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A conservative recently wrote (though hasn’t yet published) that my statement that this blog is committed to our collective welfare is what’s wrong with this blog, this preconceived notion I am imposing on the discourse here, promoting a collectivist rather than individualist orientation. But what individualist orientation, that is even vaguely consistent with our fundamental shared values, does not privilege our collective welfare? For what is our collective welfare, other than some function of our combined individual welfares?

If someone is not advocating for our collective welfare, even if a social system that benefits some at the expense of others, or that leaves some to suffer horribly, then what are they advocating for? Consider, for instance, the argument, that I consider erroneous but that certainly is a valid argument to make, that we are all better off in an uncompromised lottery of life’s fortune, each left to his or her own fate, or to whatever non-governmental alliances they can form, all pursing only their own interests by any and all means that they can, unfettered by any collectively imposed constraints, than in any more equitable system, because at least, in such a lottery, each has some chance of winning, whereas in a more equitable order everyone loses (or so the argument goes). Even that erroneous argument is an argument about why such a lottery is in our collective interest. So who would refuse to engage in discourse about what is in our collective interest, if even the argument that a Hobbesian war of all against all is the best of all possible worlds is admissible in such discourse?

The answer: People whose ideology is inherently absurd. Those who argue against working toward having a functioning society, including a functioning government which constrains individual freedom in ways which serve our collective interests (as our Founding Fathers knew was a necessary part of the challenge, and as our Constitution set out to do), can’t frame it as an argument about what is in our collective interests, because their position is ultimately absurd if they do. And they can’t frame it in any other way, because, again, their position is absurd if they do.

If one is not arguing that their preferred policy is in our collective interest, then why should anyone care about their argument, or favor their policy? If they’re arguing for something other than our collective interest, what is it? Their own individual interests, which serve no one else’s interests? Some group’s interests, which serve no other group’s interests? No one’s interests at all? Some blind bit of dogma that privileges some other dehumanized social value over our collective interest? Why would any rational person taking an interest in social policy prefer any of these over our collective welfare?

The problem with extreme individualism is that it obfuscates this self-evident truth, and privileges a bizarrely inconsistent insistence that only extreme individualism is acceptable, not because it is in our collective interest, but because our collective interest doesn’t matter. And by that argument, if made consistently, we need no laws, no protections, nothing but the Hobbesian war of all against all that I have long considered the far right to covet, which no sane person can argue is in our collective interest. And so no sane person does.

So we have a robust ideology, a movement, in America, that argues against our collective interest, and tries by an alchemy of irrationality to convince itself that that makes sense. And this is why I think we have reached the final distillation of the great struggle of human history, the one that really counts: The struggle between reasonable people of goodwill, and irrational belligerents who argue a socially self-destructive absurdity, pursued with fanatical determination.

But why, then, should any decent human being react in any way other than disgust at this notion that we should dissolve as a society, and be only a jungle of conflict and mutual predation? And how can we be anything else without discussing the parameters of what that something else should look like, to best serve our collective interests? Why should anyone embrace an agenda seeking, stupidly, the lose-lose outcome of absolute conflict, rather than the win-win outcome of a well ordered society, perhaps one characterized by well-framed cooperative competition?

Extreme individualists are literally “enemies of society”.  Well, here’s my olive branch: Let’s rid ourselves of this absurdity, and agree that we are always discussing what is in our collective interests, regardless of what you think it is. And, by recognizing this, maybe we can finally engage in some rational and constructive public discourse.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

  • bagzzaf:

    **”People whose ideology is inherently absurd.”**

    **”their position is ultimately absurd ..”**

    **”no sane person can argue is in our collective interest”**

    **”by an alchemy of irrationality to convince itself that that makes sense.”**

    **”Why should anyone embrace an agenda seeking, stupidly, the lose-lose outcome of absolute conflict”**

    **”Extreme individualists are literally “enemies of society”.”**

    Let me get this straight, on this blog, where you state that you welcome differing opinions, a “confluence” of viewpoints, the first time somebody dares challenge your worldview, you take what they say our of context, paint them as extremist, and then throw numerous backhanded insults such as quoted above at them…..

    Very “tolerant” of you as a progressive that values “diversity”. Hypocrite. I have to laugh at conservatives that throw out terms such as socialist and communist all the time because it’s nothing more than lazy labelling to hide lack of substance. But YOUR over-reaction the other way puts them all to shame.

    So anybody that doesn’t buy into your view of the collective best interests not only is an anarchist, but also holds “absurd” or “stupid” viewpoints. Do you not see how ridiculous your strawmen are? Why must you paint any differing viewpoint as wildly extremist? I stated that the individual doesn’t exist for the collective, and that the collective is a group of individuals, that should serve the individuals in that collective, based on those individual’s best interests. From this, you’ve morphed me into a radical extremist. If those are the games you feel you need to play in order to make your point, it should probably tell you something about the validity of your point in the first place.

    Also, you get very petty and vindictive in a short amount of time with little provocation. Case in point, this quote:
    “The struggle between reasonable people of goodwill, and irrational belligerents who argue a socially self-destructive absurdity, pursued with fanatical determination.”

    Pretty clear where you see yourself, as well as anybody who dare challenge your perspective. Honestly, I have 13-year old twin boys with more civility than you.

  • bagzzaf:

    You should go to this page:
    and re-read it, then go back and read the initial post in this thread.

    1) This blog is intended to be the confluence, the “flowing together,” of diverse people, thoughts, and modalities. All are welcome, of all ideologies, from all walks of life. It is where political debate, social analysis, and cultural explorations are invited to converge, a meeting place for knowledge, analysis, and imagination.
    ** Right, all are “welcome” **

    2) It is focused on the confluence of the many rather than the influence of the few. It emphasizes what we become in combination, taking into account our myriad contributions, but focusing on what we can create together.
    ** i.e. value the diversity of all opinions, if they match my own” **

    5) Lastly, while this is a Colorado-based blog, it is one that invites all to join, from anywhere in the country or world; and invites contributions on topics from the most global to the most local, relating to any place and any time. This is a locus of convergence rather than of exclusion.
    ** “So long as the opinions don’t challenge the host’s opinions, of course.” **

    A bile-free zone ** Right! **

    For the time being, there are just three rules we ask that everyone respect: 1) Don’t break the law. Do not plagiarize or commit libel. Cite your sources, and avoid attacking individuals. Reasonable, fact-based criticism of public figures is acceptable, but as a means to a positive end rather than as an end in itself. 2) No hateful or incendiary speech. Remarks that denegrate groups of people or individuals will not be tolerated. 3) Do not post anything with the intention of harassing or annoying any other poster, even in minor ways. If it’s not good natured, don’t post it. Avoid even the hint of ad hominem attack. If it has the potential to be misunderstood or to cause hurt feelings, take pains to cure it of that defect. And, on the other side of the coin, resist reacting to perceived slights against you (email us instead). There are plenty of blogs and comment boards characterized by a toxic environment. We have no intention of becoming another one.

    ** Labelling of others as stupid, absurd, irrational or as enemys of society will ONLY be tolerated if you’re attacking conservatives, in that case, have at it! **

    A vehicle for improved understanding and social change

    Colorado Confluence has a purpose: To celebrate and cultivate our communal mind, in service to the continuing refinement of our social instititutional landscape. This is a forum for finding, sharing, generating and developing good ideas of all kinds, in all forms. It’s a place for exploring the possibilities. It’s a place to discover the narratives that illustrate both what is and what can be. It’s a place to consider how well our local, state, and federal governments, our schools, our religious institutions, our cultural and social venues, our businesses, our community organizations and political organizations, our various old and new communications media, and all of our myriad social institutions and technologies, serve our continuing endeavor to increase the robustness, sustainability, and fairness of our shared existence. And it’s a place to discuss how to do better.
    ** Within the context of what Steve sees as a valid perspective, all others will be painted as extremist and mocked mercilessly **

  • I addressed your ideas, not you as an individual. You may be right, that it could be done in a gentler way, and I appreciate the reminder that it’s worth trying to do so. I sincerely do not mean to direct any of my comments against you as an individual; I do not have any hostility toward you as an individual. The ideas you’ve expressed, however, are ideas that are not only embued with an internal logical inconsistency, but they are also ideas that are widespread and a force in our society, and ideas that are destructive to our collective welfare by pretending that our collective welfare is irrelevant, and arguing for some value that ignores our collective welfare.

    I did not take anything you had written in your unpublished post out of context. You wrote:

    “What policies and systems of analysis best serve our collective welfare is the topic here.”
    **That quote alone goes a long way to explaining why I probably won’t be spending my time posting on this website. You frame pretty much everything with a pre-conceived notion perspective; in this case, that what is needed is always another “policy” and/or “system” to “serve” our “collective welfare”. I read that as collective over individual in all things.

    And that is precisely what I responded to. There were no strawmen (except yours, that a focus on collective interests automatically implies a commitment to more rather than less governance in all instances); I made an argument, that was directly responsive to exactly what you wrote. It did not rely on labelling. It was an explanation of why the ideology of extreme individualism is inherently contradictory, because it participates in debates about how best to govern ourselves, debates which are inevitably about our collective welfare, while trying to remove the question of what is in our collective welfare from the debate. That’s not a label; it’s an accurate debunking of an illogical and counterproductive ideology.

    Whether I’ve been polite enough for you, or even polite enough to be consistent with my own guidelines, I’ve been addressing ideas. Your posts, conversely, are all about me and my personal defects, divorced from any discussion of the relative merits of any ideas we are discussing. Please, make an argument that is relevant to social policy instead, even if it is implictly insulting to me. Since you have a valid point about my own inconsistency, I’m not going to delete these posts. But, however well or poorly we adhere to the guideline of avoiding any implicit or explicit insults of other posters, the bright line that other posters, divorced from any arguments they may have made, should never be the topic of attacks is an easy one to adhere to, and unambiguous.

    My depiction of these competing ideologies as rational goodwill v. irrational belligerence isn’t vindictive; it is a very honest appraisal of the underlying natures of the ideologies. You explicitly rejected the notion that our collective interests are the proper topic of public policy debates. That is an underlying premise of your ideology that renders it irrational belligerence, almost by definition, because if our collective interests aren’t the concern, then the welfare of anyone other than the speaker is being declared irrelevant to the speaker (i.e., belligerence), and the topic of discourse over how best to arrange our coexistence is about something other than how best to arrange our coexitence (i.e., irrational). What you’ve called vindictive is simply an accurate observation of the inherent implications of the position you are arguing. My hope is that those people who do not want to be irrational belligerents will recognize this, and rethink their position.

    While I agree that we should do better than I have done to avoid even implicitly insulting one another, when you complain that I have mercilessly mocked your ideas, you’ve strayed into missing the point again: This is a place in which ideas compete. If I can, in essence, “mock” your ideas with more compelling arguments, then that really does serve the purpose. My purpose sincerely was not to insult you personally, but rather to demonstrate the flaws in the ideological positions you have advocated. And while I did not try hard enough to do so in a manner which avoided any implicit insults, the act of demonstrating those flaws itself is not only in-bounds, but the very essence of public discourse.

    Regardless of whether you believe that a blog devoted to exploring what policies best serve our collective interests passes the litmus test for all-inclusiveness that you adhere to, it is the purpose of this blog.

  • One more reminder. You wrote:

    Let me get this straight, on this blog, where you state that you welcome differing opinions, a “confluence” of viewpoints, the first time somebody dares challenge your worldview, you take what they say our of context, paint them as extremist, and then throw numerous backhanded insults such as quoted above at them…..

    Get this straight: Even though you are eggregiously violating the terms of use, by not only failing to try to be as non-insulting as possible (a failure you rightly point out that I made as well), but by focusing on me as an individual rather than on the relative values of our differing viewpoints, I am not deleting your posts or banning your account. That is what inclusiveness means. Let all arguments be aired, and let the strongest among them prevail. Hopefully, we can do so in the least personally insulting, and most friendly, way possible. I will try harder to do so (and won’t edit myself retroactively to pretend that I already succeeded; the addition I made to my original post was one I intended to make before I logged on and saw your comments).

    Argue your position, and you will always be welcome to do so. Insist that no one take you to task for your position, and you are missing the point. Remind me of my own guidelines, that I imperfectly adhere to, and you’ll receive my thanks for doing so.

  • bagzzaf posted a comment that included the following paragraph:

    I’m for limited government, and government for most things should be pushed down to the lowest level possible; first local, than county, than state and finally Federal. This was clearly the intent of the framers of the Constitution and founders of this nation. To attempt to paint me as some sort of anarchist, anti-government extremist, only to mock this false characterization of my positions as stupid, absurd, irrational and an enemy of society is textbook example of the use of strawmen.

    Since the rest of the post was a continued (and escalating in vitriol) complaint about me personally, I deleted it. Enough’s enough. But since this one paragraph made a substantive point, it merits a response.

    I did not respond to what you wrote above, but to the statement that I quoted in one of my previous comments, in which you insisted that any attempt to tailor public discourse to the search for what policies serve our collective interest has some unacceptable “collectivist” bias implicit within it. In fact, your statement immediately above is an argument about what serves our collective interest, and so well within the realm of a legitimate position in public discourse exploring what is in our collective interest.

    Responding to the argument itself, rather than how to classify it, I have already addressed it, with a link to the Economist magazine’s article which included an evaluation of your position as “infantile” (The Economist’s term, not mine), in my post on “constitutional idolatry” ( Stating, with approximate but imperfect accuracy, what the founding fathers’ intention was, is not the same as stating what the best policy is for this nation in the early 21st century. The Constitution does not answer, or address, all questions, nor is it a magical document that requires only unreflective obedience to work its mystical power over our lives.

    While federalism, as you’ve defined it, is an excellent starting point for discussion, it clearly has its limitations as the final answer in all debates. Should the Union have, in effect, forced the southern states to abandon slavery, despite the fact that the southern states insisted that doing so was a violation of the very ideal of federalism that you have just identified as inviolate? Should we lose all economies of scale to a preference for local control, even if it ends up costing us all more for less in services in return? Is the dormant commerce clause a violation of federalism, or an adherence to the essential purpose of the Constitution? And is it really the case that the large spectrum of policies that you implicitly reject with your description of the federalist ideal are actually addressed by that ideal, or does the question remain what kinds of issues fall to what levels of government in accord with that ideal? Why, for instance, would not a variety of stringent regulations addressing a variety of interstate challenges fall within the purvue of the ideal of government you have cited as the justification for your previous statements rejecting progressive policies?

    Just by citing an oversimplistic reduction of a complex political architecture, you have done little or nothing to address any of these issues. Which is why we still have to debate various possible policies, knowledgeably, today, with reference to how well or poorly they serve our collective interests, within the broad framework provided by the Constitution.

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