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I’ve written before about the potential of “new media” to accelerate our cultural evolutionary processes (processes described in the essays linked to in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts), emphasizing the positive potential (see A Major Historical Threshold or A Tragically Missed Opportunity?). But there are also dynamics in place which co-opt this meme-accelerator in service to our basest inclinations, systematically favoring the least well-informed and most poorly reasoned memes and paradigms over the best-informed and most well reasoned memes and paradigms.

This consciousness-contracting force is comprised of the following interacting factors, the first of which is laudable in and of itself, but combines with the other two in dysfunctional ways: 1) A shared popular commitment to respecting the right of each to express any position in public discourse without privileging some over others; 2) A wide-spread individual aversion to being embarrassed by having one’s own factual or logical error debunked in public discourse; 3) The pandering of many comment board and blog moderators to those who are so embarrassed, favoring empty sniping (which is accepted as the norm on such forums) over carefully constructed argument (which is considered too discomfiting a challenge to those who want a “safe” place to broadcast their often arbitrary, ideologically-derivative opinions).

I’ve encountered this dynamic repeatedly, targeted both by participants and, in service to popular inclinations, moderators as well, for introducing analytical thought into such forums. Most recently, the Denver Post has taken this dynamic to new depths, deleting three highly factual and analytical comments on my part, at the behest of someone who was offended by the factual and analytical content itself.   

The first comment was a list of points contesting a comment by the complaining individual (whose own comment was nothing but a string of ad hominems), citing economic studies, a demographic argument made by The Economist magazine, and historical facts. Other than starting with the word “hogwash,” and ending with the phrase “other than that, you really nailed it,” it was nothing but fact and argument. The second comment was a point-by-point debunking of his response, devoid of any ad hominem. The third was nothing more than a straight-forward and very dry correction of the assertion that the 15% tax rate paid by many of the wealthiest Americans is due to their charitable giving, noting that the 15% rate was the capital gains tax rate that many of them enjoyed, and not an artifact of deductions for charitable giving. Amazingly, the Denver Post on-line moderator deleted all three, at one point messaging me that he saw nothing wrong with my comments, but was deleting them anyway!

I contacted the Denver Post about this, and received assurances that they would discuss it and get back to me. They never did.

This is just the most egregious example of a larger, and more troubling dynamic: The privileging of angry ideological memes over factually informed and well-reasoned memes. Anyone who reads comment boards such as the Denver Post can’t help but notice the dominance of angry ideological voices. What many may not realize is that the moderators themselves actually contribute to ensuring that such voices dominate their comment boards, not because they necessarily agree with or prefer the tone of those voices, but rather because of a mistaken application of a democratic instinct: Protecting voices from factual and logical challenges to them.

In one sense, the larger endeavor we are in, the struggle over humanity’s future, is a contest between the forces of mindlessness and mindfulness, of belligerence and compassion, of bigotry and enlightenment. We must never forget, each and every one of us, that that struggle occurs within as well as without, within our own individual psyches, within our own groups and movements, within our own rationalizations and ideologies. But the two are a challenge that we face without distinction, for we share a mind, and when the forces of mindlessness prevail in our interactions, they also prevail in our own internal cognitive landscapes. The Denver Post, for instance, succeeded not only in silencing reason applied to fact in deference to irrationality applied to fictions, but also in reinforcing the belief that it was right to do so in the mind of one who least could afford to have that belief reinforced.

It is incumbent on each of us to confront these countervailing currents, sweeping through the same media of collective consciousness as I am using now; to level their waves of mindlessness with the interference of equal and opposite waves of mindfulness. As many know, my outline of a sustained strategy for doing so can be found in the essays linked to in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts. But this suggested paradigm, like the paradigms it is designed to affect, should be one which benefits from the genius of the many, from the refinements offered by time and numbers. It is now just a nascent thought, waiting to be developed. The only critical thread that must weave itself through all of our efforts is a commitment to continuing to strive to be reasonable and imaginative people of goodwill, working together with humility and compassion to confront the challenges and opportunities of a complex and subtle world. The more successfully we spread that meme, the better off we will be.

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

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

(The following is a series of posts I made on a Libertarian’s Facebook page. Ironically, the owner of the page, while lost in the morass of Libertarian nonsense, seems to be a fairly decent fellow, as some are, which only adds to the poignancy of the tragedy, since we are capable of doing great violence to one another without even possessing the emotional disposition to do so. But the fact that we as a country can be in the grips of this self-destructive mania is simply too much to bear. How on Earth do we shake some sense into these blind and destructive fanatics, trying to do their own re-enactment of history’s most tragic chapters?)

I don’t copy and paste anything, Rick. I live, learn, study, contemplate, and comment. There are several values that merit our attention, not just the maximization of aggregate wealth (though that is one as well, since indeed it is important to maintain a political economy that produces wealth robustly). This country has been moving in a highly regressive direction in terms of social mobility and social justice, increasing the extent to which the condition you are born into determines your opportunities in life.

In reality, the number one predictor of future socio-economic status in America is one’s socio-economic status at birth. This is a statistical fact. To argue that it is irrelevant because some minority of people succeed in changing their socio-economic statuses, which to the irrational means that there is no social injustice in America, neglects that the members of that minority benefited from some good fortune or combination of good fortunes that the rest did not: Great parents, a great mentor, exceptional natural endowment, chance circumstances, etc.

A commitment to equality of opportunity (not equality of outcome, as you insist equality of opportunity means) requires not relegating certain classes of people to drastically reduced chances of success in life due to the chances of birth, even if additional chances save some small subset of those disadvantaged classes. In fact, addressing it is not just good for rectifying our endemic and growing social injustice (far greater than that of our fellow highly developed nations), but also improves aggregate productivity itself, mobilizing our human resources more efficiently and effectively.

In 2007, 35% of America’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of 1% of our population. (The bottom 40% of Americans are thrown the crumbs of .2%, one five hundredth, of America’s wealth; the next 40% of Americans share just 15% of America’s wealth. 85% goes to just 20% of Americans.) Our Gini Coefficient (the statistical measure of the inequality of the distribution of wealth) is behind all other developed nations, and is behind even Iran, Russia, and China. This is not, as your convenient mythology maintains, due to a meritocracy, but rather an entrenched and growing classism, with only marginal social mobility laced into it (this is a statistical fact, not a random assertion; America has less, not more, social mobility than all other developed nations).

You imagine yourselves to be the warriors of freedom, and those who oppose you to be “elitists,” but that is precisely backward: You are warriors of elitism, fighting for gross inequality and injustice against those who actually understand economics and history and the fact that by no measure are your assertions accurate or defensible.

Your assertion that this inequality is necessary to the robust production of wealth is, like the rest of your assertions, simply wrong. The United States, despite its off-the-charts inequity in the distribution of wealth, has only a middling per capita GDP in comparison to other developed nations, below many that are far more egalitarian, and not significantly above any (see A far smaller portion of Americans participate in that wealth, however, than do those of those other countries.

In other words, you are fighting for ignorance in service to human suffering, and calling it a noble ideal. Freedom, prosperity, justice, are far more complex and subtle ideals than you recognize, and, in your shallow world, you therefore sacrifice the realities on the alter of your false idols. There is no real freedom when the circumstances of birth are so highly determinant of one’s future prospects, and when participation in a society’s prosperity is so skewed by the chances of birth. There is no justice when the descendants of those who were conquered or enslaved not so many generations ago are statistically extremely overrepresented among those who do not partake of that prosperity and opportunity today. There is only an implicit racism in insisting that we live in a meritocracy, and that if some races and ethnicities are overrepresented in poverty in our country, it must be that they coincidentally are just lazier and less meritorious than the descendants of the former elites. Yeah.

The depth of your irrationality in service to your inhumanity is simply mindboggling. Don’t get me wrong: There are no simple answers. The market economy is indeed a robust producer of wealth, and the problems and challenges we face are not easily solved. But we must first, as a nation, as human beings, be honest about what those problems and challenges are, rather than conveniently defining them out of existence and turning a blind eye to the real injustices and inhumanities that we are blithely reproducing and deepening.

The way to approach this ongoing endeavor of ours is to understand economics (the real discipline; not the archaic caricature on which you rely), and history (again, the real discipline, not the information-stripped caricature on which you rely), and all other disciplines relevant to our shared existence, and to treat the challenge of self-governance as non-trivial, not reducible to a few neat, ideological platitudes that adherents claim are ordained by God or by Founding Fathers, or by something other than what works and what’s just and what’s wise.

You rely on caricatures of our wonderful (though human, historical, and imperfect) founding document (the U.S. Constitution, which was drafted to strengthen, not weaken, our federal government, a strengthening eloquently argued for in The Federalist Papers by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay). You ignore those clauses which don’t suit your ideology, and ignore our system for interpreting the Constitution, insisting that your nonsensical interpretation should prevail, thus only destroying the document and nation you claim to serve. It’s a tragic comedy of ignorance and inhumanity, one that loses its comic value when you take measure of the real human suffering it imposes and preserves, and the damage it does to us as a people and to our children’s prospects in the future.

Let’s not forget the real human measures of your regressive ideology: We have, in comparison to other developed nations, the highest infant mortality rates, the highest poverty rates, the highest homelessness rates…, a tribute to a society in the grips of an inhumane mania that has no connection whatsoever to reality, or to justice, or to reason, or to compassion, or to anything to which human beings ought to aspire.

Here’s the story you folks need to live: And here’s the historical reality you ignore: Here are the cliches and caricatures on which you rely:,,, And here is a guide to the rational, compassionate, historically and economically literate, humane, and truly progressive alternative: Finally, while you are crowing about the brilliance of your shriveled and inhumane little platitude-driven blind ideology, here are some examples of what a real, growing, contemplative, informed understanding of our world looks like:,,,,,,,,

What we are and what we are capable of, as human beings, is incredible. But it is not served by your flattened and stripped parody of the intellectual product of a historical moment, rather than the living, growing reality that those ideals gave birth to. Our liberty isn’t served by the absurd farce that popular government and strivings for social justice are its enemies, but is rather most pointedly threatened by it. As Sinclair Lewis poignantly observed: When fascism comes to America, it will come carrying the cross and wrapped in a flag. And for all your rhetoric deluding yourselves that you represent its opposite, you are nothing if not the unwitting (though eagerly exploited) agents of fascism, freeing those who wield the political power of concentrated corporate wealth from any restraint of popular regulation and oversight, demolishing problematic but indispensible popular government in preference for the tyranny of unfettered concentration of wealth and the real political power that it wields.

You are clueless, and dangerously so, threatening this nation, and, to some extent, this world, with your belligerent ignorance, trying to obstruct all thought and analysis and compassion and human decency in service to your mania. Good God, it’s just too much to take! Get a frickin’ clue already.

(See The Catastrophic Marriage of Extreme Individualism and Ultra-Nationalism for a continuing discussion of the precise ideological components of the dysfunctional ideology I am confronting in this post, and Dialogue With A Libertarian for a response to a comment that gets to the heart of the logical and empirical fallacies on which libertarians rely).

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

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.

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To me, there seem to be two defining characteristics of The Tea Party movement: 1) a lack of empathy for the suffering of others, and 2) an outright hostility to knowledge and reason. In just one example among many of the latter characteristic, here’s part of a Facebook exchange I just engaged in:

Charles Heatherly: Val., Brian,,,,Steve is a descendant of the progressives of the early 20th century who dreamed of a technocratic society where experts make all the important decisions, unrestrained by the confusions and biases of ordinary citizens. It is a dream that is hard to awaken from because so many educated people are seduced to believe THEY will be part of the scientific elite making the decisions. It is a deeply anti-political ideology because it does not trust democracy.

Steve Harvey: It’s usually wiser to let people speak for themselves, especially when you disagree with them, than to volunteer to put into their mouths and attribute to their minds the caricatures of their thought that you find easiest to repel.

I think that there are two challenges facing a representative democracy:

1) The agency problem, of aligning the interests of the agents (the elected representatives) with the principal (the people they represent). Democracy addresses this, imperfectly and incompletely. Refining the systems by which we align these incentives is one of the on-going challenges we face.

2) The mobilization of relevant knowledge and expertise in service to pursuing the interests of the principal most effectively, which does not mean exclusion of the public, since the public has some relevant knowledge and expertise, but does mean not reducing decision making to a crude plebiscite of popular opinion.

In all information intensive endeavors, the robust value of a division of labor, in which some people dedicate their lives first studying, and then daily working with, the systems that are the purview of their profession, has pretty thoroughly proven its value. When our child needs open heart surgery, we don’t find a surgeon who agrees with our community’s lay opinions about how to perform surgery, but rather one trained and practiced in that profession. And since we are very concerned that they act in accord with our interests, of performing that surgery as diligently as possible, we have put into place many safeguards to help ensure that they do so.

Neither of these two challenges should be considered in isolation, but rather both in conjunction: We want a government that is a faithful agent of its principal, and we want one that is an effective agent of its principal. Neither one alone is sufficient, and the absence of either is unsatisfactory.

The notion that only the first demand applies, and not the second, is based on the myth that there is no information-intensive aspect to governance, that it is not necessary to understand any economics, law, and some sufficient cross-section of other relevant knowledge (e.g., how energy grids, hydrogeological systems, and other natural, technological, and social institutional systems that are relevant to public policy decisions, work). In reality, there are few professions that benefit more from a high degree of expertise, since few professions deal with systems as varied and complex as public policy work does.

You may agree or disagree, but your dismissiveness of this point of view is not a sign of the impeccable commitment to reason that you claim (in contrast to folks like me, who are merely raving fools). And before you “rubber-and-glue” me, I am completely open to counterarguments, made with comparable precision and logical integrity to the argument I just made. They do exist, and I am aware of some of them. I do not dismiss those arguments as mere ravings, because they aren’t. That’s part of the complexity of the world in which we live.

Charles Heatherly: Steve..Thank you SO MUCH for proving my point. You alone have the scientific paradigm for solving society’s problems. Congratulations, and good luck with that.

Steve Harvey: No more than I alone have the scientific paradigm for diagnosing and treating diseases, but we together do, and not embedded in each and every one of us, but as collective wisdom more fully embodied in those who study and practice the relevant profession. That’s why we have professions, and why we continue to professionalize broader swathes of our economy: Because expertise is not a bad thing. Knowledge is not a bad thing, and mobilizing knowledge for specific purposes is not a bad thing.

Keith Perry: I have never before read so much elitist, “better-than-thou” snobbery rife opinions full of progressive intellectual drivel in my life than right here. Somebody has spent way too much time in isolated Liberal environments and media.

Brian Wilson: Translation of Steve’s arguments: “the people aren’t voting the way we (the elites) tell them to! We need to “align” their votes to benefit us. They don’t know what’s good for them.”

Keith Perry: Oh, I got that loud and clear in his needlessly lengthy dissertation.

Valarie Murphy: Thank you, Brian, for that translation. I think Steve does not like the great unwashed masses (Republicans). Isn’t that what he said? No one will “align” my vote. Sorry, Stevo.

Steve Harvey: Yes, it’s deja vu all over again. I make a cogent argument, and the chorus declares it “unreasonable” because it challenges their dogmatic assumptions, and that, after all, is your definition of what is unreasonable. Nobel Prize winning economists are “irrelevant”, because the speaker knows more about economics. Knowledge is “irrelevant,” because it’s “anti-democratic.”

Of course, there is never any counterargument, never any counteranalysis, never any application of knowledge to observation, never any logic. And yet, despite those defects, yours is the only rational point of view. It’s simply amazing.

If it isn’t dumb, it isn’t right. That should be your bumper sticker.

Valarie Murphy: Mine is the only rational point of view. I don’t know why you argue with that.

Steve Harvey: I don’t either, Valarie. It’s a disease, not an argument. You can’t argue with a disease.

What most strikes me about this exchange, other than the persistent insistence that no one who thinks differently from them can possibly be rational, while simultaneously never making any rational argument themselves in defense of any position (more apparent in the first part that I didn’t reprint), is 1) the twisting of my description of agency theory, which is really just another way of describing the challenge of holding elected officials accountable to the electorate, into some notion of aligning them to some point of view they disagree with; and 2) the inability to recognize that there can possibly be any value to the mobilization of expert knowledge in the design and implementation of public policies.

The first point is an illustration of a sort of paranoia (even more apparent in Charles’ status update under which these comments appeared, in which he insisted that the OFA Facebook GOTV campaign is a conspiracy to access all of their personal information), in which they perceive everything, particularly that originates from “the evil other” (a concept which embraces all non-Americans, non-Christians, non-whites, non-heterosexuals, and non-bigots), as an assault on their “liberty.” So, if a progressive describes holding our elected officials accountable, using a body of thought called “agency theory,” which is about how to hold agents accountable to their principal’s interests (big in managerial theory, law, and microeconomics), they perceive it as a nefarious conspiracy to control them, miraculously getting it diametrically wrong.

The complete miscomprehension in their collective response is due to a combination of confirmation bias (selectively perceiving information in such a way as to confirm what they already hold to be true) and prejudice (anything a liberal says must by definition be wrong), so that they were simply incapable of grasping what agency theory is really about. Since a liberal said something about aligning the interests of government and the electorate, it could only mean government control of the populace (which it didn’t), not popular control of government (which it did).

The second point is an affirmative commitment to ignorance, not only in the prejudice against scholarship, but also by simultaneously declaring all who disagree with them “irrational” while never making any arguments of their own, thus insulating an information-deprived ideology from any intrusion of fact or logic. After explaining that there are two challenges to self governance (ensuring that our representatives act in our interests, and ensuring that they do so effectively), these mouthpieces of Organized Ignorance, to an even greater extent than I could have predicted, not only were unable to acknowledge the latter challenge, but, amazingly, could not even acknowledge the former when I said it, just because I’m the one who said it. The irony is that, to the extent that they acknowledge we should have any representatives at all, holding them accountable should logically be a cornerstone of their own ideology (emphasizing popular sovereignty, as it does).

These various facets define their movement perfectly: Paranoia informed by an ideology which privileges ignorance, so thoroughly insulated from any contradictory informaton that they won’t even agree with what one would assume is a cornerstone of their own ideology if stated by an ideological opponent, all in service to the avoidance of any shared responsibility to others, especially to those less fortunate than themselves. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

For those who haven’t figured it out yet, I believe that we live in a fundamentally systemic reality, that increasing both our understanding of the nature of those systems and our application of that understanding to the challenges and opportunities we face, in service to reason and goodwill, is what defines, or should define, the collective human endeavor. If all human beings, or all Americans, or all Coloradans, agreed with this simple proposition today, the enormity of the challenge would still loom before us like a mountain to be scaled, but one we would be able to scale, to our immense benefit. But in a world in which so many people are so irrationally, or self-interestedly, resistent even to getting to this starting point, that mountain recedes beyond moats and fortified walls, hordes of armed and angry sentries attacking those who even gesture toward, much less try to approach, those heights or our potential.

We not only need to analyze the interactions of our social institutions, technologies, and natural systems in the pursuit of an ever-more robust, sustainable, and equitable production and distribution of human welfare, but we also have to analyze the nature of the human obstinance and ignorance that stands between those of us committed to addressing these inherent challenges, and our collective ability to do so. And we need to discern the strategies for circumventing that obstruction.

Politics, which should be the execution of the process we’ve created for acting collectively to our collective benefit, has devolved instead into a shouting match over whether there is any collective benefit to be pursued, and whether the process is one which is meant to bind us together at all. It has been hijacked completely, not by competing views of which analytical tools to employ, or which balance of interests to favor, but rather by those loud and angry mobs that insist we should not engage in the challenge at all, that there is no need, that since (in their view) it was not the will of those who designed our system of self-governance that we govern ourselves, any attempt to do so is an affront to the immutable authority of the ideologues’ misinterpretation of the will of people who died two centuries ago. 

On one level, this is nothing new or exceptional. Politics has long, if not always, been held hostage by the need to trade in raw power, to manipulate masses by mobilizing resources. There have always been those, perhaps always a majority of those actively involved, who have not asked “what best serves the public interest?” but rather only “what best serves my interests?” Those who ask the former have always been trapped in the battle against those who ask the latter, while the latter have been trapped in battle against one another. The form of systems analysis that evolves in this context is the one that addresses itself to political victory rather than to social problem solving. It has thus far been an inherent dilemma.

But there are times and places when this perennial dysfunctionality is eclipsed by a deeper incarnation of its underlying logic, both a response to it and a culmination of that logic. In such circumstances, the political morass is no longer defined by a battle of competing self-interests and commitments to the public welfare. Instead, it is defined by a combination of competing self-interests and a battle between those who fight for the public interest, on the one hand, and an uneasy alliance of self-interested power and misguided ignorance, on the other.

We are in such a condition now, in this country. Despite the erosion in recent decades of social institutions which have served the interests of the many and diminished the distance between their welfare and the welfare of the most privileged few, a robust populist movement exists in America which mistakenly believes that that erosion was to their benefit, that it’s continuation and acceleration serves the greatest good, that it facilitates some mystical function or value that is absolutely inviolable.

The alliance of self-interested power and misguided ignorance is an uneasy one because the populist movement in question (The Tea Party) is not a reliable partner. In its fanatical commitment to a clear, simplistic ideal divorced from analysis, from any cause-and-effect considerations, it threatens not only to undermine the ability of the many to continue to refine our social institutional framework to increase equality and social justice, but also undermines the basic functionality of our political economy altogether, promising to decrease the wealth and welfare of rich and poor alike. The politically self-interested wealthy (those who seek policies which protect their wealth) try to co-opt this movement, but also try to recover their party from its clutches, unable to do either effectively

The most pressing systemic challenge we face in this country today is the one imposed by this mass delusion, one which not only undermines the interests of those who fall prey to it, but also the interests of those who don’t. The great, overwhelming frustration of human existence is the recognition that we are capable of doing so much better, if only we all agreed to, if not join in the effort to do so, at least refrain from obstructing those who do.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

On my Facebook page’s link to the post What Does Democracy Mean When The Outcome Of The Election Is All But Certain?, Dave Schemel wrote: “This Democracy is a corporate illusion,” to which Stan Dyer responded: “People have no one to blame but themselves when they believe democracy fails them. For one thing, it should never be considered a “large” turnout because more than half of the eligible voters find time to cast ballots. For another, we can’t put all of the burden of change on the backs of elected officials. Many changes can be enacted by ourselves in our own lives. We all have the power to treat each other equally, to recycle, to promote alternative energy, to talk to our neighbors about positive change, to lend a helping hand, to volunteer, to be a positive influence, etc., etc., etc.. Kennedy said it 50 years ago, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’

I responded to both: “Well said, Stan. I do think there are roles for government that people can’t effectively perform without it, due to the nature of public goods and transaction costs. But government is our agent, and when it does not act according to our will, that is ultimately our own responsibility. When people refer to the influence of corporations over our democracy, what they mean is that because candidates know that elections hinge on expensive advertising, the need for corporate money to win campaigns makes office-holders beholden to them. But, to the extent that that’s true (which is considerable), it’s true because too many people allow themselves to be too swayed by that expensive advertising, and are not diligent enough about understanding the issues and knowing the facts.

“The failings of our democracy are not caused by those who benefit from them, but by those who participate in them. Perhaps, to some extent, the failings are in human nature itself, or perhaps just the current state of human consciousness. If corporations can undermine democracy so easily, by paying for expensive ads that people allow themselves to be swayed by, then the absence of corporate influence would only mean that electoral decisions are being made on equally shallow bases, even if influenced by other mechanisms.” Or, I would now ad, “even if surrendering their sovereignty to other overlords.”

I’m facing an example of this vis-a-vis Jefferson County Public Schools right now. Several months ago, I formed the South Jeffco Community Organization, and suggested as a first project the development of a robust community volunteer tutoring and mentoring program for South Jeffco kids. It made sense to try to organize such a program in cooperation with Jeffco Schools. Cindy Stevenson’s first reaction, in a Columbine Courier article on the project (, was mildly dismissive (in what I’ve come to know as her style of always sounding open to ideas that she is going to do everything in her power to obstruct).

I’ve since spoken at a School Board meeting, met with Holly Anderson (area superintendent for South Jeffco), met with SJCO members, worked with another SJCO member who compiled a list of volunteers, and complied with requests to distance myself from the project so that Jeffco Schools could avoid any appearance of political favoritism (by actually engaging in politically motivated disfavoritism). But it became increasingly apparent that Jeffco Schools was shining us on, in the end telling us to write a letter to our volunteers suggesting they contact their local schools and offer to volunteer in the classroom, something we and they could have done without Jeffco Schools’ involvement.

In an exchange of emails with Cindy Stevenson, she continued to barrage me with empty assurances, insisting that Jeffco Schools loves having volunteers in the schools, has many, and so on and so forth. But the vision she kept anchoring these assurances in was one of a small trickle of volunteers into the occasional classroom, helping out teachers in very marginal ways. My vision of a robust school-community partnership was clearly not anywhere within the range of possibilities she was willing to entertain (a range basically limited to her own preferences and predilections only).

Rather than play the role she had written for me, of letting her politely stonewall me while wasting my energy accomplishing nothing, I started to challenge her, referring to “the dysfunctional status quo” and “the Kabuki theater of faddish professional development workshops”. As a result of challenging her, I received an aggressive letter from a school district lawyer, stating that Dr. Stevenson will not work with me as a community partner.

In the response I will send to School Board after the election, I write:

[I[f the Jeffco Schools administration refuses to work with me as a community partner, volunteering my time and energy in the hopes of improving our schools, on the basis of my . . . criticisms of some aspects of how Jefferson County Schools is being run, that is a decision over which I have no control, except to insist that it is a violation of the district administration’s essentially fiduciary duty to its stakeholders (Dr. Stevenson manages the school district in trust on our behalf), and to strongly urge that the administration either change or be changed. Dr. Stevenson’s strong-arm attempt to exclude the participation of an interested and knowledgeable Jeffco parent, on the flimsy basis that that parent had the gall to be critical of her, merely serves as further confirmation of the accuracy of my observations, and the legitimacy of my concerns.

In a democracy, constituents have a right to take an interest in, comment on, and even criticize particular policies and particular government officials, when it is their considered belief that those policies are contrary to the interests of the people on whose behalf they have been implemented, or those officials are acting in interests other than the interests of the principal whose agent they are. Despite Dr. Stevenson’s insistence to the contrary, I have every right to make such observations about Jeffco schools, and about Dr. Stevenson herself, without losing my status as a member of this community, and a parent of a Jeffco Schools student….

In accord with my past experience and observations, and numerous confidences shared with me by others, it appears to me that being directly or indirectly critical of Dr. Stevenson (or those she has hand-picked to serve her will), or placing the interests of students above allegience to her, is an invitation to be aggressively targeted. One might speculate that it is precisely this autocratic tendency which motivates her to be so opposed to implementing any truly robust partnership with the community.

As a Jeffco resident and father of a Jeffco student, however, I have a right and a responsibility to take an active interest in how my school district is being run. I will continue to be a vocal community advocate for the implementation of a robust school-community partnership, which I believe is very much in the best interests of our students and of our communities. And I will continue to advocate for fundamental improvements in my school district’s administration, reducing the degree to which internal politics undermines the effectiveness of the school district in delivering the highest quality educational services, and reducing the degree to which ritualism preserves a sub-optimal status quo. These are goals that all people sincerely committed to improving the quality of our schools should find completely uncontroversial….

The only issue at hand is the quality of our school district, and the only questions to be addressed involve the merits of what I am advocating, and the accuracy of my concerns about what internal district dynamics are obstructing consideration and implementation of such proposals on the merits. I am not asking for a seat at some internal school district table from which I can be excluded (as Dr. Stevenson seems to believe); I am taking my seat at the table to which I already belong, that of a Jeffco resident and parent. This is our school district, and Cindy Stevenson is our employee. 

Here’s the point: Cindy Stevenson does not succeed at being an autocratic local ruler because of corporate backers, or big money, but rather because of constituent complacency and inattention. It may be that Dr. Stevenson’s talents are more beneficial than her autocratic tendencies are costly, but that is a calculation that the public should consciously and knowledgeably make, not one they should surrender to Dr. Stevenson’s own political maneuvering. But the public is oblivious to what many who work in the district have long known: It is a crony-ridden fiefdom, with many talented people chased out and several egregiously incompetent or counterproductively overbearing ones retained and promoted due only to their personal loyalty to Dr. Stevenson.

Why would the people of Jefferson County surrender their sovereignty, surrender their school district, to an autocrat? Why would the school board that represents the people allow this to happen? The answer to the former question is that the residents of Jefferson County (or any other county) just don’t care enough to take an active role in the governance of their school district, and the answer to the latter is that, knowing that they just don’t care enough, the question for the Board isn’t whether the superintendent is an autocrat, but rather how effective an autocrat she is.

Jeffferson County Schools is a microcosm of the nation. We surrender our sovereignty by either apathy or ignorance (or, usually, both), because the former allows government to serve those who serve it, and the latter, even if not accompanied by apathy, only adds the challenge of disinformation and manipulation to the nexus of power. It does not return it to our hands. Recovering it again is no mean feat. It requires a commitment to well-informed robust participation, something that is currently in far too short supply.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards