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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 and 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).

As Max Weber noted nearly a century ago, and as others have noted in various ways and various contexts, there is an inexorable logic to certain developmental paths that is not always in best service to our humanity, or to our ultimate goals. Weber called it the “rationalization” of society, an “iron cage” from which we can’t escape. We see it in evidence today in such things as economic globalization, over-reliance on fossil fuels (with all of the associated environmental and international consequences), and weakening of American communities in favor of both geographic mobility in service to careers and school choice in service to (or so the theory goes) increasing market forces disciplining public education. We also see it in politics, in the strategies used to win elections and campaigns, and the short-sighted, ritualistic attitudes fueling them.

I wrote about this once in reference to my own campaign in an overwhelmingly Republican district, in which I sought to maximize the value of my campaign win-or-lose rather than follow strategic prescriptions oblivious to any goal other than electoral victory, almost to the point of considering adherence to that goal a moral imperative even if more good can be done by looking beyond it (see Anatomy of a Candidacy: An Illustration of the Distinction Between Substantive and Functional Rationality). As the title of that essay illustrates, the salient distinction is between functional and substantive rationality, the former being the drive to make the processes by which goals are pursued ever more efficient and effective (which is what drives the inexorable “rationalization” of society discussed above), the latter being the relatively disregarded need to consider whether the goal being pursued is always and under all circumstances the most reasonable of all goals. Substantive rationality, to put it another way, refers to focusing more on what we are trying to accomplish than on how we are trying to accomplish it, and ensuring that we are not just constantly refining our techniques, but also constantly refining the goals that those techniques are mobilized in service to.

Politics is as caught up as any sphere of life in the goal-displacement of almost exclusive focus on improving the techniques by which the goal of winning elections and campaigns is pursued, and almost complete disregard for subjecting those intermediate goals to constant scrutiny in light of our long-term goals of putting this state, country, and world on an ever-accelerating path of ever-increasing reason and justice. True “progressives” need not only pursue progress on an issue-by-issue, candidate-by-candidate basis, always assuming that their own current understandings are perfectly accurate and incontrovertible, but also need to constantly reassess those current understandings, and seek to implement and advocate for improving the procedures by which we think and act in order to best serve our ultimate goal of improving the quality of life on Earth.

There is a related economic concept of “path dependence,” which is the tendency to stick with sub-optimal current ways of doing things due to the start-up costs of changing paradigms. A classic example is the “QWERTY” keyboard, which was designed to avoid the jamming of keys on the original mechanical typewriters. It is no other way the most effecient arrangement of keys on a keyboard. Yet the costs involved in everyone relearning how to type (or “keyboard,” as it is now called), along with other incidental costs of changing the keyboard arrangement, seem to outstrip any consideration of making a shift. We see this phenomenon throughout the social institutional landscape, in which existing social institutional procedures and structures have an inertia which outstrips their utility, all things considered. Path dependence has a psychological as well as economic dimension to it, with new ideas facing the habits of thought and belief into which potential adherents have invested themselves.

One of the necessary remedies to this imbalance is to constantly keep that ultimate goal in mind, and to not lose it to the short-term goals of winning elections and campaigns. That does not mean that the short-term goals are irrelevent, and the strategies in service to them can simply be disregarded. But it does mean that we keep in mind at all times that those strategies must always be mobilized only in service to our ultimate goal of improving the quality of life on Earth, and never allowed to blindly displace it.

This involves a bit of a cost-benefit analysis (always asking “does this strategy cost us more in terms of the ultimate goal than it benefits us in pursuit of it?”), and a recognition that the means have many incidental systemic consequences that may not adversely affect the intermediate goal of winning an election or campaign, but can adversely affect our social institutional landscape in ways which at times outweigh the marginal value of improved chances of winning that particular election or campaign. The cumulative effects of these incidental consequences of functionally rationally but substantively underscrutinized procedures and techniques are highly significant, and is one of the fundamental drags on robust long-term political progress.

I recently encountered an example of this on a left-leaning Facebook page, in which one participant posted a video of which she was very proud, that her organization had made, whose purpose was to stoke up popular rage against corporate power and influence. I found the video appalling, because it reinforced our irrationality rather than our rationality, reduced the issue to a two-dimensional caricature of the real issue, and was as likely to motivate a clammor for bad policies as for good ones (which is the cost of not only appealing to emotions in service to some rational end, which is generally necessary, but rather appealing to emotions in service to an emotionally defined end, which is frequently counterproductive).

This is what I call “the angry left,” a movement which superficially seeks progressive goals, but does so via methods which reproduce rather than moderate or transcend the underlying structural problems which favor irrationality over rationality in political decision-making, and which reinforces rather than counterbalances our tendencies toward mutual hostility rather than mutual cooperation. If the ultimate goal is best served by trying to increase the degree to which reason and universal goodwill guide us and inform our policies, then processes driven by irrationality and belligerence are unlikely to serve that ultimate goal very well in the long-run.

Ironically, “raging against the machine” in many ways reduces us to mere cogs within it. We have to aspire beyond the machine, to actualize and realize our humanity, to celebrate and believe in our potential to transcend our current state of being, as individuals and as a society. It is not that we can snap our fingers and create some lofty ideal, but rather that we are capable of doing better than we are doing, and we have to strive to do better than we are doing to realize that capacity.

This is not a call for political pacifism or non-confrontationalism. I confronted the woman who posted and extolled that video, just as I confront those on the right who argue belligerent and irrational ideological positions. But it is a call for keeping the ultimate ends in mind, and never forgetting that the means by which we pursue intermediate goals in service to those ultimate ends affect how well we actually move in their direction above and beyond their effects on our ability to achieve those intermediate goals.

The remedy to this perennial error of remaining locked inside the logic of political ritual and theater is to increase our attention to substantive rationality, even while maintaining our commitment to functional rationality in service to it. We do not want to let the latter displace the former, but cannot ignore the latter while pursuing the former.

This means moving toward grander visions, and more comprehensive strategies in service to them. Focusing exclusively on winning this election of this campaign locks us into the logic of short-term functional rationality and prevents us from being guided by long-term substantively wise goals. We need to be visionaries, and to promote visionaries, and to cultivate visionaries, rather than be political hacks, promote political hacks, and cultivate political hacks. We need to believe that we’re capable of doing substantially better than we are doing now, as a people, as humanity, and then figure out how to pursue the long-term goals which serve that far-sighted vision.

I am increasingly frustrated, because it is not that this is too complicated, or too difficult to do, but simply that we are too unaccustomed to consider the need for doing so. We have reduced politics and political activism to a set of technically refined rituals in service to short-term goals in struggles over immediate outcomes, and have almost completely lost sight of how our real political struggles cannot be measured in election cycles, nor are limited to what we commonly think of as the political sphere. Everything we do is political; every effort we make, individually and in various degrees of organizational collectivity, is political, and has political ramifications, because it all affects our social institutional landscape and coalesces into our ongoing evolution as a people.

We need to constantly remember that political efforts are not something separate from the entirety of our social institutional landscape, but rather something seeking to articulate with that entirety (see The Evolutionary Ecology of Social Institutions) and the entirety of our processes of social change (see The Fractal Geometry of Social Change) in the most effective ways possible. This requires a part of our movement, a portion of our efforts, to be removed from our sophisticated, highlyt rationalized political rituals, to step back and remain critical of them, to attend to the larger picture and the longer term, and to discipline those technically sophisticated processes in service to our ultimate goals rather than forever co-opted by our immediate goals.

There is a way of doing this, if enough of us are willing enough to invest enough of our time, effort, and passion into it. There is a way of increasing the salience of reason and universal goodwill in our political efforts, to make them more attractive forces, to inspire people to move in their direction, not by ignoring the realities of our cognitive processes, but rather by addressing them in service to our ultimate goal of creating an ever kinder, gentler, more reasonable world. (See A Proposal, The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified, and How to make a kinder and more reasonable world, as well as the rest of the essays in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts, for an overview of my proposed methodology for pursuing this long-term vision).

Please join me in this effort. Help me to engage in the processes that serve our humanity, not just by fighting against our inhumanity on its terms and in its arena, but by trying constantly to refine the arena itself, improve our political substructure and popular processes, and make that social institutional framework one which is ever more defined by our humanity and our commitment to reason and universal goodwill.

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