Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

As I´ve been developing in posts preceding, following, and including A Proposal: The Politics of Kindness, the most powerful strategy Progressives could implement right now would be one which changes the narrative from partisan ideological warfare (which serves Conservatives by reducing the Progressive and Conservative agendas, in the eyes of the disengaged or “moderate” majority, to equal and opposite “extreme” ideologies) to a movement in opposition to no one and no generally accepted value, but rather only in support of Reason and Goodwill. There are many who already reject “Liberalism” or “Progressivism” as simply another strident ideological camp, who, however, long for greater implementation of Reason in service to Goodwill. There are many, as I´ve written before, who are sick of “politics,” but are hungry for “kindness.” The political movement that most successfully taps into such inchoate undercurrents (as the Tea Party has with other less attractive and powerful ones) will own the future.

To me, Progressivism is the desire to implement public policies that are defined by reason and goodwill. This contrasts with Tea Party Conservatives and other political fundamentalists (across the spectrum), who are driven by fear, anger, bigotry, and a matrix of fixed shallow beliefs. Neither the Tea Party Right nor their angriest counterparts on the Left can capture the “reason and goodwill” narrative, because whatever appeal they each may have for some, they are too far removed from Reason and Goodwill to successfully frame themselves within that narrative.

Too many Progressives, unfortunately, want to mimic the Tea Party “success” by copying the Tea Party emotional attitude (i.e., “anger”), which only serves to reduce Progressives to equal and opposite angry ideologues, trapping themselves in the narrative which serves the Right by erasing the substantive, procedural, and attitudinal differences between the Right and the Left which, in the long run, favor the Left (because reason and goodwill are more profoundly attractive forces than irrational belligerence, even though the latter´s more superficial attractiveness accounts for endless short bursts of historical tragedy).

Rather than being drawn into the narrative of competing angry, substantively opposed camps, Progressives (or some subset of Progressives) should advocate exclusively for a procedural commitment to seek out policies which apply reason in service to goodwill. Changing from a substantive to a procedural focus assists in changing the narrative, by advocating universal submission to a process which promotes fairly undeniably desirable virtues rather than being drawn exclusively into an issue-by-issue fight, which loses the narrative of the attractive virtues which inform the Progressive positions on those issues.

This movement, which I am tentatively calling ¨the Reason And Goodwill Alliance¨(RAGA), is not mutually exclusive of existing Progressive political advocacy. It complements rather than displaces current efforts, in two ways: 1) It “softens the ground” for increasing support of substantive progressive ideas and the candidates who are associated with them, and 2) it gains cross-over legitimacy by being contrasted to more strident Progressive activism and framed as a more reasonable “middle way,” much as the moderate and peaceful Civil Rights Movement enjoyed an increase in legitimacy by means of being contrasted to the militant Black Power movement.

If only 10% of current Progressive activists devoted 10% of the time, energy, passion, and money they currently invest in progressive advocacy to the kind of movement I am describing, it would be a groundswell. They would be joined by hordes of disaffected Moderates and Reagan Republicans who are comfortable neither with the irrationality nor belligerence of the Tea Party Right, and are looking for an attractive (or even merely acceptable) alternative toward which to flee.

Even so, despite the finalizing and legitimizing functions that “traditional” progressive activism provides, the optimal balance of human and material resources would favor RAGA, creating a new attractive “Middle” that would in reality be a less rancorous expression of an essentially Progressive agenda, replacing the current “Middle” which is defined by an equal repulsion of both perceived extremes.

The ideological soil and climate in which our social institutional flora grow is not fixed, but it is highly determinative of the species of institutions that flourish. The overwhelming attention that Progressive activists currently devote to planting, cultivating, pruning, and weeding their preferred institutional landscape leaves intact the contextually limiting reality of the ideological soil and climate. Investing effort in changing that context often appears too daunting, or too far removed from substantive goals, but, in reality, it is perhaps the easiest thing for activists to do (since it faces less opposition) and has the biggest substantive bang for the buck (since it affects, and to a large degree determines, all substantive battles). If we are truly committed to cultivating a different kind of social institutional landscape, as will most things, the preparatory groundwork is most crucial of all.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Many people on both sides of the ideological divide believe that the great political battle is between progressives and conservatives, but in reality it is between extremists/purists/fanatics on the one hand, and moderates/pragmatists/realists on the other. The world isn’t divided between substantive ideologies (including religions) so much as between attitudinal and procedural ones. On one side are extremists of any substantive ideology, people who promote oversimplistic abstractions above lived reality and become fanatically committed to militant advocacy of those abstractions. Such people include religious zealots, terrorists, and others who aggressively reject the more moderate, pragmatic, informed, shared effort to deal with a complex and subtle world that characterizes “modernity.” And these fanatics, in whatever form or to whatever degree, either succeed in inflicting suffering on the rest of us, or remain absurd self-marginalized characters in the story of our shared existence. It’s not really what anyone should aspire to be.

On the other side are people who aspire to live well, and either do not begrudge or actively desire that others successfully do the same (see below for more discussion of this latter variable). “Moderates” is a misleading term for them, because they do not necessarily occupy a point, or even a range, between the extremes, nor do they necessarily lack passionately held and coherently developed views on matters of public interest. What distinguishes them is not that they are between the extremes (which may or may not be the case in each instance), but rather that they are attracted to reason in service to pragmatism rather than to arbitrary certainties in service to abstractions.

A secondary spectrum, on another axis altogether, ranges from extreme self-and-local-interest to extreme global altruism. Both ideological purists and rational pragmatists can adhere to any point on this spectrum (though the former, as extremists, they will tend to cluster at the two extremes of this spectrum as well, while the latter, as pragmatists, will tend to occupy a space which acknowledges the values of both localization and globalization of interests and seeks to balance them in some maximally functional way).

As I’ve written in A Proposal and elsewhere, we need to redefine the progressive movement in procedural rather than substantive terms, fighting less for particular policies and more for particular procedures by which policies are selected, procedures which favor reason and goodwill. I believe, strongly, that the policies I favor will be favored by such a process, and, when they are not, I will have increased reason to leaven my disappointment with consideration of the possibility that it was I, rather than the outcome, that had erred. To the extent that we can redefine the political battle over our state, nation, and world as the battle between reason in service to goodwill, on the one hand, and irrational extremism, on the other, we will have captured the narrative, because relatively few Americans are willing to explicitly take the latter camp, and relatively many want to believe that they are advocates of the former.

The political challenge is less to win battles among relatively arbitrary competing positions, and more to win the battle to reframe the entire process. Let’s advocate for Reason and Goodwill first and foremost, along with the development of procedures which better ensure their predominance, and let the substantive positions flow from that commitment. That’s the real political battle we are currently in.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

What’s in a name? An Attitude. The Denver Post reported that the newly minted Republican State House Majority has not only renamed several committees to announce their disdain for workers, the poor, and the disabled, but threw in a little historical revisionism for good measure ( Yes, delightfully reminescent of other previous incarnations of a similar mentality, the House Republicans changed the name of “the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee” to simply “the House Business Affairs Committee,” and “the House Health and Human Services Committee” to “the House Health and Environment Committee” (signalling the presence of an obviously absent interest in environmental issues, while assuring us of a continuing disinterest in humanity?). They then claimed that they were changing the names back to what they had been prior to the 2004 Democratic takeover of the House, though in neither case were the pre-2004 names what the Republicans now adopted, and in the former case, the pre-2004 name was the same as the one that the Republicans inherited and then dumped. Remember the original Charlton Heston version of “Planet of the Apes”? Republicans = Gorillas, and Democrats = Chimpanzees and Orangutans. Nowhere more true than it is in Colorado, where we’ve been blessed with folks like Dave Schultheis and Scott Renfroe, the former having argued against a prenatal HIV test which prevents the transfer of HIV from the mother to the fetus on the basis that the mothers should have to suffer for their immorality, and the latter for having compared homosexuality to murder (

As expected, the 2010 elections left us with a Congress comprised mostly of the Far-Right and Far-Left, and the few remaining moderates from either party badly outnumbered. The Economist reported on the increased power of the Tea Party nut-jobs who have now taken power while remaining utterly clueless, and on the decreased power of moderate Democrats who now comprise a smaller minority of the Congressional Democratic Caucus ( Immoderate voters give us an immoderate and polarized government, and a lot of spinning wheels kicking up lots of mud but getting no traction, and getting us nowhere, not even on issues such as deficit and debt reduction.

The Right is angry with Obama and Congress for having done too much. They vehemently oppose the Obama Administration, and the Congressional Democrats, as advancing a radical left-wing agenda. The word “socialist” probably hasn’t been used so often (and so erroneously) in America since the New Deal.

The Left is angry with Obama and Congress for not having done enough. Many if not most are disenchanted with the president and their Congressional representatives, angry that they did not fulfill their mandate, as these critics see it, to pursue a more aggressive progressive agenda.

Those who read my posts undoubtedly know that I would personally prefer moving as assertively as possible in the direction of using government to address both market failures and social problems, but I also recognize that it is impossible to get too far ahead of the center of gravity of popular opinion. Even having done as much as Obama has done has catalyzed a radicalized, blindly ideological, mostly irrational reactionary movement so passionate that it threatens to sweep Congress in the midterm elections.

Some on the left might argue that that’s why we should have done more in the two years that we had. But what’s done can be undone, in a variety of ways, and the goal is not to be stuck in an unproductive tug-o-war, a perpetual stalemate, both sides pulled into the mud every two years, but rather to create a sustainable progressive path into the future.

The fickleness on the left, the mirror-image of Tea Party irrationality, is, in many ways, a bigger threat to our ability to forge that progressive path than even the Tea Party, because the opposition doesn’t want us to move forward, while our own implacable extremists (or purists) want to move forward but are partners with the radical right in undermining our ability to do so. Without the disaffected Left, the Right would not be as successful as they are likely to be in this election, and in prosecuting their agenda. Which leaves those members of the left who are facilitating the right-wing takeover as responsible for it as the right-wing activists themselves.

The parallels between America today and 1920’s Germany may be reflected in this dynamic as well. The rise of the far-right Nazi party, which shared with our Tea Party a set of angry, scapegoating beliefs (anti-intellectualism, disdain for the poor, xenophobia and widespread racism, de facto service to corporatism), may also share with that era the implicit assistance of mainstream disaffection with the more moderate current government, allowing a group of hateful right-wing extremists to take over the country.

The Tea Party isn’t the Nazi party; it is both less explicitly racist and less explicitly corpratist. It is also far less capable of “getting the trains to run on time.” But it is fundamentally similar in being a movement that hates reason and idolizes a blind and self-destructive ideology, clinging to a fixation scrubbed of rationality rather than addressing the real complexities and subtleties of the world in which we live. And the end results, while unlikely to be as horrible as the Holocaust, are likely to be extremely destructive, and extremely cruel.

And those results toward which we are plummeting will be the fault of both those who fought to bring them about, and those who were foolish enough to abandon the effective fight against them.