The Politics of Reason and Goodwill:
A Novel Integration of Thought, Communication, and Action in Empathy-Based Social Systemic (EBSS) Public Policy Advocacy
Politics is, at heart, a battle of narratives, a competition over human consciousness. For many of us, the irrationality and inhumanity rampant in political discourse and public policy is cause for great frustration and despair, and indeed it is that frustration and despair that is the inspiration for this proposal and for most of the essays on this blog. We can do much better, and we have a moral obligation to do much better. In one very real sense, the greatest cause of human suffering is our own collective irrationality and inhumanity.
But the glass is only half empty. One robust current in modern world history is the rising influence of disciplined reason in certain sectors of our institutional landscape. Scientific methodology and legal procedure, both of which are based on a competition of arguments following certain rules of reason applied to certain defined types of evidence, are two prominent examples. Even while the discipline of reason seems never widespread enough, the cognitive frame that acknowledges its virtue (even while often eschewing it in practice) is nearly universal. People making irrational arguments in American political and cultural discourse never claim that their arguments are superior because of or despite their irrationality, but rather insist that they are rational. We take this for granted, but reason has not in all times and places been held in such high esteem.
Of course, there is a frequent disconnect between the claim and the reality, because too many people don’t understand what reason really is. First and foremost, it is a discipline, a set of methodologies. The challenge facing those of us committed to the advance of disciplined reason and imagination in service to humanity (or, more broadly, the progress of human consciousness and compassion) is to broaden the scope of human endeavors over which these lauded methodologies prevail, and most particularly to advance their influence in public discourse and public policy formation.
Many argue that humans aren’t fundamentally rational, and that political discourse therefore cannot become fundamentally rational. They argue that humans think in frames and narratives rather than through rational arguments, the latter being a forced artifice practiced by few, and even then only in limited contexts. But this reality of how we think has not stopped the advance of reason in the formation of our understanding of the world, or in the arrangements by which we adjudicate disputes or ever-fallibly determine the truth of a matter. Part of the reason for this generalized advance of reason is the two-fold reality of its utility and of the subsequent growth in the salience of the frames and narratives which help to promote it as a result of its utility.
Similarly, our humanity, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, has, in many ways, been growing over time. Even while many barbarisms and injustices persist even in the most developed of nations, other barbarisms and injustices, once commonplace, have become increasingly discredited and eliminated from the social institutional landscapes of developed countries. It is a developmental current parallel to that of reason, its ancient seeds (in Western Civilization) germinating at a similar moment in history and in the same general region of the world, it’s growth in tandem with reason, through the same modern historical stages.
While so many in our own culture, in so many ways, remain fundamentally inhumane, they cloak themselves in false claims of humanity just as they cloak themselves in false claims of rationality. The narratives of reason and humanity have prevailed, even while their realization has not. And it is through those narratives that the realities can be achieved.
The goal is not to transform every human being into a rational and humane human being, but to advance the cause of reason and humanity through marginal shifts in the center of gravity of the zeitgeist, and to do so here in this nation over a period of time. While most attention and energy is consumed by the turbulence on the surface of human affairs, the currents underneath are left largely ignored and unattended. But more can be accomplished, with less resistance, and with more enduring results, than can be accomplished by focusing exclusively on the endless urgency of now.
The way to do so is to organize the willing around a shared commitment, in principal, to reason in service to humanity; to facilitate that commitment with the kinds of information and procedures that those social institutions that are committed to reason normally employ; and to disseminate, in an intentional and strategic way, messages that do not address specific issues but rather address the values of reason and humanity themselves, the fact of our interdependence, and the value of human consciousness deliberately cultivated in service to that interdependence.
An Overview of the Proposal
(For a very brief, bullet-pointed, plain-language version of this proposal, see The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified; for some theoretical and historical context, see A Comprehensive Paradigm for Progressive Thought and Action; or “Yes We Can, and Here’s How”).
To advance the cause of Reason and Goodwill, I propose a project, or movement, whose intention is not to directly affect electoral outcomes or governmental actions, but rather to affect the public attitude. This is not a project which yields quick or dramatic results. It is not a project linked to election cycles, or whose success is likely to be measurable in a short time frame. It is a long-term, deep-structural investment, aspiring to establish an enduring and accelerating improvement in our social institutional landscape. It is the blueprint for quiet, peaceful, and profound social change.
The proposal is comprised of three integrated components: 1) comprehensive social institutional and public policy cataloguing and analysis (“The Compilation of Social Systemic Knowledge”); 2) cognitively targeted communication of social systemic interdependence and the benefits of mutually supportive public policies (“The Cultivation of Broad Social Identification”); and 3) community organization and organizational networking for mutual assistance and improved discourse (“The Activation of Broad Social Membership”). While I conceptualize each of these in somewhat novel ways, in the context of grass roots political activism, it is the third which is perhaps the most crucial component, and so it is with the third that I will begin.
Currently, grass roots activism by those who claim the mantel of advocacy of Reason and Goodwill is almost entirely focused on electoral politics and public policy as generated through governmental mechanisms. As such, it is very easy for the opponents of this movement to dismiss these activists as people who want to take the opponents’ money and give it to others. One aspect of this conceptualization is that government is not considered an agent of the people, but rather an external entity which imposes itself on people and deprives them of their liberty. The arguments for and against this conceptualization are irrelevant for my present purposes. There are clearly many people who do indeed adhere to this conceptualization, and that fact is what’s relevant.
George Lakoff in The Political Mind talked about the need to activate the frames and narratives in all of us that are empathy-based, if we want to be successful in implementing empathy-based public policies (or what I will call “Empathy-Based Social Systems;” EBSS). There are few people of any ideological stripe who oppose community involvement, and most actively support it. Many conservatives are involved in their communities through churches, civic groups, and PTAs, for instance. Such involvement is where their empathy-based frames and narratives reside, along with, in many cases, a notion of “family values,” some aspects of which are also empathy based. By increasing the association of these activities and attitudes with a multi-lateral (rather than merely bilateral), social systemic commitment to them, we can attract more people to consideration of the value of well-reasoned and designed EBSS, including some who never imagined that they might be attracted to them.
History is replete with examples of the persuasive power of those who “walk the walk.” Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are two examples of EBSS advocates in their day, fighting to advance particular causes (Indian Independence and African American Civil Rights, respectively), whose examples were so compelling that few today would denounce what either of them stood for. They were “political (and social) entrepreneurs” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_entrepreneur, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_entrepreneur), mobilizing “charismatic authority” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charismatic_authority) in service to humanity. We can’t all be such giants, and we aren’t all willing to make the sacrifices it requires, but we can all make more modest sacrifices and rise to more modest heights, demonstrating the sincerity of our convictions and, by doing so, making the power of our message that much more irresistible.
There are already many who invest a great deal of time, energy, money, and personal commitment into advancing empathy-based public policies. If some significant fraction can be persuaded to invest some increased portion of that time, energy, money, and personal commitment into increased, non-partisan community involvement, they will contribute greatly to increasing the association of the policies they advocate with the spirit of goodwill in service to mutual benefit. And by being direct agents of reason and goodwill in their communities, the public policies such activists favor are given a human face; rather than being easily conceptualized as the impositions of a remote overlord, such policies can be plainly seen to be the sincere preference of some good neighbors and community members who believe that the spirit of community can be expressed not just directly, but also through our government acting as an agent of our collective will.
This community-strengthening component isn’t only a laudable end in itself, but it also articulates with the other two components: With the Cultivation of Social Identification by providing a viceral context and reenforcement for the awareness of interdependence, and with the Compilation of Social Systemic Knowledge by providing a forum and vehicle through which to discuss, assess, sort and assimilate that knowledge.
The cause of Reason and Goodwill is a powerful one, one which few would explicitly claim opposition to. The most pronounced failure of those who are its political advocates is the failure to connect the political expression of Reason and Goodwill to the widespread individual aspirations to be reasonable people of goodwill. One aspect of addressing that failure involves modeling what it means to be reasonable people of goodwill, and cultivating the commitment to it that might eventually translate into increased popular support for public policies that are expressions of reason and goodwill.
More generally, the communication of this attitude has to rely less on academic or legalistic argumentation, and more on resonating with the frames and narratives that form people’s minds. We need to reach people where they live, finding their own empathetic frames and narratives, and connecting the set of well-reasoned public policies which are empathy-based to those frames and narratives. Therefore, the second component of the project I am proposing is the continuing and focused development of a cognitively sophisticated system of not just disseminating EBSS ideas, but doing so in ways which resonate with adversely predisposed mindsets.
This project, therefore, involves not only increasing popular positive associations with EBSS by modeling a spirit of mutual goodwill, and forming increased positive social connections with people who would not self-identify as advocates of EBSS, but also involves communicating that same message in ways that are precisely tailored to most effectively resonate with those who are currently perhaps only marginally inclined to be attracted by it. The community involvement becomes the most important conduit for the message, communicated with increased credibility, and couched in increasingly effective ways.
Finally, the first component of this project involves reducing the arbitrariness and exclusiveness of what is assumed to be those policies which advance the cause of Reason and Goodwill. Rather than a traditional policy think tank with an ideological bias, this component of the project would have to strive to map out the entire range of public policy ideas and options, guided only by a commitment to reason in service to the public interest, acknowledging legitimate debates and ranges of uncertainty (such as, for example, between Keynesian and Chicago School Economics, and the associated policies of economic stimulus through public spending v. “fiscal conservativism”).
I envision this component as a very ambitious social institutional analogue to “the human genome project,” in which the social institutional landscape is mapped out using available analytical tools (e.g., microeconomic analysis, network analysis, legal analysis, meme theory, etc.), comprising a coherent complex dynamical systems paradigm, and then, within this context, all competing ideologies, policy ideas, proposals, and analyses are cataloged and evaluated, controlling as much as possible for ideological bias, simply subjecting the universe of human social and political thought to the crucible of methodologically rigorous reason.
The first component, in other words, adds to the notion of empathy-based public policy advocacy the notion of designing empathy-based public policies via a comprehensive rational analysis of social systems. It is not enough to base public policies on good intentions; they must also be based on well-executed good intentions. Thus, the model is not just a proposal for empathy-based public policy advocacy, but also of the application of social systemic analysis to the design of those policies, and is thus a proposal for empathy-based social systems (EBSS) advocacy.
There are, in fact, two common general errors in current public policy advocacy: 1) the error of lacking empathy, and 2) the error of failing to design policies informed by social systemic analyses. Oversimplifying a bit, there are factions of conservative ideologues who make the first error to a larger degree and the second to a smaller degree, while there are factions of progressive ideologues who make the second error to a larger degree and the first to a smaller degree. There are also factions across the ideological spectrum who make errors such as employing poorly designed or incomplete social systemic analyses, or selective or ideologically distorted versions of “empathy.” EBSS would dedicate itself to avoiding all of these errors to whatever extent humanly possible, by employing the disciplines which most effectively do so.
Two important dimensions of this project need to be highlighted: 1) These three components are not mutually segregated, but are rather integral aspects of a single coherent effort, reinforcing one another, and creating a powerful synergy of progressive thought, communication, and action; and 2) An enormous amount of work has been done in or in the vicinity of all three areas, under a variety of organizational umbrellas; utilization and integration of the product of those efforts, and of the existing social institutional material that has been generated from all quarters, is a large part of what this project would be about.
So, the enormous quantity of academic and institutional information and analyses relevant to mapping out the social institutional landscape, including competing policy proposals and ideologies, and competing paradigms and systems of analysis, would form the bulk of the material to be organized and integrated under the first component. The enormous quantity of political advocacy groups and messaging efforts for policies that are rooted in reason and goodwill would form the initial material with which the second component would work and attempt to integrate. The enormous quantity of community organizations (political, social, economic, educational, etc.), of all political and ideological persuasions, would form the material with which the third component would work and attempt to integrate.
The community involvement component would actively seek out partnerships with churches and other religious organizations, civic organizations, PTAs, park districts, non-profits, local businesses, and all others who have already developed a community infrastructure to work with and through. The purpose is not to create a segregated EBSS movement community presence, but rather to infuse existing community activity with EBSS values, and demonstrate the inherent connection between existing community activities and EBSS values.
We would, through this synthesis of focused analysis, focused communication, and focused action, weave the spirit of reason and goodwill into the social fabric as it currently exists, and contribute to the ongoing evolution of that social fabric in ways more conducive to the cause of Reason and Goodwill.
I believe that this project would have to avoid direct political advocacy of any kind (a function already addressed by other organizations) in order to preserve its legitimacy, and to reduce the obstacles that explicit partisanship creates. Its purpose would be to explore the social institutional landscape with as little bias as possible (but with an explicit commitment to advancing the public interest through the advocacy of reason in service to mutual goodwill), and through a combination of direct involvement in our communities and well-designed (cognitively targeted) messaging, disseminating that understanding as widely and deeply as possible. This would “soften the ground” for traditional political advocacy, and would also increase the quality of what we are advocating for (by decreasing ideological presumption and increasing openness to all ideas).
An Extended Discussion of the Various Aspects of the Proposal
A Focus on Procedure
Our current political paradigm is based on a chasm between politics and policy analysis, with the former being the strategic competition of more or less arbitrary ideological convictions, and the latter being the discipline of making those convictions less arbitrary (whether in reality or in appearance). Policy think tanks and research institutions strive either to apply the most rigorous analyses to the most reliable data in service to the public interest, or to rationalize ideological convictions, or some combination of the two. Political advocacy groups, along with the armies of lobbyists who are their foot soldiers, strive to implement the substantive policies that these groups have concluded best serve the public interest, or best serve the interests of their members, and often create or co-opt the policy institutes themselves as vehicles for rationalizing ideological convictions. But what we generally lack is a single procedurally (rather than substantively) oriented movement which combines these two elements, and asks, “what methodology will best facilitate the simultaneous creation and promotion of the best public policies?” and then strives to implement it, using the full force of our collective genius.
A focus on procedures in general is what I refer to as a focus on ”Second-Order Social Change,” with the focus on those procedures which affect the quality and distribution of social institutional and public policy comprehension representing deeper contextual varieties of second-order social change. As I discuss in The Variable Malleability of Reality, this is where the pressure points can be found where organized efforts have the most bang-for-their-buck, changing that which can be changed in ways which reverberate through the complex dynamical social systems which comprise us and, with accelerating certainty, transform them on a fundamental level.
Some shy away from trying to affect the zeitgeist because it appears to be too intractable, a less malleable rather than more malleable aspect of reality. But previous methodological evolutions/revolutions –in science, law, and politics, for instance– have beneficially defined large swathes of how we determine what is true and how we resolve disputes. The challenge to broaden those procedural revolutions to “the court of public opinion” (by subjecting public opinion increasingly to the systematic influence of reason and evidence) is one that must be confronted, and one which, while ambitious and farsighted, is less intractable than it may seem at first glance (because, by not attacking vested interests directly, it avoids much of the well-organized and well-funded resistence of more superficial or specifically targeted attempts to affect the social institutional landscape).
I have written more extensively on this procedural or methodological dimension to the project of progressive advocacy in Ideology v. Methodology, as well as exploring the goals of such a procedural focus in posts such as The Signal-To-Noise Ratio, The Elusive Truth, and The Voice Beyond Extremes.
Component I: Mapping the Social Institutional Landscape (The Compilation of Social Systemic Knowledge)
The Compilation of Social Systemic Knowledge is a component of the Politics of Reason and Goodwill (or of EBSS) which aspires to define the universe of reason applied to reliable data in service to the public interest, and to establish that universe of information as the center of gravity of public discourse and popular opinion. It is, in sum, the commitment to the constant application of human genius to the challenges and opportunities we face as a people, identified and pursued systematically, and communicated via the compelling frames and narratives that derive from such a genesis.
There are five aspects to the Compilation of Social Systemic Knowledge: 1) The continuous cataloguing of all existing public policy ideas and ideologies; 2) the development of a comprehensive augmented institutional economic paradigm through which to evaluate them, including explicit acknowledgment of varying degrees of certainty, competing analyses, and legitimate debate; 3) the systematic evaluation, from multiple and competing analytical perspectives, of each catalogued public policy idea and ideology, including a candid discussion of costs and benefits, distributional effects, and possible unintended consequences; 4) the generation of new or refined policy ideas as a result of these analyses; and 5) the organization and expression of the information compiled in 1-4 in easily accessible form.
The first aspect is simply cataloguing, organizing, and presenting in accessible form existing research and analyses, as well as prevalant opinions and ideologies. This aspect (or perhaps this entire component) of the project is somewhat parallel to “The Human Genome Project” (http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/home.shtml), but applied to social institutional memes rather than to human genes, describing both what we systematically know and what we variously believe, sorting and evaluating competing ideologies in the light of our best analyses applied to our most reliable data, in service to humanity.
As the above comparison suggests, to perform this task comprehensively would require hundreds of people (if not more) working for decades, and continuing to do so indefinitely to keep up with developments as they occur. Obviously, the incarnation that I am proposing would have to start out far more humbly, perhaps growing with success if all goes well. In this sense, the project may be more analogous to the Crazy Horse Memorial in The Black Hills of South Dakota, in which Polish sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski’s original lonely efforts appeared to many to be quixotic. The difference, I hope, is that rather than yielding the largest sculpture in the world, our efforts will contribute marginally but meaningfully to the ongoing enterprise of creating a sustainable and accelerating improvement in the human condition.
The cataloguing and publishing aspects of the project described above would be in some ways analogous to the Colorado “Blue Book,” published by the Colorado Legislative Council, which provides “fair and impartial analyses” of ballot measures. Our “blue book,” however, would be more synoptic, less anchored to specific ballot questions and more driven by all challenges and opportunities that we face as a state, nation, and world. It would also be less constrained by a notion of fairness and impartiality which strives to give equal status to all positions, regardless of how well reasoned or informed they may or may not be. Our purpose (as carried out by aspect 3, described below) would not be to accord all perspectives a priori equal respect substantively, but rather to subject all equally to the crucible of reason and evidence.
The second aspect of the Compilation of Social Systemic Knowledge involves a synthesis of existing social systems knowledge and theory into a coherent and comprehensive paradigm, one which acknowledges areas of uncertainty and disagreement among those dedicated to the study of social systemic phenomena. For the purposes of this project, the paradigm should be constructed of microdynamical systems of analysis that have practical public policy implications. the logical “main assembly” for such a paradigm would be institutional economics, augmented by such related systems of analysis as (for instance) legal analysis, frame analysis, network analysis, meme theory, and complex dynamical systems analysis.
I have outlined my version of this overarching social institutional paradigm in The Evolutionary Ecology of Social Institutions and The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, and have haphazardly developed it (sifting out the analyses from the polemics) in numerous posts on Colorado Confluence (see Grand Synthesis I or Catalogue of Selected Posts).
The third aspect of the Compilation of Social Systemic Knowledge involves running the first through the second; that is, evaluating all existing ideas and ideologies in the crucible of an integrated social analytical process, laying out as clearly as possible all arguments for and against all positions and all implications of all positions. This would not be the typical ideological process of starting with a preferred conclusion and tailoring the analysis to support it, but rather an assiduously disciplined process, best served by having practitioners of differing predispositions involved, though trying mightily to ensure that all are committed to the same goal (i.e., the production of improved understanding rather than the defense of existing presumptions). In effect, each policy idea and ideology would be run through each applicable analytical framework, with the resulting arguments for and against each idea generated by each such analysis, as well as the arguments for and against the system of analysis itself, made explicit.
The fourth aspect is a natural by-product of the preceding three: The generation of new ideas, or refinements of old ones. These too would have to emanate from across the analytically-supported ideological spectrum, and be subjected to the same process of evaluation as described in aspect 3 (above).
The fifth aspect involves the establishment of a website (and perhaps other systems of publication) which organizes, expresses, and presents all of the information encompassed by aspects 1-4 in the most easily accessible and understandable form, with links to the universe of information on which it draws for those who want to delve deeper. Within this one-stop resource, evaluations of all major public policies and policy ideas, through all analytical lenses, along with evaluations of the analytical lenses themselves, can be found. In other words, the fifth aspect is the culmination of the attempt to create a pre-eminent public resource to turn to in order to be well-informed on any public policy issue.
Since EBSS in general is dedicated to continuously increasing the activation of Reason and Goodwill, in our personal lives, in our communities, and in our public policies, the benefit of Component I is to create an impartial mechanism for distinguishing between those policies and ideologies which do, and those which don’t (to whatever extent they do and don’t) contribute to this goal. It may well be that most ideas and ideologies fail to do so, to some extent or another, in which case this component of the project helps to create a basis for nuanced comparison.
It is neither necessary nor, in the context of this project, desirable to render judgment, to screen or select, in order to accomplish this. Laying out all relevant information, all relevant analyses (including of the competing forms of analysis themselves), examining the implications of each from every angle, facilitates the task more effectively, by rendering transparent insidious ideas that proliferate by virtue of being propagated as opaque, partially and selectively illuminated packets of ideology.
Within these parameters, there are no a priori assumptions, no ideological constraints. Nothing is taken off the table, though arbitrary and undefended false certainties, or rote appeals to sacred or quasi-sacred authorities, are quickly revealed for what they are. (Arguments about why blind reliance on such authorities serves the public interest, however, may occasionally prove subtler and more interesting). Nor should those committed to EBSS be overly persuaded by superficial appearances; we live in a non-linear world, in which the best EBSS policies may violate or challenge existing assumptions. Just as one must turn East onto the exist ramp from I-25 North to get onto I-70 West, so too in public policy we must sometimes do what appears counterintuitive to best accomplish EBSS ends. Let the legitimate debates over how to define and how best to serve the public interest ensue without irrational restraint and in full transparency, and let those who wish to distance themselves from the goals of reason or goodwill be forced to do so transparently.
Component II: Cognitively Targeted Messaging (The Cultivation of Social Identification) (See Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives)
The purpose of Component II is to cultivate a visceral understanding of social interdependence and systemicness, to promote some combination of true empathy and enlightened self-interest (either would be sufficient on its own). “Empathy-based” doesn’t refer just to a spirit of concern for the welfare of others, but also to a recognition of interdependence: An individual left to “fail” in some fundamental and enduring way becomes (potentially) a burden and/or predator on society; each assisted in “succeeding” becomes (potentially) a contributor to our collective welfare.
Furthermore, “empathy-based,” in this context, refers to the recognition that any of us can be victims of various social systemic deficiencies, such as miscarriages of justice, unimpeded abuse and neglect, institutionalized discrimination, random acts of violence, poor opportunities in life, and the consequences of the irresponsible actions of others (see “A Theory of Justice” for an interesting thought experiment regarding this dimension of “empathy”). EBSS is premised on the notion that it is in our collective interests to try to reduce the rate at which people suffer by such social systemic deficiencies. For instance, any of us can find that our water supply, or the land beneath our home, was contaminated by toxic dumping, and that our child’s death from cancer was part of a resulting statistical cluster of massively accelerated cancer rates. Empathy for those who suffer such a fate (or many other similar ones that result from a failure to design responsive public policies) is also vigilance in reducing the odds that any one of us suffer it in the future.
The challenge of Component II is to “wrap minds around” this realization, so that they can then draw on the information in Component I to best serve our collective interests (which lead to policies which balance many different considerations, and may as a result sometimes be subtle or counterintuitive). Our minds physiologically function by recourse to metaphors, by different neural nets developing affinities for one another. The ultimate political challenge is to affect more minds more profoundly, and the most effective way to do so is to create new associations within those minds, causing frames and metaphors associated with empathy and aspiration to be invoked in conjunction with the use of government to improve the quality of human life.
In other words, EBSS must not only map out our social institutional landscape, but also our cognitive landscapes, the common variations that we find across the ideological and cultural spectrum. Just as a fundamental social institutional challenge is to align individual and collective interests (so that, to whatever extent possible, each of us pursuing our own interests are incidentally advancing, and not incidentally doing harm to, the interests of others as well), a fundamental political challenge is to align our individual cognitions to our collective enterprise; to make the frames and metaphors that are empathy-based and aspirational less localized and more globalized, less particular and more general. We need to increase, intensify, and extend cognitive associations of empathy-based public policies with acts such as caring for a child or giving a stranger in need a helping hand, of being good relatives and colleagues and friends and neighbors. And we need to increase, intensify, and extend cognitive associations of the value of striving to achieve “success” in our individual lives with the value of striving to achieve “success” as a people.
This aspect of the project goes well beyond “messaging” in the traditional sense, and delves into the challenge of resonating on a fundamental cognitive level. We know how effective slogans can be, and we’ve seen how effective some political movements have been in their use. Slogans, or well-formulated and compelling phrases, are certainly a part of what it takes to move the zeitgeist. But the goal here is not mechanical, nor reductionist; it is, rather, to articulate individual minds with our collective mind, and individual hearts with our collective heart. It is to move us toward an empathy-based social institutional framework by associating empathy-based social institutions with individually experienced acts and sentiments of empathy.
Like the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, this component of the project must take our political ideological Scrooges in hand, and instill in them a deep cognitive realization of why caring about others is what makes our lives meaningful, and that institutionalizing that care is what makes our society a vehicle for the full expression of the human soul. And, like the spirits, we cannot accomplish this by mere argumentation, or mere goodwill (though both of these form layers above and below which should articulate with this cognitively targeted layer, in the form of the three components of this project), but also by causing the idea, in all its forms, to resonate with memories and emotions and contemplations already in place. (This component could also be called “The Politics of Marley’s Ghost.”)
While Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an excellent analogy, my version, A Political Christmas Carol, is more of an example. By relating a well-known story to the struggle to establish the Politics of Reason and Goodwill, and connecting the culturally embedded interpretation of that story to the desired interpretation of conflicting policy orientations (covetous old Scrooge is a quintessential extreme individualist, while transformed Scrooge is a thriving adherent to the Politics of Reason and Goodwill, and particularly to the Politics of Kindness), my version is one small communication act in the spirit (if you’ll pardon the pun) of the Cultivation of Social Identification. This is the kind of deep cognitive messaging that is required, on a massive scale.
Some will argue, in response to this component or to the proposal as a whole, that it is unrealistic because, in the real world, the Scrooges rarely if ever wake up transformed one day. That’s true. But the most vocal and extreme ideologues do not in truth represent the full range, or even the majority, of those who EBSS would be challenged to sway. A significant proportion of the population is less strident, less certain, and more persuadable than those who dominate public discourse. This project is dedicated to marginally moving the center of gravity of the zeitgeist over time, not to accomplishing the impossible. The most dogmatic ideologues will continue to insulate themselves from contradictory information, and those less ideologically entrenched will generally only, when moved, be moved slightly. But even a small movement in the fundamental ideological center of gravity over time can have enormous and enduring political consequences, and can have a self-reinforcing, snowballing effect.
Component III: “Walking the Walk” (The Activation of Interpersonal Kindness) (See Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN))
The element that may be most novel and most powerful is not this combination of the essentially familiar ingredients of policy analysis and messaging, but rather the one that can be a game changer, the one that may prove to be an irresistible force: Organizing (in the context of this project) not directly to change government or implement particular public policies so much as to cultivate a viceral association of a personal commitment to one another with the social policies that we advocate in service to that commitment. This can best be accomplished, in conjunction with and service to the second component of “messaging,” by actually “walking the walk” of goodwill toward others, of mutual interdependence and support, associating EBSS with the attraction of a sincere, lived commitment to other people’s welfare.
As I wrote in The Ultimate Political Challenge, a single Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. captures the imagination and, in time, wins over the hardened hearts of much of the opposition. They both knew the power of their goodwill, of their personal commitment to it, and acted with the discipline to turn that goodwill into a social force. These two “political entrepreneurs” mobilized their “charismatic authority” in service to specific issues within an empathy-based world view (Indian Independence and African American Civil Rights, respectively). What we lack today are similarly compelling political entrepreneurs, mobilizing similarly dedicated charismatic authority. And the step that hasn’t yet been taken is to mobilize those forces not to address a single issue, but to address the underlying issue of being a people dedicated to reason and empathy.
Today, there are many “progressives” angrily striving to implement “progressive” policies, but too often doing so with little or no internalized, personalized, and dedicated goodwill toward fellow human beings. It is just another blind ideology in their hands, not a commitment, not something they’re willing to sacrifice for on a personally disciplined level. I challenge each and every one of them –AND MYSELF– not just to talk the talk, but also to walk the walk, to be, to some small degree, a tribute to those who were willing to give their lives to humanity, by giving some portion of our own. I challenge us all to strive to be “political entrepreneurs,” to strive to invoke our own “charismatic authority,” to demonstrate that individual initiative does not have to be mobilized only in service to the accumulation of individual wealth. I challenge us all to do good by being good, and by being good, vastly increasing our credibility as advocates for public policies aligned with that spirit.
Extreme individualists, who have managed to rationalize an indifference to the suffering of others and a denial of the responsibilities to others that come with the blessings of good fortune, are able to dismiss Progressives as people who want to spend other people’s money against their will, because, in fact, that’s all they see. But what if they saw instead the people who organize to mentor neighborhood kids, to help out those who are facing a crisis, to counsel and assist people in need, to be what they preach we as a society should be, and only in conjunction with that lived commitment, only as an auxiliary to it, are struggling to create a government that facilitates what they are already doing every day, in every way, as a natural part of our shared existence? Can you imagine the force of such a social movement?
All reasonable people of goodwill, who want to promote reason and goodwill, need to do so on the ground, in daily life, independently of government, if they want the advance of reason and goodwill to prevail. Those who can’t summon enough commitment to model for others what reason and goodwill look and feel like need to recognize that they are no better than those they oppose, no more than a bunch of people trying to impose their will on others without being willing to live up to the demands they themselves have made. No wonder the Progressive Movement is making so little headway! Who can trust armchair altruists, who talk a good game but live lives no more noble or generous than those they condemn?
I passionately want for us to become a kinder and gentler nation, a nation of people lifting one another up, a nation aspiring to realize the potential of the human spirit. There is one clear path to that end: For all of those who want the same to commit themselves to its realization, by becoming the kinds of irresistible beacons to reason and goodwill that Gandhi and King were, that each of us can be, even if to some smaller extent. By as many of us as possible striving to do so, we will give the movement in advocacy of empathy-based public policies a reputation for sincere goodwill that ever fewer will be able to deny. And the future will increasingly belong to what is best and most admirable in human beings.
This is what a commitment to EBSS demands of us: A commitment to personal progress in service to social progress, to being as individuals what we are advocating that we become as a society. Striving to rise to that challenge is the greatest gift we could give to our children, to their children, and to ourselves.
An Ongoing Cumulative and Transcendent Enterprise
I realize that there are many people and organizations already involved in various aspects of this effort, and that it may seem presumptuous for an individual such as myself, representing no organization and credentialed with no fame or renown, to propose it as though it were something new. But existing efforts tend to be fragmented, with some dealing in the struggle for raw power, and others dealing with pure policy research, and even those that combine policy research with advocacy doing so in conventional rather than innovative ways, often trapped in what we need to be striving to transcend. In other words, it is not enough for a policy center to come up with good analyses and explain to whatever public it can reach why they are good analyses; we must also find ways of disseminating knowledge of good analyses in ways that are more robust and effective, finding ways to resonate with minds that would otherwise be unreceptive.
Some of the current deficiency involves too much of a surrender to conventional definitions of partisan and ideological political conflict. The challenge of avoiding those conventional definitions and categories, into which all political activity ends up being pigeonholed and balkanized, may be insurmountable, but I’m not sure how much effort has been devoted specifically to the task of surmounting it. The real challenge is not just to produce good ideas and argue why they are good ideas, but rather to produce an attractive force toward such good ideas, a force which pulls an increasing proportion of the population toward them.
This, I believe, is what President Obama aspired to do, and wrote about in The Audacity of Hope. But the expectation and perpetuation of partisanship in service to substantive ideological convictions, both from the opposition and from his own party, proved that the office of the presidency may be least well positioned to be the locus of such a movement. Like the civil rights leaders and organizers of the 1950s and ’60s, working through the social networks and organizational capital provided by the Southern Black churches, we need to more fully exploit our own technologically enhanced social networking capabilities, and state of the art understandings of how social systems and human minds work, to create a social movement that aspires to break free of mere bickering, and become instead a vehicle for the human spirit, individually and collectively.
The premise of the project is that reason and goodwill should define all of our efforts, and that most Americans would like to believe that they are reasonable people of goodwill. All that is required to increase the extent to which reason and goodwill prevail in our public policies is to increase the extent to which being and becoming reasonable people of goodwill is systematically facilitated, and failing to is systematically challenged. The more we are able to move away from a political conflict of arbitrary ideologies, and toward a shared effort to mobilize reason applied to knowledge in service to humanity, the better off we will be.
This is not a proposal to reinvent the wheel: Whatever has been developed along these lines forms the material and foundation with which we should begin. The bulk of what needs to be done involves building new bridges; new linkages among, tapping into, and channeling of existing efforts, and new syntheses of what is already in motion. I don’t presume to be able to exceed in a single bound the work of thousands over decades, but rather to participate in the reorganization and marginal extension of that material in a new and potentially very powerful way.
If we want to create a sustainable and accelerating, analytical and research-based rather than blindly ideological progressive movement, we need to do more than merely engage in the immediate political struggles, confronting fragmented social problems through decentralized agencies. We need to create a compelling focal point, an informed and informative lived philosophy, which acknowledges and addresses all counterarguments, recognizes ranges of uncertainty and legitimate debate, seeks out good ideas from wherever they come, and advocates only for the diligent application of disciplined reason to reliable data in service to humanity, locally, nationally, and globally.
We need a political movement committed to transcending the limitations of its participants, much as scientific methodology or legal procedure is committed to doing. We need to fight less for what we are prematurely certain is true, and more for implementing methodologies which more effectively promote the truth, whatever it may be. And we need to include our own individual actions, disciplined to become lived expressions of what we are advocating for, as an integral part of this movement.
As I state on my autobiographical page (About Steve Harvey), I graduated from Law School in May, 2010, with a background in academe (social sciences) and education, have since done a little work as an independent policy consultant (focusing on improving child and family social services), took (and passed) the Colorado Bar Exam in late February 2011, and am hoping to make a new career contributing, in some capacity or another, to the project (EBSS) I’ve outlined above. I could satisfy myself with working in some existing role within the universe of empathy-based public policy analysis and implementation while continuing to develop EBSS on my own time, though I would also be delighted to work much-more-than-full-time on EBSS for a very small salary, if independent funding or an organizational home for it could be found.
Any and all feedback, assistance, direction, and referrals to others who might offer the same would be most welcome. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.