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In the right wing blogosphere, everyone that isn’t a radical libertarian, evangelical, nationalistic, jingoistic yahoo is a “Socialist” or “Communist” or “godless baby killer” or “anti-American traitor of all that is good and holy.” There is, on the one hand, the One Truth, and there is the Error that is all else.

The One Truth, blindly adhered to and ultimately irrational, is defined by a particular interpretation of the Bible; a particular interpretation of the Constitution; a particular blend of historical, economic, legal, and cultural illiteracies; and particular “worst of both worlds” inconsistencies conveniently combining individualism (“we can’t use government to take care of one another”) and collectivism (“but we can use it to impose the religious dogma of the majority, to discriminate against various minorities, to deny those we disapprove of basic civil rights protections, and to take a belligerent stance toward the rest of the world”), moral absolutism (“our moral certainties are unassailable absolute truths”) and intellectual relativism (“since all opinions, regardless of how well or poorly informed and reasoned, are equal, no one can criticize any opinion we express, which is, when we are not insulating it from criticism through this claim of relativism, the absolute truth by virtue of our rejection of relativism”); all amalgamated into a polymorphous idolatry (see, e.g., “Sharianity” for a discussion of some of these hypocrisies). If you don’t belong to the extreme engaged in that particular Bacchanalia of ignorance and belligerence, you belong to any and all opposite extremes, by whatever labels exist to rhetorically relegate you to their confines.

Of course, between the right-wing extremes of Small Government Idolatry (or what is in reality government mandated only to oppose by all means necessary all those who belong to any out-groups in relation to these paragons of bigotry), religious fanaticism, and jingoistic belligerence, and the left-wing extremes (that barely exist in the United States) of absolute reliance on centralized political power and anti-market economic illiteracy, lies the sanity of recognizing the value of markets and the necessity of regulating them, the value of personal liberty but the inescapable fact of interdependence, and the subtlety and complexity of the world we live in and the challenges it poses.

In other words, in the United States, Small Government Idolatry isn’t predominantly opposed by “Socialism,” but rather by “No Presumption Pragmatism” (NPP), a term I coined in The Great American Debate to represent the belief that we must face a complex and subtle world with as much reason, as much humility, as much discipline, as much realism, and as much goodwill and compassion as possible.

Of course, one could as easily use the phrase “no presumption pragmatism” to justify a more insular and belligerent stance, claiming that “pragmatism” requires a “Fortress America” ideology vis-a-vis the rest of the world, and disregard for the plight of the less fortunate in our own country. Laced throughout my writings are arguments about why this is the opposite of the truth, a small-minded tribalistic and classist reflex that does not really capture the realities of the challenges and opportunities that face us.

It is not pragmatic to lock ourselves into a web of perpetual lose-lose scenarios, nor is it pragmatic to engage in a short-sighted denial of the long-term consequences of present actions. Therefore, “No Presumption Pragmatism” refers to the realistic, vigilant, disciplined, and balanced commitment to forging as much cooperation as possible, and exercising as much compassion as possible, within the constraints imposed by some others’ unwillingness to do the same.

But even aside from the fact that what I am calling “No Presumption Pragmatism” is recommended by enlightened self-interest, it is also an inevitable expression of our core values as a people and a nation. We are not a people who define ourselves as oppressors, who believe that it is right and good to prosper with indifference toward those who are not so fortunate, who are willing to explicitly say that the plight of the poor and unfortunate is no concern of anyone other than those few who care to make it their concern. I believe that few in America today are willing to explicitly advocate for social injustice for the sake of social injustice, that the vast majority of Americans today believe that indifference to the welfare of others is bad. That means that one of the things we need to be pragmatic about is how to most effectively and efficiently implement our commitment to human decency.

One need not be a Socialist, or a Tea Party Libertarian, or a Godless Atheist, or a Bible-Thumping Inquisitor, or a Traitor to One’s Country, or a Militant Nationalist; one can be a pragmatist, without presumption, in service to the welfare of oneself, one’s family, and one’s other in-groups, which, in the long run, coincides completely and inextricably with the welfare of humanity (and of the living planet itself).

Such pragmatism isn’t merely a matter of eschewing the mindless extremes, but rather of embracing the mindfulness that they do not. It is not a default position, the mere absence of manias, but rather an affirmative position, the presence of disciplines of the mind and heart and body and soul. It favors methodology over ideology, commitment to procedure (e.g., the rule of law) over such zeal of false certainty carried by such hubris that no deference to procedures such as scientific methodology or rule of law is necessary (see, e.g., The Elusive Truth, The Hydra’s Heads, The Signal-To-Noise Ratio, Ideology v. Methodology, The Voice Beyond Extremes, Discourse, Diderot & Deity, The Real Political & Cultural Dichotomy, Sacred Truths, The “New” Reductionism, Irrational (but rationalized) Belligerence, The Tyranny of Blind Ideology, An Argument for Reason and Humility).

NPP is the ideology of reason applied to evidence, leavened with imagination, in service to humanity. It is something we can and should develop, elaborate, explore, define, refine, and implement. This blog, in many ways, is committed to just that purpose. (See, for instance, my essays that explore the descriptive paradigm on which we should rely, hyperlinked in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts; my essays that explore the normative and strategic paradigm on which we should rely, hyperlinked in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts; and the remainder of my essays, exploring the bridges between the two, the specific issue details, and the complexities and nuances surrounding both.)

So, here’s to No Presumption Pragmatism! May ever more of my neighbors and fellow countrymen (and countrywomen) flock to its banner, and sing its hymns! It may be the case that we can never really be anything more than elaborately grunting apes, but we can and do grunt in ever-more elaborate ways, with a consciousness that continuously blossoms as a result. Let’s, therefore, be conscious human beings striving to do good in the world, and leave all of the absurd and self-destructive noise on the dust-heap of history, where it belongs.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

  • sblecher:

    It seems that we share the same frustrations. I can just scream when people write in open forums that global warming is a hoax and evolution is a hoax. Whenever they make a statement, they make it with absolute certainty, and never make a conditional statement. I’m often condemned as a left wing extremist when I make statements that were approved by moderate Republicans not too long ago.

  • Little did I realize, in my youth, how wonderful was the era of centrist pragmatism!

    BTW, I have first-hand experience, as a former high school social studies teacher, with the degree to which such anti-intellectual nonsense holds our educational system and our national culture hostage. That is, in large part, why I am no longer a high school social studies teacher, despite my having been very good at it, and very happy doing it. No amount of “vouchers” or “accountability” or standardized testing will ever cover the deficit created by the imposition of anti-intellectual fanaticism and its contribution to the extremely high attrition of talented new teachers from the profession.

  • sblecher:

    Americans always regarded themselves as a pragmatic people, where actual results were more important than ideology. There’s an old Soviet joke that goes something like this. A Communist party boss was visiting a local factory, and he noticed that productivity was high and the workers seemed happy. He asked the factory manager what he was doing to achieve those results. The manager explained in detail what he had done, to which the party boss replied, “It works in practice, but will it work in theory?”
    The Republican party has undergone a quasi-Stalinist purge, in which all nonconforming views were eliminated. I can’t conceive of the Republican Party of my youth all making binding pledges to somebody like Grover Norquist.
    It’s clear that men of reason and good will can accomplish great things if they work at it, but today we mostly have malice and craziness. The framers of the Constitution fit the description of reason and good will,and even though there were disputes along the way they produced a masterpiece. I can’t even envision the current session of Congress creating a document like the Constitution. More later

  • Very well said, Steve. Love the Soviet joke! I had a Russian-emigree Sociology professor in the 1980s, who shared with me the soviet workers’ joke that “we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” The irony is, of course, that the modern far-right in America thinks that it is the diametrical opposite of the Soviet Union because its particular form of fanaticism is the diametrical opposite, not recognizing that it is the fanaticism itself which makes them so similar (much as fundamentalist Christians and Muslims think they are opposites while really being mirror images of one another).

  • sblecher:

    In line with with your latest statement,I agree, I heard a similar statement about politics, that said, “it’s more likely that a left wing extremist will become a right wing extremist or vice versa, than either one will become a moderate”.

  • katsb:

    I am so amazed to finally find people who think like I do.

  • Glad to have you aboard, K.

    I think there are many who think this way, to some degree, but most belong to the broad silent middle, or simply find political discourse too noisy and belligerent to engage in. But I think it’s time we found a voice, and created a movement of our own, not one that merely echoes those that already exist, but one which emphasizes the process of arriving at and implementing the soundest and subtlest understandings over blindly advancing the competing substantive false certainties and oversimplifications of the moment.

    Click onto “The Politics of Reason and Goodwill, Simplified” in the “Catalogue of Selected Posts” page in the box on the left margin for one suggestion of how to go about it.

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