The Illusion of Control

Illusion is the ability to manipulate how other people perceive reality. When you have discovered that someone or something is not as good as you believed, you become disillusioned. Thirty years of deregulation in the market place supported globalization and created an oligarchy in the West. Key decision-makers on Wall Street chose not to apply critical thinking, but to take advantage of the system that lead to the meltdown of the economy in 2008. Many in the middle class saw their comfortable retirement, their home equity, and their dreams destroyed. Even now many find themselves in an era of insecurity as the safe routines of their lives have become undone, and they now realize that the market system failed them, and this security was an illusion.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) claimed there are no facts only interpretations, and ‘concepts are metaphors which do not correspond to reality.’ Nietzsche said truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; they are lies according to which we find it necessary to live. Although all concepts are human inventions (created by common agreement to facilitate ease of communication), human beings forget this fact after inventing them, and come to believe that they are ‘true’, but, in fact, do not correspond to reality. In his view there is no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consists of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. However, Nietzsche believed, one should be conscious of their illusory nature, thus opening up the possibility of the creation of new values.1

Before the 2008 crisis, many believed, without thinking too much about it, that there was something solid at the core of the financial system. It was imagined that the world was governed by mathematical formulas – or more specifically by serious men in dark suits who understood complex formulas and the patterns playing out on their computer terminals. Everyone accepted the idea that deregulated markets were self-correcting. The illusion was that this system, a product of globalization, could self-correct as required. The ugly truth was that a few greedy bankers on Wall Street could just about collapse the world financial system. This threat was more than a financial or economic disaster; it was a psychological and existential blow. As expectations gave way to reality that the market was not going to bounce back the usual way, for many, this meant the dreams of a pleasant retirement and the promise that one’s children would have a better future that their parents, has been destroyed. The illusion was shattered and was followed by anger and bitterness.

Thirty years after Reagan’s re-election in 1984 the economic theory that claims cutting the taxes of the rich will provide jobs for the rest of society has become the dominant economic theory. To ensure the policy of minimal taxes and regulations remains unchanged the oligarchs control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting deregulation of the government and the environment, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. Through this mechanism the oligarchs perpetuate the fear of change – if taxes are raised on the rich unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear. Also everyone should fear environmental regulations, as they will cost economic growth and jobs. However, this policy of minimal taxes and government continues to create a growing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society – removing social mobility for most of society.

While all men and women suffer from disillusionment, few know that their state of disillusionment is the result of the breakdown of an illusion they themselves had manufactured. As expectations that the deregulation of the financial services industry was a sound policy gave way to reality many have become angry and disillusioned. The pain, resentment and bitterness make many question the trickle down theory. Disillusion is never possible without fantasy – and the destructive strength of the disillusionment can never exceed the strength and energy that was used to create the fantasy in the first place. The adverse effect is that man places values on his illusions, and over values what is not true, or no longer exists. In order to clear these errors of thinking, man must release the emotion that keeps him tied to this false reality. The removal of illusion or fantasy involves understanding that expectations are not failed, but false. With this recognition comes an opportunity for change.

The false expectations were the result of not realizing supply side economics (that tax cuts could be had for free incentive effects would generate new activity so higher revenue) without causing budget deficits was a sleight-of-hand maneuver to convince the electorate that tax cuts were really in the interest of the middle class, not simply the super rich, because the cuts more than paid for themselves. Occupy Wall Street protesters challenged the excesses of the corporations in general, and in particular, a government controlled by corporate money and the growing income gap between the very wealthy and the rest in society. By educating the middle class that they have been taken advantage of by a financial system that favors the rich, the Occupy Wall Street movement put economic inequality on the political agenda. The new truth is that the system of minimum government and regulation favors the 1%.

As Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who fiercely opposed the French Revolution wrote, “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”2 Today we are vulnerable to the politics of fear. The politics of fear is when leaders (or candidates for leadership) use fear as a driving or motivating factor for the people, to get them to vote a particular way, allow excesses in spending, or accept policies they might otherwise abhor. It’s banking on the fact that presenting people with an alleged threat to their well-being will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of these policies. As author Mark Vernon has noted “… the politics of fear plays on an assumption that people cannot bear the uncertainties associated with [risk]. Politics then becomes a question of who can better deliver an illusion of control.”3

In 2013 President Obama called for increased minimum wage but John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, dismissed this policy as ‘big government’. Republicans are now calling for more redistribution. Marco Rubio is calling for a “pro family, pro growth” tax reform, which aims to lower the corporate tax rate by closing loopholes and increasing the child tax credit. Paul Ryan floats the idea of expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. These Republicans are just paying lip service to address concerns about the increasing divide between the rich and the rest of society; their ideas don’t resonate with the base of the party. When it comes to the effect of government assistance programs to the poor most Republicans believe these programs do more harm than good by making people too dependent on the government. Republicans, by about two-to-one, believe the government could do more to reduce poverty by lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations in order to encourage more investment and economic growth.

Hilary Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy. In 2011, she supported bankruptcy legislation that some Democrats – most notably Elizabeth Warren, now senator from Massachusetts – argued hurt working families and single mothers, and they accuse her of doing the bidding of the financial industry. Mrs. Clinton claims she worked to improve the bill. This explanation still leaves problems. No one disputes the crux of the findings, that the very rich are outpacing everyone else in economic gains. Clinton’s economic policy is evolving, but it will need to incorporate specifics on addressing the concerns of the middle class, or else her detractors on the left will paint her as being identified with Wall Street.

Few courageous politicians exist today, as they all look over their shoulders to check that the crowd is following them (to make sure they are still leading), especially as elections approach. They introduce fear tactics, and then check to see if it resonates with voters. It falls to the general public to be the agents of change. We realize we have become disillusioned not because our expectations failed, but because they were false. We need courage to think differently, speak loudly, and challenge directly the systems, which we know to be unjust. We must promote new values for society to create the necessary change in culture to address the increasing economic inequality. With enough people marching in a new direction of more accountability, the politicians will adapt in order to position themselves to the front of the crowd so they can assure us they are in control.

1Linsenmayer, Mark (15 July 2012) Nietzsche on Truth.

2Burke, Edmond. A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful With a Discourse Concerning Taste. London 1834. P 53.

3Whitehead, John. (01 Oct 12) “The Politics of Fear in America: A Nation at War with Itself.” john_whiteheads_commentary/the_politics_of_fear_in_america_a_nation_at_war_with_itself


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In Response to Evangelism of Fear

The Roman Empire maintained strong top down control. The Empire came into contact with the religious beliefs of major cultures, and was happy to assimilate any deities they encountered. With the passing of the Roman Republic into an Imperial system, the nature of the Roman religion expanded to include the Emperor themselves. The Imperial cult that developed was inseparable from Roman deities. This included a top down favoritism of the Roman gods, which began with the emperor and trickled down, if only feebly, to the lowest of society. The divinized emperor was seated in splendor at the high point of the patronage system, and he distributed power and privilege down the system. Rites and ceremonies integrating patriotism and religion legitimized this trickle down system. Christians were persecuted for refusing to recognize this imperial divinity.

When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, it had the power to suppress dissention and heretics, and organize wealth. The church took on the authoritarian qualities of the Roman imperial culture – a powerful central hierarchy, a judicial system to enforce obedience from church members and its effective enforcement formalized rituals and institutionalized sacraments, a defense against any divergence from accepted ideology. Richard Tarnas noted, “against a growing number of sects and doctrines, leading early Christians concluded that the beliefs of the faithful must be established, disseminated, and sustained by an authoritarian church structure.” With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Catholic Church was the only organized force in Western Europe.1

The Catholic Church wielded extreme power and influence during the medieval period, shaping the social, cultural, and political fabric of peasant life in Europe. Additionally, the church played an important role in determining a peasant’s economic fate. Although the church itself was exempt from paying taxes, peasants were responsible for paying approximately ten percent of their earnings (either in cash or goods) in taxes to the church—known as tithes. The church threatened that the failure to pay tithes would result in the damnation of one’s soul. People were too scared not to pay tithes despite the difficulties it meant for them.

The system of law and order throughout medieval Europe reflected the extremely strict and rigid social structure of the period. Those in authority used fear and the threat of severe punishment as a tool with which to control the peasantry, who overwhelmingly outnumbered them. The Medieval church was seen by the people of the medieval ages as terrifying and scary due to the power and wealth that the church had and owned. The church during the middle ages was very intimidating and peasants had reasons to fear such as crime and punishment. A woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg, circa 1530, entitled A Question to a Mintmaker, illustrated the three causes of inflation: the Pope and sale of indulgences, the minting of debased coinage, and cheating by merchants.2

The politics of fear is when leaders (or candidates for leadership) use fear as a driving or motivating factor for the people, to get them to vote a particular way, allow excesses in spending, or accept policies they might otherwise abhor. It’s banking on the fact that presenting people with an alleged threat to their well-being will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of these policies. As author Mark Vernon has noted “… the politics of fear plays on an assumption that people cannot bear the uncertainties associated with [risk]. Politics then becomes a question of who can better deliver an illusion of control.”3

Thirty years after Reagan’s re-election in 1984 the economic theory that claims cutting the taxes of the rich will provide jobs for the rest of society has become the dominant economic theory. To ensure the policy of minimal taxes and regulations remains unchanged the oligarchs control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting deregulation of the government and the environment, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. Through this mechanism the oligarchs perpetuate the fear of change – if taxes are raised on the rich unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear. Also everyone should fear environmental regulations, as they will cost economic growth and jobs. However, this policy of minimal taxes and government continues to create a growing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society – removing social mobility for most of society.

In Canada, when you ask Conservative cabinet members about health care, or the public finances there’s now a common answer: Jihadi terrorists are out to get us. The politics of fear has created a threat to Canadians’ rights. The amalgamation of the Progressive Conservative Party with the Reform Party created the federal Conservative Party, a political party that has fear of change. Prime Minister Harper’s conservative government is harnessing citizens’ fear during debate on the anti-terror law. This legislation would allow police to go well beyond collecting of intelligence and, lacking checks and balances, could be used against lawful dissenters and legitimate protesters – including environmental and aboriginal activists. In the Conservative war on terror the first casualty is freedom.

The Fifth Ecumenical Lateran Council was called by Pope Julius II and sat for 12 sessions from 1512 to 1517. The last seven sessions of the council were presided over by Leo X. One hundred and twenty bishops and representatives of Kings and Princes met to consider the challenges facing the Roman Catholic Church. The sessions made declarations on many issues that included money, power sharing, book publishing and condemning a philosophical standpoint. Specific decisions included such things as provisions to raise money to fight the Turks and abolishing the Pragmatic Sanction in France (which had limited the authority of the Pope over the church within France) and a decree legalizing the charitable pawnshops the Franciscans had been establishing. In addition, the council ratified the censorship of books introduced earlier by Alexander VI, and condemned the Averroist philosophy of neo-Aristotelians.

Martin Luther’s promulgation of the 95 theses in response to the abuses of the church occurred just seven months after the close of the Fifth Ecumenical Lateran Council. The attack on the sale of indulgences had a direct bearing on the economic interests of the Fuggers, a German family who had built up a fortune by banking and trading. They were the richest family in Europe during the 16th century. Only with credit from Fugger was Albert of Mainz able to buy himself worldly and church offices repaid with income from the sale of indulgences by the preacher Tetzel. It was in Fugger’s house in Augsburg that the papal legate Cajetan met with Luther in 1518 to try silence this critic who was impacting Fugger’s investments. Luther had the courage to challenge the status quo and demand change! In less than fifty years after Luther had posted his 95 theses against indulgences Protestant reformers had established original systems of Christian doctrine and new churches in opposition to the Church of Rome.4

During the first decade of the 16th century Nicolaus Copernicus developed his own celestial model of a heliocentric planetary system. Around 1514, he shared his findings with close friends in a small manuscript, the Commentariolus, which was circulated but never printed. Copernicus’ publication On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres was not published until after he died (in 1543) in order for him to avoid being persecuted by the Church. The theory posed a fundamental threat to the entire existing Christian framework cosmology, theology and mortality. The power of the church would be cast into question or destroyed all together by the new theory. The successful challenge to the entire system of ancient authority required a complete change in man’s philosophical conception of the universe. Copernicus’ work laid the framework for thinking differently that occurred during the 17th century – known as ‘the Copernican Revolution’.

In the last week of January 2015, business leaders and politicians gathered in Davos, Switzerland, to size up the challenges facing the global economy at the World Economic Forum. At the heart of forum agenda was a theme entitled ‘The New Global Context’. For five days 2500 delegates met and discussed the effects of political, economic and social uncertainty on future policy making. The theme of the 2015 meeting was to ‘reflect the period of profound political, economic, social and technological change that the world has entered, which has the potential to end the era of economic integration and international partnership that began in 1989’. Apologists defend the series of lavish parties noting the importance of a meeting place where the world’s top decision makers can share ideas and future plans with their global counterparts. From the meeting there is widespread international consensus on the need to develop new and improved growth and development models while little in the way of concrete policy guidance emerged.

Occupy Wall Street, the name given to a protest movement that started in Sept 2011, challenges the excesses of the corporations in general, and in particular, a government controlled by corporate money and the growing income gap between the very wealthy and the rest in society. Oxfam attended the 2015 World Economic Forum and pointed out in 2015 that the world’s richest 80 billionaires own the equivalent of what the poorest 3.5 billion people posses. In 2010, it took 388 billionaires. After the 2008 recession, it was the top 1% who got all the benefits of growth stimulated by government subsidies, while the bottom 90% grew poorer. George Soros claims the main benefits from the recent move to print more money to stimulate the European economy will be the rich – in fact, expect the action to increase divergence between the rich and the poor. We need the courage to think differently and challenge directly the systems, which we know to be unjust. For change to occur it requires the outrage of millions of voters around the world to push world leaders to act.

1Horsman, Greg. (2011) The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle. p 52.

2 “Indulgence.”

3 Whitehead, John. (10 Jan 2012) The Politics of Fear in America: A Nation at War With Itself.

4 Horsman, Greg. (2011) The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle. p 8, 78, 79.


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Individualism and the Social Determinants of Health

Individualism was established as a Western value during the Enlightenment. During the 19th century there was reaction to many of the values of the enlightenment, except individualism. Romanticism appeared which supported the individual listening more intently to his conscience (emotion) rather than the (rational) demands of society. Existentialism stressed the importance of the individual, people had to create their own values, as traditional values were no longer the standard. Nietzsche claimed that individual freedom required freedom from all external restraints on one’s behavior. Herbert Spencer believed the individual had the right to do anything except interfere in another man’s rights. Individualism fueled the American dream – the hope for a better quality of life and a higher living standard than their parents had.

The rise of capitalism and individualism grew in tandem. Individualism is the belief that one’s place in the social hierarchy – their occupational class, income and wealth, and power and prestige as well as the effects of such placement such as health and disease status – comes through one’s own effort. Neo-conservatism supports dominance of markets and market model. The main tenants are (1) markets are the best and most efficient allocators of resources in production and distribution, (2) societies are composed of autonomous individuals who have the ability to control their own destiny through their own decisions (3) competition is the major market vehicle for innovation – there is no need for entitlements.

During the 20th century Ayn Rand championed the American idea of rational selfishness and individualism. By the end of the 20th century, individualism, happiness and capitalism were part of core values of Western culture. During the last 30 years of the 20th century the self-esteem movement created a population with an exaggerated sense of entitlement and self-tolerance. For this group the world is viewed from an emotional rather than a rational perspective that allows personal feelings to override the distinction between right and wrong. This ushered in narcissism that influenced decision-making and accountability. Such individuals learn to tolerate their errors and personal flaws and come accept themselves as okay. For example, individuals in the financial services industry with self-tolerance and a sense of entitlement leveraging the market, brought chaos on the world financial system.

In the 21st century liberty and self-determination, available to those who have sufficient financial resources and cultural capital, is out-of-reach for much of the population. Oxfam notes that the divide between the rich and the rest of society tends to grow – the top 1% now control 50% of the world’s wealth. The cause of poverty is still seen as somehow being in the eye of the beholder by the right – a narrative in which poverty is seen as an innate moral failure of the poor themselves has taken hold. John Kenneth Galbraith, an economist who warned of the dangers of deregulated markets and corporate greed, observed, “the modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercise in moral philosophy, that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”1

Individualism, a powerful philosophy and practice in North America , limits the public space for social movement activism. The challenge is not the amount of democracy rather it has to do with public policies that determine how the resources of the nation are to be distributed among the population. One policy change process (pluralist) approach sees policy development as driven primarily by the quality of ideas in the public policy arena such as those judged as beneficial and useful will be translated into policies by governing authorities. An alternative materialist approach is that policy development is driven primarily by powerful interests who assure that their concerns receive rather more attention than those not so situated.

A primary component of individualism is individual responsibility – being accountable for one’s personal choices. It leads to placing the focus of responsibility for one’s health status within the motivations and behaviors of the individual rather than health status being a result of how a society organizes its distribution of a variety of resources. It fits perfectly with a declining welfare state and also influences responses to health inequities. Individualism creates barriers to the quality of social determinants of health outcomes.

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries. However, the biomedical model also fits neatly with the dominant contemporary political discourse of market individualism, with its culture of opportunity over entitlement and its disavowal of the distributive role of the state.2

It has been well documented over the past few decades that health is determined by more than one’s genetic makeup and access to/use of health care services. Individual and community health are determined by a vast array of external conditions and factors that involve housing, education, transportation, social networks and income, to name a few. We now know that these social determinants of health explain why life expectancy and good health improve in some communities and fail to advance in others. That is, inequities in health – or avoidable health inequalities – occur because of the ‘circumstances in which people grow, live, work, and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness.’

In most of the world, labour’s share of national income has fallen continuously and wages have stagnated under this regime of privatisation, deregulation and low taxes on the rich. Poor and unequal living conditions are the consequence of poor social policies and programmes, unfair economic arrangements, and bad politics. This variation among individuals and groups due to income is referred to as the “social gradient.” The social gradient illustrates that higher income levels result in better health outcomes, where lower income levels result in poorer health outcomes. Even in affluent countries such as the US and Canada the social gradient exists but is often masked by the high levels of overall population health status (Mikkonen & Raphael, 2010). The social gradient not only represents the effects of income on health but also the importance of income as a means of gaining access to other social determinants of health such as education, food, housing, recreational activities, and other societal resources.

Education plays an important role in determining health status of an individual, but is more likely to be linked to income, employment, and career success than it is to an individual having a greater store of personal knowledge. With higher levels of educational attainment, individuals have access to less hazardous jobs, and reduce their risks associated with workplace injuries. In addition, their education attainment provides more access to employment with job security, retirement plans, and health insurance that is not covered by government health programs.

Mikkonen and Raphael (2010) call attention to an issue that many people never consider: When is something a privilege or right, or a citizen right, as opposed to something that has to be purchased as a commodity? Take the example of health care. Some countries offer full coverage for all required health care including prescribed medications, dental care, and home care. Access to health care, in this example, is determined by the decisions of those in political power. But this concept also applies when we consider the important social determinants of freedom from poverty, housing, food, employment, and the ability to participate in society. In many developed nations, governments take on the responsibility of assuring access to these social determinants of health.3

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has shown that disparities in health associated with socio-economic status are reflected in the costs to the health care system. Preventable disease and injuries drive higher hospitalization rates for lower-income groups. In other words, there is an excess hospitalization rate for people from lower-income groups, which is likely related to preventable causes of disease and injury. High hospital admission rates among patients with low socio-economic status for the treatment of chronic illnesses that, ideally, should be managed on an outpatient basis suggest that these patients face underlying barriers to optimal primary care.

Policy options that support the social determinants of health must reduce the incidence of poverty, reduce social exclusion, and restore and enhance social infrastructure. Policies to reduce the incidence of poverty include raising the minimum wage to a living wage, improving pay equity, restoring and improving income supports for those unable to gain employment. Policies to reduce social exclusion include ensuring families have sufficient income to provide their children with the means of attaining healthy development, assure access to educational, training and employment opportunities especially for the long-term unemployed, and create housing policies that provide enough affordable housing of a reasonable standard. Policies to restore and enhance infrastructure include restoring eligibility and level of employment benefits to ensure health, as well as address the working poor that includes universal welfare policy that has been effectively combined with job creation strategies that support gender equality and accessibility.

The road map leading to less inequality includes education, motivation, and activation. There is need for education by raising public awareness of the social determinants of health. The population has been subject to continuous messaging as to the benefits of trickle down economics that benefits everyone. This messaging lacks the societal effects of reduced government and regulations – increasing income and wealth inequality, persistent poverty and increased working poor. These factors impact the health and the opportunities for many to reach their full potential. The epidemic of chronic disease appearing in the US and Canada – obesity and type II diabetes – are the health consequences of present policies.

Motivation is about shifting public, professional and policy maker’s focus. There is a need to shift from the biomedical model that Nettleson calls the “holy trinity of risk”, of tobacco, diet and physical activity. This means within the traditional health sciences approach health problems remain individualized, localized, de-socialized and de-politicized. This fits the neo-conservative political ideology whereby social problems are being continually framed as individual ones rather that societal (e.g unemployment, poverty, racism, etc,). This dominant lifestyle health paradigm needs to shift to social determinants of health perspective by collecting and presenting stories about the impact social determinants of health have on people’s lives.

The most difficult role is to develop the political will to support action to refocus agendas on the determinants of health. The quality of any number of social determinants of health within a jurisdiction is shaped by the political ideology of governing parties. The rich, via lobbyists and Byzantine tax arrangements, actively work to stop redistribution. Inequality is not inevitable, it’s engineered.4 It is about the rise of business power and the decline in labor power (as part of the era of globalization) along with the attacks of the “new right” on the welfare state – consequently there is a rapid rise in social, income and health inequalities. The philosophy of individualism provides the support within the general population that keeps this system of privilege in place. However, the social determinants of health concept can help make the links between government policy, the market, and the health and well-being of citizens to surmount the barriers to change.5

  1. Horsman, Greg. (2012) Objectivism Lost and an Age of Disillusionment. P 26, 27,147
  2. “Social Determinants of Health.”
  3. Commission on Social Determinants of Health (2008). Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health. Final Report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Geneva, World Health Organization.
  4. Moore, Susan. (19 Jan 2015) “Inequality isn’t inevitable, it’s engineered. That’s how the 1% have taken over.”
  5. Raphael, Dennis, Curry-Stevens, Ann and Toba Bryant. “Barriers to addressing the social determinants of health: Insights from the Canadian experience.” Health Policy 88(2008) p 222-235.
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The Neocons and Reality

Maureen Finnigan observes, “[Friedrich] Nietzsche assures us that ideal truth and pure reality are illusory, for they are utterly indemonstrable. Inasmuch as absolute truth and reality are unsubstantiated conjectures of the human mind, we are left with our perspective, which is not then imperfect or inferior truth, but the only truth. The truth is a claim made by an individual from a context in life. Hence, Nietzsche does not deny truth or reality, but provides an interpretation that redefines them. The sole opportunity for truth and the only experience of reality are from an individual’s perspective within life.”1

Nietzsche was concerned about the effects of nihilism on society and culture, not because he advocated nihilism. Nietzsche saw that the old values and old morality simply didn’t have the same power that they once did. God no longer mattered in modern culture and was effectively dead to us. He believed that there was no longer any real substance to traditional social, political, moral, and religious values, and science does not introduce a new set of values to replace the Christian values it displaces. Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it in science, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves. Narcissism is one such salve.

During the 1980s, school systems lowered educational standards to protect children from failure. This self-esteem movement has had a significant impact on the school system – in order to ensure positive self-esteem education standards were lowered, creating a milieu for extreme individualism. The world would be saved from crime, drug abuse and under-achieving through bolstering self-esteem. When there is too much self-esteem there are problems of self-tolerance, entitlement and narcissism. This person demands automatic and full compliance with his/her expectations. The cult of self-esteem that was created in the school system in the 1980s provides a pool of individuals in the 21st century who view the world from an emotional rather than a rational perspective, supporting extreme individualism and allowing personal feelings to over come the distinction between right and wrong.

Extreme individualism leads to narcissism and a declining sense of responsibility. Narcissism sets up the illusion that that once one has a feeling, then it must be reality. When narcissism is out of hand one can see many of the characteristics of deception between the rulers and the ruled (the people would be told what they need to now and no more) that Leo Strauss (whose writings have considerable influence on the neocons) believed were essential for modern politics. It is about bringing individuals of like thinking into their bubble, and attributing unique or perfect qualities to those with whom they associate. Strauss’ idea of a hierarchical system in which elites ruled is no different than the narcissist’s drive to be superior, to express distain for those whom they consider inferior, and to seize and control power over others that translates into the right to dominate the lesser creatures around themselves. Strauss was concerned the masses could not cope with this absence of absolute truth and required religion to provide moral values, but this did not apply the leaders of the movement.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, neocons, outraged by the excesses of the shattered society, created an intellectual underpinning for more traditional values. The neocons organized themselves as ‘intellectuals’ focused on shaping public policy. Neoconservative pundits have a tendency to assert something is true even if it is not and then repeat the assertion over and over again to give it credibility. After the Vietnam debacle neocons were concerned that Americans were afraid to make the effort and sacrifice required to sustain the exercise of power. In the late 1970s the neocons championed a renewed cold war and a huge military build up. The election of the Reagan administration saw the implementation of neoconservative evangelism of fear and consequently the beginning of the second cold war.

When traditional morality breaks down two things occur. A new ethic arises to replace the old worn out system and part of society tumbles into amorality or more correctly into nihilism and narcissism. With narcissism the greatest problem is profound disconnect from reality. These people believe that they are always right and that there is nothing that they cannot achieve. They tend to exploit others. In this system of self-tolerance their sense of entitlement leads to victimhood – placing blame for personal inadequacies elsewhere. They lack respect for authority and habitually lie to people. Students demand better grades than they earn. Corporate executives award themselves exorbitant salaries. Neoconservatives are involved in revisionism rather than admit to their mistakes predicting  events in Iraq.

In the 1970s the neoconservatives fretted about the demise of capitalism because it could not preserve bourgeois virtues. The neoconservative lament of declining moral standards, the destruction of the traditional family, and the loss of will at home and nerve abroad (the ‘Vietnam syndrome’). The problem of the family (in the 1970s) the fact that the husband had lost patriarchal authority to the working wife, which in turn, pulmugated a new range of groups and issues that were considered threatening that included drugs, busing, crime, welfare, taxes, abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, women’s rights, divorce and general permissiveness. Neocons insisted that only restoring the rule of traditional authorities that included organized religion, traditional moral values, and the family could save America.2

Neocons argued because of the economic pressures arising from economic demands (associated with the ‘excess of democracy’) on the welfare state, taxes had been raised, inflation had increased and the sole male breadwinner was not able to sustain his family. The answer to capitalism’s moral decline was an assault on the counterculture. Neocons blamed the ‘new class’ whom they defined more or less as government bureaucrats and those professions that benefited most from an expanded government. These people, they claimed, profited from capitalism’s loss of moral legitimacy, because it increased the moral standing and power of noncommercial ‘nonprofit’ institutions they were associated with. The neocons’ attacks on the new class allowed them to take on an identity dear to all intellectuals in democratic societies, that of defending the common man against the elite – the bureaucrats and professionals of the new class. The attraction of the ‘new class’ theory for many neocons lay in the way it allowed them to cloth their aristocratic reaction to the counterculture in democratic language.3

Through brand extension the Tea Party movement has created a strong anti-intellectual movement amongst conservatives lumping experts and science as the enemy labeling them ‘ivory tower intellectuals”. Alliance of the Christian right and neoconservative intellectuals in think tanks with the financial right moved the Republican Party to the right and manipulated public opinion under the influence of sympathizing media oligarchs like Rupert Murdock. Neoconservatives believe in using the government to actively work to achieve conservative goals. Although most neoconservatives still favor a small government, they argue that the government must act assertively in some areas to promote conservative values and policies.

Narcissism and the feeling of entitlement create a group who oppose rational evidence of a debate, leading to polarized positions. In this culture, angry individuals can be recruited to causes without a rational debate. They feel justified in asserting themselves, defending their perceived rights. Everything they say and do is for effect. The truth is irrelevant; as they play for the reaction they want. This activity makes them extremely observant and perceptive; they can appear to be smart. They will tend to agree with people, that is, tell them what they think they want to hear, and then find subtle ways to undermine it.

During the self-esteem movement self-criticism and self-control have been replaced with self-expression and self-assertion. This thinking supports such visions as, “I have a right to my opinion, so my opinions are right” This leads to extreme individualism and self-tolerance. Narcissists can rationalize violence as being caused by evil strangers across the ocean that threaten their righteous and holy way of life, and blame others for the conflict so that they can justify their attacks. Their egotistical lust for superiority would support ‘might makes right’ and aggressive foreign policy. The neoconservatives brook no dissent about the righteousness of the American cause in Iraq.

Too much self-esteem leads to problems of self-tolerance and narcissism and an individual with an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Such individuals learn to tolerate their errors and personal flaws and come to accept themselves as okay. This person rarely admits to ignorance and regards his intuition and knowledge superior to objective data. Part of the bubble universe in which they recruit others involves groupthink. Groupthink is a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, created by a faulty group decision-making process, which is not critical of each other’s ideas. Groups experiencing groupthink do not consider all the alternatives, and they desire unanimity at the expense of quality decisions. This group is highly cohesive, but isolated from contrary opinions.

Damon describes in Hands on Parenting that “self-esteem is a perfectly good thing for people to have, but it should be the result of good behavior. In other words you should feel good about yourself because you have done something right… We want to promote self-esteem that comes from achievement and service to others.”4 There are examples of such good behavior. The progressive movement takes on many issues that include the environment and social justice. The mainstream media breathlessly report Pope Francis urges activists to struggle against the ‘structural causes’ of poverty. This is a person who lives Christ’s life, and after studying reality, reflecting on it and, only later, takes action. This is the old morality of the past connecting with the post-modern ethic of the progressive.

An old cliché is that “the first casualty of war is truth”. The neocons ridicule anyone who opposes further involvement in Iraq and blame the ongoing instability in Iraq on President Obama – ignoring the manipulation of intelligence and media  engineered by neocons during the Bush administration to get the US into the war. When it comes to issues like the Iraq War the neocons are divorced from reality. At best they are a cult, an exclusive group of individuals sharing a devotion to ideas, principles and intellectual interests. Another reason that neocon activities are not part of a political movement because their political posturing is consistent with narcissism.

1 Finnigan, Maureen. (2000) “Nietzsche’s Perspective: Beyond Truth as an Ideal.”

Campbell David. (1998) University of Minnesota Press. Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. p 165.

Kahan, Allan S. (2010) Mind vs Money: The War Between Intellectuals and Capitalism. New Brunswick, N. J.: Transaction Press p 236.

4 Horsman, Greg. (2011) The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle, p 202.

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Part 2 of 2: What is truth?

In order to control society Plato recommended the use of the Noble Lie, so people under the state wouldn’t question their place in life. The Noble Lie was meant to benefit the community. The Noble Lie is a strong mechanism in solving the tragedy of the commons (The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen.) because when people are in balance internally and externally, they are able to make rational decisions that benefits the community. A good reason for the lie is that “in addition to learning the habits of basic civic virtue as a way to encourage people to contribute to the common good, a citizen must be made to believe a falsehood about the reason that justice is a worthy value.”1

David Hume dismissed standard accounts of causality and argued that our conceptions of cause-effect relations are grounded in habits of thinking, rather than in the perception of causal forces in the external world itself. The first step is to keep in mind what Hume called the ‘strange infirmities’ of human understanding, and the “universal perplexity and confusion, which is inherent in human nature”. Armed with this knowledge – for our ignorance is the one thing of which we can be certain – we should be sure to exercise the “degree of doubt, and caution, and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny and decision, ought for ever to accompany a just reasoner”.2

“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies,” claimed Nietzsche. According to Paul F. Glenn, Nietzsche argues “concepts are metaphors which do not correspond to reality.” Although all concepts are human inventions (created by common agreement to facilitate ease of communication), human beings forget this fact after inventing them, and come to believe that they are ‘true’ and do correspond to reality. Thus Nietzsche argues that ‘truth’ is actually involved in a changing aspect of reality. According to Nietzsche, everything is in flux, and there is no such thing as fixed being. Matter is always moving and changing, as are ideas, knowledge, truth, and everything else.3

In the 1970s supply side economics, the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free, (incentive effects would generate new activity so higher revenue) without causing budget deficits was promoted by neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol. Supply side economics was a sleight-of-hand maneuver to convince the electorate that tax cuts were really in the interest of the middle class, not simply the super rich, because the cuts more than paid for themselves. Later it was rebranded as an ideology under the trickle-down economic theory. This is an example of fabrications explained by the principle of Plato’s Noble Lie.

The fabrication of trickle down economics provided the opportunity to dismantle the gains of the New Deal. It justified slashing funds for welfare programs to support a pro growth agenda as centralized planning of big government doesn’t work – it creates a culture of dependency that can trap people. Promoted under the guise of creating jobs and job security the neocon backers support bills attacking prevailing wage, minimum wage and living wage laws (that support a wage suppression agenda). Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers, supports ALEC, as well as pushes other anti-worker, pro-business agenda by supporting union-busting activities such as concession bargaining.

Contract for America was a coalition of conservatives dedicated to the principles of shrinking the size of government and lowering taxes. Contract for America supporters never campaigned on economic policy, rather they promoted family values and exploited fears in the community to win elections, thus influenced elections by using wedge issues. Following defeats in the 2008 elections, conservative groups provided the resources to set up support for ‘citizen groups’ such as the Tea Party. The two main planks of the Tea Party are small government and less money being put into social welfare programs, which includes the expanded healthcare reform. In the 2010 mid term elections in the US the Tea Party movement provided the wedge issue and by their activities encouraged angry voters (who tend to vote Republican) stirred up by fear and panic, to show up at the ballot booth.

Another method used to distort information is cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when two unrelated facts are paired. A person desires to minimize their cognitive dissonance. Right wing news outlets mention Iraq and Sept 11th attacks in the same sentence. The close proximity of mentions is designed to create a correlation in people’s minds even when the reality is different. From insinuation people unconsciously take the idea and turn it into a possibility. Through repetition, the correlation becomes fact based upon misinformation. That is why over 50% of Americans today believe that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Similarly, during the 2014 midterm elections the buy adds supporting Republican candidates mentioned President Obama along with the Democratic candidate in the same sentence. The President’s unpopularity transferred to the candidate of the same party through the repetitive attack adds, while the truth is the inefficiency in government process of the previous two years was engineered by a small group of Republican supporters.

The fabrication that trickle-down economics provides equal benefits for all supports the growth of global corporations. Global corporations have adopted the disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry over the past fifty years. This includes the climate change denial tactics of the fossil fuel industry. These tactics include introducing manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, by setting up so called independent front organizations to publically promote its desired message. This includes cherry picking scientific spokespeople whose interpretations of the peer-reviewed literature suggest to the media and the public that the debate amongst scientists continues, and the results are not definitive. Industries sponsor sophisticated research activities that include both funding of established research institutions, as well as funding of advocacy and ideological organizations to conduct disinformation campaigns – leaving public and law makers confused.

The progressive movement focuses on many issues including environment and social justice. These movements tend to be silos. Progressives must tap into the energy of the progressives from 100 years ago and bring back convictions that governments have a role to solve social problems and the challenge of the oligarchies. This involves freeing government of special interests, and protecting the rights of consumers, workers, immigrants and the poor. To achieve this it is not politically possible to focus on a myriad of goals. By educating the middle class that they have been taken advantage of by a financial system that favors the rich, the Occupy Wall Street movement put economic inequality on the political agenda. Inequality and inequity are not interchangeable. Inequity is unfair, avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption, or cultural exclusion. It is the result of human failure giving rise to avoidable deaths and disease. It is necessary to focus on the economy with its multifaceted connections to social issues.

Progressives need to control ideas in order to challenge the political philosophy of the neoconservatives that drives the political debate in Washington to the right. The reality of the neocons is to control the debate in Washington by deception through their planned assault on truth, reliance on religion for moral values, and the use of aggressive foreign policies to unite the masses. The World Health Organization declared “The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live work and age, including the health system.” Now people realize that the health care sector cannot act alone, and are exploring an inter-sectorial approach that links health to relevant economic, educational, social, environmental and employment interventions. Income and social status was identified as the most important determinant of health. Whoever controls the language controls the debate. By making inequality a central part of their vocabulary progressives can take control of the debate in Washington.

How you label things is more important than how you debate them. Success for progressives can be achieved by effectively explaining to the people the following four policies: (1) promote economic and environmental activities through the lens of the social determinants of health, (2) support an accessible health-care system, (3) promote inter-sectorial processes to address the inequities in social and health issues and (4) develop measurements of inequity to measure the impact of new policies. Once the middle class understands the economics of the social determinants of health – reduction in those suffering chronic diseases, extra individuals entering the workforce, savings in welfare payments, fewer hospital admissions and fewer prescriptions for medications4 – it is possible for them to determine what is truth so they can participate in creating change when they visit the voting booth.

1“Plato vs Aristotle.” (25 Oct 2011)

2“The Best Philosophy Is Hume’s Scepticism.” Intelligent Life Magazine, May/June 2013

3“On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.”

4“The Cost Of Inaction On The Social Determinants Of Health.” (12 June 2012), from The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), a research centre at the University of Canberra.

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Part 1 of 2: What is Truth?

During the Enlightenment, as each new idea spread across Europe, it was debated and challenged by other thinkers. Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), the skeptic, rejected the scope and power of reason in decision-making that Newton’s work had released. Hume thought that our passions and our affections naturally lead us to perform certain actions with reason acting only as a guide and sought to develop more fully the consequences of cautious empiricism by applying the scientific methods of observation to a study of human nature itself. We cannot rely on the common-sense pronouncements of popular superstition, which illustrate human conduct without offering any illumination, Hume held, nor can we achieve any genuine progress based on speculative or abstract reasoning, which imposes a spurious clarity upon profound issues. The alternative is to reject all easy answers, employing the negative results of philosophical skepticism as a legitimate place to start.

Hume claimed the apparent connection of one idea to another is invariably the result of an association that we manufacture ourselves. We use our mental operations to link ideas to each other in one of three ways: resemblance, contiguity, or cause and effect. (This animal looks like that animal; this book is on that table; moving this switch turns off the light, for example.) Experience provides us with both the ideas themselves and our awareness of their association. All human beliefs (including those we regard as cases of knowledge) result from repeated applications of these simple associations.

According to Hume, our belief that events are causally related is a custom or habit acquired by experience: having observed the regularity with which events of particular sorts occur together, we form the association of ideas that produces the habit of expecting the effect whenever we experience the cause. But since each idea is distinct and separable from every other, there is no self-evident relation; these connections can only be derived from our experience of similar cases. Causal reasoning can never be justified rationally. In order to learn, we must suppose that our past experiences bear some relevance to present and future cases. But although we do indeed believe that the future will be like the past, the truth of that belief is not self-evident. In fact, it is always possible for nature to change, so inferences from past to future are never rationally certain.

Skepticism quite properly forbids us to speculate beyond the content of our present experience and memory, yet we find it entirely natural to believe much more than that. Hume held that these unjustifiable beliefs can be explained by reference to custom or habit. Remember that the association of ideas is a powerful natural process in which separate ideas come to be joined together in the mind. Of course they can be associated with each other by rational means, as they are in the relations of ideas that constitute mathematical knowledge. But even where this is possible, Hume argued, reason is a slow and inefficient guide, while the habits acquired by much repetition can produce a powerful conviction independently of reason.1

Our beliefs in matters of fact, then, arise from sentiment or feeling rather than from reason. For Hume, imagination and belief differ only in the degree of conviction with which their objects are anticipated. Although this positive answer may seem disappointing, Hume maintained that custom or habit is the great guide of life and the foundation of all natural science. The most reasonable position, Hume held, is a ‘mitigated’ skepticism that humbly accepts the limitations of human knowledge while pursuing the legitimate aims of math and science.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) claimed there are no facts only interpretations. In his view there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. Nietzsche is critical of the very idea of objective truth (he did not believe in values or truth). That we should think there is only one right way of considering a matter is only evidence that we have become inflexible in our thinking. A healthy mind is flexible and recognizes that there are many different ways of considering a matter. There is no single truth but rather many. Arbitrariness prevails within human experience: concepts originate via the transformation of nerve stimuli into images, and ‘truth’ is nothing more than the invention of fixed conventions for practical purposes, especially those of repose, security and consistency.

Nietzsche was concerned about the effects of nihilism on society and culture, not because he advocated nihilism. Nietzsche saw that the old values and old morality simply didn’t have the same power that they once did. God no longer mattered in modern culture and was effectively dead to us. He believed that there was no longer any real substance to traditional social, political, moral, and religious values. However, science does not introduce a new set of values to replace the Christian values it displaces. Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it in science, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves.2

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a classical political philosopher who read Nietzsche and had considerable influence on the neocons. From 1949 to 1967 Strauss served as a professor in the University of Chicago political science department, and became the source of the inspiration of the neoconservative ideology of the Republican Party. He developed a political philosophy based on deception, the power of religion, and aggressive nationalism. This was a system in which the people are told no more than they need to know as deception is a norm in political life. He recommended the use of religion for the morals of the masses, but not applying to the leaders. If the masses really knew what was going on it would lead to nihilism. The void was to be filled with religious values. Also Strauss proposed the use of aggressive foreign policy to unite the masses.3 After the end of the Cold War this foreign policy morphed under the influence of neo-conservatives into the concept of ‘exporting democracy’.4

One of the outcomes of the Iraq War was to expose the ugly underbelly of the neo-conservative machine in America. Two of the bureaucrats who put together the package of ‘evidence’ of WMD in Iraq were Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense and Abram Shulsky, Director of the Office of Special Plans, were students of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. This like thinking allowed a group to easily engineer a plan of deception of the American people about the need to invade Iraq.

Paul Wolfowitz out maneuvered the State Department and the CIA to get the Bush administration to set up the Special Plans unit because they were more effective in making their argument.   Special Plans was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true –that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States. Abram Shulsky (who had roomed with Wolfowitz at Cornell and Chicago) was appointed the Director of Special Plans. Under his direction Special Plans put together the case for weapons of mass destruction creating the need to invade Iraq.

In late February 2002, the CIA sent Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate reports that the African nation sold uranium to Iraq to reconstitute their nuclear program. He failed to find evidence of any activities related to the purchase of ‘yellowcake’ uranium from Niger by Iraq. President Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address claimed that purchases of uranium by Iraq from Niger were immanent creating a public protest by Ambassador Wilson. The neocons do not like people who disagree with them. Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent whose undercover status was blown by a White House leak of her identity sues Vice President Dick Cheney, White House aide Karl Rove, and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Plame accuses them and other White House officials of conspiring to destroy her career as a CIA operative as well as conspiring to besmirch the reputation and integrity of her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.

I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby who studied under Wolfowitz at Yale, was assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney since 2001, resigned October 28, 2005, after being indicted on five counts which included obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury. He was later convicted on four of the five counts, and sentenced to thirty months in prison on June 5, 2007. On July 2, 2007 outgoing President Bush spared I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby from prison, commuting the former White House aide’s prison term.5

The neoconservatives identified that one could use democracy to defeat liberty as too much liberty undermines piety and leads to crime, drugs, rampant homosexuality, children out of wedlock, and family breakdown. Neocons have no trouble interfacing with the Christian right (basically turn back the clock on the liberal revolution and its achievements). To this end, the electoral boundaries for districts for the House of Representatives have been gerrymandered to ensure an easy majority of Republicans can be elected. In addition, states with a Republican Governor have enacted legislation that hinders the ability of minorities (especially blacks) from ready access to the voting booth (groups that generally support Democrats). Many states with Republican governors pass laws such as No Rights at Work bills (promoted under the guise of creating jobs and job security) that restrict the freedom of workers to organize to ensure just compensation. The neocons are a group with contrasting values – acting in the name of liberty and democracy, when they have so little regard for either.

With the Republicans sweeping victory in the midterm elections the influence of the neo-conservatives is on the rebound. The neocons are once again driving the debate. The truth for this group is the vision of the neoconservative beliefs (such as a more aggressive national security policy) while the general public receives controlled messages that ensure the elite can rule. President Obama admits that it is his fault that Democrats lost the midterm election because of his failure to explain to the people what it is he is trying to do. For the average person the increased influence of the neocons ushers in an era of increased questioning and skepticism of what is truth.

1“Hume: Empirist Naturalism.”

2“Nietzsche and Nihilism”

3Drury, Shadia. “Saving America: Leo Strauss and the Neoconservatives.

4“Leo Strauss’ Philosophy of Deception.”’_philosophy_of_deception

5Hersh, Seymour M. “Selective Intelligence.”

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The Trickle-down Effect

Milton Friedman (1912-2006), Nobel Prize winning economist from University of Chicago, popularized free market economy. Friedman’s explanation of economics emphasized that the laissez-faire economic system helps poor people by the trickle-down effect, which economic growth flows down from the top to the bottom indirectly benefiting those who do not directly benefit from the policy changes. This economic theory advocates letting businesses flourish, since their profits will ultimately trickle down to lower-income individuals and the rest of the economy. Another teaching of Friedman is that only a crisis real or perceived, produces real change, and when that crisis hits the change that occurs depends on ideas that are lying around.

Advocates for trade deregulation claim that an ‘invisible hand’ – a systemic, emergent force beyond the control of any individual or section of the economy – will produce benefits that will enlarge the total ‘cake’ of the economy, allowing a trickle-down effect that reduces poverty and improves health. Globalization is seductive to many because it enhances material production while simultaneously shielding, muting and distancing the vast number of people who are disadvantaged by it. The emphasis on economic globalization has resulted in objections to taxation based on the premise that taxation is an unnecessary barrier to trade and to the creation of wealth that would otherwise ‘trickle down’ from the rich to poor (sans taxation).

In the 1980s and 1990s monetarism, public choice theory and neo-classical economics, was vulgarized and misused to justify simplistic small government policies. As for monetarism, it is essentially the belief that the freedom to make and spend money will finally address all our human needs, and that the public good is ultimately served by subordinating our social concerns to the requirements of business. Friedman’s supporters actually believe that market forces will reduce poverty and provide public goods, including health care and environmental stability.1 In the 21st century, following the economic debacle of 2007, supporters of trickle-down economics now peddle fear of increased taxes or regulation as toxic to this economic system.

The field of social finance has appeared in the form of social impact bonds already in Britain – applying profit motive to some of the most intractable social problems (that monetarism has not been able to address). Recognizing that the market economy is not addressing the problems of poverty, social impact bonds are being promoted. These bonds have caught on in a big way in Britain. Others warn that this is about commercialization of social values. It opens the debate on how outcomes are measured to decide whether the intervention is a success that leads to a payout for investors.

As a consequence of globalization, the business class is no longer under pressure to accommodate citizens (workers) within Canada. The government default position is that international competition is at stake – increasingly lower taxes, less support for labour and deregulation – creating socio-economic status related inequalities at the same time as budget cuts erode social assets and population capacities that might have buffered the effects of the health inequalities. The double whammy – market-oriented politics and policies of government deregulation erode social assets and undermine safety nets at the very time that greater inequalities and knowledge of epigenetic harms are appearing that could use resources to offset the effects of restructuring of the economy. Regrettably, the present evolution of the population health model can be used to accommodate, rather than challenge, current ways of doing things.

Corporate globalization promotes individualism. The cult of individualism that exists in North America today supports minimal government and self-reliance. Public health is about focusing on the common good. Individualism creates a difficult milieu for discourse on the common good – the individual becomes the focus of intervention, consequently, many public health promotions tend to target on life-style changes of the individual. Policies aimed at the individual do little to address the social determinants of health, thus fail to promote the health of all Canadians. When policies are aimed at the individual, this fosters the allusion that a person’s health status is entirely under his or her control. As a consequence, population health problems are assigned solely to the individual. In the end, the individual becomes a victim, being blamed for what really are socially produced health problems.

Since the 18th century, many believed the invisible hand of prosperity and increased wealth created better health for the majority. Late in the 19th century, it was a community of concerned public health officials who led the charge for clean water and better housing, and the unions for better working conditions for the worker. Ann Robertson, professor in Social and Behavioural Health Science at the University of Toronto, noted: “… it was not simply Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ of wealth that provided the key to health improvements. They were, to a great extent, the result of the constellation of a number of factors, including: improved sanitation, nutrition, living and working conditions, and family planning. And, as Szreter demonstrates, these did not occur ‘naturally’, but rather as the result of the efforts of a coalition of public health reformers, labour activists, and others working from reformist social and political agendas. These are the historical roots of the current health promotion movement which, unlike population health, is not only explicitly political but also explicitly normative.”2

With the completion of the human genome project in 2003, it became known that genetics accounts for about 10% of diseases, and the remaining causes appear to be from environmental and occupational source insults. In the 21st century, the epigenetics revolution is rewriting our understanding of genetics disease and inheritance. Epigenetics is about integrating genes, the organism and the environment. From believing that our biological fates were written in our genes, we now recognize that the environment, and more specifically our perception of the environment, directly controls our behavior and genetic activity. Individuals are much more sensitive to exposures from their environment, diet and lifestyles than previously thought. Epigenetic control of our genes represents a fundamental shift in the way we understand our world.3

Epigenetics is the new science that studies the complex mechanisms of genes being turned on and off according to environmental ques. The genome is very stable; mutations are seldom. On the other hand, the environment is very volatile. In order for our species to survive, the genome has mechanisms that respond to the volatile environment by turning on and off genes. As our genes can be influenced by the environment, our lifestyle can impact the expression of our genes. Early studies show an association between epigenetic marks (in the human genome) and socio-economic status. This has implications for population health and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease.

How we deal with epigenetic harms implicates the underlying fairness and justice of our social contract. How we develop mentally, and physically, has a tremendous impact upon our inherent capabilities and our set of life opportunities. Attention should be paid to poor health as a mechanism for intergenerational transmission of poverty. Children born into poor families have poorer health as children, receive lower investments in human capital, and have poorer health as adults. As a result, they will earn lower wages as adults, which will affect the next generation of children who will thus be born into poorer families. In Canada, one in four children living in poverty will grow up to be an adult living in poverty

The emerging field of epigenetics suggests the possibility of a happy trickle-down effect. “Those same lifestyle choices may help silence ‘bad’ genes while supporting the activity of ‘good’ genes,” says Andrew Weil, Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine of the College of Medicine, University of Arizona. Because of the role epigenetics plays in human development and in disease causation, there is an important role in regulating epigenetic harms. This could prevent chronic diseases, as well as create a health benefit that can be passed on to children and grandchildren. Weil notes that up to 70% of our health may be influenced by our environment, or epigenetics.4

We need to adopt policies that have science behind them. The trickle-down economic theory was rebranded in the 1970s to an ideology – supply side economics – the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free (incentive effects would generate new activity hence more revenue) without causing budget deficits. An ideology is a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society (that is normative or based on what is considered the normal or correct way of doing something). In the 21st century trickle-down economics is a fraud – the majority of people are not benefiting, in fact, the gap between the rich and the rest of society is increasing.

Epigenetics explains how environmental factors can switch genes on and off based on choices we make, and highlights the effects of inequality in living and working conditions, as well as a range of disparities in societal opportunities, including income, housing, employment, and access to health care. The effects of age, what someone eats, and the salary of the father trickle down to the child. Epigenetics empowers people to take control of their health by making choices that may override their genetic code, such as diet, exercise, and personal attitude – opening doors for applying epigenetics to the prevention and treatment of many disorders. By incorporating the knowledge of the dynamic nature of epigenetics into decision-making, it is possible to reduce epigenetic harms and create the trickle-down benefits similar to investment in the space program fifty years ago, and ongoing spending in CERN.

In the 21st century we are faced with three deficits: current fiscal imbalance of various levels of government, the need to reverse the epigenetic harms from the toxins in air, water and food, and the debt to future generations as the growing economic gap will ensure them poorer health as adults, which will affect their economic status as they earn lower wages. We need to see the world and ourselves from a new perspective. Because of the role epigenetics plays in human development and disease causation, there is an important role in regulating epigenetic harms. We need to switch from making public policy decisions through the lens of individualism (which oversimplifies complex and multi-faceted problems) to filtering social and economic policies through the lens of the social determinants of health before they are implemented (to ensure they support actions that reduce inequities in the system). The new idea available for the 21st century for everyone to reach their potential is to harness the ability of epigenetics to create a positive trickle down effect!

1 Horsman, Greg. (2012) Objectivism Lost and an Age of Disillusionment, p. 76.

2 Robertson, A. (1998). Shifting discources on health in Canada: from health promotion to population health. Health Promotion International, 13(2), 155-166.

3 Choi, Sang-Woon and Simonetta Fisco. (Sept 2013) “Epigenetics: A New Bridge between Nutrition and Health.”

4 Goldman, Leslie. “Like Mother, Like Daughter.” <;.

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