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An alternative representation, to emphasize the “flor”

The Flor de Luz, the Flower of Light, is both a symbol and, potentially, a tool. It is the symbol of Transcendental Politics (and logo of The Transcendental Politics Foundation) found in the middle of this Venn diagram, and the diagram itself. The name is, in part, a play on words of the French “Fleur de Lis” (a stylized lily), recognizing the incidental similarity of the original logo to a luminescent lily. It is also in part a reference to the concentric flower patterns formed by the overlapping circles of the Venn Diagram, with five small petals surrounding the logo, five larger ones surrounding those. and five larger ones still surrounding those (see the alternative representation). Most importantly, it is a reference to what both the logo and the Venn Diagram represent: Transcendental Politics, the flowering (“flor”) of a new Enlightenment (“luz”).

The Flor de Luz is, in one sense, a simple graphic with a simple purpose. It represents how Transcendental Politics resides at the confluence of our various overarching social institutions, how it aspires to be a distillation and synthesis of what is best in each of them, what has thus far worked well for humanity, leaving out what is least useful in each of them, what has thus far not served humanity well, an ongoing social movement that recognizes and respects the cumulative product of human history and humbly but proactively builds on it, weeding and pruning and watering portions of our social institutional landscape with new layers of conscious cultivation, continuing the human enterprise of transforming the wilderness of what time and numbers have produced into a garden of intentionality that better serves human welfare.

But the Flor de Luz is, in another sense, potentially (in a dynamical form discussed below) something more subtle and complex, a conceptual tool to assist in the identification stage of that ongoing endeavor of social institutional distillation and synthesis, a tool that is only partially and statically represented by the Venn Diagram above. Let’s explore, step-by-step, how it might be transformed into a dynamical tool.

First, consider possible variations of the Venn Diagram above. A different arrangement, or sequence, of the same five circles could be chosen, different pairs overlapping in the outermost petals (e.g., placing politics and activism next to each other, and religion and science next to each other, producing in their overlaps “campaigning” and “pursuit of universal paradigms,” respectively); or different overarching institutions altogether could be chosen (e.g., economics, family, technology, energy, environment, fine arts, etc.), creating a proliferation of possible combinations and sequences. (For instance, one product of the overlap of activism and economics might be “entrepreneurialism,” and of entrepreneurialism and technology “innovation,” leading to one of the already identified smaller petals by a different route.) Different aspects of what their convergences create can be highlighted, illustrating, in a sense, how “all roads lead to Transcendental Politics,” to the commitment to foster a more rational, imaginative, empathetic, humble and humane world.

We can create a completely different kind of Flor de Luz comprised of cognitive and emotional modalities instead of social institutions, with, for instance, reason, imagination, empathy, humility, and humanity (the five core values of Transcendental Politics) as the five overlapping circles, producing social institutions and types of behaviors and endeavors. We can even include such emotions and modalities as anger, fear, and tribalism, things we usually identify as that which we are striving to transcend, to acknowledge that they too have evolved for reasons, and that they may well have something to contribute to our garden of intentionality. Or we can combine cognitive and emotional modalities with social institutions from the outset, testing our minds to identify, for instance, what good can be harvested from the distillation and synthesis of anger, reason, and activism, or of imagination, fear, hope, and science, or of the convergence of those two sets. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

The purpose of presenting ourselves with these nearly limitless combinations is to guide our minds in an exploration of what is, in pursuit of what can be, by facilitating consideration of how we can work to leverage what is into something more beneficial. This can occur both in the abstract, imagining possibilities without worrying about how to attain them, and in the particular, identifying viable pathways to implementation and devising first steps that can be taken now in service to that end. It is, if nothing else, a tool for taking our minds out of the tumultuous onslaught of the perpetual urgency of now, and providing them with a space defined by a more synoptic view, in which we are guided not only in “thinking outside the box,” but in redefining “the box” as something far more expansive.

(I should insert here a response to the criticism, that I imagine has arisen in the minds of at least some readers by now, of “what does this have to do with anything? How does combining names of social institutions and cognitive and emotional modalities accomplish anything?” The answer is that it displaces our tendency to think in fixed ways determined by ideological narratives and ingrained habits of thought with a set of semi-random but also subtly systemic prompts to think in new ways. That can be remarkably useful, and it is integral to the meaning of “Transcendental Politics,” which is about institutionalizing the ongoing effort to transcend our ideological tribalisms and false certainties.)

Let me guide you through a consideration of how this design (five overlapping disks representing distinct social institutional, cognitive, and emotional modalities) can be utilized in the manner described above.

Imagine a narrated animation in which, first, the diagram is explained as representative of how Transcendental Politics is that which resides where our social institutional modalities overlap, each mitigating the others’ defects and reinforcing the others’ strengths, a sort of distillation of the best of what we’ve produced over the millennia, the product of the spinning lathe of trial and error. Then, the outer sections labeled “science, politics, education, activism, religion” are removed and the largest flower pattern is revealed, the narration stating that even though the various institutional modalities themselves are not precisely what Transcendental Politics is (because they exist independently), those aspects of their synthesis that are relevant to serving our shared humanity most effectively are distilled into the Flor de Luz. Then the next layer of petals is removed, and the next, and the narration continues, focusing on the distillation down to those essential ingredients that define Transcendental Politics, bringing the narration to a focus on precisely what Transcendental Politics IS, that quintessence at the center of this convergence of social and cultural evolution.

The animation can then grow back outward, with new petals labeled with new virtues distilled from other arrangements, both in sequence and in selection, of overarching institutions and modalities until a new completed Flor de Luz is constructed, the narration describing along the way how the petals of the concentric flowers, which in the other direction were derived from the larger overlapping petals, in this direction are emergent from the smaller ones (and ultimately from the center, from Transcendental Politics), illustrating how it inherits the cultural material of the past and helps create the cultural material of the future. The animation can then proceed to to a sliding around of the overarching circles, with the petals formed by their new overlaps changing accordingly, and then to a changing of the overarching institutions and modalities themselves, exploring some of the many different permutations of the Flor de Luz.

Now imagine a physical artifact, with five overlapping translucent plastic or glass colored circles in the form of the Flor de Luz, each rotatable around its center and able to switch positions by pivoting around the center circle containing the TPF logo and snapping into a new position. Each disk would contain perhaps three related social institutions or cognitive or emotional modalities that can be rotated into place, creating the possibility for 15 different arrangements without moving the relative positions of the disks, and some multiple of that by moving the relative positions of the disks. A complete set of disks can include far more than five, with the ability to switch out individual disks for others, removing all limits on how many arrangements can be explored. Of course doing so only suggests the combinations; the work of thinking about what that implies, what productive uses those combinations have, remains. But that work, too, can be cataloged and accumulated, in a kind of ongoing “social institutional genome project.”

(We can even create disks whose overarching categories are the finer ones produced by the confluence of other disks, and take their confluence into deeper, finer, and subtler levels.)

In an online version, that cumulative work can result in different combinations leading to different implied products of those combinations appearing in the various petals of the flower (much as they do in the graphic above). The physical artifact might accomplish the same through symbols visible in each petal in each rotational position of the disk, depending on which overarching principle is in effect, forming a sequence with the others, and then using a reference manual to interpret different sequences of symbols, the reference manual itself being a cumulative compendium of previous thought about the various possible combinations. Thus, this device could be used to explore different configurations of overlapping social institutional, cognitive, and emotional modalities, as a useful analytical and practical tool for thinking about how we can create different kinds of collaborative projects using those modalities in service to working our way toward the convergence in the center (Transcendental Politics).

(I can imagine turning it into a game as well, one that exercises the mind in certain ways that are aligned to what we are trying to cultivate, in which in each player’s turn they are challenged to take the set of social institutions and cognitive modalities they get from their “spin” of a Flor de Luz designed for that purpose and either create something from it following a set of rules and in pursuit of a defined goal, or build on what previous players have created. This is, obviously, not a fully fleshed out idea yet; just a glimpse of another possible use.)

What the Flor de Luz thus represents is that we have inherited an enormous quantity of social institutional, technological, cultural, cognitive, and emotional material, that is blended and can continue to be blended in complex ways, and that forms an evolving shared cognitive landscape of enormous complexity, subtlety, and power. It represents that we are not merely passive recipients of this material, but rather active participants in its ongoing formation, in how we combine and distill it, in what we derive from it, in how we employ it, in short, in what kind of world we choose to create together.

The Flor de Luz provides us with a relatively simple but elegant tool for thinking about this, for focusing our thoughts in productive ways. It reminds us of the possibilities, of how religious material and scientific material can combine beneficially, of the need to draw on reason and imagination and empathy all at once and not to pretend that anger and tribalism can (or should) just be wished away, of where our shared stories come from and what purposes they can serve. It reminds us of the fractal geometry of the anthrosphere, of how social institutional and cognitive and emotional materials are tributaries to larger streams; it helps us to reconstruct those tributaries and streams and rivers of possibilities in endless combinations. It is not a necessary tool; we can engage in the same contemplations without it. But it assists us in doing so more comprehensively and more precisely. Think of it as a social institutional kaleidoscope, with mechanisms for considering every set of combinations of every set of cognitive, emotional, and social institutional materials, and thinking about what those combinations imply, what challenges and possibilities they pose, what opportunities they present.

While potentially useful, it is certainly not a sufficient tool in and of itself; in the forthcoming book, “Transcendental Politics: A New Enlightenment,” I go into considerable detail exploring some small portion of the corpus of analytical and practical tools that are relevant to our endeavor. The need to continue to gather, produce, and synthesize them is perpetual. But the Flor de Luz is a reminder that at the core of all of that intellectual and material and practitioner expertise are the lessons of our ongoing history, the convergence of a history of past experiments, and the cumulative products of human genius forming the foundation of present and future innovations. It is up to us to design those innovations to most effectively serve the ever fuller realization of our consciousness and of our shared humanity.

Our various personalities and affinities are reflected in which petals of which variations of the Flor de Luz resonate most with our own predispositions, talents, and desires; it becomes a way of locating ourselves in this shared endeavor of ours, of thinking about who our social institutional neighbors and natural partners are, of who we can reach out to to create new synergies in service to our shared humanity, to the greatest realization of our consciousness and our well-being, individually and collectively. It recognizes both diversity and coherence, facilitates both, draws upon both. The Flor de Luz is a way of thinking about our various roles in this shared story we are living and writing together, and how we can each individually and in cooperation with others, consciously and conscientiously, ensure that we are writing it and living it well.

To learn more about Transcendental Politics and The Transcendental Politics Foundation, visit our Facebook group, our Facebook page, or our website (still under construction).

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.)

We can do better. We, the people, can do better. One important step toward doing better is to ask ourselves “how,” and then commit ourselves to implementing it. There are several components to the answer to this question, but I would suggest that one crucial component is letting go of our false certainties, just as I once let go of a fallen tree I was clinging to in the rapids of The Current River in Missouri.

I was on a canoe trip with three college buddies, about 33 years ago. We were drifting down a lazy stretch of the river, holding our two canoes together, sharing a little something now used for medicinal purposes in Colorado. As we floated around a bend in the river, we hit the rapids and, at the same time, saw a tree fallen from the left bank, obstructing about two thirds of the width of the river. Jack and Andy, in the canoe on the right, were able to skirt the tree, but Ed and I, on the left, had to angle more sharply across the current, and were pushed sideways up against the fallen tree. We watched helplessly as our canoe filled with water and disappeared beneath us.

The next thing we knew, we were clinging to the tree on the other side, soaking wet, bumped and bruised by being sucked under the tree, desperately struggling against the torrential current trying to sweep us away. Neither of us could pull ourself up onto the tree trunk against that overwhelming force, and panic began to set in. Until Ed stood up. And the river was mid-thigh deep. So I stood up as well.

Mid-thigh deep rapids are not easy to stand in. The torrent still threatened to sweep us away. But we were able to stand our ground, to wade over to the small island downstream where Jack and Andy had recovered our canoe, to build a fire and warm up and dry off, and then to get back into our canoes and navigate our way downstream.

That tree trunk represents for me false certainty, the false certainty we were clinging to to avoid being swept away by a river we did not really understand. The river bed that we finally realized we can stand on, that is solid and unmoving, are the core values that never change, that are always there and on which you can always depend as the solid foundation on which to pause and reassess. People sometimes mistake the silt stirred up from those values, but carried by the current, for the river bed itself, and try to stand on it. But there is no footing on that silt. You have to plant your feet beneath it, on the core values themselves, the ones that lie even beneath the words we use to describe them, beneath ambiguity. I will refer to them as “reason” and “universal goodwill,” though these words, too, are mere approximations.

The river we are all on together is not The Current River of Missouri, but rather the forever forking river of human history. It does not flow to a single destination, but rather to an almost unlimited array of possible futures determined by the choices we make, the forks we take. Some forks rejoin others, and permit lost opportunities to be regained. Some foreclose certain other possibilities, perhaps forever. The river bed is not always comprised of reason and goodwill, but all too frequently of looser gravel, of less reliable values, sometimes even of muck so deep that there is nothing to stand on, only something to sink into. Our choices are consequential, sometimes momentous. We need to continue to improve our ability to make them wisely.

The river we are on is strewn with fallen trees, with obstacles that do not flow with the current but rather stand against it. These obstacles are our false certainties, our blind ideologies, fresh and alive until they fall across the stream and become something we crash against and cling to rather than admire and use for momentary guidance. Great ideas, like once noble trees lining the banks, becoming rotting trunks that we mistakenly believe mark a point that is as far as we need to go. But those who cling to them will only end up watching history pass them by, and will eventually rush to catch up or languish, because there is no life to be had clinging to a single spot, real or imagined, terrified of the river that we all must continue to navigate.

There is debris floating on the river, ideas we can hold onto and that still help us float downstream. But we must be careful to be ready to let them go when the time comes, to follow the branches of the river with the most solid of river beds, most strongly founded on reason and goodwill. Neither alone is quite enough: Goodwill without reason leads to good intentions poorly executed, which can be as harmful to humanity as malicious intentions rationally executed (i.e., “reason” without goodwill). The two must always be combined: We fare well neither atop the loose gravel of goodwill irrationally expressed, nor atop the thick muck of malice, regardless of how well or poorly executed it may be.

(This is a good place to pause, and make an important distinction between functional and substantive rationality. Functional rationality refers to pursuing a goal in a manner which most effectively achieves it, while substantive rationality refers to selecting goals which are most rational to achieve. There is a bit of a conceptual hierarchy to it, involving more proximate and more ultimate goals, and thus intermediate goals whose substantive rationality depends on how well they serve the ultimate goals beyond them. But it is important to understand that our knowledge of human irrationality, that humans do not make decisions and form opinions primarily through reason, and that recourse to rational arguments are not the best means of persuasion, refers only to functional rationality, to the fact that understanding and working with irrational congitive realities is necessary to functional rationality. It does not refer to substantive rationality, to the challenge facing each and every one of us to pursue those goals which best serve our collective welfare. We may have to appeal to cognitive frames and narratives to convince people to come on board, but we must exercise great discipline while doing so to ensure that we are inviting them aboard a sound vessel bound for a desirable destination.)

For some simple issues, goodwill is nearly enough on its own. Many civil rights issues fall into this category, such as legalizing civil unions and gay marriage. But many issues, particularly economic issues, involve complex dynamical systems, feedback loops, and numerous counterintuitive consequences to particular actions and policies. On such issues, it is critical that people let go of their ideological certainties, and agree instead to try to become part of a process which favors the best analyses, most in service to universal goodwill. There are real challenges to establishing such processes, but they are not insurmountable challenges. They are the kinds of challenges that we are most fundamentally called upon to confront affirmatively and effectively.

I have made some initial efforts in outlining how to pursue this vision, how to concretize a commitment to reason and goodwill, even in an irrational world laden with zealously defended competing interests (see, e.g., A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill, The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified, and How to make a kinder and more reasonable world). I have elaborated on several of the components (see, e.g., Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives and Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN)). I have identified and analyzed several of the challenges involved, several of the underlying concepts and dynamics, including The Signal-To-Noise RatioIdeology v. MethodologyCollective Action (and Time Horizon) ProblemsThe Variable Malleability of Reality, and a whole series of essays on “The evolutionary ecology of natural, human, and technological systems” (see second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts). I am also in the processes of having a page developed dedicated to this project at http://sharedpurpose.net/.

I’m asking people to join me in this effort to reach down to the most fundamental level of our shared existence, to base a movement not merely on the imperfect certainties floating on the surface of our historical stream, but on the rock-solid riverbed beneath. We can build a long-term and powerfully attractive movement based on Reason and Goodwill themselves, not expecting people to be anything other than what we are, but learning how to work with that in the ways which yield the most positive outcomes. It’s time to let our imaginations and our far-sightedness shape for us a methodology, a process, a movement whose purpose is not to triumph on this issue or that, or to win an electoral majority for this party or that, but rather to cultivate the minds and hearts and hands of all of us in ways which favor wiser and more compassionate thought and action, and wiser and more compassionate public policies. Until we consciously undertake that challenge, we have not even truly begun to realize our potential as a people.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Extreme Individualism was dead. Even Economics, the most individualistic of Social Sciences, knew that it was dead. But Abandoner Screwage didn’t. (“Abandoner´s” real name was “Abner,” a Tea Partier who attended Sarah Palin rallies in a Medicare-supplied “Hoverround,” along with hundreds of others similarly equipped, like a confused geriatric biker gang).

Abandoner saw the ghost of Extreme Individualism everywhere, as if it were alive and well. He saw it in a century-old non-empirical Austrian economic philosophy and in a century-old poorly written and conceived novel expressing an adolescent superiority complex. He saw it in his caricature of the American Constitution, and in fabricated economic principles that no living economist actually adhered to. He saw it in his door knocker, heard it ringing all his bells (like a drunken hunchback defecting from another novel of the same era), filling his dreams with the slack-jawed stupidity of blind fanaticism.

But Abandoner didn’t realize that Extreme Individualism itself knew that it was dead, and that it wanted Abandoner to know it as well. For the Ghost of Extreme Individualism was ashamed of itself, and longed only for peaceful oblivion.

Extreme Individualism’s Ghost clanked its chains in Abandoner’s 3000 square feet of well-apportioned and larded living space that Abandoner knew he deserved by being born into an affluent family (or by being fortunate in other ways, but never primarily by the mythological “merit” with which he always rationalized the inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity as inherently just, in much the same way that landed aristocracy had in centuries gone by). The Ghost passed through the door into Abandoner’s room, howling and rattling and moaning, and in general giving Abandoner that warm fuzzy feeling of being favored by a dead and discredited idea.

But the Ghost of Extreme Individualism was repentant, and introduced itself to Abandoner by declaring the error of its, and his, ways.

“Business!” the Ghost cried. “Mankind was my business! The common good was my business!” The Ghost looked out the window and saw the misery that it and its past adherents (now moaning specters floating through the air) had wrought, all tortured by their inability to work toward instituting the public policies that would help alleviate that suffering, the policies that they had all so rancorously opposed in life.

“You will be visited by three spirits,” Extreme Individualism’s Ghost told Abandoner. “The first will come when the clock strikes one. The second when the clock strikes two. And the third when the clock strikes three. Heed their lessons well, Abandoner!”

Abandoner fell asleep trembling at the thought that his beloved dead and discredited ideology had turned on him, and awoke at the stroke of one to find himself confronted by the Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Past. The spirit was simultaneously old and ageless, quiet and strong, unpresuming and relentlessly imposing. But it was filled with sorrow and regret, for it knew that ages of suffering that it had failed to prevent had cost so many so much.

“Touch my robe, Abandoner, and I will show you your predecessors in elitism and oppression, in indifference to the unjust suffering of others, in rationalized selfishness and implicit cruelty.” The spirit took Abandoner on a tour of human history, showing him how private property came into being and passed from hand to hand through military conquest and theft, how titles of “nobility” assumed by thugs and descendants of thugs sought to rationalize and justify that distribution of wealth, how the evolution of democracy and capitalism, though generally improvements on what had preceded them, still largely preserved the injustices of past distributions of wealth and opportunity, and how those who were left to suffer in poverty and despair were usually guilty primarily of “being born into the wrong womb,” as much in the present as in the past.

The spirit shamed Abandoner by showing him that even the thugs of the past were more convinced of their social responsibility than he was, the Roman and Medieval aristocrats who understood their “noblesse oblige” and paid for public works and public feasts and alms for the poor with their own money, not as a charitable whim to satisfy or not as they please, but as a sacred (quasi-legal) obligation that would have brought disgrace upon them to fail to fulfill.

The Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Past showed Abandoner the American Revolution, on which Abandoner based so much of his self-justification. The spirit showed both the ways in which that revolution served to defend the current and potential wealth and power of its mostly landed aristocratic perpetrators against the British attempts to protect the Indians of the newly acquired Ohio Valley, the captive African population, the Scotch-Irish rural poor (who sided with the crown), and the French Catholics of newly acquired Canada from the avarice of the colonial coastal landed gentry; and the ways in which its underlying ideals were far more committed to the common welfare and the ideal of equality (as well as a commitment to continuing political progress rather than enshrinement of that moment in history) than Abandoner’s self-serving parody of those ideals recognized.

The spirit showed Abandoner the struggles for justice and equality that followed, struggles often opposed by oppressors using precisely the same language and ideas as Abandoner himself; the struggle for abolition of slavery, which Southern slave owners ironically decried as an attack on their liberties; the struggles to respect the rights of the indigenous population, to secure for women the right to vote, to overcome the legacies of history which deprived some of rights and the most basic of freedoms in the name of service to the “liberty” of others.

Abandoner watched the slaughter of innocent indigenous women and children in the name of “liberty” but in service only to the theft of their land. He saw slaves whipped, husbands separated from wives and mothers from their small children in sales designed to increase the master’s wealth, all in the name of “liberty” (as argued, for instance, by John C. Calhoun in his tome Union and Liberty, using language and arguments identical to those used by Abandoner today). He watched the denial of real, lived, shared liberty in the name of his false, greedy, oppressive and destructive mockery of the word. And he couldn’t help but be moved, for his self-serving ignorance and avarice could not withstand the onslaught of reality presented by this Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Past, a spirit who showed the blaring absence of all that it stood for, a surging sea of ignorance and malice rationalized by the convenient idols of petty and shrivelled souls.

Abandoner awoke again in his own room at the stroke of two to find a bright light seeping through the cracks in his firmly closed door. He opened the door to find the robust and hearty Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Present sitting on a raised chair surrounded by bounty, raucous laughter on his face and on his lips.

“Come in, Abandoner!” the spirit bellowed with resonant good humor. “Come in, and partake of our shared feast! Plenty flows from my horn when more are more disposed to share with others, and even deprivations are borne more lightly when borne together!”

The spirit showed Abandoner the rest of the developed world, less diseased by Abandoner’s miserable and miserly ideology than America. In these countries that share many of the same values and ideals, but have been spared the misfortune of enshrining them and thus reducing them to parodies of themselves, poverty has been virtually eradicated, there is less violence and more personal security, health care is universal and less expensive to provide and health outcomes are better by almost every single statistical measure (including public satisfaction), self-reported happiness is higher, and there is greater rather than lesser ability to prosper by virtue of one’s own efforts.

“The folly of condemning THAT, while embracing THIS…,” cried the spirit, showing Abandoner his own hyper-individualistic society, the one that Abandoner himself had helped to shackle with the rotting corpse of Extreme Individualism, with higher rates of poverty and all the social ills that accompany it: Higher infant mortality rates, poorer health, less happiness, poorer educational performance, more violence, more suffering. “This is what you are fighting to enshrine as the perfection of human genius! Clinging to a fictionalized past to impose greater suffering and less joy on a population ridiculed and pitied by all others of comparable economic power! Shame on you, you shrivelled little excuse for humanity! That poor child you’ve abandoned to your false idols is worth more in the eyes of God than all you self-satisfied misanthropes combined, who claim that the suffering of others is no concern of yours!”

The spirit showed Abandoner the other America, the one which Abandoner did not define, filled with many who accepted salaries far lower than they were capable of earning in order to do good works for others’ benefit, the teachers with advanced degrees, the public interest lawyers earning a fraction of what their peers in private firms did, the workers in non-profits and social services struggling to stem the tide of social indifference that Abandoner, with his every word and breath, struggled to preserve and perpetuate.

“Join them, you petty little parasite!” intoned the spirit. “Join them in the shared feast which you choose instead to horde and call your own!”

Abandoner saw joy; joy in the faces of a teacher who inspired a child to learn rather than despair, to aspire rather than prey on others; of the social worker who helped another child find safety and love; of those who fought to govern themselves with compassion and empathy for one another rather than with individual avarice and mutual indifference; of those who were blessed by the Spirit of Reason and Goodwill and appalled by the specter of Extreme Individualism which so smugly and callously opposed it.

Abandoner couldn’t help but feel their joy, the celebration of humanity’s shared existence, the knowledge of belonging to something larger than himself and lovingly shared rather than being the covetous hoarder of something smaller and jealously guarded. He fell asleep with that joy dancing in his heart, truly light-spirited for the first time for as long as he could recall. He fell asleep knowing what it means to thrive, something that requires generosity of spirit, something that is the fount of true liberty.

He awoke at the stroke of three to see the Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Yet to Come standing beside his bed, a lithe form and beatific face, but human rather than ethereal; a mild satisfied glow in its eyes and a slight knowing smile on its lips, unburdened wisdom and contentment dancing across its features and flowing through its every movement and gesture. It was filled with passion but not anger, knowledge but not arrogance, reason but not certainty, imagination but not superstition, humility but not fear. It was what Abandoner would have dreamt of being, were Abandoner wise enough to understand the meaning of human potential.

The spirit stood before Abandoner saying nothing, piercing him with its gaze. Abandoner felt profoundly naked, trasparent, revealed. He felt foolish and small, which, of course, was precisely what he was.

“Are you the Spirit of Reason and Goodwill Yet to Come, whose appearance was foretold to me?” Abandoner asked, having wanted to invoke his customary bombast, but finding himself unable to, knowing now what a farce it had always been and would always be.

The spirit didn’t move, didn’t answer, didn’t even nod, but its smile seemed just a bit more intent, and its eyes to sparkle just a bit more brightly.

As Abandoner gazed into that face, he saw a future he had been unable to imagine, a future in which liberty and mutual responsibility were inseparable ideals, in which the interdependence of all was understood and acknowledged, in which freedom was heightened and enriched by transcending the shallow pretense that its exercise by each occurred in a vacuum, and recognizing instead that no one has the inalienable right to (for instance) contaminate another’s air and water any more than one has the inalienable right to put a bullet in another’s chest.

The spirit took Abandoner on a tour of a future devoid of both ostentatious wealth and abject poverty, a world of mutual care and support, a world not cleansed of human foibles but rather adapted to them. People lived to celebrate life, to discover and expand and enjoy and assist others in doing the same. Their work was both more productive and more satisfying for the value and respect that others gave it. Entertainments were edifying and enriching rather than mindless distractions that sapped the soul. Robust and knowledgeable discussions were commonplace, sometimes heated debates, but almost always reverberating with reason and imagination and goodwill. There was greater joy, greater health, greater mental health, less suffering, less abuse, less neglect, less violence, more freedom –real freedom, the freedom born of nurtured human consciousness.

But then the spirit showed Abandoner a different future, or perhaps the inevitable road to the one he had just shown, a road whose length would be longer or shorter depending on the choices of those who comprise it. Abandoner saw all the Tiny Tims that would die because of his callous insistence that denying health care to those who can’t afford it is a requisite of “liberty.” Abandoner saw all of the violence and suffering and heartbreak that could have been prevented, that had been prevented to a far greater degree in places less in the thrall of his shallow and life-denying ideology. He saw that it was real, that the tormented howls of a parent who lost a child to violence that could have been prevented, to a disease that could have been cured, to abuse or neglect by another that a society that placed greater value on empathy would have avoided by investing in its avoidance, were all real, and he  knew that each and every instance was a crime against humanity, a crime for which Abandoner and all like him shared a portion of the guilt.

The spirit led Abandoner to a large book on a book stand, like a relic of a previous age. Abandoner’s trembling fingers reached out to trace the embossed letters that formed the title on its cover: “Humanity.”

The book suddenly flipped open, pages fluttering by as Abandoner recoiled in fear. Then the flurry ended and the book lay open, the spirit glancing suggestively at the revealed page.

Abandoner, quaking with fear, leaned over the book and read history’s judgment of the movement to which he belonged. He read how he and his kind would be as disdained by future generations as all others of similar disposition had been before, for just as those before had hidden behind distorted ideals, it was not “liberty” for which these shallow and selfish people were really fighting, but rather injustice and inequality.

History has always condemned the brutal, self-serving disregard for the welfare of others that litters its pages, and it condemned Abandoner. He was just another foolish adherent in another chapter of the long and tragic tale of Man’s Inhumanity To Man, and the false idols he gloriously cloaked himself in were just another swastika, another sickle-and-hammer, another white hood, another brown shirt, another tool of another Inquisition, another blind faith denouncing heretics while obstructing the less stagnant and reducible truths of Reason and Goodwill. He had wasted his life as just another dupe of ignorance and belligerence, and if he were remembered at all, that’s all he would ever be remembered for.

“Spirit!” cried Abandoner. “Are these the shadows of things that must be, or can I, if I change my ways, change what is written in that book?!”

The spirit looked into Abandoner’s eyes, and spoke for the first and last time. “What do you think Freedom really means?”

Abandoner awoke on Christmas morning, a white blanket of snow covering the Earth, and a weight lifted from his heart. He felt free, freer than he had ever felt before, free of a pettiness that had imprisoned him more securely than bars or chains ever could, free to work for the common good, free to be a part of something bigger than himself. He knew that individual generosity was a part of it, something that was as important as any other part, that he had to help others of all ideologies to understand that. But he knew also that it isn’t enough to express that generosity just as a bunch of atomized individuals, that it must also be expressed as a part of our shared existence, that we also each have a responsibility to work with all others so inclined, and to try to convince all others to become so inclined, to reach down into the systems that order our lives and refine them to better express that generosity of spirit that he had been shown by the three spirits who embodied it, not in defiance of individual liberty, but in the ultimate and most meaningful service to it.

Abandoner abandoned his old way of thinking, and gave his name new meaning, for he abandoned ignorance and belligerence; he abandoned extreme individualism; he abandoned fixed and inflexible, rigid and unsubtle ideas that do more to shackle otherwise free men and women than any other agent of oppression; he abandoned the struggle to impose injustice and suffering on the world, and joined instead the struggle to liberate ourselves from the constraints we have imposed on ourselves, together.

And he was forever loved and respected for having done so.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

(For more precise, analytical discussions of the logical and empirical errors of extreme Libertarian/Tea Party ideology, see the other essays in the fourth box at Catalogue of Selected Posts: “Political Fundamentalism”, “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, Small Government Idolatry, The Tea Party’s Mistaken Historical Analogy, The True Complexity of Property Rights, Liberty & Interdependence, Real Fiscal Conservativism, Social Institutional Luddites, The Inherent Contradiction of Extreme Individualism, Liberty & Society, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” American Political Edition (Parts I-V), An Open Letter To The American Far-RightA Frustrated Rant On A Right-Wing Facebook Thread, The Catastrophic Marriage of Extreme Individualism and Ultra-Nationalism, Dialogue With A Libertarian, More Dialogue With Libertarians, Yet Another Conversation With Libertarians, Response to a Right-Wing Myth, and The History of American Libertarianism. For an alternative vision, based on the realities of the complex dynamical systems of which we are a part and how we can most wisely and effectively articulate our own individual and collective aspirations within those systems, see the essays in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts. For some insight into the nature of those complex dynamical systems and our place in them, see the essays in the first box at  Catalogue of Selected Posts.)

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Amercan Perceptions of Christianity: What struck me most in the Denver Post article reporting that 1 in four Americans can’t think of any recent positive contribution by Christians was the intergenerational difference among Christians themselves (http://www.denverpost.com/ci_16433284). “[R]esearchers noted that Evangelical Christians over age 25 and those who said they are ‘mostly conservative’ on socio- political matters were least likely to list serving the poor as an important contribution.” This confirms what has long been obvious: That the configuration of political beliefs that include Evangelical Christianity, “Constitutional Idolatry”, and a general anti-government/pro-social-injustice-and-inequality-of-opportunity stance includes indifference to the plight of others. Cognitive Scientist George Lakoff, in his book The Political Mind, identified this orientation as a lack of empathy. Whatever policies we design and implement as a nation, whatever balances we strike between efficiency and equity, a lack of empathy should never inform them. More than anything else, this lack of empathy, frequently waxing into outright antipathy toward the poor, combined with a disdain for reason and knowledge, are the principal causes of my vehement opposition to the Tea Party and its fellow travelers. We must never, ever govern ourselves with indifference to human suffering, much less belligerence towards those who are suffering.

Crowdfunding: An example of Wikinomics (Wikinomics: The Genius of the Many Unleashed), crowdfunding is the use of an internet platform to present “grant proposals” to the public at large, and receive donated support from members of that public who find the idea worthy of their support (http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2010/10/crowd-funding_art). Again, this is triumph of decentralization through reduced transaction costs, allowing an increasing number of publicly funded projects to be funded directly by the public, rather than indirectly through the governmental and non-profit apparatus that has traditionally played the role of gatekeeper.

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

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(The following was originally written as a Facebook post in response to one of the typically overwrought, implacable demands for some sort of a purist rejection of our current Democratic leadership, due to its failure to satisfy the writer’s view of what they needed to be doing):

The most important principle in politics is “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” or even of the least bad. Politics is the art of the possible, and the pursuit of the best attainable arrangements, all things considered. Every decision by every individual should be measured by its effect.

The reality we are dealing with includes not only what we each identify as what should be, but also what everyone else identifies as what should be, and what can be accomplished within the context of that distribution of values, beliefs, and opinions, including to what extent they can be moved and changed.

It’s also critical to remember that, in a complex and subtle world, designing the best policies and making the best decisions on pending legislation is an information intensive activity, necessitating not only a sophisticated understanding of the complex systems involved (the articulation of human social institutional, technological, and natural systems), but also of the details of what is happening on the ground. A great piece of legislation, for instance, often becomes a Trojan Horse for a horrible rider, and a smart legislator has to weigh the benefits of the great bill against the costs of the horrible rider. A lot of the armchair quarterbacking that goes on is oblivious to this  dimension of the challenge, and many such dimensions exist.

We accomplish the most, and progress the most robustly, when we gravitate toward a pragmatic realism, cultivating a calm belief that it is possible for human beings to govern themselves wisely, in service to human welfare, and keeping all involved (including the electorate) focused on how best to do so. We accomplish the least (and do the most to undermine any and all positive efforts that are being made) when we gravitate to conflicting poles, insisting that our own faction’s vision is the only acceptable one, and that nothing else will do. It fails both on pragmatic grounds (it paralyzes our ability to progress) and on realism grounds (there is more genius in the humility of the many than in the hubris of the few).

There are political goals more fundamental than advancing the policies of the moment. Those goals require cultivating, each in ourselves and all of us together, certain qualities that improve our collective ability to design and implement the best policies in any moment.

One such quality, as I’ve already suggested, is humility. We serve a truly progressive agenda best when we each strive to recognize that what we individually believe to be true may or may not be, that our own certainties may be mistaken, that our own conclusions may be incorrect. This breeds two positive behaviors: 1) It motivates us each to keep learning, to keep examining, to keep absorbing information and recognizing that we never know or understand enough; and 2) it improves our ability to work in productive concert with those who have sincere and legitimate disagreements with us. The second is most useful when the ultimate ends are less disputed than the means for achieving them, as is often (though not always) the case.

Aligning the ultimate ends is best served by striving to be people of goodwill, driven by empathy more than by mutual indifference. Not everyone is willing to agree that that is a laudable goal, but most are. Some will argue that it is a laudable goal, but not the proper purview of government, which is fine, because it provides a foundation of agreement about the ends within which to debate what the most effective means are, a foundation that works as long as we cultivate the other necessary qualities as well (humility and reason).

As I just said, the third quality is striving to be reasonable. Many believe that they are doing so, but few are. An important first step is to recognize how our minds really work, by thinking in frames and narratives which may or may not serve the cause of reason in any given instance. Being aware of this helps us to coopt the reality in service to the ideal, of guiding our frames and narratives in service to reason.

These three qualities (striving to be humble, striving to be empathetic, and striving to be reasonable), together, comprise a deeper political goal, that of creating the most robust and fertile cognitive and cultural context for social and political progress.

I think we serve ourselves best by prioritizing our commitment to this “deep structural political goal” above all of the other more ephemeral and superficial (though often critically important) goals which depend upon it. Doing so serves our long-term ability both to advance those immediate political goals most effectively, and to ensure that they are the right goals to advance before doing so.

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