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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*Yes, that was intentional.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. Preamble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. A Very Brief Outline of the Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Nuts and Bolts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Though the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, is still three days away, today is the day to start reflecting on it, on its continuing relevance in so many ways, and on our need to recommit as a nation to that poignant dream of realizing our decency as a nation.

As we look back on recent events and recent developments, on the shooting death of an unarmed black teen walking home from the store by an armed vigilante out looking for “bad guys;” of the response by so many dismissing it as the price we pay for the “liberty” to “protect ourselves,” often informed by our bigotries,  in violent and deadly ways; of the combination of a right-wing drive to reinstate voter suppression laws and a Supreme Court holding making it easier to do so; of the rise of an angry, violent, divisive, and frequently racist political movement in America that loves guns and, by its ideological choices, hates humanity; it’s time for us to once again ask ourselves what kind of a people we want to be.

It’s time to dream again, America, and to shout that dream from the mountain tops. It’s time to dream of a nation in which we are more committed to lifting one another up than to knocking one another down. It’s time to dream of a future, of a present, in which we care that so many are so impoverished, that so many have so little access to basic health care, that so many suffer so much unnecessary violence. It’s time to dream again of being a people whose disputes are defined more by the limits of our reason and decency than by the extent of our bigotries. It’s time to dream again of striving to become a nation, and, eventually, a world, committed more to our shared humanity than to our explicit and implicit hatreds or, just as destructively, our mutual indifference.

It’s time to dream again, to care, to think, to strive, to work diligently on behalf of that which is most rational and humane, that which is most decent and good, that which is most caring and conscious. It’s time to dream again, and, in never-flagging opposition to those base and horrifying human tendencies that ever-seek to turn our dream into a nightmare, tendencies that are so in ascendance once again in this too-often troubled and misguided nation of ours, work diligently, work with all other rational people of goodwill, work in service to our shared humanity, to make that dream come ever-more true.

(Dr. King’s prepared remarks end at about the 11 minute mark of this video, and his “I have a dream” speech, extemporaneously building on a theme he had used a few times in smaller venues, begins just after the 12 minute mark.)

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It’s no secret to people who read my essays, posts and comments that I am unabashedly critical of far-right-wing thought in America. That is not to say that there are no rational and humane conservative ideas, and no rational and humane conservatives, but rather that the current dominant brand of conservatism in America is neither rational nor humane (and it is this more extreme, currently popular version that I am referring to when I refer to “right-wing” thought). This is not a unique perspective, nor is it unusual for an intellectual to hold it; indeed, intellectualism is explicitly disdained by the ideological camp in question. Precisely those professions that methodically gather, verify, analyze and contemplate information are dismissed as bastions of liberal bias, and the (undoubtedly fallible) conclusions arrived at by those professional disciplines and held by the majority in rational deference to the greater reliability of such information are considered by right-wingers to be inferior to their own arbitrary, dogmatic false certainties.

Though we will not win the battle of narratives through rational argumentation alone, we will win it by driving home the fact that we are promoting the narrative of reason and humanity, because whether people actually engage in rational thought or not, the overwhelming majority recognize in principle the greater credibility of rationally over irrationally derived conclusions. The more that rational and humane people drive home the fact that they ARE rational and humane people, opposing the ideologies of irrationality and inhumanity, the more successful we will be in the battle of narratives that is the political arena. Therefore, be prepared, in every debate with a right-wing ideologue (or even, as is sometimes the case, an irrational left-wing ideologue) to mobilize formal logic and to name formal logical fallacies, or to describe specific fallacies routinely employed by right-wing ideologues. Let’s distinguish ourselves from them by looking like, as well as being, the voice of reason and humanity, because it is by making that distinction constantly and abundantly clear that we will move this country and this world in positive directions.

I’ve examined the very abundant universe of right-wing fallacy from many angles, tackling specific dimensions, specific issues, and specific aspects of it. But I’m not sure if I’ve yet published (on this blog) my growing typology of specific fallacies most particular to right-wing argumentation. Some don’t fit neatly into the list of conventional logical fallacies, or are very particular variations of them, and those are the ones I shall address first, because I find them the most interesting.

For instance, I’m fascinated by what I call “the right-wing two-step,” which involves first insulating poorly informed and poorly argued opinions from critical analysis on the basis of a relativistic argument, and then promoting them to the status of unassailable absolute truth on the basis of the argument that to fail to do so would be to commit the error of relativism. This fallacy, most common among right-wing evangelicals, is so luxurious in its absurdity that one has to admire the poetry of dogged ignorance that it represents.

It operates as follows: In Conversation 1, a right-wing opinion is challenged on the basis of a factual and rational critical argument, to which the right-wing ideologue replies, “I’m sure that there are equally good arguments supporting my position” or “whose reason, yours or mine?” as if there is no such thing as “reason” which exists independently of each person’s arbitrary claim to it. The right-wing ideologue will dismiss the critical argument not with a counterargument of any kind, but with an assertion of the equality of all opinions, and the right of each to have their own. In this way, they insulate their own opinion from any intrusion of fact or reason.

In Conversation 2, the right-wing ideologue is challenged on the more general basis that there are many different people from many different ideological camps who are as certain of their absolute truths as the right-wing ideologue is of his, and that there is no a priori reason for assuming that one is correct and the others false (this would be a good introduction to the critical challenge posed in Conversation 1, if it could get that far). This is in fact similar to the reasoning that the right-wing ideologue used in Conversation 1 to insulate his ideology from fact and reason, but rather than using it to bring the certainty of his own dogma into question, he uses it to reduce any other contention to a condition of a priori equality to his own. Now, however, in Conversation 2, he rejects that same line of reasoning, insisting that to accept it is to commit the error of relativism by failing to recognize that there IS one absolute truth rather than a variety of competing truths!

So, first, his opinion can’t be challenged because all opinions are equal, and then no other opinion can be considered because there is only one absolute truth, and since his can’t be challenged it must be that one absolute truth! It’s hard to overstate the wonder of such perfect irrationality.

It’s worth emphasizing that the actual order of conversations is irrelevant. I’ve ordered them as I have because I believe that that is the order by which they are used to insulate one’s own fortress of ideological dogma from both specific and general critical examination, the specific insulated against by a general argument, and the general insulated against by an appeal to specificity. This is a very particular and elaborate version of the tautological fallacy, described below.

The right-wing two-step is a particular variation of the broad spectrum of prevalent right-wing fallacy that involves selective perception, cherry-picked evidence, and what I call “pettifogging,” or the obfuscation of the big picture and the overwhelming thrust of evidence and reason by means of relentless picking at peripheral and often barely relevant details. This generally involves the narrowing of the frame of reference so as to ignore all contextual information, and focusing on anomalous or isolated information that supports their conclusions (and can generally be easily explained in the context of opposing conclusions) while ignoring the overall weight of the evidence comprehensively considered.

The George Zimmerman trial and the public debates surrounding it provide an excellent recent example of the narrowing of the frame of reference to an isolated instant, conveniently filtering out any consideration of the context leading up to that instant. By focusing exclusively on the moment in which the fatal shot was fired, and by assuming the facts most favorable to the person they most identify with (the guy going out with his gun to find “bad guys”), the far-right manages to disregard the fact that Zimmerman made aggressive choices that led to the shooting death, at his hands, of a kid who at least up until Zimmerman’s choice to follow him with a gun, had been committing no crime. But for Zimmerman’s choices to arm himself, leave his home, identify a black teen walking home from the store as suspicious looking, and stalk him, the violent encounter that led to Zimmerman shooting that teen to death would never have occurred. But by narrowing the frame to the instant of the shooting itself, this fact can be completely disregarded and the challenge it poses to their overall ideology ignored.

Another variation of this fallacy involves responding to statistical evidence with anecdotal evidence, as if finding any case that does not support the statistical correlation is disproof of that correlation’s validity. This is a favorite technique in arguments over gun regulations, when the statistical evidence demonstrating a positive correlation both domestically and internationally among developed nations of gun ownership and homicide rates is dismissed on the basis of the trope that “Chicago (or Washington DC) has the strictest gun regulations in America and the highest homicide rates,” or “crime rates went up right after gun regulations were implemented in X locale.” Sometimes this is true (sometimes invented), but the real point is that it is anecdotal, and not a meaningful response to the statistical data which does not cherry-pick convenient cases but rather considers all cases at once. (It also ignores the obvious causal relationship that jurisdictions with high homicide rates and strict gun laws generally implemented the latter in response to the former.)

My favorite analogy for the fallacy of using anecdotal evidence for rejecting statistical evidence is that of arguing that wearing seat belts in a car increases the likelihood that you will die in a car accident. One can argue against that position, which we all know to be absurd, by citing the statistics which demonstrate it to be absurd. But if a right-winger had some ideological reason to want to arrive at the opposite conclusion, they could simply cite every example they can find of the anomalous event that someone wearing a seatbelt died as a result of wearing their seatbelt, thus in their mind disproving what the statistical evidence demonstrates. Or, ideologues engaging in pseudo-science can data-mine for anomalous correlations, such as (hypothetically) “people driving four-door sedans on city streets in the third largest urban area in Illinois between 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm on weekdays are more likely to die if they are wearing seatbelts than if not.”

I’ve made the “cherry-picking” of the statistical correlation obvious in this case, in order to illustrate how it can be done (anomalous correlations can be found if you search long and hard enough) and the similarity to finding simple anecdotal anomalies to “refute” statistical evidence, but when used by right-wing ideologues, it is often less obvious to an untrained eye. (A favorite tactic, for instance, is to replace “firearms” with “rifles,” and then to cite homicide statistics by rifles as if rifles represented all firearms, often actually switching to “guns” from rifles when presenting the statistic.) John Lott’s study in “More Guns, Less Crime” for instance, has been widely criticized for the selection of parameters to arrive at desired conclusions, and has been rejected as invalid by a panel of experts convened by the National Research Council (as well as by numerous individual scholars), and yet is the study on which the most knowledgeable gun advocates almost exclusively rely.

(As a side note, this focus on anomalous data as a way of rebuffing the weight of all data considered comprehensively not only disregards the weight of the data considered comprehensively, but also disregards the explanations for such anomalies within the context of the larger causal relationships suggested by the comprehensive data. For instance, even accepting, for the sake of argument, the validity of John Lott’s thoroughly rejected study finding a positive correlation between laxer gun regulations and lower violent crime rates, such a correlation would not necessarily imply that such a paradigm is the optimal solution to the comparatively very high rate of deadly violence in America, due to a combination of considerations. Uneven local gun regulations in a nation with no internal barriers to the movement of goods across state and municipal lines mean that local regulations are undermined by laxer regulations elsewhere. The statistical fact that the overwhelming majority of the guns used in the commission of crimes anywhere in America are initially bought in jurisdictions with the laxest regulations reinforces this conclusion. And understanding the difference between local and global optima, in which it may be the case that in a gun-saturated society with no internal barriers to the transportation of goods across state and municipal borders, laws which increase “the war of all against all” could slightly reduce local deadly violence rates but keep them far higher than in other nations that don’t rely on “the war of all against all” to keep the peace, helps to put such anomalous evidence into perspective in the context of a comprehensive examination of the global evidence.)

One elaboration of narrowing the frame of reference, that also segues nicely into the issue of “pettifogging” discussed next, is the right-wing shell-game of isolated attention. This usually takes the form of focusing on one peripheral fact or anomaly or doctored study, which, once debunked, is replaced with another, until, after having exhausted their available supply, they return to the first one as if it had never been debunked. This is the more general tactic of which “the right-wing two-step” discussed above is one variation.

By far the favorite technique in right-wing “debate” is the tactic of “pettifogging,” which is picking away at every marginal and barely relevant detail of an opposing argument in order to avoid having to confront the central argument itself. This involves questioning the credibility of the source, even when the sources used are generally considered among the most credible (Harvard and other university peer-reviewed studies and conventional journalistic reporting by major media outlets are all dismissed as products of a liberal propaganda machine, while the arbitrary products of what is in reality a propaganda machine are embraced without question); insisting that every inconvenient assertion be cited in every casual exchange (though no one else is doing so); and finding peripheral and often irrelevant details to obsess about (definitions of conventionally understood terms, etc.). In this way, they can endlessly monopolize the time and energy of anyone arguing against any position they hold without permitting the argument to be compiled and presented in any coherent form, always derailing it with a barrage of irrelevant and peripheral demands, eventually wearing down the critique and thus claiming victory for having done so.

There is a hybrid fallacy that merits mention, even weaker than the others that it resembles: Changing the subject entirely. It has some straw man aspects (arguing against a position on an unrelated issue no one has advanced at all rather than a caricature of one advanced relevant to the issue at hand), some pettifogging aspects (picking at something not only barely relevant and marginal, but rather completely irrelevant and not even marginal), and some shell game aspects (not merely switching among distinct issues within the same argument, but switching to another topic altogether). A very recent example is, after providing comprehensive evidence debunking the notion that our gun culture has no relation to our rates of deadly violence, my opponent said, “so you must love “Fast & Furious, then.” The discussion, of course, had no relation to that bungled Obama administration program, but the idea was to get me on the defensive on something, anything, no matter how irrelevant it might be.

One last technique merits mention: Rejection by typology. This usually involves some label imbued with a strong negative judgment, and the shoving of all things to be critiqued into that label, the assumption being that by doing so the defectiveness of the thing so labeled has been proved. The most common label is “socialist” (though libertarians are increasingly fond of “statist” instead, imbuing the identical folly with a false veneer of intellectualism that the overuse of the word “socialism” lacks), and its use incorporates an element of the cherry-picking fallacy described above. By this technique, all governments with large administrative infrastructures are “socialist” or “statist,” and all socialist or statist countries are known to have been dismal failures. The problem is that using a definition that broad renders the second point simply false, since every single modern, prosperous, free nation on Earth has a large administrative infrastructure, and has had such an infrastructure in place since prior to participating in the historically unprecedented post-WWII expansion in the production of prosperity.

What really distinguishes the famously failed “socialist” or “statist” countries from the famously successful ones that share that completely non-distinguishing trait are a set of other variables: Freedom of speech and press, relatively legitimate democratic processes, and protection of individual civil rights and due process in criminal proceedings. The existence of a large administrative state not only is not exclusively associated with failed states, but, in fact, the most successful states all, without exception, have such large administrative infrastructures, and have had them for generations. This fallacy combines the “false dichotomy” fallacy described below (i.e., there are just two categories of states, socialist and non-socialist) with the selective perception tactic described above (only noticing those states with large administrative infrastructures that failed, and not those that comprise the entire set of the most successful political economies in human history).

Following is a fairly complete list of major logical fallacies, excerpted verbatim from “The Skeptics Guide to the Universe” website, which also includes a very good introduction on the structure of logical arguments (http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logicalfallacies.aspx).

Ad hominem:An ad hominem argument is any that attempts to counter another’s claims or conclusions by attacking the person, rather than addressing the argument itself. True believers will often commit this fallacy by countering the arguments of skeptics by stating that skeptics are closed minded. Skeptics, on the other hand, may fall into the trap of dismissing the claims of UFO believers, for example, by stating that people who believe in UFO’s are crazy or stupid.A common form of this fallacy is also frequently present in the arguments of conspiracy theorists (who also rely heavily on ad-hoc reasoning). For example, they may argue that the government must be lying because they are corrupt.It should be noted that simply calling someone a name or otherwise making an ad hominem attack is not in itself a logical fallacy. It is only a fallacy to claim that an argument is wrong because of a negative attribute of someone making the argument. (i.e. “John is a jerk.” is not a fallacy. “John is wrong because he is a jerk.” is a logical fallacy.)The term “poisoning the well” also refers to a form of ad hominem fallacy. This is an attempt to discredit the argument of another by implying that they possess an unsavory trait, or that they are affiliated with other beliefs or people that are wrong or unpopular. A common form of this also has its own name – Godwin’s Law or the reductio ad Hitlerum. This refers to an attempt at poisoning the well by drawing an analogy between another’s position and Hitler or the Nazis. Ad ignorantiam:The argument from ignorance basically states that a specific belief is true because we don’t know that it isn’t true. Defenders of extrasensory perception, for example, will often overemphasize how much we do not know about the human brain. It is therefore possible, they argue, that the brain may be capable of transmitting signals at a distance.UFO proponents are probably the most frequent violators of this fallacy. Almost all UFO eyewitness evidence is ultimately an argument from ignorance – lights or objects sighted in the sky are unknown, and therefore they are alien spacecraft.Intelligent design is almost entirely based upon this fallacy. The core argument for intelligent design is that there are biological structures that have not been fully explained by evolution, therefore a powerful intelligent designer must have created them.In order to make a positive claim, however, positive evidence for the specific claim must be presented. The absence of another explanation only means that we do not know – it doesn’t mean we get to make up a specific explanation. Argument from authority:The basic structure of such arguments is as follows: Professor X believes A, Professor X speaks from authority, therefore A is true. Often this argument is implied by emphasizing the many years of experience, or the formal degrees held by the individual making a specific claim. The converse of this argument is sometimes used, that someone does not possess authority, and therefore their claims must be false. (This may also be considered an ad-hominen logical fallacy – see below.)In practice this can be a complex logical fallacy to deal with. It is legitimate to consider the training and experience of an individual when examining their assessment of a particular claim. Also, a consensus of scientific opinion does carry some legitimate authority. But it is still possible for highly educated individuals, and a broad consensus to be wrong – speaking from authority does not make a claim true.This logical fallacy crops up in more subtle ways also. For example, UFO proponents have argued that UFO sightings by airline pilots should be given special weight because pilots are trained observers, are reliable characters, and are trained not to panic in emergencies. In essence, they are arguing that we should trust the pilot’s authority as an eye witness.There are many subtypes of the argument from authority, essentially referring to the implied source of authority. A common example is the argument ad populum – a belief must be true because it is popular, essentially assuming the authority of the masses. Another example is the argument from antiquity – a belief has been around for a long time and therefore must be true. Argument from final Consequences:Such arguments (also called teleological) are based on a reversal of cause and effect, because they argue that something is caused by the ultimate effect that it has, or purpose that is serves. Christian creationists have argued, for example, that evolution must be wrong because if it were true it would lead to immorality.One type of teleological argument is the argument from design. For example, the universe has all the properties necessary to support live, therefore it was designed specifically to support life (and therefore had a designer. Argument from Personal Incredulity:I cannot explain or understand this, therefore it cannot be true. Creationists are fond of arguing that they cannot imagine the complexity of life resulting from blind evolution, but that does not mean life did not evolve. Begging the Question:The term “begging the question” is often misused to mean “raises the question,” (and common use will likely change, or at least add this new, definition). However, the intended meaning is to assume a conclusion in one’s question. This is similar to circular reasoning, and an argument is trying to slip in a conclusion in a premise or question – but it is not the same as circular reasoning because the question being begged can be a separate point. Whereas with circular reasoning the premise and conclusion are the same.The classic example of begging the question is to ask someone if they have stopped beating their wife yet. Of course, the question assumes that they every beat their wife.In my appearance on the Dr. Oz show I was asked – what are alternative medicine skeptics (termed “holdouts”) afraid of? This is a double feature of begging the question. By using the term “holdout” the question assumes that acceptance is already become the majority position and is inevitable. But also, Oz begged the question that skeptics are “afraid.” This also created a straw man (see below) of our position, which is rather based on a dedication to reasonable standards of science and evidence. Confusing association with causation:This is similar to the post-hoc fallacy in that it assumes cause and effect for two variables simply because they occur together. This fallacy is often used to give a statistical correlation a causal interpretation. For example, during the 1990’s both religious attendance and illegal drug use have been on the rise. It would be a fallacy to conclude that therefore, religious attendance causes illegal drug use. It is also possible that drug use leads to an increase in religious attendance, or that both drug use and religious attendance are increased by a third variable, such as an increase in societal unrest. It is also possible that both variables are independent of one another, and it is mere coincidence that they are both increasing at the same time.This fallacy, however, has a tendency to be abused, or applied inappropriately, to deny all statistical evidence. In fact this constitutes a logical fallacy in itself, the denial of causation. This abuse takes two basic forms. The first is to deny the significance of correlations that are demonstrated with prospective controlled data, such as would be acquired during a clinical experiment. The problem with assuming cause and effect from mere correlation is not that a causal relationship is impossible, it’s just that there are other variables that must be considered and not ruled out a-priori. A controlled trial, however, by its design attempts to control for as many variables as possible in order to maximize the probability that a positive correlation is in fact due to a causation.Further, even with purely epidemiological, or statistical, evidence it is still possible to build a strong scientific case for a specific cause. The way to do this is to look at multiple independent correlations to see if they all point to the same causal relationship. For example, it was observed that cigarette smoking correlates with getting lung cancer. The tobacco industry, invoking the “correlation is not causation” logical fallacy, argued that this did not prove causation. They offered as an alternate explanation “factor x”, a third variable that causes both smoking and lung cancer. But we can make predictions based upon the smoking causes cancer hypothesis. If this is the correct causal relationship, then duration of smoking should correlate with cancer risk, quitting smoking should decrease cancer risk, smoking unfiltered cigarettes should have a higher cancer risk than filtered cigarettes, etc. If all of these correlations turn out to be true, which they are, then we can triangulate to the smoking causes cancer hypothesis as the most likely possible causal relationship and it is not a logical fallacy to conclude from this evidence that smoking probably causes lung cancer. Confusing currently unexplained with unexplainable:Because we do not currently have an adequate explanation for a phenomenon does not mean that it is forever unexplainable, or that it therefore defies the laws of nature or requires a paranormal explanation. An example of this is the “God of the Gapsa” strategy of creationists that whatever we cannot currently explain is unexplainable and was therefore an act of god. False Analogy:Analogies are very useful as they allow us to draw lessons from the familiar and apply them to the unfamiliar. Life is like a box of chocolate – you never know what you’re going to get.A false analogy is an argument based upon an assumed similarity between two things, people, or situations when in fact the two things being compared are not similar in the manner invoked. Saying that the probability of a complex organism evolving by chance is the same as a tornado ripping through a junkyard and created a 747 by chance is a false analogy. Evolution, in fact, does not work by chance but is the non-random accumulation of favorable changes.Creationists also make the analogy between life and your home, invoking the notion of thermodynamics or entropy. Over time your home will become messy, and things will start to break down. The house does not spontaneously become more clean or in better repair.The false analogy here is that a home is an inanimate collection of objects. Whereas life uses energy to grow and reproduce – the addition of energy to the system of life allows for the local reduction in entropy – for evolution to happen.Another way in which false analogies are invoked is to make an analogy between two things that are in fact analogous in many ways – just not the specific way being invoked in the argument. Just because two things are analogous in some ways does not mean they are analogous in every way. False Continuum:The idea that because there is no definitive demarcation line between two extremes, that the distinction between the extremes is not real or meaningful: There is a fuzzy line between cults and religion, therefore they are really the same thing. False Dichotomy:Arbitrarily reducing a set of many possibilities to only two. For example, evolution is not possible, therefore we must have been created (assumes these are the only two possibilities). This fallacy can also be used to oversimplify a continuum of variation to two black and white choices. For example, science and pseudoscience are not two discrete entities, but rather the methods and claims of all those who attempt to explain reality fall along a continuum from one extreme to the other. Genetic Fallacy:The term “genetic” here does not refer to DNA and genes, but to history (and therefore a connection through the concept of inheritance). This fallacy assumes that something’s current utility is dictated by and constrained by its historical utility. This is easiest to demonstrate with words – a words current use may be entirely unrelated to its etymological origins. For example, if I use the term “sunset” or “sunrise” I am not implying belief in a geocentric cosmology in which the sun revolves about the Earth and literally “rises” and “sets.” Inconsistency:Applying criteria or rules to one belief, claim, argument, or position but not to others. For example, some consumer advocates argue that we need stronger regulation of prescription drugs to ensure their safety and effectiveness, but at the same time argue that medicinal herbs should be sold with no regulation for either safety or effectiveness. No True Scotsman:This fallacy is a form of circular reasoning, in that it attempts to include a conclusion about something in the very definition of the word itself. It is therefore also a semantic argument.The term comes from the example: If Ian claims that all Scotsman are brave, and you provide a counter example of a Scotsman who is clearly a coward, Ian might respond, “Well, then, he’s no true Scotsman.” In essence Ian claims that all Scotsman are brave by including bravery in the definition of what it is to be a Scotsman. This argument does not establish and facts or new information, and is limited to Ian’s definition of the word, “Scotsman.” Non-Sequitur:In Latin this term translates to “doesn’t follow”. This refers to an argument in which the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. In other words, a logical connection is implied where none exists. Post-hoc ergo propter hoc:This fallacy follows the basic format of: A preceded B, therefore A caused B, and therefore assumes cause and effect for two events just because they are temporally related (the latin translates to “after this, therefore because of this”). Reductio ad absurdum:In formal logic, the reductio ad absurdum is a legitimate argument. It follows the form that if the premises are assumed to be true it necessarily leads to an absurd (false) conclusion and therefore one or more premises must be false. The term is now often used to refer to the abuse of this style of argument, by stretching the logic in order to force an absurd conclusion. For example a UFO enthusiast once argued that if I am skeptical about the existence of alien visitors, I must also be skeptical of the existence of the Great Wall of China, since I have not personally seen either. This is a false reductio ad absurdum because he is ignoring evidence other than personal eyewitness evidence, and also logical inference. In short, being skeptical of UFO’s does not require rejecting the existence of the Great Wall. Slippery Slope:This logical fallacy is the argument that a position is not consistent or tenable because accepting the position means that the extreme of the position must also be accepted. But moderate positions do not necessarily lead down the slippery slope to the extreme. Special pleading, or ad-hoc reasoning:This is a subtle fallacy which is often difficult to recognize. In essence, it is the arbitrary introduction of new elements into an argument in order to fix them so that they appear valid. A good example of this is the ad-hoc dismissal of negative test results. For example, one might point out that ESP has never been demonstrated under adequate test conditions, therefore ESP is not a genuine phenomenon. Defenders of ESP have attempted to counter this argument by introducing the arbitrary premise that ESP does not work in the presence of skeptics. This fallacy is often taken to ridiculous extremes, and more and more bizarre ad hoc elements are added to explain experimental failures or logical inconsistencies. Straw Man:A straw man argument attempts to counter a position by attacking a different position – usually one that is easier to counter. The arguer invents a caricature of his opponent’s position – a “straw man” – that is easily refuted, but not the position that his opponent actually holds.For example, defenders of alternative medicine often argue that skeptics refuse to accept their claims because they conflict with their world-view. If “Western” science cannot explain how a treatment works, then it is dismissed out-of-hand. If you read skeptical treatment of so-called “alternative” modalities, however, you will find the skeptical position much more nuanced than that.Claims are not a-prior dismissed because they are not currently explained by science. Rather, in some cases (like homeopathy) there is a vast body of scientific knowledge that says that homeopathy is not possible. Having an unknown mechanism is not the same thing as demonstrably impossible (at least as best as modern science can tell). Further, skeptical treatments of homeopathy often thoroughly review the clinical evidence. Even when the question of mechanism is put aside, the evidence shows that homeopathic remedies are indistinguishable from placebo – which means they do not work. Tautology:Tautology in formal logic refers to a statement that must be true in every interpretation by its very construction. In rhetorical logic, it is an argument that utilizes circular reasoning, which means that the conclusion is also its own premise. Typically the premise is simply restated in the conclusion, without adding additional information or clarification. The structure of such arguments is A=B therefore A=B, although the premise and conclusion might be formulated differently so it is not immediately apparent as such. For example, saying that therapeutic touch works because it manipulates the life force is a tautology because the definition of therapeutic touch is the alleged manipulation (without touching) of the life force. The Fallacy Fallacy:As I mentioned near the beginning of this article, just because someone invokes an unsound argument for a conclusion, that does not necessarily mean the conclusion is false. A conclusion may happen to be true even if an argument used to support is is not sound. I may argue, for example, Obama is a Democrat because the sky is blue – an obvious non-sequitur. But the conclusion, Obama is a Democrat, is still true.Related to this, and common in the comments sections of blogs, is the position that because some random person on the internet is unable to defend a position well, that the position is therefore false. All that has really been demonstrated is that the one person in question cannot adequately defend their position.This is especially relevant when the question is highly scientific, technical, or requires specialized knowledge. A non-expert likely does not have the knowledge at their fingertips to counter an elaborate, but unscientific, argument against an accepted science. “If you (a lay person) cannot explain to me,” the argument frequently goes, “exactly how this science works, then it is false.”Rather, such questions are better handled by actual experts. And, in fact, intellectual honesty requires that at least an attempt should be made to find the best evidence and arguments for a position, articulated by those with recognized expertise, and then account for those arguments before a claim is dismissed. The Moving Goalpost:A method of denial arbitrarily moving the criteria for “proof” or acceptance out of range of whatever evidence currently exists. If new evidence comes to light meeting the prior criteria, the goalpost is pushed back further – keeping it out of range of the new evidence. Sometimes impossible criteria are set up at the start – moving the goalpost impossibly out of range -for the purpose of denying an undesirable conclusion. Tu quoque:Literally, you too. This is an attempt to justify wrong action because someone else also does it. “My evidence may be invalid, but so is yours.”

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Obviously, I think that it is a sad commentary on our country when a man can leave his home armed looking for “bad guys” to “defend” himself against and, guided by his own poor judgment and bigotry, identify an unarmed black teen walking home from the store as a likely prospect, stalk that teen, wind up shooting and killing that teen, and not only be found not guilty even of manslaughter, but be perceived as perfectly justified by a large faction (almost all white) of the American population.

If you look at the public debates over the George Zimmerman/Trayvon  Martin case, one thing leaps out, something that is more broadly relevant, something that distinguishes the mental modality of the right from the left in one very precise way. This is an issue of cognitive framing, with the narrower frame permitting a conclusion of justifiable self-defense (assuming the facts most favorable to the defense), and the broader frame precluding it.

For instance, if you ask, “does one have the right to defend himself, with a firearm, against someone about to clobber him over the head with a heavy object,” most people would answer, “of course.” But what if the “defender” were a mugger who had attacked the guy with the heavy object, the heavy object were his cane that he needed due to an infirmity, and the moment being referred to were the mugging victim’s response to being mugged by an armed assailant? Does the mugger then have the right to claim self-defense, for shooting his victim as his victim tried to defend himself? Of course not.

Let’s come up with an analogy that more closely parallels the Zimmerman case, emphasizing and playing on the stereotypes involved (and other stereotypes as well). Consider this scenario: A young, white middle class woman is walking through a residential neighborhood at night to return home from the nearby convenience store. She notices a big, black guy following her. She continues to walk, and confirms that he is definitely following her. Terrified, she slips off the path and finds an object to arm herself with, a plywood board. As her stalker approaches, she comes out behind him, swings the board, screaming. Her stalker, who, as it turns out, was an armed stalker, pulls out his gun and shoots her to death. (I am using the word “stalker” to refer to any stranger following around another person with some kind of unfriendly intent, including thinking that the other person is a “punk” who you don’t want to let “get away with” some imaginary infraction that their race induced you to believe they must be committing.)

Tell me, right-wing apologists, is your big black stalker innocent, because he was just defending himself? Are you as indifferent to this innocent white woman’s violent death at the hands of an armed stalker as you are of an unarmed black teen’s violent death at the hands of an armed stalker?

Here is the complete list of differences between this scenario and the Zimmerman-Martin scenario: 1) the races of the stalker and the person stalked; 2) the gender of the person stalked; 3) right-wing ASSUMPTION of the intentions of the stalker in each scenario and the different degrees to which they (right-wingers) identify with the stalker and the person stalked in each scenario; 4) the woman having armed herself (to make her at least as threatening as unarmed Martin was); and 4) the generous assumption for my alternative scenario that all of the facts best favoring the Zimmerman defense are true.

So, why, exactly, is that white-woman-stalking-victim an innocent victim of the criminal-black-stalker, while the unarmed black victim of our real stalker (Hispanic, white, I don’t care) is just the unlucky person who was killed by an innocent person’s discharged bullet? The answer is very simple: The combination of the right-wing need to defend the absurd belief that we are a safer society if people go out with guns looking for trouble and their (right-wingers’) racism. a combination that is as horrifying and offensive to rational and humane people today as all similar past chapters of our national history have been.

Right-wing arguments (and particularly gun culture arguments) frequently rely on this narrowing of the frame, filtering out the contextual information which completely changes the analysis. Those who see in this case no guilt on Zimmerman’s part have chosen a very narrow frame, which excludes much relevant information; those who see guilt on Zimmerman’s part choose a broader and more inclusive one.

There are many other issues in which this difference in framing is central to the ideological differences found in regard to them. The right relies on a reduced frame, hyper-individualistic rather than social systemic, static and instantaneous rather than dynamical and over time. And that is not just a difference in personal taste, but a reduction in cogency.

The Zimmerman trial is over, the verdict is in, but the public issue over what kind of a people we want to choose to be continues. The right insists that it is good for society for people to have the right to arm themselves and stalk people they are suspicious of, for whatever reason they are suspicious of them, incite a violent encounter by doing so, and shoot to death the person they chose to stalk in the process of that violent encounter. I want to believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t agree.

We’ve had Columbine. We’ve had Virginia Tech. We’ve had the Gabby Giffords shooting. We’ve had the Aurora Theater shooting. We’ve had Sandy Hook Elementary School. We have, on average, ten times the homicide rate of any other developed nation on Earth. We have half the privately owned firearms on Earth. And we have people who are so blithely indifferent to the death and suffering that their idolatry of instruments of deadly violence cause that they won’t let us, as a people, even implement universal background checks or limit the magazine capacity of their military grade weapons. The degree of insanity –vicious, destructive insanity– involved in this right-wing ideology is simply mindboggling.

At the same time, they want voter suppression laws (and have been assisted in being able to pass and implement them in a recent Court decision that disabled the Voting Rights Act), they want to dismantle Affirmative Action, they want to disregard the injustices and inequities of our society, they want to blame the poor for being poor, they want to disregard our responsibilities to one another as members of a society, they want to erase our humanity and promote only selfish disregard for the rights and welfare of anyone who doesn’t look just like them. And they are uncompromising in their commitment to these “ideals.”

(The examples mentioned here, of course, only scratch the surface. See Why The Far-Right Is On The Wrong Side Of Reason, Morality, Humanity and History for a more in-depth treatment.)

This is not a country divided by two opposing reasonable views, that we need to find some reasonable ground between. This is a country divided by, on the one hand, reason in service to humanity and, on the other, irrationality in service to inhumanity. It is time, America, to reduce the latter to a sad footnote of our history, and promote the former to the status of the shared foundation on which we all build. It’s time to allow our disagreements to be defined by the limits of our wisdom and decency rather than by the extent of our bigotries.

(See also Debunking The Arguments of the American Gun Culture for a cogent discussion of the competing narratives informing the right and the left, and how they fit into this struggle between reason in service to humanity and irrationality in service to inhumanity, a perennial struggle of human history, and one from which we are not, as it turns out, at all exempt.)

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