Water Quality (in Iowa and Elsewhere)

What is the quality of Iowa’s drinking water? An individual might suspect that it’s quite low. It’s a farm state with one of the least regulated and most big ag friendly economies. Iowa has a larger population than any state of factory-farmed pigs and egg-laying hens, combined with the highest percentage of farmed land — that is to say a lot of runoff from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and agriculture. Yet, besides the expected contaminants of nitrates and bacteria, Iowa’s water manages to maintain a national ranking that is in the middle of the pack, not great but not horrible. I guess that is a minor achievement. As Midwestern residents of Middle America, we are used to being average. Admittedly, in terms of personal observation, the taste and smell that comes out of the faucet has vastly improved since the present Iowa City water treatment plant was opened in 2003. Before that, the government used to warn the public to not drink the tap water if they were young, old, sick, or pregnant; and that advice specifically applied to the springtime when the farmers were dumping chemicals on their fields with most of it being washed into the waterways.

As an interesting side note, we have previously heard about a water spring in or near the local Hickory Hill Park that was a Native American campsite along the trail they used (a mysterious place we’ve never been able to locate). But apparently there also was the “Iowa City Mineral Spring works located on Iowa ave,” along which runs Ralston Creek that passes through the park (Daily Iowa State Press Newspaper; Apr 29 1901, Page 4). Actually, it was three springs at the Iowa Avenue property and they were written about as far back as 1841 (History of Johnson County, Iowa). The site was originally owned by Robert Lucas, the Governor of the Iowa Territory. The spring apparently didn’t have soothing qualities, as Gov. Lucas was known to have a temper and almost started a war over a boundary dispute with Missouri, what is called the Honey War. A later owner built over the springs in making it a health resort that didn’t succeed and so there presumably is still a spring in the basement of whichever house that is.

Springs aside, what is the public utility water like these days? In 2020, Iowa City tap water was reported as having exceeded all state and federal health standards in that there were zero violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, for whatever that is worth. On the other hand, according to one website, 3rd party independent testing reports that Iowa City tap water exceeds health guidelines for multiple drinking water contaminants: Bromodichloromethane, Bromoform, Chloroform, Chromium (Hexavalent), Dibromochloromethane, Dichloroacetic Acid, Nitrate, Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs), Trichloroacetic Acid, etc. Then again, that comes from the official website of a water filtration system retailer. Anyway, one way or another, Iowa City tap water is exceeding — they should give out an award for that.

As a longtime contentious issue, fluoride is added by the local water treatment plant which increases the biological uptake of lead, although lead levels in Iowa City are generally lower, unless you live in an old house in an old neighborhood. On a related note, fluoride is often contaminated with arsenic. In case you didn’t know, arsenic is really bad for your health and is found in much of Iowa’s well water, if for other reasons. One of the disturbing sources of this toxin comes from the decaying corpses that were buried before, a little over a century ago, arsenic was banned in embalming fluid. In Iowa City near a Civil War cemetery, arsenic levels tested three times the federal limit. By the way, the 2019 IC Water Quality Report didn’t test for arsenic. The last time they did test for arsenic apparently was in 2014 and they didn’t detect any — so, maybe there is no reason to worry on that account, assuming you’re not drinking well water near an old cemetery.

There are still other contaminants of concern. As of a few years ago (2019), it doesn’t seem the local government was testing for either PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances; “forever chemicals”) or microplastics. The state government, however, was on the ball; at least on one account. The Iowa DNR did an analysis last year of various locations that included Iowa City. The local tap water didn’t contain any traces of most PFAS and, of the one detected, it was considered at a safe level. It’s still not clear about microplastics that are found in 83% of water globally. It is hard to even find any discussion about microplastics in the water supply of Iowa City and across the state, other than a single letter to the editor in a local alternative newspaper, the Little Village. Other unknown potential contaminants could include pharmaceuticals and no local info came up about that at all, which makes one wonder considering Iowa City is a major medical town with three large hospitals and numerous assisted living residences.

As the tapsafe website put it in an article about Iowa City, “While tap water that meets the EPA health guidelines generally won’t make you sick to your stomach, it can still contain regulated and unregulated contaminants present in trace amounts that could potentially cause health issues over the long-run. These trace contaminants may also impact immunocompromised and vulnerable individuals.” Some of what is unknown is how the diversity of contaminants might interact within the human body, whether in terms of being ingested at the same time or in terms of bioaccumulation over years and decades. Yet it’s not merely a lack of knowledge of the effect but in some cases, from microplastics to pharmaceuticals, it seems we don’t even have info on to what degree they are present — they simply aren’t even on the radar of news reporting, public debate, good governance, environmental regulations, and health guidelines. That is to say, as a society, we have failed to follow the precautionary principle.

This brings us to the possibility of getting one’s drinking water from another source. Besides water filtration systems, the one product that has stood out is Mountain Valley Spring Water, as it has a good reputation of quality and transparency, not to mention many local distributors in the United States who will deliver it to your home at no additional cost; and it’s also widely available in grocery stores. It supposedly is the “Official water of the White House since 1920. . . [when] they made their first delivery of Mountain Valley Water to the White House of President Woodrow Wilson on the advice of his personal physician. Since that period Mountain Valley has been served to generations of US presidents and in the halls of Congress.” And, having been on the market for a century and half, it’s long been touted as clean and healthy; which is supported by various testing of water quality and product safety, albeit it won’t heal all that ails you as advertising copy claimed earlier last century back when healing springs were all the craze. 

Consumer Reports had a whole slew of bottled waters tested in 2019, including Mountain Valley. Even though Mountain Valley’s colored glass bottles themselves contain undesirable elements (as is typical of colored glass), the testing seems to indicate none of it leaks into the water contained therein. Glass doesn’t break down or leach chemicals in the way does plastic and hence the microplastics problem — even many expensive high-quality waters in plastic bottles are filled with microplastics; hence plastic bottles as something to concerned about and to definitely avoid. Anyway, the local vendor provides Mountain Valley in the 5-gallon glass jars that appear to be clear, even if colored glass was an issue which it’s not. The only downside to this option is pricing, but then again a high quality water filtration system at thousands of dollars would take years to pay off before it would save you money in comparison to home-delivered spring water. One’s preference partly depends on how much money one has to invest upfront. Still, even the best systems like reverse osmosis don’t actually remove all contaminants and so wouldn’t give you a water as pure as an ancient spring source.

That brings us to another important point, how protected is the source. Besides the plastic issue, the main cause of contamination in bottled waters probably comes from the water source itself. Sadly, it’s not only groundwater, waterways, and wells that are contaminated but apparently also more than a few springs, such as where delicious and popular Topo Chico is procured from in Mexico (some improvements have been made, though far from meeting health guidelines). This might be because many springs contain water that only filtered through the ground for a few months or a few years, and as such they contain some of the contaminants from wherever the water originated. Mountain Valley, on the other hand, is from a spring with water that fell as rain three and half millennia ago during the Bronze Age, long before industrialization. Other springs are even more ancient. One of the worrisome contaminants are the abovementioned PFAS, the specific contaminant at high levels in Topo Chico spring water. Consumer Reports has listed brands according to their PFAS content and they have further discussion about specific brands. They didn’t mention Mountain Valley, but other testing hasn’t found these problematic chemicals.

The lesson for the day: Be careful about what you put into your body! Water is good for your health, until it is not. And quality can be hard to determine, in requiring that you do your due diligence — buyer beware, as they say. This is an area where regulatory bodies have largely failed the public or else been highly inconsistent and at times careless, possibly because of corporate lobbyist pressure (e.g., the lack of regulation of PFAS and the fact that some of the most contaminated products are owned by big biz and highly profitable, such as Coca Cola’s Topo Chico). Once inside you, no one entirely knows what all of these weird substances do to your delicate innards. Be kind to your innards and they will be kind to you. But fail to heed this warning and you will slowly rot from the inside out, as you writhe in agony while cursing the gods for the day you were born. It could happen. One way or another, drink the best water you can reasonably afford as a starting point of health, even if a charcoal filter is the only option in your price range.

A thought experiment of questions

If there actually was a military-intelligence-industrial-media complex and if it had a massive black budget funded by profits from front companies and criminal enterprises and/or dark money funneled through front organizations, international banks, etc — not to mention involvement of and access to the resources and capabilities of client states, allies, trade partners, puppet dictators, foreign oligarchies, organized crime syndicates, etc — how would anyone know about what was happening outside of the ruling elite directly involved within the highest echelons of the crony establishment, deep state, shadow network, plutocratic corporatocracy, soft fascism, and inverted totalitarianism (or whatever one wishes to call it)? How would we the people know what was going on? Would the media elite in the big biz news media report on it? Would the political elite in the one-party state with two wings tell us about it? Who would speak truth to power, what media platform would allow such critical honesty to be widely broadcast, and how would these moral voices be heard by a public that is lost in mediated reality tunnels?

Besides, would it even require the bad intent and organized conspiracy of a secret cabal of social dominators and dark personalities (Machiavellians, psychopaths, and narcissists) or could it emerge almost naturally, or at least unintentionally and by default of the biases and incentives built into the system itself, as the result of normal human relationships and social affiliations, shared life experience and common interests in terms of a ‘natural aristocracy’ of monied elite and high society that lives in the same neighborhoods, goes to the same churches, sends their kids to the same schools, belongs to the same clubs, vacations at the same resorts, attends the same social events, donates to the same non-profits, owns stock in the same companies, are members of the same corporate boards, and generally hobnobs in the same social circles and career networks, in some cases even where family dynasties form through inherited wealth and power and how they are bonded together through generations of intermarriage (i.e., cronyism and nepotism)?

Do most individuals in the elite ever stop to think about the immense system of privileges and protections, power and position in which are embedded every aspect of their lives, identities, careers, and relationships; upon which is built their entire lifestyle of comfort and pleasure, safety and security; a socially-constructed and hermeneutically-sealed poltico-economic reality that in many cases continues from conception to death? Are the upper classes, as sheep herded through carefully structured and highly controlled elite institutions, any less brainwashed and miseducated or more so? In their roles as wealthy influencers, philanthrocapitalists, powerful actors, backroom dealers, political insiders, public intellectuals, and thought leaders, do they believe the lies, disinfo, and propaganda they help spread? What would cause them to become aware of the world into which many of them were born and everything they were freely given as their birthright within the power structure? What tiny fraction of a percentage of the ruling elite actually worked and/or lucked their way up out of desperate dirt poverty, not merely having started out in the upper middle class? How many of them have ever known anything other than membership in the upper classes?

If a semi-covert or obscure Anglo-American-Western Empire as the greatest geopolitical and economic superpower on earth, though hidden in plain sight, was doing top secret technological and military research, development, and build-up for ongoing and upcoming covert operations, espionage programs, propaganda campaigns, proxy wars, international conflict, and cold war containment, possibly in preparation for World War III, with the cooperation and support of various geopolitical power structures (UN, NATO, World Bank, etc), would there be any undeniably obvious outward signs and documented evidence of this activity that could be clearly detected, easily uncovered, and demonstrably proven by outside observers, investigative journalists, and academic scholars, no matter how intelligent and informed? What if other old centers of imperial power, such as Russia and China, were likewise being restructured behind the scenes such as a Russo-Sino-Eastern Empire to oppose, challenge, and potentially defeat it’s historical enemies in the West? If there had already been a second cold war going on for decades now, would most of us have any clue to its existence, what it means, and where it might lead? Are we about to enter a new era of imperial wars of adventurism, aggression, and expansion, as was the case from the 18th century to the world war era?

Or are the real powers that are acting behind the scenes entirely different from any imperialism or imperial-like power the world has known from earlier eras? If the United States CIA, for example, had surreptitiously become an autonomous transnational paramilitary organization as part of a global deep state that operated entirely beyond all normal political oversight and public accountability, democratic or otherwise, that could be enforced by any national and international governing bodies, treaties, agreements, and legal systems, would the ‘CIA’ as such appear or operate any differently than it did in the past or would it otherwise seem to continue to do what it always had done, whatever else it might be doing that couldn’t be publicly seen? What if the CIA itself or even the entire United States government had now become a front organization for an emerging socio-politico-economic power structure of a kind, globally extensive and pervasive, never before seen to such a degree of complexity and centralized control? Would even the average lower level career politician, political party operator, or bureaucratic functionary be aware that anything had changed or would it smoothly and imperceptibly merge into the social, political, and economic cronyism and corruption already established over generations?

What if, like how a banana republic creates the illusion of democracy, transnational neo-imperialism or some other form of globalization maintained the external forms and appearances of separate and independent nation-states (maybe akin to the centralized faux ‘Federal’ government of the United States that originally, according to the Articles of Confederation, was a Federation freely joined by nation-states that were free to leave; after all, that is why they were named ‘states’)? Considering that the once diverse private and public, for-profit and non-profit media in the Western world (presumably similar to other parts of the world) used to be mostly locally-operated before nearly all of it was shut down or bought up and consolidated by a few transnational parent companies that are also invested in big energy, big defense, big tech, big drugs, big ag, etc, what if this big biz media that represents 90% of the news infotainment and soft propaganda (political rhetoric, mediated narratives, public relations, perception management, etc; in alliance with astroturfing, think tank machinations, lobbyist group influence, corporate advertising, etc) that most Americans watch has since become a propaganda arm of a shadowy superpower (deep state, deep neo-empire, or deep whatever), just another extension of the military-intelligence-industrial-media complex with loyalty to nothing else? Would we be able to smell that something was off simply by turning on the television, radio, or other tech device?

As a counter-balance and reality check to contrast against paranoid cynicism (real or perceived, justified or not), what would the world be like and how would our society function if all that was suggested above did not exist at all and, instead, we were an entirely autonomous public beholden to no power above or beyond our own democratic self-governance as free citizens of independent countries and communities (or city-states or anarcho-communes or anything else your crazy radical imagination could dream up) with fully functioning free markets and social democracies (or democratic socialism)? On a practical level of direct and personal experience, how would we tell the difference between authoritarian non-freedom and non-authoritarian freedom? What kind of lives would we live, what kind of communities would we call home, what kind of work would we do, what kind of economic fairness and social justice would exist, what kind of real freedom and effective rights would we have, what kind of resources and opportunities would be available to us, what kind of governance would we freely choose? And if we we were fully aware and informed, not indoctrinated and propagandized or manipulated and deceived in any way, how would we perceive the world we find ourselves in and how we would we act to move toward the world we would prefer? What would it take for we the people to become intellectually discerning, morally courageous, fully engaged, and politically empowered agents of our own shared freedom and collective determination?

What would freedom feel like in our bodies, minds, and souls? What would it feel like to be free in the world, to be free in ourselves and in relation to others, to be free members of free communities of people, to know freedom as a living experience within a living world? From that sense of freedom, how would we live and act freely? As freedom is etymologically cognate with friendship, what would it mean to treat others as equally free beings in mutual relationships of freedom? What does it mean to know, understand, and honor freedom as an ideal, vision, and reality? What does it mean to free here and now, not only as an aspiration but as a simple undeniable experience of what it is to be human, as a choice and acceptance of the ever present potential of freedom? Are we not all free in that we all belong to humanity, in that we are all at home in this world and have a right to be here for there is nowhere else we could be? Isn’t freedom the realization that we are citizens of the world, inhabitants of earth as a biosphere, members within the body of Gaia? What if that sense of freedom took hold in society and culture, within the public imagination, and spread as a contagious revolution of the mind? Isn’t freedom the acknowledgement that we are already in interrelationship? If freedom as our birthright is the starting point, what follows from that?

WEIRD Personality Traits as Stable Egoic Structure

Nearly every scientific field of study is facing a replication crisis and, although known about for decades now, it still has not been resolved. Most researchers are so limited in their knowledge and expertise that they lack any larger context of understanding. They simply don’t know what they don’t know and there is no incentive in siloed professions to spend time to understand anything outside of one’s field. In science, the replication crisis has numerous causes, sometimes because of bad study design or the difficulty of some areas of study. Nutrition studies, for example, has been dependent on epidemiological studies that are based on correlations without being able to prove causation; and, on top of that, are often dependent on notoriously unreliable self-reporting food surveys where people have to guesstimate what they ate in the past, sometimes over a period of years. More recent research has shown that much of what we thought we knew simply is not true or has yet to be verified.

Another problem is what or who is studied. There are problems with the lab animals used because certain species adapt better to labs, even though other species are more similar in certain ways to humans. Researchers’, for example, preference for lab mice is not unlike the guy looking for his keys under the streetlight because the light was better there. This problem applies to human subjects as well, in that they’ve mostly been white middle class undergraduate college students in the United States because most research has been done in U.S. colleges; and, in medical studies of the past, this mostly involved men which meant women in healthcare were treated as men without penises. The first part is known as the WEIRD bias (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic), and it has particularly rocked the world of the social sciences. Take personality studies where the leading theory has been the Big Five (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism), with an additional factor being added to form the HEXACO model (honesty-humility). Like so much else, it turns out that most of these personality traits don’t replicate outside of WEIRD and WEIRD-like populations. This challenge of non-WEIRD cultures and mentalities has been around a long time, as seen in the anthropological literature, but most experts in other fields have remained largely ignorant of what anthropologists have known for more than a century, that environment shapes mind, perception, and behavior.

The funny thing is that, even when studies have shown this problem with the Big Five, the WEIRD bias continues to hold sway over those trying to explain away the potential implications and to put the non-WEIRD results back into WEIRD boxes. This is done by asserting the bad results are simply caused by social desirability bias and acquiescence bias, since the answers given by non-WEIRD individuals seem to be contradictory. The researchers and interpreters of the research refuse to take the results at face value, refuse to give the benefit of the doubt that these non-WEIRD people might be accurately reporting their experience. There is almost a grasp of what is going on in pointing to these biases, since these biases are about context, but this comes so close only to miss the point. Non-WEIRD cultures and mentalities tend to be more context-dependent and so unsurprisingly give varying responses in being sensitive to how questions are being asked, whereas the WEIRD egoic abstraction of rules and principles operates more often the same across contexts. Only a highly WEIRD person would think that it is even possible to discover something entirely unrelated to context.

WEIRD personality traits are a kind of psychological rule-orientation where the individual adheres to a psychological heuristic of cognitive behavior, a strict and rigid maintenance of thought pattern that calcifies into an identity formation. The failure of cross-cultural understanding is that the very concept of a stable, unchanging personality might itself be part of the WEIRD bias and an exaggerated extension of the larger Axial Age shift when the ego theory of mind took hold, what some call Jaynesian consciousness in reference to Julian Jaynes theory about the disappearance of the bicameral mind that is a variation of the bundle theory of mind. This was then magnified by mass literacy, beginning with the Protestant Reformation, that alters brain structure, as argued by Joseph Henrich. It might not merely be that those very far distant from WEIRD culture not only lack WEIRD-style personality traits but might also lack egoic personality structures. Most WEIRD people can’t acknowledge non-WEIRD mentalities, much less grok what they mean and how to imaginatively empathize with them. The sad part is this also demonstrates a lack of self-awareness, as the bundled mind essentially exists in all of us, something that can be observed by anyone looking into their own psyche — this is why contemplative traditions like Buddhism adhere to the bundle theory of mind.

Another explanation of this psychological change of personality traits is that agriculture and later industrialization increased labor specialization that generally passed down the generations. These work niches were originally and largely still occupied by specific families, kin networks, castes, and communities over centuries or longer (e.g., feudal serfs and factory workers). It formed a stable environment and a stable culture that shaped the human psyche according to what was required. This is the opposite of hunter-gatherers who are forced to be generalists in doing a wide variety of work. Agriculture had led to some gender specialization, but even that specialization was often limited. It is definitely true, though, that hunter-gatherers are far less specialized where some like the egalitarian Piraha have little specialization at all, along with no permanent authority of any kind. It’s possible that represents how humanity lived for most of evolution when food was more abundant and life easier, as is the case where the Piraha live along a river surrounded by lush jungle. The study of the Piraha have helped challenge one area of WEIRD bias, that of seeing the world through a highly recursive literary culture. The Piraha apparently lack linguistic recursion; i.e., embedded phrases. By the way, they are an animistic culture with the typical bundled mind as overt 4E cognition (embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended). Such animistic cultures allow for personality fluidity, sometimes temporary possessions and at other times permanent identity changes.

Even gender specialization might be a somewhat recent invention, corresponding to the invention of the bow and arrow. For most of human existence, humans hunted with spears and the evidence now points to spear hunting having required the whole tribe, including women. Some of the earliest rock art also portrays men holding the hands of children, which indicates that men were either involved with childcare or not kept separate from it, maybe because the children had to be brought along on the hunt with the whole tribe. So, even the theory that there are two genetically-determined personality types based on men hunting and women gathering was a result of relatively recent changes. By the way, those changes were caused by the megafauna die-off. Smaller game replaced the megafauna and hunting smaller game motivated development of new hunting tools and techniques. The bow and arrow, once invented, allowed individuals to hunt alone and this more often was an activity of men. This forced women to take up a separate labor niche. The lower nutrition level of lean small game also made necessary a greater reliance on plant foods, which meant horticulture and later agriculture. The plow, like the bow and arrow, made another area of men’s work and further reinforced gender division.

The point is not all hunting is the same and so these different practices would create different personality structures. The same was probably true of gathering, particularly in terms of how early humans were also meat scavengers. To get into the effect of the agricultural revolution, this is reminiscent of research done on wheat and rice farming in China. What was found is that the two populations fell into the stereotypical patterns of Western and Eastern thinking, with wheat-based populations having less context-dependent thinking and rice-based populations emphasizing context, even though both populations were Chinese. The explanation is that wheat farming is typically done by one person alone working a plow or now a tractor, whereas rice farming requires highly organized collective labor. Interestingly, China stands out in that psychopathy is found equally among both genders, unlike in the West and some other places where it is disproportionately found among males. It would be interesting to study if this is primarily an effect of the larger populations involved in rice-growing and the culture that has developed around it. On a related note, research does show higher rates of psychopathy in urban areas than in rural areas. Is this simply because psychopaths prefer to remain anonymous in cities or is there something about city life that promotes psychopathic neurocognition?

Anyway, wheat farming is as different from rice farming, as bow-and-arrow hunting is from spear hunting. What stands out is that both rice farming and spear hunting are collective activities involving both genders, but wheat farming and bow-and-arrow hunting can be solitary activities that have tended to be done by men. In Western Europe, there never was rice farming. And, unlike certain populations, spear hunting in the West probably hasn’t been common in recent history. Yet there are still spear hunting tribes in various places. Some of those also do persistence hunting, probably the original form of hunting. Anyway, hunter-gatherers in general need more adaptable minds because they are dealing with diverse tasks and often over large diverse territories. This requires a more fluid and shifting mentality, one where the very concept of stable personality traits maybe simply does not apply to the same extent. Even in the West, research shows that personality traits can change over a lifetime and under different conditions, such as how a liberal can basically turn into a conservative simply by giving them a few beers. But it is true that modern WEIRD conditions are much more stable with narrow niches of work and living, often with racial and class segregation, not to mention the repetitive nature of modern life with little changes in activities from day to day, season to season.

This brings us to the worries some had in early modernity. Adam Smith thought public education was necessary because repetitive factory work made people stupid, which might be simply another way of saying that those individuals lose or else never develop cognitive flexibility, cognitive complexity, and cognitive diversity. Karl Marx explained this in terms of the transition from traditional labor where an individual constructed a product from beginning to end, often having involved multiple complex steps with various tools and techniques, each requiring different physical and cognitive skills. This gave the individual great sense of accomplishment and pride, not to mention autonomy as to be a tradesmen was to have immense skill. The dumbing down of the work force with industrial labor may have contributed to the WEIRD mentality. Even the average office worker experienced this narrowing down of activity. This allowed moderns to specialize, but in doing so sacrificed all other aspects of development. This relates to the creation of stupid smart people, those who are only capable of doing one thing well but otherwise are clueless. It’s not hard to see how this has forced people into niche personalities and hence making possible theories about how to categorize such personalities.

* * *

Tests For the ‘Big Five’ Personality Traits Don’t Hold Up In Much of the World
by Megan Schmidt

So, why doesn’t the Big Five test hold up around the world? Lead author Rachid Laajaj, an economics researcher at the University of Los Andes in Columbia, said many of the reasons are rooted in literacy and education barriers. Many personality tests used in WEIRD countries are intended to be self-administered, designed for people who can read and write. But because of lower literacy rates in developing countries, tests may need to be given verbally. This introduces the possibility of translation or phrasing differences that could skew results.

Researchers also think that face-to-face questioning allows social desirability bias to creep into the process. This means that respondents may try to interpret social cues for a “right answer” or give answers they think would be viewed more favorably by others.

“Yea-saying,” or the tendency to agree with a statement even if it’s untrue, is also more common in developing countries, where there’s less access to education, the researchers say.

“People may have a harder time understanding abstract questions. Acquiescence bias may be accentuated when people do not fully understand, in which case it feels safer to just agree,” Laajaj said.

Additionally, the idea of personality tests — or personality itself — may not be a natural concept everywhere. Understandably, people who aren’t familiar with the idea of personality testing might be a bit wary of revealing personal details about themselves.

“Imagine that you live in a poor area and someone comes to you to ask you a bunch of questions, such as how hardworking you are, whether you get stressed easily or whether you are a polite person. If it is not common for you to fill out surveys, or if it’s not clear what will be done with it, you may, for example, care more about giving a good impression than being completely truthful,” Laajaj said.

Personality is not only about who but also where you are
by Dorsa Amir

To understand why industrialisation might be an influential force in the development of behaviour, it’s important to understand its legacy in the human story. The advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago launched perhaps the most profound transformation in the history of human life. No longer dependent on hunting or gathering for survival, people formed more complex societies with new cultural innovations. Some of the most important of these innovations involved new ways of accumulating, storing and trading resources. One effect of these changes, from a decision-making standpoint, was a reduction in uncertainty. Instead of relying on hard-to-predict resources such as prey, markets allowed us to create larger and more stable pools of resources.

As a result of these broader changes, markets might have also changed our perceptions of affordability. In WEIRD societies with more resources (remember that the R in WEIRD stands for rich) kids might feel that they can better afford strategies such as patience and risk-seeking. If they get unlucky and pull out a green marble and didn’t win any candy, that’s okay; it didn’t cost them that much. But for Shuar kids in the rainforest with less resources, the loss of that candy is a much bigger deal. They’d rather avoid the risk.

Over time, these successful strategies can stabilise and become recurrent strategies for interacting with our world. So, for instance, in an environment where the costs of waiting are high, people might be consistently impatient.

Other studies support the notion that personality is shaped more by the environment than previously thought. In work among Indigenous Tsimané adults in Bolivia, anthropologists from the University of California, Santa Barbara found weak support for the so-called ‘Big Five’ model of personality variation, which consists of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Similar patterns came from rural Senegalese farmers and the Aché in Paraguay. The Big Five model of personality, it turns out, is WEIRD.

In another recent paper, the anthropologist Paul Smaldino at the University of California, Merced and his collaborators followed up on these findings further, relating them to changes that were catalysed by industrialisation. They argue that, as societies become more complex, they lead to the development of more niches – or social and occupational roles that people can take. Different personality traits are more successful in some roles than others, and the more roles there are, the more diverse personality types can become.

As these new studies all suggest, our environments can have a profound impact on our personality traits. By expanding the circle of societies we work with, and approaching essentialist notions of personality with skepticism, we can better understand what makes us who we are.

A general theory of personality based on social selection and life-history theory
by Andreas Hofer

When it comes to personality psychology the Big 5 (or Five-Factor Model/FFM) are still considered the gold standard and many other personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) are considered pseudoscience. The FFM is even more useful and has more predictive power when a sixth dimension is added: honesty humility (HEXACO model).

However, adding new personality dimensions is of little use when it comes to understanding human nature, as not even five factors are human universals. Two of the factors that are often associated with mental disorders (neuroticism and openness to experience), never even show up in non-Western societies, which are called “WEIRD” (Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) by Joseph Henrich in The WEIRDest People in the World (2020). Henrich points out the Big 5 are indeed WEIRD 5, as they are by no means human universals. Some societies yield only three or four factors. Subsistence-level economies often only have two factors. The Tsimane’  practise subsistence farming and Henrich writes about them:

So, did the Tsimane’ reveal the WEIRD-5? No, not even close. The Tsimane’ data reveal only two dimensions of personality. No matter how you slice and dice the data, there’s just nothing like the WEIRD-5. Moreover, based on the clusters of characteristics associated with each of the Tsimane’’s two personality dimensions, neither matches up nicely with any of the WEIRD-5 dimensions […] these dimensions capture the two primary routes to social success among the Tsimane’, which can be described roughly as “interpersonal prosociality” and “industriousness.” The idea is that if you are Tsimane’, you can either focus on working harder on the aforementioned productive activities and skills like hunting and weaving, or you can devote your time and mental efforts to building a richer network of social relationships.

Rice, Psychology, and Innovation
by Joseph Henrich

Decades of experimental research show that, compared to most populations in the world, people from societies that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) (4) are psychologically unusual, being both highly individualistic and analytically minded. High levels of individualism mean that people see themselves as independent from others and as characterized by a set of largely positive attributes. They willingly invest in new relationships even outside their kin, tribal, or religious groups. By contrast, in most other societies, people are enmeshed in dense, enduring networks of kith and kin on which they depend for cooperation, security, and personal identity. In such collectivistic societies, property is often corporately owned by kinship units such as clans; inherited relationships are enduring and people invest heavily in them, often at the expense of outsiders, strangers, or abstract principles (4).

Psychologically, growing up in an individualistic social world biases one toward the use of analytical reasoning, whereas exposure to more collectivistic environments favors holistic approaches. Thinking analytically means breaking things down into their constituent parts and assigning properties to those parts. Similarities are judged
according to rule-based categories, and current trends are expected to continue. Holistic thinking, by contrast, focuses on relationships between objects or people anchored in their concrete contexts. Similarity is judged overall, not on the basis of logical rules. Trends are expected to be cyclical.

Various lines of evidence suggest that greater individualism and more analytical thinking are linked to innovation, novelty, and creativity (5). But why would northern Europe have had greater individualism and more analytical thinking in the first place? China, for example, was technologically advanced, institutionally complex, and relatively educated by the end of the first millennium. Why would Europe have been more individualist and analytically oriented than China? […]

Sure enough, participants from provinces more dependent on paddy rice cultivation were less analytically minded. The effects were big: The average number of analytical matches increased by about 56% in going from all-rice to no-rice cultivation. The results hold both nationwide and for the counties in the central provinces along the rice-wheat (north-south) border, where other differences are minimized.

Participants from rice-growing provinces were also less individualistic, drawing themselves roughly the same size as their friends, whereas those from wheat provinces drew themselves 1.5 mm larger. [This moves them only part of the way toward WEIRD people: Americans draw themselves 6 mm bigger than they draw others, and Europeans draw themselves 3.5 mm bigger (6).] People from rice provinces were also more likely to reward their friends and less likely to punish them, showing the in-group favoritism characteristic of collectivistic populations.

So, patterns of crop cultivation appear linked to psychological differences, but can these patterns really explain differences in innovation? Talhelm et al. provide some evidence for this by showing that less dependence on rice is associated with more successful patents for new inventions. This doesn’t nail it, but is consistent with the
broader idea and will no doubt drive much future inquiry. For example, these insights may help explain why the embers of an 11th century industrial revolution in China were smothered as northern invasions and climate change drove people into the southern rice paddy regions, where clans had an ecological edge, and by the emergence of state-level political and legal institutions that reinforced the power of clans (7).

What the Right Fears, the Left Desires

Let us throw out a simple observation with limited detail and analysis. This is a phenomenon that seems to define the reactionary mind. And so it is more often found on the American right-wing. But it can be observed in anyone who is pulled into reaction, including those reacting to reactionaries or otherwise immersed in the reactionary dynamic; a dynamic, by the way, that is inevitably authoritarian. Within the reactionary culture of American society, that can include much of the population to varying degrees. While this complicates matters, we will mostly ignore it for the time being, since we’ve already discussed it elsewhere.

We’ll briefly note the complication in the following and then move on. To put this in concrete terms, most Democratic elite and partisans tend towards the reactionary, if less strongly and blatantly than GOP elite and partisans. It’s nearly impossible to be involved in the polarization and propaganda of partisan politics without being at least somewhat reactionary — it’s almost a prerequisite. Still, there are vast differences of degree and it’s mainly those at the extreme end that we’re talking about. It is a specific category of person that falls into the full glory of the reactionary mind and embraces it as an identity (for details, see our writings on Corey Robin and the reactionary mind).

Here is the observation. Reactionaries only perceive the other side’s beliefs and views, values and principles as ideological, that only those other people’s ideologies are radical and extremist; that other’s politics are a religious faith, other’s political actions are nihilism and anarchism, other’s religions are cults and myths, other’s rhetoric is propaganda, other’s fears are moral panic, other’s behavior is mass formation, other’s governance is authoritarianism, on and on and on. Basically, those other people are bad or evil, whereas reactionaries are confident that they are on the side of Light and Righteousness. There is a lack of humility and introspection, mixed with projection and caricature.

This relates also to various ways that reactionaries can be dismissive of others. Another person’s information and evidence, experience and suffering is not fully real to them. The reactionary mind works by closing down and excluding. So, another group’s oppression and victimization is not only less real but less legitimate and important. This is why, among Americans, many white conservatives, white fundamentalists, and white males believe they are the most victimized people in the United States, maybe in the world; a view starkly disconnected from reality.

This is an old pattern. And, in Anglo-American culture, it really does usually divide according to Left and Right. It was the emergent conservatives, as reactionary counter-revolutionaries, who accused the political left of being nihilists following the American and French revolutions. Then shortly after that, it was the Southern aristocracy, in reacting to modernization, that accused Northerners of ideological ‘-isms’. And these reactionaries would repeat this rhetoric endlessly, as if it was the most damning of judgments. But the point is that kind of dismissive criticism has rarely been heard on the Anglo-American left.

Why is that? We originally didn’t plan to offer any analysis, but let’s point to some old themes of ours and share a cursory explanation. The fundamental reason for this difference involves moral imagination, symbolic conflation, social constructionism, and ideological realism (we have numerous posts on all of these). We could surely add to that list, if we gave it much more thought. Basically, the reactionary right requires their worldview to be conflated with reality, confused in the mind, buried in the unconscious, obscured from public gaze, and so placed above interrogation. There are many tools to achieve this end such as faux nostalgia, historical revisionism, and invented traditions; and so erasing the evidence of its origins in order to make something appear as if it was always that way.

On the other hand, the action of the political left has typically been the opposite, to explore origins and analyze the development, to place things in context; and hence the reason the political left has long been closely associated with intellectuality, science, academia, and education. Between the conservative and liberal minds, this is the push and pull between two forces, what Lewis Hyde called Hermes of the Dark and Hermes of the Light, one that enchants and the other that disenchants. The liberal mind wants to bring things out into the open so that they can be analyzed, questioned, and doubted; or understood and appreciated. And this is precisely what conservatives fear, the grubby scrutiny of consciousness that Edmund Burke portrayed as a lecherous mob penetrating the palace and tearing away the queen’s clothing to reveal what should not be seen by prying eyes.

The ruling power of the reactionary mind and the conservative order can only operate by being hidden and protected. This is why the reactionary right fears the left as radical and extremist, nihilist and anarchist. There is a grain of truth to this. Consider that ‘radical’ means to get to the root of things and that is what the liberal-minded like to do, pull things up out of the dirt and into the sunlight. The conservative-minded rightly points out that this might kill the plant, but if it is a weed or invasive species we do want to kill it. And, if it turns out to be a desirable plant, we can always transplant it into the safety of a garden where it will be tended and watered. Contrary to reactionary obfuscation, the liberal mind seeks open-eyed clarity and discernment.

Even the accusation of nihilism hints at something genuine. It originally was a dismissive label and a slur used against revolutionaries, reformers, and radicals. But some far leftists in late 19th century Russia took it as a proud and honorable title; in the way some blacks use the ‘N’ word to take ownership of it and neuter it as a weapon. The Russian Nihilists were not a highly organized movement, similar to the present ‘antifa’ in the US (supposedly everywhere and yet can never be found), but they shared a common philosophy or attitude. To their understanding, nihilism meant that, although future solutions are unknown in the present, they could seek to eliminate the problems that obstructed the ability to seek and enact those potential solutions — like tearing a structure down to its foundation in order to rebuild or plowing a field to plant crops; that is to say creative destruction.

Unlike the false claims of nihilism as mere anarchistic terrorism, these Nihilists didn’t lack beliefs and values. Rather, what they wanted was an open public debate about beliefs and values, that nothing should be off limits. Their actions were pro-active. They embodied Hermes the Light who disenchants, but always with the purpose of re-enchanting (i.e., inspiring and enthralling) the mind with a different and better ideological frame of narrative and understanding. This is nothing unusual, as every major change necessitates this process of undoing, prior to re-creating. It depends on one’s perspective. To British reactionaries like Edmund Burke, the American Revolution ended up seeming like the chaotic nihilism of violent mobs. But, ironically, the American reactionaries, once they co-opted the revolutionary nation-building, saw it as the most wonderful thing.

There is a real distinction to be made between right and left, reactionary and non-reactionary. The political right is correct to an extent. The two mentalities really do diverge, even if a mutual dynamic lashes them together in their movements. This is what many soft-hearted and well-intentioned liberals fail to understand, in their desire for equality and their vulnerability to false equivalency. The two mindsets are not only different in degree but in substance and motivation — they are two worldviews foreign to each other. As rightism attempts to enclose the whole world within its ideological grip, leftism at its best points beyond itself to what is presently unknown. This is fundamentally nihilistic, whichever definition of that term one prefers, but essentially a broad and curious-minded openness toward undiscovered and unproven possibility.

Here is an even more important distinction. The reactionary right is drawn into essentialism and determinism, as related to ideological realism. This is the naturalistic fallacy. Like races and gender, social mindsets and political identities can be taken as reality itself; and so abstractions as labels can become reified. These are among the many things the political left seeks to undo and dispel, to disenchant. Think of the difference between Ayn Rand and Karl Marx. The former asserted an absolutist dogma, whereas the latter was more akin to the Russian nihilists in never having outlined any specific ideological system that would inevitably replace capitalist realism, as he also thought solutions couldn’t be determined beforehand. Leftism and liberalism, as such, are more markers of undetermined significance, pointing in a direction as yet unknown.

Those on the political left don’t need to dismiss the other side because leftism wants to weaken such boundaries of the mind and boundaries of social order, particularly boundaries of pseudo-tribalism, so as to imagine something else. In reality, none of us is actually left-wing or right-wing, conservative or liberal. These are social constructions, not reality; whether or not we deem them useful fictions. We are free to create something else and the suggestion that seeking not yet known possibilities is nihilistic is meaningless and irrelevant, and empty fear lashing out in the darkness. The leftist has less difficulty in admitting that their own politics are also an ideological worldview because it is only in admitting this that we can bring our biases and failures out into the open to be aired. What the right fears, the left desires.

The political left has less to defend, both in a practical sense and as an ideological project. This is why, in our own writings, we regularly take shots at all sides. In fact, we are often most critical of those who are most similar and most in agreement with us, and we regularly piss off people who might be perceived as being on ‘our side’. An example of this is our complaint against the corporate takeover of environmentalist arguments, in co-opting veganism as a political tool (e.g., EAT-Lancet). It’s precisely because we have been strident environmentalists for as long as we can remember that we take such offense at this movement being misused as propagandistic social control. The value of environmentalism, in our own liberal mind, is not as a social identifier of group identity. This is how we’ve ended up such a disloyal liberal in refusing to bow down to the DNC elite, AFSCME union leadership, or anyone else.

Group loyalty is not a defining trait of the liberal mind. It’s because of this resistant attitude toward group-mindedness that some describe trying to organize the political left as herding cats. It’s the strength and weakness of liberal-mindedness. Left-liberalism, rather than falling into strongly and strictly contained boundaries of us versus them, tends to expand and sometimes, sadly, splinter apart. But there is something impressive and worthy about the liberal mind. We’ve previously noted that white liberals are the first ‘group’ seen in American research to express a pro-outgroup bias, as opposed to identifying with those supposedly like themselves (i.e., other white liberals).

The reason is that most of those white liberals don’t take white liberalism as their group identity, in the way that do white conservatives, for they’ve opened and expanded the circle of concern. There is less sense of an other to project upon because the liberal potentially invites everyone, even those on the reactionary right, into belonging as members of a liberal society. Terms such as reactionary and progressive, left and right are relative, not absolute, labels and context-dependent, not essentialist, identities; and so one day those terms will disappear while the human race will remain. Liberalism aspires to unity through diversity. The political right sees this pro-outgroup bias as leftist self-hatred that seeks to destroy all that is good about the white race, the Christian religion, and Western civilization. But, in the liberal mind, there is enough kindness and compassion to go around, along with enough resources if shared equally and fairly.

It’s a split between an attitude of scarcity and an attitude of abundance, between fear and love. To the left-liberal persuasion, we are all humans on a shared earth, we are all citizens of the world — the ancient dream of the Axial Age prophets. Those on the reactionary right, obviously, disagree in that they define themselves by what they oppose and exclude. As conservative Ronald Reagan pointed out, we might only be unified as a common human species when earth is attacked by a common enemy of space aliens; although simply the existence of space aliens, even if entirely peaceful, would be enough to elicit a reaction of fear from reactionaries. If and when that happens, the reactionary right will accuse those space aliens of everything that, in the past, they accused liberals and leftists. Meanwhile, the political left will seriously consider and openly debate about whether space aliens should have the same freedom and rights, should be welcomed as fellow beings as part of a single shared galaxy or universe.

* * *

Notes on terminology:

We don’t make an absolute differentiation in how we use the labels of left-wing, leftism, liberalism, and left-liberalism. Even ‘progressivism’, at this point, has mostly been subsumed within this political left matrix. But there is separate historical development of the ‘left’ and the ‘liberal. We’ve covered this information before, but we’ll rehash it here.

Since the French Revolution, the political left has been primarily associated with egalitarianism and similar concepts of fraternity, solidarity, camaraderie, and such. This is about what mutually unites and holds together an economic class or group of people (typically a large group), either formally organized (e.g., labor union), informally associated (e.g., a poor community), or otherwise allied through common vision, interests, and benefit. The desired goal is to escape false consciousness by developing class consciousness or group consciousness, the knowledge and awareness of the conditions that create the social world one was born into. For this reason, the idea of a leftist way of thinking has also become implicated in theories or understandings about what is interdependent, systemic, environmental, ecological, holistic, integral, intersectional, complex, etc.

The metaphorical ‘left’ has an ancient pedigree, such as the left-hand path; as opposed to a right-hand man, being in the right, and having rights. Liberty and hence libertarianism is about the individual rights that can be given or taken away by official and legal power, specifically the right to not be enslaved, whether or not others are enslaved. Freedom, on the other hand, is more cultural and communal, such as belonging a free people and being among friends. See: Cultural Freedom, Legal Liberty. The word ‘right’ might be etymologically related to Greek ‘arete’ as virtue, righteousness, pride, power, ability, etc; and maybe also related to words like regent, royalty, and rajah. One can sense why the right-wing became naturally identified with authoritarianism. Whereas the connection to conservatism is more of a sociopolitical observation, since every authoritarian regime that has ever existed has been socially conservative, including Stalinism and Maoism.

Liberalism stands as unique among these terms. Unlike conservatism, it’s earliest definition had nothing to do with governance, politics, political parties, social order, power structure, legal systems, social movements, and such. To this day, it maintains more of its basic meaning as a psychological predisposition, a behavioral mentality or attitude, a way of relating to or treating others, and how one inhabits or acts in the world; particularly, as measured in FFM openness, MBTI intuition and perceiving, and Ernest Hartmann’s thin boundary type. Most simply, liberalism always has carried the meaning of generosity of spirit, although conservatives argue that liberals are being generous with other people’s money. This spiritual generosity, of course, never was inherently and primarily about money; as it mainly suggests an attitude of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

This relates to how liberalism became described according to the religious notion of a bleeding heart, which means a good Christian who sacrifices for others; but as an accusation it implies one who cares too much or who wants to be (or to be perceived as being) a martyr. And that brings us to the crime of sympathizing with the enemy, foreigners, and other unwanted or dangerous outsiders; along with sympathizing with undesirables in general (e.g., the conservative perception of the dirty, lazy, criminal, and all around inferior poor who are supposedly undeserving of sympathy) — anyone who is deemed ‘other’. This is why, during the Cold War, liberals were sometimes called fellow travelers, to judge them as guilty by perceived association with communists. There are endless associations along these lines, as the word ‘liberal’ has been around so along to accumulate a mixed history of meanings.

There is one other thing that is a new thought. In studying Julian Jaynes and Lewis Hyde, the use of language comes up. Everyone uses metaphors and metonymies and they have immense power over the mind (see the literature on linguistic relativity). But the left-liberal tends to use such language openly and consciously; while the right-conservative does so obscurely or unconsciously. It’s partly a difference of whether our use of language is held lightly or tightly. That even applies to the language of left and right, a metonymical metaphor of the body politic. That is the point we made above about the left pointing beyond itself. Left-liberalism wants to disenchant the mind and there is no greater power of enchantment than word magic, particularly as memetic mind virus.

That is why those who complain the most about the left-right metaphor are typically those on the left, not those on the right. It’s amusing because in complaining they are demonstrating their leftist style of thinking, in not perceiving these words as representing essentialist and deterministic qualities that literally divide up humanity. Metaphors are either useful or not, but when useful they help clarify patterns that are otherwise difficult to perceive and talk about. At present, there is not yet an equally potent and effective metaphor to replace this one. And no such metaphor disappears without being replaced. That is why, despite our own criticisms of all of these terms, we go on using them. There simply are no other good alternatives. We could simply speak of egalitarianism in place of leftism and liberalism, but that word doesn’t have the readymade sense of meaning that most people easily grasp.

* * *

2/5/22 – Note on left vs right, liberal vs conservative:

As often repeated in this blog, reactionaries can co-opt anything. That is a complicating factor. Take the Nazis, as right-wing authoritarian (RWA) as they come, and combined with social dominance orientation (SDO) — they used any and all rhetoric as it was convenient, in typical realpolitik fashion. This included also using the rhetoric of leftism and progressivism, but they also used the rhetoric of conservatism, religion, and much else. One observer who visited Nazi Germany stated that Nazi rhetoric was incoherent, as they simply would say anything. But there is actually a coherent motivation within the reactionary mind, if one scrutinizes it closely enough and digs down into its underlying psychological structure. The reactionary mind is essentially a Dark Personality, defined by the Dark Triad or Dark Tetrad.

Rhetoric is largely irrelevant, at least at this level. You have to first determine someone is honest in their use of rhetoric before you can take their rhetoric at face value. One of the pillars of the Dark Personality is Machiavellianism, having to do with a lack of humility and a willingness to do anything to get ahead. This is closely associated with SDO, which is distinct from but often overlapping with RWA. How they are differentiated is, for example, their motivation for prejudice. RWAs will fear and hate those who are unable or unwilling to assimilate to the group identity and subordinate themselves to conventional authority, which is why RWAs are actually more flexible in simply wanting to be good followers, even in a liberal social democracy or a leftist state. SDOs, instead, fear and hate those who will attempt to assimilate because, in doing so, they threaten to undo the social order of hierarchy and inequality.

That said, later research does differentiate between two elements of SDO that must be measured separately (The Nature of Social Dominance Orientation, Arnold K. Ho et al). There are the full-on dominators who express old school bigotry like racism. That is SDO-Dominance (SDO-D). But that aspect is on the decline in the West since it is no longer politically correct in mainstream society and no longer allowed to be enforced in law. That is where SDO-Egalitarianism (SDO-E) comes in. Many SDOs are prejudiced in more subtle ways and with more subtle means. They simply want to enforce anti-egalitarianism itself. That kind of SDO might be find if a few black people become rich, just as long as most black people remain poor, and just as long as the plutocrats remain in power. The same would apply to other groups as well, such as a harsh attitude toward poor whites (e.g., DNC elites and DNC-aligned corporate media scapegoating poor whites for Donald Trump’s rise to power, despite the fact that his main supporters were middle class whites). The fear is that the repressed will rise up, but SDO-Es are less concerned about the exact demographics of the repressed.

Obviously, one can sense how the reactionary can be complicated and why it comes in degrees. But the full reactionary mind will be high in both SDO-D and SDO-E, will be high in both SDO and RWA, what are referred to as Double Highs — these are the worse of the worst, the most prejudiced and the most likely to become leaders of far right groups. But what about left-wing authoritarianism and dominance? That is one of the further complications, as indeed reactionaries can and will use any rhetoric. Josef Stalin is the greatest example of how a Double High will use Machiavellianism to gain power and rule. He didn’t actually care about communism, other than how it helped him rebuild the Russian Empire with a neo-feudal peasantry as forced labor. What stands out is that Stalinism was socially conservative, not socially liberal. That is the main point. Reactionaries can co-opt any rhetoric, but this is superficial. What they can’t ever fully co-opt is social liberalism itself as behavior and policy because that would undermine RWA and SDO.

This is shown in research where “dark personalities seem to have a particularly important impact on political extremism and election of politicians and political parties who are considered right- or left-wing” and yet simultaneously “narcissism and psychopathy were associated with political conservatism, whereas Machiavellianism was associated with low rates of liberalism (Jonason, 2014). The Dark Triad traits also correlate with conservative judgments such as capital punishment, gay marriage, and gun control (Arvan, 2013). […] Finally, dark personality traits have been shown to be associated with moral foundations that in turn are linked to conservatism. For example, Međedović and Petrović (2016) showed that Machiavellianism predicted both ingroup/loyalty and authority/respect, whereas psychopathy was positively associated with ingroup/loyalty” (Boris Duspara and Tobias Greitemeyer, The impact of dark tetrad traits on political orientation and extremism).

So, even when some left-wingers or rather some using left-wing rhetoric measure high in dark personality traits related to RWA and SDO, they also measure high in conservative traits. You will never find a dark personality with liberal traits because, by definition and by essence, liberal traits are the complete opposite of the Dark Triad/Tetrad, RWA, and SDO. This is why, in seeking to clarify, we speak of left-liberals as a distinct category because one could also argue that left-conservatives exist along with right-conservatives, but what one will never find are right-liberals as the right-wing is defined to the degree it is not liberal, whereas the left is a bit less clear in its relationship to liberalism (there is a long conflict between leftists and liberals that has formed a legacy of confusion, although it is as much or more a conflict between old liberalism and new liberalism).

When we use the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ in this blog, we are always referring to motivations and not rhetoric. The strange phenomenon of left-conservatives doesn’t make sense beyond superficial rhetoric because conservatism inherently opposes the very substance and meaning of left-wing ideology. So, to refer to left-conservatives is simply another way of saying reactionaries co-opting left-wing rhetoric for right-wing purposes of RWA and SDO. This is useful knowledge, though, for intellectual discernment and intellectual self-defense. We are always using the past as a touchstone because, despite all of the confusion, there is a consistency of ideological distinction that goes back centuries. That is why it is helpful to put this in the earliest historical context. Right and left originally referred to the seating arrangement in the French Assembly. Supporters for the king sat on the right side of the king; whereas detractors, critics, reformers, and malcontents sat on his left. This basic kind of distinction remains true, no matter what is the power in question.

The French king was a Double High figure and so to support him meant to support a system that was based on high RWA and high SDO. There is only one way to be loyal to a strongman ruler who demands total obedience, only one position to be in when on the right. To be a right-winger means submission to some system of authority and domination, be it political, social, economic, or religious. To be the king’s right-hand man is to do as one is told, to be a yes-man, to be a good follower and a good enforcer of submission. But there is potentially an infinite number of ways to be on the king’s left. That basic distinction remains true to this day, at least in a Western context (as left and right categorization may or may not apply to other cultures). In the United States, there is no established left-wing system, institution, or organization of respected authority that wields any significant power and influence. Even academia in universities is structured according to authoritarian bureaucracy and dependent on authoritarian corporate funding, which is the reason why egalitarian far leftists like anarchists are rarely employed as college professors and researchers. American leftists inevitably are forced outside of power because that is the nature of being a Double Low and Light Personality within any society dominated by Double Highs and Dark Personalities.

But even in the most liberal society and most well-functioning social democracy, there will always be left-wing critics who are forever pushing toward new and greater possibilities, just as conservatives and authoritarians will come to defend the established order, even defending a liberal and egalitarian order — another way in which leftism is partly distinct from a broad sense of liberalism. To be a leftist is to be forever dissatisfied with what is in imagining what might be. This is why the political left is an endless spur toward progress as there is no ultimate end to possibility, in that enacting one possibility simply opens up to further possibilities. That goes to the point that left-wing ideology is never limited to any single political system but, rather, opens up to diverse possibilities that includes what has not yet been fully understood, articulated, and envisioned. Leftism simply stands for possibility itself, which ironically is how leftists get identified as nihilists with a bad attitude because leftism first requires pointing out what is wrong. Possibility, to be sought and made manifest, must be freed from what seeks to limit and eliminate possibility. More than anything else, this is possibility-mindedness as openness, curiosity, exploration, wonder, hope, and optimism.

This possibility-mindedness, though, is not a blank slate for it is inherently motivated by a love of ever increasing egalitarian freedom — it represents the possibility and the potential that is seen as equally residing within everyone; the opposite of and opposing to ideological realism that constrains possibility by shutting down the radical imagination. Leftism shakes loose the calcified mind and identity. Liberalism is just one component of this, but an important component. It is the victory of leftism that liberalism has become the dominant paradigm that frames and defines everything, even the reactionary right; where each and every generation of conservatives is more liberal than the last, such that the average conservative today is to the left of the average liberal from a century ago. This has created a strange situation where the majority of Americans are left-liberals, even as the reactionary right continues to not only rule the government and economy but also rule the public mind, public identity, and public imagination — rule by oppression.

Liberalism has been so normalized that classical conservatism is almost entirely buried and forgotten. One is hard put to find many contemporary American conservatives who openly and blatantly, fully and proudly defend the misogynistic, racist, eugenicist, genocidal, plutocratic, and imperialist conservatism from past centuries (e.g., a rigid caste system of aristocrats and peasants, of slaveholders and slaves, of colonizers and colonized, of the civilized and the primitive, of WASPs and ethnics). Classical conservatism is now politically incorrect, even on the mainstream political right, so politically correct that it can’t even be acknowledged. This is why, among the educated and respectable classes, conservatives will often claim to be classical liberals (i.e., early modern liberalism). But, of course, the reactionary right’s understanding of past liberalism is extremely narrow and nostalgic — they don’t mean radical Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers: Baruch Spinoza, Denis Diderot, Marquis de Condorcet, Pierre Bayle, Giambattista Vico, Roger Williams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Thomas Young, Abraham Clark, etc. Mostly, reactionary right classical liberals are looking to John Locke and Adam Smith; but Lockean land rights were earlier, not to mention more strongly and radically, defended by Roger Williams; and modern conservatives overlook the fact that Adam Smith, the leading light of capitalist thought, stated a free society wasn’t possible with high inequality.

So, amusingly, the reactionary right in selectively co-opting yesteryear’s liberalism and filtering it through nostalgic historical revisionism has no inherent substance of its own, while the egalitarian left in abandoning or transforming old liberal positions is the creative force that again and again establishes the very substance that can be later co-opted. The right uses moral imagination to appear to have substance in hiding  its lack of substance, in that the reactionary is forever defined not by what it is for but by what it is reacting against. And the left constantly denies its own substance once it has been established, which can leave the impression of the left lacking substance, of being merely critical and antagonistic, destructive and nihilistic. Like the French left, the Anglo-American left came into being in opposition to a king and the entire authoritarian system of monarchy and aristocracy. The French were following the example of Anglo-American revolt, not only the American Revolution but also the earlier regicidal English Civil War that itself was influenced by the earlier radical class war of the Peasants’ Revolts, along with the Renaissance, Protestant Reformation, and Anabaptist hereticism. All of this formed into a larger Western tradition of leftist politics that continues to oppose whatever powers that be, but not knee-jerk opposition for it is seeking to reform and re-create. What the left is seeking freedom from and hence freedom toward is always a moving target.

The Great WEIRDing of the Jaynesian Ego-Mind as a Civilizational Project

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
~ Luke 23:34

“I’m supposed to act like they aren’t here. Assuming there’s a ‘they’ at all. It may just be my imagination. Whatever it is that’s watching, it’s not human, unlike little dark eyed Donna. It doesn’t ever blink. What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.”
~ A Scanner Darkly (movie)

Let us explore the strangeness of human nature and what it means in our society. For practical purposes, this will require us to use the examples of other people. The simple reason is that certain behavioral and identity patterns are easier to see in others than in ourselves. So, just because our present focus is turned outward, it does not imply that we are standing above in judgment, that we are casting the first stone. We will safely assume that, like all humans, we lack the requisite self-awareness to always see clearly what we do and how what we do is more inconsistent than we would prefer. The following is not about the moral failure of individuals but a reckoning with our shared species-being. The most blatant example we are aware of, in our personal experience, is that of someone we have known for about a quarter of a century. We have on multiple occasions, along with others present to confirm it, observed her say something to one person and then, upon walking into the next room, immediately say something completely contradictory to someone else. She seemed oblivious to the fact that she was still in ear-shot of those she just spoke to, suggesting it was not a consciously intentional act of deceit and manipulation. In all the years we’ve known her, she has repeated this behavior many times and she has never shown any indication of understanding what she did or any memory of what transpired. It’s as if she had been two different people, in apparently not carrying a portable and unchanging internal ego structure from one place to the next.

Along with other behaviors, this has led us to suspect she has borderline personality disorder or something along those lines, whatever one might call it; not that she has ever been diagnosed and it must be stated that, in her own perception, she thinks she is completely sane. But psychiatric diagnoses and debates about them are irrelevant for our purposes here. Indeed, maybe she is sane and labeling something does not protect us from what it represents, does not quarantine the perceived mental disease. The issue at hand implicates us all. What we’re discussing here has everything to do with how memory operates, with the narratives we create in retelling memories, forgetting them, and forming new ones. The same lady above, it might be noted, is talented at shaping narratives, not only in her own mind but in the moment of relating to others and so projecting those narratives onto the world, such as staging melodramatic conflicts (typical according to descriptions of borderline personality disorder; when an inner boundaries can’t be maintained, one turns to creating external boundaries in the world by projecting onto others and then controlling them). And she is masterful in creating and controlling her social media persona. The point for bringing all of this up is that, even if her case is extreme and obvious, that kind of thing is surprisingly not abnormal. All of us do similar things, if most of us are better at covering our tracks. We’ve come across numerous other examples over the years from a diversity of people.

Often memory lapses happen in more subtle ways, not always involving overt inconsistency. Amnesia can operate sometimes in maintaining consistency. One guy we know has a strange habit of how he eats. It’s so extremely methodical and constrained. He’ll pick up his fork, place a piece in his mouth, lay down the fork, and carefully chew for an extraordinary amount of time, as if he were counting the number of times chewed. It’s very much unnatural, that is to say we could tell it was trained into him at some point. We pointed this out to him and he didn’t realize he was doing anything unusual, but his wife told us she knew why he did it. Many years earlier, he had told her that his mother had made him thoroughly chew his food as a child and, indeed, she was a strict woman as he has shared with us. The thing is, even when told of this memory he once shared with his wife, he still could not remember it — it was gone and, along with it, any understanding about the origins of his behavior. The memory of his mother’s voice telling him what to do is absent, whereas the authoritative command of her voice still echoes in his mind. An external authorization is internalized as part of the individual ego-mind and simply becomes part of an unquestionable self-identity.

To emphasize the power this holds over the mind, realize this goes far beyond only one particular behavior as his entire identity is extremely controlled (controlled by his egoic willpower or by the authorizing voice of his mother repeating in his unconscious?). He had forgotten something from his childhood that has continued to unconsciously determine his behavioral identity. It was a total memory lapse; and maybe the erasure wasn’t accidental but an important mechanism of identity formation, in creating the sense of an unquestionable psychological realism, the way he takes himself to be as inborn character. It absolutely fascinates us. That kind of forgetting we’ve noticed so many times before. Let us share another incident involving a different married couple, one we’ve also known for a very long time. The husband told us of when his wife went looking for a dog at an animal shelter and he accompanied her. According to him, she told the shelter worker who helped them about how she had gotten her first dog, but the husband explained to us that she had made it up or rather she had told him an alternative version previously, whichever one was correct or whether either was. When he confronted her about this creative storytelling, she simply admitted that it was not true and she had made it up. As he told it, her manner treated the admission like it was irrelevant or insignificant, and so she offered no explanation for why she did it. She just shrugged it off, as if it were normal and acceptable behavior.

Yet it’s entirely possible that the whole situation was beyond her full self-awareness even in the moment of being confronted, similar to the case with the first woman mentioned above. Directly confronting someone does not always induce self-awareness and social-awareness, as identity formations are powerful in protecting against conflicting and threatening information. Amusingly, when we later brought up the animal shelter incident to the husband, he had zero recall of the event and having shared it with us. These transgressions of memory and identity come and go, sometimes for everyone involved. Let’s return to the first couple. There was another situation like this. The husband told us that his wife had been pro-choice when she was younger, but now she is rabidly anti-choice and calls those who are pro-choice baby-killers. This guy told us about this on multiple occasions and so obviously it had been something on his mind for years. Like all of us, he could see the inconsistency in another, in this case a woman he had been married to for more than a half century. He is an honest person and so we have no reason to doubt his claim, specifically as he himself is also now anti-choice (did he always hold this position or did he likewise unconsciously change his memory of political identity?).

The husband told us that his wife no longer remembered her previous position or presumably the self-identity that held it and the reasons for holding it; likely having originated in her childhood upbringing in a working class family that was Democratic and Protestant (note that, until the culture wars heated up in the 1980s, most American Protestants were pro-choice; in opposition to anti-choice Catholics at a time when anti-Catholic bigotry was still strong). Not long after, when discussing this with him on another occasion, he stated that he had no memory of ever having told us this. The thing is this couple has become fairly far right, fear-mongering, conspiratorially paranoid, and harshly critical in their older age. They weren’t always this way, as we knew them when they were younger. Though they always have been conservative as an identity, they both once were relatively moderate and socially liberal; prior to the rise of right-wing and alt-right media (Fox News, Epoch Times, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Schlessinger, Jordan Peterson, etc). The husband used to be far less intellectual and, in his younger days, instead of reading books about religion and politics he read Time Magazine and Playboy. In their early marriage, they attended liberal churches, had pot-smoking friends, and were committed to a worldview of tolerance and positive thinking.

Over the decades, they had re-scripted their identity, according to a powerful right-wing propaganda machine (i.e., the Shadow Network started by Paul Weyrich, initially funded by the Coors family, and ushered in by President Ronald Reagan), to such a degree that it erased all evidence to the contrary — their former selves having been scrubbed from personal memory. So, it’s not only that they’ve dramatically changed their politics over their lifetimes but that they no longer remember who they used to be and so now will deny they were ever anything other than ultra-conservatives. The change has been so dramatic that they probably wouldn’t like their younger selves, if they could meet; and their younger selves might be appalled by what they’d become. It does get one thinking. To what degree do all of us change in such a manner with similar obliviousness? How would we know if we did? We are unlikely to see it in ourselves. And often those around us won’t notice either or else won’t mention it to us. There is typically a mutual agreement to not poke at each other’s illusions, particularly when illusions are shared, entwined, or overlapping. Unravelling our own narratives or those of others can be dangerous, and people will often lash out at you for they will perceive you as attacking their identity.

This perfectly normal strangeness reminds one of anthropological descriptions of the animistic mind and porous self. In many hunter-gatherer tribes and other traditional societies, self-identity tends to be more open and shifting. People will become possessed by spirits, demons, and ancestors; or they will have a shamanic encounter that alters their being upon receiving a new name. These changes can be temporary or permanent, but within those cultures it is accepted as normal. People relate to whatever identity is present without any expectation that individual bodies should be inhabited continuously by only a single identity for an entire lifetime. Maybe this animistic psychology has never really left us, not even with the destruction of most tribal cultures so long after the collapse of bicameral societies. That other way of being that we try to bury keeps resurfacing. There are many voices within the bundled mind and any one of them has the potential to hail us with the compelling force of archaic-like authorization (Julian Jaynes’ bicameralism meets Louis Althusser’s interpellation). We try to securely segment these voice-selves, but every now and then they are resurrected from the unconscious. Or maybe they are always there influencing us, whether or not we recognize and acknowledge them. We just get good at papering over the anomalies, contradictions, and discontinuities. Julian Jaynes points out that we spend little of our time in conscious activity (e.g., mindless driving in a trance state).

What we are talking about is the human nature that evolved under hundreds of millennia of oral culture. This is distinct from literary culture, a relatively recent social adaptation layered upon the primitive psyche. This deeper ground of our species-being contradicts our highly prized egoic identity. To point out an individual’s inconsistencies, in our culture, is about the same as accusing someone of hypocrisy or lying or worse, possibly mental illness. The thing is maybe even psychiatric conditions like borderline personality disorder are simply the animistic-bicameral mind as distorted within a society that denies it a legitimate outlet and social framework. That said, we shouldn’t dismiss the achievements of the egoic mind, that is to say Jaynesian consciousness (interiorized, spatialized, and narratized). It isn’t a mere facade hiding our true nature. The human psyche is flexible, if within limits. There are genuine advantages to socially constructing the rigid boundaries of the literate ego-mind. This relates to the cultural mindset of WEIRD (Westernized, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic or pseudo-Democratic). Joseph Henrich, in his book The WEIRDest People in the World, argues that it is literacy that is the main causal factor. He points to research that shows greater amounts of reading, presumably in early life, alter the structure of the brain and the related neurocognition. More specifically, it might be linguistic recursion, the complex structure of embedded phrases, that creates the complexity of abstract thought — this is lacking in some simpler societies and indeed it increases with literacy.

Importantly, what the research on the WEIRD bias tells us is that most people in the world don’t share this extreme variation on the egoic mind and a few remaining populations don’t have an egoic mind at all as they remain fully adapted to the bundled mind, although surely this is changing quickly as most of humanity is becoming some combination of Westernized, modernized, urbanized, and educated; specifically in how literacy spreads and literacy rates go up. We are only now reaching the point of mass global literacy, but it’s still in its early stages. Literacy, for the average person, remains rudimentary. Even in Western countries, the civilizational project of Jaynesian consciousness, in its WEIRDest form, is still partial and not well established. But, in recent centuries, we’ve begun to see the potential it holds and one cannot doubt that it is impressive. The WEIRD egoic mind is obviously distinct in what it makes possible, even in its present imperfections. Studies on WEIRD individuals do show they act differently than the non-WEIRD. Relatively speaking, they are more broadly consistent and abstractly principled (uniform standards and conformist norms), with a perceived inner voice of a supposed independent conscience (as originally reinforced through the moralizing Big Gods that were believed to see into the soul); and that relates to why principled consistency is so idealized in WEIRD society. Even when WEIRD subjects think no one is watching, they are less likely to cheat to help their families than non-WEIRD subjects. And, when asked, they state they’d be less likely to lie in court to protect a loved one. This is what the egoic structure does, as an internalized framework that is carried around with one and remains static no matter the situation. The WEIRD mind is less context-dependent, which admittedly has both strengths and weaknesses.

It’s not clear that this mentality is entirely beneficial, much less sustainable. It might be the case that it never will become fully established and so could always remain wonky, as the above examples demonstrate. The bundled mind is maybe the permanent default mode that we will always fall back into, the moment our egoic defenses are let down. Maintaining the egoic boundaries may simply be too much effort, too much drain on the human biological system, too contrary to human nature. Yet it’s too early to come to that judgment. If and only if we get to a strongly literate society will egoic WEIRDness be able to show what it’s capable of or else its ultimate failure. Consider that, in the US, the youngest generation will be the first ever majority college-educated and hence the first time we will see most of the population fully immersed in literary culture. It’s taken us about three millennia to get to this point, a slow collective construction of this experimental design; and we’re still working out the bugs. It makes one wonder about what might further develop in the future. Some predict a transformation toward a transparent self (integral WEIRD or post-WEIRD?). Certainly, there will be a Proteus effect of mediated experience in shaping identity in new ways. Building off of mass literacy and magnifying its impact, there is the Great Weirding of new media that might become a Great WEIRDing, as there is a simultaneous increase of text, voice, and image. Will the egoic mind be solidified or fall back into the bundled mind?

The challenge for the egoic identity project is that it takes a long time for the external infrastructure of society to be built to support internal structures of identity (e.g., private property and the propertied self), since individualism does not stand alone. That is what modernity has been all about; and most of us have come to take it for granted, in not realizing the effort and costs that went into it and that are continually invested for its maintenance, for good or ill. This is what the Enlightenment Age, in particular, was concerned about. Science and capitalism, democracy and technocracy involve constructing systems that reinforce egoic consistency, principled morality, and perceived objectivity. Liberal proceduralism, within democracy, has been one such system. It’s the attempt to create a legal and political system where all are treated equally, that is to say consistently and systematically. That is far unlike traditional societies where people are intentionally not treated as equal because context of social roles, positions, and identities determine how each person is treated; and that would be especially true of traditional societies where identity is far more fluid and relational, such that how even a single person is treated would vary according to situation. Much of what we think of as corruption in less ‘developed’ countries is simply people acting traditionally; such as what the WEIRD mind calls nepotism and bribery where one treats others primarily according to specific context of concrete relationships and roles, not abstract principles and legalistic code.

Obviously, liberal proceduralism doesn’t always work according to intention or rather the intention is often lacking or superficial. Even conservatives will nod toward liberal proceduralism because, to one degree or another, we are all liberals in a liberal society during this liberal age; but that doesn’t indicate an actual shared commitment to such liberal systems that promote, support, and defend a liberal mindset. Still, sometimes we have to pretend something is real before we might be able to finally manifest it as a shared reality; as a child play-acts what they might become as an adult; or as a revolution of the mind precedes revolution of society and politics, sometimes preceding by a long period of time (e.g., the transition from the English Peasants’ Revolt and the English Civil War to the American Revolution and the American Civil War). This is what we are struggling with, such as with the battle between science and what opposes and undermines it, mixed up with crises of expertise and replication, and involving problems of confirmation bias, backlash effect, etc. The scientific method helps strengthen and shape the egoic structure of mind, helps an individual do what they could not do in isolation. We need systems that create transparency, hold us accountable, incentivize consistency, and allow us to more clearly see ourselves objectively or at least as others can see us, that force us into self-awareness, be that egoic or otherwise.

All of this relates to why it’s so difficult to maintain liberalism, both in society and in the mind; as liberalism is one of the main expressions of the literary WEIRDing of Jaynesian consciousness. Liberalism is an energy-intensive state, similar to what Jaynes argues; a hothouse flower that requires perfect conditions and well-developed structures, such that the hothouse flower requires the hothouse to survive and thrive. Do anything to compromise liberal mentality, from alcohol consumption to cognitive overload, and it instantly regresses back into simpler mindsets such as the prejudicial thinking of the conservative persuasion. This is precisely why inegalitarian right-wingers and reactionaries (including those posing as liberals and leftists, moderates and centrists; e.g., DNC elite) are forever attacking and undermining the very egalitarian foundations of liberal democracy, what makes liberal-mindedness possible at all; and so casting doubt about the radical and revolutionary possibility of the liberal dream. To be fair, there are real reasons for doubt; but the dark alternative of authoritarianism, as advocated on the reactionary right, is not a desirable option to be chosen instead; and there is no easy path open, besides maybe total collapse, for returning to the animistic and bicameral past.

This is a highly problematic dilemma for we have become committed to this societal aspiration and civilizational project, based on centuries and millennia of pathway dependence, layers upon layers upon layers of interlocking cognitive introstructure (metaphorically introjected structure), organizational intrastructure, societal infrastructure, and cultural superstructure. If we come to think this has been the wrong path all along, we’ll be scrambling to find a new way forward or sideways. In the conflict between what we are and what we pretend and hope to be, we will have to come to terms with the world we have collectively created across the generations. But maybe we are not actually schizoid and psychotic in our fumbling in the dark toward coherency, maybe we are not splintered within an internal self and not divided from external reality. If the bundled mind is and will always remain our psychic reality, our selves and identities have never not been pluralistic. Still, we might find a way of integrated balance between the bundled mind and the egoic identity, according to the integralist motto of transcend and include. It might not be a forced choice between two polar positions, a conflict between worldviews where one has to dominate and the other lose, as we’ve treated it so far. Until that changes, we will go on acting insane and denying our insanity, not recognizing in our fear that insanity itself is an illusion. We can never actually go against our own human nature, much less go against reality itself.

“When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.”
~ Gospel of Thomas, Saying 3

“Barfield points to an “inwardization,” or a simultaneous intensification and consolidation of subjectivity, that has transpired over the evolution of humanity and whose results characterize the structure of our souls today. In fact, just because of this represents what is normal to us, we hardly notice it, having no foil to set it off.”
~ Max Leyf, Mythos, Logos, and the Lamb of God: René Girard on the Scapegoat Mechanism

“Crazy job they gave me. But if I wasn’t doing it, someone else would be. And they might get it wrong. They might set Arctor up, plant drugs on him and collect a reward. Better it be me, despite the disadvantages. Just protecting everyone from Barris is justification in itself. What the hell am I talking about? I must be nuts. I know Bob Arctor. He’s a good person. He’s up to nothing. At least nothing too bad. In fact, he works for the Orange County Sheriff’s office covertly, which is probably why Barris is after him. But that wouldn’t explain why the Orange County Sheriff’s office is after him.

“Something big is definitely going down in this house. This rundown, rubble-filled house with its weed patch yard and cat box that never gets emptied. What a waste of a truly good house. So much could be done with it. A family and children could live here. It was designed for that. Such a waste. They ought to confiscate it and put it to better use. I’m supposed to act like they aren’t here. Assuming there’s a “they” at all. It may just be my imagination. Whatever it is that’s watching, it’s not human, unlike little dark eyed Donna. It doesn’t ever blink.

“What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.”

Axial Age Revolution of the Mind Continues

As many have written about, there was a unique, profound, and dramatic transformation that happened across many civilizations, maybe initiated by the Bronze Age collapse (c. 1200 BCE) but not culminating until later in the following millennia (from Athenian democracy to Hellenism; also Buddhism) and lingering still further many centuries beyond that (e.g., Isis worship in the Roman Empire, one of the models for Mariolatry in particular and Christianity in general). This is what some refer to as the Axial Age, after which human society and culture would never again be the same.

Out of this era of tumultuous change, there would develop distinct categories of politics, religion, philosophy, science, etc that would proliferate in complex new understandings often in conflict and competition, particularly as distorted and co-opted by the emergent reactionary mind. But underlying it all, there were similar ideas and ways of thinking, a basic ideological worldview. As differently and partially as it came to be articulated and institutionalized among various populations and traditions, this set of beliefs can be somewhat fairly summarized and generalized as the following:

Although each of us may be a distinct expression or manifestation of individuality shaped by separate inner and outer conditions, but with independent selves, autonomous souls, and free psyches; in essence and value, we are all equal members, maybe even in some ways fundamentally identical beings (beyond false egoic identities, superficial personality differences, socially constructed social roles, etc), of a unified humanity with a shared human nature and human rights that exist within a common reality, holistic cosmos, and singular universe; an orderly and comprehensible world of natural or supernatural laws and systems where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; as originated from the same source to which everything ultimately returns or from which nothing ever actually departed.

This is the counterbalance between three main principles, as understood in human terms:

  • Liberty and freedom (negative and positive; from and toward; in theory and in reality; opportunities and results; possibilities and actions; resources and availability), guaranteed rights and protections (autonomy, security, and safety); the anti-authoritarian basis of civil society and social liberalism as part of a democratic republic, particularly more direct democracies and social democracies, including democratic socialism such as anarchosyndicalism (e.g., worker-owned-and-operated businesses).
  • Egalitarianism and fairness; respect, support, and tolerance; in the context of what is universal within the universe or at least within a given society, such as universal civil or human rights that are expected to be applied to all equally and fairly, maybe even as an expression of natural law or otherwise a cultural inheritance of shared values; with pre-Axial origins in archaic humanity, as demonstrated by many anti-authoritarian and anti-hierarchical hunter-gatherers through the common practice of meat-shaming and meat-sharing in order to discourage individualistic pride and sense of separation.
  • Fraternity, solidarity, and class or group consciousness; communalism and collectivism, mutuality and interdependence; shared compassion, care, and concern; brotherhood of man, family of humanity, and citizens of the world; similar to a specific people as the body politic and the kinship of the faithful as Body of Christ, as well as feudal commoners with common rights to the Commons; the idea that with freedom comes responsibility, that is to say we owe others in the living generation or even in future generations (Germanic ‘freedom’, meaning to be a member of a free society, to be among friends who will support and defend you).

One example of the above is what some consider the original baptismal creed of the earliest known Christians. It bluntly states that we are, in reality, all equal; that social positions and roles are unreal, including ethnicity (Jew or Gentile), legal status (slave or free), and gender (male and female). It is one of the most radical and absolute declarations of egalitarianism of any recorded text in history, and it was far from being mere words. The man who wrote it down, Paul, also described the practices of his fellow faithful. They lived, acted, and worshipped as if they were all literally equal before God, on Earth as it is in Heaven. The evidence of this being an already established creed is that Paul obviously was not writing about his own personal beliefs, considering he had doubts not shared by many others in the early churches.

As embodied by the communitarian and sometimes collectivist Christians, the first wave of charismatic and zealous radicalism was later violently suppressed, expunged from the Church, and the memory of it largely erased. The only evidence we have of the first generations of Christians are the Pauline Epistles, as the Gospels were written after all known living witnesses of that era were dead. The memory of the previous radicalism, nonetheless, lingered because of Paul’s awkward placement in the New Testament — thanks to the inclusion of the Epistles in the first New Testament canon created by the Pauline Marcion, a Church Father who was later slandered as a heretic.

Intriguingly, Paul never speaks of a physical and historical Jesus. His salvific figure appears to be the Cosmic Christ, more of a visionary and gnostic experience than a literal human that walked on the earth. This might be the significance of why Jesus, after asserting his own divinity, then points out that according to the Bible we are all gods; indicating that his divinity was not unique and isolated (as told in the apparently Gnostic Gospel of John). Now that would be some mind-blowing egalitarianism. This message is emphasized by Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God is all around us, not in some distant and rarified Heaven. That is to say the divine and spiritual is commonplace, is in and of the world. A priestly class is not needed to reach God.

More than a millennia later, some Christians took this kind of crazy talk quite seriously. It inspired, among the peasantry, multiple class wars and political revolts across Europe. That set the stage for the Protestant Reformation, the English Civil War, and the Enlightenment Age. Some consider the English Peasants’ Revolt to be the first modern revolution in its violent and organized challenge of caste and class, privilege and authority; in its demands for equality of rights and economic reform. This would establish a pattern of rhetoric that would revive ancient Christian radicalism.

The reverberations would be felt in the early modern revolutions of America, France, and Haiti. In echoing the Axial Age prophets, many revolutionaries proclaimed themselves citizens of the world. That was not an entirely alien concept, since Paul’s letters had saved that pre-heresiological belief in a greater common identity. It was the seed of an ancient utopian ideal finally taking root, if it still to this day has not yet fully come to fruition. The radical challenge remains. In a sense, the Axial Age has not yet ended for the transformation is not yet complete.

Leftism Points Beyond the Right and Beyond Itself

Table of Contents

  • Introduction and Summary
  • Political Spectrum, Liberal Framework
  • Origins: Tribalism and Pseudo-Tribalism
  • From Axial Age to Modernity: Universalism, Egalitarianism, etc
  • Traditional Values Are Not Culture Wars
  • Freedom to Belong, Responsibility to Others
  • Reactionary Right, Leftover Liberalism, and Leftist Supermajority
  • Conclusion: Egalitarianism and Abundance

Introduction and Summary

Despite having conservative parents, we spent most of our lives in liberal communities and we were raised in liberal churches. By our twenties, we were drawn toward social liberalism and increasingly leftism, although we were already becoming familiar with the reactionary before we knew what it was (from discovering Art Bell, Alex Jones, etc in the late 1990s).

But we’ve never been strongly attached to particular labels, except to the extent they are useful means. If anything, we’ve constantly questioned issues of social and political identities. So, with that in mind, we’d be more than happy if the conflict between right and left simply disappeared or became moot. That is the aim of leftism, as we see it. Leftism aspires to a world where explicit leftism is no longer necessary, that is to say a world no longer afflicted by the reactionary mind.

Summary – In a particular take of left-wing ideology, it is affirmed that:

  • Reality and society consists of systems, processes, and environments that shape us.
  • Social experience of identity, roles, and relationships are socially constructed and intersectional.
  • Situated cognition is embodied, embedded, extended, and enacted (4E).
  • The body, mind, and world are multitudinous and bundled, fluid and open.
  • People are inseparable from each other, from society, and from the larger world.
  • Humans need health, safety, security, trust, relationship, belonging, and connection.
  • The human species is inherently social; freedom is communal and collective.
  • A good society is achieved through culture of trust, cohesive solidarity, group consciousness, mutual support, and collective action.

And it is affirmed that:

  • Egalitarianism and fairness is central to human nature, is the center of any worthy politics and good society.
  • High inequality is unhealthy, stressful, traumatizing, dangerous, and unsustainable.
  • Artificial scarcity, authoritarian hierarchy, and social division should be challenged.
  • Ideological realism and false consciousness are social control through perception management.
  • The reactionary mind is abnormal and unnatural, insubstantial and deceptive.
  • The right-wing is a reaction to liberalism; it denies, obscures, and co-opts what it is reacting to.
  • Liberalism is the framework of modern Western civilization by which left and right are defined.
  • Leftism is a placeholder for something else, the finger pointing at the moon.

* * *

Political Spectrum, Liberal Framework

What does ‘left-wing’ ideology refer to? What was the original and basic meaning? The main element and motivating force of leftism has been to perceive the world and society, people and groups more as interdependent systems or processes than as reified things, unchanging categories, and isolated units; much less in terms of fixed and immutable laws, known certainties, absolutist dogma, and authoritarian institutions (or, if you prefer, unquestioned and unchallenged institutional authority as received truth, conventional wisdom, and ideological realism; that is to say, enforced norms as normative enforcement, as social control through what Louis Althusser called ideological interpellation or hailing; i.e., the enclosure of the mind).

By ideology, this implies not only ‘ideas’ in the narrow sense as principles, values, and belief structure but also ‘ideos’ as worldview, mindset, and imaginary (i.e., a leftist conception of ideology; rooted more in an ancient conception of the power of ideas as a psychic force). This is based on thinner boundaries of mind that promote experience and identity that is more fluid in allowing things to overlap, shift, and merge (i.e., liberal-mindedness as expressed in social liberalism; or: FFM openness, MBTI intuition and perceiving, and Ernest Hartmann’s thin boundary type). In creating and promoting the conditions for greater empathy and compassion, it is what derogatively gets called ‘Bleeding Heart Liberalism‘ (a slur originally used to describe, disparage, and dismiss radically egalitarian social justice warriors seeking to illegalize lynching, vigilante justice, and mob violence; in contrast to the right-wing pseudo-libertarians who thought government shouldn’t intervene), similar to being a ‘tree-hugging hippy’ and ‘sympathizing with the enemy’.

This distinguishes it from the political right where everything is defined by what evaluatively and hierarchically separates one clearly demarcated category from another (us vs them, ingroup vs outgroup, worthy vs unworthy, pure vs impure, good vs evil), within the rigidified boundaries of the egoic mind (FFM conscientiousness, MBTI judging, and Ernest Hartmann’s thick boundary type) — even left vs right, treated as a black/white division and ruling paradigm, falls prey to the reactionary right-wing; something we will try to carefully avoid. This is why conservatives more strongly obsess over narrow and/or exclusionary group identities (race, religion, ethno-nationalism, etc) and atomistic conceptions of identities (lone individuals, consumer-citizens, capitalist actors, social Darwinian competitors, nuclear families, etc); and why those on the left can become more conservative and reactionary when they become pulled into similar identities. One can begin to sense how, in being framed within post-Enlightenment liberalism, the modern political right is inherently and inevitably opposed to the actual traditionalism of the past, from earliest communal Christianity to Medieval communal feudalism.

This modern right-wing dogmatism and groupthink lends itself to conventional thought that gives an appearance of certainty and orderliness, a sense of predictability and familiarity, a demand of hierarchy and control. A place for everything; and everything in its place — which means anything out of place better be put back into place and kept in place, by any means necessary and at any cost. On the global stage, this plays out in Manichaean narratives like the Catholic Crusades, Manifest Destiny, White Man’s Burden, Cold War, and Clash of Civilizations; not to mention the overuse of the war metaphor that always means a war on the public and particularly a war on the poor and powerless; such as War on Poverty, War on Drugs, and War on Terror (how does one have war on an emotion like ‘terror’?). This is where there must be a winner and loser; the winner, of course, is presumably the good guys and they take all in a final victory against the forces of evil, or else the bad guys win and all that good is destroyed. There is little, if any, room for moderation, tolerance, and cooperation toward shared vision and common good or simply a middle ground of mutual respect (other than convenient and often fleeting alliances), much less equality, fairness, justice, and freedom.

Lockstep solidarity is intentionally constrained to an insular group identity, what could be called pseudo-tribalism because of how it mimics tribalism but without the intimacy of actual tribes. To be a Westerner or American, White or Christian (or Evangelical) is to be part of an exclusive and exclusionary group that includes vast numbers of strangers who otherwise have nothing in common since most of the members have never met or shared any experience beyond mass media, nationalistic propaganda, religious apologetics, and such. This is what makes pseudo-tribalism reactionary, neither leftist nor traditional; and so this gives the modern and increasingly postmodern right-wing a distinct flavor. The actual past is erased and replaced with faux nostalgia and historical revisionism, but where the face of the past is worn like a bloody mask skinned from the corpse of tradition.

Let us make a further distinction or rather non-distinction. Liberalism, as we’ve argued, is not really so much left or right. Instead, it is the frame of both, of the whole ‘spectrum’. That is why conservatives and other right-wingers should, at least sometimes, be taken at face value when they claim to be classical liberals, even when their nostalgic rhetoric is historical revisionism, opportunistic realpolitik, and manipulative spin. When reactionaries co-opt from the left, as they do in using old liberal ideas and language, they essentially become what they are pretending to be and so, to some degree, make it real (i.e., hyperstition); the con man who first must con himself. But the radicals on the left also operate within the liberal sphere of our shared society, even when they contest this claim. Calling someone a liberal or not doesn’t really tell us much, since it can as easily and as validly be embraced by reactionaries and regressives as by radicals and progressives.

As such, many leftists prefer to deny any association with liberalism or else maintain a wariness of distance, whether or not such a stance is realistic within the ruling liberal paradigm that also rules inside our minds. If they’re not careful, in reacting to liberalism, leftists can end up just another variety of reactionary and so begin to display the right-wing traits of a reactionary (e.g., the Leninist revolutionary vanguard that, in fighting bourgeois liberals, became a Stalinist ruling elite that enforced yet another socially conservative hierarchy within the Soviet Union, and so basically re-created the Russian Empire with Joseph Stalin as the new czar and the working class as a new peasantry). [Then again, the bourgeois liberals in reacting against leftists can likewise fall to the dark side (e.g., in post-WWI Germany, many of the middle class ‘liberals’ sided with the capitalist class to join the Nazis in having had fought against radical artists, freethinking intellectuals, free speech advocates, labor activists, social democrats, communists, and Marxists; or, if one prefers an example closer to home, think of the American Cold War liberals who were among the greatest enemies of the political left and ended up promoting illiberalism).]

Simply put, when reacting to reactionaries, the reactionary mind always wins because both sides offer no alternative; just two claims of lesser evil that inevitably leads to greater evil (closely related to the problematic dynamic between authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism, where authoritarianism ends up defining even those who oppose it; e.g., the sad and strange phenomenon of authoritarian right-libertarians using anti-authoritarian rhetoric). This is ideological realism as epistemic closure, a totalizing narrative, a hermetically-sealed reality tunnel; forever mired in mind games of symbolic conflation and indoctrination. The reactionary is the shadow of liberalism and so everyone is vulnerable to infection from the reactionary mind virus; perfectly symbolized by Two-Face in the Batman mythos (this represents the whole reactionary worldview in how both Two-Face and Batman are not only enemies but two competing varieties of reactionary, since the entire dynamic between them is reactionary as is the entire Gotham story-world, specifically as fleshed out in the Dark Knight movies). Nonetheless, it could and maybe should be maintained that leftism, by definition and practice, is not reactionary and neither is it opposite of nor in opposition to the reactionary. Rather, leftism, if it is to be meaningful at all, is offering an entirely different understanding, a genuine alternative that is at the heart of the liberal project. Leftists, along with anyone else who disidentifies with the right-wing and/or disagrees with right-wing views, would do well to remember this.

Considering the complications and confusions, it is fair that some complain about the problems and limitations of these broad ideological labels; in particular the broadly amorphous and typically non-identifying left-liberal supermajority that has been suppressed and silenced into a state of public ignorance, as public identity can only form with public knowledge — the ruling elite in politics and media portray and attack left-liberals as a minority; causing mass psychosis in how people’s private selves become splintered from public experience and mediated reality through the perception management of indoctrination and propaganda campaigns, a form of gaslighting — so, what is the ‘Left’ when it can’t be seen or heard? That is all the more reason for us to pinpoint the distinctions that do matter, the distinctions that have remained relevant and potent across the centuries. The leftist difference that makes a difference keeps reappearing, no matter how often it is attacked and dismissed or mimicked and appropriated by the reactionary right, including by those using respectability politics to pose as ‘centrists’ and ‘moderates’. But it is often easiest to see something by looking back to a time when it was still young and fresh, not yet grimy and scarred from historical accretions.

There is a thinking style — fundamentally communal and collective, broadly systemic and holistic, potentially integrative and integral — that consistently shows up as one of the defining features of the left-wing that influenced, informed, and inspired the earliest and most radical of Enlightenment thought (e.g., Baruch Spinoza‘s panentheism) and post-Enlightenment thought (e.g., Karl Marx’s historical materialism). It’s what underlies Germanic communal and cultural ‘freedom’, as opposed to Latin individualistic and legalistic ‘liberty’; along with capturing the essence of egalitarianism and fraternity, particularly in terms of the Axial Age ideal of a universal humanity and the Enlightenment Age ideal of a global citizenry, but resonating with an aspect of tribal belonging as well. As for the latter, one might suggest all leftist politics begins not in abstract ideas but in the concrete lived reality of small local communities that give meaning to ideas (e.g., the labor organizing and strikes of factory workers in a factory town, as part of a community where people live in the same neighborhoods, shop at the same stores, belong to the same churches, and whose kids go to the same schools); the communities and associations that William Godwin, a reactionary-minded progressive reformer (i.e., bourgeois classical liberal), feared as the “common mass” and “organized society”. That certainly was the early history of the left, a populist movement that initially formed from the bottom up.

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Origins: Tribalism and Pseudo-Tribalism

This basic distinction between left and right is ancient, although not archaic — it does have a beginning point. There doesn’t appear to be any clear evidence of this divide in thinking styles during the Bronze Age or in the following dark age, although it might have been carried as a seed of possibility within the early city-states as they began to merge into the first multicultural empires. But it was only with the Axial Age that there was a sudden and undeniable flourishing of radically new thought, specifically egalitarianism and universalism, along with emergent understandings of democracy, freedom, liberty, rights, justice, tolerance, compassion, etc; as recorded in the words of real or fictitious prophets, teachers, wise men, and salvific figures. Proto-leftism was born, if only as a promise of what was to come, along with the proto-reactionary quickly following (e.g., Plato’s authoritarian republicanism as a reaction to Athenian democracy).

Let us consider a historical example. In presaging Classical Greece, the Presocratics were the first to speak of a universal and singular kosmos that acknowledged a larger sense of a shared world inhabited by diverse people across a continuous landscape and contained within the same immense universe (literally, one verse; i.e., one story of the world and of humanity; what today would be called a meta-narrative, to which postmodernism responds and metamodernism reframes). That is to say we all look up at the same stars, something that may seem obvious to the point of being banal but wasn’t commonly understood until long-distance travel became common. At the same time, it’s the ability to think about the world abstractly in this manner that makes possible map-making where the known world can be divided up by abstract boundaries that defined larger socially constructed identities (a Greek or a Jew, a Roman or a Barbarian), and thus make possible one variety of reactionary pseudo-tribalism — tellingly, in the ancient world of mostly oral cultures, abstract categories had less influence over identities of group belonging (Racism, Proto-Racism, and Social Constructs; Ancient Complexity; Ancient Social Identity: The Case of Jews; & Who were the Phoenicians?).

Such pseudo-tribalism took many millennia until it finally formed as modern racialized nation-states now so favored by the reactionary right-wing. Prior to World War era, most people instead identified with a non-reactionary or less reactionary and more organic sense of local community that included ethnicity, language, religion, and regionalism. Consider that, as feudalism came clashing into modernity with the French Revolution, the French population was still so fragmented with distinct dialects that they weren’t always able to understand those in neighboring regions, much less able to have comprehended the respectable speech in the French Assembly. The modern French nationality had to be invented and socially constructed. That was even more true of the Italians when the majority at the time of the nation’s founding didn’t speak Italian at all. The once feudal serfs had to be forced into modern ethno-nationalism, having resulted in the reactionary disease of nostalgia, a sometimes literally paralyzing and deadly disease.

This is pseudo-tribalism not only because it’s different than tribalism but, more importantly, because it erases the reality and memory of tribalism, overwriting it with invented traditions and false consciousness. One can see the path of the reactionary mind having passed by in the traces left behind of romantic nostalgia and historical revisionism. This so often leads not to national unity but endless division, as anything that is invented and enforced with artificial social constructions will ever be challenged and changed by new inventions (e.g., the Nazis deciding who was German and not, no matter how many generations or centuries one’s family may have resided there; i.e., conservatism opposing traditionalism). Pseudo-tribalism annihilates, co-opts, and replaces traditional cultures with their much more complex and shifting identities, as was seen in the ancient world. The earliest Jews, for example, would not have recognized the social identity projected upon them by most modern Jews — the two worlds are alien to each other, to such an extent that one scholar noted that it would’ve been near impossible to determine who was and was not a Jew in the ancient world. That traditionalism, having survived in large parts of the world fairly late in history, has mostly disappeared from living memory (e.g., isolated cultures of European tribal paganism survived into the Middle Ages).

Modern ethno-nationalism is a result of the reactionary mind and, once established, it is a further contributing factor in establishing and entrenching the conditions for the reactionary mind to spread; even as liberal mind might use this as a jumping off point for a greater sense of identity (e.g., humanity as a single species and people with a common human nature and universal human rights). In being a component of liberalism, it was the radical potential of modern nationalism that made possible the multicultural American that extended into the yet more radicalized potential of a global citizenry, as envisioned by the progressive Thomas Paine, that transcended the insular bigotry of the mere rights of Englishmen and so was effectively wielded as a weapon against British authoritarian claims of rule. As he wrote in ‘Common Sense’, it was undeniably “absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island,” especially when “Not one third of the inhabitants, even of this province, [Pennsylvania], are of English descent” (other British colonies were likewise majority non-English). Paine took his being a citizen of the world even further in aspiring to a revolution that would spread — Benjamin Franklin supposedly told him that, “Where liberty is, there is my country,” and Paine’s response was that, “Where liberty is not, there is my country.”

Prior to all of these modern changes, progressive and reactionary, people in traditional tribes and villages took their own immediate communal experience and territory as an autonomous self-contained world largely separate from that of others, each community with its own local ruling deities and spiritus loci. Consider, for example, the Semitic henotheism that can be discerned behind later Yahwist interpolations of the Tanakh; or the traces surviving into the Middle Ages when local spirits were still worshipped and appeased, such as the wintertime wassailing of the presiding spirit of the orchard. Hence, going back far enough into the past, everyone was able to have claimed their own population as the first people and their own place as the center of the world without having had asserted any hegemonic intentions upon others. It was a pluriverse, not a universe — a world of worlds.

That was the original conception of something akin to social and moral relativism, if more indifference and ignorance than tolerance, acceptance, or celebration of diversity. Consider the Amazonian Piraha’s friendly but aloof attitude towards strangers. As a Piraha explained, Piraha culture is good for Piraha, foreign cultures are good for foreigners; and hence there is no need for cultural hegemony as ideological realism to be proclaimed as absolutist dogma, much less enforced through authoritarian and violent conquering and genocide, social control and assimilation. To be Piraha simply means to be Piraha with no greater claims on all of reality, quite opposite of monotheistic fundamentalism (the latter being incomprehensible to the Piraha, as generations of failed missionaries have discovered). That once was a more common experience of the world. At the level of individual persons, one thing was not separate from another for the shared ground of cohesion was the larger network of kinship and community. In the case of animistic and bicameral societies, this included the bundled mind with a shared voice-hearing tradition as opposed to the privatized egoic voice trapped in each person’s skull (a few surviving animistic tribes still maintain such a cultural mentality). This relativism lingered in areas of Axial Age thought.

Keep in mind that what some think of as ancient proto-racism really wasn’t racism at all. It was a common belief that a people’s culture and collective personality was determined by their environment: weather patterns, food, etc (e.g., dark skin was caused by living in sunnier climes); an almost Larmarckian or epigenetic understanding of real or perceived population-wide phenotypic plasticity. The experience of world and the experience of self were inseparable, such as how the animistic personal space of hunter-gatherers extends into the surrounding sensory space and perceptual field far beyond the physical body. This is the embodied and extended mind, closely related to the bundled mind. This still dwells within the modern mind and it regularly reasserts itself, however much most modern people pretend they are isolated and self-contained individuals — hence, the reactionary impulse of the splintered modern psyche.

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From Axial Age to Modernity: Universalism, Egalitarianism, etc

This archaic sense of reality probably influenced the basis of Greco-Roman humoral theory and later on elements of Christian thought, the belief that we are shaped by external factors and hence, with a post-animistic/bicameral twist, that systems (e.g., written laws) could be used as social control that determined behavior. This was seen in medieval food laws that banned red meat before and during Carnival to prevent the excess heating of ‘blood’ that it was feared would cause people to be rowdy and rebellious; an ideology, later formulated as veganism, that was adapted by Seventh Day Adventists to supposedly prevent sinfulness, moral depravity, and physical dissolution (as part of a public health moral panic and anti-masturbation crusade). Archaic and ancient traditional thought has never really disappeared for it constantly gets reinterpreted and redirected, if the forms it takes increasingly diverge from traditional experience and understanding, in how it’s expressed in both the progressive mind and the reactionary mind.

As filtered through the stronger universalizing impulse of modern thought, this particularly came to shape 20th century leftism. It was very much informed by anthropology and social science (e.g., the study of traditional cultures by anthropologist Franz Boas and his students), in articulating a shared human nature that consisted more of flexible potentials than of deterministic laws (e.g., Carl Jung’s personality types that influenced the theories of cultural relativity espoused by some of Boas’ students, such as Ruth Benedict who in turn influenced those like Julian Jaynes). This general development in Western thought shaped new understandings like social constructivism and intersectionality, not to mention even more interesting theories about linguistic relativity and consciousness. As divergent as some might take them, there has always been a creative dynamic on the left between universalism and relativism. But, as always, this has been just as easily co-opted by the reactionary right, if in more constrained forms that were used to prevent collective consciousness instead of promoting it (Peter Augustine Lawler: “conservative thought today is authentic postmodernism”; for example: “Russel Kirk’s unconscious postmodernismKarl Rove’s social constructivismDonald Trump’s post-truth, and Jordan Peterson’s self-loathing pluralism“).

About universalism specifically, such thinking had become more common as alphabetic languages, written texts, literary traditions, and abstract thought became widespread in the Axial Age and post-Axial Age empires (the precursors of modern WEIRD culture that took hold with mass literacy; see Joseph Henrich, The WEIRDest People in the World). This was seen also in natural law and liberty of the soul, as formulated by Stoics and later adopted by early Christians. These were initially radical ideas and one can still sense what, at various points in history, made them such a threat. The first generation of Christians, similar to the Stoics before them, flouted the laws and social customs of both Jews and Romans, and they did so according to the belief in a higher truth of natural law that stood above human law, the basis upon which psychic and spiritual reality could be experienced as unconstrained (e.g., the Kingdom of Heaven all around us). This was an early expression of universalism as radical egalitarianism, specifically grounded in communitarianism and often literal communes with shared work and resources, not to mention positions determined by egalitarian lots (i.e., egalitarian authority). This was in direct conflict with the rigid authoritarian hierarchies if worldly power (dividing rulers from ruled, free from slave, upper caste from lower caste, civilized from barbarian) in the Roman Empire, hierarchies of status that determined privilege and oppression in having made clear that all were not equal before God or man.

Among those early Christians, the egalitarian way of living and relating was specifically demonstrated in what some consider the original baptismal creed proclaiming that there was no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male and female; for, it was believed, we are all children of God, all one in Spirit; to the extent that, as Jesus put it, “you are all gods” (Stephen J. Patterson, The Forgotten Creed). Universal divine law trumped even the social constructs of identity and so denied them any reified legitimacy as ideological realism. The earliest Christians, in their charismatic practice, took this literally in how everyone, even the most lowly enslaved women, had equal access to leadership and authority within the church community. This was concretely expressed in how all congregants, in communal ecstasy, danced with their long hair allowed to flow freely, in direct contradiction to gender norms where Roman men kept their hair cut short and Roman women kept their hair bound up. This was one of the many things that worried Paul because he wanted to make Christianity more respectable, in conformance with normative social expectations; but he didn’t understand that this is precisely what made such charismatic faith so inspiring to the oppressed and downtrodden.

Many radicals since that time, from the English Peasants’ Revolt to the American Revolution, often drew upon natural law rhetoric to challenge human legal institutions (although some, like the deist Thomas Jefferson, had a less certain relationship to such beliefs). That was also part of the power of the Protestant Reformation in taking on the Catholic Church. Yet, despite its ever present potential of radicalism, it has been increasingly held up as a favorite principle of conservative-minded fundamentalists and other right-wingers, one of the many cases where once radical thought is increasingly used and monopolized by the reactionary mind. There is a mixed history to natural law, as the conservative-minded sometimes understood that it was a two-edged sword. The Catholic Edmund Burke opposed natural law specifically because of the radical threat it posed. But, for other reasons, the egalitarian and often radical Quakers have long favored an alternative to natural law since, as heretics, they sought higher authority through a personal relationship with a living God, rather than an impersonal and unreachable God of laws that required intercession by a priestly class — a different route to the same end of challenging unjust worldly power. As a historical note, Quaker constitutionalism appears to be the earliest major predecessor of liberal living constitutionalism, that a constitution is a living document agreed to by a living generation as a covenant with a living deity, truth, or principle; and such radicalism of the Quakers came out of the radical English Civil War that ended with the regicide, the overthrow and beheading of the king. This is one of the many ways the English Civil War set the pattern for the American Revolution.

There have been many kinds of radicalism over time and, importantly, most of them originated within religion. It’s historically complicated, but over time the specific radicalism of natural law seems to have faded almost entirely. As so often happens, the radicalism that takes hold as a revolution of the mind quickly becomes normalized and so becomes the new social norm as status quo to be defended by the reactionary right. That is how natural law has become neutered in being largely identified with the reactionary and regressive at this point. Fundamentalist apologists have come to treat their beliefs about social order, gender, family, abortion, etc as an ideological realism of natural law and so seek to enforce it through human law (i.e., theocracy); in spite of the fact that Jesus offered very little light on the subject or, if anything, a rather anti-fundamentalist view in his having heretically challenged the Jewish fundamentalism of his own era. Jesus went so far as to deny his own mother on multiple occasions; not to mention having told one man about his father’s corpse to let the dead bury the dead; having declared that he came not to bring peace but to turn son against father, daughter against mother; and we can’t forget his repeated challenge to wealth and power, including a direct attack on the established elite in overturning the moneylenders tables in the temple. As for abortion and homosexuality, he was silent, as was the Old Testament. Are these Christian moral values and family values?

Traditional Values Are Not Culture Wars

This is another area where traditionalism stands in stark contrast to the reactionary right and, at times, finds resonance with a progressive left. Think about how, prior to the 1960s, abortion was a non-issue among Christians with a long history of theological arguments actually justifying it, not to mention Christian communities condoning the practice that was common in the past. The Bible does speak against infanticide, but that is referring to the killing (exposure or abandoning) of babies that were already born, not the terminating of pregnancies which was a standard practice at the time. Abortifacients have existed in nearly every traditional society, for being able to control when to have children was even more important in the past when unneeded children to feed could be a threat to the survival of family and community. Odd as it may sound in this era of reactionary culture war, most early-to-mid 20th century American Christians, specifically Protestants and including Evangelicals, saw no conflict between family values and abortion; and instead they often saw these as closely related because family planning was seen as central to family responsibility.

About another topic, when we look at historical texts and anthropological records, it’s amazing how many past societies had much more nuanced understandings of gender and sexuality, to the point of including multiple gender identities/roles. That is far from saying that traditionalism has typically been socially liberal, as three or more genders could be as strict and oppressive as only two, although not necessarily. But what it does demonstrate, contrary to conservative claims, is that a binary gender belief system is not an ideological realism of natural law that was created by God and emblazoned upon human nature and biology. That is to say gender realism is as much bullshit as ethno-nationalist realism, capitalist realism, domestic realism, etc. This has always been the line of critique by the left, the dismantling of false assumptions, the puncturing of the obfuscatory hot air that bloats the reactionary moral imagination.

We must take the past on its own terms, not ours. If we go back to the traditional societies, the fluidity of social identities sometimes included, besides temporary or permanent shifts in name and personality (at least among people who were animistic and possibly bicameral), gender fluidity and sexual variation as well. People could hold amorphous or divergent identities in ways that are hard for us to imagine and sometimes that meant people changing gender or identifying with two genders (e.g., Two Spirits). This is because, in many older cultures, gender was not always equated to sexual anatomy or sexual activity. At the time of European first contact with Native American tribes, there were over a hundred recorded instances of non-binary gender expression, including in Mexico that has since become identified with Christianized macho culture. This was seen all over the world: Polynesia, Hawaii, ancient Iran, ancient Egypt, and on and on. It might be safe to say gender fluidity and/or diversity was closer to the norm than an exception.

In the ancient world, many deities had mixed anatomy, such as goddesses with erect penises. Also seen were androgynous deities. Even older portrayals of Jesus sometimes showed him as androgynous, occasionally including breasts. In the ancient world, many salvific godmen took on the feminine traits (physical, psychological, and spiritual) associated with the archaic agricultural goddesses who still were or had previously been the virgin mothers of such godmen, as the goddesses became demoted (e.g., the Egyptian Isis had been worshipped in her own right throughout the Roman Empire, only to have her statues co-opted as the Black Madonna and so she was replaced with worship of a merely human Mother Mary who played a secondary role). Unsurprisingly, many of those individuals traditionally perceived as a third gender or two-gendered could become shamans, healers, priests, or otherwise played important roles in society and rituals; as someone who transcended gender might be believed to also be able to cross other boundaries such as into the worlds of spirits, the dead, and non-human beings.

There was even open homosexuality in the pre-modern world, such as in Africa (e.g., an apparently ancient Egyptian gay couple buried together in a lover’s embrace). All of this was far from limited to only gender identity or sexuality. In the Americas, research on burials indicate that 30-50% of big game hunters might’ve been anatomically female, demonstrating gender specialization of work did not necessarily always exist. Similarly, some hieroglyphs in the Americas can be interpreted as showing both men and women holding hands of children; according to the number of fingers shown on hands, a way of symbolizing gender; possibly indicating that childrearing was not limited to one gender (info from a display at the Florence Indian Mound and Museum in Alabama). Such a finding should be unsurprising, as many hunter-gatherer societies demonstrate something similar with all kinds of work being done by both anatomical women and men, even ignoring the complexity of gender issues. This wasn’t limited to the non-Western world. There were Viking and Germanic shield-maidens and they were apparently treated with respect and honor, indicating gender identities were not absolute in entirely limiting social role, position, and opportunities.

Gender fluidity or else complexity, along with multiple forms of sexual relationships, seems to have persisted quite late into history; maybe having indicated acceptance, tolerance, or indifference. In England, there was no official position on homosexuality until the 1533 Buggery Act, what one might interpret as the first sign of a modern reactionary culture war. That was about right when the Protestant Reformation (i.e., fundamentalist nuclear family values and heteronormativity) and colonization (i.e., the militarization of the heroic hyper-masculine figure) began, while the traditional order of feudal Church and villages was in the process of being dismantled (i.e., the decline of Carnival practice of role-reversals and gender-bending). Prior to European colonization in Africa, there was no known cases of anti-LGBT laws or persecution. So, conservative gender and sexual bigotry is only a few centuries old, as compared to entirely different notions of gender that were widespread for millennia before that.

As far as all of that goes, marriage and monogamy are likewise a lot more complicated than it typically gets portrayed, as based on modern Western biases. Yes, monogamy does appear to be quite common among many cultures, but such monogamy doesn’t seem to preclude promiscuity; and, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll ignore the large number of openly polygamous and polyandrous societies that have existed. To return to one concrete example, the Piraha are informally monogamous, if in practice this means serial monogamy. Basically, whenever two Piraha are having sex, they are considered married; and when one Piraha goes off to have repeated sex with another then the original couple are then de facto divorced. There are no laws or authorities to enforce monogamy and no punishment, other than hurt feelings, to dissuade individuals from having multiple sexual partners. Also, they are far from prudish. Young Piraha children learn about sex early from direct observation and sexual play, including between adults and children. And serial monogamy is so rampant, in how most people in a tribe have had sex with so many others in the tribe, that the tribes are closely bonded together by overlapping carnal knowledge, even including homosexual play among among adults.

Is this what conservative Christians mean by traditional monogamy and family values being the social norm of the human species? We’re reminded of an incident in early America where a white man visited a Native American tribe. He noticed how common was promiscuity and so asked how did a man know who his children were. The answer was that no one knew and no one cared, as all children were considered to belong to the whole tribe. Yet many of these tribes might have been recorded as ‘monogamous’ and so falsely used as evidence to strengthen the reactionary claims that conflate traditionalism with modern conservatism, as voiced in modern WEIRD culture.

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Freedom to Belong, Responsibility to Others

This supports the leftist counter-claim that gender, sexuality, and marriage are socially constructed to a fair degree and obviously so in diverse ways; despite overgeneralizations made about superficial observations. But it also verifies the leftist view of how powerfully we are shaped by environment, particularly socio-cultural and material conditions. This goes back to the main point being made here. The political left perceives humans as embedded in dynamic systems, both communal and collective or otherwise interdependent. We are in and of the world. The world is us. We the People are a plural, not a collection of individuals; and that is why we are greater than the sum of our parts, but it is also what offers an escape from the prison of the reactionary mind, the key to the lock.

We aren’t victims or passengers, much less lone actors. Our identities and roles in society aren’t imprinted into our genetics as essentialism and determinism. And, since the world we know was created by past generations, we are forever in the position to create our world again, as the Anti-Federalist Thomas Paine so wonderfully put it. This was a central concept to the American founding, that the dead hand of past generations could not and should not compel authoritarian submission of the living generation. Prior to written texts that trapped the past like an insect in amber, traditional societies as oral cultures always treated traditions as organic practices brought to life by voice and invocation, not immutable laws and unchanging doctrines. This remains fundamentally true, as human nature is still the same, even if the media and culture alters its expression.

That is to say we are and always have been free as a people, but this freedom is not individualistic and legalistic liberty, not the mere civil rights written on a piece of paper or upheld in a court of law. We are free according to our own human nature, something that can’t be denied or destroyed, can’t be taken away from us. We verify and prove this freedom in our own experience. And, importantly, we are not lost souls wandering in an alien land, not lost souls waiting for the afterlife in order to return somewhere else. Our shared humanity is part of larger systems of a living world in which we are enmeshed and immersed in, a world to which we belong as our home. We are social creatures by nature, not disconnected as lone individuals or nuclear families, as worker-citizens or capitalist owners. We are not separate and isolated, and so we are not powerless. The world we were born into is not inevitable. Near infinite possibility is before us, the extent of which we can only discover through experimentation and exploration. We are free through acting freely, in knowing the strength of our shared freedom.

We could end on that inspiring note. But our purpose here is not to preach to the choir or rally the forces of good. More fundamentally, we are curious about what this all means and so we seek compassionate understanding, for others as much as for ourselves. Why do such divides of the mind get formed and persist? In some ways, the whole left vs right framing could be part of the problem, as inherently dualistic and oppositional, and hence reactionary. Although this is not a new insight, the political spectrum remains a powerful way of understanding our present conflict because it isn’t just an idea. The left/right dichotomy has become built into every aspect of our society and mind. We carry it and so dismissing it is not an option. Some more powerful metaphor will have to organically emerge as a more compelling meme. That is the reason to emphasize the leftist view, since it points beyond to another possibility, a third way. In the end, the ‘leftist’ ideals of egalitarianism and solidarity (or fellowship) are not about one ideology fighting against another ideology. Rather, these words speak to the truth within us that can’t be negated. It’s simply who we are.

This is demonstrated by the so-called political issues. There is a reason the most heated debates involve such things as environmentalism, systemic racism, and class consciousness. These touch upon the leftist understanding of systems that the political right, in order to sustain their illusion of separation and division, must deny. The thing is this is not one belief system against another but rather a choice between embracing reality or an illusion, to accept our shared humanity or deny it. This is a truth known in our direct experience and also known in science. Systems are not ideas for they are how the world actually operates. Nothing is really separate, in ways that are quite profound, as quantum physics has shown us but also demonstrated in every other field of science. This is both a human truth and a scientific fact.

Whether one believes in and supports environmentalism or not, for example, the environment remains a stark reality explaining what is happening to the natural world we are inseparable from. Climate change continues to get worse with measurable shifting weather patterns and increases in extreme weather events, as part of a single world with a single atmosphere. Ecosystems continue to be destroyed, rainforests cut down, species gone extinct, toxins having polluted the water and air, and on and on. This isn’t a leftist claim. It’s an objective and verifiable fact that also is a knowable in human experience. Anyone who has lived long enough will have noticed how monarch butterfly populations have declined, as one recollects a childhood where such creatures once were seen everywhere. Or take the opposite where invasive species spread further north where they never were before found because of global warming. No left-wing ideologue or scientific elite needs to tell us this is true. We can confirm it for ourselves and thousands of other similar observable changes in the world around us. It is part of our lived experience — personal, direct, and concrete.

Similarly, whether or not one acknowledges racism and class war, it remains the social reality enforced upon so many. The victims of it know it in their bones and can see it in the world all around them, even if they don’t always have the terminology to articulate it. So, it may come out as distorted conspiracy theories and get co-opted by other reactionary fear-mongering. Think about the QANON conspiracy theory that, through dark fantasies, expresses the very real sense of a world divided by vast inequalities of wealth and power that are determined by ruling systems. But what the reactionary mind does not grasp is the first victims of propaganda campaigns are those in the ruling class. That is how ideological realism dominates, in being internalized, such as how even the victims of systemic oppression act according to the incentives and disincentives built into the systems of oppression. And, ultimately, in a victimization culture everyone is a victim of the same unfreedom (e.g., the wealthy, in high inequality societies, having higher rates of social problems and health issues; compared to those in low inequality societies).

The reactionary right is a funhouse mirror that both shows and obscures the truth given voice by the political left. That is what we get when we’ve lost our ability to see clearly because we feel alone in a fractured society. We look for enemies in those other people, rather than realizing the trap we are all caught in. So, we follow the maze looking for our cheese, instead of looking for a way out. Leftist ideology emphasizes and prioritizes the relative; and so it is not to be taken as a final truth but as a dynamic learning process, as a finger pointing toward something else. From a leftist perspective, the only value in thinking about a linear political spectrum of two polar positions is to help us create a new society where a left vs right framing would no longer makes sense. While the political right typically proclaims itself as an answer and conclusion, the political left at its best offers a beginning point that opens up to an unknown future that simultaneously gives us new insight into the past, brings light into our shared humanity. Accordingly, we are more than we’ve been told we are.

* * *

Reactionary Right, Leftover Liberalism, and Leftist Supermajority

This has been a somewhat hard post to write. And it’s not clear how successful it has so far turned out. The actual writing was more involved than the simplicity of the original impetus. We’ll go for broke with further explanation and, hopefully, we won’t add more confusion in the process (if nothing else, maybe this post will serve as an intriguing thought experiment about experienced reality, according to metaphors and memes, social construction and perception management). The central observation in mind was that of leftist thought about systems and similar things. This occurred to us in thinking about the symbolic value of issues like environmentalism and systemic racism, as discussed above.

It has long stood out how those on the political right take systems thinking as one of their primary targets. What is feared about something like Marxism is that it brings to light systems of oppression so that they can be seen and challenged, analyzed and debated. Even if all leftist alternatives so far proffered are wrong and impossible, the leftist critique might remain true or at least compelling and hence dangerous. Similarly, it is understandable that systemic racism gets dismissed so easily because social conservatism has always been mired in racist systems, at least so far. Racism, after all, is simply one particular expression of social conservatism; and central to American society from the beginning. But maybe we can dream of a day when American conservatives become anti-racist in both words and deeds. Admittedly, it has been a small achievement to get the political right to declare that “All Lives Matter” since, in finally pretending to believe what they previously denied, they might continue going further left. Do all lives really matter in how they are treated? Really? What if that actually was how everyone was treated?

The political right, indeed, has become more egalitarian or else less rabidly and openly inegalitarian over time. If this continues, would there come a point where the reactionary right that we presently know essentially stops existing? As for now, the reactionary right is alive and well; and all right-wing hierarchy involves various forms of rigid authority and privilege, which inevitably lead to unfairness and injustice and oppression (i.e., inegalitarianism). This right-wing hierarchy is a socially constructed system, demonstrating and proving that reactionaries understand systems just fine. So, the general attitude in outwardly dismissing all that which is systemic seems strange because how can conservatives be so unconcerned about conserving the environment, the basis of all life and civilization. But then one realizes that, with historical revisionism, the political right has never been all that concerned about conserving. All of that is besides the point because reaction always plays out in the immediate moment. The past is a mere convenience, a stage upon which to project nostalgic visions.

The real point is not only about if this or that system gets acknowledged as real but whether this entire leftist way of thinking about systems is even included in allowable thought and collective consciousness. The political right wants to shut down the public imagination before it gets to that point, to prevent public debate before it happens — strangle dangerous ideas in their crib. The moment there is actual inquiry about systems the political right has already lost the battle, and they know this. In symbolic conflation, systems must remain obscured by the fantasizing of the moral imagination. That is the basic argument Edmund Burke made about the moral imagination. So, it’s not that systems don’t also operate in the reactionary mind, but by nature they never can operate openly, honestly, and forthrightly. They must be presented as an unquestioned or unseen reality (i.e., ideological realism), often being claimed as something else (i.e., symbolic conflation).

The political right, as portrayed on the political right, in a sense doesn’t really or fully exist. It is a mirage of the moral imagination for the reason it has been promoted by perception management, the most powerful method of social control. Even though most Americans are far left-leaning in their views, the majority when given a forced choice continue to self-identify as ‘conservative’. This belies the social reality of a leftist supermajority. That is why one can, in all fairness, question the existence of the political right. Most Americans on the political right are, in many ways, further left than was the case among most American leftists a century ago and definitely as compared to the centuries prior. This is shown by how such a significant number of Republicans have come to agree with the general majority in recognizing racism in the police and in supporting stronger environmental regulations; other examples have been given elsewhere. It wasn’t that long ago that such ideas were radical not only to liberals but leftists as well, back when the political left was mainly focused on economic issues. As such, the disagreement, at present, is not about the reality of the situation but our response to it or else reaction.

That said, there might be a small genuine right-wing, what elsewhere in this blog has been called the ‘Ferengi‘ (based on the acronym FER that refers to the overlapping demographics of Fox News viewers, white Evangelicals, and Republicans). But even there, it’s not clear to what degree most of this hardcore minority holds the beliefs they claim, as appears in polls. The reactionary mind is defined by what it reacts to, not by what it affirms. When reactionaries aren’t co-opting from the left, they are sometimes simply declaring the complete opposite for rhetorical effect and strategic positioning. So, other than being reactionary, what exactly can we know about the political right? Not much, one might argue. The vast majority of conservatives and Republicans often privately admit to holding many views that, according to the political and media elites, would be considered rather liberal and leftist. The main body of the political right mostly evaporates upon close scrutiny, leaving little behind besides the emotional reflex of nostalgia and resentment; of anxiety, fear, and paranoia. But is psychological reaction, no matter how rhetorically narratized, enough to be called an ideology?

That has been the key question others have asked, such as the political scientist Corey Robin. Basically, he comes down with the view that the reactionary is simply a modern defense of entrenched hierarchy, but where the reactionaries as an aspiring elite seek to replace the prior hierarchies in order to seize power and privilege, wealth and resources. According to the analysis here in this post, the reactionary is nothing more than inegalitarianism (SDO-E on the SDO7 scale), the void of an egalitarianism gone missing; or what Robin describes as the denied agency of the subordinate class. This still doesn’t tell us much, other than reactionaries are not egalitarians, further defining them by negation, by what they lack. Then we are left with figuring out what might be the project of entrenched hierarchy, other than opportunistic realpolitik. That leads us back to what exactly do we mean by ideology. Is it just a vague psychological stance or does it require a specific political project that seeks a clear vision and agenda about an ideal society?

Pretty much all of the political right has embraced the leftover liberalism of past generations, but done so in the typical mix-and-match style (i.e., bricolage) of the reactionary mind. There doesn’t appear to be any consistent principle behind all of it, no reason for why this aspect of liberalism is co-opted and another attacked and still another distorted in unrecognizable form. It can seem like ideology as a fortress where what is hidden and protected behind the defensive wall remains unknown, assuming anything at all is to be found. Yet, going by the argument of this post, we would stand by the view that the reactionary is fundamentally liberal in being inseparable from the liberal paradigm, as it is defined in its reacting to and co-opting of liberalism. Among the most reactionary of reactionaries, the right-wing elite and the staunch alt-righters, one senses that many and maybe most have come to agree with broad liberalism, as well as much of leftism. They’re not really arguing for something entirely different, as in articulating a distinct vision, for their main purpose is to defend the prevailing ideological realism itself toward a specific agenda and in serving particular interests.

One would be naive to celebrate this victory of liberalism as an End of History. The reactionaries may have gained the upper hand, given that reaction is an easier task with nothing really to achieve other than constantly causing difficulty by obstructing what others are trying to achieve (e.g., anti-democratic tactics, from voter suppression to voter purges). There is a suspicion that many of the seemingly active debates have already ended and, at this point, have become mere political spectacle. The most reactionary extremists — the social dominators, Machiavellian demagogues, opportunistic psychopaths, and narcissistic poseurs — maybe already know, to some degree, that the left has been right in its analysis and judgment. That is sort of the conclusion Corey Robin comes to, in that reactionaries agree the past has been a failure for otherwise they wouldn’t constantly seek to replace it with historical revisionism (e.g., falsely denying that the political right once was openly defined by racism). But it goes further than that, as seen with how the political right accepts large swaths of social liberalism (e.g., the political right stopped talking much about same sex marriage once it became undeniable that the vast supermajority of Americans took this basic gay right as a non-issue).

Yet here we are. The right-wing systems, structures, and institutions remain in place. It really doesn’t matter what someone like Donald Trump or Steven Bannon personally believes in actuality, since it’s almost guaranteed that they wouldn’t care about one of their own family members getting an abortion or getting gay married. They aren’t anti-liberal ideologues, but they realize pretending to be so is convenient rhetoric for manipulating a segment of the public. The strange thing is most of those being manipulated probably also are fine with these issues on a personal level. This is all about symbolic politics and symbolic identities — it’s a story being told. What views and opinions, values and ideals are held by individuals is irrelevant and moot. That is the power of systems over the mind, which is understood across the political spectrum but it’s only leftists that speak this truth. Right-wingers understand that right-wing systems work precisely by being taken as a given, by being left in the background where they cloak themselves in the shadows of moral imagination; otherwise, the emperor will be seen as having no clothes, the great Wizard of Oz just a feeble man behind a curtain.

The political left may appear to have lost the war of political power and social control, even as it won the battle over the public mind, although change always begins in the public mind where it might not see effects until generations or centuries later, as the somewhat reactionary John Adams admitted about the revolution of mind preceding the revolution of politics, although a revolution of mind that began much earlier than he realized. This is demonstrated by the immense amount of time that passed across the relevant history; starting with the egalitarian rhetoric of the 14th century peasants’ revolts, continuing with the emergent radicalism of the 17th century English civil War, and finally coming to fruition with the egalitarian action of the 18th century political revolutions (although the deeper history of egalitarianism originates much earlier in the Axial Age). Systems change slowly because systems have a way of taking on lives of their own. They are hyperobjects that begin acting like hypersubjects — they are the demiurgic forces that rule over us, more than does any ruling elite; but also the utopian ideals that inspire us with promises of freedom. The memetic power of ideas only gradually percolates throughout a system.

What the left dreams of is a time when the demos (the public, the people) once again regains its position as the leading hypersubject, the public mind within the body politic. The left wants to bring this all into collective consciousness, to manifest the victory that, one hopes, has already been achieved within the human heart. With a firm foothold in the public imagination, how might we lift ourselves by our own bootstraps? Then maybe we can stop talking about a left and a right.

* * *

Conclusion: Egalitarianism and Abundance

After writing all of the above, we thought of a post we’d written before and another post we’re still working on. The previous post came to the bold conclusion that we are all egalitarians, similar to an earlier more humorous assertion about all of us being white liberals now. The point is that such things have come to define our whole society, either in embracing or reacting to them. Ultimately, there is no inegalitarianism, in the way there is no illiberalism. Rather, a modern Westerner can choose between being a progressive egalitarian-liberal or a regressive egalitarian-liberal. But reaction can’t escape what it’s reacting to. As we put it in the post about egalitarianism:

“Egalitarianism isn’t and never was simply about modern left-wing ideology as formed out of the revolutionary philosophies of post-Enlightenment thinkers, dreamers, and activists. Egalitarianism isn’t an abstract ideal for it is rooted within us. To attempt to remove it would be to destroy our collective soul, an act akin to ripping out our heart. We don’t hold egalitarianism as a value and principle, as a vision and worldview. Egalitarianism, rather, is who we are. There is no ‘left’ and ‘right’, no division between a set of egalitarian political ideologies and what supposedly opposes them. To oppose egalitarianism would be insanity because it would be to oppose ourselves. Egalitarianism can’t be denied. Rather than a ‘left’ and ‘right’, there is simply and fundamentally the egalitarian center of our being. To embrace this revolutionary radicalism (i.e., to return to the root) would mean to become fully human. That is the only centrism, moderate or otherwise, that has any meaning.”

That argument is biased by our spiritual inclinations and religious upbringings. In high school, we read A Course In Miracles. The theology of the text isn’t relevant, per se, but there is one statement that has stuck in our mind all these decades later: “The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.” That is basically how we’ve come to think of the left and right, as respectively motivated by love and fear. This extends into our understanding of the social sciences, such as not seeing egalitarianism and authority as opposites for not all authority is authoritarianism, the latter being a distortion of the former. For most of human existence, egalitarianism has been the norm where most hierarchies were moderate, flexible, and temporary. This is why egalitarianism is so deeply embedded in human nature, as both inclination and aspiration. It requires tremendous amounts of fear and anxiety to go against this inborn tendency and default mode.

This leads us to the post we’ve been working on for a while and still plan to finish. It brings in the health angle. We are a sickly society and so, combined with high inequality and artificial scarcity, it makes perfect sense that we are drowning in anxiety and fear. There has never been such overwhelmingly stressful societies as seen in modern industrialized states, and it’s an entirely new kind of set of stressors; chronic stress as unresolved tension and unhealed trauma. This is shown in the growing rates of psychosis among urbanized youth and growing rates of disease in general at ever younger ages. Our entire social order, lifestyle, and food system is out of sync with our evolved nature. An example of this is our being literally ungrounded from the earth. It wasn’t until the post-war period that humans started using synthetic material for shoes that disconnects the human body from the immense source of electrons and the site of electromagnetic cycles in the earth (as enmeshed with the atmosphere and the sun), possibly why we’ve become so obsessed with antioxidants that are able to loan electrons in preventing body-wide damage from free radical cascades.

In observing people, it is obvious how disconnected, sickly, stunted, malformed, and mentally disturbed is the average person — a genuine reason for moral panic and existential crisis. So many people feel crappy in both their minds and bodies, and so they act in ways that are personally and socially dysfunctional. This is not a normal state of humanity and it might explain why our society, in having a weakened social immune system, has become so vulnerable to the reactionary mind virus (what one might call the terrain theory of memetics, metaphorically likened to the terrain theory of immunity). It’s not only about powerful ideas but an alteration of how the human body-mind functions. Even low levels of stress from sickliness can trigger personal and social responses of authoritarianism, as shown in the research on communities with higher parasite load. What if most of the framing of right vs left is simply a confused attempt to grasp the distinction between a healthy society and an unhealthy society, pro-social behavior and anti-social behavior, societal progress and societal decline? It’s one thing for a society to temporarily fall into reactionary mode as a survival response to an immediate concrete threat. But to become stuck continuously in reaction is abnormal, unhealthy, and dangerous.

That is how we’ve come to see this whole issue. We all react at various points in our lives and that is perfectly normal. That is a healthy and necessary survival response. But remaining permanently in a state of fight or flight is unbearably stressful. Research has found that low levels of chronic stress are more traumatic than a single much worse traumatic event. That is what living in a high inequality society does to us. It potentially can be worse than a war or a famine, being violently attacked or raped. The reason is because it never ends and so never can be escaped. There is no respite and refuge, no moment to rest and de-stress, no place of protection and chance for healing. It often leads to learned helplessness or, worse still, various dysfunctional mental illnesses and personality traits: psychosis, mood disorders, personality disorders, the Dark Triad (Machiavellianism, authoritarianism, and narcissism; or Dark Tetrad if sadism is added), etc. The reactionary mind, one might argue, is simply the pattern of symptoms seen in severe unhealed trauma. And right-wing ideology is simply the political, economic, and social reaction of the most traumatized in a society of the severely traumatized.

We see this in decades of data that compares societies that are high and low in inequality. It matters less if this involves poverty or wealth. Many of the physically and mentally healthiest populations are traditional cultures like hunter-gatherer tribes where they have little outward wealth. But what they also lack is the authoritarian enforcement of artificial scarcity. We’ve noted how modern Americans act as if they live in a world of scarcity, despite stores full of stuff. This is because the basic human needs are not being met. Inequality creates an environment of stress, anxiety, and fear where there is a constant sense of vulnerability to danger and threat. We are disconnected from the world in a way that is not true in traditional societies. The Piraha, to return to a favorite example, live amidst great abundance of food and resources that are easily obtained from the surrounding jungle and nearby river. That is why they don’t worry about survival nor even store food. They eat when they want, but can go days without eating for no particular reason. As Daniel Everett observed, they seem to have no fear of the world around them, a world that objectively we modern Westerners would perceive as threateningly dangerous. Yet, to the Piraha, they feel relaxed and at home, with unswerving confidence that they belong.

Not only do the Piraha lack scarcity, real and imagined, but also they lack authoritarian hierarchy. They have no permanent positions of authority or even expertise; council of elders, no chiefs, war leaders, healers, shamans, etc. To occasionally achieve some practical end involving cooperation, a single individual might temporarily take leadership but it doesn’t continue beyond the activity itself. It’s not merely that their life is simple for they do possess immense knowledge that requires a level of memory few modern Westerners are capable of. What results from this? The Piraha are happy, friendly, gregarious, kind, generous, and welcoming; including toward strangers who visit them. There is no signs of long-term stress or unhealed trauma, no known cases of depression or suicide. They are one of the few remaining egalitarian tribes that shows us the conditions under which human nature evolved. They show us the potential that exists within us all.

This isn’t about some nostalgic past but about the present and, if we allow it, it could also be about our future. That is what is imagined in the world of Star Trek: The Next Generation. What might it be like to live in fully functioning democratic socialism that is not based on sickness, fear, and punishment? We don’t have to limit ourselves to science fiction utopias. We already know, to some extent, what is possible. The more successful social democracies have many elements of democratic socialism about them, including wide-scale public ownership and government operation of numerous areas of the society and economy — not only welfare, education, and infrastructure, but also childcare, job training, healthcare, utilities, natural resources, and much else. These socialist-leaning social democracies are, importantly, low-inequality with all that goes with that: better public health, lower rates of violent crimes and mental illness, high rates of public trust, and such.

All of the factors that feed into the reactionary mind are much more muted in these societies focused on the public good. That is what allows the egalitarianism within human nature to fully express. Healthy environments create healthy people and healthy cultures. This is a world where differences are allowed to a greater extent within a shared concern and motivated by a shared humanity. When people are no longer trapped in fear and scarcity, then even public disagreement and debate doesn’t have to result in reactionary polarization and pseudo-tribalism. This is the leftist vision of humanity that, instead of offering a final conclusion and totalizing answer of totalitarian ideology, offers new beginnings and opens up to new possibilities. What this specifically would mean for any given society at any given time would be determined through a culture of trust and democratic self-governance, an inspiring potential that can’t be guaranteed or proven in advance.

Millennials Are Hitting Old Age In Their Thirties

There is a comedy sketch, This is Your Brain After Thirty, from the group It’s a Southern Thing. It is a parody of a pharmaceutical commercial. And the target audience is Millennials who are now feeling the evidence of growing older. The voiceover begins, “Are you in your 30s? You may not feel old. But you don’t exactly feel young, either.” Then it presents three characters with their symptoms:

  • Person 1: “Sometimes I walk into a room and completely forget what I walked in there for.”
  • Person 2: “I can’t remember my own phone number. And I’ve had the same number for ten years.”
  • Person 3: “I know I had supper last night. I clearly don’t skip meals. But for the life of me, I can’t remember what I ate.”

The voiceover continues with the official diagnosis. “Then you might be suffering from Thirties Brain.” There is nothing quite as comforting as having a label. That explains everything. That’s just what happens when one reaches old age in one’s thirties. Yeah, that’s completely normal. Don’t worry, though. “It’s not your fault,” reassures the voice of authority. More info is then offered about it:

“It’s a common condition that affects millions of people. People who are old enough to take their 401(k) seriously, but not quite old enough to enjoy eating at Golden Corral. It’s not your fault. Your brain is too full of useless knowledge, now. Why remember your own phone number, when you could retain every word of the 2001 hit “Drops of Jupiter” by Train? Thirties Brain can make even the most simple conversations feel exhausting. But as soon as it feels like you can think clearly again, your brain stops working again. If this sounds like you or someone you love, then ask your doctor about our new twice-a day…”

Of course, this is just comedy, but it’s funny for the very reason so many can relate to the experience. In becoming part of popular culture, it’s being normalized. That is rather sad when one thinks about it. Should we really be normalizing early onset neurocognitive decline? What they are now jokingly calling “Thirties Brain”, would not long ago have been called “Fifties Brain” or “Sixties Brain”. Indeed many serious health conditions like Alzheimer’s used to be entirely identified with old age and now are increasingly being diagnosed among the young (when we were kids, Alzheimer’s would sometimes be called Old Timer’s disease). The same is true of type II diabetes, which originally was called adult onset diabetes because adulthood was typically the age of diagnosis. These conditions are part of metabolic syndrome or metabolic dysfunction that involves insulin resistance as a key component.

Also common in metabolic syndrome is obesity. It instantly stood out that each actor in the parody commercial were all quite overweight to the point of being obese. Yet obesity also has been normalized, particularly in the South where it’s rampant. Obesity involves inflammation throughout the body, as inflammation is also seen in the brain with Alzheimer’s (along with depression, etc); and inflammation is related to autoimmune disorders, from multiple sclerosis to rheumatoid arthritis. Body fat is an organ, like the liver, spleen, or thyroid. And, in particular, body fat is key to the functioning of the hormone system. Hormones like insulin don’t only regulate appetite and glucose but also a number of other interlinked systems in the body. That is why metabolic syndrome can manifest as numerous health conditions and diseases. And that is why metabolic syndrome is the main comorbidity of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

If you’re experiencing “Thirties Brain”, you should take that as a serious symptom to be worried about. It’s an early sign of health decline that is only going to get worse, unless you change your diet and lifestyle. People typically have metabolic syndrome years or even decades before finally being diagnosed with a disease that doctors recognize, something like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. But it can often be easily reversed, particularly if caught early. Unfortunately, few Americans realize that this is a public health crisis and one that is entirely preventable. Many experts have predicted that healthcare costs are going to continue to skyrocket, as it eats up more of the national GDP and causes widespread medical debt.

This could end up an existential crisis for our society. That is what happened during the World War II draft. The United States Military suddenly realized so many young men were severely malnourished: “40 percent of the raw recruits drafted by our military proved to be so malnourished that they could not pass a physical and were declared unfit for duty” (Stephen Yafa, Grain of Truth, p. 17; quoted in Malnourished Americans). After the war, there was a public campaign with nutritional fortification of food and meal programs in schools, along with official dietary recommendations. It was also a time when obesity was finally seen as a public health crisis (Nicolas Rasmussen, Fat in the Fifties: America’s First Obesity Crisis).

At present, the military is once again acknowledging that this is a serious problem (Obese Military?). By law, the U.S. military is required to serve food that conforms to the U.S. dietary guidelines. Yet, despite military personnel having high levels of exercise, obesity is also increasing in the military. As research has shown, even when caloric intake and exercise is controlled for, the standard American diet (SAD) is obesogenic (Americans Fatter at Same Level of Food Intake and Exercise). But, on a positive note, the military is beginning to recognize the cause of the problem. They’ve determined the link the diet soldiers are being given. And research on soldiers has shown a ketogenic diet will help with fat loss.

The U.S. military is forced to be so honest because it’s simply not an option to have obese soldiers, much less soldiers experiencing neurocognitive decline. It’s only a question when other institutions of authority will catch up. There are signs that changes are already in the air (Slow, Quiet, and Reluctant Changes to Official Dietary Guidelines; & American Diabetes Association Changes Its Tune). After decades of blaming saturated fat, it’s becoming clear that the real culprit is carbohydrates and industrial seed oils; although other factors are involved in the general health crisis, such as possibly hormone mimics that are stunting male development (Real Issues Behind Regressive Identity Politics), but that is diverging from the immediate topic at hand.

The fact is the consumption of saturated fat has declined ever since, back in the 1930s, industrial seed oils replaced animal fats as the main source of fatty acids in the American diet. Likewise, beef intake has dropped about as low as it was in the first half of the 20th century, after a brief period of peaking out in the 1970s (Diet and Health, from John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future). Meanwhile, what has risen in the American diet, besides industrial seed oils, are mostly plant foods: vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, soda pop, grains, rice, legumes, nuts, and seeds. The only animal foods that have seen a significant increase are fish and chicken, the two supposedly healthy meats. That is the modern SAD diet that has led to the sudden appearance of “Thirties Brain”. Welcome to the new normal!

To make a related point, this health decline can’t be blamed on a factor like behavior, no matter how much lifestyle is implicated as well — you can’t outrun a bad diet, as some say. The young generations have become quite health-conscious, but it’s simply the health advice they’ve been given is wrong. Young adults are eating more supposedly healthy foods than did people in the past, including with rising rates of plant-based diets: Mediterranean, vegetarianism, veganism, etc. Also, when younger, Millennials (and Generation Z) had lower rates of teen sexual activity, alcohol consumption, and drug use. As observed elsewhere, one could call them prudes (Rate of Young Sluts) or at least that used to be true. But something has definitely changed that is now affecting their behavior.

After living through a major recession and a global pandemic, we are now seeing a rise of behavioral health issues among younger Americans with rising rates of self-medication, specifically alcohol and tobacco (Blue Cross Blue Shield Association study finds nearly one-third of millennials are affected by behavioral health conditions, Independence Blue Cross). Still, the rates of alcohol and tobacco consumption is now approximately the same as it was in the early 1900s, which was rather low compared to the later spike in the second half of the 20th century (graph from The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General; & Mona Chalabi, Dear Mona Followup: Where Do People Drink The Most Beer, Wine And Spirits?).

Some countries that with more alcohol and tobacco usage than the US are, nonetheless, healthier (France, Germany, etc). Limiting ourselves to the US, consider the residents of Roseto, Pennsylvania in their having been studied from 1954 to 1961. At the time, they were the healthiest population in the country, despite being quite fond of drinking and smoking, not to mention their love of processed meat and saturated fat like lard (Blue Zones Dietary Myth). So, a recent slight shift of drinking and smoking among Millennials also ends up being a non-explanation. It’s more likely a result of declining health than a cause, and hence the reason to describe it as self-medication. Or, more generally, the addictive mindset isn’t limited to addictive substances; and, besides, drug use is nothing new (The Drugged Up Birth of Modernity).

Anyway, keep in mind that these Millennial rates of substance abuse are still lower than was seen, for example, among Generation X that had far fewer health problems at the same age, even with GenXers being the most lead poisoned living generation. Something unique is going on right at present and it’s hard to explain it with anything other than a ultra-processed diet high in carbs and industrial seed oils. Back when the first wave of GenXers hit their thirties in the mid-1990s, no one was talking about “Thirties Brain”. And neither did it come up with the prior generations. We are complaining about U.S. presidents of the Silent Generation (Donald Trump and Joe Biden) in their seventies who have obvious neurocognitive decline, but that is a vast difference from one’s thirties.

To put that in further comparison, there was a discussion of health in terms of running. It was part of an argument that humans evolved for running. This is supported by the fact that persistence hunting (i.e., running game down) is one of the oldest and most widespread hunting techniques, as it requires almost no technology other than something to club or stab the animal to death after it collapses from heat exhaustion. The human body seems extremely well-adapted to long-distance running, especially in heat; and this also seems closely linked to the predilection for ketosis (Human Adaptability and Health). What is relevant for our discussion here is that hunter-gatherers reach their peak aerobic health in their fifties. The average middle-aged hunter-gatherer can outrun the average eighteen year old hunter-gatherer. Up into old age, hunter-gatherers can keep up a fast pace with others who are much younger.

Think about how many middle-aged or older Americans who could do the same. Unsurprisingly, hunter-gatherers likewise have very little of the diseases of civilization. Obesity, of course, is almost unheard of among them. The have what is called a long healthspan where most people live healthily into old age and suddenly die without any lingering sickness or long periods of degeneration. In such a healthy society, they likely wouldn’t even understand the concept of “Thirties Brain”.

* * *

Some might think Millennials are being unfairly criticized. That is not the intention. This health decline hardly began in recent decades. Weston A. Price and others were talking about it in the early 1900s. There was even a growing debate about it in the century before that, Heck, all the way back in the 1700s, people were recommending specific medical diets for obesity and diabetes, as it was already being observed that they were becoming more common. The only difference is that we are finally hitting a point of extreme consequences, as diseases of old age are now prevalent among the young, sometimes in early childhood.

We write posts like this with genuine concern and compassion. We are not disinterested observers, much less see ourselves as standing above these problems with condescension. It’s all rather personal. Though relatively healthy in many ways, we have experienced serious neurocognitive and mental health issues since our own childhood. And we suspect we previously were suffering from metabolic syndrome, if not yet diagnosed with any particular disease. To be specific about the point made in the parody video, we have experienced our own equivalent of “Thirties Brain”, as we had a memory-related learning disability that was diagnosed in third grade. For our entire lives, we’ve struggled with memory recall.

So, personal concern is underlying our public worries; magnified by the fact that our nieces and nephew span across the generations of Millennials and GenZ, allowing us to observe firsthand the health issues involved. From our own experience, we know what it’s like to be addicted to carbs and to suffer the consequences. We know what it’s like to struggle with serious mental illness, specifically depression with suicidal ideation, since young adulthood. It saddens us immensely to think that large numbers of Millennials will begin having so many harsh problems this early in life. That is a plain shitty situation, and Millennials did nothing to deserve it. Like the rest of us, they were simply born into this society with its food system and dietary recommendations.

For the most part, the majority of Millennials and other Americans have basically been doing what they were told is healthy. They don’t realize that what has been normalized should not be taken as normal because very few of them have anything to compare against. It’s not like most of us have ever lived among hunter-gatherers to realize how far human health has fallen. Even the traditional rural diet and lifestyle has mostly slipped from living memory. Certainly, hunting and fishing have become uncommon. Getting ultra-processed food from a grocery store or restaurant is simply what people do now.

* * *

44% of older millennials already have a chronic health condition. Here’s what that means for their futures
by Megan Leonhardt

Why insecure millennials are set for unhealthy middle age
by Greg Hurst

Gen X, Millennials in Worse Health Than Prior Generations at Same Age
by Amy Norton

Millennials less heart-healthy than Gen Xers at the same age
by Anicka Slachta

BCBSA: Millennials’ mental health is on the decline—and COVID-19 is making it worse
by Paige Minemyer

Millennials on Track to be Most Obese Generation in History
by Cathy Cassata

Diabetes’ Impact Is Rising Fastest Among Millennials
by Laura Entis

Study: Young adults with high cholesterol face greater risk of heart attack or stroke
by Ken Alltucker

The number of millennials with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is surging, report finds
by Tracy Romero

Millennials may need to worry about autoimmune disease, right away
by Swedish Blogger

For millennials, cancers fueled by obesity are on rise, study says
by Sandee LaMotte

Study: Millennials’ Increased Risk for Some Obesity-Linked Cancers — 5 Takeaways
by Sandy McDowell

The coming of vegetables, fruits and key nutrients to the European diet
by V. J. Knapp

“On the basis of evidence now accumulating, vegetables and fruits were not always an integral part of the European diet. Prior to 1800, vegetables and fruits were not esteemed but rather looked down upon. It has only been over the past two centuries that these two critical foods have come into vogue. First, they had to be accepted by a growing number of medical men and observers. Then, once licensed as edible foods, vegetables and fruits, starting with the potato, actually did make their way into every man’s diet. And by the end of the nineteenth century, these rich sources of carotene and Vitamins A, C and E became so universal that Europeans now forgot that a hundred years earlier these foods had barely been consumed.”

What’s on your table? How America’s diet has changed over the decades
by Drew Desilver

What happens when you take public health advice to heart?
by Lena Zegher

Why are we fatter and sicker than ever? The graphs that explain how sugar, fruit juice and margarine are to blame
by Anna Hodgekiss

What fruits and vegetables looked like before
by Andreas Eenfeldt

Banana – before and after

banana1banana2

Carrot – before and after

carrot1carrot2

Watermelon – before and after

watermelan1watermelon2

Conservative Liberals

It’s fascinating how the more reactionary conservatives can occasionally be quite honest, if in a backwards kind of way. There is always an attempt to obscure, even as damning truths are revealed. The reactionary mind must co-opt any and all rhetoric, as convenient, in order to manipulate the public mind and dominate moral imagination. But, in the contorted process, they can say the darnedest of things. Here is a perfect example of this:

“Virtually every value liberals have held for a century is now held by conservatives and scorned by leftists. Therefore, America, in serious jeopardy of being lost, will be saved when people convince the liberals in their life that the left, not the conservative, is their enemy.”

Dennis Prager, PRAGER: Questions to determine whether a friend or relative is a liberal or a leftist

That is a quote from Dennis Prager, a fairly well known and influential figure on the right, if not quite a mainstream name. He self-identifies as a ‘conservative’. But, interestingly, he claims to hold historically liberal views and admits that the United States is a historically liberal country. So, old school liberalism is the new conservatism. That would’ve been a surprise to those old school liberals of the past who fought against old school conservatives. Conservatives have become liberals and liberals leftists, while conservatism proper disappears in smoke.

Anyway, using that ideological reframing as narrative rhetoric, he then makes a typical reactionary argument in nearly equating present liberals with leftists, although he doesn’t quite go that far and maintains a distinction, however confused it is. What goes unstated but is nearly implied is that the whole political spectrum, including on the right, has shifted further and further left over time. Listen to the early English and American conservative views in response to the American and French revolutions; and you’ll hear apologetics for slavery, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, monarchy, and theocracy.

So, the now living generation of ‘conservatives’ really are far left in comparison. This isn’t entirely true, though, in considering how far left liberalism had already gone in centuries past. Some of the colonial era and revolutionary era classicalal liberals remain, in many ways, still to the left of present American liberals. We have yet to catch up with the ‘leftist’ radicalism of Thomas Paine with his founding vision of revolutionary zeal, egalitarianism, progressivism, social liberalism, economic populism, and global citizenship. Then again, neither have we ever lived up to the democratic idealism of the likes of the much earlier Roger Williams.

To emphasize the basic fact that is conveniently overlooked, it should be noted that most of the strongest conservative views that, in past generations were majority positions, are now so taboo in their reactionary illiberalism and authoritarianism that few conservatives today would agree with them, much less mention in respectable company. Quite the opposite. Most present conservatives would denounce that conservatives ever held those beliefs and values and, instead, would argue conservatives were always liberals. This is standard revisionist history of the reactionary mind.

Yet many old conservatives like Prager would’ve in the past held extremely regressive and oppressive views, albeit now they style themselves as civil libertarians and classical liberals. Not that long ago, most conservatives openly embraced and sometimes proudly advocated or at least were extremely tolerant of blatant eugenics, racism, segregation (sundown towns, redlining, and covenants), white supremacy, antisemitism, internment camps, male chauvinism, patriarchy, Manifest Destiny, White Man’s Burden, etc. For example, in many towns during the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was the leading conservative institution in defense of red-blooded Americanism, muscular Christianity, and WASP culture.

Furthermore, for all their present talk of free speech and bill of rights, many of these same conservatives earlier in life supported draconian Cold War witch-hunts, blackballing, blacklisting, censorship, book bans (sometimes burnings), Comics Book Code, and on and on. Conservatism used to be most known for attacking and constraining civil rights. That is still true to a large degree, but they’re less open about it. Even so, one can sense that the actual conservative positions have softened over time, as social norms and popular culture has pulled all of American society leftward. In co-opting liberal rhetoric, conservatives slowly become what they’ve pretended to be. That is to say the con men (and con women) succeed by conning themselves.

This massive shift was what the presidential election of Donald Trump revealed. Many Republicans left the party and many conservatives became independents or even, daresay, Democrats. Republicans haven’t won a popular vote in a presidential election in a long time. When looking at the reactionary extremism on show in the GOP and Fox News, what stands out is that polling often clearly proves that most self-identified Republicans and conservatives aren’t on board with the far right. Conservatism really has become increasingly liberal, which has opened space for liberals to go further left and so has given breathing room for a resurgence of the political left.

It’s amazing how far left the political right has gone, at least among the general population. This is where we must distinguish the majority on the right from the elite on the right. Prager, as an elite, may portray himself as being a true defender of liberalism. And it’s likely true that he has gone left, both compared to his younger Cold War self and compared to prior generations of conservatives. But keep in mind that the vast majority of Americans on the right are probably, on most issues, much further left than Prager. That means, if Prager is a ‘liberal’, then by his own argument many conservatives to the left of him are ‘leftists’.

That is demonstrated by how the progressive label is regaining popularity and traction, all across the political spectrum and even among evangelicals. We might even see a revival of the Social Gospel and Christian socialism that was so widespread earlier last century (remember that the Pledge of Allegiance was penned by a Christian socialist). That was back when populism and progressivism transcended and blurred political distinctions. With that history in mind, one might observe that what used to be called left-wing is becoming simply part of the mainstream. This is probably why those like Prager are fighting so hard to maintain the schism between liberals and leftists, in order to divide the American public, that is to say keep silenced and suppressed the American (super-)majority. There are ‘conservative’ liberals and ‘leftist’ liberals, but essentially everyone is a liberal now. Conservatives are reactionaries, that is true, but still liberals, if in distorted guise.

There is always room for a caveat, though. If we’ve all become bleeding heart liberals, maybe we also are all reactionaries as well. Or, at least, we are all infected with the reactionary mind virus, all carriers and potential disease vectors. That is to say, we live in a confused society. Nonetheless, liberalism is the frame of American society, from the very beginning. We may differ in being progressive or reactionary, but we are liberals through and through. The debate is had on shared terms. That is why reactionaries must co-opt liberal rhetoric. They have no choice because liberalism won the American mind centuries go, before there was a United States. All that conservativism means, therefore, is the conserving of one kind of liberalism in defense against another.

The important point is that liberalism is always a moving target, as conservatism follows suit. There is no central tenet of conservatism to be conserved for all time. Instead, conservatives are constantly following along behind progressive and radical liberals, picking up what is cast off or what falls away. So, conservatives are always turning against the conservatism of the past and reinventing themselves. Meanwhile, those leading the way in our liberal society are holding the light of liberal ideals, leaving reactionaries forever caught in the shadows, defined by what they are against, defined by what they are not. Yet the shadow of liberalism is inseparable from liberalism. And the greater the light the greater the shadow. Likewise, the greater the progress the greater the reaction. So, conservatives further co-opting what once was radical and progressive is actually a positive sign of change.

All of this does leave one with a thought. Considering modern conservatives claim to be classical liberals, what happened to the once numerous classical conservatives of yesteryear? During the revolutionary era, conservatism meant being a hardcore reactionary and counter-revolutionary. Classical conservatives were opposed to secular free markets, separation of church and state, democracy in any form, and everything else associated with classical liberalism. They favored big governments, authoritarian hierarchies, and paternalistic elites. Newfangled capitalism, industrialization, and a free laboring class was perceived as a threat to the new pseudo-traditional power structures they sought to build in replacement of the decaying and decadent ancien regime.

Why did conservatives eventually leave behind the social, political, and moral vision that once inspired the earliest conservatives? Is it because they lost the battle of minds, not to mention the battle of culture and politics? If they couldn’t beat liberals, they’d join them — was it that simple? What does it mean for us now when conservatism has been lost as a viable alternative, when even conservatives are liberals? Yes, liberalism won; but what was won and to what end? What if the true winners have in many ways been the reactionary liberals (i.e., conservatives) who have such a talent for co-opting, manipulating, and dominating? In that case, liberalism might have lost by winning. So, we all can be losers together. Is that true? Or might the radical and progressive liberalism of the founding vision once again regain purchase in the public mind and moral imagination?

* * *

9/6/21 – Here is an added thought for context. Our view above is atypical. Liberalism and conservatism, in conventional thought, are portrayed as opposing forces. And, by definition, the reactionary mind opposes. But that opposition happens within a shared frame, what some call a dominant paradigm. In this post, our argument is that liberalism is the common link between the American left and right, whether or not this applies outside the US and particularly outside the West. Our argument posits that this mass liberalization of American society began early on and has continually increased ever since, to the point that classical conservatism is barely a faint memory.

Such an understanding has been developing over the years in this blog. There are many sources of evidence and analysis that have fed into it. In general, we’ve at times closely followed polling and survey data over the past decade or so. There are many posts about how most Americans are often far more liberal or even leftist than how they are portrayed in the corporate media and corporatocratic politics (see some of the links in the main text above). For decades, there is a clear and growing leftist majority that at this point is an undeniable supermajority.

This was a shocking insight when we first came across the data. It made us realize we had been victims of a propaganda campaign, that most Americans and other Westerners also had fallen under the sway of multiple generations of Cold War rhetoric that continues to hold immense power, in spite of the Soviet Union having fallen several decades ago. We’re still coming to terms with what this means. And we have furthered our understanding with a study of the rise of the right-wing Shadow Network, as guided by the evil genius of Paul Weyrich and the money of the Coors family.

There is also an interesting covert culture war that was promoted by the CIA, such as keeping influential figures, media sources, and institutions on the pay roll: journalists, writers, artists, musicians, literary magazines, writers workshops, etc. One of the crazies pieces of the puzzle was the silencing of Marxists and communists not only through direct means like witch hunts, blackballing, blacklisting, and even outright censorship. The CIA ensured postmodern intellectuals gained greater attention and influence in order to have an outsized voice. They did this because, contrary to the claim of right-wingers, postmodernists were the key critics and opponents of radical leftists.

So, there was all kinds of crazy stuff going on that really mind-fucked the American public, contributing to our present confused liberalism and convoluted conservatism (as a side note, the reason the conservative-minded would’ve been a good Nazi in Nazi Germany or a good Stalinist in Stalinist USSR is the same reason they are good liberals in liberal America). Few Americans have yet realized how manipulated they have been and still are, how manipulated is the entire society — by way of what Jan Oberg has called the Military-Industrial-Media-Academia Complex (MIMAC). This has included the cooperation of Hollywood moviemakers, by allowing the Pentagon to edit and rewrite movie scripts in order to get access to government resources and properties. The Shadow Network and MIMAC are essentially the same thing; along with being closely related to the Deep State, inverted totalitarianism, and soft fascism.

Most basically, all of this is reactionary. And, as it operates within a liberal worldview, it has co-opted and redirected liberal rhetoric and values in a way contrary not only to many progressive liberals but also many classical liberals. It still might seem strange to the average American to portray conservatives as liberals, even if they could understand conservatives are defined by their reaction to liberalism. But this became a compelling explanation to our mind after we read Domenico Losurdo’s book Liberalism: A Counter-History. And that was added to our already developing understanding of the reactionary mind, by way of the writings of Corey Robin and Mark Lilla.

It was Robin who emphasized how reactionaries co-opt. That was a key insight. I first formally wrote about this in 2013 and then again in 2017, but had been tossing the idea around for a while before that period. It suddenly made so much sense, all the bull shit that comes from the political right, including the more right-leaning neocons and neoliberals among the DNC elite. It always felt strange that someone like Barack Obama gets called a ‘liberal’, no matter that he himself has never identified as a liberal (e.g., most Americans were in support of same sex marriage when he and Hillary Clinton were still publicly denouncing it in trying to win over the minority of right-wing Ferengi voters).

But it was Losurdo’s work that was most challenging. His book presents even some early slaveholding politicians as ‘liberal’. These are the kind of historical figures who are on the far right fringe of conservatism. Losurdo wasn’t exactly making the kind of argument made in this post. Still, he made a compelling case for American politics being liberal in a far broader sense than is normally considered. Liberal ideology was deeply embedded in American thought and politics from early on. It was always inseparable from a strong reactionary strain. It took a number of years of wrestling with it before we could better appreciate Losurdo’s European leftist take on American liberalism.

We aren’t merely trying to be clever by calling conservatives liberals. It’s simply a fact that, in embracing classical liberalism, conservatives have effectively betrayed, silenced, and eliminated classical conservatism from mainstream thought. This was done by conservatives themselves, not politically correct leftists. As reactionary chameleons, they became what they were pretending to be and forgot their own ideological ancestry or rather intentionally obscured it, but even that intentional obscuring quickly became forgotten.

This whole process has quickly faded from memory, even though it much of it happened in living memory. As far as we can tell, the redefining of conservatism as classical liberalism is mostly a post-WWII phenomenon, as part of the rise of neoliberalism. Classical conservatives were skeptical, wary, and critical of capitalism and hyper-individualism; whereas modern conservatives tend to be the opposite, although Trump has reinvoked some the old right-wing populist spirit. The anti-liberalism of classical conservatism, of course, remains as an unacknowledged undercurrent that never really goes away. Trump may use it to rile people up, but in reality he is as neoliberal as Ronald Reagan. That is the nature of reactionaries. They can jump between the rhetoric of opposing ideologies because principled consistency is irrelevant to their realpolitik.

All of this confusion might be why we’ve come around to emphasize the right/left distinction, rather than conservatism vs liberalism. Economic ideology is mostly meaningless for clarification, as it’s mostly empty rhetoric beyond capitalist realism itself which is the ruling ideology of both parties and all big biz media. The only relevant part is the opposition between social liberalism and social conservatism, the latter not being traditionalism but the reaction to the former. They are relative social constructs, considering social conservatives become ever more socially liberal over time. But there are elements to the right and left that persist, however dominant liberalism becomes on both sides.

The main element of this variety is that, from the beginning, the political left has upheld and prioritized a larger common identity: fraternity, global citizenship, grassroots organizing, shared action, democratic self-governance, Germanic communal freedom, fairness, etc. This has its roots in the more religious and feudalist thought of the English Peasants’ Revolt and English Civil War where the framework was the community as Body of Christ where equality was taken seriously, on Earth as it is in Heaven. This is a more social, environmental, and ecological approach (sometimes even holistic and integral or else intersectional and such); in that there are no individuals as separate islands.

The co-opting and shifting has bled into this arena as well. The political right has increasingly taken on this leftist approach. It likely has to do with the whole society shifting toward what, in Spiral Dynamics, is referred to as the green vMeme (i.e., value meme) and beyond into integral proper. The hyper-individualism of orange vMeme is losing some of its hold. That could be why there has been a reappearance of right-wing populism, although it’s taking on entirely new meanings. It’s not only a general social liberalism (same sex marriage, secularism, women’s rights, etc) that has taken hold in the public mind but old school leftist politics itself (opposition to high inequality, demand for stronger gun control and environmental regulations, etc).

As more on the political right have come to identify as some variety of liberal or libertarian (the latter being another label co-opted by right-wing reactionaries), there is seen another change in the political right taking on a more leftist worldview. One can sense that maybe social Darwinism, genetic determinism, and related beliefs are losing currency in that, as with the majority in general, the majority on the political right no longer find them appealing and compelling. In place of earlier reactionary thought, taking purchase is the idea that we are affected by the world around us and hence larger sociopolitical organizations/institutions have a right and obligation to intervene on behalf of the public. Of course, that is a dangerous situation in how imperialists like Theodore Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler occasionally borrowed leftist rhetoric to promote anti-leftist agendas.

Warnings aside, it is a fascinating moment in time when the political left has so powerfully won the battle over framing, if it makes the political right even harder to identify and counter as the reactionary mind goes into overdrive. Trying to pin reactionaries down is akin to those ancient folktales of a shapeshifting witch, demon, spirit, or deity that evades capture or death by changing forms in quick succession. Still, as a leftist, this can be taken as progress of sorts. Think about how the left tricked the right into defending that, “All Lives Matter!” Not that long ago, when many now older people were young, most on the political right would’ve adamantly, openly, and loudly declared that some lives clearly matter more than others. Yet now the old school egalitarian idea of all lives mattering from classical liberalism, in being co-opted, has become the reactionary position while leftists go further left still in promoting ever greater extremes of egalitarianism.

We keep repeating that we’re all liberals now or some other variant of this, such as we’re all egalitarians now. We say this not to be amusing or to get shock value. It genuinely seems to be the social reality we have come to live in. And it seems to further show how far leftism has pervaded. In the left-liberal worldview, it’s all about inclusion and widening the circle of concern, compassion, and care. With left-liberalism ruling not only society and politics but the public mind and imagination, egalitarian inclusion has even brought conservatives into the fold by uprooting them from their past classical counterparts.

Conservatives today will generally attack classical conservatism in defense of the now ruling broad liberalism. This is why the best way to defend a liberal society is to get conservatives to identify as liberals or some other similar label like ‘progressive’. Let them claim that they are “True Liberals” because then they will feel compelled to act as good liberals as their identity. Oddly, conservatives could become stronger defenders of liberalism than even liberals, as conservatives always want to be on the winning side and so always want to defend the status quo. Liberalism could become a new and larger pseudo-tribalism that breaks down old narrow identities to bring them into alignment with greater inclusion and egalitarianism. Then reactionary conservatives will assert that is what they always believed.

* * *

9/6/21 – There is something to throw in here to give a sense of how far left the American public has gone. Yes, the political right has gone left, as the centrists and moderates have gone left and so the leftists even further left still. Most Americans, on many major issues, are to the left of what is considered politically correct and allowable speech among the right-wing ruling elite in politics and media. Even the most leftist fringe has grown quite large.

This is how conservatives could become classical liberals, quite progressive at times, while not thinking this strange. After all, relative to most Americans, these reactionaries remain well to the right, even if that rightist position is further left than most liberals in the past. There are presently more supposedly radical extremists in the left-wing fringe than there has been voters in either of the two right-wing corporatocratic parties.

Read the below to get a sense of how far left we’ve gone, how far left the Overton window has been dragged by popular opinion, despite the right-wing elite conspiring to push it right going back generations (e.g., CIA propaganda campaigns). Also, keep in mind that most of the Americans voting for either right-wing party would vote for candidates much further left if they were viable within a functioning democracy.

As an example, most AFSCME union members wanted Bernie Sanders for presidential candidate, but AFSCME union leadership backed Hillary Clinton; and so that indicates that even the elite within labor unions are further right than the average American. So, if labor unions no longer represent workers, then who do they represent? The same could be asked of so many other powerful institutions in our society, far from limited to mainstream political parties and media giants.

By the way, it’s not only the majority of the general public that is being censored and silenced. Leftists struggle to get hired in elite institutions, not only big biz media but also academia (Anarchists Not In Universities). And, once in academia, most of the targeted professors are leftists (Zack Beauchamp, Data shows a surprising campus free speech problem: left-wingers being fired for their opinions). Yet, of course, that is not the narrative heard in the supposedly ‘liberal’ corporate MSM.

All of the following text is from the linked article:

Media Gloats About Censoring the Far Left
by Ted Rall

Thirty-seven percent of American citizens are socialist or communist. That’s far more people than voted for either Hillary Clinton (28 percent of eligible voters) or Donald Trump (27 percent) in 2016.

The majority is voiceless. A privileged minority rules. The United States is a political apartheid state.

If the left were allowed on the ballot in this fake democracy, given space in newspapers and on television, invited to join political debates, and if it wasn’t brutally suppressed by the police and FBI, the left wouldn’t need to wage a revolution in order to take over the country. Leftists could easily win at the ballot box, if America were a real democracy.

Media censorship plays a major part in the conspiracy to deny the majority left its rightful role as the nation’s rulers. Socialist and communist Americans read newspaper editorial pages and draw the false conclusion that they’re members of a lunatic fringe. More than 1,000 papers — yet not one single leftist opinion columnist or editorial cartoonist on staff?!

Leftist Americans exist by the millions but many are isolated from one another. They watch CNN, MSNBC and Fox News and figure they’re all alone. None of the three major cable news networks employs a single left-wing commentator. They go to the polls but there’s no left party on the ballot. Or if there is, they’ve never heard of it and don’t want to waste their votes.

To be a leftist in America today is analogous to how black people felt until recently while watching TV: You don’t see anyone like you. The powers that be want you to feel like the Invisible Man, as though you don’t exist, as though you don’t matter.

American politics is a party to which you have not been invited.

There used to be a little space. In the 1990s, lefties like me were granted occasional mentions in The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and NPR. Even Fox News had us on to serve as punching bags. Shortly after 9/11, we disappeared along with the Twin Towers, relegated to a few blogs and alternative weeklies. Now newspapers and cable TV news and corporate news websites never give space to representatives of the left. (Don’t email me about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s a Democrat, not a leftist.)

Ashamed and afraid, the gatekeepers used to have the decency to keep secret their suppression of people whose political sin is that they really, truly believe that all humans are equal.

Censorship with a smile is no longer enough for America’s corrupt news media. Now they’re brazenly contemptuous and impressively thorough. They even seek to elevate censorship of the left to a proud American value!

Biblical Justice

Shared responsibility, collective action, and intergenerational justice are core Biblical values. Certainly, moral concern for the least among us is as Christian as it gets. It’s strange how even most ‘conservative’ Christians, at least among American white Protestants, have come to embrace hyper-individualism such that they no longer recognize what traditional values look like.

It’s no accident that Black Lives Matter embraces this old time religion, as did the earlier Civil Rights movement. Blacks have higher religiosity rates than even conservative whites and, in a sense, take their religiosity more seriously as applied to their communities. American blacks have for centuries been steeped in the Biblical language of intergenerational justice, on earth as it is in heaven — the Promised Land!

This is one of the many ways that progressivism, liberalism, and leftism are more similar to premodern traditionalism. Conservatives, as reactionaries, are typically more concerned with the nostalgia of revisionist history and invented traditions; more than they are concerned with closely adhering to the actual traditional views and practices of the past. Reactionaries will attack all things leftist, even when they’re Biblically-based.

Still, among American whites who self-identify as conservative Christians, some do understand and so uphold the ancient commandment that the sins of our fathers (and mothers) do fall upon us, we the living generation. This is true of David Platt, “a bestselling author, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, and the pastor of McLean Bible Church (MBC), a huge and influential church located outside Washington, D.C.”

Platt has been preaching, as Jesus did, that we are morally responsible to others. But worse of all, along with pastor Mike Kelsey of the same church, he joined a Christian BLM march. The right-wing members of that church have lodged complaints and even sought state intervention into church affairs. These critics, however, don’t have the Bible on their side; even as they claim sola scriptura as their defense of conservative values. Platt stated:

“A disparity exists. We can’t deny this. These are not opinions—they’re facts. It matters in our country whether one is white or black. Now, we don’t want it to matter, which is why I think we try to convince ourselves it doesn’t matter. We think to ourselves, “I don’t hold prejudices toward black or white people, so racism is not my problem.” But this is where we need to see that racialization is our problem. It’s all of our problem. We subtly, almost unknowingly, contribute to it.”

We are responsible because we’ve inherited the privileges and oppressions, the benefits and harms. All of it is built into our social order and our institutions, including our churches, not to mention unconsciously internalized within our psyches and behavior (sins burned into our souls). We should act to make right what was done wrong simply because it is in our power to do so. And, if one is a Christian, one should also do it because God has commanded one to do it. The moral arc may eventually bend toward justice, one way or another, but we can align ourselves with moral righteousness and divine law or oppose it.

Of course, this can be understood in purely secular terms, as many of us do on the political left. But it is true that most Americans on the political left also were raised as Christians and still identify as Christians. It remains a largely Christian society all across the political spectrum. There might be a reason most younger Christians prefer the ‘progressive’ label. Maybe Christianity is finally returning to its Biblical roots.

* * *

This is an ongoing line of thought in this blog. There is something odd about the reactionary mind, particularly in its ability to co-opt anything (along with its ability to dismiss anything, so as to eliminate and erase what is inconvenient). That appears to be a defining feature of reaction. It’s not defined in and of itself but by what it opposes and excludes. And this antagonistic impulse defines everything about the reactionary mind.

This creates much confusion. The reactionary isn’t exactly or simplistically ideological in the conventional sense, although definitely ideological in the Althusserian leftist sense. The only core idea underlying it all is a demand for division and that always includes some form of rigid and entrenched hierarchy, either as already existing or as an aspiration (Corey Robin writes about this). It’s opposition to traditionalism is on this level for it has historically sought to replace traditional social order.

Yet conservatism, as a reactionary phenomenon, requires the legitimacy stolen from traditionalism. It does this by usurping the role of traditionalism, like fairies stealing human children by replacing them with fairies, or like a spectral cuckoo bird laying its eggs in the soft nesting material of the mind. So, it’s a form of indoctrination that gets people to internalize an alien and alienating ideology as a socio-cultural identity, to disconnect the dividual from lived somatic experience (related to Morris Berman’s thoughts in Coming to Our Senses).

This is far different from the organic ground-up development of traditionalism over centuries or millennia. Reactionary conservatism, instead, is an immediate response to a sense of existential crisis and societal breakdown. Yet it demands an appearance of continuity, in order to hide its true nature of reaction. This is because, in essence, it’s much more of a product of modernity than it would like to admit (see Karen Armstrong’s argument for fundamentalism as modern and often pseudo-scientific, whereas traditional religion often interpreted scripture less literally; i.e., more symbolically and imaginalistically).

The obfuscation and erasure of the past, of ancient tradition and intergenerational memory, of living organic culture. But, even if this impulse didn’t gain its full reactionary force until the modern age, an early form of it first appeared in the Axial Age (e.g., Plato as proto-reactionary). Much of this has to do with the living word of archaic authorization being replaced by literary scripture. Probably why this shows up in Protestantism to such an extent is because that is the first religion that embraced mass literacy, which of course happened in recent centuries.

Still, there is obviously something more to it than literacy, in spite of its key role. Consider the political left, specifically liberalism. Liberals probably have higher literacy rates than Protestants, along with a greater immersion in the literary experience of higher education and high culture. Yet liberalism, in being less reactionary, can be more accommodating to traditionalism by way of multiculturalism. This is also true in liberalism being able to tolerate conservatism in a way that conservatism can’t offer in return. Within the reactionary mind, there is a totalizing impetus. This is why conservatives typically espouse ideological realism in denying their own ideology is an ideology.

So, a reactionary conservative can never fully acknowledge as real or true that is different from their ideology. That would be involved with why they can’t respect traditionalism on its own terms but must force the idea of ‘traditionalism’ to serve non-traditional agendas and interests. The past can never merely be the past, within the reactionary mind. If a liberal opposes something about the past, they are open about it without quibbling (e.g., slavery). A reactionary-conservative, on the other hand, constantly dances around issues like historical racism. The essential potency of the reactionary mind is contained within what is hidden behind symbolic proxies. Traditionalism often serves this role of empty rhetoric, of scripted and staged culture war.

That said, all of modernity is reactionary to a large extent. One might go so far as to assert that the reactionary or the potential for it is inherent to post-bicameral consciousness, divided as it is against itself. So, yes, liberals too have the potential for becoming reactionary. The difference is that what we call a liberal is simply someone who doesn’t tend toward the reactionary, doesn’t fall into it as easily or strongly, and certainly doesn’t become stuck in it as their default mode. But the longer one remains within the reactionary attitude the more one will express the attributes of the reactionary mind:

Ideological realism, limited (or tightly scripted) moral imagination, restricted/narrow circle of empathy, tribalism (or rather pseudo-tribalism), groupthink, social conservatism (doesn’t necessarily or simplistically apply to economics), bigotry, chauvinism, xenophobia, hyper-patriotism, hyper-individualism, thick boundaries of ego-mind, divisiveness, dualistic thinking, dogmatism, symbolic literalism, authoritarianism, social dominance orientation, social Darwinism, elitism, inegalitarianism, stress, fear, anxiety, paranoia, purity-mindedness, etc. And, at the furthest extremes and in the most malignant form, there is the Dark Tetrad that overlaps much with the reactionary: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism.

One might note it is easier to get a liberal to become a conservative than the other way around. All that is required is continuous stress. Basically, one might argue, the reactionary is simply the unhealed traumatic scarring of stress overload. And in a highly dysfunctional and anxious society of high inequality, such as the United States, it’s not uncommon for Dr. Jekyll liberals and leftists to become Mr. Hyde conservatives and right-wingers. On a practical level, nearly everyone in the modern world is somewhere on the scale of the reactionary; all the more reason to respond with non-reactionary empathy and compassion.

Sadly. Amidst all the schizogenetic soul sickness, it admittedly is hard for traditionalism to be meaningfully appreciated. So, something like inter-generational justice becomes simply another political battlefield. If an Old Testament prophet or Jesus himself returned from the dead to preach a jeremiad about American moral failure, I’m fairly sure few conservative Christians would hear his words, much less heed them.

* * *

There is one major difficulty in all of this. Reactionaries, by nature, are chameleons. So, they can say or do something that completely contradicts what they’ve said or done before. And, if you try to pin them down, they might shapeshift on you. Just as they sometimes claim to be traditionalists they’ll also claim to be classical liberals, the real or original liberals, but at the same time they’ll assert they are conservatives and only those who agree with them are conservative. They can co-opt anything and everything. Making generalizations about them is fraught from the get-go.

One may make a convincing argument that reactionaries, in general, don’t grasp what traditionalism is all about. But that isn’t to say they won’t pick up pieces of traditionalism as convenient. And no doubt they are great mimics. It might not always be clear when one is dealing with a reactionary, at least not at first. But they eventually give the game away, if you’re paying close enough attention. The contradictions tend to become apparent quite quickly.

As the penultimate expression of schizoid modernity, the reactionary mind tends to operate in a state of unawareness. That is important to keep in mind. It’s not necessarily that those afflicted are necessarily being duplicitous and deceptive but that they genuinely can’t understand themselves or the reality tunnel they are trapped within. This is because their worldview and identity is defined by what they are reacting against, not defined by any principled beliefs and consistent ideas.

Words can take on a loose and shifting sense within the reactionary mind. Most conservatives, as reactionaries, may call themselves ‘traditionalists’ with total conviction and still not grasp what it means. Few modern people have ever had much, if any, experience of a traditional culture. That is because America, even in the colonial era, was never a traditional society. This social order and sociopolitical system is a modern invention of Enlightenment thinkers and revolutionaries. The traditionalist label simply becomes yet more rhetoric to be lobbed about.

Within this state of confusion, it’s not all that clear what reactionaries do or do not understand. If forced to be honest, most reactionaries on some level probably do get what is inter-generational justice and that it’s an ancient value, specifically within the Abrahamic tradition. But, like so many other moderns, they simultaneously know and don’t know many things. When it is self-serving (in applying to themselves or to those they identify with), they will strongly embrace intergenerational justice.

There are conservatives who still hold a grudge about the perceived injustice of how Southern whites were treated after the Civil War, as part of the Lost Cause mythos. And many reactionaries, mostly on the right but also some on the left, believe that inter-generational justice is a moral rationalization for Zionist Jews oppressing, persecuting, and killing Palestinians (mostly children) while stealing their land — all in the name of settler colonialism, apartheid, and genocide. For claims of such justice, blacks and Palestinians (or other low status groups) need not apply. This is inter-generational justice for me and mine but none for thee. The hypocrisy of it goes over their head.

That is a defining feature of the reactionary mind. Any of us who falls under the sway of this mentality is, for all intents and purposes, a reactionary. None of us is immune. The difference, though, for most of us is that, even if we temporarily go reactionary, we can pull ourselves out of that state and realize that isn’t a state we want to be permanently in. To be a reactionary proper is to lose the capacity to be anything else. It fully becomes one’s sense of self and reality. When that happens, one goes from one reaction to another. Listen to the constant fear-mongering of right-wing media and you’ll get an intuitive sense of what it would feel like to live in that worldview all the time.

* * *

Structural Racism Isn’t Wokeness, It’s Reality
Christians must not deny the full consequences of centuries of intentional, racist harm.

by David French

But on the core issues of American racism, Platt is biblically and historically right, and it’s his detractors who are biblically and historically wrong. These “conservatives” have placed a secular political frame around an issue with profound religious significance. They’ve thus not just abandoned the whole counsel of scripture, they’ve even contradicted a core component of the secular conservatism they claim to uphold. 

To understand the flaw in their argument, let’s first turn to biblical text. A pastor friend of mine recently reminded me of an intriguing and sobering story from 2 Samuel 21. During the reign of King David, Israel was afflicted with three years of famine. When David “sought the face of the Lord” regarding the crisis, God said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house.” (Saul had conducted a violent campaign against the Gibeonites, in violation of a covenant made with the Israelites many centuries before.)

Saul was king before David, and God was punishing Israel years after Saul’s regime because of Saul’s sin. It was the next king, David’s, responsibility to make things right. And so David turned to the remaining Gibeonites and said, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?” 

The Gibeonites’ request was harsh—to hand over seven of Saul’s descendants for execution. David fulfilled their request, and “God responded to the plea for the land.” 

Note the underlying conception of justice here: Israel remained responsible for its former leader’s sins, and they were required to make amends. This is a consistent theme throughout scripture. I’ve referred to it before. In the book of 2 Kings, Josiah “tore his clothes” and “wept” when the high priest found the Book of the Law neglected in the temple. Why? Josiah said, “because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book.”

Josiah was far from alone. Daniel confessed the sins of Israel’s fathers. In the book of Nehemiah, the Israelites confessed the “sins and iniquities” of their fathers. In the book of Leviticus, God commanded the Israelites to “confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers.” 

The reason for this obligation of repentance and atonement is obvious. The death of the offending party does not remove the consequences of their sin. Those who’ve been victimized still suffer loss, and if the loss isn’t ameliorated in their lifetimes, that loss can linger for generations.

Let’s apply this more concretely, to the United States of America. Enforcing the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and passing the Civil Rights Act was (and is) necessary to end overt, legal discrimination, but it was hardly sufficient to ameliorate the effects of slavery and Jim Crow. These effects are so embedded in our system that powerful people often perpetuate those structures even when they lack any racist intent at all. […]

So how is a Christian to respond? First, let’s go back to scripture and recognize that the obligation to “act justly” is intergenerational. If there is injustice that predates our personal power, it is still our obligation to do what we can to set it right. Second, when you see these racist structures at work, you recognize that you need sociology, history, and economics to help understand not just their reality, but their remedy.

“Sola scriptura” doesn’t tell us how we should zone our communities, district our schools, or protect civil rights. Indeed, there’s an entire Christian doctrine of common grace that teaches us that truth can come from many sources. Even those “conservatives” who resist David Platt likely understand this in their daily lives. Is it the case that we can rely on non-Christian wisdom in, say, military strategy, trade policy, and law enforcement tactics, but when trying to untangle the effects of centuries of racial oppression, the Bible alone will be our guide? 

Now for a note about conservatism. I simply don’t grant that the dissenters’ objections to Platt are “conservative.” Right-wing, yes. Conservative? I object. Years ago, my friend Rod Dreher wrote that “the business of a conservatism with integrity is not to impose an idealistic ideological narrative on reality but rather to try to see the world as it is and respond to its challenges within the limits of what we know about human nature.”

I love that framing. Applied to race, it means that when we discern “the world as it is” (complete with understanding the structures that racists built) the policies a conservative might propose will be different than those of a progressive, in part because conservatives often (but not always) have a different view of human nature and human frailty than their friends on the left. 

In other words, a conservative might have a different conception of “what works.” Progressive-dominated institutions haven’t cracked the code. Can conservative ideas do any better?