The Debate on the Science Behind Economic Choices

The choices you face in the ordinary business of your life – buying clothing, deciding what to eat, or seeking a job all involve considerations of cost, scarcity, and tradeoffs with other options – are economic decisions. The Enlightenment of the 18th century opened up the floodgates of new ideas, new thoughts on everything from the way man saw government and his role in society to the way scientific ideas were conceived. During this period one of the major desires of the philosopher was to discover the underlying laws that govern society. David Hume and Adam Smith developed an empiricist doctrine of knowledge believing Newton’s theory of gravity applied to the human sciences. The choices you face in the ordinary business of your life – individual choices conscious or otherwise – fit into a higher order affecting not only those who make them but also their families, communities, countries, and even the world.

Francis Hutchison (1694-1745) was a proponent of moral sense theory, the position that human beings make moral judgements using their sentiments rather than ‘rational’ capacity. According to Hutchison a sense of unity among human beings allows for the possibility of other-oriented actions even though individuals are motivated by self-interest. The moral sense, which is a form of benevolence, elects feelings of approval in those witnessing moral acts. Hutcheson opposed ethical egoism, the notion that individuals ought to be motivated by their own interest ultimately, even when they cooperate with others in a common project. Adam Smith, Hutchison’s most famous student, wrote that moral behavior is, at core, the human capacity of sympathy, the faculty, that in Hume’s account, allows us to approve of others character and “to forget our own interests in or judgements” and to consider those whom ”we meet with in society and conversation” who “are not placed in the same situation, and have not the same interest with ourselves.”1

The Scottish philosophers, David Hume (1711-1776) and Adam Smith (1723-1790) were good friends looking for natural causes of the phenomena that we describe as moral. Their empiricist theories were based on experience and observation. The ‘moral subjects’ that Hume referenced in his book meant the human sciences in general, of which ethics is one branch. According to Hume we must restrict ourselves to what we can observe in the human sciences. In his writings, Smith explored political economy, essentially the laws governing human behavior. In a commercial society he emphasizes that economics is only one component of the human condition. The moral character of a people is the ultimate measure of their humanity. There is a relationship between morality and economics, and some of our actions ought to be motivated by a sense of duty. At the centre of Smith’s writings was the attempt to articulate the laws of human behavior.

Adam Smith believed that human activities were governed by discoverable principles in the same way that Newton argued that motion was explainable through principles. For Smith self-interest and competition are very important economic forces. Self-interest is the motivator of economic activity. Competition is the regulator of economic activity. Smith argued that people have a natural drive to improve their own lives. This self-interest he suggested propels markets to satisfy individual demands by producing the goods and services that people want. He called this the invisible hand – transforming the individual’s pursuit of gain into the general utility of society. He suggested that competition between businesses prevents exploitation of consumers by ensuring fair prices and quality products, encouraging constant economic innovation and satisfying customer demand. In short, competition keeps everyone honest, because consumers treated unfairly by one business can always patronize another instead.

The philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was a social Darwinist of the late nineteenth century who used Darwin’s theory of evolution to justify extreme laissez-faire capitalism as natural and right in the sense that free competition ensured the survival of the fittest. Spencer believed that human society reflects the same evolutionary principles as biological organisms do in their development. Spencer’s philosophy provided a foundation for an integrated, scientific approach to individualism. In particular, his emphasis on science caught the attention of anarchists of his day as progress was defined as ‘that form of society in which government will be reduced to the smallest amount possible, and freedom increased to the greatest amount.’ Spencer believed that the rich and the powerful become so because they are better suited to the social and economic culture of the time. In turn, the robber barons embraced his theory as it provided the necessary ‘science’ to support long workdays, low wages and child labour.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, existing economic theory was unable either to explain the causes of the severe worldwide economic collapse or to provide an adequate public policy solution to jump-start production and employment. British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) spearheaded a revolution in economic thinking that overturned the then-prevailing idea that free markets would automatically provide full employment. Private sector decisions can sometimes lead to adverse macroeconomic outcomes, such as reduction in consumer spending during a recession. These market failures sometimes call for active policies by the government, such as a fiscal stimulus package. What distinguishes Keynesians from other economists is their belief in activist policies to reduce the amplitude of the business cycle, which they rank among the most important of all economic problems. Therefore, Keynesian economics supports a mixed economy guided mainly by the private sector but partly operated by the government.2

Milton Friedman (1912-2006) advocated letting businesses flourish, since their profits will ultimately trickle down to lower-income individuals and the rest of the economy. The trickle down economic theory was rebranded in the 1970s to an ideology – supply side economics – the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free (incentive effects would generate new activity hence more revenue) without causing budget deficits. Its creators never believed supply side economics worked – it was an ideology that was created to unite the right. In 1984, Charles Murray published Losing Ground. It was described by the New York Times Review of Books as a “persuasive . . . new variation on social Darwinism.” Its central thesis was that all government welfare programs should be abolished, supposedly because welfare hurt the very people it was intended to help by “rewarding bad behavior” such as “illegitimate babies.” Murray also called for ending food stamp programs. Murray’s work was used as the ‘science’ behind an ideology that supports slashing social programs.3

Postmodernism introduces the attitude of skepticism or distrust towards ideology and various tenets of universalism. Supporters believe knowledge and truth are products of social, historical and political discourses or interpretations, and therefore contextual or socially constructed. Postmodernism is still alive in economic theory – economic truths are socially constructed. Herbert Marcuse notes the working class is no longer the agent of social change. In the system today there is no longer a separation between the rich and the poor. At the centre are the workers who pay taxes for a system of ‘handouts and entitlements’ against the excluded who missed the benefits of 1960s and 1970s. These two fractions of the proletariat redefine the social question. Neoliberal capitalism has enlisted these two fractions of the proletariat into destructive competition against each other. The clash is no longer between labour and the privileged elite rather between a proletariat that pays taxes with an underclass that relies on a system of handouts and entitlements.4

The Enlightenment writers were concerned about the inequality in the existing system and introduced questioning and critical thinking to replace the dead weight of tradition and challenge the blind faith in institutions. The philosophers wanted to understand the rationale behind inequality, were particularly interested if there were natural reasons for it, or if inequality came wholly from social conventions. Once the reality of the consequences of the economic debacle of 2008 set in that pleasant retirement and the promise that one’s children would have more choices and a better life than their parents had been destroyed, many became angry and disillusioned. For the first time in history middle class children will likely end up poorer than their parents. In the second decade of the 21st century the middle class in Canada and the US has been stripped of jobs, income and security. It is about the rise of business power and the decline of labour power (as part of the era of globalization) along with the attacks of the right on the welfare state – with a consequent rapid rise in social, income and health inequalities.

We need to refocus: the symptoms of the Great Depression that Keynes correctly diagnosed are back, though fortunately on a smaller scale: chronic unemployment, deflation, currency wars, and beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies. The treatment includes preventing a deepening recession with a temporary program of increased government spending. Democracy is embraced because the working class, in particular, understands democratic activism to be the most effective tool they have to attack extreme inequality and maintain a check on the power of elites. If citizens only play a passive role then the real politics are shaped in private by interaction between elected governments and economic elites – elites who are not interested in the welfare of the classes beneath them. These choices would include electing candidates identifying policies to end big money’s grip on politics, an issue that lies at the core of the debate on the economy.

1 Adam Smith.

2 John Maynard Keynes

3 The Social Contract of the Neoliberals (23 Jul 2016)

4 Why Co-operation is Necessary. (15 Jan 2017)

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In A Post-truth Era Is Truth A Necessary Condition for Society to Change?

In this era of trickle-down economics with the increasing income disparity between the wealthy and the rest of society, a polarized debate has ensued on how to address the issue. Rousseau insisted that men must bear the moral responsibility for the kind of society they construct or accept. The purpose of politics is to restore freedom to us – through the general will – created through agreement with other free and equal persons. Today extreme individualism, social disintegration and amoral relativism create a climate where men elevate their personal interests above the common good. The legacy of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has been to dare to challenge the system, identifying extreme inequality as the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, and highlight the failure of the legislators to protect 99% of the people. Today where does the middle class turn for answers for change to address the increasing income disparity in society?

Rousseau makes his main objective the emancipation of man from the conflicts, corruption and uncertainties of society. He saw the political community as the best means of effecting such liberation. Rousseau’s community is indistinguishable from the state. His idea of the ‘general will’ is the will of the political organization, which he constructs as an entity with a life of its own and apart from the individual members of which it is constructed. The general will aims at the common good – what is best for the state as a whole. As societies began to form, the division of labour parallels the beginning of moral inequality. To control tensions the rich trick the poor into creating a political society. The poor believe that this creation will secure their freedom and safety, but in fact, merely fixes the relations of domination that existed before, creating laws to establish inequality.

Essentially the people allow the government to have power over them; they consent to be governed. In return the government promises to protect the rights of the people. Rousseau believes government and societies are not devised to satisfy desires we antecedently have, rather they are brought into existence by the actions of people who deliberately act to create institutions and practices to satisfy their wants. Social change is an effect of human action, but not the intended effect, rather the unintended by-product that results from the sum total of human actions. Social institutions are actually the problem as they hold established ways of acting and thinking on people. Moral inequalities are characterized by the existence of different classes or the domination and exploitation of some people by others. In a state where the vulgarities of private interest prevail over the common interests of the collective, the will of all can be quite different from the general will.

Nietzsche contended that the individual must decide which situations are to count as moral situations. Existentialists believe that personal experience and acting on one’s own convictions are essential to arriving at the truth, and that the understanding of a situation is superior to that of a detached, objective observer. Nietzsche observes, “truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins. We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors – in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all…”1

Truth is sometimes a condition of life, but the value of truth is not necessarily easy to obtain. What is the value of truth over falsehood? Many now accept there is no need for truth at all times in all occasions. In fact, an untruth can indeed be a necessary condition of life. The fact that a belief is false is not and has not been a reason for people to abandon it, rather beliefs are abandoned based on whether they serve the goals of preserving and enhancing human life. So the debate or question is based not upon distinguishing what is true from what is false, but rather what is life-enhancing, and what is life-destroying. Using these definitions, then what people in society usually call truth has more to do with social conventions than reality.2 Nietzsche observes, “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.”

A paradigm is our perception of reality, our view of the world. It is our interpretation of events based on previous teaching we have received. Kuhn denied that science is constantly approaching the truth. Kuhn observed, “each paradigm will be shown to satisfy more or less the criteria that it dictates for itself and to fall short of a few of those dictated by its opponent … no paradigm ever solves all the problems it defines…” In the 1970s the monetarists sought to resurrect the pre-Keynesian view that market economies are inherently stable in the absence of major unexpected fluctuations in the money supply. Because of this belief in the stability of the free market economics, active demand management (by increasing government spending) was believed unnecessary and indeed likely to be harmful. This paradigm did not solve all the problems it defines, for example, the failure of a pure monetary policy to stimulate the economy in 2001-2003.

Change introduced during the Reagan administration created a paradigm shift in the perception of how the economy should be managed. The initial supply side economics was never believed by its creators; it was promoted as a credible theory in order to create a political doctrine to unite the right. Eventually supply side economics was amalgamated with the ‘starve the beast’ theory. Starve the beast was used simply to unite the Republican Party, as reducing taxes was politically popular. Then this dogma of minimal government and minimal regulation was rebranded as trickle down economics – the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free (incentive effects would generate new activity hence more revenue) without causing budget deficits. Profits will ultimately trickle down to the bottom indirectly benefiting those who do not directly benefit from the policy changes. Kuhn also noted that a paradigm wouldn’t give way until there is a new one to replace it.

We are aware that global corporation disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry spew various amounts of disinformation into the system. This includes the climate change denial tactics of the fossil fuel industry by introducing manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, setting up so called independent front organizations to publically promote its desired message. They cherry pick scientific spokespeople whose interpretations of the peer-reviewed literature suggest to the media and the public that the debate amongst scientists continues, and the results are not definitive. Industries sponsor sophisticated research activities that include both funding of established research institutions, as well as funding of advocacy and ideological organizations to conduct disinformation campaigns – leaving public and law makers confused. With the election of Donald Trump we now have a better understanding of the process and the scope of the deliberate misinformation programs funded by the oligarchs.

We are in debt to Donald Trump for exposing the ugly network of lies that Rousseau predicted that creates the society in which we live. He pulled back the curtain on the metaphor of the invisible hand exposing the oligarchy that is responsible for the increasing economic inequality between the wealthy and the rest of society. The ideology of neoliberalism drives the social agenda and economic goals of the economic elites. Trump also illustrated how emotion drives decisions – facts are now secondary – how politicians promise change to get elected, then once elected do an about turn and cater to corporate money. Trump ushered in the post-truth era in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts. Now that it is no longer necessary to debate what is true from what is false; we can now focus on distinguishing what is life-enhancing, and what is life-destroying.

We turn to life-enhancing actions: This includes the freedom for everyone to reach their full potential – the opportunities one has to reach his or her potential is the most important measure of freedom. The OWS protesters provide the necessary truth to begin the process of replacing the existing economic paradigm – a government controlled by corporate money and the growing income gap between the very wealthy and the rest of society. We must not give up our freedom and allow our lives to be governed by ideology that limits our opportunities. It is necessary to challenge the status quo of neoliberalism with its causal determinism, and introduce changes such as progressive taxation that includes eliminating special tax breaks designed for the rich, and redistribute wealth more evenly. The relevant consequence of this change is the freedom that optimizes the human experience allowing individuals opportunities to reach their full potential in society.

1 The Perspectives of Nietzsche: Truth and Knowledge.

2 Cline, Austin. (17 March 2017) Nietzsche, Truth, and Untruth: Evaluating Whether Truth is Better than Untruth.



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The Political Effects of Economic Chaos

Class conflict and struggle occur, according to Karl Marx, because of the economic organization of most societies. Consequently, capitalism due to its internal contradictions, inevitably moves from crisis to crisis. Neoliberalism rose to prominence by representing the subsequent crisis of the 1970s as a crisis of Keynesianism, against which the neoliberal project could be advanced as the return to the natural order of market society. In this system the source of profit in exploitation is concealed, economic value is an expression of subjective preferences, rather than a measure of labour time. In the 1970s the Western world faced a devastating new problem: inflation. It took economic chaos to bring new ideas into government – neoliberal policies would counter the economic problems created by the 1970s oil crisis and runaway inflation. Economies would automatically self-adjust to full employment and it would be unnecessary to use fiscal policy to raise employment.

The Bretton Woods agreement was created in a 1944 conference of all of the World War II Allied nations. It took place in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Up to 1971, most  countries promised that their central banks would maintain fixed exchange rates between their currencies and the dollar. After a rash of spending on the military and foreign aid during the Vietnam War, there was not enough gold to cover the amount of dollars in circulation. In response the Nixon administration pulled the US out of the Bretton Woods Accord – essentially abandoning the Gold Standard whereby the price of the dollar had been pegged to the price of gold, while other currencies were pegged to the US dollar. Other nations followed suit. In addition countries, led by the US, expanded their money supplies concerned that currency values would fluctuate unpredictably for a time. This in turn, led to the depreciation of the dollar and other currencies, followed directly by massive inflation and recession.

In the 1970s oil production in the US had started to decline; then two oil crisis created economic havoc. The first oil crisis occurred when OPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) proclaimed an oil embargo in response to US support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War. By the end of the embargo, the price increased from $3 per barrel to $12 globally, with the US prices significantly higher. The 1973-74 market crash was regarded as the first discrete event since the Great Depression to have a persistent effect on the US economy. The second oil shock occurred in the US due to the decrease in oil output in the wake of the Iranian revolution. While the oil supply only decreased by 4%, industry (the economic elite) manipulated the system driving prices much higher. The price of oil more than doubled to $39.50 per barrel over the next 12 months.

Economic chaos in the US consisted of a combination of double-digit economic contraction with double-digit inflation. In his 1980 campaign speeches, Ronald Reagan presented his economic proposals as a return to the free enterprise principles – a free market economy that had been in favor before the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal policies. Reagan was elected on platform of trickle-down economics and a promise to make America great again. At the same time he attracted a following from the supply-side economics movement, which formed in opposition to Keynesian demand-stimulus economics. Basically corporate tax cuts were the best way to grow the economy. The long-term consequence of this change in policies has been the fact that the income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society continues to grow. The myth of trickle-down economics continues to provide a powerful ideological cover for neoliberal capitalism.

After 1948 Yugoslavia oriented its business mainly with western countries. The country experienced considerable prosperity in the 1960s, but became dependent on world trade. In the 1970s it was badly hit by a down-turn in the volume of goods exchanged, unable to import materials and unable to ship to the West. With the oil crisis migrant workers had to return home, and the government refused to introduce significant reforms and relied on taking out foreign loans. In the 1980s Yugoslavia was saddled with a large foreign debt, rising inflation, while the standard of living fell and unemployment rose dramatically. Reagan supply-side economics precipitated a recession in 1981-83; the effects were felt everywhere, not the least in Yugoslavia. In 1989, Yugoslav prime minister, Ante Markovic warned Bush economic reforms would bring social problems, an increase in unemployment to 20% and the threat of increasing ethnic and political tension among the country’s six republics and two autonomous provinces. A deep-seated economic crisis preceded the civil war.1

The oil crisis reduced the demand for the large gas guzzling cars that the US automakers were producing for sale. Customers turned to the smaller more fuel-efficient cars made in Japan. Japan surpassed US car production. In response to US government import quotas, Japan and eventually other foreign car manufacturers outsourced operations by opening assembly plants in the southern US as import automakers were not on friendly terms with labour unions from the Rust Belt. Niall Ferguson observes globalization evolved into products designed in California and manufactured in China. This made technology affordable while destroying jobs in the US. The principal beneficiary of this system since 1990 benefits primarily a communist one party system in which 300 million Chinese were brought out of poverty. This was associated with a significant erosion of living standards of middle and working class in Canada and the US.

By 2000, the oligarchy that looks after the interests of the big banks in the US had convinced the politicians of the need to keep the market unfettered by regulation – that controlling the banks was bad – creating the over-leveraged market that imploded in 2008. It was imagined that the world was governed by mathematical formulas – or more specifically by serious men in dark suits who understood complex formulas and the patterns playing out on their computer terminals. Everyone accepted the idea that deregulated markets were self-correcting. The illusion was that this system, a product of globalization, could self-correct as required. The ugly truth was that a few greedy bankers on Wall Street could just about collapse the world financial system. It was triggered by the consequences of policies championed by a small group of influential people. The financial sector took advantage of the system, empowered by reckless deregulation. Deregulation has been above all else, a means to reducing corporate business accountability to the public.

The drought in Syria that started in 1998 caused 75% of farms to fail and 85% of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011. Before the bloodshed of the civil war in Syria, the country’s economy was diverse. The agriculture sector accounted for 22 percent of the economy and 25 per cent of the employment in the country. The effects of the drought have been aggravated by a mismanaged water system. By 2013 a significant increase in inflation had occurred – one of the factors that contributed to the drop in the local currency is the government’s decision to quadruple the amount of printed notes compared to the end of 2010 that was facilitated in part by the Russian government. The regime of Bashar al-Assad failed to respond to the existing problems of unemployment and corruption. The drought created the chaotic situation and an opportunity for ISIS to thrive in the area.

Neoliberal narrative claims markets as superior computational devices, thus the best people to clean up the crisis are the bankers and financiers who created it in the first place. Consequently there is no need to consider further regulations. In a crisis, conflict between the integrity of the financial institutions, on one hand, and the well-being of citizens on the other, the former is privileged. This system claims the common good depends entirely on the uncontrolled egoism of the individual, and especially on the prosperity of the corporation, hence freedom for corporations consists of freedom from responsibility and commitment to society.

There is not one big reason Donald Trump won. His election promises represented an appeal to popular resentment, to so-called herd instincts. Trump sold the image of America in decline, a crisis that only he could handle. This means curtailing immigration and tearing up trade deals like NAFTA. Trump feasts on social divisions and has perfected harnessing the rage of the workers driven by the failure of neoliberal capitalism. He connected with those workers who felt they had been left behind. The oligarchs and their proxies take advantage of the structure of the Internet to control information that serves the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upward, helped secure Trump’s election. ‘Drain the swamp’ or tackling corruption in Washington – a goal tied to increasing transparency and decreasing the influence of lobbyists and major donors – presently eludes the Trump team.

Neoliberal doctrine explains the market ensures that factors of production are paid what they are worth, obviating the need for institutions of social protection and trade unions. A financial elite set in motion a process to reinvent government and have the market serve as a model for restructuring all social relations. The fabrication of trickle down economics provided the opportunity to dismantle the gains of the New Deal. It justified slashing funds for welfare programs to support a pro-growth agenda claiming centralized planning of big government doesn’t work because it creates a culture of dependency that can trap people. The evolution of the neoliberal project should be understood, not as a meticulous manipulation of social reality, but a series of increasingly desperate attempts to hold the very fabric of reality together. Neoliberalism has become an anxiety-ridden form of crisis management that is constantly attempting to cover over the gaps in its ideological contradictions amongst the economic chaos.

1 Gervasi, Sean. Germany, US and Yugoslavia crisis. (1992)

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Anxiety Is Essential For Creativity

Kierkegaard reflected on the question of how to communicate the truths we live by – that is, the truths about ethics and religion. He wrote about his experiences with the chronic disquieting feeling that something not so good was about to happen – about his angst. Kierkegaard claims everyone harbors a fear of being alone, forgotten by God, overlooked by his friends and relatives. He concluded that it was in our anxiety that we come to understand feelingly that we are free, that the possibilities are endless. Even though anxiety can ignite all kinds of transgressions and maladaptive behavior, we should recognize it as a dual force that can be both destructive and generative, depending upon how we approach it. Kierkegaard argues anxiety is essential for creativity – if there were no possibilities there would be no anxiety. The way we negotiate anxiety plays no small part in shaping our lives and character.

Plato assured us that reason (ego) could control our worse impulses; Freud brought forth evidence of the existence of unconscious forces determining man’s behavior and conscious awareness. The evaluation that below or beyond the rational mind existed an overwhelming repository of non-rational forces undermined the idea that reason could be used to establish an authoritative system of government and ethics. This meant that man was now constrained to live in an eternal struggle with his own nature, and that human reason, the characteristic identified that separated man from the rest of animals, was a recent concept. There exists a dynamic balance between the individual and society, Freud claims, created by deep-rooted instinctual impulses (in their unconscious) that cannot be rationally controlled. Freud observed, “A good part of the struggles of mankind centre around the task of finding an expedient accommodation – one, that is, that will bring happiness between the claims of the individual and the cultural claim of the group.”

As we have seen with Copernicus, Newton and Darwin, traditional beliefs were eroded by their scientific discoveries i.e. beliefs in centrality of the Earth and superiority of humans over the other creatures. Scientific activity stresses the rational side of human beings; there was a feeling with science, human beings would increase their mastery over the world. Nietzsche saw that in the 19th century the “highest values” had begun to “devalue themselves.” The Christian value of truth-telling, institutionalized in the form of science, had undermined the belief in God, disenchanting the world and excluding from it any pre-given moral meaning. In such a situation the individual is forced back upon himself. On the one hand, if he is weak this individual can fall victim to despair in the face of nihilism, the recognition that life has no intrinsic meaning. On the other hand, for a “strong” or creative individual nihilism presents a liberating opportunity to take responsibility for meaning, releasing life-affirming potential. Neoliberals leverage this message: “From adversity comes strength, from strength comes success.”

Since the disappearance of the feudal society the ruling classes have been increasingly ill served by their own ideologies. Those ideologies (as petrified critical thought) after having been used by them as general weapons for seizing power, end up presenting contradictions to their particular reign. Any attempt to modernize an ideology, like neoliberalism, tends to preserve the present, which itself is dominated by the past. Neoliberalism remains the dominant economic ideology of our times. For over three decades, economic reforms have adhered to the neoliberal principles of privatization, deregulation, and the dismantling of the welfare state, on the assumption that free competition would ensure the best of all possible worlds. Instead, neoliberalism should be interpreted as an anxiety-ridden form of crisis management that is constantly attempting to cover over the gaps and ruptures in its own ideological fabric caused by the contradictions that it is structured to conceal.

Neoliberalism rose to dominance by representing subsequent economic crises as crises of Keynesianism or developmentalism, against which the neoliberal project could be advanced as a return to the natural order of a market society. Freud noted civilization demands conformity and repression. The alliance to culture or society is only minimally deep. The proof is the widespread tendency of people to be able to violate cultural rules if they are quite sure they will not in any way be caught or punished. Freud claimed social structures of civilization demand many limits on the individual which clashes with fundamental and very deeply evolutionary instincts. This conflict between an individual’s deepest instincts to conform to any social system that he is likely to encounter will never be fully resolved. For Freud, society attempts to oppress the individual into its requirements, consequently the individual can never have full happiness. Neoliberalism works to dominate both nature and the individual.

John Kenneth Galbraith, an economist who warned of the dangers of unregulated markets and corporate greed, observed, “the modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy, that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” At the individual level neoliberalism insists that rationality, individuality and self-interest guide all actions. Neoliberals reform society by subordinating it to the market. The goal is to essentially erase any distinction among the state, society and the market. The major challenge of the neoliberals is how to maintain their pretense of freedom as non-coercion. Their answer is to treat politics as it were a market and promote an economic theory of democracy while redefining the shape and functions of the state. The system constantly proclaims anyone can make it if they try hard enough.

The neoliberals promoted minimal government and regulations which led to the looting of the public coffers by tax cuts and the accumulation of ‘public’ debt. Greedy decision-makers on Wall Street with a sense of entitlement chose not to apply critical thinking but to intentionally take advantage of people, which led to the melt down of the economy in 2008. Many in the middle class saw their comfortable retirement, their home equity, and their dreams destroyed. The neoliberal elite demand a dressed-up sophisticated economic theory be applied regardless of the outcome which has nothing to do with economics but everything to do with power. The neoliberal counter argument to failure is to claim even though the markets may be failing having government remedy market failure would even be worse, owing to bureaucratic inefficiencies and lack of market-styled incentives.

In a crisis conflict between the integrity of the financial institutions, on one hand, and the well-being of citizens on the other, the former was privileged. The neoliberal social contract proposed that unrestrained inequality in income and flexible wages would reduce unemployment, but in fact, throughout the rich world both inequality and under employment have soared. Today the middle class realizes that the entire structure of neoliberal thought is a fraud. The psychological defense mechanism used by the rich is splitting – a mechanism that diffuses the anxiety that arises from our inability to grasp the nuances and complexities of a given situation or state of affairs by simplifying the situation and thereby making it easier to think about; it also reinforces our sense of self as good and virtuous by effectively demonizing all those who do not share in our opinions and values.

In neoliberalism, governing occurs by providing individuals with choices and holding them accountable for the choices they make. This system has a diminishing appreciation that individual predicaments are a product of more than simply their individual choice, and includes access to opportunities, how opportunities are made available, or the capacity to take advantage of opportunities offered. The neoliberal context of employment is perpetually transitional – careers have disappeared. In a context of work built on short-term contracts, flexibility and mobility it becomes difficult to preserve long-term commitments and relationships. A society of individuals frequently switching jobs, relocating, and preoccupied with personal risk and self-interest is conducive to neither stable families nor cohesive communities. Where career is no longer a meaningful concept it is no longer possible for one to make and maintain the long-term commitments required of people to form their characters into sustained narratives.

The diagnosis of social anxiety is now commonplace – you become very anxious about what other people may think of you, or how they may judge you. Social anxiety is now the third most common psychological disorder after depression and alcoholism. SmithKline Beecham, makers of Paxil decided to promote it as treatment for social anxiety – bringing social anxiety into focus in the community. A multibillion dollar marketing campaign linked the disorder to all manner of interpersonal and job-related problems in a way that fashioned all social discomfort as disease. However, success in the competitive marketplace emphasizes the importance of networking, self-presentation and the belief in the ever present potential for opportunities; the required vigilance maintaining the kind of personal image that attracts them demands relentless self-monitoring. The problem is in the workplace of enterprise culture: anxious self-surveillance is both pathological and prescribed.1 The dilemma: Kierkegaard argues anxiety is essential for creativity.

Though our well being is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism. Neoliberalism creates insecurity through the use of indicators and measures to assess the performance of an individual. What happens when metrics are applied to neoliberalism? The neoliberal era has not had a particularly good track record. The most dynamic period of postwar western growth was that between the end of the war and the early 70s, the era of welfare capitalism and Keynesianism, when the growth rate was double that of the neoliberal period from 1980 to the present.2

1 Sugarman, Jeff. Neoliberalism and Psychological Ethics. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 2015, Vol. 35, No. 2, 103–116

2 Jacques, Martin. (21 Aug 2016) The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics

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A Good News Story: Close the Gap

Richard Wilkinson observes, “we had always regarded classification by social class as simply a proxy for the real determinants of health that we saw that we imagined were material factors – like diet and what you’re working with and what you’re exposed to at work and maybe housing, air pollution, things like that. Now it looks more and more like social status itself is an important determinant of health. There is now a growing realization that most health issues are caused, or worsened, by poverty and inequality.”1 In countries like the UK and America, people in richer areas can live up to 14 years longer than people in poor areas. Research shows health is responsive to changes in income, and that the death rates of the poor are more responsive to changes in income than the death rates of the rich are. Effective interventions would create a good news story.

Themistocles, concerned that the majority of the Greek allies wanted to retreat, sent a messenger to Xerxes to inform him that the Greek army was in disarray and with a prompt attack they might at once be destroyed. Shortly, Aristicidas appears and informs the council they are unable to sail away as the enemy surrounds them on all sides. To this Themistocles replies, “you have brought good news” as the Greeks were unwilling to fight are now compelled. The battle was therefore inevitable in the place which Themistocles, with the audacity of a genius, has forced on his fellow citizens. The Battle of Salamis was one of the most significant naval battles in ancient Greece, between the Greek city-states and their perpetual enemy, Persia. The defeat at Salamis shifted the war in Greece’s favor, and led to Persia’s ultimate demise. Many historians agree that the Battle of Salamis was the single most important battle of ancient Greece and potentially of all human history. This victory influenced the growth and preservation of Athenian democracy and influenced Western civilization’s core ideas of freedom and individual rights.

The ‘free marketplace’ is a grand illusion for those in power to promote in order to justify dominance over those who are less privileged. Today ‘positive self-image’ is linked to a fundamentalist (i.e. must not and hence can not be questioned) belief: the benefits of trickle-down economics of tax cuts for the rich creates well-paying jobs for the middle class The idea is simple: The more money the people on top make, the more the people below will benefit from the dripping down of that prosperity. The hidden agenda here, of course, is the rationalization of inequality. 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. Society pays a price for inequality. There is an association between health inequality and the huge social-class differences in death rates between rich and poor, between well educated and badly educated, between people in rich and poor areas.

The myth of the market as an evolutionary device serves as an explanation and a justification for, the presence of competition in all parts of social activities. The market was replaced with competition as the defining character of human relations including redefining individuals as consumers. Freud described the reality principle, the ability to evaluate the external world and differentiate between it and the internal world. The reality principle strives to satisfy the id’s desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways. In neoliberalism the reality principle is replaced by the performance principle. The performance principle presupposes particular forms of rationality for domination that stratifies society according to the competitive economic performance of its members. Domination is exercised by a particular group in order to sustain and enhance themselves in a privileged position. The neoliberal performance principle teaches us to conceive of social problems as personal problems – emphasizing individual responsibility while failing to address systemic state violence in all its manifestations – healthcare, education and the war on the poor.

Epigenetics is about integrating genes, the organism and the environment. From believing that our biological fates were written in our genes, we now recognize that the environment, and more specifically our perception of the environment, directly controls our behavior and genetic activity. Individuals are much more sensitive to exposures from their environment, diet and lifestyles than previously thought. Epigenetic marks or ‘imprinting’ affect gene expression without actually changing the DNA sequence. There is substantial evidence from animal and man demonstrating that both transient and more long-term epigenetic mechanisms have a role in the regulation of the molecular events. The dynamic nature of epigenetics means this is not written in stone – healthy eating, moderate exercise and minimizing stress will have a positive epigenetic effect.

Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Without the coating, shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job, just as without telomeres, DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job. For example, the immune system, which normally weakens as we age, is highly sensitive to shortening of telomeres. Many studies have shown that a group of highly stressed people have much shorter telomeres than less stressed people. Scientists believe that the key to understanding racial, ethnic and socioeconomic health inequalities lies in studying the connections between social conditions and biological mechanisms like telomeres.

It is now known that genetic change can occur much more quickly than previously thought, responding from messages coming from other genes, hormones, and from nutritional cues and learning. The news that the epigenome is highly sensitive and responsive to environmental influences, including toxic exposures, dietary factors, and behavioral impacts, serves to focus future state priorities. How we develop mentally and physically have a tremendous impact upon our inherent capabilities and our set of life options. Epigenetics explains how environmental factors can switch genes on and off, based on choices we make. As the environment can influence our genes, lifestyles can impact the expression of our genes. Early studies show an association between epigenetic marks (in the human genome) and socio-economic status.

Paul Piff observes, it’s really the people who feel subjectively lower on the social ladder or who are objectively poorer, who experience all the negative outcomes, whether it’s higher rates of obesity, or increased cardiovascular disease, or higher rates of depression. Inequality and differences in people’s levels of wealth shape the mind, shape the way people see the world and behave towards one another. Status, inequality, stratification, shape the basic things people do, like their tendencies to feel compassion, their tendencies to cooperate with others. A person’s levels of wealth, and their status relative to others in their society, shape their tendencies to prioritize themselves, feel entitled, to cooperate versus behave in self-interested ways, across a variety of different domains of social life.1

Wilkinson observes while the biggest effects of inequality are lower down in the social ladder, it looks as if increases in inequality are actually bad for the group as a whole. Simply, people on the bottom of the social ladder are affected more than people further up because inequality changes the whole social milieu. That social status itself was a really important determinant of health, was really confirmed from work on non-human primates. In these studies social status of non-primates was manipulated by moving animals between groups, and you could give them the same material conditions and feed them the same diets. Researchers saw that the stress effects of social status in those animals had remarkable parallels to social status changes under remarkably similar effects to what were observed associated with social status in human beings.

Social mobility isn’t actually randomly distributed across society; it’s actually concentrated in a particular subgroup, and in particular it’s concentrated among those who are already fairly high up in the hierarchy. Ranking systems are about whether we fight each other for access to basic necessities and status and power, while social status is recognizing each other’s need and share access that leads to friendship and reciprocity. Inequality pushes us away from the reciprocity towards competitive striving for personal, individual advantage, not recognizing the other’s needs. The fundamental issue is whether we fight each other for access to basic necessities, or whether we recognize each other’s need and share access. Ranking systems, which are about self-interest, and the sense of entitlement, get in the way of reciprocity and people coming together.

Neoliberal ideology today defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality. Inequality is about dominance and looking after yourself, often at other people’s expense. While one finds the biggest effects of inequality are lower down in the social ladder, but it looks as if the vast majority of the population is adversely affected by increases in inequality. With each step up the inequality ladder, bigger income differences between rich and poor, the worse a country did in terms of life expectancy. Today’s trickle-down economics ensures the next generation in the workplace can not only expect to earn less than their parents, but are on track to enjoy poorer health. The emerging field of epigenetics suggests that by influencing the understanding of inequality it is possible to create a happy trickle-down effect.

Initially it was thought that differences in rates of disease had entirely material causes. Now we realize psycho-social factors mediated by chronic stress act as general vulnerability factors in health. Epigenetic risks explain how environmental factors can switch genes on and off, based on choices we make. We now realize we can change gene expression by the way we think about our lives and ourselves – epigenetic marks are reversible. To achieve the desired change we need to close the empathy gap between those who have and those who don’t. It is not only necessary to battle to close the empathy gap, but also the inequality gap. The resulting improvement in health is an important victory for the whole community. In particular, the substantial change in social status that occurs for the poor would be a good news story.

1 Paul Piff and Richard Wilkinson. What does inequality do to our bodies and minds? A social psychologist and an epidemiologist discuss (6 Aug 2014)

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Seeking Sources of Progress

In the 19th century Georg Wilhelm Hegel (1770-1831) developed a theory to explain historical development as a dynamic process. This not only enforces the concept that conflicts are not bad, but good for generating understanding. Hegel introduced a system to study history called ‘a dialectic’ – a progression in which each successive movement emerges as a solution to the contradictions inherent in the preceding movement with the development of freedom and the consciousness of freedom. The Hegelian dialectic consists of a thesis in which someone wants more control over a group of people. This activity would cause an antithesis or reaction from the people, such as, panic, anger or fear. The final stage would be the synthesis in which a group seeks sources of progress – a process that results in the synthesis or solution to the problem – that is very close to what that person or organization wanted to begin with.

Initially the Enlightenment was a world of alienated culture. It was a society completely lacking in honesty and sincerity, in which people survived by adopting artificial roles, making themselves agreeable to those with power and money, fawning on the rich, and using their intelligence only to be amusing and witty to each other. In such a world of razor-sharp wit and withering irony, anyone with serious beliefs and deeply held convictions will find themselves the butt of jokes and ridicule. Hegel noted both sides of the dispute emerged as a reaction against the materialistic world of culture, where social success meant more than any concern for the truth.

As a result, anyone dissatisfied with such frivolous and empty existence will tend to detach themselves from such a society and form a more serious community of their own. One such community would be those who seek in religious faith for those values and certainties, which are lacking in the social world. Those who seek to attain stable and certain truths through reason and rationality; science and logic would form another group. The philosophers of the French Enlightenment, Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, would be such a group. Hence the philosopher and the pious believer have much in common. The dispute between them will review, even further, the extent of their similarity. A pious Christian and an apostle of the new ideas of the Enlightenment, a devotee of humanist reason, represent the two parties to this discussion.

The Enlightenment regards religion as composed of superstition, prejudice and error claims Peter Benson. It sees the Christian world as divided into three classes: (1) the mass of naïve people who believe everything they are told, (2) an intellectual group, the priesthood, who teach doctrines they themselves often know to be untrue in order to preserve their own social status, (3) despotic political rulers for whom religion is a useful opium to keep the people quiet. This is the basis of the virulent attacks on the Church by the French Enlightenment thinkers.

Enlightenment sees itself on the side of universality, both universal truths and the universal availability of those truths to everyone. It therefore does not enter into argument with the corrupt priests, but appeals to the common humanity of the mass of the people, attempting to show them the error of the beliefs that have been foisted upon them. Enlightenment therefore appeals to a common level of consciousness between itself and the pious believer. Communication between the two groups is direct and immediate. The ideas of the Enlightenment diffuse into the mass of society and become part of what everyone is talking about. What becomes widespread are the new attitudes toward truth, the new methods of seeking and determining truth (through rational inquiry and observation rather than through authority). When it is a question of the actual content of these truths, the pious believer will defend the claims of the Church, but now using the methods of the Enlightenment to defend religious faith. Hence, for example, there will be archeological research into evidence for the Biblical stories, and philosophical attempts to prove the rationality of biblical beliefs.1

Marx states: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness”. By understanding the material conditions of man through history, Marx argues, man can come to understand his social and political conditions. Capitalism, and the competition it entailed, forced the members of society into two groups: workers (the proletariat) and capitalists (the bourgeoisie). The worker himself, valuable merely for his ability to earn wages, Marx writes, now sank “to the level of a commodity”. Marx claims that the political system reinforces such economic conditions, as the capitalists have the means to control government and construct power systems that favor this economic system. However, once members of a society become aware of its inadequacies, and the laws and institutions they had previously accepted unquestioningly were now experienced as fetters, they begin seeking sources of progress for change.2

In the 17th century the Church was the largest institution; while in the 21st century the corporation is the largest institution. Republicans love touting the benefits of trickle-down economics and are still doing it in the debate over tax cuts for the wealthy. The idea is simple: The more money the people on top make, the more the people below will benefit from the dripping down of that prosperity. The hidden agenda here, of course, is the rationalization of inequality. By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, the Republicans can protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash. Neoliberal ideology dictates that essentially the best people to clean up the crisis are the same bankers and financiers who created it in the first place, since they clearly embody the best understanding of the shape of the crisis.

Trump installed the wealthiest cabinet ever, supposedly to meet the aspirations of his base – to serve the people instead of a political system that wants to serve itself. Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of Treasury, with his hands on the national tax policy, amassed a fortune during 17 years at Goldman Saks, is the consummate Wall Street insider. During his time running OneWest Bank his business oversaw thousands of home foreclosures in the aftermath of the subprime mortgage crisis. Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce, a long-time critic of ‘bad trade deals’ and the decline of manufacturing jobs in America, is from one of the top 300 richest families who run America. Trump’s advisers belong to economic elite who preach neoliberal doctrines which they know to be untrue in order to preserve their own social status.

Efforts are generally made to look at things objectively. Objectively means that which is independent of any particular point of view in order for assumptions or preconceived notions not interfere with our interpretation of events. On the modern rational scheme, both science and morality requires a strictly impartial perspective. Knowing that no individual is fully capable of such impartiality or objectivity, we construct political decision making systems designed to compensate for the inevitable bias. This pivot point of modern politics, science and ethics is responsible for nullifying the individual point of view. Through the influence of money the oligarchs have re-introduced bias into the system. The harshest costs of modern economic practices fall upon ecosystems and populations with little current economic power or value, including generations not yet born. Today many question the notion of the existence of the American dream – whether there is enough progress in their lives.

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. Poverty is a key factor underlying whether these determinants of health can be obtained. However, the policy of minimal taxes and government continues to create a growing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society – removing social mobility for most of society. Today’s dialectic would be the tension between those who believe minimal government and regulation provides the best opportunities for individuals to reach their full potential, and those who believe there should be a regulatory apparatus to provide the tools to be used to create greater equality.

To create a thesis it is necessary to bring two groups with essentially opposing views together. The thesis is economic and environment decisions should be made through the lens of the social determinants of health to counter inequity in the system. This activity will create anxiety with those who believe in neoliberal economics – if everyone works hard enough they will succeed, and failure is the result of character weakness. They seek to maintain the status quo. As a consequence of this conflict, a new and third view, the synthesis, arises. Most of the possibilities for a human economy already co-exist in our world; so the task is to build new combinations with a different emphasis, not to repudiate a caricature of the market in the name of a radical alternative. The synthesis or solution – seeking sources of progress – involves redistributive powers of the state to close the economic gap between the rich and the poor.

1 The Dialectics of Faith & Enlightenment (Dec 2016 / Jan 2017)

2 Selections From: The Marx-Engels Reader (1972)

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Doubt And Critical Thinking In Elections

Rene Descartes claimed reasoning is an ability that all people have, and this ability that we all have is exactly what we need in order to learn about the world. We don’t need a special upbringing, education or religion. Descartes is the originator of Cartesian doubt – methodological skepticism about the truth of one’s beliefs – that any knowledge received through our senses could be false. If information is perceived incorrectly then certainty cannot be achieved. Although Descartes mistrusted the information received through the senses, he did believe that certain knowledge could be acquired by other means, arguing that the strict application of reason to all problems is the only way to achieve certainty. If all problems are reduced to their least sense dependent and most abstract elements, then objective reason can be put to work to solve the problem. Critical thinking requires the methological application of reason.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) discovered the natural laws of motion, which provided the final piece to the puzzle, establishing the Copernican theory of the Earth revolving around the sun, introducing the spirit of individualism and the idea the study of human progress was at the centre of all things. During the following decades, his achievement was celebrated as the triumph of the modern mind over ancient and medieval ignorance. With the invention of mathematical physics by Newton many people suddenly realized that mathematics could explain the world. During this time a two-fold development in academia brought about a rapid democratization of scientific knowledge. The foundation of academies such as the Paris Academy and the Royal Society in London whose primary purpose was to do scientific research and report their conclusions to the public. The second major development was the rise in scientific journals. These new journals circulated to a wide audience that included many outside the scientific community. Scientific results were reported to an audience of non-specialists – some scientific tracts became best sellers.

Newtonian determinism explained the equilibrium of the free market system described by Adam Smith. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) developed and applied evolutionary theory to the study of society. In Spencer’s view progress was a direct consequence of adaptation. Can we doubt that individuals having an advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best opportunity to succeed? He believed that human society reflects the same evolutionary principles as biological organisms do in their development. Following a universal law, Spencer believed, social institutions such as economics can function without control. He replaced Darwin’s natural selection with survival of the fittest. His claim social laws are as deterministic as those governing nature supported his concept survival of the fittest, and allowed Spencer to believe that the rich and the powerful become so because they are better suited to the social and economic culture of the time.

Economic fundamentalists declared their victory over Keynesian economic theory as Thatcher’s and Reagan’s policies took their dogma mainstream. Hayek’s pupils continue defending this theology. This activity laid the groundwork for globalization. The communication strategy to advance the corporate agenda behind globalization was designed to reduce resistance to the process by making it seem both highly beneficial and unstoppable. There is also the psychology of the inevitable. The alleged inability of governments to halt the progress of globalization was widely perceived as being beyond human control, which further weakens resistance. Multinational corporations are responsible for the removal of traditional government accountability to a fixed population from much of politics. This creates a lack of ability of those affected by decisions to protect their legitimate rights and interests. The consequences of this activity in democratic countries affect the ability of elected leaders to make decisions in the interests of their people.

During the 1980s, school systems lowered educational standards to protect children from failure. This was driven by the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem. The world would be saved from crime, drug abuse and under-achieving through bolstering self-esteem. Rights replaced responsibilities. Self-criticism, self-denial, self-control, self-sacrifice were no longer in vogue. Self-expression, self-assertion, self-realization, and self-approval, which all blend into self-esteem, became important. Within the self-esteem movement embedded in the school system, young adults were encouraged to develop image rather than character. This lead to the attitude: “I have a right to my opinion, so my opinions are right.” The self-esteem movement created a significant population in the 21st century with an exaggerated sense of entitlement and the belief that the world owes them something. They feel justified in asserting themselves defending their perceived rights. This person rarely admits to ignorance and regards his intuition and knowledge superior to objective data.

There has been a strong anti-intellectualism among conservatives in the past twenty-five years. This includes nominating candidates ‘just like them’ which can mean someone who has no idea of what the world is like, just like them. This mindset supports anti-intellectualism with hostility and mistrust of intellect. Anti-intellects often see themselves as champions of the ordinary people and fighters for egalitarianism against elitism. Those who mistrust intellectuals will represent them as a danger to normality, suggesting that they are outsiders with little empathy for the common people. Experts and ‘science’ are the enemy – lumped together as ‘ivory tower intellectuals.’ In the world of the anti-intellectuals the common people are oppressed by the corrupt privileged elites. Anti-intellectuals pride themselves in not thinking, nor using reason. Anti-intellectuals do not value education as an intrinsic good, rather value it as a means. Education is viewed as necessary for getting a job or increasing one’s salary.

The anti-intellectual populist movement reaps significant advantages with the democratization of information. The Internet is flooded with all kinds of sites that have been created by self-appointed primary sources. But the downside is there is no possible way to parse out all the input. The Internet provides a powerful medium (opportunity) to share and communicate anti-intellectual ideas. Global corporations adopted disinformation programs perfected by the tobacco industry over the past fifty years. This includes the climate change denial tactics of the fossil fuel industry through the Internet. These tactics include introducing manufactured uncertainty by raising doubt about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, by setting up so-called independent front organizations to publically promote its desired message. Amazingly politicians and Internet commenters alike win arguments without any facts on their side. Barack Obama summed it up best, “You can ignore facts, but you cannot deny facts.”

For many of Trump’s supporters, the wealthiest cabinet ever is no problem as long as he gets rid of the smart people. This is part of the anti-intellectual backlash against technocrats, bookish intellectuals, and politically correct liberal elites who are indifferent to the struggles of the ‘forgotten men and women in middle America. This is fusion of anti-rationalization with the anti-intellectual. Far right populists within the Republican Party feed off Trump’s anti-intellectualism because they believe elite intellectuals are to blame for problems everywhere. Anti-rationalism is about the erosion of general knowledge and ignorance about the lack of knowledge – you don’t need to know things in the first place. Sound bites of presidential candidates reflect an aversion to complexity when communicating with the public. This can been seen in the types of answers politicians now provide to the public. The average length of a sound bite by a presidential candidate in 1968 was 42.3 seconds. Two decades later it was 9.8 seconds and continued to decline in subsequent elections.1 Today it has been supplanted by the 140-character Twitter burst.

In 17th century Europe the church was the dominant institution, and was the main place where ordinary people got their information and were handed down opinions on what was right or wrong. Any established church was an effective form of thought control. The corporation, the dominant institution of the 21st century, supports think tanks and foundations for such activities as studies to support neoliberal economics and data analysis on voting patterns. Trump perfected the ‘know nothing’ façade of the Republican party to directly appeal to white working-class communities that have a ‘long tradition of hostility towards knowledge.’2 The wealthiest cabinet ever assures that neoliberalism is alive and well in the corridors of the White House. Have no doubt neoliberalism serves the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upwards. The Age of Reason was a movement to introduce critical thinking to replace dogged adherence to established opinions and challenge the blind faith in institutions.

Effort is required today to ensure information is conclusive. Critical thinking is not a matter of accumulating information. It is based on evidence and logical reasoning. Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to identify the relevance and importance of ideas. You must be able to understand the logical connection between ideas, and be able to reflect on the justification of one’s own belief and values. Critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. In such a state, culture is driven by fear and emotion, not rational thinking. Anti-intellect, anti-science, smart money vs misinformed voters, is hardly a fair fight. But the recent election win offers compelling evidence that the survival of the fittest remains an unshakable truth even in American life. There is no doubt anti-intellectualism can be a component of winning an election.

1 Blake, Brian (01 Jan 1998) In Their Own Words: Newspaper Sound bite Lengths in the 1956 and 1996 Presidential Elections

2 Raphael T.J. (2 Aug 2016) A policy expert explains how anti-intellectualism gave rise to Donald Trump.

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Freedom Exercised As A Means to an End

Hegel developed a philosophy of action in which the spirit is always active in the search of some aim, in realizing one’s potential or self-actualization. Hegel believed history is a progressive realization of freedom. The concept of freedom is one which Hegel thought of very great importance, indeed, he believed it to be the central concept of human history. Hegel’s concept of freedom can best be regarded as the answer to a problem – the problem of how a man can be free in a universe which is governed by necessary laws. You must find your own point in history, claims Hegel, and start to reflect on yourself in relation to the world. When asking searching questions of yourself, realize that freedom resides not in the brain, but in the traditions of critical thought and skeptical reason. Today we realize that true freedom is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.

Freedom doesn’t exist as the objective, it exists because there is another objective to obtain, and freedom is the means to obtain it. But what about when freedom is an end in, and of itself? When you have no end and make freedom the ultimate goal, anything goes. What are the consequences? The general premise would be not to use one’s talents and abilities to share with others, or make something that makes a difference. However this approach enslaves you to organizational practice, to careers and of course to the almighty dollar. In this system we are told what to consume, what is popular to ascribe to, give in to your passions – in return, it is supposed to be liberating. These things are the antithesis of freedom. Compliance to all of this that was supposed to set you free, has actually left you in chains and hurting.

Julius Evola claims freedom and equality are tools of manipulation, and after the movement leaders get what they want, they’ll toss you aside. Evola explains, “Practically speaking, it is only a revolutionary weapon: freedom and equality are the catchwords certain social strata or groups employed in order to undermine other classes and to gain preeminence; having achieved this task, they were quickly set aside.”1 Traditionalists believe that modernization be considered an anomaly in the history of mankind. Social life must be governed by ‘traditions,’ the forgetting of which brings about degeneracy. The problems of today, they claim, are the consequences of modern music, drugs, sexual egalitarianism that injured society, specifically marriage, the family and relations between the sexes. Traditionalism provides the ideological cement for the alliance of anti-democratic forces in post-Soviet Russia.

Friedrich Hayek described the connection between economic control and totalitarianism: “The economic freedom which is the prerequisite of any other freedom cannot be the freedom from economic care which the socialist promise us and which can be obtained only by relieving the individual at the same time the necessity and the power of choice, it must be the freedom of our economic activity which, with the right choice, inevitably carries the risk and responsibility of that right.” The economic elite point out, there is a threat to other freedoms with any reduction to economic freedom. An essential attribute of the good life is that people enjoy not just a range of personal freedoms, but a voice in public affairs. The outcome of individual economic freedom can be great inequality, which hollows out realistic notions of democracy.

Kant observed that man’s capacity to reason was not his most important quality. Rather, it is the capacity of free choice which all men share, no matter how refined their reason. Kant’s democratic sensibility, however, is not based on the interests of the common man, but on the common man’s moral worth and moral dignity. Democracy can be defined as the free and equal right of every person to participate in a form of government. However, when it comes to actual choice there are a limited number of candidates, hence only certain choices. Karl Popper claimed democracy is representative and not directly participatory. One’s only role is to judge and dismiss the government, a device to protect ourselves against the misuse of power. People never have any real power over politics. The best one can achieve is to determine which of a few candidates will exercise political rule over them. Democracy masks the true source of power in the hands of the few.

When democracy is an end in itself your vote matters more than who you vote for. In this case it does not matter how informed you are. What matters is that you participate. If truth is not knowable, then all should vote. The foundation of this perspective is agnosticism that means that truth is not knowable. Facts can be disputed such that no decision can be made about their veracity. Then it does not matter what one’s opinion is because we cannot determine what is real anyways. Hence all opinions are equal because there are no independent criteria for truth. In fact it is difficult to achieve a neutral opinion as the media and government have an incredible ability to mislead people which, in turn, leads to people having incorrect beliefs and make incorrect decisions. Currently democracy is treated as an end in itself and we must deal with the tension between freedom and necessity.2

It is time to end partisan gerrymandering Obama said: “we have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.” A gerrymandering of congressional districts, completed six years ago, sought to secure a Republican House majority for years to come by packing Democratic voters into fewer, often urban and minority districts and giving Republican candidates comfortable majorities in the ones they control. But those tailor-made districts yielded a new crop of hard-right, often uncompromising Republican members of Congress, running safely in mostly white, older and rural districts. Composed of nearly 40 of the most committed ideologues in the House, the Freedom Caucus has a simple mission: to get GOP leadership to deliver on the extreme, anti-government and social-conservative rhetoric that nearly all Republicans spout to get elected.

Policy details were lacking during Donald Trump’s campaign, but there were hints of a disturbing agenda on immigration, healthcare, gun control and women’s rights. His campaign’s constantly-evolving views – often championed as a way for Trump to use unpredictability to cut better deals for the nation – made it difficult to glean a political agenda, or even a set of clear, core policy views ahead of his presidency. Why would people who benefit from Obamacare in general – and its Medicaid expansion specifically – vote for a man who vowed to destroy it? Some anecdotal reports have suggested that people simply didn’t understand that the benefits they received were a result of the Affordable Care Act. Others elected Trump to change America and to serve the people instead of a political system that wants to serve itself. Their main hope was that he not pander to liberal interests and that he will help balance the budget, and help the economy remain strong.

Democracy treated as an end in itself ensures economic inequality is now part and parcel of power exercised in and through the state. Democracy as a means to an end is the view that voting in itself is not sufficient. People must become aware of what is really going on and understand and participate in political rule through mass participation. An informed opinion means more than an uninformed opinion. The philosophy that forms the foundation of this perspective is empiricism, which is the view that truth and reality are knowable. If truth is knowable, then all efforts to engage and inform the majority must occur. If the historic inequalities between those in power and those who are ruled are to be eventually overcome we must become more knowledgeable. When democracy is treated as a means to an end in itself, it results in the best decisions and social equality.2

What is freedom? Like many important questions it is something that will undeniably leave us with more questions than answers. Freedom is a balancing act. Doing what you want sounds a lot like freedom, but doing what you want does not always have an end that is freeing. If freedom has no limits, a potential consequence could be anarchy. But when you find true freedom, we realize that like most things that are good, it is not a drastic measure, rather something moderate. For most, we must realize that freedom gives us the right to do at all times what is right, even sometimes at the expense of what we want. Freedom is best exercised as a means to an end, but the end must be one that gives people the choice to make the best possible decision to reach their full potential.

1 Buhls, Thomas. Freedom Is a Code Word for Degeneracy.

2 Is Democracy an End in Itself or a Means to an End? file:///Users/greghorsman/Downloads/Is%20Democracy%20an%20End%20in%20Itself%20or%20a%20Means%20to%20an%20End%20%20Articles-5.htm

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The Nature and Importance of American Liberties

The American conservative identifies with limited government and regulations, and embraces the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” This keeps conservatives united around a set of concrete political and philosophical goals that every layman can understand. The Constitution, although less explicit, recognizes the liberties discussed in the Declaration and protects them as almost sacred. The Constitution’s Bill of Rights also makes religious liberty our “first freedom,” reflecting the Founders’ view that the free exercise of religion would have a positive effect on the workings of government. Today many conservatives defending liberty now call themselves constitutional conservatives. In reaction to a perceived crisis of our time conservatives are searching for the answer to why and how America went wrong. When struggling to protect their families and communities, to save the unborn, and defend marriages, radical solutions become tempting.

Donald Trump, the shape shifter, went from a boasting, bullying, insulting, insensitive candidate to someone who cared about the issues of the common person. He sold the image of America in decline which only he alone could make great again. This means curtailing immigration and tearing up trade deals like NAFTA. Trump connected with those workers who felt they had been left behind. In his inaugural speech Trump declared: “The jobs left, and the factories closed … the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.” Steve Bannon, who is Trump’s chief strategist, insists that America is suffering from a crisis in capitalism. He claims the problem began with the counter revolution of the 60s and 70s. Baby boomers rejected the traditional ‘Judeo-Christian’ values of their parents. It was the Judeo-Christian values that created the enlightened capitalism that made America great following World War II.

In Edmond Burke’s view the basis of a successful society should not be abstract notions like human rights, social justice or equality. Rather societies work best when traditions that have been shown to work are passed from generation to generation. Bannon claims baby boomers abandoned the tried and true values of their parents such as naturalism and religion in favour of new abstractions such as pluralism, equaltarianism and secularism. He believes this created the weakness of capitalism in 2008  that spun profits out of speculation rather than invest their profits in domestic jobs and business. This developed the socialism of the very wealthy and led to the welfare state of the poor and the suffering of the middle class. Some have defined traditionalism as ‘ordered liberty.’ Traditionalists claim there are limits to human reason which must be paid heed or a society may suffer serious damage.

The Traditionalist school of thought rejects the modernist assumption of progressive human evolution, regarding it as the exact opposite of how the universe functions. For Traditionalism, all things begin at their zenith and gradually degenerate, through a series of stages, into mere shadows of their former glory, a pattern no less true of human beings. Evola identified presuppositions that led to the decline of civilization. Social life must be governed by ‘Tradition,’ the forgetting of which brings about decadence. All that relates to our time is darkened by this egalitarianism and decadence of modern music and jazz, drugs, modern art, and society in general, specifically marriage, the family, and the relations between the sexes. Traditionalists see their approach as a justifiable ‘nostalgia for the past’. Recently  Steve Bannon stressed the importance of Trump’s moves to begin a “deconstruction of the administrative state” by appointing individuals from the private sector to key economic Cabinet positions who will help strip down federal regulations.

Part of radical traditionalism is the decline narrative and the revival of localism or return to older philosophies of education. Trump claims he inherited a disaster – the trade deals need to be renegotiated in favour of American workers. The Republican Congress, under the control of the neoliberals, supports gutting the EPA and dumping more toxins from coal plants into river ways to support industry and the ‘creation’ of new jobs. In addition Trump describes the need to expand the groups of immigrants to be deported – putting him in opposition to essential civil liberties that have been guaranteed in the past. Many Republicans argue that religious freedom is under unprecedented attack in the United States. To ensure the country is rebuilt around Judeo-Christian values it is necessary to stop the influx of people who do not believe in them by rallying around nationalism.

Betsy DeVos is a member of one of the wealthiest families in the world. To the extent this is allowed by the Constitution, the agenda of the DeVos family foundations is to re-Christianize America and to replace the melting pot or gorgeous mosaic of the current secular society with an imagined America of a hundred years ago: white-dominated, Christian-dominated, traditional in values and orientation. However, voucher programs have led to disastrous results across the country. In Milwaukee, voucher-funded private school students consistently score below public school students. In Cleveland, less than 20% of voucher-funded private school students even reach basic proficiency levels in math and reading. DeVos says she wants every family to have ‘educational choice,’ the umbrella term used to describe efforts to privatize education by, among other methods, installing school voucher programs, which divert public funding to private and religious schools.

Instead of viewing our times in the light of history, traditionalists review history in the light of our times. They look back over the past, pick and choose events that conform to a preconceived notion of ‘what went wrong.’ History does not work that way – nations are shaped by great statesmen and unforeseen events. On occasion, the traditionalist approach actually rewrites history. It is important to understand that history is not linear. At the turn of the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson and other Progressives rejected concepts of natural law, natural rights, and social contract. Wilson observed, “No doubt we were meant to have liberty, but each generation must form its own conception of what liberty is.”

President Trump says his goal is to make the country ‘safe again’, claiming, “We will not allow people into our country those who are looking to do harm to our people.” He wants specific surveillance of targeted communities and databases on people coming from certain countries. He knows that the majority of American people want to get their communities back – safe from terrorists and drugs. Trump’s conception is that the President has unchallengeable power to implement the agenda he believes the people elected him for. Trump attacks the press who he believes is in opposition to him implementing his agenda. His charge of “FAKE NEWS” is meant to delegitimize accurate reporting that makes him look bad. Many see this as suppression of freedom of speech and an attack on the Fourth Estate.

Traditionalism is skeptical about the “self-evident truths” that America is based on. They look back to a more virtuous foundation than the Founding – a tradition innocent of modernity’s “concretes” especially the concrete that the church and state can be separated. Constitutional grounding of the American regime on ‘religious neutral’ ideas such as natural rights, supports individual rights to promote sexual autonomy, leads to inevitable decline from natural law liberalism into modern liberalism, which they believe unwittingly makes today’s moral anarchy inevitable. Radical traditionalists say we must begin again.The West, Bannon believes, is in the midst of a crisis of faith. We need enlightened capitalism – capitalism once more moored in Judeo-Chritian beliefs. This would reduce the ongoing conflicts in the country that are basically due to major cultural differences.

The problem of course is that the modern order was born precisely because life in these societies was so intolerable to people of conscience. Conscience is an aptitude, faculty, intuition or judgment that assists in distinguishing right from wrong. One cannot be complacent because of the importance of American liberties, the reality of which depends upon an informed electorate rather than an nation that has been fed a diet of lies from the Trump apparatus, and because of the timidity and irresponsibility of a Congress that is failing in its constitutional role as a co-equal branch of government to serve as a check and balance to the Executive Branch. One wants to be able to say to their children, to others who look back in history, and to ourselves that we took a stand for our country, for our most fundamental shared values, and most importantly, for our moral values, as reflected in the best of religious and humanitarian traditions.2

Pre-modern Europe did not necessarily attribute liberties to individuals but to social relations and communities. Since Hegel (1770–1831) the concept has often been categorized in a threefold manner: moral liberties (freedom of moral choice, such as freedom of conscience), civil liberties (freedom of individuals as constituting members of a civil society, such as freedom of speech) and political liberties (freedom of individuals in relation to the state, such as freedom of political association), all being attributes of individuals. Freedom is not a matter of autonomy or choosing whatever we happen to want. Rather, to be free is to live a certain mode of life. Liberty is violated when someone else interferes with it. People of conscience are people who not only love our country and the values upon which our Constitution rests, but who strongly believe that our actions, and the actions in which our country engages, should be consistent with our most basic moral values. Individuals of good conscience must take a stand, remembering the US has, in the past, embraced progress, pledging to do better, striving for the higher moral ground.

1 Gill, Nathan. (20 Aug 2015) What’s Conservative about Radical Traditionalism?

2 Anderson, Ross C. (30 May 2008) People of Conscience, Challenge the President!

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The Existential Threat And Lying To Yourself

Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes individual existence, freedom and choice. It is the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. An existential threat is a threat to a people’s existence or survival. If you wrestle with big questions involving the meaning of life, you may be having an existential crisis. Although the word existence was known in the 14th century, most people wrote about philosophy in Latin at that time and used the word existentia. The verb exist waited another couple of centuries to appear, not being known before Shakespeare used it in the mouth of King Lear, who swore to disown poor Cordelia ‘by all the operation of the orbs/ From whom we do exist and cease to be’. It’s the threat of ceasing to be that worries people now.

Existentialism believes that individuals are entirely free and must take personal responsibility for themselves (although with this responsibility comes angst, a profound anguish or dread). It therefore emphasizes action, freedom and decision as fundamental, and holds that the only way to rise above the essentially absurd condition of humanity (which is characterized by suffering and inevitable death) is by exercising our personal freedom and choice. Existentialism is more a reaction against traditional philosophies, such as Determinism, that seek to discover an ultimate order and universal meaning in the structure of the observed world. It asserts that people actually make decisions based on what has meaning to them, rather than what is rational. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were interested in people’s concealment of the meaninglessness of life and their use of diversion to escape from boredom. Nietzsche further contended that the individual must decide which situations are to count as moral situations.

Kierkegaard saw rationality as a mechanism humans use to counter their existential anxiety, their fear of being in the world. Kierkegaard also stressed that individuals must choose their own way without the aid of universal, objective standards. Thus, most Existentialists believe that personal experience and acting on one’s own convictions are essential in arriving at the truth, and that the understanding of a situation by someone involved in that situation is superior to that of a detached, objective observer. According to Camus we live in an absurd universe, in which meaning is not provided by the natural order, but rather can be created by human actions and interpretations. Sartre saw rationality as a form of “bad faith,” an attempt by the self to impose structure on a fundamentally irrational and random world of phenomena (“the other”). This bad faith hinders us from finding meaning in freedom, and confines us within everyday experience.1

Friedrich Nietzsche observed, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” Even what we believe we see with our own eyes is made up from memory. When referring to blind spots in our vision that we do not notice, much of what you see ‘out there’ is actually manufactured ‘in here’ by your brain. Malleable memory, the brain filling in gaps in vision, and the biggest culprit, defense mechanisms, as well as the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain leading to an implicit preference toward a lie, should at least contribute to one realizing thinking cannot be trusted. People want to hear what they want to hear. When two candidates are running and one of them tells the truth and the other says what the public wants to hear, the one who says what the public wants to hear wins the election.

There is not one big reason Trump won. His election promises represented an appeal to popular resentment, to so-called herd instincts. Donald Trump made a string of promises during his long campaign to be the 45th president of the United States. Taking back control of immigration included banning all Muslims entering the US and building a wall along the border with Mexico. He echoed Republicans attacking Obamacare, saying the law imposes too many costs on business, describing it as a “job killer” and decrying the reforms as an unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of private businesses and individuals. Under his ‘America first’ doctrine in January, 2017 the president promises his plans will create 25 million new jobs in the next decade. Trump claimed, “We will bring back our jobs … our borders … our wealth, and … our dreams.”

Donald Trump is an authoritarian, we can all agree on that. He proclaims it at every opportunity. He’s selected some of the most ridiculously hardline authoritarians for his administration. Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian style may excite Trump and his supporters, but it’s hardly a quality that would make a good president. However, that’s the strength Trump admires, the willingness to achieve your own ends no matter how much harm you might do to others. Trump may claim (falsely) that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, and periodically express skepticism about overseas adventures. But that won’t bother most Republicans, because no candidate has ever fetishized the conservative brand of strength more than he does. Pollsters have asked for decades whether voters consider candidates to be strong leaders, and their answers correlate highly with their choice for president.

Donald Trump is unique in that responsibility washes over him and into the shower drain like a layer of dirt; he is devoid of it even in personal interaction. The only rational explanation of his behavior is the term extreme individualism. In Trump’s mind there are winners and losers. His basic issue over several decades has been bad deals – bad deals in defending allies who he feels do not pay enough for their defense and bad trade deals. Like any business owner or high level executive, he intends to issue orders expecting them to be carried out. By invoking a return to an imaginary past and ignoring reality, Trump is putting at risk a sustainable future, not just for America and its economy, but for the very survival of civilization. There are very pressing threats to human survival that can only be addressed with clear-eyed realism. Seeking to make America great while risking destroying the world is hardly a viable approach to our future.

Ultimately, there are only two primary political belief systems, which are poorly captured by any label such as liberal, conservative, republican, or democrat. The two, fundamental political belief systems are: In the first system, the belief is that there are circumstances people are born into which largely determine their choices and outcomes, and that each of us is fundamentally responsible for helping others overcome the negativity associated with their disadvantages. Because of this, the happiness and suffering of every person is inexorably tied to that of every other person. The second belief system declares every person has his/her own choice to fail or succeed, and that those who suffer are doing so in some part due their own personal failure. As such, it is not the moral obligation of those who chose correctly to sacrifice in order to help those who chose poorly.2

One group thinks that those who are in positions of advantage are there by way of good fortune alone, and that they therefore are indebted to society, and humanity, as a whole. Nietzsche named the original system of social control in small communities, the morality of outcomes (of actions), the consequences of one’s conduct being the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or the wrongness of that conduct. This means that the morality of an action is dependent on both the intentions of the action and its consequences. The other group feels it was their individual choices that yielded their success, apart from any advantages they may have had, and that they therefore owe nobody anything – least of all those who made poor choices when they should have made the right ones. For this group, determinism rules out free will. Existentialism is a complete rejection of Determinism.

Existentialist thought concerns itself with trying to understand fundamentals of the human condition and its relation to the world around us. Existentialism puts special emphasis on personal choices and on the problems and peculiarities that face individual human beings. As a result, meaning is not provided by the natural order, but rather can be created, however provisionally and unstably, by human beings, actions and interpretations. For Nietzsche, the celebration of a man like Trump was the inevitable result of a democratic culture built on the virtues of ignorance and self-fulfillment. For Nietzsche, culture has to do with overcoming yourself, while anything that is static and non-moving is the death of culture. All this nostalgia and looking back (turning to a traditionalist world view) you see from Trump supporters is poisonous to culture for Nietzsche because it stunts any possibility of progress.3

How does one respond to this existential threat? It is necessary to resist this regression into a petty, fragmented brand of politics rooted in resentment and fear. There is a need for a morality of unintended consequences. It isn’t necessary to buy into the big lie all of the time. You can step back from thinking. As Eckhart Tolle says, “Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” Question from where your thinking arises. How do these thoughts or feelings relate to your history; what is this event tapping into? What is the root of this feeling? In what ways am I lying to myself? These are questions that can begin the process of seeing reality more clearly.4  This will counter the intentional blurring of the relationship between proposed facts and reality that dominates the present political climate.

1 The Basics of Philosophy

2 Miessler, Daniel. (8 Sept 2009) Free Will vs. Determinism as the Core of Political Disagreement

3 Illing, Sean. (20 Dec 2016) What Nietzsche’s philosophy can tell us about why Brexit and Trump won

4 Berry, William. (23 March 2013) The Big Lie

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