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A Libertarian Facebook “friend” of mine, who is also a somewhat well-known blogger and commentator (she appears on local TV political talk shows from time to time, for instance, something that kind of amazes me, because she’s never made a single rational argument of any kind that I know of), posted, in my honor, the question “To Ban or Not To Ban?” Participating on that thread is the most fun I’ve ever had on her page! Portions of the thread follow (once again, I’ve excluded PJ’s enormous quantity of irrelevant links, and included his comments more to be scrolled through and marveled at than actually read):

SH: I say “ban,” because any troll who comes onto your page and says things like “let’s all strive to be rational and humane people, knowing that we’re all fallible, working together to do the best we can” is clearly too offensive to tolerate. I can’t understand why there’s even any question about it!

PJ: Yeah more Marxist humanism from Steve…

SH: You see? P gets it! It’s just too offensive to all of us here to let people post things like “look, any of us might be wrong about some of the things we hold to be true. Let’s try to avoid these ideologies, and instead invest in working harder at using the methodologies of reason in service to our shared humanity.” That is such a vile notion! Ugh! It makes me nauseas just thinking about it! I don’t know why you’ve tolerated that kind of thing this long. it clearly is anathema to all of us here, and there’s no reason why we should have to expose ourselves to it. Let’s insulate ourselves from the offensive nature of such suggestions. They make us all uncomfortable.

KT: K, this is your page (as long as FB allows it). If you like the chaos, allow it to continue. If you like order, ban those who abuse your page for their own reasons. Personally, I would ban them and let their chaos reign on their own pages and not give them the voice on your page.

SH: KT is right. This is our echo-chamber, by right and by design. Let’s keep it that way.

KT: Steve is one of your trolls. Mr. Chaos himself.

SH: KT, I’m just agreeing with you, and with P.

PJ: No let’s properly identify all aspects of the competing ideologies of Marxist collectivism vs Capitalism ,Individual Freedom and limited Government, without the Marxist Democrats always answering with the restrictive confines of the Marxist based Rules for Radicals, which requires them to RIDICULE their opponents in lieu of substance. NOW ANY MARXIST DEMOCRATS WHO ANSWER… DO NOT USE THIS TEMPLATE, IN HONOR OF HONEST CONVERSATION…

“An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent… He must create a mechanism that can drain off the underlying guilt for having accepted the previous situation for so long a time. Out of this mechanism, a new community organization arises….

“The job then is getting the people to move, to act, to participate; in short, to develop and harness the necessary power to effectively conflict with the prevailing patterns and change them. When those prominent in the status quo turn and label you an ‘agitator’ they are completely correct, for that is, in one word, your function—to agitate to the point of conflict.” p.117

“Process tells us how. Purpose tells us why. But in reality, it is academic to draw a line between them, they are part of a continuum…. Process is really purpose.” p.122


7. Tactics. “Tactics are those conscious deliberate acts by which human beings live with each other and deal with the world around them. … Here our concern is with the tactic of taking; how the Have-Nots can take power away from the Haves.” p.126

 Always remember the first rule of power tactics (pps.127-134):

1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”

2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear and retreat…. [and] the collapse of communication.

3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”

6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time….”

8. “Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.”

9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”

10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.”

11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside… every positive has its negative.”

12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”

13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and ‘frozen.’…

“…any target can always say, ‘Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?’ When your ‘freeze the target,’ you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments…. Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the ‘others’ come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target…’

“One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.” (pps.127-134)

Saul Alinksky, Rules for Radicals, Vintage Books, New York, 1989.

SH: I agree, P. We should identify all of that. And we should do so no matter what the conversation is actually about. If someone talks about the weather, we should answer by identifying those competing ideologies. If someone talks about scientific methodology, we should answer by identifying those competing ideologies. Good point.


SH: That’s right, P. Because whatever the topic is, if the other person disagrees with our perfectly correct ideology on any point or issue at all, that’s proof that they’re a Marxist, and being a Marxist is proof that they’re wrong about everything, and since they’re wrong about everything that’s proof that our position that they opposed is the correct one. It’s a good thing we have masters of logical reasoning like you on our side!

PJ: Steve-That is specious reasoning on your part. I do not use Marxism as a pejorative. It all comes down to intent. The intent behind Marxism is a large central Government command and control structure, that controls the means of production for the benefit of the so called collective. I simply think that that does not comport well with Individual Freedom and our Constitution. I have no issues with Marxist Democrats making the case for it. I simply do not support the end results of the Democrats applying Marxist tenets to US Governance. They have created massive debt, High unemployment , inertia decay and division amongst Americans. I would prefer Americans find common ground in Individual freedom, capitalism and the US Constitution. I do not believe that this is an incorrect or damaging line of reasoning.

SH: I agree with you, P. And clearly a person who frequently discusses and analyzes the virtues of robust markets as an integral part of a well-functioning economic system and has done professional economic modeling and policy analysis on that premise is a Marxist. What could be more obvious than that?

KM (page owner raising the question of blocking people like me): Case. In. Point.

SH: Yes, KM, the “Case. In. Point.” clearly demonstrates why blocking such people is right and good. We don’t want people who challenge our blind ideology in any way. We don’t want to be exposed to cogent arguments inconveniently revealing our own logical and factual errors. We want to be able to tell one another that our own ideological convictions are perfect without ever having to subject those convictions to the glaring light of fact and reason. Ban ‘em!!!!

PJ: Nobody is saying capitalism, individual freedom and limited Government is perfect. I am simply positing that the Downside of individual freedom, capitalism and limited government per the Constitution, produces better results, than the upside of the Marxist based collectivist agenda that Democrats push.

KM: I’m happy being challenged, I’m not happy when it’s impossible to use facebook to communicate with friends because it’s so overwhelming, annoying and inundating.

SH: Sarcasm aside, you have a very good point there, K. On the rare occasion that I’ve commented on a personal rather than political post of yours, it’s been purely friendly (such as a puppy post some time ago). When people post political statements on Facebook, if they have a large and diverse circle of FB friends, they are implicitly inviting the conversion of their page into a political forum. And I think that Facebook as a semi-public political forum is an amazing thing. It gives arguments a chance to compete in a robust way in a public arena. That is my ideal; our arguments should be allowed to compete, and (more elusively) should be allowed to prevail on their relative merits.

You really do have several legitimate choices: You can have two pages, one for political discourse and one for more personal stuff. You can limit your friends to those who agree with you OR write in a style and quantity you prefer, so that those annoying ones who don’t simply have no access. Or you can let chaos reign.

I, personally, DON’T choose the latter. My agenda is to increase the degree of rationality and compassion in our public discourse and our public policies, and I DO block those who are so ravingly irrational or so grotesquely inhumane that I just don’t want to have my time and peace of mind consumed by them. If I am such a person for you, you SHOULD block me, and I mean that sincerely.


SH: Yes, P, I’m the devil incarnate because I made my point through the transparent use of sarcasm. Once again, I just couldn’t agree with you more, and I marvel at the clarity and cogency of your insights.

PJ: yeah more Marxist based dishonest sophistry from Steve.

SH: P, people who use the word “so” are Marxists; people who use sarcasm are Marxists; everything in any way involving any aspect of Marxism is wrong; Marxist use words so people who use words are wrong; etc. etc. etc.

Everyone Else, I think there’s a misconception here: No one is doing me any favors by allowing me to post here. I’m doing you a favor. If you don’t want me to do you that favor, block me and spare me the cost of doing it.

PN: If they can’t enter into articulate and informed debate, what value are they?

SH: PN, the criterion in play here is most certainly NOT the ability to enter into articulate and informed debate! If anything, it is that ability that is what is resented.

PJ: Steve- most Marxist Democrats today have no knowledge regarding the extent of the Marxist ideology of their beliefs. Most are of the vague John Lennon Imagine school of Marxism. They have embraced it thru regurgitated nursery rhyme form… “Imagine no possessions its easy if you try” here is where he took the concept from.

SH: That’s still nice, P, but all I’ve suggested is that we all strive to be rational and humane people, NOT that we “imagine no possessions.” Maybe one of these days you’ll respond to what I’m saying rather than to what the voices in your head are saying.

PJ: Steve, You are dishonest. This is about advancing Marxist premises for you. You are simply doing it either dishonestly or through Ignorance. Again, you do not say anything that is not within the confines of the concepts here.

SH: If believing that we should all strive to be rational and humane people, to recognize our own and universal fallibility, to use the methodologies and procedures which best reduce bias and increase accuracy in service to continuing to discover the most effective, robust, fair, and sustainable public policies possible, in service to our individual liberty, our prosperity, and our general welfare, is “Marxist,” then you’re right, I’m a Marxist. If it isn’t, then you’re wrong, I’m not a Marxist, because what I just described IS my ideology, it is my only ideology, and I’ve written thousands of pages that are all perfectly consistent with that ideology.

It’s not the label you choose to apply that determines the value of anyone else’s or your own perspectives, but rather the quality of the thought and quantity of compassion that went into those specific and particular perspectives.

Everyone, let’s step back and look at the big picture. Many or most of you who are Kelly’s fans think liberalism is a cultural disease, a cancer infecting our society and harming us all. Many or most of those who are in agreement with me think that the Tea Party/Libertarian far-right is a cultural disease, a cancer infecting our society and harming us all. There are four conceivable possibilities: We are both right, we are both wrong, you are right and we are wrong, we are right and you are wrong. Other than each camp being sure that they know the answer to that, there is no objective, a priori way of knowing the answer. So how should we, as responsible citizens and sovereigns, go about making that determination?

My answer is: We should invest in and engage in the methodologies and procedures that modern history has produced and have proved to be most robust at minimizing the influence of bias and maximizing accuracy. And we should do so with a humane attitude, not just to serve any one tribe or faction, but, at least, to serve the interests of all Americans (I would go further, but I’ll take what I can get).

Is that or is that not a suggestion that we all, as reasonable and humane people and responsible citizens, can agree on?

JC: Get rid of them. I get sick of it too. If they are friends, they won’t want to fight about every belief you hold.

PJ: Steve-you use the term incorrectly. Liberalism in the classic sense is an individualistic form of ideology. when Democrats use the term today , they use it in the context of Marxist collectivism….

SH: J, do you think that America is better off with insulated echo-chambers of unchallenged competing ideological dogmas, or with all ideas seeking to affect our public policies being subjected to a shared lathe of robust debate in service to our rationality and humanity?

P, I know the history of the word “liberalism.” I also know the difference between substantive arguments and semantic arguments, and their relative value in political discourse.

PJ: That was a great example of a lack of substance in an answer Steve. You avoid all discussion of Marxism, but yet it is at the root of all of your posts.

SH: I also “avoid” all talk of string theory, when it has nothing to do with what I’m talking about. I’ve presented my ACTUAL position repeatedly. You have tried to label it something it isn’t and dismiss it by virtue of having been labeled. That’s a horrible “argument,” but you’re welcome to it. Meanwhile, I say exactly what I mean, argue my own precise positions, and am perfectly consistent in them. Again, one of these days you might want to respond to my positions rather than to whatever it is you’re responding to. that would require a rational argument on the substance of positions actually presented, which is a good thing. Or, you can continue to tilt at the straw men of your own invention. It’s all the same to me.

PJ: Narcissistic arrogance is a hall mark of all Marxists Steve.

Marxism is at the root of string theory as well Steve

SH: We’ll have to add that to the growing list: Using the word “so,” narcissistic arrogance, being a physicist (string theorist, to be more precise), having a nose (unless it’s your nose), preferring cheeseburgers to hot dogs…. You’ll have to let me know once you’ve compiled the whole list, because we all want to be able to identify those cretins and weed them out, with torches if necessary…..

JO: I suggest PJ & Steve get one of those dueling opposites point/counterpoint radio shows…

SH: But we’d have to rename it “point/pointless.”

JO: Yeah and you’d be the pointless!

SH: Here’s the debate between P and I:

SH: We should strive to be rational and humane people.

PJ: Marxism is bad.

SH: Yes, I completely agree. Avoiding it is one of the reasons we should strive to be rational and humane people.

PJ: Marxism is bad and you’re a liar.

SH: Okay, but all I’m saying is that we should strive to be rational and humane people. Don’t you agree?

PJ: No, because Marxism is bad, and people who say “so,” who use sarcasm, who are narcissists, and, in general, who have any trait that anyone opposing me ever has or that I impute to them, are by definition Marxists.

In an inverted reality, P is the epitome of cogent reasoning and I am pushing a horribly destructive idea. In this reality, we would, in fact, be better off if we all agreed to strive to be rational and humane people. The essential political question in America today is: Which reality do you choose?

(Ah, JO, such a rapier-sharp wit you have! Who could possibly have seen THAT one coming!? I’m impressed.)

TD: Nonsensical extremism is neither educating nor valuable, so if it’s me I block them and then try to figure out how to do it with the extremists in public not just on social media.

SH: The problem is that when extremists call the appeal to strive to be rational and humane people the “extremism” they must weed out, that ol’ inverted reality is in full bloom, and the real extremism dangerously ascendant.

TS: Steve is crushing P on this thread 22 comments to 16!

SH: It’s not the quantity of comments that defines the fact that I’m “crushing P;” it’s the fact that I’m making rational and coherent statements and he, in response, is rambling about something that no one other than he is talking about. Though I do admire the degree of commitment so many of you have to find anything other than reason by which to prevail in an argument.

One little comment about “extremism” and “reason,” if I may: Reason does not lie at some mid-point between prevailing “extremes” in any given time and place. In Nazi Germany, for instance, reason didn’t reside at the mid-point between those who were in favor of killing 6 million Jews and those who were favor of killing none, with the perfectly reasonable position being to kill only 3 million. Sometimes, one extreme comes to embody a much more pronounced lack of reason and humanity, and the other, almost by default, comes to embody the definitively larger commitment to reason and humanity of the two. The goal is not to find some mid-point between extremes, but rather to find what reason in service to humanity recommends…, which is why I keep suggesting that we all simply commit ourselves to striving to be reasonable and humane people first and foremost, and let our ideologies, to the extent that we absolutely must have them at all, follow from that commitment rather than pre-empt it.

(See Down the Rabbit Hole to the Mad Hatters’ Tea Party for similar, preceding dialogue with PJ and JO)

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

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

In case there is any rational human being on Earth who still does not understand what this country is currently up against, the following unedited exchange will rectify that. (It’s unedited other than to remove some extraneous comments by non-participants in the exchange, links, and some excessive use of white space by PJ, the main participant other than myself.) While PJ does have an incongruently extensive academic knowledge of Marxism and Fascism, the key point is how he uses it to insulate pure ideology from the simple suggestion that we all strive to be rational and humane people.


SH: P, all caps or not, virtually no Democrats in America advocate Marxism, and I, along with most others, oppose those extremely few who actually do. Despite your caricature of reality, the world does not reduce to a binary choice between some mish-mosh of internally inconsistent Christian theocracy and libertarianism on the one hand, and Marxism on the other (the latter being the default label for everything that isn’t the desired mish-mosh of Christian theocracy and libertarianism). In reality, it is you folks who bear the greatest resemblance to Marxists, simply by reducing the world to an oversimplistic radical ideology that you are certain is far better than reality, ignoring the fact that every single prosperous, free nation on Earth has a hybrid political economy combining a robust market economy with a large administrative infrastructure engaging in some combination of regulatory, infrastructural investment and redistributive functions and has had such a hybrid political economy in place since prior to participating in the historically unprecedented post-WWII expansion in the production of prosperity.

What most Democrats advocate, and certainly what I advocate, is the pragmatic, non-ideological, problem-solving approach to governance that has served America and the modern world so well for the past several generations (yes, I know, “the sky is falling,” but, to the extent that it’s true, it’s mostly your fanatical cult that is bringing it down, an empirically demonstrable truth). Democrats now represent the entire swathe of the relatively sane ideological spectrum that used to include moderate Republicans, the latter now either pushed into the Democratic Party or marginalized and ostracized from the radicalized Republican Party. The Republican Party is now an embarrassment of racism, organized ignorance, jingoistic ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, an economically and socially nationally self-destructive aversion to the realities of human migration and of our national economy, and, really, a repository for just about every bigotry and ideological folly known to modern civilization.

But it’s good to have all of this perennial garbage of human belligerence and ignorance concentrated into one political party, because rarely in America has the political divide been so neatly drawn between reason in service to humanity on the one hand, and irrationality in service to inhumanity on the other. And that should (and I believe will) be an easy decision for the majority to make, which is why the majority is now making it more consistently. The problem, of course, is that gerrymandered districts allow concentrations of right-wing lunatics to hold a current majority seats in the House despite the statistical fact that they had a minority of votes for House candidates nationally, and that some of those seats are held by such extremists in districts drawn to promote extremism that they fear primary challenges from the right more than sane challenges from the left, and so persist in voting in the House in the most absurd and dysfunctional and nationally destructive obstructionist ways. THAT is your “gift” to America and the world.


“An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent… He must create a mechanism that can drain off the underlying guilt for having accepted the previous situation for so long a time. Out of this mechanism, a new community organization arises….

“The job then is getting the people to move, to act, to participate; in short, to develop and harness the necessary power to effectively conflict with the prevailing patterns and change them. When those prominent in the status quo turn and label you an ‘agitator’ they are completely correct, for that is, in one word, your function—to agitate to the point of conflict.” p.117

“Process tells us how. Purpose tells us why. But in reality, it is academic to draw a line between them, they are part of a continuum…. Process is really purpose.” p.122


7. Tactics

“Tactics are those conscious deliberate acts by which human beings live with each other and deal with the world around them. … Here our concern is with the tactic of taking; how the Have-Nots can take power away from the Haves.” p.126

 Always remember the first rule of power tactics (pps.127-134):

1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”

2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear and retreat…. [and] the collapse of communication.

3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”

6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time….”

8. “Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.”

9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”

10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.”

11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside… every positive has its negative.”

12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”

13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and ‘frozen.’…

“…any target can always say, ‘Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?’ When your ‘freeze the target,’ you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments…. Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the ‘others’ come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target…’

“One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.” (pps.127-134)

Saul Alinksky, Rules for Radicals, Vintage Books, New York, 1989.

SH: That’s nice, P. Back in the real world, however, discussions among liberals tend to focus on the frustrating fact that rational argumentation directed toward right-wing fanatics falls on deaf ears, that sound logic applied to reliable evidence in service to our collective welfare cannot penetrate the fortress of irrationality and belligerence that defines your ideological camp. We tend to fret endlessly over the fact that there is a large and influential ideological faction in America that dismisses as bastions of liberal bias precisely those professions that methodically gather, verify, analyze and contemplate information. We tend to moan in pain over the resurgence of racism, over the attempt to implement voter suppression laws on a discredited pretext for the purpose of winning elections by reducing voter participation of minorities and the poor, over the belief that it’s a good thing for this country that people with their various bigotries and bad judgment go out with guns looking for bad guys to shoot and occasionally shoot to death the unfortunate unarmed black teen in a hoodie walking home from the store, who insist on policies that are responsible for us having a homicide rate an average of ten times higher than the rest of the developed world, whose retributive inhumanity has given us the largest both absolute number and percentage of population incarcerated of ANY country on Earth (making us literally the least free country on Earth), who vilify the poor and those who migrate toward opportunity, who disregard the existence of persistent injustices and inequities and pretend that disregarding them is the best solution to them despite the fact that it has led to the most obscene inequality in the distribution of wealth and opportunity and entrenched poverty in the developed world, who want to deny equal rights to those who have a sexual orientation different from their own, who want to deny the overwhelming scientific evidence establishing that the world has a serious anthropogenic global warming problem to tackle the future costs of which will grow exponentially with the time we are obstructed from confronting proactively today, who in general think that a more costly and less effective reactionary and retributive approach to social problems is preferable to a less costly and more effective proactive and problem-solving approach. My world is the world of research, analysis, logical argumentation, all in service to our shared humanity. Yours is the world of bizarre misrepresentations, delusions, irrationality, and explicit or implicit inhumanity. Again, it’s an easy choice which world rational and humane people should choose to live in.


“An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent… He must create a mechanism that can drain off the underlying guilt for having accepted the previous situation for so long a time. Out of this mechanism, a new community organization arises….

“The job then is getting the people to move, to act, to participate; in short, to develop and harness the necessary power to effectively conflict with the prevailing patterns and change them. When those prominent in the status quo turn and label you an ‘agitator’ they are completely correct, for that is, in one word, your function—to agitate to the point of conflict.” p.117


SH: I’ll tell you what, P, let’s not argue about which is the party of “Marxists” or (as I do) which is the party of irrational bigotry. Let’s, instead, discuss and debate the issues and challenges we face today. Let’s recognize that we are a society with challenges to face, problems to solve, opportunities to embrace, a future to invest in, children to care about. Let’s look at the world, as it exists today, with analytical rigor, using all available information and knowledge, and work together to reduce poverty and injustice, to improve economic performance, to address environmental issues, to increase the degree to which respect the human rights of all individuals. Let’s engage in a robust national debate that isn’t about whose ideology is better or worse, or what labels we can dismiss each other with, but rather is about letting the most cogent arguments on specific issues prevail in the formation of our public policies. Let’s, as I’ve suggested before, agree to be neither “Marxists” nor “Libertarians” nor religious fanatics in our approach to self-governance, but rather to be just rational and humane people doing the best we can in a complex and subtle world. Let’s look at what works and what doesn’t, not cherry-picking evidence that supports our existing ideological presumption, only engaging in debate to insulate our own blind and unchanging dogma from any intrusion of fact or reason, but rather allowing all the facts to inform us, to look at history and economic statistics and academic research and how our economic and social systems really work, and tailor our policies to what is best recommended by that rational and pragmatic process.

So, what do you say, P? Let’s beat those damn Marxists together! Let’s make sure that no destructive mania, no crazy ideology, gets in the way of our being rational and humane people.

So, do you agree? Shall we dispense with the ideological labels, and just agree to strive to be rational and humane people, arguing our positions and permitting the rules of logic and evidence to determine which arguments prevail? Do you agree that we should try to improve public discourse so that it more fully incorporates the methodologies and procedures that work best at reducing bias and improving accuracy, in service to our shared humanity? Because that’s my only ideology, and it’s the only one any of us should ever adhere to.


SH: So, P, you’re saying that you refuse the suggestion that we all engage in a non-ideological national debate that applies disciplined reason to methodically gathered evidence in service to devising the policies that best maximize our liberty, prosperity, and well-being? That, my misguided friend, is the problem.

You see, P, there are differing ideological opinions about what best serves our national and various individual interests. You are certain of one thing, and, for arguments sake, let’s say that I’m certain of another. How do we intelligently resolve this difference in ideological certainties? Wouldn’t a shared commitment to reason applied to fact be a good start? Why don’t we just start, right now, with that one step: Let’s both admit that we don’t really know all the answers, that either of us might be wrong about anything, and build a new foundation, agreeing to use the disciplines and methodologies of reason applied to fact to resolve whatever questions can be resolved in that way.

Then we can build on that, on discussing underlying values, and finding those that we agree on, building on those. Why not try to create a country defined less by ideological warfare and more by a pragmatic, rational commitment to our liberty and welfare? My only suggestion is that we agree to strive to be rational and humane people, in a real and active way. Do you or don’t you agree that we should all strive to be rational and humane people?


SH: Let me try again, P. I’m asking one simple question (okay, really two simple questions). Do you or don’t you agree that we should all strive to be rational and humane people? And, if so, do you or don’t you agree that that means that we must use disciplined approaches to ensuring that reason rather than ideological presumption is informing our current understandings of the world? That’s all I’m asking. On the foundation of that agreement, all who are willing to take that simple step can engage in a meaningful and productive discussion, addressing concerns, clearing up misunderstandings, dealing with our shared challenges and opportunities as a nation in a rational and pragmatic and productive way. But we must first come to this simple and basic agreement: Will we or won’t we agree to strive to be rational and humane people? Personally, I think that the current political divide is defined primarily by how people, sincerely, internally, answer that question. But it doesn’t really matter if I’m wrong about that; all that matters is that as many of us as possible come to this simple and basic agreement.

PJ: Steve, I find it silly to even ask those kinds of questions, because they are not designed to illicit information. Especially since you do not address any single point I have made. Marxists do that, as per Alinsky and his Rules for Radicals.. I think it is obvious through study of history that for the most part ,the majority of the world is rational and humane. Standards of living have gotten better and there is less inhumane treatment of societies than at any point in the history of the world. If you were really concerned with rationality and humanity, you would not advocate any tenet of the ideology of Marxism, which created more inhumanity and death in the last century than just about any ideology ever created. Now address that before proselytizing again :o)

SH: A big part of the difference, I guess, is the recognition of being members of a society, of some degree of interdependence and shared membership in a society, and a complete disregard for that. But even those who are convinced that humans in a society are in no way interdependent and in no way must arrive at any agreements over how to govern themselves still realize that they live in a country of laws, that they have a stake in what those laws are, and that they want to ensure that those laws are of the form that they prefer, so, by doing so, are in fact recognizing our interdependence, since we all participate in the formation of those laws! So, again, shouldn’t we participate in that process in a way that is more rational and humane? Or should we simply engage in a gridlock of blind ideological conviction, in which you know that everyone who disagrees with you is wrong about everything, because you can label them “Marxists,” and by labeling them “Marxists” you’ve proved that they’re wrong about everything? Which is the more, well, rational way to go about it? Which is more productive? Which makes more sense?

No, P, I’m not addressing any point you make. I’m asking a simple question, and have not yet received an answer. Do you or don’t you agree that we should all strive to be rational and humane people? It’s not a question dependent on anything else; it stands on its own. And apparently you can’t answer it, because to do so draws you down a road in which reason and humanity might have to prevail, and that is a threat to your ideological fanaticism.

Once we agree to commit ourselves to reason and humanity, we can debate what that means, and let the most cogent arguments prevail. Ironically, I’m highly critical of Marxism, but that doesn’t matter to you. I think markets are robust producers of wealth and a vital component of a robust and well-functioning social institutional framework, but that’s irrelevant to you. I engage in information-intensive economic and legal and historical analysis to try to come up with the best informed and best reasoned approaches to any specific policy issue rather than rely on some pre-packaged ideology of any kind, but that’s irrelevant to you. The details, the truth, are irrelevant to you. It all boils down to a simple formula for you: Everyone who disagrees with you in any fundamental way is by definition a “Marxist,” and Marxists are by definition evil and wrong about everything. That’s one approach.

Another approach is to recognize that there are wide spectrums of thought and belief, that each of us might be wrong about some things, that we all live in this country together and are engaged together in a democratic process of self-governance, and that we can govern ourselves more intelligently and humanely if more people commit to making a disciplined effort to work together to govern ourselves more intelligently and humanely. Again, that appears to be what defines the current political divide in America, what choice we each make concerning that question.

PJ: Steve -Your confusion stems from not knowing the correct definition of words. You apply the irrational Marxist definition to words. I use the correct definition. Here it is from Webster’s Dictionary………..Definition of SOCIETY

: companionship or association with one’s fellows : friendly or intimate intercourse : company

2: a voluntary association of individuals for common ends; especially : an organized group working together or periodically meeting because of common interests, beliefs, or profession

3a : an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another

b : a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests

4a : a part of a community that is a unit distinguishable by particular aims or standards of living or conduct : a social circle or a group of social circles having a clearly marked identity <literary society>

b : a part of the community that sets itself apart as a leisure class and that regards itself as the arbiter of fashion and manners

5a : a natural group of plants usually of a single species or habit within an association

b : the progeny of a pair of insects when constituting a social unit (as a hive of bees); broadly : an interdependent system of organisms or biological units

 See society defined for English-language learners »

See society defined for kids »…………………. Hopefully you can see where you have gone wrong and end your own “irrational Obsession” with a so called “question” that leads you down into a narrow ,rigid. myopic Marxist based worldview.Get a Webster’s Dictionary Steve and learn correct meanings to words. That way you will not be incorrect when you say my agenda of Individual freedom, Capitalism and limited government as per the US Constitution is ” ideological fanaticism” :o)

SH: That’s nice, P. But, do you or don’t you agree that we should all strive to be rational and humane people? It’s really not a complicated question.

At this point, having asked it a dozen or so times with a very suggestive refusal on your part to answer it, it would seem that means you are answering in the negative. If I am wrong, you can clear it up very easily simply by saying, “Yes, I agree that we should all strive to be rational and humane people, and, yes, I agree that that means knowing that any one of us might be wrong about any issue currently in contention, and that we need to have a robust process to determine what conclusions are truly best recommended by reason in service to humanity and what conclusions truly are not best recommended by reason in service to humanity.”

So, set the record straight, P: Do you or don’t you agree that we should all strive to be rational and humane people?


1a : having reason or understanding

b : relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason : reasonable <a rational explanation> <rational behavior>

2: involving only multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction and only a finite number of times

3: relating to, consisting of, or being one or more rational numbers <a rational root of an equation> .YOU DO NOT USE IT CORRECTLY IN THE CONTEXT OF OUR CONVERSATION. ALL HUMANS ARE HIGHLY RATIONAL BEINGS. YOU START WITH THE PREMISE THAT THEY ARE NOT. YOU ARE TOTALLY 100% INCORRECT.



SH: So, if all humans are rational human beings, then are you saying that it is not possible for particular human beings to be more or less rational? Are you saying that Marxism is as rational as libertarianism? Are you saying that believing in fairies is as rational as believing in physics? Are you saying that the Inquisitors who insisted that the sun revolves around the Earth were as correct as Copernicus and Galileo who suggested that it was the Earth that revolved around the sun? Or, as I’m suggesting, is it possible for people to be more or less rational?


SH: We can do this forever, P, but for anyone looking on, if they choose to use that rationality that you correctly state all people are capable of, the differences in our modalities of thought are clear. I am making one, simple, straightforward suggestion: That we all strive to be rational and humane people, wise enough to know that none of us knows all that much, humane enough to care about the fate of other human beings in the world, and responsible enough to engage in a civil discourse with all others in our ongoing effort to govern ourselves as intelligently and humanely as possible. You are doggedly rejecting that suggestion. I am not trying to score points here; I’m trying to increase the sanity of this increasingly insane nation of ours. We should all be able to agree with the suggestion that I have made, and the refusal of a significant faction of the population to do so has the consequence of forcing upon us all less rational and less humane public policy positions, because maximizing the rationality and humanity of our public policies requires some commitment on our part to actually striving to be rational and humane people. That’s it. We’ve each made our point as clearly as they can be made, and I just hope that a few people reflect on the lesson to be drawn from the comparison. Peace out.


SH: P, talk about putting words in other people’s mouths!!! I’ve never said that “real Marxism hasn’t been tried.” What I HAVE said is that Marxism is a horribly dysfunctional ideology and a horribly destructive political system because it disregards individual human incentives in both the economic and political spheres. I reject Marxism, but I don’t reject the use of our governmental agency of collective action as one component in our political economic tool-kit in the continued effort to maximize the robustness, fairness and sustainability of our economic system. As for the lessons of history, since every single modern, prosperous, free nation on Earth has the kind of large administrative infrastructure that you insist is “Marxist,” and has had such an infrastructure in place since prior to the historically unprecedented post-WWII expansion in the production of prosperity, without exception, it is clear that it is not the existence of such an administrative infrastructure that leads to the failure to be a prosperous and free nation, but rther the other distinguishing variables that actually do differentiate between successful and unsuccessful nation-states, such as the existence of largely functioning democratic institutions, a substantial commitment to human rights, freedoms of expression and press, and the presence of a robust market economy. But, hey, that’s just silly ol’ fact and reason talking; how can it possibly compare to the all-caps ravings of a fanatical ideologue?

But, my deeper point isn’t that the argument I just presented is the final word; it isn’t. (I only presented it because of your gross misrepresentation of my views, based on nothing I’ve ever said and no actual knowledge of me but rather only on your own caricature of reality.) It is just one rational and informed argument, no more and no less. The foundation on which we should build is the commitment to the on-going competition of such rational and informed arguments, applied to specific issues and challenges, in the on-going attempt to govern ourselves ever more intelligently and humanely. I may well be wrong on many substantive issues, and will always be glad when that is demonstrated with better and more compelling arguments. It is the commitment to this process which maximizes the rationality of our decision-making processes that I am emphasizing here; not my current individual tentative conclusions through that process.



SH: I never said that all governments control the means of production, only that all post-WWII prosperous and free nations have the kinds of large administrative infrastructures that you insist are “Marxist.” And that is an empirical fact. I also have made just one suggestion and one suggestion only: That we all strive to be rational and humane people. That’s it. Imputing to me all of this other noise doesn’t affect the clarity and straightforwardness of that simple question, which, for some odd reason, you cannot answer.

PJ: Steve-again you need to know what words mean before you use them. Your dishonesty here is boring and old. Many Marxists have done this same song and dance. Square footage does not denote Marxism. Again, Striving for Marxism is irrational and quite dumb as well. Your one note obsession is trite and meaningless. I have stated categorically for the record, by nature all humans are rational to one degree or the other. It makes no sense for you to say humans are irrational simply by existence ,when the opposite is clearly true. Now move on and answer my questions

SH: Okay, P, I’ll define my terms for you.

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

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

So, when I see “strive to be reasonable and humane,” I mean strive to use the disciplines that have developed in recent years to minimize bias and maximize accuracy in the conclusions we draw, and to apply those disciplines to a commitment to human rights and the balanced maximization of the robustness, fairness, and sustainability of our social institutional landscape, such that no person, if fully informed and fully rational, not knowing what circumstances they would be born into or what chances they would encounter in life, would choose any other social institutional framework.

But if you disapprove of these definitions, then please define “reason” and “humanity” in ways you find more useful, and then tell me whether you are committed to reason and humanity by any definition you explicitly choose, because I agree that even the definitions of these terms should be open to rational debate. Again, do you or don’t you agree that we should strive to be reasonable and humane people, by whatever definitions of these terms YOU explicitly choose (i.e., please include YOUR definitions).

BTW, P, I’m not answering your questions because they are loaded with false premises, such that to answer them I have to implicitly accept those false premises as true. My questions, on the other hand, are very straight-forward and simple, and, even when you felt that the words “reason” and “humanity” don’t have clear enough agreed upon definitions (though I repeatedly had provided the definition of at least the first one for you), I supplied you with my detailed definitions of those terms for the purposes of public policy discourse and debate.

It’s ironic that this is the second time in two days when I’ve let myself get drawn into another one of these tedious and absurd exchanges, just after having posted the following on my FB page:

“One of the mysteries of life I cannot fully explain is why, though I can pass the guy with the ‘Jesus Saves’ sign proselytizing to the air on 16th Street Mall, easily suppressing whatever urge I might have to engage him, I let essentially similar people on Facebook (whose manias may be dyed different hues but cut from essentially the same fabric) each consume hours or days of my time in discourse of equal value and similar quality to that which I would have ‘enjoyed’ with the religious fanatic, on the transparently false premise that they are rational people with whom I, as a rational person, have some social duty to engage.”

PJ: No , that is the narcissistic self serving explanation. I will provide the correct one You are lying to hide your Marxist based agenda, just like the Marxist Saul Alinsky did many years ago. There is nothing new about this tactic. in fact Obama used a version when he was state senator, he voted present 99 times in order not to leave an ideological trail with his votes. A person who does not acknowledge the open history of Marxism in America, is not rational at all.

SH: Actually, it was the “knowledge-of-formal-logic-and-logical-fallacies” explanation, because your questions of me are classic examples of the assumption-of-the-answer fallacy, as in “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Whether one responds “yes” or “no,” they are implicitly accepting the premise that they had been beating their wife in the first place. To answer your questions, which impute to me an ideology I not only don’t hold or advocate but actually explicitly stated that I don’t and why I don’t, I must implicitly accept your false assumption that I do. Your questions also presume a lot that I think is demonstrably false about what is relevant and meaningful, involving a profoundly contorted modality of thought, which I sought to cut through with the very simple premise that we should all agree to strive to be rational and humane people, a foundation on which we can build a much more productive national discourse.

You are arguing against Marxism, though I’m not a Marxist by any definition other than the ridiculous one to which you adhere (“anyone who is not a libertarian is a Marxist”). If a label is required, then I guess you could call me a rational humanist: I believe in using disciplined reason in service to human welfare on all dimensions (including the dimension of personal liberty), without any other ideological assumptions. I recognize a variety of social institutional modalities that have developed over the course of human history (formal hierarchies, like governments and private corporations and other formal social organizations like churches and charities and home owners’ associations; markets by which the various products of disparate efforts are traded multilaterally for mutual benefit; norms by which informal rules of conduct are diffusely and informally enforced through social approval and disapproval; and ideologies, which I define as systems of thought and belief and values which define one’s personal and frequently to some extent shared cognitive landscape), and I believe that none should be presumed to be inherently good or evil but rather that we should recognize and accept the challenge of using and negotiating these various modalities, with their various strengths and weaknesses and various degrees of intentional malleability, in the ongoing endeavor of intelligent public policy formation.

But all of that is certainly open to debate. What I don’t think should be open to debate is the need for all of us, as members of a single polity, to all agree to strive to be rational and humane people, because I truly do believe that that agreement is the fundamental responsibility of each one of us as a citizen in a popular sovereignty, a responsibility that you have doggedly refused to accept (have doggedly rejected, in fact) throughout this exchange.

The absurdity of your entire modality of thought is so mindbogglingly transparent, the reduction of the world into two categories –those who are in complete agreement with you on everything, and “Marxists”– so irrational and fanatical, I marvel at how much hold it has over so many Americans today. It truly is a cultural disease, and a devastatingly destructive one at that.

Rational people on the right (there are still a few, though in ever-dwindling numbers) should read this exchange and be embarrassed to have you as their self-appointed ideological representative, and, if any were themselves more rational and less absurd, should have stepped in to make a less ludicrous case for their ideology. But the truth is that, while perhaps a little more tin-foil-hatty than most, you provide an all-too-accurate representation of the basic quality of the ideology to which you adhere, and the mere fact that such rambling irrationality is no longer something primarily associated with incoherent schizophrenics talking to imaginary friends while walking down the street, but is now primarily associated in America with an influential political ideological faction, is enough to make rational and decent human beings despair for the fate of humanity.

Now I AM done. Ramble away.

SM: You people need a hobby.

SH: I have one, S: Participating in the shared effort to create a more rational and humane world. It’s a good hobby to have.

(The irony, of course, is that that last comment by SM is just another technique for insulating irrationality from the lathe of reason, since, while it’s okay for you all to hold strong political opinions that you seek to impose on the rest of us, it’s not okay for anyone else to argue against them too effectively. One good way to bury that when it happens is to treat both the rambling nonsense of the person championing your view and the cogent response to it as a single thing, dismissing them both indiscriminately, leaving nothing admissible in public discourse but briefly stated arbitrary opinions, thus ensuring that yours can never be effectively challenged.)

PJ: STEVE YOU SAY..”You are arguing against Marxism, though I’m not a Marxist by any definition other than the ridiculous one to which you adhere (“anyone who is not a libertarian is a Marxist”). If a label is required, then I guess you could call me a rational humanist” LIKE FORREST GUMP SAYS MARXIST IS AS MARXIST DOES…YOU ARE A CLASSIC MARXIST, YOU SIMPLY ARE NOT INTELLECTUALLY HONEST ENOUGH TO ADMIT IT. AGAIN, YOU SAY NOTHING OUT SIDE OF THIS VERSION OF MARXISM… We are not a political party. Nor are we trying to lead the masses, who will form their own organizations, and whose emancipation must be their own act. But we have seen that spontaneous actions alone are insufficient to usher in a new society. We seek a new unity of philosophy and organization in which mass movements striving for freedom lay hold of Marx’s philosophy of revolution and recreate society on its basis.

JO: Marxism and its sister anti-God ideologies, Nazism and fascism, have always succeeded in enslaving their own people, actually massacring about 120 million of them in Lenin and Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany, etc. according to historians. Now its poison has leached into “liberal” America. God help us all.

PJ: Well I think people should know MARXISM is the ideology-Its stages are anarchism, socialism and communism. Fascism was created by Mussolini and Antonio Gramsci as the fix for the failing Marxist Socialism in Italy at the time. National Socialism was Germany’s fix for the Marxist Socialism producing High unemployment and inertia and decay in Germany at the time. They were born of Marxist based collectivist theory though.

JO: Marxism, National Socialism (Nazism) fascism, all different names for the same monster that devours its own people.. over and over again, every time it’s been tried. Statism is what we call it in the US, and it’s devouring us too.

SH: Again, while you are relying on labels rather than arguments, I am making one very simple suggestion, and arguing no other point: That we should all agree to strive to be rational and humane people, knowing that we don’t know much, using the disciplines and methodologies available to decrease bias and increase accuracy, and doing the best we can in a complex and subtle world. That is my only ideology. Your labels and arguments against other people in other times and places with other thoughts and desires do absolutely nothing to address the only thing I have suggested, that you all seem to reject, and, in fact, are nothing more than a concerted effort to drown out this one simple little bit of signal with an endless supply of noise. Do you or don’t you agree that we should all strive to be rational and humane people? And, if you don’t, how on Earth do you defend THAT???!!!!

PJ: Well Not really Joy. It is better to know the differences and in depth info regarding the different stages of Marxist ideology. It should come as no surprise the Marxists Rallying Cry is ” Workers of the World Unite”. Here is the websters dictionary definition of Marxism….


noun \ˈmärk-ˌsi-zəm\

Definition of MARXISM: the political, economic, and social principles and policies advocated by Marx; especially : a theory and practice of socialism including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society NOTE THE PHRASE DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM..IF PEOPLE KNEW WHAT THAT MEANT THEY WOULD HAVE KNOW THAT HOPE AND CHANGE MEANT MARXIST DIALECTICS.. THE MARXISTS KNEW IT :o)….

Steve- I properly identify all aspects at play in regards to having a discussion.The question here is what is the desperate attempt to deflect and hide the obvious Marxist Ideology in your screeds. Simply be informed and honest and we can discuss the pro’s and cons of The Democrats agenda of hybrid stages of Marxist Theory for the so called collective, vs the Republicans agenda of individual freedom, Capitalism and limited Government as per the US Constitution. Steve, You are proving you are irrational, by your narrow minded ideological rigidity. Simply explain in depth why you support applying Marxist tenets to US Governance.

SH: P, I am making one and only one suggestion here, that we all agree to strive to be rational and humane people, knowing that we’re all fallible, knowing that we all might be right or wrong about some of the things we are certain are true, and working together, using the disciplines and methodologies that have developed in the modern era for decreasing bias and increasing accuracy, to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world.

As I’ve explained numerous times already, I can’t explain why I support applying Marxist tenets to American governance, because I not only don’t support doing so but vehemently oppose doing so. If I felt otherwise, I would tell you. I consider Marxism a fatally flawed social theory and political agenda. What I DO support is looking at the historical record, looking at the evidence, applying reason to it, and pursuing the policies that reason applied to evidence best recommend. The tentative conclusions I have arrived at by this process are neither Marxism nor some equal and opposite oversimplistic ideology (i.e., yours), but rather a sane and pragmatic and well-informed blend of markets and government administration and local organization and community development and empowerment and individual liberty that actually maximizes our humanity and our prosperity and our well-being along all identifiable dimensions.

Yes, I have come to my own tentative substantive conclusions by trying to adhere to that philosophy, but I will gladly suspend them all in exchange for nothing more than an agreement to strive to be rational and humane people, in disciplined ways, working together to do the best we can, because I want our substantive positions and our policies to be those that follow from that attitude and those processes, whether they are the ones I currently hold or not. If and when disciplined reason applied to methodically gathered and verified evidence refute things I hold to be true, I want the products of disciplined reason rather than what I hold to be true to prevail.

If disciplined reason in service to humanity supports every element of your ideology, then I want your ideology to prevail. I don’t believe it does, but I’m more than willing to put that belief to the test, because if I’m wrong I’m as eager to discover that as I am to prove that I’m right. And that is very much the difference between us: I’m more committed to reason in service to humanity than I am to what I currently believe would be the laws and policies which best serve that ideal, and you’re more committed to the ideology and dogmas you blindly adhere to than you are to reason or humanity. And that latter commitment of yours, and that alone, is the perennial author of the atrocities you accuse me, arbitrarily and irrationally, of being the harbinger of. It is the people with the dogged ideologies, more important to them than reason or than humanity, that become the Nazis and the Bolsheviks, the Khmer Rouge and the KKK. As Sinclair Lewis presciently said many decades ago, “when Fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”

Just to be clear: I am neither anti-Christian nor anti-American. Rather, I am pro-reason and pro-humanity. I will gladly work beside Christians and tricorn-hat-wearing patriots who are committed to reason and to humanity, any time and any place. I even am an advocate of public-private and public-church partnerships, whenever they serve the interests of reason and humanity. There’s nothing exclusive about it, other than the desire to exclude irrationality and inhumanity.

It is a bizarrely inverted reality that calls nothing more or less than a commitment to reason in service to humanity, and nothing more or less than a repeated invitation that you join me in that commitment and that commitment alone, “irrational” and “ideological,” while insisting that a dogmatic blind ideology is somehow the opposite. It’s hard for any even marginally rational person to understand how any other human being can possibly attain such heights of raving irrationality. And it’s both frightening and frustrating, because exactly such people, who reject nothing more than the suggestion that we strive to be rational and humane people, now hold this country hostage.

There is nothing insincere or disingenuous about anything I am saying here. it is exactly how I feel, exactly what I am committed to. There is only one thing I want, only one political goal I have, only one ideology I adhere to, and that is that we all strive to be rational and humane people, in sincere and disciplined and realizable ways. That’s it. And that’s what you all are rejecting; not Nazism (which I’m not advocating), not Bolshevism (which I’m not advocating), not Marxism (which I’m not advocating), but just a simple commitment to strive to be rational and humane people.

And it is your dogged rejection of something so simple and obviously right that convinces me and people like me that what you really represent is organized ignorance and inhumanity. Because if you can’t agree to strive to be rational and humane, and to work with others who are striving to be rational and humane, but are organized to reject the suggestion that we strive to be rational and humane, then what other conclusion can anyone possibly draw?

(Continued, on another thread on the same FB page, in More Fun With Dicks and Janes)

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(This essay is an elaboration of Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems).

Imagine that I offered each person in a group the following deal: You can agree to give me $30, and in return I’ll give $10 to each and every person in the group, including you. I’ll give the $10 to everyone, whether they paid $30 or not, for each person that does pay $30.

Each person is faced with an offer to pay $30 dollars in return for, to him or her individually, $10, a bad deal for that individual (a loss of $20). But since everyone else in the group also each gets $10, for any group with a membership of more than three people, it is a bigger return to the group than cost to the group. If there are 10 people in the group, and everyone makes the deal, they each pay $30 and each get $100 in return, for a net gain of $70. However, if one doesn’t pay, he or she gets $90 outright (9 people taking the deal times $10 to each person in the group) while each of the others only get a net gain of $60 ($90 minus the $30 paid in). The individual incentive is not to pay in, even though everyone is better off the more people who do, with everyone coming out ahead if 3 or more people pay in. Those who don’t pay in, however, always do better than those who do (the “free rider problem”).

This dynamic is a major underlying force in the generation of social institutions, which to a large degree exist to overcome this collective action problem. There are many scenarios woven throughout our collective existence in which people benefit from some form of cooperation (even those forms that establish the rules for competition, such as the enforcement of property rights in service to the functioning of markets), but are tempted by individual incentives to cheat or fail to act cooperatively. Our laws, our contracts, our governments, our social norms, our ideologies, all are laden with mechanisms that have evolved with the purpose of creating mutual commitment mechanisms, enforced either externally by social institutions or internally to one’s own psychological make-up. Combined, they form social institutional technologies which are robust sets of memes self-replicating and spreading throughout our shared cognitive landscape (see the essays linked to in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts).

It has always been a dynamic at the heart of intertribal and international relations, in which sovereign societies must strategically interact in a world with limited international legal enforcement mechanisms. With increasing political, economic and cultural globalization, and information, communication and transportation technologies make the world ever smaller and more tightly integrated, examining these dynamics is one critical component of understanding the shared geopolitical landscape in which we live.

“The War of the Woods”:

Imagine that long ago, two countries, Apestonia and Pulgalandia, had a forest on their border. Both countries desperately needed the wood in the forest, because it was both their primary building material and their fuel. Each country was faced with the choice of either dividing the forest evenly, or attacking the other and trying to get more of the forest for themself.

There are 1000 acres of forest between the two countries. If the two countries agree to draw their border right through the middle of it, they can each have 500 acres of forest, which they both desperately need.

But if one attacks quickly while the other one is planning on sharing the forest evenly (and so isn’t prepared for war), the one that attacks will capture 700 acres of the forest, 300 acres will be burnt or destroyed during the fighting, and the other will get zero acres. Since they are militarily evenly matched, if they both attack each other at the same time, 400 acres of forest will be destroyed in the fighting, and they’ll each end up with 300 acres of forest.

Here’s a table that summarizes these choices and outcomes:

Pulgalandia Apestonia Cooperate(don’t attack) Don’t Cooperate(attack) Cooperate

(don’t attack) Apestonia: 500 Acres

Pulgalandia: 500 Acres Apestonia: 0 Acres

Pulgalandia: 700 Acres Don’t Cooperate

(attack) Apestonia: 700 Acres

Pulgalandia: 0 Acres Apestonia: 300 Acres

Pulgalandia: 300 Acres

Each country faces the following logic: “We don’t know what the other country will do. If they decide to cooperate (not attack first), we will get 500 acres if we also cooperate, but 700 acres if we don’t (if we attack unprovoked). Therefore, if they cooperate, we are better off not cooperating (attacking). If they decide not to cooperate (to attack), then we will get zero acres if we cooperate (don’t attack), but 300 acres if we don’t (if we attack). Therefore, no matter what the other country does, we are better off attacking.”

However, if both countries follow that logic, they each end up with 300 acres, though if they had cooperated and split the forest, they would have each ended up with 500 acres. So, while each country has an incentive to attack, if they can find a way to commit one another to cooperation, they both benefit.

So, even though they have a conflict over the forest, they have a shared interest in finding a way to commit one another to cooperating for mutual benefit. This is often the case, with war being costly in blood and treasure, and peaceful coexistence (and even mutually beneficial exchange) being far more conducive to general prosperity.

Historically, real tribes and countries have faced this challenge. Some have said, “Okay, let’s agree to cooperate, and to make sure no one cheats, we’ll exchange hostages.” And then each country would send an important member of their own society (often the ruler’s daughter to be raised by the other ruler as his or her own) to go live with the other society, so that if either cheats, that hostage can be killed in retaliation. Later, countries sent the children of royalty to marry the children of royalty in other countries, sort of as “permanent hostages,” but also to bind the countries together so that they can act more cooperatively.

In the modern world, we’ve developed a much more elaborate system of international diplomacy, with embassies in each other’s countries, and treaties, and international organizations (like the United Nations). The European Union, whose roots go back to post-WWII efforts to create economic ties that would diminish the chances of resumed warfare, is perhaps the most advanced example of emerging international political economic consolidation

Not just internationally, but within nations, overcoming this collective action problem is a big part of why we’ve created many of the social institutions we’ve created. Our Constitution, our laws, even our religions, have developed in many ways to help make it easier for people to commit one another to mutually beneficial actions even when they have individual incentives to cheat or act in non-cooperative ways.

With modern technologies, modern weapons (such as nuclear weapons), modern transportation and communication technologies, an increasingly global economy, increasingly global environmental and natural resource issues, all nations in the world face many collective action problems. Our increasing political globalization is a complex tapestry of conflict and cooperation woven within this underlying logic.

So far, we’ve assumed that the countries were equally matched, and looked at the cost-benefit analysis of each when considering whether to attack the other or to live in peace. But what if they weren’t evenly matched? What if one was militarily stronger than the other? How would that change things?

If Apestonia were more powerful than Pulgalandia, then Apestonia would capture more forest than Pulgalandia would if the two went to war. If Apestonia were to attack first, perhaps it would capture the whole forest against the weaker Pulgalandia, losing only a small portion (let’s say a tenth) in battle. This outcome can be seen in the lower-left square of the two-by-two table, in which Apestonia attacks first and captures 900 acres, while Pulgalandia ends up with zero.

Conversely, if Pulgalandia attacks first, it will gain the advantage of surprise, but will still be facing a superior force, and might manage to capture and control 300 acres against Apestonia’s 500, 200 being lost to the destruction of war. This outcome is summarized in the upper-right square.

Pulgalandia Apestonia Cooperate(don’t attack) Don’t Cooperate (attack) Cooperate

(don’t attack) Apestonia: 800 Acres

Pulgalandia: 200 Acres Apestonia: 500 Acres

Pulgalandia: 300 Acres Don’t Cooperate

(attack) Apestonia: 900 Acres

Pulgalandia: 0 Acres Apestonia: 600 Acres

Pulgalandia: 100 Acres

If they both attack each other at the same time, more forest will be lost to the destruction of battle, and neither will have the benefit of surprise, but Apestonia will still come out ahead. This is reflected in the lower-right square.

Because of the difference in power, when they negotiate a peace in which neither attacks, Apestonia can demand more of the forest than Pulgalandia. This is reflected in the upper-left square.

The logic that the two countries face is still similar to the logic that they faced when equally powerful. Neither knows what the other will do. Apestonia says to itself, “If Pulgalandia cooperates (doesn’t attack), we can get 800 acres for also cooperating (not attacking), or 900 acres for attacking. If Pulgalandia doesn’t attack, we are better off attacking. If Pulgalandia does attack, we can get 500 acres for not attacking first (only reacting to their attack), and 600 for attacking first, so, again, we are better off attacking. No matter what Pulgalandia does, we’re better off attacking.

Similarly, Pulgalandia is better off attacking no matter what Apestonia do. They say to themselves, “If Apestonia doesn’t attack first, we get 200 acres for also not attacking, but 300 for attacking, and if Apestonia does attack first, we get zero acres for not having attacked at the same time but 100 acres for having attacked at the same time. Either way, we’re better off attacking.”

But they both know this, and both know that they’d be better off not attacking one another. So, just as before, they need to invest in some way of committing one another to cooperation.

But the pay-offs can look different as well. It may be that, while the weaker Pulgalandia has incentives to attack no matter what the stronger Apestonia does, Apestonia gets a stronger benefit from cooperation. In the chart below, Pulgalandia still is better off attacking no matter what Apestonia does, and Apestonia, knowing that, knows it has to attack to get 550 rather than 500 acres. This is reflected in the table below:

Pulgalandia Apestonia Cooperate(don’t attack) Don’t Cooperate (attack) Cooperate

(don’t attack) Apestonia: 800 Acres

Pulgalandia: 200 Acres Apestonia: 500 Acres

Pulgalandia: 250 Acres Don’t Cooperate

(attack) Apestonia: 650 Acres

Pulgalandia: 100 Acres Apestonia: 550 Acres

Pulgalandia: 200 Acres

But the most Pulgalandia can possibly get is 250 acres, if they attack before Apestonia does. Apestonia can just say, “look, we’ll give you 300 acres, 50 more than you can possibly get by attacking us. We’ll keep 700, which is more than we can get in any other way. If you attack, even while we are planning on cooperating with you, you lose 50 acres. You have no reason to attack, and we’re both better off than we can otherwise be.”

This is reflected in the table below, in which neither country has any incentive to do anything other than cooperate:

Pulgalandia Apestonia Cooperate(don’t attack) Don’t Cooperate (attack) Cooperate

(don’t attack) Apestonia: 700 Acres

Pulgalandia: 300 Acres Apestonia: 500 Acres

Pulgalandia: 250 Acres Don’t Cooperate

(attack) Apestonia: 650 Acres

Pulgalandia: 100 Acres Apestonia: 550 Acres

Pulgalandia: 200 Acres

This is an illustration of how power is exercised among nations (or factions within a nation), even without having to exert any military force at all to do it. Nations know their relative power to one another, and when they negotiate treaties and deals they negotiate agreements that favor the more powerful. When the United States was formed, the more powerful (populous) states made sure that their power was reflected in the new government (by having representatives in Congress proportional to their population). When the United Nations charter was drafted, the most powerful nations insisted on forming a “security council,” that had far more power over the organization than other nations did.

Weak nations sometimes have the power of threatening to create problems for stronger nations, and thus get concessions to keep them calm. But nations also sometimes have leaders or governments that cease to act rationally, like the current government of North Korea seems to not be acting rationally.

Of course, if, in the end, the United States, worried about an irrational nuclear armed North Korea, gives them large amounts of aid to keep them from causing problems, then it will have turned out that North Korea’s “craziness” was pretty smart after all…. Strategies that “trump” rational considerations can be very rational strategies, including various ways of binding oneself to a limited range of options in order to increase one’s own bargaining power, or behaving in ways which make an opponent question one’s rationality in order to make them more accommodating for fear of erratic responses.

The scenarios presented above are highly simplified, leaving out many factors, such as uncertainty (real actors in such situations don’t know what the exact outcomes of various combinations of choices will be), more complexity in available options (not just binary choices), more interacting actors (not just two), more conflated issues being bargained over (not just a single resource), more costs and benefits to be considered (not just the amount of that single resource gained or lost), factional conflict across levels (different interest groups and political parties vying for different outcomes due to differing material interests and political ideological orientations), less centralized decision-making (not a single ruler making unlimited autocratic decisions, but rather in various ways collective decision-making processes impinging on the negotiations between actors constituted in that way), and various intrusions of emotional and irrational considerations, that even rational actors have to take into account.

But the complexity of the real world does not mean that abstraction from it is not a helpful tool in understanding underlying dynamics. Rather, it is a way of isolating individual dimensions of those underlying dynamics, gradually adding in enough of the complexity to begin to capture a deeper and subtler understanding of how our social institutional landscape really functions.

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In many on-line debates, a well-informed and well-reasoned argument is met with the greatest scorn, often in the form of responses decrying the arrogance of the person making the argument. These responses are almost always devoid of substance, a string of z’s or a sarcastic announcement that the opponent obviously isn’t intelligent enough to have an opinion. Often a request is made to cease making such well-informed and well-reasoned arguments, to protect those who feel intimidated by them from having to be challenged so discourteously.

Putting the best face on it, one can argue that there is some merit in this objection, that everyone should feel safe to express their own opinion, and that intimidating arguments, such as those found in courts or the halls of academe, are not appropriate in the forums of public discourse. But this fails to understand the value of free speech, its purpose, and what is lost when we are more concerned with protecting arbitrary opinions from factual and rational challenges than we are with, together, arriving at the best informed and best reasoned conclusions.

Those who are most ideological and least analytical are most committed to a view of public discourse as being the futile “exchange” or arbitrarily held and inflexible dogmatic convictions. Those who are most analytical and least ideological are most committed to a view of public discourse as being a robust debate between relatively well-informed and well-reasoned arguments. Among the fundamental meta-debates underlying all other issue-specific debates is the between these competing narratives, with one side favoring entrenched dogma courteously left unchallenged, and the other favoring an increasingly disciplined process of discovery.

There is an ongoing battle on such forums whether we should be more committed to lowering or raising the level of discourse. It might seem odd that anyone could argue that we should lower it, but many implicitly do. It does a disservice to our nation and to our shared challenge of self-governance to take such a position. As uncomfortable as rational debate might be –particularly to those who are least rational– it must be the ideal toward which we continue to aspire.

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Cognitive scientist George Lakoff (among others) confirmed (in The Political Mind) what we all have long known: People are not particularly “rational” in the old, Enlightenment sense of the word. We aren’t primarily persuaded by good arguments, but rather by good narratives, swayed more effectively by appeals to emotion than by appeals to reason.

Many of us are familiar with the frustrating futility of mobilizing a well-informed and well-reasoned argument in public discourse, only to have it crash impotently against the shoals of blind and inflexible ideology. We are not engaged in a rational national debate, but rather in a national competition of narratives.

This perspective defines a set of guiding principles for those committed to reason, humility, and humanity:

1) That we engage in this competition of narratives very consciously and strategically;

2) that one cornerstone of that strategy be the recognition that it is a competition of narratives, not sound bites, and that therefore sound bites should be used to invoke larger narratives rather than to reinforce the ritual of superficial political jousting;

3) that we should always anchor policy arguments in larger, consistent and coherent narratives, and make every policy debate an instance in that larger competition of narratives;

4) that our overarching narrative should be that we are the champions of reason and humanity (or reason in service to humanity);

5) that we use well-informed and well-reasoned arguments not just (or even primarily) for their own sake, but also as a constant reinforcement of the narrative that we are champions of reason and humanity;

6) that we strive to be, and to appear to be, the reasonable people of goodwill in every interaction, refraining as much as possible from ad hominem attacks and angry rants, avoiding the exploitation of trivialities, and instead arguing our positions calmly and reasonably and compellingly, not just through logical, empirical argumentation, but also through emotionally compelling metaphors and analogies and real life stories;

7) that we emphasize the importance of how we think rather than what we think, of procedures and attitudes rather than substantive conclusions, because the former is the algorithm that determines the latter –cultivating greater commitment to reason and compassion in the determination of specific policy positions should be our core agenda; and

8) that we suggest in every argument that none of us has all the answers, that oneself (the reasonable person of goodwill speaking or writing in that moment) might be wrong on some or all matters, and that what we most need as a people is for as many of us as possible, of all ideological inclinations, to agree to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, working together to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world.

I’ve discussed various aspects of this in various other essays, ranging from the examination of the dynamics of our cognitive landscape (see, e.g., The Politics of Consciousness , Adaptation & Social Systemic Fluidity, The Evolutionary Ecology of Social Institutions, The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Technology, The Fractal Geometry of Law (and Government), Emotional Contagion, Bellerophon’s Ascent: The Mutating Memes (and “Emes”) of Human History, Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future, The Evolutionary Ecology of Audio-Visual Entertainment (& the nested & overlapping subsystems of Gaia), The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix) to the importance of “walking the walk” (see. e.g., The Power of “Walking the Walk”, The Ultimate Political Challenge, The Foundational Progressive Agenda, and The Politics of Kindness) to what I call “meta-messaging,” which is the communication and dissemination of the underlying narrative of reason and humanity (see. e.g., Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives and “Messaging” From The Heart of Many Rather Than The Mouth of Few).

The underlying narrative of reason and humanity (or reason in service to humanity) generates more specific narratives by answering the question “what does reason, inspired by and leavened by imagination and empathy, applied to evidence reliably derived, suggest are the best policies for humanity?” That question doesn’t eliminate debate, but rather frames it, and those who want to argue positions that don’t purport to answer it can be directly challenged by the narrative itself.

(It’s possible to narrow the underlying narrative for particular audiences, if one element of it seems to unpalatable to that audience, particularly changing “humanity” to “the American national/public interest.” And it’s generally recommended to frame the narrative in different ways for different audiences, down to choosing the vocabulary that most resonates with that audience.)

As a result, there are many economic, constitutional/legal, moral, and other social systemic components and sub-components to this underlying narrative. There is, in fact, an entire corpus of economic, constitutional and legal, moral, and other social systemic arguments that are generated by the underlying narrative, each of which must be converted into narratives of their own, using compelling metaphors and analogies, and emotionally evocative real life stories, but always referring back to the well-informed and well-reasoned arguments, not so much for their own inherent persuasive value, but more for their value as a constant signification of being reasonable people, members of a movement defined by reason in service to humanity.

The opposing narrative, which frames itself in terms of “Christian values” or “Liberty” or “Patriotism” (or, to be fair, some parallel left-wing ideological reductions) is, in the frame of our narrative, “irrationality in service to inhumanity” (by definition, since that which opposes “reason in service to humanity” is its opposite). Most often, it relies on some stagnant, historically produced dogma, degrading those that are vital parts of our institutional framework in one way or another (e.g., Judeo-Christian morality, constitutional law, and fundamental economic principles) into false idols that undermine both the reason and the humanity of adherents (e.g., fundamentalist religious bigotry and brutality, “constitutional idolatry” and ideologically skewed and dogmatic interpretation, and selection of a preferred archaic economist whose doctrine rationalizes the preferred ideological convictions).

The more we succeed in framing our national political ideological debate as a debate between these two narratives, the more we will attract people with the weakest current ideological convictions, because, all other things being equal, more people are likely to be attracted to (that is, wish to be identified with) the narrative of “reason in service to humanity” than the narrative of “irrationality in service to inhumanity.”

I will begin working, at least from time to time, on composing and compiling a series of essays which systematically develops the component narratives of “reason in service to humanity.” Much of the corpus of work on this blog already, haphazardly, serves that purpose, and perhaps the project will include linking to previous posts in new ones that focus more specifically on this aspect of my project.

(There have been several great “meta-messagers” of history. Ben Franklin and Charles Dickens come to mind as two prominent examples of people who intentionally created and published parables and other literary works for this purpose, to move the zeitgeist, to cultivate a cognitive and emotional orientation. The power of their work is widely recognized, but it was the power of individuals working on their own, to make their own marginal contribution. Imagine the power of an organized effort focused on precisely this modality, producing, compiling, and disseminating messages in a coordinated way to cultivate a commitment to reason in service to humanity. It has been tried before, many times, but never, to my knowledge, with quite the same explicit political focus as I am recommending now.)

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I have posted before on The Signal-To-Noise Ratio, discussing the amount of noise in the blogosphere. But what I’ve increasingly become aware of is that the problem goes beyond this. There is, from many quarters and by many dynamics, a very virulent reaction to signal, in which noise is aggressively generated to interfere with signal as it emerges.

I encounter this with particular force on right-wing facebook pages, and, among them, libertarian/tea party facebook pages most of all. Most recently, on Colorado Republican State Senator Shawn Mitchell’s page, he and his friends very transparently demonstrated a commitment to burying posts that were inconveniently factual and rational under pure noise.

Within a day, as I was simultaneously responding to a global warming denier on one of Mitchell’s threads by listing the actual empirical evidence, and to someone oblivious to the history and nature of property rights on another thread, who insisted that taxation to mitigate anyone else’s poverty is theft, by linking to and expanding on The Paradox of Property, and as the signal-disrupting noise machine was revving up again, Mitchell blocked me from his page.

It’s always telling when a group of people implicitly admit that the only way they can win a debate is by locking out the opposition and holding the debate in their absence. It’s telling when they respond to invitations to all strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, aware that none of us has all the answers, by hurling pejoratives. It’s telling when they respond to “you may be right about everything and I may be wrong about everything” with no similar or reciprocal admission that there is any chance that they might not be completely correct on every single belief that they hold.

And this is exactly what defines that ideological faction. It’s not the substance of their beliefs, which I strongly believe are laden with irrational and counterfactual conclusions, but rather the simultaneous insulation of those beliefs from any intrusion of reason or evidence and promotion of them to the status of absolute truth, that is truly culturally and politically pathological.

As I explain in Scholarship v. Ideology, there is a continuum of modalities of thought ranging from ever-more irrational and blindly ideological in (often self-defeating) service to compassionless selfishness, to an ever-increasing commitment to the application of reason to reliable evidence in service to humanity (as well as enlightened self-interest). Approaching the pole of pure irrationality and dysfunctional belligerence, there is a two-step process employed by which completely unsupported beliefs are first insulated from reason and evidence and then assumed to be unassailable truth on no rational basis whatsoever (also described in Scholarship v. Ideology).

The first step is an appeal to a relativistic argument that all opinions are equal, and that therefore any counterargument to the ideological position that mobilizes reason and evidence can in no way claim to be privileged over the arbitrary opinion itself, even simply by being a more compelling argument. In this relativistic step, “reason” is always defined as completely subjective, formal logic dismissed as “your reason, but not mine,” and evidence whose reliability is better ensured by the methodologies designed to do so replaced with a combination of selective and manufactured factoids assembled solely to “prove” the desired conclusion.

The second step, ironically enough, is a dismissal of any other claim to the same relativism of the first step, insisting that to harbor any uncertainty regarding the arbitrary opinion that was insulated from reason and evidence in the first step would be to make the error of relativism, and that therefore the arbitrary opinion is indisputably the absolute truth. The most obvious example of the product of this two-step process is religious fanaticism, in which Faith, by definition, is insulated from reason and evidence, and then promoted to the status of absolute truth.

(I have posited, by the way, that there may be such a thing as “pure faith,” that has no reductionist object of belief but rather a deep sensation of belonging to a sublime reality, that might be conducive rather than an obstacle to the ever-fuller realization of human consciousness. See, for instance, “Is Religion A Force For Good?” and A Dialogue on Religion, Dogma, Imagination, and Conceptualization.)

But there are many quasi-religious, fanatically cult-like, ideologies that make no explicit reference to the divine. They utilize the same modality of thought, the same tactic of insulation from reason and evidence followed by promotion to indisputable absolute truth, and they are toxic to civil society and civil discourse. They not only are sources of adamantly-propagated noise drowning out the signal of disciplined thought that serves us far better, but they are actually targeted waves of such noise, determined not merely to compete with the signal by the rules of reason and evidence (which, on some level, adherents recognize is a losing strategy), but to jam the signal by any and all means available.

The currently most virulent and troubling secularized cult of irrational dogma is the libertarian/tea party movement, which is comprised of a combination of smaller “pure” factions (those who are not social conservatives or theocrats), and larger “hybrid” factions (those who combine libertarianism, social conservatism, theocratic tendencies, and a commitment to the preservation of inequitable distributions of wealth and opportunity into a “worst of all worlds,” internally inconsistent, ideological blend)

It is, as I have often said, a movement of organized ignorance, not merely insisting on its arbitrary false certainties, but zealously committed to imposing them on the world, regardless of the real costs to real people. The iconic moment was the choice to blackmail the nation with a threatened self-inflicted default of our financial obligations as a nation by refusing to raise the debt ceiling –a formality that has always been automatic, and in most nations IS literally automatic– because of the complete dysfunctionality of failing to do so, in service to an economic policy that even conservative economists opposed (the extension of the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, in the midst of a recession). Predictably, it resulted in a downgrading of our national credit rating, which only served to further deteriorate our fiscal and economic health.

I am adamantly committed to the marketplace of ideas, to the belief that all views should be aired, should compete, and, hopefully, the most reasonable and well-evidenced and humane will be the ones to survive that process. But when some factions, some cults, try to drown out other voices, even if only within their own echo-chambers, those factions are stifling rather than facilitating that process of the competition of ideas, ensuring that, for themselves at least, their ideas never have to compete against any others.

To be sure, this goes on to some extent in other kinds of echo chambers, including echo chambers on the left, and it is just as wrong and dysfunctional when it does. But this cultish, dogged irrationality is not what defines any other ideology currently in vogue anywhere to the same extent as it defines contemporary conservatives. Indeed, it is their anti-intellectualism which sometimes leaps out most vividly, their rejection of scholarship as a liberal conspiracy, their rejection of journalism as a liberal conspiracy, their rejection of reason applied to evidence in any context or any manner as a liberal conspiracy.

If that’s a liberal conspiracy, then it’s one to which we all should belong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‎(The following, originally a comment of mine on a Facebook thread, I first published on CC as a comment on another post but decided deserves a post of its own. It was in response to an angry reaction to the argument that we should all strive to be reasonable people of goodwill. I think it hits the nail right on the head.)

Hi Joyce. Pleased to meet you.

There are plenty of websites and pages which are dedicated to particular dogmas, want to preserve an echo-chamber where adherents to that dogma can reinforce prevailing assumptions and articles of faith, and exclude the introduction of any facts or arguments that are inconvenient to them. There are others that, while they may have prevailing biases, remain, to their credit, dedicated to public discourse and the robust exchange of ideas, the life-blood of a vibrant and well-functioning democracy (or “republic,” if you prefer).

There are legitimate debates that we, the sovereign (in our “popular sovereignty”), need to have, over economics, law (including Constitutional law), culture, values, and numerous other issues relevant to our shared existence as a polity, as a state and a nation. The more able we are to engage in that discussion as reasonable people of goodwill, the better off we’ll all be.

And my only argument here is one that no one should find offensive: That the more people who agree to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, wise enough to know that they don’t know, driven by a combination of pragmatic realism and a sense of fairness and human decency, the more able we are to thrive as a society and to prosper as individuals.

Our society is divided by something more profound than the ideologies we normally identify, a chasm that divides many societies in many times and places. That division is between those who, on the one hand, accept the notion that being a responsible citizen requires striving to be a reasonable person of goodwill, and those who reject that notion. Some who reject the notion can be found on the Left; some who accept it can be found on the Right. I feel far greater affinity for, and far more thoroughly enjoy and feel satisfied by discussions with, those on the Right who accept this premise than those on the Left that don’t.

People sometimes argue over which ideologies are responsible for the horrors and violences against humanity of the past, and some do contortions to revise history to insist that it was always the ideology they oppose and never the ideology they adhere to. But, in reality, the horrors and violences against humanity that have occurred throughout history and around the world have found vehicles from all across the political ideological spectrum; sometimes under the auspices of totalitarian governments, sometimes under the auspices of tribal feuds obstructing the ability of national governments to form and function; sometimes under theocracies in which religious leaders have taken power, and sometimes under philosophies that claim there is no god. The one thing they all have in common is that they are perpetrated by people who choose either to impose a dogmatic certainty rather than support procedures of on-going discovery and decision-making, or they disintegrate into the cynical pursuit of self and local interests without maintaining the social coherence to do that in a mutually beneficial way. In other words, they are all perpetrated by people who lack a commitment to either reason or goodwill (or both).

It’s clear that in this country at this time, there are many who lack those two values, and are vehement in their rejection of those two values. They react angrily to any suggestion that we should put aside our ideological differences long enough to agree to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, each and every one of us aware of the fact that we are not in possession of the final answers on all matters, and each and every one of us dedicated to the on-going challenge of governing ourselves wisely and fairly. They are a vocal minority, but far from a majority. Most Americans are not attracted to people of that nature, whether they are found on the Right or Left or anywhere in between. Most Americans want to be decent human beings, reasonable people of goodwill, working together with others similarly inclined to govern ourselves wisely and fairly.

So we, that majority of us who feel that way, should make it the dominant ideology. We should agree that we are all mere human beings, each certain of things that may or may not be true, engaged in a process together that requires listening as well as speaking, thinking as well as knowing, considering the world from the perspective of others as well as from our own. We, all reasonable people of goodwill, can work toward that end, can advocate for that “ideology,” can encourage others to join such a movement. And we, all of us, would be far, far, far better off for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(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).

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