Archives

Science is a wonderful thing, but science is good for some uses and not for others. Imaginative fictions are a wonderful thing, but imaginative fictions are good for some uses and not for others. People are remarkably good at allowing a decontextualized and incomplete version of science to displace imaginative fictions in ways that are counterproductive and allowing rationally unanchored and dogmatically clung to imaginative fictions to displace science in ways that are counterproductive.

We are biological creatures. From a scientific perspective, that’s really all we are, everything else being a function of our biological existence. But the biological fact of perception and cognition along with the innovation of complex forms of communication created wrinkles in that fact, aspects of ourselves that travel beyond our biological borders and survive our biological demise.

I apprehend, in limited and cognitively mediated ways, a universe in macrocosm and microcosm and everything in between, that is not fully limited to my biological boundaries. I can communicate those perceptions and cognitions–some of which might be unique innovations of my own–to others, some of whom might survive me and carry those innovations of mine forward into time beyond the timeframe of my biological existence. A person with whom I am most intimate for the longest period of time–a spouse or, even more so, child of mine–might absorb so much of my cognitive material, of my cognitive essence, that they carry substantial part of who and what I was into the world and to others after my biological existence ceases to exist. If I produce enduring expressions of that cognitive and emotional dimension of who and what I am–novels or paintings or musical compositions or published scientific theories–then even aside from the survival of some aspect of who and what I am beyond the time frame of my biological existence through those who intimately know me and survive me, some aspect of who and what I am survives in some material form that exists to some extent independently of biological forms altogether, other than requiring other biological forms to be converted back into cognitions and emotions.

To understand what is meant by “some aspect of who and what I am” in the above paragraph, one must make a distinction between the biological entity and the cognitive identity of that biological entity. Most of what we think of as ourselves–who and what we are–is cognitive. When asked “what kind of person are you?” one rarely answers, “the kind of person who is 5’ 10” tall, has white hair balding on top, a white beard, blue eyes…..” One usually answers in cognitive terms: “a person who likes to tell stories, to philosophize about the nature of our existence, to laugh and cause others to laugh….” We identify more strongly and more deeply with our cognitive selves than our biological selves. And while our cognitive selves are a function of our biological selves, once produced within the framework it has an existence that is no longer strictly bound to our biological being. If I write a story and share it with others, that story, which is the cognitive product of my biological being, continues to exist (as long as other biological beings are aware of it or have the possibility of becoming aware of it) even when the biological entity that produced it no longer does.

Primitive human beings, unincumbered by the various forms of reductionism brought on by civilization and even more intensely by science, had in some ways a more viceral understanding of this nonbiological aspect of our existence than we do. They lived in a reality more richly populated by stories and fictions and less constrained by scientific methodology. While a scientific orientation has many advantages, one disadvantage is that it shifts focus to ourselves as biological entities and away from ourselves as cognitive entities that can survive our biological existence in some ways. The notion of “life after death” is a religious notion rather than a scientific one even though, in a very real sense, who and what we are as cognitive entities survives our biological death. This is a tricky concept for modern Western minds to grasp, because we want to distinguish our cognitive product from our capacity for producing it, insisting that our capacity for producing it dies with our biological body and so our cognitive existence does as well. But a story that I create is a part of who and what I am not just in the act of creating it but also in its continued existence after I create it, and that continued existence does not depend on the continued existence of my biological self.

More broadly than just life after death, a more primitive shared cognitive landscape is simultaneously more focused on the reality of that shared cognitive landscape than on the reality of the biological beings producing it, and more focused on connecting it to the world around them in ways that both celebrate and effectively navigate that world. The mythological history of the past, the inclusion of oneself in that ongoing story in the present, and the recognition that the same story continues indefinitely into the future imbues one with a stronger, richer sense of belonging to something timeless and eternal rather than being bound to the lifespan of a human body. This is an area in which a more imaginative, fictional orientation actually brings us closer to an aspect of reality than a more reductionist, fact-oriented approach is able to. I refer to it as a more literary and less literal understanding of reality, a modality that is best suited to things or aspects of things that are not empirically accessible. But be careful! A more literary and less literal approach does not mean turning fictions into rigid, dogmatic beliefs, but rather into flexible and accommodating forms of understanding that do not create barriers to more precise empirical understandings in the interstices.

What’s the point? The point is that modernity has bought many benefits, and I am a staunch advocate of using disciplined, methodical reason for many purposes, but we have also lost much of value along the way, and I am an equally staunch advocate of recapturing our primitive, childlike wonder, our sense of a reality so full of mystery and magic that it can only be fully understood through stories. And I strive to help create a future together that marries these two modalities into something new and wonderful, something that is neither the dry and dead rationalism of people who feel no awe nor the foolish and self-destructive superstitions of those who do not provide their awe with the rudder of reason. To create an ever kinder, wiser, and more just world, we need not only to become more rational and empathetic, but also imaginative and humble; we need to feel the awe of a person who looks at the stars and sees gods in their chariots of fire, combined with the pragmatism of a person who knows that the corpus of human knowledge and wisdom can liberate us to celebrate that awe without the constant intrusion or threat of intrusion of the terror and pain and brutality that has always encroached upon it.

There are some things we should all be able to agree on. We should all be able to agree that more rational understandings of the challenges and opportunities we face as a society are preferable to less rational understandings. We should all be able to agree that “rationality” is not entirely subjective, and that if we can establish with sufficient cogency that something is indeed more rational or less rational, we should favor that which has been cogently demonstrated to be more rational. We should all be able to agree that, all other things being equal, a kinder disposition is preferable to a crueler disposition, more empathy is preferable to less empathy, caring about others is preferable to not caring about others. The preceding should be our common ground; we should fight first and foremost to establish it as our common ground. And we should be able, from that common ground, to identify that which is consistent with it and that which is antithetical to it, that which should be embraced by all and that which should be rejected by all, that which is the expression of what I described just above and that which is the opposite of what I described just above.

Obviously, irrationality* and cruelty are the antithesis of reason and kindness. And let’s allow that they are not binary, but rather poles of continua defining a complex space within which actual ideological positions and dispositions fall. So let’s begin by identifying that which is consistent with reason. (*I am actually referring to one kind of irrationality here, “dysfunctional irrationality,” as distinct from things which are “irrational” but wonderful, including, for instance, emotions and spontaneous generosity that gratify us or motivate us or lead to better outcomes but are not the product of rational thought on our part. “Dysfunctional irrationality” is that kind of irrationality that leads to unwise choices and undesirable outcomes. Distinguishing between the two is, indeed, a vital skill to develop. “Irrational,” for the remainder of this essay, refers to “dysfunctional irrationality.”)

Consistent with reason, we should all be able to agree that it is a complex and subtle world, that the comprehension of even the most brilliant among us is limited, that most of us aren’t the most brilliant among us, and that we all have cause for humility, that humility helps inform wisdom by allowing us to recognize how little we know and understand and continue to learn and understand ever more as a result. Indeed, reason is a function of knowing that we don’t know rather than of assuming that we do, and then using disciplined methodologies to determine what actually is and is not true. We can, therefore, add humility to the elements of what should be our common ground, what we should all agree is worth striving to cultivate and commit to, both within ourselves individually and among one another socially.

Consistent with reason, we should all be able to acknowledge our interdependence, our interdependence with one another and with the natural and physical world around us. Clearly, we require air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and a certain range of temperatures and other environmental conditions within our physical tolerance in order to survive. We also require other human beings in order to survive; even the most extreme survivalist, who goes off into the wilderness naked and without any tool or weapon of any kind, relies on knowledge and skills taught to them by others or acquired from others in some way. And few if any are that extreme; most rely at least to some extent on weapons or tools or equipment others have made. The rest of us rely on one another so constantly and in so many overlapping ways that we don’t even notice how ubiquitous our interdependence is.

Our interdependence goes far beyond survival. The languages we think in, the religions or philosophies we hold to be true, the scientific theories we acknowledge or apply, the rituals and tasks in which we engage in the ordinary course of our days and our lives, the techniques we utilize, the skills we employ, the norms we adhere to, the values we embrace, the music and art and recreations we enjoy, indeed, by far the greater part of who and what we are, is the expression of a collective existence and a historical evolution that we have inherited and are an integral part of. In fact, both physically and mentally, we are far more similar than different, an array of variations in how collective genetic and cultural material is combined and expressed, with occasional, very slight modifications on the margins. Our individuality is an expression of our interdependence.

There are quite a few other understandings that flow naturally from these foundations, such as the fact that we live in a predominantly non-zero-sum rather than zero-sum world, in which there are far greater gains to be had through successful cooperation than there are through its absence. We could, in fact, build an entire paradigm out of these basic axioms and their logical implications, informed by the research and practice of many others over many generations as well as by our own work in the present and future. And we could, while perpetually developing that paradigm, perpetually apply it, engaging in organizational efforts to draw people into the shared endeavor of being informed by it, informing it, helping it to evolve, and implementing it in our daily lives and our various collective endeavors.  I have begun to do so, with the help of others I’ve attracted to my initial framing of our shared cause (and who are now participants in its continuing evolution), calling this intellectual and organizational and behavioral paradigm “Transcendental Politics.”

So, we’ve identified some things that define or are logical implications of what we should all be able to accept as our common ground: a commitment to reason, a recognition that reason isn’t purely subjective, a reliance on objective criteria in determining what is reasonable; a commitment to kindness, to empathy, to putting ourselves in the shoes of others and caring about their welfare as well as about our own; a recognition of our interdependence on multiple dimensions and in multiple ways, how much our interdependence permeates our lives, how much we as individuals are an expression of it; and our recognition that we live in a predominantly non-zero-sum reality, in which cooperation yields greater benefits than its absence does. What, then, are some of the things that are antithetical to this common ground? What is the antithesis of our Transcendental Politics?

We’ve already established that irrationality and cruelty (including a lack of empathy) are antithetical to Transcendental Politics. We can add to these, based on the preceding discussion, that a lack of humility, a failure to acknowledge our interdependence, and an inability or unwillingness to engage in or seek out cooperative solutions to conflicts or shared challenges are all antithetical to Transcendental Politics. There are three further things that, though to some extent inevitable and in some ways beneficial, seem to be implied as aspects of the antithesis of Transcendental Politics: dogmatism, individualism, and tribalism.

First, let’s carve out their range of utility. While substantive dogmas, such as off-the-shelf ideologies that assume truths not necessarily in evidence, are counterproductive, methodological and attitudinal “dogmas” can be quite useful. A dogmatic commitment to the methodologies of reason and to respect for our shared humanity is, I would argue (and am arguing), a very positive thing. We’ll reserve the word “dogma,” therefore, for substantive dogmas rather than methodological and attitudinal dogmas. I refer to such substantive dogmas as “false certainties.” The counterpart of false certainty is “wise uncertainty,” the expression of intellectual humility. (Methodological and attitudinal “dogmas,” conversely, we will refer to as “disciplines.”)

Individualism and tribalism, in certain forms, have many benefits as well. Our individualism provides us with the intrinsic benefit of “liberty,” our freedom to choose our own destiny (leaving aside for the moment the philosophical question of free will and determinism). But it also provides collective benefits in terms of how robustly we contribute to our collective welfare. Extreme individualism, however, that is predatory or parasitic or unable to engage cooperatively with others, is neither personally nor socially beneficial. It is a rare narcissist, a rare sociopath, who is truly happy with their narcissism or sociopathy. And it is a poorly functioning society that is made up primarily of such people.

Tribalism, our impulse to gather together into groups that share a common identity, also has many benefits. There are the intrinsic benefits of shared identity and camaraderie as well as the functional benefits of working together for mutual benefit. Individualism and tribalism are, in one sense, opposites, in that some pure form of extreme individualism would prohibit identification with a tribe to which the individual belongs. But individualism and tribalism are also parallel and complementary, in that both are identities that are held and are distinct from other identities held by others, leading either to conflict or cooperation (or non-engagement) between and among the various such entities (whether individuals or tribes).

Extreme individualism is, therefore, sociopathological, and extreme tribalism is similarly dysfunctional on a different level. Healthy individualism, which recognizes interdependence and seeks out mutually beneficial cooperative relationships where possible, is sometimes called “enlightened individualism.” We can therefore call the tribalistic counterpart, which recognizes tribal interdependence and seeks out mutually beneficial intertribal cooperative relationships where possible, “enlightened tribalism.”

While extreme, pathological individualism is incompatible with tribalism (as well as transtribalism), there is an intense form of ideological individualism that is also highly tribalistic, the individualism becoming an integral part of the tribal ideology. To distinguish this form of intense ideological individualism from the sociopathic variety, I’m going to refer to it as “hyper-individualism,” and, for consistency, will refer to extreme tribalism as “hyper-tribalism.” This ideological hyper-individualism sees people as first and foremost individuals and tends, as a result, to downplay interdependence and be more inclined to see the world in zero-sum rather than non-zero-sum terms. It also tends to be more reactive than proactive (since proactive policies usually involve navigating interdependence), and more oriented toward prevailing in conflicts than in avoiding them through mutually beneficial cooperation.

The tribal identity that incorporates this ideology is therefore naturally hyper-tribalistic as well, translating the hyper-individualism into the tribalism. It has strong and unchecked attribution biases (biases that favor one’s own tribe and disfavor other tribes with which one doesn’t identify in terms of how attributions are made), is more combative, is less aware of intertribal interdependence, is less inclined to seek the mutual benefits of intertribal cooperation, is more reactive than proactive, and so on.

Transcendental Politics is the discipline and social movement dedicated to transcending those aspects of our individualism, tribalism, and dogmatism that are antithetical to reason, kindness, empathy, humility, a preference for mutually beneficial cooperation, and a preference for proactive rather than reactive solutions. These three things exist distributed individually and in various combinations and forms throughout our ideological and cultural spectrum. They can be found on the left, on the right, in the middle; in the form of egotism or religious fanaticism or ideological zealotry. They are problematic, each on their own.

But when they combine into a single ideological and social package comprised of dogmatism, hyper-individualism, and hyper-tribalism, that ideological and social package becomes the antithesis of Transcendental Politics in its entirety. (Arguably, Transcendental Politics is the antithesis rather than thesis here, born in response to this toxic blend of hyper-tribalism, hyper-individualism, and dogmatism that has long been nascent in American culture but has recently coalesced into a tangible force in our national political and cultural landscape.)

That particularly toxic concentration of all three antitheses of Transcendental Politics, however, is augmented and reinforced by positive feedback loops with political opposition that is imbued with too much dogmatism and tribalism (and sometimes individualism) as well. The form of opposition to that toxic concentration ends up being part of the problem rather than part of the solution to it. And that is why Transcendental Politics is not embedded in the partisan divide; it seeks to encourage and facilitate the transcendence of dogmatism, hyper-individualism, and hyper-tribalism throughout our political and cultural landscape, creating feedback loops that reinforce imagination, kindness, and humility and reduce irrationality, cruelty, and false certainty.

Developing a paradigm inevitably results in the creation of a language for that paradigm. In the language of Transcendental Politics, mobilizing more imagination, kindness, and humility in our political positions and behaviors is, by transcending our false certainties and tribalistic animosities, politically “transcendent.” Those qualities of imagination, kindness, and humility are contagious; the more of them we see on display, the more they spread, just as their opposites are contagious, the shared endeavor we’re in being to spread those transcendent qualities rather than the qualities that they seek to transcend. The real political divide, therefore, is not between the right and the left, but rather between the thesis and antithesis of Transcendental Politics.

No automatic alt text available.

An alternative representation, to emphasize the “flor”

The Flor de Luz, the Flower of Light, is both a symbol and, potentially, a tool. It is the symbol of Transcendental Politics (and logo of The Transcendental Politics Foundation) found in the middle of this Venn diagram, and the diagram itself. The name is, in part, a play on words of the French “Fleur de Lis” (a stylized lily), recognizing the incidental similarity of the original logo to a luminescent lily. It is also in part a reference to the concentric flower patterns formed by the overlapping circles of the Venn Diagram, with five small petals surrounding the logo, five larger ones surrounding those. and five larger ones still surrounding those (see the alternative representation). Most importantly, it is a reference to what both the logo and the Venn Diagram represent: Transcendental Politics, the flowering (“flor”) of a new Enlightenment (“luz”).

The Flor de Luz is, in one sense, a simple graphic with a simple purpose. It represents how Transcendental Politics resides at the confluence of our various overarching social institutions, how it aspires to be a distillation and synthesis of what is best in each of them, what has thus far worked well for humanity, leaving out what is least useful in each of them, what has thus far not served humanity well, an ongoing social movement that recognizes and respects the cumulative product of human history and humbly but proactively builds on it, weeding and pruning and watering portions of our social institutional landscape with new layers of conscious cultivation, continuing the human enterprise of transforming the wilderness of what time and numbers have produced into a garden of intentionality that better serves human welfare.

But the Flor de Luz is, in another sense, potentially (in a dynamical form discussed below) something more subtle and complex, a conceptual tool to assist in the identification stage of that ongoing endeavor of social institutional distillation and synthesis, a tool that is only partially and statically represented by the Venn Diagram above. Let’s explore, step-by-step, how it might be transformed into a dynamical tool.

First, consider possible variations of the Venn Diagram above. A different arrangement, or sequence, of the same five circles could be chosen, different pairs overlapping in the outermost petals (e.g., placing politics and activism next to each other, and religion and science next to each other, producing in their overlaps “campaigning” and “pursuit of universal paradigms,” respectively); or different overarching institutions altogether could be chosen (e.g., economics, family, technology, energy, environment, fine arts, etc.), creating a proliferation of possible combinations and sequences. (For instance, one product of the overlap of activism and economics might be “entrepreneurialism,” and of entrepreneurialism and technology “innovation,” leading to one of the already identified smaller petals by a different route.) Different aspects of what their convergences create can be highlighted, illustrating, in a sense, how “all roads lead to Transcendental Politics,” to the commitment to foster a more rational, imaginative, empathetic, humble and humane world.

We can create a completely different kind of Flor de Luz comprised of cognitive and emotional modalities instead of social institutions, with, for instance, reason, imagination, empathy, humility, and humanity (the five core values of Transcendental Politics) as the five overlapping circles, producing social institutions and types of behaviors and endeavors. We can even include such emotions and modalities as anger, fear, and tribalism, things we usually identify as that which we are striving to transcend, to acknowledge that they too have evolved for reasons, and that they may well have something to contribute to our garden of intentionality. Or we can combine cognitive and emotional modalities with social institutions from the outset, testing our minds to identify, for instance, what good can be harvested from the distillation and synthesis of anger, reason, and activism, or of imagination, fear, hope, and science, or of the convergence of those two sets. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

The purpose of presenting ourselves with these nearly limitless combinations is to guide our minds in an exploration of what is, in pursuit of what can be, by facilitating consideration of how we can work to leverage what is into something more beneficial. This can occur both in the abstract, imagining possibilities without worrying about how to attain them, and in the particular, identifying viable pathways to implementation and devising first steps that can be taken now in service to that end. It is, if nothing else, a tool for taking our minds out of the tumultuous onslaught of the perpetual urgency of now, and providing them with a space defined by a more synoptic view, in which we are guided not only in “thinking outside the box,” but in redefining “the box” as something far more expansive.

(I should insert here a response to the criticism, that I imagine has arisen in the minds of at least some readers by now, of “what does this have to do with anything? How does combining names of social institutions and cognitive and emotional modalities accomplish anything?” The answer is that it displaces our tendency to think in fixed ways determined by ideological narratives and ingrained habits of thought with a set of semi-random but also subtly systemic prompts to think in new ways. That can be remarkably useful, and it is integral to the meaning of “Transcendental Politics,” which is about institutionalizing the ongoing effort to transcend our ideological tribalisms and false certainties.)

Let me guide you through a consideration of how this design (five overlapping disks representing distinct social institutional, cognitive, and emotional modalities) can be utilized in the manner described above.

Imagine a narrated animation in which, first, the diagram is explained as representative of how Transcendental Politics is that which resides where our social institutional modalities overlap, each mitigating the others’ defects and reinforcing the others’ strengths, a sort of distillation of the best of what we’ve produced over the millennia, the product of the spinning lathe of trial and error. Then, the outer sections labeled “science, politics, education, activism, religion” are removed and the largest flower pattern is revealed, the narration stating that even though the various institutional modalities themselves are not precisely what Transcendental Politics is (because they exist independently), those aspects of their synthesis that are relevant to serving our shared humanity most effectively are distilled into the Flor de Luz. Then the next layer of petals is removed, and the next, and the narration continues, focusing on the distillation down to those essential ingredients that define Transcendental Politics, bringing the narration to a focus on precisely what Transcendental Politics IS, that quintessence at the center of this convergence of social and cultural evolution.

The animation can then grow back outward, with new petals labeled with new virtues distilled from other arrangements, both in sequence and in selection, of overarching institutions and modalities until a new completed Flor de Luz is constructed, the narration describing along the way how the petals of the concentric flowers, which in the other direction were derived from the larger overlapping petals, in this direction are emergent from the smaller ones (and ultimately from the center, from Transcendental Politics), illustrating how it inherits the cultural material of the past and helps create the cultural material of the future. The animation can then proceed to to a sliding around of the overarching circles, with the petals formed by their new overlaps changing accordingly, and then to a changing of the overarching institutions and modalities themselves, exploring some of the many different permutations of the Flor de Luz.

Now imagine a physical artifact, with five overlapping translucent plastic or glass colored circles in the form of the Flor de Luz, each rotatable around its center and able to switch positions by pivoting around the center circle containing the TPF logo and snapping into a new position. Each disk would contain perhaps three related social institutions or cognitive or emotional modalities that can be rotated into place, creating the possibility for 15 different arrangements without moving the relative positions of the disks, and some multiple of that by moving the relative positions of the disks. A complete set of disks can include far more than five, with the ability to switch out individual disks for others, removing all limits on how many arrangements can be explored. Of course doing so only suggests the combinations; the work of thinking about what that implies, what productive uses those combinations have, remains. But that work, too, can be cataloged and accumulated, in a kind of ongoing “social institutional genome project.”

(We can even create disks whose overarching categories are the finer ones produced by the confluence of other disks, and take their confluence into deeper, finer, and subtler levels.)

In an online version, that cumulative work can result in different combinations leading to different implied products of those combinations appearing in the various petals of the flower (much as they do in the graphic above). The physical artifact might accomplish the same through symbols visible in each petal in each rotational position of the disk, depending on which overarching principle is in effect, forming a sequence with the others, and then using a reference manual to interpret different sequences of symbols, the reference manual itself being a cumulative compendium of previous thought about the various possible combinations. Thus, this device could be used to explore different configurations of overlapping social institutional, cognitive, and emotional modalities, as a useful analytical and practical tool for thinking about how we can create different kinds of collaborative projects using those modalities in service to working our way toward the convergence in the center (Transcendental Politics).

(I can imagine turning it into a game as well, one that exercises the mind in certain ways that are aligned to what we are trying to cultivate, in which in each player’s turn they are challenged to take the set of social institutions and cognitive modalities they get from their “spin” of a Flor de Luz designed for that purpose and either create something from it following a set of rules and in pursuit of a defined goal, or build on what previous players have created. This is, obviously, not a fully fleshed out idea yet; just a glimpse of another possible use.)

What the Flor de Luz thus represents is that we have inherited an enormous quantity of social institutional, technological, cultural, cognitive, and emotional material, that is blended and can continue to be blended in complex ways, and that forms an evolving shared cognitive landscape of enormous complexity, subtlety, and power. It represents that we are not merely passive recipients of this material, but rather active participants in its ongoing formation, in how we combine and distill it, in what we derive from it, in how we employ it, in short, in what kind of world we choose to create together.

The Flor de Luz provides us with a relatively simple but elegant tool for thinking about this, for focusing our thoughts in productive ways. It reminds us of the possibilities, of how religious material and scientific material can combine beneficially, of the need to draw on reason and imagination and empathy all at once and not to pretend that anger and tribalism can (or should) just be wished away, of where our shared stories come from and what purposes they can serve. It reminds us of the fractal geometry of the anthrosphere, of how social institutional and cognitive and emotional materials are tributaries to larger streams; it helps us to reconstruct those tributaries and streams and rivers of possibilities in endless combinations. It is not a necessary tool; we can engage in the same contemplations without it. But it assists us in doing so more comprehensively and more precisely. Think of it as a social institutional kaleidoscope, with mechanisms for considering every set of combinations of every set of cognitive, emotional, and social institutional materials, and thinking about what those combinations imply, what challenges and possibilities they pose, what opportunities they present.

While potentially useful, it is certainly not a sufficient tool in and of itself; in the forthcoming book, “Transcendental Politics: A New Enlightenment,” I go into considerable detail exploring some small portion of the corpus of analytical and practical tools that are relevant to our endeavor. The need to continue to gather, produce, and synthesize them is perpetual. But the Flor de Luz is a reminder that at the core of all of that intellectual material and practitioner expertise are the lessons of our ongoing history, the convergence of a history of past experiments, and the cumulative products of human genius forming the foundation of present and future innovations. It is up to us to design those innovations to most effectively serve the ever fuller realization of our consciousness and of our shared humanity.

Our various personalities and affinities are reflected in which petals of which variations of the Flor de Luz resonate most with our own predispositions, talents, and desires; it becomes a way of locating ourselves in this shared endeavor of ours, of thinking about who our social institutional neighbors and natural partners are, of who we can reach out to to create new synergies in service to our shared humanity, to the greatest realization of our consciousness and our well-being, individually and collectively. It recognizes both diversity and coherence, facilitates both, draws upon both. The Flor de Luz is a way of thinking about our various roles in this shared story we are living and writing together, and how we can each individually and in cooperation with others, consciously and conscientiously, ensure that we are writing it and living it well.

To learn more about Transcendental Politics and The Transcendental Politics Foundation, visit our Facebook group, our Facebook page, or our website (still under construction).

I see life as an adventure of the mind and imagination. Whatever we do, wherever we go, however we thrive, it is our minds that define us as uniquely human, some weird and wonderful thing in this vast and varied universe of ours. The desire to help others discover that is a big part of why I’m a teacher.

We should all be students, all of our lives, because our world grows the more we learn about it, our lives expand and grow richer, our own identities deepen and ripen, who and what we are becomes something more than what it was. It’s easier to believe that about great literature, great music, great art, but I’m going to make the case for something not everyone realizes is so incredibly beautiful.

Mathematics is one of the great products of human genius. It is not the only one, maybe not superior to others that occupy its heights, but neither inferior to them. It occupies a pantheon of human consciousness that includes great literature that can take you on journeys of the imagination into ever deeper and subtler spheres of reality; brilliant music that provides not merely a beat to move to but an intricate language of tightly woven sounds that speaks to our very soul; philosophies and sciences and fine arts of various kinds.

But math is not least among them, and perhaps is most remarkable of all, music that has not been played, science unyoked from the constraints of observable reality or at least stretching an ever-more elastic tether to them. It distills some essence of the universe, of the macrocosms and microcosms, of ubiquitous and eternal forms, speaking a language that crosses cultural and linguistic barriers and historical epochs with a completeness that not even music and the fine arts can attain.

Math is the purified mind, the celestial symphony, a strange and beautiful sphere of human thought, god’s own soliloquy echoing within us. And when applied to the practical questions that assail us, either directly or through its verbal twin of logical analysis, it enables us to do better, to discipline our passions and channel our thoughts, to arrive at wiser rather than more foolish conclusions. It is a vehicle of both beauty and purpose, a tool and an instrument, delicately plucked to play truths too subtle to otherwise hear.

In the gardens of Athens in the fourth century BC (planting the seeds of Western Civilization), in the plazas of Florence in the 16th century AD (ushering in the modern era), in the salons of Paris in the 18th century AD (informing and inspiring others in a small meeting room in Philadelphia), to a lesser extent in mid-19th century Concord, MA (informing and inspiring Gandhi and King and Mandela), the genius of a few unleashed new currents of the genius of the many, currents thick with reason and a stronger commitment to our shared humanity, changing the course of human history. It has been done before and it will be done again, whenever and wherever people choose to do it.

They did not gather in those times and places to discuss only how to win this or that election or to shift power from one party to another or to address the human endeavor one issue at a time. Rather, they gathered, with wonder and hope and passion, to explore and discover, to create and innovate, to raise reason and our shared humanity onto a pedestal and dedicate themselves to the enterprise of perfecting our consciousness and improving our existence.

In every time and place, including these ones of particular florescence, most of the people went about their business, engaged in the mundane challenges of life, fought the battles we all fight, both personal and collective. But the great paradigm shifts of history have happened when a coalescence of inspired minds reached deeper and broader than others around them, beyond the individual issues of the day, beyond the immediate urgencies and power struggles, and sought out the essence of our existence, to understand it, to celebrate it, and to change it for the better.

Imagine a gathering of great minds today that were not lost to the minutia of academe or the mud-pit of politics or the selfish pursuit of wealth and fame and power, but were free to devote themselves to the challenge of orchestrating a social transformation, a peaceful revolution occurring beneath the surface of events, a new threshold reached in the advance of creative reason in service to humanity.

Imagine gatherings of engaged citizens that, guided only by the broadly attractive narrative of reason in service to our shared humanity, of emulating our Founding Fathers and fulfilling the vision that they had for this nation, dedicated themselves to learning how to listen to one another and weigh competing arguments rather than regress ever deeper into blind ideological trench warfare. Imagine forming the nucleus of a movement that would extend the logic of methodical reason in service to our shared humanity ever more broadly, not just through direct participation, but through the promotion of the narrative that we are capable of doing so and that it is incumbent on us to do so.

What is stopping us from establishing such gatherings, and such a movement? What is stopping us from bringing together a small cadre of brilliant minds to implement ideas designed to cascade through the social fabric in transformative ways, and large populations of engaged citizens to stir and be stirred by the sea giving rise to those cresting waves of brilliance, together advancing the tide of imaginative reason in service to our shared humanity? Only the precise combination of vision, drive, sophistication and resources that would make it happen, not just in some stumbling and unsustainable or unproductive way, but as a living, breathing, current reality.

I’ve designed the nucleus of an idea, a social movement that is realistic as well as idealistic, a secular religion to promote the narrative and practice of disciplined reason in service to our shared humanity. As a person who learned how to dream as a child; who drifted and worked and lived around the world for several years as a young adult; who became a social scientist, author, teacher, lawyer, public policy consultant, candidate for office, and member of several nonprofit boards and advisory councils; who has done urban outreach work and community organizing; who has synthesized ideas from many disciplines, many great minds, and much experience, this is not a Quixotic quest that boasts much but can deliver little; it is a carefully considered strategic plan for moving the center of gravity of our zeitgeist in the direction of an ever-increasing reliance on imaginative reason in ever-increasing service to our shared humanity.

For a comprehensive (though somewhat dense) presentation of my proposal, please see A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill.

For a briefer and simpler presentation of the underlying philosophy of this proposed social movement, please see: The Ideology of Reason in Service to Humanity.

For an extremely bare-bones summary of the social movement idea itself, please see: A VERY Simplified Synopsis of “The Politics of Reason and Goodwill”.

For more elaboration of various aspects of this proposal and various musings about it, please see the essays hyperlinked to in the second box at: Catalogue of Selected Posts

The biggest challenge that faces human beings is to make sense rather than to make noise. Effectively addressing all other challenges depends on it. Whether we want to change the world or want to protect ourselves from the impositions of others trying to change the world, our beliefs, our goals, our actions, are all a function of how we understand reality, and it is clear, at least in the abstract, that some understandings are more precise, more accurate, and more useful than others.

The first thing we have to understand is that we are not just a collection of individuals, but rather are members of a society and organisms in a biosphere. We exist interdependently with one another and with our environment, unable to survive at all without the latter and unable to survive as human beings without the former. Our continued existence as organisms depends on ingesting food and breathing air, two vital needs that are produced and maintained by the living planet which we inhabit interdependently with other living things. Our consciousness as human beings and our existence beyond bare survival (and in almost all cases our survival itself) depends on our coexistence with other human beings in organized groups, through which our use of language allows us to thrive through a shared but differentiated mind and a shared but differentiated enterprise.

That leads to the first question we must face: Do we, as individuals and as a society, take responsibility for our impact on those systems of which we are a part, or do we leave them to their own organic trajectories, pursuing our own immediate goals without attempting to act with conscious intent beyond them? Do we attempt to be conscious and conscientious participants in these larger wholes of which we are a part, or do we simply live as individual organisms pursuing our own individual desires? Do we take responsibility for one another, for the distribution of suffering and well-being, of opportunity and of relative lack of opportunity, for how well our systems are functioning in terms of their sustainability, their robustness, and their fairness, or do we insist that doing so is either impossible or undesirable?

The second thing we have to understand is our own fallibility. Anything any one of us is certain about may be wrong. Our various beliefs and certainties are conceptualizations of reality in our minds, and must always be considered fallible. This leads to two considerations: 1) the best (and perhaps only rational) argument supporting those who insist that we must not try to govern ourselves as rational people confronting the challenges and opportunities we face is the argument that perhaps we are simply not up to the task, and that we should therefore rely on simple principles that best liberate our collective and individual genius rather than try to “micromanage” our shared existence, and 2) our focus should be on how we arrive at our conclusions, rather than on insisting that our current conclusions are the one absolute truth.

The first consideration is easily dealt with: Recognizing our fallibility and the power of organic processes is a part of being rational people working together to do the best we can, not a displacement of it. The Constitution (created by intentional human thought, arguably a very ambitious act of “social engineering”) and the modern marketplace (also a product of much intentional thought and oversight) are not magical panaceas which free us from the responsibility of striving to be responsible and humane sovereigns, but are merely part of the accumulated material of past efforts by past generations to do what we ourselves are called upon to continue to do: To govern ourselves intelligently, responsibly, and intentionally, in service to our shared humanity.

We should strive to emulate rather than idolize our “founding fathers,” to be the same kind of proactive rational citizens, working together, mobilizing our intelligence, believing in our ability to rationally and humanely govern ourselves. We should utilize rather than surrender to market forces, recognizing that there is nothing about them that automatically resolves all human problems and challenges, but rather that they are one useful institutional modality upon which we can rely in concert with others, in our ongoing efforts to work together to do the best we can in service to our shared humanity.

The second consideration flowing from our recognition of our own fallibility is the one that leads to a broader and deeper commitment to the methodologies that have proved most useful in the modern era at diminishing the aggregate effects of bias and increasing aggregate accuracy in our conclusions. Both scientific methodology and legal procedure are sets of techniques for informing and framing rigorous debates over what is and is not true, following sets of rules regarding what evidence to consider reliable and how to organize and channel the determinations that follow from that evidence. In science, the purpose to which this process is put is to refine our shared consciousness; in law, it is to increase the justness of our coexistence. These, indeed, are the two things we should always be striving to do, as responsible sovereigns, and to do so most effectively we should build on the methodologies that already exist for doing so.

In other words, the most pressing imperative facing our shared human enterprise right now is the expansion of the logic of science and law into the realm of public discourse and public opinion and policy formation. We need to transcend, to leave on the dust heap of history, the myth that all opinions are equal (while protecting the expression of all opinions in order to determine their relative merits), and engage in rigorous, increasingly formal debates in a constant quest for the best understandings, in best service to our shared humanity.

Tragically, we, as a people, are not only faced with the challenge of cultivating these disciplines more broadly among ourselves, but also of convincing those least committed to them that they have any value at all. We are also faced with the challenge of overcoming the reality that human beings in general do not arrive at their conclusions primarily through rational processes, but rather through social and emotional processes that often circumvent or disregard reason and evidence, and often serve narrower interests than our shared humanity.

The challenge facing rational and humane people, therefore, is not just to make the most compelling arguments in best service to our shared humanity, but also to create a context in which the most compelling arguments in best service to our shared humanity are more likely to prevail. That requires us to be rational about human irrationality, and to engage not primarily in a competition of rational arguments but rather in a competition of emotional narratives. The challenge, in other words, is to create a compelling emotional narrative out of the notion of being rational and humane people, and, even more, the notion of being rational and humane people in certain specific, disciplined ways, and then to create a set of mechanisms by which the most compelling rational arguments in best service to our shared humanity are also, simultaneously, compelling emotional narratives that persuade people who do not engage in or necessarily understand the disciplines we are promoting.

The most immediate challenge in the ongoing human endeavor, in other words, is to create, promote, and disseminate a compelling emotional narrative that systematically favors reason in service to humanity, not on a case-by-case basis (as we have been doing), but in a more general and comprehensive way.

There are, therefore, two major branches to the human endeavor: 1) to continue to develop, deepen, and broaden a commitment to disciplined reason in service to our shared humanity, using the methodologies we have developed for doing so, and extending the breadth of contexts in which they are utilized and the number of people striving to utilize them; and 2) to create an emotionally compelling narrative that attracts those who lack the desire or ability to utilize or defer to those disciplines (rigorously applied and debated rational argumentation) or that objective (our shared humanity) to support them not just in name, but also in some effective and authentic way.

To some, this will all seem too abstract, too far removed from the political and cultural realities we grapple with, or too far removed from their own emotional and cognitive inclinations. But those of us who are truly committed to striving to become an ever-more rational and humane people need to recognize that the ongoing mud-fight isn’t the height of what we can do, that we need to reach higher, think deeper, act more ambitiously in service to the highest of ideals and the noblest of purposes. The great cultural and political heroes of modern history, who we revere for their inspired and effective leadership, are who they are precisely because they have had the courage and determination to bite off rather large chunks of this challenge that I have just laid out, opposing imperialism or racism or other injustices. But we can invoke them all now, we can rally them to the greater cause of which they all were a part, and we can promote that cause with the same degree of passion and commitment that they did…, because that truly is the essence of the human endeavor.

(My essays on Colorado Confluence elaborate many of these themes. In the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts are hyperlinks to essays laying out a comprehensive social systemic paradigm through which to understand and analyze our shared cognitive/social institutional/historical/technological landscape. In the second box are hyperlinks to essays laying out a social movement idea for promoting the narrative of and actual commitment to reason in service to humanity. Scattered among the remaining boxes are hyperlinks to essays exploring various aspects of both of these branches of the human endeavor. Together, they form a comprehensive and detailed map of the human endeavor as I have described it in this essay.)

Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythological novel A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

Though the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, is still three days away, today is the day to start reflecting on it, on its continuing relevance in so many ways, and on our need to recommit as a nation to that poignant dream of realizing our decency as a nation.

As we look back on recent events and recent developments, on the shooting death of an unarmed black teen walking home from the store by an armed vigilante out looking for “bad guys;” of the response by so many dismissing it as the price we pay for the “liberty” to “protect ourselves,” often informed by our bigotries,  in violent and deadly ways; of the combination of a right-wing drive to reinstate voter suppression laws and a Supreme Court holding making it easier to do so; of the rise of an angry, violent, divisive, and frequently racist political movement in America that loves guns and, by its ideological choices, hates humanity; it’s time for us to once again ask ourselves what kind of a people we want to be.

It’s time to dream again, America, and to shout that dream from the mountain tops. It’s time to dream of a nation in which we are more committed to lifting one another up than to knocking one another down. It’s time to dream of a future, of a present, in which we care that so many are so impoverished, that so many have so little access to basic health care, that so many suffer so much unnecessary violence. It’s time to dream again of being a people whose disputes are defined more by the limits of our reason and decency than by the extent of our bigotries. It’s time to dream again of striving to become a nation, and, eventually, a world, committed more to our shared humanity than to our explicit and implicit hatreds or, just as destructively, our mutual indifference.

It’s time to dream again, to care, to think, to strive, to work diligently on behalf of that which is most rational and humane, that which is most decent and good, that which is most caring and conscious. It’s time to dream again, and, in never-flagging opposition to those base and horrifying human tendencies that ever-seek to turn our dream into a nightmare, tendencies that are so in ascendance once again in this too-often troubled and misguided nation of ours, work diligently, work with all other rational people of goodwill, work in service to our shared humanity, to make that dream come ever-more true.

(Dr. King’s prepared remarks end at about the 11 minute mark of this video, and his “I have a dream” speech, extemporaneously building on a theme he had used a few times in smaller venues, begins just after the 12 minute mark.)

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

Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythological novel A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

It’s no secret to people who read my essays, posts and comments that I am unabashedly critical of far-right-wing thought in America. That is not to say that there are no rational and humane conservative ideas, and no rational and humane conservatives, but rather that the current dominant brand of conservatism in America is neither rational nor humane (and it is this more extreme, currently popular version that I am referring to when I refer to “right-wing” thought). This is not a unique perspective, nor is it unusual for an intellectual to hold it; indeed, intellectualism is explicitly disdained by the ideological camp in question. Precisely those professions that methodically gather, verify, analyze and contemplate information are dismissed as bastions of liberal bias, and the (undoubtedly fallible) conclusions arrived at by those professional disciplines and held by the majority in rational deference to the greater reliability of such information are considered by right-wingers to be inferior to their own arbitrary, dogmatic false certainties.

Though we will not win the battle of narratives through rational argumentation alone, we will win it by driving home the fact that we are promoting the narrative of reason and humanity, because whether people actually engage in rational thought or not, the overwhelming majority recognize in principle the greater credibility of rationally over irrationally derived conclusions. The more that rational and humane people drive home the fact that they ARE rational and humane people, opposing the ideologies of irrationality and inhumanity, the more successful we will be in the battle of narratives that is the political arena. Therefore, be prepared, in every debate with a right-wing ideologue (or even, as is sometimes the case, an irrational left-wing ideologue) to mobilize formal logic and to name formal logical fallacies, or to describe specific fallacies routinely employed by right-wing ideologues. Let’s distinguish ourselves from them by looking like, as well as being, the voice of reason and humanity, because it is by making that distinction constantly and abundantly clear that we will move this country and this world in positive directions.

I’ve examined the very abundant universe of right-wing fallacy from many angles, tackling specific dimensions, specific issues, and specific aspects of it. But I’m not sure if I’ve yet published (on this blog) my growing typology of specific fallacies most particular to right-wing argumentation. Some don’t fit neatly into the list of conventional logical fallacies, or are very particular variations of them, and those are the ones I shall address first, because I find them the most interesting.

For instance, I’m fascinated by what I call “the right-wing two-step,” which involves first insulating poorly informed and poorly argued opinions from critical analysis on the basis of a relativistic argument, and then promoting them to the status of unassailable absolute truth on the basis of the argument that to fail to do so would be to commit the error of relativism. This fallacy, most common among right-wing evangelicals, is so luxurious in its absurdity that one has to admire the poetry of dogged ignorance that it represents.

It operates as follows: In Conversation 1, a right-wing opinion is challenged on the basis of a factual and rational critical argument, to which the right-wing ideologue replies, “I’m sure that there are equally good arguments supporting my position” or “whose reason, yours or mine?” as if there is no such thing as “reason” which exists independently of each person’s arbitrary claim to it. The right-wing ideologue will dismiss the critical argument not with a counterargument of any kind, but with an assertion of the equality of all opinions, and the right of each to have their own. In this way, they insulate their own opinion from any intrusion of fact or reason.

In Conversation 2, the right-wing ideologue is challenged on the more general basis that there are many different people from many different ideological camps who are as certain of their absolute truths as the right-wing ideologue is of his, and that there is no a priori reason for assuming that one is correct and the others false (this would be a good introduction to the critical challenge posed in Conversation 1, if it could get that far). This is in fact similar to the reasoning that the right-wing ideologue used in Conversation 1 to insulate his ideology from fact and reason, but rather than using it to bring the certainty of his own dogma into question, he uses it to reduce any other contention to a condition of a priori equality to his own. Now, however, in Conversation 2, he rejects that same line of reasoning, insisting that to accept it is to commit the error of relativism by failing to recognize that there IS one absolute truth rather than a variety of competing truths!

So, first, his opinion can’t be challenged because all opinions are equal, and then no other opinion can be considered because there is only one absolute truth, and since his can’t be challenged it must be that one absolute truth! It’s hard to overstate the wonder of such perfect irrationality.

It’s worth emphasizing that the actual order of conversations is irrelevant. I’ve ordered them as I have because I believe that that is the order by which they are used to insulate one’s own fortress of ideological dogma from both specific and general critical examination, the specific insulated against by a general argument, and the general insulated against by an appeal to specificity. This is a very particular and elaborate version of the tautological fallacy, described below.

The right-wing two-step is a particular variation of the broad spectrum of prevalent right-wing fallacy that involves selective perception, cherry-picked evidence, and what I call “pettifogging,” or the obfuscation of the big picture and the overwhelming thrust of evidence and reason by means of relentless picking at peripheral and often barely relevant details. This generally involves the narrowing of the frame of reference so as to ignore all contextual information, and focusing on anomalous or isolated information that supports their conclusions (and can generally be easily explained in the context of opposing conclusions) while ignoring the overall weight of the evidence comprehensively considered.

The George Zimmerman trial and the public debates surrounding it provide an excellent recent example of the narrowing of the frame of reference to an isolated instant, conveniently filtering out any consideration of the context leading up to that instant. By focusing exclusively on the moment in which the fatal shot was fired, and by assuming the facts most favorable to the person they most identify with (the guy going out with his gun to find “bad guys”), the far-right manages to disregard the fact that Zimmerman made aggressive choices that led to the shooting death, at his hands, of a kid who at least up until Zimmerman’s choice to follow him with a gun, had been committing no crime. But for Zimmerman’s choices to arm himself, leave his home, identify a black teen walking home from the store as suspicious looking, and stalk him, the violent encounter that led to Zimmerman shooting that teen to death would never have occurred. But by narrowing the frame to the instant of the shooting itself, this fact can be completely disregarded and the challenge it poses to their overall ideology ignored.

Another variation of this fallacy involves responding to statistical evidence with anecdotal evidence, as if finding any case that does not support the statistical correlation is disproof of that correlation’s validity. This is a favorite technique in arguments over gun regulations, when the statistical evidence demonstrating a positive correlation both domestically and internationally among developed nations of gun ownership and homicide rates is dismissed on the basis of the trope that “Chicago (or Washington DC) has the strictest gun regulations in America and the highest homicide rates,” or “crime rates went up right after gun regulations were implemented in X locale.” Sometimes this is true (sometimes invented), but the real point is that it is anecdotal, and not a meaningful response to the statistical data which does not cherry-pick convenient cases but rather considers all cases at once. (It also ignores the obvious causal relationship that jurisdictions with high homicide rates and strict gun laws generally implemented the latter in response to the former.)

My favorite analogy for the fallacy of using anecdotal evidence for rejecting statistical evidence is that of arguing that wearing seat belts in a car increases the likelihood that you will die in a car accident. One can argue against that position, which we all know to be absurd, by citing the statistics which demonstrate it to be absurd. But if a right-winger had some ideological reason to want to arrive at the opposite conclusion, they could simply cite every example they can find of the anomalous event that someone wearing a seatbelt died as a result of wearing their seatbelt, thus in their mind disproving what the statistical evidence demonstrates. Or, ideologues engaging in pseudo-science can data-mine for anomalous correlations, such as (hypothetically) “people driving four-door sedans on city streets in the third largest urban area in Illinois between 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm on weekdays are more likely to die if they are wearing seatbelts than if not.”

I’ve made the “cherry-picking” of the statistical correlation obvious in this case, in order to illustrate how it can be done (anomalous correlations can be found if you search long and hard enough) and the similarity to finding simple anecdotal anomalies to “refute” statistical evidence, but when used by right-wing ideologues, it is often less obvious to an untrained eye. (A favorite tactic, for instance, is to replace “firearms” with “rifles,” and then to cite homicide statistics by rifles as if rifles represented all firearms, often actually switching to “guns” from rifles when presenting the statistic.) John Lott’s study in “More Guns, Less Crime” for instance, has been widely criticized for the selection of parameters to arrive at desired conclusions, and has been rejected as invalid by a panel of experts convened by the National Research Council (as well as by numerous individual scholars), and yet is the study on which the most knowledgeable gun advocates almost exclusively rely.

(As a side note, this focus on anomalous data as a way of rebuffing the weight of all data considered comprehensively not only disregards the weight of the data considered comprehensively, but also disregards the explanations for such anomalies within the context of the larger causal relationships suggested by the comprehensive data. For instance, even accepting, for the sake of argument, the validity of John Lott’s thoroughly rejected study finding a positive correlation between laxer gun regulations and lower violent crime rates, such a correlation would not necessarily imply that such a paradigm is the optimal solution to the comparatively very high rate of deadly violence in America, due to a combination of considerations. Uneven local gun regulations in a nation with no internal barriers to the movement of goods across state and municipal lines mean that local regulations are undermined by laxer regulations elsewhere. The statistical fact that the overwhelming majority of the guns used in the commission of crimes anywhere in America are initially bought in jurisdictions with the laxest regulations reinforces this conclusion. And understanding the difference between local and global optima, in which it may be the case that in a gun-saturated society with no internal barriers to the transportation of goods across state and municipal borders, laws which increase “the war of all against all” could slightly reduce local deadly violence rates but keep them far higher than in other nations that don’t rely on “the war of all against all” to keep the peace, helps to put such anomalous evidence into perspective in the context of a comprehensive examination of the global evidence.)

One elaboration of narrowing the frame of reference, that also segues nicely into the issue of “pettifogging” discussed next, is the right-wing shell-game of isolated attention. This usually takes the form of focusing on one peripheral fact or anomaly or doctored study, which, once debunked, is replaced with another, until, after having exhausted their available supply, they return to the first one as if it had never been debunked. This is the more general tactic of which “the right-wing two-step” discussed above is one variation.

By far the favorite technique in right-wing “debate” is the tactic of “pettifogging,” which is picking away at every marginal and barely relevant detail of an opposing argument in order to avoid having to confront the central argument itself. This involves questioning the credibility of the source, even when the sources used are generally considered among the most credible (Harvard and other university peer-reviewed studies and conventional journalistic reporting by major media outlets are all dismissed as products of a liberal propaganda machine, while the arbitrary products of what is in reality a propaganda machine are embraced without question); insisting that every inconvenient assertion be cited in every casual exchange (though no one else is doing so); and finding peripheral and often irrelevant details to obsess about (definitions of conventionally understood terms, etc.). In this way, they can endlessly monopolize the time and energy of anyone arguing against any position they hold without permitting the argument to be compiled and presented in any coherent form, always derailing it with a barrage of irrelevant and peripheral demands, eventually wearing down the critique and thus claiming victory for having done so.

There is a hybrid fallacy that merits mention, even weaker than the others that it resembles: Changing the subject entirely. It has some straw man aspects (arguing against a position on an unrelated issue no one has advanced at all rather than a caricature of one advanced relevant to the issue at hand), some pettifogging aspects (picking at something not only barely relevant and marginal, but rather completely irrelevant and not even marginal), and some shell game aspects (not merely switching among distinct issues within the same argument, but switching to another topic altogether). A very recent example is, after providing comprehensive evidence debunking the notion that our gun culture has no relation to our rates of deadly violence, my opponent said, “so you must love “Fast & Furious, then.” The discussion, of course, had no relation to that bungled Obama administration program, but the idea was to get me on the defensive on something, anything, no matter how irrelevant it might be.

One last technique merits mention: Rejection by typology. This usually involves some label imbued with a strong negative judgment, and the shoving of all things to be critiqued into that label, the assumption being that by doing so the defectiveness of the thing so labeled has been proved. The most common label is “socialist” (though libertarians are increasingly fond of “statist” instead, imbuing the identical folly with a false veneer of intellectualism that the overuse of the word “socialism” lacks), and its use incorporates an element of the cherry-picking fallacy described above. By this technique, all governments with large administrative infrastructures are “socialist” or “statist,” and all socialist or statist countries are known to have been dismal failures. The problem is that using a definition that broad renders the second point simply false, since every single modern, prosperous, free nation on Earth has a large administrative infrastructure, and has had such an infrastructure in place since prior to participating in the historically unprecedented post-WWII expansion in the production of prosperity.

What really distinguishes the famously failed “socialist” or “statist” countries from the famously successful ones that share that completely non-distinguishing trait are a set of other variables: Freedom of speech and press, relatively legitimate democratic processes, and protection of individual civil rights and due process in criminal proceedings. The existence of a large administrative state not only is not exclusively associated with failed states, but, in fact, the most successful states all, without exception, have such large administrative infrastructures, and have had them for generations. This fallacy combines the “false dichotomy” fallacy described below (i.e., there are just two categories of states, socialist and non-socialist) with the selective perception tactic described above (only noticing those states with large administrative infrastructures that failed, and not those that comprise the entire set of the most successful political economies in human history).

Following is a fairly complete list of major logical fallacies, excerpted verbatim from “The Skeptics Guide to the Universe” website, which also includes a very good introduction on the structure of logical arguments (http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logicalfallacies.aspx).

Ad hominem:An ad hominem argument is any that attempts to counter another’s claims or conclusions by attacking the person, rather than addressing the argument itself. True believers will often commit this fallacy by countering the arguments of skeptics by stating that skeptics are closed minded. Skeptics, on the other hand, may fall into the trap of dismissing the claims of UFO believers, for example, by stating that people who believe in UFO’s are crazy or stupid.A common form of this fallacy is also frequently present in the arguments of conspiracy theorists (who also rely heavily on ad-hoc reasoning). For example, they may argue that the government must be lying because they are corrupt.It should be noted that simply calling someone a name or otherwise making an ad hominem attack is not in itself a logical fallacy. It is only a fallacy to claim that an argument is wrong because of a negative attribute of someone making the argument. (i.e. “John is a jerk.” is not a fallacy. “John is wrong because he is a jerk.” is a logical fallacy.)The term “poisoning the well” also refers to a form of ad hominem fallacy. This is an attempt to discredit the argument of another by implying that they possess an unsavory trait, or that they are affiliated with other beliefs or people that are wrong or unpopular. A common form of this also has its own name – Godwin’s Law or the reductio ad Hitlerum. This refers to an attempt at poisoning the well by drawing an analogy between another’s position and Hitler or the Nazis. Ad ignorantiam:The argument from ignorance basically states that a specific belief is true because we don’t know that it isn’t true. Defenders of extrasensory perception, for example, will often overemphasize how much we do not know about the human brain. It is therefore possible, they argue, that the brain may be capable of transmitting signals at a distance.UFO proponents are probably the most frequent violators of this fallacy. Almost all UFO eyewitness evidence is ultimately an argument from ignorance – lights or objects sighted in the sky are unknown, and therefore they are alien spacecraft.Intelligent design is almost entirely based upon this fallacy. The core argument for intelligent design is that there are biological structures that have not been fully explained by evolution, therefore a powerful intelligent designer must have created them.In order to make a positive claim, however, positive evidence for the specific claim must be presented. The absence of another explanation only means that we do not know – it doesn’t mean we get to make up a specific explanation. Argument from authority:The basic structure of such arguments is as follows: Professor X believes A, Professor X speaks from authority, therefore A is true. Often this argument is implied by emphasizing the many years of experience, or the formal degrees held by the individual making a specific claim. The converse of this argument is sometimes used, that someone does not possess authority, and therefore their claims must be false. (This may also be considered an ad-hominen logical fallacy – see below.)In practice this can be a complex logical fallacy to deal with. It is legitimate to consider the training and experience of an individual when examining their assessment of a particular claim. Also, a consensus of scientific opinion does carry some legitimate authority. But it is still possible for highly educated individuals, and a broad consensus to be wrong – speaking from authority does not make a claim true.This logical fallacy crops up in more subtle ways also. For example, UFO proponents have argued that UFO sightings by airline pilots should be given special weight because pilots are trained observers, are reliable characters, and are trained not to panic in emergencies. In essence, they are arguing that we should trust the pilot’s authority as an eye witness.There are many subtypes of the argument from authority, essentially referring to the implied source of authority. A common example is the argument ad populum – a belief must be true because it is popular, essentially assuming the authority of the masses. Another example is the argument from antiquity – a belief has been around for a long time and therefore must be true. Argument from final Consequences:Such arguments (also called teleological) are based on a reversal of cause and effect, because they argue that something is caused by the ultimate effect that it has, or purpose that is serves. Christian creationists have argued, for example, that evolution must be wrong because if it were true it would lead to immorality.One type of teleological argument is the argument from design. For example, the universe has all the properties necessary to support live, therefore it was designed specifically to support life (and therefore had a designer. Argument from Personal Incredulity:I cannot explain or understand this, therefore it cannot be true. Creationists are fond of arguing that they cannot imagine the complexity of life resulting from blind evolution, but that does not mean life did not evolve. Begging the Question:The term “begging the question” is often misused to mean “raises the question,” (and common use will likely change, or at least add this new, definition). However, the intended meaning is to assume a conclusion in one’s question. This is similar to circular reasoning, and an argument is trying to slip in a conclusion in a premise or question – but it is not the same as circular reasoning because the question being begged can be a separate point. Whereas with circular reasoning the premise and conclusion are the same.The classic example of begging the question is to ask someone if they have stopped beating their wife yet. Of course, the question assumes that they every beat their wife.In my appearance on the Dr. Oz show I was asked – what are alternative medicine skeptics (termed “holdouts”) afraid of? This is a double feature of begging the question. By using the term “holdout” the question assumes that acceptance is already become the majority position and is inevitable. But also, Oz begged the question that skeptics are “afraid.” This also created a straw man (see below) of our position, which is rather based on a dedication to reasonable standards of science and evidence. Confusing association with causation:This is similar to the post-hoc fallacy in that it assumes cause and effect for two variables simply because they occur together. This fallacy is often used to give a statistical correlation a causal interpretation. For example, during the 1990’s both religious attendance and illegal drug use have been on the rise. It would be a fallacy to conclude that therefore, religious attendance causes illegal drug use. It is also possible that drug use leads to an increase in religious attendance, or that both drug use and religious attendance are increased by a third variable, such as an increase in societal unrest. It is also possible that both variables are independent of one another, and it is mere coincidence that they are both increasing at the same time.This fallacy, however, has a tendency to be abused, or applied inappropriately, to deny all statistical evidence. In fact this constitutes a logical fallacy in itself, the denial of causation. This abuse takes two basic forms. The first is to deny the significance of correlations that are demonstrated with prospective controlled data, such as would be acquired during a clinical experiment. The problem with assuming cause and effect from mere correlation is not that a causal relationship is impossible, it’s just that there are other variables that must be considered and not ruled out a-priori. A controlled trial, however, by its design attempts to control for as many variables as possible in order to maximize the probability that a positive correlation is in fact due to a causation.Further, even with purely epidemiological, or statistical, evidence it is still possible to build a strong scientific case for a specific cause. The way to do this is to look at multiple independent correlations to see if they all point to the same causal relationship. For example, it was observed that cigarette smoking correlates with getting lung cancer. The tobacco industry, invoking the “correlation is not causation” logical fallacy, argued that this did not prove causation. They offered as an alternate explanation “factor x”, a third variable that causes both smoking and lung cancer. But we can make predictions based upon the smoking causes cancer hypothesis. If this is the correct causal relationship, then duration of smoking should correlate with cancer risk, quitting smoking should decrease cancer risk, smoking unfiltered cigarettes should have a higher cancer risk than filtered cigarettes, etc. If all of these correlations turn out to be true, which they are, then we can triangulate to the smoking causes cancer hypothesis as the most likely possible causal relationship and it is not a logical fallacy to conclude from this evidence that smoking probably causes lung cancer. Confusing currently unexplained with unexplainable:Because we do not currently have an adequate explanation for a phenomenon does not mean that it is forever unexplainable, or that it therefore defies the laws of nature or requires a paranormal explanation. An example of this is the “God of the Gapsa” strategy of creationists that whatever we cannot currently explain is unexplainable and was therefore an act of god. False Analogy:Analogies are very useful as they allow us to draw lessons from the familiar and apply them to the unfamiliar. Life is like a box of chocolate – you never know what you’re going to get.A false analogy is an argument based upon an assumed similarity between two things, people, or situations when in fact the two things being compared are not similar in the manner invoked. Saying that the probability of a complex organism evolving by chance is the same as a tornado ripping through a junkyard and created a 747 by chance is a false analogy. Evolution, in fact, does not work by chance but is the non-random accumulation of favorable changes.Creationists also make the analogy between life and your home, invoking the notion of thermodynamics or entropy. Over time your home will become messy, and things will start to break down. The house does not spontaneously become more clean or in better repair.The false analogy here is that a home is an inanimate collection of objects. Whereas life uses energy to grow and reproduce – the addition of energy to the system of life allows for the local reduction in entropy – for evolution to happen.Another way in which false analogies are invoked is to make an analogy between two things that are in fact analogous in many ways – just not the specific way being invoked in the argument. Just because two things are analogous in some ways does not mean they are analogous in every way. False Continuum:The idea that because there is no definitive demarcation line between two extremes, that the distinction between the extremes is not real or meaningful: There is a fuzzy line between cults and religion, therefore they are really the same thing. False Dichotomy:Arbitrarily reducing a set of many possibilities to only two. For example, evolution is not possible, therefore we must have been created (assumes these are the only two possibilities). This fallacy can also be used to oversimplify a continuum of variation to two black and white choices. For example, science and pseudoscience are not two discrete entities, but rather the methods and claims of all those who attempt to explain reality fall along a continuum from one extreme to the other. Genetic Fallacy:The term “genetic” here does not refer to DNA and genes, but to history (and therefore a connection through the concept of inheritance). This fallacy assumes that something’s current utility is dictated by and constrained by its historical utility. This is easiest to demonstrate with words – a words current use may be entirely unrelated to its etymological origins. For example, if I use the term “sunset” or “sunrise” I am not implying belief in a geocentric cosmology in which the sun revolves about the Earth and literally “rises” and “sets.” Inconsistency:Applying criteria or rules to one belief, claim, argument, or position but not to others. For example, some consumer advocates argue that we need stronger regulation of prescription drugs to ensure their safety and effectiveness, but at the same time argue that medicinal herbs should be sold with no regulation for either safety or effectiveness. No True Scotsman:This fallacy is a form of circular reasoning, in that it attempts to include a conclusion about something in the very definition of the word itself. It is therefore also a semantic argument.The term comes from the example: If Ian claims that all Scotsman are brave, and you provide a counter example of a Scotsman who is clearly a coward, Ian might respond, “Well, then, he’s no true Scotsman.” In essence Ian claims that all Scotsman are brave by including bravery in the definition of what it is to be a Scotsman. This argument does not establish and facts or new information, and is limited to Ian’s definition of the word, “Scotsman.” Non-Sequitur:In Latin this term translates to “doesn’t follow”. This refers to an argument in which the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. In other words, a logical connection is implied where none exists. Post-hoc ergo propter hoc:This fallacy follows the basic format of: A preceded B, therefore A caused B, and therefore assumes cause and effect for two events just because they are temporally related (the latin translates to “after this, therefore because of this”). Reductio ad absurdum:In formal logic, the reductio ad absurdum is a legitimate argument. It follows the form that if the premises are assumed to be true it necessarily leads to an absurd (false) conclusion and therefore one or more premises must be false. The term is now often used to refer to the abuse of this style of argument, by stretching the logic in order to force an absurd conclusion. For example a UFO enthusiast once argued that if I am skeptical about the existence of alien visitors, I must also be skeptical of the existence of the Great Wall of China, since I have not personally seen either. This is a false reductio ad absurdum because he is ignoring evidence other than personal eyewitness evidence, and also logical inference. In short, being skeptical of UFO’s does not require rejecting the existence of the Great Wall. Slippery Slope:This logical fallacy is the argument that a position is not consistent or tenable because accepting the position means that the extreme of the position must also be accepted. But moderate positions do not necessarily lead down the slippery slope to the extreme. Special pleading, or ad-hoc reasoning:This is a subtle fallacy which is often difficult to recognize. In essence, it is the arbitrary introduction of new elements into an argument in order to fix them so that they appear valid. A good example of this is the ad-hoc dismissal of negative test results. For example, one might point out that ESP has never been demonstrated under adequate test conditions, therefore ESP is not a genuine phenomenon. Defenders of ESP have attempted to counter this argument by introducing the arbitrary premise that ESP does not work in the presence of skeptics. This fallacy is often taken to ridiculous extremes, and more and more bizarre ad hoc elements are added to explain experimental failures or logical inconsistencies. Straw Man:A straw man argument attempts to counter a position by attacking a different position – usually one that is easier to counter. The arguer invents a caricature of his opponent’s position – a “straw man” – that is easily refuted, but not the position that his opponent actually holds.For example, defenders of alternative medicine often argue that skeptics refuse to accept their claims because they conflict with their world-view. If “Western” science cannot explain how a treatment works, then it is dismissed out-of-hand. If you read skeptical treatment of so-called “alternative” modalities, however, you will find the skeptical position much more nuanced than that.Claims are not a-prior dismissed because they are not currently explained by science. Rather, in some cases (like homeopathy) there is a vast body of scientific knowledge that says that homeopathy is not possible. Having an unknown mechanism is not the same thing as demonstrably impossible (at least as best as modern science can tell). Further, skeptical treatments of homeopathy often thoroughly review the clinical evidence. Even when the question of mechanism is put aside, the evidence shows that homeopathic remedies are indistinguishable from placebo – which means they do not work. Tautology:Tautology in formal logic refers to a statement that must be true in every interpretation by its very construction. In rhetorical logic, it is an argument that utilizes circular reasoning, which means that the conclusion is also its own premise. Typically the premise is simply restated in the conclusion, without adding additional information or clarification. The structure of such arguments is A=B therefore A=B, although the premise and conclusion might be formulated differently so it is not immediately apparent as such. For example, saying that therapeutic touch works because it manipulates the life force is a tautology because the definition of therapeutic touch is the alleged manipulation (without touching) of the life force. The Fallacy Fallacy:As I mentioned near the beginning of this article, just because someone invokes an unsound argument for a conclusion, that does not necessarily mean the conclusion is false. A conclusion may happen to be true even if an argument used to support is is not sound. I may argue, for example, Obama is a Democrat because the sky is blue – an obvious non-sequitur. But the conclusion, Obama is a Democrat, is still true.Related to this, and common in the comments sections of blogs, is the position that because some random person on the internet is unable to defend a position well, that the position is therefore false. All that has really been demonstrated is that the one person in question cannot adequately defend their position.This is especially relevant when the question is highly scientific, technical, or requires specialized knowledge. A non-expert likely does not have the knowledge at their fingertips to counter an elaborate, but unscientific, argument against an accepted science. “If you (a lay person) cannot explain to me,” the argument frequently goes, “exactly how this science works, then it is false.”Rather, such questions are better handled by actual experts. And, in fact, intellectual honesty requires that at least an attempt should be made to find the best evidence and arguments for a position, articulated by those with recognized expertise, and then account for those arguments before a claim is dismissed. The Moving Goalpost:A method of denial arbitrarily moving the criteria for “proof” or acceptance out of range of whatever evidence currently exists. If new evidence comes to light meeting the prior criteria, the goalpost is pushed back further – keeping it out of range of the new evidence. Sometimes impossible criteria are set up at the start – moving the goalpost impossibly out of range -for the purpose of denying an undesirable conclusion. Tu quoque:Literally, you too. This is an attempt to justify wrong action because someone else also does it. “My evidence may be invalid, but so is yours.”

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

Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythological novel A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

Obviously, I think that it is a sad commentary on our country when a man can leave his home armed looking for “bad guys” to “defend” himself against and, guided by his own poor judgment and bigotry, identify an unarmed black teen walking home from the store as a likely prospect, stalk that teen, wind up shooting and killing that teen, and not only be found not guilty even of manslaughter, but be perceived as perfectly justified by a large faction (almost all white) of the American population.

If you look at the public debates over the George Zimmerman/Trayvon  Martin case, one thing leaps out, something that is more broadly relevant, something that distinguishes the mental modality of the right from the left in one very precise way. This is an issue of cognitive framing, with the narrower frame permitting a conclusion of justifiable self-defense (assuming the facts most favorable to the defense), and the broader frame precluding it.

For instance, if you ask, “does one have the right to defend himself, with a firearm, against someone about to clobber him over the head with a heavy object,” most people would answer, “of course.” But what if the “defender” were a mugger who had attacked the guy with the heavy object, the heavy object were his cane that he needed due to an infirmity, and the moment being referred to were the mugging victim’s response to being mugged by an armed assailant? Does the mugger then have the right to claim self-defense, for shooting his victim as his victim tried to defend himself? Of course not.

Let’s come up with an analogy that more closely parallels the Zimmerman case, emphasizing and playing on the stereotypes involved (and other stereotypes as well). Consider this scenario: A young, white middle class woman is walking through a residential neighborhood at night to return home from the nearby convenience store. She notices a big, black guy following her. She continues to walk, and confirms that he is definitely following her. Terrified, she slips off the path and finds an object to arm herself with, a plywood board. As her stalker approaches, she comes out behind him, swings the board, screaming. Her stalker, who, as it turns out, was an armed stalker, pulls out his gun and shoots her to death. (I am using the word “stalker” to refer to any stranger following around another person with some kind of unfriendly intent, including thinking that the other person is a “punk” who you don’t want to let “get away with” some imaginary infraction that their race induced you to believe they must be committing.)

Tell me, right-wing apologists, is your big black stalker innocent, because he was just defending himself? Are you as indifferent to this innocent white woman’s violent death at the hands of an armed stalker as you are of an unarmed black teen’s violent death at the hands of an armed stalker?

Here is the complete list of differences between this scenario and the Zimmerman-Martin scenario: 1) the races of the stalker and the person stalked; 2) the gender of the person stalked; 3) right-wing ASSUMPTION of the intentions of the stalker in each scenario and the different degrees to which they (right-wingers) identify with the stalker and the person stalked in each scenario; 4) the woman having armed herself (to make her at least as threatening as unarmed Martin was); and 4) the generous assumption for my alternative scenario that all of the facts best favoring the Zimmerman defense are true.

So, why, exactly, is that white-woman-stalking-victim an innocent victim of the criminal-black-stalker, while the unarmed black victim of our real stalker (Hispanic, white, I don’t care) is just the unlucky person who was killed by an innocent person’s discharged bullet? The answer is very simple: The combination of the right-wing need to defend the absurd belief that we are a safer society if people go out with guns looking for trouble and their (right-wingers’) racism. a combination that is as horrifying and offensive to rational and humane people today as all similar past chapters of our national history have been.

Right-wing arguments (and particularly gun culture arguments) frequently rely on this narrowing of the frame, filtering out the contextual information which completely changes the analysis. Those who see in this case no guilt on Zimmerman’s part have chosen a very narrow frame, which excludes much relevant information; those who see guilt on Zimmerman’s part choose a broader and more inclusive one.

There are many other issues in which this difference in framing is central to the ideological differences found in regard to them. The right relies on a reduced frame, hyper-individualistic rather than social systemic, static and instantaneous rather than dynamical and over time. And that is not just a difference in personal taste, but a reduction in cogency.

The Zimmerman trial is over, the verdict is in, but the public issue over what kind of a people we want to choose to be continues. The right insists that it is good for society for people to have the right to arm themselves and stalk people they are suspicious of, for whatever reason they are suspicious of them, incite a violent encounter by doing so, and shoot to death the person they chose to stalk in the process of that violent encounter. I want to believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t agree.

We’ve had Columbine. We’ve had Virginia Tech. We’ve had the Gabby Giffords shooting. We’ve had the Aurora Theater shooting. We’ve had Sandy Hook Elementary School. We have, on average, ten times the homicide rate of any other developed nation on Earth. We have half the privately owned firearms on Earth. And we have people who are so blithely indifferent to the death and suffering that their idolatry of instruments of deadly violence cause that they won’t let us, as a people, even implement universal background checks or limit the magazine capacity of their military grade weapons. The degree of insanity –vicious, destructive insanity– involved in this right-wing ideology is simply mindboggling.

At the same time, they want voter suppression laws (and have been assisted in being able to pass and implement them in a recent Court decision that disabled the Voting Rights Act), they want to dismantle Affirmative Action, they want to disregard the injustices and inequities of our society, they want to blame the poor for being poor, they want to disregard our responsibilities to one another as members of a society, they want to erase our humanity and promote only selfish disregard for the rights and welfare of anyone who doesn’t look just like them. And they are uncompromising in their commitment to these “ideals.”

(The examples mentioned here, of course, only scratch the surface. See Why The Far-Right Is On The Wrong Side Of Reason, Morality, Humanity and History for a more in-depth treatment.)

This is not a country divided by two opposing reasonable views, that we need to find some reasonable ground between. This is a country divided by, on the one hand, reason in service to humanity and, on the other, irrationality in service to inhumanity. It is time, America, to reduce the latter to a sad footnote of our history, and promote the former to the status of the shared foundation on which we all build. It’s time to allow our disagreements to be defined by the limits of our wisdom and decency rather than by the extent of our bigotries.

(See also Debunking The Arguments of the American Gun Culture for a cogent discussion of the competing narratives informing the right and the left, and how they fit into this struggle between reason in service to humanity and irrationality in service to inhumanity, a perennial struggle of human history, and one from which we are not, as it turns out, at all exempt.)

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

Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythological novel A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

A Libertarian Facebook “friend” of mine, who is also a somewhat well-known blogger and commentator (she appears on local TV political talk shows from time to time, for instance, something that kind of amazes me, because she’s never made a single rational argument of any kind that I know of), posted, in my honor, the question “To Ban or Not To Ban?” Participating on that thread is the most fun I’ve ever had on her page! Portions of the thread follow (once again, I’ve excluded PJ’s enormous quantity of irrelevant links, and included his comments more to be scrolled through and marveled at than actually read):

SH: I say “ban,” because any troll who comes onto your page and says things like “let’s all strive to be rational and humane people, knowing that we’re all fallible, working together to do the best we can” is clearly too offensive to tolerate. I can’t understand why there’s even any question about it!

PJ: Yeah more Marxist humanism from Steve…

SH: You see? P gets it! It’s just too offensive to all of us here to let people post things like “look, any of us might be wrong about some of the things we hold to be true. Let’s try to avoid these ideologies, and instead invest in working harder at using the methodologies of reason in service to our shared humanity.” That is such a vile notion! Ugh! It makes me nauseas just thinking about it! I don’t know why you’ve tolerated that kind of thing this long. it clearly is anathema to all of us here, and there’s no reason why we should have to expose ourselves to it. Let’s insulate ourselves from the offensive nature of such suggestions. They make us all uncomfortable.

KT: K, this is your page (as long as FB allows it). If you like the chaos, allow it to continue. If you like order, ban those who abuse your page for their own reasons. Personally, I would ban them and let their chaos reign on their own pages and not give them the voice on your page.

SH: KT is right. This is our echo-chamber, by right and by design. Let’s keep it that way.

KT: Steve is one of your trolls. Mr. Chaos himself.

SH: KT, I’m just agreeing with you, and with P.

PJ: No let’s properly identify all aspects of the competing ideologies of Marxist collectivism vs Capitalism ,Individual Freedom and limited Government, without the Marxist Democrats always answering with the restrictive confines of the Marxist based Rules for Radicals, which requires them to RIDICULE their opponents in lieu of substance. NOW ANY MARXIST DEMOCRATS WHO ANSWER… DO NOT USE THIS TEMPLATE, IN HONOR OF HONEST CONVERSATION…

“An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent… He must create a mechanism that can drain off the underlying guilt for having accepted the previous situation for so long a time. Out of this mechanism, a new community organization arises….

“The job then is getting the people to move, to act, to participate; in short, to develop and harness the necessary power to effectively conflict with the prevailing patterns and change them. When those prominent in the status quo turn and label you an ‘agitator’ they are completely correct, for that is, in one word, your function—to agitate to the point of conflict.” p.117

“Process tells us how. Purpose tells us why. But in reality, it is academic to draw a line between them, they are part of a continuum…. Process is really purpose.” p.122

——————————————————————————–

7. Tactics. “Tactics are those conscious deliberate acts by which human beings live with each other and deal with the world around them. … Here our concern is with the tactic of taking; how the Have-Nots can take power away from the Haves.” p.126

 Always remember the first rule of power tactics (pps.127-134):

1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”

2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear and retreat…. [and] the collapse of communication.

3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”

6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue for only a limited time….”

8. “Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.”

9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”

10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.”

11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside… every positive has its negative.”

12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”

13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and ‘frozen.’…

“…any target can always say, ‘Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?’ When your ‘freeze the target,’ you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments…. Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the ‘others’ come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target…’

“One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.” (pps.127-134)

Saul Alinksky, Rules for Radicals, Vintage Books, New York, 1989.

SH: I agree, P. We should identify all of that. And we should do so no matter what the conversation is actually about. If someone talks about the weather, we should answer by identifying those competing ideologies. If someone talks about scientific methodology, we should answer by identifying those competing ideologies. Good point.

PJ: SINCE THE MARXIST DEMOCRAT LIBERAL PROGRESSIVES HAVE POLITICIZED NATURAL WEATHER PATTERS, THAT MAY NOT BE A BAD IDEA. PEOPLE WHO HAVE LIVED UNDER MARXIST RULES KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING WITH GOLBAL WARMING.

SH: That’s right, P. Because whatever the topic is, if the other person disagrees with our perfectly correct ideology on any point or issue at all, that’s proof that they’re a Marxist, and being a Marxist is proof that they’re wrong about everything, and since they’re wrong about everything that’s proof that our position that they opposed is the correct one. It’s a good thing we have masters of logical reasoning like you on our side!

PJ: Steve-That is specious reasoning on your part. I do not use Marxism as a pejorative. It all comes down to intent. The intent behind Marxism is a large central Government command and control structure, that controls the means of production for the benefit of the so called collective. I simply think that that does not comport well with Individual Freedom and our Constitution. I have no issues with Marxist Democrats making the case for it. I simply do not support the end results of the Democrats applying Marxist tenets to US Governance. They have created massive debt, High unemployment , inertia decay and division amongst Americans. I would prefer Americans find common ground in Individual freedom, capitalism and the US Constitution. I do not believe that this is an incorrect or damaging line of reasoning.

SH: I agree with you, P. And clearly a person who frequently discusses and analyzes the virtues of robust markets as an integral part of a well-functioning economic system and has done professional economic modeling and policy analysis on that premise is a Marxist. What could be more obvious than that?

KM (page owner raising the question of blocking people like me): Case. In. Point.

SH: Yes, KM, the “Case. In. Point.” clearly demonstrates why blocking such people is right and good. We don’t want people who challenge our blind ideology in any way. We don’t want to be exposed to cogent arguments inconveniently revealing our own logical and factual errors. We want to be able to tell one another that our own ideological convictions are perfect without ever having to subject those convictions to the glaring light of fact and reason. Ban ’em!!!!

PJ: Nobody is saying capitalism, individual freedom and limited Government is perfect. I am simply positing that the Downside of individual freedom, capitalism and limited government per the Constitution, produces better results, than the upside of the Marxist based collectivist agenda that Democrats push.

KM: I’m happy being challenged, I’m not happy when it’s impossible to use facebook to communicate with friends because it’s so overwhelming, annoying and inundating.

SH: Sarcasm aside, you have a very good point there, K. On the rare occasion that I’ve commented on a personal rather than political post of yours, it’s been purely friendly (such as a puppy post some time ago). When people post political statements on Facebook, if they have a large and diverse circle of FB friends, they are implicitly inviting the conversion of their page into a political forum. And I think that Facebook as a semi-public political forum is an amazing thing. It gives arguments a chance to compete in a robust way in a public arena. That is my ideal; our arguments should be allowed to compete, and (more elusively) should be allowed to prevail on their relative merits.

You really do have several legitimate choices: You can have two pages, one for political discourse and one for more personal stuff. You can limit your friends to those who agree with you OR write in a style and quantity you prefer, so that those annoying ones who don’t simply have no access. Or you can let chaos reign.

I, personally, DON’T choose the latter. My agenda is to increase the degree of rationality and compassion in our public discourse and our public policies, and I DO block those who are so ravingly irrational or so grotesquely inhumane that I just don’t want to have my time and peace of mind consumed by them. If I am such a person for you, you SHOULD block me, and I mean that sincerely.

PJ: SARCASM IS A GOOD INDICATOR OF YOUR LACK OF HONESTY STEVE…

SH: Yes, P, I’m the devil incarnate because I made my point through the transparent use of sarcasm. Once again, I just couldn’t agree with you more, and I marvel at the clarity and cogency of your insights.

PJ: yeah more Marxist based dishonest sophistry from Steve.

SH: P, people who use the word “so” are Marxists; people who use sarcasm are Marxists; everything in any way involving any aspect of Marxism is wrong; Marxist use words so people who use words are wrong; etc. etc. etc.

Everyone Else, I think there’s a misconception here: No one is doing me any favors by allowing me to post here. I’m doing you a favor. If you don’t want me to do you that favor, block me and spare me the cost of doing it.

PN: If they can’t enter into articulate and informed debate, what value are they?

SH: PN, the criterion in play here is most certainly NOT the ability to enter into articulate and informed debate! If anything, it is that ability that is what is resented.

PJ: Steve- most Marxist Democrats today have no knowledge regarding the extent of the Marxist ideology of their beliefs. Most are of the vague John Lennon Imagine school of Marxism. They have embraced it thru regurgitated nursery rhyme form… “Imagine no possessions its easy if you try” here is where he took the concept from.

SH: That’s still nice, P, but all I’ve suggested is that we all strive to be rational and humane people, NOT that we “imagine no possessions.” Maybe one of these days you’ll respond to what I’m saying rather than to what the voices in your head are saying.

PJ: Steve, You are dishonest. This is about advancing Marxist premises for you. You are simply doing it either dishonestly or through Ignorance. Again, you do not say anything that is not within the confines of the concepts here.

SH: If believing that we should all strive to be rational and humane people, to recognize our own and universal fallibility, to use the methodologies and procedures which best reduce bias and increase accuracy in service to continuing to discover the most effective, robust, fair, and sustainable public policies possible, in service to our individual liberty, our prosperity, and our general welfare, is “Marxist,” then you’re right, I’m a Marxist. If it isn’t, then you’re wrong, I’m not a Marxist, because what I just described IS my ideology, it is my only ideology, and I’ve written thousands of pages that are all perfectly consistent with that ideology.

It’s not the label you choose to apply that determines the value of anyone else’s or your own perspectives, but rather the quality of the thought and quantity of compassion that went into those specific and particular perspectives.

Everyone, let’s step back and look at the big picture. Many or most of you who are Kelly’s fans think liberalism is a cultural disease, a cancer infecting our society and harming us all. Many or most of those who are in agreement with me think that the Tea Party/Libertarian far-right is a cultural disease, a cancer infecting our society and harming us all. There are four conceivable possibilities: We are both right, we are both wrong, you are right and we are wrong, we are right and you are wrong. Other than each camp being sure that they know the answer to that, there is no objective, a priori way of knowing the answer. So how should we, as responsible citizens and sovereigns, go about making that determination?

My answer is: We should invest in and engage in the methodologies and procedures that modern history has produced and have proved to be most robust at minimizing the influence of bias and maximizing accuracy. And we should do so with a humane attitude, not just to serve any one tribe or faction, but, at least, to serve the interests of all Americans (I would go further, but I’ll take what I can get).

Is that or is that not a suggestion that we all, as reasonable and humane people and responsible citizens, can agree on?

JC: Get rid of them. I get sick of it too. If they are friends, they won’t want to fight about every belief you hold.

PJ: Steve-you use the term incorrectly. Liberalism in the classic sense is an individualistic form of ideology. when Democrats use the term today , they use it in the context of Marxist collectivism….

SH: J, do you think that America is better off with insulated echo-chambers of unchallenged competing ideological dogmas, or with all ideas seeking to affect our public policies being subjected to a shared lathe of robust debate in service to our rationality and humanity?

P, I know the history of the word “liberalism.” I also know the difference between substantive arguments and semantic arguments, and their relative value in political discourse.

PJ: That was a great example of a lack of substance in an answer Steve. You avoid all discussion of Marxism, but yet it is at the root of all of your posts.

SH: I also “avoid” all talk of string theory, when it has nothing to do with what I’m talking about. I’ve presented my ACTUAL position repeatedly. You have tried to label it something it isn’t and dismiss it by virtue of having been labeled. That’s a horrible “argument,” but you’re welcome to it. Meanwhile, I say exactly what I mean, argue my own precise positions, and am perfectly consistent in them. Again, one of these days you might want to respond to my positions rather than to whatever it is you’re responding to. that would require a rational argument on the substance of positions actually presented, which is a good thing. Or, you can continue to tilt at the straw men of your own invention. It’s all the same to me.

PJ: Narcissistic arrogance is a hall mark of all Marxists Steve.

Marxism is at the root of string theory as well Steve

SH: We’ll have to add that to the growing list: Using the word “so,” narcissistic arrogance, being a physicist (string theorist, to be more precise), having a nose (unless it’s your nose), preferring cheeseburgers to hot dogs…. You’ll have to let me know once you’ve compiled the whole list, because we all want to be able to identify those cretins and weed them out, with torches if necessary…..

JO: I suggest PJ & Steve get one of those dueling opposites point/counterpoint radio shows…

SH: But we’d have to rename it “point/pointless.”

JO: Yeah and you’d be the pointless!

SH: Here’s the debate between P and I:

SH: We should strive to be rational and humane people.

PJ: Marxism is bad.

SH: Yes, I completely agree. Avoiding it is one of the reasons we should strive to be rational and humane people.

PJ: Marxism is bad and you’re a liar.

SH: Okay, but all I’m saying is that we should strive to be rational and humane people. Don’t you agree?

PJ: No, because Marxism is bad, and people who say “so,” who use sarcasm, who are narcissists, and, in general, who have any trait that anyone opposing me ever has or that I impute to them, are by definition Marxists.

In an inverted reality, P is the epitome of cogent reasoning and I am pushing a horribly destructive idea. In this reality, we would, in fact, be better off if we all agreed to strive to be rational and humane people. The essential political question in America today is: Which reality do you choose?

(Ah, JO, such a rapier-sharp wit you have! Who could possibly have seen THAT one coming!? I’m impressed.)

TD: Nonsensical extremism is neither educating nor valuable, so if it’s me I block them and then try to figure out how to do it with the extremists in public not just on social media.

SH: The problem is that when extremists call the appeal to strive to be rational and humane people the “extremism” they must weed out, that ol’ inverted reality is in full bloom, and the real extremism dangerously ascendant.

TS: Steve is crushing P on this thread 22 comments to 16!

SH: It’s not the quantity of comments that defines the fact that I’m “crushing P;” it’s the fact that I’m making rational and coherent statements and he, in response, is rambling about something that no one other than he is talking about. Though I do admire the degree of commitment so many of you have to find anything other than reason by which to prevail in an argument.

One little comment about “extremism” and “reason,” if I may: Reason does not lie at some mid-point between prevailing “extremes” in any given time and place. In Nazi Germany, for instance, reason didn’t reside at the mid-point between those who were in favor of killing 6 million Jews and those who were favor of killing none, with the perfectly reasonable position being to kill only 3 million. Sometimes, one extreme comes to embody a much more pronounced lack of reason and humanity, and the other, almost by default, comes to embody the definitively larger commitment to reason and humanity of the two. The goal is not to find some mid-point between extremes, but rather to find what reason in service to humanity recommends…, which is why I keep suggesting that we all simply commit ourselves to striving to be reasonable and humane people first and foremost, and let our ideologies, to the extent that we absolutely must have them at all, follow from that commitment rather than pre-empt it.

(See Down the Rabbit Hole to the Mad Hatters’ Tea Party for similar, preceding dialogue with PJ and JO)

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

Topics