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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On Understanding Fear And Change

Leaders know that the difficulty of overcoming resistance to change, the inertia, the political blockages and entrenched interests in the status quo, is all altered by a crisis. Donald Trump understands this and his chilling language reflects this. During his inaugural address, Trump painted a dark dystopian picture of a United States in decline. He declared “This American carnage stops here and stops right now,” appealing to voters emotions rather than their intellect. A crisis alters this calculation. It lowers the cost of change while also making clearer the price of not changing. This fear brings people together to face an external threat, and political differences are temporarily set aside. Inertia is lessened when people understand that the status quo will not stand. The idea stands a better chance. That’s what economist Paul Romer meant when he said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, and it would be a pity not to take advantage of it.

Nietzsche insists that there are no rules for human life, no absolute values, no certainties on which to rely. If truth can be achieved at all, it can come only from an individual who purposefully disregards everything that is traditionally taken to be ‘important.’ Nietzsche was obsessed with the idea that the people of his time unquestioningly assumed that pity and altruism are always ‘good,’ when in fact the truth is much more complex – value and truth were always relative to the individual doing the supposing. Nietzsche thought excessive pity could cripple the subject who felt it, and that an altruistic attitude could actually be quite destructive, if one had the hubris to assume that one actually knew what was best for another person. He went as far as to question the value of truth seeking as an activity – man manages to live only because of immense self-deception.

Nietzsche claims there are no moral facts, and there is nothing in nature that has value in itself. Rather, to speak of good or evil is to speak of human illusions, of lies according to which we find it necessary to live. He tells us “man needs to supplement reality by an ideal world of his own creation.” Knobe and Leiter take the unusual step of seeing to what degree recent experimental findings in psychology support either Nietzsche or Kant. They have little difficulty in showing that Nietzsche is largely vindicated. For the most part we are not rational doers: the view that we choose our actions from a standpoint of deliberative detachment seems to be a Kantian myth. There appears to be no general accordance between our attitudes and beliefs, and our actions – in effect, we say one thing, but do another. Rather than acting for reasons, we tend to act, and invent reasons afterwards.1

In 1988, Rupert Wilkinson, who has taught at universities in America and the UK, published a fascinating book, The Pursuit of American Character. This book is a succinct explanation of the underlying forces that drive American political behavior. Like all cultures, the unique history of the US has ‘set Americans up’ in how they approach critical issues no matter what the time period in their history or the particular problems they are facing. Wilkinson identified four fears that not only have been present from the very founding of the Republic, but are so basic that they are virtually synonymous with it: (1) The Fear of Being Owned, (2) The Fear of Falling Away, (3) The Fear of Winding Down, (4) The Fear of Falling Apart. Each one of these characteristics has been in play this past election cycle in the US.2

The Fear of Being Owned historically relates to the escape from the centuries old tyranny of “evil European Kings and despots” and explains why the attacks on Obamacare is so prolonged and vicious. The government is the perceived problem rather than the big insurance companies manipulating the markets. The Fear of Falling Away is not just a vision – its America’s raison d’etre. It is the fear of losing the original holy vision of a “City on a Hill” that the Founding Fathers gave Americans. It is the vision of an America that can do no wrong because She is the font of all that is good and right with the world. The Republicans fear that in looking to the future, President Obama, and subsequently Hillary Clinton, wanted to take our communities away from America’s glorious past.

The Fear of Winding Down – is the fear that Americans will lose the unbridled and unbounded energy and optimism that made America great. This fear is also so basic that it’s wrapped up with all kinds of ideologies, e.g., capitalism. Thus, if President Obama would have only relaxed the constraints on American business, then we “could get this high-energy economy going once again.” The Fear of Falling Apart is the fear that we are tearing ourselves apart because of all our internal conflict, such as, black versus white, etc. Therefore, in contrast to the ‘weak leadership of Obama or Clinton, we need a strong leader who understands what America is really all about.’

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

While Republicans perpetually talk about getting tough on crime, they actually need it to get and stay in power. Pitting the lower middle class and poor against the really poor, who are simultaneously seen as responsible for and the victims of crime, is the way the economic elite divert attention away from the fact that under Republicans, there is less support for unemployment, income and social inequality – all of which lead to crime. Trump was for the little guy during the election, but once in office he surrounded himself with an economic elite who preach neoliberal doctrines which they know to be untrue in order to preserve their own social status. It’s not enough for progressives to guarantee that they won’t screw up and lose today’s hearts and minds, they must realize that we don’t learn with our concious minds alone.

We will not resolve communication challenges through appeals to so-called rational policies and thinking alone. When Clinton said Trump is dangerous, all people heard was the world is dangerous, regrettably it played into the message of chaos. Trump cultivates our sense of vulnerability. While his overall policies appear to lack a formulated objective, the cumulative impact of the politics of fear is to reinforce society’s consciousness of vulnerability. The more powerless we feel the more we are likely to be paralyzed by fear. Personhood is the way people understand and relate to each other that contributes towards possessing certain capacities, and how one relates to others. The precondition for effectively countering the politics of fear is to challenge the personhood with the state of vulnerability. The human imagination possesses a formidable capacity to engage and learn from the crisis it faces. In this process an alternate choice is defined by our capacity to be resilient, and to reject our perceived vulnerability.

Let us look at Wilkinson’s four fears through this new lens of resilience: The Fear of Being Owned – the vulnerability of democratic growth in the US thus comes not primarily from external threats or from internal subversion from the left or right, but rather from oligarchs and their proxies who substantially impact US elections. The Fear of Falling Away is the fact the ‘City on the Hill’ is no longer that beacon that everyone one the world could look to for what is right. The Fear of Winding Down deals with the increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society that reduces the opportunity for everyone to reach their full potential. The Fear of Falling Apart – neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy as justice is now linked to a market logic that divorces itself from social cost. It is necessary to address state violence in all its manifestations – healthcare, the education system, in addition to police – to ensure racial equality.

The Trump administration presently goes from one crisis of its own creation to another that his administration handles disastrously. Eventually he will run into a crisis that is not of his own making and based on evidence presently in front of us it is extremely difficult to be confident he will be able to handle it effectively. The potential for this creates a great deal of fear in the community. We already know the financial elite has a plan to blame Trump for the next financial crisis. Progressives must seize the opportunity and take advantage of this crisis to influence change. Now is the time to organize workers to participate in the next election. It would be a pity not to take advantage of it.

1 Rodger Cadwall. (Feb/Mar 2017) Nietzsche and Morality

2 The Republicans’ Masterful and Insidious Prey on America’s Founding Fears (6 April 2012)

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The American Tragedy

Greek tragedy was a popular and influential form of drama performed in theatres across ancient Greece from the late 6th century BCE. Because the festival was held in honor of Dionysus, it was held at the end of March when all the grapes had fermented into wine. The presentation took the form of a contest between three playwrights, who presented their works on three successive days. The plays were judged on the day by a panel. The tragic hero’s powerful wish to achieve some goal inevitably encounters limits, usually those of human frailty (flaws in reason, hubris, society), the gods (through oracles, prophets, fate), or nature. Aristotle says that the tragic hero should have a flaw and/or make some mistake. Focus is on psychological and ethical attributes of characters, rather than physical and sociological. The main goal of the festivals remained true to the original Dionysian purpose: catharsis.

Performed in an open-air theatre such as that of Dionysos in Athens and seemingly open to all of the male populace the plot of a tragedy was mainly constructed from Greek mythology or history, which we must remember were often a part of Greek religion. The aim of tragedy, Aristotle writes, is to bring about a “catharsis” of the spectators – to arouse in them sensations of pity and fear, and to purge them of these emotions so that they leave the theater feeling cleansed and uplifted, with a heightened understanding of the ways of gods and men. This catharsis is brought about by witnessing some disastrous and moving change in the fortunes of the drama’s protagonist. Both the audience and performers were able to purge their emotions during the course of the festivals, through the group reaction to the events onstage, thus achieve catharsis.1

By the early 400s B.C., Greeks had come to believe that the polis (the Greek city-state or community) was the perfect form of government, so its laws and customs were perfect guidelines for human behavior. But the laws of a city could not cover all of the rules. In some areas, the rules of life were uncertain. It was these ‘gray areas’ that became the subject of tragic plays. Writers tried to explore these areas to help other Greeks understand the rules governing the human condition more fully. Playwrights served the city by examining the work of fate in human life and the kinds of actions that would bring a bad fate. Tragedy centers on the action of a main character or protagonist. He is a person of many outstanding talents and achievements. But despite his merits, he also possesses a hamartia, a tragic flaw; a character fault or blind spot that prevents him from realizing that he has human limitations.

Events occur that cause this flaw to emerge and grow until the protagonist commits an act of hubris. He violates the natural, moral limits placed on human action. When he does, the gods step in and inflict nemesis, punishment on him (divine retribution), thus illustrating that the gods are just and that such immoral acts will bring divine retribution. They viewed fate as just by definition because it is part the world order. It did not have to conform to human standards of fairness or rightness. Besides, the main point of tragedy was that man could not resist his fate. In making that point, tragedy served two purposes. Intellectually, it simply informed the audience that order exists, and humans could not change or resist it. Emotionally, it instilled intense fear and pity at this fact. The deep emotion produced a catharsis or cleansing, not unlike that produced by participating in the mysteries of Dionysus.

The elections of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 can be viewed as inaugurating the formal period of neoliberal economic policy dominance at the state level. A financial elite set in motion a process to reinvent government and have the market to serve as a model for structuring all social relations. 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, so-called trickle-down economics. 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. Inequality is not only the natural state of market economics from the perspective of neoliberal ideology, but it is believed to be one of its strongest motor forces for progress.

Neoliberals treat the market as natural, which allows natural science metaphors to be integrated into the neoliberal narrative. The market was replaced with competition as the defining character of human relations including redefining individuals as consumers. Today the market is considered an instrument of ‘natural selection’ that judges not on the basis of an individual’s ability to contribute to society, but on the basis of the individual’s ability to contribute to the production of surplus value and the accumulation of capital. Neoliberal ideology claims the market ensures everyone gets what they deserve. 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. For the past forty years, we believed this evolutionary process to be a source of progress, but now we realize we bought into an illusion.

The United States constitution guarantees citizens the fundamental freedoms derived from the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Free elections are mandated every two years with replacement of the legislative branch, one-half the Senate and Congress every two years and the executive branch – president and cabinet – every four years. Americans believe their republic is the best system in the world and turn out to elect candidates who they believe will best protect their values. There are gray areas the laws of the constitution do not cover. The first institution to suffer is the House of Representatives as Republican Governors developed a systematic process of gerrymandering districts to ensure their candidates were elected. Voter restrictions represent ongoing efforts to disenfranchise poor people who tend to vote for Democrats. The Supreme Court 2011 decision in favour of Citizens United opened the campaign spending floodgates allowing economic elite to control who is elected.

When President Obama became president in 2008, Republicans were complicit in a plan to block his entire agenda during his time in office. President Obama was elected on promises that included economic change, which never materialized. Since the Great Recession, more and more voters are disillusioned with the system, with the disappearance of good paying jobs as manufacturing was outsourced to lower cost labour sources, while legislators in Washington remained gridlocked and unable to introduce new policies. The 2016 election was dominated by Donald Trump who was successful in tapping into the anger of workers who felt the system no longer understood or represented their concerns. The media failed miserably at their job vetting Donald Trump during the 2016 primaries, rather they made decisions based on viewership (and money). Consequently, Trump, one of the least qualified candidates ever, won.

With Trump’s election workers who voted for him see an opportunity for change – to bring back well-paying manufacturing jobs – promised by Trump. As an outsider unencumbered by ideology, and few IOUs to the party establishment, Trump appeared poised to deliver. However, the hero of any tragedy has flaws. He is a shape shifter who gives the audience in front of him what it wants, while not sweating the details of policy. Trump’s choices for cabinet posts indicate the true direction his administration is going. The workers will be deceived; he can not make good on his promises. Maintaining the Wall Street-Washington corridor ensures wealth continues to be distributed upward. The consequences of these decisions, the poor and people on minimum wage will continue to suffer. The economic divide between the wealthy and the rest of society will continue to grow.

A real life tragic hero has appeared in America. President Trump aspires to help those who have fallen behind, but he has a tragic flaw in his character – extreme individualism that leads to narcissism. With narcissism, the greatest problem is profound disconnect from reality. Such a person lacks empathy and does not recognize boundaries: personal, corporate or legal. The world viewed from an emotional rather than a rational perspective allows personal feelings to override the distinction between right and wrong. With self-tolerance, such an individual tolerates errors and flaws in their actions, thus influencing decision-making that creates the chaos that can bring them down. Typically when a tragic hero falls, the events evoke feelings of pity or fear, depending on the observer.

Will there actually be catharsis in America?  No, because people are divided. The neoliberals, without anyone knowing, have penetrated and restructured the identity of workers by pitting different segments of the working-class against each other. This polarization distracts workers from the activities of the economic elite. The so-called truth the people hear are beliefs developed by the oligarchs and their proxies to perpetuate the existing power structure regardless of who is president. The American tragedy is the fact that the constitution now protects the interests of corporations, not individuals.

Cartwright, Mark. (16 March 2013) Greek Tragedy.



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Searching for Truth

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) claimed all concepts are human inventions (created by common agreement to facilitate ease of communication), human beings forget this fact after inventing them, and come to believe that they are ‘true’, but, in fact, do not correspond to reality. In Nietzsche’s view there is no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consists of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. Nietzsche argued that truth is impossible – there can only be perspective and interpretation – there are no absolute and fixed truths. Truths are illusions about which one has forgotten what they are; they are lies according to which we find it necessary to live. The sole opportunity for truth and the only experience of reality, Nietzsche claimed, are from an individual’s perspective within life.

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) developed the concept of cultural hegemony – whereby the ruling class of a capitalist society coerced the working class to adopt its values in maintaining the State. Gramsci developed the theory to explain why workers in industrialized countries in Europe had not risen up in revolt against the capitalist system as predicted by Marx. He claimed society is manipulated and controlled as a direct consequence of ‘false consciousness’ and the creation of values and life choices that are to be followed. In advanced industrial societies, hegemonic cultural tools such as compulsory schooling, mass media, and popular culture indoctrinate the workers. Gramsci described cultural hegemony as a form of thought control by the dominant economic and ruling elite that permeated throughout society of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality. He warned of the necessary struggle, “To tell the truth is revolutionary.”

The Information Age began in 1989 along with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Telecommunications, computers and the Internet allowed instantaneous communication, notwithstanding the vast geographic difference that separated jurisdictions. These high-speed technologies allowed the cross-border flow of commodities with great efficiency. Ronald Reagan had been president for two terms and neoliberal capitalism had become established. 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. In 2015 Ted Cruz observed, “the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our income nationally than any year since 1928.”

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. These tactics include introducing manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, by setting up so-called independent front organizations to publically promote its desired message. This also involved cherry picking scientific spokespeople whose interpretations of the peer-reviewed literature suggest to the media and the public that the debate amongst scientists continues, and the results are not definitive. Industries sponsor sophisticated research activities that include both funding of established research institutions, as well as funding of advocacy and ideological organizations to conduct disinformation campaigns – leaving public and law makers confused.

Media does not hesitate to create cognitive dissonance, the feeling of uncomfortable tension that occurs in the pairing of unrelated facts to create correlation. Roger Ailes and Fox News understood this all to well and regularly distort information. An example of this is President George W. Bush’s speech in which he mentioned Iraq and the September 11th attacks in the same sentence. The close proximity of the mentions is designed to create a correlation in people’s minds when the reality is different. By insinuating, people subconsciously take the idea and turn it into a possibility. This information is fed into the conservative echo chamber of which Fox News is the centerpiece, and through repetition, the correlation becomes fact based on misinformation. As a result, in 2013, two years after the terrorist’s strike against the US 70% of Americans believed that Iraq was involved. The belief in the connection persists even though there has been no proof of a link between the two.

News systems have changed greatly in the past decade. The future of publishing is being put into the hands of the few, who now control the destiny of the many. Emily Bell observes, news publishers have lost control over the distribution of their journalism, which for many readers is now “filtered through algorithms and platforms which are opaque and unpredictable”. This means that social media companies have become overwhelmingly powerful in determining what we read – and enormously profitable from the monetization of other people’s work. As Bell notes: “There is a far greater concentration of power in this respect than there has ever been in the past.”1 The Facebook app, ‘Paper’ tracks the news you’re interested in and gives you more of that and less of everything else, never burdening you with contradictory information or telling you anything new.

George Orwell’s novel, 1984, written after the Second World War, introduced a concept of reality control that the population could be controlled and manipulated merely through the alteration of everyday language and thought. Orwell’s prophesy in his novel was the appearance of a state in which the truth does not exist; it is merely what ‘big brother’ says it is. Rather than Big Brother watching, today we have multiple big brothers in the form of huge Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, which log every keystroke. Hossein Derakhshan, observes, the “diversity that the World Wide Web had originally envisioned” has given way to “the centralisation of information” inside a select few social networks – and the end result is “making us all less powerful in relation to government and corporations”.When it comes to the Internet, Amazon, Netflix and Pandora use complex algorithms to make recommendations based on what similar people like, and Facebook and Google use them to cull pertinent information from personal emails and Internet searches in order to provide unsolicited user-specific advertising.

The increasing prevalence of this approach suggests that we are in the midst of a fundamental change in the values of journalism – a consumerist shift. Instead of strengthening social bonds, or creating an informed public, or the idea of news as a civic good, a democratic necessity, it creates gangs, which spread instant falsehoods that fit their views, reinforcing each other’s beliefs, driving each other deeper into shared opinions, rather than established facts. In the digital age, it is easier than ever to publish false information, which is quickly shared and taken to be true – as we often see in emergency situations, when news is breaking in real time. The influence of false information on consequences has become apparent in recent elections in the UK and America.

When a fact begins to resemble whatever you feel is true, it becomes very difficult for anyone to tell the difference between facts that are true and ‘facts’ that are not. During Brexit the Leave campaign was well aware of this – and took full advantage, safe in the knowledge that the Advertising Standards Authority has no power to police political claims. A few days after the vote, Ukip’s leaders informed the Guardian that they knew all along that facts would not win the day. Their plan was to take ‘an American-style media approach’. Two political slogans or lies incorporated into the campaign: an extra £350million a week would be spent on the National Health Service if the UK backed a Brexit vote, and it would address concerns over the level of immigration that was threatening social and national identity. What is common to these two reasons is that both involve the diminishing status of truth.

During the 2016 US election style was more important than content. The Internet proved to be a barrier to new ideas – if you’re a hardcore liberal Democrat, for instance, Google shows you news from blue-leaning states. If you’re a conservative Republican, then you get everything that’s slanted that way. In this manner, the Internet became a series of tunnels of misinformation. The algorithm-induced information echo chambers allowed the FSB and FBI to independently undermine one of the candidates in the 2016 US presidential election. The Evangelicals’ mini bubble filtered out Donald Trump’s character flaws and religious beliefs, rather focused on the fact he could deliver conservative judges to the Supreme Court. While it was workers’ fear of neoliberal economics that allowed Donald Trump to win, the economic elite’s interests remain well represented in his cabinet, so the power of the oligarchs continues unabated.

When searching for truth, we must realize the Internet search algorithms are not arbiters of the truth. In fact, there is no such thing as an unbiased news site. This does not mean that there are no truths. Most skeptics believe that by continuously questioning our knowledge, the source thereof, and what is held as “truth,” we can greatly reduce the risk of being deceived. However, 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. We must be ever more cognizant of the the social media subtleties that impact us. It is more important than ever to actively seek out alternative views to sense-check our understanding of truth. In addition, progressives must buy subscriptions to printed press in order to ensure the quality of newspapers. Otherwise, the result is a less well-informed public. Today, truth involves not only a search, but also a struggle.

1 Viner, Catherine. (12 July 2016) How technology disrupted the truth.

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Choices Have Consequences

Brett Stevens observes, most people see the world in binary categories. They believe that there is either an inherent moral good that we must all obey, or there are no rules and life is pointless anarchy. Nihilism argues for a middle path: we lack inherent order, but are defined by our choices, which means that we must start making smarter choices by understanding the reality in which we live more than the human social reality which we have used to replace it in our minds. Searching for a level of thought underneath the self-serving methods of politics and economics, the philosophy of nihilism approaches thought at its most basic level and highest degree of abstraction. It counters the self-deception of groupthink – individuals not considering all the alternatives, as they desire unanimity at the expense of quality decisions. Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.1

While many rail against nihilism as the death of culture and religion, the philosophy itself encourages a consequentialist, reality-based outlook that forms the basis for moral choice. Unlike the control-oriented systems of thought that form the basis of contemporary society, nihilism reverts the crux of moral thinking to the relationship between the individual and the effects of that individual’s actions in reality. As a direct consequence of nihilism, man is forced to see reality for what it is: a random, irrational, and chaotic existence in which our role is infinitesimal. Nihilistic despair occurs upon finding something that once had value or meaning being not as good as you believed. Not surprisingly this happened when Wall Street protesters called out the ruling class of elites by connecting the dots between corporate and political power. Now many realize the economic system is rigged for the very few while the majority continue to fall further behind.

Political nihilism is a world-view that’s rational, logical, empirical, scientific and devoid of pointless, extraneous emotion. It’s the logical psyche that distills everything down into what is known, what can be known and what can’t be known. However, truth is simply the name given to the point of view of the people who have the power to enforce their point of view. Whatever man can make work in order to achieve his purposes becomes the truth in the system. There is no objective reality behind truth – different perspectives produce different truths. Nihilism is a consequence of the personal realization that values previously assumed inviolate are wholly false and unworkable. And while an acceptance of nihilism immediately returns a perspective of utter futility for life and universal existence, this perspective is not the final resolution. Actually existence has even more purpose now because a proper perspective has been attained and a reason is finally clear – the complete destruction of the debasing, ideologically derived moral order.2

The philosopher Friedrich W. Nietzsche claimed there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class, and facts cannot be separated from interpretations. Objectivity is beyond human capability because the mind cannot know ‘truth’ in an objective sense. Minds are useful, but according to Nietzsche invariably flawed because they cannot separate facts from human error and moral values, which inevitably are subjective. If all perspectives are subjective and hence flawed, what perspective is society to follow? Nietzsche’s perspective was that no source of knowledge was authoritative. Sources of knowledge won ascendancy based on which ones were backed by holders of power. Thus, perceived truth depended on power. Real truth, if it existed, was not ideology that cannot be challenged, but was relative and subjective. It depends on circumstances.

For Nietzsche, the values (culture and traditions) of the dominant society (with an ideology consistent with its interests) were oppressing the emergence of a new generation of stronger individuals and a more vigorous society and culture. Darwin effectively showed that searching for a true definition of species was not only futile but unnecessary since the definition of a species is something temporary, something which will change over time, without any permanent, lasting and stable reality. Nietzsche strived through his philosophical work to do the same for cultural values. He substituted Darwin’s adaptive fitness with creative power – and called for a ‘re-evaluation of all values.’ Ideas should change as soon as information and input changes. Recognition that moral values are subjective and that rights can only be interpreted in their social context frees the observer to break from the bondage of false views to see society more clearly, if still subjectively.

Nietzsche considered nihilism a transitional stage that accompanies human development. It arises from frustration and weariness. When people feel alienated from values, and have lost the foundation of their value system but have not replaced it with anything, then they become nihilists. Nietzsche saw that the old values and old morality simply didn’t have the same power that they once did. He believed that there was no longer any real substance to traditional social, political, moral, and religious values, and science does not introduce a new set of values to replace the Christian values it displaces. Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it in science or society, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves as xenophobia. If there is a morality in the nihilist world, it is the unceasing awareness of consequences.

Political nihilism involves the destruction of illusions, the negation of mythology and the removal of the elite who profit from the existing propaganda of artificial confusion. Neoliberals created the illusion cutting taxes for the rich will actually create well paying jobs for the rest of society. 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. In the 21st century the myth of the market hinges on the illusion of a supposedly natural order in the economic realm. However, in this so-called evolutionary environment of the market the income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society continues to grow. These illusions must be destroyed with truth – tax cuts for the rich do not create well-paying jobs for the middle class and there is no justification for the presence of competition in all parts of social activities.

Donald Trump employed populist nihilism during the 2016 presidential campaign attracting voters disillusioned with the establishment choices. The opportunity was created as the ideology of the dominant society, fundamental neoliberal economics, alienated workers from values such as the American dream. Neither ideology nor facts inform Trump’s decision making, so he could easily adopt political nihilism. What do his choices for cabinet inform us? Steve Mnuchin, an ex-Goldman Sachs partner and hedge-fund manager, was appointed to Department of Treasury; Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, was appointed to Department of Commerce. These appointments will ensure the Wall Street-Washington corridor continues to function. These choices make certain the economic elite’s interests will be looked after. “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed,” observed Friedrich Nietzsche.

Political nihilism is a branch of nihilism that follows the characteristic nihilist’s rejection of non-rationalized or non-proven assertions. As such, nihilism does not support equality, however neither does neoliberal capitalism. Nihilism is not about disregard for the law, rather consists in rejection of all value judgements. Nihilism views rights as irrelevant because it’s the underlying structures of morality and the roots of truth, myth and collective delusions that dictate significance. Morality and ethics, a product of the dominant class, laced with hypocrisy and abuse are warped into illusory forces. In this system, with no absolute truth, individuals must evaluate one moral position in relation to other moral positions. Winston Churchill observed, “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”

The present system is fundamentally broken; it is necessary to reject the dogma of the past. What will drive change is a doctrine of skepticism coupled with questioning that refutes the ideology, sacred values and principles that maintain neoliberal ideology along with the supporting social and economic institutions based on false beliefs. In this manner new values appear to replace the old. The new system will be configured for a biologically-based existence. This process would reject arbitrary values in favor of cause and effect, with a sustainable mental and physical environment that promotes independent thinking and critical expression. We must make smart choices – and choices have consequences – replacing the existing corrupt political, economic and social systems with a more sustainable environment in order to achieve the goal of making good decisions on how we use our world and the things in it, for all our benefit.

1 A Philosophy Based In Nothingness And Eternity – A Call to Action. (06 Sept 2016)

2 Nihilism Defined.


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Why Co-operation is Necessary

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. The nature of economic relations in Europe’s industrial societies, Marx believed, was the central problem for the world’s rapidly growing population. He dismissed the Malthusian notion that the rising world population, rather than capitalism, was the cause of ills. He argued that when society is well ordered, increases in the population should lead to greater wealth, not hunger and misery. Marx posited that a decisive stage in the development of the class struggle would be the moment when workers “discover that the degree of intensity of the competition among themselves depends wholly on the pressure of the relative surplus population” and thus on their being able “to organize a regular co-operation between employed and unemployed”.1

One of the central features of capitalism is the oversupply of labor, or surplus population – a large mass of people that enter and leave the labor force according to the needs of capital. Treating labor as a disposable and/or easily replaceable part of the production process promotes capitalism’s central driving force – the never-ending drive to accumulate wealth. The contradiction between capital and labor is a thing of the past as a new line of demarcation has developed between the “productive” and the “unproductive” members of society. Now the exploited are redefined by their exclusion and by their increasingly precarious relationship to work. A consequence of neoliberalism is the reconfiguration of class relations in a society where the explosion of inequality and economic instability has profoundly dismantled the working class. This system replaces exploitation with the problem of surplus population that consists of the unemployed, the impoverished, immigrants, the excluded, the underclass, and the insecurely employed.

The post-War social welfare state – normalizing work for some and thus normalizing “non-work” for others, helping some to stable, life-long employment while simultaneously allowing others to settle into years of unemployment or social assistance – made the distinction between “active” workers and the unemployed possible. It’s from this perspective that the category of the unemployed as a matter of concern for public policy, in conjunction with the concentration of unemployment, helped to produce, both in theory and practice, a group truly isolated from that of the “salaried population.” As long as we were in a situation of full employment and unemployment was relatively low, the new protections made available to workers posed few problems. Workers continued to have lifestyles and trajectories that were fairly homogeneous, thus facilitating a sense of cohesion and collective organization.

However, as soon as unemployment began ticking upward and became ‘structural’, welfare protections benefiting both workers and the unemployed tended to differentiate between the two and thus fracture the working class into two segments: those with work and those without. Indeed, this very argument was at the heart of the private speech that Mitt Romney gave to wealthy donors during the 2012 presidential election. In his view, the election was going to be tight for any Republican in a country where, according to him, 47% of Americans “pay no income tax” and are “dependent upon government.”

Herbert Marcuse notes the working class is no longer the agent of social change. Now underprivileged groups require active minorities, students and the young middle class intelligentsia to advocate for radical reform. The classical worker has disappeared and the majority of the people now belong to a post-industrial neo-proletariat, which, with no job security or definite clear identity, fills the area of probationary contracted, casual, temporary and part-time employment. 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. The excluded pose the problem – the so-called surplus population has become the central political subject, rather than the working class per se. It is no longer the fact of being exploited that poses the problem so much as it is one’s relation to work.

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. Neoliberalism is redefining the social question as a conflict between two fractions of the proletariat. This new dynamic aims at limiting the social rights of the ‘surplus population’ by pitting active workers against them, while on the other side mobilizing the surplus population against the privileges of the active workers. In the end, both end up accepting to their detriment the centrality of the category of exclusion which is a neoliberal creation.

The post-industrial society is divided between those who have access to the labour market and those, in varying degrees, who do not. The world of labour shifts to exclusion, poverty, and unemployment and the intellectual world largely goes along with this dynamic. This displacement indirectly puts workers who have a job on the same side as the privileged with acquired advantages. This takes the focus from the inherit inequality in the system and focuses on the distribution, specifically its disproportionate effect on the excluded – such as the unemployed, minorities and immigrants. The issue is no longer unemployment as such, but its over representation among certain groups and hence the discrimination to which they have clearly been subjected.

During the primaries Bernie Sanders advocated breaking up the biggest banks, doubling the minimum wage, and putting the entire country on Medicare. His message resonated and he drew massive crowds nearly everywhere he traveled. Much of the enthusiasm for his candidacy came from college students and progressives who think the party establishment has been compromised. “We are moving rapidly away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society,” Sanders claims. “Today, the most serious problem we face is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality. This is a profound moral issue, this is an economic issue and this is a political issue.” Sanders’ message is the need to get big money out of politics and restore democracy. Super PACs enable the wealthiest people and large corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money allowing them to buy elections and elect candidates who represent their interests, not the people.

Donald Trump feasts on social divisions and has perfected harnessing the rage of the workers driven by the failure of neoliberal market fundamentalism. This was combined with attacks on Clinton’s character with promises to reduce threats to security, customs and values of Americans. He became an early leader of the Republican hopefuls out maneuvering his fellow contenders using fear as a motivating factor – banking on the fact that presenting people with an alleged threat to their well-being will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of policies. In particular, he captured the concern of the Republican base over the fear of illegal immigrants with respect to loss of jobs and traditions. Brietbart (news) which taps into a general fear which white workers have over the loss of status finds common ground with Trump.

Neoliberalism is a consequence of restructuring of class power in favour of the economic elite. It has no vision of the good society or the public good and no mechanism for addressing society’s major economic, political and social problems. Today neoliberal ideology defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality. Neoliberal capitalism is associated with increasing income gradient between the rich and the rest of society. This increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society over the past four decades led to the hollowing out of the middle class, leaving many people angry. Sanders’ angry voters sought the necessary change to create greater equality in society. Trump’s angry supporters who put him over the top want better jobs and less handouts and entitlements to those they believe are taking advantage of the system, including immigrants.

Republican success in the recent election relied on specific messages targeting the differences between the employed and the underclass in America. Republicans took advantage of the success of neoliberals in shifting identity from what people own (class) to the difference of what people are (identity). Thus, one’s position in the (class) relation capital/labor is no longer the object of a fundamental contradiction. The main effect of this approach, which necessarily ends up pitting different segments of the wage-earning working class against each other (on the basis of their different identities), makes it difficult to think abstractly about the forces that produce inequality within the working class. The problem is therefore not so much inequality as seen through the lens of manipulation by an economic elite, but rather the way in which the effects of inequality get distributed throughout society (with certain groups comparatively sheltered from them, and others not).1

What sustains neoliberalism is the ability to which it has been able – explicitly but more often without anyone realizing it – to penetrate and restructure the vision of its opponents. Today, more than ever, the success or failure of the struggles to come against neoliberalism depends on the capacity of political and class organizations (e.g. unions) to draw attention to the socio-economic stakes represented by the ‘surplus population,’ and to convince the ‘stable’ working class that their fates are intertwined. We shall only move forward once the ‘stable’ working class unites with the underemployed / discriminated class to counter the ruinous effects of this so-called natural law that supports a theory whose function serves the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upward. This is why co-operation is necessary.

1 Zamora, Daniel. (13 September 2013) When Exclusion Replaces Exploitation: The Condition of the Surplus-Population under Neoliberalism

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Pursuit of Happiness

The Renaissance rediscovered much of classical culture and revived the notion of humans as creative beings, and the Reformation, more directly but in the long run no less effectively, challenged the monolithic authority of the Roman Catholic Church. For Martin Luther, as for Bacon and Descartes, the way to truth lay in the application of human reason. Received authority, whether of Ptolemy in the sciences or the church in the matters of the spirit, was to be the subject to the probing of unfettered minds. Central to the Enlightenment of the 18th century was the use and celebration of reason, the power by which humans understand the universe and improve their own condition. Humans are rational beings and can exercise reason regarding both theoretical and practical matters. The goals of rational humanity were considered to be knowledge, freedom and happiness.

For the individual, John Locke wants each of us to use reason to search after truth rather than simply accept the opinion of authorities or be subject to superstition. On the level of institutions it becomes important to distinguish the legitimate from the illegitimate functions of institutions and to make the corresponding distinction for the uses of force by these institutions. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ as envisaged by Locke was not merely the pursuit of pleasure, property, or self-interest (although it does include all of these).  It is also the freedom to be able to make decisions that results in the best life possible for a human being, which includes intellectual and moral effort. Since God has given each person the desire to pursue happiness as a law of nature, the government or institutions should not try to interfere with an individual’s pursuit of happiness. Thus we have to give each person liberty: the freedom to live as he pleases, the freedom to experience his or her own kind of happiness so long as that freedom is compatible with the freedom of others to do likewise.

For the most part there are two types of happiness: the Benthamite or hedonic and the Aristotelian or eudemonics. Jeremy Bentham is primarily known today for his moral philosophy, especially his principle of utilitarianism, which evaluates actions based upon their consequences. The relevant consequences, in particular, are the overall happiness created for everyone affected by the action. For Bentham happiness was a daily experience. He believed the goal of public policy was increasing the contentment and happiness of the greatest number of individuals possible in a society.

For Aristotle happiness was about flourishing and the power of controlling one’s destiny. This was an evaluative wellbeing, that is, the way people think about their lives as a whole including its purpose or meaning. So our function and therefore key to happiness is to be realized through the proper exercise of reason. Tarnas explains, “For Aristotle the goal of human life was happiness, the necessary precondition for which was virtue. But virtue itself had to be defined in terms of rational choice in a concrete situation where virtue lay in the mean of two extremes. Good is always a balance between two opposite evils, the mid point between excess and deficit: temperance is a mean between austerity and indulgence, courage a mean between cowardness and foolhardiness.”1 In other words, pleasure tends to lead us towards bad acts and towards a lack of self-control. In order to be happy we must control our vices, no matter how much pain (or discomfort) it causes us. According to Aristotle, this is the only way to achieve a life filled with long-term happiness, rather than one filled with temporary pleasure from our vices.

Ayn Rand described her philosophy, objectivism, as the blending of free markets, reason and individualism. It was to be a system of rational self-interest and self-responsibility. Rand spoke of the importance of ‘self-esteem’, meaning a justifiable pride in one’s accomplishments. Self-esteem was deemed a necessary defense against altruists who wanted people to give up their liberty or property for the sake of an alleged greater good. Someone with self-esteem would not be bamboozled by false guilt into giving the fruits of his labor to tax by government. Rand claimed a man’s self-esteem encourages him to seek growth. She adopted Aristotle’s self-love in which we love ourselves in the proper sense when we pursue our own true good. This means using reason to make intelligent decisions rather than being buffeted by desires: having regard for long-term interests rather than acting on impulse, behaving with dignity, and treating others with respect.

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It maintains that the market delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. While economic and technologic changes play a role, so does ideology that emphasizes the source of success to be competitive self-interest and extreme individualism. Citizens are redefined as consumers, where democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. This transition is exemplified in the replacement of the idea of a ‘career’ with the idea of a succession of working projects. This new format of ‘learn to learn’ and be flexible, autonomous and creative – the attainment of which is regarded as an end in itself – is the definition of human capital. Individuals are no longer owners of careers, rather consumers of goods, competencies and knowledge. A career itinerary that went from job security to personal self-realization has disappeared.

Under neoliberal subjectivity of human capital, happiness has become a prior condition to pursue the fulfillment of those social and economic needs that are no longer guaranteed, as well as increasing the odds of achieving valuable outcomes in the labor sphere. With this institutional use, happiness has been established as one of the most urgent and primary of the needs of individuals in a neoliberal society. The positive psychologist role is to provide a positive and individualistic discourse that aims to justify happiness as a necessary psychological state from which to start pursuing the satisfaction of other needs. Happiness has become a sort of moral imperative as well as an indispensable framework through which to reshape the worker identity within the emerging economic and labor settings of neoliberal capitalism. This puts the onus on the individual for continuous investment in oneself, that is, to enroll in an incessant search for goods and psychological techniques that allow continuous personal growth and progress.2

A study by Gerdtham et al. (1997) found good health to have a significant positive effect on happiness. As health is a strong determinant of happiness then there is every reason for enhancement of health to be a policy priority of the state. Today the causal interaction between happiness and health is well documented. People who are happy enjoy a better health while unhappiness depletes the state of health reducing the immune resistance and originating psychosomatic disease that may lead to depression and suicide. Today the imperative for striving for higher and higher levels of self-improvement brings new narratives of suffering. Individuals are worried about never being able to catch up, giving them a sense of meaninglessness, emptiness and depression when they feel overburdened with responsibilities attached to the project. This is the root cause of the epidemic of mental illness – anxiety, stress and depression – seen today.

Locke believes that using reason to try to grasp the truth to determine the legitimate functions of institutions will optimize human flourishing for the individual and society both in respect to its material and spiritual welfare. Thus we derive the basic right of liberty from the right to pursue happiness. Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. Today’s largest institution, the corporation, champions an economy shaped by competitive self-interest and extreme individualism. This neoliberal working ethic creates exceptional stress on personal responsibility. Every choice made by the individual at any moment is not only liable for defining them, but is also liable for appreciating or for depreciating their worth as a person. John Locke coined the phrase ‘pursuit of happiness’ in his book An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. When writing the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson borrowed the phrase from Locke. While happiness is one of the most important needs of neoliberal society, it is not the same happiness celebrated in the United States Declaration of Independence.

It is necessary to challenge the monolithic power of corporations supported by an ideology serving the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upward. Individuals, as creative beings, must reject the concept of human capital that limits their goals of freedom and happiness. With the widening income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society, income matters to happiness as it affects the ability of how to live one’s life. The view of self-interest as the driver of the common good overlooks the benefits derived from a range of public goods in the form of a money system and sewers to health care and education. Quality of life factors, the most important determinants of human happiness and wellbeing, will create opportunities to organize our societies from a sustainable scale perspective. Seeking ecological sustainability and social justice should increase dramatically individual freedom to pursue personal interests. The challenge to implementing solutions will require the oligarchs to put aside vested interests. In their pursuit of happiness they refuse to give up the short-term benefits they derive from the current paradigm.

1 Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our Worldview. New York: Ballantine Books 1991 p. 67.

2 Cabanas, Edgar and José-Carlos Sánchez-González. Inverting the pyramid of needs: Positive psychology’s new order for labor success. Psicothema 2016, Vol. 28, No. 2, 107-113 doi: 10.7334/psicothema2015.267

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The End of Democracy

The council of barons established by the Magna Carta grew over the centuries into a parliament representing the church, wealthy noblemen like the barons, commoners and people from the emerging middle class. William signed the English Bill of Rights assuring the power of parliament and indirectly denying that kings have the divine right to rule. The Glorious Revolution in 1688-1689 marked the beginning of modern English parliamentary democracy. It was called glorious because it achieved its goals without bloodshed in England. This struggle between the king and parliament ended in victory for the people. The new parliament separated the dominant institution of the day, the church, further from the process of government to reduce the church interference in government. Some describe the Enlightenment as beginning with England’s Glorious Revolution.

The Enlightenment writers were concerned about the inequality of 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. Voltaire criticized the class system of the time – a rigid class system based on inherited positions of nobility and wealth – as being a system exclusively dominated by elite who possess all the financial, political and social power. Voltaire spread liberal rationalist Enlightenment to continental Europe.

Classical liberalism is associated with the movement of political and social philosophy which from the mid-seventeenth century interpreted human society to be an association of free individuals. This liberalism emphasized the freedom of individuals to pursue their own self-interest without reference to traditional collective privileges (of the land-owning nobility, of the guilds of artisans, of the Church). Over the past two hundred years individualism and capitalism rose together. Individualism supports self-interest in business organizations, and is responsible for many of the possibilities available to society. A philosophy developed by Ayn Rand during the Cold War blends free market, reason and individualism. Since the last three decades of the 20th century, people expressed their individuality through exercising choice. Rand espoused a philosophy that leaves the individual unencumbered to pursue self-interest enlightened or otherwise. She promoted the American values rational egoism and individualism. This philosophy supports globalization, which enables the spread of individualism around the world.

When Francis Fukuyama announced the ‘end of history’ in his essay in 1989, it was based on the belief of the triumph of liberal capitalist democracy over other forms of government as the great ideological battles between east and west were over. Liberal capitalist democracy allows people to thrive in an increasingly globalized world. It was believed that if a state wished to enjoy the greatest prosperity possible, it would have to embrace some form of capitalism. The natural desire for peace and well-being would set nations on a path to progress. Since wealth protection depends on the protection of private property, the ‘capitalist’ creep would invariably demand greater legal protection for individual rights. Since only liberal capitalist democracy allowed people to thrive in an increasingly globalized world, this, in turn, would guarantee the future of free democratic states. However, the era of accelerated deregulation and individuals moving money around the world with the click of a button had just commenced when Fukuyama recorded these observations.1

Individualism is a balance between self-reliance and personal responsibility and egotism. The rise of individualism was the result of people living and acting as individuals, rather than members of a larger group. Alex de Tocqueville observed in the 19th century that private interest and personal gain motivated the actions of most Americans which, in turn, cultivated a strong sense of individualism. His definition of individualism was withdrawal from society at large, with a spiritual isolationism. He noted, “It tends to isolate them from one another, to concentrate every man’s attention upon themselves; and it lays open the soul for an inordinate love of gratification. [The advantage of religion] is to impose on man some duties towards his kind and draw him from the contemplation of himself.”2 He saw individualism and market capitalism as a significant force in America. To keep individualism from slipping out of control, he recommended participation in public affairs, growth of associations and newspapers to ensure the principle of self-interest was properly understood and to create a support system from religion.

Globalization is driven by the desire of corporations to pursue economic liberalization. In this system countries primarily compete for the world’s investment capital. This means capital moves to locations where it will find the best conditions for return. This activity increases the opportunities for commercialization or introduction of a commodity into the free market for mass consumption. The process of corporate expansion across borders creates rapid change in many communities with subsequent negative consequences for workers. The fact that there is little international regulation has dire consequences for the safety of the people and the environment. Multinational corporations are responsible for the removal of traditional government accountability to a fixed population for much of politics. This creates a lack of ability of those affected by decisions to protect their legitimate rights and interests. The new corporate values of globalization normalize through a doublespeak, selling commercialization and free market choices as democracy.

Neoliberalism broadly describes a regulatory system, encompassing economic policies emphasizing market deregulation, privatization, and an altered role for the state. Neoliberal capitalism applies to all sectors of society. Neoliberals emphasize that the role of government is to create a good business climate rather than look after the needs and the well-being of the population at large. 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. Deregulation has been above all else, a means to reducing corporate business accountability to the public. 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. Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy as it is now linked to a market logic that divorces itself from social cost.

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. We are forever told we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Neoliberal ideology serves the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upwards.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there has been a belief that there is no alternative to globalization, but we now realize we bought into an illusion. As expectations give way to reality we realize the connection between capitalism, democracy and liberalism is broken. It is a consequence of restructuring class power in favour of the elite. Free markets have enlarged the gap between rich and poor as well as reduce the average income across developed and developing countries. In the 17th century the church was the dominant institution, while today the corporation is the dominant institution. Today there is a need to challenge the blind faith in the present deregulated market, to understand that the middle class has been deceived, and introduce interventions to reduce the influence of corporations in government affairs. In reality, this system rigs the market – from low capital gains taxes to stock buy-backs – for the elites to ensure the markets benefit them.

Health equity suggests that everyone can reach their full health potential and that they should not be disadvantaged from attaining this potential as a result of their class, socioeconomic status or other socially determined circumstance. One of the most important life conditions that both determines whether people are included or excluded from society and whether they stay healthy or become ill is their income. This is especially the case for people living on very low income, that is, poverty. In addition to an individual’s income affecting whether he or she stays healthy or becomes ill, is the overall health of all the members of a society which is more determined by the distribution of income rather than the overall wealth of the society. In summary, inequities reduce the freedom and opportunities for an individual to reach wellness or good health in general, and, their full potential, in particular.

Everyone must have the freedom to reach their full potential – the opportunities one has to reach his or her potential is the most important measure of freedom. We now live not only in a market economy, but also a market society, where the market and its categories of thought have come to dominate ever more areas of our lives. The spread of the paradigm of the market means commodification into every aspect of life – money appears to be able to buy anything. However, competition dictates that corporations maximize profits which, in turn, triggers the ongoing commodifying of services. A major driver of this commodification is to cut labour costs. The commodification of everything – with the increasing income gap, many lost the opportunity to achieve their full potential – is the end of democracy.

1 Stanley, Timothy and Alexander Lee. (01 Sept 2014) It’s Still Not the End of History.

2 de Toqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America Vol 2 section 1 Chapter IV


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