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), to a lesser extent in mid-19th century Concord, MA (informing and inspiring Gandhi and King and Mandela), 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 orchestrating 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 a small cadre of brilliant minds to implement ideas designed to cascade through the social fabric in 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.
For a comprehensive (though somewhat dense) presentation of my proposal, please see A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill.
For a briefer and simpler presentation of the underlying philosophy of this proposed social movement, please see: The Ideology of Reason in Service to Humanity.
For an extremely bare-bones summary of the social movement idea itself, please see: A VERY Simplified Synopsis of “The Politics of Reason and Goodwill”.
For more elaboration of various aspects of this proposal and various musings about it, please see the essays hyperlinked to in the second box at: Catalogue of Selected Posts
Several influences molded me as a writer over the years: A fascination with classical history and mythology, a love of science fiction and fantasy, years of world travel laden with ample adventures of my own, and a deep sense of wonder about the systems of Nature, most particularly (though by no means exclusively) about the human sphere of Nature, fed by a highly analytical and imaginative mind and abundant sources on which to draw.
At around the age of 18 (in 1977 or 1978), I wrote a short psychedelic vignette called “River Palace” which was the first seed of what would later become A Conspiracy of Wizards. A couple of years later, while living in Berkeley, I started an unrelated novel in which crystalized talismans of the five elements of classical natural philosophy had magical properties that were amplified when brought together, an idea that found its way into A Conspiracy of Wizards.
Most of my 20s was dedicated to world travels and adventures and the keeping of journals laden with descriptions and contemplations. Many of the real-world, visceral descriptive passages from those journals found their way into A Conspiracy of Wizards. During this time I also read prolifically and broadly, trying to catch up on as many classics of literature and of more recent intellectual discovery as I possibly could.
One year into my career as a sociology grad student in Connecticut, having become an aficionado of Chaos Theory in the late 1980s and believing it to be a critical piece of the puzzle of the story of our existence, I wrote a vignette about Chaos and Order being the parents of the universe, and immediately knew that this would be the nucleus of the novel I had always dreamed of writing.
During my grad student career in Connecticut, I was working on my novel at the same time that I was soaking up the spectrum of social theory, designing my world and weaving bits and pieces of my gradually emerging synthesis of the social theoretical landscape into it and the story-line. I incorporated into the novel a variety of epistemological theories (including, for instance, Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” most visibly in the scene of Algonion in the ice sphere), Marxist theory, microeconomic and game theory, and network analysis and epidemiology. I also incorporated my previously acquired knowledge of international relations and world history to create a more complex and in many ways “realistic” world than is found in most novels of any kind, let alone fantasy fiction. The geopolitics and geopolitical and military strategies found in the novel are, I think, particularly elaborate and faithful to the forms found in the real world.
Two years into my status as “All-But Dissertation,” not actually writing my dissertation, I left the program and my position as a college lecturer to work full time on my novel. In many ways, I realized, I had been in the Ph.D. program primarily to inform my novel. Before moving out west, I took a couple of months to do a car trip around New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada, during which, while camping and hiking in beautiful Acadia National Park in Maine, I fully fleshed out the story of Cholumga (derived from “Chomo Lungma,” Tibetan for “Earth Mother” and the Tibetan name for Mount Everest), the giantess trapped in the hollow mountain. I did this in part by telling the story to a young girl and her mother who I ran into while hiking, as we sat on a bluff overlooking the gorgeous autumn colors. (Also from Acadia comes the imagery of Algonion arriving at the sea as he is escaping Lokewood.)
In late 1996, I moved to a cabin in the mountains of Northern New Mexico for a year (in Cabresto Canyon, between Questa and Red River, north of Taos) to write the first draft of the novel, simultaneously focusing my informal studies more on World Mythology and World History (both long-time interests of mine, along with International Relations), including studying Joseph Campbell’s analyses of mythological motifs. The multi-hued beauty of Northern New Mexico and the Four Corners region, around which I took frequent car-and-camping trips, filtered into the imagery of the novel. I then finished the millennium in Albuquerque, teaching and taking classes, working through some of the issues and challenges with my novel, developing it further, and developing other ideas as well (such as a series of vignettes about the institutionalization of time travel, including reunions of multiple selves across time, branching historical trajectories, and the colonization of the past). I began to submit excerpts of the novel to agents and publishers, trying to line up a publication deal, but without success.
While living in the cabin in the mountains of northern New Mexico, I used to wander into the forest and visualize various characters in particular locations dedicated to each, having conversations with them to flesh out who they were. It was a form of intentional, self-induced semi-hallucination, powerful enough that occasionally a character would “say” something that would surprise me! This was a technique for discovering each character’s own authenticity rather than populating my world with contrived characters with less of a life of their own.
I believe it was also while I was in New Mexico that I saw (on video tape borrowed from the Taos library, since I had no television reception in my cabin) a National Geographic special on the rain forest canopy ecosystem, the imagery of which inspired the imagery of Algonion’s largely airborne trek through Lokewood in search of the Loci imps, one of my descriptively favorite passages.
Also while in New Mexico, I further developed my sociological paradigm, focusing it more on Richard Dawkins’ “Meme Theory,” which provided a lynchpin to the synthesis I had been developing. This has since found its way into the novel, particularly in the Kindle e-book version, in my newly rewritten description of the Vaznallam mindscape and the fractal geometry of their mental representation of the Sadache cognitive landscape, which is the imagery presented in a series of expository essays I’ve written on the fractal geometry and evolutionary ecology of our shared human cognitive landscape (and, along with it, our social institutional and technological landscape).
In December of 1999, I set out for Mexico to find a spot in which to continue to work on the novel, living modestly off investments, which were doing well at the time. I ended up in Mazatlan, where I developed the routine of waking up before dawn to write from my balcony, watching the morning light spread over the city and the bay while I was writing. I stayed in Mazatlan for over two years, taking several car trips to various regions of Mexico while there, all of which also contributed something to the imagery of the novel. During that time I got married and toward the end of my time in Mazatlan finished the current hard copy version of the novel and began seeking unsuccessfully to publish it.
We moved up to the Denver area in the summer of 2002 (and had our wonderful daughter, Scheherazade, in 2003), and I embarked on a combination of teaching, law school, a run for the state legislature, public policy research and analysis, and a variety of civic engagement, not touching the novel other than to self-publish it in 2005. The combination of my failure to do anything to market the novel and my realization that I had not, in fact, finished refining it prior to publishing it, that I had not ironed out all of the rough spots, that I had not perfected my own vision of what the novel should be, culminated in my decision in the summer of 2013 to do one more set of revisions and refinements, and to republish it as an e-book.
The ebook version of the novel is now available, via the links provided at the top and bottom of this narrative.
(This is a long one, but please bear with me: It gets to the heart of my project here on Colorado Confluence, that I need others’ help to incubate and realize. This is one of those cases in which someone gets a glimpse of some possibility, a real possibility within the reach of motivated human beings, and passionately wants others to get a glimpse of it as well, so that it can become a part of what defines our future rather than just a forgotten thought that never takes hold.)
I recently posted the following Nelson Mandela quote on several of my Facebook pages: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” One woman commented that it reminds her of the thesis she is trying to finish, which made me think about the different levels to which this quote applies. Certainly, her comment is a fair one, and familiar to most of us: Personal thresholds, challenges, major tasks we are undertaking can feel daunting, even impossible, until they are done.
Many things feel that way, but there is a hierarchy of magnitudes involved that is worth exploring. There are things that require great effort and time and endurance by an individual, that many have done before, such as graduating, or writing a thesis, or passing the Bar Exam. There are things that have never been done before, such as inventing a new device or creating a new organization (that particular device and that particular organization never having existed until created). Even more so, there are things that have never been done before, and affect a whole society. And most of all, there are things that have never been done before, and change the world, dramatically.
To capture some of the nuances and complexities to this formulation, I’d like to conceptualize it along three axes. The first axis is how novel the thing being done is, whether it is just one instance of a familiar form (e.g., writing a thesis), or a relatively new form (e.g., composing a multi-media thesis affecting all of the senses in a coordinated way to achieve a combined aesthetic and intellectual effect). Obviously, there is a range of degrees of possible deviation from the archetype, from minor changes in formatting to major changes in structure and form and function. As the deviation from the archetype grows, the nature of the innovation moves from being quantitative (a change in degree) to being qualitative (a change in kind).
The second axis is the scale of change, in terms of how many humans are (or how big a swath of the natural universe is) affected by it. Finishing a thesis is, generally, a personal milestone, with only a very marginal impact on the world at large. Forming a new government, organizing a successful political or cultural movement, changing long-standing social institutions (hopefully for the better), are all milestones that affect larger populations in more dramatic ways.
The third axis is the depth and breadth of the change thus achieved, not so much in terms of the number of humans affected, but more in terms in the degree to which they are affected. A promotion in a job, for instance, affects one person to one degree, while emancipation from slavery affects one person to a much greater degree. The passage of a new federal law that makes a marginal change in an existing social institution affects a society to one degree, while the drafting of a federal constitution affects the society to a more extensive degree. Again, there is a range on which such impact can occur, from the very marginal to the extremely revolutionary.
One of the ways in which an innovation or movement can have a deeper and broader impact in this last sense is the degree to which it reaches into the algorithms of change, and affects not only the current status quo, but the manner in which status quos themselves are determined. A law, for instance, affects the current status quo, while a Constitution affects how laws are passed and implemented. A scientific discovery affects our current state of knowledge, while the development of scientific methodology affected the manner in which our knowledge is acquired and accumulates. Impact is generally maximized by reaching down into the algorithms of change, and modifying procedures or methodologies by which particular instances of change occur. (See, e.g.,The Algorithms of Complexity, Second-Order Social Change, The Variable Malleability of Reality, and The Wizards’ Eye for more exploration of this concept.)
I’m going to focus for the remainder of this essay on society-wide changes of relatively large magnitude, looking initially at the degree of variation in how innovative the changes are (i.e., the first axis). I will end with a reminder of one such proposal I have long been making, that is a social movement aspiring to a rather profound informal change in how we go about governing ourselves (in other words, focused on innovation in the algorithms of change rather than in the particular instances of it), that is rather highly innovative. As Nelson Mandela reminds us, though it may seem impossible, it can be done.
Oversimplifying a bit, there are two kinds of things that have never been done before and change the world: Those that are of a familiar type (those that are of a type that has been done before), and those that are of an unfamiliar type (those of a type that has never been done before). For instance, inventing the car, or airplane, or space ships, or personal and hand held computers, are all things that had never been done before, and changed the world, but were of a familiar type (technological innovation). Similarly, Abolitionism, the Suffragettes, The Civil Rights Movement, past national independence movements, were all things that had not been done before (each nation seeking independence had never sought independence before), but were all of a type that had been done before (movements to extend rights to those who had been denied them, and to secede from superordinate political entities).
There are things that had never been done before, and were of a type that had never been done before. For instance, the Constitution of Medina, drafted in the 7th century by the Prophet Mohamed, is often considered the first written constitution to form a new government in world history. (The first in American history was drafted in Hartford, Connecticut in 1638, forming a government comprised of three towns.) Such innovations are all the more portentous for not only having transformed a society or the world in their own time and place, but also for having established a new form by which future transformation can occur (they change the template, paralleling in terms of degree of innovation the dimension involving the depth of the transformative algorithm). It is a beautiful irony of history that America’s crowning and defining formative achievement, the drafting of our own remarkable Constitution, draws on a form invented by the founder of Islam, a religion and culture currently (and tragically) reviled by a large faction of very counterproductive Americans.
The invention not just of new instances of a previously existing form, but of new forms entirely, requires more imagination, more willingness to try the seemingly impossible, for not only does it involve confronting a status quo that appears too overwhelming to transform, it also involves doing so in a way that no one before had ever contemplated.
Of course, nothing is ever completely new: There are always predecessors of some kind or another, similar innovations to draw upon. Prior to the Constitution of Medina, there had been written laws, from the Ten Commandments to the legal codes of Hammurabi in Babylonia and Draco in Greece. And prior to these, there had been unwritten laws, reflecting varying degrees of formality and clarity of definition. New forms, new memes, draw on the wealth of material produced previously, amalgamating, synthesizing, innovating on the margins. (See the essays linked to in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts for an in-depth exploration of how this process occurs and what it looks like.)
In other words, the degree of inventiveness lies on a continuum, from very marginal modifications of existing forms, to dramatic new departures that explore avenues not yet explored. Revolutions of great magnitude involve a confluence of highly innovative, highly impactful (i.e., algorithmic rather than superficial), and society-or-world-wide changes rooted in a sense of history and the opportunities existing, thresholds arrived at, in a given time and place.
I believe that America today is ripe for a social movement that draws on these understandings, and that promotes a new paradigm for change that can have profound effects over time. We are clearly at a threshold in American history, with two opposing forces reaching a pinnacle of definition and passion. A combination of technological advances (see A Major Historical Threshold or A Tragically Missed Opportunity?), our historical trajectory, and recent historical shocks have placed us in that kind of hyper-activated state that generally precedes major paradigm shifts. There is a clear and real danger that the paradigm shift we might experience will be an odious one, destructive to ourselves and to humanity. But there is also a very real potential, one which must be vigorously embraced, that the paradigm shift we experience will be a laudable one, beneficial to ourselves and to humanity.
But accomplishing the latter requires an authentic act of courage, not just a repetition of our familiar patterns of action and reaction. We need to divert some small fraction of our resources, some of our time and effort and passion, away from the endless urgency of now, away from the particular issues over which we are wrangling, away from the familiar game of electoral politics, and into a truly transformative movement. Politics as usual will continue apace, and it may even be the case that no actual resources, no actual time or effort or passion is diverted from it, since the new movement may well generate new resources, new time and effort and passion, that more than compensates for any that was drawn from existing efforts.
But it’s time for an act of courage and imagination, an act of reaching for what seems to be the impossible but in reality is not (and, in many ways, is more attainable than some of the more superficial goals to which we devote ourselves, because it faces less resistance). It’s time to move along the continuum of inventiveness, and along the continuum of impact (into the depths of our algorithms of change), and transform our society, and our world, in a fundamental way. That may sound dauntingly bold, but it’s been done many times throughout world history, and it’s been done by those who seize the opportunity to do it. Now is such a time. The opportunity is upon us.
To summarize my proposed social movement very briefly: I call it, alternatively, “the politics of reason and goodwill,” or “transcendental politics,” or “holistic politics” (see the essays linked to in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts for a more complete explanation and exploration of this idea). I’ll refer to it here as “PRG” (the acronym for “politics of reason and goodwill”). It is as cultural as it is political, recognizing that politics is at root a competition of narratives (see, e.g., The Battle of Narratives, Changing The Narrative, The Dance of Consciousness, and The Politics of Consciousness), and that the most profound political changes are fundamentally cultural in nature. PRG thus bears as much resemblance to cultural (and religious) movements as to political ones, a characteristic common to some of the most successful social movements in our history. (For instance, the Civil Rights Movement had a major religious component, with its leaders and infrastructure being rooted in the southern black church network, and invoking religious symbolism and cadences.)
PRG is comprised of three interrelated components: 1) Meta-messaging, which is the composition, accumulation, and dissemination of messages promoting a commitment to reason and imagination and compassion and pragmatism in service to humanity (see, e.g., Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives, “Messaging” From The Heart of Many Rather Than The Mouth of Few, and Politics Isn’t Everything…, for more in-depth discussion). 2) Specifically tailored community organizations and networks of community organizations, drawing on all of the community organizational material already in place, which are dedicated to promoting civil and open-minded dialogue and a sense of mutual identification and mutual interdependence (See, e.g., Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN)). And 3) the creation and on-going development and refinement of a system for accessing easily understood competing arguments on all matters of public concern or public policy, filtering them only for the degree to which they are well-reasoned (i.e., peer-review quality) arguments which apply reason to evidence, and ensuring that the goals and interests they purport to serve are made as explicit as possible (see. e.g., The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified and A Comprehensive Paradigm for Progressive Thought and Action; or “Yes We Can, and Here’s How”).
These three components interact in the following ways: The community organizations are a forum designed to draw on the competing reasonable arguments on matters of public interest and concern, while the meta-messaging can be disseminated, in part, through those community organizations as well. The explicit purpose of the community organizations is to celebrate and realize our civic responsibility as citizens of a nation and members of a community (and of humanity), so it makes sense to, for instance, not only designate a time and place to discuss this issue or that, but also to designate a time and place to watch or read, say, A Christmas Carol (or more modern works that explore similar themes), and discuss what lessons it holds for us as citizens and members of communities. This would be a national (or international) movement whose purpose is to increase our commitment to and realization of the application of reason and imagination to the challenges facing humanity, given precise definition and form.
People (such as cognitive scientist George Lakoff in The Political Mind) often argue that people do not generally arrive at their opinions and conclusions through rational contemplation and rational debate, but rather by emotional appeals to their pre-existing frames and narratives. My third component (as I’ve listed them here) seems to fail to recognize this. But PRG is a bit subtler than it seems, and follows a pattern already established by which reason has gained a greater purchase on society than it previously had.
I do not expect that any time in the foreseeable future there will be any large number of people actually belonging to the community organizations envisioned by this movement, or accessing the competing arguments made more accessible by this movement, but I do expect that a small minority doing so will create a nucleus of credibility that will generate an attractive and transformative force beyond that small minority of people. Thus is the nature of successful social movements; they do not start with a society in agreement with their goals, but rather draw a society into agreement with their goals, by appealing to existing frames and narratives in effective ways.
Reason and imagination applied to evidence (and other objects for contemplation) in service to humanity is not just a methodology that a minority might adhere to, but is also a narrative that many already acknowledge the value of. Few in America today would explicitly admit, to themselves or others, that they are irrational and inhumane people. That is not how modern Americans in general would identify themselves. But many are irrational and, to some extent, inhumane people, and I’ve noticed in public discourse that many of them implicitly, just below the threshold of conscious recognition, are vaguely aware of it. That creates a huge opportunity for social change.
By addressing the individual issues or instances of this competition of narratives, we are sucked into the frames that opponents adhere to, and stuck on a treadmill of shouting past each other ineffectually. But by addressing the underlying, agreed-upon values of reason and imagination in service to humanity, we make the ground more fertile for those positions that actually do emanate from these values and this commitment, and less fertile for those that don’t.
We have a compelling historical precedent for how successful this can be: The Scientific Revolution. People may not, in general, be most persuaded by the most rational arguments, but disciplined reason certainly has gained a very powerful and pervasive foothold on global humanity through the evolution of scientific methodology (and the various forms of scholarship that emanate from it) over the past few centuries.
Science has transformed our lives in numerous ways, on numerous levels, including not only the technological advances facilitated by it, but also the social institutional ones. Our own somewhat sanctified Constitution, claimed as the secular holy document guiding those in our nation most obstructive of the influence of reason in service to humanity, is, in fact, a product of Enlightenment thinking, which itself was an extension of the Scientific Revolution into the sphere of rational self-governance.
PRG also builds on historical precedents that are various instances of applying that rationality (and passion and compassion along with it) to the purpose of humanity. Movements which extended rights and protections to those who were denied them, which confronted the use of power to oppress and exploit, which addressed our inhumanity to one another and sought to improve the condition of those born into the least advantageous opportunity structures, are almost universally admired and revered movements in our national and world history. There will inevitably come a time in human history when people will reunite those isolated instances of a commitment to humanity into a comprehensive commitment to humanity, transcending and improving on past attempts to do so, incorporating more modern knowledge and insight into the effort.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time it was ever attempted. The dominant world religions today are rooted, at least formally, in such a commitment, though, again, those who are most obstructive to the movement I am outlining are those who claim to be the most devoted adherents to those religions. But this, while a lesson in the power of hypocrisy, is also a positive portent, for the underlying frames and narratives of compassion and humanity don’t need to be implanted anew; they merely need to be activated for the purposes of recruiting those within reach of persuasion, and marginalizing those beyond that reach. Again, that is the familiar pattern of historical social movements.
So PRG draws on two sets of frames and narratives, two underlying values, already deeply embedded in our collective consciousness, and already formally almost universally accepted in our nation: Reason and Compassion. The degree to which they are in practice rejected is the challenge we face, but it is a challenge in which we are invited to ply the lever of cognitive dissonance, for in the overwhelming majority of cases, irrationality and inhumanity are exercised by people who identify themselves as rational and humane people. A remarkable core of them will remain completely insulated against any intrusion of actual reason, or the demands of actual compassion; but they will play into a growing narrative, that PRG will be consciously cultivating and disseminating, that they are the Philistines of our day, the Scrooges before the transformation, that which we strive to transcend rather than that which we strive to be.
This narrative is not a hard one to cultivate and disseminate. It is favored by reason, and it is favored by humanity. In the long run, as both Martin Luther King Jr. (adapting an earlier quote) and John Maynard Keynes have noted, reason and humanity prevail. It falls upon us to expedite their journey, and avoid the potentially catastrophic eruptions of irrationality and inhumanity that occur during the incessant short-term detours from that path.
PRG is what I see as part of a more general probable trend: The generalization of movements that were incubated in more particular forms and enclaves. Science has grown as something that scientists do, and that we indirectly accept (or resist) as having some authoritative power by virtue of its proven quality for reducing bias and increasing insight. A commitment to humanity is something that has resided semi-dormant and frequently betrayed in our dominant world religions. But its sublimated influence can be seen in the historical (even if constantly embattled and betrayed) commitment to social justice and equality that have helped forge the dominant developed nations of the world. Few would explicitly reject the suggestion that we should all be more rational, or that we should all be more humane. Cultivating that nucleus in intentional ways is the fundamental challenge facing humanity, now and always.
And it is the nature of history that such nuclei expand into general populations in various ways. In ancient civilizations, mathematics was something that a few elites used for elite purposes; now it is something that many use for many purposes. Science began as an esoteric endeavor discussed by philosophers and ignored by others; now it is something that virtually all of us defer to in various ways, even those trying to reject its specific findings are limited to doing so within the logic or language of science itself.
One of the most insidious of inhumanities, racism, which has existed throughout world history, is a discredited form of thought in modern nations, largely now relegated to the most sublimated forms, only able to thrive at all by claiming not to be what it is. Whereas a few short generations ago many would have applauded the lynching of a black man for glancing at a white woman, far fewer would today (perhaps marking progress against sexism as well). More humane memes have indeed gained greater purchase, despite the degree to which malicious ones persist alongside of them.
(I envision something similar for public education, and legal services, and a variety of other social institutional forms: What was once more diffuse, done by individuals and families to the best of their ability, became professionalized, and developed within that context. But there is a next threshold of development that takes that developed form and engages a larger population in the endeavor once again, getting families and communities more involved in the education of our children, and making legal services more accessible to lay people through resources designed to provide them with tools. This alternation of centralization and decentralization, facilitating a coherent progression, is, I think, one of history’s underlying themes.)
The coherent paradigm of social thought and action presented here, and throughout my essays on Colorado Confluence, which lays out the nature of our shared cognitive and social institutional and technological landscape, and considers how to maximize our own ability to affect it in profoundly beneficial ways, is one that can and should guide us far more so, and more intentionally, and with more discipline and focus, than it has.
Human history is the story of human consciousness, of its growth, of its implementations, of its unintended consequences, of its abuses, of its spread and of the forces it puts into play. In the spirit of reaching into underlying algorithms, we need to be conscious about the development and implementation of our consciousness, we need to be intentional about it, we need to use it as a vehicle for its continued growth and continued implementation, not in the haphazard and frequently self-destructive ways to which we are accustomed, but in increasingly focused and intentional ways. We need to realize that just because this particular, quixotically ambitious transformation of reality hasn’t yet occurred does not mean that it can never occur, or that we can’t be the agents for its occurrence.
Forming a social movement similar to PRG is a marginal innovation with potentially world revolutionary implications. It will not change what human beings are, or the underlying nature of our shared existence. But it can, over time, create a force that propels our shared story down dramatically more beneficial channels. And that is what being a human being is all about.
It will continue to seem impossible…, until it has been done.
On a Facebook post extolling the virtues of vegetarianism, a fellow named Bryan made the following comment:
Viewing human dentition, arrived at after about 7 million years of evolution (based on the new fossil finds last year), it would appear that meats were always part of the Almighty’s diet plan for our species. The veggie-only folk are certainly entitled to their opinion about how to feed THEMSELVES, but their argument that it is the preferred method for the species is both inaccurate and self-serving.
Bryan, we evolved as animals adapted to the African savanna, following the logic of evolution, which is that those genetic variations which continually reproduce successfully are perpetuated into the future. One of the products of that process was the human brain, mostly evolved to manipulate the complex small muscles of our fingers, but incidentally facilitating the development of language, which set into motion a similar evolutionary process: Those cognitive variations which continually reproduce successfully are perpetuated into the future.
In other words, we are not just anatomical beings, but also conscious beings. Citing our anatomy as though we are under some obligation to choose behaviors and customs suggested by it sounds reasonable to people who aren’t, because we defy our anatomy all the time, and to marvelous effect. We train some among us to perform complex surgical procedures, or apply other medical treatments, to combat perfectly natural deadly or debilitating diseases or conditions. We invent instruments to enable us to do things that our anatomy does not enable us to do.
Our craving for fat and sugar is probably due to the combination of our need for some small amount of both and their relative scarcity or difficulty of obtaining in the African savanna, such that our primal predecessors could never get too much of either. Should we abide by that anatomical dictate, and eat as much fat and sugar as we are anatomically predisposed to desire?
No, of course not. Anatomy is what formed us; consciousness is what guides us. The latter does not have to acquiesce to the former in ways that the latter discovers to be dysfunctional or otherwise undesirable.
Having said all that, I don’t tend toward high-minded moralism, and don’t seek some morally perfect universe. If I did, I would probably be adamantly opposed to the consumption of meat. There are many reasons why, as conscious beings, that is a sensible position. The healthiest of all diets, if one is careful about satisfying all nutritional requirements, is one without meat. Food production maximization per acre of land excludes raising animals for meat (which is a nutritionally inefficient use of land). The slaughter of animals that feel fear and pain to satisfy a mere desire of our own should give us pause. It’s really a very reasonable position. And we are capable of reason, regardless of how our teeth are shaped.
By the way, I eat meat.
This isn’t the kind of thing that I would usually reproduce here as a post, except that there’s something about it that strikes me as getting to the crux of the matter (“the matter” being the continuing development and implementation of human consciousness, in all matters): We need to be careful to distinguish reason from rationalization. And the way to do that is, like the delightfully relentless child, to keep on asking “why?”
Bryan cited human dentation as proof that we are “meant” to eat meat. Why? What does it mean that “we are meant to” do or be something in particular? Who meant it? (Bryan, apparently, would answer “the almighty.”) Why do we have to acquiesce to what that real or imagined “meaner” meant for us? How does it stack up against what we, individually or collectively, ”mean” for us to do here and now? Are our concerns for optimal use of available land, compassion for creatures that feel fear and pain, and human health all irrelevant if someone can argue that we are anatomically constrained to disregard all of those concerns?
This is one more incarnation of the tension between reason and rationalization, between analyses based on minimal assumption and assumption supported by minimal analysis. And that, I believe, is the tension that defines the distinction between much of progressive and conservative thought. (I’ll add one caveat: There are some aspects of progressive and conservative thought in which the roles are reversed; the optimal “ideology” is one which captures the reason that appears in each while weeding out the rationalization that appears in both.)
What serves us better than rationalizing preferred conclusions, entrenched habits of thought, on the basis of irrelevant or cherry-picked or fabricated supporting evidence, is to recognize that our current understandings and knowledge is less dispositive than we would like to believe, and to strive to apply reason to evidence, leavened with and inspired by disciplined imagination, in service to humanity. When we do that, we aren’t likely to argue, for example, that human dentation prevents us from changing paradigms in a way which better utilizes available land, better serves our health, and better exercises our compassion.
I. The Habits, Methodologies and Procedures Which Govern Our Existence
Political activism tends to focus on issues and candidates, advocating for particular positions on particular issues, which cluster into and are framed by competing ideologies, and campaigning for candidates who, by and large, represent those competing ideologies. This system is the product of an evolutionary process (discussed at more length in section II)), and is certainly more functional than many that have historically preceded it or exist elsewhere. But it is not a perfected system (no system is), and some portion of our advocacy efforts should be dedicated to the challenge of consciously refining it.
In some other facets of life, particularly scholarship and law, procedures and methodologies have evolved which increase the role of reason in human belief formation and decision-making. Scientific methodology is a discipline which reduces error and increases accuracy. It has proven to be an acceleratingly robust technique for exploring the nature of the world and universe around and within us. Legal procedure is a discipline which assesses the accuracy of alleged facts and applies complex decision-making rules to them. It has proven to be a more accurate tool for pursuing just outcomes than the less rationalized procedures which preceded it, such as “trial by ordeal” or the purely idiosyncratic judgment of rulers or magistrates.
One of the challenges facing humanity is to refine and extend such disciplines. Though our electoral system is an example of such continuing refinement and extension, the context of our electoral system still involves a competition of largely arbitrary and underexamined ideological convictions. The products of scientific and legal methodologies are brought in haphazardly, and with only marginal influence. Popular opinions are formed irrationally, and voting choices are manipulated by well-funded marketing techniques, turning politics into a competition of cynical strategies favoring concentrated capital interests, and leading to dysfunctional outcomes.
It is a well-known and well-evidenced conclusion of cognitive science that human beings are not, by and large, persuaded by logical arguments and reliable evidence as much as by emotionally appealing messages that resonate with their already internalized frames and narratives. Some people misinterpret this to conclude that it is impossible to increase the salience of reason in popular political decision-making. But history demonstrates the error of such a conclusion: Scientific methodology, legal procedure, and constitutional democratic forms of government have all developed and gained prominence in the modern era, despite human irrationality.
II. The Lathe On Which We Spin…
The explanation for this paradox can be found in John Maynard Keynes’ quip that people “will do the rational thing, but only after exploring all other alternatives.” The archetype of this dynamic can be found in nature, in biological and ecological evolution, where creatures large and small, few of which are generally considered to be “rational,” evolve in highly rational ways, embodying strategies for reproductive success (and survival in order to facilitate it) that we, for all of our impressive human consciousness, can only mimic and emulate in our own intentional social institutions and technologies.
In biological evolution, this occurs through genes, which reproduce, occasionally mutate, compete for reproductive success, and thus evolve. In cultural evolution, this occurs through “memes” (cognitions), which reproduce (are communicated), frequently mutate (change in the process of communication by mixing with other memes to form new memes or being are refined or altered or misinterpreted by those to whom they are communicated), compete for reproductive success (compete with mutually exclusive beliefs, or compete with other technologies, or compete for limited cerebral capacity), and thus evolve. In both cases, packets of information reproduce, mutate, compete for reproductive success, and thus evolve. (For more in-depth explorations of this evolutionary ecology of human social institutional and technological systems, see, e.g., The Evolutionary Ecology of Social Institutions, The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Technology, The Fractal Geometry of Law (and Government), plus several others in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts).
Cultural evolution isn’t inherently benign. Reproductive success doesn’t automatically favor those memes most conducive to human happiness and welfare. More powerful weapons prevail over less powerful weapons; conquerors spread their memes more prolifically than pacifists; those who mine natural resources more rapidly (even if unsustainably rapidly) prevail more surely; aggressive, predatory societies overrun others that may be laden with beautiful and life affirming memes that simply don’t survive the brutality of our existence. One role for our conscious participation is to counterbalance these dysfunctional aspects of our underlying cultural evolutionary processes.
But neither is cultural evolution inherently malignant. Reproductive success doesn’t automatically disfavor those memes and paradigms most conducive to human happiness and welfare. A social entity characterized by strong internal cooperation will tend to prevail over a social entity characterized by weak internal cooperation. The robust production of prosperity tends to prevail over more sluggish economic systems. Broader and deeper systems of cooperation prevail over narrower and shallower systems of cooperation. Political and economic liberty, in which most or all people are robust participants in their own governance and in a production of wealth from which they benefit in proportion to the value of their contribution, tends to prevail over political and economic centralization, in which human energy and enterprise is less fully tapped and channeled.
This combined, almost paradoxical, evolutionarily favored status of both liberty and cooperation is precisely why the movement I am referring to is not just “the politics of reason,” but “the politics of reason and goodwill.” Decades ago, in an experiment by Robert Axelrod, competing computer programs using strategies of “cooperation” and “defection” in bilateral, repeated “prisoners’ dilemma” games (see Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems) demonstrated that the best strategy in a world in which cooperation yields collective benefits, but not cooperating is always better for the person who doesn’t cooperate, is first to cooperate (show goodwill), and then respond to the other in kind (continue to cooperate if they do, but not if they don’t). This is a mathematical demonstration of what we all intuitively know (or should know) to be true: Goodwill benefits us all.
That’s at least one reason why the evolutionary process I describe below, entering into the modern era, has produced notions of human rights and natural rights and individual rights, and notions of egalitarianism and fairness and mutual responsibility, that many of us treasure, and that all of us benefit from. The world is a better place not only when we are reasonable people, but also when we act with goodwill toward one another. And even if the distribution of individual reasonableness and goodwill is not something that is particularly tractable by organized efforts in social movements, the salience of reasonableness and goodwill might be (see below for an explanation of this distinction).
III. …And That We Ourselves Are Spinning.
Biological evolution is, in a sense, a passive process. The members of evolving species do not intentionally participate in the evolutionary process that creates them, identifying evolutionary goals and consciously pursuing them. They merely are more or less prolific reproducers, and so carry genes that are more or less well-represented in subsequent generations. But the human cultural echo of this evolutionary process plays out through our cognitions, which are the substance of our consciousness. It is the result of what we choose to believe, and the result of how successfully we advocate or promote or market our beliefs or innovations. We are active and conscious participants in our own cultural evolution.
The degree to which we consciously guide and channel this process in service to humanity is a function of how far-sighted we are in our goals, and how inclusive we are in our identifications. Genetic evolution occurs through the pursuit of very immediate, short-sighted goals: Surviving long enough to mate, mating, and ensuring in one way or another that some of your progeny survive to mate as well. Cultural evolution occurs through the pursuit of these as well (through the reproduction of memes that serve these goals), plus slightly less immediate and short-sighted goals, such as financial security or prosperity and satisfaction of various needs and desires, and conscious identification with genetically somewhat dissimilar others, such as co-members of a race, a tribe, a nation or a religious community. (Often, there is an element of marginal genetic similarity in these identifications, due to how they are historically produced.) Politics consists by and large of a struggle over how and if and how far to extend both our time horizon and our identification, and how ambitious or modest our collective goals should be.
This struggle occurs on an issue-by-issue, candidate-by-candidate basis, framed by competing comprehensive ideologies. We tend to emphasize the particular battles, and “recognize” that it is futile to try to win an argument over “which” ideology is superior. (Even so, the most zealous among us –myself included, but in a modified way explained in this essay and others like it– engage ceaselessly in debates over the relative merits of competing ideologies.)
The tendency to “duke it out” on an issue-by-issue, candidate-by-candidate basis comes at the cost of shortening our time horizons and narrowing our identifications, because issues attract our attention in proportion to their urgency and immediacy, elections are immediate and urgent contests, identifications in these struggles focus on the coalition of factions advocating particular positions within it, and, most importantly, the logic of political competition drives the most politically active among us into an almost exclusive focus on political strategies and tactics. The last dynamic strongly favors appealing to our basest and least far-sighted and least-imaginative inclinations as a polity, because these are the easiest to appeal to, and the most successful fulcrums on which to ply our political efforts.
If our evolutionarily determined habit of focusing on immediate issues and immediate candidates in service to immediate concerns and immediate desires does not best serve the challenge of being more conscious and inclusive participants in our own cultural evolution; and if it is futile to try, instead, to move the struggle to the level of a national debate over which substantive comprehensive ideology to embrace; then what is the alternative?
The alternative is diverting some portion of our time and attention and resources from both the issue-by-issue, candidate-by-candidate political struggle, andthe futile substantive ideological debate that envelopes and undergirds it, to an effort to transcend both by developing and investing in methodologies which systematically favor reason and goodwill in our personal and popular political decision-making process. To accomplish this, we need to find a foundation on which to build such a methodology on which most people, across ideological lines, can agree to, and which appeals to most people’s underlying frames and narratives, as well as recognizes the limited degree to which most people are willing to invest time and energy in our political processes.
Extremists of all stripes will tend to reject any such foundation that is proposed, correctly certain that it would undermine their ideological convictions and goals. But, though extremists dominate message boards and public attention, most people are not extremists. Most people are relatively moderate and pragmatic people who just want to be able to participate marginally, without investing too much time and energy, in our self-governance in a way which is both gratifying and productive. Many, of course, don’t want to do more than vote, but even those form their political opinions and electoral choices by means of a diffuse engagement with others around them and with various media of communications.
The challenge is to find, rally, and motivate those who both are or wish to be highly politically engaged, and who are interested in exploring the possibility of doing fundamentally better than we are now in moving the state, nation, and world in the direction of ever-increasing salience of reason and goodwill in the formation of our public policies, and to mobilize these activists in the design and implementation of a movement which accomplishes that goal. Obviously, any success would be marginal, and the world would continue much as it has. But even just marginal success in such an endeavor could have truly revolutionary implications over the course of time.
IV. The Proposal
I have already outlined my proposal (which I call, alternatively, “The Politics of Reason and Goodwill,” or “Transcendental Politics,” or “Holistic Politics”) in several essays (see, e.g,. A Proposal, The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified, How to make a kinder and more reasonable world, and Transcendental Politics; plus dozens of others in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts). I’ll just summarize it very briefly here.
The social movement I envision is, by necessity, a non-partisan social movement which emphasizes the procedures by which we arrive at our beliefs, conclusions, policy positions, and electoral choices (which I’ll refer to from here on out as “political memes”), rather than the specific, substantial political memes themselves. It is a movement that is dedicated to not advocating for progressive or conservative ideologies or policies or candidates, but rather for a commitment to reason and goodwill and to the development of procedures and methodologies which systematically favor them.
This may seem to run up against the cognitive science reality that people are not primarily persuaded by reason in the formation of their political memes, and certainly the most fanatical and extreme will not be amenable to any suggestion to make any movement of any kind in any direction. But this movement does not depend on people in general changing their habit of political meme formation. Rather, it depends, first, on a dedicated group of people implementing the three components summarized below (and elaborated on at length in the other essays I linked to), and, secondly, on a significant number of people agreeing in principal only to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill. That second requisite is not a change in how people form their cognitive landscapes, but rather an appeal to existing frames and narratives, since most Americans, I would argue, identify themselves as, and wish to be, reasonable people of goodwill.
It’s very important not to be excessively distracted by the highly visible and vocal minority who clearly are too committed to irrationality and belligerence to even contemplate making such a commitment. In the end, any social movement that aspires to increase the salience of reason and goodwill in the formation of public policy, while it might continue to try and hope to gradually convert some of them, has to focus more on simply marginalizing the most irrational and belligerent among us, and rendering them outnumbered and de-fanged by a movement that just leaves them behind (in terms of their political and cultural influence, not in terms of our shared commitment to their well-being and the facilitation of their productive participation in society).
This movement, which I’ll refer to here as “PRG” (short for “Politics of Reason and Goodwill”), requires two very difficult, interrelated steps for adherents (that is, activists working to advance this social movement) to commit to, in order to realize the social step forward that the movement aspires toward: 1) In the context of the movement (though not in political activities pursued outside of the movement), advocacy for specific substantive positions, specific ideological convictions, specific candidates, and, in general, specific substantive political memes, must be suspended. PRG advocates for a commitment to an ideal that transcends ideology and a procedure for realizing that ideal, sincerely and with assiduous integrity agreeing not to displace that ideal or that procedure with current substantive certainties held by any adherents. And, 2) The sincere humility to realize that a procedure which accomplishes this to any meaningful degree is preferable to such substantive certainties currently held, because our current substantive certainties may or may not be what reason and goodwill, assiduously adhered to, would actually have led to, and we should prefer what a disciplined process suggests is most in accord with reason and goodwill over what we more haphazardly assume is most in accord with reason and goodwill.
The core political meme of this movement, in fact, is the meme that we are better served by disciplines and processes which systematically favor reason and goodwill than by our current ideologies that assume they are most informed by reason and goodwill. And, just as those who have practiced and implicitly and explicitly advocated for scientific methodology, rule of law, and democratic and constitutional governmental processes have fought uphill battles to establish them as central features of our shared cognitive and institutional landscape, assisted by the evolutionarily favored utility of these disciplines, so too is this extension of that logic evolutionarily favored by its utility and implementable, over time, through our relentless and passionate advocacy and practice.
PRG consists of three components: 1) The creation of a comprehensive data base or web portal which makes easily accessible all arguments which purport to apply reason to evidence in service to human welfare, along with citations by which to verify the reliability or accuracy of the evidence utilized (see “Component 1″ of A Proposal for a more complete and extensive description); 2) The creation of an enterprise which disseminates the message, in emotionally appealing ways which communicate directly to existing frames and narratives, that we are better off, both individually and collectively, when we strive to be reasonable people of goodwill (see Component II of A Proposal and Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives for more complete and extensive descriptions), and 3) The establishment of a network of community organizations, which leverage existing community organizations (e.g., PTAs, HOAs, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, local churches and other religious institutions, park districts, etc.), to create a forum in which participants agree to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, to consider all points of view and arguments with an open mind, to be civil, and to improve the strength and solidarity of our local communities and of our nation (see Component III of A Proposal and Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN) for a more complete and extensive description).
The supposition is not that most people would avail themselves of the internet portal or spend significantly more time comparing arguments and counterarguments surrounding various policy issues, or that most people would attend the community meetings or participate on the on-line network, or that most people would change their habits in any visible or significant way. That would not be realistic. Rather, the hope is that this would create a new center of gravity, a new source of legitimacy for the concept of making decisions on the basis of reason and goodwill, a new nucleus from which a marginal increase in the number of people who take marginal steps in the direction of thinking and acting in accord with this ideal can form a source of information and inspiration for the many who make no change in their lives whatsoever. Few of us are scientists, but most of us rely in one way or another on science.
Think tanks and policy institutes are in some respects the prototype for Component I, but always lost their popular legitimacy by failing to be popularly accessible and popularly comprised institutions. All are seen, rightly or wrongly, as having been co-opted by a particular ideology. But, in PRG, the think tank is all of us, the arguments considered are all of them. And it does not stand alone, like an ivory tower out of reach, but in the center of a community, where it can be utilized and discussed by those ordinary people inclined to do so. Even if very few ever avail themselves of those resources (the portal and the community organizations), others (moderate others who are not lost to an impenetrable fanaticism) will be more inclined to look to those who do as relatively reliable sources of information. And those who do avail themselves of these recourses will be those who, both by predisposition and by the effects of utilizing these resources, will tend to have more moderate, better informed, better reasoned, more humane positions on social and political issues.
History is comprised of innovations, both humble and bold. Many such innovations are social institutional, and some have had enormous and lasting effects on our cultural evolution. The invention of money, of legal systems, of our own Constitution and national system of government, are all examples. Some technological innovations dovetail with these, or form the basis of social institutional innovations of their own: The computer, the internet, social media, have developed in ways which have created new opportunities and new dimensions of possibilities yet to be fully explored. PRG, or something similar to it, would be precisely the way to leverage these developments, and explore these possibilities.
I sincerely and fervantly believe that a dedicated cadre of people working dilligently to design and implement this plan, or a plan similar to it, can and almost inevitably would have a dramatic effect, over time, in moving our state, nation, and world gradually but significantly in the direction of reason and goodwill, in the direction of being wiser, more foresighted, more cooperative, more life-affirming, and more humane. I hope all who read this will join me in this effort, and will share it widely in the hope that others join us as well.
We have a lot of work to do. All reasonable people of goodwill have a lot of work to do. It’s not enough to groan, to bemoan, to talk or even walk, to vote and encourage others to vote, to protest or rally or lobby or canvass, to organize for specific goals, to engage in rituals and contribute to the noise of a very noisy world. It’s not enough to write, or implore, or contemplate, or engage others. We need to take action; a very specific kind of action; a less familiar and, for many, less emotionally gratifying kind of action; a less cathartic and more creative kind of action; a less ritualistic and more conscious kind of action; a less well-trod and more innovative kind of action.
The first step is to know that we can do much, much better. I don’t mean we could do better if only we beat the political opposition at the polls, or that we could do better if only others saw the world the way we do and joined us in our efforts to create a kinder, gentler, saner world. I mean that those of us who claim to believe in our collective potential to improve the human condition can do much better at translating that belief into results. That’s not something that depends on any superficial panacea saving us from a very deeply entrenched status quo, or on any sudden mass change of consciousness (that, in truth, it is our challenge to catalyze and cultivate), but rather on the discipline and commitment of those who share a general vision and goal, in service to that vision and goal.
First of all, I shy away from using the term “progressive,” because, while among existing political ideological orientations, that is clearly the one I align with, and clearly the closest to being the force for moving in the direction of being a kinder, gentler, saner world, it falls woefully short, and leaves behind some who might join us in this effort, while being overtaken by others who are as much an obstruction to moving in the direction of becoming a kinder, gentler, wiser world as our ideological opposites are.
We need a movement within and beyond the progressive movement that commits to something many progressives have not committed to, and some conservatives would: To leave behind the false certainties, the overwrought commitment to oversimplified panaceas, the ancient tribal impulse to reduce the world to the “good guys” that are us and the “bad guys” that are them, and commit instead to disciplined reason and universal goodwill alone as the ultimate goals and underlying means of all that we do.
That doesn’t mean, as some people always insist on interpreting it to mean, that this is advocacy for always being “nicey-nice” and never taking firm stands for or against specific positions, even engaging in “hardball” politics in service to those stands. (Indeed, there are many who accuse me of the opposite error, of not being “nicey-nice” enough in public discourse, of “bullying” people, either with my intellect or my “flowery, condescending bullshit,” depending on their disposition toward me. While I am not claiming that I always get it right, I am claiming that there are definitely times to “bully” people with one’s intellect, or, as I like to put it, to make arguments so compelling that those who find them inconvenient are made uncomfortable by the difficulty of refuting them.) Those are determinations that must be made in the context of the kind of comprehensive analysis, holistic vision, and disciplined commitment to them that I am advocating. Nor does it mean that this vision is meant to (or possibly could) displace the current and familiar popular political landscape, with all of its oversimplifications, precipitous manias, and narrow interests or visions. I discuss below how these two visions and orientations, one of strident advocacy for passionately held views, and the other for cultivating a broader and more accommodating commitment to reason and goodwill in both the form and substance of our political advocacy, can coexist.
Rather, this is the articulation of a higher ideal, a more conscious and restrained and aspirational political and cultural movement, to which people who aspire to the creation of a kinder, gentler, and saner world can invest some or all of their energy, either while engaging in other more familiar political movements that also appeal to them and capture their imaginations and their motivations, or (as might be the case for some few) as their primary or only vehicle for social change.
I had, not long ago, developed one specific blueprint for what such a movement could look like (see, e.g., Transcendental Politics, A Proposal, The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified, How to make a kinder and more reasonable world, Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives, Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN)). The specific blueprint developed in these essays is not the subject of this one. Our efforts to create this new “transcedental politics,” this more disciplined and humble and wise commitment to working toward a positive vision of what can be rather than against all of the windmill-dragons populating our ideologically saturated realities, can take what form it will, but it must begin with a commitment to it, and an organized effort to cultivate this new species of activism so that might flourish amidst the flora and fauna of the current political ecosystem.
Many of the essays I wrote in the course of developing and fleshing out my “politics of reason and goodwill” are iterations of the same theme of this one, such as The Ultimate Political Challenge, Second-Order Social Change, “A Theory of Justice”, The Foundational Progressive Agenda , The Politics of Anger, The Politics of Kindness, The Power of “Walking the Walk”, “Messaging” From The Heart of Many Rather Than The Mouth of Few, The Heart of Politics, A Call To Minds & Hearts & Souls, Politics & Social Change, Changing The Narrative, Cluster Liberals v. Network Liberals, Realizing Human Potential, The Loss of Humanity, Getting Off The Political Treadmill, and An Argument for Reason and Humility. Though there is undoubtedly considerable redundancy laced throughout these essays, it is my hope that together they, somewhat haphazardly and inefficiently, carve out a well-defined and increasingly detailed vision of how to do better, of what it means to do better, and of what it requires of each of us who wish to help change the world for the better.
The keys to this vision for progress are two-fold: 1) We need to cultivate within ourselves and within whatever organizations we create committed to this vision the humility, wisdom, and universal goodwill that must inform it, and make those values a discipline that we actively pursue, both within ourselves as individuals and throughout all social fields to which we belong; and 2) we need to explore, in depth and with precision, the nature of the social institutional and cognitive landscape that is the field within which we are operating, applying the knowledge gained to the challenge of affecting that landscape in desired ways. (For my nascent contribution to that second component, see, e.g., The Politics of Consciousness , Adaptation & Social Systemic Fluidity, The Evolutionary Ecology of Social Institutions, The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Technology, The Fractal Geometry of Law (and Government), Emotional Contagion, Bellerophon’s Ascent: The Mutating Memes (and “Emes”) of Human History, Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future, and The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix.)
The articulation of these two aspects of what I’ll now refer to as “Transcendental Politics” is one of the challenges I have only barely waded into. It’s clear that they are closely bound together, in numerous ways, and that the discovery of the conceptual threads that weave them into a single whole will be an exciting and gratifying enterprise. I alluded to some of the connections in The Dance of Consciousness, The Algorithms of Complexity, and undoubtedly in other essays as well: They revolve around the fact that we are both participants in, and elements of, the social institutional/technological/cognitive landscape that we are simultaneously operating through and trying to affect. These are not too distinct spheres of reality, as we so often pretend they are, but rather one; recognizing that, and acting on the basis of that recognition, is a cornerstone of Transcendental Politics. (I have just recently bought a book, “Spiral Dynamics,” recommended to me by a friend, that purports to address precisely this dimension of the challenge, to develop a leadership and social movement/social change paradigm based on, essentially, the evolutionary ecology paradigm of our shared social institutional/technological/cognitive landscape.)
Transcendental Politics is one specimen of a larger, already defined category, referred to as “Transformational Politics,” which is political action designed not just to win battles within the current paradigm, but to change that paradigm as well. Transcendental Politics specifies a very precise kind of transformational goal, one which relies less on assumption and more on analysis, is more dedicated to humanity, all things considered, and less to narrower goals that conflict with that global goal on closer examination. It is a transformation that discourages stridency and encourages thoughtfulness and civil discourse informed by humility. It is, in short, the politics of reason and goodwill (leavened with imagination and compassion), pursued with Discipline & Purpose.
Part of what is to be transcended is the level of analysis on which the current ideological dichotomy defining the contemporary partisan divide is to be found (see A Tale of Two Movements). While both contentions are true to varying degrees and in varying ways (the Right is correct that there is a very salient agency problem embedded in any reliance on government to order our lives, and the Left is correct that corporate power, particularly over the political process, has reached crisis proportions), neither dynamic is as simple as its staunchest advocates imagine, and neither lies at the core of what is obstructing progress. (Admittedly, like peeling away the layers of an onion, the core itself may be ever-elusive, but part of the project of Transcendental Politics is to focus on the peeling back of layers to find the ever-more fundamental issues to address, and to eschew the self-satisfied belief that complex issues require no further analysis once a position has been taken. See The Algorithms of Complexity; or The Wizards’ Eye for a fictionalized representation of the dynamic.)
Transcendental Politics involves digging beneath these issues, recognizing the elements of truth in them, but also the utility of the institutions being critically analyzed, and eschewing the manias of obsessive exaggeration and oversimplification. Transcendental Politics requires us to embrace rather than scoff at the habit of qualifying assertions, identifying exceptions and conditions and variability, and, in general, declining to reduce the world to pithy soundbites in favor of exploring the world in all of its subtlety and complexity. To paraphrase the former Colorado (and now Wisconsin) political journalist Adam Schrager, quoting his father, Transcendental Politics favors thinking and speaking in commas and question marks over periods and exclamation points.
Stridency doesn’t exclude anyone from participating in advocacy of Transcendental Politics, or joining any groups that may emerge to implement it, though the stridency itself is excluded. There are times to be strident, and we each use our own judgment to determine when that time has come for us, though, on average, I would say we err on leaping to stridency too quickly rather than refraining from it too often. (For instance, I recently became very strident in an exchange on Facebook, with a bunch of right-wing evangelicals preaching anti-Muslim attitudes, calling for an attitude of prejudice and policies of discrimination toward all Muslims residing in the United States. I found their attitude so reprehensible, so horrifyingly familiar, that, while composing powerful arguments designed to increase the difficulty of rationalizing their bigotry, I also declined to mince words in my characterization of their position. See “Sharianity” for my depiction of their position.)
Many of my fellow progressives are strident about things I choose not to be, and am less convinced merit it. The governmental and police responses to “Occupy” protesters, for instance, while certainly sometimes excessive and counterproductive (and therefore deserving of very clear criticism), seem to me to be embedded in a more complex and nuanced challenge of balancing legitimate needs to enforce laws designed to protect the public health and safety with the need to limit the freedoms of speech and assembly (especially political speech and assembly) to the slightest degree practicable. It is an issue in which there is an inevitable balance to be struck (even if it is not currently being struck in the right place), and therefore an issue in which stridency is to be avoided.
But if an individual, on careful consideration, and in full consciousness, determines that, by their judgment, the issue of overzealous and overly violent enforcement of marginal laws, against political protesters generally not engaging in any serious misconduct of any kind, is an issue worthy of strident condemnation, that’s not a judgment I am in any position to say is “wrong.” I can only say that, since such determinations are a matter of personal judgment, and since one goal of Transcendental Politics is to increase our thoughtfulness and reduce our stridency in general, both my stridency toward those anti-Islamic xenophobes on Facebook, and others’ toward overzealous police action toward the “Occupy” protesters, should be left in the arena of conventional political discourse (where we all will still be participating as well), and removed from the attempt to transcend it.
In fact, people who are stridently opposed to one another on some or all issues might find a venue in which to discuss underlying aspects of those issues in a different way, if some of them at some times share the basic commitment required of participation in Transcendental Politics: That of striving to be reasonable people of goodwill working together to confront the complex and subtle challenges of life on Earth. To enter that new venue, we take off our hats of issue advocacy, and put on our hat of tolerance and acceptance. We do not have to worry that we are tolerating and accepting something intolerable and unacceptable by doing so, because we have not forsaken the other hat of passionate advocacy on that issue. But we can rejoice that we have, without giving anything up, opened up a channel through which reason and goodwill might have more opportunity to gain more purchase on more hearts and minds.
Transcendental Politics is about reducing the entrenchment of mutual antagonism, and increasing the commitment to reason and goodwill. It is about reducing irrationality and belligerence, and increasing consciousness in both thought and action. It is about moving from a politics that reproduces and reinforces our folly toward a politics that liberates us from and gradually transcends that folly. It is about growing as human beings, as individuals and as societies, and reaching toward higher and more life-affirming expressions of our humanity.
My role, thus far, has, for the most part, been to articulate this vision and try to rally others to it. (I have made some organizational attempts as well, such as trying to form my own community organization as part of that component of my “Politics of Reason and Goodwill” project, and engaging, both professionally and avocationally, in a multitude of public interest advocacy efforts. I developed this project, beyond my writings here, in the context of a Colorado Leaders Fellowship, with the Center for Progressive Leadership, outlining a long-term plan for bringing it to fruition. I also sent out hundreds of packets to political and civic leaders in Colorado, describing my specific project to them, looking for support and funding. However, despite all of that, I have not yet done enough to take these ideas across the threshold from the drawing board into implementation.) But, while social progress is always urgent, and millions suffer every day from our failures to address the challenges we face more effectively, instantaneous success is rarely an option.
This is not something one individual can make happen on his or her own. We often look to leadership to lead us, and lament its failure to do so, but, in the end, we should lament most of all our own failures to step up to the plate, and become leaders ourselves, leaders in our families and communities, leaders in our organizations and professions, leaders in our thoughts and actions (see What is Leadership?). None of us should wait for someone else to make this happen; we each should take action ourself to make it happen, to move it forward, to spread this meme and this paradigm, to help it insinuate itself into our cognitive landscape, and, from there, into our social institutional landscape.
If this is a vision you share, or one that you believe has a vital place in our social field, then please, step forward and say, “yes, I want to be a part of this.” Email me with an expression of your interest (even if you have done so already, please do so again: email@example.com). Let’s start a dialogue around it, a continuing effort on all of our parts to transform our world for the better, not by raising our fists and expressing our rage, but by raising our consciousness and expressing our humanity.
We are capable of accomplishing so much together (see, e.g., Public Entrepreneurialism and Gaia & Me). But it takes more than a wish and some words. It takes commitment. Let’s not lament our failure to transform this world for the better to the extent that we know we are able to; let’s, instead, rejoice in our commitment to doing so, and act on that commitment with a renewed sense of determination and indomitability.
I’ve been sleeping on the floor in the hallway outside the kitchen for the past week, on a pile of blankets that do not add up to a mattress. My almost-eight-year-old daughter, Scheherazade (whose nickname is pronounced “sheh-DAY”), joined me one night, and fared far better than me, which is a testament to the greater resilience of an almost-eight-year-old than an almost-fifty-two-year-old (our birthdays are a day apart, or, more precisely, one day less than 44 years apart).
The reason for this unenthusiastic return to something similar to the childhood wonders of camping out under blanket tents held up by encyclopedias (from the days when encyclopedias were big fat books rather than skinny little disks) was not nostalgia, nor a fight with my wife, but rather a new puppy named Buttercup. Buttercup is a rescue puppy from Texas, apparently brought up to Colorado in a great puppy drive, perhaps with puppyboys on stick horses rounding them up as they made the treacherous trek northward to their new ranches…. Or maybe they were transported in some modern vehicle that imposes less of a burden on the puppies themselves. Probably something more like the latter.
The puppy loves us, and we love her. She loves us so much that she can’t stand to be parted from us for the night, and we can’t stand to let her roam free in the more comfortable portions of the house where I would prefer to sleep but we’d all prefer for her not to…, you know, do what puppies do. My wife is even more adamant than Schede or me that Buttercup not be allowed to turn our house into a puppified den of odors and stains, though I think her love of the puppy is softening her fear of the inevitable gradual contamination of our indoor (and backyard) environment.
And, being the chivalrous lover of puppies and children that I am, I am the family member elected by unanimous mutual spontaneous consensus among the other two human-language-speaking members (as I seem always to be in such circumstances), and possibly by the one non-human-language-speaking member as well, to sleep on a pile of blankets in a narrow hallway outside the toddler gates containing our lonely little puppy in her linoleum tiled kitchen.My wife Lolis, Buttercup, myself, and Scheherazade
It’s a happy duty to perform, uncomfortable sleep and morning aches not withstanding. There’s something about a furry little critter wanting and needing your attention that more than off-sets the minor inconveniences involved. And I firmly believe that every child should have a pet, preferably a dog (and certainly something more than a goldfish or a gerbil). It’s a chance to learn to love, and to care about others, in ways that children aren’t likely to learn in their relationship with parents they know are there to protect and nurture them. In other words, nothing is more humanizing than having someone who depends on you, and whom you love enough to ensure that they always can.
I’ve always been a bit intrigued by the human-pet relationship (because, of course, I’m a little bit intrigued by most everything). In some ways, it resembles slavery, with the animal being the property of the “owner,” and the owner lording it over the animal (“NO! SIT! COME!”). There was a time in my youth when I tended to consider it immoral for this reason.
But I have since come to see the world in a more nuanced light, and recognize that this is a type of relationship that has evolved over millenia, like many other symbiotic relationships in nature, and offers many mutual advantages to the species and creatures involved. Those animals, even wild ones confined to zoos, arguably have a pretty good deal, at least if the zoo is a particularly good one. It’s nice to be able to bask in the sun without worrying about predators, and to enjoy a meal that you can rely on. Of course, as to wild animals in captivity, a strong counterargument can be made as well, that their lives have simply been reduced in quality for our benefit, that they live most fully in the wild, predators and all.
But domestic and domesticated animals fall into a different category altogether: Their existence as species, as we currently know them, is a function of their having been domesticated. Dogs, in fact (according to what I believe is the most well-respected modern theory), domesticated themselves, by hanging around pre-historic human garbage dumps. In a sense, then, they made the overture, that humans accepted, to form an interspecies partnership, one which both sides seem to enjoy and benefit from.
I know that I’m benefiting from this one. Buttercup is a sweet and lovable little bundle of warm puppydom, a bouncing, slipping and sliding, shoelace pouncing, tail-wagging, hand-chewing source of joy and laughter. And I know that by adopting her into our family I owe her a happy and healthy life, to the fullest extent of my ability to provide it. It’s a small price to pay for such a rich source of the one thing there’s just never enough of.
At about the age of thirty, simply by following logic and observation wherever they led, I came to the unremarkable conclusion that markets are robust generators of wealth, and, as such, contribute in vital ways to human welfare. But, at the same time, I recognized that their very robustness not only amplified our productive activities, but also their destructive side-effects. And I have always been aware of the danger of false idols, whether they come in the form of the U.S. Constitution (“Constitutional Idolatry”), an oversimplistic and self-defeating conceptualization of liberty (Liberty & Society), or a pseudo-economic conviction that markets are completely self-regulating providers of all that is good and holy on Earth (The Economic Debate We’re Not Having, Regulation of Financial Markets).
Markets aren’t just functional, but, especially in the traditional sense of actual locations where wares and ideas are hawked, they can also be vibrant slices of life (Welcome to the agora!). The notion of human beings coming together to exchange the products of their hands and minds is an inherently appealing one. And the vitality of such places, the color and richness and pageantry of human activity, especially in its more primative forms, is hard to deny. Life isn’t just about producing and consuming wealth, or even ideas, but also about living, and such places are rich with the act of living. (Ironically, I can barely stand to spend two minutes in modern malls, finding them to be mind-numbingly sterile rather than lively).
The German Sociologist Max Weber warned about a century ago of “the iron cage of rationality”. The evolutionary logic of human history increasingly “rationalizes” our social institutions, but not necessarily in ways which maximize human happiness and welfare. The theme is similar to the one found in Aldous Huxley’s famous novel Brave New World, or Fritz Lang’s famous silent movie Metropolis: We gradually turn ourselves into cogs in a machine which operates according to a logic of its own (maximizing “efficiency”), sterilizing our world, reducing us to servants of the machine we have created, and sapping our lives of that which makes them truly satisfying to us as human beings.
It may well be that this precautionary tale is overstated, that efficiency itself eventually recoils from too much dehumanization, because the human mind and imagination, a resource whose maximally efficient functioning is an essential component of an efficient social institutional framework, does not thrive in such sterilized and dehumanized contexts. But, be that as it may, there is certainly one force in play, the drive toward increased mechanical efficiency (which would prevail, say, on assembly lines), which can be a brutal tyrant as well as a generous provider.
When we focus exclusively on GDP as the indicator of economic success, and ignore the gini coefficient (the statistical measure of inequality in the distribution of wealth) and the ecological and public health damage caused by the production and consumption of that wealth, we are surrendering to the iron cage of markets, privileging “efficiency” over all other concerns. There is nothing inherently just about those born into the world with inferior opportunities (less inherited wealth, social network advantages, and familial experience of success to serve as a model, for instance) being left either to beat the odds or suffer the consequences, not because life has to be fair (or ever fully can be), but because we should not casually shirk our responsibility as human beings to make it more so. There is nothing wise about privileging the production of wealth today at the expense of the Earth’s biodiversity and the predictable future costs, perhaps truly apocalyptic in scale, of our increasingly aggressive parasitism vis-a-vis the host body upon which we depend.
But markets do not have to be inequitable, nor parasitic. We can be the wise stewards that we need to be, incorporating into the mechanisms of markets themselves the goals and values that they do not automatically attend to. We can “internalize the externalities” so that market activities which impose costs on others, both today and in the future, are priced in ways which force buyers to take those external costs into account, so that buyers can decide if the value to them is truly worth the costs to others (thus, in aggregate, reducing those activities to the levels that truly serve our collective long-term interests). And we can make public investments in the development of both human and material infrastructure, to make markets more robust producers of wealth, and human beings regardless of the chances of birth more fairly able to partake of that wealth. We can keep working to get it right, rather than to surrender our wills to some dehumanized force that we have turned into a false idol.
In terms of addressing abject poverty, markets as they currently exist leave many behind. Those living primtive lives have little to offer to attract the wealth produced elsewhere, and, when they do (generally in the form of natural resources), markets are brutal exploiters of their desperation, paying them less than those less in need would receive. But we can use markets, intentionally, to do what they do not do organically: We can provide infrastructural investments which create the ability to produce something for local markets, and tiny start-up loans to enable poor folk in poor conditions (mostly women) to engage in some productive activity (“Grameen Banks” have been hugely successful in this: http://www.grameen-info.org/). We can devise small innovations, like trundle pumps (to ensure potable water where water is scarce), and cook stoves (to reduce the emissions of black soot that plague many desperately poor people around the world, and contribute significantly to global warming), which get those most in need into a position where they can benefit from markets. We can see markets as a valuable tool to be utilized in this shared human endeavor of ours, rather than a justification for doing nothing to address the horrors of an unjust and in many ways self-destructive status quo.
We must always be the masters of our technologies and social institutions, never their servants. They exist to serve a purpose, not to demand our allegiance and submission. The vitality of markets, in the modern sense, as robust producers of wealth, and in the traditional sense as vibrant slices of life, needs to be made whole again, if not in the actual appearance and ambience of most of our marketplaces themselves, than in how we view them. Markets are vehicles of life, where we come with our needs and desires and offerings, to enrich one another both materially and spiritually. And it is incumbent upon us that they are inclusive rather than exclusive, providing opportunities rather than exploiting desperation, and addressing problems more robustly than they create them.
Colorado has several comparative advantages that position us to combine a commitment to the preservation of our natural endowment; a commitment to the preservation, refinement, and expansion of the pleasant lifestyle that many enjoy in our beautiful state; a commitment to contributing to the development of the New Energy Economy (an inevitable component of future global economic development); and a commitment to fostering the most robust, sustainable, and equitable state economy, and most proactive, efficient, and effective state government possible.
Our natural endowment, particularly our spectacular mountains, are an economic asset both directly, in the tourism industry, and indirectly, as an attractor for investment capital by those who want to locate small start-ups, particularly in high-value-added information-intensive economic sectors, in the most attractive locations possible (since such sectors have no geographic constraints). And, of course, many Coloradans treasure our natural beauty for its inherent, aesthetic and recreational value, considering it to be one of our greatest assets, even independently of economic considerations.
For these reasons, we need to place a very high emphasis on the preservation of this endowment, carefully regulating other industries and practices (such as mineral extraction) that pose a threat both to the environment, and to public health and safety. Fortunately, despite erroneous ideological assertions to the contrary, mineral extraction, as an economic enterprise, is not highly sensitive to regulations or severance taxes, since there is very little flexibility in where minerals can be extracted (they must be extracted where they are found). Furthermore, since extracted minerals are sold in national and international markets, the increased costs of state regulations and taxes have only a marginal effect on market prices. In other words, the benefits occur within the state while the costs are distributed all over the world. For these reasons, sound policy requires that mineral extraction be a well-regulated and taxed enterprise.
Not only is Colorado rich in minerals, but it is also rich in sun and wind and the researchers and institutions doing the most to tap the energy contained in them. The future can rarely be predicted with confidense, but one thing that is virtually certain is that clean, renewable energy technologies are a growth industry, and will be enormous economic engines in the not too distant future. Foresight pays off in the long run. Investing in the New Energy Economy today, despite the modest size of that economc sector at present, and regardless of short term ups and downs in the market for “green energy”, is sound economic policy, and a smart move for the state of Colorado.
Our natural endowment is part of our pleasant lifestyle, with hiking trails, ski runs, rocks to climb and mountain rivers to float down, and spectacular vistas to appeal to all who enjoy nature’s wonders. But the Colorado lifestyle extends into our cities and suburbs as well, with excellent cycling opportunities, beautiful pedestrian malls, open spaces, and an increasing investment in the combination of excellent public transportation and sustainable, localized, aesthetically pleasing urban development. Continuing in this direction not only provides Coloradans with the benefits of all of these public goods, but also attracts the entrepreneurial capital of precisely those kinds of small start-ups that can create the most robust state economy possible. We live in a world in which the most information-intensive industries (e.g., computer software, and cutting edge technologies) create the greatest number of high-paying jobs, and contribute the most to the local and global economy. And such start-ups in such industries locate in places that provide the combination of natural beauty, pleasant life-style, and infrastructural investment that Colorado can provide, if we pursue wise policies.
But to attract such investment capital, and the young professionals and their families that bring it, we need to provide, competitively, what they are looking for: A well-developed human and material infrastructure on which they can depend, and the assurance of the availability of excellent and affordable public and higher education institutions for their children. We are currently, disgracefully, near the bottom of the country in investment in both public and higher education, and that is a very powerful disincentive to small information-intensive start-ups to locate here. More importantly, it is a moral failure on the part of the people of Colorado. As much of a cliche as it may be, our children are indeed our future, and failing to invest in them, to provide them with the best education possible, simply because an alliance of popular economic platitudes and well-funded corporate interests have displaced economic analyses, is a choice that can end up crippling and impoverishing this state, when nature has endowed us with such soaring opportunity.
There is a clear path forward for Colorado, a coherent strategy that preserves our natural endowment, fuels our economy, and secures a high quality of life for our residents. We need now to make sure that we elect the people, and cultivate the public commitment, to realize this vision, and create a more prosperous, sustainable, and opportunity-rich future for all Coloradans.
The Denver Post reported today on the revamped Mile High Marketplace in Commerce City (formerly the Mile High Flea Market) (http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_16169374). It’s not just a flea market anymore (though it still includes one), nor is it a modern mall or strip mall, or traditional commercial area. It is, it seems, an agora, a vibrant, diverse, entertaining place of convergence, where people can find exotic (as well as mundane) wares, fresh produce, roving entertainers, chance encounters, and other attractions.
As a world traveler and avid student of ancient history, I find such agoras particularly attractive artifacts of the human spirit. The famous Covered Bazaar in Istanbul (and it’s uncovered sprawl of shops and stalls that surround it) is a marvel to behold. The vendors lining the narrow, corridor-like lanes of the Old City of Jerusalem and other ancient towns and cities, hawking their wares, bargaining with customers, is a wonderful slice of life that has been tragically scrubbed from our modern existence.
The agora in ancient Greece, as in many lands, was more than a marketplace for vendors’ wares; it was also a social meeting place and a marketplace of ideas, where people came to discuss the issues of their day. In our own aesthetically sterilized culture, few things are more welcome than some remnant of those less dehumanized times and locales finding its way back into our lives. Let’s stop by and listen to a roving minstrel, or admire an artisan’s painstakingly crafted offerings, while we enjoy a delicacy made for such occasions.
Let’s all meet at the agora again, where we can exchange the products of our labor and of our minds, and create greater shared wealth by doing so.