Emotions Impact Decisions on How to Make a Better World

Trickle-down economics has never worked and is still not. Many American workers are angry the only thing that has trickled down are wage-cuts, upside-down mortgages, underemployment, personal bankruptcies and disappearing pensions. The 2016 election the Republican Party cloaked the neoliberal policies in declared concern for ‘the little guy’ – it was necessary to create popular grassroots illusions about its regressive agenda and character. This manipulation of populism by elitism involved sense of powerlessness concocted by the right-wing elite and their corporate sponsors. Emotions play a dominant role in decision-making because the connections from the emotion systems to the reflex systems are stronger than those from the reflexive system to the emotion systems. According to LeDoux, while conscious control over emotions is weak, emotions can flood consciousness.  This explains why it is easier for emotional information to overwhelm our conscious thought than for us to gain conscious control over our emotions.1

Herman Broch (1886-1951), an Austrian writer, observes, “Although every man believes that his decisions and resolutions involve the most multifarious factors, in reality they are mere oscillations between flight and longing.” A great deal of your decisions are informed by your emotional responses because that is what emotions are designed to do: to appraise and summarize and experience and inform your actions. Emotions are not particularly sophisticated or precise, but their speed and utility make up for what they lack in sophistication and precision. Emotions, when they are not disordered, provide information about your circumstances in a simple, quick way that does not involve a lot of cognition (thinking about it). So, they attempt to tell you if a situation is optimal or not aligned with your goal, and how you might approach it. Elizabeth Gilbert notes, “Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions”

Emotions serve a purpose, informing you, the operator of your body, what to do. We’re constantly faced with an abundance of information that we must process – a lot of stimulation to reflect upon. You do not have time to process all information in a reflective fashion but your brain processes it passively and unconsciously. If your brain comes across something it appraises as a “red flag,” you’ll be sent a general, vague alert in the form of the feelings and thoughts that are created by an emotion. This somewhat imprecise signal alerts you to pay attention. In this way, your emotions serve as a cueing system – an attention directing system associated with physiological changes that can prepare you to take action. But it is also not a very smart system because it has many false alarms. There are emotional misfires. Thus, you need to evaluate your response to see if it is appropriate.2

Emotions are behind many complex dynamics in business and personal relationships. For example, a personal or professional relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality characteristics can trigger a consuming emotional response in you. They may also have grandiose fantasies and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment. The well-known self-centered tendencies of the person with narcissistic personality traits lead them, so we are told, to make rash decisions that ignore the hard facts. Their belief that they are “special” leads these individuals to ignore the reality of a situation and figure that no matter what, they will come out ahead. As a result, people high in narcissism may engage in risky behavior such as gambling, spend money recklessly, and fail to take the more critical view that can benefit sober decision-making processes. Even though they may not live up to their own inflated expectations, they continue to see themselves as more capable and intelligent than others.

All humans have emotions – even narcissists.  It is how we choose to relate to our emotions that matters. The narcissist tends to repress them so deeply that, for all practical purposes, they play no conscious role in his life and conduct, though they play an extraordinarily large unconscious role in determining both. He does not empathize with other people’s feelings. Actually, he holds them in contempt and ridicule. He cannot understand how people are so sentimental, so “irrational” (he identifies being rational with being cool headed and cold blooded). Often the narcissist believes that other people are “faking it”, merely aiming to achieve a goal. He is convinced that their “feelings” are grounded in ulterior, non-emotional, motives. He becomes suspicious, embarrassed, feels compelled to avoid emotion-tinged situations, or, worse, experiences surges of almost uncontrollable aggression in the presence of genuinely expressed sentiments.

Donald Trump has three main enablers. The Republican Party has long played the race card – charging Democrats with coddling black “welfare queens” and being soft on black crime. Denying facts preceded Trump – includes carbon emissions cause climate change, and tax cuts cause deficits. Once elected, there is minimal push back on Trumpism. The second enabler has been the media. Trump’s outrageousness generated an audience, which in turn, created big profits for the media. This created twice as much free coverage for Trump compared to Hillary Clinton. The third enabler has been the Democratic Party. The Democrats once represented the working class. In the past three decades the economic elite have taken over the fund raising and the philosophy of the party. Christopher Hitchens complained to Bill Clinton about, “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” While Republicans played the race card to get the working class to abandon the Democratic Party, the Democrats simultaneously abandoned the working class – clearing the way for Trump.

Gaslighters/narcissists create an enemy and crisis, then “solve” that same crisis.  They then demand accolades after that crisis (that they created) has been resolved.  Why do they do this?  It creates support within their base.  And with 2020 elections right around the corner, Trump knows the importance of manufacturing an enemy and then portraying himself as the only person who could “conquer” this manufactured enemy. Trump instinctively understands how indispensable his own individual persona is to his ultimate goal of grasping and maintaining power. Amidst his string of business failures, Trump’s singular talent has been that of any con man: the incredible ability to cultivate a public image. This is where the media comes in: Trump has finessed his situation (being the president) into a situation where media have no real moves left. The press engages in the battle for eyeballs, and can’t just ignore the guy in the White House, so they have to report on the circus.

The 2020 voters must become aware of aggressive maneuvers of the administration on progressive values. These include rollbacks on Obama health care provisions, civil rights and human rights, and federal environmental rules and regulations. The Republican Party carries water for the fossil fuel industry and other big business. They have over 80 environmental rules and regulations to be rolled back or reversed. The list includes: twenty-two on air pollution and emissions, eighteen on drilling and extraction, thirteen on infrastructure and planning, ten on wildlife control, five on toxic substances and safety, and seven on water pollution. The consequences of these changes will be a significant in greenhouse gas emissions, and lead to thousands of extra deaths from poor quality air each year.  Voters must be careful of rumors and hoaxes about the voting and polling places – false stories, misleading ads and suspicious mailers are an unfortunate feature of most modern political campaigns.

Narcissist politicians somehow think they “deserve” to game the system. After all, from their self-interested perspective, isn’t that what the system is for?  Machiavellian narcissists like Trump have mastered the art of one-upmanship as they try to show their superiority while steamrolling over everyone else’s feelings and opinions. You must understand that reacting is giving away your power while responding is empowering yourself and not getting caught in the narcissist’s trap. A reaction is instant. It’s driven by beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. A response on the other hand comes more slowly. It’s based on information from both the conscious mind and unconscious mind. The narcissist wants your outrage, your disbelief; they want you to be appalled at what they say. Remember the part of the brain that makes decisions is also the part of the brain where emotions come from.

No one equivocates or dis-informs with greater conviction than the narcissist-politician, whose blatant disregard for facts can at times be mind-boggling. Trump’s opponents must beware explaining and defending against the narcissist leaves you open to more abuse. When you address the content of what is being said and explain and defend your position, you endorse Trump’s right to judge, approve, or abuse you. Your reaction sends this message: “You have power over my self-esteem. You have the right to approve or disapprove of me. You’re entitled to be my judge.” People must appreciate how important emotions are in making decisions that impact on making a better world. People tend to overestimate their emotional intelligence – the ability to read, understand and respond to emotions in ourselves and others. Voters need to focus on the roll backs of previous progressive legislation, and not be overwhelmed by the manipulative rhetoric of the front man for the economic elite.

1 Shahram Heshmat. (05 May 2017) Who Is Actually in Charge When We Make Decisions? https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/science-choice/201705/who-is-actually-in-charge-when-we-make-decisions

2 Mary Lamina. (31 Dec 2010) Like it Or Not, Emotions Will Drive the Decisions You Make Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201012/it-or-not-emotions-will-drive-the-decisions-you

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Harnessing Politics of Fear to Transform Today’s Market Economy

Ben Johnson observes, “Fear is implanted in us as a preservation from evil; but its duty, like that of other passions, is not to overbear reason, but to assist it. It should not be suffered to tyrannize in the imagination, to raise phantoms of horror, or to beset life in supernumerary distresses.” We fear new because of the uncertainty it brings – we might lose what is associated with change. Our aversion to loss can even cause logic to fly out the window. Fear cannot be characterized solely as a socially constructed phenomenon, nor as the instinctual response to personally felt traumas. The growth and nature of fear must be studied as a process that develops under its own inertia, feeding off its antecedent past, and as a phenomenon that is shaped by and in turn shapes its institutional setting. Fear should be understood as both structurally determined and socially transformative.

Neoliberalism is an ideology of fear and insecurity that enslaves us all. In the 21st century the myth of the market hinges on the illusion of a supposedly natural order in the economic realm. Neoliberalism constructed a system that not only benefits the upper class but also effectively justifies this outcome – the political and social domination of the upper class are presented as normal outcomes of the functioning of the free market. 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 they perpetuate the fear of change – if taxes are raised on the rich unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear.

Fearing strong state regulation that would be needed to address global warming, Big Oil and neoliberal think-tanks joined forces in the 1990s to peddle disinformation on the science of climate change. The fossil fuel industry in the US peddles fear of a weakening economy if environment regulations and responsibility are enforced. The plutocrats manipulate the media and control the politicians (in the present) to ensure messaging that creates fear of change to such ideas as turning to a system with emphasis on stability, social conscience and regulation. While the politicians remain silent on a solution, the corporations work overtime through proxies to defend trickle-down economics, claiming that without minimal government and less regulations, people should fear the ability of the system to create jobs and expand the economy. It falls to the general public to be the agents of change.

The problem is that the lens of fear distorts what you see. It focuses primarily on the negative, exaggerates the potentially threatening, filters out alternative views, and causes you to compromise your core values out of the urgent need to survive. Another notable difference today is that many people feel that they may have to confront threats on their own. As a citizen you may become more compliant, more willing to surrender your rights for vague promises of safety. As an employee you are less demanding, less willing to take risks. These days, the measurable loss of faith in government combined with the difficulty of fighting terrorism has given the public less confidence that they will be kept safe. The narrative of fear presents a vision of a shrinking future, not a better one. This fear of losing what they already have is a source of stress. 

By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, the neoliberals protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash. Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy as justice is now linked to a market logic that divorces itself from social cost. Rising inequality has become the defining challenge of the century; it has profound implications for the health and resilience of democracies everywhere. Inequality – and the fears of social decline and exclusion it generates – feeds social polarization and the shrinking of a vital moderate center. Inequality is usually associated to an unequal distribution of resources and, therefore, it is related to the gap between the rich and the poor. It also relates to an unequal access to opportunities or benefits from economic activity. Inequality can lead to social tensions, discrimination, poverty traps, erosion of social capital, regional imbalances, and an unfair access to justice.

The neoliberal agenda is to undermine all these social goods in order to lower costs (that is, lower wages, benefits, and taxes) and to increase profits by pitting one country against another in a race to the bottom of the social ladder. Moreover, creating anxiety and uncertainty among employees, even ones at the highest level, is actually the point. Such anxiety and uncertainty hinder them from taking risks in participating fully in society as political actors. The same logic would apply to environmental, health and safety regulations designed to protect workers, consumers and the population at large. If you want your country to be competitive, it is best to keep such regulations to a minimum. The power of debt in neoliberalism represents a highly efficient mechanism of control and capture, more efficient than the modes of resistance put in place by the workers’ movement.

It is necessary to dismantle TINA (There Is No Alternative) – the main feature of neoliberalism enterprise – to undermine and displace the overwhelming ideology enabling the political power of the economic elite. This ideology is used to direct public policy (not only in the US but around the world) under the illusion it creates opportunities and frees individuals from control of the state. We now known this to be a sham. Neoliberalism must be replaced by social movements pressing for support of the working classes. The consequence of the structural domination of capital is alienation, loneliness, anxiety and isolation. We must recognize that neoliberal policies structure the interests of capital, not the people, and the state is necessary to establish and enforce rules by which markets operate. It is necessary to limit this powerlessness by acting in solidarity through unions, social movements and election campaigns.1

Populist economic policy claims to design policies for people who fear losing status in society, and those who believe they have been abandoned by the political establishment. The populist economic agenda focuses on single and salient political issues, over emphasizes negative aspects of international economic exchange and immigration, and/or blames foreigners or international institutions for economic difficulties. Populists exploit racist myths and stereotypes to instill fear in working-class who have genuine economic problems. Donald Trump was elected on a wave of anti-establishment fervor in the wake of increasing inequality, the anger he could exploit and deflect toward the easiest and most vulnerable target: immigrants. Trump’s agenda has intensified the neoliberal dismantling of the remnants of social democracy. By sabotaging federal agencies, the ongoing deregulation of the economy, further privatization, and the further enrichment of the power elite, Trump is teaching us the value of institutions, and has unwittingly mobilized broad sectors of the population into resistance.

Last time it was the Democrats’ embrace of neoliberalism that won it for Trump. However, each election cycle offers an opportunity to turn back the neoliberal project. Some of the 2020 Democratic candidates can be part of this solution. The reason why Bernie Sanders is so threatening to neoliberalism is that he has articulated a conception of the state, civil society, and the self that is not founded in the efficacy and rationality of the market. Kamala Harris has been critical of the Trump economy, saying that while unemployment is low, there are still many American families struggling to stay afloat and that the economy “is not working for working people.” Elizabeth Warren actually has ideas: a plan for housing affordability, for child care affordability, and for student debt; a plan to end the scandal of highly profitable corporations paying no federal taxes, and pay for changes with tax on the top 0.1%.

It is necessary to harness the politics of fear to create transformation. Transformation is an internal fundamental change in your beliefs of why you perform certain actions. It modifies values and desires. We need to replace individualism of neoliberalism with a new common sense based in a sense of we, with its understanding of our interdependence and collective agenda. Transformation is an assertion that our actions today create our future tomorrow. The future is about closing the common goods gap that will be realized by freeing ourselves from constraints of the neoliberal project. The new system is about not being afraid to implement an agenda that spells the end of neoliberal dominance. In the US this means enacting policies that support access to health care for everyone, subsidizing the college system, and ousting the private-prison industry from the justice system. A butterfly is a transformation, not a better caterpillar.

1 Kurt Cobb. (15 Jan 2017) Neoliberals know the price of everything and the value of nothing. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-01-15/neoliberals-know-the-price-of-everything-and-the-value-of-nothing/

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Crisis of the Environment: Time to Push the Economy to do More With Less

The political project of neoliberalism developed a two-prong approach: (1) dismantle any barrier to the exercise of unaccountable private power; (2) erect barriers to the exercise of any democratic public will. The policies of privatization, deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, free trade deals have liberated corporations to accumulate enormous profits and treat the atmosphere like a sewage dump, and hamstring our ability through the instrument of the state to plan for our collective welfare. At the very moment that climate change demands our unprecedented collective public response, neoliberal ideology stands in the way. Steeped in a culture telling us to think of ourselves as consumers instead of citizens, as self-reliant instead of inter-dependent, such that we now turn in droves to ineffectual, individualistic efforts. The excesses of privatization enabled by neoliberalism has created a common goods gap that we need to take care of, including the environment.

This initiative was carried out by the corporate capitalist class as they felt intensely threatened both politically and economically towards the end of the 1960s into the 1970s. They desperately wanted to launch a political project that would curb the power of labor. Ideas were also important to the ideological front, but there was awareness at that time that universities were impossible to organize because the student movement was too strong and the faculty too liberal-minded, so they set up think tanks like the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Ohlin Foundation. These think tanks brought in the ideas of Freidrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and supply-side economics. At the same time, ideological projects to privatize and deregulate were developed to create unemployment. So, unemployment at home and offshoring taking the jobs abroad, and a third component: technological change, deindustrialization through automation and robotization was the strategy to squash labor.

It was an ideological assault but also an economic assault. They found that there was a legitimizing theory out there – neoliberalism – which would enable these actions. For example, you see reforms of campaign finance that treated contributions to campaigns as a form of free speech. While there was a long tradition in the United States of corporate capitalists buying elections, following a series of 1970s Supreme Court decisions, it is now legal rather than being under the table as corruption. Yet while the capitalist class is doing very well, capitalism is doing rather badly. Profit rates have recovered but reinvestment rates are appallingly low, so a lot of money is not circulating back into production and is flowing into land-grabs and asset-procurement instead. Neoliberalism promotes (an existing theory) that rather than being affected by structural problems of an exploitive system – poverty, joblessness, poor health, lack of fulfillment – was in fact a personal deficiency.1

 Neoliberalism has gamed the self-blame, telling you that you should not only feel guilty and shame if you cannot secure a good job, are deep in debt, and are too stressed or over-worked for time with friends – you are also responsible for bearing the burden of potential ecological collapse. This neoliberal con-job is to persuade us to address climate change through your pocket-book, rather than through power and politics. In reality, we need mass movement to stop thinking like individuals. This means using ‘affordable’ mass transit, buy local organic food rather than fossil-fuel intensive super-market chains, support clean energy economies in cities. It requires taxing the 1% to pay for these changes. At climate conferences, economic growth and the right to development are central themes, with some nations appearing to be more concerned with their GDP than with the potential environmental crisis on the horizon – this points to neoliberalism as the problem.

What does a solution encompass? In 2016, transportation overtook power plants as the top producer of carbon dioxide emissions in the US for the first time since 1979. Nearly a quarter of the transportation footprint comes from medium- and heavy-duty trucks. And increasingly the impact is coming in what people in the world of supply-chain logistics call “the last mile,” meaning the final stretch from a distribution center to a package’s destination. (The “last mile” can in truth be a dozen miles or more.) Before the online revolution, the majority of last-mile deliveries were to stores, which tended to cluster in areas that can be more easily served by large trucks. Today, most packages are now going directly to residential addresses. We’ve traded trips to the mall, in relatively fuel-efficient cars, for deliveries to residential neighborhoods by trucks and other vehicles. The last mile today ends on our doorsteps.

To bring down emissions fast it is necessary to overcome the free market mantra. Studies show that more than 90 percent of the trips by parcel delivery vehicles are within a 100-mile range. Slower and more consolidated shipping isn’t just better for the environment; it saves these companies money by reducing the number of trucks on the road and simplifying their logistics. Presently only Walmart and Amazon have enough clout to drive such change. Green shipping options come up against the profit incentive. The International Marine Organization (MIO) rules now drive the industry to cleaner, greener solutions on several areas. Ships used to run on unrefined crude full of sulphur and environmentally-harmful impurities. This is because this type of fuel is the leftover of the oil refining process and extremely cheap when compared to other options. In 2005, the IMO began to control sulphur content in marine fuels. Efficient solar integration in greener ships can save fuel up to 20%.

Solar energy systems/power plants do not produce air pollution, water pollution, or greenhouse gases. Using solar energy can have a positive, indirect effect on the environment when solar energy replaces or reduces the use of other energy sources that have larger effects on the environment. The biggest issue comes with adapting these new resources. Aside from the fact that it would be a major pain for companies to make the switch, cost is the real problem. Building fossil fuel plants and resources, as well as actually using them, is cheaper option for most big businesses. Alternative energy costs more to install and maintain, and with natural gas prices presently low, one is hard pressed to convince corporate America that switching to cleaner energy is better for business. It may help the environment, but often hurts bottom line returns. We need investment in climate-risky infrastructure and renewable energy – so that solar panels go on everyone’s roof top, not just those that can afford it.

The antipathy of neoliberal hegemony towards environmental regulation has set it in opposition to environmental movements. What neoliberalism misses or ignores is that a world of apparently neutral rules is still a world of power inequalities. When capital has more freedom than people, serious democratic deficits are guaranteed. Voters may prefer a strong welfare state, but they may get austerity instead. In many nations, including the United States, the power of money in politics gives concentrated wealth a sword to hold over democracy’s neck. As the wealthy exert ever more influence over the political process, we may be closer to ideas of William Hutt (1899-1988), an English economist who was active in Mont Pelerin, with income-weighted votes as one tool among many for limiting democracy in the name of property rights. In the neoliberal view, this is how it is supposed to work. It is, in Hayek’s language, the “discipline of freedom.” But it makes the goal of achieving relative equality through democracy very difficult.

Globalization is driven by the desire of corporations to pursue economic liberalization. In this system countries primarily compete for the world’s investment capital. This means capital moves to locations where it will find the best conditions for return. This activity increases the opportunities for commercialization or introduction of a commodity into the free market for mass consumption. The process of corporate expansion across borders creates rapid change in many communities with subsequent negative consequences for workers. The fact that there is little international regulation has dire consequences for the safety of the people and the environment. Like the approach to Big Tobacco it is necessary to have as many agencies as possible participate with respect to cross-cutting issues. For example, effective tobacco control required the use of fiscal policies to reduce tobacco consumption, allied with labor and environmental laws to reduce exposure to smoke, and regulation of marketing practice.

What is the best overall response to the crisis of the environment? Renewable energy is the future, whether solar, wind or geothermal, is free, so the technology is going to get cheaper as time goes on. Energy efficiency – buildings are responsible for 32% of energy use globally, and almost 80% of that energy is wasted due to lights and electronic left on and or poor insulation. Another arm of energy efficiency is to electrify everything: oil heaters, diesel trucks, gas stoves. That way, as sources of electricity get cleaner, they pay climate dividends throughout the rest of the electrified economy. And products like electric cars are more energy-efficient than their gasoline powered counterparts. There is need for wider subsidies to renewable resources so that all families can participate, and it’s time to get rid of direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuel industry. Overall, we need financing, incentives, and penalties to push the global economy to do more with less.

1 Neoliberalism Is a Political Project (23 July 2016) https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/07/david-harvey-neoliberalism-capitalism-labor-crisis-resistance/

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How Conspiracy Theories Expose the Fraud of Trickle-down Economics

The failure of trickle-down economics has been characterized by a transfer of wealth not only from the poor to the rich, but within the ranks of the wealthy: from those who make their money by producing new goods or services to those who make their money by controlling existing assets and harvesting rent, interest or capital gains. Earned income has been supplanted by unearned income. Neoliberal policies are everywhere beset by market failures. Not only are the banks too big to fail, but so are the corporations now charged with delivering public services. The most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Apologists explain away the failure of neoliberalism by the existence of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

In the early stages of the French Revolution, the Jacobins imagined that the beacon of a democratic France would shine across the world and tyrannical kings would topple before its luminescence. The Jacobin imagination was polluted by utopian idealism, the ideology that causes people to see the world how they wish it to be rather than how it is. When the luminescence of France began to fade and the revolutionary army began to falter, the Jacobins felt there could only be one explanation: conspiracy. Only a deep-seated plot could be preventing France the Savior from vanquishing retrograde monarchs. From the beginning, the virtuous Jacobins saw themselves as fighting a conspiracy against the rights of humanity. Hence the Reign of Terror, with the guillotine deployed against intellectuals, priests and nobles who were seen as forming the core opposition to a better world.

One reason for the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories is that they serve an important psychological function for people trying to cope with large, stressful events like a terrorist attack. People “need to blame the anxiety that they feel on different groups and the result is frequently conspiracy theories,” Jan-Willem van Prooijen said, defining the term as a belief that “a group of actors is colluding in secret in order to reach goals that are considered evil or malevolent. People don’t like it when things are really random. Randomness is more threatening than having an enemy. You can prepare for an enemy, you can’t prepare for coincidences.” Conspiracy theories also appeal to people’s need to feel special and unique (a form of agency detection) because it gives them a sense of possessing secret knowledge. These people need an explanation for why society is so awful.1

Agency detection refers to humans’ evolved capacity to recognize the motives and intentions behind others’ actions. Although agency detection evolved mainly to regulate the social life of humans, sometimes people detect agency where none exists. It takes denial to keep conspiracy theories alive. And sure enough, specific studies sum up the research this way: Current scientific thinking suggests [conspiracy] beliefs are nothing more than an extreme form of cynicism, a turning away from politics and traditional media – which only perpetuates the problem. Conspiracy theories are one sign of that competition for more information. For the most part we are not rational doers: the view that we choose our actions from a standpoint of deliberative detachment seems to be a Kantian myth. There appears to be no general accordance between our attitudes and beliefs, and our actions – in effect, we say one thing, but do another. Rather than acting for reasons, we tend to act, and invent reasons afterwards.

Official conspiracy theories generate values such as heroism, sacrifice, and patriotism. And they can be profitable. Even as the Red Menace story triggered slaughter in Vietnam, it was creating jobs, pensions, and profits for the American military industry. Now conspiracy prospers as a theory about global Islamic terrorism. Officials theorized that the gaggle of fanatics in the September 11th attacks were a vast network that included Saddam Hussein, and that has created fabulously futile wars and an expensive, quasi-legal surveillance empire. Donald Trump used the birther conspiracy theory to gain national recognition. Pro-Trump conspiracy theorists QAnon are now out in full force at Trump rallies. QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory detailing a supposed secret plot by an alleged “deep state” against President Donald Trump and his supporters. QAnon does have a goal. They want you divided: by race, by religion, by culture, by class, by political affiliation. Divided you are weak.

Van Prooijen believes such conspiratorial thinking can undermine democracy because it sows distrust and leads to groups perceiving each other as enemies. Oliver does not believe conspiracy theories have a major impact on politics as much as they are symptomatic of problems with the political system. “It’s less about the conspiracy theories themselves and it’s more about kind of the flight from reason in political discourse,” he said. “American democracy is a product of the Enlightenment, it’s a very explicitly rationalist enterprise.” And if people reject rationality to embrace what they believe over what they can prove, that Democratic enterprise could begin to unravel. Psychologist Viren Swami finds that believers in conspiracies “are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular.” Conspiracy theories also seem to be more compelling to those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large. People are drawn to conspiracy theories as a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness.2

President Donald Trump personally asked the publisher of the National Enquirer, his longtime friend David Pecker, to help his presidential campaign: the magazine has paid out hush money and refused to run certain stories to avoid portraying Trump in a bad light.  The National Enquirer brought conspiracy theories to grocery store checkout counters. When Trump began promoting the birther conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama, the Enquirer began pushing the racist hoax as well. Starting in 2010, Pecker began running articles that encouraged Trump to run for president and depicted him as a potentially positive force for America, a practice AMI previously denied. With its online cohorts, American Media Inc. helped build a distortion machine that so polluted election news cycles that, for its more receptive audiences, circulate and amplify negative stories and conspiracy theories about the candidate’s political opponents, including Mrs. Clinton not only deserved to lose the White House – she deserved time in the big house.

Breitbart News has a history of thriving off of misogynist and racist conspiracy theories. As executive chairman of the conservative news and opinion site – which, under his tutelage, grew into a de facto Trump propaganda machine – Steve Bannon helped to craft and spread some of the most outrageous (and patently false) stories and conspiracy theories of the current political cycle. With Trump having successfully branded virtually every legitimate news organization in the country “fake news,” about 40-odd percent of Americans now operate almost solely upon “Trump truth,” one which is so immediately absorbed it need not even offer pretense of reason or fact and is no more or less than the lie told over and over until it becomes real. It is propaganda at its zenith – creation of a “reality” in which lies are no longer needed as means to an end because the atmosphere exists in which lies no longer matter at all.

As people encounter new information, the ideology they already have shapes how they react, either incorporating it as corroborating evidence or discarding it as worthless propaganda put out by their enemies. Unfortunately, this makes conspiracies difficult to disprove. But it is true that conspiracy theories are a natural outcome of having power imbalances. Joseph Uscinski and his team from the University of Miami found that “conspiracy thinking is higher among people with less education and less wealth”.  Uscinski notes, “Conspiracy theories at their core are about power – who has it and what do they do with it when we’re not looking.” Unfortunately, the mainstream media often contribute to the spread of unsubstantiated myths because of a focus on “balanced” coverage. However, the “two sides of a story” don’t always deserve equal space because of an imbalance in evidence – balance is somewhere the middle, not at the extremes .3

The economic elite use social media to create confusion and advance a neoliberal agenda. We are indebted to Donald Trump for bursting the informational neoliberal bubble. Trump has focused us on the real issue of the day – increasing economic inequality. He is teaching us all about the power of dissemination of (mis)information. Trump and his surrogates have signaled that they intend to counter the media’s version of truth with their own alternative facts, the “truth” from their perspective. The purpose of neoliberal dogma is to protect the rich from the poor. Trump’s election unmasked that the real game – cutting taxes on businesses and the wealthy, then use the resulting deficits as a pretext to cut social programs that benefit the poor and the middle class. The purpose of a democratic government is to protect the poor from the rich, while today the economic elite hide behind conspiracy theories and the rhetoric of class war.

1 William Cummings. Conspiracy theories: Here’s what drives people to them, no matter how wacky (23 Dec 2017) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/12/23/conspiracy-theory-psychology/815121001/

2 Kirby Farrell. Conspiracy Theories and You: They’re in bed, in church, and in your ear. (28 May 2016) https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/swim-in-denial/201605/conspiracy-theories-and-you

3 Jeff Glorfeld. (15 Aug 2018) Faking reality: why people embrace conspiracy theories https://cosmosmagazine.com/society/faking-reality-why-people-embrace-conspiracy-theories

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The Truth of Neoliberal Transformation Supports the Rise of Fascism

One of Søren Kierkegaard’s recurrent themes is the importance of subjectivity, which has to do with the way people relate themselves to (objective) truths. What he means by this is that most essentially, truth is not just a matter of discovering objective facts. While objective facts are important, there is a second and more crucial element of truth, which involves how one relates oneself to those matters of fact. Since how one acts is, from the ethical perspective, is more important than any matter of fact, truth is to be found in subjectivity rather than objectivity. Truth, much like knowledge, is bound to power and similarly operates amidst the individuals and institutions that generate and sustain it. The economic elite do not hesitate to present their ideology as interpretation of truth. The “truth” the market reveals is never in actuality some eternal, given fact. The market is never a neutral arbiter of truth, so the “truth” it reveals about government practice has always required interpretation.

There was nothing simple about Milton Friedman’s precarious balancing act at the heart of the neoliberal project, and it never consisted of simple-minded libertarianism. The counterevidence comes in Friedman’s own private correspondence, such as a 1973 letter to Pat Buchanan: “We are talking at cross-purposes because of what I regard as the important necessity of keeping clearly separate the long-run ideal goal and the tactical steps that may be appropriate in moving towards it.” This distinction did not merely consist of the trimming of the sails to render their political project more palatable to the masses. It consisted of living a sequence of double truths – one for the masses, another for battle-hardened insiders – that grew organically out of the key political and epistemological positions innovated by the thought collective over the last sixty years.1

The neoliberals believe that the market always knows better than any human being, but that humans would never voluntarily capitulate to that truth. People would resist utter abjection to the demands of the market; they would never completely dissolve into undifferentiated “human capital”; they would flinch at the idea that the political franchise needed to be restricted rather than broadened; they would be revolted that the condition of being “free to choose” only meant forgetting any political rights and giving up all pretense of being able to take charge of their own course through life. Neoliberal ideals would always be a hard sell, and the neoliberals realized that. How much easier to avoid all that with simplistic stories that fogged the mind of the masses: government is always bad; everything you need to know is already in Adam Smith; you can be anything you want to be; there is no such thing as class; everything can be made better if you just express yourself on some social media platform; there is nothing wrong with you that a little shopping won’t fix.

The crises of modern science, curiously enough, were largely brought about by neoliberal initiatives in the first place. First off, it was the neoliberal think tanks that first stoked the fires of science distrust amongst the populace that have led to the current predicament. It was neoliberals who provided the justification for the strengthening of intellectual property; it was the neoliberals who drove a wedge between state funding of research and state provision of university findings for the public good; it was neoliberal administrators who began to fragment the university into “cash cows” and loss-leader disciplines; it was neoliberal corporate officers who sought to wrest clinical trials away from academic health centers and toward contract research organizations to better control the disclosure or nondisclosure of the data generated. In some universities, students now have to sign nondisclosure agreements if they want initiation into the mysteries of faculty startups.

The 2008 global economic crisis paved the way for the construction of a new, elite-driven, capital centric, shrunken welfare state project founded on ideology disguised as pragmatism and objective ‘truths’. Today, welfare states exist in a context in which a new politics of austerity sets the parameters of the debate. Austerity incorporates the neoliberal desire to shrink the (social welfare) state, deregulate labor markets and emphasize private markets as the drivers of growth, enabling a reconfiguration of the interests of capital, the needs of people and the role of the state. The new politics of austerity looks like a ‘dream come true’ for neoliberals.  In an age when the public sector typically accounts for 40-50 per cent of GDP in advanced economies, neo-austerity presents a definitive, pragmatic economic ‘truth’ in answer to the welfare state affordability question.2

The post-crisis public debt narrative, based on the ‘proof’ of government deficits has entered public consciousness as validation of the long-voiced warnings of neoliberal market reformers that welfare state expansion would end in disaster. It is no longer a matter of what you know; rather, success these days is your ability to position yourself with regard to the gatekeepers of what is known. Knowledge is everywhere hedged round with walls, legal prohibitions, and high market barriers breached only by those blessed with the riches required to be enrolled into the elect circles of modern science. Further, belief in the market as ultimate arbiter of truth has served to loosen the fetters of more conscious vetting of knowledge through the promulgation of negative results and the need to reprise research protocols. No wonder replication turns out to be so daunting. One can understand the desire to cast off these fetters and let the market do the work for us.

The “just” price is determined by the internal mechanisms of the market as it reaches an equilibrium price point between supply and demand. So, what we discover in this price-value relationship is that the market can reveal the truth of something’s value and can even spit out a number telling you exactly what that value is. We can apply this logic to any service or commodity. Furthermore, thinking in terms of political economy, we can even apply this judgment of the market to governance itself. What is revealed is that through natural mechanisms, the market “enables us to falsify and verify governmental practice”. Yes, “inasmuch as it enables production, need, supply, demand, value, and price, et cetera, to be linked together through exchange, the market constitutes a site of verification… a site of verification-falsification for governmental practices”. The market will tell us the truth of governmental practice, and because of the way that market logic has evolved, we are no longer talking about justice in the sense of justice for all – truth is detached from the search for justice.

Can anyone explain how raising interest rates is bad for the average citizen? Is it actually good? Under what circumstances can one interpret these straightforward data differently? It seems that the “just” price, simple as that concept was, was not the best indicator of the “truth” that the market purports to reveal. Even the market’s simple numeric answers have always required interpretation. The “truth” the market reveals was never in actuality some eternal, given fact. The market was never a neutral arbiter of truth, so the “truth” it reveals about government practice has always required interpretation. It turns out that dollars and cents just aren’t as clear-cut metrics as we might like to pretend. That necessity for interpretation means any kind of government action is justifiable so long as the government can spin it. If the stock market doesn’t supply a favorable “truth,” look to unemployment numbers or deficits, such as trade deficits, or anything that seems vaguely related to economic metrics. Keep going until you land on an acceptable truth to justify any current government practice.

The point is that even if the “truth” of the market were as simple as a revealed truth about the justness of government practice (and interpretation wasn’t necessary), neoliberalism was a faulty mechanism for staving off the rise of fascism under new nationalist sentiment in the first place. It’s entirely possible for the market to respond positively even as the state approaches fascism. In fact, in a significant way, neoliberalism never actually escapes fascism. Neoliberalism’s very frugality and subsequent demands for efficiency dovetail all too well with the rational efficiency of fascist genocide. Neoliberalism transforms freedom for the many into freedom for the few. Neofascism abolishes civil liberties in the name of national security and brands whole groups as traitors and enemies of the people. Now, the stage is set for neoliberalism to fall into fascist practice and for its market mechanisms to reveal that fascism is a perfectly fine exercise of government.3

Each system defines its own variant of truth. Power manipulates human beings, masks reality, and therefore compromises knowledge’s claim to the truth. Ideas become ideology once they are integrated into our everyday activities, where they become normalized and naturalized (thus invisible). Individuals would do well to recognize that ultimate truth, “Truth,” is the construct of the political and economic forces that command the majority of the power within the societal web. For Foucault, to challenge power is not a matter of seeking some absolute truth, but of detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic and cultural, within which it operates at the present time. There is truly no universal truth at all, only systems of power creating a regime of truth. The question of how to deal with and determine truth is at the base of today’s nationalist strife, creating the need to detach the truth that enables neoliberalism to support neofascism.

1 Philip Mirowski. (22 Nov 2018) Neoliberalism: The Movement That Dare Not Speak Its Name https://medium.com/@americanaffairs/neoliberalism-the-movement-that-dare-not-speak-its-name

2John Bellamy Foster. (01 Feb 2019) Capitalism Has Failed – What Next? https://monthlyreview.org/2019/02/01/capitalism-has-failed-what-next/

3 Michaias Grigori. (16 Feb 2019) How Neoliberalism Failed to Keep Fascism at Bay. https://epochemagazine.org/how-neoliberalism-failed-to-keep-fascism-at-bay

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Opportunities Lost: The True Cost of the American Dream

The “American Dream” has always been about the prospect of success, but 100 years ago, the phrase meant the opposite of what it does now. The original “American Dream” was not a dream of individual wealth; it was a dream of equality, justice and democracy for the nation. The phrase was repurposed by each generation, until the Cold War, when it became an argument for a consumer capitalist version of democracy. Ideas about the American Dream froze in the 1950s. Today, it doesn’t occur to anybody that it could mean anything else. The American Dream really starts off with the Progressive Era. It takes hold as people are talking about reacting to the first Gilded Age when the robber barons are consolidating all this power. At this time you see people saying that a millionaire was a fundamentally un-American concept. It was seen as anti-democratic because it was seen as inherently unequal.1

Today the top 1% owns as many assets as the bottom 90%, and it’s getting worse. The largest generation – millennials – are significantly more indebted than Baby Boomers were at their age. Many carry a substantial student loan debt burden, while the median household income is the same as it was in the 1970s, in inflation-adjusted terms. Even though more young people work full-time today than 40 years ago, far fewer of them own their homes. One-third live with their parents. The financial crisis killed off that illusion. Most of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top 1%. Inequality is now approaching the extreme level that prevailed prior to the Great Depression. One of the cornerstones of modern capitalism: inequalities are accepted as long as the possibility of betterment exists. We tolerate unfairness as long as there are good chances of improving our condition.

The American Dream is broken. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives, recently stated that “in our country, the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life.” Yet the idea that every American has an equal opportunity to move up in life is false. Social mobility has declined over the past decades, median wages have stagnated and today’s young generation is the first in modern history expected to be poorer than their parents. The lottery of life – the zip or postal code where you were born – can account for up to two thirds of the wealth an individual generates. The growing gap between the rich and the poor, the old and the young has been largely ignored by policymakers and investors until the recent rise of anti-establishment votes, including those for Brexit in the UK and for President Trump in the US.

Capitalism has been incredibly successful at boosting wealth, but it has failed at redistributing it. Today, without a push to redistribute wealth and opportunity, the present model of capitalism and democracy may face self-destruction. Credit was the answer to declining growth and rising inequality: if you couldn’t afford university, a new house or a new car, Uncle Sam would lend you the key to the American Dream in the form of that extra loan you needed. Over the following decades, state subsidies to private credit became popular, spreading to the U.K. and Europe. Private debt outgrew GDP four times in the US and Europe over the following decades up to the 2008 financial crisis, accompanied by the deregulation of financial markets and of banks. A decade after the crisis, there remains the balkanization of the regulatory authorities that was the major factor in why the crisis was so bad and why damage to the economy was so great.2

The risk is that rising inequality, lower social mobility and the disenfranchisement of younger generations could result into even more polarized and short-sighted politics, creating a populist trap. The US and the UK could already be stuck: many of the policies on the table in both countries are far from sustainable, and damaging for the people they were to protect. Brexit, or an exit from NAFTA are both striking examples. The alternative to redistribution is instability and crisis. Inequality provides fertile ground for populist parties to harvest support. Over time, populist policies can destabilize democracies, turning them towards nationalism, militarism and anti-capitalism. The fact is, wealth is so unevenly distributed that one could argue that the US should be downgraded from full democracy to a flawed democracy: power is entirely held by an elite that’s never renewed and that captures all of the income gains.

One of the defining features of the “American Dream” is the ideal that children have a higher standard of living than their parents. One measure – rates of “absolute income mobility” or the fraction of children who earn more than their parents – the rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90% for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s. (from NBR working paper). Because a large fraction of GDP goes to a small number of high-income earners today, higher GDP growth does not substantially increase the number of children who earn more than their parents. Income inequality meant that many try to attain their version of the American Dream through credit cards. The key point is that reviving the “American Dream” of high rates of absolute mobility would require more broadly shared economic growth rather than just higher GDP growth rates.

Given the many competing issues in society to consider, it is unlikely that the public will ever be well informed about the benefits and trade-offs of specific anti-poverty proposals. Instead, in the absence of an integrated understanding, the public is likely to rely heavily on a variety of relevant and potentially conflicting interpretative shortcuts, including their core values, various cultural stereotypes, and those definitions of the issue made most readily available in news coverage. The assumption underlying a belief in individualism is that economic opportunity in the US is widespread and that anyone who tries hard enough can succeed. It is now recommended when appeals are made to the public, instead of emphasizing personal stories about the poor, advocates should focus on systemic and institutional reasons for poverty that are beyond the control of individuals.

“At the end of the day, however, particularly in a rich country like the United States, the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power,” Alston, a UN consultant, wrote, “With political will, it could readily be eliminated.” But the underlying question, that of how it is that the politically powerful rule the economy and, likewise, that the economically powerful dominate our politics, is largely ignored. And that question is one of class analysis, which, it would seem, makes Americans on both sides of the accepted political spectrum uncomfortable, uncomfortable because class analysis is the dirty, dangerous domain of Marxists and other marginal quarters of the radical left. Conservatives know full well that the neoliberal economic system creates inequality but do not consider it a problem, rather part of the incentive aspect of the system. This makes poverty a political problem not an economic one.3

The Great Recession and rising income inequality spelled the end of the American Dream. However, it may not have ended, but only that many have lost faith in the American Dream. Whether it’s upward mobility, homeownership or the ability to provide a better life for your children, the American dream means different things to different people. At one time, The American Dream meant owning a car, owning a home, and having enough money left over in retirement to travel Route 66 on a Harley or in a pimped out mobile home. Today, the American dream is defined as “success through hard work” – but what exactly is “success” for 99% of Americans?  There is need of a new American dream based on equality and sustainable growth. The cost of sharing opportunity and wealth may not be high for today’s elites, but the alternative is far worse.

A 2014 USA Today article determined the price tag for a family of four to live the American Dream is $130,000 a year. At the same time a median family income of $51,000 creates a culture that sensationalizes and valorizes living beyond basic needs. While salvaging the American Dream may not require closing the wealth gap entirely, ensuring that education can be a ladder of equitable opportunity requires reducing wealth disparities that start at birth. Reducing inequality will require a wealth transfer, large enough in size to equip disadvantaged children with a real stake in their own futures, and specifically formulated – by targeting children and focusing on post-secondary education – to be politically palatable. People need to understand that this is a serious problem in need of addressing. It is a system that is inherently unequal, and for change it is necessary to create the political will to affect the outcome – that includes access to decent housing, transportation, groceries, health care, education, clothing and some retirement savings.

1 Anna Diamond (October 2018) The Original Meanings of the “American Dream” and “America First” Were Starkly Different From How We Use Them Today https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/behold-america-american-dream-slogan-book-sarah-churchwell-180970311/#COjMKouvKHi9m73D.99

2 Alberto Gallo (09 Nov 2017) How the American dream turned into greed and inequality. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/the-pursuit-of-happiness-how-the-american-dream-turned-into-greed-and-inequality/

3 UN expert calls US income inequality ‘a political choice’. (4 June 2018)https://apnews.com/2f11091232a349f39cfe2e80e8c46545

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The Wall is a Symbol of Nationalism and the Trump Presidency

With neoliberalism patently destructive, floundering or failing there have been various responses around the word. Neoliberal globalization wreaks havoc on the working class and the poor, particularly in Central America, leaving them ill-equipped to survive a global economic downturn and local stagnation. In the process it has hollowed out economies and eroded social structures. The tenuous social order globalization brought about could only be sustained so long as the economy expanded. Now we see an increase move to migrate North. In the US, following restructuring economies under the guise of ‘adjustments’ there has emerged anger over the increasing economic inequality. Populist nationalists have tapped into this anger. Nationalism arose as an expression of impotent fury of a disorganized array of losers under a failed neoliberal project. Illegal migrants from south of the border became a target. Trump won the 2016 election through the promise to build a wall and the rhetoric of racist nationalism.

The mass revolutionary movements of Central America of the 1970s and the 1980s did mange to dislodge entrenched military-civilian dictatorships and open up political systems to electoral competition. At the same time capitalist globalization appeared in the Isthmus undermining attempts of implementing any substantial social justice or democratization of the socioeconomic order. This new economic investment ushered in economic elite and a small high-consumption middle class creating the ‘illusion’ of peace and democracy. In fact, extreme concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of elite minorities remains. The very conditions that gave rise to the conflicts in the 1970s in the first place are aggravated by neoliberal globalization. Central American regimes now face mounting crises of legitimacy, economic stagnation, and the collapse of the social fabric.

Neoliberal globalization also brought with it a major expansion of transnational agribusiness that are controlled and run out of the US. In Honduras, local and transnational capitalist interests have snatched up vast tracks of rural farmland from peasant, Afro-descendant, and Indigenous communities and converted them into palm oil plantations. In Guatemala, too, palm oil planted by local suppliers of global agro-industrial giants ADM and Cargill is uprooting a growing number of peasant communities and driving them to migrate abroad. In Nicaragua, peasants displaced by transnational agribusiness have pushed into and colonized what remained of the agricultural frontier, disrupting Indigenous land. Costa Rica is now a major exporter of exotic new products such as figs, dates, and winter fruits and vegetables produced by transnational agribusiness that has displaced peasant producers and pushed them further into the agricultural frontier.

But above all, the $20 billion in remittances Central American migrants have sent back home has provided an economic lifeline to the regional economy, while outmigration has acted an escape valve containing political crises. Eighteen and 19 percent of El Salvador and Honduras’ GDP, respectively, comes from remittances, and 10% of Guatemala and Nicaragua’s. In fact, remittances accounted for half of all growth in the GDP in these four countries in 2017, and 78 percent for El Salvador. In other words, the region’s economy would collapse without the money Central Americans send home. Now, however, as the global economy sputters toward recession and investment flows decline, there are diminishing opportunities for capitalist expansion in the Isthmus. The social crisis is now leading to escalating political conflict and an unprecedented spiral of corruption. Corrupt state elites backed by national private sector associations, the transnational capitalist class, and international financial institutions have imposed the globalization model.1

During 20th century multinational companies, particularly the United Fruit Company, played a determinant role in Guatemala’s national economic and political sectors. Today, Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America, Mexico’s southern doorstep and one of the region’s most important export economies, yet it still struggles with a government that is plagued by graft, corruption and impunity. The larger backdrop to political instability in Guatemala is an upsurge of mass mobilization among the country’s poor and largely Indigenous majority and the return of widespread repression and human rights violations, including the reappearance of death squads that terrorized the population for decades prior to the 1996 peace accord. The CODECA (Campesino Development Committee), the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA), and other Indigenous, peasant, student, and worker organizations have organized mass resistance around the country, and are calling for a Constituent National Assembly to re-found the republic and develop “an alternative to capitalism.”

In Honduras, several members of the ruling National Party and family members of former president Porfirio Lobo, brought to power by the 2009 coup d’état, and current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, elected for a second term in 2017 in a contest widely believed to be fraudulent, have been implicated in drug trafficking, embezzlement, and other crimes. In March 2016, Berta Cáceres, human rights defender and indigenous leader opposed to the Agua Zarca dam, was assassinated. She had been actively leading her community’s resistance against Agua Zarca, a dam project which has previously been linked to the killing of Tomás Garcia, another human rights defender, in 2013. Both defenders were leaders of the indigenous Lenca community which alleges that the Agua Zarca dam would significantly impact their livelihoods and that they had not been adequately consulted according to the international standard of free, prior and informed consent.

In El Salvador remittances account for nearly one-fifth of GDP, and one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Anti-mining activists have faced death threats and assassinations in El Salvador, where 90 percent of surface water is estimated to be polluted by toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and waste matter as a result of mining. These activists won a historic victory in 2017 when the government passed legislation imposing a blanket ban on metal mining. In 2017 lawmakers in El Salvador voted overwhelmingly to prohibit all mining for gold and other metals, making the country the first in the world to impose a nationwide ban on metal mining. Supporters said the law was needed to protect the country’s dwindling supply of clean water. “Why do Salvadorans migrate?” Nayib Bukele, asked during the recent Salvadoran presidential elections. “They migrate because of lack of hope. We see it in the caravans. It’s hope that moves the Salvadorans.”1

The Northern Triangle, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world. Extortion is also rampant – fees paid to organized crime groups. Extortionists primarily target public transportation operators, small businesses, and residents of poor neighborhoods, according to the report, and attacks on people who do not pay contribute to the violence. Violence is distinct in each country, but the proliferation of gangs, narcotics trafficking, weak rule of law, and official corruption are common threads. Drug trafficking adds to the violence. U.S.-led interdiction efforts in Colombia, Mexico, and the Caribbean have pushed trafficking routes into Central America, and U.S. officials report that 90 percent of documented cocaine flows into the United States now pass through the region. Weak, underfunded institutions, combined with corruption, have undermined efforts to address gang violence.

Since Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 declared the U.S.’s right to exercise an “international police power” in Latin America, the U.S. has cut deep wounds throughout the region, leaving scars that will last for generations to come. For much of the 20th century, the American banana company, United Fruit dominated much of Central American economies – introducing the concept and reality of the banana republic. The last three decades neoliberal elites and international financial institutions continue this power exploitation. Tax revenues as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) in the Northern Triangle are among the lowest in Latin America, exacerbating inequality and straining public services. The Central American population has increased from 25 million in 1990 to over 40 million in 2017 but the labor market has been unable to absorb the majority of new entrants, which helps explain the surge in migration abroad.

The most disastrous feature of the neoliberal period has been the huge growth in inequality. President Donald Trump’s response is huge tax breaks for the rich and doubling down on immigration. Trump has declared a ‘national security crisis‘ on the southern border of the US – even when there is no evidence of any kind – to secure funds for the wall. This rhetoric has created the highest levels of migrants arriving at the southern border in over a decade. Right-wing nationalists have no real economic solutions to appease the anger that brought them to power. The trouble with Trumpian nationalism on the right is that the “enemies” it preys on are the weak, including migrants. The “wall” is, in fact, a metaphor for shielding America from outside threats and uncertainty. But metaphors are merely symbols. They do not constitute sound policy. The failures of neoliberalism are fueling the rise of nationalism around the world, including America.

1William I Robinson (28 Jan 2019) The Second Implosion of Central America  https://nacla.org/news/2019/01/28/second-implosion-central-america

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In Steve Bannon’s Brave New World Populism Is a Smoke Screen

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932, describes an intelligence-based social hierarchy and social conditioning that creates a utopian society. Steve Bannon sows disinformation in order to create alternative facts that support his ‘globalist’ conspiracy theory. Steve Bannon’s brave new world has a hatchery that trains gladiators who will become the new thinkers and leaders to introduce change to a world state in which Bannon is presently most dissatisfied with. He seeks a more Judeo-Christian religion that would serve humanity better – less compassion, but more visibility in the public square. Steve Bannon claims, “…the globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia,” [and it is necessary to build] “…an entirely new political system.” The reason the economic elite (CEOs) had Bannon removed from the White House is because they fear his criticism of neoliberal globalization would harm their brand.

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) asked: why did the revolution succeed in Russia, and not in Italy or anywhere else in Western Europe, where classical Marxism had predicted it would be more likely to occur due to the more advanced development of capitalism? He argued that the reason for this failure was an incorrect understanding of the workings of power in modern capitalism: while Marxist revolutionary practice had assumed that political power was concentrated in the state apparatus, Gramsci suggested that power also rested in the institutions of ‘civil society’ or the structures and organization of everyday life. The revolution would therefore have to aim not only at conquering state power, but much more importantly, to create an alternative civil society, which would have to be able to attract the majority of people by convincing them of the validity of the project, which was in turn premised on its ability to perform.

Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) explained to his enthusiastic supporter Antony Fisher: “Society’s course will be changed only by a change of ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and the writers, with reasoned arguments. It will be their influence on society that will prevail and the politicians will follow.” By the time Hayek came to write The Constitution of Liberty, a network of lobbyists and thinkers he had founded was being lavishly funded by multimillionaires who saw the doctrine as a means of defending them against democracy. Hayek’s writing rejects such notions of political freedom, universal rights, human equality and distribution of wealth – democracy has no absolute value, in fact, liberty depends on preventing the majority from exercising choice over the direction that politics and society might take. This laid the foundation for neoliberal globalization.

Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012) started a blog to counter the left plus develop a strategy to knock the mainstream media that he believed is built upon the false proposition of ‘objective’ journalism and the grotesque anti-American proposition of political correctness. He was familiar with the writings of Antonio Gramsci and went on to coin the phrase “politics is downstream of culture”, explaining conservatives have been losing to liberals because of concentrating on politics rather than culture. His focus was the liberal strongholds on Hollywood, journalism, academia and government. He understood that changing the progressive bent of these mechanisms for influencing public opinion would be a more effective means for achieving long-term conservative victories than supporting particular politicians or candidates. He who controls that narrative wins. Following Breitbart’s death, Steve Bannon became the Executive Chair of the Breitbart News group.

Once Steve Bannon assumed control of Breitbart News he dropped the culture wars and inserted himself into politics and only politics. Bannon successfully hitches Breitbart.com to candidate Trump. Breitbart became Trump’s de facto propaganda machine – Bannon helped to craft and spread some of the most outrageous (and patently false) stories and conspiracy theories of the current political cycle. He saw the conservative movement as a political means to a personal end. Globalists have become a convenient boogeyman to explain various declines that the US has been perceived to be in. To counter the destruction of US sovereignty Steve Bannon persuaded Trump to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He left the White House August 2017. Bannon observed in December 2018: “Conservatives have Heritage, A.E.I., but they’re not economic nationalism. There’s just not a lot of analytical policy work. It needs to be done, and it needs to be done now.”

Bannon has pushed back against the bishops in America over criticism of immigration policy. In 2018 Bannon singled out Pope Francis as the cause of the migrant crisis in Europe. This is not the first time Bannon has faulted the Catholic Church for its defense of migrants and refugees, accusing bishops as being self-serving wanting illegal aliens to fill the churches. He is challenging the pope on multiple fronts: his handling of the clerical abuse crisis but his deal on naming bishops with Communist China, his continual critique of populist and nationalist movements, his ardent support for immigrant rights. Bannon plans to weaponize the attack on abuse scandal in order to undermine the pope’s progressive agenda that includes stopping pointing fingers singling out populists like Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orbán’ of Hungary, and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. However, the scope of his proposed new project is broader than simply a reaction to Pope Francis’s progressive agenda.1

Bannon plans to create a think-tank to weaponize populism. He is locating it in Italy which has the most lax laws for setting up such political institutions in the EU. It is located at a medieval monastery in Trisulti, one hour outside Rome – once the summer home of Pope Innocent III. It will be an incubator to train ‘gladiators’ in the defense of the Judeo-Christian religion. His new institute, he vowed, “is going to get you all the content of why this civilization, this culture, is special, what’s made it special – from understanding the Old Testament and its roots in Judaism and everything about the law, to everything up to modern times,” along with the ability to defend that legacy in a noisy and confrontational culture. Populism, Mudde (2004) stresses, is a ‘thin-centered’ ideology, since the particular ideas under its command are of limited scope, complexity and ambition when measured against ‘full’ ideologies.

Italy is especially important to Bannon because its current government is a coalition of anti-establishment parties, something Bannon would like to replicate elsewhere. His entourage is constantly quoting Andrew Breitbart ‘s catchphrase, politics is downstream from culture, as away for cultural conservatives to prevent the Left from redefining them as outside the mainstream. Trisulti monastery, with its sparse furnishings and rudimentary classrooms, is a long way from being influential, but, combined with other new institutions across Europe, such as Marion Maréchal’s new political-training school, in Lyon, and the National University of Public Service, in Budapest, one can make out the contours of a much larger culture war.2 Maréchal is a conservative Catholic and played a leading role in anti-gay marriage rallies, favoring what she called the “traditional family”. She has repeatedly spoken of the “true French” identity, demanding Muslims in France adopt values rooted in Christianity.

In a 1900 article Alfredo Pareto commented on the radical movements at the turn of the century, warned that rather than restoring democracy and promoting social welfare, they were just seeking to replace one elite with another elite, the privileges and structures of power remaining intact. From Pareto’s point of view – socialism, libertarianism – all ideologies are smoke screens foisted by ‘leaders’ who really only aspire to enjoy the privilege and power of governing. He suggested class struggle is eternal, and recognized the predictions of economics fail to correspond to reality. Populism brings to the fore issues that large parts of the population care about, but that the political elites want to avoid discussing; think about immigration for the populist right or austerity for the populist left. Bannon and economic elites like the Mercers aspire to replace neoliberal globalization with economic nationalism; they are seeking to replace one elite with another elite.

In Huxley’s Brave New World: The drug soma is a symbol of the use of instant gratification to control the World State’s populace. It is also a symbol of the powerful influence of science and technology on society. As a kind of “sacrament,” it also represents the use of religion to control society. In Bannon’s brave new world: He uses populism to support his political ambitions. Populists often ask the right questions but give the wrong answers. Populism gives overtly simple answers to complex problems – answers that, if implemented, would not help solve these problems. The concern is that once in positions of political influence, populists could either strip-away or co-opt political and civil society institutions to undermine liberal democracy itself. The economic nationalism of his proposed new world will fail to deliver change to the major policy challenges they promise to solve, thus society must find a third path towards economic equality.

1 Elsie Harris & John L Allan (01 April 2019).  Challenging pope on multiple fronts, Bannon wants to train gladiators. https://cruxnow.com/interviews/2019/04/01/challenging-pope-on-multiple-fronts-bannon-wants-to-train-gladiators/

2 Elizabeth Zerofsky (11 April 2019) Steve Bannon’s Roman Holiday https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/steve-bannons-roman-holiday

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A Need to Shift to Social Determinants: We Can Not Afford Individualism

Social determinants are systematic social and economic conditions that influence a person’s health. They include income, housing, education, gender and race, and have a greater impact on individual and population health than biological and environmental conditions. Their impact can even be greater than that of the health care system itself. The consequences of poverty on health are well established and include lower life expectancy, higher disease burden, and poorer overall health. Research suggests that 15% of population health is determined by biology and genetics, 10% by physical environments, 25% by the actions of the health care system, with 50% being determined by our social and economic environment. Many people low on the socioeconomic scale are likely to carry a higher burden of just about any disease. The societal cost of poor health extends beyond the cost to the healthcare system: healthier people lose fewer days of work and contribute to overall economic productivity.

The level of spending for healthcare in the US is by far the highest in the developed world according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. Even with all this money being spent on healthcare, the World Health Organization ranked the U.S. 37th in healthcare systems, and The Commonwealth Fund placed the U.S. last among the top eleven industrialized countries in overall healthcare. Most other developed countries control costs, in part, by having the government play a stronger role in negotiating prices for healthcare. Their healthcare systems don’t require the high administrative costs that drive up pricing in the U.S. As the global overseers of their country’s systems, these governments have the ability to negotiate lower drug, medical equipment and hospital costs. They can influence the mix of treatments used and patients’ ability to go to specialists or seek more expensive treatments.

Income inequality creates disadvantage for particular segments of the society. Widening inequality also has significant implications for growth and macroeconomic stability, it can concentrate political and decision-making power in the hands of a few, lead to a suboptimal use of human resources, cause investment-reducing political and economic instability, and raise crisis risk.  Policies that focus on the poor and the middle class can mitigate inequality. Irrespective of the level of economic development, better access to education and health care and well-targeted social policies, while ensuring that labor market institutions do not excessively penalize the poor, can help raise the income share for the poor and the middle class. Income distribution matters – IMF findings suggest that raising the income share of the poor and ensuring that there is no hollowing-out of the middle class is good for growth through a number of interrelated economic, social, and political channels.1

The disparity between top earners and everyone else is staggering in nations such as the United States, where 10 per cent of people accounted for 80 per cent of income growth since 1975. The life expectancy gap between the affluent and the poor and working class in the US, for instance, now clocks in at 12.2 years. College-educated white men can expect to live to age 80, while counterparts without a high-school diploma die by age 67. White women with a college degree have a life expectancy of nearly 84, compared with uneducated women, who live to 73. And these disparities are widening. The lives of white, female high-school dropouts are now five years shorter than those of previous generations of women without a high-school degree, while white men without a high-school diploma live three years fewer than their counterparts did 18 years ago, according to a 2012 study from Health Affairs.

What will happen when new scientific discoveries extend potential human lifespan and intensify these inequities on a more massive scale?  “In just the last five years, there have been so many breakthroughs,” says the Harvard geneticist David Sinclair. There are now a number of compounds being tested in the lab that greatly slow down the ageing process and delay the onset of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. The consequence of the development of novel compounds that slow or even reverse ageing, is an ever-expanding longevity gap. The wealthy will experience an accelerated increase in life expectancy and health, and everyone else will go in the opposite direction, says S. Jay Olshansky, a longevity researcher and professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, “And as the technology advances, the gap will only grow.”2

Statistics Canada tracked mortality rates of 2.7 million Canadians aged 25 or older between 1991 and 2006. Out of this group, 426,979, or 16 per cent, had died by the end of the study period. Those who were in top 20 per cent for family income were most likely to still be alive after 15 1/2 years, and that probability shrank as one moved further down the income ladder. For men, those in the second-highest fifth of people for income were 12 per cent more likely to die during the study period than those in the richest category. There was a 21 per cent bigger chance of death for those in the third highest income group, 35 per cent for the fourth, and 67 per cent for the poorest group. It was a similar pattern for women. Those in the second-highest income group were seven per cent more likely to die than those in the top income group, 14 per cent more in the third group, 25 per cent more in the fourth, and 52 per cent more for the lowest income group.

This latest Canadian report said that if all income groups had mortality rates equal to those in the top category, there would have been 19 per cent fewer deaths among men and 17 per cent fewer among women, or the equivalent 40,000 fewer deaths annually if these proportions were applied to the whole country. It was found that the steepest differences in mortality rates among income groups were found when deaths were linked to risk-based behaviours such as smoking, alcohol consumption and drug use. For example, men in the lowest income group were more than five times as likely to die from an alcohol problem than those in the top income group. Women at the bottom of the income scale were more than four times as likely to die from an alcohol disorder than those at the top. “This is consistent with research indicating that, compared with people in higher socio-economic categories, those in lower socio-economic categories are more likely to engage in health-risk behaviours,” the report said.3

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. 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. 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.

We need to move to stop social problems from being continually framed as individual ones rather that societal. There is a need to shift from the biomedical model that Nettleson calls the “holy trinity of risk”, of tobacco, diet and physical activity – the dominant lifestyle health paradigm – to social determinants of health perspective. 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.

The high cost for health-care in the US is driving the debate for change. Consumers are paying more money in the form of higher premiums, deductibles and additional expenses. Forced to paying bills and having health coverage, many Americans are risking it and going without. 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. 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.

1 Era Dabla-Norris, Kalpana Kochhar, Frantisek Ricka, Nujin Suphaphiphat, and Evridiki Tsounta. (June 2015) Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective  https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2015/sdn1513.pdf

2Linda Marsa (02 July 2014) The Longevity Gap https://aeon.co/essays/will-new-drugs-mean-the-rich-live-to-120-and-the-poor-die-at-60

3 Derek Abma (18 July 2013) Poorer Canadians more likely to die younger, report claims https://o.canada.com/news/national/poorer-canadians-more-likely-to-die-younger-report-claims

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Cult of Personality Drives Increased Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the brain’s inability to handle two conflicting realities, so it creates an alternate one, which often defies actual reality. Cognitive biases reflect mental patterns that can lead people to form beliefs or make decisions that do not reflect an objective and thorough assessment of the facts. For instance, people tend to seek out information that confirms preexisting beliefs and reject information that challenges those beliefs. Segregation across the American electorate along economic, political, and social lines contributes to the development of insular and isolated communities, each with its own narrative, worldview, and, increasingly, even “facts.” The growth in the volume of subjective content relative to factual information increases the likelihood that audiences will encounter speculation or downright falsehoods. That makes it more difficult to identify key pieces of factual information. What is the importance or significance that individual citizens understand the debacle of policy or even a good grasp of all the facts?

Festinger first developed the theory of cognitive dissonance in the 1950s to explain how members of a cult who were persuaded by their leader, that the earth was going to be destroyed on 21st December and that they alone were going to be rescued by aliens, actually increased their commitment to the cult when this did not happen. The dissonance of the thought of being so stupid was so great that instead they revised their beliefs to meet with obvious facts: that the aliens had, through their concern for the cult, saved the world instead. Eileen Barker, has written that, together, cult leaders and followers create and maintain their movement by proclaiming shared beliefs and identifying themselves as a distinguishable unit; behaving in ways that reinforce the group as a social entity, like closing themselves off to conflicting information; and stoking division and fear of enemies, real or perceived.

During the 1980s, school systems lowered educational standards to protect children from failure. The world would be saved from crime, drug abuse and under-achieving through bolstering self-esteem. This self-esteem movement has had a significant impact – in order to ensure positive self-esteem education standards were lowered, creating a milieu for extreme individualism. 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 schools 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 overcome the distinction between right and wrong. This person is addicted to the attention of others for admiration, applause and admiration. Behind this façade they only care about appearances.

The culture of extreme individualism ushered in narcissism that influences decision-making and accountability today. With narcissism, such a person lacks empathy and does not recognize boundaries: personal, corporate or legal. The world viewed from an emotional rather than a rational perspective allows personal feelings to override the distinction between right and wrong. Following three decades of the cult of self-esteem, individuals in the financial services industry, with self-tolerance and a sense of entitlement, leveraged the market and plunged the world into economic chaos. This is an example of the ugly side of individualism. They lack respect for authority, and habitually lie to people. It is impossible to distinguish pathological narcissists from self-confident, self-promoting, highly individualistic individuals. Earon Davis observes, “A society that creates” [a milieu for extreme individualism, and the worship of wealth], “can self-destruct, especially through false choices, “logic” and “reason” that are distorted and empowered by cognitive dissonance.”

Populism is a political discourse that imagines a struggle between a good and virtuous “people” and a nefarious establishment. Populists’ successes can be attributed to cults of personality: the leader has to embody the people but also stand above them. He must appear ordinary, to allow people to relate to him. And yet he must also be seen as extraordinary, so that people will grant him permission to be the arbiter of their individual and national destiny. For instance, they’re not about likeability. Leaders with cults of personality are usually aggressive. They keep audiences on edge with their outbursts and unpredictability. They create a bond that goes beyond agreeing with ideas and policies: people simply want a part of this person. And like Putin and Berlusconi, Trump’s appeal is less intellectual than emotional. No matter if few of his political ideas are original.

All three of these men have mastered the double appeal that is essential to cults of personality. They advertise their wealth and glamour, but connect with people as populists, using language full of earthy sayings, insults, coarse and broad humor (often directed at adversaries), and slogans (called “Putinisms” in Russia). Part of the international elite, they are also quintessentially of their own countries. That is one reason they are much more loved at home than abroad. Trump does not have the ability to muzzle all the media, like Putin (although he does his best to intimidate journalists who oppose him). And he does not own television networks, like Berlusconi. However, Trump has a mutual understanding with Fox News that helps him set agendas and influence the news cycle like no other elected Republican – all the while maintaining a large grass roots following.

Trump instinctively understands how indispensable his own individual persona is to his ultimate goal of grasping and maintaining power. Amidst his string of business failures, Trump’s singular talent has been that of any con man: the incredible ability to cultivate a public image. Of course, Trump did not build his cult of followers – his in-group in many ways – as the stage was set for his entrance. America had already split into two political identities by the time he announced his campaign for president in 2015, not just in terms of the information we consume, but down to the brands we prefer and the stores we frequent. With the help of Fox News and Trump’s reality TV star’s penchant for manipulating the media, Trump tore pages from the us-against-them playbook of the European far right and presented them to a segment of the American public addicted already primed to receive it with religious fervor.1

The media creates cognitive dissonance, the feeling of uncomfortable tension, which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. The cult of individualism makes us particularly prone to cognitive dissonance because our personal identity is very important. We see ourselves as stable self-contained beings. However, advertising that we may be missing something, or not fitting in creates anxiety. Television tends to feed an information diet (of self-approval) similar to consuming too much sugar inducing short-term euphoria and happiness while distracting from reality. The weakness of the mass media remains an inability to transmit tacit knowledge and an inability to deal with complex issues, so they tend to focus on the unusual or sensational, and the promotion of anxiety and fear. Confirmation-bias draws us to in to the one-sided outlets, and the cognitive dissonance pushes us away from conflicting ideas. Cognitive dissonance stops us from hearing other opinions that conflict.

Donald Trump, the president we meet in the media every hour of every day, blots out much of the rest of the world and much of what’s meaningful in it. Such largely unexamined, never-ending coverage of his doings represents a triumph of the first order both for him (no matter how he rails against the media) and for an American cult of personality that will take us who knows where (but nowhere good). After all, his greatest skill – the one he’s spent a lifetime perfecting – is undoubtedly his unerring instinct for just how to attract the camera under more or less any circumstances. The result of the cognitive dissonance he creates is a picture of the world that’s deceptive in the extreme. It is necessary to come to terms with the fact cognitive dissonance is a feature of humans that predisposes us to self-delusion, bias and blindness to our errors and biases.

It is important that individual citizens have a grasp of facts as politicians use the mass media in order to increase their popularity. We can give up the struggle for truth and adopt the feel-good illusions that trap us in a matrix of lies and deceit. However, these illusions are dangerous. Some of that dissonance can be a good thing, but too much (or too much unresolved tension) means we’re constantly at conflict with ourselves. And that tension and conflict can make us feel stressed, irritated, and unhappy if we let them fester for too long. Take the time to pause and think through your situation and your feelings. It’s important to be in touch with your own value system and know when your thinking is being driven by emotions. It is necessary to create the social environment or milieu to support good governance to control cognitive dissonance and the consequent balancing of perception that leads to misperception.

1 Alexander Hurst (13 Dec 2018) Escape From the Trump Cult https://newrepublic.com/article/152638/escape-trump-cult

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