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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Does History Tilt Progressive?

I would like to think so. When I took Western History in high school and college (Greece/Rome/Mid-East to Europe and liberated territories/colonies), I thought that the march of history was to the left, e.g. from Tory to Whig to Republican. Hegel, as wonderfully analyzed by Francis Fukuyama, saw the End of History in liberal democracy. Marx picked up the "science" of history as moving from aristocracy to bourgeoisie to proletariats. But dictatorial fascism and bolshevism and, now, the new global plutocratic oligarchy seems to have put the kibosh on the seeming inevitable progressive unfolding of humanity.

"Progress is our most important product" is a great slogan. But not if it is measured in consumable wealth or money rather than in human happiness that comes with integration with one's self, neighbors, community, nature, and the universe.

The question asks itself in this presidential election which is shaping up as a choice.  Between a return to the past, e.g. our image of the greatest WWII victorious generation of the mid 20th century or "the way we never were" as one author puts it. Or a new racially, sexually, ethnically, socially, economically diverse but integrated, in creative class communities, through advanced technology, solving all our problems intelligently through science or "the way we never will be" as a new author might put it.

Clearly the Romney campaign is most appealing to white men and their women and older folk who see Obama taking the country down the road to perdition. While Obama is appealing to youth, liberated women, intellectuals, Latinos and African Americans who are setting new standards of morality.  (See the article in the WP today: "Electing the Future or the Past").

Demographics may now seem to be on the side of the Democratic Party--no matter who wins this election. Republicans by identifying themselves more with the regressive white South and with white working men who fear the loss of their once dominant position and their income are courting disaster in the long run. But that could change. Look at Clarence Thomas and Marco Rubio and Herman Cain. Look at how urban Catholics, once the mainstay of the Democratic party, moved to the suburbs and became Republican. Maybe Republicans will come to their senses and work for a McCain/Bush/Obama comprehensive immigration reform which would bring in many more Latinos.

As I have said earlier, it's not the Parties. I trust I would have been a strong supporter of Republicans under Abe Lincoln, Bob Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, and even Ike--attacking slavery, robber barons, and the military-industrial complex. Both Parties seem trapped by economic concerns and need strong challenges as to their notion of wealth, freedom, public, and humanity. Both Parties are now dominated by superstar plutocrats whose policies and methods undermine the republic. (You can tell that I am reading Plutocrats by Chrystia Freeland.)

Back to the question. Is history on a progressive or regressive track?  I think that the tilt of history question is somewhat like the "fundamental option" or "Paschal's Wager" (which we discussed earlier). It's our choice that makes it so.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Has the Singularity Passed Us By?

Joe just sent be an interesting article that questions whether we have already reached the Singularity (as portrayed by Ray Kurzweil in his book). In the last 50 or so years, technology, following Moore's Law, has raced ahead of our ability to comprehend it all.We are so plugged in to electronic information networks and them into us that instead of waiting for some future moment, we might indeed say that the Singularity is already here.

Kurzweil is predicting, however, that through bioengineering human life will be extended indefinitely. Also brains can be more intimately connected to expanding computer capacity so that, not just information, but knowledge will expand exponentially. We will finally have consumed the fruit of the primordial tree and be as gods.

As I have reflected earlier in my series on "new ethics," when we achieve virtual immortality and omniscience I think that means an evolution into an entirely new species.* There may still be some of our existing species still around, e.g. those who refuse to be plugged in. Think of the "luddites" today who do not use smart phones, social networks, ebooks and iUniversity courses, GPS, and those who do not accept science but turn to mythology for their truths. But they will be as the neanderthals were when living with, and even having sex with, homo sapiens.

I am not sure this will be a good event. But then I am judging the good based on my understanding of human, i.e. homo sapiens sapiens, existence and nature.

But that is why it is important to think this step out. Human evolution contains much of what was achieved through earlier mammalian and hominid adaptation to a changing environment, including the adaptation to change itself through creative symbolic interaction. If we are indeed evolving a new species, we have a say collectively as to what we want it to be. If we want that say.

One very big question regarding the Singularity is the value of death.

Many biological anthropologists have speculated that homo sapiens began to know, that is, reflect on death about 200,000 years ago as a byproduct of symbolic communication. Death rituals and myth may be the first instances of art and culture. Religion is closely tied to the awareness of death as something to be avoided or used. Terrence Deacon and others have linked tool using and the eating of meat to social groupings, to male and female responsibility for children in groups, to symbolic communication, to self representation and awareness, to awareness of death, to religion and culture, to arts and sciences and technology development.

Death, then, is related to culture and to legacy in children, in social contribution, in the future of the species. Death is also related to new birth and creativity.

Indeed Gulliver's travel to Luddnagg where he encountered the immortal Struldbrugs portrayed a static place controlled by old people with old ideas who forbade innovation and led to the destruction of the public. And Q of Star Trek Next Generation got totally disenchanted with his immortality and begged to become mortal like humans.

Didn't Max Planck say that for his ideas of quantum mechanics to be accepted, old scientific professors had to pass on? Biologists point out that death is an evolutionary strategy.

Most people agree that death and its anticipation provokes innovation and urgency to live life fully. Kurzweil himself says that death gives meaning to life, importance and value to time. "Time would become meaningless if there were too much of it." The young Stephen Daedalus (James Joyce) was converted from Catholic superstition with the repugnant notion of an eternal life before the face of God. Boring!

So perhaps as we evolve to a new species, there may be some previous adaptations we want to preserve and one of those may be death itself.

*Or will it be a new subspecies so that we have homo sapiens sapiens and homo sapiens universalis?

Monday, October 29, 2012

It Won't Be Over

I have looked at Governor Romney and am very glad he is the Republican candidate. Etch-a-sketch yes, but that shows he is not really ideological but, like Obama, more pragmatic. And I believe him to be a good man, not too ruled by Murdoch and the Koch Brothers (though he will certainly owe them)--and certainly not as opinionated and narcissistic as Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump or as "true-believing" as Santorum and Ryan. I think he will have Ryan on a short leash just keeping the Limbaugh and Fox News "dittoheads" in line. Romney already has dismissed the more extreme positions he took to win the primary. 

I also think that by electing a Mormon, America would again show a people leaving behind its old prejudices. His election may actually be better for Latinos in that he would probably, for political reasons, pressure Republicans to go with the Bush/McCain/Obama comprehensive immigration reform and curb the excesses of Arizona. By pushing ObamaCare to the states, he would allow states to go for single payer as Vermont may now be doing and that could sweep across the nation the way it did province by province in Canada. Or even pooled insurance programs covering everybody as Massachusetts did under Romney. Those are upsides.

Also, no matter who is elected, the bubble is over and the economy, no longer in free-fall, is on the mend. There will be 12 million new jobs and the president no matter who he is will take credit for it.  

The downside: No matter who is elected, the Plutocrats, those who have the money to influence legislation, will continue in control. However, Romney will not allow or enforce regulations on Wall Street and the financial system. So a new bubble will be on the way to burst in about ten years that will make a lot of people rich and most of us poorer though they will keep just enough of a safety net to avoid a Teddy or Franklin Roosevelt moment. 

A Romney election will mean supreme court nominees like Thomas and Scalia who will retard the progress that women, African Americans, and civil libertarians have made and will keep the plutocrats in control of politics using their interpretation of the meaning of liberty, free speech, and wealth. 

By repealing ObamaCare and pushing it to the states will mean that hundreds of thousands in the conservative, poorer, especially southern states will not have health care and be at the mercy of charity, over social justice. 

Science will be used when it suits the purposes of the military, but not at all when it might slow the enterprises of the plutocrats.  

Neither campaign has discussed the two greatest threats to our specie's future: climate change and rapid, extreme divergence in wealth within both advanced and emerging economies--both of which could lead to extremes in politics, rationalized by religion, that will be settled by war and possibly nuclear war. I don't fear for myself, but I do for my grandchildren and the whole human enterprise.  

I believe that Obama will win the election by a hair.  But again he faces a very polarized nation with nearly half of the citizenry who have bought in on the Trump/Limbaugh/Fox frame that he is an alien--worthy of hate, disgust, fear. I really do not think that Romney buys into that at all. He is too decent a man, but unfortunately his campaign rides on that and legislators elected in that campaign will keep pandering to the strange people who deny science, fear homosexuals and other minorities, keep the plutocrats in charge, emphasize carbon based energy over renewable, clean energy, and support supreme court justices that hold us to and in the eighteenth century. We will have another four years of bible belief-based policies. And possibly the neo-cons will get us into another war. This time with Iran.

I will not be affected at all personally no matter who wins. In fact, my income which is totally in Social Security, mutual funds, and real estate will grow, I am confident.  My health care is excellent and insured. I am in a good, liberal state where people are willing to pay taxes as they are able, but expect and get great services. And I know how to use the great parks, public transportation, public education facilities, museums, libraries, art and science shows, and other services in my community.

And no matter who wins I will continue to act to build local communities and to fight for better policies and hold all political officials accountable to what I and my colleagues, friends, and family consider true human progressive American values. Talking and passing on emails will not be enough.

No matter who wins, I am quite concerned about the future of my country, my grandchildren, and my human family.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Let the Slave States Go

A civil war was fought to keep the union and get rid of slavery. Overcoming slavery is essential for human progress. But preserving the union has questionable results. The polarization that still exists between the former slave states of the South and the rest of the nation seems to be unmanageable. Perhaps it is time to let the Confederacy go--or at least those states (or parts of them, e.g. southern VA, Central Valley California) who want to return to the Confederacy.

There has to be some consensual contract that founds a union. That doesn't mean agreement on everything, and certainly not on all policy initiatives.  But at least fundamental values and their meanings need to be understood similarly so that constructive argument can occur. And some of the most basic meanings of some of the most basic values are radically different. So much so that the "founding documents" and the "constitution" mean very different things to citizens.

As I have demonstrated earlier: Freedom, Justice, Equality, Wealth, Transcendence, Science, Human Nature can have fundamentally different meanings.   They certainly do mean different things in the more conventional South than in the more progressive north.

Before the Civil Rights movement, the Democratic Party held together the conservative Dixiecrats and northern, especially unionized, laborers and the Republican Party held together liberal plutocrats of the industrialized north and budding industrialists of the South.  That has all changed. There is no room for so-called moderate or liberal Republicans, as my father was, in the North.  Indeed a northern moderate Republican had to give in on all social and economic issues in order to get the Republican nomination.

And the Democrats now face a South that is solid against progressive policies with little hope of compromise. It is plausible that both parties would do better in separate unions. There could be blue northern Republicans emphasizing fiscal austerity for all except the rich but libertarian on social issues with northern Democrats still pushing for the poor and service workers.  And in the South, there could be Democrats making sure with Republicans that traditional religious values predominate but being more populist than business minded Republicans.  In such a condition there would be more opportunity to work things out because the factions share the same definitions and values though represent diverse interests. Which is pretty much how things worked in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and into the 70s.

And an independent South could defend its borders against the Hispanic hoards with higher walls and more militias. They could preserve their precious death penalty, statutes against homosexuality and gay marriage, outlaw contraception and abortion, outlaw the teaching of evolution, defend all people's access to assault weapons, do nothing about climate change or their increasing floods and droughts, get rid of all federal regulation even so far as interstate commerce, food and drugs, clean air and water, deny the right to organize, and make fundamentalist Christianity the religion of the Confederacy. Many businesses and people in the North would be attracted to such a nation.

Here are some arguments against the split along with solutions:

1.  Geography no longer means as much in the new global economy dominated by plutocrats and companies that are really international. The split is not geographic but between Wall Street and Main Street, i.e. between the financiers, their corporate concerns and wannabes and the laborers and servant class including professionals. Even so there are different kinds of plutocrats that could be applied to the two different countries. There are the social darwinists to be sure who believe they got it all by themselves and there are others who want to partner with government to even things up a bit. Donald Trump go south. Warren Buffet stay north.

2.  Although there are solid red and blue states, there are many in all those states who do adopt different views than those in power. E.g. Mississippi representatives have voted consistently for the Ryan budget which would terribly hurt poor white and black families in rural Mississippi. Some states now do not pass on existing federal programs to the poor if they have to come up with a match. School, bus, and lunch counter segregation would no doubt return. To counter this there would be needed some latitude and support for wholescale migration--both ways.  Let the people seeking a new opportunity in a more liberal atmosphere come North.  And I know lots of people in rural Navada, in California's Central Valley, southern Ohio and Kentucky who would be much more at home in Dixie.

3. The military could be weakened even though there might be some NATO type arrangement for North America. Perhaps in the process we could actually form treaties among four countries building on NAFTA: Canada, The United States, the Confederate States, and Mexico.

Just a modest proposal. Worth discussing, no? At least to clarify where we stand as citizens.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

While Jogging 'Long Sligo Creek

While jogging 'long Sligo Creek with abandoned mind,
Fall leaves falling splashing red and yellow on the trail,
In one of the densest urban communities of the nation,
Crisscrossing jungle gyms, slides, swings, and swinging ropes,
Fronting houses and apartment buildings I could not see,
For the trees,

I heard the unnoise of gurgling brook and twirping birds,
The silent clap of my sneakers on pavement or dirt,
Passing--being passed--by old and young, black, white, brown,
Quietly talking, walking from/to store or library close by,
Couples of all sexes hand in hand, helmeted children riding bikes
To/from schools.

Bless you foresighters, planners, architects of public realms,
Resisting the mean and thoughtless urge within us,
When we forget there are others with whom we depend,
And strike out for our own lonely me pleasure,
In the name of enterprise that is free in name only,
But kills us.

The Ethics of Sustainable Urbanism
Keys to stronger community:

Good governance
Walkable, connected, mixed-use character
Parks and gardens
Neighborhood-responsive schools
Tree culture
Diversity and inclusion
Resistance to sprawl

Scott Owen, PlaceMakers; Ken Benfield, NRDC

Monday, October 22, 2012

Neanderthal Blood

George McGovern just died.

We were in Toronto during the 1972 election and, watching Canadian TV, simply could not understand his landslide defeat. We knew that Johnson's civil rights achievements had already abandoned the slave state South to the changed and more reactionary Republican Party. But still the Watergate story had broken. Vietnam was scene of hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths of young soldiers and civilians. The civil rights movement had gained great victories. How could it be that the American people could not see this, many of our Canadian friends asked.

We realized watching from Canada that you can fool most of the American people most of the time. Many Americans today will not admit this, even though most Americans now see the Vietnam war as a tragic mistake and civil rights as an important forward step for America.

But out of defeat came some victories. Many young people, disgusted with the injustices, turned from resignation, depression, and violence to political activism in and out of political parties. Even Nixon was moved to civil rights, environmental protection, worker and women's rights, earned income tax credit, fair housing and more.

Yet Vietnam raged on for more years because of the macho marine mentality of presidents Johnson and Nixon, both of whom knew better (we see from their archives), but were afraid to be seen as weak, thus demonstrating their weakness.

A few days back we watched a Nova presentation on the Neanderthals. DNA analysis has shown that Europeans and their descendents have Neanderthal blood. Maybe that is what makes us Euro-Americans, "white people," a little slower to grasp things.

I joke--but history seems ripe with examples of far-sighted persons and movements that the masses catch up with only in succeeding generations. Opposition to scientific breakthroughs, but also to progressive politics regarding slavery, women's rights, homosexuality, child labor, public lands, liberal democracy, public health are great examples of the righteous and reactionary Neanderthals in our midst.

Now it is the emerging new economy based not on GDP, but on fairness and true wealth, a less exceptionalist, imperial foreign policy, and a culture of tolerance and scientific secularism that the Neanderthals oppose.

I have faith in the human ability to think and to transcend the neanderthalisms of our past. George McGovern and we his followers were defeated in one election. But much of what we fought for has come to fruition.

But I also realize that we humans have chosen badly in the past and set ourselves back generations and sometimes centuries, and could indeed annihilate ourselves. There are Talibans among us, usually Christian Talibans, trying to set us back to an earlier darker age in the name of God and Country.

So I for one take the passing of Senator McGovern to commit myself to progress over reaction and to the ideals to which he and all progressives aspire. No matter what happens this November.

Thank you, Senator.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wander, Wonder, Venture

Last week Bernie and I spent in Maine in and around Acadia National Park. A brief intro at the visitor center said the Park was for wanderers and wonderers. 

To prove this I took a solitary hike up Messena Mountain--not quite as challenging as earlier Sierra forays, but challenging enough.  I took a trail aptly named "Perpendicular" to look out over Long Pond and eventually Bass Harbor and the Atlantic beyond. 

A misty Maine Day, I saw no one else during my hike though footprints told me that human and nonhuman animals were there. The trail led to other trails and even wilderness where I could forge my own way.
As I climbed, gratitude filled me for my nation and those before me who worked hard and long to set the stone steps to lift me, only me, to the summit. I felt wealthier than Rockefeller and Romney who have lots of money, but not the real wealth that I was experiencing. I was grateful to Teddy Roosevelt and our nation who set the land aside and maintains it for me. I pitied libertarians whose sense of liberty from universal responsibility through government opposes the freedom I knew as I hiked to my spot of contemplation on our common property.

The way of wandering, wondering, and venturing over old and new paths, I realized, is the way to fulfillment and happiness and all should be afforded the opportunity to follow or create their ways, not just those with family pedigree, money, or genes that make for blanch skin, male hormones, and strong bodies and brains.

Never less alone than when alone. My sense of relationship to all past and yet to come right now was complete. And I renewed my commitment to our common project and prospect: wander through the past, wonder at the present, venture for the future

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

God is Great! or Not!

How we talk God (by whatever words) is important because it influences how we live with one another.  David Korten indicated (see an earlier blog) that how people understand Wealth, God, and Human Nature makes a big difference in the lives people lead and the policies they advocate.

Elsewhere I defined the stages of faith: from naive, to critical, to wise faith, and beyond. Sometimes we get stuck in an earlier stage. While I think that the study of human development explains God-talk to a large extent, I also think with Korten that different kinds of God-talk show different stances to one's self, others, and the world.

Let me contrast two kinds of God-talk--using "God" to mean any symbol for "ultimate concern" (Tillich) or "higher power" (AA). Some of these symbols are "Jesus" as in "Jesus saves", "Allah" as in "Allah is great," "Yahweh" who gave the law, "Divinity," "Great Spirit," "Creator," "Transcendent One," "Universal Force," and so on.

The first makes an entity of or personifies transcendence, which critical and wise faith would recognize as metaphorical and often capable of interpretation into the contemporary worldview and language. God (Jesus, Spirit) loves us, calls me, bless America, leads me, punishes evil and rewards good, hears our prayers, creates the world, rules nature, infuses souls, inspires leaders, dictates truths, keeps his promises, saves, helps, is Father, Mother, Brother, Savior, lives in me, tests me (but not beyond my capacity), and so on.

But besides being a leftover of or hang up in an earlier stage of faith, this mode of God-talk shows a different way of dealing with ourselves, each other, and our world. It puts meaning outside us and nature. It supports a hierarchy with a Dominant One holding the strings, directing the process and progress, choosing what is right and wrong, providing standards that are absolute, unchanging, fixed.

It is primarily this notion of transcendence that both new and old atheists are denying and that makes atheism possible and desirable at all.

Now the more reformist, contemplative, and I suppose heretical way of imagining transcendence is as a center point in space and time that is in-tending beyond the here and now to the determining past and the in-shaping future, to the interiorizing self and the expanding community and universe, to wonder filled reality and the projecting ideal.

Here God does not love us but is the love we have for one another. God is not pulling strings but is the attracting beginning and end of the universe. God is not creating but becoming in our interacting with each other and our worlds. God is neither a punishing father nor nourishing mother, but the destructive and creative energy in us all. Here God has no priests, ministers, mediators, and answers no prayers. Contemplation is its own reward as is faith and good works. No name, blame, or shame here. Just life and love.

In our congregation we use the language of "Spirit of Love" and "Spirit of Life" rather than God, Jesus, Creator, or Parent. Still perhaps a bit metaphysical, I can live with that language and the image of the divine spark of original blessing in each of us which we join to light up our world in social justice.

These competing imaginations of transcendence, I think, shape our political choices and future. (See last blog.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Choice

The candidates of this election have professed that there is a clear choice for the electorate.  I'm not sure how clear the choice is as they articulate it; but I agree that there is definitely a choice which I hereby hope to make clear.

I think the choice is based on a philosophy or world-view, on an ethic or understanding of the good life and human values and ends, on a politics or understanding of the nature of political action, and on an economics or understanding of wealth and the necessities of life.  The first choice is more individualistic, the second more communitarian and both have important places in American history.

The choice consists of many sub-choices.  I list each of them as "positives" or as choices among goods though I do think that for some of them their values are relative to particular situations and specific judgments as to where we as a people are at this time and place. Over all I would argue that based on the fundamental principle of integrity as I have explained elsewhere, one choice is better and in fact the opposite choice sets us back as a people.

CHOICE ONE                                  CHOICE TWO
Personal charity Social Justice
Sympathy for Empathy with
Economic growth Political happiness
Incentivize individual Incentivize social development
Religion as beliefs, values Religion as beliefs, values,
  behavior of individuals                 behavior of society
Close, strengthen boundaries Open, broaden boundaries
Corporate/CEO leadership Community, servant leadership
Power as strong force Power as acting together
Government: remove barriers Vehicle for collective action
Liberty from Freedom for
Tradition as guide Openness to new
Restoring institutions Creating institutions
Small town America ideal Sustainable urban ideal
Equity in process Equity in substance
Wealth as money, increase in Wealth as human, natural
  individual property/consumption     social well-being
Restore old economy Bring in new economy
Jobs as source of income Jobs as creative activity
Energy: unlimited force to produce Energy as renewable source
Absolute values through tradition Relative values through science
Private over public Public over private
 Public=sum of private                     Public good over private profit

In many cases, the sub-choice is not either/or but both/and. Yet I think the difference between choice one and choice two is profound and issues into specific policies regarding climate change, poverty and wealth creation, energy, health care, military strength. I think that the overall choice says a lot about us as individuals and as a nation. Therefore the choice is important.

I think that for those of us who are more oriented to a communitarian approach (choice two), it was a disservice to frame the election as about the economy and jobs, rather than politics and community. And I think that the Obama Campaign makes a fundamental error in allowing the Romney Campaign to set the terms for the primacy and meaning of wealth, economy, and jobs. What we need is a fundamental shift in worldview, ethic, economy, and politics which comes down to a different American religion than the one now embodied in the traditional Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Jew, Muslim, and New Age religions that make individual salvation and affluence the means and end of human action.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Words spoken and written are what make ideas public.  And as some linguists have suggested, they are what make ideas at all. And ideas make mind. And mind makes homo sapiens sapiens.

Words make public space possible and public space makes human speech and action possible and effective. So it is important to listen to the words in public discourse that move to the public policy that will shape our future.

So tonight let's listen to the words of the candidates for political office and especially those who would occupy the bully pulpit. Yet the creators of dictionaries know that, depending on context and intentionality, the same word can take on far different meanings, express far different ideas, shape far different mentalities and policies.

Korten identified three words whose meanings may be vital to our future: Wealth, God, Humanity. (See my earlier blog.)

Let's look at some others.

Liberty often means freedom-from oppression, regulation, government, land owners, corporations, parents, kids. But there is also freedom-to engage, speak and act, participate.  The latter is political freedom which is not unlimited, but requires boundaries in order to exist, the boundaries of public space, freed from oppression and violence and necessity, but not from law, regulation, government which are the walls of the polis or the space of freedom that shapes, extends, and decorates the walls but does not remove them. So liberty is a condition of freedom but should not be equated with it. That is the fallacy of libertarians and free market fundamentalists. 

Power can mean power over, e.g. control or force, which Weber meant when he defined the State as a monopoly of the means of violence. Power-over can also be authority which invested in leaders through law or custom that may or may not be enforced. Or power can mean power-with.  This is the "ability to act in concert" and is identified with political freedom as defined above. Power-with is ultimately the basis of power over whether for good or evil. Power-with can even allow for the destruction of political space and freedom through force and authority as we see in oppressive societies and their governments. The only way of restoring power in these societies is by uniting with others on their own initiative and authority and developing new spaces of freedom. 

Justice often is seen as a system of reciprocity or quid pro quo where good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are punished or where if someone loses by another person's action, the perpetrator must lose proportionately. Justice gets back from or at the person. Laws (whether from authority or from consensus) determine what is good and bad for a society. Crime is breaking the law which is enforced through punishment. But the purpose of criminal justice is social order--the social order that citizens determine is right. So a more fundamental meaning of justice is the character of the social order. When Joaquim de Fiori was burnt at the stake, when the founders of the US were charged with treason, when Ghandi and Martin Luther King went to jail, the justness of the social order is called in question. In that sense there is a higher sense of justice, whether from god or human nature, than criminal justice.

Democracy in the root sense is rule by the demos, which Greeks considered the "mob" and this is commonly equated today with populism of the right or left. Such democracy can be an aristocracy under the sway of those who are "well-born" or a plutocracy under the sway of the rich or even a dictatorship under the sway of a forceful leader. Democracy can also be equated with republicanism where a republic is considered a public or many interacting publics where free persons (no longer under the sway of necessity or force or household concerns, i.e. economy) shape the public sphere. 

Capitalism (or simply economy) is often identified with commerce and financial wealth accumulation through a market under the control of the major economic players. But capitalism can also be seen to mean as including other types of capital--social, educational, spiritual, ecological. This is in tune with Korten's two definitions of wealth and two criteria of national preeminence: Gross National Product vs Gross National Happiness.

Leadership takes on different meanings in different systems of political order, justice, freedom. One type of leadership is forceful, showing the strength of power over others, other factions, other nations and has to demonstrate its exceptional quality and it usually called "True Leadership." Another type of leadership promotes others as leaders, power with others including factions and nations, and is sometimes called "Servant Leadership." Leadership in economy (e.g. corporations and household) is more top down and forceful. Leadership in politics (e.g. in republics) is collaborative and persuasive.

So listening to the debates tonight, let's consider the meanings of these terms that the candidates are using. They will talk about freedom, power, justice, democracy, capitalism (or economy), and leadership. Let's reflect on their words in their context and see if we like what we hear.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Towards Civil Discourse

Towards Civil Discourse:  A Political Myers-Briggs?

Words matter.  Our language has become brutal.  And our body politic is suffering.

Anger can be a great motivator if it leads to taking responsibility and collective action.  But when it just blames and calls names, it reverts to cynicism that is the loss of collective power and an invitation to nihilism and even violence.

It divides the “99%” and leaves the “1%” calling all the shots.  I saw this working in Chicago in the 60s when upwardly mobile working black families and white families were blaming each other and themselves for deteriorating neighborhoods while financial institutions, fronted by realty agents and backed by federal housing policy, were making great economic gains through scare and hate tactics that drove white families out of established neighborhoods into newly developed housing tracts in suburbs and then took recently disinvested and devastated center city land for new high priced condos by the lake. 

Today, beyond race being used to disempower, silence, and fragment the majority, it is life style—so-called liberal vs. conservative values.  In other words, culture again masks economic domination and political control.

So now we have Tea Partiers angered at government which they think is in the hands of the liberal gay-loving, free-thinking, atheistic abortionists.  And we have an Occupy Wall Streeters angered at corporations which they think are in the hands of the fascistic, ideological, bible-toting true believers.

As an old organizer, who accepts that people are motivated by 1) economic self-interest, 2) cultural values, 3) community recognition or affiliation, and 4) spiritual meaning (and the anger that arises when these are frustrated), I am searching for a tool that might contribute to the reestablishing of our commons, our citizenship, and our country.  I realize that for people to unite they have to recognize and understand where they come from, how different their stories are, and why they see the world the way they do.  Then they need to find the interests, values, affiliations, and meanings they share and to act together to strengthen their common space.  They need to transition from consumers of things and thoughts to citizens producing and thinking in concert.  This will only happen in association.  And I am looking for a tool that might help foster citizen association

I have found that a great tool for fostering teamwork in a family or work setting is the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI)[1] especially when facilitated by a competent third party specialist.   It helps all members of the family or worksite understand their own and each other's acquired preferences in seeing and judging the world without any negativity and in fact with lots of affirmation for how differences contribute to the whole team, company, or project.

The tool starts with a self-test with which the participants answer and then score, a series of questions that ascertain whether they 1) process more interiorly or exteriorly (Introvert/Extravert), 2) focus more on facts or on vision (Sensing/Intuiting), 3) value more feelings or intellectual coherence (Feeling/Thinking), 4) are quick to make a decision or are more prone to keep looking at the evidence (Perceiving/Judging).  The participant considers the results and the description of the personality to which these results point to see if the shoe fits.  Then the participant shares the results with others to discuss what this means for the team or the family or the company.

There are no right or wrong answers.  Nor are there any pure types.  All of us find ourselves somewhere along the continuum of these four polarities.  This is not in any sense a "fix" of a personality type--again just an understanding of oneself and others in this here and now.

For example I found that I tend to process things out loud (high E) even well before any decision.  I learned that when I was the director of an organization, I needed to warn colleagues of my tendency so that they would not take what I was saying as what I really thought or wanted.  Also when I was director of a small planning organization, I realized that I had surrounded myself with big-picture visionaries (NTs), and I needed to value and add to the concrete, data based SPs to make our organization more effective.  The MBTI is merely a tool, but a good one for fostering relationships in the private sphere. 

Now can we devise a similar tool for our body politic—the public sphere?

The MBTI is based on a psychologist’s (Karl Jung) theory of personality.  I would like to suggest a tool based on a sociologist political thinker theory of sociality.  Here are the four polarities I propose. They relate to the four motivators of human behavior I mentioned above.

1.  Related to economic interests:  Free market/Social responsibility  (F-S)[2]

Are you more interested in an unrestricted marketplace where you need not look over your shoulder or consider implications or in how your producing and consuming is affecting yourself and others and society as a whole?

2.  Related to cultural values:  Relational/Traditional (R-T)[3]

Do you have fixed values that come from human nature and tradition or are your values more relative to the time, the situation, the persons, and the consequences.

3.  Related to affiliation in governance:  Authoritarian/Consensual (A-C)[4]

Are you more inclined to have a strong leader within institutions of authority or to have broad emerging leadership among changing institutions?

4.  Related to philosophy of life: Pragmatic materialist/Idealistic believer (P-I)[5]

Do you find meaning in day-to-day concrete process of living and acting or do you find meaning in a more idealized past or yet-to-come time and place?

As in the MBTI, I state the polarities without any negative judgment as ranges of political personality or, better, public character.  None of them are either-or.  Yes, pushed to extremes or "pure types" there might be some negativity inferred--again depending on your perspective and your own relative place along the continuum.

I think they can be applied to public officials, candidates for public office, to parties, to citizens, to advocacy or special interest groups, to political commentators, to lobbyists, to polls and pollsters, to communities and maybe even nations.  But again this is not a "fix." People and publics do change.

I am developing self and a group administered tests that could be used to ascertain the style or type or public character of a participant, group, or community.  As in the MBTI, I can identify sixteen political character types that we can use for self-knowledge and for working together.  I want to propose this instrument as a way to diminish accusation, blame, and name calling and inform citizens as to the style of themselves and of candidates so they can make a more informed decision based on what they judge to be best for the community or nation or public at this time and place. 

But perhaps that wishful thinking exposes my own preferences and public character.[6]

And certainly our body politic needs a balance-in-tension without going to the extremes of free-for-all marketeering or top-down controlled economy, libertine or state imposed culture, dictatorial or anarchic governance, one-dimensional or fantasy philosophy.  Perhaps a public character indicator instrument (PCI) could be a tool to promote this balance-in-tension.

I am hoping that with such a Public Character Indicator instrument, we can foster a better public space and return power ("the ability to act in concert") to all of us.

Such an instrument could be used in focus groups and relational interviews to tell our stories and express our preferences, our way of seeing and singing our social world.  I have no illusion that it could be used in situations where people are at the extremes and have no desire for dialogue or learning.  I doubt that politicians, including congressional committees and political action committees, could use it because they are already committed to their positions.  I seriously doubt that Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter or James Carville and their dittoheads could ever use it. 

But I do think that interfaith groups, neighborhood groups, and community organizations might use it in order to get past likes and dislikes to what is essential.  It could even be a tool for the compromise and consensus that a republic needs.

My next steps are to get some feedback on this from colleagues, try out the instrument (including the questionnaire and the description of types) on a group, change the instrument based on the feedback and trial.

I welcome any help. 

Next steps:

Sixteen Political Character Types


Description of types.
Examples of public figures alive and dead who might represent these types.
Questionnaire for determining predominant political character type.

[1] See the Myers-Briggs Foundation at
[2] Here I am using the theory of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and classical economics.
[3] Reinhold Neibuhr and Paul Tillich are my teachers here.
[4] I accept the political thought of Hannah Arendt for this polarity.  George Lakoff’s work on the difference between Republican and Democratic framing is useful here.  My problem with Lakoff (“authoritarian father” and “nourishing parent”) is that he neglected the other tensions and thus oversimplified.
[5] John Dewey, his disciple, Richard Rorty, French thinker Merleau-Ponty and those who followed steered for me the path between idealism and realism.
[6] So let me come to terms with that so that I can reduce the influence of my biases in developing the tool.

Without yet taking my undeveloped test, I would guess that I am an SRCP; i.e. I usually and habitually stress social responsibility over free market, values relative to the situation over values from human nature or tradition, community consensus over hierarchical organization, and pragmatic materialism over spiritual ideals.  I know I tend to be a social democrat ("socialist") economically, culturally a "libertarian" relegating sexual orientation, methods of birth control, free sex, and religious principles to the private realm without public significance, politically a "republican" promoting interdependent publics rather than a populist ruled by a strong executive, and a progressive "pragmatist" eschewing religious or philosophical doctrines that claim the truth or any absolute considered ideal.

But that's me.  In a republic, it is important that I recognize that my qualities are also limitations and I need around me others who are less like me.  I do need people who listen and respect my preferences but also who challenge them.  At times and places we need to accept deregulation of the market and less government sponsored social welfare.  At times and places, we should be less tolerant of certain behaviors like pornography or circumcision that are often not really victimless.  At times and places, our community needs a stronger executive less prone to compromise, polls, and interest groups. At times and places, I do admire those who are intending an ideal future or take their ideals from tradition.