Archives

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

In the continuing debate against Libertarians (and all other ideologues of all stripes, for that matter), here’s the bottom line: There’s only one rational ideology to adhere to, and that is to strive to be rational; there’s only one humane ideology to adhere to, and that is to strive to be humane.

Striving to be rational is not a vague, relative term: We have centuries of experience in the development of disciplined, methodical reasoning. We’ve developed scientific methodology and a wide spectrum of variations of it adapted to situations in which variables can’t be isolated, statistical data analysis, research techniques designed to rigorously minimize the influence of bias and to maximize accuracy. We’ve developed legal procedure based on a debate between competing views framed by a set of rules designed to ensure maximum reliability of the evidence being considered and to identify the goals being pursued (adherence to formally defined laws). We’ve developed formal logic and mathematics, rules of deduction and induction, which maximize the soundness of conclusions drawn from premises, the premises themselves able to be submitted to the same rules for verifying raw data and drawing conclusions from that data.

Not everyone is trained in these techniques, but everyone can acknowledge their value and seek to participate in privileging them over other, more arbitrary and less rational approaches to arriving at conclusions. A commitment to democracy and pluralism does not require a commitment to stupidity and ignorance. The mechanisms by which we balance the need for all to have their say and all interests to be represented with the need for the best analyses to prevail in the formation of our public policies is an ongoing challenge, but we can all agree that we should meet that challenge head-on, rather than pretend that the drowning out of the cogent arguments of informed reason by the relentless and highly motivated noise of irrational ignorance is the height of self-governance.

Striving to be humane is not a vague, relative term either: We have centuries of development of thought concerning what that means, including John Rawls’s “A Theory of Justice”, which provides a pretty good heuristic guideline of what humane policies should look lie (they should be the kinds of policies that highly informed and rational people would choose if they didn’t know what situation they were going to be born into or what chances of life they were going to encounter). This is basically a derivation and elaboration of the Golden Rule, which exists in some form or another in virtually every major religion on Earth. We all understand that justice requires that everyone be assured the same opportunity to thrive, and while we can agree that that is a formidable challenge that is more of an ideal toward which we can continue to strive than a finished achievement we can expect to accomplish in the near future, and that important counterbalancing imperatives must be considered and pursued simultaneously (in other words, that we need to balance the challenges of creating an ever-more more robust, fair, and sustainable social institutional framework), we can also agree that it is one of the guiding principles by which we should navigate as we forge our way into the future.

So, guided by our humanity, we have a clear objective that all of our public policies should strive to serve: Maximizing the robustness, fairness, and sustainability of our social institutional landscape to the greatest extent possible, such that no individual, if fully informed and rational, would want to change any aspect of it if they did not know where or when or into what situation they would be born or what chance occurrences they would encounter in life. And we have a clear means of most effectively pursuing that objective: Robust public discourse in which we allow the most cogent, information-intensive, methodologically and analytically sound arguments regarding how best to maximize the robustness, fairness and sustainability of our social institutional landscape, on a case-by-case, issue-by-issue basis, to prevail.

And THAT, what I just described above in the preceding five paragraphs, is really the only ideology we need, the only ideology we should adhere to as we move forward as a polity, wise enough to know that none of us knows all that much, humane enough not to blithely dismiss –whether implicitly or explicitly– the suffering and gross injustices endured by numerous others, intelligent enough to know that the appropriate role of a democratically and constitutionally circumscribed government in the modern world cannot be intelligently reduced to a handful of platitudes, informed enough to recognize that the rule of law is predominantly a procedural rather than substantive ideal, and smart enough to recognize that it is our commitment to these procedural and methodological disciplines of informing and devising public policies that will define how intelligently, humanely, and effectively we govern ourselves.

What continues to stand against this simple and clear ideology of a commitment to reason and humanity realized through disciplined procedures and methodologies are the plethora of blind dogmas, substantive false certainties, and precipitous conclusions that litter our shared cognitive landscape. Whether it is Marxism, politically active evangelical Christianity, politically active fundamentalist Islam, Libertarianism, or any other substantive dogma which presumes to know what we are in reality continuing to study, debate, and discover, this perennial need by so many to organize in an effort to impose a set of presumptive substantive conclusions on us all, one ideological sledgehammer or another with which to “repair” the machinery of government, is an obstacle rather than productive contribution to truly intelligent and humane self-governance.

It doesn’t matter if any given adherents to such an ideology are right about some things and those arguing from a non-ideological perspective are wrong about some things; it would be extraordinary if that were not the case, because disciplined analysis seeks to track a subtle and elusive object (reality), while blind dogma, like a broken clock, stands in one place, and thus is right on those rare occasions when reality happens to pass through that spot. What matters is that we all say, “I am less committed to my tentative conclusions than to the process for arriving at them, and would gladly suspend any of my own tentative conclusions in exchange for a broad commitment by all engaged in political discourse and political activism to emphasize a shared commitment to reason in service to humanity.”

The claim made by some that libertarians aren’t against using government in limited ways to address our shared challenges and seize our shared opportunities, while insisting that the problem now is that we have “too much government,” ignores the incredible breadth and depth of challenges and opportunities we face, challenges and opportunities that careful economic analysis clearly demonstrate often require extensive use of our governmental apparatus to meet and to seize. That is why every modern, prosperous, free nation on Earth has a large administrative infrastructure, and why every single modern, prosperous, free nation on Earth has had such a large administrative infrastructure in place since prior to participating in the historically unprecedented post-WWII expansion in prosperity and liberty: Because, as an empirical fact, that is what has thus far worked most effectively. But that does not preclude the possibility that the approach I’ve identified would lead to an overall reduction in the size and role of government; it only requires that in each instance the case be made, with methodological rigor, that any particular reduction in government actually does increase the robustness, fairness, and sustainability of our social institutional framework.

The challenge isn’t to doggedly shrink government in service to a blind ideological conviction, but rather to wisely, with open eyes and informed analyses, refine our government by shrinking that which should be shrunk and expanding that which should be expanded, an ongoing endeavor which requires less ideological presumption and more analytical intelligence. We  neither need nor benefit from neatly packaged blind dogmas; we need and benefit from an ever-greater commitment to disciplined reason in service to unflagging humanity.

Now, the legitimate contention arises that that is fine in theory, but in the real world of real people, ideological convictions and irrational decision-making prevail, and to refuse to fight the irrational and inhumane policies doggedly favored by some by any and all means possible, including strategies that do not hamstring themselves by seeking an ideal that does not prevail in this world today, is to surrender the world to the least enlightened and most ruthless. To that I respond that I do not oppose the strategic attempts by those who are informed by reason and humanity to implement the products of their discipline and conviction through strategic and realistic political means, but only implore of them two things: 1) That they take pains to ensure that their conclusions actually are the product of reason in service to humanity, and not simply their own blind ideological dogma, and 2) that they invest or encourage the investment of some small portion of our dedicated resources, some fraction of our time and money and energy directed toward productive social change, toward cultivating subtler cultural changes that increase the salience of reason and humanity in future political decision-making processes. I have outlined just such a social movement in A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill.

Another legitimate contention is the recognition of our fallibility, and the need to rely on bedrock principles rather than arrogate to ourselves a case-by-case, issue-by-issue analysis, much as we limit our democratic processes with bedrock Constitutional principles that we can’t elect to violate. There is much truth in this, but it either becomes one more rational consideration that we incorporate into our ongoing effort to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world, or it displaces our reason and humanity entirely and reduces us to automatons enslaved by a historically successful reduction of reality. We see these alternatives in regards to how the Bible and Constitution are utilized, by some as guides which inform their own reason and humanity and require conscious interpretation and application, and by others as rigid confirmation of their own dogmatic ideology, the latter often through selective or distorted interpretations of their own.

We’ve seen the value of improved methodology and increased commitment to methodological discipline in the realm of science, which has bestowed on us a greatly invigorated ability to make sense of a complex and subtle universe. We’ve seen the value of improved procedures and procedural discipline in law, which has increased the justness of our criminal justice system (certainly an improvement over “trial by ordeal,” or the Inquisitor’s securing of a confession by means of torture, for instance). We’ve seen the value of improved methodologies in selecting and holding accountable political leaders, through carefully monitored “free and fair” elections and the supremacy of the rule of law over individual power. To be sure, all of these are mere steps forward, not completed journeys; the human foibles they partially mitigated are not entirely erased from the new paradigms they preside over. But they are steps forward.

And, though it’s more debatable, with more and greater atrocities seeming without end challenging the assertion, I think our humanity has grown in recent centuries as well. Historians almost universally agree that a larger proportion of the human population suffered violent death the further back in time you go. Even while exploitation and inhumanities persist, they are increasingly viewed as morally reprehensible by increasing numbers of people in increasing regions of the Earth. We have, indeed, as a national and international society, improved our formal commitment to human rights, even if our realization of that commitment has woefully lagged behind. It remains incumbent on us to close that gap between the ideal and the reality.

What, then, are the logical next steps for civilization? How do we advance the cause of reason in service to humanity? The answer, I believe, is to extend and expand the domains of these methodologies and attitudes, to increase the degree to which they are truly understood to be the defining vehicle of human progress. If it’s good to have a small cadre of professionals engaging in science, it’s even better to have many more incorporating more of that logic into their own opinion formation process. If it’s good for the election of office holders to be conducted through rational procedures, it’s even better for the knowledge and reasoning of those who vote in those elections to be fostered through more rational procedures as well. And if it’s good for some of us to include larger swathes of humanity in the pronoun “we,” then it’s even better for more of us to do so to an ever greater degree.

Even if the effort to cultivate a movement in this direction only succeeds, over the course of generations, in making the tiniest marginal increase in the use of disciplined reason, and the tiniest increases in the degree of commitment to our shared humanity, by the tiniest marginal fraction of the population, that would be a positive achievement. And if, alongside such marginal increases in the reliance on disciplined reason and commitment to humanity, there is also a marginal increase in the acknowledgement that the products of disciplined reason are more useful to us as a society and a people than the products of arbitrary bigotries and predispositions, and that the recognition of the humanity of others unlike us is more morally laudable than our ancient tribalistic and sectarian reflexes, that, too, would be a positive achievement.

The influence of reason in our lives has been growing steadily for centuries and has had a dramatic impact on our social institutional and technological landscape, though it has only really ever been employed in a disciplined way by a small minority of the human population. The increase in our humanity as well, in such forms as the now nearly universal condemnation of slavery, the increasing recognition of the value of equal rights for all, the generational changes in our own society with some bigotries withering with time, can also be discerned. Even marginal increases in the employment of reason and its perceived legitimacy, and of our shared humanity being the ends to which it is employed, can have very dramatic effects on the robustness, fairness, and sustainability of the social institutional and technological landscape of the future, and on the welfare of human beings everywhere for all time. This is the path that all of our most laudable achievements of the past have followed and contributed to, and it is the path we should pursue going forward ever more consciously and intentionally, because that is what the ever fuller realization of our humanity both requires of us and offers us the opportunity to do.

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

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

(The following is the beginning of an exchange on a libertarian’s Facebook page, with the first comment being his status update. It continued, as these exchanges often do, with my repeated suggestion that we step back from our substantive certainties and agree to base our discourse on the premise that we’re all fallible, and if we all strive to be rational and humane people, in disciplined and methodical ways, it would serve society better than our competing blind ideologies, and with this suggestion being responded to with every excuse imaginable for why it couldn’t be accepted. And this is the great ongoing tragedy of our shared existence, not just the persistence of irrationality, but the emotional investment in its preservation against all suggestions and invitations to work toward transcending it.)

KW: God Bless You for your choices, now kindly step aside as I make my own.

SH: What if your choice were to hurt others? Should I kindly step aside then? So, you have to qualify it to say “now kindly step aside unless my choice is to hurt others and good citizens need to stop me from doing that.”

But lots of things hurt others in subtle ways. We are interdependent, and our actions affect one another. So some of our laws have to recognize that there are individual actions that we each can engage in that cause one another more harm than we, as a society, can allow. For instance, if I do work in my home that produces some form of toxic waste, and I dump that waste on my own property in such a way that gets into the groundwater that others drink and causes deadly disease among those who drink it, then don’t we as a society have good reason to say that no individual can dump toxic waste on their own property?

There are so many things like that in our lives, so much interdependence, that the meme that each should be absolutely free to do whatever they choose really serves more to obscure the real challenge of determining where to draw the line between individual liberty and agreed upon limits to it for mutual benefit than to enlighten or guide us in any meaningful way.

RA: Live Free!

SH: Self-governing on the basis of slogans rather than in-depth, nuanced, and diligent thought isn’t really that good an idea. One of the things you’ll notice about every one of the most horrible chapters of modern world history is that the authors of those horrors were all always deeply immersed in moving slogans.

JW: @Steve you are dangerously close to the most dangerous slogan of all time “for the greater good”. How about, “my ability to swing my arm ends at your nose”. People have to learn to live in close proximity to one another without resorting to trying to live each others lives for them.

SH: J, our own Constitution declares the importance of governing for “the general welfare.” The fact is that I live by no slogan at all, but rather by the belief that there is only one ideology to which any of us should ever adhere: That of striving to be rational and humane people, wise enough to know that none of us knows all that much, working together to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world. That’s not “a slogan,” but rather a philosophy, and not a shallow philosophy that fails to capture the true complexity and subtlety of the world we live in, but rather one based squarely on the recognition of that complexity and subtlety.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t consider the liberal-conservative divide the fundamental one, nor is it how I define my own commitments. I am committed to the disciplined use of human consciousness in service to humanity, period. That includes using disciplined reason, imagination, research, analysis, contemplation, and discourse, recognizing our limitations, uncertainties, and the value of allowing some organic processes to function without trying to impose ourselves on them at every turn. It includes many, many things that can be discussed and debated and ever better understood by ever more people.

If a person comes to that process with that attitude self-identifying as a conservative, that’s fine with me. If they don’t embrace that process at all, but self-identify as a liberal, then they’re as much a part of the problem as those who don’t come to that process at all and self-identify as conservatives. The blind ideologies are not the answer; the processes that best liberate and mobilize human genius are, including the genius of laissez-faire to the extent and in the ways and under the circumstances that laissez-faire is best recommended by our best understandings of how the world works. 

But that’s not what happens. What happens is that people come fully armed with an array of false certainties arrived at haphazardly, through socialization and indoctrination and emotional predisposition, and treat those false certainties as indisputable truths. We all do it to some extent, even those of us who do it to the least extent, because that’s how the human mind works: We reduce an infinitely complex and subtle reality to manageable form in order to function in the world, and mistake our cognitive models for the reality itself. A critical step toward being rational and humane people is recognizing that, and working with it.

But when people declare that they have the one right substantive ideology, they are digging into the opposite cognitive orientation, the cognitive orientation which clings most tenaciously to their own false certainties, and is most insulated from actual fact and reason and growing comprehension. Do I think that that is more closely associated with modern American conservatism than modern American liberalism? Yes, but that’s not really the point. The point is that all of us should strive to be wiser than that, and those who refuse, regardless of what ideology they identify with, merit criticism for refusing. 

I always refer to reason AND humanity, though in many ways humanity is implicit in reason, as long as we agree on certain underlying values of fairness and long-term functionality, because we are ultimately interdependent, and reason dictates that we recognize our interdependence and act not under the pretense that it doesn’t exist but with the constant awareness that it does. “Liberty” does not mean the absence of interdependence, but rather a particular orientation to it, a value embedded within it that only has meaning in its context. Those who neglect to understand that end up turning the beautiful and valuable concept of human “liberty” into a cruel and ugly excuse for acting in predatory and implicitly inhumane ways. 

It’s no coincidence that slave owners used the concept of “liberty” to rationalize their commitment to the institution of slavery (the greatest assault on human liberty in the history of our nation, matched only by the displacement and destruction of the indigenous population), arguing that to deny them (the slave owners) their property (their slaves) would be an assault on their (the slave owners’) “liberty” (see John C. Calhoun’s “Union and Liberty”). And it’s no coincidence that modern Tea Party/libertarian ideology is part of a continuous ideological thread reaching back into that same use of the concept of “liberty.” Knowing and understanding history, deeply and richly and thoroughly, is useful to our present understandings and commitments. 

I could go on. I could write books on this. But there is only one rational place to start, only one rational foundation to build on, and that is reason itself, not the arbitrarily claim of already having embodied it in one’s current substantive certainties (as some I’ve interacted with insist upon, as their way of rejecting the notion that we should all strive to be rational and humane people), but in a commitment to the methodologies and procedures which have proved in recent centuries to be the most robust for minimizing bias and maximizing accuracy, and using those procedures –which include debates that aren’t just shouting matches but actually adhere to the rules of debate, the rules of evidence, the rules of logic, or whose relative merits are judged by how well they adhere to them—in service to our shared humanity. 

It’s a simple premise. I think it would generally favor what are now considered liberal positions, but if I’m wrong, I’d rather surrender my own false certainties than insulate myself from reason in order to preserve them. It is the process of reason in service to humanity that I am committed to, not to any current assumption of what conclusions it leads to. 

And that’s something that all rational and humane people should be able to agree to, should be able to rally around. I know some moderate conservatives who do, and I identify more with them, am more reassured by their presence in our polity, than I am by dogmatic liberals who don’t. And if we can simply put aside the shouting matches over precipitous substantive false certainties, and instead agree to work at being that kind of a polity, a rational and humane polity, then this would be an even more admirable and extraordinary nation than it already is (if that’s what it already is), and an even greater gift to the world than it already is (if that’s what it already is). And we would leave on the margins, on the dust heap of history where they belong, the commitment to ignorance and bigotry and oversimplistic dogma that some insist on adhering to, moving forward instead as an increasingly rational and humane people. 

KW: Steve, why do you use my status to go on your diatribe. I respect your take but you immediately disregarded the simple fact that I am Libertarian and not a single one of my choices harm another. 

JW: I know better than to feed the trolls but I am going to respond to your essay Steve. Shakespeare said “Brevity is the soul of wit”. At least with the simple statements that K and I have made, a reasonable person might gather the basics of our personal philosophies. I read through your entire post and honestly could not make a determination of where you fall philosophically. Given the lengths to which you used as many words as possible to say as little as possible, I am inclined to believe that you are a statist leaning liberal that would bind us in the chains of some nebulous “social contract” that no party signs yet all are supposed to abide by. Orson Wells took such thoughts about “humanity” to its inevitable conclusion in Animal Farm where of course, all are equal but some where more equal than others. Unlike K, I will not respect your philosophy if it is one that would consign us to the politics of pull, where influence becomes the prime product of a society and the real producers are enslaved to the “greater good”.

SH: K, the whole purpose of the rule of law is that we can’t simply rely on each other to do the right thing, and that we must govern ourselves, as a people, with laws that bind us and limit us in certain ways for mutual benefit. You say that I disregard the fact that you are a libertarian and that your choices harm no one else. No, I dispute the notion that we don’t need laws because some people are not inclined to break them in the first place, or that the recognition that we do need laws is compatible with the ideologically exclusive emphasis on absolute freedom.

As for why I use your status to go on my diatribe: If one propagates defective ideas that can be harmful to humanity where I can challenge them, then I will challenge them.

J, you couldn’t make that determination because not all philosophies are dogmas, and mine is one such that is not a dogma. It is a commitment to the same foundations that inform science and law, a commitment to methodologies and procedures rather than to presumptions and false certainties. “My” philosophy is not reductionist, is not the folly of imposing on a complex world a simplistic panacea. It is, rather, a commitment to reason (which is served by disciplined methodologies and procedures that have proved their worth over the last several centuries) in service to humanity (rather than in service to some segment of humanity at the expense of other segments of humanity).

You assume I’m an adherent to your caricature of left-wing ideology, to which you relegate everyone who is not a member of your preferred reduction of reality, not recognizing the existence of any form of political economic thought that does not fit neatly into one or the other of your two caricatures of political economic thought. It’s a tidy but shallow world you live in. Maybe it’s time to consider the possibility that it’s not the last word of human comprehension. (And that’s the point, isn’t it? Knowing that we don’t know rather than insisting that we do, and, in the womb of that wise humility, actually learning, discovering, growing, approaching the challenge of engaging a complex and subtle world with imagination and analytical discipline rather than blind ideological fervor. THAT is the real political divide in America today, whether to be a raging ideologue, or an imaginative and analytical participant in an on-going enterprise.)

“My” philosophy is to start with the simple agreement among all who are willing to strive to be rational and humane people. It may seem insignificant, but I think that it is an important step, because both reason and humanity are easily lost to the zeal of blind ideologies. So, we say, “look, I know that I’m fallible, and that the world is complex, so lets agree, first and foremost, that we’re going to strive to be rational and humane, and take it from there.” it’s a good agreement to make, a good foundation to build on, and very much in the spirit of the formation of this nation, which was founded on the Enlightenment philosophy that a people can and should govern themselves rationally and humanely, debating as rational citizens rather than merely clinging to ideological assumptions.

Once we make that agreement, we can discuss how to realize it. Clearly, scientific methodology is better than other preceding and generally more haphazard approaches when it comes to understanding empirical phenomena, to ascertaining factual and systemic knowledge. Similarly, legal procedure is preferable to, for instance, trial by ordeal, for ascertaining guilt or innocence, or ascertaining facts and applying the law to them. These are developments over recent centuries that have increased the role of rationality in our lives. We can work to extend their domain beyond the halls of academe and the courts of law, and to employ more of their logic, and reap more of their benefits, in public discourse in general.

And it all starts with something as self-evidently desirable as simply agreeing to strive to be rational and humane people, and giving that agreement priority over any other ideological commitments.

George Orwell (not Orson Wells) wrote “Animal Farm” about an ideology coopted in service to oppression. Any ideology can be used as such a pretext, even one that claims to exist for the opposite purpose (as, indeed, Communism itself did). Ideologies always insist that every other ideology is the road to Hell, and that they alone provide salvation. It’s a common theme. They use rousing symbols and slogans to proclaim themselves the defenders of some noble ideal, and then, if they are not more procedurally than substantively oriented, inevitably betray that ideal.

A commitment to humanity is not a commitment to totalitarianism. But a failure to commit to humanity, to commit to reason, is an invitation to the institutionalization of irrationality and inhumanity, as has so often happened in so many times and places. Ironically, Libertariansim has something fundamentally in common with Marxism, and that is profound and oversimplistic political economic dogmatism. Marxism identified the state as the solution to all problems, and Libertarianism identifies the market as the solution to all problems, though economists well understand that neither is and that both have a vital role to play.

We should all act more like economists and less like ideologues when discussing economic issues. We should, in general, all strive to act more like rational and humane people, wise enough to know that we don’t know much, working together to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world. That should be our one and only ideology

By the way, the concept of ‘trolls” on Facebook has clearly become distorted to mean “anyone who invades an ideological echo-chamber with any perspective discordant with that of the pariticpants of the echo-chamber.” If that is the new definition of “troll,” than I’m proud to be one, because these echo-chambers are unhealthy to our democracy and do poor service to the growth of reason and understanding. We need, instead, a robust, informed and informative, rational and disciplined, public discourse, where ideas are exchanged and challenged, and we work together to improve our understandings and our ability to cooperate for mutual benefit.

I would limit the term “troll” to mean anyone, on any thread, whose contribution is intended or designed to drown out signal with noise, and reduce rather than increase the informativeness and rationality of the discourse taking place.

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

The difference between a scholar and an ideologue is that a scholar seeks out the truth while an ideologue is certain he is already in possession of it.

(This relationship is sometimes inverted, when there is overwhelming scientific evidence for something that ideologues want to dismiss. Under those circumstances, scholars are relatively certain while ideologues are conveniently uncertain; however, the latter is not an honest quest for knowledge, but rather a disingenuous obstruction of it. In both cases, one modality focuses on reason applied to evidence, and the other on the insulation of dogmatic belief from reason applied to evidence.)

It is true that everyone has biases, and that biases influence everyone’s perceptions and conclusions. It is untrue that there is no distinction in the degree to which this occurs and holds sway among competing modalities of thought. To put it simply, if scholarship were indistinguishable from other modalities, the accelerating production of subtle insights into the nature of reality that has characterized science could never have occurred.

The reason for this distinction is that scholarship involves an explicit commitment to apply reason to evidence, and to subject all ideas to the scrutiny of others who are doing the same. This can take the form of replicable scientific experiments, or, to explore phenomena whose variables are too difficult to isolate, variations of this procedure adapted to different conditions. The individual practitioners are more or less adept at it, and more or less committed to the systematic reduction of bias that is one of the principal reasons for this methodology, but to off-set that they must always convince a succession of committees of their peers, and then the general readership of their peers, that their conclusions are valid. This begins to resemble legal procedure, with arguments made for competing cases, judged by a jury of peers, though in scholarship it is a jury of peers with similar expertise.

More casual modalities of opinion formation more liberally incorporate bias into their perceptions and conclusions, sometimes developing precisely in a manner to do so as robustly as possible, systematically insulating irrational and counterfactual beliefs from the lathe of reason and evidence. One such modality currently in vogue is particularly fascinating. It involves a clever combination of relativism and absolutism, first to insulate arbitrary opinions from any intrusion of fact and reason, and then to claim that that opinion must be the absolute truth.

Step one in this anti-scholarship modality is to insist that no modality or opinion is any better than any other, and that the products of expertise or systematic investigation merit no more deference or consideration than any opinion held by any lay person. This is the relativism portion of this modality of thought: All opinions are equal, and none can be privileged over any other. This step insulates arbitrary opinions from any threat from reason or evidence, since any application of reason and evidence can only produce another opinion of equal value to the arbitrarily derived one.

Step two involves rejecting any suggestion that the arbitrary opinion must be considered a tentative conclusion rather than the absolute truth, on the basis that to do so would be to commit the error of relativism: There is one absolute truth, and to claim that one must be uncertain about reality is, according to this modality, a failure to accept the fact that there is one absolute truth. Therefore, the holder of the arbitrary opinion feels justified in being absolutely certain that their arbitrary opinion is the one unassailable Truth.

So, in this modality, first irrationality and counterfactuality is insulated from reason and evidence by means of a relativistic argument, and then it is promoted to unassailable absolute truth by recourse to an absolutist argument. Ironically, the very relativism that is used to insulate the arbitrary opinion in the first place is denied to all others on the basis that relativism is a fallacy! By doing so, the arbitrary opinion is promoted to the status of an irrefutable “truth,” since it can’t be challenged first due to the equality of all opinions, and second due to the fact that since only one of those supposedly equally valid opinions can actually be true, it must be the one that has “proven” impervious to all challenges (by fiat)! I’ve seen this two-step dance of insulated irrationality occur over and over again in “debates” with fanatical (generally right-wing) ideologues, usually accompanied by intense belligerence and a flood of ad hominems directed at anyone “pretentious” and “priggish” enough to challenge that modality.

In some ways, these two modalities, scholarship and what I am calling anti-scholarship (the two-step insulation and promotion of irrationality) define the extremes of a continuum, with various modalities falling along the spectrum between them. Obviously, I’d like to promote a shared commitment, by each and all, to do our best to move along that continuum in the direction of the more disciplined and bias-reducing modality of scholarship.

(See also The Elusive Truth, The Hydra’s HeadsThe Signal-To-Noise Ratio, Un-Jamming the Signal, Un-Jamming the SignalIdeology v. Methodology, The Voice Beyond Extremes, The Real Political & Cultural Dichotomy, Sacred Truths, The “New” ReductionismThe Tyranny of Blind Ideology, An Argument for Reason and Humility.)

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

A Facebook posting of an audioless YouTube clip of Michelle Obama whispering something into President Obama’s ear during a 9/11 ceremony, the movement of her lips slight and completely indecipherable, with a caption insisting that her unknown and unknowable words were  a comment about the amount of ceremony surrounding the flag, eliciting on the Facebook thread the typical hateful comments about her being “the worst first-lady ever” and “not being a lady.” Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum disdainfully calling President Obama a snob for saying that he would like to see all children go on to higher education, whether college or trade school or technical training. The phenomenon I’ve dubbed “Sharianity”, in which any act of violence committed by any Muslim anywhere in the world is taken as proof that America is being overrun by Sharia law (huh?). The Basal Ganglia of humanity dominating comment boards and Facebook threads.

This is not a right-left issue. Yes, it’s true, the preponderance of the belligerence, especially on the substantive side (see The Basic Political Ideological Grid), comes from the Right, but there is more than enough (especially in the form of how it’s expressed) coming from the Left. And there are both reasonable people of goodwill to be found on the Right, and irrational and belligerent people to be found on the Left.

The real political divide is not between the right and the left, but rather between, on the one hand, people who strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, humble enough to know that they don’t know all of the answers, and committed to working together with all others willing to do so to confront the challenges of a complex and subtle world; and, on the other hand, people who surrender almost completely to their own irrationality and belligerence, attacking any pursuit of knowledge as “snobbery” and any attempt to implement knowledge as “elitism,” eager to vilify all members of all out-groups (e.g., Muslims, Hispanics, Gays, Non-Judeo-Christians and Non-Americans in general) and ostentatiously both wave the flags and crosses of the in-group while subjecting those who don’t to a soft-Inquisition into why they lack the virtue to do so.

But, while the substantive positions of the Right are saturated in this error, the expressed attitudes of many on the left are so as well. To paraphrase and adapt Shakespeare to the current context, “The Fault, Dear Brutus….” is not with those enemies over there, but with ourselves. If the Right turns hatred into planks in a platform, the Left too often turns into a habit of thought and speech directed reflexively against those on the Right. We have to attack the offending ideas more than the people foolish enough to embrace them. And we have to do so even when the offending idea is that those on the Left are pure and good while those on the Right are villains to be vanquished.

I am not shy in my criticisms of right-wing ideology (see, for instance, the essays linked to in the box labeled “Tea Party Political Fundamentalism and Responses To It” at Catalogue of Selected Posts). But I am no less inclined to let left-wing intransigence and belligerence get a free pass (see, for example, many of the essays linked to in the “Politics of Reason and Goodwill” box at Catalogue of Selected Posts). And, despite the incessant attempts to equate this criticism of belligerence to a Pollyanna call for perfect civility and cordiality, a spirit of compromise that assumes and requires that others are reasonable people of goodwill as well, that is not, in fact, what it is. Reason and goodwill do not require passivity, or surrender, or an unwillingness to confront irrationality and belligerence with implaccable resolve. There is a place for strong words and “offensive” analogies (see, e.g., Godwin’s Law, Revisited and Humanity v. Civility), even occasionally for actual violence (such as to prevent a genocide), but only as long as they are done not in service to hatred or anger, but rather in service to a genuine commitment to humanity.

People often aren’t sure how to tell the difference. Here are some guidelines: 1) Those who refuse olive-branches sincerely offered are acting in pettiness rather than in service to humanity; 2) Those who revel in their belligerence are acting in service to anger rather than in service to humanity; 3) Those who vilify individuals more than they critique ideas are acting in service to hatred rather than in service to humanity; 4) Those who are certain that they possess the one, definitive substantive truth that their political enemies just don’t get are acting in service to  hubris rather than in service to humanity; 5) Those who cling to their false certainties rather than commit to processes by which to refine them are acting in service to moral and intellectual laziness rather than in service to humanity.

We can do better. One step toward doing better is for each one of us who is so inclined, each one of us who wants to act more in service to humanity and less in service to pettiness, belligerence, hatred, hubris, and moral and intellectual laziness, to decide to strive to exercise the discipline involved, invest the effort involved, make the commitment involved, to walking the walk as well talking the talk (see The Power of “Walking the Walk”).

Social change starts within each one of us, in the battle to be committed enough to do more than gratify our own emotional need to smite the enemy, in the struggle to be, not perfect, but sincerely committed to making this a better world, a commitment which requires each and every one of us to strive to make ourselves better individuals. Reason and goodwill, sincerely felt and sincerely advocated, are powerful forces, difficult to deny, easy to gravitate toward. All we need do is commit to them more diligently, make them our guiding forces, and act accordingly.

Writers and rebels, earnest young activists, starry-eyed romantics and unrequited lovers all have one thing in common: They yearn. Yearning, untempered by reason and humor, is pathological, the author of many unnecessary tragedies and many lonely, painful lives. But reason, and even humor, untempered by yearning is empty and often cruel, the stuff of a heartless and oppressive existence. Yearning is pain, but its absence is not pleasure; it’s absence is soullessness.

The early 20th century German sociologist Max Weber wrote much about the rationalization of society, its evolutionary force, its greater efficiencies, but also the trap that it sets for us. It is, Weber said, an iron cage, from which we cannot escape. Like the people caught in the cogs of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, or the savage trapped in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, or McMurphy lobotomized as he flew over Ken Kesey’s cuckoo’s nest, the machine of society eats us alive.

But these all emphasize how that oppressive force is imposed from without, at most glancingly alluding to the way in which it is accepted from within. The Frankfurt School of Sociology, synthesizing Weber, Marx and Freud, and perhaps a touch of Sartre as well, into something richer and more insightful than any of their paradigms were on their own, came closest to focusing on this dynamic, on this internalization of the seductively oppressive machine which envelopes us. But, if anything, they erred by underestimating its real benefits, and the difficulty of preserving those benefits while minimizing its spiritual costs.

The machine is neither bad nor good in and of itself. It is a robust producer of wealth, in ways that evaporate if that machine is dismantled. But without spiritual and emotional yearning to give that machine its soul, the comfort it offers is the comfort of a living death.

Long before authors and philosophers shined their light on the machine which encompasses us, they shined their light on the poetry of our existence. Humanity’s first epic stories, indeed, our first philosophies, were epic poems, with loving and angry gods favoring and disfavoring our struggling heroes, magic and monsters enchanting and challenging them, glory or horrible failure always in the balance, neither certain, either one possible.

The Hercules we’ve forgotten in our Disneyfied distillation of world folklore and mythology was a violent hot-head who murdered his entire family in a fit of divinely-imposed rage and died in horrible agony by donning a poisoned cloak. And yet he was one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology. Heroes before the machine weren’t sanitized human beings who we loved because we wrote them without flaws, but rather were yearning human beings trapped in the passions of existence, who we loved despite their flaws.

This classical humanism, celebrating the complex beauty of human existence, was reborn in the Renaissance, after Europe’s Medieval excursion into a world imaginarily reduced to saints and sinners, nobles and peasants, chivalrous knights and infidel villains. Shakespeare knew that all the world’s a stage, and we but actors upon it. He knew that we were just spirits, and that our cloud-capped towers, gorgeous palaces, and solemn temples all appear and disappear in a dance of our creation and time’s destruction.

Of course, in every time and place there is, in reality, a bit of both forces at work, the forces of repression and the forces of liberation, the former sometimes co-opting the latter’s name (as in our own current time and place). There are always those engaged in the dance of consciousness and aspiration, and always those engaged in the implicit opposition to it. But a time and place, a culture, is defined by the balance among these two, by which is more honored and which is more reviled.

The real project of modernity, the real goal of progress, is not to honor one and revile the other, but rather to appreciate the value of each, and the best ways to articulate the two. Strange as it may sound, repression isn’t all bad and poetry isn’t all good, but, though we don’t understand that, we still manage to err on the side of too much repression and too little poetry.

I contrast “repression” with “poetry” rather than “liberty” because liberty, real liberty, is a function of a blend of repression and poetry, not the complete absence of either. I am not now using the word “liberty” in the narrow political sense born of the late 18th century Enlightenment era political revolutions, but rather in the sense of the liberation of the human spirit from the shackles that we impose on it. Ironically, that narrowly defined political “liberty” has evolved into an ideology which stands largely in opposition to that more profound spiritual liberation, a vehicle of spiritual repression rather than of spiritual liberation, negating what should and could be the ultimate goal of our existence, insisting on the contraction of human consciousness and the dominance of extreme individualism rather than the ever-increasing realization of our humanity.

But that subtler, deeper liberation of the human spirit, something accomplished not just in mutual isolation, nor just in concert, but rather a bit of both, requires both the repression of mutually imposed discipline and responsibility, and the poetry of passionate yearning and a tolerant appreciation of one another’s humanity.

Though our prevalent ideology rhetorically dismisses repression as an unmitigated evil, it actually embraces it in practice as an unmitigated good, for we live in a time and place that smirks at the poetry of life, and believes only in the machine. There are those who think they oppose the machine by opposing the government, but the two are far from synonymous, government sometimes counterbalancing other parts of the machine in ways which reduce its oppressiveness. There are those who think they oppose the machine by opposing corporate capitalism, but those two, as well, are far from synonymous, corporate capitalism being a vital part of the drama of life, and the government we invoke to oppose it really not all that poetic itself.

And there are those who think they oppose the machine by belonging to enterprises, often nonprofits, that work toward reform, but, unless their minds liberate themselves from the machine as well, unless they appreciate the value of yearning and the poetry of life, they, too, are trying to change the machine by being the machine, and the changes, though they may be beneficial, will not be revolutionary. 

But to the extent that all of these sectors do comprise aspects of the machine, that does not mean that our duty is to oppose them. Our duty, rather, is to make them all more subservient to our souls, to our poetry, to our spiritual and emotional yearnings. We do not cure the machine by being the machine; we do not humanize one part merely by championing an equally dehumanized counterpart. And to do that, to champion more poetry to invigorate and humanize the machine on which we depend and which we should not strive to discard or dismantle, we need to be conscious of the ways in which our current algorithms, our current methodologies, serve efficiency at the expense of imagination, and, by doing so, actually reduce efficiency in the process.

The poetry of life isn’t just a necessary component of our humanity; it’s also a contributing factor to our efficiency and effectiveness. Weber’s iron cage of rationality presupposed that ever-increasing rationality, in the sense of an ever-more machine-like existence, is an unstoppable evolutionary force because it produces ever-increasing efficiency, but we’ve seen much evidence that there is a point of diminishing returns, a point at which more liberation of human imaginations yields more productive outcomes, and too much regimentation diminishes rather than increases the full realization of even our narrow economic potential, let alone our human potential more broadly conceived.

We waste our valuable human resources, our valuable consciousness, by assigning only those who satisfy our check lists of qualifications to the tasks to which those checklists apply, and relegating those who are less well regimented to the margins of society, where their often extraordinary potential is simply wasted, and their lives unfulfilled. Businesses and nonprofits, enterprises of all sorts, need to look beyond their checklists, need to look beyond the machine of which they are a part, and consider the less easily reducible qualities that some could bring to their endeavors. The gains in productivity and creativity would be enormous.

The poetry of life is a value too little considered, too poorly understood, too infrequently invoked and cultivated. It cannot replace the machine, for poetry does not put food on the table. But the machine cannot replace it, for mere economic production does not satisfy the yearnings of the heart and soul. Nor does economic production achieve maximum efficiency when the poetry of our lives is completely disregarded, for that poetry, that imaginative, yearning, passionate aspect of who and what we are, is a creative force, one which has practical implications and benefits when harnessed to that purpose.

We do not exist merely to exist. Our consciousness allows us to pursue purpose, and that purpose can and should be more than mere prosperity, mere political liberty, mere participation in the rationalized mechanisms of our collective existence. The growth of our consciousness, of our compassion, of our wisdom, and of our ability to take care of one another and offer one another opportunities to yearn meaningfully and functionally, to sustain ourselves both materially and emotionally, to discover the full depth and breadth of our humanity, is something truly worth living for.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

In the right wing blogosphere, everyone that isn’t a radical libertarian, evangelical, nationalistic, jingoistic yahoo is a “Socialist” or “Communist” or “godless baby killer” or “anti-American traitor of all that is good and holy.” There is, on the one hand, the One Truth, and there is the Error that is all else.

The One Truth, blindly adhered to and ultimately irrational, is defined by a particular interpretation of the Bible; a particular interpretation of the Constitution; a particular blend of historical, economic, legal, and cultural illiteracies; and particular “worst of both worlds” inconsistencies conveniently combining individualism (“we can’t use government to take care of one another”) and collectivism (“but we can use it to impose the religious dogma of the majority, to discriminate against various minorities, to deny those we disapprove of basic civil rights protections, and to take a belligerent stance toward the rest of the world”), moral absolutism (“our moral certainties are unassailable absolute truths”) and intellectual relativism (“since all opinions, regardless of how well or poorly informed and reasoned, are equal, no one can criticize any opinion we express, which is, when we are not insulating it from criticism through this claim of relativism, the absolute truth by virtue of our rejection of relativism”); all amalgamated into a polymorphous idolatry (see, e.g., “Sharianity” for a discussion of some of these hypocrisies). If you don’t belong to the extreme engaged in that particular Bacchanalia of ignorance and belligerence, you belong to any and all opposite extremes, by whatever labels exist to rhetorically relegate you to their confines.

Of course, between the right-wing extremes of Small Government Idolatry (or what is in reality government mandated only to oppose by all means necessary all those who belong to any out-groups in relation to these paragons of bigotry), religious fanaticism, and jingoistic belligerence, and the left-wing extremes (that barely exist in the United States) of absolute reliance on centralized political power and anti-market economic illiteracy, lies the sanity of recognizing the value of markets and the necessity of regulating them, the value of personal liberty but the inescapable fact of interdependence, and the subtlety and complexity of the world we live in and the challenges it poses.

In other words, in the United States, Small Government Idolatry isn’t predominantly opposed by “Socialism,” but rather by “No Presumption Pragmatism” (NPP), a term I coined in The Great American Debate to represent the belief that we must face a complex and subtle world with as much reason, as much humility, as much discipline, as much realism, and as much goodwill and compassion as possible.

Of course, one could as easily use the phrase “no presumption pragmatism” to justify a more insular and belligerent stance, claiming that “pragmatism” requires a “Fortress America” ideology vis-a-vis the rest of the world, and disregard for the plight of the less fortunate in our own country. Laced throughout my writings are arguments about why this is the opposite of the truth, a small-minded tribalistic and classist reflex that does not really capture the realities of the challenges and opportunities that face us.

It is not pragmatic to lock ourselves into a web of perpetual lose-lose scenarios, nor is it pragmatic to engage in a short-sighted denial of the long-term consequences of present actions. Therefore, “No Presumption Pragmatism” refers to the realistic, vigilant, disciplined, and balanced commitment to forging as much cooperation as possible, and exercising as much compassion as possible, within the constraints imposed by some others’ unwillingness to do the same.

But even aside from the fact that what I am calling “No Presumption Pragmatism” is recommended by enlightened self-interest, it is also an inevitable expression of our core values as a people and a nation. We are not a people who define ourselves as oppressors, who believe that it is right and good to prosper with indifference toward those who are not so fortunate, who are willing to explicitly say that the plight of the poor and unfortunate is no concern of anyone other than those few who care to make it their concern. I believe that few in America today are willing to explicitly advocate for social injustice for the sake of social injustice, that the vast majority of Americans today believe that indifference to the welfare of others is bad. That means that one of the things we need to be pragmatic about is how to most effectively and efficiently implement our commitment to human decency.

One need not be a Socialist, or a Tea Party Libertarian, or a Godless Atheist, or a Bible-Thumping Inquisitor, or a Traitor to One’s Country, or a Militant Nationalist; one can be a pragmatist, without presumption, in service to the welfare of oneself, one’s family, and one’s other in-groups, which, in the long run, coincides completely and inextricably with the welfare of humanity (and of the living planet itself).

Such pragmatism isn’t merely a matter of eschewing the mindless extremes, but rather of embracing the mindfulness that they do not. It is not a default position, the mere absence of manias, but rather an affirmative position, the presence of disciplines of the mind and heart and body and soul. It favors methodology over ideology, commitment to procedure (e.g., the rule of law) over such zeal of false certainty carried by such hubris that no deference to procedures such as scientific methodology or rule of law is necessary (see, e.g., The Elusive Truth, The Hydra’s Heads, The Signal-To-Noise Ratio, Ideology v. Methodology, The Voice Beyond Extremes, Discourse, Diderot & Deity, The Real Political & Cultural Dichotomy, Sacred Truths, The “New” Reductionism, Irrational (but rationalized) Belligerence, The Tyranny of Blind Ideology, An Argument for Reason and Humility).

NPP is the ideology of reason applied to evidence, leavened with imagination, in service to humanity. It is something we can and should develop, elaborate, explore, define, refine, and implement. This blog, in many ways, is committed to just that purpose. (See, for instance, my essays that explore the descriptive paradigm on which we should rely, hyperlinked in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts; my essays that explore the normative and strategic paradigm on which we should rely, hyperlinked in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts; and the remainder of my essays, exploring the bridges between the two, the specific issue details, and the complexities and nuances surrounding both.)

So, here’s to No Presumption Pragmatism! May ever more of my neighbors and fellow countrymen (and countrywomen) flock to its banner, and sing its hymns! It may be the case that we can never really be anything more than elaborately grunting apes, but we can and do grunt in ever-more elaborate ways, with a consciousness that continuously blossoms as a result. Let’s, therefore, be conscious human beings striving to do good in the world, and leave all of the absurd and self-destructive noise on the dust-heap of history, where it belongs.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

(Here is an unedited Facebook thread, continuing the ongoing discussion….): David K Williams Jr: What radical, ignorant tea-bagger said this?

“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” 

David K Williams Jr: A: Abraham Lincoln

Matt Arnold: As quoted by yours truly several months ago: http://www.clearthebenchco​lorado.org/2010/10/25/figh​ting-the-%E2%80%9Cprogress​ive%E2%80%9D-takeover-of-s​tate-courts/

Joshua Sharf: I think he even had a low, sloping forehead.

Audrey Lussier Hussey: what a radical.

Lawrence Depenbusch: Barney Frank????

Jacque Rhoades: Crazy Abe. What was he thinking?!?!

Lawrence Depenbusch: Abe said enough great things, he could have had one off day. You try getting selected for Mount Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial, and the penny…

Steve Harvey: Right. The same guy who led the opposition to your ideology in his time, and who would continue to lead it today were he alive, strengthening the federal government against a secessionist movement, denying the individual liberty asserted by southern slave owners. The words are perfect; your blindness to the fact that today you are those “men who pervert the Constitution” ironic.

Joshua Sharf: Steve: I wasn’t aware that “my ideology” included the ownership of other human beings.

Buddy Shipley: xactly, Joshua. Beat me to it! Steve’s a twit.

Steve Harvey: Your ideology includes an extreme notion of individual liberty that neglects to recognize how its exercise affects the rights and liberties of others. The inability to abstract and apply general principles to new variations on repeating patterns is part of what permits them to be repeated. Or, more conventionally, “those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it.”

Buddy Shipley: Liberals reject principle in favor of moral relativism, screws their reasoning every time.

Steve Harvey: Read John C. Calhoun’s “Union and Liberty,” which argued in langauge almost indistinguishable from Tea Party arguments why the overreaching federal government was depriving Southern Slave owners of their Constitutionally guarnanteed liberty by trying to abolish slavery.

Buddy Shipley: Wrong again, Stevie.

Buddy Shipley: On all counts/

Steve Harvey: Really, Buddy? Because I read it, cover to cover, when I studied American Political History. And that is exactly the argument that Calhoun makes.

Steve Harvey: Once again, you’re entitled to your opinion, but not to your facts, no matter how determined you are to simply declare that the facts are other than what they are.

Buddy Shipley: That’s my line, thief.

Steve Harvey: You are a bunch of throwbacks, lacking the knowledge, humility, or imagination to have the faintest recognition of to what extent that is the case. And, in the process, you try to inflict a utopian farce on an otherwise pragmatic nation, ta…king an idea divorced from its articulation with our lived history and insisting that only that idea must be revered, even if the version to which you reduce it can be implemented only at the cost of our prosperity and our humanity.

Buddy Shipley: WRONG: “ideology [that] includes an extreme notion of individual liberty that neglects to recognize how its exercise affects the rights and liberties of others.” –YOU ARE COMPLETELY WRONG.

David K Williams Jr: Steve – read Massachusett’s abolitionist Lysander Spooner’s “No Treason.” It’s readily available on the internet.

Steve Harvey: Yes, Buddy, you frequently repeat it, though you never demonstrate it. You ignore the historical, economic, and legal empirical evidence that I mobilize. Your last comment, citing another argument, does nothing to address the one that I cited.

Joshua Sharf: Steve, this is a non-argument. I’m not going to be held responsible for Calhoun’s misuse of Constitutional arguments, any more than you would be for early “progressives'” racism.

Buddy Shipley: Lincoln inherited a nation already in conflict over the economic canard of state’s rights to free commerce based on slave labor. Rather than allow the Union to collapse Lincoln chose to fight to keep it together, and that meant he had to choose between sanctioning slavery or ending it –One nation United without slavery, or divided and enslaved. The choice is not difficult.

Steve Harvey: Joshua, you would be absolutely right, if your ideas were fundamentally different from Calhoun’s. Unfortunately, they are fundamentally similar, just in a different historical context. They were used to oppose Civil Rights, and your own Ran…d Paul said that he wouldn’t have been able to support The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 because of how it infringes on the liberty to be (though he of course did not put it this way) a discriminatory racist.

Steve Harvey: The fundamental flaw in libertarian ideology is the de-emphasis of interdependence, and the neglect of the degree to which freedom must be articulated with where its exercise affects the welfare of others, which is extensive and ubiquitous.

Buddy Shipley: ‎”They were used to oppose Civil Rights…” — WHAT?

Buddy Shipley: Steve, you are babbling again.

Buddy Shipley: ‎”de-emphasis of interdependence” — ON WHAT?

Buddy Shipley: The Left has for generations been allowed to manipulate the language to serve their own ends with deceptively crafted legislation presided over by a Judiciary that has been corrupt at least since Liberal luminary Thurgood Marshall who asser…ted: “Do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” — ie: legislate from the bench because we the elite anointed few, surely know better than the great unwashed masses or any Legislative Branch that must actually be elected by the proletariat.

Steve Harvey: Uh, yes, Buddy. Southern leaders, such as George Wallace, used the complaint of an overreaching federal government to resist desegregation and the enforcement of Civil Rights provisions. The history of your ideology begins with the Articles of Confederation, and continued with “nullification” doctrine (that states have the right to “nullify” federal law at will), and then was used to impose Jim Crow, and finally has been reincarnated as Tea Party dogma.

Of course, it has articulated with other essentially absolutist doctrines along the way, such as religious fundamentalism, but the integral thread is very easy to discern, and to recognize as coherent across our history. And, yes, I see that you have now indicted Thurgood Marshall, responsible for arguing “Brown v. Board of Education,” which made desegregation the law of the land, and catalyzed the modern Civil Rights movement. Thanks for demonstrating my point.

Buddy Shipley: I indict Marshall for legislating from the bench.

Buddy Shipley: You fail civics 101, asshole.

Buddy Shipley: Your reading & comprehension skill are also lacking.

Steve Harvey: Right. You indict Marshall for doing what his namesake (Chief Justice John Marshall) had established as the role of the Court in the early 19th century, to the great benefit of the nation (which would almost certainly not have managed to so… closely approach “rule of law” as it has had he not done so, since your ideal of each imposing his or her own Constitutional interpretation, and not tolerating any process which imposes one in any centralized fashion, would have obliterated the law by converting it into a creature of each person’s imagination).

And I have no doubt that I failed your version of Civics, though I have taught it (and US History, and US Government), though not the caricature of it that your litmus test requires.

Steve Harvey: There are three branches of government, all involved in creating the law of the land, in different ways. Congress legislates, but legsilation is not the only law producing process. When the executive branch implements the laws, it must affe…ct them to make them implementable. Executive branch agencies do this in the form of agency rule making, a very elaborate process with lots of in-put from all interested parties. The judicial branch interprets the law, which cannot be drafted to cover all contingencies. The process of interpretation is a process of creation, inevitably.

Part of the genius of our system is this tension in the creation of law, a lathe on which it is forever refined, a lathe that you are determined to smash and replace with a sledgehammer for all occasions.

Buddy Shipley: WRONG AGAIN, asshole.

Steve Harvey: Yes, Buddy, you keep saying it. But, strangely, you are completely devoid of arguments. I know you are convinced that whatever you declare to be true must be, especially if you can accompany it with a profanity. But, alas, that’s just not how it works.

Steve Harvey: Buddy, that’s the elementary school version, not the reality, either by design or in practice. The idealized version is that the legislative branch writes the laws, the executive implements them, and the judicial interprets them. The realit…y is that all three of those processes affect their formation, inevitably, by the very nature of what it means to do those things. The shallowness of your mind is the problem, not the complexity of the real world.

Buddy Shipley: The 3 branches have DIFFERENT responsibilities! The Legislative Branch has the sole authority and power to craft and pass Legislation — NOT the Judiciary, you twit!! The Executive can choose to either sign the Legislation into law or veto it, and the Judiciary must APPLY THE LAW, not MAKE SHIT UP as they see fit!

Aaron Michael: The fundamental flaw with progressivism is that it seeks to cure the vices of men through force via the state. Libertarians acknowledge interdependence among people (hence the advocation of pure capitalism), but stop at trying to impose th…eir social norms on others. That’s not to say they don’t recognize universal morals, but being a prejudice dick does not fall into a category of aggression that would warrant a negative law enacted for the purpose of curtailing persons with discriminating behavior.

Buddy Shipley Just like Obama’s tyrannical policies to NOT enforce the laws of the land, T. Marshall chose to ignore the law and exert his own despotic opinion in place of the law and in blatant defiance of the Legislature that was actually ELECTED by the People. This is tyranny, and Steve wholeheartedly advocates it.

Aaron Michael: And once again Buddy emerges from the swampy soil to give his opinion on a matter he know nothing about.

Buddy Shipley I’ve been here all along, what steamy turd did Aaron crawl out from under??

Buddy Shipley ‎”Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” –P. J. O’Rourke. Why do you leftist maggots insist on doing just that?

Buddy Shipley ‎”Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control mans’ appetite through legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not even crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our Government was founded” –President Abraham Lincoln (December 1840).

Buddy Shipley: Can your wee wittle bwains expand these concepts to everything else, or is the strain to great?

Aaron Michael: Buddy, O’Rourke is much too sophisticated to have jelly brains like yourself quoting him.

Aaron Michael: Try quoting Justin Bieber; it fits you better.

Buddy Shipley: Ohh, how witty. How many books have you written, maggot?

Buddy Shipley: Debt Default: More Honesty, Less Hyperbole U.S. Annual Deficit spending is projected at $1.4 Trillion this year alone, or 10% of GDP. The national debt is over $14.3 Trillion dollars, or 91.2% of GDP, which is no one claims is sustainable…. Service on the national debt amounts to nearly $400 Billion each year, based on average interest rates of ~3.9%, as Democrats demand a higher debt ceiling! This cannot be permitted. If the U.S. were to actually default on its debt payment we may lose our AAA rating (determined by Standard & Poors, Moody’s, Fitch), which in theory could cause our interest rates to increase; specifically, if the U.S. rating was downgraded from “AAA” to “AA-” it could result in an increase from .25% to .50% percent paid in interest, or a total of between $1 Billion and $2 Billion per year. Compared to our national debt, annual deficit spending and even the annual service on our national debt, $2 Billion is chump-change, especially considering the debate in Congress is about the need to slash federal spending by Hundreds of Billions, even Trillions of dollars! Too many politicians are addicted to spending other people’s money, and like a drug addict they will do anything to satisfy their addiction, no matter the harm done to others. It is well-past time for intervention; our only recourse now is interdiction. True fiscal conservatives must stand their ground at all costs, they must NOT cave-in on demands, threats and scare-tactics to lift the debt ceiling or raise taxes! Raising taxes will only stall an already stagnate economy and facilitate the politicians’ addiction. Defaulting would not be the worst thing to happen, but raising the debt limit and increasing taxes on a stagnate economy with 9.1% unemployment certainly would. This Congress has consistently proven it cannot be trusted to conduct the nation’s business within its means, with or without any wars. If you eliminate the entire $1.2 Trillion in war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan from the budget we’re still smothered under $13.1 Trillion in debt! Our junkie government has a SPENDING problem, not a revenue problem. The socialists have finally run out of other people’s money; it’s time for tough love, they must be forced to quit cold turkey.

Buddy Shipley: You maggots want a revolution? Keep it up.

Aaron Michael: So writing a book makes one smart? Oh and a captain planet coloring book doesn’t count.

Buddy Shipley: So, ad hominem attacks are all you’ve got?

Aaron Michael: Hahahaha and the pot calls the kettle black.

Steve Harvey: Let’s start with a thought experiment: What happens if you remove the state from the pricture? No force, only freedom. Those inclined to prey on others will do so, and will band together to do so, while those who are not will band together …to defend themselves. They will use force in both cases. Some of these bands will defeat others, consolidating into larger entities, with those able to assert or impose leadership becoming de facto governments, only far more tyrannical than those of developed modern democracies that you are now decrying.

If you remove the state, then you essentially press the reset button on political history. The state is a reality, because force is a reality. So pretending that the issue is over whether the state is good or bad is moot; the question is how to limit it and use it to maximum advantage, all things considered.

Yes, limiting it and controlling it is an essential part of the challenge, but not as some quasi-religious notion unrefined by a recognition of both its inevitability and its range of competence. The state is our vehicle of collective action, our public agent, and free people using mechanisms by which they, in effect, ARE the state can, should, and must accept that responsibility, despite the real challenges and obstacles posed by it.

My version of progressivism doesn’t declare the state good or bad, but rather starts with the recognition that we cannot escape the responsibility of governing ourselves to the best of our ability, today, here and now, guided by the brilliant products of our history, but not absolved of our living responsibility by them. We can best do this by first resolving to be reasonable people of goodwill rather than raging blind ideologues, whether on this side or that of any question.

To do that, we need to be somewhat humble, recognizing that we live in an almost infintely complex and subtle reality, with wonderful minds that are more limited than that reality. So we need to know that we don’t know, that we are constantly discovering. Then we need to do our best to mobilize our collective genius in this inevitable effort to continue to do the best we can, as reaonable people of goodwill. When, through that process, we arrive at conclusion which limit the state more, then I am the first to applaud our success. When, through that process, we arrive at conclusions that utilize the state more, then I applaud that success as well. There is no one final panacea that answers all questions and resolves all challenges, once and for all.

The Constitution is a short and vague document, interpretable in mulitple ways, one which provides brilliant guidance, but does not resolve all questions. We are participants in a living history, just as the drafters of that wonderful document were (who knew better than their modern idolators how great the need would be to continue to refine it as history created new challenges and opportunities). There is no escaping that fact, nor should we wish to.

Argue your positions, and I’ll argue mine, and let’s strive to be reasonable people of goodwill doing the best we can in a complex and subtle world. Now, THAT would be tribute to our Founding Fathers, who showed us the way!

Buddy Shipley: “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it” –Thomas Sowell

“Most people who read “The Communist Manifesto” probably have no idea that it was written by a couple of young men who had never worked a day in their lives, and who nevertheless spoke boldly in the name of ‘the workers.'” –Thomas Sowell

Buddy Shipley: Compromise ALWAYS means losing ground to progressives/liberals! As Thomas Jefferson said, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” For the past century this is exactly what has happened. In the…ir attempts to “bring the country together” many prominent Republicans have pursued the disastrous course of “moderation” and “compromise” as they seek what they mistakenly believe to be some sort of desirable “middle ground.” I say there is no such thing! It is a fallacy to describe compromise with liberals as anything more than the constant erosion of conservatism and liberty — we are constantly yielding more ground to the Left — toward socialism, fascism, communism. They may call themselves Liberals or Progressives or Democrats, but history reveals them to be one in the same: Leftists progressing toward total government rule, always for our own good of course! Whether the Leftist Lemmings are aware of this or not, they seek a form of government better known as Totalitarian. Read Orwell’s “1984” with a different perspective, one where the totalitarian dystopia is Obama’s Leftist dreams made manifest. Forms of Government: http://www.youtube.com/wat​ch?v=DioQooFIcgE. Liberal Fantasies v. Reality: http://www.youtube.com/wat​ch?v=90SdmjuCAqw. And yes, “socialism” is but a few steps away from communism. http://www.youtube.com/wat​ch?v=DioQooFIcgE. “The problem with splitting the difference between opposing sides, as many negotiators are prone to do– whether these negotiators are marriage counselors, labor arbitrators or the United Nations– is that this gives an advantage to the side with the most unreasonable demands, and therefore promotes more unreasonable demands in the future.” –economist Thomas Sowell

Steve Harvey: Buddy, what you are now calling “socialism” has a record of success, not of failure, for not one modern prosperous nation has achieved modern levels of prosperity without the form of government you are now calling “socialism.” Not one. The post-WWII economic boom was participated in only by nations that had large administrative states in place prior to it, and not by any nation that didn’t. Your semantic game of applying a word overbroadly, to indict one system by lumping it together with another completely different one, carefully obfuscating the reality of world history, may be satisfying to your ideological zeal, but it is an affront to reason.

And your loathing of compromise is a loathing of the process which produced the Constitution you turn into an object of idolatry rather than the legal framework it was intended to be, for it was all about compromise. The basic argument has existed throughout our history, between “the Hamiltonians” on the one hand (ironically, the original “federalists,” though “federalism” then meant an argument for stronger rather than weaker federal government), and “the Jeffersonians” on the other (though Jefferson explicitly repudiated many of the notions you now enshrine as sacrosanct).

Steve Harvey: Okay, I can’t spend my life demonstrating the historical, legal, empirical, logical, economic, and just general folly of every bit of nonsense that Buddy Shipley insists is not only Gospel truth, but justification for social and political disintegration. Go for it, Buddy. The podium is yours and yours alone.

Aaron Michael: I added doughnuts to my new workout routine and have lost 35 lbs! Therefore, doughnuts made me lose weight. Steve, you also failed to mention the more appropriate correlation that the 20th century was by far the bloodiest and the perpetrators were those very same gigantic centralized states.

Buddy Shipley: Steve, that previous comment is perhaps the most cogent thing I’ve ever seen you write & share, if only it were not so long and rambling — dude, you need to focus better. I never suggested eliminating the state. The State is certainly th…e problem and direct cause for our economic crisis, but that is because it has exceeded its authority! I am no anarchist, although I’ve recently given it more consideration I still think anarchy is too unstable to survive aggressive parties seeking dominance. You are correct about the effect of a “reset,” and the emergence of groups using force for aggression and defense (now apply that to the current world). Force is essential in protecting individual rights, and the right to exercise that force has been granted to government, and yes, “limiting it and controlling it is essential,” else it might be turned against those it is intended to protect. But again, that is why the founders constrained the government’s authority with the limited powers enumerated in the Constitution! You seem to support these great ideas but then contradict your own position by endorsing ever more excessive government, legislating from the Bench, and progressive nonsense that only leads to more government excess! You do not seem to comprehend your own ideas. It’s certainly a concern that overthrowing our current government could result in even worse tyranny than what it has become. We must certainly seek to govern ourselves rather than depending on Big Government to do it for us, but that concept in and of itself is an ideology, perhaps one some might consider “raging & blind”… Our founders were “reasonable people of goodwill” and to that end they crafted the Constitution and Bill of Rights. We need to return to them. Also, they are only “vague documents” to those who wish to circumvent their intent and exceed the limits of power proscribed by them. In their wisdom the founders also incorporated the means to amend the documents, but our elected officials prefer to ignore that difficult hurdle and again exceed their authority! How is it you do not grasp this? Our Constitution defines the limited powers of government and distributes those powers among the three branches: Executive, Judiciary, and the bicameral Congress. When any of these branches usurps a power of another branch it is unconstitutional, a breech of the Public trust, and a crime that should be prosecuted, but instead goes ignored, thereby establishing precedent for the next breech, and the next, each more egregious than the one before. What you advocate, we already have, if only it were enforced. And finally, you’re wrong about the successes of socialism — it is a cancerous disease destroying every country it has infected.

Lawrence Depenbusch: What Buddy said…

Jacque Rhoades ‎:( Just looked at Steve’s profile, he is a teacher. Sad.

Steve Harvey: Aaron, I did not mention the perfect correlation between large administrative states and modern prosperity as proof of causation (though, unlike your doughnuts analogy, it wasn’t the offering of one anomalous example otherwise disproven by a flood of contradictory examples, since EVERY modern prosperous state has a large administrative infrastructure, and HAD one in place prior to participating in the post-WWII explosion of wealth. Furthermore, the ACTUAL socialist states, that HAVE universally failed, are distinguishable from these modern prosperous states in their political economic form, including the Western European states and The United States, despite the sloppy use of a single ideologically-charged, rhetorically exploited term to conflate them). I offered it as refutation of Buddy’s not only erroneous, but diametrically-opposite-to-​the-truth, statement, that all “socialist” states (by which he meant “states characterized by large administrative infrastructures”) have failed. What have failed are states which have dismantled market economies en masse, which the large prosperous states with large administrative infrastructures have not done.

As for the bloody twentieth century, since warfare is ubiquitous in human history, and states of all types and degrees of development have engaged in it to fairly similar, extensive degrees, the main cause of the distinction in degrees of violence in twentieth century wars is level of technology, thus leading to more destructive warfare, rather than form of state, which does not significantly distinguish the degree of warfare (independent of technological destructiveness) that occurred.

As for Buddy, he continues to ignore arguments and rely on insults and arbitrary declarations, since I argued why the Constitution does not answer all questions, and have previously argued why we are already following it in a systematic, rather than political disintegrative, way (through judicial review, by which determinations are made concerning the constitutionality of laws which do not degenerate into the wild and generally erroneious ideological assertions of a particular fanatical faction). Yes, the Founding Fathers were, taken as a whole, “reasonable people of goodwill,” who did not absolve us of the responsibility to do the same by ending history for us, but rather began our national “experiment” in a brilliant way on which we are challenged to continue to build.

Furthermore, Buddy: The reliance on attacks on style (your literary critique) is both irrelevant and evidence that you feel that merely addressing substance (focusing on the arguments and responding to them) is insufficient to the task of “winning” the debate. I was amazed at your accusation toward someone else of relying on ad hominems, since that is well over 90% of the content of your posts!

And Jacque: I’m a former college lecturer, high school teacher, professional researcher, and author (I’ve presented papers at professional meetings of economists, and my original scholarship is cited in several articles and books); and am currently an attorney who has worked as an independent policy consultant. I have no doubt that you find it sad that your ideology is rejected by those who know what they’re talking about (which is why you, plural, always complain about academics and journalists, supposedly all “leftists,” though you never quite manage to explain why it is that precisely those people who professionally acquire, analyze, and report information should happen to lean en masse in the direction opposite of your dogmas).

You (plural) rely on a bizarre combination of insisting that reason supports your conclusions, while rejecting all reasoned empirical arguments as “intellectual elitism,” and relying instead on a completely irrational semantic game (“since we can erroneously label the modern capitalist hybrid of robust market economies and large, economically engaged administrative states “socialism,” and can point to other states characterized by completely different political economic structures that are generally known as ‘socialist’ [though we will also engage in the revisionism of recategorizing states that were historically characterized by far-right rather than far-left ideology as “socialist” as well, simply naming all failed or reviled states ‘socialist’ as part of our absurd, blindly ideological form of ‘argumentation’], by this sloppy and meaningless equation we have proven that large administrative states are universally failures, despite the historical fact that no successful modern state has not had a large administrative infrastructure.”).

Steve Harvey: As I’ve told David previously, intellectualism doesn’t guarantee success (Marxism was indeed an intellectual paradigm, and a failure both theoretically and politically), but anti-intellectualism guarantees failure, and is an institutionaliz…ed part of all totalitarian states while absent from all modern, prosperous capitalist states. Our Founding Fathers were markedly intellectual, mobilizing classical and Enlightenment thought in the devising of our political framework, and no one is arguing that that intellectual achievement was a failure. Marxism itself was just one of several competing intellectual paradigms, not the only one, and once it prevailed politically, became an anti-intellectual paradigm (the rulers of Marxist and other totalitarian states universally persecuting intellectuals, who are the bane of the kinds of ideas that they and you profess, that are mere blind fanaticisms in service to concentrations of power and impositions of human suffering). We have no choice but to continue to use our minds to the best of our ability, fallible as that faculty is, because the opposite is far more disastrous.

Lawrence Depenbusch: Wrong Steve: It is not modern techonology that was the force that led to the death of so many in the last century, but the rise of PROGRESSIVE idealogy in the hands of media supported tyrants in Russia, Germany and China. Progressive leaders slaughtered millions of people, who did not share their idealogy. Progressive ideas kill…..

Steve Harvey: Sorry, Lawrence, but that’s your semantic game again. Russia, Nazi Germany, and China are examples more dissimilar than similar to Western Europe and The United States, on multiple dimensions. The sloppy use of the word “progressive” to mea…n “any state that I reject, regardless of dissimilarities,” may satisfy your ideological certainties, but it is poor argumentation. To take it a step further, the reality of the world is one characterized by variation along multiple dimensions, to varying degrees.

While you identify “state engagement” as the defining characteristic, it is in fact one dimension, that comes in dramatically varying degrees. Western European and modern American levels of state engagement are, in reality, strongly correlated to prosperity and freedom, while significantly higher degrees of state engagement (displacing markets and freedom of expression and assembly) are associated with tyranny.

This conflation of dissimilar things to argue your position is persuasive only to those who are rationalizing irrationality, not to those who are examining the world, and trying to understand it as it is. Ironically, Libertarianism and Marixism are quite similar in form, even while being substantively opposites, because both are utopian fantasies, divorced from our lived history and our incremental pragmatic social institutional evolution, attempting to impose an internally contradictory and easily debunked extreme absolutism on a society, in ways inevitably destructive to the real freedom and welfare of the members of that society.

Steve Harvey: There is error at both extremes, whether too much or too little state engagement. This is strongly evidenced by history, and strongly supported by any well-reasoned analysis. You cite examples of the error of too much state engagement (“Tyranny”) to defend an argument for too little, in opposition to the paradigm that is most supported empirically and historically as the most effective balance.

Lawrence Depenbusch: ‎”Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” –P. J. O’Rourke >>> (…and Power in the hands of an institution that can tax and punish is even more odious)

Lawrence Depenbusch: ‎”Government is not reason, it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” – George Washington >>> (For an educator -such as Steve- to cast off such primary wisdom against the danger of government force, shows him to be under the sway of this force that has fed him for decades and turned him into it’s guard dog—pity)

Lawrence Depenbusch: “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.” ~Plato >>> (Laws and courts are ultimately at a loss to control evil people, and so more laws tend to hinder the good more than constrain the evil)

Steve Harvey: Again, Lawrence, does that mean that we should have no laws? Everything should be legal, no use of force involved, and if someone decides to commit murder or steal or rape, laws are irrelevant, because good people won’t and bad people will? Or do we, more sanely, and more in accord with reality, recognize that laws play a vital role in regulating human coexistence, and that the question isn’t whether, but rather how and in what ways?

Quotes, BTW, are made in historical context, by mere human beings. Washington’s doesn’t imply that government is bad, but rather draws attention to the real challenges involved in using it well, made at a time when his emphasis was determined by his context. Listing quotes of revered (or not revered) individuals is not argumentation either. It doesn’t absolve us of mobilizing reason applied to evidence in search of understanding and in service to humanity. And even the most brilliant quotes, taken out of context and misapplied, can lead to appallingly erroneous conclusions.

Bumber-sticker wisdom, even when it is indeed wise, is not enough for self-governance; real analysis, mobilizing real data, in service to real understanding, can’t be by-passed by recourse to your version of pithy sayings to live by (a tactic which is used more often in service to ignorance and tyranny than in service to wisdom and freedom). If you want to make arguments about how best to govern ourselves, cite instead the Federalist Papers, which are extensive and in-depth (and are arguments for stronger rather than weaker federal government).

But, more importantly than all of this, recognize that you champion one position in a national dialogue of legitimately conflicting views; champion it, by all means, making your best arguments, and advocating for what you believe in. But engage in the debate with the desire to grow and learn, and, when necessary, to compromise with those with whom you sincerely disagree. Because this nation belongs to all of us, not just to any one radical faction. And we have in place many systems for deciding from among our competing views.

While I fervently disagree with the bulk of your ideological corpus, I also recognize that there are legitimate debates to be had over the balance between investing in our present and future well-being and taming our growing debt, over how best to balance our various social institutional modalities, over how best to maintain a robust market economy. I do not dismiss monetarist economic theory, because I recognize that there are very well-informed and intelligent people who champion it, and so it is incumbent on me to consider the possibility that it is the more valid position, or that it has some validity even if not the more valid position. The most important point is not about our conflicting substantive positions, but rather about our conflicting attitudes toward how to go about engaging in this substantive conflict.

I argue that we are best off, first and foremost, suspending our substantive certainties from time to time, and agreeing that our first responsibility is to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill doing the best we can in a complex and subtle world. We all need to admit that, no matter how well informed we are, we are fallible, and our own beliefs may be in error, those of our opponents may be correct. We all have to recognize that being a human being is being a work in progress, that none of us have the one, true, unassailable final answer on all matters. And on that foundation, we need to continue to build our wisdom, our humanity, and our commitment to being responsible citizens engaged in a common endeavor.

I may be wrong about everything else (and, if so, fervently desire that that be demonstrated to me, or that I be defeated in our political contests, because my commitment isn’t to what I now think I know, but rather to what I don’t yet know and must still discover), but I am right about one thing: We need to recognize that our competing ideological certainties, militantly held and insulated against evidence and reason, do not serve us well. Disciplines and processes that favor reason and goodwill have proven to serve us much better, and the more we are able to extend those individual and collective disciplines and processes into ever-wider spheres of our existence, the better off we will be.

Buddy Shipley: Steve, why do you always ALWAYS misinterpret and exaggerate everything we say?? NO ONE suggested we should have NO laws! I never said we should have NO state! For an educator your reading and comprehension skills F’ing suck! And as I’ve suggested to you on several occasions — LESS is MORE! Your overly-verbose rambling tomes are not going to get read — these are COMMENTS, not books. WTF?

Lawrence Depenbusch: “The government solution to any problem is usually at least as bad as the problem.” —Milton Friedman … It is not an ALL OR NOTHING situation. Realizing that government power is odious, that laws have unintended consequences, that evil is not often constrained by law, we ought to keep our laws general and few.

Steve Harvey: When I am arguing substantively, I try to mobilize evidence and reason to demonstrate what I perceive to be the dazzling empirical and logical weaknesses in the “arguments” dominating the opposition to my arguments on this thread. I see mostly sloppy semantic arguments, overapplying terms and then concluding that all forms stuffed into the overbroad terms are proven dysfunctional by the dysfunctionality of some of the quite different forms to be found in the same overbroad category (akin to arguing that cows must be meat eaters, because cows are mammals, and here are some examples of mammals that are meat eaters, proving that cows are therefore meat eaters too, despite the empirical evidence that they aren’t).

But I live my life with the recognition that what I think I know today may be demonstrated wrong in some or all ways, and so must listen to arguments, address them, respect that others believe something different from what I believe, and engage with the purpose of improving our shared understandings rather than with the purpose of showing how my dogmatic religion is THE RIGHT ONE and yours is THE WRONG ONE. Of all of the irrational positions dominating the arguments against me here, the most irrational of all is the sense of absolute certainty, often in complete contradiction of reason and evidence, though insulated by a shared and reinforced delusion that reason and evidence supports whatever you are certain is true.

We all need to start with the recognition that none of us has a monopoly on absolute truth, that we need to rely on evidence and reason and to whatever extent possible submit ourselves to those disciplines of the mind in pursuit of our understandings, and to know above all us that, if we are wise, what we are certain is the one infallible truth today will be shown to be in some ways less than perfect if we do allow reason and evidence to influence us. I have long maintained that the most fundamental political divide in America (and the world) isn’t between any of the conflicting substantive positions we hold, but rather between those who are absolutely certain of a dogmatic ideology in a world that they insist is really quite simple, and those who are committed to using their minds to the best of their ability to address the challenges of life in a world subtler and more complex than our understandings in any given moment.

For this reason, fundamentalist Christians and Muslims are more similar than different, and play a more similar than different role in the world; and Marxists and Libertarians are, in the same way, more similar than different, and play a more similar than different role in the world, despite the substantive diametrical opposition of their respective positions.

I accept, as a fundamental tenet of reason, that I may be mistaken about any substantive position, that evidence and reason must be given primacy over what I think I know, that I must submit to a discipline that goes beyond simply rationalizing my current certainties and be willing to let go of some and gravitate to others as reason and evidence dictate. The most urgent of all political projects is advocacy of that procedural commitment, that shared humility and shared commitment to reason.

Believe what you will, but believe it with the recognition that we exist in a world of conflicting views that are not neatly divided into those that are absolutely and infallibly correct (the ones oneself holds) and those that are absolutely and invariably wrong (the ones that others hold). The more people who take THAT step, the better off we will be.

Lawrence Depenbusch: ‎”I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic. People know this and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don’t even invite me” ~Dave Barry >> reminds me of Steve.

Steve Harvey: Lawrence, “general and few” is a vague phrase. How about “we ought to do the analysis, mobilizing all of the tools and information and reason at our disposal, to determine how much and in what ways to utilize government to optimal advantage, and minimal harm”? Real governance, real policy determinations, are information intensive endeavors, involving huge amounts of phenomena to be taken into account, and require an attention to details.

For instance, markets are easily gamed, at extraordinary and sometimes catastrophic public expense, by central players with unique access to sophisticated information, unless the public implements mechanisms to police those markets and prevent that gaming of them. That is a necessary government function in modern capitalist economies, the failure of which to perform is heavily implicated in every major economic crisis of the last century. But that demand is not captured by an absolute ideological commitment to “less” government.

Buddy complains that I misinterpret when I argue as if you are advocating for no government, but I do not misinterpret; rather, I follow the logical implications of your position. Unless you are arguing for a balance of government powers and their absence, then you are implicitly arguing for no government. And if you are arguing for a balance of government powers and their absence, then you need to recognize that we are faced with the challenge of determining what precisely that balance should entail.

The argument that that has already been determined by the Constitution is both false and a mere appeal to authority rather than an argument on point. It’s false, because, for instance, Art I, Section 8, clause 1 of the Constitution states that Congress has the power to tax and spend in the general welfare. It is up to us to elect members of Congress who do that in ways with which we agree, which means that the Constitution ultimately does not tell us what balance is to be struck between governmental functions and their absence. It’s an appeal to authority because the Constitution, while a brilliant document, is not infallible, and we are still responsible for governing ourselves, and considering when and how we might best serve that function by amending the Constitution when appropriate.

And, thank you once again, Buddy, for your valuable literary criicism. I consider this a debate about our self-governance, but if you feel the need to try to talk about something else, I understand completely.

Steve Harvey: Lawrence, let’s suspend the urgent issue of who and what we are or aren’t as individuals, and focus instead on the topics of debate. Respond to my advocacy that we all strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, recognizing our own fallibility, and acknowledging the irrationality of assuming that everything we believe is, since we believe it, the one absolute truth, while everything our opponents believe, since we do not believe it, is absolutely wrong. I would be happy for every other argument I’ve made to be disregarded, if this one compelling point be addressed.

Don’t you think we would serve ourselves better by saying, “okay, you have your position, and we have ours. Let’s back up here a second, look for merit in the opposing view, acknowledge that none of us has a monopoly on absolute truth, and work together as reasonable people of goodwill to arrive at common understandings and civil compromises as we engage in this difficult task of self-governance”? Or do you think that a mere war of conflicting fanaticisms is the height of wisdom and responsibility?

Buddy Shipley: What Lawrence said! Steve: re-read each one of those quotes and try to grasp at least a fragment of their author’s insight. For all your attempts at intellectualizing political ideologies you utterly fail to acknowledge the wisdom of the …ages stated so eloquently by the people who made that history. Instead of learning from the best of them you advocate expanding the worst of them! Above, Steve stated, “The state is our vehicle of collective action, our public agent, and free people using mechanisms by which they, in effect, ARE the state…” blah blah blah — BULLSHIT. He implies the state is our ONLY vehicle of “collective action.” WRONG! Our ‘state’ was established with the express purpose of protecting our Rights to Life, Liberty and Property, to set free each individual to pursue their own happiness, their own dreams, to allow each to live his life as he pleases — WITHOUT government intervention and impediments to those pursuits. To these ends our ‘state’ — the federal government — was granted LIMITED powers to exercise LIMITED authority over a very finite set of issues, all primarily concerned with protecting the aforementioned individual Rights. In this country the state is NOT all-powerful, its scope of power was purposely restricted to avoid the bloodshed, destruction and ultimate collapse of governments past. To be clear, the majority of power was specifically granted to the individual States and to the individuals in each State, NOT to the central government, as Steve seems to believe. Steve seems to be denying the right or ability of people to freely assemble and create organizations such as churches, clubs, companies, volunteer groups, non-profits, etc to take collective action that benefits them and others. As I’ve said before: Government is NOT a charity, and spending other people’s money is NOT philanthropy! Government mandated “contributions” are tantamount to theft; taken from each according to his ability, redistributed to each according to his need — as determined by government bureaucrats. Karl Marx would be proud! If you want to pursue any certain “social agenda,” I suggest you start your own charity for that express purpose. Do not assume it is any part of the role of government, or that your social agenda is the same as mine. The rights of the individual extend only until they infringe on the rights of others; your pursuits cannot impede, impair or steal from those of others. “What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.” (AKA: Theft). Moochers, looters, thugs and parasites, otherwise known as Liberals/Progressives/Demo​crats and labor unions, have no problem with that. The rest of us object.

Lawrence Depenbusch: ‎”Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy” -Guiliiani- 9-3-08 (Busting the vague slogans of the Left)

Steve Harvey: Once again, are you willing to agree that we should all strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, working together to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world, or do you insist that there is only one absolute truth, and it is the …one that you hold to be true? Are you more committed to perpetuating our world history of endless religious and ideological wars, or are you more committed to seeking the common ground of proven procedures and disciplines?

Steve Harvey: What marks real progress is a growing commitment to such procedural discipline. The growth of scientific methodology revolutionized our understanding of nature, vastly increasing the signal-to-noise ratio in our contemplations of the phenomena that encompass and comprise us. The Constitution is a document establishing a procedural framework, the rule of law, through which we can settle our political and legal disputes in an orderly and rational way. Legal procedure has developed from “trials by ordeal” to a highly rational (if still imperfect) process, by which arguments are made and conclusions and resoutions arrived at.

Our political system is a procedure for deciding among relatively arbitrary ideological positions, but we can improve on that by all committing to procedures which make those competing positions less arbitrary, and narrow the contest more to those positions which fall within the parameters suggested by evidence and reason. Strings of bumper-sticker slogans do not define such a process; empirical, logical, analytical argumentation does.

Steve Harvey: Lawrence, I agree, we should not govern ourselves with slogans. So “busting the vague slogans of the left” with a pithy slogan from the right is not a solution to that deficiency, but rather a continued participation in it. We need governance not by competing bumper-sticker wisdom, by by competing arguments. That’s what I advocate.

Lawrence Depenbusch: In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty. ~Proverbs 14:23

Steve Harvey: More slogans. Do we agree, or don’t we, that we should all strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, humble enough to know that what we think we know may in any given instance be mistaken, and that the views of those who oppose us may in any given isntance be correct, and that we need to allow a vibrant public discourse, as disciplined by reason and evidence as possible, to sort that out? Do we agree, or don’t we?

Lawrence Depenbusch: ‎”A witty saying proves nothing.” ~Voltaire – and I say bye

Steve Harvey: I’ve asked this simple question repeatedly now, here and on other threads. I’ve received before flat out rejections of the notion (because, as Buddy once said, “liberals are neither reasonable nor have goodwill, so fuck you!”). This is what… defines the real divide, with dogmatists from across the political spectrum on one side, and people trying to engage in rational thought and discourse on the other. Which side do you want to be on in that struggle?

Steve Harvey: So, are we to be reasonable people of goodwill doing the best we can, with some modicum of humility, or are we Crusaders and Jihadists, Belsheviks and Tribalists, knowing that our own One Absolute Truth is the only Absolute Truth, and that …all who disagree with us are simply wrong, because they disagree with us? What’s it to be, the battle of Organized Ignorance against Reason and Goodwill, or an agreement to all strive to contain our disagreements within the parameters of reason and goodwill?

Steve Harvey: So, Lawrence, your fortress against Reason and Goodwill is impenetrable after all. What a surprise!

Steve Harvey: Funny, Lawrence, that after relying solely on a long string of witty sayings, you end with the witty saying that a witty saying proves nothing, in an argument against someone not relying on witty sayings at all, but rather complete empirical arguments. It’s disappointing that I’m the only one here who can appreciate the irony.

Lawrence Depenbusch: Steve thinks using more vague terms in longer sentences brings more clarity? Steve thinks only his witty sayings prove anything? Self-Love 101

Steve Harvey: Once again, Lawrence, I ask you: Do you want to strive to be a reasonable person of goodwill, engaged in a debate encouraging other people to strive to be the same, or do you want to insist that the purpose of this debate is to prove what a… terrible person I am? What matters more: Who and what I am, or the issues we are discussing? What is more on-point, and what better serves our public discourse, focusing on me, who you don’t like, or arguing on the debate we are having, in which two citizens of this country are presenting conflicting positions and hopefully both growing as a result?

Buddy Shipley: Reality Check: From the outset our governments were small, their duties few, their powers fewer, and they imposed a very small tax burden on the People. All of this is no longer true, and witness the result of runaway government: Deficit spending $1.42 for every ONE DOLLAR of tax collected! Annual Deficit spending is projected at $1.4 TRILLION! … JUST THIS YEAR ALONE — next year it will be higher. National Debt is now over $14.3 Trillion dollars! … That’s over 91% of GDP, which is NO ONE claims is sustainable. … The entire U.S. GDP is $14.6 Trillion, with no growth in sight. Service on the National Debt is $400 BILLION — EVERY YEAR! Liberals/Progressives/Demo​crats want to Borrow, Tax and Spend even more. Living within ones’ means is not “raging blind ideology” — it is only reasonable, prudent, wise and the fiscally responsible thing to do. To insist on doing otherwise is reckless and criminal, which sums up everything advocated by Liberals/Progressives/Demo​crats

Steve Harvey: Here’s my theory: This debate, and all like it, quickly become very personal, and as far removed from the substance of the debate as possible, because that is the only way to insulate your ideology from any information that challenges it. You simply ignore the FACT that all prosperous modern nations have the political economic structure (a large administrative apparatus) that you are condemning as unworkable.

You simply ignore the well-argued position that your ideology is a direct descendent of the ideology that has been on the morally, economically, and politically losing side of our national history since its inception, first championing The Articles of Confederation against The Constitution, then championing secession against the abolition of slavery, then championing Jim Crow over Civil Rights, and now championing a hamstrung government prevented from being used as our public agent to address the challenges which continue to face us as a people.

You ignore the economic arguments that you find inconvenient (while I do not; I grapple with them in order to continue to refine and challenge my own positions), the center of gravity of the entire discipline of economics (which is dominated by analyses which do not jive well with your ideology), and the realities of such things as “transaction costs,” which imply a larger role for government than you acknowledge (as demonstrated by 2009 Economic Nobel Prize winners Oliver Williamson and Elinor Ostrom, in their separate analyses on the role of extra-market institutional forms in the maximization of market efficiency).

You ignore the actual Constitution, which enumerates Congress’s power to tax and spend in the General Welfare, while errneously insisting that the Constitution unambiguously and unequivocally supports every article of faith you hold to be true. In fact, “ignoring” seems to be the basis of how you preserve and defend your position, engaging in the verb whose noun best describes your ideology and your attitude.

Buddy Shipley: NO Steve! Your premise is wrong from the start!

Steve Harvey: Reality check: No one is arguing against the need to address our balance sheet. Meeting that challenge, every reasonable person knows, requires both a decrease in spending and an increase in revenues. There are blind ideolgues on the left who resist the former, and blind ideologues on the right who resist the latter. Reasonable people seek real solutions.

As an economic matter, it is a non-linear proposition, so that some of the best solutions are counterintuitive: There are ways in which current investment is the best way to reduce future debt, and an economically and fiscally intelligent policy is not the one that uses your sledge-hammer understanding of the challenges involved. Furthermore, our debt has consistently grown more rapidly under Republican than Democratic administrations over the course of the last 30 years, with only the exception of Obama’s response to an economic crisis catalyzed by right-wing deregulationary fervor and a commitment to siphoning wealth upward into ever fewer hands.

Steve Harvey: But let’s get back to the real question: Regardless of which of us is right or wrong on these substantive issues, can we all agree to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, exercising enough humility to acknowledge that any of us may be right or wrong on any given issue, and that we should try to build that recognition into our discourse and into our political process?

Buddy Shipley: You assume that because we condemn what the states have become that we are also condemning what they once were, but we don’t!

Buddy Shipley: I do not have time to prattle back and forth with you — some of us have to go earn a living/

Buddy Shipley: But Steve! LIBERALS never admit losing an argument, when they sense they are losing on any given point they just change the topic to a straw man or red herring and declare victory!

Steve Harvey: So, Buddy, you can’t admit to the possibility that you might be wrong about anything? I will: I might be wrong, on any position that I have argued. I hold every substantive position tentatively, submitting it to the continued lathe of evide…nce and reason. Can you meet me there, agreeing that none of us is omniscient, that our conflicting positions require an ability to recognize that no one of us or one faction of us has a monopoly on all truth? Why are you so resistent to this notion?

Buddy Shipley: Of course I can! Why just the other day I thought I was wrong, but then I realized I was mistaken.

Steve Harvey: First of all, I’m only “losing” this argument in the minds of people too deluded to acknowledge any of the evidence or argumentation that has been put into play. Secondly, arguing against ideological dogmatism and inflexible false certainty is not “a red herring,” but the most essential of all issues on the table. It forever astounds me that your entire ideological camp so consistently tap dances around the obvious: You represent (along with some counterparts on the Left) the historical norm of blind ideology and religious fanaticism. That is the core truth that you are so thoroughly insulated against that you can’t answer the question: Will you commit to striving to be reasonable people of goodwill engaged in a public discourse in which we have yet to determine where absolute truth lies?

You can’t make that pledge, just as Christian Fundamentalists, and Islamic Fundamentalists, and Bolsheviks, and Nazis, and Khmer Rouge, and all other militant fanatical ideologues throughout history are unable to make it. Because you represent and fight for the opposite of reason and goodwill.

Buddy Shipley: We are witnessing the collapse of socialist economies all over Europe, and the unelected powers-that-be expect the remaining Eurozone countries to save the others. This, too, is unsustainable. As Margaret Thatcher said, “The trouble with So…cialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” But Liberals/Progressives never learn from these mistakes, they just change their label and argue a different issue, and keep repeating the same failed behavior expecting different results. They are insane. And some of us must work… fin

Steve Harvey: You see? You have repeated a falsehood that I pointed out in one of our recent discussions, to shore up a position that is not supported by the evidence. We are NOT witnessing the collapse of “socialist” economies all over Europe. The German economy, which is far more socialist than ours, has outperformed ours for decades, was less affected by the recent economic crisis than ours, recovered from that crisis sooner, and is not facing any of the credit issues that Greece and Ireland and some others are.

What we learn from those countries that are in crisis is that what they specifically did must be avoided, not that all members of some overbroad category in which you place them is discredited by their failures. Again, meat eaters and mammals; not the same thing.

Buddy Shipley: Only seems wrong to Marxist polyps like you, Steve.

Buddy Shipley: Ask Big Government Spenders, How much government is enough? Or better yet, how much can we afford? Clearly we cannot afford the bloated over-reaching behemoth we now have. Clearly this is not what the framers intended, else they would have… created most of it at the outset. And WHY do those who favor big government and bigger spending steadfastly REFUSE to acknowledge their failures, and why do they insanely insist on repeating the same behavior expecting different results? Environmental Protection Agency: $10.5 Billion The EPA may have served a positive role when first established, but no more. It’s become an apparatchik of the Marxists in DC and it continues to grow like a metastatic cancer. The EPA and the Dept of Energy, along with the current administration, are a clear and present danger to our nations. SHUT THESE SOBs DOWN IMMEDIATELY. Energy Department: $26 Billion The U.S. Dept of Energy has utterly completely failed to attain its 1977 prime directive of U.S. energy independence and should have been terminated decades ago. Instead of euthanizing this diseased sow, DoE’s budget has grown to more than $26 BILLION this year. Instead of pursuing their mission, the fools at DoE are pursuing investigations and filing lawsuits against American businesses! PULL THE PLUG ALREADY! Education Department: $71 Billion, plus ARRA: $23 Billion (and more?) The U.S. Dept of Education is an insatiable and dismal failure. Throwing more money down this rat hole will not do anything to improve education; gutting this bloated pig and returning those tax revenues to the states will keep more money closer to the students where it belongs. There is NO justification whatsoever for a federal Department of Edumacation, Constitutionally or otherwise, and again it is a malignant out of control bureaucracy that defeats its own reason for existing. Fannie/Freddie Bailout cost taxpayers $7 Billion per month (Already totaling $1 Trillion ~ $1.4 Trillion) Their liabilities alone could increase the national debt by $7 Trillion. The GSEs, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac must be shut down and everyone involved investigated and the corrupt indicted and imprisoned, along with the politicians guilty of passing legislation such as the CRA and compelling banks to make bad loans to unqualified borrowers (ie, “sub-prime” borrowers). Instead of blaming lenders for making risky loans resulting in the mortgage meltdown, blame the politicians that compelled them to make such loans; one of those misguided pieces of legislation is euphemistically called the “Community Reinvestment Act” (CRA), starting with Public Enemy #1: Barney Frank and gang. ALL of these government departments and agencies have FAILED HORRIBLY and have been contributing to the demise of our country for decades! WHY keep raping taxpayers to fund them?? Then there’s the oppressive and abusive IRS that enforces the raping… Internal Revenue Service: $13 Billion Eliminate the IRS and save $13 Billion immediately*! Americans spend over 6 Billion hours and billions of dollars yearly struggling to comply with the tax code. If we eliminated the U.S. Tax Code or at least simplified it and made it less onerous we could eliminate the IRS, immediately saving taxpayers $13 Billion, plus do away with the costs shouldered by individuals, families and businesses to pay for tax accountants and lawyers, which are totally unproductive and a waste of everyone’s resources. It would also reduce (or eliminate) tax evasion thereby increasing revenues as it increases peace of mind and insures domestic tranquility… Tax forms could be reduced to a 3″x5″ card and tax collections could be outsourced to several Temp Services – or maybe even the US Postal Service (they need the work!). *The IRS Oversight Board recommended $12.914 billion for 2011, an increase of $767.7 Million over the FY2010 budget of $12.146 Billion. This recommendation is $280.6 Million above the President’s FY2011 request of $12.633 Billion for the IRS. The Board’s recommended budget is 2.2 percent higher than the President’s request. I think these numbers are modest, and by no means do these few items address ALL the government’s insanely expensive, reckless and feckless failures. Not even the proposed $500 Billion in federal budget cuts will solve our fiscal problems, yet Democrats laugh and scoff at the mere suggestion of it – these bastards must be held accountable, indicted, impeached, dragged out of their offices in cuffs, publicly tried, convicted and imprisoned or better yet, sent to Gitmo for use as waterboard practice dummies.

Steve Harvey: It’s mind-boggling the extent to which you carefully avoid making any actual argument, or getting paste the absolute equation of “government engagement” and “socialism.” as if there are no degrees or differentiations to be found within everything you are able to stuff into that word you depend so completely upon.

Garrett Whitehorn: All of you, please! Ad hominem attacks have no place in a battle of reason! If this was in response to a status of mine, I’d have deleted a lot of these comments for that very reason. I’m especially disappointed in you libertarians/conservatives​ … you’re supposed to be better than that.

Steve Harvey: You know, Buddy, in reality, I’m exactly as opposed to Marxism as I am to your ideology, for exactly the same reasons: It is logically and empircally and politically and economically untenable. I am strong believer in the robustness of mark…ets, and in the dangers of not recognizing the salience of individual incentives or the importance of emphasizing personal responsibility. But you are so lost in oversimplifications and overgeneralizations and mischaracterizations, unable to distinguish between green and orange because both have a bit of yellow in them, that such distinctions are defined out of existence, and the ideology built on that contraction reflects the loss.

Steve Harvey: Here’s something I just wrote to a friend, joking with me about how I am “WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG” (to which I replied, “you forgot to call me ‘asshole’!”), which bears repeating: “here’s some irony for you: I actually assume that I AM w…rong, to some degree or another, on almost every substantive position I hold, because the truth is almost always subtler than our representations of it. To me, this more than anything else is the distinguishing characteristic in the debate you are referring to, and others like it.”

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

As I play with my Colorado Confluence Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Colorado-Confluence/151536731532344), selecting interests and organizations and historical figures to “like” in an attempt to convey the universe of ideas and efforts that I believe we are called upon to try to weave together into coherent wholes; and as I survey my accumulating corpus of posts, wondering how to convey their underlying integrity; and as I struggle with the challenges of my personal life, of unemployment, of seeking a new career advancing this general cause of humanity, and of a wife and daughter who depend on me; I feel the full brunt of both the hope and despair that life serves up in such generous portions.

That is really what this blog, and my life, are all about. The many themes of the blog are all facets of a single orientation, an orientation that includes conceptual and practical dimensions, one that seeks understanding from a variety of angles, and a refinement of our collective ability to both accelerate the growth and deepening of our understanding and improve our ability to implement that understanding in ways which cultivate ever-increasing quality and humanity in our lives.

“Quality” is an interesting word, one explored in subtle ways in Robert Pirsig’s iconic novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The debate over what it means is, in many ways, at the heart of our political struggles. Does the quality of life require attention to social justice and material human welfare, or merely attention to individual liberty (narrowly defined as “freedom from state sponsored coercion”)? Does it require intergenerational justice, foresight and proactive attention to probable future problems, or merely short-sighted, individualistic service to immediate needs and wants? Does it have any collective and enduring attributes, or is it merely something in the moment, to be grasped now without regard for future consequences?

One of the difficulties of addressing these questions and their political off-shoots is the differing frames and narratives upon which people rely. But one of the most significant differences in frames and narratives is the one between those that would ever even identify frames and narratives as a salient consideration, and those that are trapped in narrower, shallower, and more rigid conceptualizations of reality. In other words, the most basic ideological divide isn’t between “right” and “left,” but between “aspiring to be more conscious” and “complacent with current consciousness.” To put it more simply, the divide is between those who recognize that they live in an almost infinitely complex and subtle world and those who think that it is all really quite simple and clear.

The social movement that we currently lack, and that we always most profoundly require, is the social movement in advocacy of the deepening of our consciousness, not just as an abstract or self-indulgent hobby, but as the essence of the human enterprise, and the most essential tool in service to our ability to forever increase our liberty and compassion and wisdom and joy, here and elsewhere, now and in the future.

This blog employs what I’ll coin “Coherent Eclecticism” in service to that aspiration. No branch or form of human thought is dismissed, no aspect of the effort denied, no wrinkle or subtlety ignored, to the fullest extent of our individual and collective ability. That does not mean that Coherent Eclecticism treats all ideas and opinions as equal, but rather as equally meriting the full consideration of our reason and imagination and compassion. We start with as few assumptions as possible, revisit conclusions not carefully enough examined, and dedicate ourselves to the refinement of those procedures and methodologies, individually and collectively, that best serve the goal of distilling all thought and action into the wisest, most liberating, most compassionate, and most useful concoction possible.

Coherent Eclecticism implies that apparent contradictions and incompatibilities may not be, that “realism” and “idealism” (the philosophy), “cynicism” and “idealism” (the attitude), aspects of conservatism and aspects of progressivism, religion and science, imagination and reason, aesthetics and practicality, may all be nodes in a coherent whole, may all serve a single vision and single aspiration. But it is not the arbitrary glomming together of disparate elements; rather, it is the careful articulation of subtly integral elements, the realization of coherence in complexity, of systems subtler and richer than our minds can ever quite fully grasp.

As I briefly describe at the beginning of The Politics of Consciousness, this is one aspect of Thomas Kuhn’s famous theory of “paradigm shifts,” the notion that accumulating anomalies within a coherent understanding lead to a focus on the resolution of those anomalies and a deepening of the understanding, often reconciling what had been apparently contradictory views. One excellent modern example involves The Theory of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and String Theory in physics. Throughout the 20th century, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics had both proven themselves indispensable theoretical tools for understanding the subtleties and complexities of our physical universe, and yet they were apparently incompatible, addressing different kinds of phenomena, but essentially contradicting one another. String Theory has, to a large extent, reconciled that apparent incompatibility with a subtler mathematical model that transcends and encompasses both of its predecessors.

I describe this general phenomenon in fictional terms in The Wizards’ Eye, metaphorically synthesizing Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts with Eastern Philosophical notions of Enlightenment or Nirvana, describing a process which leads us into deeper and deeper understandings that are simultaneously rational and spiritual, reductionist and holistic, “noisy” and meditative. The narrative itself reconciles the forms of fiction and exposition, and the realms of Eastern Mysticism and Western Philosophy of Science.

Coherent Eclecticism is apparent, too, in the range of essays and narratives I’ve published on this blog, often seeming to inhabit completely separate realms, but always coalescing into a coherent vision when examined as a whole. The social theoretical essays in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts may seem at first glance to have little or no connection to the social movement essays in the second box, but, without trying, the threads that weave them together have gradually begun to appear. The most recent addition to the first box is Emotional Contagion, which identifies how the cognitive/social institutional dynamics described in posts such as The Fractal Geometry of Social Change have an emotional element to them. Among the earliest entries to what is now the second box, pulling together the essays that developed and now describe “the politics of reason and goodwill” (see The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified), are essays that explored that emotional contagion in current political activism, and the importance of being careful about what emotions we are spreading (see, e.g.,  The Politics of Anger and The Politics of Kindness).

These first two sets of essays, those in the box labelled “the evolutionary ecology of natural, human, and technological systems,” and those in the box labelled “the politics of reason and goodwill,” form together the overarching structure of the “coherently eclectic” paradigm developing on this blog. But the other boxes, with their various other focuses, fill in that framework, add other kinds of meat to those bones, get into the details of specific policy areas and specific ideological orientations and specific social and political phenomena, articulating those details with the overarching paradigm that organizes and channels them. And the fictional vignettes and poems celebrate the beauty and wonder of the entirety.

It’s quite a giddy thing to participate in, this dance of consciousness of ours. It is, when you get right down to it, both the means and the ends of all of our aspirations and efforts.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

The title quote, uttered by President Obama to describe the choice we had in the 2010 elections, captures the essence of the on-going struggle between humanity’s inner-angels and inner-demons, a struggle which produces the realization of both our dreams and our nightmares, depending on which prevails in any given moment of history.

The refrain “we want our country back” is the refrain of those who fear progress, who cling to a mythologically sanitized past rather than forge a path into the inevitable future. It attracts, along with those who are making some vaguer, narrower reference, those who want to take the country back from, among others, women, African Americans, Hispanics, non-Christians, and Gays, groups which have succeeded in diminishing the opportunity gap between themselves and the white, male, Christian minority that has historically maintained that gap to their own advantage and in accord with their own bigotries. And while we have progressed in diminishing the gap, the legacy of history remains with us today, and demands our forward-looking rather than backward-looking attention.

Those who have the courage to hope, to aspire to do better, don’t ever want their country “back.” We always want it “forward.” Our history has been the story of a people moving forward, conceived in a Declaration of Independence which continued and contributed to a transformation of the world already underway, accelerating our reach for future possibilities, and our removal of the shackles of past institutional deficiencies. It was a nation of Progressives, of people who knew that you don’t just accept the institutions handed down, but always seek to refine and improve them. It was a nation that drafted a document by which to govern itself, one which proved insufficient (The Articles of Confederation, drafted and adopted in 1777, though not actually ratified until 1781), and then got its representatives together to try again, ten years later, and get it right (producing the U.S. Constitution, which was a document drafted to strengthen, not weaken, the federal government).

The drafting and ratification of our brilliant Constitution marked a beginning, not an end, a point of departure through which to express and fully realize our collective genius, not an impediment to the use of our reason and will to address the challenges yet to come. It was drafted by people wise enough and humble enough not to imbue it with the quasi-religious hold it (or an insulting caricature of it) now has over some contracted imaginations. It was meant to be a source of guidance rather than a source of idolatry. It provided the nation with a robust legal framework through which to address future challenges, some of which were already visible at the time, and some of which were not, but which the framers knew would ceaselessly present themselves (and which many thought would promptly make the Constitution itself obsolete. The fact that that hasn’t come to pass is a tribute to our ability to make from the document they created in a given historical context one which adapts itself to changing historical circumstances).

Ahead of the country remained the abolition of slavery, the protection of individual civil rights from state as well as federal power, a far-too-late end to the slaughter and displacement of the indigenous population (too late because they had already been nearly exterminated, and removed to tiny, infertile plots of land), the institution of free universal public education, the extension of suffrage to unpropertied males and women, the passage of anti-trust laws to preserve a competitive market, the establishment and necessary growth of an administrative infrastructure which immediately preceded and facilitated the most robust acceleration of economic growth in the history of the world, the desegregation of our schools, the passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the beginnings of absolutely crucial efforts to address the long-term detrimental health and economic consequences of environmental contamination.

There never was a moment in the course of this story when there weren’t challenges yet to be identified and addressed, many of which could only be successfully addressed by means of government, and, often, only by means of the federal government (e.g., the abolition of slavery, which ended up requiring the federal government to prosecute a civil war; the enforcement of Civil Rights protections; and environmental protections covering interstate pollutants). Our Founding Fathers understood that. Thomas Jefferson himself said that every generation needed to refine its institutions to adapt to changing circumstances and meet the challenges of their own day. Such people never wanted their country “back.” They always wanted it “forward.” And they dreamed of establishing a country that would renew rather than renounce that commitment with every new generation.

Though there are many today who don’t get this, most don’t get it by means of blurry vision and historical inconsistency, rather than a retroactive commitment to what they claim currently to be an immutable truth. It is a tiny minority today, utterly detached from reality, who want to completely abolish Social Security or Medicare, though there are many who vehemently opposed health care reform and improved financial sector regulation. The difference between those past acts of our federal government that we have come to take for granted and whose value we almost universally recognize, and those present acts of our federal government that so many (so absurdly) call a “socialist” threat to our “liberty,” isn’t in the nature of the policies themselves (they are actually very similar in nature), but rather in the difference of perspective granted by elapsed time and an improved quality of life.

The impassioned, angry, vehement opposition to today’s progressive reforms, almost down to the precise words and phrases (including cries of “socialism”), is virtually identical to that which confronted the passage of Social Security and Medicare in their day. It is the perennial resurgence of the same faction, the same force at work today as in those previous generations: The voice of fear, the clinging to past failures and deficiencies for lack of courage, the perception of progress as a threat rather than a promise, though those same cowering souls could hardly imagine living without the promises of progress fulfilled before their birth and in their youth. They take gladly from those progressives who came before and fought to establish the world they now take for granted, but fight passionately against those progressives of today striving to provide similar gifts of social improvement to future generations.

Economically, Hope counsels that we employ the best economic models to forge the best fiscal and economic policies possible to ensure the robustness, sustainability, and equity of our economic system, while Fear counsels that we base our economic policies on information-stripped platitudes, contracting rather than expanding, insulating rather than competing, cowering rather than aspiring. A hopeful people invests in its future; a fearful people stuffs its money in a mattress. A hopeful people works to create a higher quality of life, while a fearful people works toward enshrining past achievements and, by doing so, obstructing future ones. A hopeful people seeks to expand opportunity; a fearful people seeks to protect what’s theirs from incursions by others. A hopeful people reaches out, looks past the horizon, and works toward positive goals. A fearful people builds walls, huddles together, and obstructs the dreams and aspirations of others.

But in the past couple of years, it has not been just any other incarnation of the struggle between Hope and Fear. It is the most dangerous form of that struggle, the form it takes when we are on the brink of inflicting on ourselves enormous suffering. Because the struggle in recent years has been characterized by a terrifying discrepancy in passion: The angry, fearful mob is ascendant, while cooler heads are too cool, too uninspired, to face that mob down and disperse it.

It is under just such circumstances when, historically, Fear prevails over Hope. It is under these circumstances, circumstances that the hopeful among us are allowing to take hold, when countries get sucked into the nightmare that fear produces. This is what responsible, reasonable people of goodwill cannot, must not, allow to happen.

Be voices of reason and goodwill, voices that do not simply return anger with anger, nor return anger with despair, but rather return anger and irrationality with implacable reason and goodwill. Confront the angry, frightened and frightening mob and insist that we are better than that. Don’t let them put this state, this country, and this world back into Reverse again, as it was from 2001-2009, when America became a nation defined by fear, with a government defined by the belligerent ignorance which is Fear’s most loyal servant. Let’s keep this nation in Drive, and move hopefully into the future. In 2008, many of us were excited by that prospect, and in 2010, we should have remained warriors of reason and goodwill in the face of the Grendel of small-mindedness awoken by the small, fledgling steps forward we have taken as a people. We need to defend, preserve, and advance what we accomplished in 2008. We need to move forward, not backward.

There is a path forward, one that is not simply the continuing volleys of mutually belligerent blind ideology, nor one that is focused only on the upcoming election cycle: The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified. Join me in turning this simple, clear message into a reality. Let’s create the future we are wise enough to hope for, rather than the one we are foolish enough to forge in the pettiness of our fears.

Don’t sit this one out. Don’t let the brutal tyranny of Fear and Ignorance rule us.

The title refers to two things: 1) that which people mistake for sacred truth and fortify against any critical analysis or countervailing evidence; and 2) that which is critical analysis, or, more broadly, proven procedures and disciplines in service to the immutable and inarticulable underlying coherence of our existence. I’ll distinguish between them by putting the first (but not the second) in quotation marks.

The first consists of sacred scrolls (religious documents and philosophical tomes that state or legitimate the preferred dogma) and secular sages (those pundits or scholars who give voice to the preferred dogma). The quality of the substance of the dogma is not the defining characteristic, but rather the mere fact that it is an inflexible false certainty, an opinion held not via any real analysis on the part of the holder, but rather accepted as given truth. It is an error found across the political and religious spectrum, and is more prevalent than its absence. Humans are defined more by adherence to false “sacred truths” than to true ones.

The second meaning consists of processes forged in skepticism, in service to wonder, informed by humility, unclouded by malice. It is not comprised of articulable conclusions, but rather of processes and disciplines by which to arrive at them, and by the most basic premises which give those processes and disciplines meaning.

Even so, there are “true” sacred truths that can be put into words, though, paradoxically, the first one is that there aren’t: “The Tao of which we speak is not the eternal Tao.” We don’t know as much as we think we do or pretend to, and that which we reduce to words is something less than the absolute truth.

A second sacred truth is that we are parts of a whole, that “no man is an island entire of itself,” that we are comprised of smaller systems and comprise larger ones. This is one of the few substantive sacred truths, a recognition of coherence and systemicness to ourselves and our context, because without it, the disciplines which provide windows onto that coherence have no meaning. It is basically the realization that there is a coherent and comprehensible reality within which we are working, even if none of our understandings of it are ever complete and final.

Not all sacred truths belong to the left hemisphere of the brain; not all are based on reason and the procedures derived from it. Empathy, for instance, a sense of interconnectedness, is a sacred truth, an emotional rather than rational understanding of the systemicness and coherence described above.

But emotionally based factual certainties are false “sacred truths,” not true ones. People who bend facts to their preferences, or select from legitimately disputed facts or theories according to their emotional predilictions (imbuing their preferred conclusion with a degree of certainty incommensurate with its actual conclusiveness), are engaging in the folly of adhering to “sacred truths,” rather than the wisdom of being guided by sacred truths.

This is one of the fundamental challenges we face as humanity, as a people, as individuals: To admit to the degree of uncertainty that wise humility demands, and adhere to the disciplines and emotional foundations that well serve a wise and compassionate people.

(This is the most recent in a series of essays on this topic that can be found in the fifth box, titled “Dogmatic Ideology and its Avoidance,” at Catalogue of Selected Posts.)

Topics
Recent Posts