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In my zeal to penetrate the mysteries of our lives, I often forget the value of simplicity. So here is a step-by-step explanation of A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill, in very simple and straightforward terms (if you find the idea interesting, it’s worth it to read the long version):

1) I’d argue that the main obstacle to the implementation of policies based on reason in service to goodwill in the U.S. is insufficient popular support. There are several reasons for this deficiency in popular support, including the prevalence of blind ideologies superceding any commitment to a process or methodology (similar to scientific methodology or legal procedure) which narrows debate down to the range defined by reason and goodwill. Therefore, one major challenge for those who want to increase the influence of reason motivated by goodwill in public discourse and political decision making is to promote a commitment to procedures or methodologies which systematically favor reason over irrationality, and clearly identify what values, goals, and interests are being served.

Certainly, increasing the breadth and depth of commitment to such methodologies increases popular support for the policies they generate and inform, and thus increases the extent to which we successfully implement them. So the question is: How do we increase the commitment to procedures and methodologies which favor reason and goodwill, and by doing so increase the popular support of well-reasoned and socially responsible policies in general?

2) When those of us committed to the promotion of reason and goodwill as the guiding principles in political decision-making limit ourselves to fighting it out on an issue-by-issue and candidate-by-candidate basis, we appear, in the eyes of most marginally engaged moderate Americans, to belong to the blindly ideological camp which supports the same issues or candidates, and to be just equal and opposite counterparts of those blind ideologues in the opposite camp. We need to establish a movement that does not assume a presupposed ideological bias (other than reason and goodwill), or primarily argue substantive policy, but rather one which advocates only the application of reason to evidence in service to goodwill. This is not something that anyone who aspires to be (or be seen as) a reasonable person of goodwill can simply reject out of hand.

3) A movement that can remove itself from the frame of “political ideology,” and into the frame of “alternative to political ideologies” gains an advantage. One movement has recently gained some of that advantage by framing itself as an alternative to existing political parties (the Tea Party Movement), but has done so not by framing itself in terms of a commitment to reason in service to goodwill, but rather in terms of a commitment to a zealously held political ideology (small government, individual liberty, etc.). That ideology is not a commitment to a process, to reason and goodwill, but rather to a fixed belief that, much like a broken clock that always points to the same hour, is occasionally right and frequently wrong. In other words, it is a fixed ideology that sometimes is most reasonable and best serves mutual goodwill, but frequently is not and does not. It is, in a sense, the opposite of what I am advocating.

4) I think that as many or more marginally engaged moderate Americans would be attracted to the more profound alternative that rallies around “reason and goodwill” or “kindness and reasonableness” as have been attracted to the Tea Party. I think lots of mostly silent Americans are sick of politics and hungry for “kindness” and “reasonableness.” They just don’t know where to find it. And they don’t trust existing political movements, because existing movements are still dominated by ideologues and focused on insufficiently examined or questioned substantive positions.

5) This movement has to distinguish itself from what’s already in place, so it can’t use the labels of existing political ideologies or movements. It must establish a new political vocabulary, talking about being reasonable people of goodwill, removed from those “other” ideologies shouting back and forth at each other.

6) One of the major obstacles to the establishment of reason in service to goodwill as a political movement is that it is very taxing on individuals to have to make sense of the complex and massive information relevant to public policy decision making. Thus a core challenge of the movement I am advocating is to provide a credible, comprehensive, user-friendly portal through which to access and evaluate relevant information and competing arguments. This would be an enormous on-going project, focused on maximizing the signal-to-noise ratio without promoting one conclusion or another. The goal would be to create a systematic, triangulated evaluation of all arguments, including competing evaluations of what interests are served or undermined by each policy idea. This is the first component of my proposed project (see A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill for more details).

7) This first component not only creates a single reliable source for relevant public policy information and analysis, it also legitimates the claim to the mantle of “reasonableness.” It is the first component of a movement dedicated to the compilation and diffusion of comprehensive systematic analysis, to cutting through the cacophony of arbitrary opinions and political marketing campaigns. It’s the effort to lay everything we know and think on the table, all the work that’s been done by people trying to organize and evaluate relevant information, from all across the ideological spectrum, to sort out the information from the disinformation.

8) In order to claim the mantle of “goodwill,” this movement must be divorced from politics as we currently conceptualize it, focused entirely on cultivating cooperation. It’s purpose is to improve the quality of our lives, to recognize and facilitate our interdependence as members of a society, and to help one another to live the healthiest, freest, most secure, most satisfying, most enjoyable lives we can. This movement is addressed to those who are tired of ”politics,” but who want to make our communities stronger, and work toward shouting at one another less and listening to one another more, working together as reasonable people of goodwill in a shared society. That’s the third component of my proposal: Organizing in our communities to improve the quality of our lives locally in our neighborhoods and communities, and to create a foundation and context for civil discourse about city-and-countywide, statewide, national, and global issues (again, see A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill for more details).

9) The challenge of building a bridge from this locally generated “goodwill” to support of well-reasoned public policies that are motivated by such goodwill involves redefining government as much as possible, in as many minds as possible, from some external thing imposed on us (what it was, to an already diminishing extent, prior to the American Revolution 230 years ago), to an imperfect and problematic agent of our collective will (the meaning of the popular sovereignty that we established as a result of that war). We do that by connecting the community-building work to the public policies we support that are mere logical extensions of it, using all media of communication to reinforce this idea, the notion of belonging to a society, of being interdependent, of existing in a systemic social reality in which public policies affect the amount and distribution of opportunities, the robustness and justness and sustainability of the framework of our coexistence. That’s the second component of my proposal (again, see A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill for more details). I call it “meta-messaging,” reinforcing the single, underlying message of being reasonable people of goodwill, at all levels of social organization.

One way to think of this second component is as an institutionalization of Marley’s Ghost and the Three Spirits from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Just as these uninvited counselors tapped into Ebenezer Scrooge’s own frames and narratives, and found within his formative past, his incomplete present, and his foreboding future the key to his own redemption, we must seek to activate the compassion and humanity that lies dormant or obstructed in many of those who blindly oppose compassionate and humane public policies. If our efforts succeed in moving one thousandth of our modern day Scrooges one thousandth of the distance toward reason and goodwill that their fictional archetype traveled, it would be a significant contribution to our ability to improve our social institutional landscape.

10) It’s important that the policies implicitly advocated by this movement be well-reasoned public policies motivated by goodwill, drawing on the first component, to legitimately avoid the argument that certain policies may be motivated by goodwill, but have effects that, on balance, detract from rather than contribute to others’ welfare. The response is that adherence to the politics of reason and goodwill eschews reliance on blind assumptions, but rather is committed to ensuring that our choices of action are the best informed ones possible, taking all knowledge and arguments into account.

11) I say “the policies implicitly advocated by this movement” because it is about changing attitudes and moving the zeitgeist, not about direct political advocacy. The Politics of Reason and Goodwill is about advocacy of Reason and Goodwill, and letting the politics follow from that. Members or fellow-travelers will of course be involved in other activities, advocating for the policies and candidates to which reason and goodwill have led them in good faith, sometimes in disagreement with one another. That’s fine; this movement isn’t to control choices, but to nourish the mind and the heart in the belief that minds and hearts so nourished will, on average, make more reasonable choices, better guided by mutual goodwill.

It’s a fairly simple idea that becomes complicated only when it is fully fleshed out. It’s very ambitious, focused on the long-run rather than the short-run, and on marginally, gradually shifting the underlying foundation of political discourse rather than winning a little ground momentarily in an endless tug-o-war. It is a project aspiring to the overarching framework I’ve described, but comprised of numerous more modest goals, such as creating networks of community organizations dedicated to doing good works locally (such as tutoring and mentoring kids) and fostering robust, thoughtful, civil discourse (see Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN)).

This proposal is essentially the answer to the question “if we were a rational society, striving to govern ourselves as intelligently and compassionately and pragmatically as possible, how would we go about it?” It is not a panacea. It will not any time in the foreseeable future change human nature, or erase human bigotries, or eliminate blind ideological rancor. It would represent one, small, marginal effort to do better, and, if phenomenally successful, would move the center of gravity of public discourse in this nation a tiny bit in the direction of reason and goodwill, over a very long time. But even such tiny changes can have enormous effects.

Please join me in trying to implement this idea, to find an organizational home for it, or independent financial backing. Again, any help in moving this project forward would be greatly appreciated!

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I know many people who devote a lot of time energy to political activism, many of whom are then bitterly disappointed when the candidates they supported either lose, or win and almost invariably fail to satisfy their expectations. They conflate political outcomes with the realization of the ultimate goal they expect those outcomes to serve, rather than distinguish them as partial and insufficient means to the realization of those goals.

Social change is both more than and distinct from politics. It both facilitates and is facilitated by electoral outcomes, but is not determined by them. It both facilitates and is facilitated by governmental action, but is not determined by it. Those who, reasonably enough, identify social change, or public policy changes that depend on it, as the ultimate goal, would be well-advised to diversify their investments of time and effort (individually or collectively), investing more in the (narrowly) non-political dimensions of contributing to social change. Otherwise, they should expect their current investments to continue regularly to yield highly disappointing returns.

The widely (implicitly) held notion among many political activists that the distribution of political ideological orientations is by-and-large a given, and that political outcomes determine public policy independently of any changes (or lack of changes) in that popular ideological distribution, relegates a great deal of political activism to the status of a semi-ritualistic activity, noisy conflicting group-therapy sessions and social events that have far less enduring impact on the evolution of our social institutional landscape than its participants would like to believe.

Activists mistakenly expect, with slightly exaggerated optimism, that their efforts determine desired electoral outcomes better than alternative “sub-political” activities, and, with vastly exaggerated faith, that desired electoral outcomes will result in desired public policies, without addressing the underlying issue of where the center-of-gravity of public opinion and popular support lies.

Focusing on social change, including but not limited to political activism, informs a more rational and functional distribution of resources (e.g., time, effort, and money) across the spectrum of interrelated challenges involved in accomplishing social change. Our most memorable social movements (e.g., the Civil Rights Movement, the Environmentalism Movement, the Gay Rights Movement) were not as successful as they were primarily via electoral victories, but rather via facilitated shifts in public opinion, which then increasingly translated into electoral and public policy victories. Neither Gandhi nor Martin Luther King, Jr. ever held public office, though they both had larger effects on the world than most who have, because they affected the context in which political decision-making takes place, and it is the context which is ultimately determinative.

Not each individual activist necessarily has to reallocate their personal political investments (time, energy, and money) for a more optimal distribution to be achieved; most efforts currently in place are vital ingredients to a larger effort, and there is much to be said for a division of labor, in which some focus on some aspects and others on other aspects of the overarching challenge. But, due to the seduction of quick-fixes, and the more accessible emotional gratification of being noisily in the fray rather than more subtly effective, the overall investment of progressive (and other) activists is skewed heavily in favor of political theater (something that activists engage in as much as elected officials). Until we, as a movement, address that imbalance, we will be yielding the field to those who do, and giving those ideologies we oppose more opportunity to proliferate.

(See the following related posts: A Proposal: The Politics of Kindness, Changing The Narrative, Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN), A Blueprint for a Progressive Future, The Power of “Walking the Walk”The Ultimate Political Challenge, Second-Order Social Change, The Foundational Progressive Agenda , The Politics of Anger, The Politics of Kindness, “Messaging” From The Heart of Many Rather Than The Mouth of FewThe Battle of Good v. Evil, Within & Without, The Battle of Good v. Evil, Part 2, A Major Historical Threshold or A Tragically Missed Opportunity?)

As part of A Proposal: The Politics of Kindness, I discussed the importance of organizing and acting in our communities, in non-partisan ways for non-political immediate purposes, in service to the ultimate social and political goal of  deepening and broadening the shared commitment to reason and goodwill, in our private lives, in our communities, and in our public policies. I believe that doing so should become a social movement, akin to the Civil Rights Movement, but rather than dedicated to a single issue or set of issues, dedicated instead to a comprehensive attitude that implicates all social issues.

Clearly, the time is ripe for such a movement. Just as the Civil Rights Movement was blessed with a ready-made organizational infrastructure (the southern black church network), so too are all reasonable people of goodwill today blessed with an even more powerful and extensive organizational infrastructure: The Internet and Social Media. I’ve already written about the implications of this technological and social paradigm shift, the possibilities and potentials of which we have just barely begun to explore (se, e.g., A Major Historical Threshold or A Tragically Missed Opportunity?, Wikinomics: The Genius of the Many Unleashed, Tuesday Briefs: The Anti-Empathy Movement & “Crowdfunding”, Counterterrorism: A Model of Centralized Decentralization).

A Tea Partier told me on a Facebook thread recently, “just remember who’s better armed.” When it comes to the more powerful weapons of Social Media, it may be the progressives who are better armed. In any case, the implication of these particular arms is that they accelerate the sifting out of rational from irrational arguments, the lathe of public discourse and debate, which favors reason and goodwill in the long run. Certainly, when it comes to Reason and Goodwill, progressives are better armed, and will inevitably prevail. It is our job to expedite that eventuality, reducing the short-term detours into irrationality and belligerence constantly elongating that path.

The best way to do so is to change the game, the frame and the narrative. Right now, America is stuck in a tug-o-war between progressives and conservatives, both broadly perceived by the vast silent middle to be two opposing extreme camps (with perhaps slightly greater affinity for the conservative than progressive pole). But those same occupants of the vast silent majority would not perceive a movement of community volunteerism and community solidarity building to be either extreme or unattractive. And they would not find it offensive if such a movement included in its “mission” improving the civility and reasonableness of public discourse. But what is the progressive movement if not the commitment to mobilize reason and goodwill, and apply them to our public policies?

The most effective thing progressives could now do is to mobilize a network of Community Action Groups (CAGs) into a nationwide Community Action Network (CAN), dedicated to this component of the proposal linked to above. The only challenge is to create an emerging awareness of the power of such an effort, of the degree to which it can become a game changer if enough progressives were to commit themselves to it. Every local progressive group now in existence, every state house and senate district democratic party organization, every OFA chapter, every MoveOn chapter, every other local group with even moderately liberal leanings, can and should organize into a Community Action Group that seeks to do good works in their own communities, and to foster civil discourse based on no ideology other than a commitment to reason and mutual goodwill.

I ask everyone who reads this to please help me to promote this idea, because the way to become a nation of reasonable people of goodwill is for all who are committed to that end to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill in their own lives, and in their own communities, and to allow that to be a model to others, and to coalesce into a national level commitment. The reason why progressive advocacy is so much less effective than one might think it would be is because progressive advocates are so much less effective, permitting the frames and narratives of the far-right to take root and define the debate. Removing that power from them, and owning it ourselves, is not a function of better sloganeering, but rather of more compelling demonstration; we can and should, we must, demonstrate what it is we are advocating for, if we want our advocacy to become a truly powerful and transformative force in our national history.