Freedom is a liberal idea

The right wing is full of contradictions — a defining trait, almost. Chief among them is this bit of cognitive dissonance:

  • hatred of liberals
  • love of “freedom”

You can’t have this both ways, philosophically speaking. The entire concept of individual liberty (hint: it’s right there in the name!) is a core insight of the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment Inspired the United States

This 18th century philosophical movement grew large in Europe, predating the French Revolution of 1789 and influencing heavily the American Revolution. Resting on the then recent revolutions in science, math, and philosophy including the works of Descartes, Galileo, Kepler, and Leibniz, The Enlightenment has its roots in 1680s England with the political philosophy of John Locke.

Locke argued that human beings are capable of self-improvement via rational thought and accumulated experience. His philosophy was a break with traditional assumptions that knowledge came only from authorities, and that truth was opaque and unknowable. Working in the same era as Isaac Newton, Locke’s ideas about human nature were highly informed by the Scientific Revolution well underway by this time. The two strains of philosophy have a common commitment to reason and empiricism at their core.

Political ideas of The Enlightenment

You can appreciate why any number of authorities would find the radical ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers potentially threatening — their age-old power structures were in jeopardy. It represented the democratization of knowledge, removing a dependency of the less powerful upon the powerful as a singular source of truth. The church, monarchy, and aristocracy were all on the chopping block — sometimes literally — during this age of philosophical and political revolutions.

The following philosophical and political ideals emerged from The Enlightenment:

  • Reason is the primary source of authority and legitimacy. Phenomena can be examined in the real world to understand more about how things work and what is true. Everything should be subject to critical examination, versus simply being taken on faith.
  • People have natural rights, and prime among them is liberty — or freedom to pursue the kind of life they so choose, without infringing upon the natural rights of others.
  • Equality is the concept that all members of a nation or society are equal members and have equal standing in terms of their political influence and power. These are expressed in the American concept of equality before the law (14th Amendment), free speech, and one person/one vote.
  • Progress as the collective project and meaningful unifying force for a nation or group. The goal is to create better societies and better people by discarding outmoded traditions and embracing rationalism.
  • Religious tolerance as a rational way to prevent civil unrest. Appears in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) and in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
  • Consent of the governed is one of several foundations of liberal thought from philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who stated that to be legitimate, political power must be representative and agreed to by the people bound by it.
  • The social contract is a foundational concept from both John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, extending the consent of the governed and placing it as the true basis for governmental authority.
  • Constitutional government has its underpinnings in a 1748 work by French judge and political philosopher Montesquieu, The Spirit of Law. This tome is the principle source for the concept of separation of powers in government as a system of healthy checks and balances to protect political liberty.
  • Fraternity in a philosophical sense is concerned with an ethical relationship between people, based on love and solidarity as the foundation for how individuals in society should treat each other.
  • Separation of church and state is a logical outgrowth of freedom of religion. The idea is older, but its introduction to the United Sates is attributed to Thomas Jefferson who declared the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause to be about building a “wall of separation between church and state.”
  • Property rights as a natural outgrowth of natural rights and labor (Locke).

Freedom is self-determination, but is not unlimited

The history of political philosophy reveals the evolution of Enlightenment thinking over the course of centuries, and how the ideas underpinning our government have deep roots. Freedom isn’t a new idea, and it does come with some caveats.

The first caveat is that freedom cannot be unlimited if we are to have a civil society. As Hobbes put it, if men are left to their natural state our lives will be “nasty, brutish, and short.” Also, we cannot preserve equal rights for all citizens if some members of society are allowed to trample on the rights of others.

That’s why the concept of liberty is so important. It’s important to our democracy, and it’s important to our day to day lives and how we treat each other. Freedom and liberty are similar and we often use these words interchangeably, but there is a very important distinction between them.

Liberty flows from equal rights

Liberty means that I have freedom, but only insofar as I don’t intrude upon your freedom. I must respect your rights and not invade your sovereign boundaries of life and property. For all persons are created equal, and the rights of one another shall not be infringed.

Political liberty has its foundations in Greek philosophy and was closely linked with the concept of democracy. Aristotle and Plato among others planted the seeds that would later be picked up by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and John Stuart Mill — giving us our modern concept of liberty today.

Hyper Partisanship: How to understand American politics today

Buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride. Many of the serious scholars of political history and authoritarian regimes are sounding the alarm bells that, although it is a very very good thing we are getting rid of the Trump crime family soon, it is still a very very bad thing for America to have so rapidly tilted towards authoritarianism. How did we get here?! How has hyper partisanship escalated to the point of an attempted coup by 126 sitting Republican House Representatives?

These are some of the resources that helped me grapple with that question, and with the rapidly shifting landscape of information warfare. How can we understand this era of polarization, this age of tribalism? This outline is a work in progress, and I’m planning to keep adding to this list as the tape keeps rolling.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism

  • Karen Stenner — Australian political psychologist Karen Stenner found that approximately 1/3 of populations are authoritarian, or have authoritarian tendencies.
  • Hannah Arendt — The Origins of Totalitarianism
  • Derrida — the logic of the unconscious; performativity in the act of lying
  • ketman — Ketman is the psychological concept of concealing one’s true aims, akin to doublethink in Orwell’s 1984, that served as a central theme to Polish dissident CzesΕ‚aw MiΕ‚osz‘s book The Captive Mind about intellectual life under totalitarianism during the Communist post-WWII occupation.
  • Erich Fromm — coined the term “malignant narcissism” to describe the psychological character of the Nazis
  • Fascism — elevation of the id as the source of truth; enthusiasm for political violence
  • Tyrants
  • John Dean — 3 types of authoritarian personality:
    • social dominators
    • authoritarian followers
    • double highs — social dominators who can “switch” to become followers in certain circumstances
  • Loyalty; hero worship
    • Freud = deeply distrustful of hero worship and worried that it indulged people’s needs for vertical authority. He found the archetype of the authoritarian primal father very troubling.
  • Ayn Rand — The Fountainhead
  • Richard Hofstadter — The Paranoid Style
  • Lakoff — moral framing; strict father morality
  • Neil Postman — Entertaining Ourselves to Death
  • Anti-Intellectualism
  • Can be disguised as hyper-rationalism (Communism)

Cognitive and psychological data

  • conservative minds don’t accept new information coming in
    • vs. Bayesian logic
    • vs. Thomas Kuhn scientific revolutions
  • Psychological biases
    • Status quo bias
  • The Asch Experiment — more than 60% of the time, people bow to social pressure
  • Stanley Milgram 1974 — we will submit to the demands of authority to a far greater extent than we might expect
    • it absolves us of responsibility
    • a “loophole” to quickly route around our conscience, making “normal” persons susceptible to the appeals of psychopaths
  • The Marshmallow Experiment — drive towards instant gratification
  • Edward Bernays — Propaganda
  • Narcissism and Sadism | The Dark Triad — difficult personalities
    • narcissism = seeing oneself “above”
    • Christopher Lasch — Culture of Narcissism (1979). Idea that narcissism is a defense mechanism against social change and instability in the modern world. It’s a method of psychological self-preservation in a hostile, threatening world; a cynical ethic.
    • Tom Wolfe — The Me Decade
    • Jerrold Post — authoritarian parenting
    • The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump
    • Mary Trump — Too Much and Not Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man
    • narcissistic injury
    • narcissistic rage
    • aggrieved entitlement — elevated expectations combined with resentment at society for not meeting them (Michael Kimmel, 2013)
    • dehumanization of the Others
    • splitting; black and white thinking
    • object permanence
    • magical thinking — relation to Norman Vincent Peale and prosperity gospel
    • Political ponerology — the nature of evil; interaction of difficult personalities with power and politics
      • pathocracy — Andrew Łobaczewski (2007)
      • sadopopulism — Tim Snyder
    • Narcissistic collusion — the interplay of the grandiose expectations of the tyrant and his followers. It gives him power as a meshing of mutually compatible needs.
    • Narcissism of small differences — Freud 1991
    • Scapegoating
    • Psychological decompensation
    • Psychopath World
      • The Upside Down — up is down, black is white
      • No conscience
      • No empathy
      • The ultimate narcissist
      • Obsession with power, dominance, and hierarchy
      • Primitive goals, relentlessly pursued
      • Rigidity; inflexibility
      • No access to higher human ideals
      • Performative; mask-wearing
      • See people as objects for their use
      • Control issues
      • Cruel and sadistic
      • Empty and thrill-seeking
      • Enjoy breaking rules
      • Inauthentic; insincere
      • Projectivity
      • Destructiveness; recklessness
      • Conspiracy-minded
      • Cold and inaccessible
      • Reptilian
    • Terminology: ASPD and the shifting umbrella of personality disorder and Cluster B
    • Malignant narcissism as a historical conception of this group of personality traits
  • Paranoia
  • Abuse culture
    • Bullies
    • Emotional abuse
    • psychological abuse
    • physical abuse
    • financial abuse
    • legal abuse
    • abuse of power
    • Alice Miller — Her work identified the psychological impact of childhood neglect and abuse, not just at the individual level but at the societal level — where it has a tendency to produce a hierarchical worldview characterized by the need to control the environment.
    • One-sided development — DΔ…browski (1996)
  • Cults
  • “Big Cults” — rise to the level of nation-state and even beyond
  • Psychological warfare
    • Propaganda
      • Bernays –> Goebbels
      • Michiko Kakutani — The Death of Truth
    • Emotional abuse
    • Interrogation techniques
    • Disinformation
      • Conspiracy theories
      • Fake news
        • “Flood the channel” strategy
        • Overwhelm and drown out the truth
        • Deep fakes
      • Lying with statistics
    • Bot networks and cyborg botnets
      • agents
        • distraction
        • confusion
        • probing
        • persuasion
        • conversion
        • neutralization
      • flying monkeys
      • automated response
      • timed response
    • Extortion
    • Doxxing
  • Religious extremism
    • Evangelicals
    • Dominionism and extremist religious circles believing literally in the End Times and the rapture coming soon (Tim LaHaye et al), including at the highest levels of government (Pompeo, Pence, etc.)
    • Calvinism
    • Prosperity gospel
  • Living on Fantasy Island
    • Norman Vincent Peale — the power of positive thinking (1952)
    • Ernest Becker — The Denial of Death & the basis for fundamental self-deception
    • Buddhist / Shambhala conceptions of “The Cocoon” — a mental place of safety we construct for ourselves to remain shielded from Real Reality
    • Republican Denial Bubbles: climate change, trickle-down economics, “no one is racist,” birtherism, covid is a hoax, everything is hunky dory, you are getting very sleepy…
    • It Was All a Lie — Stuart Stevens, former GOP strategist and co-founding member of the Lincoln Project, spills the beans on the Republican capture of civic discourse with a set of false narratives all spinning out from the white supremacist backlash to the civil rights movement of the 60s.

HISTORY

  • Capitol Riots and Putsch — insurrectionists storm the Capitol
  • Raffensperger extortion call
  • Georgia runoffs
  • Biden elected + Big Lie begins (continues, really)
  • George Floyd murder and summer of protest
    • long struggle with police brutality and “driving while Black”
  • Votings Rights Act gutted
  • Citizens United
  • Growing nationalization of politics parallels the demise of local news

Hyper Partisanship in Congress: The Gingrich Years

  • Newt Gingrich and the Contract on America — Steve Kornacki, Julian Zelizer
  • Rise of Evangelicals and the deals with the devils (Paul Weyrich, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, prosperity gospel, etc)
    • ALEC
    • abortion as a 180-degree turn for use as a wedge issue
    • Brown v. Board of Education & the fight over segregated Christian private schools
  • White nationalism’s reputational laundering
    • David Duke popped back up in both the 90s and the 2010s
    • Some Vietnam vets nurtured their own “stabbed in the back” culture after the war
    • Rise of the militia movement
      • Many returning soldiers saw the fringe left Communist movement in the US as an “enemy at home”
      • Greensboro, NC massacre
      • The Order
      • KKK & KKKK
    • Paramilitary operations in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in Latin America to “bring the war home”
    • After the fall of Communism, the movement needed a new enemy. During the immediate post-Vietnam era they claimed to be working on behalf of the state, but towards the end of the 80s they did a 180-degree turn to a hard anti-government stance
    • Survivalist fringe
      • Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing
      • Waco
      • Ruby Ridge
      • Unabomber / Ted Kaczynski
    • Intersection of militia movement with NRA
      • Intersection of NRA with Russian active measures
    • Lost Cause lineage
      • Confederate holdouts

Post-Soviet Capital Flight and the Rise of Russian Organized Crime

Rise of Dark Money

The explosion of Super PACs and other seemingly endless vehicles for anonymous money lending to political campaigns exploded after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. The hyper partisanship tilted even further when the GOP quietly began accepting far more foreign contributions than many people realized.

  • Citizens United
  • Koch Brothers / Kochtopus
  • offshore tax havens
  • unregistered FARA agents (Flynn, Manafort, Elliott Broidy, etc)
  • Jane Mayer
  • Panama Papers — biggest offshore data leak in history
  • FinCEN files

Rise of Russian Hybrid Warfare

  • Gerasimov Doctrine
  • Vladislav Surkhov’s surrealistic war theater
    • Fifth World War: all against all
  • Cheka –> KGB –> FSB / GRU
  • Psychological warfare
  • Cyber warfare
    • energy grid
    • US Treasury
    • election infrastructure
    • nuclear weaponry
  • Information warfare
    • Disinformation
    • Cyborg bot networks
    • IRA & Robert Mueller indictments
    • Cambridge Analytica, data theft, and microtargeting
    • Astroturfing, fake activism, paid crisis actors
  • Financial warfare
    • Magnitsky Act
      • Bill Browder
      • Natalia Veselnitskaya
      • Trump Tower meeting June 9, 2016
    • Campaign funding
      • Marie Le Pen (France)
      • Viktor Orban (Hungary)
      • Brexit (UK)
      • Trump / GOP (US)
      • Law and Justice (Poland)
    • Corruption — organized crime, money laundering, bribery, human trafficking, drugs, arms, fraud, racketeering, etc.
  • Proxy warfare
    • Private security forces and arms’ length deniability
      • Yevgeny Prigozhin
      • Erik Prince
    • Ukraine
    • Belarus
    • Syria

Role of Facebook, Google, and Big Tech

Silicon Valley played its part in enabling — and profiteering from — hyper partisanship not just in the U.S., but around the world. Facebook in particular has a reputation for being callously cheap about moderating content from hate speech to live mass shooting video, including arguably playing a significant role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

  • Facebook as a rogue nation state with almost 3 billion non-voting citizen-serfs
    • Reluctant moderators require regulating
    • Questionable ethics
      • Moral hazard in political leanings
      • Paid propaganda machine for dictators and authoritarian regimes around the world
      • Allow disinformation to “skirt around” the rules too often, or fail to police bad actors at all
      • Fail to live up to their own moderating standards repeatedly
      • Refuse responsibility for arguably essential roles in geopolitical disasters including the Rohingya massacre in Myanmar and
      • A business model that fundamentally benefits from human conflict
      • Cambridge Analytica
      • Traumatic conditions of the Facebook moderation team, in the US and abroad
  • Google’s capture of the web
    • monopoly powers
    • surveillance powers
    • AI powers
    • collapse of online advertising market
    • collapse of local journalism
    • Youtube radicalization
  • Bozo Bezos & the Billionaire Space Race
  • Surveillance capitalism
  • Data as the new oil
  • Crypto & DeFi

Economic insecurity and staggering inequality

  • Piketty
  • Gilded Age
  • Progressive Era
  • Anti-Trust
  • Herbert Hoover –> FDR
  • Great Depression –> New Deal prosperity
  • Keynesian economics
  • Hillbilly elegy
    • Bowling Alone
    • The Big Sort
  • Globalization
  • Opioid crisis

Republican Myths

As further enabled by the rise of the PR-state

  • White supremacy and the myth of American innocence
  • Trickle down economics –> Reagan
  • Powell Memo –> Think Tanks
  • McCarthyism; John Birch Society
  • America as a Judeo-Christian nation
  • Immigration is bad
  • Climate change denialism
  • Smoking is good for you

Americana and Hyper Partisanship through the ages

  • 2020 election
  • 2016 election
  • Obama years
  • 2008-09 financial crash
  • 9/11, WMD delusions, Iraq War, Islamic terrorism
  • 2000 Bush v. Gore
  • Welfare queens
  • Clinton and the Crime Bill
  • Reagan years
  • Watergate
  • Spiro Agnew
  • Nixon’s war on drugs as a proxy for the war on 60s counterculture
  • White militia movement
  • Civil rights & Vietnam
  • Cold War
  • The Holocaust; Stalin’s Great Terror; Mao’s famine
  • WWII & fascism
  • New Deal
  • Great Depression
  • Warren G. Harding
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • WWI
  • Gilded Age
  • Snake oil
  • PT Barnum
  • Great Awakening preachers George Whitefield & Jonathan Edwards
    • they argued that church authorities should not own people’s direct relationship with God
  • KKK
  • Jim Crow
  • Reconstruction
  • Civil War & Confederacy — the ur-Hyper Partisanship.
  • States’ Rights
  • Anti-Intellectualism
  • Slavery
  • Racism, Misogyny
  • Federalism vs. Decentralization
  • The Constitution and the Rule of Law
  • Democracy overthrows monarchy
  • Spirit of the Laws — Montesquieu
  • Social contract; consent of the governed
  • Puritans
  • Religious freedom
  • Liberty vs. freedom
  • The Enlightenment
  • Magna Carta
  • The Bible

Public education makes us all smarter

The state has an interest in educating its citizens. There are a number of reasons a nation could benefit from attending to the education of its citizens, creating a state interest in public education. Many of them are economic, and contribute to the growth of industry and health of communities:

  • More people generating more value increases GDP, compounded over time
  • Increased entrepreneurship
  • Increased innovation, and dynamism in the economy along with it
  • Improved public health and saving cost on health care
  • Longer life spans means more working years at greater seniority levels, contributing a lot of surplus value to the economy
  • Increased incomes provide more free time to contribute to civic life and be informed voters
  • Decreasing the number of “Lost Einsteins” — talented individuals who do not get a chance to shine their lights and contribute their gifts

We all have an interest in investing in the development of our human capital, because it is rational to do so. It will pay many dividends over time, both directly and indirectly.

Time only runs forward

Can’t go back — as far as we know. That makes the politics of nostalgia, of the rose-tinted past, of MAGA, to be by definition an exercise in magical thinking.

We can’t go back to the past.

Psychologically speaking though, it is common to harbor this belief. This wishful thinking.

The Politics of Fear

It is the availability of memory stacked against the uncertainty of the future. For those who lack a certain sense of imagination, the road ahead can seem dark and dangerous. They are vulnerable to succor and protection — from enemies they believe to be around every corner.

In exchange for loyalty to the Strongman, they get fake superficial protection while the leader and his cronies raid the community coffers. Meanwhile the autocrat blames the opposition party for all the followers’ ills, despite obviously being in power himself. They hail him as a truthteller.

Magical Thinking

This blindness to the constraints of reality is more common than we might think. And regression is a common defense mechanism which encapsulates in microcosm this macro nostalgia: wherein we fall back to the carefree mentality of childhood. It’s a method of escapism and avoiding responsibility on one hand, and an aspect of the denial of death.

But we must grow up, and bravely face our fate. We must make decisions that shape it, and guide our course through the significant constraints of life and the unexpected obstacles.

Creativity is the Antidote

Ironically, something worthwhile we may have left behind in childhood can help get us out of this mess. Creativity shares the imaginative aspect with magical thinking, but the difference is its recognition of the constraints of reality. Time, resources, skills, prevailing conditions, random chance, and much more all must be favorable for us to achieve our creative goals and solve our problems. It requires effort and incisiveness. It requires an addiction to reality.

Creativity requires humility — something in short supply. We will need to cultivate vulnerability and non-aggression and deliberation. We will need to rediscover community and rededicate ourselves to civics.

I’m ready. Are you?

kompromat

What I do when I have compromising files to hide is I distribute them evenly across 3 different laptops and ensure that all 3 highly reliable β€œworks for decades” Apple machines go kaput at the same exact time, at which point I leave my home and fly across the country to a jurisdiction patrolled by Rudy Giuliani to service these machines and perform data recovery because I am looking to add maximum inconvenience to my very busy life β€” a life so busy that I completely forget about my 3 precious laptops which once contained both my livelihood and my most deeply personal and secret materials.

You?

Also, data recovery for 3 laptops is totally $85.

Tactics of emotional predators

Chances are you’ve had an encounter with an emotional predator — whether you’re aware of it or not. Most everyone is familiar with the physical abuser: typically the man who beats his wife or female partner. But emotional abuse, and psychological abuse, are also integral components of abuse and are often present with, and precursors to, intimate partner physical violence.

Often individuals who abuse others have a personality disorder that increases their chances of becoming an abuser. Many of these personality disorders have narcissism at their roots — a psychological defense mechanism in which an individual harbors grandiose fantasies about themselves and feels selfishly entitled to having all their demands met.

Narcissists require a constant stream of admiration, or “narcissistic supply,” coming their way. They achieve this through charm, emotional manipulation, and all sorts of shady, unethical, or downright illegal tactics and behaviors. When a narcissist wants something from you, or wants you to do something, he can become a devious emotional predator who takes advantage of your good will for his own ends without thinking twice.

How to identify an emotional predator

One way to protect yourself from emotional predators is to understand how they behave, and become familiar with how to detect manipulative and deceptive behavior as early on as possible. If you see any of the warning signs below in a loved one, coworker, community member, or position of leadership, then use caution in dealings with this individual. Seek external advice and assistance in threat assessment before placing further trust in this person.

Emotional predators are often found leading cults, so take a look at those who surround them and ask if they seem like mindless followers in thrall to the cult of personality of one individual. Assess whether you and/or others who interact with the psychic vampire experience the following phenomena:

  • Manipulating your emotions
  • Creating unnecessary chaos
  • Consistent inconsistency; intermittent reinforcement
  • One-way street
  • Masters of deceptive and misleading stories
  • Love to play victim and hero
  • Diverting attention
  • Denying plain facts
  • Assert the opposite of reality
  • Projection
  • See the world as with them or against them (splitting)
  • Nurturing and maintaining enemies (paranoia)
  • Moves the goalposts
  • Refuses to take responsibility or admit fault
  • Gaslighting
  • Bullying
  • Frequent liar
  • Aggressive and easily angered

Trump is a cult leader

Cult leader playbook:

1. Position himself (and the group — his extension) as the benevolent safe haven to turn to when afraid

2. Isolate the follower from other sources of safe haven

3. Arouse fear in the follower

Rinse; repeat.

Qualities of a Cult Leader

  • Narcissistic — highly self-absorbed, they demand excessive admiration and slavish devotion to their whims.
  • Charismatic — they have a way of grabbing attention, whether positive or negative.
  • Unpredictable — erratic behavior keeps enemies on their toes and fans “on edge” with desire to please Dear Leader.
  • Insatiable drive — it could be status, money, sex, power, or all of the above, but they feel they deserve it more than anyone else on the planet.
  • Lack of conscience — they have no shame and will demand things a decent human being would not.

Trump has all the cult leader qualities and follows the playbook to a tee — doing little else, in fact. He should be considered highly armed and dangerous. An emotionally unstable individual with access to the United States’ greatest powers and deepest secrets. A threat to American life and liberty. Dictator Don.

How a Buddhist might explain our political polarization

We have a hard time understanding how political polarization has become so extreme in the United States. Forget about right and wrong, and stop being so mystified and affronted that Hillbilly Elegy or Neo Neonazi don’t see things the way you do. “How can they support Trump?!?” many a well-meaning Democrat will plaintively cry.

But these judgments are labels we’ve invented — they’re purely symbolic. It’s the feelings underneath that truly produce motivation — there is a physiological reason that “our camp” and “their camp” seem so drastically different from each other. Almost as if we no longer inhabit the same reality anymore. It used to be that we routinely disagreed (and even fought bitterly) over facts — but now we disagree over whether facts have any value at all, which is a very dangerous place to be.

So we don’t necessarily need right and wrong to understand the Trump cult, and it may even get in the way. A Buddhist would offer a far more neutral perspective on the chasm dividing America today:

DNC
- What the liberal left (and a smattering of defected right) enjoyed tonight at the Democratic National Convention was pleasant to us. It felt good.
- To the Trumpkins, the DNC was unpleasant, and greatly so. 

RNC
- For Trump rallies and presumably the RNC, the feelings swap: his fans pass over mere pleasant into a frenzy of malignant envy and sadism.
- For us Democrats, those events are nightmarishly unpleasant. They give us the heebie jeebies.

Political polarization: Nurture and nature

For some of us, it’s just how we’re wired. Others have the nurture member of the dyad to thank, or blame. The community or communities around us and the context we’re in affect our decision-making as well. As our surroundings become more politically polarized, so do we — having a compounding feedback loop effect.

Some of us will grow and stretch and change over the course of our lives. Others have fixed set points. Maybe we should be asking some additional questions beyond, “But how can they believe…” including, “what is it that some people find unpleasant about compassion and love? Is it that they feel those things to be absent in their own lives, or that they’ve been betrayed by those ideals in some way?”

The Founders considered the US Postal Service essential to democracy

The cognitive dissonance of the so-called Republican “agenda” is on acute display, wherein mortal threat to a literally enumerated power of the Constitution given to Congress to establish a federal postal system seems not to bother the Constitutional originalists one bit. Not to mention said power’s role in facilitating free and fair elections. Curioser and curioser!

Somehow, one of the nation’s oldest institutions — instrumental in both our political and economic history throughout its existence — is suddenly considered yesterday’s fish by the seemingly randomly fiscal conservative. It’s, apropos of nothing (except an upcoming election in a pandemic), nigh time to punish the historic public service for not being more focused on the opposite of its stated mission:

USPS mission

The USPS is synonymous with American independence

Moreover, the origin of the importance of the post to the Founders of the nation lies even deeper within the soul of the formation of American independence: as a backlash to the British Stamp Act of 1765.

The colonies’ budding sense of unity was emboldened by collective action overtaken to dislodge the British Imperial Post (and its taxes with it), and this sentiment continued to grow through related historical affronts including the Townshend Acts of 1767, the Boston Massacre of 1768, and the Tea Party of 1773 into the full-fledged political pursuit of independence waged as the American Revolutionary War.

Foundational Acts: Establishing the post was a first priority

Benjamin Franklin became the first Postmaster General when the Second Continental Congress created the Constitutional Post in 1775. In his first term, the nation’s inaugural President George Washington signed the Post Office Act into law, establishing the USPO in early 1792. By the end of his second term, the number of post offices, miles of post roads, and post revenues had grown by 400%.

Washington spearheaded the creation of the post with help from James Madison. With it the two philosophical fathers of the revolution established both a right to personal privacy and a right to public information for citizens of the new nation. They specifically made it cheaper to send news — believing that an informed population was of utmost importance to a self-governing country.

Alexander Hamilton helped the fledgling post office with legal challenges it faced as it modernized, including a dispute with contracted stagecoach services who refused to adhere to delivery standards. Alexis de Tocqueville was impressed by the postal service on his historic visits to the new nation, convinced that the organizational capability of the early post office was essential to sustaining this fledgling American experiment with democracy.

Without the post, no West

Not to mention that, historically speaking, it’s likely there would have been no westward expansion without the post office. Cameron Blevins’ awesome infovisualisation of post office openings and closings between 1850 and into the 1900s clearly shows the reach of the system and its status as the veins and arteries of a rapidly scaling up nation.

Geography of the Post

Roads in general owe their ubiquity and quality to pressures from the mail service to provide reasonable passage for delivery. The Pony Express provides to this day some of the most iconic imagery and symbolism Americans associate with the Wild West.

The postal service was the largest communications network of the 19th century; it bound the nation back together to some small but not insignificant degree following the Civil War. Later, the Air Mail Service of the Unites States Post Office Department would be inaugurated only shortly after motorized plane flight was in regular usage towards the end of World War I.

Without the West, no America

Anyone care to argue that this country would be the same without the great American West? Surely not you, Texas — nor you, Montana. Not even Wyoming. Our national self-conception as a people of Manifest Destiny — a people whose boundless horizons were thrilling, exciting, and full of possibility. Of social mobility. Of personal responsibility.

The American identity is bound to the West. Our entrepreneurship, our creativity, our explorative and adventurous spirit finds itself embodied in the iconic images of the cowboy, the dusty plain, the purple mountains’ majesties that we all learn in childhood curricula. How would we ever have shared that imagery in the first place, if not for the post?

By the way, did you know that the Postal Service is the United States’s second largest civilian employer? After Walmart.

For all of the above reasons and more: this idea of kneecapping the United States Postal Service to further one’s election ambitions is neither moral, legal, nor historical.

It’s criminal.

Cruelty is wrong

Cruelty is a line for me. It’s a one-strike-you’re out policy. We will not be friends.

Cruelty is a moral stain. Something we need to outgrow from childhood to become a member of society. As a form of sadism, it does basic disrespect to the natural rights of persons and flouts the core ideals of democracy. Cruelty is antisocial behavior, and will not be tolerated.

I will speak up for those being crueled. And speak out against those crueling.

The Authoritarian Personality: Deference to a higher power

Sociologist Theodor Adorno created the “F scale” in a 1950 seminal work entitled The Authoritarian Personality — to rank the level of predilection to fascism in an individual, which became desirable both during and shortly after World War II.

In authoritarian personality theory, the defining traits of the Platonic fascist (or the ur-Fascist as Umberto Eco would later call them) include the following:

  • conventionalism — following the rules; “this is how we’ve always done things”; fundamentalist thinking; dogmatic philosophy; intolerance of ambiguity (and intolerance in general)
  • authoritarian submission — follow the Ruler; the Ruler is always right, no matter how obvious the lie or big the myth. only ingroup authority figures matter, though.
  • authoritarian aggression — “send in the troops,” “when the looting starts the shooting starts,” “dominate the streets”
  • anti-intellectualism — distrust of experts; paranoid politics; intellectualism is unmasculine
  • anti-intraception — a dislike of subjectivity and imagination: “the fact is…”; black and white thinking; dislike of flamboyant self-expression; monoculture
  • superstition — conspiracy theory; anti-vaxxers; QAnon
  • stereotypy — racism, sexism, classism, ageism, all the isms; homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, all the phobias
  • power and “toughness” — obsessed with dominance and submission; rigidly pro-hierarchy; solves problems with violence; values physical strength
  • destructiveness — dismantle the Federal government; remove environmental regulations; pull out of international alliances; weakening America’s place in the world, abandoning the EU, and kowtowing to dictators around the world
  • cynicism — “both sides do it,” whataboutism, all politicians are bad, conscience (non)voters
  • projectivity — everything is Obama’s fault, almost literally; claims Biden is corrupt; Hillary’s email server (though they all used and continue to use private email servers, every single one of them); claim that the Clinton campaign started the birther controversy; accuse everyone else of lying
  • exaggerated concerns over sex — anti-abortion; homophobia; excessive taboos; excessive shame

We are seeing all of these traits today. We see the rise of authoritarianism — we see it in our leadership, we see it in our communities, and we see it surging around the world.

We see it in a much larger percentage of our populace than many of us might have imagined. People of good character far outnumber the Right-Wing Authoritarians, but they can be subjugated, emotionally manipulated, strong-armed, abused, intimidated, made cynical by the RWAs. And the RWA personality is driven to actively hate outgroups in many outrageously twisted and depraved ways, from pettiness to genocide.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism

Refined by professor of psychology Bob Altemeyer (The Authoritarians, et al) in 1981, the Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale (RWA) addresses some of the limitations of the F scale and exhibits more predictive power in identifying individuals exhibiting authoritarian personality.

The RWA personality is associated with all of the following traits, beliefs, actions, patterns, and signs of authoritarianism:

  • extreme obedience
  • unquestioning respect for and submission to a chosen authority
  • forceful insistence on hierarchy
  • striving for dominance in social hierarchies
  • supremacy
  • wolves vs. sheep worldview
  • Manichaean struggle
  • punitiveness; vengefulness; malignant envy
  • destructiveness
  • extremism
  • subordination to the collective
  • tribalism
  • cult of personality
  • cults
  • traditionalism
  • conservatism
  • fundamentalism
  • less openness to experience
  • aggression towards minority groups
  • resistance to change
  • justification(s) for social inequality
  • Libertarianism
  • police brutality
  • psychological abuse
  • hypocrisy
  • projection
  • magical thinking
  • disciplinarian
  • control freak
  • mass surveillance
  • repression
  • a primary drive to achieve relief from uncertainty, even at the cost of individual freedom

Democracy vs. Authoritarianism

Maybe we could offer up the RWA test as a “good faith” gesture, if one is interested in participating in civic discourse with credibility and authenticity. It would help us identify those individuals who are going to be unlikely to play by the rules of the game or have no intention of behaving fairly. It would help us draw authoritarianism and totalitarianism out of the proverbial closet and into public discourse so we can refute it vehemently in a proper forum.

Although we have bot tests, we don’t really have great ways of measuring and identifying human beings with deceptive agendas. If we could screen people as authoritarians via “honorable challenge,” we could save so much time by not wasting it on the lost causes whose power trip runs so deep it can never be exposed. It could serve as a way to drag out into the light any number of intolerable, anti-democratic sentiments masquerading as “strict Constitutionalism.” We can pry open the doublespeak and arm ourselves with the secret decoder rings of understanding RWA dogwhistles.

And maybe we can finally change the conversation by more easily identifying friendlies from foes from the start, without having to wade through every minefield.

Just maybe.

Numerical superstitions: Our strange relationship with numbers

We have so many mental frames related to numbers, that have been handed down culturally for, in some cases, hundreds and even thousands of years. These numerical superstitions come from myths, some from science, some cultural and historic — and many are universal. They remind us that despite our differences across nations and across time, we human beings still have a lot more in common with one another than we have differences.

  • 1 is the loneliest number… but can also be unity, and the origin of all things
  • 2 is duality ☯️
  • 3’s a crowd
  • 4 is a square; representative of justice | Buddhist Four Noble Truths ⬛
  • 5 is alive
  • 6 is the first perfect number
  • 7 notes in the musical scale 🎼
  • 8 is paradise; lucky in Buddhism πŸ€
  • 9 lives 😺
  • 10 is the most perfect number πŸ”Ÿ
  • 11 players in soccer & football ⚽
  • 12 is cosmological: zodiac symbols, stations of the Moon, stations of the Sun | 12 inches in a foot πŸ“
  • 13 lunar months in the year πŸŒ™
  • 20 bucks πŸ’΅
  • 30 pieces of silver πŸ’°
  • 40 days and 40 nights πŸš£β€β™‚οΈ
  • 50 ways to leave your lover | 50 shades of grey
  • 100 year centennial πŸ’―
  • 1000 — millenarianism

I’ll keep adding to the list of numerical superstitions over time…!

Read the Stoics: Antidotes to the here and now

When the onslaught of news is overwhelming and oppressively Right Now, I like to escape by:

  1. Getting out of Here — read non-US and non-US based news, media, culture, and history. Try to intellectually get out in the world.
  2. Getting out of Now — read history, watch documentaries, read old novels, listen to classic (and classical) music, learn from the Stoics. Ponder ago.

Sometimes it feels like we’re in a time loop — like it’s Groundhog Day, every day.

War of the Worldviews: Hierarchy vs. Fairness

Hierarchy vs. Fairness is the dominant Manichaean struggle of our age, and perhaps every age before it: shall we structure our society with a strict hierarchical system of highs and lows, with power concentrated at the top? Or shall we have an egalitarian society where truth, justice, and fairness rule the day?

There are a lot of stories, myths, and narratives centered on this question: hierarchy or fairness? Cultural wars and actual wars have been waged — numerous times throughout history.

We are fighting a new incarnation of that war now in our nation, as civil unrest spreads following yet another extrajudicial murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for a jaw-dropping 8 minutes and 46 seconds: 2 minutes and 53 seconds beyond the point where Floyd lost consciousness and 1 minute and 54 seconds past the point fellow officers checked to confirm he had no pulse.

That is a staggeringly long time.

There is simply no credibility to the typical excuse that Chauvin somehow feared for his life — from an unarmed, handcuffed, prone, unconscious, and then lifeless George Floyd. Arrested over an allegedly counterfit $20 bill. Meanwhile Congress appropriates hundreds of billions and even trillions for big business and last I heard, no arrests had been made. Curious.

It starts in childhood

Psychologists like Alice Miller and Darcia Narvaez attribute this troubling mentality — this mentality that exhibits complete disregard for human life — as originating in our child-raising “techniques.” At one time corporal punishment for youth was the rule and not the exception; not uncoincidentally, the Hitler Youth of Germany had been largely raised under the “advice” of Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Shreber who advocated beating babies from a young age so the importance of obedience would be drilled into them early on.

It wasn’t until much later we learned that traumatized and neglected children display severe lesions affecting up to the 30 percent of the areas of the brain responsible for controlling emotions. In other words, “traditional” authoritarian child-rearing in the fundamentalist religion style of “spare the rod, spoil the child” produces emotionally crippled adults — who tend to enact the revenge fantasies of their internal repressed rage as adults later in life. They simply need be provided with an “authorized” scapegoat.

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt

Miller goes on to suggest the psychological survival mechanism of denial employed by abused children to survive their situation leads them to develop the kind of emotional blindness in adulthood that will turn the other way when witnessing violations of another person’s humanity — or may even be induced to carry them out. We’re all familiar with Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s “defense” of why he should be exonerated for behaving like a robotic killer: “I was just following orders.”

Teaching children to be obedient or be emotionally abandoned — whether through physical abuse or emotional abuse or both — is the key to unlocking this mystery of the appeal of hierarchy and authoritarianism which is seeing a resurgence not just in the United States but around the world — especially in Europe as well. Miller calls it “poisonous pedagogy” — not just parents but many other forms of authority indoctrinate youth in this vicious cycle and benefit from the creation of obedient individuals by amassing and maintaining power.

The kicker is we are not supposed to recognize this process — and if we do, we most certainly are not supposed to speak up about it. We are supposed to remain unaware that our deference to authority is merely a construct; a thin veneer over the insecurity of power that hopes desperately to continue wielding absurd moral authority over the masses. This collective and complicitous denial keeps us all locked in the dance of abuser and abused — essentially pretending it isn’t happening all around us including in our own homes.

The Founders advocated fairness

For all the right wing enjoys brandishing the Constitution as fundamental law, they tend to often miss the forest for the trees — that the founding fathers wrote extensively on their views and consideration in constructing a new nation towards the end of the 18th century, and that those views were decidedly against the arbitrary rule of kings and the strict striations of class as seen in the empires of Europe. They sought to get away from the cult of personality paradigm of the divine right of kings, believing that the rule of law should hold sway and that men ought to govern themselves through a political process with enough checks and balances to ensure no single branch or individual could wield too much power over others.

James Madison especially was a big believer in the “wisdom of crowds” to arrive at a better, more morally appropriate solution to legislation and problem solving. Moreover they were extremely uncomfortable with the role of slavery at the founding of the nation, despite being simultaneously apiece with the times and not entirely living up to those professed ideals.

Nevertheless, the role of ideals is to move us forward towards better times; to continually improve our individual and collective characters to get closer to living them out. Taking the founding ideals of fairness and equality as the guiding north star of a new nation and falling short is, in my humble opinion, still leagues farther along than giving in to the indulgent impulse towards supremacy and hierarchy and calling it a day. It’s the essence of progressivism as a vehicle for a narrative of self-growth — as opposed to the narrative hierarchy offers, which is static; dead; inert. There can be no change, no dynamism to a system which defines a priori everyone’s place in society.

Hierarchy is the politics of death.

The Rule of Law vs. the Cult of Personality

The rule of law is a moral force. It’s an ethical tour de force that’s been hard-fought and won in democracies around the world beginning with the French Revolution. And it’s still going on today — everywhere citizens are struggling to achieve political power and equality.

When justice holds sway, there is a true objective arbiter and an ethical framework society can hang from. Imperfect though its actual execution by actual humans may be, the rule of law provides a fundamental basis for agreement on what is right, what is wrong, and how best we shall live in our societies.

The Right-wing and the rule of law

The right-wing faction once gave lip service to the rule of law — when they still had a monopoly over it. Now that they no longer do, the extreme right has abandoned it in favor of a venal power grab in the form of an essentially fascist idea: the Cult of Personality.

In Donald Trump and in authoritarian leaders around the world, the Cult of Personality reigns. These leaders go out of their way to flout the law. They repeatedly allege or assert that they are above it; that they are special. They allege that they’re so special as to be immune to application of the rule of law that applies to other citizens.

When the justice goes dark, trouble brews. When the cult of personality holds sway, entire societies become vulnerable to propaganda, disinformation, gaslighting, fakery, and lies of all kinds. Without a grasp of the truth — and mechanisms within the structure of society to champion it and root it out — societies cannot make informed decisions. They cannot effectively self-govern, and cannot wholly wield the political power a democracy is meant to endow them with. Without the rule of law, freedom is not just imperiled — freedom is dead.

It is most certainly a dark and stormy evening.