Deception in Social Media Freedom Undermines Our Freedom

Georg Hegel (1770-1831) who saw a world governed by individual self-interest believed that we are controlled by external forces, and are nothing but pawns in the game. Hegel believed that we do not perceive the world or anything in it directly and all that our minds have access to is the ideas of the world – images, perceptions, and concepts. For Hegel, the only real reality we know is virtual reality. Hegel believed that the ideas we have of the world are social, which is to say, the ideas that we possess individually are for the most part shaped by the ideas that other people possess. Our minds have been shaped by the thoughts of other people through the language we speak, the traditions and mores of our society, and the cultural and religious institutions of which we are a part. Hegel notes, “When liberty is mentioned, we must always be careful to observe whether it is not really the assertion of private interests which is thereby designated.”

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

Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) developed a theory of cultural evolution intended to account for the development of free-market capitalism, and explained why it works so well. He believed that it had allowed him to achieve what no earlier economist had – to paint “what now seems to me a tolerably clear picture of the nature of the spontaneous order.” Hayek was closely exposed to ideas of colleagues that had allowed him to achieve understanding with respect to evolutionary theories, during his 12 years at the London School of Economics. One of these colleagues, Alexander Carr-Saunders (1886-1966), was an adherent of neo-Malthusian ideas and Galton’s eugenics. He was concerned about all kinds of social ills and problems – he saw a solution in eugenics for the engineering of society into a better condition. Another colleague with influence was Julian Huxley (1887-1975), an Oxford zoologist who wrote books, including The Vital Importance of Eugenics in 1933 which basically advocated a long-term goal that degenerate individuals were stopped from reproduction as quickly as possible.

Hayek explains to his enthusiastic supporter Antony Fisher: “Society’s course will be changed only by a change of ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and the writers, with reasoned arguments. It will be their influence on society that will prevail and the politicians will follow.” To empower these ideas corporate money supported think-tanks along with scholarship and intensive use of media. This think-tank network wasn’t for creating new ideas, but for being a gate keeper and disseminating the existing set of ideas around “the philosophy of freedom.” The conscious strategy of this global think-tank network was to take the idea of individual freedom and minimal government mainstream. The message: Freedom has nothing to do with democracy or speech or individual rights; for the economic elite it is about the freedom of the market and their proxies who control those markets. Today we now realize how much laissez-fare manipulates you.

Floyd Arthur Harper (1905–1973), a member of the Mont Pèlerin Society, was present at the group’s first meeting in 1947 along with Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Karl Poppe. He helped start up the Foundation for Economic Education, and founded the Institute for Humane Studies. The unique thing that Harper brought to the table was a social Darwinian account of human progress. Harper believed that progress was generated by the “variation,” i.e. the bell curve distribution, which “seems to pervade the universe”. The ideas of the neoliberal thought collective led to a neglect of social goods not captured by economic indicators, an erosion of democracy, an unhealthy promotion of unbridled individualism and social Darwinism, along with economic inefficiency. Forces stimulating social change are stronger over time than barriers. So, change is inevitable in the long term. But most people resist change in the short term.

How does inequality becomes systematically structured in economic, social, and political life? Laissez-faire supported by Hayek’s cultural evolution has no vision of the good society or the public good and no mechanism for addressing society’s major economic, political and social problems. Under the cultural trope of ‘individual responsibility’ welfare for the poor is cut and restructured to make welfare recipients more responsible for their economic status. 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. Then, they define corporations as legal persons in order to facilitate the buying of elections. This allows them to repurpose the strong state to impose their vision of a society properly open to the dominance of the market as they conceive it. Social inequality actually describes the unequal distribution of valued resources, rewards, and positions in society.

Misinformation is not like a plumbing problem you fix. It is a social condition, like crime, that you must constantly monitor and adjust to, observes Tom Rosenstiel. Cognitive biases reflect mental patterns that can lead people to form beliefs or make decisions that do not reflect an objective and thorough assessment of the facts. For instance, people tend to seek out information that confirms pre-existing beliefs and reject information that challenges those beliefs. This bias is the tendency in all of us to believe stories that reinforce our convictions – and the stronger the convictions, the more powerfully the person feels the pull of the confirmation bias. The FTC has accused Facebook of breaking antitrust law by gobbling up many smaller social media start-ups and acquiring several large, well-established competitors, in what amounts to a concerted effort to build a social media monopoly.

Truth, much like knowledge, is bound to power and similarly operates amidst the individuals and institutions that generate and sustain it. The economic elite do not hesitate to present their ideology as interpretation of truth. The “truth” the market reveals is never in actuality some eternal, given fact. The market is never a neutral arbiter of truth, so the “truth” it reveals about government practice has always required interpretation. Nietzsche believed, one should be conscious of the illusory nature of what is considered truth, thus opening up the possibility of the creation of new values. It is necessary to create the social environment or milieu to support good governance to control cognitive dissonance and the consequent balancing of perception that leads to misperception. The truth is that capitalism creates enormous wealth, but it concentrates into oligopolies and monopolies, to the extent the economic elite creates and normalizes a culture of lying to itself leading to its inherent instability.

The power elite control what you think through proxies who control information and communication, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. Social computing shows that you don’t necessarily have to read people’s brains to influence their choices. It is sufficient to collect and mine the data they regularly – and often unwittingly – share online. Therefore, we need to consider setting for the digital space a firm threshold for cognitive liberty. Cognitive liberty highlights the freedom to control one’s own cognitive dimension (including preferences, choices and beliefs) and to be protected from manipulative strategies that are designed to bypass one’s cognitive defenses. The EU data protection authority has underscored if recklessly applied to the electoral domain, these activities could even change or reduce “the space for debate and interchange of ideas,” a risk which urgently requires a democratic debate on the use and exploitation of data for political campaign and decision-making.

The concept of information manipulation has largely remained the same through time; however, the speed at which it spreads and the magnitude of influence it holds today makes it very different from its historical counterpart. Today established political parties are using social media to spread disinformation, suppress political participation, and undermine oppositional parties. With every click, like and follow, we leave our digital footprints all across social media and the web. This is a fertile ground for deception – technology that leverages your online activities combined with the power of big data, supercomputing and artificial intelligence. Lies are always coercive for the one being lied to: Lies seek to persuade not by appealing to our freedom to choose but by compelling us via deception to narrow our field of choice. As such, lies give power to the liar and take power away from the persons being lied to. In turn, this shift in power accumulates over the course of repeated lies.

Social media presents a number of dangers that require urgent and immediate regulation: While the online environment in the US remains generally free, it is troubled by a proliferation of fabricated news articles, divisive partisan vitriol, and aggressive harassment of many journalists, both during and after the presidential election campaign. What was once a liberating technology has become a conduit for surveillance and political advertising by foreign and domestic actors. Emerging technologies such as advanced biometrics, artificial intelligence, and fifth-generation mobile networks will provide new opportunities for human development, but they will also undoubtedly present a new array of human rights challenges. Strong protections for democratic freedoms are necessary to ensure that the internet does not become a Trojan horse for tyranny and oppression. Today we realize the inadequacies of social media and its negative effect on democratic governance. The level of deception and (internet) freedom rests on our ability to fix social media.

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On the Limitations of Motivational Interviewing for Jobseekers

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a style of working with a client that focuses on allowing the client to direct the change rather than telling the client what they need to do. It is about having a conversation about change. It is an empathic, person-centered counseling approach that prepares people for change by helping them resolve ambivalence, enhance intrinsic motivation, and build confidence to change. MI is grounded in mutual trust, and an emphasis on the client’s personal choice and autonomy. MI works not only with homeless individuals, but also with those who may be concurrently suffering from alcohol or other substance abuse, mental disorder, and disabilities. Today people are more open about discussing their anxieties. For Kierkegaard, the present age is a reflective age – one that values objectivity and thought over action, lip-service to ideals rather than action, discussion over action, publicity and advertising over reality, and fantasy over the real world.

In the 19th century two philosophers, Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, stood out with their reaction against the ‘impersonal’ rationalism of the Enlightenment, and stressed the importance of the individual. Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the ‘father of existentialism,’ believed that one must choose one’s own way without the aid of universal objective standards. Against the traditional view that moral choice involves an objective judgment of right and wrong, existentialists have argued that no objective, rational basis can be found for moral decisions. It was necessary to create one’s own values in a world in which traditional values no longer governed. Kierkegaard argues that the falsehood of objectivity may be revealed by a lack of need for personal commitment, and by lack of need for decision-making, while the truth of subjectivity may be revealed by a need for personal commitment, and by a need for decision-making.

Kierkegaard observes, “Everyone one wants progress, no one wants change.” Today individuals are faced with an existential challenge in redefining their self-image and the mind-set with which they respond to the world. For Kierkegaard, the real problem of life was to discover one’s true talent, secret gift, authentic vocation. So, freedom acts as a universal value. People are striving for freedom, for only in it and through it can the creative human potential be realized. The lack of freedom to make choices creates a group working below their capabilities precisely because they have no other option, thus they become susceptible to rhetoric from populist politicians with simplistic solutions. Kierkegaard claims the type of objectivity that a scientist or historian might use misses the point – humans are not motivated and do not find meaning in life through pure objectivity. Instead, they find it through passion, desire, and moral and religious commitment.

Kierkegaard produced a series of powerful essays that explored the territory of conscious experience, suffering and despair. Of the latter, he considered it in rather modern terms, as a common aspect of everyday life: “Just as a physician might say that there very likely is not one single living human being who is completely healthy, so anyone who really knows mankind might say that there is not one single living human being who does not despair a little, who does not secretly harbor an unrest, an inner strife, a disharmony, an anxiety about an unknown something or a something he does not even dare try to know.” This observation prepares the great theme of existentialism, that the human condition is a forlorn and anxious place. We are faced with pathways all around us, but to know which pathway is best for us, this is more frightening.

“If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin,” claims Kierkegaard, inFear and Trembling. The struggle that Hegel envisioned is the great tension between ‘is’ and ‘ought,’ between the way things are and the way they ought to be. The world of fact was chaotic and evil – an affront to man’s senses of order and good. The necessary ingredient for Hegel’s philosophy was freedom of action, not just freedom of thought. Kierkegaard believed that a human being’s relationship with God must be hard-won, a matter of devotion and suffering. According to Kierkegaard, a person becomes a committed, responsible human being by making difficult decisions and sacrifices. Kierkegaard rejects naturalism. It isn’t the idea that there are laws of nature that Kierkegaard rejects, but the idea that these laws necessarily determine human behavior.

Kierkegaard claims everyone harbors a fear of being alone, forgotten by God, overlooked by his friends and relatives. He concluded that it was in our anxiety that we come to understand feeling that we are free, that the possibilities are endless. Even though anxiety can ignite all kinds of transgressions and maladaptive behavior, we should recognize it as a dual force that can be both destructive and generative, depending upon how we approach it. Kierkegaard argues, without anxiety there would be no possibility and therefore no capacity to grow and develop as a human being. Kierkegaard argues anxiety is essential for creativity – if there were no possibilities there would be no anxiety. The way we negotiate anxiety plays no small part in shaping our lives and character. “Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”

“The most common form of despair is not being who you are,” Kierkegaard observes, it is in our anxiety that we come to understand feeling that we are free, that the possibilities are endless. Further, anxiety is an explanation of choice only in the sense that it explains the possibility of choice; it does not and can not explain the cause of this or that particular choice. The important point is that to exist, the individual must make choices –the individual must decide what to do the next moment and on into the future. A person becomes a committed, responsible human being by making difficult decisions and sacrifices. The force of Kierkegaard’s philosophy rests in the notion that human life is paradoxical and absurd and that to confront this absurdity is to become truly human. Kierkegaard observes, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Motivational interviewing recognizes that everyone is anxious about something. Today anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States and Canada. Combining motivational interviewing (MI) with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may lead to greater improvement in long-term treatment outcomes for patients with generalized anxiety disorder compared with CBT alone, according to research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The early stages of change are characterized by alternating movement toward and away from the contemplated change. Such a “two-steps-forward-one-step-back” journey is a normal response to change, because, while people desire change, they also fear it. Continuing to do things “the way I’ve always done it” is seductive; it is familiar and sometimes rewarding, as the client sees that maintaining the status quo “sort of” or “almost” or “sometimes” works and changing has big costs. MI is a tool for helping people to change.

Motivational interviewing (MI) is an effective counselling method that enhances motivation through the resolution of ambivalence. With cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), what clinicians tend to see as resistance is actually clients dealing with ambivalence. A client requires a fairly high level of motivation in order to be able to implement treatment actions toward change. Limited engagement with treatment tends to be responsible for limited response rates to treatments. Even though CBT has well-established efficacy for the treatment of anxiety and depression, there is still a sizable minority of clients for whom treatment is ineffective. The core value of MI is that, by working with client ambivalence – as demonstrated in the person’s resistance – and respecting the person’s autonomy and capacity to choose change if and when it feels right. MI achieves high levels of client engagement, which creates high levels of outcomes.

Empowerment is a broad concept. Individual empowerment is centered on the belief that individuals should be in control of their own care and that behavioral changes and adherence to change cannot be achieved unless they internalize the need for self-change. Motivational interviewing encourages engagement by eliciting person’s reasons for change, encouraging them to develop ideas on how to make changes in their own behaviors, and helping them make informed choices. MI is especially useful for empowering individuals to set self-determined, or autonomous, goals for behavior change. This is important because autonomously motivated behavioral change is more sustainable. In the psychological field, empowerment is broadly described as the process of gaining power or control over one’s life, believing in one’s abilities, and having a proactive approach to life. In poverty research empowerment has been primarily studied from an economics perspective, focusing mainly on the recipients’ ability to take decisions and make strategic choices.

The first step in empowering the poor is to realize poverty is a condition, not an identity. The key to ending poverty is realizing that development isn’t about charity or top-down interventions. It’s about empowering people and ensuring they have access to the tools to build their own better future. MI to jobseekers with barriers to employment who might be thinking about employment helps overcome the self-doubts and hesitations holding them back from actively committing to seeking a job. MI for job readiness – can improve job searching skills – has been demonstrated to boost general feelings of self-efficacy. However, what is missing is how many jobs are available for a 60-year-old with a chronic physical illness, and is slowing down with some bothersome symptoms. In addition, substance abuse and mental health challenges get in the way of ability to function at work or school, maintain a stable home life, handle life’s difficulties, and relate to others. These factors help us understand the limitations of MI.

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How Empowerment Can Drive Real Change

Empowerment has been defined as an intentional ongoing process centered in the local community, involving mutual respect, critical reflection, caring, and group participation, through which people lacking an equal share of valued resources gain greater access to and control over those resources. This is a process by which people gain control over their lives, democratic participation in the life of their community, and a critical understanding of their environment. Empowerment is a collective rather than just an individual process. It is no doubt important for individuals to take control over their fears, addictions, and other self-destructive or socially disruptive thoughts and behaviors. Empowerment through participatory action with others is, in fact, one of the most effective ways to master one’s fears, obsessions, or disdain for self or others. It has many important individual benefits, including greater health, wellbeing, life satisfaction, and happiness. A possible outcome of feeling empowered is the belief that a positive change to one’s life is actually possible.

Kierkegaard, born in 1813, is widely regarded as the father of existentialism. He produced a series of powerful essays that explored the territory of conscious experience, suffering and despair. Of the latter, he considered it in rather modern terms, as a common aspect of everyday life: “Just as a physician might say that there very likely is not one single living human being who is completely healthy, so anyone who really knows mankind might say that there is not one single living human being who does not despair a little, who does not secretly harbor an unrest, an inner strife, a disharmony, an anxiety about an unknown something or a something he does not even dare try to know.” This observation prepares the great theme of existentialism, that the human condition is a forlorn and anxious place. We are faced with pathways all around us, but to know which pathway is best for us, this is more frightening.

Existentialism achieves the distinction of placing the individual at the very center of the possibility of change. The freedom it emphasizes is above all a freedom to create values for oneself. “Nobody can do this for you,” might be the rally cry. Jean Paul Sartre emphasized that existentialism is a philosophy of action – and the individual is the key actor. The contention of existentialism is that we are never trapped by our conditions. Think about how a set of properties might be applied to you: your class, your race, your social status, your job, and so on. The description might be objectively accurate, but exactly how these properties actually affect you and your sense of self will also depend on how you interpret them. And this interpretation is yours to make. In other words, whatever your circumstances, you are still free to decide what meaning you attach to them.

One of the criticisms that postmodernists direct at modernism is its reliance on the development and maintenance of hierarchies. Hierarchical institutions are valuable if we believe that what the hierarchy perpetuates is more important to the well-being of society than what individuals might want. We might not have the ability to recognize what is important to the well-being of the greater society, this argument goes, but the hierarchy keeps the society’s needs in balance. If the postmodern spirit were to be summed up in simple terms, it might lie in this inherent struggle to avoid hierarchy in any way it manifests itself. Postmodernism has reacted to the authoritarian hierarchization of culture by subverting conventions blurring previously distinct boundaries and rejecting traditional aesthetic values. Lyotard believes: knowledge has become a commodity and consequently a means of empowerment; grand narratives are authoritative, establishing their political and cultural views as absolute truths beyond any criticism.

The invisible-hand metanarrative is more like a thumb on the scale for the world’s elites. That’s why neoliberal globalization has been unmasked as bogus economics but keeps winning politically. The existential threat of global climate change reflects the incompetence of markets to accurately price carbon and the escalating costs of pollution. Neoliberal ideology is so useful to society’s most powerful people – as a scholarly veneer to what would otherwise be a raw power grab. Democracy funded and fueled by corporate power disenfranchises the individual, provoking some to search for empowerment through identity politics. Within neoliberalism a person’s identity becomes so undermined by the system that he/she must adopt a social identity in order to create a sense of personal identity and connection with others. The power elites presently manipulating the system claim that inequality is a key part of the economic system, and rely on doublespeak to explain it.

Are Republicans afraid of Trump? Actually, no – he’s destroying democracy and they love it. But these actions of the former president are possible only with the craven acquiescence of congressional Republicans. As a group, they are pushing towards replacing democracy with a system where a powerful minority holds disproportionate and borderline tyrannical control over government and blocks the majority of Americans from having meaningful say over the direction of the country. No, many Republicans clearly feel empowered by Trump. He frees them to reveal their darkest desire – which is to end democracy as we know it, and to cut any corners or break any laws necessary to get the job done. In contemporary usage, “populism” is generally understood to mean political movements and individuals who channel widespread alienation and frustration by claiming to speak for “the people” against forces that are said to be destroying cherished ways of life. Beware that populism of the right creates a culture of victimhood to use as a tool to sustain conservative politics.

The perception we have of our own ability to change – to find an inner means of repair and strength – is instrumental in the pathways of mental wellness. Often we have to acknowledge that change is sometimes difficult or close to impossible. Empowerment happens when individuals and organized groups are able to imagine their world differently and to realize that vision by changing the relations of power that have kept them in poverty, restricted their voice and deprived them of their autonomy. Let us focus on empowerment that focuses on increasing poor people’s freedom of choice, and action to shape their own lives. Where is the main resistance to change? There is a small group who have been made very wealthy by the existing system. Change is a threat to them. It is this group that loves its status quo so much that it sees its own change as an underhanded attack on its way of life.

As the pandemic has demonstrated, however, it is not the existential dangers, but rather everyday economic activities, that reveal the collective, connected character of modern life beneath the individualist façade of rights and contracts. While cell phones have enabled citizens to document how the cult of individualism supports the use of police brutality to control minorities, concerned citizens now see how political nihilism creates something that is seriously wrong with the underlying structure of the current social and political system. Jürgen Habermas warns of the crisis around the demise of ideals from inept politicians and the dark forces of the market. With respect to postmodernism, it implies re-inventing modernity, believing in the possibility and the necessity of social progress. This includes the need to steer social development and to think about the Good Society. As Habermas noticed, the Enlightenment is an unfinished project – we must aspire to a public sphere that serves to make things better.

Power is best seen as an invisible force linking individuals and actors, in a state of constant flux and renegotiation. Empowerment of excluded groups and individuals involves the redistribution of that power, so that it accumulates in the hands of women and men living in poverty. Power for excluded groups and individuals can be disaggregated into three basic forms, each of which can be promoted by state action: Power within – a sense of rights, dignity and voice, along with basic capabilities. This individual level of empowerment is an essential precondition for collective action. Power with – ability to organize, express views. People living in poverty come together to express their views and demand their rights. Power to – ability to influence decision makers, whether the State, economic power holders or others. Thus, poor people’s voices become effective in influencing those in power. Empowerment can be thought of as the life and outlook-changing outcome of such a process for individuals, organizations, and whole communities.

Empowerment should be driven primarily by those whom it is intended to benefit – poor and excluded groups. Marginalized people and their organizations need to be in the driving seat, whether leading on their own, with allies, or exploring and co-creating solutions with government. The role of government in promoting such power is subtle, but important. On their own, policies and laws are seldom sufficient to achieve tangible social change. The underlying challenge is often the existence of enduring social and cultural norms that create relations of power and disadvantage between different social groups based on gender, class, disability, age, caste or ethnicity. More broadly, governments can help create an “enabling environment” that makes it easier for marginalized groups to empower themselves. Empowerment is not a goal or outcome of participation or leadership, but rather as a key part of the process of both developing and applying political and civic leadership.

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About the Paradigm Shift Created by the COVID Pandemic

A paradigm is our perception of reality, our view of the world. It is our interpretation of events based on previous teaching we have received. When physicist Thomas Kuhn introduced the concept in 1962 he wanted people to think of a paradigm shift as change in one way of thinking to another. It doesn’t just happen, its driven by agents of change. Kuhn states that “awareness is prerequisite to all acceptable changes of theory”. Paradigms structure our perceptions of the world. There are no crucial experiments. Instead, anomalies accumulate and eventually advocates of an old paradigm die out and leave the field to practitioners of a new paradigm shift. Addressing the disparities and inequalities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic must be central to any approach to incorporating changes to the system. Progressives must become the agents of change 0f a new paradigm to alter the present way of doing things – to replace a system of minimal government and regulations.

Kuhn denied that science is constantly approaching the truth. Kuhn observed, “each paradigm will be shown to satisfy more or less the criteria that it dictates for itself and to fall short of a few of those dictated by its opponent … no paradigm ever solves all the problems it defines…” In the 1970s the monetarists sought to resurrect the pre-Keynesian view that market economies are inherently stable in the absence of major unexpected fluctuations in the money supply. Because of this belief in the stability of the free market economics, active demand management (by increasing government spending) was believed unnecessary and indeed likely to be harmful. This paradigm did not solve all the problems it defines, for example, the failure of a pure monetary policy to stimulate the economy in 2001-2003. Instead of recognizing that a paradigmatic change is necessary in mainstream economics, the economic profession stubbornly sticks to their existing mathematical models.

Know your place – poetry after the Black Death reflected fear of social change. Contemporary moralists complained about those who rose above their allotted station in life and so in 1363 a law was passed that specified the food and dress that were appropriate for each social class. In line with such attitudes, Langland railed against the presumption of laborers who disdained day-old vegetables, bacon and cheap ale and instead demanded fresh meat, fish and fine ale. The Black Death altered the fundamental paradigm of European life that included socio-economic and religious belief and practice, unleashing the forces that made the Renaissance possible. The Renaissance yielded scholars the ability to read the scriptures in their original languages, and this in part stimulated the Protestant Reformation. The 16th century reformers considered the root of corruptions to be doctrinal rather than simply a matter of moral weakness or lack of ecclesiastical discipline.

Kierkegaard describes truth as a leap of faith, and as the becoming of the individual’s subjectivity. While speculative thinking reflects on concrete things abstractly, subjective thinking reflects on abstract things concretely. Kierkegaard made a distinction between objective and subjective truth. For Kierkegaard objective truth merely seeks attachment to the right object, corresponding with an independent reality. On the other hand, subjective truth seeks the achievement of the right attitude; an appropriate relation between object and knower. For Kierkegaard it was subjective truth that counts in life: how we believe is more important than what we believe. It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere. Kierkegaard argues that the falsehood of objectivity may be revealed by a lack of need for personal commitment, and by lack of need for decision-making, while the truth of subjectivity may be revealed by a need for personal commitment, and by a need for decision-making.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) believed that human reason is rationalization, and 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. Nietzsche believes that science at its best keeps us in a simplified suitably constructed and suitably falsified world, and that the artificial world that concerns us is a fiction. Instead of using truth as the highest standard of value, Nietzsche argues, individuals need to develop their own powers of judgment and to produce ideas and ethics that will strengthen them and help them to live. Rationalization of the economy during the 1980s created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself.

Nietzsche claimed there are no facts only interpretations. In his view there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. Subjective thinking can be the basis for a paradigm shift. Although Christianity is objectively merely one of many available religions in the world, it subjectively demands our complete attention. Pope Francis commented on the pursuit of money and criticized inequalities and the excesses of capitalism, based on his sincere belief of the gospels of Jesus of the New Testament. The Pope noted that once greed for money drives the economic system, it sets people against each other and harms the common home (ecosystem). The Pope seeks the truth through subjective thinking.

Bernie Sanders attracted attention during the US presidential campaign by proposing a paradigm shift. Saunders pursues subjective truths to support change. He claims, “our economic goals have to be redistributing a significant amount [of wealth] back from the top 1 percent… move to a society that provides a high quality of life for all our people.” Sanders notes that erosion of collective bargaining rights over the last 40 years have created an economy that delivers maximum profit to the corporations. Fox News labels Bernie Sanders “too extreme”, but that is the result of filtering Sanders’ public policy through the lens of objectivity which supports the profit paradigm. “A lot of what the Green New Deal is, is about shifting our political, economic and social paradigm on every issue,” claims Osteo-Cortez. “Because we don’t have time to wait …. the climate crisis along with economic and social inequality are far too serious to ignore.”

The failure of the existing consumerist institutions and supporting dogma has put the health and economic viability of citizens throughout the world in jeopardy. More and more individuals are ready to support a paradigm shift – that includes an effort to concentrate all practical efforts to bring the greatest good to the most people (and other species) over the longest time by rethinking and redesigning production and consumption patterns. John Kenneth Galbraith remained optimistic about the ability of government to improve the lot of the less fortunate. “Let there be a coalition of the concerned,” he urged. “The affluent would still be affluent, the comfortable still comfortable, but the poor would be part of the political system.” The violence exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis cries out for a new model of democratic governance. However, we must not let laissez-faire apologists explain away various failures during the pandemic by the (false) existence of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

Through the COVID-19 window we recognize the importance of returning to laws based on equality of the person rather than laws of the market. All writing and all science are socially constructed and therefore subject to bias. It is important to first describe any bias that is inherent in the argument, and second to seek to determine whether political biases have influenced the selection and interpretation of evidence. We should accept there is no objective truth, only a variety of subjective views developed through dialogue with others. The principles for determining how evidence has been appraised must be explicit and transparent, the means of taking account of bias must be clear, and the thresholds of acceptability which have been used to accept or reject evidence should be open to external scrutiny. Once one controls for bias, it is possible to achieve a paradigm shift by changing from objective thinking to subjective thinking.

The COVID pandemic is forcing us to redefine what and who we value, how we govern, whose opinions we listen to, how we view facts and science, and even our relationships. Much of society used to focus on status, power, wealth and celebrity. As Thomas Kuhn defined it in his seminal 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “Paradigm shifts arise when the dominant paradigm under which normal science operates is rendered incompatible with new phenomena, facilitating the adoption of a new theory or paradigm.” Where do we turn? “There is enough.” As Buckminster Fuller, futurist, famed architect, and creator of the geodesic dome said, there is enough of every resource for everyone on the planet; it’s just a matter of distribution. The coronavirus has upended the American way of life, influencing how we think, how we relate to others and what we value. While this makes us feel uncomfortable, we must not fear change. We need a paradigm shift to create a fundamental change in the distribution of wealth to address inequalities.

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Searching for Freedom in the 21st Century

The advantage of freedom is that you make your own destiny. The disadvantage is that you don’t have anyone helping you or providing for you. The concept of freedom is one which Georg Hegel (1770-1831) thought of very great importance; indeed, he believed that it is the central concept in human history. 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. You must find your own point in history, claims Hegel, and start to reflect on yourself in relation to the world. Critical thinking requires assessing a claim, weighing the evidence, and making a judgement based on the results of our thought processes. 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.

The Enlightenment of the 18th century opened up the floodgates of new ideas, new thoughts on everything from the way man saw government and his own role in society to the way scientific ideas were conceived, demonstrated, and above all, published and shared with the world. 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 aristocrats who possess all the financial, political and social power.

Before the Enlightenment human beings were generally considered in terms of how they fit into social hierarchies and communal institutions, but following enlightenment the view was that the individual rather than society as a whole, is the most important entity. Self-criticism and self-denial were no longer in vogue, replaced by self-expression, self-realization and self-approval. Hegel explains the modern state is the institution that will correct this imbalance in modern culture. Although economic and legal individualism play a positive role in society, Hegel foresees the need for institutions that will affirm common bonds and ethical life while preserving individual freedom. He believes, for example, that the state must regulate the economy and provide for the poor in society and that there should be ‘corporative’ institutions somewhat similar to modern trade unions, in which different occupational groups affirm a sense of social belonging and a feeling of being connected to a larger society.

Hegel who saw a world governed by individual self-interest believed that we are controlled by external forces, and are nothing but pawns in the game. Hegel believed that the ideas we have of the world are social, which is to say, the ideas that we possess individually are for the most part shaped by the ideas that other people possess. Our minds have been shaped by the thoughts of other people through the language we speak, the traditions and mores of our society, and the cultural and religious institutions of which we are a part. For Hegel freedom is realized through self-determination and self-actualization. Hegel sees ideas in the abstract but embodied in society and institutions that change. He believed there is no role for individual freedom, even though one may behave as he likes, he is not free. Freedom is more than one’s own capacity for decisions.

Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) played a role in the transition of post-Hegelian philosophy in traditional idealism to various forms of naturalism, materialism and positivism, influencing themes developed further by others. Feuerbach joins the great tradition of materialist philosophers who, taking as the point of departure for their views man’s actual state in nature and in society, could see that the idealistic solutions were illusory. The hard fact that man’s natural drives permitted no satisfactory outlet, showed freedom and reason to be a myth, as far as social realities were concerned. Despite all historical progress, Feuerbach cries out, man is still in need, and the pervasive fact philosophy encounters is ‘suffering.’ This, and not cognition, is primary in man’s relation to the objective world. ‘Thought is preceded by suffering.’ And no realization of reason is in the offing until that suffering has been eliminated.

Julius Evola (1898-1974) 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.” When the fascists came to power in Italy in 1922, Evola jumped on board and became a regular contributor to the regime’s mouthpiece magazine, Difesa della Razza (Defense of the Race). But Evola’s message, soaked in conspiracy theories, has quietly endured in the underground and has reemerged on the surface recently, thanks to the popularity of conspiracy theories. Christians in the far right rationalize their fascination with the philosopher, arguing Evola’s main teaching was to go back to tradition.

Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) explains to his enthusiastic supporter Antony Fisher: “Society’s course will be changed only by a change of ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and the writers, with reasoned arguments. It will be their influence on society that will prevail and the politicians will follow.” To empower these ideas corporate money supported think-tanks along with scholarship and intensive use of media. This think-tank network wasn’t for creating new ideas, but for being a gate keeper and disseminating the existing set of ideas around “the philosophy of freedom.” The conscious strategy of this global think-tank network was to take the idea of individual freedom and minimal government mainstream. Freedom has nothing to do with democracy or speech or individual rights: for the economic elite it is about the freedom of the market and their proxies who control those markets. Individuals must realize how much laissez-fare manipulates you.

NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware is a mobile phone surveillance solution that enables customers to remotely exploit and monitor devices. The company is a prolific seller of surveillance technology to governments around the world, and its products have been regularly linked to surveillance abuses. More recently, NSO Group is shifting towards zero-click exploits and network-based attacks that allow its government clients to break into phones without any interaction from the target, and without leaving any visible traces. The shift towards zero-click attacks by an industry and customers already steeped in secrecy increases the likelihood of abuse going undetected. The abuse of NSO Group’s zero-click iMessage attack to target journalists reinforces the need for a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of surveillance technology. An attack on the Fourth Estate – undermining the freedom of the press and shutting down critical media – undermines everyone’s freedom.

Since the time of the French Revolution, freedom has been regarded as the greatest value of culture. Today in modern society, we are trying to restore the value of individual freedom, which we formally perceive as one of the rights of man and citizen. The concept of “freedom of the individual” is increasingly used in the media, in the speeches of political leaders, as well, is declared by the US Constitution. However, the meaning invested in this concept by different people is different – often the most opposite ways of solving the problem of freedom of the human person are offered. Today the economic elite claim, there is a threat to other freedoms with any reduction to economic freedom (i.e. regulations). For some freedom has nothing to do with democracy or speech or individual rights: for the neoliberal it is about the freedom of the market and the elites who control those markets.

In 1762, Rousseau published the Social Contract in which he defined the ideal social contract, describing how man could be free and live together in a community. By ‘equality’ Rousseau did not mean that everyone should be exactly the same, but differences in wealth should not imbalance the state. Equality it seemed to him, is a necessary condition for the preservation of liberty, while property and material inequality are the root of human misery and evil. Rousseau observes, evil, greed, and selfishness emerged as human society began to develop. As people formed social institutions, they developed vices. One such institution was private property that encouraged avarice and self-interest. Thus, Rousseau asserts, that some level of material equality is necessary to ensure that liberty comes before profit. He also defended private property; if everything we did was for the state, we would no longer be free.

The lack of freedom to make choices creates a group working below their capabilities precisely because they have no other option, thus they become susceptible to rhetoric from populist politicians with simplistic solutions. An essential attribute of the good life is that people enjoy not just a range of personal freedoms, but an access to knowledge and a voice in public affairs. When asking searching questions of yourself, realize that freedom resides not in the brain, but in the traditions of critical thought and skeptical reason. 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 decisions to reach their full potential. We will change institutions by electing progressive candidates with policies to begin the process to end big money’s grip on politics, an issue that lies at the core of the debate on the search for freedom in the 21st century.

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The Role of Narcissism in the Decline of America

In a 1900 article in Rivista, Alfredo Pareto commented on the radical movements at the turn of the century in France and Italy. He identified two factors, the circulation of elites and the irrationalism in politics. Change is associated with people always entering and leaving elites thereby tending to restore equilibrium. However, decisions in politics are emotional and non-rational. In such a system the function of reason is to justify past behavior or to show the way to future goals, which are determined not by reason, but by emotional wants. During the 1980s, school systems lowered educational standards to protect children from failure. The world would be saved from crime, drug abuse and under-achieving through bolstering self-esteem. These changes were problematic – lowering education standards to support positive self-esteem – created a milieu for extreme individualism. When there is too much self-esteem there are problems of self-tolerance, entitlement and narcissism. This culture of extreme individualism ushered in the narcissism influencing decision-making and accountability today.

Narcissists dissociate (erase memories) a lot (are amnesiac) because their contact with the world and with others is via a fictitious construct: The false self. Narcissists never experience reality directly but through a distorting lens darkly. They get rid of any information that challenges their grandiose self-perception and the narrative they had constructed to explicate, excuse and legitimize their antisocial, self-centred and exploitative behaviors, choices and idiosyncrasies. In an attempt to compensate for the yawning gaps in memory, narcissists confabulate: They invent plausible “plug ins” and scenarios of how things might, could, or should have plausibly occurred. To outsiders, these fictional stopgaps appear as lies. But the narcissist fervently believes in their reality: He may not actually remember what had happened – but surely it could not have happened any other way! The narcissist does not remember their previous tales because they are not invested with the emotions and cognitions that are integral parts of real memories.

Feedback from other people regulates the narcissist’s sense of identity, self-worth, boundaries, even his reality test (his correct awareness of the world around him). The narcissist needs this constant input to maintain a sense of continuity. Thus, the narcissist’s nearest and dearest – his sources of secondary narcissistic supply – serve as “external memories” and as “flux regulators” whose function it is to maintain a regular, stable flow of affirming and cohering data. Having invented himself, the narcissist sees no problem in re-inventing that which he designed in the first place. The narcissist is his own creator. Hence his grandiosity. Moreover, the narcissist is a man for all seasons, forever adaptable, constantly imitating and emulating, a human sponge, a perfect mirror, a non-entity that is, at the same time, all entities combined.  To the narcissist, every day is a new beginning, a hunt, a new cycle of idealization or devaluation, a newly invented self.

Many people with narcissism struggle with pervasive feelings of insecurity underneath the outward superiority and entitlement they present to the world. But this experience may be most commonly associated with covert, or vulnerable narcissism. Many people with this subtype of narcissism do show outward signs of sensitivity to criticism and insecurity. This insecurity can manifest as difficulty accepting criticism, or anything seen as criticism, since critiques can trigger feelings of vulnerability. People with narcissism generally need a lot of admiration and approval, since receiving this admiration may help combat the underlying insecurity. They might use emotional abuse tactics, including gaslighting, to try and control partners or friends so they’ll remain in the relationship and continue offering admiration and regard. Insecurity can be hard to face, but it’s possible to work through this, along with any other emotional or mental health challenges like anxiety, without emotional abuse or other problematic behaviors.

The narcissist is typically at a state of constant antagonistic warfare with others in order to assert dominance. Collective narcissists are a group of people who desperately need their group to be admired, and validated by others. Hart and Stekler say such findings point to a psychological process that begins with narcissistic personality. They propose that the insecurity that characterizes narcissism leads people toward worldviews that accentuate power and control, like right-wing authoritarianism. At the same time, the grandiose aspect of narcissism leads people to adopt ego-enhancing views that degrade outgroups, like social dominance orientation. These ideologies then contribute to socially and economically conservative views that encourage negativity toward immigrants. Consequently, anti-immigrant attitudes then lead Trump to be seen as a desirable leader.

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

As Price and Edwards explain, from 1947 through 1974, real incomes grew close to the rate of per capita economic growth across all income levels. That means that for three decades, those at the bottom and middle of the distribution saw their incomes grow at about the same rate as those at the top. This was the era in which America built the world’s largest and most prosperous middle class, an era in which inequality between income groups steadily shrank (even as shocking inequalities between the sexes and races largely remained). But around 1975, this extraordinary era of broadly shared prosperity came to an end. Since then, the wealthiest Americans, particularly those in the top 1 percent and 0.1 percent, have managed to capture an ever-larger share of our nation’s economic growth – in fact, almost all of it – their real incomes skyrocketing as the vast majority of Americans saw little if any gains.

Although we use social comparison in part to develop our self-concept – that is, to form accurate conclusions about our attitudes, abilities, and opinions – social comparison has perhaps an even bigger impact on our self-esteem. When we are able to compare ourselves favorably with others, we feel good about ourselves, but when the outcome of comparison suggests that others are better or better off than we are, then our self-esteem is likely to suffer. Upward comparison may lower our self-esteem by reminding us that we are not as well off as others. Self-esteem should be viewed as a continuum, and can be high, medium or low, and is often quantified as a number in empirical research. When considering self-esteem, it is important to note that both high and low levels can be emotionally and socially harmful for the individual. Indeed, it is thought an optimum level of self-esteem lies in the middle of the continuum. Individuals operating within this range are thought to be more socially dominant within relationships.

Resentment as a cultural response to economic struggle has political consequences. More than half of US workers are unhappy with their jobs. The frustration you experience by not living the life you imagined is created by the resentment that the outcome of an event is less than you imagined it would be. Donald Trump, himself is a cauldron of resentment, has deeply internalized a life-time of deep resentments, and thus is able to tap into, articulate, and mobilize the resentments of his followers, in a way that Democrats and other professional politicians are able. Trump appeals to resentment that ultimately rests on economic failure: working-class whites have been left behind by soaring inequality (but they mistakenly blame emigrants taking their jobs). Donald Trump – figured out how to harness their disillusionment and growing anger – is superior to the others in exploiting the narcissism of small differences to recruit the Republican base.

America has the circulation of elites and the irrationalism in politics. In the 2020 election voters in the US were reacting to the stagnation of the American economic system. Price and Edwards calculate that the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality had grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. Basically, the top 1% took this from the bottom 90% and this, in turn, has made the US less secure. The activities of the special interests and financial elites came home to roost.  The reason Trump was attractive is staring us in the face: a stampede of rising inequality that has been trampling the lives and livelihoods of the vast majority of Americans, year after year after year. To reverse this, it is necessary to introduce a minimum wage, expand the earned income tax credit to low- and moderate-income workers and families, and invest in education.

Collective narcissism – may be defined by religion, social class, race, political stance, language, nationality, employment status, education level, cultural values, or any other ingroup – supports irrationalism in politics. Collective narcissism is associated with hypersensitivity to provocation and the belief that only hostile revenge is a desirable and rewarding response. It arises when the traditional group-based hierarchies are challenged and empowers extremists as well as populist politicians. Instead of alleviating the sense of threat to one’s self-importance, it refuels it. Former President Trump stays popular by fueling narcissism – by creating or promoting perceived ingroup disadvantages with his anti-immigrant, anti-elitist, and strongly nationalistic rhetoric. With the moral degradation of the present political governing elites; the lack of virtuous men in power positions, now politics is not a profession, but a profitable part-time job for some seeking to promote and attain certain private advantage. The task at hand is to reverse the decline of democracy in America.

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Understanding Cruelty is Part the Political System

The “American Dream” has always been about the prospect of success, but 100 years ago, the phrase meant the opposite of what it does now. The original “American Dream” was not a dream of individual wealth; it was a dream of equality, justice and democracy for the nation. The American Dream really starts off with the Progressive Era. It takes hold as people are talking about reacting to the first Gilded Age when the robber barons are consolidating all this power. At this time, you see people saying that a millionaire was a fundamentally un-American concept. It was seen as anti-democratic because it was seen as inherently unequal. The phrase has been repurposed by each generation. After the Cold War, it became an argument for a consumer capitalist version of democracy. A recent survey notes: the definition of the American dream is changing — from the opportunity for material success and social mobility to the “freedom of choice in how to live”.

During the past 40 years the dogma of minimal government and regulations with increase freedom for the individual was part of the political planning of neoliberals installing oligarchical elites at the centre of economic and state power. Now everyone invests in their own personal and familial capital and are responsible for their own risk taking and rewards. Thus, the poor are not a class, but a collection of individual failures. The neoliberal performance principle teaches us to conceive of social problems as personal problems – emphasizing individual responsibility while failing to address systemic state violence in all its manifestations – healthcare, education and the war on the poor. A culture of cruelty highlights both how systemic injustices are lived and experienced, and how iniquitous relations of power turn the “American dream” into a dystopian nightmare in which millions of individuals and families are struggling to merely survive. Limiting the public’s knowledge now becomes a precondition for cruelty.

Floyd Arthur Harper (1905–1973), a member of the Mont Pèlerin Society, was present at the group’s first meeting in 1947 along with Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Karl Poppe. He helped start up the Foundation for Economic Education, and founded the Institute for Humane Studies. The unique thing that Harper brought to the table was a social Darwinian account of human progress. Harper believed that progress was generated by the “variation,” i.e. the bell curve distribution, which “seems to pervade the universe”.1 The ideas of the neoliberal thought collective led to a neglect of social goods not captured by economic indicators, an erosion of democracy, an unhealthy promotion of unbridled individualism and social Darwinism, along with economic inefficiency. Forces stimulating social change are stronger over time than barriers. So change is inevitable in the long term. But most people resist change in the short term.

An economic system that rewards psychopathic personality traits has changed our ethics and personalities. Freud claims there exists a dynamic balance between the individual and society that consists of aggressive instinctual impulses, but society attempts to oppress the individual into its requirements. Herbert Marcuse noted violence is a pain-causing process present whenever there is a difference between the actual and the potential for a person. It pervades the social fabric in insidious ways now made apparent when relations of repression result in outbursts, with root causes barely understood. Marcuse termed this ‘surplus-repression’ referring to the organized domination in modern society over and above the basic level of repression of instincts Freud believed necessary for civilization. Henry Giroux likens this more extreme form of repression to a widespread system of ‘culture of cruelty’, which tends to normalize violence to such a degree that even the common occurrence of gun violence fails to trigger a systemic analysis or response.

The polarizing of American politics has its strongest roots in Rand’s classic, Atlas Shrugged, where a capitalist elite engage in a perpetual cultural warfare for the soul of America, fighting society’s “moochers, looters and parasites,” anyone and everyone demanding government money to solve their problems. Ayn Rand was defined by her rage, not her advocacy of a fantasy version of capitalism. Her message of creative aspiration is laced with anger and cruelty, and endowed with idealized and moralized selfishness and greed. The individuals that Trump surrounds himself with is a collection of power- and wealth-obsessed closet Objectivists. Trump’s culture of cruelty views violence as a sacred means for addressing social problems and organizing society. His cabinet and donor lists are full of Rand fans who support neoliberal cruelty. The cure for economic crisis is more cruelty, through which feelings of resentment, fear, anger, and loathing are enacted against the weak, who are considered a drain on the worthy.

Contemporary labour markets around the world are pushing more and more people into cycles of un/underemployment, or what has been labelled precarious life. The pandemic had been predicted long before its appearance, but actions to prepare for such a crisis were barred by the cruel imperatives of an economic order in which “there’s no profit in preventing a future catastrophe,” Noam Chomsky points out, COVID exacerbates this morally obscene inequality. As many have observed, those who are best positioned to weather the COVID-19 storm are the wealthy and the well-paid workers with steady jobs, good benefits, and safe, stable housing. There will be recovery from the COVID crisis, at severe and possibly horrendous cost, particularly for the poor and more vulnerable. But there will be no recovery from the melting of the polar ice sheets and the other devastating consequences of global warming. Here, too, the catastrophe results from a market failure.

The depth of the pathology is revealed clearly by one of the most dramatic – and murderous – failures: the lack of ventilators that was one the major bottlenecks in confronting the pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services foresaw the problem, and contracted with a small firm to produce inexpensive, easy-to-use ventilators. But then capitalist logic intervened. In 2012, Covidien acquired Newport Medical Instruments, a small ventilator manufacturer supplier. Newport Medical Instruments had been contracted in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to design a cheap, portable ventilator. At the time, Newport Medical Instruments had three working prototypes produced, and was on schedule to file for market approval late 2013. Covidien then effectively halted the project, subsequently exiting the contract, as it was not going to be profitable enough. This contributed to the shortage of ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic.2

The not-so-hidden and terrifying message is that political opportunism, the drive for profits and the embrace of a cruel neoliberal ideology were embraced by the Trump administration without apology. Trump appears to take pleasure in belittling experts and expertise and only follows the advice of public health officials in the midst of the most dire warnings. He treated the pandemic as a partisan battle, disparaged governors desperately calling for supplies, and refused to implement a coordinated national federal approach to addressing the crisis. What is more, his often confused and contradictory public remarks are filled with hyperbole and falsehoods and serve to mislead the American public while potentially causing unimaginable misery. Dr. Bright’s complaint said the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response was marred by cronyism and denial about the virus’s severity.  In this instance, sheer incompetence coupled with an aversion to experts and scientific evidence rise to the status of being a public danger and a catastrophic crisis.

Under neoliberalism, the wealth generated by the productivity gains of the post-World War II era began to shift sharply towards the very top of society, leaving the previously stabilizing middle and working classes of the west behind and bloating the investor sector. This was the result of government policies that encouraged the off-shoring of jobs and profits while shrinking manufacturing employment, and provoked resentment from those who felt they had lost both economic security and dignity. The gradual shift in liberal focus from labor rights to civil and immigrant rights mollified the professional-managerial class, but it also suggested misplaced priorities to many of those who were treading water economically. Populists like Trump exploit working class grievances by proclaiming solidarity with the working class against a rights-obsessed liberal class for whom rights seem actionable in ways that economic policies have ceased to be. The broadly felt chronic inability to effect actual political or economic change invited such ideological and moral battles to fill the void.

Neoliberalism supports a hierarchical system with emphasis on commercial values rather than democratic values, its virulent ideology of extreme competitiveness and irrational selfishness, and its impatience with matters of ethics, justice and truth has undermined critical thought and the power of informed judgment. This political formation is characterized by a distinctive and all-embracing politics of disposability, a massive gutting of the social state, and support for pedagogical apparatuses of spectacularized violence, fearmongering and state terror. Economic elites believe that individual responsibility is the only way to address social problems, and consequently, there is no need to address broader systemic issues, hold power accountable or embrace matters of collective responsibility. Behind the smoke and mirrors of relying on the natural operations of the market to direct events, elites set up a system to redirect state efforts rather than diminish them.  In addition, think tanks/research centres continue to work to create new barriers to democratic decision-making.

Modern economics is not a scientific discipline but the rigorous elaboration of a very specific social theory, which has become deeply embedded in western thought.  The evolution of the neoliberal project should be understood, not as a meticulous manipulation of social reality, but a series of increasingly desperate attempts to hold the very fabric of reality together. Neoliberalism has become an anxious form of crisis management attempting to cover over the gaps in its ideological contradictions. Interrogating a culture of cruelty offers critics a political and moral lens for thinking through the convergence of power, politics and everyday life. It also offers the promise of unveiling the way in which a nation demoralizes itself by adopting the position that it has no duty to provide safety nets for its citizens or care for their well-being, especially in a time of misfortune.

1 Wages Stopped Rising: Unraveling the Libertarian Movement https://questioningandskepticism.com/wages-stopped-rising-unraveling-the-libertarian-movement/

2 Chomsky: Ventilator Shortage Exposes the Cruelty of Neoliberal Capitalism https://truthout.org/articles/chomsky-ventilator-shortage-exposes-the-cruelty-of-neoliberal-capitalism/

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The Paradigm Shift Created by the COVID Pandemic

A paradigm is our perception of reality, our view of the world. It is our interpretation of events based on previous teaching we have received. When physicist Thomas Kuhn introduced the concept in 1962 he wanted people to think of a paradigm shift as change in one way of thinking to another. It doesn’t just happen, its driven by agents of change. Kuhn states that “awareness is prerequisite to all acceptable changes of theory”. Paradigms structure our perceptions of the world. There are no crucial experiments. Instead, anomalies accumulate and eventually advocates of an old paradigm die out and leave the field to practitioners of a new paradigm shift. Addressing the disparities and inequalities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic must be central to any approach to incorporating changes to the system. Progressives must become the agents of change 0f a new paradigm to alter the present way of doing things – to replace a system of minimal government and regulations.

Kuhn denied that science is constantly approaching the truth. Kuhn observed, “each paradigm will be shown to satisfy more or less the criteria that it dictates for itself and to fall short of a few of those dictated by its opponent … no paradigm ever solves all the problems it defines…” In the 1970s the monetarists sought to resurrect the pre-Keynesian view that market economies are inherently stable in the absence of major unexpected fluctuations in the money supply. Because of this belief in the stability of the free market economics, active demand management (by increasing government spending) was believed unnecessary and indeed likely to be harmful. This paradigm did not solve all the problems it defines, for example, the failure of a pure monetary policy to stimulate the economy in 2001-2003. Instead of recognizing that a paradigmatic change is necessary in mainstream economics, the economic profession stubbornly sticks to their existing mathematical models.

Know your place – poetry after the Black Death reflected fear of social change. Contemporary moralists complained about those who rose above their allotted station in life and so in 1363 a law was passed that specified the food and dress that were appropriate for each social class. In line with such attitudes, Langland railed against the presumption of laborers who disdained day-old vegetables, bacon and cheap ale and instead demanded fresh meat, fish and fine ale. The Black Death altered the fundamental paradigm of European life that included socio-economic and religious belief and practice, unleashing the forces that made the Renaissance possible. The Renaissance yielded scholars the ability to read the scriptures in their original languages, and this in part stimulated the Protestant Reformation. The 16th century reformers considered the root of corruptions to be doctrinal rather than simply a matter of moral weakness or lack of ecclesiastical discipline.

Kierkegaard describes truth as a leap of faith, and as the becoming of the individual’s subjectivity. While speculative thinking reflects on concrete things abstractly, subjective thinking reflects on abstract things concretely. Kierkegaard made a distinction between objective and subjective truth. For Kierkegaard objective truth merely seeks attachment to the right object, corresponding with an independent reality. On the other hand, subjective truth seeks the achievement of the right attitude; an appropriate relation between object and knower. For Kierkegaard it was subjective truth that counts in life: how we believe is more important than what we believe. It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere. Kierkegaard argues that the falsehood of objectivity may be revealed by a lack of need for personal commitment, and by lack of need for decision-making, while the truth of subjectivity may be revealed by a need for personal commitment, and by a need for decision-making.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) believed that human reason is rationalization, and 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. Nietzsche believes that science at its best keeps us in a simplified suitably constructed and suitably falsified world, and that the artificial world that concerns us is a fiction. Instead of using truth as the highest standard of value, Nietzsche argues, individuals need to develop their own powers of judgment and to produce ideas and ethics that will strengthen them and help them to live. Rationalization of the economy during the 1980s created the mindset that the economy requires less and less engineering (regulations), and would be capable of fixing itself.

Nietzsche claimed there are no facts only interpretations. In his view there was no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consisted of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. Subjective thinking can be the basis for a paradigm shift. Although Christianity is objectively merely one of many available religions in the world, it subjectively demands our complete attention. Pope Francis commented on the pursuit of money and criticized inequalities and the excesses of capitalism, based on his sincere belief of the gospels of Jesus of the New Testament. The Pope noted that once greed for money drives the economic system, it sets people against each other and harms the common home (ecosystem). The Pope seeks the truth through subjective thinking.

Bernie Sanders attracted attention during the US presidential campaign by proposing a paradigm shift. Saunders pursues subjective truths to support change. He claims, “our economic goals have to be redistributing a significant amount [of wealth] back from the top 1 percent… move to a society that provides a high quality of life for all our people.” Sanders notes that erosion of collective bargaining rights over the last 40 years have created an economy that delivers maximum profit to the corporations. Fox News labels Bernie Sanders “too extreme”, but that is the result of filtering Sanders’ public policy through the lens of objectivity which supports the profit paradigm. “A lot of what the Green New Deal is, is about shifting our political, economic and social paradigm on every issue,” claims Osteo-Cortez. “Because we don’t have time to wait …. the climate crisis along with economic and social inequality are far too serious to ignore.”

The failure of the existing consumerist institutions and supporting dogma has put the health and economic viability of citizens throughout the world in jeopardy. More and more individuals are ready to support a paradigm shift – that includes an effort to concentrate all practical efforts to bring the greatest good to the most people (and other species) over the longest time by rethinking and redesigning production and consumption patterns. John Kenneth Galbraith remained optimistic about the ability of government to improve the lot of the less fortunate. “Let there be a coalition of the concerned,” he urged. “The affluent would still be affluent, the comfortable still comfortable, but the poor would be part of the political system.” The violence exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis cries out for a new model of democratic governance. However, we must not let laissez-faire apologists explain away various failures during the pandemic by the (false) existence of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

Through the COVID-19 window we recognize the importance of returning to laws based on equality of the person rather than laws of the market. All writing and all science are socially constructed and therefore subject to bias. It is important to first describe any bias that is inherent in the argument, and second to seek to determine whether political biases have influenced the selection and interpretation of evidence. We should accept there is no objective truth, only a variety of subjective views developed through dialogue with others. The principles for determining how evidence has been appraised must be explicit and transparent, the means of taking account of bias must be clear, and the thresholds of acceptability which have been used to accept or reject evidence should be open to external scrutiny. Once one controls for bias, it is possible to achieve a paradigm shift by changing from objective thinking to subjective thinking.

The COVID pandemic is forcing us to redefine what and who we value, how we govern, whose opinions we listen to, how we view facts and science, and even our relationships. Much of society used to focus on status, power, wealth and celebrity. As Thomas Kuhn defined it in his seminal 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “Paradigm shifts arise when the dominant paradigm under which normal science operates is rendered incompatible with new phenomena, facilitating the adoption of a new theory or paradigm.” Where do we turn? “There is enough.” As Buckminster Fuller, futurist, famed architect, and creator of the geodesic dome said, there is enough of every resource for everyone on the planet; it’s just a matter of distribution. The coronavirus has upended the American way of life, influencing how we think, how we relate to others and what we value. While this makes us feel uncomfortable, we must not fear change. COVID may create a paradigm shift in society, with lasting effects creating a new normal.

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To create change: question everything, but separate skepticism from nihilism

Skepticism is a critical attitude that treats every claim to truth as up for debate. A skeptical attitude is doubt as to the truth of something. It’s an approach that goes beyond just demanding evidence and, instead, questions the evidence itself. Skepticism, in its best form, has opened up mind-boggling ways of thinking about ourselves and the world around us. Using it to be combative is a short-sighted and corrosive way to undermine the difficult task of living a well examined life. Skepticism is a behavior. Someone who is a skeptic questions data before accepting it as fact. You could be skeptical and believe in anything so long as you had good evidence of it. Nihilism differs from skepticism in that skepticism does not reject claims to truth outright, it only rejects these claims if there is insufficient empirical evidence to support them. To create change we must seek out ideas that make a difference.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) 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. The nihilist neither accepts nor rejects the proposition or thesis. For that matter, the nihilist is unable to characterize the proposition or thesis as “meaningful” or “meaningless,” to begin with, because that would entail making a substantive evaluation or value judgment. The nihilist is indifferent. The most common mistake people make in trying to define nihilism is that they think it is “about” something. Not only is it not about something, it is not even about nothing. The nihilist doesn’t care that he doesn’t care, and so on recursively.  For these reasons, nihilism is not particularly useful for introducing change, except possibly as an extreme counterexample.

Skepticism is very much in vogue today. Buoyed by the efforts of an army of lobbyists, and a cash-strapped media keen to exploit controversial debates, the climate skeptic movement, in particular, has been extremely successful in popularizing the skeptical attitude, which is widely perceived as the appropriate stance of struggling working-class towards the policies of perceived elites. On the other side of the debate, we find scientists and progressive journalists struggling in vain to persuade the skeptical public that science is itself a skeptical enterprise; that it is driven forward through the process of disproving, or ‘falsifying’, the results of previous research, and thus that any consensus view is based on a firmer foundation than people might expect. The challenge of the COVID pandemic is that science and evidence and knowledge is always evolving and is emerging fast. The twists and turns around vaccination advice and authorizations led to skepticism and increased vaccine hesitancy.

Nihilism was notably cited during U.S. Senate deliberations after rioting Trump supporters had been cleared from the Capitol. “Don’t let nihilists become your drug dealers,” exhorted Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. “There are some who want to burn it all down. … Don’t let them be your prophets.” How else to describe the incendiary rhetoric and grievances that Donald Trump has peddled since November? What else to call the denial of the electorate’s will and his deep disdain for American institutions and traditions? Playacting at revolution at the behest of a man seeking to cling to power, the rioters ultimately only managed only to vandalize the building, though they left five people dead in their wake. Nonetheless, to act violently on the basis of such fictions – and to transgress against the humanity of others for nothing at all – is perhaps the most nihilistic act of them all. In his 1872 novel, Demons, Dostoevsky was appalled that politics could be dehumanizing to the point of murder.

Fyodor Dostoevsky had, in his work, explored what happens to society when people who rise to power lack any semblance of ideological or moral convictions and view society as bereft of meaning. But then a disturbing public trial spurred him in a more overtly political direction. What would happen when people lacking any semblance of ideological or moral convictions rise to power? A young student had been murdered by members of a revolutionary group, The Organization of the People’s Vengeance, at the behest of their leader, Sergei Nechaev. His focus turned not only to moral questions but also to political demagoguery, which, he argued, if left unchecked, could result in devastating loss of life. Although set in a sleepy provincial Russian town, Demons serves as a broader allegory for how thirst for power in some people, combined with the indifference and disavowal of responsibility by others, amount to a devastating nihilism that consumes society, fostering chaos and costing lives.1

It has been over a century now since Nietzsche explored nihilism and its implications for civilization. As he predicted, nihilism’s impact on the culture and values of the 21th century continue to be pervasive, its apocalyptic tenor spawning a mood of gloom and a good deal of anxiety, anger, and terror. Interestingly, Nietzsche himself, a radical skeptic preoccupied with language, knowledge, and truth, anticipated many of the themes of postmodernity. It’s helpful to note, then, that he believed we could – at a terrible price – eventually work through nihilism. If we survived the process of destroying all interpretations of the world, we could then perhaps discover the correct course for humankind. Extreme skepticism, then, is linked to epistemological nihilism which denies the possibility of knowledge and truth; this form of nihilism is currently identified with postmodern anti-foundationalism. An anti-foundationalist is one who does not believe that there is some fundamental belief or principle which is the basic ground or foundation of inquiry and knowledge.

French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard characterizes postmodernism as an “incredulity toward metanarratives,” those all-embracing foundations that we have relied on to make sense of the world. This extreme skepticism has undermined intellectual and moral hierarchies and made “truth” claims, transcendental or transcultural, problematic. Postmodern anti-foundationalists, dismiss knowledge as relational and “truth” as transitory, genuine only until something more palatable replaces it (reminiscent of William James’ notion of “cash value”). The critic Jacques Derrida, for example, asserts that one can never be sure that what one knows corresponds with what is. Since human beings participate in only an infinitesimal part of the whole, they are unable to grasp anything with certainty, and absolutes are merely “fictional forms.” This opens the door to gaslighting – a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

Gaslighting is typically a preferred tactic of narcissistic and aggressive personalities bent on doing whatever it takes to gain and maintain a position of advantage over others. Their point is to disorient and destabilize people. They want to harness people’s self-doubts, ruin their capacity for seeing the world ironically, destroy their capacity for making judgements, in order to drive them durably into submission. When (for instance) gaslighters say something, only later to say that they never said such a thing and that they would never have never dreamed of saying such a thing, their aim is gradually to turn citizens into mere playthings of power. When that happens, the victims of gaslighting no longer trust their own judgements. They buy into the tactics of the manipulator. Not knowing what to believe, they give up, shrug their shoulders and fall by default under the spell of the gaslighter.

In The Banalization of Nihilism (1992) Karen Carr discusses the anti-foundationalist response to nihilism. Although it still inflames a paralyzing relativism and subverts critical tools, “cheerful nihilism” carries the day, she notes, distinguished by an easy-going acceptance of meaninglessness. Such a development, Carr concludes, is alarming. If we accept that all perspectives are equally non-binding, then intellectual or moral arrogance will determine which perspective has precedence. Worse still, the banalization of nihilism creates an environment where ideas can be imposed forcibly with little resistance, raw power alone determining intellectual and moral hierarchies. It’s a conclusion that dovetails nicely with Nietzsche’s, who pointed out that all interpretations of the world are simply manifestations of will-to-power. Today, the government of Justin Trudeau operates with smug indifference and patented, virtue-perfumed arrogance towards the House of Commons.

Not only do we pick and choose information that best suits us, we are not privy to all the information available to us. Psychologists have found that our attention is selective; our brains simply cannot process the trillions of bits of information hitting our senses at any one moment, so it focuses down on some of the information and blurs out the rest. But it gets worse. We fail to understand risk. This influences our perceptions and how irrational beliefs develop. Though driving the car to work is likely the most dangerous thing we do everyday, we are more afraid of flying. With social media driving beliefs, the anti-vaccination movement is gaining strength, promises of personal genomics is spawning new and dubious treatments, and health gurus sprinkling the word “natural supplement” on everything like an over-used spice, skepticism should be, now more than ever, a liberally applied tool.2

Where is the main resistance to change? There is a small group who have been made very wealthy by the existing system. Change is a threat to them. It is this group that loves its status quo so much that it sees its own change as an underhanded attack on its way of life. The debate is no longer how fast the ocean is rising, rather how fast will we rise to the occasion to introduce change. This is about introducing equality, justice and fairness so that it not just a perception, but a reality, that the system is no longer gamed for those at the top. For the critical thinker, discovering and understanding our cognitive foundations is tantamount to a new beginning, a fresh way to look at the world. Learning how to think about thinking, learning how to navigate the perils of human cognition, is the road map for change.

1 Ani Kokobobo (17 Jan 2021) https://www.salon.com/2021/01/17/dostoevsky-warned-of-the-strain-of-nihilism-that-infects-donald-trump-and-his-movement_partner/

2 Kyle Hill (26 July 2012) Skepticism And The Second Enlightenment https://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/student-voices/skepticism_and_the_second_enlightenment/

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The Middle Class Can Counter Today’s Zero-sum Game

The phrase the end of history was first used by French philosopher and mathematician Antoine Augustin Cournot in 1861 “to refer to the end of the historical dynamic with the perfection of civil society”. The disintegration of the former Soviet Union in 1991 brought about unexpected joys to the West. Francis Fukuyama analyzed this particular historic event as an inevitable one and constructed a set of comforting “end of history” theories from this case. Ironically, the theories were so successfully spread, making the US-led West live in a state of self-hypnosis, squandering the dividends they have been benefiting from the Cold War. But at the end of the dream, they were awakened up by the setbacks in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities subsequently encountered unexpected sufferings. From working conditions to welfare policies, from immigration to the internet – this zero-sum game of winners and losers benefits only the far right.

Fukuyama, who was also a member of RAND Corporation, made the political statement in 1989 that the liberal democracy with its neoliberal economic system is the best and final one in our history. Neoliberalism has promoted a self-centeredness that pushes Adam Smith-style individualism to an extreme, turning selfishness into a virtue, as Ayn Rand has done. It is a closed ontology since it does not admit the other, the stranger, into the circle of those towards whom we have a duty of responsibility and care. It thus completes capitalism as a zero-sum game of winners and ‘losers’. Apart from the alt-right in the USA, we find its exemplary advocates amongst leading Brexiteers in the UK, backed by dark money. It is not the social democratic compromise of capitalism with a human face that could support the welfare state. Seen in this context, there is an essential affinity between alt-right, neoliberal political economy and neo-fascism, punctuated by aggressivity, intolerance, exclusion, expulsion and generalized hostility.

Capitalist growth is not only visibly coming up against ecological limits of sustainability, especially in regions of the Global South. It also struggles with problems of economic deceleration, especially in deindustrialized countries of the Global North. The range of possible alternatives for post-growth capitalist (post-)democracies includes populist-authoritarian projects of national enrichment over elitist-authoritarian projects for securing transnational capital accumulation to technological solutionism. All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth, observes Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s vision of the world requires force, coercion, and assumes a limited amount of space and resources. It also assumes that all exchanges of power, a word that in this framework is synonymous with force, are zero-sum transactions. Zero-sum transactions are transactions where one person’s wealth increases by exactly the amount decreased in the wealth of the other person involved in the exchange.

Neoliberalism is a complex and ambiguous concept that has been consistently referred to by critics of an economic policy based, at least rhetorically, on free market and free trade in the last few decades. These two major tenets of neoliberalism have dominated the discourse of American presidents since the beginning of the 1980s. The same period has also been characterized by an increased tendency to tie these economic policies to freedom, a core value of American identity that came to be defined primarily in economic terms. Starting with Ronald Reagan, economic freedom rather than political liberty became the measure of virtue, as the “free world” admitted more authoritarian regimes in its ranks in the name of anti-communism (Numberg 2003). The collapse of the Soviet bloc only served to bolster the vision that free market and free trade alone could bring prosperity and political freedom.

Francis Fukuyama reports today’s polarization is the result of identity politics. For the most part, economic issues defined twentieth-century politics. On the left, politics was centered on workers, trade unions, social welfare programs, and redistributive policies. The right, by contrast, was primarily interested in reducing the size of government and promoting the private sector. Politics today, however, is defined less by economic or ideological concerns than by questions of identity. Now, in many democracies, the left focuses less on creating broad economic equality and more on promoting the interests of a wide variety of marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities, immigrants and refugees, women, and LGBT people. The right, meanwhile, has redefined its core mission as the patriotic protection of traditional national identity, which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity, or religion. Identity politics has become an ideology that explains much of what is going on in global affairs.1

‘No bourgeois, no democracy’ is the racy formulation penned half a century ago by the American historian Barrington Moore Jr. It’s a well-known political maxim, one that’s often used in support of the view that to be middle class is to be solidly, instinctively on the side of parliamentary democracy. As the middle class shrinks in size, it loses its bearings, or suffers potential outright social disintegration. Fukuyama observes ‘globalized capitalism’ is today eroding the middle-class social base on which ‘liberal democracy’ rests. We’re moving, he said, back into societies where extremes of wealth and poverty are fuelling ‘oligarchic domination’ and nasty forms of populism. Middle class earnings are declining, despite longer working hours and rocketing numbers of two-income households. Middle class optimism has waned. Few of its members now believe the old precept that rising tides raise all boats. Saving for a rainy day belongs to a past gilded age. The middle class owes more than its disposable income.

Fukuyama’s original thesis had not foreseen the rise of identity politics, and how identity fueled resentments would undermine democracy, even in powerful countries like the United States. The right, meanwhile, has redefined its core mission as the patriotic protection of traditional national identity, which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity, or religion. The Internet is responsible for the global rise of identity politics. Fukuyama and friends claim it is necessary to end Big Tech’s information monopoly to save democracy. The giant Internet platforms not only hold so much power, they wield so much control over political communication. The end-of-history assumption that liberal democracy was the final point of progress has been disrupted as religious and other identities stubbornly persist, and continue to drive events. The failure of governments to meet the rising expectations of the newly prosperous and educated supports populist identity politics.

The capitalist need for accumulation persists, political parties and civil society actors continue to advocate versions of growth, and expansive dispositions continue to be nourished on an individual and cultural level. Covid-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of life, as the economy continues to change as we grapple with life during the pandemic. After hitting the highest level of unemployment the US has seen since the Great Depression in April 2020, the unemployment rate has steadily fallen. Some sectors have been able to adjust (more or less) to the realities of the pandemic, but others, like leisure and hospitality and education and health services, have left their workers in a painful no-win situation. These disparities are important to remember because even when employment appears to be approaching pre-pandemic normalcy, a lot of people aren’t part of that economic rebound — and those workers are still disproportionately likely to be people of color, young and low-wage.

Libertarian populists cast politics as a zero-sum game between corporations and the poor. In the conservative version of identity politics, also, everything’s a zero-sum game: Freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or other characteristics doesn’t unleash greater human potential to the benefit of all. Instead, it’s a step backward for everyone else, part of the never-ending war of all against all. Your gain is necessarily my loss. This is the root of Trump’s popularity. His grassroot supporters (excluding the economic elite) are simply those who see themselves on the losing end of change, with no one in power giving much of a damn. The fact is that, even with a growing pie overall, in a changing world some will see their share shrinking, even in absolute terms. While the elite are comfortable with a more pluralist and global America, wage earners are more concerned about their dwindling economic prospects, more inclined to 20th century-style government intervention, and less concerned about, shall we say, politically-correct social views.

Since 1979, the households right at the top of the distribution, the much-vilified 1 percent, have seen their incomes rise fastest, more than doubling since 1979 even after taxes, while the middle class has experienced sluggish growth. In relative terms, the impact of taxes and transfers on income share can be seen most strongly for the richest (who lose) and the poorest (who gain). But in the long run, redistribution cannot be the primary means for increasing the incomes of middle-class households. Higher market incomes will be needed. That means higher wages, which in turn means a rebalancing of power in the labor market toward workers, and investment in skills to drive up labor productivity. Rather than simply ensuring the middle class gets a bigger slice of the pie, it is necessary to ensure that the middle class can help to grow the pie more quickly; to be the engine of economic growth as well as its beneficiary.2

The failure of governance mechanisms and models under neoliberalism is reflected by the failure of the attempts to control the impact of the COVID pandemic in Europe and the US, while it is quickly controlled in China. The “end of history” debate yet serves a purpose today. It serves as evidence that current minimal government / minimal taxes ideology has been shaken to the core. We need change. We need to recognize the role of the middle class in countering the zero-sum game. At the heart of democracy is an economic contract between citizens who consent to pay taxes and a government that, in exchange, safeguards the security and welfare of the nation by providing public goods such as education, health care, infrastructure and national security. In essence, any economic challenge that threatens the middle class places this contract – and ultimately, democracy – in peril.

1 Francis Fukuyama – Against Identity Politics. https://www.sas.upenn.edu/andrea-mitchell-center/francis-fukuyama-against-identity-politics

2 Richard V. Reeves (20 Nov 2018) Restoring middle-class incomes: redistribution won’t do https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2018/11/20/restoring-middle-class-incomes-redistribution-wont-do/

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