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After posting a well-worded invitation to Trump supporters to engage in civil discourse with me, a woman, LR, who first responded with dismissive scorn began commenting on my Facebook page. After some trust building between us, and editing out the participation of another individual, this is the meat of the discussion we had. (I edited her comments for spelling and punctuation and to reduce “noise”. My first comment follows her declaration, in response to the other participant –who carried most of the first part of the conversation– that she has absolutely no second thoughts about her support for Trump.)

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, I’m going to jump in here with an observation. Intellectually, as a student of society and of the human mind, I know that many of the things I believe are wrong. I know that many of the things I am absolutely certain are true are not true. I know that the narratives of reality that form my identity and my relationship to the world around me is laden with defense mechanisms that protect it from critical challenges. And I know that all of that is true despite the higher-than-average degree to which I work to mitigate them.

It’s very hard to act on the knowledge I just outlined above, particularly when engaged with people with whom I disagree. I don’t want to give them that admission as a lever or weapon to use against me. But even in the privacy of my own mind, or in the company of like-minded people, it is hard to own and harder to act on.

That’s why, in the process of creating Transcendental Politics, I increasingly came to emphasize “intellectual humility.” I’m not talking about the appealing personality trait in which one presents as knowing that they’re not special, but rather simply the knowledge that we don’t know, that much that we think we know is wrong, and that some things we are absolutely certain are true are in reality false.

I just finished reading Steven Pinker’s new book, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.” Pinker and I think in similar ways, share a tendency to be critical of ideologues across the spectrum, believe in the value of reliance on empirical evidence, rational analysis, and a commitment to our shared humanity, wherever it leads. I’m a pretty diligent consumer of information, trained in research methodologies, aware of psychological pitfalls (such as confirmation bias and attribution bias), and yet was surprised that Pinker managed to bring into question some things that I thought were beyond dispute. It was a humbling reminder of how much crap we all have in our minds.

(I’m not suggesting that Pinker is infallible either. There were some emphases, some ways of framing information and conceptualization that I remain at odds with him on, though mostly it is really just more a matter of emphasis than anything else. But I recognize that rejecting data that doesn’t confirm my bias is inexcusable, and some of the data he presented absolutely challenged some of my biases.)

So, I encourage us all, to the greatest extent possible, to come to the table knowing that we don’t know, that we may be wrong about some things we are certain of, that the more we allow reason and humanity to guide us the better, and that our inevitable boat load of false certainties is a major obstruction to doing so.

I didn’t really want to interrupt the flow of yours and EB’s discussion, or attempt to impose my will while trust is still being built, but I just wanted to plant the seed of this suggestion early, just to tuck away in the back of your mind.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, sounds like an interesting book . I struggled with whether to use the word “absolutely,” and in the end decided that that was the most truthful answer for me to give at this time . Nothing of course is absolute, except “Universal Truth” which only the creator of the universe is privy to. I understand where you are coming from. Point well taken : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, first, I want to reiterate that we appreciate your having the courage and integrity to be here, where you knew that you were going to be bombarded with challenges to what you hold to be true. Most people are unwilling to put themselves in that situation. I don’t like putting myself in that situation! (But, we would all benefit, individually and collectively, if we all put ourselves in that situation more routinely.)

Second, I have to continue that bombardment just a little, because not only conservative Republican Jeff Flake, but many others, both publicly and privately, echo his sentiments. The more thoughtful conservative columnists and pundits –George Will, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, most Republican congressmen and senators at some point or another, every living former president from both parties (implicitly or explicitly), virtually every reputable, established news publication in the world, virtually the entire corpus of professional historians, economists, foreign policy experts, anti-terrorism experts, diplomats, and statesmen, the former heads of the CIA and NSA, the former head of the FBI, all echo the sentiment that Trump is a disaster for this nation and world. Historians posted video-testimonials, with reference to historical analysis, to implore people not to make this mistake. Economists and foreign policy experts wrote mass letters signed by the luminaries in their fields with the same message. Venerable old publications that have either never endorsed anyone or have done so only once or twice in the course of centuries came out to endorse Clinton, not because they loved Clinton, but because they recognized how unthinkable it was to elect Trump to the presidency. Conservative papers that had always endorsed the Republican nominee prior to 2016 received death threats for doing the same.

That humility we agreed we all require should give us pause in the light of so enormous, so well-informed a chorus of both the expected and unexpected voices urging the same warning upon us. Can we entertain the possibility that we have ventured into some horrifyingly dangerous territory here? Not an agreement that it is so, necessarily, but a recognition that it might be so?

LR: EB, If you are asking my opinion of (a speech by Flake that EB had posted), which I was already familiar with, and others …. well here goes …. all I can think of is that Flake went on an unhinged tirade of sanctimonious grandstanding . He hates Trump , he was a never Trumper from day 1 , and he wants someone like himself to challenge Trump in 2020 . As my Father used to say ” He has a better chance of being struck by lightning ” Good luck with that : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: If being a “never Trumper” disqualifies all of the conservative voices echoing liberal, academic, and expert concerns over Trump, then all of the most intelligent and informed and venerable of conservative voices, including previous conservative Republican nominees for the presidency and Republican presidents themselves, are disqualified, and the only definition of credibility becomes the refusal to listen to those voices and consider what they’re saying, which is a very dysfunctional definition of credibility.

Isn’t it just possible that the virtually unanimous voices of the world’s historians, economists, foreign policy experts, former presidents, former candidates for the presidency, editorial columnists for major publications, might, just might, have a point that is being systematically ignored by those who prefer not to hear it.

There are really two possibilities here: Virtually the entire universe of people with relevant knowledge, experience and expertise are all engaged in a conspiracy against what is good and true, or that which they are against isn’t actually good and true. Which seems more reasonable on the face of it?

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, all I will say is this: I am very familiar with all of these views. I have been listening for 3 years now. If this Presidency turns out to be the unmitigated disaster that they ( experts ) are predicting, our Constitutional Republic will be strong enough to survive.

Colorado Steve Harvey: I agree that our republic will *probably* survive a Trump presidency, but some of the harm done may be irreparable, and some of it may take generations to repair, and some of it may cause multitudes real harm in the meantime. So, if he is an unmitigated disaster, that is not a trivial concern.

I’m going to risk all of the goodwill we’ve built on a frank, admission, LR.

I personally am convinced that it is impossible for any rational person of goodwill to look at the evidence comprehensively and arrive at or retain the conclusion that Trump is anything other than a travesty that we have to do everything in our power to rectify.

I also believe, from all I’ve seen of you here, that you ARE a reasonable person of goodwill.

By syllogistic logic, if those two premises are correct, you would have to come to the conclusion that Trump is a travesty that we have to do everything in our power to rectify.

Now, given all that, there are three possibilities: 1) Premise number one is wrong because I’m wrong, the world’s historians are all wrong, the world’s economists are all wrong, the world’s foreign policy experts are all wrong, this nation’s living former presidents from both parties are all wrong, the most intellectual of conservative pundits are all wrong, and Trump isn’t a travesty that we have to rectify; or 2) I’m wrong in my assessment of you; or 3) you will, in time, come to the rational and humane conclusion.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, well , apparently the grass roots voters in the swing states and the thousands who went to the rallies didn’t get the “Memo.” Trump was approachable, he worked like a dog going everywhere, he spoke plain english, he was smart enough to know that there was an untapped silent majority out there who was furious over 8 years of Obama’s policies . We are not racists, we are not anti LBGT. I know transgender Trump supporters, educated conservative women. Check out the FB page of Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives , they are in your state. I don’t know what else to say. That’s how he won 306 electoral votes . I went to bed on election night thinking “no way” we are never going to win Pennsylvania which I had determined was crucial. I was just as surprised as you guys . Peace : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, but none of that really gets at the crucial question. Multitudes of ordinary, intelligent, kind people can opt to support and create horrors. We’ve seen that, repeatedly. Among Nazi supporters were kindly old grandmothers who baked cookies for their neighbors…, sometimes even for their Jewish neighbors! That multitudes of ordinary, intelligent, kind people supported and support Trump doesn’t tell us that the analysis of those who are specifically informed on each dimension of policy are wrong, and that the mind-bogglingly abundant evidence of Trump’s racism, misogyny, xenophobia, crudeness, incompetence, anti-constitutional authoritarianism, and general malignant buffoonery are all wrong. You said that his many supporters “didn’t get the memo;” that might be exactly right. And those many supporters might just be demonstrably wrong.

That there are some from categories of people the majority of which didn’t support him who do support him is both unsurprising and uninformative. There were slaves who defended slavery; there were women who opposed women’s suffrage; there were even Jews who sided with the Nazis. It is always the case that when horrifying injustice and brutality occurs, some members of those groups that are specifically targeted by the injustice and brutality actually support it. That is not proof that what they were supporting was not in fact injustice and brutality.

Appeals to the proof of the support of large pluralities or even outright majorities are not appeals to truth, or to justice, or to human decency, because we have many, many, many instances throughout history in which such pluralities or outright majorities were clearly on the side opposing truth, justice, and human decency. I would argue that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that this is just such a circumstance.

That’s a lot to digest. Hang around a while and let’s find out together which of the three possibilities I listed is the correct one.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, you are telling me which possibility is correct for me to pick ? I will tell you this: The minute you start to use the Natzi comparison, you lost me. Forget the other stuff like his foreign policy, which I agree with. I was willing to play fair, but don’t try to railroad me. You are not interested in my views. You want to change my views.

Colorado Steve Harvey: I want only one thing: For reason in service to our shared humanity to prevail. If I am failing, in my understandings and actions, to contribute to that, then I want my understandings and actions to be corrected. If others are, then I want the same for them. That is the only thing I want.

As for the Nazi analogy, it was to make a specific point, and that is that the argument that the support of many “good people” is proof that Trump is good is fallacious. My analogy was to point out that that is wrong. That’s all. And, it is.

Now, you are welcome to stay; I hope you do. I will continue to be courteous, and will continue to champion reason in service to humanity. No argument I have made has been irrational, nor has any been in service to inhumanity. If you want to find a pretext to bow out, I understand. If you want to put your own views to the test of whether they satisfy that objective, that would be more admirable, but it is entirely up to you.

Let’s see how good your faith really is; will you find pretexts to reject arguments that have been nothing but factual, rational, and made with a will to serve humanity? Or will you continue to find the courage to allow your own beliefs to be challenged?

As I said, I always welcome having mine challenged, and if you have arguments that can do that, I invite you to snare me in the same trap; I would be most grateful for the favor.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, what if everything that happens, no matter how bad we think is is serves Humanity. Lessons learned. I wonder who you wanted as president?

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, that we are fallible and that the unexpected can occur is a given, but that that should not stop us from, with humility and diligence, making choices based on the best analysis of the best evidence available is a necessity.

I wanted the person of the two in the binary choice available who had the most competence, who was the most emotionally stable, who was the most professional, and who had given the greatest reason to believe that her choices would better serve our general welfare. I didn’t have to love her, or believe that she was without serious flaws; I only had to believe that she was the best of the two viable choices presented. And as I’ve already indicated, I think almost any other human being alive would have been the best of the two choices available, if they went up against the one who prevailed.

As for the fatalism, the suggestion that reason and responsibility may be irrelevant, because whatever we do serves humanity. In that case, we are free to commit acts of violence and predation, to harm others for our own benefit, to be cruel and selfish and reckless and devoid of compassion or mercy. But neither you nor I believe that; we both believe in our responsibilities as human beings, and that is really what we are discussing now; what is our responsibility as human beings, in the context of our role as citizens and sovereigns, and considering what is being done in our name?

LR: Remember these words …. ” we’ll stop it ” that came from the email of the lead FBI agent on the Mueller investigation . That came out in the hearings today . Meaning we will stop the Trump presidency . Some heads are going to roll over there , and that is not Trump interfering with an investigation . That is the top tier of the FBi . They mishandled the Clinton email investigation also . Comey ruined his reputation . McCabe lied to Congress , and Struzk was escorted out of the FBI building today by security . There are also 3 other unnamed agents under investigation. That is what should have all Americans scared, not some crazy allegations that Trump is like Hitler.

My role as citizen was to vote for the person I felt was the best choice to lead this country. I did that, and I have no regrets . My issues were border security , the economy , and foreign policy. 60 million others made that choice also, they have a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned

Colorado Steve Harvey: Yes, two FBI agents who were in an intimate relationship opined via email about how horrifying the prospect was that Trump would be elected, a perspective I believe any rational human being would hold. “We’ll stop it” could easily have referred to us all, as Americans, at the ballot box, not in their capacity as FBI agents. As soon as he became aware of those emails, Mueller removed the two agents from the investigation AND released the information himself about the existence of the emails (which were not known to the public or to anyone else who might have released them prior to that). That’s not evidence of a corrupt investigation; that’s evidence of an investigation that is assiduously non-corrupt and incorruptible. Furthermore, it was the head of the FBI himself who sealed the deal FOR Trump, by announcing days before the election that he was reopening the case against Clinton, so if their purpose was to block Trump, and their actions were predictably more causative in the opposite direction, they are either the most incompetent conspirators in the history of the world, or you’re entire narrative is wrong.

Our responsibility is to do as much due diligence as we can, to refrain from ignoring massive quantities of relevant information, and to make choices that are not just appealing to us but that are rationally and empirically defensible. If you think you did that, fine. The election is over, but our responsibility to one another and to humanity is not.

We are interdependent. If someone commits acts of terrorism, for example, and says that that was their choice for how best to serve humanity, that choice can indeed be criticized. Voting for Trump was not an act of terrorism, but it was a choice that has consequences and, like any other choice that has consequences, can be critiqued.

Why don’t we take a break from this, and find more pleasant and agreeable things to discuss in the near future. We can always return to this another time.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, that is only part of the story . The part the left wing media don’t you to hear . More is going to come out, but I am sure you aren’t interested because it doesn’t fit your narrative. That’s okay. It doesn’t really matter.

Colorado Steve Harvey: There are, as always, multiple possibilities, each of which we should consider methodically before either rejecting or accepting it as truth. There is a range of possibilities about the balance of how right and wrong we each are. There is a range of possibilities about the relative reliability and credibility of competing sources of information. And there is a range of possibilities about what will or will not come out, and how accurate and salient it will be.

To determine which among those many possibilities are in fact realities, we would need to refer to arguments made using reason applied to evidence, and not mere assertions. I strive, imperfectly but in earnest, to ensure that what fits my narrative (or rather what my narrative is fit to) is that which reason and evidence recommend as best serving our shared humanity.

If you have an argument to make, I am eager to hear it. If you are just going to make empty assertions, that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean anything until it has reason and evidence to support it. That is after all the trap we set, the one I invited you into from the very beginning.

I want to ask an isolated question, without letting it sprawl out into every other issue. (It helps to be able to focus on one issue at a time rather than shift to another one as soon as the first one becomes uncomfortable, never really dealing with it.) You said that the 60 million people “have a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned.” You also were unhappy with my earlier analogy of the tens of millions of Germans who supported Hitler and the question of whether they had “a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned.” But it’s a relevant question, because if there are extremes at which people don’t have a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned, then the question becomes whether those who made this choice crossed that threshold or not, and where the threshold is.

I think we can agree that there are choices that DON’T merit respect. Choices to commit acts of predatory violence don’t merit respect, for instance. Choices to support leaders who commit acts of predatory violence don’t merit respect. Choices to vilify whole categories of people don’t merit respect. Choices to support leaders who vilify whole categories of people don’t merit respect. The choice to foment fear and hatred in service to callous and brutal policies doesn’t merit respect. The choice to support a leader who foments fear and hatred in service to callous and brutal policies doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to forcibly take children from their mothers who arrived at your door in terror, fleeing from violence, in order to discourage such mothers from seeking such assistance, doesn’t merit respect. The choice to support leaders who forcibly take children from their mothers who arrive at our borders in terror, fleeing violence, in order to discourage them from doing so, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who calls white supremacists who rioted in and terrorized a southern town, including murdering one counter-protester with a car, “some very good people” doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who bragged about routinely committing sexual assault, and is accused by 19 women of having done so, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who mocked a disabled reporter doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who tries to undermine the free press and convince the American people that the free press is their enemy doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who lies twice as often as he tells the truth, and always to serve his own interests rather than the public interest, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who praises despots and alienates allies, igniting a mutually destructive trade war with tariffs no economist thinks are a good idea doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who, as a candidate, asked three times in a military briefing why, if we have nuclear weapons, don’t we use them, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who has said that he is in favor of nuclear proliferation and wouldn’t care if there were a nuclear war in Asia (which wouldn’t just be a humanitarian crisis on an almost unimaginable scale, but would also destroy the global economy and create a global catastrophe which would be completely disastrous for us as well) doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who said that an American born judge of Mexican descent was unfit to hear a lawsuit against Trump because of his Mexican heritage doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader whose anti-constitutional authoritarian policies have been blocked by the courts repeatedly for violating the protections of fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader whose own racism is evident from his violation of the Fair Housing Act for discriminating against blacks, his taking out of full-page ads calling for the execution of a group of black teens arrested for a crime they didn’t commit, his repeated vilification of Mexicans, his constant fear and hate mongering, his courting of and support by white supremacists (including appoint one as a senior advisor after winning the election), his support of the preservation and continued display of symbols of white supremacy, his exploitation of racist outrage toward peaceful and respectful protests by blacks of excessive use of deadly force by police toward frequently innocent black suspects, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who is economically and diplomatically illiterate, uninformed, incurious, indifferent to the consequences of governing with self-glorifying and dysfunctional bluster rather than with skill or knowledge doesn’t merit respect.

The tragic thing is that this list can go on ten times longer than it already has, this president is such a dramatically unqualified and disqualified individual for the presidency. He has quoted Mussolini, the inventor of Fascism, favorably; he had (according to Ivana in a 1990s interview in Vanity Fair) a copy of “Mein Kampf” on his bed stand; he has bragged about his superior “German blood;” he made his entry into politics by becoming the figurehead of the arbitrary racist insistence that the first black president wasn’t born in America but rather Kenya…. How is it even possible for anyone to insist that it is unfair to them for others to be appalled that they supported this horrid, incompetent, hateful individual for the presidency?

But I don’t want us to be stuck in our being appalled and you feeling wronged by it. I want us to join together to try to be the nation and the people we once were and could and should be again, a compassionate people, a nation that values our alliances and understands the need to mobilize expertise in navigating the complexities of the modern world, a nation that seeks to join people together rather than divide them into warring tribes, a nation that believes in justice and in human decency, a nation that strives to be wise and fair and admirable. I don’t care about your past decisions; I care about your present and future decisions, about whether you continue to double down on choosing to destroy this nation, or whether you will join with all reasonable people of goodwill to correct our course and be a decent and honorable people once again.

This is self-destructive craziness we are in now. Yes, it’s true, I want to shake people like you and shout, “What the hell is the matter with you?! Why are you doing this to us?!” Obviously, you are free to dismiss me and all of the world’s historians and all of the world’s economists and all of the world’s foreign policy experts and all of our nation’s living past presidents from both parties and all of the evidence and all reason and all human decency, and insist that up is down and in is out and even if it isn’t it doesn’t really matter because fate is in charge anyway, all incredibly irresponsible things to insist upon and impose upon this nation and world. You are free to do it, but you are wrong to do it, morally wrong. And I really don’t believe you’re that kind of person, who knowingly inflicts harm on multitudes and knowingly destroys this country we all love. I don’t believe that that is who and what you really are.

So my question is: Are you more concerned with not being criticized for this choice, or with doing what’s right if the criticism is, after all, warranted? Which is more important, your feelings, or America’s and humanity’s welfare?

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, I don’t care about the critics. Call me immoral, call me whatever you want. If you want to change politics why don’t you run for office, or find a candidate of your choice to back? It’s not about my feelings. To me and many others, I guess you can boil it down to one core issue, and this issue was central to us way before Trump arrived on the scene. It’s our issue, no matter who is in office or who is running. The issue is Globalism. I believe in Sovereign Nations, free and independent of any kind of “One World Governing Body.” If America First is appalling to you, and I think it is, you have the right to your opinion. I am sure you won’t like our Governor here in Texas either : ) The Democrats, in my opinion are ruining this Country.

Colorado Steve Harvey: What we’re doing now doesn’t put “America first,” anymore than the Hatfields and McCoys were putting their respective families first when they spent generations killing each other. You subscribe to a zero sum fallacy in a non-zero sum world, to everyone’s detriment, including our own. That’s where the phrase “enlightened self interest” comes from, the realization that to serve ourselves well we must enter into messy cooperative relationships with both friends and foes. People who actually spend their lives in economics and diplomacy get this; people who refuse to recognize the limits of their own expertise not only don’t get it but obstruct the beneficial mobilization of knowledge and experience they lack, believing that their current understanding is the understanding that should govern us, and that the expertise of others is irrelevant. And, if you’ll pardon my saying so, that combination of ignorance and arrogance is the most destructive force in the human world, the author of all our woes.

Here’s the point: I don’t, in general, just believe in random ideological narratives of reality. None of us should. But when you “argue” your position, you don’t argue it at all. Rather, you appeal to some random article of ideological faith. We can do better than that. We can analyze data. We can formulate an evolving, precise, highly sophisticated understanding of reality, and we can use that understanding to govern ourselves intelligently rather than arbitrarily. And that’s the real political divide in the world, between those who believe in our responsibility as citizens and human beings and do due diligence in service to it, and those who don’t. Guess which group is comprised of creative problem solvers and which group, in one form or another, flies planes into buildings and calls it a noble cause.

I’m done. Feel free to stay and chat about the weather. You clearly don’t want to be reached, and I clearly don’t appreciate the plane you’re​ choosing to fly into our building.

LR: I am not choosing to fly a plane into anything. I voted. You don’t like my choice. 2020 is 2 years from now, a lot can happen between now and then, so we will see : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: This isn’t a plane that hits the building just once and the damage is done. It occurs in slow motion, more of the damage mitigated the sooner those who’ve hijacked us either have a change of heart or are simply overpowered. The fact that we have a legal opportunity to overpower you in two years does not mean that it would not be to everyone’s benefit for you to have a change of heart long before then.

I think it’s important to note that this is a familiar historical scenario for the collapse of a republic, going back to the collapse of the Roman republic under Julius Caesar, and through the collapse of the Weimar Republic under Adolf Hitler. The scenario is as follows: An authoritarian populist attracts a large following by promising a return to supposedly lapsed “greatness,” and in the modern scenario by targeting foreigners, minorities, intellectuals, and the press, and countervailing governmental branches acquiesce out of either fear or self-interest in light of the populist pressure put upon them. The republic then becomes a dictatorship.

You wrote in an earlier comment that if all of this is a mistake, the republic will survive it. I answered, with emphasis on “probably,” that we would *probably* survive it, but I have no desire to continue to gamble our freedom and well-being on that very uncertain assessment of where the probability lies. We are in great danger as a republic right now. We really are. This is scary. This is horrifying. And, yes, people can vote their own freedom away without knowing it; they can vote their own prosperity, their own safety, their own welfare away without knowing it. It’s happened many times in the past, in republics that had existed longer than ours has and among people who didn’t believe it possible that that could ever change.

It can. We are gambling everything that we are, everything that our Founding Fathers and every soldier and public servant after them fought and often died for. And for what? To make enemies of friends and to strengthen the hand against us of the enemies we already had? To pretend that a trade war that no one wins and everyone loses makes us greater? To rail against history and the reality of interdependence? This is self-destructive insanity, pure and simple. The urgent challenge facing us as a nation and world –that, as I said, virtually everyone, from both parties and across the ideological spectrum, with relevant experience and expertise not only knows but is shouting as loudly as they can from the rooftops– is whether we can convince enough of those who are deceived or self-deceived to help pull us back from the brink in time

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, contrary to what you may believe about my capacity to understand, I totally understand where you are coming from in the above statement. I have thought deeply about it. My main question to others who I ask about this is “Why are they drawing a correlation between Trump and Hitler?” Now I see from your perspective, but I still think you are making a far stretch here, as far as what is happening or going to happen. I don’t know what else to say : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, as far as I know, I am not saying or implying anything about your capacity to understand. And my analogies to Hitler, as well as to Julius Caesar, are for specific purposes, identifying specific similarities. Since I make those similarities explicit, there is no question of it being “a stretch,” unless you can explain why those similarities aren’t in fact real or relevant.

Again, every position has to be argued rationally and with reference to empirical data to be anything other than an empty ideological assertion. One can believe whatever they want, but, in discourse, the standard should be how well they made their case, not just whether they announced what they believe. My whole point is that reason applied to evidence DOES lead to the conclusions I am drawing (and, frankly, the conclusions shared by virtually everyone else on Earth with relevant expertise or highly developed critical thinking skills), and I make my case why that is so. Simply saying “I have thought deeply about it” is not an actual argument.

I, and a whole lot of other people, continuously lay out in detail exactly why Trump and the movement surrounding him is not just bad for America, but an existential threat to America as we know it, and dangerous to the world. It may sound like hyperbole to you, simply because any such claim is assumed to be hyperbole, but a lot of very non-hyperbolic people are shouting it very loudly, and there are clearly times in history when it has not been hyperbole; lots of times in history, in fact. So, we have to consider the possibility that it isn’t hyperbole now. And if a cogent argument is being presented as to why it isn’t, simply assuming it is out of habit or convenience isn’t really very convincing.

A guy named Dan Kanan (if I’m remembering his name correctly) came up with a notion he called “the tragedy of the belief commons.” The tragedy of the commons is one variation of a set of scenarios in which when each individual acts in their own self-interest, the collective outcome is more harmful to everyone involved than had they been able to act cooperatively in their collective interests instead. (Something very relevant here as well.) But the tragedy of the belief commons is that we form our beliefs more as an expression of allegiance to some social identity we hold, while those beliefs may not actually be (and more often than not aren’t) what actually serves our general welfare.

So, it’s important for each person not just to state what they believe, but to explain why it actually does serve our general welfare. And in a conversation in which one side is doing that and the other is not, the side that is doing it is presumptively the one that has the better claim to be in service to our general welfare, until someone makes a more cogent argument to the contrary.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, my answer comes from my husband who has a Masters in Sociology. Revisionism. Germany the 1930’s was nothing like the USA today. The economy, unemployment, Plus, Germany had never been a democracy, also the Treaty of Versailles, where they were blamed for WWI and had to make reparations and give up land as part of the surrender agreement.

Colorado Steve Harvey: Again, I made specific comparisons, explicitly enumerated. You have not addressed any of them. I can help you out with listing differences, if you like: the de facto national languages are different, the populations are different, the size and shape of the territory is different, the longitude and latitude of the capital is different, the currency is different. There is an endless list of differences, all of which are irrelevant to disproving the validity of the specific similarities I named.

By the way, the Weimar Republic was democratic, and Hitler rose to power through mostly democratic processes.

Though I know it’s not intentional, I’m going to point out that focusing the debate on the tangential question of whether the comparisons I drew to Nazi Germany are warranted, especially without addressing the actual comparisons I made, is a tactic called “pettifogging,” which involves avoiding the central issue by focusing on tenuously relevant tangential issues, like whether the imposition of German reparations in the Versailles Treaty render comparisons of different instances of authoritarian populism moot (it doesn’t), when the real issue is whether our current crisis of authoritarian populism is dangerous to our republic and to humanity (it is).

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, its because the comparisons you made on the surface seem valid , and I can understand them , if you dig deeper into history , ” that dog won’t hunt ” Why are some people losing their minds over this ? Because a non Politician with no political experience was elected President over all the experts .career politicians , and Washington elites. In short , some peoples world was turned upside down and they just can’t get over it.

Colorado Steve Harvey: Okay, I do officially give up at this point. The dog that doesn’t hunt is your willingness to absorb information that utterly destroys any notion of logical, empirical or moral defensibility of the position you hold. You will continue to insist that up is down, in is out, and wrong is right forever, and there’s nothing I can do about that.

You have the entire world population of people with relevant knowledge, experience and expertise trying desperately to get you to open your eyes (and heart) to a reality you have closed them to. You have argument after argument compellingly showing you that you are, frankly, just plain wrong, in every conceivable way. You have most of the party that supports Trump and all of the party that opposes him, publicly or privately, beside themselves in disbelief and horror at what is happening. And it’s all irrelevant to you.

What we have is an enormous quantity of evidence that Trump is an authoritarian populist eroding our democratic and constitutional institutions, our norms and conventions that maintain and preserve them, our international alliances, and our basic human decency, stoking fear and hatred, inciting racist and xenophobic rage and violence (there HAS been a rise in hate crimes). And it’s clear that no amount of fact, reason, or appeal to human decency is ever going to have any impact on you at all.

If you and EB would like to continue this conversation, please feel free to do so, preferably, at this point, elsewhere. It was a noble experiment, asking the question of whether a person dogmatically holding an empirically, rationally, and morally indefensible position but willing to listen to arguments against them could be persuaded to give up that position. The answer, in this case, was no. That’s too bad. But I don’t have an eternity to devote to this experiment. I wish you all the best.

I contend that belief in the existence of God, stripped of its trappings, is a conceptual choice (an argument made at greater length in my essay A Dialogue on Religion, Dogma, Imagination, and Conceptualization), and that we are better served by focusing in on the pernicious element of religion people are truly reacting to –dogmatism– than on more bluntly attacking religion itself. Dogmatism can be found without religion as well as within, and rational humanism can be found within religion as well as without. We should focus in on that which truly is pernicious, and “live and let live” in regard to those conceptual choices that are not.

But isn’t it simply irrational to believe in God, dogmatism aside? No, it isn’t, at least not some conceptualization of God that is stripped of its more dogmatic elements. The universe is a truly sublime and wonderful thing, and seeking a concept which captures that may serve our consciousness and our humanity more than it hinders them.

Consciousness clearly is some part of the fabric of reality, because we experience it and we are some part of the fabric of reality. The energy-matter composition of the universe contains within it the capacity to manifest itself as “consciousness,” at least when configured in certain ways (e.g, the human form). In other words, the capacity for consciousness is inherent in the fabric of reality, for if it weren’t, consciousness could not exist in any configuration of that fabric.

In the mechanical, unconscious physical paradigm of reality, consciousness is created from a universe devoid of it as an incidental by-product of a random, mindless process. But the universe clearly isn’t devoid of its potential, because if it were devoid of its potential, that incidental by-product could not come into existence. Exploring what the existence of that potential, what the fact that consciousness is some part of the physical universe (whether isolated to human minds or found in some more broadly distributed form), implies, opens up the possibility of a less mechanistic, more organic paradigm of physical reality.

Since consciousness can only be experienced subjectively, and either imputed or not imputed externally, we are left to guess as to what extent some form of it (perhaps quite distinct from what we experience as human consciousness) is woven into the fabric of other aspects of reality. Throughout our history, our view on this has varied in many ways, from animism (seeing inanimate objects as being imbued with consciousness) to a more mechanical conceptualization of objective reality. In fact, our history, the history of our own consciousness, involves not just a de-animation of our surroundings, but also a rediscovery of unexpected intelligence beyond our own. Racist notions of differential intelligence are now reviled as historical follies, and we continually find that other mammals (from dolphins to dogs) are more intelligent than we had previously believed them to be. What was once perceived to be a more exclusive quality (“consciousness”) is proving to be ever less exclusive.

Our consciousness, which, by virtue of its existence, is proof that consciousness is somehow a part of the fabric of reality, was produced by a process which both preceded it and closely resembles it. Evolution, a process of trial and error involving large numbers and long periods of time, creates the appearance of intentional, highly sophisticated strategies for reproductive success. It creates the appearance of consciousness. In fact, evolutionary biologists and ecologists routinely use the language and mathematics of intentionality (microeconomics and game theory) to describe the phenomena they are studying.

Just as our technologies and social institutions, the products of our own consciousness, closely resemble the anatomical technologies and ecological “social institutions” that define the biosphere, our consciousness itself resembles the process that produced it. Why would we assume, as an a priori position, that the phenomenon that preceded and created us just coincidentally and insignificantly resembles us so closely in that essential way (of being “conscious”), rather than consider the possibility that we, a by-product of it, resemble it in some significant way?

Consciousness is a function of the confluence of two basic forces of nature: Energy and Information. When a complex dynamical system creates a perpetual counter-entropic eddy, absorbing a massive influx of energy and organizing information with it, we see some manifestation of what might be called, in the broad sense, “consciousness.” But since energy and information is what the coherent, systemic universe is comprised of, might it not be reasonable to say that, in diffuse form, that thread of the fabric of nature we experience as “consciousness” is woven throughout that coherent, systemic universe?

Our scientific paradigms have in fact been shifting away from a mechanical conceptualization and toward a more “living system” conceptualization. Complex dynamical systems analysis (“Chaos Theory”) has made clear that the characteristics of living systems are far more widespread throughout the inanimate world than we had previously realized. Increasingly, as physicist Fritjov Capra noted in “The Web of Life,” the dominant physical paradigm is organic rather than mechanical.

Physics has led us to a paradigm of a Cosmic Symphony of one dimensional vibrating strings and loops which generate all other material existence. It’s a mindbogglingly wonderful and extraordinary reality in which we find ourselves, and seeking ways to more fully embrace and celebrate that wondrous complexity and subtlety that so exceeds our normal range of conceptualizations, and so exceeds our comprehension, may be as natural a demand on our minds as naming the other things we encounter in our experience of life.

Taken in its entirety, a comprehensive understanding of our universe and our place in it suggests more continuity and less discontinuity between what we subjectively experience ourselves to be, and what the universe around us is. That quality that we identify in ourselves as “consciousness,” which we have come to consider something unique to us, in much the same way that dominant races considered it unique to them, and humans as the dominant species consider it unique to them, may be one manifestation of something more ubiquitous, more an inherent part of nature, than our mechanistic paradigm acknowledged. Even our scientific understandings of nature are moving us in that direction.

But is this what people are referring to when they use the word “God”? Isn’t “God” an entity, intentionally and capriciously acting, not just some diffuse, academic “consciousness” woven through the fabric of Nature? While it is probably the case that most people within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition conceptualize God as more physically and psychologically anthropomorphic (despite the doctrinal injunctions in those traditions not to), there is something abstractly anthropomorphic about recognizing an element of consciousness to the universe. Does that single connection on such an essential level have enough similarity to traditional conceptualizations of “God” to warrant use of the word to describe it? I don’t know. But I would suggest that the world doesn’t require some imposition of an answer to that question; let each answer it as they please, especially since doing so reduces rather than increases the depth and breadth of the chasms that divide us.

There is currently no word (that I know of) for the proto-consciousness of the universe described above. Doesn’t it warrant a word? And isn’t it related to the concept of God, of a cosmic consciousness guiding events? Isn’t the concept of God potentially the product of a primitive insight that has become buried in noise, a recognition that this incredibly wonderful, complex reality of which we are a part, of which we are a manifestation, is something greater than rather than lesser than what we ourselves are? And are the metaphors and mythologies that have grown up around that concept simply how the human mind organizes and conceptualizes complex and subtle aspects of Nature?

So, while dogmatic thinking is pernicious, and religions certainly are frequently bastions of dogmatic thinking, the concept of god itself is not necessarily to blame; dogmatism is found in political ideologies as well as in religions, and there are religious people who have not been dogmatic, and who have used their religiosity to great effect. So rather than making religion the issue, let’s make dogmatism the issue. Rather than arguing about the existence or non-existence of something that can be conceptualized into or out of existence, why not focus on creating bridges between different conceptualizations of reality, bridges that reduce the dogmatism of everyone who ventures onto them, and increases the mutual understanding among them. There could be no better tribute to God, and no better way to cultivate more rational humanism in the world.

America, we need to have a talk. First, we get that the whole multiple personality disorder thing comes with the territory. You know, pluralism and all that. But we need your personalities to work together a bit more. For instance, the racist bully personality, let’s call him “Trumpster” (since we need a name for him and that one just came to mind), needs to chill out. And the “na-na-na-na-na-na, I can’t hear you!” personality needs to get its fingers out of its ears and its head out of its ass. You’re all in the same body…, politic…, so you’re going to need to get along.

Second, yeah, pretty flag, nice camos, love the rousing military music, but, you know, you have neighbors. Those other countries, they keep complaining about how noisy you are. You’re keeping them up at night. Just, you know, turn it down a little. No, “liberty” does not mean pissing on other people’s doorsteps and through their open windows. And that informal national anthem: “We’re the greatest, that’s why you hate us, so eat my plutonium, mother f***ers!” It’s a catchy jingo,* but the rest of the world is tired of hearing it…, and increasingly concerned.

Third, populism, democracy’s demented cousin. Sure, democracy is a great thing. We love it. The Greeks Loved it. The British loved it. Power to the people! But too much of a good thing isn’t all that good. It’s okay to let surgeons perform surgery without getting upset about how elitist it is that the hospital won’t let your drunken Uncle Donald cut into that 230-year-old kid’s chest and poke around a bit. I mean, “let’s give him a chance,” right? What harm can an ego-maniacal ignoramus with no skills, no sense, no filters, and no awareness of his own rather striking array of brightly lit deficiencies do with a scalpel, a patient unconscious on the operating table, and a reckless indifference to anyone else’s welfare or rights possibly do?

Let’s agree that “democracy” doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that the least well-informed and least well-reasoned positions on complex issues should prevail as long as there are more idiots than experts in a country. Let’s agree that just because the people with your skin color and religion and sexual orientation have enjoyed centuries of screwing everyone else shouldn’t mean that that’s right and good and should continue unabated. Let’s agree that “freedom of religion” doesn’t mean that no one else is free to practice theirs because you consider their doing so to be an infringement on yours.

Now, you’ve screwed up, big time. You’ve Charlie-Sheened us into a disastrous state of affairs. You didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid; you snorted cubic meters of the raw powder while jerking off with a plastic bag tied over your head. It’s bad. Really bad. But we’ll forgive you for fucking everything up, for placing this nation on the path to self-destruction and infamy, for endangering multitudes of innocent others, for crapping on the Founding Fathers’ graves and spray-painting obscenities on their monuments and calling it a tribute, for sticking a perverted comic book inside the covers of the Constitution and pretending that what you’re reading there is the actual law of the land; we’ll forgive you, if you just help us clean this mess up. Okay?

We know you’re not too bright, and we know you mean well (well, some of you, maybe), and we know, in any case, we’re stuck with you –like the weird, psychopathic, deformed relative locked in the attic that keeps getting out– so, please, just help us clean this mess up, and all is forgiven.

Or, at least, go lock yourself back in the attic, where you belong, and let the sane among us, the rational among us, the responsible among us, the knowledgeable among us, the humane among us, govern, as intelligently, and wisely, and fairly as we can. Because, as you love to say, this isn’t a democracy; it’s a republic, and the reason why it’s a republic is because the Framers of the Constitution strived mightily to prevent toxic stupidity and bigotry such as yours from actually ruling us. Thanks to you, their dream has now been supplanted by everyone’s nightmare.

(*Yes, that was intentional.)

I see life as an adventure of the mind and imagination. Whatever we do, wherever we go, however we thrive, it is our minds that define us as uniquely human, some weird and wonderful thing in this vast and varied universe of ours. The desire to help others discover that is a big part of why I’m a teacher.

We should all be students, all of our lives, because our world grows the more we learn about it, our lives expand and grow richer, our own identities deepen and ripen, who and what we are becomes something more than what it was. It’s easier to believe that about great literature, great music, great art, but I’m going to make the case for something not everyone realizes is so incredibly beautiful.

Mathematics is one of the great products of human genius. It is not the only one, maybe not superior to others that occupy its heights, but neither inferior to them. It occupies a pantheon of human consciousness that includes great literature that can take you on journeys of the imagination into ever deeper and subtler spheres of reality; brilliant music that provides not merely a beat to move to but an intricate language of tightly woven sounds that speaks to our very soul; philosophies and sciences and fine arts of various kinds.

But math is not least among them, and perhaps is most remarkable of all, music that has not been played, science unyoked from the constraints of observable reality or at least stretching an ever-more elastic tether to them. It distills some essence of the universe, of the macrocosms and microcosms, of ubiquitous and eternal forms, speaking a language that crosses cultural and linguistic barriers and historical epochs with a completeness that not even music and the fine arts can attain.

Math is the purified mind, the celestial symphony, a strange and beautiful sphere of human thought, god’s own soliloquy echoing within us. And when applied to the practical questions that assail us, either directly or through its verbal twin of logical analysis, it enables us to do better, to discipline our passions and channel our thoughts, to arrive at wiser rather than more foolish conclusions. It is a vehicle of both beauty and purpose, a tool and an instrument, delicately plucked to play truths too subtle to otherwise hear.

Anarchists and libertarians fail to acknowledge the nature of collective action problems, and the ways in which various modalities (including hierarchical organization, of which government is one example) are used to address it. The trick is to most effectively blend these different modalities, not to reduce reality to a caricature that allows us to pretend that that challenge doesn’t really exist.

(There’s a famous example used in economic literature, of a barge-pullers guild in 19th century China, that hired overseers to whip slackers in order to eliminate the free-rider problem. In other words, the barge-pullers themselves chose to impose on themselves an overseer in their own collective interest. It’s a strange and complex world in which we live; we need first and foremost to face up to that fact before rendering judgment in broad brushstrokes that fails to acknowledge fundamental aspects of reality.)

The “problem” with government isn’t its existence or the fact that people rely on it for certain purposes, but what in economic, legal and managerial theory is called “the agency problem.” In a popular sovereignty, government is constituted as an agent of the people, its principal. This is in many ways a reversal of most ancient notions of sovereignty, which saw the people as “subjects” of the sovereign. The problem, or challenge, is the degree to which reality can be made to correspond to theory.

In one view, this reversal of theoretical roles occurred organically, because in the crucible of European internecine warfare the crown’s (particularly the English crown’s) need for revenue to finance such wars drove an ongoing liberalization of the political economy to generate such revenue, In other words, international competition drove sovereigns to empower ever-more ever-broadening swathes of their citizenry, since those that did so fared better in the wars among relatively small and easily swallowed states.

In the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, this reversal was institutionally recognized, laying the groundwork for the American revolution’s clearer codification of that institutional shift in its break from Great Britain. The challenge then became aligning the agent’s action’s to the principal’s interests, a challenge compounded by the size and diffuseness of the principal in comparison to the agent. This is the ongoing challenge we face.

A centralized agent ostensibly working on behalf of a diffuse principal can always exploit the transaction costs facing the principal in its translation of some hypothetical “popular will” into a mandate to the agent in order to serve the agent’s interests at the expense of the principal’s. This is the challenge we must continually face. But to then leap from the reality of that challenge to the conclusion that the existence of the agent is a sign of our own self-enslavement neglects the real need we have for such an agent, the real function it performs, and the costs of choosing to “liberate” ourselves from any centralized agency through which to address the collective action problems that face us.

The bottom line is that we live in a complex and subtle world, and that our neat reductions of it, our caricatures of reality, do not serve us well. While it’s true that, historically, governments of large political states were established through military conquest and exploitation, it is also true that the benefits of civilization are a derivative of that brutality, and that there are indeed benefits (as well as costs) of civilization, of a large-scale division of labor which freed up some to do things other than produce food. Our challenge now is not to feed our emotionally gratifying sense of superiority to “the Sheeple” for “knowing” that government is our oppressor, but rather to face, intelligently and effectively, the real challenges and real enterprise of aligning the actions of our agent with the interests of its principal, of making government ever more something that serves the interests of the people in general and ever less something that serves the interests of the few who capture it for their own benefit.

And that is a complex challenge, a complex enterprise, best framed in precise, analytical ways. It is our task to work to maximize the robustness, fairness and sustainability of our political economy, by applying disciplined reason and imagination to methodically gathered and verified information in service to our shared humanity. Unfortunately, caricatures of reality like those popular among ideologues of all stripes do nothing to help us accomplish that, and do much to interfere with our ability to do so effectively.

One ancient and well-known social phenomenon greatly accelerated by the internet and social media is the spreading of false rumors, particularly politically motivated false rumors, and particularly relatively complex ones such as those that come in the form of conspiracy theories. Many cloak themselves in elaborate pseudo-arguments that can be very easily debunked, and many are passed along and eagerly consumed like a spreading contagion. The phrase “going viral” isn’t just a metaphor; these complex “memes” and narratives are cultural pathologies that sweep through the population in epidemic waves feeding off of one another and forming one, overarching pandemic of enormous destructive power.

The confluence of a set of evolutionarily produced psychological quirks and their strategic exploitation by opinion-makers (particularly right-wing opinion-makers) helps explain how easily pernicious falsehoods resonate and spread.

One such “cognitive glitch” is due to the natural, psychological attraction to anomalies, because we evolved to be attentive to anything out of place (since being adept at noticing things out of place was vital to survival on the African savanna). But that, coupled with a lack of awareness of what I call “the probability of the improbable,” creates a constant attribution of heightened significance to observations of things that have no real significance.

It’s highly improbable, for instance, that any given individual will win the lottery, but it’s highly probable (virtually certain) that SOME individual will. We mostly get that one, because we’ve institutionalized it on the basis of its probability structure. There are lots of similarly improbable events –like a bullet hitting a “lucky” coin in someone’s breast pocket, or someone being delayed by some chance occurrence and thus not getting on a flight that crashed– that occur in general on a regular basis, because in a world with millions of events constantly occurring, it’s highly probable that improbable events will occur at a certain frequency determined by the degree of their improbability.

In a world of instantaneous mass communications, any highly improbable event that occurs anywhere in the world is instantly brought to everyone’s attention, and draws people’s attention in proportion to both the degree of its improbability and its resonance with existing narratives.

If a religious icon appears to be crying, for instance, that is a miracle that confirms the religion. If a disproportionate number of planes and ships have disappeared in any concise geographic area (a probable improbability), that geographic area becomes imbued with a supernatural aura. If some of the vague and broadly interpretable predictions of an ancient mystic “come true,” that is proof of his power of prophesy.

More mundanely, this is part of the larger phenomenon of cherry-picking convenient evidence that supports a desired narrative, such as cobbling together a narrative that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US from any snippets of evidence that can possibly be used to support such a narrative. Our shared cognitive landscape is littered with such products of probable improbabilities or cherry-picked “evidence” and our tendency to imbue them with a special significance (or an evidentiary value) that they don’t really merit.

Another quirk is that we are attracted to the plausible, especially if it fits into some narrative or archetype that resonates with us (again, because primate brains evolving in the wild thrive by being able to create plausible scenarios on which to rely) . So, for instance, when I heard the (erroneous) rumor a few decades ago that Jerry Mathers, the child star of “Leave it to Beaver” in the 1950s, had been killed in Vietnam, I was already aware enough of this quirk to say to myself “it’s too plausible, fits too neatly into a clear and relevant narrative, to be assumed true; it’s exactly the kind of rumor that would be almost certain to exist regardless of its truth or falsehood.” The narrative of the iconic little boy of the 1950s dying in the iconic unpopular war of the 1960s is just too neat and cognitively attractive not to emerge and spread.

Similarly, those who want to discredit Obama are attracted to any narrative that discredits him, and those who want to believe in the mystical supernatural quality of their own religion will be attracted to narratives supported by “evidence” which support that conclusion.

When you combine these, you get the frequent phenomenon of people with ideological agendas cherry-picking (or manufacturing) probable improbabilities and weaving them into plausible narratives that serve their ideological agendas. This can be found across the political ideological spectrum, but it is by far most pronounced on the far-right, which is where reason and critical thought are in shortest supply.

But it’s not just a decentralized, organic process. We’re seeing a lot of the increasingly sophisticated exploitation of known and understood human cognitive foibles by the most greedy and ruthless among us. Whether they would articulate it in the same way I did or not, all of the right-wing opinion-makers understand the cognitive glitches I described above, and know how to exploit them to maximum effect.

And the convoluted irony of it all is a thing of horrible beauty: Those on the far-right, thoroughly manipulated and easiest to manipulate, call all those who disagree with them “sheepies,” and announce that they alone are the ones who “think for themselves,” “thinking for oneself,” in this case, meaning ignoring fact and rational analysis in favor of the preferred dogmatic ideology. Those who are thinking for them know how to exploit their cognitive weaknesses and their lack of commitment to critical thinking, so much so that they turn it into a narrative of independence from such manipulation!

What drives me to confront this phenomenon when I encounter it is my own inability to believe that this fortress of self-delusions in which these cultist ideologues ensconce themselves can’t be breached; to my mind, the walls are paper-thin, the foundations cracked and crumbling. I always feel as though all it should take is one small tap of reason in just the right place, and the whole thing just has to come toppling down. But the one impenetrable reinforcement that this fortress has, that, despite the paper-thin walls and crumbling foundations can’t be penetrated, is the decision to disregard fact and reason under any and all circumstances, and to defend the cultish dogma in any way necessary.

And that is why I think our greatest responsibility is to consider how to cultivate the habits of mind and interaction, of disciplined reason honed in rational debate in which the best informed and best reasoned arguments prevail, following the rules similar to those of scientific methodology and legal procedure, all channeled in service to our shared humanity. That is who and what we should be; that is who and what we can be.

I. Preamble

In the gardens of Athens in the fourth century BC (planting the seeds of Western Civilization), in the plazas of Florence in the 16th century AD (ushering in the modern era), in the salons of Paris in the 18th century AD (informing and inspiring others in a small meeting room in Philadelphia in 1787), to a lesser extent in mid-19th century Concord, MA (informing and inspiring Gandhi and King and Mandela in the 20th), the genius of a few unleashed new currents of the genius of the many, currents thick with reason and a stronger commitment to our shared humanity, changing the course of human history. It has been done before and it will be done again, whenever and wherever people choose to do it.

They did not gather in those times and places to discuss only how to win this or that election or to shift power from one party to another or to address the human endeavor one issue at a time. Rather, they gathered, with wonder and hope and passion, to explore and discover, to create and innovate, to raise reason and our shared humanity onto a pedestal and dedicate themselves to the enterprise of perfecting our consciousness and improving our existence.

In every time and place, including these ones of particular florescence, most of the people went about their business, engaged in the mundane challenges of life, fought the battles we all fight, both personal and collective. But the great paradigm shifts of history have happened when a coalescence of inspired minds reached deeper and broader than others around them, beyond the individual issues of the day, beyond the immediate urgencies and power struggles, and sought out the essence of our existence, to understand it, to celebrate it, and to change it for the better.

Imagine a gathering of great minds today that were not lost to the minutia of academe or the mud-pit of politics or the selfish pursuit of wealth and fame and power, but were free to devote themselves to the challenge of catalyzing a social transformation, a peaceful revolution occurring beneath the surface of events, a new threshold reached in the advance of creative reason in service to humanity.

Imagine gatherings of engaged citizens that, guided only by the broadly attractive narrative of reason in service to our shared humanity, of emulating our Founding Fathers and fulfilling the vision that they had for this nation, dedicated themselves to learning how to listen to one another and weigh competing arguments rather than regress ever deeper into blind ideological trench warfare. Imagine forming the nucleus of a movement that would extend the logic of methodical reason in service to our shared humanity ever more broadly, not just through direct participation, but through the promotion of the narrative that we are capable of doing so and that it is incumbent on us to do so.

What is stopping us from establishing such gatherings, and such a movement? What is stopping us from bringing together small cadres of brilliant minds to develop ideas designed to cascade through the social fabric in beneficially transformative ways, and large populations of engaged citizens to stir and be stirred by the sea giving rise to those cresting waves of brilliance, together advancing the tide of imaginative reason in service to our shared humanity? Only the precise combination of vision, drive, sophistication and resources that would make it happen, not just in some stumbling and unsustainable or unproductive way, but as a living, breathing, current reality.

I’ve designed the nucleus of an idea, a social movement that is realistic as well as idealistic, a secular religion to promote the narrative and practice of disciplined reason in service to our shared humanity. As a person who learned how to dream as a child; who drifted and worked and lived around the world for several years as a young adult; who became a social scientist, author, teacher, lawyer, public policy consultant, candidate for office, and member of several nonprofit boards and advisory councils; who has done urban outreach work and community organizing; who has synthesized ideas from many disciplines, many great minds, and much experience, this is not a Quixotic quest that boasts much but can deliver little; it is a carefully considered strategic plan for moving the center of gravity of our zeitgeist in the direction of an ever-increasing reliance on imaginative reason in ever-increasing service to our shared humanity.

II. A Very Brief Outline of the Proposal

The fully developed and implemented social movement I propose has three components: 1) a network of community organizations with a specific purpose (described below); 2) a data-base or internet portal allowing easy access to the best peer-review quality arguments on all sides of any social issue; and 3) a meta-messaging program, whose purpose is to create, gather, and disseminate messages (works of art, movies, documentaries, books, plays, advertisements, internet memes, etc.) which reinforce our shared commitment to one another, to reason, and to humanity.

(In its ideal form, there would be a fourth component as well: A community, or set of communities, completely dedicated to the ongoing exploration of how best to advance the cause of reason in service to our shared humanity, or, more generally, of human consciousness ever more fully realized. It would be a sort of permanent cultural constitutional convention, perhaps located in inspirational locations of various kinds, monasteries of the secular religion I am proposing, just as the meeting halls of the more numerous and more broadly populated community organizations would be its temples.)

The community organizations would leverage existing community organizations (HMOs, park districts, PTOs, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, local churches and synagogues and mosques and temples of any and all kinds, etc.) , to provide a vehicle for community solidarity, for tutoring and mentoring programs for local youth, and a forum for frequently held and formally moderated public discourse and debate among neighbors, with carefully cultivated and strictly enforced norms of civility, of listening to what others have to say and trying to see the world through the eyes of those you most disagree with. One custom that could be implemented to do this would be that of having community organization members routinely argue the opposite position from the one they actually hold in formal debates, to the best of their ability; researching it and composing the best argument they possibly can.

The data base or portal is to inform these debates, to provide easy access to the best arguments and best information on all sides of any issue. A larger, longer-term project is something akin to “the human genome project” in the social theoretical sphere, creating a coherent, comprehensive mapping of the human social institutional landscape through a rigorous social scientific lens, synthesized through the complex dynamical systems social analytical paradigm I outline in the essays hyperlinked to in the first box at “Catalogue of Selected Posts” on Colorado Confluence. This will provide a subtler, deeper and broader basis for informed public discourse, for those inclined to engage in such discourse at a more sophisticated level of analysis, ideally eventually transforming an ever larger swath of the public into an extended national academy of social analysis.

While membership in the community organizations would probably not be any greater than membership in any other community organizations, the point here is not that everyone participates, but that participation is seen as a normal part of our social institutional environment, that we are not just a bunch of individuals left to shout obscenities at one another, but that we can be, if we choose, deliberative citizens of a civil society, using our reason and our discourse to forge a more rational and humane society. The community organizations represent a commitment to civil discourse.

The value of this is not just the direct fruits of one institution promoting rational discourse in service to our shared humanity, but also promotion of the narrative of rational discourse in service to our shared humanity. Ideologies dedicated to other purposes, to the promotion of irrational dogma and inhumane bigotries, often claim to be both rational and humane, since these values (of rationality and humanity), these cognitive frames, have already won great legitimacy in principle in modern society. Few ideological positions, in modern societies, are explicitly dedicated to irrationality and inhumanity. This movement would provide a challenge to any and all ideologies not only to claim that mantle, but to live up to it by engaging in a process designed to increase the degree to which we truly are rational and humane people. By providing a community forum for rational, civil discourse in service to our shared humanity, it increases the difficulty of dismissing the arguments that prevail in that forum, by the rules of logical debate and reliable evidence (similar to those of scientific methodology and debate), as just another ideology, and increases their legitimacy as the true locus of reason and humanity.

The third pillar of “meta- messaging” is one dedicated to reminding one another of our shared humanity. In politics, strategists recognize the importance of “messaging” to promote a particular stance on an issue. This is the cultural equivalent, but, instead of promoting a particular stance on particular issues, it only promotes a commitment to reason in service to humanity. Christmas “feel-good” movies are a good example of what meta-messaging looks like: A reminder of our shared humanity, of the goodness of caring about one another, of the ugliness of failing to. This pillar of the movement is a constant, intentional, strategic campaign of bombarding the public with such reminders by all means and mediums possible, as often as possible, in the most effective ways possible.

Combined, these three pillars constitute a cultural movement advancing the cause of reason in service to our shared humanity. It is more methodological than substantive (it cannot take, as an organization or a movement, any positions on policy issues other than this generic commitment to reason in service to our shared humanity, and this process for better realizing it), an attempt to extend somewhat the methodological virtues of scientific methodology and legal procedure for determining contested truths.

Modern history has been defined by an undercurrent, an evolutionary impetus, favoring both increased reliance on methodical rationality (scientific method, legal procedure, formal organizational structures, etc.) and an increased commitment, at least in principle, to our shared humanity (political revolutions based on the values of “liberty and justice for all,” the abolition of slavery, anti-imperialism/national independence movements, civil rights movements of various kinds, etc.). This movement is designed to reduce the chasm between the loci of these undercurrents of modern history and the public at large, and to promote the already well-established narrative that favors reason over irrationality and a commitment to our shared humanity over conscious inhumanities, making it more difficult to claim their mantle arbitrarily and falsely.

PRG (the politics of reason and goodwill) does not replace conventional political maneuvering as we know it, nor deprive participants of their ability to engage in it; it is an investment in a long-term seismic shift, moving the ground beneath those struggles so that their outcomes are increasingly skewed in the direction of reason in service to our shared humanity, whatever that direction may be. It doesn’t predict it, presuppose it, or insist that it be in accord with any particular ideological predisposition; it merely facilitates it, as an ongoing process, and continual discovery, an intentional evolution of human consciousness.

III. Nuts and Bolts

The preliminary step is to establish a nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing to develop, refine, and implement PRG. Once the organization is established, catalyzing the formation of community organizations dedicated to PRG is its first order of business. The development of the data base, or portal, naturally follows the establishment of community organizations, in order to inform their debates. The development of the meta-messaging project can begin and continue as resources permit.

To accomplish any of this requires initiative, imagination, expertise and funding. I have an abundance of the first two, some of the third, and none of the fourth. I am looking for people willing to invest in humanity’s future, in “hope and change” that does not emanate from a charismatic presidential candidate, but from us all, catalyzed by unlikely political entrepreneurs. I am putting this out there yet again, in a new form, as a way of blowing on a small ember than I know can grow into a roaring blaze. There are moments in our history when someone glimpses something that is possible, something that is powerful, and something that is worth reaching for. This is one such moment.

For various treatments and explorations of the PRG proposal and philosophy, please see the essays hyperlinked to in the second box at “Catalogue of Selected Posts” at Colorado Confluence

For more information about my experience and training, please see my autobiographical page at Colorado Confluence, or my resume at Colorado Confluence.

To contact me, email me at attorneysteveharvey@gmail.com.

There is great demand for an ultra-simplified version of my proposal for a social movement to shift the cultural ground beneath our political struggles, in favor of reason in service to our shared humanity. If this abbreviated synopsis raises questions, they are almost certainly answered in the comprehensive treatments I have given elsewhere.

The organized social movement I propose would have three components: 1) a network of community organizations with a specific purpose (described below); 2) a data-base or internet portal allowing easy access to the best peer-review quality arguments on all sides of any social issue; and 3) a meta-messaging program, whose purpose is to create, gather, and disseminate messages (works of art, movies, documentaries, books, plays, advertisements, internet memes, etc.) which reinforce our shared commitment to one another, to reason, and to humanity.

The community organizations would leverage existing community organizations (HMOs, park districts, PTOs, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, local churches and synagogues and mosques and temples of any and all kinds, etc.) , to provide a vehicle for community solidarity, for tutoring and mentoring programs for local youth, and a forum for frequently held and formally moderated public discourse and debate among neighbors, with strictly cultivated and enforced norms of listening to what others have to say, and trying to see the world through the eyes of those you most disagree with. One “ritual” that would be implemented to do this would be debating the opposite position from the one you actually hold, to the best of your ability; researching it and composing the best argument you possibly can.

The data base or portal is to inform these debates, to provide easy access to the best arguments on all sides of any issue. A larger, longer-term project is something akin to “the human genome project” in the social theoretical sphere, creating a coherent, comprehensive mapping of the human social institutional landscape through a rigorous social scientific lens, synthesized through the complex dynamical systems social analytical paradigm I outline in the essays hyperlinked to in the first box at “Catalogue of Selected Posts” on Colorado Confluence (see URL below). This will provide a subtler, deeper and broader basis for informed public discourse, for those inclined to engage in such discourse at a more sophisticated level of analysis, ideally eventually transforming an ever larger swath of the public into an extended national academy of social analysis.

While membership in those organizations would not be any greater than membership in any other community organizations, the point here is not that everyone participates, but that participation is seen as a normal part of our social institutional environment, that we are not just a bunch of individuals left to shout obscenities at one another, but that we can be, if we choose, deliberative citizens of a civil society, using our reason and our discourse to forge a more rational and humane society.

The value of this is not just the direct fruits of one institution promoting rational discourse in service to our shared humanity, but also promotion of the narrative of rational discourse in service to our shared humanity. Ideologies dedicated to any other purpose often claim to be both rational and humane. This movement would provide a challenge to that claim, and a more credible claim to being the community locus of rational, civil discourse in service to our shared humanity.

The third pillar of “meta- messaging” is one dedicated to reminding one another of our shared humanity. In politics, strategists recognize the importance of “messaging” to promote a particular stance on an issue. This is the cultural equivalent, but, instead of promoting a particular stance on particular issues, it only promotes a commitment to reason in service to humanity. Christmas “feel-good” movies are a good example of what meta-messaging looks like: A reminder of our shared humanity, of the goodness of caring about one another, of the ugliness of failing to. This pillar of the movement is a constant, intentional, strategic campaign of bombarding the public with such reminders by all means and mediums possible, as often as possible, in the most effective ways possible.

Combined, these three pillars constitute a cultural movement advancing the cause of reason in service to our shared humanity. It is more methodological than substantive (it cannot take, as an organization or a movement, any positions on policy issues other than this generic commitment to reason in service to our shared humanity, and this process for better realizing it), an attempt to extend somewhat the methodological virtues of scientific methodology and legal procedure for determining contested truths.

Modern history has been defined by an undercurrent, an evolutionary impetus, favoring both increased reliance on methodical rationality (scientific method, legal procedure, formal organizational structures, etc.) and an increased commitment, at least in principle, to our shared humanity (political revolutions based on the values of “liberty and justice for all,” the abolition of slavery, anti-imperialism/national independence movements, civil rights movements of various kinds, etc.). This movement is designed to reduce the chasm between the loci of these undercurrents of modern history and the public at large, and to promote the already well-established narrative that favors reason over irrationality and a commitment to our shared humanity over conscious inhumanities, making it more difficult to claim their mantle arbitarily and falsely.

The biggest challenge that faces human beings is to make sense rather than to make noise. Effectively addressing all other challenges depends on it. Whether we want to change the world or want to protect ourselves from the impositions of others trying to change the world, our beliefs, our goals, our actions, are all a function of how we understand reality, and it is clear, at least in the abstract, that some understandings are more precise, more accurate, and more useful than others.

The first thing we have to understand is that we are not just a collection of individuals, but rather are members of a society and organisms in a biosphere. We exist interdependently with one another and with our environment, unable to survive at all without the latter and unable to survive as human beings without the former. Our continued existence as organisms depends on ingesting food and breathing air, two vital needs that are produced and maintained by the living planet which we inhabit interdependently with other living things. Our consciousness as human beings and our existence beyond bare survival (and in almost all cases our survival itself) depends on our coexistence with other human beings in organized groups, through which our use of language allows us to thrive through a shared but differentiated mind and a shared but differentiated enterprise.

That leads to the first question we must face: Do we, as individuals and as a society, take responsibility for our impact on those systems of which we are a part, or do we leave them to their own organic trajectories, pursuing our own immediate goals without attempting to act with conscious intent beyond them? Do we attempt to be conscious and conscientious participants in these larger wholes of which we are a part, or do we simply live as individual organisms pursuing our own individual desires? Do we take responsibility for one another, for the distribution of suffering and well-being, of opportunity and of relative lack of opportunity, for how well our systems are functioning in terms of their sustainability, their robustness, and their fairness, or do we insist that doing so is either impossible or undesirable?

The second thing we have to understand is our own fallibility. Anything any one of us is certain about may be wrong. Our various beliefs and certainties are conceptualizations of reality in our minds, and must always be considered fallible. This leads to two considerations: 1) the best (and perhaps only rational) argument supporting those who insist that we must not try to govern ourselves as rational people confronting the challenges and opportunities we face is the argument that perhaps we are simply not up to the task, and that we should therefore rely on simple principles that best liberate our collective and individual genius rather than try to “micromanage” our shared existence, and 2) our focus should be on how we arrive at our conclusions, rather than on insisting that our current conclusions are the one absolute truth.

The first consideration is easily dealt with: Recognizing our fallibility and the power of organic processes is a part of being rational people working together to do the best we can, not a displacement of it. The Constitution (created by intentional human thought, arguably a very ambitious act of “social engineering”) and the modern marketplace (also a product of much intentional thought and oversight) are not magical panaceas which free us from the responsibility of striving to be responsible and humane sovereigns, but are merely part of the accumulated material of past efforts by past generations to do what we ourselves are called upon to continue to do: To govern ourselves intelligently, responsibly, and intentionally, in service to our shared humanity.

We should strive to emulate rather than idolize our “founding fathers,” to be the same kind of proactive rational citizens, working together, mobilizing our intelligence, believing in our ability to rationally and humanely govern ourselves. We should utilize rather than surrender to market forces, recognizing that there is nothing about them that automatically resolves all human problems and challenges, but rather that they are one useful institutional modality upon which we can rely in concert with others, in our ongoing efforts to work together to do the best we can in service to our shared humanity.

The second consideration flowing from our recognition of our own fallibility is the one that leads to a broader and deeper commitment to the methodologies that have proved most useful in the modern era at diminishing the aggregate effects of bias and increasing aggregate accuracy in our conclusions. Both scientific methodology and legal procedure are sets of techniques for informing and framing rigorous debates over what is and is not true, following sets of rules regarding what evidence to consider reliable and how to organize and channel the determinations that follow from that evidence. In science, the purpose to which this process is put is to refine our shared consciousness; in law, it is to increase the justness of our coexistence. These, indeed, are the two things we should always be striving to do, as responsible sovereigns, and to do so most effectively we should build on the methodologies that already exist for doing so.

In other words, the most pressing imperative facing our shared human enterprise right now is the expansion of the logic of science and law into the realm of public discourse and public opinion and policy formation. We need to transcend, to leave on the dust heap of history, the myth that all opinions are equal (while protecting the expression of all opinions in order to determine their relative merits), and engage in rigorous, increasingly formal debates in a constant quest for the best understandings, in best service to our shared humanity.

Tragically, we, as a people, are not only faced with the challenge of cultivating these disciplines more broadly among ourselves, but also of convincing those least committed to them that they have any value at all. We are also faced with the challenge of overcoming the reality that human beings in general do not arrive at their conclusions primarily through rational processes, but rather through social and emotional processes that often circumvent or disregard reason and evidence, and often serve narrower interests than our shared humanity.

The challenge facing rational and humane people, therefore, is not just to make the most compelling arguments in best service to our shared humanity, but also to create a context in which the most compelling arguments in best service to our shared humanity are more likely to prevail. That requires us to be rational about human irrationality, and to engage not primarily in a competition of rational arguments but rather in a competition of emotional narratives. The challenge, in other words, is to create a compelling emotional narrative out of the notion of being rational and humane people, and, even more, the notion of being rational and humane people in certain specific, disciplined ways, and then to create a set of mechanisms by which the most compelling rational arguments in best service to our shared humanity are also, simultaneously, compelling emotional narratives that persuade people who do not engage in or necessarily understand the disciplines we are promoting.

The most immediate challenge in the ongoing human endeavor, in other words, is to create, promote, and disseminate a compelling emotional narrative that systematically favors reason in service to humanity, not on a case-by-case basis (as we have been doing), but in a more general and comprehensive way.

There are, therefore, two major branches to the human endeavor: 1) to continue to develop, deepen, and broaden a commitment to disciplined reason in service to our shared humanity, using the methodologies we have developed for doing so, and extending the breadth of contexts in which they are utilized and the number of people striving to utilize them; and 2) to create an emotionally compelling narrative that attracts those who lack the desire or ability to utilize or defer to those disciplines (rigorously applied and debated rational argumentation) or that objective (our shared humanity) to support them not just in name, but also in some effective and authentic way.

To some, this will all seem too abstract, too far removed from the political and cultural realities we grapple with, or too far removed from their own emotional and cognitive inclinations. But those of us who are truly committed to striving to become an ever-more rational and humane people need to recognize that the ongoing mud-fight isn’t the height of what we can do, that we need to reach higher, think deeper, act more ambitiously in service to the highest of ideals and the noblest of purposes. The great cultural and political heroes of modern history, who we revere for their inspired and effective leadership, are who they are precisely because they have had the courage and determination to bite off rather large chunks of this challenge that I have just laid out, opposing imperialism or racism or other injustices. But we can invoke them all now, we can rally them to the greater cause of which they all were a part, and we can promote that cause with the same degree of passion and commitment that they did…, because that truly is the essence of the human endeavor.

(My essays on Colorado Confluence elaborate many of these themes. In the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts are hyperlinks to essays laying out a comprehensive social systemic paradigm through which to understand and analyze our shared cognitive/social institutional/historical/technological landscape. In the second box are hyperlinks to essays laying out a social movement idea for promoting the narrative of and actual commitment to reason in service to humanity. Scattered among the remaining boxes are hyperlinks to essays exploring various aspects of both of these branches of the human endeavor. Together, they form a comprehensive and detailed map of the human endeavor as I have described it in this essay.)

Regarding educational reform, I think there are two main dimensions to address: 1) Student socialization and culture, and 2) targeted student (and teacher) placement. (Though issues of teacher socialization and training are also relevant, in this essay I’m going to focus only on student socialization, which I think is the most critical issue in educational achievement; and, yes, in response to a comment to this essay on Facebook, that does include addressing parent socialization as well.) The issue of student socialization and culture involves how students are taught to be students and encouraged to engage in those behaviors most conducive to successful learning, both in the school and in all the years and hours outside of (including prior to) the school. The issue of targeted placement involves making sure that every student and teacher is placed in the environment most conducive to satisfying their particular needs (for students) and most able to exploit their particular talents (for teachers). In other words, neither students nor teachers are fungible (interchangeable) , and we need to stop acting as if they are.

Student socialization is really the critical factor in student success or failure: Those students who are better socialized to be good students will excel more certainly and in a broader array of contexts, whereas those who are not will require increasingly precise, expensive, and elaborate interventions (that are decreasingly successful) and will to varying degrees obstruct the education of those around them. Addressing student socialization requires both more attention to the role that time prior to and outside of the school plays in determining how students perform in school, and more attention to the role that kids play in encouraging/facilitating either educationally conducive or educationally counterproductive behaviors among one another both in school and out.

To address the socialization issue of what goes on prior to and outside the school, I think we need to implement a very robust volunteer tutoring and mentoring program, locally, statewide, and nationally. We have enormous social and professional resources, including a growing cadre of retirees looking for useful places to put their time and energy, and a huge need on the part of many students to be socialized into a sense of intellectual curiosity and how to feed the hunger for knowledge and comprehension that such curiosity instills. (To some extent, such socialization primarily requires careful nurturing of innate tendencies, because children are naturally curious.)

As for in-school, student mutual socialization, I worked on a research project years ago involving incentivizing mutual encouragement of positive behaviors in a target population (something I’ll call “group-mediated behavioral reinforcement”). The project was enormously successful, and can and should be applied to schools. We already have in Colorado programs like The Legacy Schools Project implemented by The Colorado Legacy Foundation, rewarding students for their own good academic work, but what if we extended such incentive-based programs to rewarding not only good academic work (e.g., passing an AP exam with a 3 or above, as Legacy does), but also helping others to do so as well, paying successful students for their recruits who also pass with a 3 or above? What you end up with is a positive pyramid-scheme of increasing numbers of successful students scouring the remaining student population search of recruits to train and assist in excelling academically.

Finally, targeted placement: We throw students with various and competing needs all together, and frequently don’t address any of their needs very well, particularly in failing schools. We need to identify student needs, and target their placement into schools that can specialize in meeting those needs. For instance, some of the most responsible and motivated students in the articulation areas of failing schools would benefit most from a college-like environment; others need military-like discipline due to the degree to which their own dysfunctional behaviors have become entrenched in them; and others still need more personal, emotional, and focused attention and nurturing. School choice does not really address this, because parents and students generally seek out the schools that they wish were right for them rather than those that actually are, or, in some cases, that satisfy needs and desires other than educational achievement. We need to find ways to target the assignment of students to schools in order to give them each what they really need, and to prevent those with incompatible needs from undermining the education of those around them.

“Targeted teacher placement” simply refers to the fact that we assign teachers too haphazardly, frequently  putting teachers with less subject area expertise but great technical and classroom management skills in high performing schools and advanced classes, and teachers with extraordinary subject area expertise but poorer technical and classroom management skills in behaviorally challenging schools and classes, losing the comparative advantage of both and setting both up for failure or sub-optimal performance (which in turn means that the students in both contexts receive educational services inferior to what they would have had teachers been more strategically and consciously placed).

Clearly, all of these recommendations raise a host of issues, primarily involving the tension between centralized decision-making and local autonomy. But identifying the most fundamental, underlying factors affecting educational success and failure is a critical component of any truly robust and ambitious plan for educational reform. It’s time to move past the superficial panaceas and start focusing on the real educational challenges we face and on developing richer, deeper and more structurally penetrating strategies for addressing them.

(See also Education Policy Ideas, Real Education Reform , Mistaken Locus of Education Reform, School Vouchers, Pros & Cons, A Colorado Teacher’s Perspective on Education Reform, American Universities: Two Dimensions on which to Improve)

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