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(The following is the beginning of an exchange on a libertarian’s Facebook page, with the first comment being his status update. It continued, as these exchanges often do, with my repeated suggestion that we step back from our substantive certainties and agree to base our discourse on the premise that we’re all fallible, and if we all strive to be rational and humane people, in disciplined and methodical ways, it would serve society better than our competing blind ideologies, and with this suggestion being responded to with every excuse imaginable for why it couldn’t be accepted. And this is the great ongoing tragedy of our shared existence, not just the persistence of irrationality, but the emotional investment in its preservation against all suggestions and invitations to work toward transcending it.)

KW: God Bless You for your choices, now kindly step aside as I make my own.

SH: What if your choice were to hurt others? Should I kindly step aside then? So, you have to qualify it to say “now kindly step aside unless my choice is to hurt others and good citizens need to stop me from doing that.”

But lots of things hurt others in subtle ways. We are interdependent, and our actions affect one another. So some of our laws have to recognize that there are individual actions that we each can engage in that cause one another more harm than we, as a society, can allow. For instance, if I do work in my home that produces some form of toxic waste, and I dump that waste on my own property in such a way that gets into the groundwater that others drink and causes deadly disease among those who drink it, then don’t we as a society have good reason to say that no individual can dump toxic waste on their own property?

There are so many things like that in our lives, so much interdependence, that the meme that each should be absolutely free to do whatever they choose really serves more to obscure the real challenge of determining where to draw the line between individual liberty and agreed upon limits to it for mutual benefit than to enlighten or guide us in any meaningful way.

RA: Live Free!

SH: Self-governing on the basis of slogans rather than in-depth, nuanced, and diligent thought isn’t really that good an idea. One of the things you’ll notice about every one of the most horrible chapters of modern world history is that the authors of those horrors were all always deeply immersed in moving slogans.

JW: @Steve you are dangerously close to the most dangerous slogan of all time “for the greater good”. How about, “my ability to swing my arm ends at your nose”. People have to learn to live in close proximity to one another without resorting to trying to live each others lives for them.

SH: J, our own Constitution declares the importance of governing for “the general welfare.” The fact is that I live by no slogan at all, but rather by the belief that there is only one ideology to which any of us should ever adhere: That of striving to be rational and humane people, wise enough to know that none of us knows all that much, working together to do the best we can in a complex and subtle world. That’s not “a slogan,” but rather a philosophy, and not a shallow philosophy that fails to capture the true complexity and subtlety of the world we live in, but rather one based squarely on the recognition of that complexity and subtlety.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t consider the liberal-conservative divide the fundamental one, nor is it how I define my own commitments. I am committed to the disciplined use of human consciousness in service to humanity, period. That includes using disciplined reason, imagination, research, analysis, contemplation, and discourse, recognizing our limitations, uncertainties, and the value of allowing some organic processes to function without trying to impose ourselves on them at every turn. It includes many, many things that can be discussed and debated and ever better understood by ever more people.

If a person comes to that process with that attitude self-identifying as a conservative, that’s fine with me. If they don’t embrace that process at all, but self-identify as a liberal, then they’re as much a part of the problem as those who don’t come to that process at all and self-identify as conservatives. The blind ideologies are not the answer; the processes that best liberate and mobilize human genius are, including the genius of laissez-faire to the extent and in the ways and under the circumstances that laissez-faire is best recommended by our best understandings of how the world works. 

But that’s not what happens. What happens is that people come fully armed with an array of false certainties arrived at haphazardly, through socialization and indoctrination and emotional predisposition, and treat those false certainties as indisputable truths. We all do it to some extent, even those of us who do it to the least extent, because that’s how the human mind works: We reduce an infinitely complex and subtle reality to manageable form in order to function in the world, and mistake our cognitive models for the reality itself. A critical step toward being rational and humane people is recognizing that, and working with it.

But when people declare that they have the one right substantive ideology, they are digging into the opposite cognitive orientation, the cognitive orientation which clings most tenaciously to their own false certainties, and is most insulated from actual fact and reason and growing comprehension. Do I think that that is more closely associated with modern American conservatism than modern American liberalism? Yes, but that’s not really the point. The point is that all of us should strive to be wiser than that, and those who refuse, regardless of what ideology they identify with, merit criticism for refusing. 

I always refer to reason AND humanity, though in many ways humanity is implicit in reason, as long as we agree on certain underlying values of fairness and long-term functionality, because we are ultimately interdependent, and reason dictates that we recognize our interdependence and act not under the pretense that it doesn’t exist but with the constant awareness that it does. “Liberty” does not mean the absence of interdependence, but rather a particular orientation to it, a value embedded within it that only has meaning in its context. Those who neglect to understand that end up turning the beautiful and valuable concept of human “liberty” into a cruel and ugly excuse for acting in predatory and implicitly inhumane ways. 

It’s no coincidence that slave owners used the concept of “liberty” to rationalize their commitment to the institution of slavery (the greatest assault on human liberty in the history of our nation, matched only by the displacement and destruction of the indigenous population), arguing that to deny them (the slave owners) their property (their slaves) would be an assault on their (the slave owners’) “liberty” (see John C. Calhoun’s “Union and Liberty”). And it’s no coincidence that modern Tea Party/libertarian ideology is part of a continuous ideological thread reaching back into that same use of the concept of “liberty.” Knowing and understanding history, deeply and richly and thoroughly, is useful to our present understandings and commitments. 

I could go on. I could write books on this. But there is only one rational place to start, only one rational foundation to build on, and that is reason itself, not the arbitrarily claim of already having embodied it in one’s current substantive certainties (as some I’ve interacted with insist upon, as their way of rejecting the notion that we should all strive to be rational and humane people), but in a commitment to the methodologies and procedures which have proved in recent centuries to be the most robust for minimizing bias and maximizing accuracy, and using those procedures –which include debates that aren’t just shouting matches but actually adhere to the rules of debate, the rules of evidence, the rules of logic, or whose relative merits are judged by how well they adhere to them—in service to our shared humanity. 

It’s a simple premise. I think it would generally favor what are now considered liberal positions, but if I’m wrong, I’d rather surrender my own false certainties than insulate myself from reason in order to preserve them. It is the process of reason in service to humanity that I am committed to, not to any current assumption of what conclusions it leads to. 

And that’s something that all rational and humane people should be able to agree to, should be able to rally around. I know some moderate conservatives who do, and I identify more with them, am more reassured by their presence in our polity, than I am by dogmatic liberals who don’t. And if we can simply put aside the shouting matches over precipitous substantive false certainties, and instead agree to work at being that kind of a polity, a rational and humane polity, then this would be an even more admirable and extraordinary nation than it already is (if that’s what it already is), and an even greater gift to the world than it already is (if that’s what it already is). And we would leave on the margins, on the dust heap of history where they belong, the commitment to ignorance and bigotry and oversimplistic dogma that some insist on adhering to, moving forward instead as an increasingly rational and humane people. 

KW: Steve, why do you use my status to go on your diatribe. I respect your take but you immediately disregarded the simple fact that I am Libertarian and not a single one of my choices harm another. 

JW: I know better than to feed the trolls but I am going to respond to your essay Steve. Shakespeare said “Brevity is the soul of wit”. At least with the simple statements that K and I have made, a reasonable person might gather the basics of our personal philosophies. I read through your entire post and honestly could not make a determination of where you fall philosophically. Given the lengths to which you used as many words as possible to say as little as possible, I am inclined to believe that you are a statist leaning liberal that would bind us in the chains of some nebulous “social contract” that no party signs yet all are supposed to abide by. Orson Wells took such thoughts about “humanity” to its inevitable conclusion in Animal Farm where of course, all are equal but some where more equal than others. Unlike K, I will not respect your philosophy if it is one that would consign us to the politics of pull, where influence becomes the prime product of a society and the real producers are enslaved to the “greater good”.

SH: K, the whole purpose of the rule of law is that we can’t simply rely on each other to do the right thing, and that we must govern ourselves, as a people, with laws that bind us and limit us in certain ways for mutual benefit. You say that I disregard the fact that you are a libertarian and that your choices harm no one else. No, I dispute the notion that we don’t need laws because some people are not inclined to break them in the first place, or that the recognition that we do need laws is compatible with the ideologically exclusive emphasis on absolute freedom.

As for why I use your status to go on my diatribe: If one propagates defective ideas that can be harmful to humanity where I can challenge them, then I will challenge them.

J, you couldn’t make that determination because not all philosophies are dogmas, and mine is one such that is not a dogma. It is a commitment to the same foundations that inform science and law, a commitment to methodologies and procedures rather than to presumptions and false certainties. “My” philosophy is not reductionist, is not the folly of imposing on a complex world a simplistic panacea. It is, rather, a commitment to reason (which is served by disciplined methodologies and procedures that have proved their worth over the last several centuries) in service to humanity (rather than in service to some segment of humanity at the expense of other segments of humanity).

You assume I’m an adherent to your caricature of left-wing ideology, to which you relegate everyone who is not a member of your preferred reduction of reality, not recognizing the existence of any form of political economic thought that does not fit neatly into one or the other of your two caricatures of political economic thought. It’s a tidy but shallow world you live in. Maybe it’s time to consider the possibility that it’s not the last word of human comprehension. (And that’s the point, isn’t it? Knowing that we don’t know rather than insisting that we do, and, in the womb of that wise humility, actually learning, discovering, growing, approaching the challenge of engaging a complex and subtle world with imagination and analytical discipline rather than blind ideological fervor. THAT is the real political divide in America today, whether to be a raging ideologue, or an imaginative and analytical participant in an on-going enterprise.)

“My” philosophy is to start with the simple agreement among all who are willing to strive to be rational and humane people. It may seem insignificant, but I think that it is an important step, because both reason and humanity are easily lost to the zeal of blind ideologies. So, we say, “look, I know that I’m fallible, and that the world is complex, so lets agree, first and foremost, that we’re going to strive to be rational and humane, and take it from there.” it’s a good agreement to make, a good foundation to build on, and very much in the spirit of the formation of this nation, which was founded on the Enlightenment philosophy that a people can and should govern themselves rationally and humanely, debating as rational citizens rather than merely clinging to ideological assumptions.

Once we make that agreement, we can discuss how to realize it. Clearly, scientific methodology is better than other preceding and generally more haphazard approaches when it comes to understanding empirical phenomena, to ascertaining factual and systemic knowledge. Similarly, legal procedure is preferable to, for instance, trial by ordeal, for ascertaining guilt or innocence, or ascertaining facts and applying the law to them. These are developments over recent centuries that have increased the role of rationality in our lives. We can work to extend their domain beyond the halls of academe and the courts of law, and to employ more of their logic, and reap more of their benefits, in public discourse in general.

And it all starts with something as self-evidently desirable as simply agreeing to strive to be rational and humane people, and giving that agreement priority over any other ideological commitments.

George Orwell (not Orson Wells) wrote “Animal Farm” about an ideology coopted in service to oppression. Any ideology can be used as such a pretext, even one that claims to exist for the opposite purpose (as, indeed, Communism itself did). Ideologies always insist that every other ideology is the road to Hell, and that they alone provide salvation. It’s a common theme. They use rousing symbols and slogans to proclaim themselves the defenders of some noble ideal, and then, if they are not more procedurally than substantively oriented, inevitably betray that ideal.

A commitment to humanity is not a commitment to totalitarianism. But a failure to commit to humanity, to commit to reason, is an invitation to the institutionalization of irrationality and inhumanity, as has so often happened in so many times and places. Ironically, Libertariansim has something fundamentally in common with Marxism, and that is profound and oversimplistic political economic dogmatism. Marxism identified the state as the solution to all problems, and Libertarianism identifies the market as the solution to all problems, though economists well understand that neither is and that both have a vital role to play.

We should all act more like economists and less like ideologues when discussing economic issues. We should, in general, all strive to act more like 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. That should be our one and only ideology

By the way, the concept of ‘trolls” on Facebook has clearly become distorted to mean “anyone who invades an ideological echo-chamber with any perspective discordant with that of the pariticpants of the echo-chamber.” If that is the new definition of “troll,” than I’m proud to be one, because these echo-chambers are unhealthy to our democracy and do poor service to the growth of reason and understanding. We need, instead, a robust, informed and informative, rational and disciplined, public discourse, where ideas are exchanged and challenged, and we work together to improve our understandings and our ability to cooperate for mutual benefit.

I would limit the term “troll” to mean anyone, on any thread, whose contribution is intended or designed to drown out signal with noise, and reduce rather than increase the informativeness and rationality of the discourse taking place.

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(This is the first half of “It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done”, which I decided to break down into two separate posts, the first, this one, addressing the dimensions of inventiveness, scope, and intensity by which transformational events or movements can be measured, and the second one, Transforming America and the World, addressing the social movement that I think should be occurring right now, and that I would like to help catalyze, that I think could put into place a nucleus of a deepening and expanding popular commitment to the cultivation of a more rational and more humane society.)

I recently posted the following Nelson Mandela quote on several of my Facebook pages: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” One woman commented that it reminds her of the thesis she is trying to finish, which made me think about the different levels to which this quote applies. Certainly, her comment is a fair one, and familiar to most of us: Personal thresholds, challenges, major tasks we are undertaking can feel daunting, even impossible, until they are done.

Many things feel that way, but there is a hierarchy of magnitudes involved that is worth exploring. There are things that require great effort and time and endurance by an individual, that many have done before, such as graduating, or writing a thesis, or passing the Bar Exam. There are things that have never been done before, such as inventing a new device or creating a new organization (that particular device and that particular organization never having existed until created). Even more so, there are things that have never been done before, and affect a whole society. And most of all, there are things that have never been done before, and change the world, dramatically.

To capture some of the nuances and complexities to this formulation, I’d like to conceptualize it along three axes. The first axis is how novel the thing being done is, whether it is just one instance of a familiar form (e.g., writing a thesis), or a relatively new form (e.g., composing a multi-media thesis affecting all of the senses in a coordinated way to achieve a combined aesthetic and intellectual effect). Obviously, there is a range of degrees of possible deviation from the archetype, from minor changes in formatting to major changes in structure and form and function. As the deviation from the archetype grows, the nature of the innovation moves from being quantitative (a change in degree) to being qualitative (a change in kind).

The second axis is the scale of change, in terms of how many humans are (or how big a swath of the natural universe is) affected by it. Finishing a thesis is, generally, a personal milestone, with only a very marginal impact on the world at large. Forming a new government, organizing a successful political or cultural movement, changing long-standing social institutions (hopefully for the better), are all milestones that affect larger populations in more dramatic ways.

The third axis is the depth and breadth, or intensity, of the change thus achieved, not so much in terms of the number of humans affected, but more in terms in the degree to which they are affected. A promotion in a job, for instance, affects one person to one degree, while emancipation from slavery affects one person to a much greater degree. The passage of a new federal law that makes a marginal change in an existing social institution affects a society to one degree, while the drafting of a federal constitution affects the society to a more extensive degree. Again, there is a range on which such impact can occur, from the very marginal to the extremely revolutionary.

One of the ways in which an innovation or movement can have a deeper and broader impact in this last sense is the degree to which it reaches into the algorithms of change, and affects not only the current status quo, but the manner in which status quos themselves are determined. A law, for instance, affects the current status quo, while a Constitution affects how laws are passed and implemented. A scientific discovery affects our current state of knowledge, while the development of scientific methodology affected the manner in which our knowledge is acquired and accumulates. Impact is generally maximized by reaching down into the algorithms of change, and modifying procedures or methodologies by which particular instances of change occur. (See, e.g.,The Algorithms of Complexity, Second-Order Social Change, The Variable Malleability of Reality, and The Wizards’ Eye for more exploration of this concept.)

I’m going to focus for the remainder of this essay on society-wide changes of relatively large magnitude, looking initially at the degree of variation in how innovative the changes are (i.e., the first axis). I will then discuss, in the next essay, one such proposal I have long been making, that is a social movement aspiring to a rather profound informal change in how we go about governing ourselves (in other words, focused on innovation in the algorithms of change rather than in the particular instances of it), that is rather highly innovative. As Nelson Mandela reminds us, though it may seem impossible, it can be done. (See the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts for more discussion of that social movement.)

Oversimplifying a bit, there are two kinds of things that have never been done before and change the world: Those that are of a familiar type (those that are of a type that has been done before), and those that are of an unfamiliar type (those of a type that has never been done before). For instance, inventing the car, or airplane, or space ships, or personal and hand held computers, are all things that had never been done before, and changed the world, but were of a familiar type (technological innovation). Similarly, Abolitionism, the Suffragettes, The Civil Rights Movement, past national independence movements, were all things that had not been done before (each nation seeking independence had never sought independence before), but were all of a type that had been done before (movements to extend rights to those who had been denied them, and to secede from superordinate political entities).

There are things that had never been done before, and were of a type that had never been done before. For instance, the Constitution of Medina, drafted in the 7th century by the Prophet Mohamed, is often considered the first written constitution to form a new government in world history. (The first in American history was drafted in Hartford, Connecticut in 1638, forming a government comprised of three towns.) Such innovations are all the more portentous for not only having transformed a society or the world in their own time and place, but also for having established a new form by which future transformation can occur (they change the template, paralleling in terms of degree of innovation the dimension involving the depth of the transformative algorithm). It is a beautiful irony of history that America’s crowning and defining formative achievement, the drafting of our own remarkable Constitution, draws on a form invented by the founder of Islam, a religion and culture currently (and tragically) reviled by a large faction of very counterproductive Americans.

The invention not just of new instances of a previously existing form, but of new forms entirely, requires more imagination, more willingness to try the seemingly impossible, for not only does it involve confronting a status quo that appears too overwhelming to transform, it also involves doing so in a way that no one before had ever contemplated.

Of course, nothing is ever completely new: There are always predecessors of some kind or another, similar innovations to draw upon. Prior to the Constitution of Medina, there had been written laws, from the Ten Commandments to the legal codes of Hammurabi in Babylonia and Draco in Greece. And prior to these, there had been unwritten laws, reflecting varying degrees of formality and clarity of definition. New forms, new memes, draw on the wealth of material produced previously, amalgamating, synthesizing, innovating on the margins. (See the essays linked to in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts for an in-depth exploration of how this process occurs and what it looks like.)

In other words, the degree of inventiveness lies on a continuum, from very marginal modifications of existing forms, to dramatic new departures that explore avenues not yet explored. Revolutions of great magnitude involve a confluence of highly innovative, highly impactful (i.e., algorithmic rather than superficial), and society-or-world-wide changes rooted in a sense of history and the opportunities existing, thresholds arrived at, in a given time and place. I believe that here and now is such a time and place. (Please see Transforming America and the World for a discussion of why and how.)

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(This is the second half of “It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done”, which I decided to break down into two separate posts, the first, Dimensions of Social Change, addressing the dimensions of inventiveness, scope, and intensity by which transformational events or movements can be measured, and the second one, this one, addressing the social movement that I think should be occurring right now, and that I would like to help catalyze, that I think could put into place a nucleus of a deepening and expanding popular commitment to the cultivation of a more rational and more humane society.)

I believe that America today is ripe for a social movement that draws on these understandings, and that promotes a new paradigm for change that can have profound effects over time. We are clearly at a threshold in American history, with two opposing forces reaching a pinnacle of definition and passion. A combination of technological advances (see A Major Historical Threshold or A Tragically Missed Opportunity?), our historical trajectory, and recent historical shocks have placed us in that kind of hyper-activated state that generally precedes major paradigm shifts. There is a clear and real danger that the paradigm shift we might experience will be an odious one, destructive to ourselves and to humanity. But there is also a very real potential, one which must be vigorously embraced, that the paradigm shift we experience will be a laudable one, beneficial to ourselves and to humanity.

But accomplishing the latter requires an authentic act of courage, not just a repetition of our familiar patterns of action and reaction. We need to divert some small fraction of our resources, some of our time and effort and passion, away from the endless urgency of now, away from the particular issues over which we are wrangling, away from the familiar game of electoral politics, and into a truly transformative movement. Politics as usual will continue apace, and it may even be the case that no actual resources, no actual time or effort or passion is diverted from it, since the new movement may well generate new resources, new time and effort and passion, that more than compensates for any that was drawn from existing efforts.

But it’s time for an act of courage and imagination, an act of reaching for what seems to be the impossible but in reality is not (and, in many ways, is more attainable than some of the more superficial goals to which we devote ourselves, because it faces less resistance). It’s time to move along the continuum of inventiveness, and along the continuum of impact (into the depths of our algorithms of change), and transform our society, and our world, in a fundamental way. That may sound dauntingly bold, but it’s been done many times throughout world history, and it’s been done by those who seize the opportunity to do it. Now is such a time. The opportunity is upon us.

To summarize my proposed social movement very briefly: I call it, alternatively, “the politics of reason and goodwill,” or “transcendental politics,” or “holistic politics” (see the essays linked to in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts for a more complete explanation and exploration of this idea). I’ll refer to it here as “PRG” (the acronym for “politics of reason and goodwill”). It is as cultural as it is political, recognizing that politics is at root a competition of narratives (see, e.g., The Battle of Narratives, Changing The Narrative, The Dance of Consciousness, and The Politics of Consciousness), and that the most profound political changes are fundamentally cultural in nature. PRG thus bears as much resemblance to cultural (and religious) movements as to political ones, a characteristic common to some of the most successful social movements in our history. (For instance, the Civil Rights Movement had a major religious component, with its leaders and infrastructure being rooted in the southern black church network, and invoking religious symbolism and cadences.)

PRG is comprised of three interrelated components: 1) Meta-messaging, which is the composition, accumulation, and dissemination of messages promoting a commitment to reason and imagination and compassion and pragmatism in service to humanity (see, e.g., Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives, “Messaging” From The Heart of Many Rather Than The Mouth of Few, and Politics Isn’t Everything…, for more in-depth discussion). 2) Specifically tailored community organizations and networks of community organizations, drawing on all of the community organizational material already in place, which are dedicated to promoting civil and open-minded dialogue and a sense of mutual identification and mutual interdependence (See, e.g., Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN)). And 3) the creation and on-going development and refinement of a system for accessing easily understood competing arguments on all matters of public concern or public policy, filtering them only for the degree to which they are well-reasoned (i.e., peer-review quality) arguments which apply reason to evidence, and ensuring that the goals and interests they purport to serve are made as explicit as possible (see. e.g., The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified and A Comprehensive Paradigm for Progressive Thought and Action; or “Yes We Can, and Here’s How”).

These three components interact in the following ways: The community organizations are a forum designed to draw on the competing reasonable arguments on matters of public interest and concern, while the meta-messaging can be disseminated, in part, through those community organizations as well. The explicit purpose of the community organizations is to celebrate and realize our civic responsibility as citizens of a nation and members of a community (and of humanity), so it makes sense to, for instance, not only designate a time and place to discuss this issue or that, but also to designate a time and place to watch or read, say, A Christmas Carol (or more modern works that explore similar themes), and discuss what lessons it holds for us as citizens and members of communities. This would be a national (or international) movement whose purpose is to increase our commitment to and realization of the application of reason and imagination to the challenges facing humanity, given precise definition and form.

People (such as cognitive scientist George Lakoff in The Political Mind) often argue that people do not generally arrive at their opinions and conclusions through rational contemplation and rational debate, but rather by emotional appeals to their pre-existing frames and narratives. My third component (as I’ve listed them here) seems to fail to recognize this. But PRG is a bit subtler than it seems, and follows a pattern already established by which reason has gained a greater purchase on society than it previously had.

I do not expect that any time in the foreseeable future there will be any large number of people actually belonging to the community organizations envisioned by this movement, or accessing the competing arguments made more accessible by this movement, but I do expect that a small minority doing so will create a nucleus of credibility that will generate an attractive and transformative force beyond that small minority of people. Thus is the nature of successful social movements; they do not start with a society in agreement with their goals, but rather draw a society into agreement with their goals, by appealing to existing frames and narratives in effective ways.

Reason and imagination applied to evidence (and other objects for contemplation) in service to humanity is not just a methodology that a minority might adhere to, but is also a narrative that many already acknowledge the value of. Few in America today would explicitly admit, to themselves or others, that they are irrational and inhumane people. That is not how modern Americans in general would identify themselves. But many are irrational and, to some extent, inhumane people, and I’ve noticed in public discourse that many of them implicitly, just below the threshold of conscious recognition, are vaguely aware of it. That creates a huge opportunity for social change.

By addressing the individual issues or instances of this competition of narratives, we are sucked into the frames that opponents adhere to, and stuck on a treadmill of shouting past each other ineffectually. But by addressing the underlying, agreed-upon values of reason and imagination in service to humanity, we make the ground more fertile for those positions that actually do emanate from these values and this commitment, and less fertile for those that don’t.

We have a compelling historical precedent for how successful this can be: The Scientific Revolution. People may not, in general, be most persuaded by the most rational arguments, but disciplined reason certainly has gained a very powerful and pervasive foothold on global humanity through the evolution of scientific methodology (and the various forms of scholarship that emanate from it) over the past few centuries.

Science has transformed our lives in numerous ways, on numerous levels, including not only the technological advances facilitated by it, but also the social institutional ones. Our own somewhat sanctified Constitution, claimed as the secular holy document guiding those in our nation most obstructive of the influence of reason in service to humanity, is, in fact, a product of Enlightenment thinking, which itself was an extension of the Scientific Revolution into the sphere of rational self-governance.

PRG also builds on historical precedents that are various instances of applying that rationality (and passion and compassion along with it) to the purpose of humanity. Movements which extended rights and protections to those who were denied them, which confronted the use of power to oppress and exploit, which addressed our inhumanity to one another and sought to improve the condition of those born into the least advantageous opportunity structures, are almost universally admired and revered movements in our national and world history. There will inevitably come a time in human history when people will reunite those isolated instances of a commitment to humanity into a comprehensive commitment to humanity, transcending and improving on past attempts to do so, incorporating more modern knowledge and insight into the effort.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time it was ever attempted. The dominant world religions today are rooted, at least formally, in such a commitment, though, again, those who are most obstructive to the movement I am outlining are those who claim to be the most devoted adherents to those religions. But this, while a lesson in the power of hypocrisy, is also a positive portent, for the underlying frames and narratives of compassion and humanity don’t need to be implanted anew; they merely need to be activated for the purposes of recruiting those within reach of persuasion, and marginalizing those beyond that reach. Again, that is the familiar pattern of historical social movements.

So PRG draws on two sets of frames and narratives, two underlying values, already deeply embedded in our collective consciousness, and already formally almost universally accepted in our nation: Reason and Compassion. The degree to which they are in practice rejected is the challenge we face, but it is a challenge in which we are invited to ply the lever of cognitive dissonance, for in the overwhelming majority of cases, irrationality and inhumanity are exercised by people who identify themselves as rational and humane people. A remarkable core of them will remain completely insulated against any intrusion of actual reason, or the demands of actual compassion; but they will play into a growing narrative, that PRG will be consciously cultivating and disseminating, that they are the Philistines of our day, the Scrooges before the transformation, that which we strive to transcend rather than that which we strive to be.

This narrative is not a hard one to cultivate and disseminate. It is favored by reason, and it is favored by humanity. In the long run, as both Martin Luther King Jr. (adapting an earlier quote) and John Maynard Keynes have noted, reason and humanity prevail. It falls upon us to expedite their journey, and avoid the potentially catastrophic eruptions of irrationality and inhumanity that occur during the incessant short-term detours from that path.

PRG is what I see as part of a more general probable trend: The generalization of movements that were incubated in more particular forms and enclaves. Science has grown as something that scientists do, and that we indirectly accept (or resist) as having some authoritative power by virtue of its proven quality for reducing bias and increasing insight. A commitment to humanity is something that has resided semi-dormant and frequently betrayed in our dominant world religions. But its sublimated influence can be seen in the historical (even if constantly embattled and betrayed) commitment to social justice and equality that have helped forge the dominant developed nations of the world. Few would explicitly reject the suggestion that we should all be more rational, or that we should all be more humane. Cultivating that nucleus in intentional ways is the fundamental challenge facing humanity, now and always.

And it is the nature of history that such nuclei expand into general populations in various ways. In ancient civilizations, mathematics was something that a few elites used for elite purposes; now it is something that many use for many purposes. Science began as an esoteric endeavor discussed by philosophers and ignored by others; now it is something that virtually all of us defer to in various ways, even those trying to reject its specific findings are limited to doing so within the logic or language of science itself.

One of the most insidious of inhumanities, racism, which has existed throughout world history, is a discredited form of thought in modern nations, largely now relegated to the most sublimated forms, only able to thrive at all by claiming not to be what it is. Whereas a few short generations ago many would have applauded the lynching of a black man for glancing at a white woman, far fewer would today (perhaps marking progress against sexism as well). More humane memes have indeed gained greater purchase, despite the degree to which malicious ones persist alongside of them.

(I envision something similar for public education, and legal services, and a variety of other social institutional forms: What was once more diffuse, done by individuals and families to the best of their ability, became professionalized, and developed within that context. But there is a next threshold of development that takes that developed form and engages a larger population in the endeavor once again, getting families and communities more involved in the education of our children, and making legal services more accessible to lay people through resources designed to provide them with tools. This alternation of centralization and decentralization, facilitating a coherent progression, is, I think, one of history’s underlying themes.)

The coherent paradigm of social thought and action presented here, and throughout my essays on Colorado Confluence, which lays out the nature of our shared cognitive and social institutional and technological landscape, and considers how to maximize our own ability to affect it in profoundly beneficial ways, is one that can and should guide us far more so, and more intentionally, and with more discipline and focus, than it has.

Human history is the story of human consciousness, of its growth, of its implementations, of its unintended consequences, of its abuses, of its spread and of the forces it puts into play. In the spirit of reaching into underlying algorithms, we need to be conscious about the development and implementation of our consciousness, we need to be intentional about it, we need to use it as a vehicle for its continued growth and continued implementation, not in the haphazard and frequently self-destructive ways to which we are accustomed, but in increasingly focused and intentional ways. We need to realize that just because this particular, quixotically ambitious transformation of reality hasn’t yet occurred does not mean that it can never occur, or that we can’t be the agents for its occurrence.

Forming a social movement similar to PRG is a marginal innovation with potentially world revolutionary implications. It will not change what human beings are, or the underlying nature of our shared existence. But it can, over time, create a force that propels our shared story down dramatically more beneficial channels. And that is what being a human being is all about.

It will continue to seem impossible…, until it has been done.

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

(This is a long one, but please bear with me: It gets to the heart of my project here on Colorado Confluence, that I need others’ help to incubate and realize. This is one of those cases in which someone gets a glimpse of some possibility, a real possibility within the reach of motivated human beings, and passionately wants others to get a glimpse of it as well, so that it can become a part of what defines our future rather than just a forgotten thought that never takes hold.)

I recently posted the following Nelson Mandela quote on several of my Facebook pages: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” One woman commented that it reminds her of the thesis she is trying to finish, which made me think about the different levels to which this quote applies. Certainly, her comment is a fair one, and familiar to most of us: Personal thresholds, challenges, major tasks we are undertaking can feel daunting, even impossible, until they are done.

Many things feel that way, but there is a hierarchy of magnitudes involved that is worth exploring. There are things that require great effort and time and endurance by an individual, that many have done before, such as graduating, or writing a thesis, or passing the Bar Exam. There are things that have never been done before, such as inventing a new device or creating a new organization (that particular device and that particular organization never having existed until created). Even more so, there are things that have never been done before, and affect a whole society. And most of all, there are things that have never been done before, and change the world, dramatically.

To capture some of the nuances and complexities to this formulation, I’d like to conceptualize it along three axes. The first axis is how novel the thing being done is, whether it is just one instance of a familiar form (e.g., writing a thesis), or a relatively new form (e.g., composing a multi-media thesis affecting all of the senses in a coordinated way to achieve a combined aesthetic and intellectual effect). Obviously, there is a range of degrees of possible deviation from the archetype, from minor changes in formatting to major changes in structure and form and function. As the deviation from the archetype grows, the nature of the innovation moves from being quantitative (a change in degree) to being qualitative (a change in kind).

The second axis is the scale of change, in terms of how many humans are (or how big a swath of the natural universe is) affected by it. Finishing a thesis is, generally, a personal milestone, with only a very marginal impact on the world at large. Forming a new government, organizing a successful political or cultural movement, changing long-standing social institutions (hopefully for the better), are all milestones that affect larger populations in more dramatic ways.

The third axis is the depth and breadth of the change thus achieved, not so much in terms of the number of humans affected, but more in terms in the degree to which they are affected. A promotion in a job, for instance, affects one person to one degree, while emancipation from slavery affects one person to a much greater degree. The passage of a new federal law that makes a marginal change in an existing social institution affects a society to one degree, while the drafting of a federal constitution affects the society to a more extensive degree. Again, there is a range on which such impact can occur, from the very marginal to the extremely revolutionary.

One of the ways in which an innovation or movement can have a deeper and broader impact in this last sense is the degree to which it reaches into the algorithms of change, and affects not only the current status quo, but the manner in which status quos themselves are determined. A law, for instance, affects the current status quo, while a Constitution affects how laws are passed and implemented. A scientific discovery affects our current state of knowledge, while the development of scientific methodology affected the manner in which our knowledge is acquired and accumulates. Impact is generally maximized by reaching down into the algorithms of change, and modifying procedures or methodologies by which particular instances of change occur. (See, e.g.,The Algorithms of Complexity, Second-Order Social ChangeThe Variable Malleability of Reality, and The Wizards’ Eye for more exploration of this concept.)

I’m going to focus for the remainder of this essay on society-wide changes of relatively large magnitude, looking initially at the degree of variation in how innovative the changes are (i.e., the first axis). I will end with a reminder of one such proposal I have long been making, that is a social movement aspiring to a rather profound informal change in how we go about governing ourselves (in other words, focused on innovation in the algorithms of change rather than in the particular instances of it), that is rather highly innovative. As Nelson Mandela reminds us, though it may seem impossible, it can be done.

Oversimplifying a bit, there are two kinds of things that have never been done before and change the world: Those that are of a familiar type (those that are of a type that has been done before), and those that are of an unfamiliar type (those of a type that has never been done before). For instance, inventing the car, or airplane, or space ships, or personal and hand held computers, are all things that had never been done before, and changed the world, but were of a familiar type (technological innovation). Similarly, Abolitionism, the Suffragettes, The Civil Rights Movement, past national independence movements, were all things that had not been done before (each nation seeking independence had never sought independence before), but were all of a type that had been done before (movements to extend rights to those who had been denied them, and to secede from superordinate political entities).

There are things that had never been done before, and were of a type that had never been done before. For instance, the Constitution of Medina, drafted in the 7th century by the Prophet Mohamed, is often considered the first written constitution to form a new government in world history. (The first in American history was drafted in Hartford, Connecticut in 1638, forming a government comprised of three towns.) Such innovations are all the more portentous for not only having transformed a society or the world in their own time and place, but also for having established a new form by which future transformation can occur (they change the template, paralleling in terms of degree of innovation the dimension involving the depth of the transformative algorithm). It is a beautiful irony of history that America’s crowning and defining formative achievement, the drafting of our own remarkable Constitution, draws on a form invented by the founder of Islam, a religion and culture currently (and tragically) reviled by a large faction of very counterproductive Americans.

The invention not just of new instances of a previously existing form, but of new forms entirely, requires more imagination, more willingness to try the seemingly impossible, for not only does it involve confronting a status quo that appears too overwhelming to transform, it also involves doing so in a way that no one before had ever contemplated.

Of course, nothing is ever completely new: There are always predecessors of some kind or another, similar innovations to draw upon. Prior to the Constitution of Medina, there had been written laws, from the Ten Commandments to the legal codes of Hammurabi in Babylonia and Draco in Greece. And prior to these, there had been unwritten laws, reflecting varying degrees of formality and clarity of definition. New forms, new memes, draw on the wealth of material produced previously, amalgamating, synthesizing, innovating on the margins. (See the essays linked to in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts for an in-depth exploration of how this process occurs and what it looks like.)

In other words, the degree of inventiveness lies on a continuum, from very marginal modifications of existing forms, to dramatic new departures that explore avenues not yet explored. Revolutions of great magnitude involve a confluence of highly innovative, highly impactful (i.e., algorithmic rather than superficial), and society-or-world-wide changes rooted in a sense of history and the opportunities existing, thresholds arrived at, in a given time and place.

I believe that America today is ripe for a social movement that draws on these understandings, and that promotes a new paradigm for change that can have profound effects over time. We are clearly at a threshold in American history, with two opposing forces reaching a pinnacle of definition and passion. A combination of technological advances (see A Major Historical Threshold or A Tragically Missed Opportunity?), our historical trajectory, and recent historical shocks have placed us in that kind of hyper-activated state that generally precedes major paradigm shifts. There is a clear and real danger that the paradigm shift we might experience will be an odious one, destructive to ourselves and to humanity. But there is also a very real potential, one which must be vigorously embraced, that the paradigm shift we experience will be a laudable one, beneficial to ourselves and to humanity.

But accomplishing the latter requires an authentic act of courage, not just a repetition of our familiar patterns of action and reaction. We need to divert some small fraction of our resources, some of our time and effort and passion, away from the endless urgency of now, away from the particular issues over which we are wrangling, away from the familiar game of electoral politics, and into a truly transformative movement. Politics as usual will continue apace, and it may even be the case that no actual resources, no actual time or effort or passion is diverted from it, since the new movement may well generate new resources, new time and effort and passion, that more than compensates for any that was drawn from existing efforts.

But it’s time for an act of courage and imagination, an act of reaching for what seems to be the impossible but in reality is not (and, in many ways, is more attainable than some of the more superficial goals to which we devote ourselves, because it faces less resistance). It’s time to move along the continuum of inventiveness, and along the continuum of impact (into the depths of our algorithms of change), and transform our society, and our world, in a fundamental way. That may sound dauntingly bold, but it’s been done many times throughout world history, and it’s been done by those who seize the opportunity to do it. Now is such a time. The opportunity is upon us.

To summarize my proposed social movement very briefly: I call it, alternatively, “the politics of reason and goodwill,” or “transcendental politics,” or “holistic politics” (see the essays linked to in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts for a more complete explanation and exploration of this idea). I’ll refer to it here as “PRG” (the acronym for “politics of reason and goodwill”). It is as cultural as it is political, recognizing that politics is at root a competition of narratives (see, e.g., The Battle of Narratives, Changing The Narrative, The Dance of Consciousness, and The Politics of Consciousness), and that the most profound political changes are fundamentally cultural in nature. PRG thus bears as much resemblance to cultural (and religious) movements as to political ones, a characteristic common to some of the most successful social movements in our history. (For instance, the Civil Rights Movement had a major religious component, with its leaders and infrastructure being rooted in the southern black church network, and invoking religious symbolism and cadences.)

PRG is comprised of three interrelated components: 1) Meta-messaging, which is the composition, accumulation, and dissemination of messages promoting a commitment to reason and imagination and compassion and pragmatism in service to humanity (see, e.g., Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives“Messaging” From The Heart of Many Rather Than The Mouth of Few, and Politics Isn’t Everything…, for more in-depth discussion). 2) Specifically tailored community organizations and networks of community organizations, drawing on all of the community organizational material already in place, which are dedicated to promoting civil and open-minded dialogue and a sense of mutual identification and mutual interdependence (See, e.g., Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN)). And 3) the creation and on-going development and refinement of a system for accessing easily understood competing arguments on all matters of public concern or public policy, filtering them only for the degree to which they are well-reasoned (i.e., peer-review quality) arguments which apply reason to evidence, and ensuring that the goals and interests they purport to serve are made as explicit as possible (see. e.g., The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified and A Comprehensive Paradigm for Progressive Thought and Action; or “Yes We Can, and Here’s How”).

These three components interact in the following ways: The community organizations are a forum designed to draw on the competing reasonable arguments on matters of public interest and concern, while the meta-messaging can be disseminated, in part, through those community organizations as well. The explicit purpose of the community organizations is to celebrate and realize our civic responsibility as citizens of a nation and members of a community (and of humanity), so it makes sense to, for instance, not only designate a time and place to discuss this issue or that, but also to designate a time and place to watch or read, say, A Christmas Carol (or more modern works that explore similar themes), and discuss what lessons it holds for us as citizens and members of communities. This would be a national (or international) movement whose purpose is to increase our commitment to and realization of the application of reason and imagination to the challenges facing humanity, given precise definition and form.

People (such as cognitive scientist George Lakoff in The Political Mind) often argue that people do not generally arrive at their opinions and conclusions through rational contemplation and rational debate, but rather by emotional appeals to their pre-existing frames and narratives. My third component (as I’ve listed them here) seems to fail to recognize this. But PRG is a bit subtler than it seems, and follows a pattern already established by which reason has gained a greater purchase on society than it previously had.

I do not expect that any time in the foreseeable future there will be any large number of people actually belonging to the community organizations envisioned by this movement, or accessing the competing arguments made more accessible by this movement, but I do expect that a small minority doing so will create a nucleus of credibility that will generate an attractive and transformative force beyond that small minority of people. Thus is the nature of successful social movements; they do not start with a society in agreement with their goals, but rather draw a society into agreement with their goals, by appealing to existing frames and narratives in effective ways.

Reason and imagination applied to evidence (and other objects for contemplation) in service to humanity is not just a methodology that a minority might adhere to, but is also a narrative that many already acknowledge the value of. Few in America today would explicitly admit, to themselves or others, that they are irrational and inhumane people. That is not how modern Americans in general would identify themselves. But many are irrational and, to some extent, inhumane people, and I’ve noticed in public discourse that many of them implicitly, just below the threshold of conscious recognition, are vaguely aware of it. That creates a huge opportunity for social change.

By addressing the individual issues or instances of this competition of narratives, we are sucked into the frames that opponents adhere to, and stuck on a treadmill of shouting past each other ineffectually. But by addressing the underlying, agreed-upon values of reason and imagination in service to humanity, we make the ground more fertile for those positions that actually do emanate from these values and this commitment, and less fertile for those that don’t.

We have a compelling historical precedent for how successful this can be: The Scientific Revolution. People may not, in general, be most persuaded by the most rational arguments, but disciplined reason certainly has gained a very powerful and pervasive foothold on global humanity through the evolution of scientific methodology (and the various forms of scholarship that emanate from it) over the past few centuries.

Science has transformed our lives in numerous ways, on numerous levels, including not only the technological advances facilitated by it, but also the social institutional ones. Our own somewhat sanctified Constitution, claimed as the secular holy document guiding those in our nation most obstructive of the influence of reason in service to humanity, is, in fact, a product of Enlightenment thinking, which itself was an extension of the Scientific Revolution into the sphere of rational self-governance.

PRG also builds on historical precedents that are various instances of applying that rationality (and passion and compassion along with it) to the purpose of humanity. Movements which extended rights and protections to those who were denied them, which confronted the use of power to oppress and exploit, which addressed our inhumanity to one another and sought to improve the condition of those born into the least advantageous opportunity structures, are almost universally admired and revered movements in our national and world history. There will inevitably come a time in human history when people will reunite those isolated instances of a commitment to humanity into a comprehensive commitment to humanity, transcending and improving on past attempts to do so, incorporating more modern knowledge and insight into the effort.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time it was ever attempted. The dominant world religions today are rooted, at least formally, in such a commitment, though, again, those who are most obstructive to the movement I am outlining are those who claim to be the most devoted adherents to those religions. But this, while a lesson in the power of hypocrisy, is also a positive portent, for the underlying frames and narratives of compassion and humanity don’t need to be implanted anew; they merely need to be activated for the purposes of recruiting those within reach of persuasion, and marginalizing those beyond that reach. Again, that is the familiar pattern of historical social movements.

So PRG draws on two sets of frames and narratives, two underlying values, already deeply embedded in our collective consciousness, and already formally almost universally accepted in our nation: Reason and Compassion. The degree to which they are in practice rejected is the challenge we face, but it is a challenge in which we are invited to ply the lever of cognitive dissonance, for in the overwhelming majority of cases, irrationality and inhumanity are exercised by people who identify themselves as rational and humane people. A remarkable core of them will remain completely insulated against any intrusion of actual reason, or the demands of actual compassion; but they will play into a growing narrative, that PRG will be consciously cultivating and disseminating, that they are the Philistines of our day, the Scrooges before the transformation, that which we strive to transcend rather than that which we strive to be.

This narrative is not a hard one to cultivate and disseminate. It is favored by reason, and it is favored by humanity. In the long run, as both Martin Luther King Jr. (adapting an earlier quote) and John Maynard Keynes have noted, reason and humanity prevail. It falls upon us to expedite their journey, and avoid the potentially catastrophic eruptions of irrationality and inhumanity that occur during the incessant short-term detours from that path.

PRG is what I see as part of a more general probable trend: The generalization of movements that were incubated in more particular forms and enclaves. Science has grown as something that scientists do, and that we indirectly accept (or resist) as having some authoritative power by virtue of its proven quality for reducing bias and increasing insight. A commitment to humanity is something that has resided semi-dormant and frequently betrayed in our dominant world religions. But its sublimated influence can be seen in the historical (even if constantly embattled and betrayed) commitment to social justice and equality that have helped forge the dominant developed nations of the world. Few would explicitly reject the suggestion that we should all be more rational, or that we should all be more humane. Cultivating that nucleus in intentional ways is the fundamental challenge facing humanity, now and always.

And it is the nature of history that such nuclei expand into general populations in various ways. In ancient civilizations, mathematics was something that a few elites used for elite purposes; now it is something that many use for many purposes. Science began as an esoteric endeavor discussed by philosophers and ignored by others; now it is something that virtually all of us defer to in various ways, even those trying to reject its specific findings are limited to doing so within the logic or language of science itself.

One of the most insidious of inhumanities, racism, which has existed throughout world history, is a discredited form of thought in modern nations, largely now relegated to the most sublimated forms, only able to thrive at all by claiming not to be what it is. Whereas a few short generations ago many would have applauded the lynching of a black man for glancing at a white woman, far fewer would today (perhaps marking progress against sexism as well). More humane memes have indeed gained greater purchase, despite the degree to which malicious ones persist alongside of them.

(I envision something similar for public education, and legal services, and a variety of other social institutional forms: What was once more diffuse, done by individuals and families to the best of their ability, became professionalized, and developed within that context. But there is a next threshold of development that takes that developed form and engages a larger population in the endeavor once again, getting families and communities more involved in the education of our children, and making legal services more accessible to lay people through resources designed to provide them with tools. This alternation of centralization and decentralization, facilitating a coherent progression, is, I think, one of history’s underlying themes.)

The coherent paradigm of social thought and action presented here, and throughout my essays on Colorado Confluence, which lays out the nature of our shared cognitive and social institutional and technological landscape, and considers how to maximize our own ability to affect it in profoundly beneficial ways, is one that can and should guide us far more so, and more intentionally, and with more discipline and focus, than it has.

Human history is the story of human consciousness, of its growth, of its implementations, of its unintended consequences, of its abuses, of its spread and of the forces it puts into play. In the spirit of reaching into underlying algorithms, we need to be conscious about the development and implementation of our consciousness, we need to be intentional about it, we need to use it as a vehicle for its continued growth and continued implementation, not in the haphazard and frequently self-destructive ways to which we are accustomed, but in increasingly focused and intentional ways. We need to realize that just because this particular, quixotically ambitious transformation of reality hasn’t yet occurred does not mean that it can never occur, or that we can’t be the agents for its occurrence.

Forming a social movement similar to PRG is a marginal innovation with potentially world revolutionary implications. It will not change what human beings are, or the underlying nature of our shared existence. But it can, over time, create a force that propels our shared story down dramatically more beneficial channels. And that is what being a human being is all about.

It will continue to seem impossible…, until it has been done.

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

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

I. The Habits, Methodologies and Procedures Which Govern Our Existence

Political activism tends to focus on issues and candidates, advocating for particular positions on particular issues, which cluster into and are framed by competing ideologies, and campaigning for candidates who, by and large, represent those competing ideologies. This system is the product of an evolutionary process (discussed at more length in section II)), and is certainly more functional than many that have historically preceded it or exist elsewhere. But it is not a perfected system (no system is), and some portion of our advocacy efforts should be dedicated to the challenge of consciously refining it.

In some other facets of life, particularly scholarship and law, procedures and methodologies have evolved which increase the role of reason in human belief formation and decision-making. Scientific methodology is a discipline which reduces error and increases accuracy. It has proven to be an acceleratingly robust technique for exploring the nature of the world and universe around and within us. Legal procedure is a discipline which assesses the accuracy of alleged facts and applies complex decision-making rules to them. It has proven to be a more accurate tool for pursuing just outcomes than the less rationalized procedures which preceded it, such as “trial by ordeal” or the purely idiosyncratic judgment of rulers or magistrates.

One of the challenges facing humanity is to refine and extend such disciplines. Though our electoral system is an example of such continuing refinement and extension, the context of our electoral system still involves a competition of largely arbitrary and underexamined ideological convictions. The products of scientific and legal methodologies are brought in haphazardly, and with only marginal influence. Popular opinions are formed irrationally, and voting choices are manipulated by well-funded marketing techniques, turning politics into a competition of cynical strategies favoring concentrated capital interests, and leading to dysfunctional outcomes.

It is a well-known and well-evidenced conclusion of cognitive science that human beings are not, by and large, persuaded by logical arguments and reliable evidence as much as by emotionally appealing messages that resonate with their already internalized frames and narratives. Some people misinterpret this to conclude that it is impossible to increase the salience of reason in popular political decision-making. But history demonstrates the error of such a conclusion: Scientific methodology, legal procedure, and constitutional democratic forms of government have all developed and gained prominence in the modern era, despite human irrationality.

II. The Lathe On Which We Spin…

The explanation for this paradox can be found in John Maynard Keynes’ quip that people “will do the rational thing, but only after exploring all other alternatives.” The archetype of this dynamic can be found in nature, in biological and ecological evolution, where creatures large and small, few of which are generally considered to be “rational,” evolve in highly rational ways, embodying strategies for reproductive success (and survival in order to facilitate it) that we, for all of our impressive human consciousness, can only mimic and emulate in our own intentional social institutions and technologies.

In biological evolution, this occurs through genes, which reproduce, occasionally mutate, compete for reproductive success, and thus evolve. In cultural evolution, this occurs through “memes” (cognitions), which reproduce (are communicated), frequently mutate (change in the process of communication by mixing with other memes to form new memes or being are refined or altered or misinterpreted by those to whom they are communicated), compete for reproductive success (compete with mutually exclusive beliefs, or compete with other technologies, or compete for limited cerebral capacity), and thus evolve. In both cases, packets of information reproduce, mutate, compete for reproductive success, and thus evolve. (For more in-depth explorations of this evolutionary ecology of human social institutional and technological systems, see, e.g., The Evolutionary Ecology of Social Institutions, The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Technology, The Fractal Geometry of Law (and Government), plus several others in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts).

Cultural evolution isn’t inherently benign. Reproductive success doesn’t automatically favor those memes most conducive to human happiness and welfare. More powerful weapons prevail over less powerful weapons; conquerors spread their memes more prolifically than pacifists; those who mine natural resources more rapidly (even if unsustainably rapidly) prevail more surely; aggressive, predatory societies overrun others that may be laden with beautiful and life affirming memes that simply don’t survive the brutality of our existence. One role for our conscious participation is to counterbalance these dysfunctional aspects of our underlying cultural evolutionary processes.

But neither is cultural evolution inherently malignant. Reproductive success doesn’t automatically disfavor those memes and paradigms most conducive to human happiness and welfare. A social entity characterized by strong internal cooperation will tend to prevail over a social entity characterized by weak internal cooperation.  The robust production of prosperity tends to prevail over more sluggish economic systems. Broader and deeper systems of cooperation prevail over narrower and shallower systems of cooperation. Political and economic liberty, in which most or all people are robust participants in their own governance and in a production of wealth from which they benefit in proportion to the value of their contribution, tends to prevail over political and economic centralization, in which human energy and enterprise is less fully tapped and channeled.

This combined, almost paradoxical, evolutionarily favored status of both liberty and cooperation is precisely why the movement I am referring to is not just “the politics of reason,” but “the politics of reason and goodwill.” Decades ago, in an experiment by Robert Axelrod, competing computer programs using strategies of “cooperation” and “defection” in bilateral, repeated “prisoners’ dilemma” games (see Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems) demonstrated that the best strategy in a world in which cooperation yields collective benefits, but not cooperating is always better for the person who doesn’t cooperate, is first to cooperate (show goodwill), and then respond to the other in kind (continue to cooperate if they do, but not if they don’t). This is a mathematical demonstration of what we all intuitively know (or should know) to be true: Goodwill benefits us all.

That’s at least one reason why the evolutionary process I describe below, entering into the modern era, has produced notions of human rights and natural rights and individual rights, and notions of egalitarianism and fairness and mutual responsibility, that many of us treasure, and that all of us benefit from. The world is a better place not only when we are reasonable people, but also when we act with goodwill toward one another. And even if the distribution of individual reasonableness and goodwill is not something that is particularly tractable by organized efforts in social movements, the salience of reasonableness and goodwill might be (see below for an explanation of this distinction).

III. …And That We Ourselves Are Spinning.

Biological evolution is, in a sense, a passive process. The members of evolving species do not intentionally participate in the evolutionary process that creates them, identifying evolutionary goals and consciously pursuing them. They merely are more or less prolific reproducers, and so carry genes that are more or less well-represented in subsequent generations. But the human cultural echo of this evolutionary process plays out through our cognitions, which are the substance of our consciousness. It is the result of what we choose to believe, and the result of how successfully we advocate or promote or market our beliefs or innovations. We are active and conscious participants in our own cultural evolution.

The degree to which we consciously guide and channel this process in service to humanity is a function of how far-sighted we are in our goals, and how inclusive we are in our identifications. Genetic evolution occurs through the pursuit of very immediate, short-sighted goals: Surviving long enough to mate, mating, and ensuring in one way or another that some of your progeny survive to mate as well. Cultural evolution occurs through the pursuit of these as well (through the reproduction of memes that serve these goals), plus slightly less immediate and short-sighted goals, such as financial security or prosperity and satisfaction of various needs and desires, and conscious identification with genetically somewhat dissimilar others, such as co-members of a race, a tribe, a nation or a religious community. (Often, there is an element of marginal genetic similarity in these identifications, due to how they are historically produced.) Politics consists by and large of a struggle over how and if and how far to extend both our time horizon and our identification, and how ambitious or modest our collective goals should be.

This struggle occurs on an issue-by-issue, candidate-by-candidate basis, framed by competing comprehensive ideologies. We tend to emphasize the particular battles, and “recognize” that it is futile to try to win an argument over “which” ideology is superior. (Even so, the most zealous among us –myself included, but in a modified way explained in this essay and others like it– engage ceaselessly in debates over the relative merits of competing ideologies.)

The tendency to “duke it out” on an issue-by-issue, candidate-by-candidate basis comes at the cost of shortening our time horizons and narrowing our identifications, because issues attract our attention in proportion to their urgency and immediacy, elections are immediate and urgent contests, identifications in these struggles focus on the coalition of factions advocating particular positions within it, and, most importantly, the logic of political competition drives the most politically active among us into an almost exclusive focus on political strategies and tactics. The last dynamic strongly favors appealing to our basest and least far-sighted and least-imaginative inclinations as a polity, because these are the easiest to appeal to, and the most successful fulcrums on which to ply our political efforts.

If our evolutionarily determined habit of focusing on immediate issues and immediate candidates in service to immediate concerns and immediate desires does not best serve the challenge of being more conscious and inclusive participants in our own cultural evolution; and if it is futile to try, instead, to move the struggle to the level of a national debate over which substantive comprehensive ideology to embrace; then what is the alternative?

The alternative is diverting some portion of our time and attention and resources from both the issue-by-issue, candidate-by-candidate political struggle, andthe futile substantive ideological debate that envelopes and undergirds it, to an effort to transcend both by developing and investing in methodologies which systematically favor reason and goodwill in our personal and popular political decision-making process. To accomplish this, we need to find a foundation on which to build such a methodology on which most people, across ideological lines, can agree to, and which appeals to most people’s underlying frames and narratives, as well as recognizes the limited degree to which most people are willing to invest time and energy in our political processes.

Extremists of all stripes will tend to reject any such foundation that is proposed, correctly certain that it would undermine their ideological convictions and goals. But, though extremists dominate message boards and public attention, most people are not extremists. Most people are relatively moderate and pragmatic people who just want to be able to participate marginally, without investing too much time and energy, in our self-governance in a way which is both gratifying and productive. Many, of course, don’t want to do more than vote, but even those form their political opinions and electoral choices by means of a diffuse engagement with others around them and with various media of communications.

The challenge is to find, rally, and motivate those who both are or wish to be highly politically engaged, and who are interested in exploring the possibility of doing fundamentally better than we are now in moving the state, nation, and world in the direction of ever-increasing salience of reason and goodwill in the formation of our public policies, and to mobilize these activists in the design and implementation of a movement which accomplishes that goal. Obviously, any success would be marginal, and the world would continue much as it has. But even just marginal success in such an endeavor could have truly revolutionary implications over the course of time.

IV. The Proposal

I have already outlined my proposal (which I call, alternatively, “The Politics of Reason and Goodwill,” or “Transcendental Politics,” or “Holistic Politics”) in several essays (see, e.g,. A Proposal, The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified, How to make a kinder and more reasonable world, and Transcendental Politics; plus dozens of others in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts). I’ll just summarize it very briefly here.

The social movement I envision is, by necessity, a non-partisan social movement which emphasizes the procedures by which we arrive at our beliefs, conclusions, policy positions, and electoral choices (which I’ll refer to from here on out as “political memes”), rather than the specific, substantial political memes themselves. It is a movement that is dedicated to not advocating for progressive or conservative ideologies or policies or candidates, but rather for a commitment to reason and goodwill and to the development of procedures and methodologies which systematically favor them.

This may seem to run up against the cognitive science reality that people are not primarily persuaded by reason in the formation of their political memes, and certainly the most fanatical and extreme will not be amenable to any suggestion to make any movement of any kind in any direction. But this movement does not depend on people in general changing their habit of political meme formation. Rather, it depends, first, on a dedicated group of people implementing the three components summarized below (and elaborated on at length in the other essays I linked to), and, secondly, on a significant number of people agreeing in principal only to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill. That second requisite is not a change in how people form their cognitive landscapes, but rather an appeal to existing frames and narratives, since most Americans, I would argue, identify themselves as, and wish to be, reasonable people of goodwill.

It’s very important not to be excessively distracted by the highly visible and vocal minority who clearly are too committed to irrationality and belligerence to even contemplate making such a commitment. In the end, any social movement that aspires to increase the salience of reason and goodwill in the formation of public policy, while it might continue to try and hope to gradually convert some of them, has to focus more on simply marginalizing the most irrational and belligerent among us, and rendering them outnumbered and de-fanged by a movement that just leaves them behind (in terms of their political and cultural influence, not in terms of our shared commitment to their well-being and the facilitation of their productive participation in society).

This movement, which I’ll refer to here as “PRG” (short for “Politics of Reason and Goodwill”), requires two very difficult, interrelated steps for adherents (that is, activists working to advance this social movement) to commit to, in order to realize the social step forward that the movement aspires toward: 1) In the context of the movement (though not in political activities pursued outside of the movement), advocacy for specific substantive positions, specific ideological convictions, specific candidates, and, in general, specific substantive political memes, must be suspended. PRG advocates for a commitment to an ideal that transcends ideology and a procedure for realizing that ideal, sincerely and with assiduous integrity agreeing not to displace that ideal or that procedure with current substantive certainties held by any adherents. And, 2) The sincere humility to realize that a procedure which accomplishes this to any meaningful degree is preferable to such substantive certainties currently held, because our current substantive certainties may or may not be what reason and goodwill, assiduously adhered to, would actually have led to, and we should prefer what a disciplined process suggests is most in accord with reason and goodwill over what we more haphazardly assume is most in accord with reason and goodwill.

The core political meme of this movement, in fact, is the meme that we are better served by disciplines and processes which systematically favor reason and goodwill than by our current ideologies that assume they are most informed by reason and goodwill. And, just as those who have practiced and implicitly and explicitly advocated for scientific methodology, rule of law, and democratic and constitutional governmental processes have fought uphill battles to establish them as central features of our shared cognitive and institutional landscape, assisted by the evolutionarily favored utility of these disciplines, so too is this extension of that logic evolutionarily favored by its utility and implementable, over time, through our relentless and passionate advocacy and practice.

PRG consists of three components: 1) The creation of a comprehensive data base or web portal which makes easily accessible all arguments which purport to apply reason to evidence in service to human welfare, along with citations by which to verify the reliability or accuracy of the evidence utilized (see “Component 1” of A Proposal for a more complete and extensive description); 2) The creation of an enterprise which disseminates the message, in emotionally appealing ways which communicate directly to existing frames and narratives, that we are better off, both individually and collectively, when we strive to be reasonable people of goodwill (see Component II of A Proposal and Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives for more complete and extensive descriptions), and 3) The establishment of a network of community organizations, which leverage existing community organizations (e.g., PTAs, HOAs, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, local churches and other religious institutions, park districts, etc.), to create a forum in which participants agree to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, to consider all points of view and arguments with an open mind, to be civil, and to improve the strength and solidarity of our local communities and of our nation (see Component III of A Proposal and Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN) for a more complete and extensive description).

The supposition is not that most people would avail themselves of the internet portal or spend significantly more time comparing arguments and counterarguments surrounding various policy issues, or that most people would attend the community meetings or participate on the on-line network, or that most people would change their habits in any visible or significant way. That would not be realistic. Rather, the hope is that this would create a new center of gravity, a new source of legitimacy for the concept of making decisions on the basis of reason and goodwill, a new nucleus from which a marginal increase in the number of people who take marginal steps in the direction of thinking and acting in accord with this ideal can form a source of information and inspiration for the many who make no change in their lives whatsoever. Few of us are scientists, but most of us rely in one way or another on science.

Think tanks and policy institutes are in some respects the prototype for Component I, but always lost their popular legitimacy by failing to be popularly accessible and popularly comprised institutions. All are seen, rightly or wrongly, as having been co-opted by a particular ideology. But, in PRG, the think tank is all of us, the arguments considered are all of them. And it does not stand alone, like an ivory tower out of reach, but in the center of a community, where it can be utilized and discussed by those ordinary people inclined to do so. Even if very few ever avail themselves of those resources (the portal and the community organizations), others (moderate others who are not lost to an impenetrable fanaticism) will be more inclined to look to those who do as relatively reliable sources of information. And those who do avail themselves of these recourses will be those who, both by predisposition and by the effects of utilizing these resources, will tend to have more moderate, better informed, better reasoned, more humane positions on social and political issues.

History is comprised of innovations, both humble and bold. Many such innovations are social institutional, and some have had enormous and lasting effects on our cultural evolution. The invention of money, of legal systems, of our own Constitution and national system of government, are all examples. Some technological innovations dovetail with these, or form the basis of social institutional innovations of their own: The computer, the internet, social media, have developed in ways which have created new opportunities and new dimensions of possibilities yet to be fully explored. PRG, or something similar to it, would be precisely the way to leverage these developments, and explore these possibilities.

I sincerely and fervantly believe that a dedicated cadre of people working dilligently to design and implement this plan, or a plan similar to it, can and almost inevitably would have a dramatic effect, over time, in moving our state, nation, and world gradually but significantly in the direction of reason and goodwill, in the direction of being wiser, more foresighted, more cooperative, more life-affirming, and more humane. I hope all who read this will join me in this effort, and will share it widely in the hope that others join us as well.

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The one constant is change, but the speed and utility of change is not constant at all. Organizations emerge for the purpose of fomenting change, yet, as a general rule, they soon ossify in the same kinds of unimaginative patterns as the institutions they are seeking to affect. Significant change through the medium of established organizations and institutions is generally catalyzed by either those who are raised to positions of influence despite their failure to satisfy conventional check lists of appropriate qualifications, or those who act in ways not predicted by the fact that they satisfy conventional check lists of appropriate qualifications.

Human actions fall within a space one axis of which is defined by courageous and imaginative choices striving for excellence at one extreme, and conventional choices striving for mediocrity or maintaining the status quo at the other. That axis alone does not describe the quality or efficacy of individual actions: Courageous and imaginative choices striving for excellence that are made in service to an odious ideology, or that are in some other way misinformed, may well do more harm than good, whereas conventional choices striving for mediocrity may make valuable marginal contributions to human welfare. But, while caution, analytical sophistication, foresightedness and respect for uncertainty, and subtlety of insight and strategy are necessary variables to render courageous and creative innovation a positive rather than negative force, the absence of courageous and creative innovation guarantees suboptimal outcomes.

Several recent experiences have raised this to the fore of my mind: A program director position for an educational reform foundation that I applied for, and would have done a truly exceptional job in, that I failed to get because an unimaginative vice president was looking for candidates that satisfied the more superficial and easily acquired criteria for the job rather than the more profound and harder to duplicate criteria of greater importance; other nonprofit positions filled by decision makers similarly focused on superficial and less salient criteria; an alternative school led by a robust and idealistic principal who may prove to be an exception to this “rule;” a widespread insistence, across the ideological spectrum, to cling to conventional modes of thought and conventional strategies and conceptualizations of political activism, rather than to reach down a bit deeper and attempt to foment truly fundamental change instead.

The most profound lesson of human history is the robustness of social change, the degree to which that which is taken for granted as a permanent feature of our consciousness and our social institutional landscape is truly ephemeral, and can and does change far more rapidly and dramatically than those living in their own time and place are wont to realize. It is true, of course (as discussed in The Variable Malleability of Reality) that some things are easier to change than others; that smart strategies identify what aspects of our current reality are more malleable in order to massage our encompassing social (and natural) systems in ways which move us in desired directions. But it is also true (as discussed inThe Algorithms of Complexity) that that layered complexity, in which deeper levels are generally less malleable than more superficial ones,  provides frequent opportunities for rapid, dramatic change, when some of the underlying “algorithms” are actually fairly malleable. The art and science of participating in history in socially responsible and “ambitious” ways involves recognizing and reconciling these two aspects of the challenge at hand.

It’s time for a new social movement that confronts this challenge head-on, and does so with a commitment to doing so as rationally and imaginatively and compassionately as possible. I’ve outlined one general proposal for organizing such a movement in A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill and in the other essays linked to in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts. (In the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts can be found essays exploring the nature of our social institutional and technological landscape, to better inform such efforts; and in some other boxes can be found specific applications and aspects of this analysis.)

The proposal has three components: 1) Non-partisan community organizations whose members agree to commit only to reason and universal goodwill, to listening to competing views, and to seeking the policies which best serve humanity; 2) A data base or internet portal making access to all arguments that are framed as analyses applying reason to evidence in service to human welfare, and that provide documentation for all factual evidence relied on, upon which such community organizations can draw for their discussions and debates; and 3) Something I call “meta-messaging” (see Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives): The emotionally and cognitively effective dissemination of the narrative that this is a good and worthy project, that it is good for individuals and good for society to view our shared existence as a shared existence with shared challenges and shared opportunities, that, as I like to put it, it’s better to be Ebenezer Scrooge after his adventure with Marley and the Three Spirits than before.

Such a movement depends on suspending substantive debates until they can be contextualized in the framework being advocated, because to do so would be to lose what cross-cutting appeal such a movement might have. While there are many who would never join such a movement, and never join the community organizations that are a part of it, there are many who would, including many who identify themselves as “conservatives” or “independents.”

This is not, and cannot be, a movement to overturn Citizens United, or a movement to increase public spending on social services and education, or a movement to achieve preconceived substantive goals of any kind, because to allow it to become so would be to defeat its purpose: To find and develop the one common ground all people who wish to be reasonable people of goodwill can agree on, and that is that we all strive to be reasonable people of goodwill, humble enough to know that we don’t know all of the answers, wise enough to engage in a public discourse devoted to doing the best we can, and disciplined enough to develop new procedures and new institutions that help us to work together as reasonable people of goodwill confronting the challenges of a complex and subtle world.

What we need more fundamentally and more critically than to achieve any of the individual, ideologically saturated substantive goals that divide us is to rediscover and develop our common ground, the underlying values and aspirations that most of us share, and the procedurally and attitudinally focused framework that we can create to pursue them more constructively and cooperatively. There are many people in America who are sick of the divisive, angry, excessively intransigent political rhetoric which dominates our public forums and airwaves, who would flock to a movement that steps back from that and tries, instead, to establish another kind of public discourse, another kind of political participation. This is a movement to bring them in, and move us forward.

That means letting go of the rituals of warring false certainties, and coming together instead around a common acknowledgement of shared uncertainty and fallibility. It’s time for all who are willing to make that leap of daring idealism, of courageous commitment to doing better, of believing in our humanity, to do so. We can continue to reproduce the unimaginative and unproductive ritual of over-confident warring false certainties, or to work together to create something new and vibrant and potentially revolutionary. As always, we each get to choose how daring and imaginative and conscious, and therefore how effective, our commitment to progress really is.

The title quote by Harvard professor Jill Lapore during an excellent roundtable discussion on This Week With Christiane Amanpour captures the meta-argument that we all have to divert some small portion of our attention to: The argument between any one faction’s absolutism, on the one hand, and the continued dialectic of competing views reconciled through formal and informal procedural mechanisms on the other.

Each of us will feel a stronger affinity for one or another of the arguments presented in the discussion linked to above, and insist that that argument represents the one absolute truth. But recognizing that the debate itself is the essence of our freedom, and the life blood of our popular sovereignty, is the shared recognition to which we must all return, allowing the tension between foundational principles and our lived history to be played out within the crucible of a vibrant constitutional democracy.

In other words, those who insist that the growth in power of our federal government over the course of American history -starting with the drafting of our Constitution (which strengthened the federal government over the failed Articles of Confederation), and playing out through The Civil War (which ended the disintegrative cesessionist/nullificationist version of States Rights doctrine as a reality of our national existence), continuing with The New Deal, and sailing on into the present- is a betrayal of our Constitution, and those who feel that it is the realization of our national history through the framework of our Constitution, both have to realize that their voice is not the only voice, their view is not the only view, and this dialogue we are having is the hallmark of our success as a nation and a society.

I am more concerned about those on both sides of this and related debates who are adamant that their own dogmatic false certainties are the one and only Truth than I am about those who disagree with me, but have the humility to realize that none of us have the final answers, and that all of us are participating in an on-going endeavor.

As a progressive, I am not determined to force my particular substantive certainties down the throats of others, but to engage both those who agree and those who disagree in a process which favors reason and goodwill, and disfavors blind dogma and angry fanaticism. I have enough faith in what I believe to be true that I am willing to subject it to such a test, and enough humility to know that I prefer the outcome of that test to the blind dominance of what  I currently believe to be true.

The following is a brief email exchange with a leader of a local Move On chapter to whom I offered to present PRG (“the politics of reason and goodwill”):

Q: since the GOP appears to be working on building the politics of RESENTMENT… that would be a good place to start.  A think tank that would work on changing the discussion to politics of community goodwill.  How would you go about doing that?

A: There are no panaceas. The Republican strategy of cultivating resentments and fears and hatreds -basically, of appealing to our basal ganglia (“the reptilian brain”)- is one that has a comparative advantage in the short run. When we invest our resources in confronting it (as we must), we have to recognize that we are fighting in their arena. But, as has been noted by John Maynard Keynes (“People will do the rational thing, but only after exploring all other alternatives”) and Martin Luther King Jr. (“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”), respectively, Reason and Universal Goodwill (i.e., social justice) enjoy a comparative advantage in the long-run. One of the biggest mistakes that the Progressive Movement has made over the past few decades is to keep getting drawn into a brawl in a conservative arena, letting conservatives frame the narrative. We’ve done this because we, too, are more easily drawn to attending to the short-term urgencies than to the long-term struggle, and, as such, are constantly fighting to win “the reptilian brain” rather than to cultivate what human history has always struggled to cultivate: Human Consciousness.   Traditional politics and political activism will continue much as they have, with the conservative ability to appeal to our baser natures always vexing us in the short run, and progressives trapped on a treadmill perpetually fighting against it, rather than engaged in the long-term effort to cultivate Reason and Goodwill. Other institutions, meanwhile, are more focused on those long-term evolutions: Academe, certain religious-philosophical orders and institutions (such as Esalon Institute in Big Sur, California), and so on. But the products of these other institutions are very esoteric, and do not diffuse into the population at large in any highly robust way.   So the question is: How do we make a long-term investment in cultivating those human qualities in the population at large, that are not cultivated to any great extent by those esoteric institutions that are focused on them, and are mostly ignored by political activism? In one sense, it’s not a “political” question, because it isn’t at all about winning the immediate struggles over current policy issues and current electoral contests. In a deeper sense, of course, it is quintessentially “political,” since politics is really, at root, about the battle over what people believe (this is somewhat true even in brutal dictatorships, but more true the more democratic a society is). Even the much vaunted corporate power we talk about so much is the power to spend enormous amounts of money on media messages which affect what people believe.   When we ask “how can we most effectively affect what people believe in the short run?” the answer, to too great an extent, is “appeal to their fears and hatreds and resentments.” When we ask “how can we most effectively affect what people believe in the long run?” the answer is increasingly “appeal to their dreams and aspirations and imaginations.” But how do you cultivate in people lost, to varying degrees, to their resentments and fears and hatreds, their forgotten or buried human consciousness, full of aspirations and yearning idealism? The answer is, basically, create viable channels of communication, effective messages, and reinforcing behaviors in which you can engage them. That’s what my proposal is designed to do.

The underlying idea is this: Most Americans presumably self-identify (accurately or inaccurately) as reasonable people of goodwill. Those who don’t are beyond reach, and can only be marginalized rather than “brought on board.” Many conservatives and moderates place a high value on “community” and “family,” and believe in social solidarity at that level, even if constrained within their own narrow definitions. Media Messages (both traditional and social) with markers that indicate that they are “progressive” or “liberal” or “Democratic” messages hit cognitive confirmation-bias filters and never reach the mind of any but those who are already on board. Reframing those messages, divorced from reference to particular policies or candidates, in non-partisan language, creates a pathway to reaching into at least some of the minds that would otherwise be inaccessible.    There are three components to my idea for doing it: 1) a network of non-partisan community organizations committed to doing good works in the community, and creating a forum for civil discourse dedicated to examining issues from all points of view and with as much mutual respect as participants can muster (with guidelines agreed to up-front to reinforce this commitment); 2) something I call “meta-messaging,” which is a project to gather, design, publish, and disseminate narratives which reinforce people’s commitment to social responsibility and compassion (think of “A Christmas Carol,” which is both an example of, and a metaphor for, such “meta-messaging”); and 3) creating a user-friendly internet portal to all arguments, from across the ideological spectrum, that are actually arguments (even if bad ones), rather than just slogans and platitudes and emotional appeals. This third component lends legitimacy to the claim to be a movement committed to “reason” as well as to “goodwill,” and might, to some small degree, over time, increase the role of reasoned argumentation and analysis in the formation of popular political opinions.   These three components are mutually reinforcing in a variety of ways. Doing good works in the community reinforces recognition of belonging to a society, of interdependence. The community forums to discuss political issues can encourage drawing on the information made available through the internet portal. The community organizations’ avowed purpose of strengthening our communities provides a conduit for the narratives (the “meta-messages”) reinforcing a sense of social responsibility. It is a movement designed to cultivate what is best in us, to improve how we arrive at our political positions both as individuals and as a society, and to produce a marginal, slight, constant impetus in favor of Reason and Goodwill.   Since democratic politics, when all is said and done, is really a battle over what people believe, a long-term strategy which can exert a long-term pressure on what people believe, or the underlying attitude informing their beliefs, can have a bigger pay-off than all of the other more immediate types of political activism than we are typically engaged in. Since virtually all of our political organizational resources currently go toward the latter (the immediate political struggles), and virtually none to the former (the effort to affect underlying attitudes which inform policy positions), it seems to me to be obvious than we need to create a movement that redresses that by investing some small, perhaps even tiny, portion of our resources at affecting underlying attitudes.   While it may seem naive to think that anything like this can work, I think it’s almost inconceivable that it wouldn’t, if any significant effort were made, though it wouldn’t yield any dramatic or easily measurable results in the short run (that’s not what it’s designed to do, or can do). The zeitgeist changes, and varies from society to society, mostly according to the cumulative winds of social change. Almost all efforts to affect those winds are focused on the short-term, and do so to the extent that those short-term efforts are successful. But we generally lack the farsightedness to invest in the long-term evolution itself, where we can have the most dramatic effects, and will encounter the least resistence (both from individual cognitive barriers, and organized political movements).   When we figure this out, and begin to divert a very tiny stream of resources toward it, we will at last be working toward putting ourselves on a sustainable progressive path into the future.

Q: Specifically where would you start?

A: Do you mean, where would I start with the project I’ve laid out? With the first nodes in a network of non-partisan community organizations dedicated to this vision. That requires virtually no funding, just a sufficient degree of interest. As funding allows, the next step would probably involve developing the meta-messaging paradigm. I have a pretty straightforward human research experiment I’d like to operationalize for testing its efficacy, for those who prefer research-based practices rather than speculative ones. The most labor intensive component is probably the internet portal, which I envision as something similar to the human genome project: A huge cataloguing of information.   I know that this is a different kind of idea. It’s not focused on a single issue (in fact, depends on not focusing on specific issues, or, in the context of organizing this movement, taking organizational stands on specific issues), will not yield returns within election cycles, is not inherently combative, does not identify the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” is committed to what I infer to be our underlying values as progressives (and what most certainly are my underlying values) rather than to the political ideology that has (imperfectly) grown out of those values, and aspires to initiate a gradual and sustained movement of the whole political tug-o-war in the direction of Reason and Goodwill rather than just to win a few rounds of that tug-o-war where it is currently located.   There’s little doubt in my mind that we’re going to have to start to think more along these lines, and commit more resources to something similar to this, if we are serious in our commitment to get this country onto a better path. What we’re doing now plays right into the hands of those who want to define progressives as mere equal and opposite counterparts of conservatives, pick your flavor, it’s just a matter of taste. That’s because we treat our political struggles as a bunch of issues, on which their is an ideological difference of opinion, rather than as a tension between reason in service to humanity on the one hand, and irrational belligerence on the other, with progressives tending to be more aligned with the former and conservatives more aligned with the latter, but not always, and not in all ways.   It is not only an idea about how to improve the efficacy of the progressive movement in the long run, but also about how to improve the quality of the progressive movement in the long run, by focusing more on advocacy of those procedures and methodologies which favor reason and goodwill, and less on the substantive positions that imperfectly track what conclusions those procedures would lead to.   Right or wrong, agree or disagree, it’s a dialogue we desperately need to be having.

(See A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill.)

The following is an entire (up to the moment of this posting) Facebook comment thread on a Libertarian’s Facebook page. I often infiltrate these echo-chambers, just to emphasize the distinction in how we arrive at and defend our respective conclusions. Many examples are striking, but this one, toward the end (you can skip the first third without missing much), is so perfectly illustrative of the absolute commitment to a blind ideology, a refusal to even admit to the value of being reasonable people of goodwill, or to the possibility that those who disagree could possibly have anything of merit in their perspective, that I wanted to post it here. It serves not only to emphasize the dogmatic belligerence of the modern far-right, but also as a warning to their counterparts on the far-left: All reasonable people of goodwill have to commit to reason and universal goodwill, not by assuming that our own blind ideological certainties are unassailable, but rather by acknowledging that we live in a complex and subtle world, and that we are all challenged to better develop, both individually and collectively, the disciplines and procedures that favor reason and humanity over irrationality and bigotry.

Catherine Keene but when free markets “fail” we need less freedom in the marketplace. The only thing consistent about Keynesians is their ability to defy logic.

Jawaid Bazyar Government now takes 50% of GDP. We still have poverty, drugs, homelessness, and unemployment. Guess we’ll just need 60%! or 70%! What, exactly, will be enough, Krugman et al?

Kori Fisher what was that definition of insanity again??? doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result….yeah, that’s the one.

Steve Harvey Evidence: gdp experienced historically unprecedented growth in 1934-1937 in the wake of New Deal policies (raising tax rate for hightest bracket, deficit spending); Sweden is first country to emerge from Great Depression using Keynesian eco…nomic principles (http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/Timeline.htm); both the on-set of the Great Depression, and the return of a downward spiral in late 1937, were due to fiscal policies virtually identical to those recommended by conservatives today; massive deficit spending in WWII decisively pulled America and the world out of the Great Depression; the economic outcome of Obama’s stilmulus spending in the wake of the 2008 fiscal sector meltdown exceeded all professional economic predictions of our immediate economic prospects in 2008 (including for the most stubborn lagging indicator, unemployment, which turned from increasing at an accelerating rate to increasing at a decelerating rate a month after the first stimulus package was implemented). Yeah, those crazy Nobel Prize winning economists and their wild ignorance (compared to economic sages such as yourselves) about economics….

Jahfre FireEater The Keynesian view that an economy is a machine that can be tweaked to one’s advantage without negative consequences is refuted in spades by Ludwig von Mises in his magnum opus, Human Action. As Mises says, this idea “is as old as it is bad…”

Jawaid Bazyar Harvey, you’re insane. Of course it’s easy to cherry-pick numbers you like. How about you take a look at the US unemployment rates before, during, and after our Keynesian orgy during the Great Depression.

Amy Chesser Brock Have you seen Keynes vs. Hayek round 2? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTQnarzmTOc

Steve Harvey ‎@Jawaid: Yes, look at them. I linked to the Great Depression time line in my previous message. Economic contraction follows the policies you recommend, while economic expansion follows the policies I recommend. The sustained explosion of economic growth following WWII was due to the biggest public spending project in American history (WWII armaments). Also, not a single nation on the face of the Earth partook of that post WWII economic expansion without first having a massively expensive administrative infrastructure in place, such as the one we put in place during the New Deal. There is, in fact, an optimum: Too much deficit spending for too prolongued a period causes economic collapse, just as too little for too prolongued a period causes economic contraction. Private businesses run on very much the same model (credit is the life-blood of corporations). We fail for not reducing the deficit in times of economic boon, not for increasing it in times of economic contraction.

David K Williams Jr ‎@Steve Harvey – regarding those Nobel Prize winning economists, I’ll call your Krugman & raise you a Hayek.

Jahfre FireEater LOL

Jahfre FireEater Any scheme that allows the elite to do as they please with easy financing will win an economist or a President a Nobel Prize.

Jahfre FireEater Funding for an ivy league academic economics guild, sure no problem…just keep promising those who write the checks that there will ALWAYS be another check in their checkbook.

Steve Harvey @David: Right. My point is that you’re neither. As someone who has done work in the field of economics, I recognize the legitimate debates, and don’t dismiss Hayek or Friedman the way you folks so blithely dismiss Krugman. It’s pretty clear from the empirical evidence that government spending does indeed stimulate the economy in the short run (I know of no economist who disputes that), but the question -and it remains a question, no matter how brilliant y’all assume yourselves to be- is at what point that short-term stimulus effect is outweighed by long-term drag effects. Most economists recognize that it is a largely context dependent analysis, depending on the current state of the economy, and what, precisely, the government invests in. For instance, if the government invests in public goods that have lots of complementary private goods associated with them (e.g, invests in highways, making cars a more attractive comodity to buy), with lots of forward and backward linkages (e.g., stimulates related industries upstream and downstream from that which the government has invested in), then there is likely to be a very high multiplier effect. Economics, among all of the things that we discuss in public discourse, is the least amenable to oversimplistic platitudes, which is what your ideology pretty much relies on.

Donald E. L. Johnson Dems spend to buy votes, build political careers, not fix the economy. Belief is not the issue, imho.

David K Williams Jr Steve – we can all count on death, taxes & your misplaced condescending elitism. Hayek In fact rejects government spending as a means to stimulate the economy and explains why WWII did not end the depression.

Steve Harvey David, I love the way arguments you disagree with are “elitism” (the more informed, the more elitist), but your dismissive certainty in the face of legitimate disagreement is just good ol’ fashioned common sense populism. If there’s any “elitism” to be found, it is to be found in the position that claims that there is no legitimate debate to be had, that the one truth is known, that the speaker’s position is its perfect and final expression, and all others are just wrong and misguided. I’m all for well-informed and well-reasoned debates on the complex and subtle issues that face us as a society. That’s not what you and your friends ever offer, or accept. (There are those on the right who do, but they are becoming increasingly marginalized by those who don’t).

David K Williams Jr There are plenty of arguments with which I disagree that aren’t elitist. Your arguments, however, always revolve around how smart & educated you are & us mere mortals or so silly for not agreeing.

Steve Harvey My arguments are arguments, mobilizing specifically cited information in reasoned form to defend a position arrived at in the same way. That seems to be the problem.

Donald E. L. Johnson Steve, hve you read The Forgotten Man. It shoots down all of your points.

Steve Harvey No, it doesn’t. Here’s my point: I know that I know almost nothing, and I know that the same is true of all of you. I have more than my share of formal degrees and life experience, and a good mind through which to sift it all, and, as a result, I recognize that it is a very complex and subtle world in which we live, and that our certainties about anything but the most trivial and superficial of phenomena is tentative and fallible. The more you know, the more you know that you don’t. On the left and the right, there are those who simply don’t get that, who have a favorite sacred source or secular sage who, despite being contested and him- or her- or itself fallible, is infallible in their eyes. And when people speak from that place, know absolutely and irrefutably that their own contested truth is incontestable, that is blind dogma, and pure folly. What offends David and others more than my perceived arrogance is that I argue my positions, and do so well enough that it challenges those fortified sacred false certainties, not because of any special talent of mine, but because any argument that is a genuine argument does so.

Valarie Murphy ‎@Steve, Krugman has to be dismissed; he’s always wrong.

Steve Harvey Thank you, Valarie, for illustrating my point.

Donald E. L. Johnson Steve, You’re not the only one who has had life experiences, lived through several booms and busts and read numerous books on our and the world’s political and economic history. And you’re not the only one who knows what he doesn’t know and can’t predict. We’ve all been around the track one way or another, and we have our points of view the same as you do. Ours is as valid as yours. Some of us try to be objective in assessing what’s going on, and some of us are constantly trying to learn more so that we have a better feel for what’s happening and likely to happen. Having read numerous well-researched articles and books on economics and written thousands of stories and articles about numerous companies, employers, laws, regulations and economic developments, it is my personal opinion that government spending on the kind of pork that is in Obama’s stimulous bill and in ObamaCare does nothing to stimulate the economy and in the long run kills private sector jobs.

Donald E. L. Johnson Val, Krugman’s not always wrong, but he never can be trusted to be honest. He’s Pinch’s favorite socialist, and he works hard to defend his former colleague, Ben Bernankee, and his favorite politician, Obama. Like too many academic economists, Krugman has convinced his readers that he has no intellectual integrity and that he’s just another partisan hack with a column.

Steve Harvey Yes, Donald, it’s your personal opinion, but you don’t REALLY acknowledge the possibility that you’re wrong. You don’t REALLY acknowledge that professional economists are divided on the subject (with, if anything, the weight of professional opinion against you). You read what reinforces your bias, not what challenges it, and assume that “your opinion” is the end of the story. I don’t often go there with you, but, the fact is, I consider the question of the relationship of deficit spending to economic growth to be extremely complex, and clearly not something that anyone knows the answer to. I sure don’t. There is plenty of empirical evidence which supports the conclusion that it is a short term stimulus, though you all simply define that out of existence, because it doesn’t confirm your bias. The main issue seems to be its indefinite growth, eventually swallowing up the economy. There is also the issue of balancing legitimate considerations, weighing the goal of maximizing GDP growth with the goal of maximizing true equality of opportunity and other issues of human welfare and social justice. These issues are defined out of existence by those who have a false certainty that defines all of their positions with absolute conviction. There is no real openness to a debate, no real contemplation that there might be anything imperfectly understood, no real ability to learn and grow. It’s not your conclusions that are the real problem, but rather the inflexibility with which you cling to them.

Steve Harvey This exchange inspired a little essay, called “Sacred Truths”: http://coloradoconfluence.com/?p=2075

Steve Harvey Donald, you said ” Dems spend to buy votes, build political careers, not fix the economy.” In a survey of professional economists by The Economist magazine in 2008, 80% favored Democratic over Republican economic policies. The notion that Dems are more corrupt than Republicans is another convenient ideological bulwark, but it has no grounding in realiy. The games and strategies of electoral politics are found across the spectrum, in large part because that which works (for getting elected to office) ends up being that which is best represented. Your assumption that every belief and value those who disagree with you hold must be some nefarious attempt to do evil may serve your false certainties, but it doesn’t serve our civil discourse or our ability to govern ourselves wisely. You also said “Belief is not the issue, imho.” In other words, no criticism of your beliefs can ever be relevant, since their validity is incontravertable; the issue is, as you stated, that those who disagree with you are always wrong, by definition. All people who think this way, from across the political spectrum, do us all a disservice, by reducing our public discourse to a struggle between reason and blind ideology, rather than between competing well-reasoned positions.

Pyro Rob Steve, I think Ronald Reagan was thinking of you when he said this famous like:

“Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”

Steve Harvey A strange response to the assertion that we all need to recognize the limits of our knowledge more, the need to recognize that when complex issues are legitimately contested to pretend to know that one pole in that contest is the indisputable truth is folly, and the need to keep exploring.

Pyro Rob You are mistaken, the issues are not that complex. In fact, the solutions are not that complex either.

Steve Harvey You see the difference in how we think? I recognize a complex and subtle world, with the human dimension mirroring the natural (indeed, a part of and emanation of the natural), ideas spreading and changing and merging into new ones, forming our technological and social institutional landscape, our laws and economy, our cultures and ideologies and arts and sciences. I come at it with a sense of wonder, a sense of awe, even a sense of reverence, recognizing the miracle of our existence, and the responsibility of having minds with which to engage with the reality of which we are a part, to meet our challenges and grasp our opportunities. How well we understand this dynamo of which we are a part affects how well we engage with it, how well we realize the heights of our humanity. You respond to someone who recognizes this complexity, and our constant challenge to understand it to the best of our limited abilities, never fully grasping it, by simultaneously declaring that there are no subtleties or complexities to be grasped at all, that its all very simple and fits into a few reductionist platitudes, a true hier to the Inquisitioners of old; and, at the same time, launch a quote criticizing those who do not think in that way, who recognize the complexity of the world and do not reduce it to a few simple platitudes, for thinking that they know what isn’t so? You turn reality on its head, in the most obvious of ways, and then pat yourselves on the back for the brilliance of having said something completely meaningless.

Steve Harvey Let’s capture this conversation in its bare form: Steve: None of us knows as much as we either think or pretend we do. Pyro: You’re problem is that you know things that aren’t true. Steve: Strange answer. We live in a complex world with legitimately contested issues. Pyro: You’re wrong. We live in a simple world with simple answers. Steve: So, saying that none of us knows as much as we think we do is the error of knowing things that aren’t so, while claiming that everything reduces to a few simple and indisputable platitudes is the avoidance of that error? Uh-huh. I see….

Buddy Shipley The Cartoon Bears investigate the income multiplier of con-artist, Maynard Keynes, his argument for deficit spending, to see why it doesn’t work. They discover bad assumptions, and that Keynes was contradictory on whether his multiplier would or wouldn’t cure unemployment. They find a couple of interesting clues, and get ready to tackle the math in these videos. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pA67E8jMq84 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Vnus-Kw5Is

Buddy Shipley Whether one favors the economic theories of Keynes or Hayak, any attempt to implement policy based on either MUST be constrained by the powers and authority granted to the federal government by the Constitution. Therefore most Keynesian ideas can never be permitted because they can only be implemented through tyranny.

Keynes was a conman and The Tree of Liberty is very thirsty…

Buddy Shipley ‎”For economists the real world is often a special case.” –Edgar R. Fiedler

“Ask five economists and you’ll get five different explanations? six if one went to Harvard.” –Edgar R. Fiedler

…”Give me a one-handed economist! All my economics say, ‘On the one hand? on the other.'” –Harry S. Truman

“In economics the majority is always wrong.” –John Kenneth Galbraith

“In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability.” –John Kenneth Galbraith

“An economist is someone who knows more about money than the people who have it.” –Anonymous

“An economist’s guess is liable to be as good as anybody else’s.” –Will Rogers

“Economy is too late when you are at the bottom of your purse.” –Seneca

“The economy depends about as much on economists as the weather does on weather forecasters.” –Jean-Paul Kauffmann

“The notion that big business and big labor and big government can sit down around a table somewhere and work out the direction of the American economy is at complete variance with the reality of where the American economy is headed. I mean, it’s like dinosaurs gathering to talk about the evolution of a new generation of mammals.” –Bruce Babbit

“If all the economists in the world were laid end to end, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.” –Peter Lynch

“If all the economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.” –George Bernard Shaw

“When you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always count on the support of Paul.” –George Bernard Shaw

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” –Mark Twain

Steve Harvey The problem, Buddy, is not the debate, but the unwillingness to have it. I am arguing that it is a complex and subtle world, and that our best understandings are tentative and incomplete, while those arguing against me both insist that it is a simple world amenable to simple answers, that they know what those simple answers are and that all who disagree with them are wrong and dismissible as such, and, in an amazing demonstration of how conveniently constructed their reality is, that the problem with those who disagree with them is that they think they know things that aren’t true! If we have camps in our public discourse in which their absolute certainties are not open to new information or applied reason, then we have no public discourse, but rather a secularized religious war and nothing more. Thanks to folks like you, and your counterparts on the left with the same attitude (against whom I argue just as vociferously), that is exactly the condition of this country right now. As for your dismissal of the opposing side in the current economic debate, while you are right about the fallibility of expert views, you are irrational to assume that your lay views benefit from some superior insight. The problem isn’t that experts don’t know and you do, but rather that none of us does. We are operating in a complex world with imperfect knowledge and understanding. Admitting that is a necessary first step to having any kind of meaningful public discourse. For example, you dismiss the notion that public investment can have any economic stimulus effect, despite fairly overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary (to which I cited above), relying on a string of quotes and one well-worn analysis that criticizes the Keynesian multiplier. But that analysis is the definitive truth, and, even if it were, there are non-Keyneisian arguments for why government stimulus spending works under certain circumstances, such as the one I mentioned above concerning the complementarity to private goods of the public investments, and the robustness of forward and backward linkages. It may be the case that the historical evidence is an artifact of spurious relationships, that all analyses that support the notion that government spending can have a stimulus effect under certain conditions are wrong, that the 80% of economists who think so understand economics less well than you do, and that your platitude-driven conclusion is the one correct one. I’ll admit to that possibility. Let’s put all of the arguments on the table, in a mass public agreement that none of us yet knows all of the answers, and agree to have a civil public debate based on reason applied to evidence, in which all of us are committed to the historically proven processes (e.g., scientific methodology) by which to arrive at our agreed upon truths. Let’s step back from our false certainties, across the ideological spectrum, and agree to be reasonable people of goodwill working together in a complex and subtle world. How can anyone object to such a proposal?

Pyro Rob Steve, the simple problem is that the govt thinks it’s responsible for things it is not. The simple answer is to restrict the govt from doing those things. The really simple answer is to abide by the constitution as it is written.

Steve Harvey Pyro, that’s the simple problem according to one ideology, and one faction of our population, and not the other. Nor is it the unambiguous truth about what our Constitution says and means (a document whose interpretation is subject to judicial review rather than popular referendum). The challenge in a democracy (or republic, if you like), in a popular sovereignty, is to recognize competing views and interpretations, to recognize competing political and economic ideologies, and not to assume that only yours is legitimate, while all others are wrong. I disagree with your political and economic assumptions, but I am very willing to participate with you in a process which subjects all views to reason and evidence, to robust debate, to a process by which reasonable people of goodwill can better arrived at the best reasoned and most useful policies. To get to that place, ideologues have to stop insisting that there is only one truth: Their own.

Buddy Shipley No Steve. The problem is blindly assuming the “debate” is even legitimate. Keynes was a conman and the gullible refuse to accept they’ve been had, and no one wants to admit they’ve been scammed on such a scale as this.

Buddy Shipley It’s NOT a F#$%ing “ideology”!!! WTF is the matter with you? It’s the Constitution, stupid! SO many Marxist assholes, so little time.

Steve Harvey You can keep repeating variations of “We are absolutely right and those who disagree with us are absolutely wrong, case closed,” but you are only continuing to prove the depth of your blind ideology. There are legitimate economic debates, some not involving Keynesian economics at all (as I’ve noted twice already, not all analyses which arrive at the conclusion that public spending has an economic stimulus effect do so via a Keynesian analysis). You dismiss the opposing view, and insist on your own infallibility. I say we are all fallible, and the only way to frame that universal fallibility in a manner which best serves reason is to commit to the processes most conducive to the triumpth of reason.

Steve HarveyI’ve studied and taught the Constitution in multiple contexts, in economics, history, and law, and all Constitutional scholars that I know recognize that the document you think is so simple and straightforward isn’t at all. Many of its terms aren’t defined, and have no inherent unambiguous definition (e.g., “due process,” “general welfare,” etc.). The necessary and proper clause, the spending clause, and the commerce clause give Congress potentially expansive powers, depending on interpretation. Insisting that your interpretation is correct, often in contradiction of virtually all constitutional scholars, is indeed ideology, and not the Consitution itself. The underlying purpose of the Constitution was to strengthen, not weaken, the federal government, as its history (replacing the toothless Articles of Confederation) and its in-depth defense by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay in The Federalist Papers clearly demonstrate. It may be, in the end, that you are less omniscient that you believe, and that there is indeed room for debate in this great nation of ours.

Buddy Shipley Steve refuses to comprehend. It is not a matter of “right and wrong”! It’s the Constitution, a binding contract between and among all citizens of these United States. Neither Steve nor our Elected Officials have the RIGHT to ignore it and do as they please!! That is tyranny.

What Steve calls “platitudes” I call standing up for the liberty of individuals, upholding and defending the Constitution, which is the sworn duty of EVERY elected official! That they fail to do this makes them criminals, but the judiciary aids and abets them in their tyranny.

And fools like Steve like it that way.

Buddy Shipley Steve, you are part of the pathology that’s killing us. If ANY of the bullshit you think is “Constitutional” was legitimate, why didn’t the framers and founders implement any of it from the outset?

You just make shit up and pervert the language of the Constitution to suit your agenda du jour. YOU are one of the errors in our education system responsible for filling student’s heads with propaganda.

Steve Harvey Buddy, as I said, I’m familiar with, and committed to the Constitution. The problem is that you refer to a caricature of the Constitution rather than to the Constitution itself, and the terms of the binding contract are other than what you insist they are. Again, this is open to debate (though I am convinced, through being well-informed rather than through an arbitrary certainty, that your position is mistaken), and I do not dismiss you as wrong-by-definition the way you dismiss all those who disagree with you. I recognize that I live in a world of differing views, differing interpretations, and that our job is to put into place the most robust and rational systems for arbitrating among those disagreements. Your belief is that as long as you keep shouting more loudly, invoking more epithets and ad hominems directed toward those who disagree with you, labelling away every fact and analysis and all who articulate them that you find inconvenient, you have somehow managed to command an impenetrable fortress. It is only impenetrable in terms of how well it insulates you from contradictory evidence and argumentation; it is non-existent in terms of how well it actually defends your position in public discourse.

We can do better. We, the people, can do better. One important step toward doing better is to ask ourselves “how,” and then commit ourselves to implementing it. There are several components to the answer to this question, but I would suggest that one crucial component is letting go of our false certainties, just as I once let go of a fallen tree I was clinging to in the rapids of The Current River in Missouri.

I was on a canoe trip with three college buddies, about 33 years ago. We were drifting down a lazy stretch of the river, holding our two canoes together, sharing a little something now used for medicinal purposes in Colorado. As we floated around a bend in the river, we hit the rapids and, at the same time, saw a tree fallen from the left bank, obstructing about two thirds of the width of the river. Jack and Andy, in the canoe on the right, were able to skirt the tree, but Ed and I, on the left, had to angle more sharply across the current, and were pushed sideways up against the fallen tree. We watched helplessly as our canoe filled with water and disappeared beneath us.

The next thing we knew, we were clinging to the tree on the other side, soaking wet, bumped and bruised by being sucked under the tree, desperately struggling against the torrential current trying to sweep us away. Neither of us could pull ourself up onto the tree trunk against that overwhelming force, and panic began to set in. Until Ed stood up. And the river was mid-thigh deep. So I stood up as well.

Mid-thigh deep rapids are not easy to stand in. The torrent still threatened to sweep us away. But we were able to stand our ground, to wade over to the small island downstream where Jack and Andy had recovered our canoe, to build a fire and warm up and dry off, and then to get back into our canoes and navigate our way downstream.

That tree trunk represents for me false certainty, the false certainty we were clinging to to avoid being swept away by a river we did not really understand. The river bed that we finally realized we can stand on, that is solid and unmoving, are the core values that never change, that are always there and on which you can always depend as the solid foundation on which to pause and reassess. People sometimes mistake the silt stirred up from those values, but carried by the current, for the river bed itself, and try to stand on it. But there is no footing on that silt. You have to plant your feet beneath it, on the core values themselves, the ones that lie even beneath the words we use to describe them, beneath ambiguity. I will refer to them as “reason” and “universal goodwill,” though these words, too, are mere approximations.

The river we are all on together is not The Current River of Missouri, but rather the forever forking river of human history. It does not flow to a single destination, but rather to an almost unlimited array of possible futures determined by the choices we make, the forks we take. Some forks rejoin others, and permit lost opportunities to be regained. Some foreclose certain other possibilities, perhaps forever. The river bed is not always comprised of reason and goodwill, but all too frequently of looser gravel, of less reliable values, sometimes even of muck so deep that there is nothing to stand on, only something to sink into. Our choices are consequential, sometimes momentous. We need to continue to improve our ability to make them wisely.

The river we are on is strewn with fallen trees, with obstacles that do not flow with the current but rather stand against it. These obstacles are our false certainties, our blind ideologies, fresh and alive until they fall across the stream and become something we crash against and cling to rather than admire and use for momentary guidance. Great ideas, like once noble trees lining the banks, becoming rotting trunks that we mistakenly believe mark a point that is as far as we need to go. But those who cling to them will only end up watching history pass them by, and will eventually rush to catch up or languish, because there is no life to be had clinging to a single spot, real or imagined, terrified of the river that we all must continue to navigate.

There is debris floating on the river, ideas we can hold onto and that still help us float downstream. But we must be careful to be ready to let them go when the time comes, to follow the branches of the river with the most solid of river beds, most strongly founded on reason and goodwill. Neither alone is quite enough: Goodwill without reason leads to good intentions poorly executed, which can be as harmful to humanity as malicious intentions rationally executed (i.e., “reason” without goodwill). The two must always be combined: We fare well neither atop the loose gravel of goodwill irrationally expressed, nor atop the thick muck of malice, regardless of how well or poorly executed it may be.

(This is a good place to pause, and make an important distinction between functional and substantive rationality. Functional rationality refers to pursuing a goal in a manner which most effectively achieves it, while substantive rationality refers to selecting goals which are most rational to achieve. There is a bit of a conceptual hierarchy to it, involving more proximate and more ultimate goals, and thus intermediate goals whose substantive rationality depends on how well they serve the ultimate goals beyond them. But it is important to understand that our knowledge of human irrationality, that humans do not make decisions and form opinions primarily through reason, and that recourse to rational arguments are not the best means of persuasion, refers only to functional rationality, to the fact that understanding and working with irrational congitive realities is necessary to functional rationality. It does not refer to substantive rationality, to the challenge facing each and every one of us to pursue those goals which best serve our collective welfare. We may have to appeal to cognitive frames and narratives to convince people to come on board, but we must exercise great discipline while doing so to ensure that we are inviting them aboard a sound vessel bound for a desirable destination.)

For some simple issues, goodwill is nearly enough on its own. Many civil rights issues fall into this category, such as legalizing civil unions and gay marriage. But many issues, particularly economic issues, involve complex dynamical systems, feedback loops, and numerous counterintuitive consequences to particular actions and policies. On such issues, it is critical that people let go of their ideological certainties, and agree instead to try to become part of a process which favors the best analyses, most in service to universal goodwill. There are real challenges to establishing such processes, but they are not insurmountable challenges. They are the kinds of challenges that we are most fundamentally called upon to confront affirmatively and effectively.

I have made some initial efforts in outlining how to pursue this vision, how to concretize a commitment to reason and goodwill, even in an irrational world laden with zealously defended competing interests (see, e.g., A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill, The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified, and How to make a kinder and more reasonable world). I have elaborated on several of the components (see, e.g., Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives and Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN)). I have identified and analyzed several of the challenges involved, several of the underlying concepts and dynamics, including The Signal-To-Noise RatioIdeology v. MethodologyCollective Action (and Time Horizon) ProblemsThe Variable Malleability of Reality, and a whole series of essays on “The evolutionary ecology of natural, human, and technological systems” (see second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts). I am also in the processes of having a page developed dedicated to this project at http://sharedpurpose.net/.

I’m asking people to join me in this effort to reach down to the most fundamental level of our shared existence, to base a movement not merely on the imperfect certainties floating on the surface of our historical stream, but on the rock-solid riverbed beneath. We can build a long-term and powerfully attractive movement based on Reason and Goodwill themselves, not expecting people to be anything other than what we are, but learning how to work with that in the ways which yield the most positive outcomes. It’s time to let our imaginations and our far-sightedness shape for us a methodology, a process, a movement whose purpose is not to triumph on this issue or that, or to win an electoral majority for this party or that, but rather to cultivate the minds and hearts and hands of all of us in ways which favor wiser and more compassionate thought and action, and wiser and more compassionate public policies. Until we consciously undertake that challenge, we have not even truly begun to realize our potential as a people.

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