Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythology A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

The following is an entire (up to the moment of this posting) Facebook comment thread on a Libertarian’s Facebook page. I often infiltrate these echo-chambers, just to emphasize the distinction in how we arrive at and defend our respective conclusions. Many examples are striking, but this one, toward the end (you can skip the first third without missing much), is so perfectly illustrative of the absolute commitment to a blind ideology, a refusal to even admit to the value of being reasonable people of goodwill, or to the possibility that those who disagree could possibly have anything of merit in their perspective, that I wanted to post it here. It serves not only to emphasize the dogmatic belligerence of the modern far-right, but also as a warning to their counterparts on the far-left: All reasonable people of goodwill have to commit to reason and universal goodwill, not by assuming that our own blind ideological certainties are unassailable, but rather by acknowledging that we live in a complex and subtle world, and that we are all challenged to better develop, both individually and collectively, the disciplines and procedures that favor reason and humanity over irrationality and bigotry.

Catherine Keene but when free markets “fail” we need less freedom in the marketplace. The only thing consistent about Keynesians is their ability to defy logic.

Jawaid Bazyar Government now takes 50% of GDP. We still have poverty, drugs, homelessness, and unemployment. Guess we’ll just need 60%! or 70%! What, exactly, will be enough, Krugman et al?

Kori Fisher what was that definition of insanity again??? doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result….yeah, that’s the one.

Steve Harvey Evidence: gdp experienced historically unprecedented growth in 1934-1937 in the wake of New Deal policies (raising tax rate for hightest bracket, deficit spending); Sweden is first country to emerge from Great Depression using Keynesian eco…nomic principles (; both the on-set of the Great Depression, and the return of a downward spiral in late 1937, were due to fiscal policies virtually identical to those recommended by conservatives today; massive deficit spending in WWII decisively pulled America and the world out of the Great Depression; the economic outcome of Obama’s stilmulus spending in the wake of the 2008 fiscal sector meltdown exceeded all professional economic predictions of our immediate economic prospects in 2008 (including for the most stubborn lagging indicator, unemployment, which turned from increasing at an accelerating rate to increasing at a decelerating rate a month after the first stimulus package was implemented). Yeah, those crazy Nobel Prize winning economists and their wild ignorance (compared to economic sages such as yourselves) about economics….

Jahfre FireEater The Keynesian view that an economy is a machine that can be tweaked to one’s advantage without negative consequences is refuted in spades by Ludwig von Mises in his magnum opus, Human Action. As Mises says, this idea “is as old as it is bad…”

Jawaid Bazyar Harvey, you’re insane. Of course it’s easy to cherry-pick numbers you like. How about you take a look at the US unemployment rates before, during, and after our Keynesian orgy during the Great Depression.

Amy Chesser Brock Have you seen Keynes vs. Hayek round 2?

Steve Harvey ‎@Jawaid: Yes, look at them. I linked to the Great Depression time line in my previous message. Economic contraction follows the policies you recommend, while economic expansion follows the policies I recommend. The sustained explosion of economic growth following WWII was due to the biggest public spending project in American history (WWII armaments). Also, not a single nation on the face of the Earth partook of that post WWII economic expansion without first having a massively expensive administrative infrastructure in place, such as the one we put in place during the New Deal. There is, in fact, an optimum: Too much deficit spending for too prolongued a period causes economic collapse, just as too little for too prolongued a period causes economic contraction. Private businesses run on very much the same model (credit is the life-blood of corporations). We fail for not reducing the deficit in times of economic boon, not for increasing it in times of economic contraction.

David K Williams Jr ‎@Steve Harvey – regarding those Nobel Prize winning economists, I’ll call your Krugman & raise you a Hayek.

Jahfre FireEater LOL

Jahfre FireEater Any scheme that allows the elite to do as they please with easy financing will win an economist or a President a Nobel Prize.

Jahfre FireEater Funding for an ivy league academic economics guild, sure no problem…just keep promising those who write the checks that there will ALWAYS be another check in their checkbook.

Steve Harvey @David: Right. My point is that you’re neither. As someone who has done work in the field of economics, I recognize the legitimate debates, and don’t dismiss Hayek or Friedman the way you folks so blithely dismiss Krugman. It’s pretty clear from the empirical evidence that government spending does indeed stimulate the economy in the short run (I know of no economist who disputes that), but the question -and it remains a question, no matter how brilliant y’all assume yourselves to be- is at what point that short-term stimulus effect is outweighed by long-term drag effects. Most economists recognize that it is a largely context dependent analysis, depending on the current state of the economy, and what, precisely, the government invests in. For instance, if the government invests in public goods that have lots of complementary private goods associated with them (e.g, invests in highways, making cars a more attractive comodity to buy), with lots of forward and backward linkages (e.g., stimulates related industries upstream and downstream from that which the government has invested in), then there is likely to be a very high multiplier effect. Economics, among all of the things that we discuss in public discourse, is the least amenable to oversimplistic platitudes, which is what your ideology pretty much relies on.

Donald E. L. Johnson Dems spend to buy votes, build political careers, not fix the economy. Belief is not the issue, imho.

David K Williams Jr Steve – we can all count on death, taxes & your misplaced condescending elitism. Hayek In fact rejects government spending as a means to stimulate the economy and explains why WWII did not end the depression.

Steve Harvey David, I love the way arguments you disagree with are “elitism” (the more informed, the more elitist), but your dismissive certainty in the face of legitimate disagreement is just good ol’ fashioned common sense populism. If there’s any “elitism” to be found, it is to be found in the position that claims that there is no legitimate debate to be had, that the one truth is known, that the speaker’s position is its perfect and final expression, and all others are just wrong and misguided. I’m all for well-informed and well-reasoned debates on the complex and subtle issues that face us as a society. That’s not what you and your friends ever offer, or accept. (There are those on the right who do, but they are becoming increasingly marginalized by those who don’t).

David K Williams Jr There are plenty of arguments with which I disagree that aren’t elitist. Your arguments, however, always revolve around how smart & educated you are & us mere mortals or so silly for not agreeing.

Steve Harvey My arguments are arguments, mobilizing specifically cited information in reasoned form to defend a position arrived at in the same way. That seems to be the problem.

Donald E. L. Johnson Steve, hve you read The Forgotten Man. It shoots down all of your points.

Steve Harvey No, it doesn’t. Here’s my point: I know that I know almost nothing, and I know that the same is true of all of you. I have more than my share of formal degrees and life experience, and a good mind through which to sift it all, and, as a result, I recognize that it is a very complex and subtle world in which we live, and that our certainties about anything but the most trivial and superficial of phenomena is tentative and fallible. The more you know, the more you know that you don’t. On the left and the right, there are those who simply don’t get that, who have a favorite sacred source or secular sage who, despite being contested and him- or her- or itself fallible, is infallible in their eyes. And when people speak from that place, know absolutely and irrefutably that their own contested truth is incontestable, that is blind dogma, and pure folly. What offends David and others more than my perceived arrogance is that I argue my positions, and do so well enough that it challenges those fortified sacred false certainties, not because of any special talent of mine, but because any argument that is a genuine argument does so.

Valarie Murphy ‎@Steve, Krugman has to be dismissed; he’s always wrong.

Steve Harvey Thank you, Valarie, for illustrating my point.

Donald E. L. Johnson Steve, You’re not the only one who has had life experiences, lived through several booms and busts and read numerous books on our and the world’s political and economic history. And you’re not the only one who knows what he doesn’t know and can’t predict. We’ve all been around the track one way or another, and we have our points of view the same as you do. Ours is as valid as yours. Some of us try to be objective in assessing what’s going on, and some of us are constantly trying to learn more so that we have a better feel for what’s happening and likely to happen. Having read numerous well-researched articles and books on economics and written thousands of stories and articles about numerous companies, employers, laws, regulations and economic developments, it is my personal opinion that government spending on the kind of pork that is in Obama’s stimulous bill and in ObamaCare does nothing to stimulate the economy and in the long run kills private sector jobs.

Donald E. L. Johnson Val, Krugman’s not always wrong, but he never can be trusted to be honest. He’s Pinch’s favorite socialist, and he works hard to defend his former colleague, Ben Bernankee, and his favorite politician, Obama. Like too many academic economists, Krugman has convinced his readers that he has no intellectual integrity and that he’s just another partisan hack with a column.

Steve Harvey Yes, Donald, it’s your personal opinion, but you don’t REALLY acknowledge the possibility that you’re wrong. You don’t REALLY acknowledge that professional economists are divided on the subject (with, if anything, the weight of professional opinion against you). You read what reinforces your bias, not what challenges it, and assume that “your opinion” is the end of the story. I don’t often go there with you, but, the fact is, I consider the question of the relationship of deficit spending to economic growth to be extremely complex, and clearly not something that anyone knows the answer to. I sure don’t. There is plenty of empirical evidence which supports the conclusion that it is a short term stimulus, though you all simply define that out of existence, because it doesn’t confirm your bias. The main issue seems to be its indefinite growth, eventually swallowing up the economy. There is also the issue of balancing legitimate considerations, weighing the goal of maximizing GDP growth with the goal of maximizing true equality of opportunity and other issues of human welfare and social justice. These issues are defined out of existence by those who have a false certainty that defines all of their positions with absolute conviction. There is no real openness to a debate, no real contemplation that there might be anything imperfectly understood, no real ability to learn and grow. It’s not your conclusions that are the real problem, but rather the inflexibility with which you cling to them.

Steve Harvey This exchange inspired a little essay, called “Sacred Truths”:

Steve Harvey Donald, you said ” Dems spend to buy votes, build political careers, not fix the economy.” In a survey of professional economists by The Economist magazine in 2008, 80% favored Democratic over Republican economic policies. The notion that Dems are more corrupt than Republicans is another convenient ideological bulwark, but it has no grounding in realiy. The games and strategies of electoral politics are found across the spectrum, in large part because that which works (for getting elected to office) ends up being that which is best represented. Your assumption that every belief and value those who disagree with you hold must be some nefarious attempt to do evil may serve your false certainties, but it doesn’t serve our civil discourse or our ability to govern ourselves wisely. You also said “Belief is not the issue, imho.” In other words, no criticism of your beliefs can ever be relevant, since their validity is incontravertable; the issue is, as you stated, that those who disagree with you are always wrong, by definition. All people who think this way, from across the political spectrum, do us all a disservice, by reducing our public discourse to a struggle between reason and blind ideology, rather than between competing well-reasoned positions.

Pyro Rob Steve, I think Ronald Reagan was thinking of you when he said this famous like:

“Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”

Steve Harvey A strange response to the assertion that we all need to recognize the limits of our knowledge more, the need to recognize that when complex issues are legitimately contested to pretend to know that one pole in that contest is the indisputable truth is folly, and the need to keep exploring.

Pyro Rob You are mistaken, the issues are not that complex. In fact, the solutions are not that complex either.

Steve Harvey You see the difference in how we think? I recognize a complex and subtle world, with the human dimension mirroring the natural (indeed, a part of and emanation of the natural), ideas spreading and changing and merging into new ones, forming our technological and social institutional landscape, our laws and economy, our cultures and ideologies and arts and sciences. I come at it with a sense of wonder, a sense of awe, even a sense of reverence, recognizing the miracle of our existence, and the responsibility of having minds with which to engage with the reality of which we are a part, to meet our challenges and grasp our opportunities. How well we understand this dynamo of which we are a part affects how well we engage with it, how well we realize the heights of our humanity. You respond to someone who recognizes this complexity, and our constant challenge to understand it to the best of our limited abilities, never fully grasping it, by simultaneously declaring that there are no subtleties or complexities to be grasped at all, that its all very simple and fits into a few reductionist platitudes, a true hier to the Inquisitioners of old; and, at the same time, launch a quote criticizing those who do not think in that way, who recognize the complexity of the world and do not reduce it to a few simple platitudes, for thinking that they know what isn’t so? You turn reality on its head, in the most obvious of ways, and then pat yourselves on the back for the brilliance of having said something completely meaningless.

Steve Harvey Let’s capture this conversation in its bare form: Steve: None of us knows as much as we either think or pretend we do. Pyro: You’re problem is that you know things that aren’t true. Steve: Strange answer. We live in a complex world with legitimately contested issues. Pyro: You’re wrong. We live in a simple world with simple answers. Steve: So, saying that none of us knows as much as we think we do is the error of knowing things that aren’t so, while claiming that everything reduces to a few simple and indisputable platitudes is the avoidance of that error? Uh-huh. I see….

Buddy Shipley The Cartoon Bears investigate the income multiplier of con-artist, Maynard Keynes, his argument for deficit spending, to see why it doesn’t work. They discover bad assumptions, and that Keynes was contradictory on whether his multiplier would or wouldn’t cure unemployment. They find a couple of interesting clues, and get ready to tackle the math in these videos.

Buddy Shipley Whether one favors the economic theories of Keynes or Hayak, any attempt to implement policy based on either MUST be constrained by the powers and authority granted to the federal government by the Constitution. Therefore most Keynesian ideas can never be permitted because they can only be implemented through tyranny.

Keynes was a conman and The Tree of Liberty is very thirsty…

Buddy Shipley ‎”For economists the real world is often a special case.”
–Edgar R. Fiedler

“Ask five economists and you’ll get five different explanations? six if one went to Harvard.” –Edgar R. Fiedler

…”Give me a one-handed economist! All my economics say, ‘On the one hand? on the other.'” –Harry S. Truman

“In economics the majority is always wrong.” –John Kenneth Galbraith

“In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability.” –John Kenneth Galbraith

“An economist is someone who knows more about money than the people who have it.” –Anonymous

“An economist’s guess is liable to be as good as anybody else’s.”
–Will Rogers

“Economy is too late when you are at the bottom of your purse.”

“The economy depends about as much on economists as the weather does on weather forecasters.” –Jean-Paul Kauffmann

“The notion that big business and big labor and big government can sit down around a table somewhere and work out the direction of the American economy is at complete variance with the reality of where the American economy is headed. I mean, it’s like dinosaurs gathering to talk about the evolution of a new generation of mammals.”
–Bruce Babbit

“If all the economists in the world were laid end to end, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.” –Peter Lynch

“If all the economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.” –George Bernard Shaw

“When you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always count on the support of Paul.” –George Bernard Shaw

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
–Mark Twain

Steve Harvey The problem, Buddy, is not the debate, but the unwillingness to have it. I am arguing that it is a complex and subtle world, and that our best understandings are tentative and incomplete, while those arguing against me both insist that it is a simple world amenable to simple answers, that they know what those simple answers are and that all who disagree with them are wrong and dismissible as such, and, in an amazing demonstration of how conveniently constructed their reality is, that the problem with those who disagree with them is that they think they know things that aren’t true! If we have camps in our public discourse in which their absolute certainties are not open to new information or applied reason, then we have no public discourse, but rather a secularized religious war and nothing more. Thanks to folks like you, and your counterparts on the left with the same attitude (against whom I argue just as vociferously), that is exactly the condition of this country right now. As for your dismissal of the opposing side in the current economic debate, while you are right about the fallibility of expert views, you are irrational to assume that your lay views benefit from some superior insight. The problem isn’t that experts don’t know and you do, but rather that none of us does. We are operating in a complex world with imperfect knowledge and understanding. Admitting that is a necessary first step to having any kind of meaningful public discourse. For example, you dismiss the notion that public investment can have any economic stimulus effect, despite fairly overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary (to which I cited above), relying on a string of quotes and one well-worn analysis that criticizes the Keynesian multiplier. But that analysis is the definitive truth, and, even if it were, there are non-Keyneisian arguments for why government stimulus spending works under certain circumstances, such as the one I mentioned above concerning the complementarity to private goods of the public investments, and the robustness of forward and backward linkages. It may be the case that the historical evidence is an artifact of spurious relationships, that all analyses that support the notion that government spending can have a stimulus effect under certain conditions are wrong, that the 80% of economists who think so understand economics less well than you do, and that your platitude-driven conclusion is the one correct one. I’ll admit to that possibility. Let’s put all of the arguments on the table, in a mass public agreement that none of us yet knows all of the answers, and agree to have a civil public debate based on reason applied to evidence, in which all of us are committed to the historically proven processes (e.g., scientific methodology) by which to arrive at our agreed upon truths. Let’s step back from our false certainties, across the ideological spectrum, and agree to be reasonable people of goodwill working together in a complex and subtle world. How can anyone object to such a proposal?

Pyro Rob Steve, the simple problem is that the govt thinks it’s responsible for things it is not. The simple answer is to restrict the govt from doing those things. The really simple answer is to abide by the constitution as it is written.

Steve Harvey Pyro, that’s the simple problem according to one ideology, and one faction of our population, and not the other. Nor is it the unambiguous truth about what our Constitution says and means (a document whose interpretation is subject to judicial review rather than popular referendum). The challenge in a democracy (or republic, if you like), in a popular sovereignty, is to recognize competing views and interpretations, to recognize competing political and economic ideologies, and not to assume that only yours is legitimate, while all others are wrong. I disagree with your political and economic assumptions, but I am very willing to participate with you in a process which subjects all views to reason and evidence, to robust debate, to a process by which reasonable people of goodwill can better arrived at the best reasoned and most useful policies. To get to that place, ideologues have to stop insisting that there is only one truth: Their own.

Buddy Shipley No Steve. The problem is blindly assuming the “debate” is even legitimate. Keynes was a conman and the gullible refuse to accept they’ve been had, and no one wants to admit they’ve been scammed on such a scale as this.

Buddy Shipley It’s NOT a F#$%ing “ideology”!!!
WTF is the matter with you? It’s the Constitution, stupid! SO many Marxist assholes, so little time.

Steve Harvey You can keep repeating variations of “We are absolutely right and those who disagree with us are absolutely wrong, case closed,” but you are only continuing to prove the depth of your blind ideology. There are legitimate economic debates, some not involving Keynesian economics at all (as I’ve noted twice already, not all analyses which arrive at the conclusion that public spending has an economic stimulus effect do so via a Keynesian analysis). You dismiss the opposing view, and insist on your own infallibility. I say we are all fallible, and the only way to frame that universal fallibility in a manner which best serves reason is to commit to the processes most conducive to the triumpth of reason.

Steve HarveyI’ve studied and taught the Constitution in multiple contexts, in economics, history, and law, and all Constitutional scholars that I know recognize that the document you think is so simple and straightforward isn’t at all. Many of its terms aren’t defined, and have no inherent unambiguous definition (e.g., “due process,” “general welfare,” etc.). The necessary and proper clause, the spending clause, and the commerce clause give Congress potentially expansive powers, depending on interpretation. Insisting that your interpretation is correct, often in contradiction of virtually all constitutional scholars, is indeed ideology, and not the Consitution itself. The underlying purpose of the Constitution was to strengthen, not weaken, the federal government, as its history (replacing the toothless Articles of Confederation) and its in-depth defense by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay in The Federalist Papers clearly demonstrate. It may be, in the end, that you are less omniscient that you believe, and that there is indeed room for debate in this great nation of ours.

Buddy Shipley Steve refuses to comprehend. It is not a matter of “right and wrong”! It’s the Constitution, a binding contract between and among all citizens of these United States. Neither Steve nor our Elected Officials have the RIGHT to ignore it and do as they please!! That is tyranny.

What Steve calls “platitudes” I call standing up for the liberty of individuals, upholding and defending the Constitution, which is the sworn duty of EVERY elected official! That they fail to do this makes them criminals, but the judiciary aids and abets them in their tyranny.

And fools like Steve like it that way.

Buddy Shipley Steve, you are part of the pathology that’s killing us. If ANY of the bullshit you think is “Constitutional” was legitimate, why didn’t the framers and founders implement any of it from the outset?

You just make shit up and pervert the language of the Constitution to suit your agenda du jour. YOU are one of the errors in our education system responsible for filling student’s heads with propaganda.

Steve Harvey Buddy, as I said, I’m familiar with, and committed to the Constitution. The problem is that you refer to a caricature of the Constitution rather than to the Constitution itself, and the terms of the binding contract are other than what you insist they are. Again, this is open to debate (though I am convinced, through being well-informed rather than through an arbitrary certainty, that your position is mistaken), and I do not dismiss you as wrong-by-definition the way you dismiss all those who disagree with you. I recognize that I live in a world of differing views, differing interpretations, and that our job is to put into place the most robust and rational systems for arbitrating among those disagreements. Your belief is that as long as you keep shouting more loudly, invoking more epithets and ad hominems directed toward those who disagree with you, labelling away every fact and analysis and all who articulate them that you find inconvenient, you have somehow managed to command an impenetrable fortress. It is only impenetrable in terms of how well it insulates you from contradictory evidence and argumentation; it is non-existent in terms of how well it actually defends your position in public discourse.

  • And here is the latter section of the Facebook thread that followed my link to this dialogue:

    David K Williams Jr: No need to refer to me as “a Libertarian!” Drop my name, I’m an attention whore !

    One of my biggest points is missed in your headline of this post. I believe “left v right” is meaningless. The important distinction is between the state and t…he individual, as graphically depticted on the Nolan Chart.

    Plus, I agree with Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky on how our two party system consists of a choice between corporatist-Democrats or corporatist-Republicans and picking one or the other perpetuates corporatism. Libertarians agree with Progressives on many issues.

    I”m all about the love and would prefer to concentrate and cooperate on the issues on which we agree: Anti-corporatism, defending the Fourth Amendment, ending government intervention in the private, consenting lives of adults, ending our Wars of Agression, and the like.

    Steve Harvey: Thanks, David. I agree with you that the left-right distinction is erroneous. But neither do I think that the central distinction is between the state and the individual. The state is just one hierarchical artifact in our social institution…al landscape, along with corporations, the Church, and other large formal organizations. Such social institutional materials have their place, and the question is how best to use them, maximizing human welfare all things considered (including individual liberty, but not in its fetishized form). We live in a systemic world, comprised of and comprising smaller and larger systems, all of which are interdependent. We affect one another, depend on one another, are emanations of shared cultural evolutions and the cognitive material they produce. Dealing with all of this complexity -and complexity it is- requires more than a single fixed substantive ideological anchor. It requires procedural anchors, procedures and methodologies which maximize the role of reason and the degree to which it is mobilized in service to universal goodwill, rather than tribalistic and individualistic assumptions that are at best imperfectlly “true,” and at worst mere historical baggage. In the end, none of our substantive truths are eternal, but our constant refinement of our framework, our procedures and methodogies, our systems through which to adapt and meet new challenges and grasp new opportunities and forever grow as conscious entities celebrating the wonders of our existence…, those should be our anchor, and our compass.

    Mary Hendrick: Bottom line: the two parties are essentially the same and as long as $pecial interest groups and lobbyists run the show in D. C., nothing will change…$ame $hit, different day…

    Donald E. L. Johnson: I do not think the GOP and Dems share many values. They certainly are not essentially the same other than that they’re both led by patriots and want more political power.

    Andy Lewis: I can’t imagine Al Gore invading Iraq as a response to 9/11. The parties are both pretty lame, but the same? Absolutely not.

    Steve Harvey: @Mary: I’d suggest a different bottom line.
    Some lobbyists are public interest lobbyists (eg, environmentalists, etc.). In fact, over half of all Colorado registered lobbyists are. They still represent “special interests,” just as co…rporate lobbyists do, but that’s part of what pluralism is: People lobbying in advocacy of what they think is important, including what is in their own interests. I prefer that we strive to think, act, and advocate in the public interest as a whole, but that’s not going to become the norm any time soon. As a result, the problems you attirbute to some “other” are really the problems that we ourselves are responsible for. Corporate money only has the pernicious influence it has because people are so easily manipulated by the media messages it buys. In the end, the challenges and the solutions involve popular attitudes more than anything else. And the one attitude that would make a significant long-term difference in our political and social health would be an ever-deepening and broadening commitment to the disciplines of the mind that facilitate ever more reasonable conclusion ever more in service to universal goodwill. @Donald: This may be the only thing we ever agree on. I agree that the two parties are driven by fundamentally different values. That is probably where our agreement ends, however, since I think that the basic Democratic value is to humanity’s interests, with more (though still woefully imperfect) commitment to applying reason and evidence to the challenges we face, in service to humanity; while the basic Republican commitment is to fixed dogmas (I would even say “bigotries”) in service to the intersection of narrow in-group interests (varying across time, but defined, at various times and to various degress, by nationality, race, religion, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).

    Donald E. L. Johnson: Steve, if you can’t summarize an issue in 25 to 50 words, you don’t understand it. And you can’t win an argument by claiming that others are too simplistic. All you do is insult them and show your inability to understand the basic issue.

    Andy Lewis: Obviously, if I follow, if it won’t fit on a bumper sticker, that means you REALLY don’t understand it. Books are all bogged down with chapters and stuff, wouldn’t you agree? (Yes, sarcasm.)

    Andy Lewis: Let me put it another way, Donald. I don’t think you understand Steve’s position. Would you summarize it for me in 25-50 words? Thanks.

    Steve Harvey: Donald, Here are the problems with your platitude “if it’s not brief, it’s wrong”: 1) It attacks form rather than substance, while substance is all that’s relevant; 2) it dismisses the Bble (and every other foundational religious tome or co…rpus of literature), every single non-fiction book, and virtually every work that includes any actual argument to make its point (as opposed to the mere statement of unsupported opinions and conclusions), in other words, almost all human knowledge; 3) it is an argument which essentially says that less information is better, and that we should reduce our positions to complete arbitrariness rather than base them on reason applied to evidence, presented in public discourse in a competition of such arguments; and 4) it assumes that if one makes the argument rather than “summarizes,” they must be unable to summarize, and thus be wrong (a combination of two fallacies). My arguments are in fact somewhat involved, because I, unlike you, recognize that we live in a complex and subtle world. The summary of my overarching political position thus carries no weight by itself, but I have in fact made it often: We should strive to be reasonable people of goodwill working together in a complex world, committed to humanity, rather than ultra-individualistic blind ideologues (22 words). I address this in more detail in series of essays in the second, fourth and fifth boxes at It’s not that I can’t summarize my position, but rather that I recognize that the bare statement of an unsupported position has no persuasive power. I can further summarize the underlying paradigm informing that position: We live in a systemic human world of interdependent human beings, evolving cognitions, and the social institutional and technological landscape, and incorporating the values of compassion and reason into our political framework both serves us as individuals and serves humanity as a whole (43 words). The series of essays in the first box at I have frequently noted that your ideology depends on gross reductionism and on the dismissal of all that is not reductionism, attacking arguments not on their merits, but for being arguments, feeling that it is elitist to get beyond the useless volleying back and forth of arbitrary and immutable opinions and seek, instead, to engage in actual political discourse.

    Steve Harvey: I also wanted to go back to David’s statement that the real distinction is between the state and the individual. As I already wrote, the state is just one of many hierarchical institutional structures in the social institutional landscape, …all of which exist in a creative tension with the individual. The state does have some unique qualities, on both sides of the ledger: It has a virtual monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and, as such, gets “the last word” on matters of public policy. It is also the only hierarchy accountable to, and the agent of, the public as a whole, and not just a sub- or trans-national membership of shareholders or other organizational principals (i.e., members). As such, the state is our bulwark against the lack of enforceable public accountability of other organizations, which would emerge from the political vacuum of the non-existence of the state (or over-weakening of the state) as tyrannical forces robustly parasitic on the public in the interests of their principals (which, to some extent, some already have). The state is not unproblematic: we are faced with the same challenges that exist in all principal-agent relationships, and must continue to strive to meet them. More specifically, as the popular sovereign, the people are faced with two basic challenges vis-a-vis the state: 1) to ensure that the state (the agent) is acting in the people’s (the principal’s) interest, and not in its own (i.e., the interests of those who occupy the offices of the state); and 2) that it is enabled to do so effectively. Many stop at the first challenge, and fail to recognize the second, which involves our ability to mobilize both particular and diffuse expertise (i.e., the expertise of those who occupy the offices of the state and advise them, and the expertise diffusely found throughout the population). I have written many essays exploring these challenges in more depth. They can be found on Colorado Confluence.

    Donald E. L. Johnson: Andy, most people are lucky to remember two or three key facts that they read in books. A few retain more, but if you’re trying to communicate, make your point in a way that it will make an impression and help advance your argument. Some people write to impress, others write to sell.

    Donald E. L. Johnson: Steve, anything you disagree with is a platitude. Weak.

    Donald E. L. Johnson: Gee, Steve, you’ve just made my point. You’ve posted a big block of type that few will read. As for the Bible, it’s a mish mash of pr nonsense that everyone can interpret and misrepresent as they wish.

    Steve Harvey: Donald: I’d really appreciate it if people who participate on my Facebook page make an effort to discuss issues rather than engage in cheap shots at the flanks of those who do so. David, with whom I strongly disagree in general, commented here discussing the issue at hand, and I thanked him for it. I try to communicate information and reasoned arguments, and I make no assumptions about others’ ability to follow them. That’s my choice. Your criticisms of it are mere noise, since your purpose is not to improve my abiltity to communicate effectively, but rather counter my ability to communicate effectively with empty noise. As for what are and are not platitudes, it is not “anything I disagree with,” but rather anything that is a brief, encompassing, unsupported assertion that informs conclusions in the absence of any analysis by the person adopting the platitude (the people who originally wrote the platitutdes often had very sophisticated analyses, but taking them out of context and applying them universally loses the value of those analyses). Finally, the Bible was one example among many, which include Newton’s “Principia” (and all scholarly works throughout all human history), and, as I said, every informative and reasoned argument ever made, in any context (the opposite of platitudes). Donald, you are most welcome to continue commenting on any of my threads, but please increase your signal-to-noise ratio: I am committed to informed and informative public discourse, and invite you to share in that commitment.

    Steve Harvey: Donald, let me be more specific: When I post on David’s threads, he always comments on the length of my comments, as you are doing now, trying to discredit arguments that you find inconvenient not by addressing their substance, but by attac…king the fact that they are arguments at all. You prefer a world of arbitrary and empty opinions, because yours can’t survive in any other world. I prefer a world of reason applied to evidence, because that improves the quality of our shared existence and best serves humanity. That is my whole point. Engage in a debate with me if you like; I’m all for it. But if your hope is to convince others that stating unsupported arbitrary opinions in brief and frequent doses is the height of public discourse, I will continue to debunk that pernicious belief. Those who already prefer blind ideology to reasoned discourse will applaud you, and those who already prefer reasoned discourse to blind ideology will applaud me. The real issue is what is most compelling to those who don’t yet have a position on this most crucial of “popular procedural” issues: Is it more appealing to be a population of thoughtless bigots, or a population of rational and compassionate human beings?

    Steve Harvey: Donald, your comment about the Bible is an excellent example of what distinguishes us. I am a non-religious person, who has a critical view of the history of Christianity (which means that I note its failures and violences against humanity …as well as its successes and acts in service to humanity). And yet I do not dismiss the Bible with the shallow arrogance that so characterizes your understanding of the world. It is a brilliant work of literature, compiled over centuries by multiple authors, bringing together a large corpus of world mythological material, and serving to guide the moral and epistemological evolution of Western Civilization. I do not reduce the world to that which is “right” and that which is “wrong,” but rather live in a more complex and subtle world, with varying kinds of “rightness” and varying kinds of “wrongness,” and, most of all, a recognition that I am just one node of human consciousness in a far larger and more brilliant field. In other words, whereas you lack both wisdom and humility, and aggressively assert that failing as though it should be what we all strive to emulate, I argue that we should strive to explore together the wonders and complexities of our existence, and to channel that exploration into the shared enterprise of life on Earth. That is the distinction between our orientations to our existence on this Earth, one based on aggressively shallow conclusions in service to obstructing the application of human genius to our shared enterprise, and one based on aspiration and wonder in service to applying human genius to our shared enterprise. It’s both amazing and horribly frustrating that the former should be able to hold such sway against the latter, and it is to that folly to which all of my words are dedicated. I do not believe that any number of words is too many in the face of this most basic and crucial of all issues that face us.

  • Continuing….

    Donald E. L. Johnson Steve, would you mind doing a little rewrite. Your point is?

    Steve Harvey My point is that:

    1) we are embedded in a context of complex dynamical systems (both “natural” and” human”),

    2) we are interdependent conscious actors within that context,

    3) our technological and social institutional landscape is the accretion of the products of our consciousness over time,

    4) that landscape is in constant flux, constantly evolving,

    5) that landscape forms the context of our humanity and determines our individual and collective welfare along multiple dimensions (including “individual liberty”),

    6) the more we utilize and channel the most potent capacities of our minds (e.g., our imagination, our reason, our observation), in disciplined ways (e.g., applying scientific methodology and imaginative and well-reasoned analyses to the problems and opportunities that confront us), to most robustly participate in that evolution, the better that landscape serves our long-term individual and collective interests,

    7) the ideological failure to act in recognition of the foundational awareness described above exists across the ideological spectrum,

    8) there are ideas to be found from across the ideological spectrum which are products of the disciplines described above,

    9) the statements made in the thread which I reposted, and, in my experience, routinely on right-wing threads in which I engage in the manner described above, meets my actual arguments not with actual arguments of their own defending their positions, but rather with strings of non-analytical assertions and references to “sacred scrolls and secular sages” that they claim make the arguments for them,

    10) I also challenge this error when made by ideologues on the Left, insisting that the real tension isn’t between Left and Right, but rather between reason in service to universal goodwill and blind ideology,

    11) my current substantive conclusions are the result of committing myself, to the best of my ability, to this orientation, having spent my life exercising the disciplines I recommend we all exercise to the best of our ability,

    12) even so, my substantive positions carry only the force that they are given by the quality of my arguments in their defense, which can only be tested by counterarguments offered against them,

    13) those who don’t or can’t test them in this way have no basis for dismissing them, other than blind ideological dogma,

    14) regardless of whether the approach I am advocating leads to my substantive conclusions or not, it is the approach itself that is the crux of what I am advocating, my substantive conclusions merely representing where that process has led me at this point in time,

    15) we should be able to put our various substantive conclusions on hold to a great enough extent in public discourse that we actually rely on such arguments, and engage with others who do so as well, in an attempt to improve both our own individual substantive conclusions and our shared social institutional and technological landscape.

    16) In other words, we should all commit first and foremost to being reasonable people of universal goodwill working together in a complex and subtle world to do the best we can in service to our collective welfare.

    17) The previous products of human consciousness (e.g., the U.S. Constitution, the Bible, all of the works of scholarship and mythology and literature ever produced, our laws and customs and norms and ideologies) form the material with which we are working, upon which we continue to build. None of them represent the end of the process; some represent more robust transitory products in the process, propelling us into more rather than less useful social institutional innovations. And,

    18) The value of this accumulated product of human genius should never be underestimated, though the fact that we remain conscious actors responsible for how we use them and how they continue to evolve should never be ignored or dismissed.

    That’s my point, Donald. Now tell me that it’s wrong because, rather than being an empty assertion that requires no thought, evidence, or logic, it is just the opposite, and therefore occupies the space needed to present as an actual argument.

    Steve Harvey Or, Donald, since you prefer brevity: We should all commit first and foremost to being reasonable, and reasonably humble, people of universal goodwill working together in a complex and subtle world to do the best we can in service to our co…llective welfare. Framing all of our discourse within that unqualified commitment will reduce the effects of our own individual and group errors, facilitate our growth as individuals and as a society, and best serve our shared humanity.

    Steve Harvey I’ll follow up on this with a few pre-emptive responses to the typical rejoinders: 1) The argument that it is not our collective welfare, but rather our individual liberty (defined in one particular, debatable way as “the absence of the use… of government as an agent of our collective will”), that is what is to be maximized, is implicitly assuming that the social institutional maximization of our “individual liberty” (as defined by those advocating this position) is what indeed best serves our collective welfare, but insulates itself from counterarguments by pretending that it is making no such assumption. 2) The argument that the social institutional arrangement which best serves our collective welfare (by best securing our individual liberty) has already been achieved, in the form of the U.S. Constitution, and therefore any attempts to do anything other than most literally adhere to that Constitution is contrary to the public interest, is ahistorical (taking one moment in history as “the end of history,” with no improvement upon it possible or desired; and assuming erroneously that that historical document is not challenged by changing historical contexts), symantically inaccurate (there is no one, absolute, unambigous interpretation to many of the clauses in the Constitution), and palpably irrational (the notion that a group of historical individuals drafted a document that supercedes all subsequent thought and responsibility, and removes from us the need to be conscious actors dealing with the challenges and opportunities facing us, clearly makes no sense, except as a piece of secular religious dogma). In reality, despite our limitations and imperfections, we have no choice but to interact with our context and with one another in an on-going effort to do the best we can. No divine or historical intervention is capable of freeing us of that on-going responsibility. 3) The argument that what I said is wrong because of some alleged failings of my own is an attempt at misdirection: The quality of an idea does not depend on the quality of the person giving voice to it. The error of ad hominem argumentation isn’t primarily due to its impoliteness or possible inaccuracy, but rather its irrelevance.

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