools of philosophy have addressed the possibility of the projective capacity of mind on reality (from various forms of dualism all the way up to quantum consciousness), and here language can become a component of that projection as well. I’m covering a lot of ground here that probably requires more detailed elaboration, but the basic idea is that “a word” is much more than a description of a concept — it has its own substance, its own energy, its own essence, which links it more directly to the creation of other phenomena.

So this is a fascinating question, with substantial capacity for ever-broadening exploration. The danger, I think, is trying to reduce language and thought to mere representation, when there may be a lot more going on….

My 2 cents.

Comment by Danijel Starcevic: "Really interesting perspective, especially the part about the “ projective capacity of mind on reality”, with language being a component of that projection. Are there any modern scientific inquiries into this?"


LOL. No. At least not mainstream stuff. Bohm’s “implicate order,” Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance” and László's “Akashic field” theory are about as close as you’ll likely get to actual science along these lines — and the implications for language are mostly my own, even in those instances. Interesting reading though. :-) Most of what I’m referencing is more esoteric in nature. Can it be directly experienced? Sure. Can it be replicated in a double-blind experiment? Not so much. I’m wondering if “the observer effect” actually has an impact on this — trying to measure something that reacts to the measurement instrument. Just a thought….

Is is possible to have the moral high ground… and be wrong? Examples?

LOL.

Well that’s probably a very accurate description for just about every codependent action. The person acting as enabler (or “unskillful helper”) is certain they are acting out of compassion, caring and a strong desire to help…and therefore they think they have the “moral high ground” in taking a given action. The problem is that they are really just facilitating a destructive, abusive, compulsive, often hopelessly enmeshed downward spiraling relationship — that is, they are wrong in both their belief about where there motivations are coming from, and what their actions will achieve.

Some examples….

1) The parent who keeps giving their child sugar whenever the child throws a tantrum about wanting more. This isn’t loving at all…it’s indulgent and destructive. But the parent often is thinking something like “My child is suffering and needs my love! I must give them sugar to prove that I love them!”

2) The physically and emotionally abused partner who keeps returning to the relationship because they believe something like “My partner is wounded and hurting, and my abandoning them will make things worse! They don’t mean to be so abusive…they are just in so much pain they can’t help themselves….”

3) The friend of an alcoholic who “doesn’t want them to drink alone,” because that could lead to some very bad decisions…and so procures “good quality booze” to bring over to their friend, so they can get drunk together. You know…safely.

And so forth. In each case, the enabler/supporter rationalizes their actions based on what they believe is the “morally right” thing to do for the person they care about. They feel justified, and will even aggressively defend their decision. But they are really just perpetuating harm — in part out of ignorance and lack of skillfulness, but also in part because they are trying to heal something broken and wounded within themselves via that other wounded person.

My 2 cents.

Let's say we form a word for an object given by our perception. The object can be animate or inanimate. Do you think the word refers to the actual thing or our idea/concept of the thing?

Great question — thanks for the question Danijel.

So here’s my take….

1) Some words are purely representational and symbolic.

2) Some words — or bodies of words — may actually embody the essence-of-a-thing, or “the thing as-it-is.”

3) And some words or bodies of words may actually create a thing.

In my view these three different operations of language are usually unconscious — humans don’t, in general, actively navigate the world around them via consciously ‘code-switching’ between these operations. Some may try to do this…usually those who have spent their lives intending to either a) understand and appreciate their own consciousness and agency in the world in an intuitive and introspective way, or b) have been educated about a particular approach to consciousness and agency in a systematic way. Still, extensive mastery of language in this context is IMO extremely rare.

Some examples will probably be helpful here. The first case — pure representation — is fairly easy to grasp and likely needs no examples (it seems as though the question itself is predicated on this assumption). The second case, embodying essence, is perhaps a fundamental function of consciousness itself, as evident in an infant’s gurgling as it is in a poet’s gift or a mystic’s insights. We see this in the phonemes “ma,” “muh” and “meh” which are an almost universal component of all the words referring “mother” or “motherly” in any language. How is this possible, unless there is some basic, essential unity-of-association between a given sound and its particular representation (or evocation) in our emotional experience…? In other words, in some instances a given word touches upon “the thing as-it-is” — at least in the context of universal human experience and response.

Poetic and mystical examples follow along similar lines, with kindred or identical sounds, words and phrases in many different languages (which do not share common linguistic roots) evoking similar meanings, contexts or experiences. Atman, alma, anda, pneuma, arima, anima, anam, jan (жан), neshama (נֶפֶשׁ) all relate to spirit or soul, for example. Likewise, metaphors that relate to happiness as a “rising up” experience are cross-cultural, near universals, as are idioms expressing anger or frustration that relate to being enclosed and trying to get out. Some linguistic theorists surmise that such universals reflect our common neurophysiology, or parallel developments in culture, and these are certainly viable explanations. Some behavioral scientists have even suggested that “moral grammar” — and the culture that arises around it — is itself a feature of our biology. Another explanation is that there are universal patterns, structures, energies and processes that occur on a quantum level across all of biology and consciousness — again, just a theory. And, adding to the mix, there are also intuitions of a unitive principle behind all consciousness and spirit. These theories are themselves representations from one perspective. From another perspective they are sussing out a shared ground — of being, becoming, evolving, a common cascade of interdependencies, and so on; that is, they are embodying essence. Personally, I’m willing to bet that all of these theories offer a piece of the puzzle (that is, that all of them have some degree of descriptive accuracy).

Lastly, we come to creative language. On one level, this idea is as simple as one person writing fiction, and another “experiencing” that story as a felt reality in their own mind. On another level, there is the suggestion that language itself has formative and projective capacity on human development and activity (Sapir-Whorf, etc.) — movements like “nonviolent communication” have been heavily influenced by this line of thinking. And on yet another level, there is the concept of logos within various Christian and Hermetic traditions, and the panentheism across various other traditions, that link mind and language and unfolding reality in interpenetrating ways. Even certain schools of philosophy have addressed the possibility of the projective capacity of mind on reality (from various forms of dualism all the way up to quantum consciousness), and here language can become a component of that projection as well. I’m covering a lot of ground here that probably requires more detailed elaboration, but the basic idea is that “a word” is much more than a description of a concept — it has its own substance, its own energy, its own essence, which links it more directly to the creation of other phenomena.

So this is a fascinating question, with substantial capacity for ever-broadening exploration. The danger, I think, is trying to reduce language and thought to mere representation, when there may be a lot more going on….

My 2 cents.

I am Interested in the overview of the current debates about the nature of the mind, which book(s) do you recommend?

Thanks for the question Danijel. Hmmm. There are a number of academic-flavored surveys available that cover different theories of consciousness…is that what you are looking for? There is William Seagar’s latest edition of Theories of Consciousness, for example. Then you have various proponents of their own approaches who will elaborate — in the course of describing their own work — on contrasting approaches. The work of Chalmers, Searle, Dehaene, Damasio, etc. all do this to varying degrees. There are also some good summaries online, such as this one: Consciousness (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). If you haven’t already read it, I also recommend McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary for a compelling interdisciplinary narrative. Another book that I found helpful was Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology. To complete a multidimensional picture, IMO van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score adds an essential element to the mix. And, lastly, I would offer you my own Memory : Self to round out the recommendations. Many of these books — the last three in particular — focus on different aspects of mind, but will nevertheless help construct a well-rounded picture of the debates that percolate through our modern discourse.

My 2 cents.

Does capitalism have a negative affect on people’s sanity?

The evidence keeps accumulating that conditions which are amplified by capitalist values, work environments and economic systems do seem to have a negative impact on human well-being overall — and yes, specifically on human mental health. Some of this appears to be direct causality, and some of it more indirect. For example:

1) Accelerating (technological and societal) change driven by rapid product cycles and growth-dependent production induces stress, which in turn increases stress-related mental illness and dysfunction (depression, anxiety, etc.) to clinical levels. Would this still occur if there wasn’t so much pressure, created by the profit motive, to constantly produce and consume “bigger, better, faster, cheaper, easier” products? Possibly, but likely not at the same pace, or with such a precipitous impact.

2) Many products are designed to become addictive — or at least to create a dependent consumer — again in service to the profit motive. Everything from cigarettes to fast food to social media to video games have been designed from the ground up to “hook” consumers into ever-increasing and prolonged use. This, in turn, has led to some fairly serious mental health impacts, such as ADHD, cognitive impairments and distortions linked with prolonged sleep deprivation, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, emotional dysregulation, and so forth.

3) Capitalist work environments create some of the most emotionally and mentally antagonistic conditions humanity has ever seen. Humans performing highly repetitive tasks for excessively long work-days and work-weeks, while under constant stress of losing their job if they don’t perform; high-pressure sales environments where employees are likewise subject to constant fear of not meeting quotas, and viciously compete with each other for sales; corporate culture that constantly lies to employees to extract the tiniest bit more productivity from them, and encourages them to lie to customers to maintain profits and avoid losses. These environments create stressed, fearful, reactive, deceitful human beings who, in turn, are rewarded for essentially harming each other and the customers they serve. This is a pretty pathological situation, and shapes pretty pathological people.

4) The more indirect consequences of capitalism on mental health are a result of negative externalities. Chemical pollutants from “rush to market” mass production, poor nutrition from foods designed to maximize profit, disregard for electromagnetic pollution, and other environmental impacts almost certainly have a deleterious effect on human mental health. In fact, these may be impacting the human genome itself, as we have seen a marked rise in things like autism spectrum disorder.

These are just a few examples, but the real issue is the epigenetic impact of these capitalist pressures on the human species. Our children are now inheriting the mental illnesses induced by capitalist environments and culture…which means that, even if we counter the causes, the negative impacts will still be passed on to future generations. It’s a pretty bad situation. I liken it to Colony Collapse Disorder among bee populations: eventually, capitalism will so thoroughly undermine human well-being that our entire society will simply fail. It’s just a matter of time.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Isaac Armstrong: "I wish I could upvote this, as I agree with most points made, but autism spectrum disorder’s rise is probably a consequence of expanding the range of diagnosis, for example the documents that resulted in me being diagnosed with developmental delays with autism like symptoms on review based on newer diagnostic requirements consistently results in a diagnosis of autism - something about a vital symptom for diagnosis that is no longer required.

I remember reading somewhere that even earlier than that, it was defined only in the exact form that the guy who gave it the name autism saw it, most definitely not including aspergers in the autism spectrum disorders.
This is a bit of a long comment so thanks for reading it and in summary autism spectrum disorder is not a good measure as it has been broadened."


Thanks Isaac. I have read about the diagnosis issue before and agree that this is a huge variable that must be accounted for — especially in epidemiological analysis of ASD going back any number of decades (as reinforced by studies like this one: Diagnostic change and the increased prevalence of autism | International Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic). However, even though genetics alone does account for some 50% of ASD, there is increasing evidence that environmental triggers (including some we can squarely place at the feet of capitalism) play a significant role in ASD’s phenotypical expression. You may be interested in this article regarding environmental factors: Environmental factors influencing the risk of autism As well as this one regarding genome-wide analysis: The Role of Epigenetic Change in Autism Spectrum Disorders. There is growing evidence (in studies that control for the very diagnostic variables you allude to) that the etiology of ASD is linked to risk factors that are indeed increasing, and that ASD itself is indeed increasing among the population. For more about this: The prevalence puzzle: Autism counts and Socioeconomic Status and the Increased Prevalence of Autism in California. I think the most definitive research is yet to be completed…but it IS underway. Take a look at CRAIG NEWSCHAFFER’s work and this: EARLI Study - Research Into Early Causes of Autism.

I hope this is helpful info.

Is anything you do that doesn’t hurt people or property okay?

Thanks for the question. That may be a good place to start, but it really doesn’t get you very far down the road to a complete — comprehensive — ethical framework. For example:

1) Inaction can cause harm — because we aren’t actively stopping harm from occurring — and so counteracting or preventing harm entails more than just “avoiding” actively harming someone.

2) Sometimes choosing to harm people or property is necessary to prevent even greater harm. If I know a truck full of explosives is being driven toward an elementary school full of children with destructive intent, I would have no moral qualms about shooting the driver and causing an accident or explosion that destroys that truck and a bunch of empty vehicles parked in the school parking lot.

3) Even a simple definition of “harm nothing and no one” requires wisdom and discernment to be effective — to know how to avoid or prevent harm requires perceptiveness, insight, experience, careful reflection, compassion, etc. And developing such wisdom and discernment requires self-awareness, personal discipline…and often conscious alignment with a greater context.

4) As for “a greater context,” let’s say you decide that the greater context is “doing the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration.” That entails a lot more work, focus and learning than just avoiding or preventing harm in your personal interactions. So developing that context is just as important as having a personal ethical standard of “do no harm.” Again, though, this requires quite a bit of additional effort…and time.

These are the sorts of things that moderate both the “anything you do” part of the OP’s question, and the “do no harm” part as well. Having a worthwhile intent is not the same as developing “predictive efficacy;” and without being skilled and insightful about how our choices will impact others, we actually have little more chance at “harming nothing and no one” than someone rolling a die to decide what to do. If we are sincere about the kindness of our intent, we can’t just stick our heads in the ground and hope for the best…we have to engage the world around us, learn a lot about it, learn how to think both critically and intuitively, and work with others, so that we can navigate the astounding complexities that lie between our intent and a genuinely positive outcome.

My 2 cents.

What are the things we know to be undeniably true, from which we hold all else to be true or false?

Thanks for the question. Of that which seems difficult to question:

1) Mind is.

From which follows:

1) Mind discerns and isolates through differentiation — operationally and imaginatively — and thereby boundarizes the ‘real’ as it interacts with lived experience.

2) Mind generates consensus reality in communication with other minds, within shared experiences and boundaries.

3) Mind seeks to extend its emergence beyond the limitations of perception-cognition, with speculative results that soften and, ultimately, reunite initial differentiations.

4) In the course of conceiving of its own extinguishment and error, mind challenges everything it has come to ‘know.’

That’s about as far as I would go regarding fundamentals.

My 2 cents.

What is creative thinking? How do you become a creative thinker?

Thanks for the question. There are several different types of creative thinking, and each has its own combination of supportive conditions and factors that serve it — often varying from one person to the next. Here is an initial take on how I would map those out….

1) Creative problem solving under pressure.

2) Serendipitous inspired insight that leads to innovation.

3) Creative self-expression in an organized form.

4) Creative communication.

5) Outlier thinking (thinking “outside the box”).

6) Discernment and wisdom.

7) Moral creativity.

Now each of these has its own specific definition, context, application and supportive conditions, and generalizing about them all is probably going to miss the mark. But — again as a very loose generalization — there are a number of common factors engaged to varying degrees, including:

1) Letting go of analytical rigor and rapid-cycling “head time” — along with its associated high-pressure intentional focus — to allow alternate input streams (emotional, somatic, spiritual, relational, etc.) to percolate through our awareness.

2) Holding everything involved in a given situation very lightly…what I call “the art of suspension…” so that no particular input or concern dominates.

3) Relinquishing personal ego-attachments to outcomes (i.e. expectations of praise, monetary rewards, career success, etc.).

4) Preparation and self-discipline — personal education, training and skill development in the form of creativity being practiced.

5) Looking inward rather than outward (i.e. relying on the still voice and spaciousness within to evoke and distill creativity, rather than on external stimuli or conditions).

6) Isolation from a deluge of cultural memes — that is, insulating oneself from a constant barrage of media, cultural inputs and expectation, etc.

I would also say that, beyond “creative thinking” itself, these conditions and practices also encourage excellence in creative thinking, choices, expression and follow-through.

My 2 cents.

How can I become more tolerant of people who are different than me?

Thanks for the question.

I think the answer is dependent on a) the issues you are intolerant of, and why; b) how that intolerance expresses itself; and c) your level of self-awareness and well-being. For example:

1) If your intolerance issues from a place of personal pain, and you are lashing out at others who “touch a raw nerve” in your own struggles, then addressing that pain and struggling within yourself is going to be quite helpful in reducing your judgement and increasing your tolerance.

2) If your intolerance issues from a place of arrogance and condescension, then appreciating your own limitations, areas you’ve made mistakes, and potentially unjustified self-confidence will be helpful in reducing judgement and increasing tolerance.

3) If you find it really hard to forgive others for harms they commit — against yourself or anyone else — then you may be holding some harsh judgments against your own past failings or be more insecure than you realize in some area or other. So, in this instance, you’ll want to learn how to have compassion for yourself, so that you can in turn have more compassion for others.

4) If your intolerance stems from ignorance — from a lack of experiences and exposure to folks who are different — then befriending them and immersing yourself in their world will be quite helpful.
If your intolerance is highly reactive, and seems to be uncontrollable or reflexive, then there may be an underlying mental illness, neurochemical issues, or cognitive and/or emotional deficit. In this case, seeking help from medical doctors and psychotherapists may be your best bet.

5) Intolerance, impatience, irritability, and black-and-white emotional responses can also be the consequence of not nourishing one or more aspects of your being. Consider taking this free self-assessment to see what those areas might be, and then try to address them: https://www.integrallifework.com...

As you can see, there could be a lot of different influences at play — and the ones I’ve covered don’t come close to all the different factors that could be energizing this dynamic. It’s great that you’ve observed it…I recommend patience with yourself and continuing to reach out for help in order to heal and grow.

My 2 cents.

What are the signs that someone is self-aware?

Signs of self-awareness…hmmm. Good question.

First I would say that self-awareness in isolation from other qualities isn’t necessarily a good thing — or even all that helpful. Someone who has not come to peace with their own very accurate perception of themselves may expend tremendous amounts of energy attempting to hide aspects of themselves from others, or be defensive or insecure about them, or struggle with their observations to such a degree that they are in constant anxiety and self-doubt. So unless self-awareness is accompanied by humility, openness, self-control, self-efficacy, authenticity, compassion for self, maturity, acceptance and a host of other factors, the “telltales” of its existence may hold little import.

With that said, here are some signs I think are fairly common for folks with self-awareness that has evolved in conjunction with other critical and complimentary traits:

1) Realistic, honest and open assessment of own strengths and limitations — without either catastrophizing failings at one extreme, or overestimating competency at the other extreme. This, in turn, inherently improves self-efficacy.

2) Ability to describe one’s own mistakes by accurately identifying cognitive errors, mistaken perceptions or misinterpreted information. In other words, to be able to recognize not only the error one has made, but also how it happened via internal mistakes.

3) In my experience an ability to laugh at oneself is frequently concomitant with mature self-awareness.

4) The most effective and potent forms of self-awareness seem to require stepping back from the immediacy of a given situation — emotions, ideations, physical responses, etc. — rather than being swept up in it. This can manifest as both reflective metacognition and detached observation of internal events.

5) Genuine humility.

6) An ease with adjusting course when others point out weaknesses and strengths.

7) A knack for both avoiding overcommitment and neglecting the application of skills and talents; a balanced and insightful application of effort.

My 2 cents.


How do you get people out of denial?

This takes time, and the avenues available to you will depend both on the quality of your relationship with the person, as well as on their mental capacity and emotional health. For example, if you are a very close friends, you might consider gently and lovingly confronting them about the issue, and asking if they are receptive to your observations and feedback. If you have a history of “telling each other straight” (i.e. being brutally honest with each other), then you could also just confront without the gentle, compassionate preamble, and just speak your mind. If you are in an intimate romantic relationship, you can appeal to your desire to deepen that relationship and your need to express concern about something that you feel is interfering with honesty and intimacy. If the relationship isn’t that deep, or has been rocky, or is relatively superficial (neighbor, coworker, person you see at the bus stop each day, etc.), then you probably don’t have the relational standing to effectively comment on the denial you are observing. I mean…you could…especially if you like being confrontational…but it’s probably not going to have much effect other than their becoming defensive and not trusting you anymore. But if you already have a longstanding trust with someone, then you can, in a spirit of genuine concern, offer your observation. Even here, though, wording and context is everything. Are they drunk? Are they surrounded by peers that agree with their POV? Are they expressing an openness to you about a problem they are dealing with? Are they angry or sad? Choosing the right timing for such a conversation is just as important as choosing the right words…which should affirm their emotions and your understanding of their POV prior to you offering anything that sounds like criticism or advice. Then again, if they aren’t that bright, or have a lot of emotional baggage they haven’t worked through, or are suffering from a mental illness, then you may not be able to penetrate a belief or untruth that this person has latched onto for a sense of belonging, security or identity.

My 2 cents.

In instances of abandonment issues and consequences towards other people not desiring your compassion and courtesy in life, how do you overcome not getting reciprocated by another persons love, admira

Thanks for the question.

This is a broad, deep, muddy puddle of a question. Without knowing you or the specifics of your situation, it is almost impossible to recommend a specific course of action. However, here are some options to explore — some or all of which may be helpful to you:

1) Consider asking yourself why you feel you need (or expect) reciprocity, and why you feel abandoned or disappointed by its absence. Perhaps you could employ the downward arrow technique from CBT to explore your thought patterns around these emotions…and what is really at the root of them (in terms of beliefs, assumptions, past experiences, etc.).

2) There is a possibility that you are choosing the wrong people to love, admire and adore. You may, in fact, be setting yourself up for disappointment and feelings of abandonment because you are attracted to people who are emotionally unavailable, or inherently subdued or unexpressive. This can happen when, for example, one of our parents was detached and undemonstrative, and we are forever trying to “fix” that experience — and our own feelings of inadequacy that are still evoked by it — by seeking out people that are just like that parent, and trying to “get them to love us.” To break this cycle, we need to address and heal the family relationship — and/or the persisting personal narrative within — that has modeled this dynamic.

3) You may be misinterpreting signals, perpetuating an exaggerated assessment of your affection and the clarity of your communication, or have unrealistic standards of reciprocity. In other words, you may think that the quid-pro-quo is obvious and reasonable, when it’s actually not. People get into all sorts of trouble when they think, “Hey, isn’t it obvious that I’m expressing affection and compassion here? And isn’t it obvious that you should be reciprocating…?” In reality the other person may have no clear idea of what is going on, or how to respond — even if you try to express it to them directly. At the same time, you yourself may not be accurately reading signals the other person is sending your way — both positive and negative. Lastly, have you actually asked for what you want? If not, that could contribute to a simple remedy. All of these issues of accurate awareness, expectation and communication are in fact what a LOT (perhaps most) of couples counseling ends up working through.

4) One of the most liberating spiritual practices I have learned during my life is giving without expectation of reciprocation. Giving of yourself, in any form, can be its own reward…with the right frame of mind. And when “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” (in terms of charitable feelings and actions), this can remove a lot of potential frustration and disappointment from the interpersonal equation. Learning how best to be a Blessing Presence to others is of course a lifelong task, but inherent to that is a mindset that a cup that overflows with love generated from within does not need to be refilled from without.

5) The quickest path to burnout is not loving ourselves first. Do you cherish the person you are? Do you honor and have compassion for that person in all of your choices? For most folks, identifying and addressing barriers to this basic level of self-respect and self-care is the beginning of healing necessary to love others effectively and freely.

My 2 cents.

What do we humans believe exists that isn't based on human assumptions?

Of course nearly everything is based on assumptions, which IMO is only a trap if:

a) We aren’t aware we are making those assumptions.

b) We don’t test them against our experience, observation, intuition and logic.

c) We don’t suspend or revise them when confronted with contrary evidence.

d) We aren’t vigilant and skeptical regarding our own certainties (i.e. we don’t hold our assumptions lightly)

All efforts at knowing are predicated upon certain assumptions — even if the assumption is that using a particular method, or symbolic language, or type of data, or quality of consciousness will ensure a high degree of validity. It may be that those assumptions are consistently proven — over and over again — by careful testing, and that they reliably enhance our predictive efficacy. But most proposed absolutes are either extremely difficult to prove, unknowable, or ineffable — because human perception-cognition is fallible. So really, asserting that “everything is based on human assumptions” is just a form of humility.

Vive l'Humilité.

How would a person living in a society where every type of work is managed by robots and artificial intelligence and with no scarcity find meaning in his life?

Thank you for the question.

There are a number of positions and assertions that approach this question in different ways, among which are:

1) Humans are meaning-making critters who will always invent purpose for themselves, regardless of their situation. In fact, it is often argued that this inventiveness is one of humanity’s chief assets in the face of both calamity/deprivation, and affluence/ease.

2) Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would indicate that once basic needs are met — physical needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and respect — then what remains in that hierarchy is self-actualization. In the environment the OP describes, this self-actualizing pursuit of creativity, realizing personal potential, moral development, etc. seems like a reasonable fit for “finding meaning.”

3) Our current obsession with the materialistic and individualistic is really evidence of a moral immaturity that hinders the natural, intrinsic unfolding of human potential and transformation. Once conditions that perpetuate infantilization and toddlerization of humanity (i.e. economic materialism, commodification, commercialization, etc.) are removed, then human beings will naturally blossom into their next stages of moral/spiritual/consciousness evolution.

There are other possibilities, but I think there is ample evidence, for example, in different educational models and research that shows that self-directedness, curiosity, a sense of play, spontaneous creativity and cooperation, and a host of other positive traits are innate to human beings, and really don’t require much encouragement to flourish. However, since multiple generations have essentially been repressed in these areas, and burdened with invented constraints — rigid institutions, dogmatic ideologies, forms of wage and debt slavery, etc. — that have promoted fear and suffering above our joyful search for meaning, it will likely take a generation or two to recover and regain those inner freedoms once again. Epigenetically, this could present some real challenges — but my hope would be that humans would, in time, bounce back to our curious, adventurous, spontaneous selves.

My 2 cents.

How can individual stop being too responsive to the social inputs from the outside?

Being “too responsive to social inputs from the outside” is sometimes the result of innate codependent or compulsive proclivities, but more often it is the consequence of years of familial and/or cultural conditioning. The former is what in Integral Lifework I call a “structural barrier,” and the second is learned and therefore a bit more malleable/changeable. In either case changing the behavior as an almost automatic response can be extremely difficult — especially in contexts where there is already investment in the relationships involved (family, romantic, close friends, neighbors, etc.), or if we have a career or daily routine with high social exposure and interraction. This leaves us with a limited array of choices to mitigate our “overly responsive” reflexes, some of which include:

1) Self-isolation, rigid personal boundaries, and avoidance of human and media contact (not particularly healthy in the long run, but sometimes may be necessary in the short run to regain personal space and equilibrium).

2) Concentrating on a personal discipline of self-care and selective responses. For example, committing to regular, uncompromising routines that focus on various aspects of personal well-being, and reserving specific times/days to interact with others socially, to interact with or consume media, to communicate with friends and family, etc. In other words, to compartmentalize our time so that we can filter the level of exposure and interaction with “inputs from the outside.”

3) Doing cognitive work on our internal reactivity — addressing the patterns of thought and emotion around our responses to external inputs. This might include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and various forms of daily meditation.

These are just a few examples, but it is possible to begin reshaping our habits and responses, and to become “less porous” to external programming, and less reactive/responsive in a more managed way. Personally, I find I require a lot of time alone in Nature, regular meditation, and very careful selection of friends to support a trajectory that leans away from my natural propensity to be reflexively responsive to external inputs.

I hope this was helpful.

How often do you have emotional or psychological experiences that are beyond your ability to comprehend?

I found this question particularly amusing because there are certain areas of my life that I consistently find to be “beyond my ability to comprehend.” I’ll touch on those in a moment, but first I wanted to offer that I think the vast majority of emotional and psychological experiences that people have are — at least initially — beyond their ability to comprehend. It’s just that human beings are very skilled at post-rationalization/post-justification, so that they will project their preferred (or habitual) veneer of meaning onto a given experience almost reflexively…whether it has anything to do with a confirmable reality.

Okay, with that said, I find the following emotional and psychological experiences beyond my ability to comprehend on a regular basis:

1) I get really, really angry when people cut into a ticket line, or use the HOV lane when there is only one driver in the car, or claim they are next at the deli counter when they really just arrived, etc. When I see someone being greedy, selfish and deceitful like this the anger just fills me to the brim. But why? Why do I become so upset? This is just how some people are — they really don’t care about anyone but themselves. Why can’t I just be more accepting and compassionate towards their flaws and weaknesses…? I dunno. But it’s got me stumped.

2) When Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. Presidential election I was stunned — truly in awe of how utterly gullible, ignorant and foolish American voters could be. But my awe was quickly replaced with a deepening depression that has lingered ever since. Why can’t I shake this sense of doom and gloom? Why can’t I just work positively toward the next election and effective change, instead of regurgitating my disbelief and confusion each day? Why do I suffer through such sadness, and why can’t I shake it? Sometimes I will evoke the image of Gandalf confronting the Balrog in the Mines of Moria, and that helps. But most of the time, it’s all truly beyond me.

3) Throughout my life I have known some folks who are really hilarious. Not in a contrived, calculated way…but just natural comedians. They breathe humor like it’s just regular air. I am so bewildered by this. Even now I can think of things that some of them have done or said — or an expression they made with their face once — and just start laughing. Laughing and laughing. And that spontaneous humor is so wonderful and precious, and I cherish it. But what is it, really, at its essence? Where does it come from? And why do I think it’s so funny…?

These are just some of the bewildering aspects of my particular existence.

My 2 cents.

How should I accept harsh truths about my situation and stop living in denial and fantasy?


In answer to “How should I accept harsh truths about my situation and stop living in denial and fantasy?”

I think this is one of the most difficult and persistent challenges of the human condition, and requires a lifelong effort of learning, careful perception, patience, introspection and cultivation of wisdom. Let’s examine why this may be the case:

1. Some “harsh truths” are situational, conditional or contextual…they may not be what we first assume them to be, or as persistent or as pervasive as they first appear. For example, I seemed to be really bad at math early on in my schooling — mainly because I didn’t attend school in any regular way until I was about eleven years old (and thus didn’t learn many basic math concepts), but also I didn’t have much patience or aptitude for algebraic structures and abstractions. In fact I flunked out of my second year of algebra twice. Then I encountered geometry, and it was like coming home to a long lost friend. I ate it up. When I applied it to some real-world challenges (calculating arcs in a centrifugal fan blades I was making for a hovercraft model), I discovered the spatial relationships and correlations to have particular meaning and satisfaction for me as mathematical representations. And guess what? I even ended up using algebra in my solutions. All along, I had just required a real-world application for these abstract concepts…and that was actually the real “harsh truth” that I had to learn — not that I was “bad at math,” but that I needed to apply math concepts I learned (right away) for them to make sense to me.

2. Some “fantasies” have inspired works of great creativity, compassion, genius or insight. To invest in a dream is to reach beyond the mundanity of our current circumstances, and imagine a different way. If you examine the lives of any of history’s greatest figures, their efforts can appear deluded, nonsensical or even insane…because they did not restrict themselves to what other people believed could or couldn’t be done; they defied convention. Of course, for every person who succeeded in reifying their fantasies, there are many who failed. Even someone who succeeds with one fantasy may fail countless times with other efforts. But it is a uniquely human trait to keep trying…to resist giving up in the face seemingly incredible or impossible odds.

3. Some levels of acceptance may take a lifetime to cultivate. To truly let go of harmful egotistical delusions may require years of therapy and concerted effort. To fully embrace difficult truths about ourselves — about who we are, or how we are, our own limitations, etc, — may likewise require a very slow arc of maturation over many years. Even if we intellectually grasp the letting go, to emotionally feel it will likely take time. And so we just have to keep working at it, recognizing there is no “silver bullet” that will transform our self-concept or self-awareness as quickly as we might like.

With that said…how can we differentiate between a situational or contextual limitation or setback — or a mere lack of imagination or paucity of faith in ourselves — and a fundamentally structural impedance or innate pattern that is problematic? This is where wisdom comes in handy, and yet…most wisdom is gained through life experience, right? A catch twenty-two — like needing to get a job to gain more experience, but needing more experience to get a job. Sometimes we can consult others who have personal experience in a given area to help guide our own efforts, but even in those instances…they’re approach, aptitudes and circumstances are going to be different from our own. So what can we do?

This very conundrum is what led me to begin meditating with more discipline and focus on a daily basis — to look within for answers for the best applications of my time and effort, and to guide my own course through life. And this, in turn, led me to discover the many different forms of meditation that can be helpful in this regard…there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution here either. To be able to differentiate between what is true for me, what is true for someone else, what is true in this moment, and what is the wisest course of action in a given situation have been indispensable to my own well-being — and to being the best person possible for those I care about. And the beginning of that journey was learning how to listen carefully within my inner silence, and start accepting that I had access to all the wisdom I required within that space.

My 2 cents.

Is it ethical to provide guidance and counseling (in a professional setting) if you yourself suffer from the same conditions and have not surpassed them?

In answer to the question “Is it ethical to provide guidance and counseling (in a professional setting) if you yourself suffer from the same conditions and have not surpassed them?”

Surpassed? I’m not sure what is meant by this term. I don’t know of anyone who has “surpassed” anything. Sure, they’ve learned to manage, self-monitor, develop alternate habits, become more disciplined, heal deep and chronic wounds to varying degrees, become incrementally more whole, etc. But “surpassed?” I think that’s probably an ego-based term for a particular flavor of narcissistic delusion, and has no place in any therapeutic or mentoring relationship.

That said, if we replace “surpassed” with “learned to constructively manage,” then I would say it depends — on many different factors, including the nature and severity of your condition, where you are in your own healing/wholeness journey, and the functional level of self-management you have been able to maintain over time.

So for instance:

1. A therapeutic relationship dealing with out-of-control addictions (of any kind) should probably not be entered into by a professional suffering from an out-of-control addiction. Even when, as some of the other answers indicate, that condition can be helpful to empathy and informed therapeutic or mentoring techniques, it can also be extremely destructive to the relationship, and likely to the person you are trying to help. So in that case…a firm “not ethical” IMO (again, if it is still unmanaged). I think the same would be true of unmanaged depression, unmanaged severe personality disorders, unmanaged schizophrenia, unmanaged self-destructive behaviors, unmanaged anger and hostility, unmanaged anxiety, unmanaged compulsions, unmanaged relationship dynamics, etc.

2. On the other hand, if you have demonstrated a high level of efficacy in managing a particular area, are maintaining genuine intentions to continue that course, and have become more high-functioning over time (i.e. can have a modicum of confidence about a given technique or process), then why not share your experiences in the therapeutic or mentoring relationship? Again, mastery is not really the issue…rather, it’s about ongoing integrity around your own intentions, and regarding your efficacy in “walking the walk” in your own life. In such a case, a conditional “ethical” IMO.

3. A very common pattern in folks who become healers, teachers, mentors, therapists, counselors, etc. is that they are initially drawn to the field because of their own struggles. This can be both helpful and unhelpful. On the one hand, they can understand and inhabit the perspective of the people they are trying to help, because they’ve been through it themselves. On the other hand, they may fall into a pattern of projecting their own desire for self-healing onto their clients, students or patients. In other words, they may perpetually be externalizing their own issues. At some point, a good teacher/mentor/therapist/healer will recognize this pattern in themselves, and address it. They may need to take a break from practice to do so. Or they may feel they need to give up the field entirely. This is a reality/integrity check that everyone I’ve known — across many different fields — eventually has to confront. Perhaps that’s where you are now, but the answer is going to be different for every person, and at different stages of their life. It’s a process where we must measure our own strengths and weaknesses against the effectiveness of our work…and when we must finally learn to check our ego at the door — and let go of our own issues — every time we engage with the person we are trying to help.

My 2 cents.

What are the flaws of modern psychotherapy and why do so many people (myself included) feel so disappointed with it?

Great question. My take on some common flaws in modern psychotherapy:

1. Consumer model. Both clients and therapists often (consciously or unconsciously) fall back on the producer/consumer model, where the therapist is there to “provide” a solution that a client pays for and “consumes.” This ends up emphasizing external resources vs. internal solutions for both client and therapist, and creates an unhealthy, disempowering dynamic — even despite client-centered intentions and protocols — which often results in a lack of willingness to “do the work” that is required.

2. Incompetence or poor training. I often use the analogy of a violinist when describing good therapists: How many virtuoso violinists are there in the world? How many first and second chair violinists? And how many folks squeak away in their basement until a position opens up in the local community orchestra string section? Virtuosos are rare, and hacks are plentiful…so it can take a lot of effort, persistence and luck to find a really good therapist.

3. Lack of cultural integration/acceptance. Psychotherapy should be considered a normal, healthy, even prophylactic resource for well-being…like going to the gym, or going to an MD for a checkup. Unfortunately, it has been polluted with social stigma so that people who could benefit often don’t seek it out — or feel ashamed when they do. This leads to a disproportionate volume of psychotherapy engaging in: a) court-mandated treatment; b) “last ditch effort,” extremely acute, crisis intervention conditions; c) self-help hobbyists. This is not a great group of folks to work with, generally — not in terms of process, or in terms of outcomes — and IMO often results in excessive “lowest common denominator” practices.

4. **The profit motive. **Evidenced-based methods are great — but what if the latest “proven” approach for a given condition isn’t working for a particular client? Well, insurance companies don’t allow such variability; everything must be cookie-clutter compliant with their actuarial tables (i.e. clear diagnosis = rigid treatment protocol). At the other extreme, a provider receiving (uninsured) private pay may not be motivated to use some provenly efficacious, short-term approach, but instead be motivated to create a longer-term income stream. “Perverse incentives” all around….

5. Lack of holism/multidimensionality, and reliance on “silver bullet” modalities. Modern medicine is struggling to reverse over a century of hyperspecialization, where only the separate systems and components of a patient are considered, and not the whole. There are efforts to integrate different disciplines, engage in group consults and assessments across departments, and change this paradigm…but it has been slow, and frequently ineffective. And so modern medicine tends to treat symptoms, and ignore underlying causes. Psychotherapy has fallen into this habit as well — people are complex, and solutions to their problems may also require complexity. This takes time, and multiple perspectives, and acknowledgement that there is no “one size fits all” treatment that is appropriate for a given set of conditions.

FYI I have a guide intended to help folks find a good therapist, here: https://www.integrallifework.com/resources/How-to-Select-Mentor-Coach-Therapist.pdf

Also here is a free assessment process for a more holistic approach to well-being: https://www.integrallifework.com/resources/NourishmentAssessmentV2.pdf

My 2 cents.

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



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


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

But why does this matter?

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

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

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

A Corrosive Troika Defined

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

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

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

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


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


I. Misattribution

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

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

1. Sunlight warms the Earth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


II. Masking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


III. Forcing

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

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

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

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

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


Virtual Causality in Action


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

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

So in such a potent and seemingly enduring real-world example, the deleterious effects seem closely tied to fearful and dismissive intent. But what about the other end of the spectrum? Consider the beliefs of many people in modern culture regarding the desirability of wealth, and in particular the necessity of commercialistic capitalism to create a thriving and happy lifestyle for everyone. Much of the time, this isn't a nefarious or malevolent intent — folks may actually believe that everyone aggressively competing with each other for more and more wealth is "a good thing," and, further, that such pursuits are morally neutral; in other words, permissive of an "anything goes" mentality with regard to wealth creation. And if I truly embrace this belief, I will tend to mask my own observations about the world, about history and economics, about social movements, about government and everything else in accordance with that belief. In my unconsciously reflexive confirmation bias, I will only recognize arguments and evidence that seem to support my beliefs. That is, I will mask the actual causality behind events and data that embody my preferred causality, assiduously avoiding empirical research that debunks the travesty of "trickle down" economics, or that proves most conceptions of the Laffer curve to be laughable.

Then, because my beliefs are not really supported by careful analysis of available evidence — and are in fact thoroughly contradicted by a preponderance of data — I will eventually go beyond seeking out research, media and authorities that amplify my preferred causation, and begin to force that causation in my own life, the lives of those I can personally influence, and via my political leanings and spending habits. On a collective scale, I will vote to have judges appointed who favor corporations in their rulings, or for legislators who create tax breaks for the wealthy, or for Presidents who promise to remove regulatory barriers to corporate profits. On a personal level, I will explode my own debt burden in order to appear more affluent, and constantly and conspicuously consume to prop up growth-dependent markets. And, on a global level, I will advocate neoliberal policies that exploit cheap labor and resources in developing countries, and the ruination of my planet and all its species of plant and animal, in service to the very few who are exponentially increasing their personal fortunes. In these ways, I can help generate short-term surges of narrowly distributed prosperity that do indeed reward those who have already amassed significant wealth, and who will vociferously confirm that everyone else in society is benefitting as well...even when they are not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Countering Virtual Causality with a Greater Good


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

But something was still missing — something more causally fundamental that was hinted at in my previous experiences — and that is when I expanded my attentions to larger cultural, political and economic concerns. I began writing about the failures of capitalism, the distortions of religion and spirituality in commercialistic societies, the need for more holistic appreciations of liberty and knowledge, and the imperative of constructive moral creativity — offering a handful of what I believed to be fruitful approaches in these areas. Much of this culminated in the book Political Economy and the Unitive Principle, and then in my Level 7.org website, which explore some initial ways out of the mess we have created. Throughout these efforts, I presented what I believed to be some of the central causal factors involved in our current systemic antagonisms and failures, and some proposed next steps to actualize and sustain positive change. Of course what I have outlined in my work is just one way to frame all of these situations and factors, and, regardless of intentions, there will likely be many details and variables yet to be worked through. This is why piloting different participatory, distributed and egalitarian options will be so important in the coming decade. The main point, however, is that, just as so many others have recognized, humanity cannot continue along its present course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





What is the process to become like Gore Vidal, David Berlinski, Slavoj Žižek, Noam Chomsky or Umberto Eco? How many books do they read? How do they define their research topics?

So, first off, wowsa…that’s quite a list! From my observation, research, and learning about these folks over the years (via documentaries, interviews, lectures, reading their work, etc.), I would say there are a handful of common denominators for most of them:

1. Voracious curiosity and ability to absorb huge amounts of information. These guys can take a firehose of new data on a regular basis and quickly integrate and contextualize it. And then — and this is pretty key — they can remember all of it! This is an aptitude like various forms of intelligence…which can, perhaps, be mimicked; but I don’t know if it can become second nature without someone being blessed with certain genetic advantages from birth.

2. An ego big enough to crave public attention and/or recognition. This appears to be a major component of productivity and public engagement for most of these guys — to varying degrees. And it can certainly be mimicked as well…but do you really want to? There are pitfalls to being driven by ego and a need for attention…a certain kind of blindness that undermines the thought field being fostered and propagated by its originator. It can also lead beyond hubris to less savory habits — like unconscious plagiarism.

3. Being a skilled and adaptive communicator. This can be learned — to write well, speak well, etc., and then be able to tailer and condense an idea into accessible language for different groups of people. But it is an absolute necessity to do this…or very few people will understand what you are trying to convey.

4. Pattern identification. This last is really not something that can be mimicked or learned…it is simply a gift, and a pretty rare one. There are academics, writers, philosophers and thinkers that are actually much smarter and more well-read than any of the folks on your list. But they don’t have this gift of seeing patterns in data — and rarely have the “aha” moments that seem to stream out of the thinkers on this list. Someone who possesses this gift can leap to well-supported conclusions almost instantly, while nearly everyone else must slowly and deliberately struggle to catch up…if they even can.

My 2 cents.

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

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

My 2 cents.

What is Max Stirner's philosophy?


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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-is-Max-Stirners-philosophy/answer/T-Collins-Logan

What could enlightenment mean, for a collective?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-could-enlightenment-mean-for-a-collective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-essential-principles-of-critical-thought-would-you-include-in-a-high-school-level-crash-course-on-critical-thinking

Do you enjoy being the center of attention? Is it important that your work is recognized?


I think those are two separate things. Years ago, when I was in a traveling theatre troupe, I wanted our production to be appreciated; that is, I did want the audience to be engaged…spellbound even…during the performance. And sure…I wanted them to pay attention to me when I was on stage - and to my fellow actors while they were on stage. But after the performance, I really didn’t want to interact with the audience at all. I loathed afterparties or meet-and-greets. The fawning, praise, false sense of intimacy…I found it viscerally repulsive. And I think this speaks to a very clear difference between having one’s efforts appreciated in context, and becoming “the center of attention” is a social situation. Those are two very different experiences, and they’ve provided a repeating contrast throughout my life. For example, when I have taught classes, I really enjoy becoming a facilitator of discussion, drawing people into it, exciting new conceptions or angles on a given topic, and synthesizing meaningful conclusions from group input - I really love doing that. But again, after class, when students approach me to offer their excitement or appreciation around my teaching style (rather that the topic itself), I try to be gracious but I am actually really, really uncomfortable.

Recently, I entered an essay contest. I haven’t done that in nearly thirty years, though this habit was part of my attempt to “become a writer” in my twenties. :-) In any case, the same dynamic is in play with writing efforts as well: I’d really like to be heard - I want folks to read what I write - but I don’t particularly enjoy a lot of attention after-the-fact. As the months have dragged on since I submitted my essay last November (some six months ago now), I find myself a little disgruntled that I haven’t heard any status on the contest. Is it because I wanted to win? Not particularly, no…it’s actually because I want my ideas to be heard, to be discussed, to influence discourse around a topic I care about. And that can’t happen if my essay is sitting in a closed office in someone’s read-me pile, instead of shared on my website, on FB, here on Quora, via Academia.edu etc. Which is why most of my books and essays are downloadable for free - here again, it’s nice to make money off of books sales, which to a small degree reflects some recognition of and attention to my work, but if people buy my books and don’t read them, that would be pretty pointless, right? So again it’s more about engagement and synthesis in the noosphere. That’s what really excites and sustains me.

Obviously the same phenomenon occurs on Quora. Although I can’t be sure that all of the “views” are actual full-length reads of my posts, it’s the “views” rather than the “likes” that I pay most attention to over time. More than that, when people engage me on Quora by posting comments or questions on my posts, I’m thrilled. I really enjoy immersing myself in a back-and-forth on complex topics. But if that turns into a love fest of mutual praise…well, that’s always nice but it doesn’t facilitate synthesis. It’s often just “preaching to the choir” as it were (again…this can feel nice or affirming…but it isn’t what motivates me to write).

This was a bit of a stream-of-consciousness data-dump…but hopefully I’ve made a useful distinction here.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/Do-you-enjoy-being-the-center-of-attention-Is-it-important-that-your-work-is-recognized/answer/T-Collins-Logan

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


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

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

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

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

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

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/In-laymans-terms-what-is-philosopher-Gianni-Vattimos-idea-of-weak-thought/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Post-Postmodernity's Problem with Knowledge

Sell Sell Sell


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has studying psychology changed the way you interact with people?


Yes, absolutely. For example:

I tend to be less judgmental of both myself and others as I have a better understanding of what prompts certain unskillful responses. Or…if I find that I am being judgmental…I am able to correct myself more quickly.

I am more tuned in to indications of depression in others than I had been before, and will more readily question further to see if someone is experiencing additional symptoms.

I can shift into an observation mode more easily now - detaching a bit from an interaction. This is actually not always a good thing (say, with a partner), but it can be useful when conflicts arise in friendships or with family members.

I think I have more humility about my own mentation - I am more aware of cognitive distortions and factors like stress or diet that can impair perception and increase reactivity. Knowing doesn’t necessarily change what I am observing…but I can be more chagrined than confused about it. When interacting with others, this makes things like admitting I was wrong or making repair attempts much easier. Not easy…just easier. :-)

One unfortunate side-effect of studying mental illnesses in particular is observing how prevalent forme fruste or subclinical diseases and disorders seem to be. It doesn’t take long before everyone seems to be exhibiting symptoms. Ha.

Lastly I would say that studying psychology is one thing, and experiencing therapy is quite another, but that both are highly instructive and have influenced how I interact with myself and others.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/Has-studying-psychology-changed-the-way-you-interact-with-people/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Is there a cause and effect relationship between supply and demand?


My answer would be “sometimes,” either unidirectionally or bidirectionally in our modern environments.

If there is pent up aggregate demand for a good that is known - i.e. has existed and fulfilled a particular utility for some time - then a new player could decide to begin producing that good, or an existing player could increase their production, or either could find ways to reduce prices on that good…all in order to meet pent up demand. This happens quite frequently in fact, and represents a unidirectional causal relationship between demand→supply. A common example of this would be established communities where there is no inexpensive housing, or that lack any grocery stores or gas stations within a convenient distance, or that only have access to one really pricy ISP. Another example would be a vast array of goods and services after a prolonged economic downturn.

There may also be what I would call “unconscious” pent up aggregate demand for a newly discovered or introduced good. A culture that has never been exposed to something that is commonly produced somewhere else - alcoholic beverages, coffee, silk fabrics, cigarettes, eyeglasses, etc - may quickly ramp up demand once exposed to that good. Likewise, a new service or product that satisfies some basic human need that isn’t being thoroughly provided for in existing society (or has been difficult to access) - such as pornography, social media, spiritual nourishment, for example - may create a boom of commoditization and consumption, and their responsive supply.

If someone invents a new good and exerts tremendous marketing effort to persuade people that they have a need (even if they didn’t before), then they may successfully create artificial aggregate demand. This also happens quite frequently, and represents a unidirectional causal relationship between supply → demand. An example of this would be pharmaceuticals marketed directly to consumers, especially where the efficacy of the drug is questionable, or the symptoms or condition are much less common than are being represented by advertising. Now of course it’s the marketing that stimulates artificial demand - not the supply alone - but in this case many such drugs just didn’t compete well with others for a given treatment, so the companies try to recover their R&D investment by gaining approval to treat conditions unrelated to their initial objective. In other words, without this preexisting supply there would be no marketing, so the causal chain remains intact.

Now I think it is important to note that these different scenarios can exist in both for profit and nonprofit environments, and among both privatized and socialized goods and services.

Where things get more interesting (to me at least) are situations that foster bidirectional causality, where a feedback loop amplifies both demand and supply. This occurs not infrequently in financial and information economies. For example, when psychological momentum builds around a speculative opportunity - such as high tech companies that could, perhaps, produce something that people want, but actually don’t produce anything at the moment (or haven’t made any profit producing what they do). And suddenly the demand for stock in these companies skyrockets - and stock values skyrocket along with that, which stimulates a boom of high tech companies entering the market that could, potentially, meet a demand that could, potentially, exist. But all of this is just make-believe. There is nothing there but a psychological demand-supply feedback loop.

It is also important to note that neither supply nor demand are the end of the causal chain. There are often many other factors in play - things like cultural capital, habituation and addiction, shareholder pressure to increase profits, macroeconomic events, etc. But if you use “supply” and “demand” as aggregate representations of economic function, then you can delve into other factors as subordinate or superior causes and effects.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/Is-there-a-cause-and-effect-relationship-between-supply-and-demand/answer/T-Collins-Logan