I happened upon a Facebook profile in which the individual wrote for political views: “Seeing clearly through the false right/left paradigm to the REAL issue: the State vs the individual” (she also put down for religion: “No religion…just Jesus,” which is another alternative reductionism). This is one of two prevalent ideological cornerstones that seem to be defining the new (or alternative) poles of the mainstream conservative-progressive spectrum (“false” or otherwise), the other being the identification of “corporations” as the boogeyman. These two poles are, in reality, almost identical in their underlying logic (or lack thereof), and thus almost identically defective.

It’s not that there are not problems and challenges posed by each respective boogeyman: The state, while saddled with accountability to the public, has a near-monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and is thus an inherently coercive social institution; while corporations, lacking access to coercive physical force, combine more subtle but comparably effective tools of manipulation, yet lacking any public accountability other than that imposed via the state. Rather, it’s that they are both indispensable aspects of our social institutional landscape (one being an essential component of a very robust political economy, and the other being a bulwark against mutual predation and instrument of mutual large-scale collective action), thus making mere vilification as meaningless as bemoaning the need to breathe.

The question is not whether they are problematic artifacts of our social institutional landscape (they are, as are all such artifacts in varying ways, including family, religion, mass media, etc., etc., etc.), but rather how best to manage them through our various vehicles of collective action (which include, but are not limited to, corporations and the state). This difference is critical, because while the reductionist approach sees them (the state or corporations, respectively) as beasts to be tamed, the social analytical approach sees them both as in some ways beneficial yet, as loci of power, always potential vehicles of social injustice. The basic ideological dispute over which is the problem and which is the remedy is erased in the awareness that they both are simultaneously neither and both.

The New Reductionism is evident in the many statements to be found currently scattered throughout the virtual landscape evincing a transcendence of The Old Reductionism, but simultaneously embracing its very similar replacement. The Old Reductionism is Left v. Right, Democrat v. Republican, an alliance of labor and the recently or currently ostracized (e.g., minorities, gays) v. (since the 1980s) an alliance of Christian fundamentalists and the traditional elites (i.e., white males) plus some portion of new entrants (i.e., the wealthy in general). The New Reductionism, which is a mere minor shift from this previous formulation, is New Left (rallying around a fanatical opposition to corporate power) v. New Right (rallying around a fanatical opposition to state power).

The Tea Party emerged announcing itself as an alternative to the failed left-right dichotomy, focusing instead on the pure and, to them, irrefutable rightness of opposing the state in service to a very narrow (and generally dysfunctional) definition of liberty. The Coffee Party emerged announcing itself as an alternative both to The Old Left and to The Tea Party, a more moderate and reasonable third way, but quickly became co-opted almost entirely by the same anti-corporate ideology prevalent in the mainstream progressive movement.

The problem with The New Reductionism is the same as the problem with The Old: It leaps to oversimplistic substantive certainties, not forged in any disciplined way, rather than investing in a focus on such disciplined procedures, the one and only remedy to reductionism in general. For instance, prior to the painstaking development of scientific methodology, our understanding of our natural surroundings was at best imaginatively rational but empirically unreliable and imprecise (such as in the case of the Greek Philosophers), and at worst a dogmatic literalization of ancient lore and mythology (such as in the case of religious dogmas of various kinds). It is only by subjecting ourselves to the discipline of well-formulated procedures and methodologies that we can increase The Signal-To-Noise Ratio.

I tried, for awhile, on a national Coffee Party internet site, to encourage that nascent political organization to embrace the real alternative to all reductionisms, a commitment to disciplined procedures for arriving at substantive conclusions, rather than a commitment to the already ideologically presumed correct substantive conclusions themselves. As more expressed an interest in this approach, the resistance to it grew correspondingly more intense, ideologues, as is generally the case in political discourse, drowning out any and all voices of subtler reason.

We need a movement that is committed not to our precipitous false certainties, but rather to our recognition that we can institute disciplines and processes which, to some extent, transcend our constantly aggregated individual folly, and give increased power to our never-sufficiently-tapped-and-realized collective genius. I’ve written repeatedly on one approach to doing so (see Catalogue of Selected Posts, particularly the essays in the second box, and most particularly The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified).

Whether reasonable people of universal goodwill rally around that particular framework, seeking to refine and build on it, or merely around the idea that we need to work together at constructing such a framework, it’s time for us to come together, and, rather than creating yet another New Reductionism, another commitment to precipitous, under-examined competing substantive certainties, create instead a New Holism, a new commitment to transcending our forever aggregating individual folly, and liberating our forever captive collective genius in service to our humanity.

The more profound conflict isn’t between those who reduce our political struggles to a tension between the individual and the state and those who reduce our political struggles to a tension between individuals and corporations, but rather between the commitment to liberating our consciousness in service to humanity, and the commitment to reducing our consciousness to a mere prisoner of its historical artifacts, in service to our bigotries. Unfortunately, the latter continues to dominate, by defining two versions of itself as the two poles of political ideological conflict. We need to define them together as a single pole, and confront them with their combined opposite: Reason in service to universal goodwill.

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.

I’ve been developing A Proposal: The Politics of Kindness in recent weeks, as well as communicating with others from across the political spectrum on matters of policy, ideology, and personal style, and the sheer lunacy and pettiness of popular discourse raises the question of whether reason and goodwill are powerful enough forces to cut through it, or whether those who are advocates for reason and goodwill have simply failed to present it in a transparent and compelling enough manner.

Here’s what should be completely non-controversial: We should govern ourselves by using sound reason applied to reliable information in service to all legitimate values and goals, including the protection and augmentation of individual liberty, the recognition of mutual interdependence, and a commitment to kindness and compassion. And yet, it is controversial, the simplicity of it buried beneath various idolatries and ideological rationalizations.

One former supporter wrote me and said that my use of jargon turns him off, and that I would attract more people to my ideas by avoiding it. I wrote back thanking him, telling him that I thought that he was absolutely right, that I would work on it, but that my writing style is really just my writing style, and it probably wasn’t going to change dramatically, in part due to my own lack of skill and my own unwillingness to invest the amount of time and energy necessary. I asked him to “bear with me.” He replied that I had chosen not to take his suggestion, but rather to rationalize continuing to do what he suggested I stop doing, so he wasn’t going to bear with me. I responded: “Fair enough. Different people have different ways of thinking, speaking, writing, and behaving. Some of those differences shouldn’t be tolerated, and some should. It’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves where we draw that line. No hard feelings.”

How much should it matter to any of us if another person’s writing style is annoying? Should it matter any more than if another has a tic, or a stutter, or a physical defect? How much does it matter whether the offending trait is seen as more or less an artifact of volition, or amenable to voluntary modification? Should gay rights really hinge on the argument over whether it is a life-style choice, or an inherent characteristic?

The defects of some ideologies (not just some conservative ones) have more to do with attitude than with substance. They are characterized by intolerance, absolutism, and other attributes that are inherently centrifugal in nature, tearing people apart rather than binding us together. Progressives should not see themselves as being in a battle against external foes called “conservatives,” but rather against both internal and external foes called “intolerance, irrationality, ignorance, anger, hostility, cruelty” and so on.

It’s time for all reasonable people of goodwill to dedicate ourselves to The Politics of Kindness. Yes, well-reasoned and well-informed kindness; well-communicated kindness; kindness that seeks the kindest outcomes and not just the kindest intentions; kindness that is disciplined and channeled and cautious in its certainties; kindness that is courageous and assertive and even at times combative in its advocacy; but, ultimately, kindness.

We exhaust ourselves in futile opposition to irrelevancies, and fortify ourselves within shallow but passionately held dogmas. What if we simply all tried to do better? Or, more realistically, what if those of us who read this message, or receive it from some other source, or independently think of it, consider the possibility of doing better? What if all those who care about participating productively in the creation of our future dedicate themselves to doing better? And what if all those so inclined began to more consistently and frequently encourage others to do better as well, in the kindest and most endearing of ways?

I’ve learned a lot from my seven-year-old daughter. One of the things I’ve learned is that love is far more powerful than anger. And, in the same vein, tolerance is far more powerful than intolerance. Kindness is far more powerful than hatred or indifference. Reason is far more powerful than irrationality, and knowledge is far more powerful than ignorance. And yet, these more powerful forces seem forever on the defensive. Anger, intolerance, hatred, mutual indifference, irrationality, and ignorance are forever on the march, while love, tolerance, kindness, reason, and knowledge seem forever (or at least too frequently) in retreat. It’s not because the latter set is weaker, but rather because those of us who would be its advocates are weaker in our commitment to it, which demands more of its adherents than do hatred, intolerance, anger, indifference, irrationality, and ignorance.

Those who want reason and kindness to prevail in the political sphere have to work harder in promoting it within ourselves, within our families and communities, within our thoughts and our actions. We will continue to lose to weaker forces more easily served unless and until we do.