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Part I: The Economy.

1) Every modern, prosperous, developed nation on Earth, without one single exception, has a large administrative infrastructure and has had a large administrative infrastructure in place since prior to participating in the historically unprecedented post-WWII expansion in the production of prosperity. Every single nation on Earth that lacks a large administrative infrastructure is an impoverished nation. No nation without a large administrative infrastructure has ever achieved post-WWII levels of prosperity and economic development. The claim, then, that such a large administrative infrastructure, which the far-right refers to as “socialism,” is incompatible with prosperity, is the precise opposite of what the empirical evidence suggests: It appears to be not only compatible with prosperity, but absolutely indispensable to prosperity.

2) Economic theory and empirical observation make clear why this is so: Due to the consequences of “transaction costs” (the costs of market transactions, such as gathering information or organizing interested parties to act as single market actors in public goods scenarios), government involvement in the modern market economy is a vital component of a robust and well functioning economy, and its absence ensures that centrally located market actors (who benefit from “information asymmetries”) will game markets to their own benefit and to the public’s often catastrophic detriment. The government helps to reduce transaction costs by investing in infrastructure and human capital development that involve a combination of high immediate costs and very long-term though extremely high benefits that is not conducive to reliance on private investment.

3) In the immediate wake of the implementation of New Deal policies, we had four years of historically unprecedented GDP growth, that only declined again immediately after budget hawks similar to the American far-right today pushed through a more conservative fiscal policy.

4) What finally ended the Great Depression and set the country and world on the most dramatic expansion of prosperity in the history of the world was the most massive public spending project in world history : WWII, in which the United States ramped up its industrial engine by producing enormous quantities of sophisticated heavy military equipment that was conveniently destroyed as fast it could be manufactured, demonstrating that even unproductive production can stimulate an economy, suggesting how much more economically beneficial investment in infrastructure can be.

5) Our period of greatest economic growth (the 1950s and 1960s) was also the period of our highest marginal tax rates, when we did, in fact, make massive investments in infrastructure (such as our interstate highways system) and scientific and technological research and development (such as the space program and the government sponsored advances in computer technology, both of which generated a plethora of economically enormously beneficial developments).

6) In the immediate wake of the stimulus spending by the Bush and Obama administrations, declining GDP turned to growing GDP and an accelerating rise in job losses turned into a decelerating rise in Job losses, literally turning the corner from the deepening collapse authored by eight years of Republican economic policies to gradual recovery within months of the resumption of a Democratic administration and sane economic policies.

7) Virtually no economists, liberal or conservative, recommend fiscal austerity during an economic contraction, and yet Tea Party lunatics, drenched in the false belief that a long-term deficit and debt problem is an immediate crisis, insist on policies that virtually every economic model shows actually INCREASES our debt while crippling our economy.

8) The overwhelming majority of professional economists do not agree with the Tea Party economic paradigm, and The Economist magazine called it “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical.” 80% of American economists in a 2008 survey favored Democratic Party over Republican Party economic policies (and that was BEFORE the rise of the Tea Party!).

9) The Tea Party Congressional faction famously blackmailed the country with fiscally and economically nationally self-destructive default on our financial obligations (by threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, which has never before been contentious and in most developed countries is automatic), in order to secure continuing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans which even conservative economists called “indefensible.” Even though this catalyzed a damaging downgrading of our national credit rating, they seem poised, in 2013, to repeat the same self-destructive and irresponsible behavior.

10) The two greatest economic collapses of the last 100 years in America were both immediately preceded by the two highest peaks in the concentration of wealth in America in the last 100 years (in 1929 and 2008, respectively), both of which followed a decade or more of the kinds of “small government” policies favored by the right today. Following the 1929 collapse, we learned from our mistakes and used government to create a more sustainable economy. Following the 2008 collapse, the far-right has continued to try to inflict continuing economic harm on the nation, insisting on continuing the same policies which caused the economic collapse in the first place.

11) Yet despite these many compelling facts, those on the far-right not only continue to believe what is contradicted by reality, but are 100 percent certain that their ideological dogma is the indisputable truth, and are smugly dismissive of those who disagree with them.

Part II: The Constitution and the Foundational Values of the Nation.

1) The Constitution was drafted and ratified to strengthen, not weaken, the federal government, after ten years of living under the toothless Articles of Confederation. “The Federalist Papers,” a series of op-ed arguments for ratification of the Constitution written by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, largely made the case that an adequately empowered and centralized federal government was essential to the viability of the new republic. (“Federalism” was originally used to designate the political doctrine favoring a strong federal government, but has been converted by the modern right-wing to refer to the political doctrine favoring a weak federal government.)

2) Despite the frequent refrain that government taxing-and-spending is an act of federal tyranny and “unconstitutional,” the fact is that Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution grants Congress the unqualified power to tax and spend in the general welfare, the Constitutional provisions limiting that power being the ones that define our electoral process, by which we the people get to decide, through that process, whether our representatives’ interpretation of “the general welfare” is one we the people agree with. So, if “socialists” vote in a “socialist” president who taxes and spends to provide universal healthcare, or to address issues of poverty or disability or other acts of humanity as a people, that is not unconstitutional, it is not an infringement on anyone’s liberty, it is not an abuse of federal power, but is, rather, Congress doing exactly what it was empowered to do.

3) While claiming to be the great defenders of the Constitution, right-wingers are in fact the great antagonists against the Constitution, because they reject the process by which we have resolved disputes over constitutional interpretation for over two centuries (Judicial Review) and fight to reduce the Constitution to a meaningless Rorschach Test which each ideological faction claims to support whatever that ideological faction favors, thus destroying the Constitution as a functioning document.

4) While pretending to be the great bulwark against tyranny, they in fact pose the greatest threat of tyranny and against our rule of law, by insisting that they are prepared to overthrow the government if they disagree with it, and by insisting that their “liberty” requires that we siphon political economic power away from our constitutionally and democratically constrained government organized to serve the public interest and into large private corporations that are not constitutionally and democratically constrained and are organized to serve the interests of the few who own the most shares rather than of the public in general (a transferal of power to corporate interests which is essentially the definition of “fascism”).

5) The claim to be the true representatives of the will and spirit of the Founding Fathers is almost the diametrical opposite of the truth, for several reasons. For one thing, the “Founding Fathers” did not have one simplistic ideological “will” that could be so easily represented. Ben Franklin, for instance, believed that all private wealth beyond that necessary to maintain oneself and one’s family in modest fashion should revert to the public “by whose laws it was created,” by means of very high luxury and inheritance taxes. Thomas Paine believed in redistribution of wealth, through the agency of government, from the more wealthy to the less wealthy. Alexander Hamilton believed in a very strongly centralized federal government. The two things that bound our Founding Fathers together and that, in the final analysis, they universally agreed on is that people can and should govern themselves through the use of their own reason and in service to their shared humanity, and that compromise was an essential tool in doing so, two things that the modern far right most vigorously rejects. In other words, the far right, by idolizing caricatures of the Founding Fathers, does the opposite of emulating them as rational and humane people striving to create an ever-more rational and humane society.

6) While power has indeed shifted from the states to the federal government over the course of our history, at the same time (and in part by that very mechanism), real protections against the potential tyranny of government have grown far stronger than they were even at the time of the founding of the nation, when states’ rights were paramount. As stated above, the first major step in that direction was the Constitution itself, replacing the toothless Articles of Confederation with a federal framework with a strong federal government.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, at the beginning of the 19th century, made another step in that direction, instituting the doctrine of “judicial review,” which gives the Court the last word in legal and constitutional interpretation, thus ensuring that our short and ambiguous founding document has, for functional purposes, a single unambiguous interpretation that we accept as a matter of law.

The next major step was the Civil War, which increased federal power to protect the rights of individuals (in this case, slaves) from the oppression of more local (state) governments and private property owners. The New Deal nationalized our sense of economic purpose and shared fate, and our participation in WWII took that spirit abroad and ramped up our economy even further. The Eisenhower administration taxed and spent with impunity, and put in place an enormously beneficial infrastructure which led to decades of historically unprecedented growth. The Civil Rights movement, Court holdings, and Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts all continued the use of the federal government to protect individual rights against state and private violation. Kennedy used the federal government to land a man on the moon, increasing our technological prowess in ways that have also been highly beneficial. And, finally, the federal government was instrumental in the development of information technologies which have created enormous prosperity.

In the meantime, the Civil Rights amendments to the Constitution and the Court’s interpretation of the Bill of Rights have led to an extraordinary extension of our liberties and of the vigor of their protection. The Bill of Rights came to be applied as a bulwark against state and local as well as federal intrusions of individual rights and liberties. The provisions came to be read with increasing rigor, requiring ever greater due process protections (which the faux-liberty-loving right have generally opposed with equal vigor), discovering a penumbra “right to privacy” that isn’t actually explicitly stated in the Constitution, and, in general, providing ever increasing protections for individuals against governmental exercises of power.

But rather than rejoice in this advance of liberty and prosperity, the right imagines that any intrusion on private property interests and their hoarding of private wealth is the real affront to individual liberty and human rights, just as their slave-owing ideological forebears did.

Part III. Morality, Humanity and Self-Congratulatory Historical Revisionism.

1) Right-wingers dismiss the plight of the poor, most of whom work long hours in low-paying jobs, as a function of their own defects and laziness, and insist that it is morally unacceptable for us as a society to assume any shared responsibility to address social issues such as poverty, hunger, homelessness, the special needs of the disabled, and unnecessary and unjust human suffering in general.

2) They do so despite the fact that every other developed nation on Earth has done a far better job than us of reducing poverty, reducing economic inequality, and reducing the myriad social problems associated with poverty and economic inequality.

3) They revise history so as to define every historical movement that is now broadly condemned to have been “left-wing movements,” such as their conversion of Nazism –a political ideology and regime which hated communists, labor unions, intellectuals, journalists, the poor, and “foreigners” living within the country, favored policies which concentrated wealth and power into constitutionally and democratically unconstrained corporate hands, and relied on an ultra-nationalism stoked up with lots of jingoism and “patriotic” rhetoric and imagery– into a left-wing movement, and their main argument why this is so is because “National Socialism” has the word “Socialism” in its name (much as the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, a Soviet client state, must have been a Democratic Republic, since it’s right there in the name, right?).

4) They revel in the (accurate) facts that the Republican Party freed the slaves while the Democratic Party was closely associated with the KKK, always implying that that alignment continues today. They neglect to mention (or recognize) that, in the wake of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which LBJ (a Democrat) was as closely associated with as Obama is with The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), southern whites (and northern white racists) abandoned the Democratic Party en masse and migrated to the Republican Party, which is why implicit and explicit racism now resides almost exclusively in the Republican Party, with the map of Tea Party strongholds closely corresponding to the map of the Confederacy, and with so many Tea Party policy positions containing so much implicit racism (e.g., voter suppression laws, opposition to any form of affirmative action, hyperbolic disdain for the first African American president, contempt for Latin American migrants, etc.).

Part IV: Guns, Violence, and a Reactive rather than Proactive Society.

1) The United States has the second highest homicide rate among 36 OECD nations (beaten only by Mexico, which “benefits” from a constant flood of our firearms crossing the border to fuel their problem), from 2 to 25 times the homicide rate of 33 of the 35 other OECD other nations.

2) In both domestic comparisons of homicide rates across all jurisdictions and cross-national comparisons of homicide rates in developed countries, there is a positive correlation between per capita legal gun ownership and homicide rates.

3) The overwhelming majority of firearms used in the commission of crimes in The United States are put into circulation by initially being legally purchased in those states with the laxest regulations, and entering the black market from there, through which they are distributed to all locales in the country due to the complete absence of any obstructions to the transportation of good across state and municipal borders.

4) As a statistical fact, a legally, privately owned firearm is many times more likely to be involved in EACH of the following than to be successfully used in self-defense: suicide, accidental shooting death, mistaken shooting death (not an accidental discharge or hunting accident, but an intentional shooting at an innocent person mistaken for an intruder or a threat), crime of passion and use as part of a cycle of domestic violence.

5) As a statistical fact, a firearm in the home has a greater likelihood of being the instrument of death of a member of the household or of an innocent visitor than to be used in self-defense, and the owner of a firearm is more likely to be the victim of gun violence than a non-owner of a firearm.

6) We, as a nation, have the highest absolute number and highest percentage of our population incarcerated of ANY nation on Earth, making us in a very literal sense the least free nation on Earth.

7) This high incarceration rate is in part a function of a right-wing retributive orientation, which believes that the world is neatly divided between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” and that if the good guys are just better armed against the bad guys, and lock the bad guys up or execute the bad guys, we’ll be a more peaceful and law-abiding society as a result.

8) The right, in other words, believes that the more we threaten one another –with decentralized deadly violence, with incarceration, with capital punishment– the more we will reduce violence against innocent victims, despite the empirical evidence that the opposite is true.

9) When an unarmed black teen walking home from the store (Trayvon Martin) was shot to death by an armed vigilante out looking for people to “defend” himself against (George Zimmerman), the right tried to dismiss this as irrelevant to the question of whether being an armed society of fearful and angry people out looking for people to “defend” themselves against is really such a good idea. They insisted that if it was legally self-defense in the moment of the use of deadly force (as it may or may not have been), then there can be no basis for criticizing the policies and ideology that encouraged the creation of the need to use deadly force, neglecting to recognize the fact that the entire encounter was a function of Zimmerman choosing to go out with a gun and look for people to “defend” himself against, and neglecting to notice the implications of his choosing to “defend” himself against an unarmed black teen walking home from the store. Following this incident, numerous right-wing posts on Facebook showed “scary” black criminals as some kind of a justification for whites going out with guns, pursuing unarmed black teens, and shooting them to death.

10) Those societies that have a more proactive and less reactive orientation –that recognize that we affect the propensity and ability to commit violent acts by the cultural milieu that we create together, that recognize that taking better care of one another and providing more social justice and less destitution, and making access to instruments of deadly violence less rather than more easy , by reducing the flood of instruments of deadly violence and the idolization of instruments of deadly violence which in part define our society— have far lower rates of deadly violence than we do, far lower rates of incarceration, far lower rates of poverty and other social ills, healthier and (according to self-report survey studies) happier populations.

11) Unfortunately, the far-right in America insists that to recognize our interdependence, to be an aspirational and hopeful rather than fearful and angry society, to be proactive and caring rather than reactive and retributive, would be an affront to their “liberty,” and thus opposes such progress in an obviously preferable direction, a direction which is more humane and productive and life-affirming.

Part V: Their Ideology’s Historical Predecessors.

1) The abuse of the concept of “liberty” to mean the liberty to benefit disproportionately from an unjust system which results in a grossly unjust distribution of wealth and opportunity, the identification of the federal government as a threat to that “liberty” and a tyrant because of it, is an ideology that has existed as long as our country has existed.

2) This conflation of the concepts of “liberty” and “property,” and the related reduction of “liberty” to a socially irresponsible license to exploit and oppress others for one’s own benefit, was originally the ideology of Southern Slave owners, who insisted that their liberty to own slave was being threatened by the tyrannical federal government, an ideology explicated in John C. Calhoun’s “Union and Liberty,” in which he argued that the “minority” (southern slave owners) had to be protected from the majority who were trying to infringe on their “liberty” to own slaves.

3) It continued to be used by Southern Segregationists, who argued that any attempt to end Jim Crow and ensure the civil rights of discriminated against groups would be an infringement on their freedom.

4) In fact, when LBJ was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the result was the movement of racists from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, where they now reside.

5) Rand Paul said that he would not have been able to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The abolition of slavery (even to the point of having to use years of military force) and the passage of laws protecting African Americans and others from discrimination in the public sphere were both federal governmental exercises of power.

6) The Right currently favors Jim Crow-like voter suppression laws based on a discredited pretext, dismisses as irrelevant the shooting death of an unarmed black teen walking home from the store by an armed vigilante out looking for people to defend himself against, opposes laws which address a historical legacy of an inequality of opportunity in America which disproportionately effects those categories of people who have been most historically discriminated against, speak in words and tones highly reminiscent of our nationally embarrassing McCarthyist witch trial era, and, in general, demonstrate that they are simply the current incarnation of an old historical perennial.

7) When confronted by those who disagree with them, people they constantly vilify and refuse to engage in any constructive national discourse with, they react with great hostility, their primary argument generally being that the act of presenting the factual and logical and moral errors in their ideology to them is an insult that cannot be tolerated.

Part VI: Their Short-Sighted, Socially Disintegrative and Globally Destructive Ideology.

1) Those on the far-right dismiss as a bastion of liberal bias precisely those professions that methodically gather, verify, analyze and contemplate information, thus insulating their dogma from any intrusion of fact and reason. (It’s no wonder, then, that only 6% of American scientists self-identify as Republican, and only 9% as conservative, compared to 55% as Democrat and 52% as liberal. 14% identify themselves as “very liberal,” over 50% more than those who identify themselves as merely “conservative.)

2) By doing so, they are able to dismiss scientific insights into the potentially catastrophic impact we are having on global natural systems through our unchecked accelerating exploitation of Nature in service to our immediate appetites and avarice, an exploitation which is converting us from fellow symbiotes in a sustainable biosphere into deadly parasites killing the host on which we are feeding.

3) Consistent with the general tone and tenor of their entire ideological package, this rejection of methodological thought and short-sighted commitment to immediate self-gratification, at the expense of others, at the expense of our planet, at the expense of our future, is an expression of a primal unmindfulness rather than the more mindful engagement with the world that we are capable of. It is a vestige of primitive inclinations rather than a progress into a more fully conscious existence on this planet. It is the rejection of the shared human endeavor that had begun to define us, a shared reaching for what we are capable of creating together, a shared commitment to reason and humanity.

Conclusion.

This is, of course, a very partial list of the logical, factual, and moral fallacies that define the modern Far-Right. It is a single folly comprised of innumerable dimensions, including the failure to invest in children and families and communities, to value the health and welfare of our population, to have compassion and respect for those who migrate towards opportunity and do our hardest and least pleasant jobs for us for the lowest wages. It includes the disdain for gays and lesbians and transgender people, for Muslims and atheists and all those who differ in any way which triggers any number of deep and hateful bigotries. It includes the movement for an American Theocracy similar to those in the Middle East, in which Fundamentalist Christians strive to turn the state into a vehicle for their tyrannical religious fanaticism.

All of these multiple dimensions of far-right-wing folly and barbarism are part of a single, coherent package, an ideology of fear and hatred, of a variety of in-group/out-group biases and bigotries, an ideology which insists that we must not govern ourselves in ways which promote human welfare but only in ways which react brutally to the failure to do so, an ideology which eschews more effective and less costly preventions in favor of less effective and more costly reactions to problems left to fester and grow. It is an ideology which refuses to allow us, as a society, to invest in our future, to recognize our interdependence and our responsibilities to one another as human beings, and to work together intelligently and humanely in service to our collective welfare.

They’re on the wrong side of fact, the wrong side of reason, the wrong side of morality, and the wrong side of history. And they’re smug about it. We, as a nation and a world, do need a moderately conservative voice to be a vital participant in our national dialogue, but we all need to subordinate such ideological leanings to a shared commitment to being rational and humane people, wise enough to know that we don’t know much, working together to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world. While all of us fall short of that commitment to some degree and at some times, when factions form that demonstrate a consistent determination to be the diametrical opposite of rational and humane participants in a shared national endeavor, those factions become the problem we must solve rather than participants in our effort to solve it.

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Here is my most recent comment on the conservative gun-idolater thread that has inspired many of my recent posts, in response to the somewhat correct allegation that it has devolved into nothing more than a shouting match:

A shouting match between fact and reason, clearly stated, on the one hand, and blind fanatical dogma, repeated endlessly despite being debunked (e.g., the constant insistence that any and all gun regulation is by definition an infringement of your Second Amendment rights, despite a universal rejection of that notion by Constitutional scholars, including uber-conservaitve Justice Scalia, as quoted above), on the other. You live in a world of fabrication in service to crude prejudices and bigotries and belligerence toward the world, and abhor those who stand for reason and for humanity. You invent your own caricature of the law and of the Constitution, your own caricature of history, your own reality, and then laugh like jackals when confronted by the reality you have simply defined out of existence.

You can persist, pretend, and posture to your heart’s content; it will only serve to convince those who are already as lost as you in your own shared arbitrary ideological delusions that the idols of your tribe are undisputable absolute truths, and to convince those who are not that you are yet another dangerous, violent cult posing as a political ideology. The fact that you are a large and well-established cult does not make you a benign one, or even one of mixed value. You are organized ignorance and brutality, a familiar perennial of human history, always popping up anew, with one shared constant: Rabid anti-intellectualism. You share that with the Inquisition, the Nazis, the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, and Islamic terrorists, to name a few. You are on the side of ignorance and tribalistic ideological brutality, in opposition to reason and humanity.

The most telling distinction is that, by your own account, precisely those professions that methodically gather, verify, analyze and contemplate information are the ones you dismiss as bastions of liberal bias, without ever addressing why that would be so. Why would there be a positive correlation between the professional processing of fact and logic, on the one hand, and liberalism, on the other? The answer, while complex, is rooted in the fact that active and curious minds, immersed in observation and thought and the use of disciplined reason, tend to arrive at conclusions diametrically opposed to your dogma, because your dogma stands for the opposite of such modes of thought.

You stand in opposition to fact and reason and a commitment to humanity, which is why you simply ignore and dismiss the avalanche of statistics debunking the obviously absurd notion that there is no connection between our overabundance and overly easy access to instruments of deadly violence in comparison to other developed nations, and our extraordinarily high rates of deadly violence in comparison to other developed nations.

And the fact that there is a statistical correlation between laxity of gun laws internationally and homicide rates? The fact that the overwhelming majority of guns used in the commission of crimes in the US are put into circulation by being bought in those states with the laxest regulations? The fact that for every use of a gun in self-defense, one is used multiple times in a suicide, multiple times in a crime of passion, multiple times in an accidental shooting; the fact that a gun in the home INCREASES the likelihood of a member of that householder dying of a gun-inflicted wound; the fact that a gun-owner is more likely to be shot than a non-gun-owner, are all, to you, “spurious statistics” that you dismiss with the casual misuse of the word, thus never having to consider or acknowledge inconvenient realities. That’s not rational. It’s the intentional preservation of ignorance.

No, the problem is not just, or even primarily, a function of our gun culture; it is, more broadly, a function of extreme individualism, of the reactive rather than proactive orientation to our shared existence that you impose on us, of the social disintegration that you confuse for “liberty.” Our Founding Fathers were committed to the construction of a wise and just society; you are committed to its destruction.

The fact that you are certain that the Constitution verifies every last ideological conviction you happen to hold, and that therefore the thousands of legal and constitutional scholars over the last two hundred years who would and have argued subtle and complex points about that Constitution and how to interpret it are all wrong, are all irrelevant, because you know the one absolute truth, is the voice of ignorance, the voice of fanaticism, the voice of irrationality. You argue legal positions that are dismissed or challenged by almost all legal scholars, economic positions that are dismissed or challenged by almost all professional economists, historical positions that are dismissed or challenged by almost all professional historians, and not only commit the intellectual error of clinging to those positions as favored by reason, but insist that they are incontrovertible absolute truths. That is not the voice of reason, but rather of irrationality.

Of course you couldn’t stop engaging me, because you can’t stand to leave fact and reason disinterred and visible to all any more than I can stand to let you shovel unchallenged the dirt of your ignorance and barbarism over it once again. You have to bury the facts; you have to bury the rational arguments; you have to bury any authentic understanding of human history or economics or sociology; you have to bury any humane orientation to the world, because none of those supports your blind ideological fanaticisms.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

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Of the many wonders that happily impose themselves on a curious and observant mind, there is one that relentlessly taunts my imagination and tries my patience: The degree to which we fail, as a people, as a species, in our communities and on our own to take what seems to me to be, even more than that taken by the late Neil Armstrong 43 years ago, one small step for us as individuals, but one giant leap for our nation and for humanity. In this case, the small step is a step forward in thought and habit, in perception, and the giant leap is what it would yield in terms of our ability to govern ourselves in a way more conducive to the liberation and mobilization of our collective genius in service to our collective welfare.

Even as I write, I know that, for reasons that defy reason, those words grate on the ears of a large and vocal political faction. The word “collective” scares them, as if there is nothing collective about our existence, as if, despite the manifest absurdity of it, we exist as mutually exclusive entities. Lost in a caricature of reality, anything that smacks of the least recognition of human interdependence, of an existence not only as individuals but also as members of a society and citizens of a nation, resonates in their tortured minds as an affront to something holy and inviolable.

As is often the case, such folly results from the drawing of the wrong lesson from a set of failed applications (and the refusal to notice the larger set of successful applications) of a sound and inevitable principle. But the sound and inevitable principle must be acknowledged and addressed: We are not only individuals whose individual liberty must be protected and preserved, but also members of a society whose interdependence must be recognized and negotiated.

Our Founding Fathers did not fail to know this, and frequently explicitly and implicitly emphasized it: “United we stand, divided we fall;” “e pluribus unum,” “We must all hang together or we will surely hang apart,” The Constitution itself, the arguments in The Federalist Papers (which were overwhelmingly about our interdepedence and the mutual responsibilities as members of a society that it imposes on us), “The General Welfare.” So much a part of the fundamental assumption of human existence was it, such an essential pillar of their Enlightenment doctrine (committed to the application of Reason to the improvement of Society), that they could neither have intended nor foreseen that some of the heirs to their political experiment would manage to erase it from their consciousness.

But reality has frequently reasserted itself, revealed the complexities and subtleties, highlighted the need to articulate two views of the nature of human existence that are simultaneously in mutual tension and two sides of a single coin. Without our fundamental interdependence, our existence as members of a society, we have no existence as conscious human beings. The very languages we think in are expressions of generations of coexistence, concepts and symbols growing not in isolated minds but in interlinked minds. Our technologies, our social institutions, the physical products of our labors, everything that makes us human, are never incubated in a single mind or created by the labor of a single pair of hands, but always in the communication of the members of a society and in the articulation of individual efforts.

The man who builds his own house did not mine his own ores to forge his own nails, and, if he did, did not learn the techniques for doing so only through his own trial and error without reference to any knowledge that preceded him. The current political debate over whether our individual achievements and creations are solely the product of one individual’s efforts, or are always in myriad ways a product of our social contract, is one based on an absurd blurring of reality: Of course they are a product of a social process, brought to fruition, frequently, by the focused efforts of one individual working on the margins of that larger process. We want neither to denegrate that individual effort, nor pretend that the contributions of an entire society were not also involved.

We’ve discovered, through our lived history, that individual rights can rarely be absolute. The right to freedom of religion does not mean that you have the right to sacrifice human beings on an alter if that is something that your religion requires of you. The right to freedom of speech does not mean that you have the right to slander another, or to incite others to violence, or to maliciously ignite a panic. The right to dispose of your property as you see fit does not mean that you have the right to dump toxic waste on your own land in a way which poisons others’ water. The tension between individual rights and mutual responsibilities is not just an occasional anomaly; it is a part of the fabric of our existence.

The step of which I spoke at the beginning of this essay is one which, like Neil Armstrong’s, requires first this vast journey across a daunting expanse of untraversed space. It requires the voyage from the ideological delusion that individual liberty is a value that stands unqualified and without countervailing recognition of our social contract, to recognition of the reality of our interdependence. We must stop referring to individual liberty without also, simultaneously, implicitly or explicitly, recognizing our mutual responsibilities to one another. This isn’t socialism or communism; it isn’t a rejection of the values incorporated into our nation at its founding; it isn’t rejection of capitalism or a presumption of the answers to the questions that it poses. It’s simply a journey of consciousness we absolutely must take.

Once we take that journey together, once larger numbers of us follow that voyage across space to something that has always been shining in our sky and recognize it to be something other than a mirage, we can step from that vessel of consciousness onto the otherworldly realization that we can and should and must work together as members of a society to confront the challenges and seize the opportunities that this world and this life present to us.

On that lunar surface, freed to leap a little higher in the lighter gravity, we can rediscover it as common ground that belongs to all parties and nations. Taking that step is not a partisan agenda, it is a human one. It does not resolve all partisan disputes, but rather frames them in more functional ways. It narrows the conversation to that which is minimally required by reason and lucidity. It ends the reign of an ideological folly and partisan cold war that did violence to humanity.

Obviously, not everyone will take this journey of consciousness, will believe that we could land on that distant moon and take that momentous step. Some will refuse to recognize the fundamental truth of human interdependence. There will always be such denial. Ignorance and folly are not things we can banish from the human condition. But we can diminish their degree, sometimes in small ways that have dramatic effects.

I have argued frequently and passionately for others to join me in the formation of a social movement that is not for the promotion of an ideological or partisan agenda, not to affect election outcomes or influence policy positions, but rather to take as many of us as possible as far on this journey as possible. We need to travel to the moon before we can walk on its surface. We need to cultivate our consciousness before we can act under its influence.

Of course, we will continue to act under the influence of the consciousness that we have, even while we devote just a little more effort to cultivating one more conducive to more functional and humane public policies. These are not mutually exclusive. Nor am I speaking only of us each cultivating our own consciousness (though that is, as always, absolutely vital); I’m speaking of us organizing in service to the cultivation of our collective consciousness.

My purpose in life is not to promote the Progressive agenda. My purpose is to promote wise self-governance in service to human consciousness and well-being. I think it’s important that we continue to remind ourselves of the distinction, because we cannot move humanity forward until we can appeal to people who are not in the market for a partisan identity. And if we can appeal to people who already have one, especially those who would recoil at the thought of working to advance any liberal or progressive agenda, all the better.

It is not a subterfuge: it is a refocusing of all of our minds on what is truly essential and truly important. It is the commitment to look past competing blind ideologies shored up by shallow platitudes toward ultimate purposes and deep underlying values. And getting past these rigid ideological camps into which we have relegated ourselves is one of the necessary steps toward real progress.

It depends on robust discourse among people of differing views. It flourishes when more of us recognize that there’s only one ideology to which any of us should adhere: That of striving to be reasonable people of goodwill, wise enough to know that we don’t know much, responsible enough to try to understand and see the merit in opposing views, compassionate enough to recognize that the goal of these efforts should be a commitment to humanity, working together with all others willing and able to embrace such an ideology to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world.

This is my mission in life: To promote this simple ideology, encourage as many as possible to work toward encouraging as many others as possible to adopt it to the greatest extent possible, always as a work in progress, more focused on our procedures for arriving at the truth than on what we currently think is the truth, always open to the possibility that we are dramatically wrong on one or more crucial points. This is something we should do independently of what we do regarding electoral politics and issue advocacy, diverting some small portion of our time and effort and passion into the long-term investment in a deeper political paradigm shift, into traversing the space between here and that distant moon where we recognize that we are interdependent, that we are fallible, and that we are all in this story together.

It’s not the first time such spaces have been traversed, such thresholds have been reached. We’ve had a Renaissance and a Reformation, a Scientific Revolution and an Enlightenment and the political revolutions based on it, an industrial revolution and now an information technology revolution, a confluence of globalizing forces and a movement to recapture some of the wisdom and beauty of the cultures that were trampled underfoot by modernity’s advance, and human history is still accelerating in amazing ways full of both promise and danger. We are a part of that process, participants in it, with an opportunity to plant the seeds for a future that could be one of ever-more rapidly growing human consciousness and an ever-wiser realization of our role on this wonderful planet of ours.

We are a work in progress, and maybe the word “Progressive” needs to be understood by those who bear it to mean “still a work in progress,” because once people fall into the trap of thinking they have all the answers, they forget how to ask the right questions.

Here’s to us! I believe in our potential, but I’m also keenly aware of the obstacles that stand in our way of realizing it, obstacles that, for the most part, we create ourselves, and throw up in front of us, seemingly determined to perennially condemn ourselves to live in interesting times….

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

There is much ado about President Obama’s recent statement “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” The overwrought right is abuzz with angry indignation. How dare he! they shout in unison, aghast that this evil communist could so thoroughly declare war on private enterprise. Let’s take a closer look.

First, it helps to have the entire quote before you:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

It’s a bit impolitic, a bit overstated. But how far off is it?

As I said in The War of American Interdependence, there are two cognitive frames in competition here, one which thinks that we are fundamentally, ontologically “individuals,” fundamentally mutually independent, and one which recognizes that we are fundamentally, ontologically members of a society, fundamentally interdependent. We think in languages we didn’t individually invent, using concepts and conceptual tools we didn’t individually invent. Every aspect of our lives implicates and depends on countless others, no matter how much of a rugged individualist one may be: Few frontiersmen built their own firearms, and, if some did, they did not mine the ores that provided the materials for it. And whatever they did, in almost all cases, they learned how to do it from others.

Most of us rely on one another to a far greater extent than that: Most of us don’t grow our own food, or, if we do, we don’t build the tractors and drill for the oil and do myriad other things involved in the enterprise. Most of us don’t make our own clothes, or build our own homes, or make our own tools, or produce our own electronic devises, or, if we do some, we certainly don’t do all. The market isn’t an expression of our mutual independence, but rather a social institutional form which helps deepen and facilitate our fundamental interdependence.

Our laws, as well, are an expression of our interdependence. We forge them in the light of what that interdependence demands of us. The developments of the modern era that led to market economies and popular sovereignty framed by written constitutions with carefully delineated rights and powers are part of the evolution of our interdependence. The concept of “liberty” itself is an expression of our interdependence, of the discovery of both increased vitality and increased humanity achievable by freeing up individual initiative and creativity to as great a degree as possible, while still recognizing and working within the framework of our fundamental interdependence.

Obama was talking about exactly that. It’s not some crazy idea, it’s not even really debatable: It’s a fundamental fact of our existence. We thrive through coordinated efforts and actions, through participation in a society with divisions of labor and mutual reliance on one another. The ideology currently in vogue which attempts to erase that fact from our awareness is pernicious and destructive; it attempts to redefine private wealth as attributable to nothing other than private actions, when that’s simply not true. Ben Franklin, unsurprisingly, got it right: Wealth is as much a function of the laws and markets and other social institutions that we forge together, and of the efforts of countless others channeled through those social institutions, as it is of individual effort, because without the former our own efforts have no framework within which to achieve their ends.

So, no, even in the more exceptional rather than more common instance in which a business is built up without any element of relative privilege (the differential material and social inheritances that we draw at birth) having advantaged the entrepreneur, they are not solely responsible for the creation and success of that business; the myriad other human efforts that it implicitly depended on are as well. And the market does not magically reward all of those efforts in ways which serve the ultimate goal of continuing to create the most robust, fair, and sustainable political economy human genius is capable of.

Those who are adamant that human genius cannot intrude on some imaginary pure and absolute individual “liberty,” that to do so is “social engineering” or “communism,” are rather remarkably ignoring how that individual liberty was legally constructed in the first place. Our own Constitution is an act of “social engineering,” and, in the way that too many now use the word, a “communist” plot. Indeed, the framers had to argue that we needed a government strong enough to facilitate effective collective action in our collective interests, “The Federalist Papers” frequently seeming to forecast the later invention of “game theory” and the recognition of what has since come to be called “collective action problems.” (See Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems).

The right claims to rever our Constitution and our Founding Fathers, and yet can’t seem to recognize that both acknowledged our interdependence. Art. I, Section 8, Clause i of the United States Constitution empowers Congress to tax and spend in the general welfare, meaning that “what’s mine” isn’t just mine; the public also has some claim on it. How much of a claim isn’t specified; that’s for us, as the popular sovereign, to determine and redetermine, in the light of growing knowledge and udnerstanding.

And as for the Founding Fathers, their views differed. Jefferson’s and Madison’s are frequently cited, but Ben Franklin’s are generally ignored, even though Franklin alone among them helped to draft and sign every single one of our founding documents and was the undisputed senior American stateman at the birth of this country. Franklin maintained that any private wealth beyond that need to sustain oneself and one’s family “is the property of the public, who by their laws have created it” (Walter Isaacson, “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life,” Page 424, quoting Franklin).

It’s not about denigrating individual effort and initiative, or failing to respect the vital role they play in our shared social existence. I can only speak for myself, but I’ll tell you clearly: I respect and admire individual effort and initiative, and recognize it as absolutely vital to our collective welfare. It’s not about failing to recognize the need to frame our shared social existence in ways that take that into account, and work to liberate rather than stifle such individual effort and initiative: I am adamant that it is imperative that we recognize the importance of that dimension of our shared existence in every public policy debate.

But it is not the ONLY dimension that we need to consider; it is not the ONLY value that we must respect and maximize. Our nation today has the highest gini coefficient (statistical measure of economic inequality) of any developed nation on Earth, and the statistical reality of one’s socioeconomic status at birth predominantly determining throughout life is inescapable (see http://www.americanprogress.org/kf/hertz_mobility_analysis.pdf). This is not only unjust, but also systemically dysfunctional: The two most catastrophic economic collapses of the last 100 years in America were immediately preceded, by a matter of months, by the two highest peaks in the concentration of wealth in America in the last 100 years, in 1929 and 2008, respectively.

Such gross inequality of opportunity and in the distribution of wealth hurts us all, and violates fundamental American values of fairness. It is one of the challenges facing us as nation, that we have to meet and address as a nation. It’s not wrong to remind those who succeed by some combination of individual effort and good fortune, facilitated, in either case, by our entire social production function, that they succeeded by virtue of their membership in this society, and that their success does not come without reciprocal responsibilities to the society that made it possible.

And that was very clearly and explicitly Ben Franklin’s view as well as mine (in fact, his was a stronger statement of it), so if you want to vilify me for daring to recognize that the public has some claim on private wealth, be sure to vilify him as well.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

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(The following is a quote posted on Facebook and the exchange that followed it)

“We’re coming to a tipping point… there’s going to be a huge conversation; is government an instrument of good or is it every man for himself? Is there something bigger we want to reach for or is self-interest our basic resting pulse?” -Aaron Sorkin

DK: Each person in our great country gets to reach for something bigger or not.

SH: We are far too individualistic a society. First, our individual welfare depends heavily on how well developed are our institutions for cooperation and coordination of our efforts. Second, our liberty is a function of our unity and social cohesion, not of our disunity and social incoherence, because government isn’t the only potential agent for depriving one of one’s liberty (or life, or property, or happiness), and it’s absence ensures that other, more diffuse predators will plague everyone incessantly. Third, we are primarily expressions of a historically produced collective consciousness, thinking in languages and with concepts, operating through social institutions and utilizing technologies that we did not individually invent, but rather collectively developed over the course of generations. Our “individuality” is a unique confluence and marginal variation of both genetic and cognitive shared material. We are part of something bigger than us, and as big as it, for it flows through us and we flow through it. Government is not arbitrary; it is one valuable social institutional modality, evolved over millennia, to be refined and utilized in ever more useful and liberating ways.

DK: I grew up in a small MA community that still made decisions during annual town hall meetings. There was a strong sense of community and neighbors took care of neighbors. My grandfather was the town’s tax collector (thirty-five years) and he provided that service evenings and weekends from his home (his day job was being a shop foreman). It was very efficient as were many of the other town services, like fire and police (volunteers). Today in that same town many of these same services are full-time and the town has buildings to house them. Is there better service? Nope. But that’s small town America. My point is the closer the government is to the people the better. Our founders knew this and tried to set up a system that limited federal authority. It does allow more individualism, versus collective authority and remote control. In my opinion collectivism just doesn’t work very well (Russia). I don’t want you or anyone else bossing me around. I’ll take care of myself and do more than my fair share to help others who are in need. Only independence leads to self-actualization. As a former trust officer I saw this with trust babies. Money isn’t everything.

SH: If you’re saying that the disintegration of our communities has been horribly bad for America, and that we would be better off working toward recreating such communities again, I not only agree with you, but it is a topic I write on often, and in very specific ways. When I talk about my ideal social movement (which I do at length, in dozens of essays on my blog, Colorado Confluence), reconstructing a specific, modern form of local community is one of the three components I emphasize.

If your suggestion is that the growth in the federal governmental role in our lives is incompatible with this, or the cause of this, then I couldn’t disagree more. The primary causes of the disintegration of local community have been: 1) increased geographic mobility (and the economic incentives for it), 2) increased options for associating with people remotely (thus decreasing the need to associate with neighbors who are dissimilar to oneself), and 3) the same rise in hyper-individualism that is responsible for our diminished willingness to consider government a tool of collective action and collective welfare.

A sense of community may well have been at its height at precisely the same time that we were most willing to utilize and rely on Government as a tool for taking care of one another: During the Great Depression and the New Deal. This is because the two are more inherently compatible and mutually reinforcing than inherently incompatible and mutually inhibiting.

I agree: The closer government is to the people the better. But that’s not a geographic thing, but rather an emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral thing. First, let me point out why it’s wrong as a geographic assertion, and how our history has been, in one sense, the ongoing discovery of why it’s wrong as a geographic assertion.

At the founding of this county, many (not all) of the Founding Fathers were concerned about the potential tyranny of a more remote government, and took for granted that the more local government was more a thing of the people. In many ways, this was a very nationalistic notion, because they thought of their state as their nation (that’s how we came to change the meaning of the word “state” as we have), and they considered governments that weren’t their own true ”national” government to be imperialistic and foreign.

But our history has been one of successive increases of federal power either to increase the federal protection of individual liberty from more local government (e.g., the abolition of slavery and the 14th amendment, which catalyzed a gradual application of the Bill of Rights to state and local government as well as to federal government; the Civil Rights court federal court holdings, federal legislation, and federal enforcement), or to increase the federal role in facilitating individual liberty by increasing opportunities to thrive economically (e.g., the New Deal, the Great Society).

But a larger role for federal government does not have to be an emotionally or socially remote thing. I feel a personal connection to my two U.S. senators (one more than the other) and several of my state’s congressmen (as well as many in the state legislature and state government). In a different way (i.e., without the benefit of actual, personal interaction), I feel a personal connection to President Obama. And all of us who feel that we are in a shared national community feel that we are also in a shared local community. We tend to be more involved locally as well as nationally. I, for instance, made an effort once to reinvigorate my community, to get my neighbors more involved in our local schools and local businesses, to become more of a community. (Ironically, it is in the strongly Republican/Conservative/Libertarian enclaves such as where I live where local communities are weakest, and in the strongly Democratic neighborhoods where local communities are strongest, suggesting again that the correlation you identified is the inverse of reality.)

“Collectivism,” like “socialism” is an inherently overbroad term, and even more so in the way that it is used by modern conservatives. It is used to simultaneously refer to a set of failed totalitarian states, and to the entire corpus of modern developed predominantly capitalist but politically economic hybrid states that are the most successful economies in the history of the world. Every single modern developed nation, without exception, has the enormous administrative infrastructure that invokes those terms from conservatives, and every single one, without exception, had such an infrastructure in place PRIOR TO participating in the historically unprecedented post-WWII expansion in the production of prosperity (pre-empting an insistence that it is an unhealthy and self-defeating by-product of such wealth). In reality, the political economic form that you insist doesn’t work is the only one that ever has, on the modern scale, and the one you insist is the best imaginable has never actually existed and can never actually work.

(Sure, before the New Deal we had a much smaller federal government, but we were already using it in multiple ways to address social problems, including child labor and anti-trust laws. It only resembled the conservative ideal when we lived in a historical period that did not support any other form, due to the state of the economy and of communications and travel.)

Our founders set up a system that had the potential to articulate with and evolve according to the realities of lived history. The Constitution is brilliantly short and highly general, except in the exact design of the governmental institutions, which remain as they were outlined, with some Constitutional modifications since (such as the elimination of slavery and of their infamous designation as 3/5 of a human being, and the direct election of U.S. senators). Our nation is not some stagnant edifice following nothing more than a blueprint which perfectly predicted and mandated every placement of every brick, but rather an organic articulation of our founding principles and documents with our lived history, creating something that is responsive to both simultaneously.

No, this isn’t the America envisioned by Jefferson and Madison. It is a bit more like the one envisioned by Hamilton and Adams, and, in some ways, not nearly as “collectivist” as the one envisioned by Franklin, who considered all private wealth beyond that necessary to sustain oneself and one’s family to belong “to the public, by whose laws it was created.” But, more importantly, it is the one that the articulation of foundational principles with lived history has created. None of us can read the minds of historical figures, or impute to them with confidence what they would think today, but for everyone who says that Jefferson would be revolted by modern America, I say that it may well be that he would be delighted by it, for the ideals he helped to codify gained fuller and deeper expression, through the unexpected mechanism of a stronger rather than weaker federal government, than he was able to imagine possible. (And it was Jefferson; after all, who insisted that our social institutions have to grow and change with the times, for to fail to do so is to force the man to wear the coat which fit him as a boy.)

Community, like a well-functioning and substantial federal government, is, to some extent, all about us as a community, as a people, limiting one another’s actions and pooling resources for mutual benefit. You may not want a government bossing you around, but I don’t want corporations poisoning my air and water because they can increase the profit margin by not “wasting” money on avoiding doing so. You may not want a government bossing you around, but I want a functioning market economy rather than the undermined and unstable one that occurs in the absence of sufficient governmental regulations to ensure that centralized market actors don’t game markets to their enormous profit and to the public’s enormous, often catastrophic, detriment.

Are there challenges to be met while doing so? Does the resolution of problems create new problems to be resolved? Absolutely. Does that mean that we should rely on the never-adequate system of private charity to confront deeply embedded and horribly unjust poverty and destitution, rather than confront it as a people, through our agency of collective action, our government? Absolutely not.

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(This is a reposting of a post and following exchange on my Facebook page. The post was in response to one by conservative blogger Kelly Maher. The exchange, with a self-proclaimed Tea Partier whose last name, Dorman, is what I’m using here, omits other people’s comments on the thread, and includes some edits and additions in my own comments. The discussion illustrates the theme explored in Inclusivity & Exclusivity, of the right-wing emphasis on out-group exclusion and perpetuation of in-goup privilege.)   

Conservative blogger Kelly Maher posted an indignant indictment of Wisconsin Lt. Gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchel for suggesting that voter registration laws can ever be used as a tool for voter suppression. Here’s my response to her:

Nice spin. If registration required you to, say, pass a literacy test, administered somewhat selectively, as was done in the Jim Crow south specifically to exclude the black vote, would THAT be voter suppression under the guise of voter registration?

Okay, now that we’ve established that your premise is bullshit, that registration CAN indeed be suppression, the real question is: Is it or isn’t it in the present context?

Empirically (you know, facts rather than just making shit up), we know two things: 1) There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in America (http://www.truthaboutfraud.org/), and 2) the more obstacles you create to voting, the more effectively you weed out minority and poorer citizens who are legally entitled to vote (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/v/voter_registration_and_requirements/index.html). That, indeed, was the whole purpose of poll taxes and literacy tests.

It doesn’t seem so absurd to suggest that the same tactic, used by the party that is viewed as most antagonistic to the poor and to minorities and suffers at the polls in proportion to their voter turn-out, might be in play here given that there is no actual problem with voter fraud to address, but that the manner of addressing it (the requirement to produce a photo ID to vote; the removal of people from rolls of registered voters when they don’t vote in the previous election, etc.) does in reality suppress the vote of the poor and minorities, precisely those whom you want to be more free to continue to screw?

After all, that IS what “liberty” means in your lexicon, isn’t it? Up until the Civil War and emancipation, your “states’ rights,” anti-federal government argument was used predominately in defense of slavery and in opposition to the abolitionist movement. Antebellum southern statesman John C. Calhoun wrote “Union and Liberty,” about the need to protect southern slave owners’ “liberty” to own slaves.

After the Civil War, for the next 100 years, the same ideology was used predominately to oppose civil rights and to defend Jim Crow. Southern governors showed their commitment to “liberty” by defying the federal government in their (the southerners’) commitment to remain free to continue to discriminate against African Americans.

More recently, this same concept is used by folks such as you in much the same way, though a bit more sublimated. Just as those from the Civil War to Civil Rights period were not advocating for slavery, but rather discrimination, you are not advocating for discrimination, but rather suppression, both of the vote that threatens your power, and of our attempts to address the legacies of history that threaten your privileges. Your ideology, like its predecessors, is steeped in a historically and economically nonsensical mythology that wealth and opportunity are distributed primarily according to merit in the United States, and that those who don’t have it don’t deserve it, the exact same mythology that has been used to rationalize all of the historical forms of class privilege. (See The Presence of the Past)

You can (and undoubtedly will) keep telling yourselves that your current incarnation of that same historically infamous ideology isn’t really just another incarnation of that historically infamous ideology, but is “liberty” as the “founding fathers” meant it. Any suggestion that we should be concerned with economic inequality, with social justice, is just “socialist nonsense,” and an insult to our “founding fathers” and all that they stood for.

For instance, can you imagine that there are actually people so anti-American, so against what the “founding fathers” intended for us, that they would suggest that we should draft “Declarations of Rights” discouraging large holdings of property or concentrations of wealth as “a danger to the happiness of mankind”?! Oops, sorry. That was Benjamin Franklin, in 1776. (Walter Isaacson, page 315.)

Or can you imagine that there are people so un-American in our country today that they don’t believe that the federal government taking money away from those who earned it, and spending it for the benefit of others, including those who didn’t earn it, is a form of “creeping socialism”? Oops. My mistake again. That’s Art. I, Section 8, Clause i of the United States Constitution, which grants Congress unlimited and unqualified authority to tax and spend in the general welfare.

Maybe Ben Franklin was a good American patriot, after all. Maybe our Constitution means what it says. Maybe your conceptualization of “liberty,” the same one John C. Calhoun used to so thoroughly butcher what it means to decent human beings, isn’t the right one for America after all. And maybe we should care more about democracy, more about empowering people to vote, more about continuing to realize the ideal of equality of opportunity, than in your preservation of power at the expense of those inclined to deprive you of it: The majority of minorities in America. Because they’re the ones who have long known what you REALLY mean when you say “liberty.”  

Dorman:

Steve…would it be a good thing or not if all voters had to demonstrate some basic understanding of our gov’t and/or issues? Is it a celebration of democracy if the uninformed have the same voting power as the citizen who makes effort to understand the issues?
Harvey
Who gets to decide who is more or less informed? As a lawyer, economist, teacher, professional researcher and policy analyst, I think you and your fellow ideologues fail to clear the requisite threshold, and, if I were inclined to think as you appear to be thinking, would consider it a service to humanity and to the formation of sound policies to exclude you from our democratic processes. I do not, however, think that.

The great irony of your ideology is that you are anit-elitist elitists, who somehow have managed to declare yourselves omniscient and infallible while simultaneously studiously ignoring the disciplined application of reason to reliable evidence.

Dorman:
oh for heavens sake Steve…..balderdash and poppycock. A very simple objective test might be: Name the 3 branches of gov’t, who are your US Senators and Representative, and who is your Governor. I submit that a prospective voter who cannot answer these questions is unqualified…..however ‘elitist’ you may think that is. I note that you did not answer the question if it is a good thing or not.
Harvey:
No, it is not a good thing, for the same reason that it is not a good thing to have a “benevolent dictator”: You can never be too sure of his or her benevolence, and you can never be too sure that those who pass your test will look out for the interests of those who don’t. That’s the whole reason we have a democratic process in the first place, to bind the agent (government) more to the principle’s (people’s) interests. 

When you deny a class or classes of people the right to vote, you are denying them representation in the political process, and you are denying them the ability to ensure that their interests are included and their voices heard. The result, as a general rule, is that their interests are most overlooked, and, frequently, they are marginalized, exploited, and/or oppressed as a result. 

But I do appreciate it when self-identified Tea Partiers are so visibly committed to the same kinds of bigotries that have plagued this nation throughout its history; it makes it that much easier for reasonable people of goodwill to shine a light on what you REALLY stand for.

Here’s the thing: There are degrees of inclusion and exclusion, from an absolute dictatorship of a single individual over all others, to a perfect distribution of power and privilege to all equally. Neither of these poles exists in reality, the former because no one individual can hold such power over a multitude without giving some privilege away to those who are willing to help him to hold it, and the latter because Nature is not so kind and human artifice not so infallible that it (human artifice) can ever remedy all of Nature’s injustices.

But, on the continuum defined by these poles, the evolution of human consciousness and human social institutions has moved rather consistently from forms approaching the former toward forms approaching the latter. We (the English and Americans, from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 through the American Revolution) have famously flipped sovereignty on its head, turning subjects into sovereigns and sovereigns into our employees.

You, typically, advocate a regression, a withdrawal from that progress, claiming that some among the popular sovereign must be denied their sovereignty for failing to pass your litmus test. Your test, with unabashed egoism, excludes those you deem less well informed than you, but would not dream of admitting that those better informed than you might reasonably draw the line to the other side of you, or that each one’s reckoning of who is and isn’t well enough informed might be subject to their own self-serving prejudices.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You are an adherent to an ages old movement that might best be called “Organized Ignorance,” ignorant of history and its lessons, ignorant of economics, law, the social sciences, social systemic thought in general, and reason applied to evidence in some disciplined way more generally still, and yet are assertively committed to the false certainties that thrive like thorny weeds in the untended, undisciplined and often delusional garden of your consciousness.

There is an old admonition: Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Analogously, one might implore folks like you to either engage in the disciplines of the mind that lead to subtler and broader understandings, defer to those who do, or (to avoid the tempting colloquialism) stop proselytizing the politics of inhumanity.

Something worth considering.

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(The following is a response to an extreme Libertarian who posted the New Hampshire Constitution’s endorsement of a right to revolution as a justification and encouragement to his ideological fellow travelers.)

The only problem is that you are “rebelling” against a government that is both Constitutional and, within those constraints, democratic. You resent the will of the majority, which differs from yours, and misname the will of the majority, with Constitutional restraints to protect minorities, “tyranny.” By your definition, any use of government of which YOU disapprove is automatically tyranny. Rather, you would wish to overrule the will of the majority, and discard the Constitution, in order to impose your radical, economically illiterate, ahistorical, impractical, inegalitarian, and nationally self-destructive ideology on the rest of us. You can utter all of the magical rhetorical incantations you want, but it remains what it is: A cultish, glassy-eyed fanaticism rearing its ugly head in our own country and our own time, as it has reared its ugly head in so many other times and places.

The government you are rebelling against is Constitutional because your main objection, to the taxing and spending of Congress, is a Constitutionally granted power. Article I, Section 8, Clause i of the United States Constitution grants Congress the unlimited power to tax and spend in the general welfare. You can argue about what constitutes the general welfare, and, in perhaps some extreme instances, can find a Supreme Court that would hold that some use of that power was too clearly NOT in the general welfare to pass Constitutional muster (e.g., Congress taxed and spent in a manner which was unambiguously and incontrovertibly only on the welfare of the members of Congress), but none of the programs that are in controversy fall into that range. The Constitutional limitation on Congress’s power to tax and spend in the general welfare is the electoral system, by which we can fire those members of Congress whom we feel have abused that power, or have not executed it as faithful agents of our will and interests.

The government you are rebelling against is democratic, because the people making the decisions with which you disagree were elected according to our electoral process, administered with a relatively high degree of legitimacy and precaution against fraud and abuse. You oppose the will of the majority, appropriately constrained by Constitutional protections of minorities, and wrap that anti-Constitutional, anti-democratic inclination to impose your own factional will on all others, in defiance of both our Constitution and our electoral process, in a faux-nobility and patriotism, though it is, in fact, exactly the opposite.

The government you are rebelling against is the one that has been honed by the lathe of history, in part through a Civil War and Civil Rights Movement which institutionalized the recognition of the fact that minorities and individuals don’t just need to be protected against the tyranny of the federal government, but also against the tyranny of state and local governments, and, in some instances, the tyranny of private corporations or individuals (e.g., against racist employment discrimination).

And, ironically, the consequences of your efforts, to the extent that they are successful (whether through legal or extralegal means), is the increase of real tyranny, not only by rolling back such protections, not only by reducing our national commitment to equality of opportunity, but also by transferring de facto political power from those public institutions which are (imperfectly) Constitutionally and democratically constrained, to those powerful private institutions that are not.

This is a subtle and complex world we live in, in which the lathe of history works on the raw material produced by our Constitution and by our basic values as a nation. The development of our political economy, of our administrative state, of our need to rein in not just governmental power but also private corporate power which in many instances has grown to the size of medium-sized nations, are not developments to be tossed away because a group of blind ideological fanatics believe that there is some single platitude which overrules all other knowledge and historical experience. You counsel for a kind of imposed mass stupidity, a quasi-religious fanaticism which rejects all knowledge in deference to generally misinterpreted sacred documents and ancient prophets. You may succeed; there’s enough lunacy in this country for that to be a real possibility. But to the extent that you do, it will be an immeasurable tragedy for those hundreds of millions who must suffer the consequences.

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(The following was in response to a right-wing poster who had “steam coming out of [her] ears” over some left-wing commentator suggesting that “conservative values” was code for racism. She ended by saying that “we have to take back this country, or we are screwed!”)

You’re right Susan: “Conservative values” isn’t code for racism; “taking back this country” is.

The United States was born with slavery, fought a Civil War to get rid of it (against people who adhered to a very strong “states’ rights” political philosophy, much like a certain political faction of today), then endured another century of Jim Crow, which was abolished in a Civil Rights Movement confronting a new version of that extreme “states’ rights” perspective (much like a certain political faction of today), and has since fought an uphill battle to address the social injustices that remain embedded in our political economy, against a faction which clings to a strong “states’ rights” philosophy.

Or is it “liberty”? A great antebellum statesman wrote a tome called “Union and Liberty,” about the threat of federal tyranny to the liberty of minorities. His name was John C. Calhoun, the minority he was concerned about was southern slave owners, and the “liberty” that was being threatened was their liberty to own slaves. There’s a long tradition in America of using the word “liberty” to mean preserving the advantages of the few at the expense of the many.

You doubt that that’s what today’s use of the word means? Do you know the two peaks in the last century of the concentration of wealth, the inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity? I’ll give you a hint: Both dates are notable for being immediately followed by the two largest, catastrophic economic collapses of the last century. And both dates are also notable for following a decade or two of the ascendance of a notion of “liberty” which favored unregulated, unchecked, predatory redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the extremely wealthy. Those two dates are 1929 and 2008.

And from whom, exactly, are you “taking the country back”? Blacks (except for the few who have become exactly like you)? Hispanics? Gays? Muslims? I see conservative threads insisting that every act of Sharia law somewhere in the world, or every court respecting the free exercise clause of the United States Constitution (which conservatives revere by crapping all over), is proof that we’re being taken over by it. And the uber-lame argument is that Islam isn’t REALLY a religion, but rather a plot for world conquest, which distinguishes it from Christianity by being spelled with fewer and different letters.

Probably the most infamous racist movement in 20th Century world history was one in which a whole country spiralled down into a belligerent hysteria over a group perceived to be “foreigners” living among them, who needed to be rounded up, detained in unpleasant detention centers, and removed, in order to preserve the purity of the nation. And it’s also well on its way to being an infamous racist movement of the 21st century, across an ocean and among people who take offense at being called “racist.”

Yeah, you keep right on “taking the country back,” because we sure don’t want it stolen by all of those “others.” Right?

Yeah, I get it. You mean “take it back” from the “socialists.” The people who helped ensure that the United States Constitution empowered Congress to tax and spend in the General Welfare (you know, the Founding Fathers?). The people who 80 years ago started to put into place the administrative structure and welfare state that has formed a part of the foundation of every single country that partook of the post-WWII explosion in prosperity. The people who passed an overdue Civil Rights Act that established that “liberty” and “property” don’t mean the right to discriminate against people on the basis of their race (a law that Rand Paul said he wouldn’t have been able to support). You want to take America back from the Americans who founded it, who fought for it, who have molded it, and who are it. That’s not “taking it back.” That’s just “taking it.” And we’re not going to let you.

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It’s not possible to fully understand American politics without understanding the language that is employed in political discourse, and how the terms are defined by those who use them. Interestingly, one American political faction has come to define all terms as precisely the opposite of what the rest of us have long understood them to mean.

Whereas some people, for instance, think that the word “liberty” refers to a lack of infringement on freedom of thought and action, and lack of intrusion on privacy, careful observation of how those on the Right use it reveals that we have all been mistaken all these years. Apparently, it really means:

1) allowing members of the dominant race, ethnicity, religion, and sex to impose their will on all others and to protect the privileges inherited from a history of oppressing and exploiting others;

2) facilitating the displacement of political power from the people, through their elected representatives, to private corporations unhindered by democratic processes or public accountability;

3) ensuring that individuals are as unprotected as possible from the greatest threats to their well-being, posed by organized others in service to an obscenely inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity, while simultaneously ensuring that we react as vindictively and counterproductively as possible toward the impoverished and destitute;

4) fetishizing both privately owned instruments of violence and nationally organized acts of violence (as long as the perpetrator of the latter is one’s own nation); and

5) insisting on policies that have led to the incarceration of the highest percentage of any national population, and the highest absolute number of people, of any nation on Earth, bar none (making the United States, in the most literal sense, the least free nation on Earth).

More specifically, “liberty,” apparently, is a value which dictates that

1) Adherents of Islam who have engaged in no crimes nor done anything to draw suspicion should be placed under covert surveillance and have dossiers dedicated to them in order to ensure that any crimes they might commit in the future are pre-empted (otherwise known as “Ethnically and Religiously Exclusive Liberty,” or, more simply, “Police State Liberty”);

2) Impoverished people who migrate toward greater opportunity without governmental permission, or the children of such people who migrated with them as infants, should be rounded up and placed in detention centers, often subjected to poorly maintained facilities and poor treatment, until such time as they can be forcibly removed from the “land of opportunity” to which they migrated (Otherwise known as “Geographically Exclusive Liberty,” or “Fortress America Liberty,” or “‘If You’re Lucky’ Liberty”);

3) Women should be reduced to the legal status of human incubators, with no rights over their own bodies once they become impregnated, whether by their own choice or by force (otherwise known as “‘You’re a Toaster’ Liberty”); and

4) People who are sexually attracted to people of the same sex should be denied the kinds of legally and socially defined rights that those who are attracted to people of the opposite sex enjoy, because it as an affront to the ideal of “liberty” not to discriminate against those who are different from you in any significant way (otherwise known as “‘Liberty as long as we white Christian heterosexuals are okay with how you use it, but otherwise, not so much’ Liberty”).

5) Each of us has a God-given right to leave our home packing heat and looking for people to defend ourselves against, decide that an unarmed black teen in a hoodie innocently walking home from the store is just such a person, pursue them and initiate an altercation that leads to the armed person out looking for trouble shooting to death the unarmed black teen walking home from the store, and then complain bitterly whenever anyone points out that maybe, just maybe, that teen’s right to his life was greater than the shooter’s right to go out looking for people to “defend” himself against.

This imaginative definition of “liberty” is reminiscent of how this political faction’s historical predecessors used the word. For instance, John C. Calhoun, the famous Antebellum Southern politician, used the word “liberty” to refer to the freedom to own slaves, and “minority” to refer to those who believed that they had an inalienable right to own slaves, and was very strongly committed to protecting the rights and liberties of that embattled minority. In other words, to these neo-nullifcation-doctrine adherents, liberty means “my freedom to screw everyone else.”

Similarly, the venerable phrase “United States Constitution,” which to most of us means that document drafted by a group of very intelligent but historically contextualized propertied white men in 1787 in order to strengthen the federal government and overcome the disintegrative dysfunctionality of The Articles of Confederation which had preceded it, and which is the foundation of our rule of law, in reality refers to the complete disregard for the actual provisions of that document or to the rule of law established in accordance with those provisions. Rather, it refers to a strange, incoherent combination of Fundamentalist Christian theocracy, corporate oligarchy, and indifference to gross social injustices produced by current and historical distributions of privilege disproportionately favoring the racial, religious, ethnic and sexual orientation categories to which those who adhere to this imaginative interpretation of the phrase “United States Constitution” coincidentally belong.

For instance, Article I, Section 8, Clause 1, which grants Congress the power to tax and spend in service to the general welfare, in reality prohibits Congress from taxing and spending in service to the general welfare, the rest of us failing to understand that the Founding Fathers meant that Clause tongue-in-cheek, and that a literal, non-judicial-activist reading of the Constitution requires us to realize that it means the exact opposite of what it says.

Or, the First Amendment, which protects the right of each to adhere to and practice the religion of their choice, and ensures that the government does not favor any religion over any other, really means that the government must assiduously favor Christianity over all other religions, and decline to extend the same permission and accommodation to, for instance, adherents of Islam practicing their religion, because to do so would be to force good, all-American white Christians to endure people of other religions practicing non-Judeo-Christian religions in “our” country (not “their” country, because, of course, if they’re Muslim, then they’re not American…, right?).

“Liberty,” in Right-Wing New-Speak, means indifference, injustice, predation, violence and mass incarceration. “Freedom of religion” means Christian Theocracy and intolerance of any disfavored religions. The provision granting Congress the authority to tax and spend for the general welfare means that Congress is prohibited from taxing and spending for the general welfare. You almost have to admire such an impressive commitment to the complete inversion of reality.

So, if you find yourself driving a car with a right-wing ideologue riding shot-gun, and he or she shouts in a panic “Floor it!” …don’t. Hit the brakes instead. The wayward gay Muslim Hispanic pedestrian who wandered into your path will thank you for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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