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.
To contact me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.