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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

I think that almost everyone agrees that we should all strive to base our public policies on reason and goodwill. People may disagree about what that means, and where it leads, but there aren’t too many people who are explicitly and consciously in favor of irrationality and ill-will. This fact provides the North Star of political activism, for we are at a huge advantage to live in a country and at a time when reason is not explicitly reviled (no matter how often it is implicitly reviled), and few argue that fighting for social injustices which serve their own interests is a defensible or admirable political ideology to adhere to (though many do indeed fight for social injustices which serve their own interests).

So, the question is: How do we organize to create a sustained, gradual shift in public opinion and public attitude, in favor of policies which are based on the application of reason to reliable data in service to universal goodwill? I will answer this question with a step-by-step sequence of premises and conclusions:

1) Most people perceive themselves to be, and want to be, reasonable people of goodwill.

2) To the extent that people are, and continue increasingly to become, reasonable people of goodwill, they are more likely to advocate for policies and procedures which advance the causes of reason and goodwill in our mode of self-governance.

3) A major political goal of those who want to see our mode of self governance more committed to reason and goodwill should be, therefore, the movement of people in the direction of being reasonable people of goodwill.

4) Since that is what most people want to be, and identify themselves as being, cognitive dissonance (the difference between who and what we are, on the one hand, and who and what we want to be, on the other) is a lever with which to pry one another in the direction of becoming more reasonable, and more motivated by goodwill.

5) If a non-partisan social-political movement could be established that is undeniably committed to reason and goodwill, that makes that its purpose and disciplines itself in service to that purpose, that would be an attractive force, and would exert pressure on that lever of cognitive dissonance, easing people in the direction of striving to be more reasonable, and striving to be more motivated by goodwill.

6) Designing a movement that does not set out to promote any substantive policies or any preconceived ideology, or to get candidates of any party or ideology or predisposition elected, but rather only to promote reason and goodwill in our political preferences and advocacy, creates both the credibility and integrity necessary to the success of such a movement.

7) Partisans who believe that this is not enough, that there are urgent needs to be met, threats and dangers and injustices and opportunities and promises and hopes and fears all to be reacted to and confronted, depending on one’s ideological disposition, need not be concerned about participating in such a movement, for it is not in place of anything, but rather only in addition to the rest of what we do to move the world (or keep it from being moved) in the direction that we believe it needs to be moved (or kept from being moved). We all agree, I hope, that whatever our political inclinations may be, we should each hold them on the conviction that they are informed by reason and goodwill. Responsibility demands of us that we put that conviction to the test: We should each desire, to the extent that our current respective political certaintes are either irrational or self-serving (as some almost inevitably are, to some degree, within each and every one of us), that we participate together in the effort to refine them accordingly.

8) The movement should define itself not around definite positions on substantive issues, but rather around a procedural commitment. That procedural commitment should be defined in response to the questions: i) “What set of procedures should responsible and engaged members of society, committed to trying to base all of their efforts on reason in service to goodwill, adhere to?” and ii) “What forms of community outreach and political advocacy can and should such people engage in, to best encourage others to make the same commitment and adhere to the same procedures?”

For a movement like this to be spectacularly successful, it does not require that many people be moved a large distance in a short time. A dramatic, positive, profound and sustainable shift can occur if a relatively small minority of people are moved over the course of years slightly in the direction of reason and goodwill. Such movement is not the mere swinging of the ideological pendulum, but rather the bending of the arc of the moral universe.

As perhaps a starting point for a larger discussion and a more organic and inclusive effort, I have written an elaborate and detailed answer to the questions in number 8, above: A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill. I hope all who read this will consider helping to promote this movement, to weave together all of the disparate efforts to engage in some part of it or some parallel version of it. By whatever name it ends up going, at whoever’s impetus, this truly is the movement we should all belong to.

If America ever was an enlightened country, it hasn’t been in my lifetime. Shortly before I was born, we had congressional hearings and blacklistings to destroy lives on the mere insinuation that someone believed in a particular political economic theory. During my childhood, we had the hippy movement that, while more hopeful and positive in outlook, almost immediately became just another pretext for a symbiosis of glassy-eyed and opportunistic human folly (even more so in the case of its progeny, the “New Age” movement). Then we (over-)reacted to such utopianism with the Reagan years, which put into place an astronomical bloating of the national debt (while claiming to represent fiscal conservativism), a renewed (self-delusional) sense of moral superiority vis-a-vis the rest of the world, a cynical promotion of religious fanaticism and cultural tyranny for political strategic purposes, a deregulatory frenzy that we are still paying for in numerous ways, and a set of policies that created more economic polarization in this country than existed in the 19th century “gilded age” of the “Robber Barons.” (As of 2007, 34.6% of net worth and financial wealth, 42.7 % of financial wealth alone, was concentrated into the hands of the wealthiest 1% of the American population. The bottom 80% of the American population were left to divide among them 15% of net worth and wealth combined, and just 7% of financial wealth alone.

After a brief respite under Clinton, we returned to insanity with redoubled enthusiasm. Like a reverse John the Baptist to Bush’s reverse Jesus, Newt Gingrich regaled us with his “Contract With America,” a grandstanding promise to be indifferent to the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. Then came George W. Bush himself, not merely an embarrassing dimwit, but the first president in American history to both engage in and try to advance as our national values the torture of prisoners, the pre-emptive military bombardments of other sovereign nations, the kidnapping of foreign citizens off of foreign streets on the barest wisps of evidence against them (a mere accusation from a neighbor perhaps miffed about some private dispute) and then holding them in secret compounds and torturing them, even after concluding that they’re innocent of any crime, or “rendering” them to other countries that will torture them with even less self-restraint. After eight years of that president who morally and financially bankrupted the country, squandering the economic surplus left by Clinton, catalyzing the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression, we finally, in a rare glimmer of sanity, elected Barack Obama.

But sanity never lasts long in America. Since after a year and a half he has failed to erase the mess that Bush (and his Republican predecessors) created, since though he stopped the hemorrhaging of jobs ( he has not turned around what economists almost universally admit no one can, since he has tried to address the disgraceful fact that the richest country in the world had the most expensive and least efficient health care system in the developed world (the only one that failed to cover a significant portion of the population), since he addressed the lack of financial regulation (insisted upon and advanced by all preceding Republican executives and legislators) that led to the financial sector meltdown in the first place, he is the devil incarnate (born elsewhere, foreign in every way), and we must return to the insanity that preceded him (and is reacting to him).

Yesterday, on “This Week” (, Queen Rania of Jordan very eloquently and moderately captured the corrosive role of religious extremism, both at home (in the United States) and abroad, the multiple folly of opposition to the Muslim cultural center in Manhattan (which stands in opposition to the intolerance and extremism of 9/11, and which in turn is opposed by the parallel intolerance and extremism at home), and the need not to surrender to cynicism and pessimism regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Such a voice of reason! So certain to fall on deaf ears….

After all, she is speaking to the America of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who felt that responding to the hopeful building of a Muslim interfaith center in Manhattan (not at “ground zero”, in fact) by threatening to burn the Koran was the epitome of what it means to be an American ( While many even on the right denounced him (only because they knew it would end up costing American lives), the ironic similarity of such intolerant ethnocentric escalators of hatred to the terrorists whose acts they abhor, and the dissimilarity to those who preach tolerance rather than interethnic hatred, is lost on them.

The Republican “Pledge to America”, which even conservative economists admit will further increase the deficit (, is being aggressively and successfully marketed by the right as fiscal responsibility which no rational person could oppose (though virtually all rational people oppose it). And it imposes debt on future generations only to benefit the wealthiest Americans, rather than those who need assistance, or to improve our human or material infrastructure. We should incur debt only as an investment in the future, not as a redistribution of wealth, across generations, to the uber-wealthy of today.

At South Jeffco’s Summerset Festival the weekend before last, for instance, I had numerous encounters which drove home the zeitgeist. One pleasant young woman told me she was a Republican, and responded to my suggestion that we should all agree to be reasonable people of goodwill and build on that by saying, “yes, just look at health care reform, that ruined the best health care system in the world.” Was she referring to the same health care system that, by every statistical measure, underperformed the systems of every other developed nation on Earth, and did so at far greater expense, while managing to cover a smaller percentage of the population than any other developed nation’s health care system? And another woman insisted that illegal immigrants never pay taxes and are purely a sap on our economy, though many pay taxes, often for services they can never collect on, and by all economic analyses are either an economic wash or a slight benefit nationally. Truth is the first casualty of war, and there is currently a war being waged on truth itself in America.

Examples abound. There are the Colorado ballot initiatives, 60, 61, and 101, that even fiscally conservative Republican politicians in Colorado oppose (, but that have a chance of passing, and are defended by earnest pseudo-economic arguments such as those presented by Debbie Schum in yesterdays Denver Post ( This is what happens when insanity is cultivated, in the hope of it being harnessed for political gain. Those who cultivate it eventually lose control of it, and it is the insanity unleashed that prevails.

As I’ve often said, there are legitimate debates to be had, legitimate disputes based on the differing conclusions of sound reasoning applied to reliable data in service to mutual goodwill. But we’re not having those debates. Instead, public discourse and the political process that simultaneously tracks and exploits it, have been hijacked by the need to incessantly debunk the unsound reasoning, fabricated facts, and fundamental inhumanity of what is perhaps the most powerful social movement in America today. We are too busy fighting the sheer human folly incarnate among us to get to the legitimate debates, and the hard, information-intensive work of governing ourselves wisely and effectively.

I have long noted that, in many ways, America is Ancient Rome to Europe’s Ancient Greece, the more brutish inheritor of a cultural, economic, and political fluorescence. Unlike Rome, however, which coveted Greek slaves to tutor their children, America has come to disparage rather than respect the still more civilized originators of modernity across the Atlantic. We look at countries that have almost completely eliminated poverty, have universal health care, low infant mortality, a far more successful and higher functioning public education system, greater social mobility, and higher rates of self-reported happiness, and many among us dismiss them as “socialist” countries, which we arbitrarily claim, by definition, must be failures. (As one individual quoted in yesterday’s Denver Post said, health care reform is “a communist, socialist scheme. All the other countries that have tried this, they’re billions in debt, and they admit this doesn’t work” (

The western European countries have their defects, to be sure, and America has done better than them on some dimensions, but this absolute rejection of the possibility that we have something to learn from others, who have fared better than us on numerous dimensions, is the epitome of combined arrogance and ignorance, that unholy marriage that dooms any individual or social entity to self-destructive irrelevance. We are a country very much like the one we were when Elmer Gantry was written a century ago, a country of small-minded yahoos and those that exploit them, with the marginalized voices of sincere and well-informed analysts shouting desperately across the sound-proofed barrier that has been erected against us.

But the question remains: How do we defeat this persistent, deeply embedded insanity that has come to define us as a people? In a conversation with Adam Schrager (Colorado’s pre-eminent political broadcast journalist) last week, we both voiced our disgust that politics has become far too much about the acquisition of power, and far too little about the challenge of devising intelligent public policies. But I shared with him this thought: Politics is almost inevitably hostage to an evolutionary logic. That which works (in the competition of policies and candidates) is that which is reproduced, while that which doesn’t work is abandoned. As a result, politics has devolved into a competition of marketing strategies and raising the funds necessary to their effectiveness. It isn’t enough to bemoan this fact, because any attempt to reject it, unless embracing an alternative simultaneously less cynical and more effective (which, as much as we’d like to be the case, almost never is), is doomed to failure, and thus obsolescence.

The ironic challenge we face, then, is how to use what works to create a context in which it is no longer what works, or no longer an option. For, while extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice for the public good by political leaders are both admirable and meaningful, they are not a sustainable strategy. Ralph Carr (Adam Schrager’s favorite example), the Republican governor of Colorado during WWII, who refused to comply with Japanese interment, despite such refusal being political suicide, might be a great example to follow, but if universally followed by all reasonable people of goodwill in all instances, would succeed only in ensuring that only irrational people of ill-will ever remain in office once confronted with the choice to do what’s right or do what’s politically expedient. The somewhat empty admonition that elected officials (like the rest of us) should always do what’s right rather than what’s in their own interests does not get us very far, both because of human nature (one’s own interests are going to remain a powerful incentive, whether we like it or not), and because of the evolutionary logic of politics (to paraphrase a famous quote from Henry Kissinger, in politics, always doing what’s right rather than what’s politically expedient or strategically superior merely cedes the world to the less scrupulous).

We can afford neither to be “above politics,” nor to surrender completely to its dysfunctional logic. But here is the limit of my own cynicism: We most certainly can’t afford to make ourselves morally indistinguishable from those we oppose. We must find successful strategies, in pursuit of raw political power, but by finding resonance between our own better angels and those of the electorate, rather than bringing both us and them down by resorting to the same old political cynicism as a first rather than last resort.

People criticize Obama for having tried to take the political high road rather than jamming through whatever we could any way that we could, but I do not. He is looking at a longer-term agenda, and a deeper necessity, than his critics are. There is a balance to be struck between what reality demands of us, and what our ideals demand of us, and we must always subordinate the former to the latter in the final analysis. Health care reform may have been critically important to our collective welfare, but there are deeper and more essential reforms that should not be sacrificed in every instance to the exigencies of the moment. We cannot defeat our own ignorance by surrendering to a political strategic system that exploits and cultivates it.