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In the Perspective section of last Sunday’s Denver Post, Ray Mark Rinaldi wrote an excellent piece exploring the two competing development visions for Denver’s Union Station (Who’s on the right track with Union Station plans? What I like about this article isn’t just the informative discussion of a single issue of current significance, but rather how it focuses on one instance of a more general challenge we face: Public Entrepreneurialism.

In all of the ideological noise, the competition of those who consider government the enemy and those who consider corporations the enemy, we don’t discuss enough the shared enterprise we are in, in which both government and corporations are problematic but indispensable players. Treating the public sphere as a popular entrepreneurial challenge, with one of the issues being how best to articulate that public entrepreneurship with the private sector to maximize our welfare through the most robust and efficacious utilizations of both, is exactly what we need more of. This is a wonderful discussion of that oft-forgotten but critically essential aspect of public participation and discourse: How we can act together in productive ways to improve our social institutional landscape. Let’s hope that is the kind of conversation we have more of in the future, displacing the one we already have far too much of.

Public entrepreneurialism is a concept that can join the pantheon of entrepreneurialisms, along with commercial, political, and social entrepreneurialism. Commercial entrepreneurialism requires no elaboration: It is what is normally referred to by the term. The development and implementation of a commercial idea in pursuit of private profit is commercial entrepreneurialism, and it plays a vital role in the ongoing evolution of our social institutional landscape.

Political entrepreneurialism involves political leadership outside of the established and official political landscape, in service to fomenting fundamental political change rather than preserving or operating through the status quo. Gandhi, King, revolutionary leaders and leaders of radical political movements, are examples of political entrepreneurs. They might leverage assets, mobilize resources, and divert profits of other enterprises toward the political goal. Clearly, commercial entrepreneurialism can be a strategic component of political entrepreneurialism.

And, similarly, political entrepreneurialism can be a strategic component of social entrepreneurialism. Social entrepreneurialism isn’t about changing regimes or merely expanding the franchize; it is about altering the culture. Changing the political landscape may be a means to that end, but, for social entrepreneurs, it is not an end in itself. Political entrepreneurs are often also, to varying degrees, social entrepreneurs: Certainly, King was a social entrepreneur to a very large extent, and Gandhi to a lesser extent. (Gandhi’s goal was primarily political: Indian independence. King’s was primarily social: The end of racism.)

But political entrepreneurs do not need to be social entrepreneurs: Many revolutionary leaders are simply trying to topple the current political power structure and replace it with what they believe to be a preferable one, because they believe the preferable one better serves either the public interest or their own interest, or the interests of those close to them, or some distribution among these, depending on the degree to which they are acting idealistically or cynically, and selfishly or altruistically.

All three of these forms of entrepreneurialism, on average, involve a higher proportion of charismatic authority than other forms of leadership (see What is Leadership?), though rational and traditional authority may well be invoked as well.  Social and political entrepreneurship probably rely more than commercial entrepreneurship on charismatic authority (though commercial entrepreneurs are often charismatic; think Steve Jobs), if only because the rewards of the former two are less immediate and less fungible: Those who follow, or work for, a commercial entrepreneur can do so for the promise of income without being otherwise persuaded, while those who follow political and social entrepreneurs generally have to be convinced of the ideals for which they are working.

Public entrepreneurialism is something different from all of these, articulating them into a single enterprise, and doing so from or through the established power structure rather than in opposition to it. It involves the mayor who has a vision for his or her city, the governor who is focused more on long-term development than short-term indicators, the president who has a vision for the country that guides his or her policies as much as or more than the ephemeral tides of political exigency.

It also involves those who try to influence them, not to change the nature of the game, but to play the game that exists more beneficially. Commercial entrepreneurs exist on a continuum ranging from the purely profit-motivated to the socially idealistic and visionary, and political and social entrepreneurs exist on continua ranging from extreme radicalism to subtle tweaking of existing institutions. Those who occupy the ranges closer to the latter poles become more involved in public entrepreneurialism, in partnership with others who occupy the more visionary range of elected and appointed office and bureaucratic careers.

Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, was less radical, less rejecting of the status quo, than Malcolm X; the American Revolutionaries less revolutionary than their French counterparts. The former were more willing to retain much and make changes mostly on the margins, moving the sophisticated package of human history along a slightly diverted trajectory rather than trying to destroy what was and replace it en masse with what they believed should be.

Public entrepreneurialism is characterized, for instance, by the vision touted by recent Denver mayoral candidate James Mejia, involving developing the river front in much the same way that San Antonia did in the latter’s creation of its famous River Walk; and by the vision espoused by now Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper during his campaign, in which he discussed a vision for Colorado that revolved around articulated roles for political, social, and commercial entrepreneurs (see A Positive Vision For Colorado).

Public entrepreneurialism can emphasize different aspects of our social institutional landscape: The economic, the cultural, the aesthetic, the charitable. It can focus on improvements in education, or in the delivery of social services, or in the production of wealth, or in the promotion of fairness and justice and human decency; but, at its best, it involves at least a little of all of these, emphasizing one more than others in each project, but pursuing projects which, taken together, emphasize all of these values.

We are indeed in a shared enterprise, one which we can participate in by “railing against the machine,” or one which we can participate in by “rallying agents of the organism.” The former is often more emotionally gratifying, assuming the role of someone external and superior to that which is. The latter is more productive and realistic, recognizing that we are indeed a part of something larger than ourselves, something that has a history and a value worth preserving and developing. Public entrepreneurialism can be bold, idealistic, even radical at times. But it is the kind of change realized through the realization that no viable change occurs that does not leverage what is to create what can be.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

There was a wonderful little work of whimsy that went viral when the internet was still young, purporting to be a college admission application essay, in which the author (actually a high school student, though not actually a college admission essay) mentioned, among other things, that he engaged in full-contact origami to blow off steam ( Earlier today, in my ongoing quest to populate the Colorado Confluence Facebook page ( with a blend of interests that represent the particular mood and spirit of this blog, I “liked” the “Full-Contact Origami” page created, obviously, in honor of the aforementioned humorous romp.

I didn’t “like” it just in tribute to the creativity and humor of the essay, but also because I think the image represents something akin to what I am doing here: Folding and fashioning, not just with some appendage but with the entirety of my being, something from the fabric of consciousness which permeates us. Colorado Confluence is engaged in a kind of “full-contact origami,” striving to form fluttering figurines of thought both fantastical and functional, stretching minds in simultaneously edifying and useful ways.

If we consider our individual and shared existence an on-going enterprise of some kind, and our cocktails of conceptualization, complete with their blends of rhetoric and passions and projects, to be its perpetual product, then we can ask ourselves whether this cocktail or that might benefit from a pinch more humor, or a dash more reason, or another jigger of imagination. Perhaps in the heavy drinking of casual debate, we need to learn to go lighter on the rot-gut of dogma, and heavier on the sweet liqueur of humility. And perhaps even in the more staid environments of professional hobnobbing, we need to garnish our oh-so-serious martinis with a few more olives of whimsy.

Both the Romans (Pliny the Elder) and the Greeks (Alcaeus) famously intoned “In vino veritas” (“Ἐν οἴνῳ ἀλήθεια” in Greek; “symposium,” by the way, being Greek for “drinking party”), but perhaps we should emphasize “in humor, truth” as well. When George Carlin, for instance, said that “some people see a glass that’s half empty, and others see a glass that’s half full, but I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be,” he struck upon a brilliant and timeless insight humorously stated: Things are what they are, regardless of how optimistically or pessimistically we choose to view them.

Once, when posting on Colorado Pols, a fellow poster “took the piss out of me” (as the Brits like to say) by posting a link to one of the many “Most Interesting Man in the World” pages (, and asking facetiously if he had stumbled upon my profile page, quoting the following excerpts:

The police often question him just because they find him interesting. His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body. His blood smells like cologne. He’s been known to cure narcolepsy just by walking into a room. His organ donation card also lists his beard. He’s a lover, not a fighter, but he’s also a fighter, so don’t get any ideas.

His reputation is expanding faster than the universe. He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels. He lives vicariously through himself.

His charm is so contagious, vaccines have been created for it. Years ago, he built a city out of blocks. Today, over six hundred thousand people live and work there. He is the only man to ever ace a Rorschach test. Every time he goes for a swim, dolphins appear. Alien abductors have asked him to probe them. If he were to give you directions, you’d never get lost, and you’d arrive at least 5 minutes early. His legend precedes him, the way lightning precedes thunder.

His personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards. Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number. He never says something tastes like chicken. Not even chicken.

He is, quite simply, “the most interesting man in the world.”

Few insults have ever made me laugh harder, or feel more appreciated (though from the context that was clearly not the intent).

Maybe if we strive harder to be the most interesting people and most interesting society in the world, we’ll laugh as hard, and appreciate ourselves as much. Here’s to folding reality with all the dexterity our consciousness can muster, into the most edifying forms imaginable, laughing all the while.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

The dynamics I described in The Fractal Geometry of Social Change applies as much to emotions as to cognitions, as we all know: Kindness and unkindness, love and hate, generosity and selfishness, forgiveness and anger, are all highly contagious, spreading robustly in conflicting, resonating, self-amplifying currents of benevolence and belligerence. The world is full of flame wars and love fests, shouts of “get a room!” and “cage match!” On scales both large and small we cultivate either mutual goodwill or mutual antagonism with every word and gesture.

Indeed, the dynamical, ever-changing social institutional and technological landscape described in the essays in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts is as much a function of this emotional contagion as it is of the cognitive contagion on which I routinely focus. The two are intertwined, at times mutually reinforcing and at times mutually disrupting, bad attitudes undermining good ideas, and kind emotions concealing callous cognitions. I had discussed this several times, in a different context, in several of the essays in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts, such as The Foundational Progressive Agenda, The Politics of Anger, The Politics of Kindness, The Power of “Walking the Walk”, The Battle of Good v. Evil, Within & Without, and The Battle of Good v. Evil, Part 2.

In fact, I began to identify the interplay of the substance of our political positions and the form by which they are advocated, in The Basic Political Ideological Grid. But, as I began to indicate in that essay, their integration is more along the pattern described in The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, two reverberating currents intertwined in complex ways.

I have sometimes written (drawing on the work of economist Robert Frank, among others) that our emotions are our primordial social institutional material, the commitment mechanism that bound us together before we created governments and markets and enforceable contracts; the protoplasm of “norms” diffusely enforced through mutual social approval and disapproval. But even as we have rationalized our society through the ever-increasing domain of hierarchies, markets, (fully developed) norms, and ideologies, this emotional protoplasm is still flowing through that mass of latter developments, of cognitive social institutional material.

Political discourse is commonly more emotional than rational, and, as a consequence, more ideological than methodological (see Ideology v. Methodology). That’s because ideology is the handmaiden of emotion, while methodology is the handmaiden of reason. Since reason has always played, and continues to play, only a marginal instantaneous role in human cognitions and human history (though, somewhat paradoxically, a major long-term role), the dynamics described in The Fractal Geometry of Social Change are of a more emotional than rational nature, at least in real time.

And the emotional content counts, as much or more than the rational content. There are those on the left who argue that we need to be angrier, to be more like The Tea Party, which used anger so successfully. But I argue that that is a recipe for becoming The Tea Party, not for countering it, because it is the anger, more than anything else, that makes The Tea Party the scourge that it is. Of course, those who argue in favor of angrier politics are not opposed to the emotional content of The Tea Party, but only the substantive content. They are already adherents of The Politics of Anger, and are spreading the same emotional gospel with a set of alternative substantive hymns.

The robustness of The Tea Party, therefore, is not only to be measured by how many substantive adherents it has attracted, but also by how many people it has inspired to anchor their own politics in anger, because the virus of anger is as much a part of its message as the virus of extreme individualism, the latter carried by the former, or perhaps the former by the latter; it’s always hard to tell.

I could rewrite The Fractal Geometry of Social Change referring to emotional hues and shades rather than cognitive hues and shades, keeping all the rest intact, and it would serve the purpose well. But the final draft would have to combine the two, the emotional and the cognitive, for, to play on Richard Dawkins’ previous play on words, we are not just a story of genes and memes, but also of emes, all braided and blended in complex and mutually reverberating ways.

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I happened upon a Facebook profile in which the individual wrote for political views: “Seeing clearly through the false right/left paradigm to the REAL issue: the State vs the individual” (she also put down for religion: “No religion…just Jesus,” which is another alternative reductionism). This is one of two prevalent ideological cornerstones that seem to be defining the new (or alternative) poles of the mainstream conservative-progressive spectrum (“false” or otherwise), the other being the identification of “corporations” as the boogeyman. These two poles are, in reality, almost identical in their underlying logic (or lack thereof), and thus almost identically defective.

It’s not that there are not problems and challenges posed by each respective boogeyman: The state, while saddled with accountability to the public, has a near-monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and is thus an inherently coercive social institution; while corporations, lacking access to coercive physical force, combine more subtle but comparably effective tools of manipulation, yet lacking any public accountability other than that imposed via the state. Rather, it’s that they are both indispensable aspects of our social institutional landscape (one being an essential component of a very robust political economy, and the other being a bulwark against mutual predation and instrument of mutual large-scale collective action), thus making mere vilification as meaningless as bemoaning the need to breathe.

The question is not whether they are problematic artifacts of our social institutional landscape (they are, as are all such artifacts in varying ways, including family, religion, mass media, etc., etc., etc.), but rather how best to manage them through our various vehicles of collective action (which include, but are not limited to, corporations and the state). This difference is critical, because while the reductionist approach sees them (the state or corporations, respectively) as beasts to be tamed, the social analytical approach sees them both as in some ways beneficial yet, as loci of power, always potential vehicles of social injustice. The basic ideological dispute over which is the problem and which is the remedy is erased in the awareness that they both are simultaneously neither and both.

The New Reductionism is evident in the many statements to be found currently scattered throughout the virtual landscape evincing a transcendence of The Old Reductionism, but simultaneously embracing its very similar replacement. The Old Reductionism is Left v. Right, Democrat v. Republican, an alliance of labor and the recently or currently ostracized (e.g., minorities, gays) v. (since the 1980s) an alliance of Christian fundamentalists and the traditional elites (i.e., white males) plus some portion of new entrants (i.e., the wealthy in general). The New Reductionism, which is a mere minor shift from this previous formulation, is New Left (rallying around a fanatical opposition to corporate power) v. New Right (rallying around a fanatical opposition to state power).

The Tea Party emerged announcing itself as an alternative to the failed left-right dichotomy, focusing instead on the pure and, to them, irrefutable rightness of opposing the state in service to a very narrow (and generally dysfunctional) definition of liberty. The Coffee Party emerged announcing itself as an alternative both to The Old Left and to The Tea Party, a more moderate and reasonable third way, but quickly became co-opted almost entirely by the same anti-corporate ideology prevalent in the mainstream progressive movement.

The problem with The New Reductionism is the same as the problem with The Old: It leaps to oversimplistic substantive certainties, not forged in any disciplined way, rather than investing in a focus on such disciplined procedures, the one and only remedy to reductionism in general. For instance, prior to the painstaking development of scientific methodology, our understanding of our natural surroundings was at best imaginatively rational but empirically unreliable and imprecise (such as in the case of the Greek Philosophers), and at worst a dogmatic literalization of ancient lore and mythology (such as in the case of religious dogmas of various kinds). It is only by subjecting ourselves to the discipline of well-formulated procedures and methodologies that we can increase The Signal-To-Noise Ratio.

I tried, for awhile, on a national Coffee Party internet site, to encourage that nascent political organization to embrace the real alternative to all reductionisms, a commitment to disciplined procedures for arriving at substantive conclusions, rather than a commitment to the already ideologically presumed correct substantive conclusions themselves. As more expressed an interest in this approach, the resistance to it grew correspondingly more intense, ideologues, as is generally the case in political discourse, drowning out any and all voices of subtler reason.

We need a movement that is committed not to our precipitous false certainties, but rather to our recognition that we can institute disciplines and processes which, to some extent, transcend our constantly aggregated individual folly, and give increased power to our never-sufficiently-tapped-and-realized collective genius. I’ve written repeatedly on one approach to doing so (see Catalogue of Selected Posts, particularly the essays in the second box, and most particularly The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified).

Whether reasonable people of universal goodwill rally around that particular framework, seeking to refine and build on it, or merely around the idea that we need to work together at constructing such a framework, it’s time for us to come together, and, rather than creating yet another New Reductionism, another commitment to precipitous, under-examined competing substantive certainties, create instead a New Holism, a new commitment to transcending our forever aggregating individual folly, and liberating our forever captive collective genius in service to our humanity.

The more profound conflict isn’t between those who reduce our political struggles to a tension between the individual and the state and those who reduce our political struggles to a tension between individuals and corporations, but rather between the commitment to liberating our consciousness in service to humanity, and the commitment to reducing our consciousness to a mere prisoner of its historical artifacts, in service to our bigotries. Unfortunately, the latter continues to dominate, by defining two versions of itself as the two poles of political ideological conflict. We need to define them together as a single pole, and confront them with their combined opposite: Reason in service to universal goodwill.

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.

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

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

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

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

Q: Specifically where would you start?

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

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

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(originally written as a list of discussion points concerning why the national Coffee Party Movement should incorporate my model of “the politics of reason and goodwill” into their platform, on request after a long and robust dialogue on CPM’s “shared purpose website,”, mostly on the “plenary forum” page:, from March 16 to March 23, 2011)

1) The ultimate political battle field is the human mind. We are all, ultimately, fighting over what people believe and don’t believe. The salience of money in politics is due to its influence on what people believe (which is what the campaign contributions go toward influencing).

2) It makes sense for a political movement to zero in on that ultimate goal, rather than get lost in the various means of addressing it, or attempts to circumvent it. Attempts to circumvent it (e.g., pass legislation without popular support) only have lasting success to the extent that they ultimately affect what people believe. Awareness of the means of affecting popular opinion should not displace a focus on the ends those means serve.

3) Nothing is taken off the table by focusing on the struggle over what people believe. It merely is the ball we need to keep our eye on. All of the ways in which it can be affected are relevant and salient.

4) We can attempt to affect what people believe on an issue-by-issue basis, or we can attempt to affect what people believe by focusing on underlying values that underwrite support for all of the positions on issues we advocate for.

5) If we ask ourselves, “what qualities must a position have for it to be a position that I support?” hopefully, the answer we ultimately arrive at if we peel back the layers is “reason and goodwill.” We support policies that serve humanity rather than particular individuals at the expense of other individuals (“goodwill”). And we support them because they effectively serve humanity rather than ineffectively serve humanity (“reason”). We are really, when you get to the core of the matter, advocates for reason and goodwill. (Those of us who aren’t, or when we ourselves fail to live up to that ideal, are the ones in error. If and when our commitments are not defined by reason and goodwill, then it is our commitments that are in error.)

6) Since the postions on issues we hope to support are all defined by the degree to which the positions are recommended by reason and goodwill, then, to the extent that we can successfully advocate for reason and goodwill themselves, we have invested in the cultivation of popular support for the entire array of positions we advocate.

7) The political ideological landscape is dominated by competing substantive certainties, which, if charted on a graph defined by the axes “reason” and “goodwill,” would not lead us to conclude that we, as a people, are doing a particularly good job of aligning our certainties to those ideals.

8) Each adherent to each ideological certainty knows that his or her certainty is not to blame; it’s everyone else’s certainties that are not in accord with his or hers that are to blame. But reason itself informs us that this belief, held by virtually everyone of every ideological stripe, is the problem. If this chaos of conflicting substantive certainties is a major factor in reducing the salience of reason and goodwill in our political landscape, then we should work at diminishing the breadth and depth of our commitment to substantive certainties.

9) Reproducing this error by creating just another point source of such political ideological certainty does not contribute the kind of evolutionary/revolutionary change to the political ideological landscape that we, in the CPM, are aspiring to contribute.

10) To the extent that acting on conclusions about which policies are preferable is a necessary component of responsible citizenship, even when one is wise enough to recognize their conclusions as tentative and fallible, there are already plenty of vehicles for doing so. Adding another that repeats the work of larger and better funded movements advocating the same positions on the same issues is not a significant improvement on the current political ideological landscape.

11) Advocacy for focusing our efforts on something other than the substantive certainties subsets of us currently hold is not an argument to “do nothing,” but rather is an argument to “do something different.”

12) That “something different” includes establishing networks of community organizations whose purposes are to a) do good works in the community (e.g., tutor and mentor local kids, organize volunteer services and events that benefit the community in various ways, etc.), b) create a context for improved civil discourse among community members of all political ideological inclinations, and c) create bridges among these community organizations, to create a transpartisan political network steeped only in the commitment to reason and goodwill.

13) These community organizations and networks should not be political advocacy organizations, but rather simply organizations and networks committed to the principles of reason and goodwill. Again, to the extent that a commitment to these principles can be cultivated, popular support for the positions we favor can be marginally but significantly (perhaps, over time, dramatically) increased.

14) In conjunction with this network of community organizations, we should work at establishing a data base, or internet portal, which provides easy access to concise and accessible summaries of all policy arguments and counterarguments, including all arguments and counterarguments concerning what interests are being served or harmed by the proposed policy or position. This includes conservative arguments, “monetarist” economic arguments, and so on. It excludes “messaging,” all of the political noise produced by the marketing techniques that are designed to manipulate people and cultivate support for positions by circumventing reason and goodwill.

15) The community organizations can then sponsor community forums on issues of public concern, referring community members to the data base, or internet portal, through which they can access all arguments on the topic to be discussed.

16) The clearly expressed purpose of the community organizations would be that they are intended to be vehicles for civil discourse, for listening to one another, and for challenging our assumptions together to do a better job of governing ourselves wisely and compassionately. Those who do not agree with this purpose are free not to join or participate.

17) Despite the large number of people who reject this premise, in my experience, the vast majority of Americans consider themselves reasonable, and believe in the values of reason and goodwill. Those who explicitly reject these values will always exist, but we don’t have to continue to let them dominate a national discourse among a polity that overwhelmingly rejects the notion that it is better to strive to be irrational people of ill-will than reasonable people of goodwill.

18) In conjunction with this synthesis of community organizations and facilitation of rational and well-informed discourse on matters of public interest, we can also engage in meta-messaging in support of the values of reason and goodwll. An old and revered example of such meta-messaging is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Few people watch “A Christmas Carol” believing that one is better off by being Scrooge before his transformation, and worse off for being Scrooge after his transformation. The transformation itself is effected by reaching into his own frames and narratives, and drawing on his formative past, incomplete present, and foreboding future to persuade him that he would be better served by acting with a greater commitment to universal goodwill.

19) The story itself is an example of meta-messaging, reinforcing the commitment to goodwill itself, rather than to any particular policy informed by goodwill. It is also a representation of meta-messaging, imagining spectral ministers who are able to reach into the minds of the most hardened among us and find the frames and narratives on which to work in order to effect such a transformation.

20) Modern cognitive science offers some insight into how to attempt to do the work of Marley’s Ghost and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future on a societal wide scale. Making it a part of a social-political movement to generate and broadly communicate, continuously, messages that have the effect of beloved Christmas stories on people’s feelings of goodwill, helps to build the bridge between organizing in mutual goodwill within our communities, and instituting public policies that are motivated by the same spirit on state and national levels.

21) As such, the three components of this proposal combine to comprise an integration of thought (the data base or portal), communication (the meta-messaging), and action (the community organizations), all mutually reinforcing various aspects of a commitment to reason and goodwill.

22) By creating a social-political movement committed specifically to this goal, to increasing the popular commitment to reason and goodwill as motivating values, we “soften the ground” for all of the other substantive political advocacy that we and others might engage in, promoting policies in service to reason and goodwill. It also focuses on the purpose of political advocacy, helping to keep the advocates themselves on track, and supporting substantive policies which actually are informed by reason and goodwill.

23) Such a movement does not have to catalyze dramatic changes in a large number of people to be dramatically successful. Very slight shifts in attitude among a very small minority of the population could have enormously significant effects on our political landscape.

24) Furthermore, the large, silent, moderate majority is looking for an attractive, sane, reasonable and goodwilled political alternative to which to flock. This proposal provides precisely that.

(please see The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified and A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill for more on this topic)

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As I´ve been developing in posts preceding, following, and including A Proposal: The Politics of Kindness, the most powerful strategy Progressives could implement right now would be one which changes the narrative from partisan ideological warfare (which serves Conservatives by reducing the Progressive and Conservative agendas, in the eyes of the disengaged or “moderate” majority, to equal and opposite “extreme” ideologies) to a movement in opposition to no one and no generally accepted value, but rather only in support of Reason and Goodwill. There are many who already reject “Liberalism” or “Progressivism” as simply another strident ideological camp, who, however, long for greater implementation of Reason in service to Goodwill. There are many, as I´ve written before, who are sick of “politics,” but are hungry for “kindness.” The political movement that most successfully taps into such inchoate undercurrents (as the Tea Party has with other less attractive and powerful ones) will own the future.

To me, Progressivism is the desire to implement public policies that are defined by reason and goodwill. This contrasts with Tea Party Conservatives and other political fundamentalists (across the spectrum), who are driven by fear, anger, bigotry, and a matrix of fixed shallow beliefs. Neither the Tea Party Right nor their angriest counterparts on the Left can capture the “reason and goodwill” narrative, because whatever appeal they each may have for some, they are too far removed from Reason and Goodwill to successfully frame themselves within that narrative.

Too many Progressives, unfortunately, want to mimic the Tea Party “success” by copying the Tea Party emotional attitude (i.e., “anger”), which only serves to reduce Progressives to equal and opposite angry ideologues, trapping themselves in the narrative which serves the Right by erasing the substantive, procedural, and attitudinal differences between the Right and the Left which, in the long run, favor the Left (because reason and goodwill are more profoundly attractive forces than irrational belligerence, even though the latter´s more superficial attractiveness accounts for endless short bursts of historical tragedy).

Rather than being drawn into the narrative of competing angry, substantively opposed camps, Progressives (or some subset of Progressives) should advocate exclusively for a procedural commitment to seek out policies which apply reason in service to goodwill. Changing from a substantive to a procedural focus assists in changing the narrative, by advocating universal submission to a process which promotes fairly undeniably desirable virtues rather than being drawn exclusively into an issue-by-issue fight, which loses the narrative of the attractive virtues which inform the Progressive positions on those issues.

This movement, which I am tentatively calling ¨the Reason And Goodwill Alliance¨(RAGA), is not mutually exclusive of existing Progressive political advocacy. It complements rather than displaces current efforts, in two ways: 1) It “softens the ground” for increasing support of substantive progressive ideas and the candidates who are associated with them, and 2) it gains cross-over legitimacy by being contrasted to more strident Progressive activism and framed as a more reasonable “middle way,” much as the moderate and peaceful Civil Rights Movement enjoyed an increase in legitimacy by means of being contrasted to the militant Black Power movement.

If only 10% of current Progressive activists devoted 10% of the time, energy, passion, and money they currently invest in progressive advocacy to the kind of movement I am describing, it would be a groundswell. They would be joined by hordes of disaffected Moderates and Reagan Republicans who are comfortable neither with the irrationality nor belligerence of the Tea Party Right, and are looking for an attractive (or even merely acceptable) alternative toward which to flee.

Even so, despite the finalizing and legitimizing functions that “traditional” progressive activism provides, the optimal balance of human and material resources would favor RAGA, creating a new attractive “Middle” that would in reality be a less rancorous expression of an essentially Progressive agenda, replacing the current “Middle” which is defined by an equal repulsion of both perceived extremes.

The ideological soil and climate in which our social institutional flora grow is not fixed, but it is highly determinative of the species of institutions that flourish. The overwhelming attention that Progressive activists currently devote to planting, cultivating, pruning, and weeding their preferred institutional landscape leaves intact the contextually limiting reality of the ideological soil and climate. Investing effort in changing that context often appears too daunting, or too far removed from substantive goals, but, in reality, it is perhaps the easiest thing for activists to do (since it faces less opposition) and has the biggest substantive bang for the buck (since it affects, and to a large degree determines, all substantive battles). If we are truly committed to cultivating a different kind of social institutional landscape, as will most things, the preparatory groundwork is most crucial of all.

I’ve been developing A Proposal: The Politics of Kindness in recent weeks, as well as communicating with others from across the political spectrum on matters of policy, ideology, and personal style, and the sheer lunacy and pettiness of popular discourse raises the question of whether reason and goodwill are powerful enough forces to cut through it, or whether those who are advocates for reason and goodwill have simply failed to present it in a transparent and compelling enough manner.

Here’s what should be completely non-controversial: We should govern ourselves by using sound reason applied to reliable information in service to all legitimate values and goals, including the protection and augmentation of individual liberty, the recognition of mutual interdependence, and a commitment to kindness and compassion. And yet, it is controversial, the simplicity of it buried beneath various idolatries and ideological rationalizations.

One former supporter wrote me and said that my use of jargon turns him off, and that I would attract more people to my ideas by avoiding it. I wrote back thanking him, telling him that I thought that he was absolutely right, that I would work on it, but that my writing style is really just my writing style, and it probably wasn’t going to change dramatically, in part due to my own lack of skill and my own unwillingness to invest the amount of time and energy necessary. I asked him to “bear with me.” He replied that I had chosen not to take his suggestion, but rather to rationalize continuing to do what he suggested I stop doing, so he wasn’t going to bear with me. I responded: “Fair enough. Different people have different ways of thinking, speaking, writing, and behaving. Some of those differences shouldn’t be tolerated, and some should. It’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves where we draw that line. No hard feelings.”

How much should it matter to any of us if another person’s writing style is annoying? Should it matter any more than if another has a tic, or a stutter, or a physical defect? How much does it matter whether the offending trait is seen as more or less an artifact of volition, or amenable to voluntary modification? Should gay rights really hinge on the argument over whether it is a life-style choice, or an inherent characteristic?

The defects of some ideologies (not just some conservative ones) have more to do with attitude than with substance. They are characterized by intolerance, absolutism, and other attributes that are inherently centrifugal in nature, tearing people apart rather than binding us together. Progressives should not see themselves as being in a battle against external foes called “conservatives,” but rather against both internal and external foes called “intolerance, irrationality, ignorance, anger, hostility, cruelty” and so on.

It’s time for all reasonable people of goodwill to dedicate ourselves to The Politics of Kindness. Yes, well-reasoned and well-informed kindness; well-communicated kindness; kindness that seeks the kindest outcomes and not just the kindest intentions; kindness that is disciplined and channeled and cautious in its certainties; kindness that is courageous and assertive and even at times combative in its advocacy; but, ultimately, kindness.

We exhaust ourselves in futile opposition to irrelevancies, and fortify ourselves within shallow but passionately held dogmas. What if we simply all tried to do better? Or, more realistically, what if those of us who read this message, or receive it from some other source, or independently think of it, consider the possibility of doing better? What if all those who care about participating productively in the creation of our future dedicate themselves to doing better? And what if all those so inclined began to more consistently and frequently encourage others to do better as well, in the kindest and most endearing of ways?

I’ve learned a lot from my seven-year-old daughter. One of the things I’ve learned is that love is far more powerful than anger. And, in the same vein, tolerance is far more powerful than intolerance. Kindness is far more powerful than hatred or indifference. Reason is far more powerful than irrationality, and knowledge is far more powerful than ignorance. And yet, these more powerful forces seem forever on the defensive. Anger, intolerance, hatred, mutual indifference, irrationality, and ignorance are forever on the march, while love, tolerance, kindness, reason, and knowledge seem forever (or at least too frequently) in retreat. It’s not because the latter set is weaker, but rather because those of us who would be its advocates are weaker in our commitment to it, which demands more of its adherents than do hatred, intolerance, anger, indifference, irrationality, and ignorance.

Those who want reason and kindness to prevail in the political sphere have to work harder in promoting it within ourselves, within our families and communities, within our thoughts and our actions. We will continue to lose to weaker forces more easily served unless and until we do.

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By “second-order social change” (SOSC) I mean social change that involves changing the algorithm by which first-order social change (FOSC) occurs. For instance, if, today, (first-order) social change occurs as the result of some complex function of mass media dissemination of competing memes (including technological and social institutional innovations) and competing organizational efforts to advance them, SOSC  consists of altering that complex function through which these (and potentially other) variables pass to produce FOSC. A common example of proposed SOSC is campaign finance reform, which would alter the relative weights of the relevant variables and the ways in which they aggregate.

SOSC requires the same organizational efforts, the same mobilization of human and material resources, the same FOSC algorithm that current FOSC requires. But it is directed toward changes less in substantive public policies than in procedural public policies. Campaign finance reform, for instance, isn’t about providing people with health care, or educational services, or increased safety, or child and family services, but rather about changing the way in which one aspect of the processes which lead to such substantive policy decisions operates.

I’ve posted frequently on the importance of, for many purposes, focusing on procedures and methodologies over substantive conclusions and outcomes (see, e.g., Ideology v. Methodology,  The Signal-To-Noise Ratio, The Elusive Truth, Scientific Misconduct: There’s No Such Thing As Immaculate Conception). And I’ve posted on what I believe are the procedures and methodologies that we should strive for in the realm of popular political participation to improve both the quality of policy ideas generated and our ability to implement them (see, e.g., A ProposalThe Ultimate Political Challenge, The Foundational Progressive Agenda“Messaging” From The Heart of Many Rather Than The Mouth of Few). Finally, I’ve posted on the nature of the social institutional landscape that should inform our attempts at SOSC (see, e.g., The Politics of Consciousness , Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future, The Evolutionary Ecology of Audio-Visual Entertainment (& the nested & overlapping subsystems of Gaia), The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix, Counterterrorism: A Model of Centralized Decentralization, The Economic Debate We’re Not Having).

Campaign finance reform, while important and powerful, is a relatively superficial example of SOSC, addressing a relatively superficial layer of public policy formation (electoral politics). Electoral politics exists within a context of popular opinions and predispositions, and the more fundamental forms of SOSC that we might attempt address that context rather than the processes which occur within it. Current grass-roots and organizational political activism focuses too much, first, on the electoral and governmental dimensions of FOSC, and secondarily, the electoral and governmental dimensions of SOSC. By doing so, it not only fails to address deeper foundational and contextual elements of social change, but also replicates many of the errors that such deeper-level SOSC would address.

The question facing those engaged in efforts to effect social change is: How should my time, energy and money be distributed among the various possible investments in social change? For many,  a single substantive issue is compelling enough to attract all of their attention, whether it is a particular substantive policy issue (such as health care, education, or child welfare), or a social issue addressed through private and charitable means (such as raising money to combat breast cancer). Some distribute their investment among a few such substantive issues. And some focus their investment in the political sphere, trying to advance a set of positions on a spectrum of issues by getting candidates from a particular party elected, and by pressuring them to vote in particular ways once elected. All of these are reasonable investments of time, energy, and money in individual attempts to affect our world for the better, and all have a place in the overall distribution of such investments that we, collectively, should make.

But grossly underrepresented in this mix is the investment in affecting the way individual ideological convictions are formed, by using the same ingredients as we use in all other efforts to effect social change, but directing them instead in the combined challenge of advancing the production and successful dissemination of the most well reasoned social institutional understandings and subsequent policy ideas. Taking on the challenge of affecting the zeitgeist, making it better informed and more conducive to the interests of humanity, may seem too vague and daunting, but, I argue, it provides a very large bang-for-the-buck. In fact, failing to address it any large-scale focused way leaves us trapped in the same old vicious cycles of relative ineffectiveness, alternating between euphorias of triumph and depths of despair as we continually find that even our victories seem too small and woefully insufficient.

Fortuitously, SOSC is in many ways easier to pursue than FOSC, and more so the more deeply contextual it becomes, because, for the same reason that efforts are disproportionately invested in FOSC and in relatively superficial SOSC, few people are mobilized to resist attempts to address deeper layers of SOSC, or forms of SOSC that don’t directly threaten any vested interests. Term limit legislation in Colorado, for instance, ended up contributing to a Democratic takeover by openning up Republican held seats that would otherwise have been held indefinitely by the incumbents.

Ironically, term limits in Colorado was championed primarily by Republicans, which demonstrates both just how necessary it is to employ very good analyses when pursuing SOSC so as to avoid undesired unintended consequences, and the extent to which those who might be considered the “losers” of the results of the change are less likely to mobilize opposition to it (in this case, having mobilized support of it instead). I suspect, too, that many of those Republicans who supported term limits did not feel that they had made a mistake when it cost their party the majority in both houses of the state legislature, because they were focused on the value of the reform itself, divorced from its partisan implications. SOSC, more so the more contextual it becomes, has the benefit of appealing to non-partisan values rather than to knee-jerk partisan allegiances, circumventing and penetrating to some extent the obstacles posed by blind ideological partisan convictions.

Those of us who want to work toward improving the quality of life in our communities, our state, our nation, and our world need to invest more of our time, effort, and money in second-order social change, and particularly in deeper contextual varieties of SOSC. Those are the pressure points where dramatic social paradigm shifts can be effectuated (see The Variable Malleability of Reality).

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