COVID-19 and States, Lives and Jobs

In reference to the below COVID-19 graph of loss of life and jobs (per capita), someone wrote to us that the, “Lower left would appear better [i.e., more people alive and working. BDS]. Iowa was slightly lower left, but mostly in the center of all states. Hawaii had lowest excess death rate (negative), but highest job loss. West Virginia, Maine, and Indiana were well balanced.” The graph is from Hamilton Place Strategies. It is included with their brief data analysis as presented in the recent (4/18/21) article, 50 States, 50 Pandemic Responses: An Analysis Of Jobs Lost And Lives Lost, co-authored by Matt McDonald, Stratton Kirton, Matisse Rogers, and Johnny Luo. The time period for the data is unstated, which could make a difference. That aside, most of the states clump near the center; although more states tended toward higher death toll; but, of course, it’s the outliers in the four quadrants that grab one’s attention.

We didn’t initially give it much careful thought, even though such data does make one curious about what it represents, beyond some seemingly obvious observations. Here was our initial off-the-cuff response: “It maybe should be unsurprising that the most populated states struggled the most with finding a balance or, in some cases, keeping either low.” That was tossed out as a casual comment and it was assumed no explanation was necessary. But apparently it was perceived as surprising (or speculative or something) to our collocutor who asked, “Why?” This seems to happen to us a lot, in that we are so used to looking at data that we assume background knowledge and understanding that others don’t always share. It genuinely was not surprising to us, in that ‘populated’ clearly signifies particular kinds of factors and conditions. Once committed to the dialogue, we felt compelled to answer and explain. Continue further down, if you wish to see the unpacking of background info and social context that, once known, makes the graphed data appear well within the range of what might be expected.

It seemed unsurprising to us, as we’ve looked at a lot of analysis of (demographic, economic, and social science) data like this over the years. So, we’re familiar with the kinds of patterns that tend to show up and probable explanations for those patterns. But maybe it seems less intuitively obvious to others (or maybe we’re biased in our views; you can be the judge). In the original article, the authors do note some relevant correlations indicating causal factors: “States with major hospitality and tourism sectors were hit hard in terms of job loss, with the impact falling unevenly across sectors. And states that were in the first wave of infections—when the healthcare system was still learning how to treat COVID-19—fared comparatively worse on their death tolls. New York, which falls into both categories, had the worst overall outcome, with both high excess deaths and high job losses.”

The authors go on to say, “The states that emerged in the best position were Idaho, Utah, and West Virginia, all with some combination of low loss of life and low loss of employment.” Others that did reasonably well were North Carolina, Nebraska, Maine, West Virginia, Indiana, and Wyoming. I don’t recall any of these being hit early by COVID-19 outbreaks nor are they major tourist and travel destinations, other than NC to some extent. It could also be noted that all are largely rural states, if not as rural as they were last century, but still way more rurally populated (or rather less urbanized with fewer big cities and metropolitan areas) than states that had it rough in soaring death and jobless rates: New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, etc. It comes down to a divide between more and less urbanized, and hence more and less populated and dense. That has much to do with the historical economic base that determined how many people, over the generations, have moved to a state and determined their residential location.

As for the really obvious observations, there is the typical clear divide between North and South. Many liberty-minded Southern states, with historically high rates of total mortality and work-related mortality (along with historically overlapping classism and racism), were tolerant of sacrificing the lives of disproportionately non-white workers during a pandemic, particularly when it kept the economy going and maintained corporate profits for a mostly white capitalist class (see: Their Liberty and Your Death). ln general, all of the Deep South and Southwest states, along with most of the Upper South states, had above average death tolls (with MS, AL, AZ, and SC leading the pack); whether or not they kept job losses low, although they did mostly keep them down. All of the states that sacrificed jobs to save lives are in the North (AK, RI, MN, MA, etc) or otherwise not in the South (HI), be it caused by intentional policy prioritization or other uncontrollable factors (e.g., reduced tourism). Northern industrial states, as expected, took the biggest economic hit.

As for the initial point we made, larger populations that are more concentrated create the perfect storm of conditions for promoting the spread of contagious diseases. This represents numerous factors that, though any single factor might not be problematic, when all factors are taken together could overwhelm the system during a large-scale and/or long-term crisis. That typically describes states with large cities and metropolitan areas. Look at all of the highly populated and urbanized states and, no matter what region they’re in, they are all near the top of excess deaths per capita. None of them managed to balance keeping people alive and employed, though some did relatively less worse. And it is apparent that the worst among them had the highest population density. That last factor might be the most central.

For comparison, here is the land area, population, and population density of the top 6 largest US cities, all in different states: New York City (301.5 sq mi; 8,336,817; 28,317/sq mi), Los Angeles (468.7 sq mi; 3,979,576; 8,484/sq mi), Chicago (227.3 sq mi; 2,693,976; 11,900/sq mi), Houston (637.5 sq mi; 2,320,268; 3,613/sq mi), Phoenix (517.6 sq mi; 1,680,992; 3,120/sq mi), and Philadelphia (134.2 sq mi; 1,584,064; 11,683/sq mi). New York City has about half the land as Houston and Phoenix, but has about four times the population of Houston and about seven times the population of Phoenix. So, even among the largest cities in the US and the world, there are immense differences in population density. States like Texas and Arizona have encouraged urban sprawl which, though horrible for environmental health, does ease the pressure of contagious disease spread.

This particular pattern of public health problems is seen all the way back to the first era of urbanization with the agricultural revolution when populations were concentrating, not sprawling. It wasn’t merely the nutritional deficiencies and such from change in the agricultural diet. The close proximity of humans to each other and to non-human animals allowed diseases to mutate more quickly and spread more easily (a similar probable reason for COVID-19 having originated in China with wilderness encroachment, habitat destruction, and wild meat markets). Many new diseases appeared with the rise of agricultural civilizations. Even diseases like malaria are suspected to have originated in farming populations before having spread out into wild mosquitoes and hunter-gatherer tribal populations. Even in modern urbanization, humans continue to live closely to and even cohabitate with non-human animals. This is why populations in New England, where indoor cats are common, have high rates of toxoplasmosis parasitism, despite a generally healthy population.

Plus, at least in the US, these heavily urbanized conditions tend to correlate with high rates of poverty, homelessness, and inequality (partly because most of the poor left rural areas to look for work in cities where they became concentrated) — these high rates all strongly correlated to lower health outcomes, particularly the last, inequality. Of the only four states with above average economic inequality in the US, three of them (NY, LA, CA) had all around bad COVID-19 outcomes, with only high inequality Connecticut escaping this pattern by remaining moderate on job losses and excess deaths. As expected, the states that did the best in keeping both low were mostly low inequality. Other than two in the mid-range (WV, NC), all of the other cases of COVID-19 success are among the lowest inequality states in the country — according to ranking: 1) UT, 4) WY, 7) NE, 12) ID, 13) ME, and 15) IN. All of the top 10 low inequality states were low in COVID-related mortality and/or unemployment. That result, by the way, is completely predictable as it matches decades of data on economic inequality and health outcomes. It would be shocking if this present data defied the longstanding connection.

By the way, rural farm and natural resource states tend to be low inequality, whether or not they are low poverty, but research shows that even poverty is far less problematic with less inequality — as economic inequality, besides being a cause or an indicator of divisiveness and stress, correlates to disparities in general: power, representation, legacies, privileges, opportunities, resources, education, healthy food, healthcare, etc (probably entrenched not only in economic, political, and social systems but also epigenetics; maybe even genetics since toxins and other substances, such as oxidized seed oils in cheap processed foods, can act as mutagens which can permanently alter inherited genes; and so inequality gets built into biology, individually and collectively, immediately and transgenerationally). Certain economic sectors tend toward such greater or lesser inequities, and this generally corresponds to residential patterns. But the correlation is hardly causally deterministic, considering the immense variance of inequality among advanced Western countries with more similar cultural and political traditions (party-based representative democracies, individualistic civil rights, and relatively open market economies).

The economic pattern is far different between rural states and urban states, specifically mass urbanization as it’s taken shape over the generations, and it has much to do with historical changes (e.g., factories closed in inner cities and relocated to suburbs and overseas). In big cities, many large populations of the poor (disproportionately non-white) have become economically segregated and concentrated together in ghettoes, old housing, and abandoned industrial areas (because of generations of racist redlining, covenants, loan practices, and employment). These are the least healthy people living in the least healthy conditions (limited healthcare, lack of parks and green spaces, lead toxicity, air pollution, high stress, food deserts, malnutrition, processed foods, etc), all strongly tied to COVID-19 comorbidities. In these population dense and impoverished areas, there is also a lack of healthcare infrastructure and staffing that is especially needed during a public health crisis, and what healthcare exists is deficient and underfunded.

To complicate things, such densely populated areas of mass urbanization make public health difficult because there are so many other factors as well. Particularly in American cities with immigrant and ethnic residents historically and increasingly attracted to big cities, additional factors include diverse sub-populations, neighborhoods, housing conditions, living arrangements, places of employment, social activities, etc. And all of these factors are overlapping, interacting, and compounding in ways not entirely predictable. This might be exacerbated by cultural diversity, since each culture would have varying ways of relating to issues of health, healthcare, and authority figures; such as related to mask mandates, vaccination programs, etc. It would be challenging to successfully plan and effectively implement a single statewide or citywide public health policy and message; as compared to a mostly homogeneous small population in a small rural state (or even a mostly homogeneous small population in a small urban country).

Also, disease outbreaks in big cites and metropolitan areas are much harder to contain using isolation and quarantines, as many people live so close together in apartment buildings and high-rises, particularly the poor where larger numbers of people might be packed into single apartments and/or multiple generations in a single household, and that is combined with more use of mass public transit. This came up as an issue in some countries such as in Southern Europe. Italians tend to live together in multigenerational households and tend to take in family members when unemployed. Combined with poverty, inequality, and policies of economic austerity, the Italian government’s struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic made it stand out among Western countries, such that it early on showed potential risks to failing to quickly contain the pandemic. But, in many ways, it might have been as much or more of a sociocultural challenge than a political failure.

On the completely opposite extreme, the Swedish have the highest rate in the world of people living alone, but also some of the lowest poverty and inequality in the world. So, even though Sweden is heavily urbanized (88.2%), contagious disease control is easier; particularly with an already healthy population, universal healthcare, and a well-funded public health system (no economic austerity to be found in Swedish social services). Indeed, they only had to implement moderate public measures and, with a high trust culture, most of the citizenry willingly and effectively complied without it becoming a politicized and polarized debate involving a partisan battle for power and control. By the way, Sweden has a national population only slightly above NYC but less than the NYC metro. Of Nordic cities, Stockholm is the largest in area and the most population dense: total density (13,000/sq mi), urban density (11,000/sq mi), and metro density (950/sq mi). New York City has about two and a half times that urban density.

Then again, all of that isolated urbanization takes it’s toll in other ways, such as a higher suicide rate (is suicide contagious?). It is one of the most common causes of death in Sweden and the highest rate in the West; in the context of Europe being one of the most suicidal continents in the world, although it’s Eastern Europe that is really bad. Among 182 countries, Sweden is 32nd highest in the world with 13.8 suicides per 100,000; compared to Italy at 142nd place with 5.5 suicides per 100,000. That is two and half times as high. But, on a positive note, COVID-19 seems to have had no negative impact in worsening the Swedish suicide epidemic (Christian Rück et al, Will the COVID-19 pandemic lead to a tsunami of suicides? A Swedish nationwide analysis of historical and 2020 data), as presumably being socially isolated or at least residentially isolated is already normalized. If anything, suicidal inclinations might become less compelling or at least suicide attempts no more likely with the apparently successful response of the Swedish government to COVID-19, especially combined with the Swedish culture of trust. Not that global pandemic panic and local pandemic shutdown would be a net gain for Swedish mental health (Lance M. McCracken et al, Psychological impact of COVID-19 in the Swedish population: Depression, anxiety, and insomnia and their associations to risk and vulnerability factors).

So, theoretically, public health during pandemics doesn’t necessarily have to be worse in large dense urban areas, as other factors might supersed. But, unfortunately, it apparently was worse in the US under present (social, economic, and political) conditions, however those conditions came about (a whole other discussion barely touched upon here). Many of the states that fared badly are massively larger than Sweden. As seen with New York City, the US has cities and metros that are larger than many countries in the world. These unique conditions of not merely mass urbanization but vast urbanization have never before existed in global history. The US population now in the COVID-19 outbreak is more than three times larger than during the 1918 Flu. The five boroughs of NYC have almost doubled in population over the past century with Queens almost five times as populated, and surely the NYC metro area has increased far more.

Places like Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City are hubs in immense systems of commerce, transport, and travel with heavily used airports and sea ports, interstate highways and railways, a constant flow of people and products from all over the country and the world (the rise of mass world travel and troop transport was a key factor in the 1918 Flu, helping it to mutate and spread in the deadly second and third waves). Systems thinking and complexity theory have come up in our studies and readings over the years, including in discussions with our father whose expertise directly involves systems used in businesses and markets, particularly factory production, warehousing, and supply chains. Those are relatively simple systems that can to varying degrees be analyzed, predicted, planned, and controlled. But massive and dense populations in highly connected urban areas are unimaginably complex systems with numerous confounding factors and uncontrolled variables, unintended consequences and emergent properties. Add a pandemic to all of that and we are largely in unknown territory, as the last pandemic in the US was over a century ago when the world was far different.

Also, there is there is the issue of how systems differ according to locations and concentrations of various demographics, specifically in contrasting the privileged and underprivileged. That goes back to the issue of poverty, inequality much else. A major reason we’ve had so many problems is because most politicians, lobbyists, media figures, public intellectuals, and social influencers involved in the ‘mainstream’ debate that gets heard and televized are living in separate comfortable, safe, and healthy communities, as separate from both the rural and urban masses, particularly separate from minorities, the poor, and the working class (see: Mental Pandemic and Ideological Lockdown). We could note that the individual who originally showed us the graphed data, as mentioned at the beginning of the post, is of this typical demographic of wealthier urban white who has never personally experienced impoverished population density (AKA slums or ghettoes). And even though urban, like us, he lives in this same rural state with clean air surrounded by open greenspace of parks, woods, and farms; not to mention being smack dab in the middle of the complete opposite of a food desert. This could be why our reference to ‘populated’ states could gain no purchase in his mind and imagination.

Obviously, as complex systems, the densely populated big cities and metros described above aren’t isolated and insular units, contained and controlled experiments. Their populations and economies are inseparable from the rest of the global society, even more true in this age of neoliberal globalization. That would complicate pandemic response in dealing alone with either excess deaths per capita or job loss per capita, but that would exacerbate further the even greater complexity of finding a balance between the two. When these major centers of industrial production, service industry, commerce, trade, transportation, marketing, and finance get shut down (for any reason) and/or when other closely linked major centers get shut down, it severely cripples the entire economy and employment of the state, even ignoring the potential and unpredictable pandemic threat of overwhelmed hospitals, death toll, and long-term health consequences. Economic and public health effects could ripple out and in with secondary and tertiary effects.

It’s not anything like less populated rural farm states and natural resource states where, no matter what is going on in the rest of the country and world, the local population is more isolated and the local economy usually keeps trucking along. The Iowa economy and housing, for example, was barely affected by the 2008 Recession. Indeed, for all its failed state leadership in dealing with COVID-19, low inequality and low poverty Iowa was below average on both job losses and excess deaths. So, if Iowa could do better than most states, in spite of horrible leadership by the Trump-aligned Governor Kim Reynolds (even our Republican parents despise her handling of the crisis), maybe governments in other states also don’t necessarily deserve as much of the blame or credit they are given, at least not in terms of the immediate pandemic response, although long-term public health planning and preparation (over years and decades) would still be important.

That is to say, the situation is complicated. Yet we seem to know what are some of the key complications, however entangled they may be as potentially causal or contributing. It’s a large web of factors, but strong correlations can be discerned, all of it mostly following already known patterns, but of course we are biased in what we notice according to our focus. The data gathered and analyzed this past year, as far as we can tell, is not fundamentally different in nature than any other data gathered and analyzed over the past century. So, even though COVID-19 is a highly unusual event, what is seen in the data isn’t likely to be surprising, even if requiring multiple layers and angles of interpretation. Still, unexpected results would be welcome in possibly indicating something new and interesting. Serious study of this pandemic has barely begun. The data will keep rolling in. Then decades of debate and theorizing will follow. Some of the observations offered here might to varying degrees stand the test of time, such as the well-established inequality links, but surely much of it might prove false, dubious, misleading, or partial. Many questions remain unanswered and, in some cases, unasked.

Enclosure of the Mind

[T]he chief matter . . . being now not the fruits of the earth, and the beasts that subsist on it, but the earth itself; as that which takes in, and carries with it all the rest.

John Locke, Two Treatises

Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave …
And birds and trees and flowers without a name
I sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came.

John Clare, The Mores

Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.

Sitting Bull

The early modern period saw the legal push for land enclosure, privatization, and consolidation. It became a powerful force in the 18th century, which destroyed the ancien regime, destabilized the social order, and precipitated revolts and eventually revolution. This was central to Enlightenment thought in the creation or exacerbation of Jaynesian consciousness, post-bicameral nostalgia, Platonic/Cartesian anxiety, atomistic individualism, capitalist realism, social Darwinism, and WEIRD culture. In a short period of time, land reform, agricultural improvements, and technological advancements led to the first dependable grain surpluses, particularly the increase of wheat production, the sudden availability and affordability of white flour, and the industrial development of the high-carb standard American diet (SAD). Also, with colonial trade, tobacco, tea and sugar replaced local smoking herbs and herb-infused beer. Heading into the 19th century and continuing into the next, all of this combined might have contributed to the disappearance of the fairies and the emergence of a crisis of identity, followed by moral panic along with the rise of widespread mental illness and drug addiction and other diseases of civilization, which continues to worsen, not to mention increasing rates of such things as autism — all of it central to what one could call the agricultural mind, exacerbated by mass urbanization, industrialization, and big ag.

This is an ongoing line of speculation, but the land enclosure angle is somewhat new. We’ve previously written about the enclosure movement, privatization and the loss of the Commons, as it obviously is one of the most central changes in recent history, arguably key to understanding nearly all other changes in modernity. It coincided not only with capitalism, corporatism, and industrialization but also colonial imperialism and its vast trade network. There really is no way of comphrehending what all the fuss was about, from the English Peasants’ Revolt to the English Civil War to the American Revolution, without knowing how feudalism was forcefully and violently dismantled not by the peasants and serfs but by aristocrats and monarchs. Other economic practices and systems were seen as more profitable or otherwse attractive. Eliminating the feudal system of parishes and commons, for example, eliminated all of the inconvenient social obligations and traditional roles of noblesse oblige that constrained power according to the authorizng precedence of living tradition and custom. Part of the complaint of some aristocrats, including the more radical-minded like Thomas Jefferson, was that the ancien regime was perceived as oppressively confining to everyone, including the aristocracy. But to destroy that old order meant creating something radically new in its place, which would involve new subjectivities, identities, and roles.

That was the self-enforced task set before the Enlightenment thinkers and later reformers. Individuality and independence was praised, but some at the time admitted to or hinted at the fact that these were not natural law and human birthright. They had to be artificially created. First off, let’s set down a distinction: “Like social constructionism, social constructivism states that people work together to construct artifacts. While social constructionism focuses on the artifacts that are created through the social interactions of a group, social constructivism focuses on an individual’s learning that takes place because of his or her interactions in a group” (Wikipedia). Another way of thinking about this was described by Richard M. Doyle: “The philosopher Louis Althusser used the language of “interpellation” to describe the function of ideology and its purchase on an individual subject to it, and he treats interpellation as precisely such a “calling out.” Rather than a vague overall system involving the repression of content or the production of illusion, ideology for Althusser functions through its ability to become an “interior” rhetorical force that is the very stuff of identity, at least any identity subject to being “hailed” by any authority it finds itself response-able to” (Darwin’s Pharmacy). A social artifact, once socially constructed, offers an affordance that unconsciously enforces the authorization of social constructivism through the interpellation of calling out a particular behavioral subjectivity we become identified with in responding. So, to give a concrete example, we are enacting the propertied self when, after seeing a no trespassing sign, we don’t cross a fence. We’ve been hailed by the authorization of an implicit ideological realism that makes a claim over us, constraining not only our behavior but more importantly our identity. But that response has to be taught, modeled, and internalized — fences and walls, like roads and sidewalks, become the infrastructure emblazoned upon the mind.

This civilizing process was more starkly apparent at the beginning of modernity because so much of what we take for granted, within this dominant ideological realism, did not yet exist. To establish private landholdings was necessary to form the structure for the propertied self, far beyond mere self-ownership in not being a slave (i.e., liberty). The danger, to the emerging capitalist class, was that there were competing structures of identity with the communal self and bundled mind that continued to assert itself. Consider the elite intellectual William Godwin (1756–1836) who saw “associations as constructing their members’ subjectivities, not merely directing their energies incorrectly,” writes Robert Anderson. “In this sense, then, associations are analagous to what Louis Althusser calls Ideological State Apparatuses which provide material rituals and practice, which subjects recognize themselves. Unlike Althusser’s state apparatuses, which hail subjects as individuals, political associations, in Godwin’s view, construct a “common mass” subject, in which subjects are undifferentiated one from another. Since, as Sayer and Corrigan argue, the construction of subjectivity is central to the success of a nation-state, this function of political associations is no trivial matter” (“Ruinous Mixture”: Godwin, Enclosure and the Associated Self). Those like Godwin thought collectivities were a bad thing, since individualistic propertied elites such as himself represented the ideal in his utopian ideology. During this same era, George Washington warned of the threat of politcal parties and one wonders if he had similar worries on his mind, considering his treatment of the collective action of Shays’ Rebellion. Robert Anderson explains what this entails:

“The Enclosure Movement, which yokes the realms of the subject and of property, gives some historical grounding for Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject, which describes the psychic imperatives that drive the subject to distinguish itself from a “common mass.” This force, I am suggesting, determines the movement towards the enclosure of both the commons and the “self.” It concerns an anxiety about the “clean and proper” (“le propre”) boundaries of the self (“le propre”). The subject is constructed through a process of exclusion and boudnary-defense which involves an attempt ot ensure the singularity and integrity of the self within its boundaries, and an attempt to protect those boundaries of the self—not merely the self, but the boundaries themselves. Abjection names the proces of “exclusion” through wich “‘I’ expell myself” from indifferentiation and wildness/animality. The abject, then, threatens to “engulf” the subject because it is a reminder of what it must push aside in order to live. We can se this at work in Young’s claim that enclosure transformed the country from “boundless wilds and uncultivated wastes” into “well-peopled” “inclosures . . . cultivated in a most husband-like manner . . . and yielding an hundred times times the produce.” It is to guard against the “ruinous Effects of a Mixture of opposite Interests” and the “untidiness” of common and use-rights, that enclosure takes place. It cleans and distinguishes le propre—the self, the property—from the “improper.” In his chapter on “The Principles of Property,” Godwin argues that property performs this very function. In spite of the great injustices it causes, the right to property is so “sacred” that no exertion or sacrifice to protect it can be too great (2.440-50). It creates an “essential” “sphere” which protects man from outside intervention, thereby freeing up a space for the operation of “private judgment,” which is necessary for the improvement of man” (2.433). This improvement is threatened if the self is not protected from being “resolve[d] . . . into one common mass” (1.289). Abjection, then, is the psychological engine for improvement.

“The history of enclosure bears out Kristeva’s argument that abjection is ultimately a reliance on the law, which “shapes the body into a territory protected by the “differentiations of proper-clean and improper-dirty” (72). Thompson reveals the extent to which “reasons of improvement” had acquired the status of legal terminology, in particular as a justification for the enclosure of the commons (“Custom” 134-60 passim). A. W. B. Simpson’s A History of Land Law articulates the historical change from “communal rights” of the commons to individual rights, which both made possible and were produced by the enclosure: “[t]he tenurial system converted the villagers [who used the land as common village property] into tenants, and the theory of the law placed the freehold of most of the lands of the manor in the lord. . . . Thus a theory of individual ownership supplants earlier more egalitarian notions” of property. And with this change, common rights came to be seen as having originated “in the grant of the lord,” rather than as a “customary rights associated with the communal system of agriculture practiced in primitive village communities.” In cases where enclosure was contested, however, court rulings often reversed the implicit chronology of “improvement” to suggest that enclosure was the natural state of property rather than an innovation.”

This demonstrates how the conservative authority of hierarchical individualism usurped the role of traditional authority of the ancestral commons, the latter a vestige of archaic authorization of the bicameral mind. The historical revisionism of the conservative project of individualistic privatization hints at the underlying reactionary mind that fuels the radical transformation through the invented tradition of ideological realism dressed up in robes from the wardrobe of moral imagination, proclaiming it has always been this way and putting a narratized spell of historical amnesia upon Jaynesian consciousness — and so individuality erases the evidence of its own origins, like the scaffolding removed from a cathedral after being built by thousands of laboerers over centuries. The threat of collective action of worker associations, labor unions, etc is not that they represent something radically and entirely new but that they are old impulses/habits carried over from the lingering habitus of the ancien regime and traditional communities that keep challenging the radical modernity of reactionary conservatism. The conservative counterrevolution is itself revolutionary, as it is also authoritarian. As noted many times before, the ideology of independence of hyper-individualism is inseparable from dependence of authoritarianism (as violently oppressive militarism, totalitarianism, imperialism, and statism) — concentrated and centralized power, concentrated and centralized land ownership, concentrated and centralized psychic energy (withdrawn form the common world-self and enclosed). It requires concerted political effort and monopolization of violence to break apart communal land and identity. The capitalist self of hyper-individualism began with the wealthy elite precisely because they were the initial beneficiaries of the enclosure movement. They were enclosing not only land but their own minds and selves from the ancient common mass of the lingering traces of the bicameral mind. Many were thinking about these issues.

Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine’s land reform proposals are as much, if not more, about selfhood and social identity as they are about economics (the elimination of entail and primogeniture was intended as a direct attack on aristocracy). Neither trusted an elite to control all land and all benefits from land but they (fatalistically?) accepted that the enclosure movement was irreversible or necessary for the society that was being created, even as they acknowledged the loss of freedom as demonstrated by Native Americans who could act freely precisely because they were acting within a commons (Benjamin Franklin also made such observations about the greater indigenous freedom and its attraction). These specific founders wanted to make all individuals either land owners (Jefferson’s yeoman farmers as republican citizens) or beneficiaries of land ownership (Paines’s citizens dividend), in both cases a response to the enclosure movement as it encroached in on the New World through land consolidation. Self-development had been limited to the elite, but what if self-development could be made available to all. The most radical challenge of Enlightenment thought was that all of humanity, even women and the poor and non-Europeans, shared a common human nature and that self-cultivated individuality was a universal potential, while others saw it as a necessary demand and obligation (develop an individual self or be punished). Like these two, Adam Smith thought inequality opposed a free society of individual citizens. And for this reason, Smith worried that, as opposed to agriculture, the new industrial labor might dumb down the population and so public education was necessary. Without land to cultivate as part of Jeffersonian republicanism, society would have to teach other methods of self-cultivation. Godwin likewise was concerned with education motivated by a belief that every individual should independently research, analyze, and assess everything for themselves; such deification of individualism being an impossible ideal, of course; but that apparently was of no great concern to him beause he was of a less practical bent, as opposed to Jefferson and Paine’s aspirations to offer real world solutions. From Godwin’s perspective, the point was to create and enforce individualism, including actively destroying collectivities, and then everything else would presumably fall into place.

Godwin opposed the commoners re-creating the ancient practice of the commons for the very reason it was such a natural and deeply entrenched impulse within the shared psyche. Later on, it would be the same reason collective adoptions had to be illegalized to destroy Shaker communities, collective land ownership had to be constrained to weaken Hutterite communities, and collective labor unions had to be busted to shatter working class communites. Individualism isn’t created only one time in the past but must be constantly re-created through the policies and actions of government, the punishment and coercion of law, and the encouragement of incentives and subsidies. Individualism is such a weak, unstable, and unnatural state that it would break apart without constantly being shored up and defended. The modern psyche is ever seeking to return to its origins in the bundled mind of bicameralism, animism, or some other variant. The inherent failure of individualism is regularly affirmed by how individualist realism is entirely dependent on collectivist institutions of state governments, state-created corporate charters, etc — such as giving greater rights, privileges, benefits, power, autonomy, and representation to corporate persons than to most individual humans. We are suffused with an authoritarian collectivism that is the actual system behind the charade of individualism. As with Edmund Burke, Godwin’s fear of combinations, mixings, and associations — the undifferentiated masses — expressed a fear of the impure and disorderly; like an obsessive-compulsive child forever lining up her toys and panicking whenever anyone touches them. This is the demand for principled consistency in the WEIRD mind, but the only principle is order for the sake of order, as demonstration of hierarchical power to assert the authority that authorizes ideological realism. It must be an enforced order because the ancient organic orders of tribe, kinship, village, commons, etc or the grassroots organizing of communities and workers can’t be trusted because it can’t be controlled hierarchically through centralized authority and concentrated power. When the last traces of bicameral voices have been silenced, conservatives see hierarchy as the only authority left to command authorization, be it the hierarchy of Klan, church, military, or something similar.

Hierarchy, though, can only accomplish this if it has been narratized and internalized, by way of the interpellation of symbolic conflation where an ideological realism recedes from consciousness in becoming the calcified frame of thought and perception. This was what made the enclosure movement essential in reifying an abstract ideology. It had to be imprinted upon not only the human psyche but the land itself, the literal ground of psyche as our embodied sense of place. The early land reforms rigidified boundaries, regimented land ownership, and systematized infrastructure — roads were straightened and waterways channelized. As the echoes of the living bicameral voices of ancestral spirits were transformed into the written word as the “dead hand” of corpses (i.e., widespread literacy), the soil became mere dust and land mere property with the earth being mapped and bounded. Some traditions such as Quaker living constitutionalism sought to hold onto the remnants, as part of the memory of a former British communalism. The living landscape invoked by Australian Aborigines maybe was not so different than the English practice of beating the bounds and wassailing that reinforced a collective enclosure of a shared subjectivity. Once the commons were gone, there were no bounds of the commons left to be ritually beat as a community nor communal lands inabited by spirits to be wassailed. Land reform was social reform and moral reform. Godwin’s described education of the mind like the cultivation of enclosed land, which reminds one that Lockean land rights were defined not merely by use but by cultivation or improvement of enclosed land (including John Locke’s consitutional defense of slavery; propertied self going hand in hand with the embodied self literally being property to be owned; though Locked suggested a vague qualification about how much could be enclosed, which meant the rich could accumulate vast tracts of land as long as theoretically somewhere there is still land available for others), wherease the pre-Lockean land rights of Roger Williams acknowledged that any use of even non-enclosed land proved (demonstrated and expressed) ownership, which might simply have been an invocation of the old Charter of the Forest, “guaranteeing the right to commoning (recovered in 1217), which in turn recognized subsistence rights, e.g., the right to widow’s estovers (wood needed for housing repairs, implements, etc.), and to subsistence usufructs (the temporary use of another person’s land)” (Carolyn Lesjak, 1750 to the Present: Acts of Enclosure and Their Afterlife); some of the practices continuing into 19th cenury American property law and still barely hanging on today in certain Western countries.

It is intriguing to think about how recent this happened, but first consider where it began. “In the Middle Ages, fifty per cent or more of the land was commons, accessible to everybody,” says Mark Vernon (Spiritual Commons). Then the enclosures began. “Overall, the pace of enclosure rose dramatically after the 1760s as landowners turned to parliament for the legitimization of their claims,” writes Nina Mcquown. “Michael Turner estimates that more than twenty percent of the area of England was enclosed by act of parliament between 1750 and 1819, the vast majority of these acts occurring after 1760 (32). A high concentration—twenty-one percent of the whole of acreage enclosed by parliament—was enclosed in the decades between 1770 and 1780 and in the years of high grain prices during the Napoleonic wars (Yelling 16).11 Although enclosure continued until the end of the nineteenth century, by 1815 only small and discontinuous patches of common fields remained” (“Rank Corpuscles”: Soil and Identity in Eighteenth Century Representations). Then some further details from Gary Snyder: “between 1709 and 1869 almost five million acres were transferred to private ownership, one acre in every seven. After 1869 there was a sudden reversal of sentiment called the ‘open space movement’ which ultimately halted enclosures and managed to preserve, via a spectacular lawsuit against the lords of fourteen manors, the Epping Forest.” To put that in context, following the Englsh Civil War, the Glorious Revoluion reinstated the monarchy in 1688, but there now was a powerful Parliament. That Parliament would be the agent of change, beginning to take strong actions in that next century. Not only were the commons privatized for the colonies were legally constructed as for-profit corporations, along with the creation of quasi-governmental corporations like the East India Company. This led to the complaints by the colonists in demanding the king stand up to Parliament, but the monarchy no longer held the reigns of power. Capitalism was now running the show.

Even then the Charter of the Forest as the founding document of the Commons, having been established in 1217, didn’t officially end until 1971. It almost made it to the end of the Cold War and a new millennia. One might suspect the Commons seemed too communist to be allowed to survive. If it had been maintained, the people might have gotten the wrong idea about who the country belonged to. Even as the politics of it is more than relevant, what made the enclosure movement a revolutionary moment was the transformation of the Western mind. The real issue was the enclosure of the common identity and moral imagination. That is why, as colonial imperialism took hold and expanded, the rhetoric so heavily focused on the symbolic ‘wilderness’ left remaining. Though the “percentage of wastelands—forests, fens, sheep walks, and moors—enclosed and improved during the period of parliamentary enclosure was relatively small,” writes Nina McQuown, they “loomed large in the imaginations of the propagandists responsible for encouraging the expansion of both enclosure and the innovative agricultural practice that it was thought to support.” Carolyn Lesjak writes that, “If enclosure in the 16th century was largely “by agreement” and, in fact, condemned by both the church and the government, who sided with the commoners’ claims regarding “common rights,” by the 1750s the government had taken the lead and over the course of the period from 1750-1830 passed over 4000 Acts of Enclosure, resulting in over 21% of the land (approximately 6.8 million acres) being enclosed (see Ellen Rosenman’s BRANCH essay on “Enclosure Acts and the Commons”). By the end of the century, virtually all the open fields in Britain were gone.” Everything had to be cultivated, even what was deemed useless. All material was to be fodder for improvement and progress, at least in the new mythos. “After the 1760s,” McQuown explains, as the “British improvers turned the logic and language of colonialism inward, towards the wastes,” they also turned inward to colonizing the uncultivated mind.

This makes one realize how false it is to blame everything on the later political revolutions and freethinking radicals. The enclosure movement actually began much earlier around the 14th century, around the time of the English Peasants’ Revolt. Even Parliaments’ legal justifications and enforcement happened generations before the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party. This reform of land, self, and mind unsurprisingly preceded and then overlapped with the early modern revolutions. John Adams famously wrote that, “What do We mean by the Revolution? The War? That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an Effect and Consequence of it. The Revolution was in the Minds of the People, and this was effected, from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen Years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington. The Records of thirteen Legislatures, the Pamphlets, Newspapers in all the Colonies ought be consulted, during that Period, to ascertain the Steps by which the public opinion was enlightened and informed concerning the Authority of Parliament over the Colonies.” His only error was limiting his scope to the colonies and not pushing it further back. Enclosure of land became reform of mind became revolution of society became rupture of history. The cultivation of farming that once followed astrological cycles of return (i.e., revolution) had ground down the bones of the dead into dust. Humanity was uprooted from the past and temporally dislocated in an abstract narrative, as cyclical time became linear and nostalgia became a disease. The colonists surely experienced this most clearly in how the early waves of colonists largely consisted of the most destitute landless peaseants, many recently evicted from the commons and feudal villages, often arriving as slave-like indentured servants and convict labor — one can imagine the desperation and despair they felt, as being sent to the early colonies was practically a death sentence.

The colonial era may seem like a distant time from the present, but we can sense how the world we now live in was shaped then. Most Westerners remain landless peasants. The commons that once defined a communal experience of reality only remain like the shadows of a nuclear blast, the traces of a living world that remains our ancient inheritance, however cut off we have become. It may seem the egoic boundaries of our individualism have toughened into place like scars, like the crust of parched earth. We feel tired and anxious from the constant effort of mainaintiaing the walls of our mind, to keep the self separate from the world. It takes only a moment’s lapse when our guard is let down before we begin to sense what we have lost. An aching tenderness remains below. We are so hungry for connection that simply stepping into the commons of a forested park can feel like a spiritual experience for many people today. Yet such moments are mere glimpses too often quickly forgotten again. We have no shared experience, no living memory to draw from. We have no solid ground to stand upon. And the path to a different world that existed in the past has been gated shut. Or so it seems. But is that true? Where else could we be but in the world? Nature knows no boundaries nor does the human psyche, if we root down deep enough into our own soil. There is no sense of self without a sense of place for we mould ourselves out of the clay, as we breathe the dust of our ancestors.

Landscape is memory, and memory in turn compresses to become the rich black seam that underlies our territory.

Alan Moore, Coal Country, from Spirits of Place

Ever place has its own… proliferation of stories and every spatial practice constitutes a form of re-narrating or re-writing a place… Walking [into a place] affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects… haunted places are the only ones people can live in.

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

* * *

“Ruinous Mixture”: Godwin, Enclosure and the Associated Self
by Robert Anderson

In this argument, I turn on its head Godwin’s claim that the right to private property “flows from the very nature of man.” While Godwin argues that the right to property is “founded” on the “right of private judgment” which “flows from the very nature of man” (2.169-70), I will argue that this argument runs counter to his notion that private property “unavoidably suggests some species of law” to guarantee it (2.439). To be more specific, I argue that Godwin’s defense of the “sacred” and “essential” “sphere” surrounding the self (1.1.70, 1.257), which is necessary to potect it from being “resolved . . . into the common mass” (1.289), draws upon the conceptual framework which informs the rhetoric of the Enclosure Movement. In particular, I note his argument that cutting off the individual from the “common mass” is necessary for “improvement”—another term for enclosure. [….]

Part of his “extensive plan of freedom” involved the socialization of the self and (ideally) property and the rejection of all restraints on individual liberty; his “reprobation,” I argue, stems from this same defense of private judgment, which can be said to serve the conservative interests of the powers that be.

  1. The Subject of the Commons

Political associatons came of age in the latter part of the eighteenth century in response to the upheavals wrought by the industrial revoltion. Associations were contesting the state’s efforts to regulate subjectivites. Albert Goodwin recounts that in 1790 in the industrial center of Sheffeld, for example, “the master scissorsmiths,” apprehensive of the collective power of striking scissor grinders, “called a general meeting of the town’s merchants and manufacturers ‘to ooppose the unlawful combinations of the scissor grinders and the combinations of all other workmen.'” The same anxiety about the collective strength of the poor which led the Sheffield city leaders to oppose combinations also led to attempts to eradicate collective landholding arrangements by enclosing the commons. Following the passage of the Private Enclosure Act of 6 June 1791, in whch 6,000 acres of commons were redistrbuted among the wealthy “local land-holders, tithe-owners and large freeholders,” an angry mob, comprising both peasants and industrial laborers, rioted, threatening to destroy “the lives and properties of the freeholders who had approved the enclosure” (165-67). The fact that the mob opposing enclosure included industrial laborers as well as peasant farmers whose land was being appropriated reveals the close connections between enclosure and industrial capitalism. Sayer and Corrigan make the connecton between enclosure, capitalism, and subjectivity in this period more explicit.

But the great catastrophe which above all pervades the eighteenth century is the acceleration of the great “freeing” of labour (and thus making labour-power) that divides wage-labouring from generalized poverty; the long movement from service to employment, from provision to production/consumption, from political theatre to the individualism . . . of the vote: enclosures.” (96)

As Marx argues, enclosure ensures that workers, expropriated from their means of subsistence, are thrust into relations of dependence on the capitalists.

Goodwin goes on to relate that the response of the commoners and laborers also took forms more organized and intellectual than rioting. “When ‘5 or 6 Mechanicks’ began to meet . . . to discuss ‘the enormous high prices of Provisions,'” they initiated the creation of political societies, associatons, for the (self-) education of the working classes (166). They attempted, in the words of one charter, “to persuade their benighted brethren to defend themselves against private and publiic exploitation by the assertion of their natural rights” (qtd. in Goodwin 167). Political societes provided laborers with an organized forum—an institution—to exert influence on the opinions of their fellow laborers, and by extension, on society at large. Godwin opposes political associations on just this account. The “interference of an organized society” to influence “opinion” is “pernicious” (2.2280. “[E]ach man must be taught to enquire and think for himself,” uninfluenced by either “sympahy or coercion,” guided only by “reason.” The “creeds” of politcal associations, on the other hand, encourage “each man to identify his creed with that of his neighbour” (1.288). He goes on to argue that sympathy, like a disease, is especially contagious among undisciplined laborers: “While the sympathy of opinion catches from man to man, especially among persons whose passions have been little used to the curb of judgment, actns may be determined upon, which the solitary reflections of all would have rejected” (1.294). Like the unenclosed commons, sympathy threatens the distinctions upone which general improvements is predicated: the “mind of one man is essentally diistinct from the mind of another. If each do not preserve his individuality, the judgment of all will be feeble, and the progress of our common understandng inexpressibly retarded” (1.236).

1790, the year the Sheffeld master scissorsmiths moved to oulaw the combinations of “grinders” and “workmen,” was also the year in which Edmund Burke published his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke reserved his greates hostility—and fear—for the “confusion” of the “swinish multitdude” (314). Reflections reveals the extent to which concerns about the collective power of the masses, the upheavals of the industrial revolution, and anxiety about the French Revolution are intertwined. The “French Revolution,” he argues, was brought about “by the most absurd and ridiculous . . . by the most contemptible instruments. Everything seems out of nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and all sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies.” And further, it is a “monstrous tragi-comic scene, the most opposite passions necessarily succeeded, and sometimes mix with each other in the mind; alternate contempt and indignation; alternate laughter and tears; alternate scorn and horror.” Burke’s concern about the inappropriate mixture driving the French Revolution invokes a common rhetoric for disparaging forms of life among peasants and the laboring population. It appears, as I will argue, in condemnations of the “waste” and the “ruinous . . . Mixture of opposite Interests” in the subsistence economy of the commons, and in Godwin’s critique of the tumult of political associations—both of which are seen as threats to individual integrity and “progress.” It also appears in his analysis of the “mechanism of the human mind.”

“Rank Corpuscles”: Soil and Identity in Eighteenth Century Representations
by Nina Patricia Budabin McQuown

The teleology of improvement could even stretch towards man’s transcendence of matter itself. This idea is amply represented in a notorious reverie from Godwin’s first edition of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), where Godwin projects the complete domination of matter—not only the matter of the soil, but also and especially the matter of the body—as the eventual outcome of human progress, beginning with its progress in agriculture. His logic traces a line from improved agriculture to a human transcendence of appetite, illness, and death: “[t]hree fourths of the habitable globe is now uncultivated. The parts already cultivated are capable of immeasurable improvements” (2: 861), he offers, and if we can gain control “over all other matter,” Godwin suggests,

“why not over the matter of our own bodies? If over matter at ever so great a distance, why not over matter which . . . we always carry about with us, and which is in all cases the medium of communication between that principle and the external universe? In a word, why may not man one day be immortal?” (2: 862)

Godwin’s questions are only the most succinct statement of the radical hope that is at the center of late eighteenth-century bourgeois liberalism, which, as Kramnick has argued, linked agricultural improvement to “middle-class disdain for the past, for history, and for custom” (Kramnick, “Eighteenth-Century Science” 9). For reformist thinkers, in all areas of human ambition, improvement was articulated as a break with the past and an optimistic orientation towards the future.

Even so, reformers relied on an analogy between human self-ownership and landownership that draws on inherited parallels between human bodily-economy and the social system.5 Reformers saw an obvious parallel between agriculturally improved land and the human subject, who, cut off by self-reliance from the prejudice of contemporaries as well as the inherited prejudices of the past, could “cultivate” himself towards perfection, so that, as Robert Anderson puts it, “[t]he moral economy and political economy merge in the social and semantic fields covered by ‘improvement’” (630). In the works of both Godwin and Priestley, both subjectivity and soil are divided into discrete properties whose content is to be determined by one and only one owner, protected by the integrity of the individual conscience from absorption into the “common mass” of human thought and opinion (620).6 Enclosure of both self and soil meant divestment from the influence of history—those ancient patriarchs and their prejudices—as much as from the influence of the rights of commonage. If earlier authors imagined the soil as disseminating ownership of England’s past, bearing it physically into the bodies of nationals, later eighteenth-century reformist authors often render the soil as a failed medium for the transmission of historical experience and lingering subjectivities. Such failure is, paradoxically, reinscribed as improvement. Priestley destroys the “foundation” for the prejudicial thought of the past, and Charlotte Smith, as we will see in the conclusion to this chapter, insists on a failure of communication between the present and an incomprehensible past that is buried well below reach of the ploughshare, and is in any case unworthy of transmission. Smith and Priestley deny the relevance of the past to the present because both prefer to build on a different foundation.

This chapter examines late eighteenth-century reformist representations of the soil primarily in the field of agricultural writing. It offers an analysis, first, of Arthur Young’s writing in support of the enclosure of waste soils in several works of the 1770s and 1780s. In contrast to the revolutionary rhetoric of Priestley, Godwin, and Smith, Arthur Young is usually thought of as a political conservative for his response to the French Revolution.7 Yet to call Young a conservative is to fail to appreciate common ground he shared with the likes of progressives such as Godwin and Priestley in his advocacy for enclosure and against tithes and poor rates. Moreover, in the field of agriculture at least, Young was hardly an advocate for the careful and conservative restoration of the edifice of the past. For Young, the waste spaces of Britain must be rendered into an inviting blankness empty and available enough to rival the magnetism of America’s putatively untouched interior. We start by acknowledging the ways that his arguments for the enclosure of wastelands require the figuration of Britain as Locke’s tabula rasa, ripe for human improvement, and move on to a specific discussion of Young’s descriptions of moor soils as the prototypical waste, where we find him forcibly unearthing and dispersing the evidence of other histories and interests in the soil in order to make the past available for improvement towards a progressively more fertile future. In Young’s improvement and enclosure propaganda, we can see that eighteenth-century agricultural writing does not, like Dryden’s translation of the Georgics and Defoe’s Tour in this dissertation’s chapter two, simply mediate, reframe, or cover up relics that it cannot fit into an acceptable narrative of British history, or, like Powell and Philips, allow the concept of recirculation through the soil to provide an alternative, inarticulate, and immediate relation to the past. Nor does Young, like Smollett or Tull, suggest sequestration from the violating agency of decay. Instead, Young offers an improvement that actively un-earths the past. The coherence of Young’s improved Britain is based not on a hermeneutics of repression, where fragmented and conflicting histories are buried out of sight, but on the agricultural improver’s active recycling of the past into fertile soil that will produce a better future. His texts acknowledge the tangles of historical and legal relics and material and customary restraints in and on the soil in order to enact their exhumation and dispersal. By claiming and controlling the power of putrefaction to break down and disseminate relics, Young’s improver takes over the soil’s work of decay. He releases the value of the past for the production of future goods.

In fact, Young’s program—which became the program of the new Royal Agricultural Society in 1793—was so successful that by the end of the eighteenth century, the landscape of Britain was entirely changed. With private enclosures replacing open fields formerly held in common, it was divided into subdivisions set apart by hedgerows, ditches, walls, and straight(er) roads. Where Godwin imagined a mind that could be enclosed and cultivated like soil through improvements, the poet John Clare asserted that by the first decades of the nineteenth century, that the British landscape had indeed come to imitate the private boundaries of the individual conscience. In this poem on the enclosure of his native village in Northhamptonshire, “The Moors,” for example, Clare shows,

“Fence meeting fence in owners’ little bounds
Of field and meadow, large as garden grounds,
In little parcels little minds to please,
With men and flocks imprisoned, ill at ease.”
(46-49)

For Clare as for others, the consonance of a private landscape and a private subjectivity came with a sense of loss, both of individual rights, and of continuity with the past, whose paths “are stopt—the rude philistine’s thrall / Is laid upon them and destroyed them all” (64-5). The sense that improvement had turned out to mean the parceling up of experience into discrete and discontinuous blocks led, for Godwin, to his eventual anxiety that the possibility of future progress had also been lost. How can men whose lives are so strongly separated engage in the communication that leads to human perfection? This anxiety motivates Godwin’s An Essay on Sepulchres (1809), a text in which Godwin ultimately abandons his advocacy for a historical soil, and proposes that dirt—literally the dust of the buried corpses of great men—could be the foundation of improvement by materializing cultural and historical continuity. Godwin’s Essay proposes a different kind of soil-fertility, land that fruits out in knowledge, experience, and sentiment instead of only food. Yet Godwin’s essay is unable to imagine an immediate and therefore openended relation between human bodies and the dust of the dead. He strives to secure stable access to corpses that are also subjects, with particular memories and ideas to represent to their living interlocutors. Intent on controlling the legacy that the past leaves for the future, Godwin can only approach the dead through the medium of their representations—both the texts they leave behind and the monuments he wants to erect at their gravesites. Ultimately, his Essay offers less a plan for the stable continuity of experience across generations, than a revelation of the limits of what representations and mediums can accomplish when they refuse the immediate agency of soil.

The Early Modern 99%
by Harry C. Merritt

Reverberations of battle are the soundtrack to developments in England at the time, where King Charles I would be executed the following year and his kingdom transformed into a commonwealth. During the course of the film, the educated and principled Whitehead is forced into labor together with the alcoholic Jacob and the simpleton Friend by O’Neill, a rogue Irishman seeking self-enrichment. […]

Not just England was in turmoil at this time — much of Europe and the growing number of territories it ruled across the globe experienced extraordinary upheaval during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Though the “General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century” thesis originally developed by Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm has since been challenged and amended, a number of broad themes can still be distilled. Religious dissent and political radicalism challenged the authority of both the Catholic Church and monarchs who ruled by the grace of God. Conflicts like the Thirty Years War descended into endless nihilistic pillage and slaughter before lending themselves to the creation of the modern state system. The ruthless quest for precious metals and profits fueled the conquest of Native American peoples and the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade.

Perhaps one of the most powerful conceptualizations of this period can be found in Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s book The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. According to Linebaugh and Rediker, the ruling classes imagined themselves to be the latter-day incarnation of Hercules, laboring to bring order to a chaotic world. The embodiment of their enemy was the mythological Hydra, whose many heads represented its multifarious elements: religious dissenters, radical commoners, rebellious African slaves, fiercely independent Native Americans, and freethinking women.

In the Americas and on the Atlantic, “the plebian commonism of the Old [World]” encountered “the primitive communism of the New World” and formed a hybrid, alternative vision that set itself against the emergent order of modernity. Late in A Field in England, a hallucinating Whitehead declares, “I am my own master”; this realization is precisely what the ruling classes feared most in the Hydra.

Despite its multitudes, the Hydra was ultimately unsuccessful at challenging the emerging capitalist, colonialist order of modernity. In the centuries since, it would be difficult to imagine a group that parallels the Hydra in its diversity, utopianism, and in the threat it poses to the ruling classes — that is, until today. The emergence of the 99% as a social grouping that has come to be dreaded and despised by members of the 1% reproduces the dynamics and the discourse of that era.

While a new era of globalization erodes the economic security of the vast majority of the US, the 1% and their political supporters insist that they work harder than the rest of us and thus their ownership of nearly half of the world’s wealth is for the greater good. Recently, we have been treated to numerous declarations from members of the 1% suggesting that they are under threat from the 99%.

These shrill cries about impending repression — invoking Nazism seems popular — reveal the degree to which the 1% identify with one another and fear the masses. Like the Hydra, the 99% is a rhetorical construction rather than a social formation with clear class consciousness. Its very diversity constitutes its greatest weakness. The repeated spread, defeat, and resurrection of movements like Occupy Wall Street and Spain’s indignados resemble the scattered but persistent revolts of the Hydra. Today’s Occupy activists should recall that a revolutionary conspiracy by a group of New York City laborers — black and white, slave and free — emerged in 1741 out of a waterfront tavern just blocks from today’s Zuccotti Park. With goals that are simultaneously utopian and practical, these movements appeal to both the basic needs and the deepest desires of common people around the globe. […]

Alain Badiou sees “the invariant features of every real mass movement: egalitarianism, mass democracy, the invention of slogans, bravery, the speed of reactions” embodied in both Thomas Müntzer’s movement of the 1500s and in Tahrir Square of the 2010s. As disparate groups occupy public spaces from Cairo to Madrid to New York, asserting their rights and presenting an alternative vision of their societies, we should not forget the members of the Hydra who fought against the exploitation of the ruling classes in favor of another world during the early modern period.

Some will argue that our present time is too distant to draw many practical lessons from this period. But that does not mean we cannot look to its events, personages, and symbols for inspiration. By coincidence, the rainbow flag used by today’s LGBT and peace activists bears a striking resemblance to the rainbow flag Thomas Müntzer once used to rally the German peasantry — a fitting symbol in any period for uniting a diverse coalition and insisting that another world is possible.

We Are All Bleeding Heart Liberals Now

That nevere of hym she wolde han taken hede,
For which hym thoughte he felte his herte blede

Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, mid-1380s

Upon the whole, I mourned thus for her for above a month; but finding Amy still come not near me, and that I must put my affairs in a posture that I might go to Holland, I opened all my affairs to my dear trusty friend the Quaker, and placed her, in matters of trust, in the room of Amy; and with a heavy, bleeding heart for my poor girl, I embarked with my spouse, and all our equipage and goods, on board another Holland’s trader, not a packet-boat, and went over to Holland, where I arrived, as I have said.

Daniel Defoe, The Fortunate Mistress, 1724

It’s been previously argued, if somewhat jokingly, that we are all white liberals now. There are various methods for denigrating liberalism. A typical tactic is to throw in some other descriptive word to mischaracterize liberalism as an extremist ideology of a narrow minority: liberal class, liberal elite, limousine liberals, pinko liberals, and white liberals. Initially, the liberal label alone was not enough of a slur. It needed to be clarified by suggesting the true meaning of hiding some more radical ideology, perverse motive, corrupted sensibility, or out-of-touch status. The purpose is to obscure the fact of how extremely liberal has become nearly the entire American population — not only liberal but quite leftist, such that we are also all egalitarians now.

Some examples of this particular anti-leftist rhetoric originated in the early 1900s: ““Limousine liberals” is another phrase that has been attached to these comfortable nibblers at anarchy” (New York Tribune, 5 May, 1919); “pinko-liberal journal of campus opinion” (Time: the Weekly Newsmagazine, 7 Jun., 1926); “Editor Oswald Garrison Villard of the pinko-liberal Nation” (Time: the Weekly Newsmagazine, 9 Sept., 1929); “Pinko liberals—the kind who have been so sympathetic with communistic ideals” (The Mason City Globe-Gazette (Mason City, IA), 12 Jun., 1940); et cetera (What Exactly Is a ‘Liberal’?, Merriam-Webster). Maybe these were seen as the hyphenated ideologies brought by the immigrant populations of hyphenated Americans or those sympathetic to them. All ideologies were considered bad to a certain conservative mind, an attitude expressed by the Irish Edmund Burke during the French Revolution and the Southern plantation aristocracy during the American Civil War. Then, after a period of conservative decline, the rhetoric of anti-ideology ideology was resurrected and made respectable again by Russell Kirk in the early Cold War.

If all ideologies are bad, then a hyphenated ideology would be doubly dangerous. To this ideological worldview of the reactionary mind, only liberals and leftists have ideologies, not that this ever stopped conservatives from co-opting the ideological rhetoric of liberals and leftists, sometimes even to the point of calling themselves classical liberals or true liberals. But, generally, conservatives like to keep their ideological commitments obscure and vague so as to allow for plausible deniability, which is the reason why few racists ever self-identify as racists. To openly state an ideology is dangerous territory for the conservative mind because it is to admit that the ideological realism of the ruling order is socially constructed. Moral imagination is the conservative euphemism for social constructionism. The attack on the ideologies of others is a projection and distraction.

The hyphenated ideology slander was maybe more common in the past because a strong and highly organized leftist movement was a potent threat that needed to be neutralized. Now we’ve gotten to the point, after generations of Cold War propaganda and anti-leftist attacks, where such rhetorical lumping isn’t as necessary. The label of ‘liberal’ by itself has become an effective invective because all those other terms (pinko, elite, white, etc) are implied without needing to be stated. This was the result of a concerted effort to deligitimize liberalism specifically and leftism in general. It was surely part of the (now forty years’ old) New Right’s massively funded propaganda campaign involving the Shadow Network and media operations they built. They sought to promote a false narrative of the religious right as the ‘Moral Majority’. But that is a story for another day (if you’re curious, look into Joseph Coors, Paul Weyrich, Richard Wirthlin, etc). As shown above, it began much earlier than that.

There is a specific historical example to show how far left Americans have moved and how right-wing rhetoric has weakened over time. In the 1930s, one of the new rhetorcal attacks on liberals was to call them ‘bleeding hearts’, although it didn’t catch on right away (Sarah Laskow, The True Origins of the Phrase ‘Bleeding-Heart Liberal’). This political insult is an odd way of attempting to discredit the faith in loving-kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, the expression of fellow feeling and moral decency; in particular, Greco-Christian agape as unconditional love, the highest form of love through charity, and the mutual love between humanity and the divine. The symbol for selfless and sacrificial love, within the Christian tradition, was the bleeding heart. But this symbol was less familiar among American Protestants or maybe it was familiar in being associated with Catholics and hence associated with ethnic immigrants (i.e., hyphenated Americans).

Where did this use of ‘bleeding hearts’ come from? Westbrook Pegler, a newspaper columnist and mud-slinging bully, was the man who originated this as a mean-spirited taunt of humanitaranism and as a dismissive appelation to be placed upon the heads of liberals like a mocking crown of thorns. He came to use it often in his writings. But his initial use of it was to critcize the liberal movement that sought to outlaw lynching. Pegler wasn’t necessarily defendng lynching, per se, but neither was he entirely and clearly opposing it either. He merely thought that the issue of lynching was a conflict that should be locally and privately resolved between blacks and the white mobs hunting them down. Many conservatives agreed with him at the time. There is no doubt that some even suggested it was a matter of ‘states rights’.

To give some sense of what kind of guy Pegler was, consider that he joined the authoritarian, fascist, and theocratc John Birch Society, the original alt-right but admittedly popular at the time. The Bircher membership was similar to the widespread following gained by the radio host Father Charles Coughlin, another precursor to McCarthyism. By the way, it was the Birchers who claimed Dwight Eisenhower was a communist, despite Ike’s having been a social conservative, religious right advocate, and highly respected military leader (although, he did admit to being in favor of ‘liberal’ governance while preferring ‘conservatism’ for the private sector such as economics; then again, he promoted illiberalism when he put ‘In God We Trust’ on the US currency, which was the first major politicization of religion in the US presidency). Now consider that Pegler was so far radically right-wing fringe that the Birchers eventually kicked him out. So, the Birchers were to the right of the right and Pegler was further right still.

Yet, his rhetoric of ‘bleeding heart’ liberals stuck and became commonly used on the right, as if it were the most damning criticism. But it remains odd, considering those doing the attacking have claimed to be Christians. So, why has a traditional and ancient Christian symbol expressing the highest Christian value been believed to be a bad thing in the minds of self-identified Christians who claimed to defend the Christian faith? Whatever the reason, the sting of this insult has worn away from overused repetition and many liberals have reclaimed it as an honorable title. Presently, most Americans are not convinced that deeply caring about other humans is a moral failing and character flaw. In general, a lot of anti-leftist rhetoric isn’t as compelling as it once was. It’s similar to how the punch has been lost to calling someone a tree-hugging environmentalist or pot-smoking hippy. Heck, even red-baiting accusations that others are commies, socialists, and fellow travelers doesn’t have much impact these days.

In their smug confidence, the far right overplayed its hand. Their endless repetition of rhetoric, including the CIA’s Mighty Wurlitzer, has had the opposite effect than intended by normalizing leftist language and so making leftist ideology attractive. But it goes deeper than that, in how public opinion itself has changed, no matter how confused Americans remain about what words and labels mean. Americans have embraced left-liberal values. For certain, it is unimaginable for anyone today to use a symbol of Christian unconditional love, compassion, and charity as a dismissive caricature of lynching opponents. Not only did lynching become criminalized but so far outside of social norms and moral standards as to not even be defended by the staunchest of conservatives and libertarians. The American majority has gone further left still in now agreeing with and supporting the anti-racist and pro-egalitarian message of Black Lives Matter. Liberals have become the strongest and most authentic advocates of Jesus’ visionary message of love as a common bond of a universal humanity. And, in the context of this ancient religious radicalism turned modern secular value, we are all bleeding heart liberals now.

* * *

Slinging Mud
by Rosemarie Ostler

The first uses of bleeding heart to mean “someone tenderhearted toward the downtrodden” began appearing in the 1930s. Before that time the pphrase described someone who was suffering emotionally, such as a bereaved person. In its new meaning, it describes people whose hearts bleed sympathetically for others, but with the implication that they are suckers or lack common sense.

The political meaning of bleeding heart may have been coined by conservative columnist Westbrook Pegler. It first appeared in print in a January 8, 1938, column in which Pegler criticized a “time-kiling debate” on antylynching laws, noting that only around fourteen people a year were lynched. In Pegler’s view, the country’s other problems were more pressing. He writes, “I question the humanitarianism of any professional or semi-pro bleeding heart who clamors that not a single person must be allowed to hunger, but would stall the entire legislative program . . . to save 14 lives a year.”

Bleeding hearts were often connected with the New Deal in the 1930s, as in another Pegler phrase, “bleeding-heart journalists of the New Deal.” The negative expression of bleeding heart liberal didn’t come into vogue until the 1960s. Liberal on its own didn’t become a pejorative term until around the 1980s.

American Leftist Supermajority

“Remember all those supermajority poll results?  Think where the polls on all these things would be if the press did its job, instead of aligning with the corporations and the political establishment to stonewall and deny.  The polls would be shifting a lot further.  Those things the public wants and is told it can’t have would be even more popular.  One area where polls would shift is where the public would now be positioned on the subject of Democratic Socialism which the public, especially young people are increasingly in favor of.”

Michael D. D. White, Everybody’s Realizing It Now, National Notice

The past few weeks we’ve been researching how a false public perception of a conservative majority was created in hiding the reality of a leftist majority. We’ve known the polling data on public opinion for a long time now. It was perplexing that not only a majority but a supermajority could exist without most Americans knowing. A little over a decade ago when we discovered that a leftist majority existed, we were maybe too cynical at that point to be surprised, but it did catch us off guard. Decades of MSM viewing never indicated even slightly how far left most Americans were.

It was yet another example of how we had been lied to or misled our entire lives. Our minds kept coming back to this over the years, as we looked at more and more data. There was one point that drove this home from some years back. Pew’s Beyond Red vs. Blue showed that 9%, almost 1 in 10, of Solid Liberals (strongly liberal on every issue) identified as ‘conservative’, but the opposite pattern was barely seen on the other side, maybe like 1-2%. This is the result of decades of the Wirthlin effect where symbolic ideology has replaced pragmatic ideology, in forming highly manipulated social identities.

The strangeness of this phenomenon kept nagging at us. We had picked up a few explanations like the Wirthlin effect, but it still felt dissatisfying. How can a leftist majority be made to not know the fact of its own existence for over at least 40 years? That is pretty much the entire adult life for anyone who is GenX or younger, which is most of the population. The Wirthlin effect alone couldn’t accomplish this if there wasn’t a complicit corporate media apparatus that was acting as the propaganda arm of the ruling elite. Most Americans presently get at least 90% of their infotainment from a few big biz media oligopolies.

This was a central point made by Michael D. D. White in his piece Everybody’s Realizing It Now. In describing what most Americans want, he points out how politicians ignore public demand and dismiss the consent of the governed. “The political establishment only gets away with denying the public these things that the public could have,” he writes, “if it is aided and abetted by a complicit press.  We have a press owned by corporate conglomerates that exaggerate the costs and underestimate the benefits of such public goods.” Then he goes on to say that,

“For example, when a Koch funded study reached a conclusion (a conclusion the Koch’s certainly didn’t want the study group they funded to reach) that Medicare For All would save the American public $2.1 trillion (in actuality, probably more would be saved), the corporate press went into overdrive to misrepresent and ignore the math and report something quite the opposite.  See the reporting of this press misbehavior by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting which was included in Counterspin, a program they broadcast on WBAI: Reporting on Medicare for All Makes Media Forget How Math Works, Justin Anderson, July 31, 2018.”

So, that is what has been on our minds. We’ve wanted to know how this happened and how Americans so often seemed to not notice it was happening or were too apathetic to protest. But it’s hard to be too harshly critical of the public that has been fed a constant diet of lies and propaganda. Another clue was the religious Paul Weyrich admitting they weren’t a majority at the launching of the 1980 Moral Majority organization, in concert with the presidential election of Ronald Reagan, and then also admitting they wouldn’t win elections without voter suppression. That demonstrated how fully aware they were when they decided to implement perception hacking on the American public.

In our research, we used that as a starting point. Richard Wirthlin seemed mostly a dead end, as he was simply a standard politico in the Reagan administration, but looking into Weyrich was much more fruitful. As we dug into it, the connections that came up were fascinating. It suddenly became clear how much of a major operation this was, as it required at least hundreds of millions of dollars a year to build the present shadow network, which meant a minimal of many billions has been invested into this long-term propaganda campaign.

The 1980s was the same period when media deregulation began. Weyrich and others also started to invest immensely in media companies and pushing them strongly on both the old media and new media platforms. To put it in perspective, our now elderly conservative parents were still in their 30s when the Moral Majority organization was founded. By the late 1980s, conservative media was already becoming a national political and cultural force. That was when our family moved to the South Carolina where our parents remained for 20 years, up through the entire Bush jr. administration.

During that time, Fox News was started and right-wing talk radio took hold, along with the rise of reactionary paranoia with the likes of Alex Jones and Art Bell (even if the latter was personally more liberalish/libertarian). You could imagine what this was like in the Deep South. Our parents became trapped in a far right media and cultural bubble. So, as the country continued to go left, our parents went right. But they had no context to realize how far right they had gone because, by Deep South standards within their upper middle class social circle, they were moderates. One of our father’s friends even jokingly accused him of being a “secret liberal”.

It’s true that our parents had gone through a liberal phase when we were younger. One of our mother’s best friends in the late 1970s to early 1980s was a pot-smoking hippy. Our father has told us that, in their early marriage, our mother was pro-choice; but now she calls abortion “baby-killing”. Along with our brothers, we became liberals, largely because our parents raised us in liberal New Agey churches, many years having been spent in a liberal college town. But now our parents in their mid-70s have forgotten how liberal they used to be, although always Republican. When Reagan was president, the GOP still had a left wing of the party, including a significant number of blacks (with the living memory at the time of Democrats having previously been the party of Southern white racists).

Since retirement, our parents moved back to this same Iowa liberal college town where we also now live and where our family previously lived back in the mid-to-late 1980s. It’s been a culture shock for them. What goes for a moderate conservative in the Midwest would be perceived as a liberal in the South. And what is considered conservative in a Midwestern liberal college town is pretty far left. Our parents suddenly find themselves on the far right, although that might have already been true, but the stark contrast of the local population has made it undeniably true, uncomfortably and inconveniently true.

What our parents have struggled to come to terms with is that it isn’t merely a small demographic of liberal elites. The majority view in this liberal college town in moderate Iowa are about the same as the majority views across most of the country. Yet they’d been so trapped within an ideological reality tunnel that, until recently, they didn’t have to acknowledge the existence of the majority of other Americans. We suspect this has been true of many other conservatives as well, particularly those who are older and otherwise isolated by geography, lifestyle, retirement, and echo chambers.

Our mother has maybe more easily accepted her newly perceived minority status. She grew up working class and so always knew she was not part of the upper class that determines social norms and public perception. And as a public school teacher, she probably has been exposed to more liberals over her career. But my father has always been in positions of authority and specifically conservative-minded authority (army officer, factory manager, & business management professor). In fact, he grew up as the son of a small town minister and so had authority status thrust upon him from a young age, from having been expected to give public prayers to adult groups to havng been expected to become class president.

So, even when told the polling data, our father dismisses it because it simply doesn’t fit his sense of the personal reality he knows within upper middle class authority where he is used to the majority of others being deferent to him and his opinion, as opposed to speaking honestly to him. As most Americans are more leftist, they probably realize they should hide their leftist views from authority figures, such as their bosses, who are disproportionately on the political right. Plus, as research shows, people on the higher end of the economic scale lose or never learn the full capacity for carefully listening to others and accurrately reading the emotions, motivations, and intentions of others. Indeed, our mother is more psychologically and socially aware than our father.

Because of the sense of conflict and feeling out of place, our parents are thinking of leaving their church here because it is too social justicey for them, not that it is to the left of the American public. To find a church that does fit their right-wing politics, such as my father’s newfound faith in the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory, they’ll probably have to join a Baptist or other fundamentalist church. But that doesn’t fit our father’s identity as he has always thought of himself as ‘mainstream’, as definitive of the ‘majority’ and the ‘normal’. The reality, though, is his views maybe never were majority, not even decades ago. It’s just that he never had to face this reality until recently since leaving his Deep South social world.

In general, maybe even in the Deep South, it’s getting harder to ignore how far left the country has gone. It’s not merely that there have been Black Lives Matter protests everywhere but the fact that now a supermajority agrees with the message of BLM leaders, the view that racism is systemic and the police should be reformed. Yet, to our father, BLM leaders are all Marxists (probably cultural Marxists, the worst kind) and, his having been bottlefed on Cold War propaganda, that means they are pure evil trying to destroy everything that is good about America. That the supermajority sides with BLM is simply incomprehensible to him. It irritaes our mother as well, if with more fatalistic resignation.

Because of older conservatives like our father, there is a powerful backlash going on at the moment, but it’s temporary, During the rise of the Tea Party in the Obama administration, we thought of it as an injured and cornered dog acting all the more vicious because it knows it’s weak and dying, and indeed such a desperate creature can be dangerous (as the MAGA insurrection demonstrated). Our parents, assuming they live long enough, might eventually come to accept this state of affairs and hopefully become less reactionary from the Fox News effect. This morning, our mother had on CSPAN’s Washington Journal. The guest was Cenk Uygur and, interestingly, he was making the exact point of how most of ‘radical’ AOC’s positions are the same as most views held by the American public. She wasn’t necessarily paying attention to what was being said, but it was at least further exposure that might slowly seep down into her psyche.

This is how change happens. As last wave GenXers, we’re barely old enough to remember the old Moral Majority rhetoric and the dwindling of Cold War propaganda. Many Americans our age still carry that ideological indoctrination. But the oldest Millennials, a few years younger than us, have far less sense of any of that. The younger generations know they are a leftist majority. The now old New Right propaganda operation was able to gin up reactionaries during this era of New Media in order to win elections (because of the Electoral College makes progressive and democratic supermajorities impotent), but they ultimately couldn’t tightly control the messaging like they did in the past prior to the internet and social media.

This next decade will be key. The Silent generation has almost entirely been eliminated from power. And the quickly aging Boomers have been losing influence, retiring, and dying. Biden will surely be the last of those older generations to be president. For the first time in our lifetime and maybe in all of American history, there will finally be an ideologically self-aware leftist supermajority that knows it is a leftist supermajority. Already, leftist labels and rhetoric have become normalized and attractive to the younger generations. Yet even then the leftist supermajority might in a way remain unaware or unidentified as such because, as supermajority public opinion becomes a social fact and social norm, the Overton window will move left and the whole political spectrum will realign.

What was called left in the past could simply be the new perceived center, by which all else is defned and compared. Then again, maybe it always was the center. During the Populist and Progressive eras, prior to McCarthyism, Hollywood blacklisting, Cold War propaganda and FBI COINTELPRO, Americans used to be even more economically leftist in support of high taxation on the rich and massive social programs, even significant support of socialism and communism, particularly among the working class and even in the Deep South. We have yet to return to the large and powerful left-wing movement that once existed. But a publicly acknowledged leftist supermajority will begin to move us back in that direction.

* * *

The real point of this post was the below National Notice piece from 2019 by Michael D. D. White. The author is one of the many people who are bringing together the data to show the reality of the majority. Indeed, we picked up from him that we shouldn’t only be speaking of this actual majority for, in fact, it’s a large supermajority — on average, about two-thirds of Americans and sometimes much higher with certain issues. But what we really liked about White’s analysis is his explanation of how this came about, specifically the important role of media.

Everybody’s Realizing It Now: The Political Establishment Is Not Willing To Give The Public The Things The Vast Majority Of Americans Want And That We Could Easily Have
by Michael D. D. White, National Notice

The disappointing experience we had with New York City elected officials respecting libraries may be why when Citizens Defending Libraries participated in producing a forum about Voter Disenfranchisement (how voting is being suppressed, neutralized and the will of the electorate thwarted) it zeroed in and posted the following as grist for discussion:  

The re-enfranchisement of all U.S. citizens voting should also be fought on multiple other fronts. Evidence that electeds don’t follow the popular will is ample, with the majority of Americans wanting but not getting:
        • medicare for all; •  protection of women’s reproductive rights; •  stricter gun control laws; • stricter regulations on and breaking up of the big banks; • more environmental regulation; • equal pay for women; • easier, less restrictive immigration; • less surveillance of American citizens; • less military spending and a pull back from the U.S.’s endless and ceaseless military interventions (wars); • net neutrality; • continued support for traditional public schools, and free college; • more restrictions on money in politics. 

Full disclosure: I am a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries and I worked to set up that forum.

More recently, Columbia law Professor Tim Wu (author of The Master Switch,” “The Attention  Merchants,” and The Curse of Bigness) wrote an op-op in the New York Times that included the following list of things he observed the public wants, but is not getting:

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.

See- Opinion: The Oppression of the Supermajority- The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the thwarting of a largely unified public.  By Tim Wu, March 5, 2019

Professor Wu offered his analysis of why that is.  While he acknowledged that we are supposed to have checks and balances to get thoughtful government rather than mob rule, he noted:                       

    . . . In our era, it is primarily Congress that prevents popular laws from being passed or getting serious consideration. (Holding an occasional hearing does not count as “doing something.”) Entire categories of public policy options are effectively off-limits because of the combined influence of industry groups and donor interests. There is no principled defense of this state of affairs — and indeed, no one attempts to offer such a justification. Instead, legislative stagnation is cynically defended by those who benefit from it with an unconvincing invocation of the rigors of our system of checks and balances.

Tim Wu with his list is following also in the footsteps of film maker and political critic Michael Moore (also a library defender) who included a segment in his film “Fahrenheit 11/9” released last fall (pre-election) intended to bring home the realization of how much more to the left the American public is than what the political establishment is providing.

To quote what is included about this 38 minutes into the film:

There seems to be a misunderstanding about who the real America is. Let me share with you a fact that has never been stated in the press or reported on the nightly news, or even spoken amongst ourselves. The United States of America is a leftist country.
That’s right.  We are one rocking, shit-kicking, gay-loving, gun-rejecting, race-mixing, pot-smoking, tree-hugging, hip-hopping, anywhere breast-feeding, quince-cooking, left-leaning liberal nation. Here are the facts.

    The vast majority of Americans are pro-choice.
    [Slide: 71% pro-choice (NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 2018)]
    They want equal pay for women,
    [Slide: 82% Equal pay for women (YouGov, 2013)]
    stronger environmental laws,
    [Slide: 74% stronger environmental laws (Gallup, 2018)]
    legalized marijuana,
    [Slide: 61% legalized marijuana (Pew, 2018)]
    a raise in the minimum wage,
    [Slide: 61% raise the minimum wage (National Restaurant Association Poll, 2018)]
    Medicare for all,
    [Slide: 70% medicare for all (Reuters, 2018)]
    tuition-free college,
    [Slide: 60% tuition-free public college (Reuters, 2018)]
    free child care,
    [Slide: 59% free child care (Gallup, 2016)]
    support for labor unions,
    [Slide: 62% Approve of labor unions (Gallup, 2018)]
    a cut in the military budget,
    [Slide: 61% a cut in the military budget (University of Maryland, 2016)]
     break up the big banks.
    [Slide: 58% Break up the big banks (Progressive Change Institute, 2015)]
    Most Americans don’t even own a gun.
    [Slide: 78% Don’t own a gun (Harvard University, 2016)]
    And 75% believe that immigration is good for the U. S.
    [Slide: 75% Immigration is good for the U.S. (Gallup, 2018)]
    And on and on and on.   

  . . . . Those crazy motherfuckers have won. . .  If America is us and we’re the majority, why is it that we do not hold a single seat of power? Not the White House, not the Senate, not the House, not the Supreme Court. To go one better that Moore in terms of showing how power and money supersedes what people want, most gun owners and even a majority of the members of the National Rifle Association (plus those who live in households with guns) want more sensible and restrictive gun laws than we have, laws which those leading the NRA seek to fend off.

Moore makes the point in his film that the Democrats are missing the boat by not representing the people.  Even more harshly critical of the Democrats as a corporately captured party masquerading as “opposition” is comedian and media watchdog Jimmy Dore who points out that those in charge of the Democratic party like Nancy Pelosi are actually making it their job to tell the public along with all registered Democrats that they can’t have what the majority of Americans want, an effort to marginalize the most important issues. . .  And they tell those wanting to work through the Democratic party that they shouldn’t even be working for those things!

Dore recently provided his own list of things that “people want and that we know we can have. . What everybody else gets to have in other countries” (and we are, he comments, the “richest country in the world?”)

    •    70% of Americans are for medicare for all
    •    63% are for a $15 minimum wage
    •    66% are for tuition free college
    •    81% support a Green New Deal
    •    59% (almost 6 out of ten Americans support a 70% top marginal tax rate.
    •    72% of American support expanding social security
    •    62% of American want to legalize marijuana
    •    65% want to reform our incarceration system
    •    63% want same sex marriage freedom
    •    69% seven out of ten, want to keep Roe vs. Wade
    •    75% think that immigration is good.
    •    83% want net neutrality
    •    61% want to stop climate change
    •    77% want campaign finance reform (which is not what the Democrats want, just repeal Citizens United)
    •    Almost six out of ten American want to break up the big banks
    •    64% want a guaranteed jobs program
    •    76% Want to tax the rich
    •    67% want to tax big corporations more
    •    Eight, almost nine out of ten Americans want to use the military only as a last resort

Listen to Jimmy Dore Show, April 18, 2019 (“Warmongers Exposed” starting at 27 minutes in.) You can also catch the Jimmy Dore Radio Show on WBAI radio.

Dore points out that the only place these things like Medicare For All are “not mainstream” is inside the beltway and “cable news green rooms.”  This goes to show, says Dore, that we live in an oligarchy where democracy has already been stolen from the public– hacked by Wall Street, Big Oil and Big Pharma.  And we blame the Russians? asks Dore.

It’s not just democracy that’s being stolen from us: Our ability to communicate sensibly with each other has been sabotaged.  Wanting to make his points in his film Michael Moore proclaims that we are a “leftist country. .  . a  left-leaning liberal nation.”  But does that language of Moore’s ceding “the center” to others who are further right truly make sense?  Consider this tweet from Ralph Nader:

They call Bernie Sanders, Senator from conservative Vermont, a leftist. All his major proposals to improve our economy’s fairness and productivity have healthy majority support. Doesn’t that make him a centrist? -R

[…] That gets us to our second major topic for consideration here: The political establishment only gets away with denying the public these things that the public could have if it is aided and abetted by a complicit press.  We have a press owned by corporate conglomerates that exaggerate the costs and underestimate the benefits of such public goods.

For example, when a Koch funded study reached a conclusion (a conclusion the Koch’s certainly didn’t want the study group they funded to reach) that Medicare For All would save the American public $2.1 trillion (in actuality, probably more would be saved), the corporate press went into overdrive to misrepresent and ignore the math and report something quite the opposite.  See the reporting of this press misbehavior by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting which was included in Counterspin, a program they broadcast on WBAI: Reporting on Medicare for All Makes Media Forget How Math Works, Justin Anderson, July 31, 2018.

Similarly, in New York City, we got reporting telling us that New Yorkers had to suffer the huge loss of selling public libraries for less than they were worth because otherwise New Yorkers couldn’t be expected to be able to afford libraries at all.  How very little we were spending on libraries in the overall scheme of things, especially given their benefit, went more or less unreported.  The New York Times ran a front page article about how great it was to be selling off libraries and schools ignoring information Citizens Defending Libraries gave them to the contrary.

Think back for a moment– Remember all those supermajority poll results?  Think where the polls on all these things would be if the press did its job, instead of aligning with the corporations and the political establishment to stonewall and deny.  The polls would be shifting a lot further.  Those things the public wants and is told it can’t have would be even more popular.  One area where polls would shift is where the public would now be positioned on the subject of Democratic Socialism which the public, especially young people are increasingly in favor of.  See: Libraries As A Threat To The “Perspective” That Virtually Everything Should Be Dictated And Run By The Forces of Market Capitalism, August 31, 2018.

There’s still another reason to keep those all supermajority poll results in mind (including where the polls could shift to with a little help from less biased news coverage): When you find people selling you the idea that ours is an extremely divided nation (that’s a common meme for the press now harps on these days), you can scoff and reject the notion that such divisions explain almost everything as a lot of tripe.  As a nation we have much more in common than we are being told.  That’s true no matter how much our differences are being stoked, and it’s true no matter how much the extreme right and its hateful passions, in particular, are being stoked these days. (Listening to “On Contact” on WBAI, you may have just heard Matt Taibbi explain to host Chris Hedges how American journalism is now engaged in purposefully stoking hate between citizens.)

The buttressing by the press of the political establishment’s unwillingness to represent the public on issue after issue of major importance leaves these huge supermajorities of our populace unspoken for and lacking information vital to the conduct of our democracy.  Plus, let’s once again reiterate: The supermajorities these polls record would certainly swell mightily if there was a decent flow of information out to these audiences.

[…] ADDENDUM (added 6/11/2019): One more list!  After this article was written and posted, Chris Hedges interviewed Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins on his “On Contact” radio show (on WBAI and earlier episodes of the show were mentioned in the article as first written). In the course of that interview Hedges presented another list of things that Americans want, could have, but are not being allowed to have by those dominating politics and government in the United States.

Hedges observes that his sampling from his list below is an example of how the positions that are taken by the Green Party are, in fact, in almost all cases, majoritarian positions.

Here is that list, that begins at 10 minutes into the interview:

•    82% of the Americans think wealthy people have too much power and influence.
•    69% think large businesses have too much power and influence in Washington.
•    78% of likely voters support stronger rules and enforcement and regulation of the financial industry.       
•    48% think economic inequality is very big while another 34% think economic inequality is moderately big.  (48%+34%= 82%)
•    59% of registered voters and 51% of registered Republicans favor raising the minimum that low wage worker can make and still be eligible for earned income tax credit from $14,820 to $18,000.
•    96% of American, including 96% of Republicans believe that money in politics is responsible for the dysfunction of the American system.
•    76% believe wealthy American should pay higher taxes.
•    59% favor raising the federal minimum wage to at least $12 an hour.
•    61%, including 42% of Republicans approve of labor unions.
•    60% of Americans believe it is the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care.
•    60% of registered voters favor expanding medicare to provide health insurance to every single citizen.
•    59% favor free early childhood education.
•    76% are concerned about climate disruption.
•    84% support requiring background checks for all gun owners.
•    58% of American believe that abortions should be legal.

“And yet,” notes Hedges, “from both of the parties (except maybe abortion*), none of these majoritarian issues are being addressed.

And that’s the problem of American politics,” says Hawkins, “political preferences don’t translate into public policy, because the political system responds to the donors, not the voters.”

* * *

*Note: The majority Americans are pro-choice in most or all cases, although many also support moderate restrictions on abortion in certain cases, such as late-term pregnancies barring threat to the mother’s life. The point remains that a supermajority is in favor of protecting the Roe v. Wade decision, as opposed to the minority that wants to overturn the decision and remove the federal protection of pro-choice access to abortions. This support has grown stronger over the decades.

In another blogging piece in the works, it is noted that the present culture wars are very much an invented phenomenon. The new religious right didn’t form in response to abortion but, as religious right leader Paul Weyrich admitted, to a Supreme Court Case banning racial segregation in Bible Colleges. In fact, most earlier Americans, including most conservative evangelicals, supported women’s pro-choce rights in ensuring safe abortions were available to all women. In the early-to-mid 1900s, the divide was not between liberal secularists and conservative fundamentalists but between two paired groups. Catholics (or rather the Vatican) and First Wave feminists were anti-choice while Protestants and Second Wave feminists were pro-choice.

When the Roe v. Wade decision was made, many well known religious right figures came out in support of it. So did many Republican leaders, including Dwight Eisenhower who made the liberal argument that it wasn’t helpful to ban abortions because, then, women would feel forced to get illegal and unsafe abortions. Eisenhower’s wife, by the way, helped found Planned Parenthood in Texas. It was only years later, when the anti-segregationist case happened, that the religious right leaders decided to start using abortion as a symbolic dog whistle to oppose social liberalism because they knew they couldn’t gain support by organizing around racism.

During the first half of the 20th century, Christianity had become quite liberal, as had the population in general. This is seen in the data reported by John Sides, as taken from Ideology in America by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson: “On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down.  For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government)” (Why most conservatives are secretly liberals).

For some specific numbers, consider that, “almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics.  Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics.  Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views.  The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.” So, though only a third of Americans are politically liberal and liberal-identifying, the supermajority of Americans hold liberal views, including about abortion. Think about the fact that there is only 15% of hardcore conservatives.

Capitalist Realism, Capitalist Religion

”One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion.”

Walter Benjamin, Capitalism as religion

“Avarice — once one of the seven deadly sins — morphed into the ‘self-interest’ or ‘initiative’ indispensable to wealth and innovation, while the inscrutable ways of Providence yielded to the laws of supply and demand.”

Eugene McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon

“Even a quick glance at the self-improvement, management, spirituality, and Christian guidance genres reveals their thematic similarities: exhortations to “discover your inner strength,” “call the good into your life,” and “live without limits.” How could such disparate categories become nearly identical in their message?”

Regina Munch, Capitalism as Religion: How Money Became God

We are part of a family where, when gathered, there is much discussion and analysis of social responsibility and personal accountability in terms of finances, parenting, education, etc. Our parents are conservative, but our brothers are liberal. The views shared are not entirely ideological in a partisan sense and there is often much agreement about premises, as most Americans share an unquestioned faith in the dogma of hyper-individualism, captialist realism, and natural consequences — all of the accoutrements of WEIRD bias at the extremes of Jaynesian egoic-consciousness. It’s an all-encompassing worldview for those within it. Alternatives are not entertained, much less acknowledged. Such moral-tinged talk always implies that the world is a certain way, that it should not and cannot be otherwise, or else simply can’t be imagined to the contrary. There is no suggestion, of course, that anything is wrong or lacking within the system itself.

The lives of those individuals who fail according to the enforced social norms and rules are offered up as exemplary morality tales of what not to do, along with just-so narratizing of their failure and inferiority, although the condescension is couched within superficial non-judgment and neutral observation. After all, those others have no one to blame other than themselves, as isolated and self-contained moral agents. Or else, assuming they were simply born that way because of some combination of genetic predilection and inborn personality, familial patterns and inherited culture, there is nothing the rest of us can do about it, other than to express our sense of pity in noting how they acted wrongly or inadequately within the established system of social reality as given through the inevitable and unalterable link from cause to effect. To attempt to intervene would likely make things worse, as it would circumvent capitalism as a pedagoical system, one variety of the conservative morality-punishment link as social control. Each individual must learn or else suffer, as God or Nature intended. Still, much concern and worrying is offered.

Yet, for whatever reason, this ideological worldview as totalizing mazeway and habitus makes absolutely no sense to some of us. The indoctrination never quite took full hold in our psyche — maybe a personal failing of ours, as we are the least outwardly and normatively ‘successful’ in the family. In listening in on the talk of other family members, we can feel like an alien anthropological observer of strange cultural customs and religious practices. We can’t help but imagine that future historians will portray our present society in the way we look back on slavery and feudalism, humoral temperaments and miasmic air, witchburnings and bloodletting, an economically and scientifically backward period of societal development, like the pimples of an awkward and gangly teenager who is no longer a child but not quite an adult, if pimples involved mass oppression and suffering. But it goes beyond the outward social order itself. The underlying belief system can seem the strangest of all. The power it holds in socially constructing a reality tunnel is amazing, to say the least.

We’ve previously noted how humans will go to great effort, even self-sacrifice, to enforce social norms. A social order as an ideological lifeworld doesn’t happen on accident. It doesn’t develop organically. It has to be created and enforced, and then continuously re-created and re-enforced again and again across time. It’s an endless project that requires immense investment of time, effort, and money (trillions upon trillions of dollars are spent every year to fund the system of social control to punish the guilty and reward the worthy). For at least a decade, we’ve had the tentative theory that bullshit jobs are simply busywork to maintain the system or rather they are ritual activity like monks going through their daily routine of prayers, chanting, and monastical maintenance. Most work likely doesn’t serve any practical value other than upholding and enacting the very system that is dependent on the worker identity, where non-workers are non-entities or of questionable status to be used, punished, controlled, or dismissed as needed and by whatever means necessary. Yet when, pandemic panic shut down large swaths of the economy, it starkly demonstrated what was and was not essential work while the economy lumbered on just fine. The fears proved false. The forecast of doom never came.

As always, this brings us to thoughts on the ruling elite that are themselves ruled by their own elitism, taken in by their own culture of propaganda, the first victims of viral mind control to be spread like a plague from pussy rags thrown into the town well. The indoctrination is trickledown, if not the wealth and resources. The point is the oligarchs and plutocrats are in many ways sincerely paternalistic, elitist and supremacist in believing their own fevered rantings, as dementedly hypocritical as it can seem from an outside perspective. Obviously, this society is not the best of all possible worlds and, in some ways, the very point is to suppress progress, where the destabilizing consequences of creative destruction mostly apply to the victmized permanent underclass. Yet the costs of maintaining the social order, although disproportionately offloaded onto the dirty masses, also harms the monied classes. But one suspects that most social dominators take it as a good deal for there could be no value in a superior lifestyle of privilege, prestige, and power if benefits could not be denied to others — the scarcity principle of value. It’s simply the costs of doing business and business, as such, is doing well within the American Empire. That more value might be destroyed (endless war, imperial bureaucracy, suppression of competition, wanton destruction of human potential, etc) than created is not a concern, as long as the profits and benefits get concentrated among the deserving.

Capitalism is simply a modern religion, far from being an original insight. And the assumption of inborn selfishness within homo economicus is a variant on the belief in an Original Sin that marks all of humanity as a shared curse that justifes the system of punishment and sufferng that, accordng to doctrine, cleanses the soul and strengthens character. Economics is theology and economists the clergy. The cult of the market is operated according to various rites and rituals, theological doctrine and clerical law upheld by the mysterious authorities of Wall Street, US Chamber of Commerce (USCC), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), US Department of the Treasury (USDT), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Reserve System (“Fed”), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (IBRD & IDA), World Trade Organization (WTO), Group of Eight (G8), etc. The consumer-citizen seeks their salvation and redemption through workplace observence within corporate-churches and economic transactions of buying product-indulgences at market-shrines.

One could analyze it endlessly, as many others have already done. But what motivated our thoughts here was the basic observation of how it operates in such a casual and thoughtless manner. The theology of capitalist realism rolls off the tongue as if a comforting prayer invoking Divine Law. It’s such a simple and compelling faith that has such power because there is a vast institutional hegemony, if mostly hidden, enforcing Natural Law-and-Order. Even the economic sinners, the lost souls, and the excommunicated who fall under the punisment of debt, poverty, and homelessness rarely question the moral justification of their fate nor the system that sentenced judgment upon them, in the hope they might regain Divine Favor of material fortune, to be welcomed back by the Invisible Hand into the congregation of the saved. We so easily internalize this ideological worldview and identify with it. The even worse fate, so it seems, would be to lose faith entirely and find oneself in the ideological desert with no shared moral order to offer certainty, no shared moral imagination to offer comfort.

“Critics of the disenchantment narrative have long noticed that if you look closely at western modernity, this ostensibly secular and rational regime, you find it pretty much teeming with magical thinking, supernatural forces, and promises of grace. Maybe the human yearning for enchantment never went away; it just got redirected. God is there, just pointing down other paths. As scholars like Max Weber have noted, capitalism is a really a religion, complete with its own rites, deities, and rituals. Money is the Great Spirit, the latest gadgets are its sacred relics, and economists, business journalists, financiers, technocrats, and managers make up the clergy. The central doctrine holds that money will flow to perform miracles in our lives if we heed the dictates of the market gods.”

Lynn Parramore, The Gospel of Capitalism is the Biggest Turkey of All

“…capitalism is a form of enchantment—perhaps better, a misenchantment, a parody or perversion of our longing for a sacramental way of being in the world. Its animating spirit is money. Its theology, philosophy, and cosmology have been otherwise known as “economics.” Its sacramentals consist of fetishized commodities and technologies—the material culture of production and consumption. Its moral and liturgical codes are contained in management theory and business journalism. Its clerisy is a corporate intelligentsia of economists, executives, managers, and business writers, a stratum akin to Aztec priests, medieval scholastics, and Chinese mandarins. Its iconography consists of advertising, public relations, marketing, and product design. Its beatific vision of eschatological destiny is the global imperium of capital, a heavenly city of business with incessantly expanding production, trade, and consumption. And its gospel has been that of “Mammonism,” the attribution of ontological power to money and of existential sublimity to its possessors.”

Eugene McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon

“While the economist community that is comprised of economists sanctioned by the religion acts as the clergy of the religion, modern media which took the place of individual church buildings as a medium of communication acts as their medium to preach the religion to the society. This setup is amended by the education institutions and scientific institutions which act as the appendages to the Church, where children are educated/indoctrinated to the religion and its tenets from an early age by instilling them with ideas of competition, consumerism, materialism based success and in general a complete worldview that is created based on the religion’s tenets. The higher education and scientific institutions continue the education/indoctrination, creating the subsequent generations of clergy to preach the religion and run the institutions.”

Ozgur Zeren, Capitalism is Religion

“In the Spirit of Our People”

We’ve come to a new point in life, maybe approaching something vaguely resembling maturity if not yet wisdom. A change in attitude was recently expressed in changes made to this blog’s comment policy, specifically about what is off-limits. There are certain issues that have gone beyond the realm of meaningful, worthy, and useful debate (race realism, genetic determinism, etc); sometimes entirely beyond the pale (white supremacy, eugenics, etc). That is to say there is nothing left to debate, as far as we’re concerned, not in the broad sense, if there might remain points of honest disagreement. One of those fruitless and dissatisfying areas of conflict involves false equivalency. So, on the pages of this blog, there is now a total ban on false equivalency arguments and rhetoric, although that partly comes down to interpretation and hence discernment. The point is that, no, the two sides of ‘left’ and ‘right’ are not the same, not even close. In making comparisons along these lines, tread lightly and think carefully before speaking. We’ve grown tired and bored with a certain kind of bullshit. We’ve had a thousand debates along these lines and we’ve reached our limit. We are moving on to newer and greener pastures.

The hour is later than some realize. Anyone who still doesn’t grok it by now is probably beyond being reached by fair-minded argument and open dialogue; or, anyway, it’s not our duty to enlighten their ignorance, remedy their inadequacies, or to save their lost souls. Nor will space be given to their words and time wasted in responding — life is too short. Been there, done that; and now we retire from the fray, like an old soldier joining a monastery. But for the purpose here, we will kindly offer an explanation. Part of the problem is the language itself (and we are entirely open to critique of terminology, definitions, and framing). Though an ancient and powerful metaphor, the egocentric (i.e., non-cardinal point) view of ideology as bipolar directionality along a linear spectrum is, well, simplistic. And the metaphorical frame was simplistic for a reason as a simple distinction was being made. Originally, all that it meant was literally on which side of the French king one sat, in indicating whether one was a supporter or a critic. Once the king was deposed, this seating arrangement continued in the National Assembly during the French Revolution. Then later on the distinction was applied to political factions, parties, movements, and ideologies.

To put it in basic terms, the original dualistic categorization of ‘right’ vs ‘left’ was about whether one favored or opposed naked authoritarianism as unquestioned power held with and enforced by a monopoly of violence (though articulated precursors of this distinction went back to the Axial Age, then later with the English Peasants’ Revolt and English Civil War). But, to be fair, the metaphor got muddy quite early on when the most reactionary, anti-democratic, and authoritarian of the Jacobins seized power and so the radically progressive, democratic, and anti-authoritarian Thomas Paine ended up sitting on the ‘right’ side with the Girondins who were initially part of the Jacobins (the ‘left’/’right’ divide took a while to be more clearly formulated following the revolution). As a side note, there is even more confusion in trying to apply the Western political spectrum to non-Western societies, such as Lebanon, that don’t share Western history, culture, and politics. Such things get quite messy and confused, even in the original context of meaning. Let’s not try to pretend to categorize the whole world in one of two categories, ‘right’ and ‘left’. On the other hand, at least within the Western world, let’s not dismiss these labels and what they’ve historically represented across centuries, as important meanings have been established.

Anyway, the latter position of opposition to unjust authoritarianism and/or rigid hierarchy came to be associated primarily with the core concept of egalitarianism, along with freedom, fairness, and fraternity (further related to democracy, solidarity, the commons, the public, public good, public trust, culture of trust, and a more relational individualism). Egalitarianism was never opposed to authority in its entirety for there are other dynamic, flexible, responsive, accountable, and even anarchistic forms of authority besides the rigidly-structured and violently-enforced hierarchy of authoritarianism as monarchy, patriarchy, theocracy, feudalism, imperialism, or even right-libertarianism. Along with that authoritarianism, we might as well throw in the the ‘liberty’-minded and ‘republican’-oriented Jacobinism that led to basically a new monarchical-like empire with Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte having replaced King Louis XVI. This is not unlike how Stalin’s personality cult replaced Emperor Nicholas II and re-created the Russian Empire with an industrialized neo-feudalism involving peasant-like ‘communist’ laborers that were put back into place after revolting. Both radical revolutions for egalitarianism were co-opted by anti-egalitarian reactionaries and authoritarans who used the demagoguery of fake egalitarian rhetoric. Are we to call that the ‘left’? Similarly, just because the business-friendly, corporatist-promoting, and individualism-fetishizing Nazis called themselves national socialists, are we also to include them as part of the ‘left’? If so, all meaningful distinctions are moot and we should give up; but we don’t accept that.

As another side note, originally republicanism was the ‘leftist’ challenge to the ‘rightist’ defense of monarchy. But, with monarchy eliminated in the founding of the United States and republicanism having become normalized, many post-revolutioanry ‘rightists’ embraced republicanism which sort of became a near meaningless word in how it describes nothing in particular (like the United States, both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were republics). Thomas Jefferson observed, “In truth, the abuses of monarchy had so much filled all the space of political contemplation, that we imagined everything republican which was not monarchy. We had not yet penetrated to the mother principle, that ‘governments are republican only in proportion as they embody the will of their people, and execute it.’ Hence, our first constitutions had really no leading principles in them” (letter written to Samuel Kercheval; Monticello, July 12, 1816). This relates to how republican federalism was originally the radical position in the American Revolution as it was the insurrectionist opposition to the monarchy of the British Empire. Then reactionary authoritarians co-opted the republican ‘Federalist’ label for themselves. This created the odd situation where the so-called Anti-Federalists were more pro-federalist than those who identified themselves as Federalists, while some of those pseudo-Federalists became nostalgic about imperialism and even monarchy. Going back centuries, there has been a continuous pattern of reactionaries co-opting the language of the ‘left’ which endlessly complicates matters (one might call them ‘Faceless Men‘). The first ‘libertarians’, for example, were French anarchist/anti-statist socialists who were part of the ‘left-wing’ workers movement that included Marxists and communists. Yet today the right-‘libertarian’ Koch brothers (one now dead) are the leadng power behind a libertarian movement to replace democracy with neo-fascism.

The rightist position, no matter the language and labels co-opted within reactionary rhetoric, has emphasized a metaphorical view of the political head (or capitalist head; or religious head) as ruling over and held above or otherwise controlling and being superior to the body politic (or body economic; or Body of Christ), whereas the leftist view has tended to consider it as merely a single part not to be prejudicially prioritized. So, the leftist emphasis has been on the collective, systemic, and holistic; that the parts are inseparable and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; as expressed in more modern theories of historical materialism, sociology, anthropology, ecology, integralism, intersectionality, etc (in Spiral Dynamics, presently somewhere between green, yellow, and turquoise vmemes, although earlier incorporating more from orange vmeme). As such, the detached head or any other part cannot metonymically stand in for the whole body. In democracy, like many tribal societies where the leader follows, authority represents the public will through consent of the governed but cannot enforce upon it or else it no longer is democracy (similar to the reason the Soviet Union was not ‘leftist’ precisely to the degree that it became a neo-feudal Russian Empire built on a Stalinist personality cult, not to dismiss that many Soviet citizens and officials genuinely sought to promote egalitiarian leftism as communism that gave workers freedom, autonomy, and agency; similarly not to dismiss that many in the American founding generation actually did support and seek democracy).

To get back to the metaphor of the ‘head’ and ‘body’, we can also consider it non-metaphorically. The idea of the ‘head’ ruling the ‘body’ was an old scientific theory of human biology that lingers in folk scientific understandings of folk psychology about the egoic individuality — the brain (or some part of the brain; e.g., pineal gland) as the seat of the self/soul. Yet modern science has, instead, found that neurons exist in other parts of the body (gut, heart, etc), that multiple links operate between brain and other areas (e.g., gut-brain axis), and that neurocognition is more embodied and diffuse than previously recognized. The rightist conviction in the atomistic individual self, atomistic body, atomistc material world, atomistic private property, atomistic nuclear family, atomistic worker-cog, atomistic consumer-citizen, atomistic relationship to God, and atomistic authority figures (an often regressive blue-orange vmeme alliance of the New Right and MAGA, but sometimes shifting toward an orange-green alliance such as Russel Kirk’s unconscious postmodernism, Karl Rove’s social constructivism, Donald Trump’s post-truth, and Jordan Peterson’s self-loathing pluralism) is far less scientifcally plausible and morally compelling than it was when early scientific thought (e.g., Newtonian physics) had yet to be challenged by later scientfic research, knowledge, and theory.

There is an understandable attraction to visually simplistic metaphors that capture the imagination. And there is inspiration to be taken from the wing metaphor, since two wings are part of a single bird, often used as a symbol of nobility and natural freedom, such as the bald eagle being the primary symbol of the United States. As elegant and inspiring as it might be to think of society like a great feathered creature requring a linked pair of wings moving in balanced unison to gain lift and soar through the sky, it becomes readily apparent where the metaphor of a ‘left’ wing of egalitarianism and a ‘right’ wing of authoritarianism (i.e., rigidly hierarchical authority) fails us. In the world we actually live in, a small ‘right’ wing ruling elite has come to dominate all of society through plutocratic and kleptocratic, corporatocratic and oligarchic capitalist realism (fungible wealth of ‘capital’ etymologically as head; related to ‘cattle’ and ‘chattel’; hence, chattel slavery was part of early capitalism and still is). The metaphor in question would only describe reality if a stunted ‘right’ wing had somehow become bloated and cancerous, grown a monstrous demonic mouth-hole with razor-like teeth, began beating to death the massive but paralyzed ‘left’ wing, futilely struggled to detach itself from the body, and then sado-masochistcally attempted to devour the rest of the bird. The metaphor breaks down a bit at that point. Hence, the problem with false equivalency between ‘left’ and ‘right’. I hope that clears things up.

We are well into a new century and the older generations that ruled since the Cold War, too many with minds locked into backlash, are finally retiring, turning senile, and dying off. As a society, it is time for the rest of us to move on. Although silenced and suppressed, disenfranchised and demoralized, the vast majority of Americans already agree on basic values, aspirations, and demands (a 60-90% supermajority of the population, depending on the particular issue; in some cases, 90+%). That a hyped-up and over-promoted minority in the ruling elite and on the far right fringe disagrees is irrelevant. Even most Americans supposedly on the political ‘right’ to varying degrees agree with ‘leftist’ and liberal positions on many key policies. So, the many average Americans on the so-called ‘right’ are not enemies and one might argue they’re not even really on the ‘right’, despite false polarization pushed by corporate media and corporatist parties to manipulate and control us, divide and disempower us. Though many have been indoctrinated to believe the ‘left’ is their enemy, we invite them to consciously join the moral (super-)majority they might already belong to without knowing it.

To put some numbers to it, John Sides has a decent 2014 article, Why most conservatives are secretly liberals. He reports that, “almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics.  Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics.  Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views.  The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.” In referencing Ideology in America by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson, Sides points out how this disjuncture has been longstanding: “When identifying themselves in a word, Americans choose “conservative” far more than “liberal.” In fact they have done so for 70 years, and increasingly so since the early 1960s. […] On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down.  For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government).”

Here in this blog, our mission is to defend the broad and majoritarian ‘leftism’ (i.e., pro-egalitarianism) of this inclusionary big tent movement. Whatever one wants to call it and by whichever metaphor one wants to frame it, this is the same difference that makes a difference. We the free People are the demos of democracy. After asserting the founders and framers had failed to create and protect a free society, an aging Thomas Jefferson asked where was to be found republicanism (as he defined it: democratic, popular, direct, and majoritarian self-governance) and he answered: “Not in our constitution certainly, but merely in the spirit of our people.” The American public, the American majority is the rampart upon which democracy must be defended, the line that we cannot back down from, the ground that can never be ceded for it would be a mortal wound, collective soul death. There is no compromise on this point. We face an existential crisis, a moment of do or die. Here we stand or separately we will hang, to echo one famous founder. We are quickly running out of opportunities to avoid the worst and, in knowing history, we realize the worst can get quite bad — not to mention that each iteration of the worst is likely to be worse than the last.

This is why, in this blog, we are not going to portray or allow the portrayal of both sides as equal or equivalent. We are not going to treat fascism, theocracy, and bigotry as equally valid as anti-fascism, secularism, and tolerance. We are not going to pretend that those opposed to some authoritarianism in favor of other, often worse, authoritarianism are the same as those who oppose all authoritarianism on principle. Social domination and social democracy aren’t merely two reasonable options of how to govern society. Either there is freedom or not. And any liberty that denies democracy is just another name for slavery. Also, to get at a specific point, no, the comparably rare violence, typcally property damage, of recent leftists defending egalitarianism, countering injustice, standing up to oppression, protesting wrongdoing, and fighting authoritarianism is no where near the same as the widespread commonality of right-wing terrorism, hate crimes, violent oppression, police statism, and war-mongering. And fuck off about spiritual violence while people in the real world are physically suffering and dying. If you don’t understand what is at stake, we won’t be bothered to give you the time of day.

Nonetheless, intelligent and informed distinctions will be made, rather than overly simplistic black/white judgements. Yes, the transparitisan stranglehold of both main (right-wing) parties unfortunately pushes a forced and false choice of two greater evil varieties of right-wing authoritarianism of corporatocratic capitalist realism, if one side prefers milder paternalism and the other outright oligarchy (“Stragedy? Is ‘stragedy’ the right word to describe how the DNC corporate Democrats strategically connive to set it up that they always ‘have to’ concede to Republican demands?” queries National Notice). But, even in that, there are differences that still do make a difference and so we won’t tolerate false equivalency with that either. Some politicians are undeniably and irrefutably more dangerous than others. And, for all the devious corruption of the Clinton Foundation, there simply is no extensive left-wing equivalent to the right-wing Shadow Network. Still, the fact remains that most Americans are to the left of the DNC elite. Heck, a surprisingly large swath of Republican voters are to the left of the DNC elite, on issues from economics to environmentalism. The Biden administration is morally questionable and anything to the right of that is morally unacceptable, beyond the bounds — that far right and no further and even that is too far right. As a society, we have to have norms and standards. Most Americans have come to an agreement on this and now it’s time we Americans recognize our status as citizenry, take collective responsibility, demand consent of the governed, and enforce our moral majority, albeit a pluralistic majority.

In conclusion, let us be clear in stating our purpose, in declaring where we stand. Most importantly, we in this blog will always side with the underdog. Absolutely fucking always! If you are not on the side of the underdog, you are our mortal enemy and we will treat you as such (but when right-wingers are oppressed or their rights infringed, we will defend them just the same; and we will always defend everyone’s right to free speech, if not always giving them a platform to freely promote that speech in this personal and private blog). We are devoted to a fierce compassion, emphasis on both ‘fierce’ and ‘compassion’. The greatest condemnation will be reserved for moral cowards. As the pacifist Mahatma Gandhi declared with no equivocation, moral cowardice is worse than violence and death. “There is hope for a violent man to be some day non-violent,” Gandhi argued, “but there is none for a coward.” Yet, obviously, non-violence and non-aggression is always preferable and will be sought as a first option (even second and third option). And self-chosen self-sacrifice can be noble, as Gandhi held up as the highest ideal, if victimhood identity politics of romanticized martyrdom can be dysfunctional. Still, the point remains that Gandhi brooked no false equivalency between the violence of aggression and the violence of self-defense, and neither will we.

We must hold to moral courage in all ways, particularly in defense of what is morally right, to not back down from a fight, to not avoid uncomfortable conflict. Within this protected space, there will be no tolerance of intolerance — that will not be an issue of debate. Any and all reactionary rhetoric and authoritarian views are simply forbidden, even when used by those who identify as ‘leftist’, liberal, Democratic, independent, or whatever else. We will no longer play that game. This is the end of the age of bullshit. Yet, in relationship to those who have been pulled into the dark side of reactionary fear and fantasies, we will always be willing to welcome them back into the fold of moral society and respectable politics, if and when they are ready. We understand that the Fox News effect, the Mercer media machine, and the corporate propaganda model of the news has virulently afflicted millions of Americans with a reactionary mind virus that causes psychotic disconnecton from reality and generally maladaptive behavior, false identities and confused thought processes, even pulling more than a few ‘leftists’ into misleading and harmful rhetoric.

That saddens us, but there appears to be little we can do to save those others from that horrible fate, if they do not recognize the trap they are in and if they refuse all help. They will have to take the first step out of their own darkness. Until then, we will strive too hold this space of light and truth with the door always open to those of shared moral concern for freedom and fairness. We will do so to the best of our ability, however imperfect and inadequate that may seem under the oppressive circumstances of the greater problems we are all immersed in. That is the necessity for holding a basic standard for allowable participation here in these pages. This blog is a small refuge from a world gone mad. We can’t pretend to be ideological physicians offering promises of an antidote to the mind plague, but we can offer a brief respite, a sanitarium of fresh air and sunlight. Please respect these intentons. But also join your voice with ours, if you feel inspired. At times like these, we need to support each other in speaking out and in giving voice. Whatever might actually be ‘left’ and ‘right’, egalitarianism is the center, the beating heart. Anyone who denies this is a dangerous extremist not to be trusted or tolerated, an enemy of the people. Egalitarianism is not merely a word, not an abstract ideal, not yet another ideology. As an archaic moral impulse, this moral vision does matter. We are all egalitarians now, if many of us don’t yet realize it. We always have been egalitarians, at the core of our shared human nature.

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4/29/21 – This post was written at the beginning of the month and we’ve had the past several weeks to mull it over. We remain basically satisfied with it, as it turned out better than expected. It was something that has been on our mind for a long time and it needed to be said. We had immense satisfaction once the piece was completed. But, as always, our thoughts never really end. We did revise the post slightly, although it was mainly minor corrections of errors and changes in wording. Besides polishing it up, there is some additional commentary rumbling around in our braincase. We’ll just tack it on here at the end. We are overly self-conscious of our audience, real and prospective. In this case, there was no negative response and, if anything, mostly agreement or apparent neutrality. Then again, maybe some were too concerned about our own potential response to leave a more critical comment. We’re certainly not seeking to suppress and silence dissent. There are no doubt thousands of alternative and challenging views one could express without falling foul of this blog’s new false equivalency ban.

Most powerfully, one could simply and directly challenge the entire framing of the post and that would be more than welcome. To be honest, we don’t much like the framing either. But until something better comes along, that framing is our shared cultural inheritance from these past centuries of modern ideological thought as the end result of the more than two millennia of prior change, as initiated by the collapse of the Bronze Age bicameral mind and its replacement with Axial Age Jaynesian consciousness. One doesn’t so easily toss aside the foundation of one’s civilization, even when it’s imperfect. Much else is built upon it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t point out the cracks, particularly in order repair them. And, meanwhile, nothing is stopping anyone from attempting to design and construct a new foundation. Following the precautionary principle and the words of Franz Kafka, we shouldn’t wantonly destroy what already exists before we have something better to replace it with. Furthermore, as Carl Jung wisely advised, even if it seems madness, it might be serving a purpose of preventing something far worse.

So, here we are. Even our own stance of critical judgment is not intended as mere attack. The political right does not represent the dark, evil, and demonic polar extreme of Manichaean dualism. As such, the entire right-wing is not our collective enemy. Only those who act as our enemy are our enemy. In the above post, we went so far as to suggest that most people portrayed and/or self-identified as ‘rightists’ (of whatever kind) are not even really ‘rightist’ in the conventional, traditional, and historical sense of Western social, economic, and political thought. That is a major point, if not the primary focus of this post, but maybe it should’ve been given greater emphasis. It further supports and explains why equivalence is false. It’s not merely that the ‘right’ is the minority of Americans and other Westerners. Even on the so-called ‘right’, the actual hardcore ‘right-wing’ is a minority. It’s that minority within a minority that is fully embracing and expressing the extremes of the reactionary mind, nostalgic backlash, historical revisionism, xenophobic bigotry, violent hatred, dogmatic closedmindedness, social domination, and the Dark Tetrad (authoritarianism, narcissism, Machiavellianism, sadism).

As we like to endlessly repeat, the entire society has gone far left (in terms of social liberalism, economics, environmentalistm, etc). Most people today are far left of liberals from a century ago. And most people a century ago were far left compared to the liberals a century before that. When the left and right labels were first used, the ‘right’ defended theocracy, monarchy, aristocracy, imperialism, slavery, patriarchy, and worse; meanwhile, the original ‘left’ was a bit mixed or confused on issues like democracy, universal suffrage, rights of commoners, etc. So, even the oldest ‘left’ is, by today’s standards, to right-wing extreme to be acceptable and respectable to most present right-wingers. Of course during the colonial and early modern revolutionary periods, Americans had become the most left-leaning population in the West. They had grown accustomed to a social norm of free and open access to land and natural resources (practically, an informal commons), a wealthier lifestyle that increased socioeconomic mobility, and semi-autonomous self-governance because of a distant imperial capitol and weak military force.

This is why the United States is the only country in the world specifically founded on documents that espoused liberal principles and many of them still radical to this day. Right from the beginning, the US started far left of the rest of the world, particularly left of the British Empire; and even the French Revolution didn’t have any voices or leaders as radically leftist as Thomas Paine (well, not until Paine himself showed up in France after fleeing persecution in England). The original rightist ideology of the French was simply unacceptable in being too far right even to most early American conservatives. For Anglo-American thought, this was the initial point of confusion. It’s not only that all of us Americans are now liberals for we always were. That is what makes American society stand out. What goes for American conservatism is simply a variety of Western liberalism, if heavily revised and distorted by the reactionary mind. It’s precisely because there is no native tradition of a genuine American conservatism that the ‘rightist’ ideologies that took its place are so radically modern and sometimes postmodern, in desperately and impossibly attempting to distinguish itself as something else.

This is hard for Americans to see because liberalism frames everything and so is taken for granted. Even American ‘conservatives’ occasionally admit this state of affairs in claiming they are the real and original ‘classical liberals‘, a false but telling argument. This first became apparent to us in being confronted by the Continental European view of Domenico Losurdo presented in his counter-history of liberalism, which we initially disagreed with but eventually came around to. Maybe this is more apparent within Catholic tradition that maintains a living memory of old school conservatism, not to mention a historical memory of premodern and pre-Protestant ancien regime — Father Brent Shelton wrote: “To be clear, the term ‘Liberal’ is used here in its philosophical sense to refer to a constitutional order which protects the rights of individuals, specifically, the rights to “life, liberty and property”, and is philosophically opposed to Conservatism, which prefers either rule by landed aristocracy, or rule by an imperial bureaucracy. In the USA, both the Republican and Democratic parties are philosophically Liberal, emphasizing competing aspects of Liberalism, although modern electoral polemics have altered the term in the popular imagination.”

Original and actual Western conservatism is so far outside the bounds of American social norms as to not even be acknowledged in mainstream media and politics, not even for sake of historical context, much less discussed and defended in public debate. Yet it’s always lurking as a typically unspoken and ever threatening authoritarianism in the American reactionary mind, regularly re-emerging as a demagogic return of the repressed (e.g., Donald Trump’s MAGA). It’s precisely this hidden nature that makes it so dangerous because its not part of any respectable and stable Old World cultural tradition that could redirect it toward the public good (e.g., Scandinavian conservatives supporting social demcracy). This is the reason so many American conservatives, while preaching liberal rhetoric of libertarianism and laissez-faire, are ever ready to shore up neo-imperialism as neo-conservatism, neo-colonialism as neo-liberalism, and neo-feudalism as neo-fascism.

American conservatives have no traditional roots to ground and stabilize the reactionary forces that possess them. They can never honestly speak about what are their true intentions and agendas, since these disreputable impulses aren’t established within a shared consciousness of ideological understanding and traditional meaning. American political thought was born abruptly in the modern world, not having had the slow shift out of the ancien regime as happened in much of Europe. Even the Euopean enclosure movement took centuries to complete in finally and fully ending the feudal commons and the laws that went with them. The reactionary is bad enough in Europe, as attested to by the modern nostalgic revisionism of ethno-nationalism and fascism. But only in the US has the reactionary taken hold as a new kind of absolutely anti-conservative and anti-traditional capitalist realism, social Darwinism, hyper-individualism, materialistic consumerism, and market fetishism.

In how early European conservatism is the shadow of American ‘conservative’-minded liberalism, American reactionary ‘conservatism’ as regressive liberalism is the shadow of American liberalism as progressive radicalism. This is what makes false equivalency so misleading and dangerous. This often leads to another minority group of reactionary extremists (typically Democrats or ‘independents’) that, in portraying everyone else as extremists, pretends to be ‘moderate’ and ‘centrist’. That is related to how the American ruling elite has always included bourgeois semi-liberals, (Cold War McCarthyists, Blue Dogs, Clinton Democrats, etc), holding to anti-leftist rhetoric while punching left and pushing hard right. Such is the need for a strong left that, witout quibbling and in-fighting, pushes back hard. And so all the more reason we shouldn’t tolerate false equivalency in the slightest. Yet even the most adamant of leftists need to recognize that none of us is immune to the reactionary in a society that as become overwhelmed with inequality and injustice, division and conlict, anxiety and fear. It’s never just about those other people, the ‘basket of deplorables’. The reactionary shadow applies to us all and so we all have much collective shadow work to do in processing deep wounds of transgenerational trauma.

Canceling the Left with Right-Wing Projections

Accusing your enemy of doing what you’re doing—in this case, right-wing organizations canceling left-wing academics, and then claiming liberals are perpetrating cancel culture—is a form of deflection that riles the right-wing base against intellectuals, but also sends the coded message that the Republican Party will do what it can to silence left-wing critics.

Ari Paul, Panic Over ‘Cancel Culture’ Is Another Example of Right-Wing Projection

We Americans can’t have a meaningul public debate about “cancel culture” until we can publicly acknowledge (i.e., stop canceling) the long history of those who have been cancelled in American society by various means: colonialism, slavery, genocide, patriarchy, religious bigotry, Jim Crow, sundown towns, race wars, lynching, Ku Klux Klan, right-wing terrorism, English only laws, internment camps, eugenics, McCarthyism, corporate blacklisting, Comics Code, COINTELPRO, class war, union busting, book burnings, propaganda programs, voter suppression, militarized policing, mass incarceration, and on and on.

Also, there is never acknowledged the mass cancelling of the political left. Most Americans are to the left not only of the Republican Party but also of the DNC elite and corporate media. On top of that, there is actually more recent attacks on leftist academics that never gets acknowledged because it doesn’t fit mainstream frames of the ruling paradigm. And consder the left-anarchist David Graeber having been blackballed from US universities. Large swaths of the left are so canceled as to be treated as not existing — a wholesale blackballing by way of pre-emptive canceling where the silenced were never heard in the first place.

As more of a leftist, I’m not much of a fan of either (pseudo-)liberal identity politics or right-wing identity politics. Nor do I support much of what gets called “political correctness” and “cancel culture.” But let’s be realistic and let’s be informed. If we go back to the Cold War, we should remember that often the supposed liberal class in the corporate media and corrporatist politics were among the most strident Cold Warriors in siding with the right and silencing the left. That pattern has continued since as seen with the Democrats punching left. It’s never been easy to be a leftist in Amerian society, not then and not now.

To speak of it meaningfully, cancel culture requires an effective wielding of power to punish opponents and transgressors or otherwise to enforce social control. It does not merely mean powerless individuals making complaints on social media and refusing to support those they disagree with and find offensive. The defining feature of cancel culture is the ability to actually cancel people, to get them fired or destroy their careers, to discredit and silence them, to harass and threaten them into public banisment. Such canceling always requires at least a certain amount of position within or influence over the systems of concentrated wealth, power, and/or privilege.

Cancel culture is when the Dixie Chicks were banned from country music venues for speaking a simple, if inconvenient, truth to authoritarian power that hurt the feelings of reactionary snowflakes. Cancel culture is James O’Keefe making false accusations based on doctored videos to get people fired. Cancel culture is Donald Trump, Fox News hacks, etc constantly going on about how anyone who disagrees with them should be fired. Cancel culture is Jordan Peterson’s habit of suing people who are critical of him.

Cancel Culture is Gamergate in targeting women for harrassment, threats, and doxxing. Cancel culture is Bill O’Reilly repeatedly calling Dr. George Tiller a “baby killer” until one of O’Reilly’s viewers acted by killing Dr. Tiller. Cancel culture is Alex Jones rantng about (and Fox News spreading) the Pizzagate conspiracy of a supposed global cabal of pedophiles until one of his listeners shows up at the Pizza restaurant wth a gun. Or when Jones used harassment in trying to silence the parents of the students killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Cancel cultures is elderly Asian-Americans getting attacked because some bigots perceive them as ‘Chinese’, in responding to the xenophobic paranoia of right-wng media. Cancel culture is right-wingers driving vehicles into crowds of left-wingers. Cancel culture is the constant shootings, hate crimes, and terrorism mostly committed by the political right; and where the main targets are leftists and minorites. Cancel culture is the police profiling and targeting of minorities. Cancel culture is, as one study showed, the police being 3.5 times more likely to use violence against peaceful leftist protesters than against peaceful right-wing protesters, and 81% of the arrests were leftists. Cancel culture is where thepolice also more often used the illegal practice of entrapment against the political left.

Now that is some serious official canceling. Yet think of how peaceful leftist protesters are not only effectively canceled by being attacked by violent police, along with right-wing counter-protesters and provocateurs, but also effectively canceled by the corporate media that selectively and repeatedly shows cropped footage of violence and riots, without identifying who caused or incited it, which gets used to discredit and dismiss the already canceled political left. The whole point of such protests is to publicly speak out against canceling and the typical response is more canceling.

Did you know there is still a US law on the books, Communist Control Act of 1954, that makes it illegal to be a member of or support the communist party and communst-action organizations? It hasn’t been enforced in a long time, but Trump when president suggested it should be used against the left. Also, think of COINTELPRO that destroyed leftist groups in the past. Technically, COINTELPRO is illegal; and yet that hasn’t stopped the government from using COINTELPRO tactics since 9/11. That is some of the darkest cancel culture that goes straight to the top of right-wing authoritarianism.

Some suggest that corporate media has a left-wing bias that cancels all voices on the political right. Really!?! Give me a break. Is that why all newspapers have both a business section and labor section, as was true earlier last century? Is that why all of the network and cable news have hosts, guests, panelists, and debate moderators who are democratic socialists, municipal socialists, communists, Marxists, anarchosyndicaliststs, left-libertarians, labor organizers, envronmentalist leaders, indigenous rights advocates, reparationists, black feminists, Black Panthers, etc? Is that why, every time politicians war-monger and demand more military funding, all of big biz media rallies behind pacifism in opposing authoritarianism, imperialism, and militarism? Is this why the owners of corporate media have disinvested from the military-industrial complex?

Oh, wait… The answer to those questions is that, obviously, none of that is true. Something doesn’t quite add up with the right-wing narrative about left-wing “cancel culture” we so often hear in the corporate media. That this corporate media, as with the corporatiist DNC elite and the corporate-funded universities, is dishonestly portrayed as a leftist hegemony is part of the problem. The actual left-wing is largely powerless and disenfrancised in American society, despite most Americans being on the political left. False narratives, deceptive rhetoric, and controlled framing are among the main tools used to cancel the voice and power of the moral majority.

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About meaningful public debate, below is a good example. Takng down, moving, or simply relabeling statues of violent authoritarians, genocidal imperialists, slaveholding aristocrats, and white supremacists doesn’t inevitably mean a canceling. Instead, it could be the beginning of a conversation and a broadening of civics education. That is the problem with these monuments as they stand in obliteratng the memory of other more worthy and inspiring historical figures. We shouldn’t necessarily remove these historical figures from the history books and history classes, but rather take it as an opportunity to teach the full history, both good and bad. Such a possibility of public honesty and fairness is what has been canceled.

There is far more to American history than white males who were right-wing authoritarians. Why aren’t there statues and monuments all over the country in honor of Thomas Morton and Roger Williams, Margaret Brent and Phillis Wheatley, Thomas Paine and Danel Shays, Tecumseh and Geronimo, Henry David Thoreau and Henry George, Harriet Tubman and John Brown, Sojourner Truth and Mother Jones, Eugene Debs and Henry A. Wallace, Fred Hampton and Malcolm X (to name just a few)? Why isn’t every school child taught about these centrally important revolutionaries, radicals, and rabblerousers, these great thinkers, leaders, and actvists who influenced American society, advocated justice, and fought for the public good?

After we finally achieve some balanced representation and an honest teaching of history, then we might treat the empty complaints on the poltical right as if they had the slightest relevance to a just and free society. Until then, for some thoughtful consideration on the matter, read the following:

If Americans Grappled Honestly With Their History, Would Any Monuments Be Left Standing?
by Michael Hirsh

Issac J. Bailey, a journalist and scholar and the author of the forthcoming Why Didn’t We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland, said he believes “we have to do a lot more grappling with the legacies of men like Washington and Jefferson,” but he doesn’t advocate the removal of their statues. “They are different from the Confederate statues, because Confederate monuments and memorials went up largely in the early 20th century and later as a clear pushback to civil rights gains by Black people. They are specifically about explicit white supremacy and the honoring of men who were literal traitors to the U.S.”

“That’s the easy part, though,” Bailey wrote in an email. The issue is more complex when it comes to Washington and Jefferson. “I’ve heard the argument that they are being honored for the great things they’ve done, not for the evil they perpetuated. I get that. But why do they get that kind of treatment when we’d never do the same for architects and participants of the Holocaust who went on to do great things, including helping the U.S. put a man on the moon and unleashing the kinds of technologies that we take for granted today, technologies that have made it possible for things like the smart phone, GPS and the like? We would never say let’s honor them despite the evils they wrought during the Holocaust. Why do we so easily do the same for wealthy white men who profited and participated directly in this country’s original sin?” […]

The recent police killings of African Americans in cities from Atlanta to Minneapolis also bitterly tainted the celebration of Juneteenth, which marks the day a Union major general, Gordon Granger, formally announced the end of slavery in the state of Texas, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and the beginning of “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” That promise, along with President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of a “new birth of freedom” out of the Civil War, didn’t quite pan out either. […]

Even so, Wiencek and other historians suggest the recent tumult in the streets could help promote a healthy debate that should cast a new light on who the founders were and what they really believed—and, by extension, what America really stands for. You don’t have to tear all the statues down, they say—but you should at least change the inscriptions on them to better reflect who these people really were. And Americans should consider erecting new statues to long-forgotten heroes like Lt. Col. John Laurens, a young white South Carolinian aristocrat who repeatedly and passionately urged Washington to move toward emancipation before being killed in the Revolutionary War. […]

“At the very least, we have to be willing to tell the full story of what those men did—making it clear on those massive monuments and memorials we’ve dedicated to them,” said Bailey, himself a South Carolinian. “It should no longer simply be a treat to visit such sites. More Americans need to understand [these men’s] role in the systemic rape and murder and enslavement of Black people even as they got rich off slavery.” […]

And there is still, Ellis said, a kind of tragic if tacit conversation occurring every day on the Mall in Washington—among the monuments themselves. “If you go to the Mall and stand in a place where you can see the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Martin Luther King Memorial, imagine an ongoing dialogue among those three giants,” he said. “Jefferson believed slavery was wrong, but he didn’t have the courage to do anything about it. Lincoln did, but he never could imagine that the races could live together in the same society on an equal basis. Then there’s King standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial giving his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, saying, ‘I have come to collect on a promissory note written by Thomas Jefferson.’”

The full debt has not yet been paid, and the dialogue goes on.

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Talk about cancel culture. Bill would censor slavery text in Missouri classrooms
Tom Cotton’s war on the 1619 Project is the real ‘cancel culture’
Hollywood Blacklist? Cancel Culture? Accountability!
The Real Cancel Culture: Pro-Israel Blacklists
Panic Over ‘Cancel Culture’ Is Another Example of Right-Wing Projection

Using Free Speech Rhetoric to Silence Opponents
Right-Wing Political Correctness, Censorship, and Silencing
Framing Free Speech
Anarchists Not In Universities
Corporate-Ruled MSM & DNC Is Left-Wing, Says Corporatist Right-Wingers

Biased Jury Selection and the Unjust Justice System

After the past year of Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests, one of the early cases of police brutality finally makes its way into trial. Check out this article about the jury selection in the prosecution of the “former Minneapolis police officer who faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd.” Did you notice the makeup of the jury? “The seven jurors consist of three white men, one white woman, one Black man, a Hispanic man and a multiracial woman.” That one sentence says a lot about what we might expect, but one should pay attention to the other details given. The piece is fairly decent reporting, although even greater detail would’ve been preferable, as what goes unstated speaks loudly.

In case one has been living in a cave and is unfamiliar with this incident of police brutality, it should be noted that the victim was a black male and the defendant is a white male, the latter being a person intentionally left unnamed here as he deserves to be forgotten beyond his status as an anonymous figure of an unjust system of racial and class oppression. One might add, to be fair, that there have been plenty of non-white women and poor whites who also have been targeted by police (in fact, combined they form the majority of such incidents), if they don’t receive the same attention in the corporate media and political discourse, unfortunately but as expected.

Right from the start, there is a bias in what is reported in the ‘mainstream’ news and what is ignored. For various reasons, the “black male” has been chosen as the stereotypical stock character for the controlled narrative agreed upon by the media and political elite. Rather than the authoritarian system being on trial, it becomes a debate within the white patriarchy about which male bodies are of value and which can be sacrificed (the bodies of women and poor whites being less directly relevant to the system of power as defined). The tricky part is that the white patriarchy, in order to maintain its rule, must present itself as if it doesn’t exist. So, the real debate is whether this guardian of the white patriarchy overstepped the respectable bounds of allowable oppression in making violence too blatant to be rationalized away according to the ruling rhetoric of perception management.

Anyway, the jury consists of five men and two women. And that includes at least four whites, one non-white, and two others who might or might not identify as white to some extent. Even the one black is an upper middle class professional. None of these people appear to be either poor minorities or to otherwise be typical victims of systemic prejudice and violent oppression. There is no evidence that any of these jurors have had personal experience or direct witnessing of police profiling, police brutality, etc. There is no evidence that any of these jurors lives in an impoverished and segregated neighborhood that has been treated as a war zone with militarized policing, along with racial profiling, school-to-prison pipelines, mass incarceration, etc. Their perception of these issues is, therefore, likely to be mediated secondhand through the ruling narratives of corporate media and so would carry predictable biases.

Basically, it’s mostly a jury of men and whites, and probably mostly middle class. Yet there is no place in the entire country where the majority of the population consists of middle class white males. Since this officer is a middle class white male, does a jury of peers mean everyone else also should get a jury of their peers as defined by their own demographics of identity politics? If that were true, then why don’t most female defendants, most non-white defendents, and most poor defendants get juries consisting mostly of women, non-whites, and the poor? Heck, maybe more than the defendant it is the victim, as a silenced and opressed minority, who needs and deserves a jury of peers or, failing that, a jury representing the fuller spectrum of the American population — assuming this legal system is a justice system.

With that in mind, it’s telling that there was not a single juror who didn’t have some pro-police sympathy, even among the few that nominally agreed that black lives matter. What really stood out was that apparently not a single juror agreed with the BLM message that police departments are systematically racist and need to be reformed, even though that specific BLM message is supported by the majority opinion of Americans in diverse polling, even from Fox News. This seems like a case where the moral majority and demographic majority was pre-selected to be excluded from the jury, whether consciously and intentionally or simply through in-built biases. As the American public, we really need to publicly understand why this happens, but that would require the possibility of actual public debate, the one thing that the ruling order can never allow.

Here is the problem, in practical terms. Even if this unrepresentative jury comes to a guilty verdict, as it might, it’s unlikely to be the strongest verdict they could come to, as it’s clear they are going into this with a probable tendency to side with the police in at the very least offering the benefit of the doubt, as based on the normative assumption that the official authority of police violence is to be assumed justified until proven unjustified (a normative assumption not shared by many other Western countries where police violence is less accepted as a normalized fatalistic inevitability). The officer is likely to get a slap on the hand or some extremely minimal sentence. This jury, like the elite that helped select them, appears to be to the right of the general public. They may not be far right and so might have less imbalance than in other cases. But why does the elite system always somehow manages to define the ‘center’, the ‘moderate’, the ‘reasonable’, and the ‘normal’ as being on the right?

Biased jury selection and the scripting of trials, as part of narratized social reality, is a great example of how perception management as propagandistic mind control (and hence social control) is enacted in practice. It’s similar to how the corporate media and corporatist parties get to select which candidates are allowed to participate and which excluded (as silenced into disenfranchised non-existence within public perception) in televized political debates during presidential campaigns. This kind of process is so subtle as the public only sees the end product, but not how the sausage is made. The establishment system of the status quo operates invisibly, as a default mechanism of how the system is designed. The results, within a narrow range, are largely predetermined or constrained. It’s yet another way that democratic self-governance is made impossible, not only in socipolitical reality but also in public imagination.

Doing a web search on jury selection bias, a massive amount of results come up, not limited to articles but also academic papers and scientific research. It’s been a heavily studied area, as one would expect. It’s the type of thing that could be used as a topic for a lengthy analysis in exemplfying a larger system of corruption and injustice; but the motivation to do so is lacking and, instead, we’ll keep it as a more casual commentary. Still, one could support all of the claims made here with endless evidence, not that it would make any difference and not that any new insight could be added to the vast literature already written over the decades. Anyone here visiting this blog is likely part of the silenced majority who was not invited to the table of power. This post is not going to shape the debate and decisions at the elite level. Still, we should continue to speak truth to power, if only screaming into the void or preaching out in the wilderness, as we never know what might finally break through the silencing.

This topic makes one think of a lot of things about our society. We know about problems of racism, inequality, corporatism, corruption, climate change, etc. Most Americans, typically a large majority, understand these problems and agree we should do something about them. Also, the scholarship in these fields often shows a consensus among the experts. Yet, the ruling elite ensures that nothing ever changes. And the corporate media never allows much public debate about it. It feels so disorienting. It creates a schizoid experience of reality, what one knows in one’s experience and in relating to other Americans versus what one is told is true in the dominant media and politics. Another trial about injustice can feel like yet more spectacle to distract us with no repurcussions for the system of injustice, no matter the outcome of the trial itself. At best, this individual police officer could be prosecuted and, at worst, he could be made into a scapegoat. This could be taken as further proof of our powerlessness, if we let it stand without challenge and without voicing protest.

‘Moderates’ are Extremists, ‘Centrists’ are Right-Wingers

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the… great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Klu Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

We are used to a certain kind of cynical rhetoric from reactionaries. And we typically associate the reactionary mind with the right-wing, specifically those who identify as far right, such as militias, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. Or else right-libertarians who pretend to exist outside of or above the mainstream political spectrum. As such, there are authoritarian libertarians like Friedrich Hayek and Peter Thiel who claim to be ‘liberals’ while decrying democracy as mobocracy, claiming that they must use authoritarianism to protect against authoritarianism. This is the self-appointed ruling elite, the self-perceived enlightened aristocracy, our aspiring paternalistic overlords.

Yet this reactionary phenomenon is not limited to those ascribing to obviously dogmatic ideologies, as some of them would assert to have no ideology at all or at least never to admit to it, never describe themselves by a particular ideological label. Instead, they might call themselves ‘centrists’ in assuming and proclaiming their views as the defining ‘center’ of society, of politics, and of opinion — that is to say, they see the world, and maybe reality itself, as revolving around themselves and their interests, values, and agendas; one could more simply describe this as narcissism, probably often malignant narcissism. They own and work in, control and influence the forums of public debate, political rhetoric, and media narrative. Many of them are the professional politicians, media stars, public intellectuals, thought leaders, and social influencers of the so-called ‘mainstream’.

Most important, they are of the respectable class and the last defense of respectability politics, the presumed lesser evil that will hold the line against authoritarians and reactionaries, ideologues and extremists seeking power at all costs. It turns out that supposed moderate centrists pushing fear of division and extremism are themselves among the most divisive extremists. The center cannot hold because self-identified moderates and centrists don’t want to hold to democracy and public opinion. That is because, self-identity aside, they aren’t actually moderate or centrist. Going by public polling, from PRRI to Fox News, the ruling elite (primarily neocons and neoliberals) who create a false narrative of a moderate centrism are often closer to the far right than they’d like to admit. But as some other data shows, in certain ways, they can be even more anti-democratic than right-wing exremists.

This confirms a point that recently came up with the MAGA riots when some of the media elite finally took notice that the rioters were largely middle class professionals: business owners, real estate agents, etc; even police officers and military officers or veterans. These are among the respectable as separate from those Hillary Clinton maligned as the “basket of deplorables.” Yet these people were spouting QAnon conspiracy theories, joining in with militant groups, attacking the Capitol police, and threatening the lives of democratically-elected leaders. They don’t fit the stereotype of ‘white trash’, gun-toting rednecks and cousin-marrying hillbillies, in that the main demographic of Donald Trump’s voters were assumed to have been poor whites and rural whites. Yet even before the 2016 election, all of the data showed the largest segment of Trump supporters was middle class. Sure, they were largely lower middle class, but nonetheless above average in education and income, many of them urbanites and with the strongest support in suburbia.

This shouldn’t surprise us, but the corporate media and political elites refused to acknowledge this for the longest time. This middle class, according to the ‘mainstream’ narrative, is supposed to be the middle of society — the great moderating force, what is considered the central pillar of a healthy and stable social order, in a social Darwinian economy where wealth and socioeconomic class is taken as a sign of moral character and social worth. Yet, when we look back at history, the middle class could be found behind many examples of authoritarian demagoguery or seizures of power, such as the Klan and the Nazis. The same pattern continues to be seen around the world, not only in the industrialized West. “Strongmen in the developing world have historically found support in the center,” writes David Adler. “From Brazil and Argentina to Singapore and Indonesia, middle-class moderates have encouraged authoritarian transitions to bring stability and deliver growth” (Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists).

Here is some advice. When you hear increasing numbers in the comortable classes defend a corrupt and failed political system, an undemocratic and oppressive status quo by declaring themselves ‘centrists’ and ‘moderates’ or, worse, non-ideological, run for the hills. We know where that leads and how it too often ends. Or rather, we know the beginning point from which it rarely departs. Such people aren’t in the center of anything other than maybe the center of the cyclone or the center of madness. According to the fish hook theory of politics, there are those defending egalitarianism and then there is everyone else, with the far right bending back toward the reactionary faux-center. There is no way to be moderate on egalitarianism and freedom, justice and fairness. One is either for democratic self-governance and the will of the people or against it. There is no third option.

* * *

When we say ‘moderate,’ what we really mean is ‘what corporations want.’

David Broockman

There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

Jim Hightower

The rise of the anti-democratic ‘centrists’
by Phil Ebersole

If you call yourself a centrist, you mean that you’re reasonably satisfied with the status quo.

And the status quo is a government in which, according to the Princeton Study, legislators respond to the wishes of the economic elite and organized interest groups, but not at all to public opinion.

It is not surprising that so many self-described centrists feel threatened by the rise of populism and want to create gatekeepers to keep the voting public from getting out of hand.

Epilogue: In defense of disruptive democracy—A critique of anti-populism
by Robert Howse

“Populism” is usually and pejoratively defined by the anti-populist elites to imply nativism, anti-liberalism, and anti-pluralism. This has little to do with many of today’s powerful critiques of and challenges to elite liberal democratic politics. Defenders of elite or “centrist” liberal democratic politics present a false choice between restoration or renewal of elite politics and a populist slide into authoritarianism and xenophobia. There is an important agenda of democratic reform disrupting elite liberal democratic politics, and anti-populism is not an authentic response to it. Radical democrats and democratic reformers, such as US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are not apostles of mob rule, contrary to the frequent caricature proposed by centrist liberal democrats in their “anti-populist” pose. They see an appropriate role for institutions such as independent courts as well as for experts in a stronger democracy.

On campus censorship: it looks like we’ve been deceived
by Aleph Skoteinos

While we’re still here, I’ve also discovered some research conducted by a political scientist named Justin Murphy, specifically an article titled “Who Is Afraid of Free Speech in the United States?”, and it turns out that the far-left are nowhere near as averse to freedom of speech as you would be lead to believe nowadays. His research showed that “extreme liberals” (possibly referring to hard-leftists given America’s bastardized political lexicon) are actually the most supportive of freedom of speech within the broad political spectrum, and that the centre-left (or slightly left) and the far-right, not the far-left, are the groups most opposed to freedom of speech. In a way this finding kind of dovetails with a recent New York Times article which showed that centrists, rather than extremists, are statistically the least supportive towards democracy (which is ironic considering the New York Times is one of the archetypal liberal centrist outlets).

No one’s less moderate than moderates
by Ezra Klein

“When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want,” Broockman says. “Within both parties there is this tension between what the politicians who get more corporate money and tend to be part of the establishment want — that’s what we tend to call moderate — versus what the Tea Party and more liberal members want.”

That’s the problem with using a term that doesn’t describe either an identifiable group of voters or a clearly defined ideology to describe policies. “Moderate” is simultaneously one of the most powerful and least meaningful descriptions in politics — and it’s become little more than a tool the establishment uses to set limits on the range of acceptable debate. It’s time to get rid of it.

“Centrism” is an ideology, too
by Bill Knight

Writing about Schultz, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said, “Despite his demonstrable policy ignorance, his delusions follow conventional centrist doctrine … furiously opposed to any proposal that would ease the lives of ordinary Americans. The most disruptive, dangerous extremists are on the Right. But there’s another faction whose obsessions and refusal to face reality have also done a great deal of harm: fanatical centrists. The hallmark of fanatical centrism is the determination to see America’s Left and Right as equally extreme, no matter what they actually propose.” […]

Locally, centrism may be found in hesitating to become a “sanctuary city,” a municipality where local resources aren’t spent to enforce controversial federal immigration laws. Statewide, centrism seeks to avoid “rocking the boat” over redistricting by the political party in control to favor that party or discourage opposition.

Nationally, centrists on domestic issues put their faith in the “free market,” Federal Reserve or corporations to stabilize an economy instead of recognizing economic classes and people’s needs. Internationally, centrists see other nations supporting terrorism or destabilizing regions; views U.S. military or diplomatic interference as justified; considers interventions in Iraq, Yemen, Venezuela and dozens of other countries as in the national interest; and labels some foreign leaders as allies or tyrants (or both, at different times), depending on their usefulness to multinationals’ financial interests.

Centrists may blast Russian oligarchs or Canadian health-care providers, but they’re reluctant to address the U.S. elite or to criticize the commercial approach to treating and healing Americans.

Again, being middle-of-the-road doesn’t mean civility or bipartisanship as much as protecting the way things are, claiming that “the system works” or seeing foreign affairs exclusively through red-white-and-blue glasses.

(For its part, the mainstream press so easily falls into the centrist line that they uncritically repeat government propaganda, almost like state-run media.)

One Big Thing the Dems Get Wrong About Warren
by John F. Harris

The most consequential history is usually not driven by the center.

As Bill Clinton began his second term, before the eruption of the sex scandal, he spoke frequently of his desire to be a national unifier, and, quoting Scripture, a “repairer of the breach.”

One skeptic was the great 20th century historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who knew and liked Clinton, but was deeply wary of middle-of-the-road politics. “Great presidents,” he told me, “are unifiers mostly in retrospect.”

In their own times, he noted, they divide the country over large questions—slavery, civil rights, the proper role of government versus the private sector—and only later “unite the country at a new level of understanding.”

How ‘Centrist Bias’ Hurts Sanders and Warren
by David Leonhardt
[with slight corrections added]

Centrist bias, as I see it, confuses the idea of centrism (which is very much an ideology) with objectivity and fairness. It’s an understandable confusion, because American politics is dominated by the two major parties, one on the left [center right] and one on the right [far right] [with no main party representing the American majority on the left]. And the overwhelming majority of journalists at so-called mainstream outlets — national magazines, newspapers, public radio, the non-Fox television networks — really are doing their best to treat both parties fairly.

In doing so, however, they often make an honest mistake [that conveniently and consistently operates as the propaganda mode of the news]: They equate balance with the midpoint between the two parties’ ideologies [in holding to the ‘center’ of the political right of the transpartisan ruling elite]. Over the years, many press critics have pointed out one weakness of this approach: false equivalence, the refusal to consider the possibility that one side of an argument is simply (or mostly) right.

But that’s not the only problem. There’s also the possibility that both political parties have been wrong about something and that the solution, rather than being roughly halfway between their answers, is different from what either has been proposing.

This seemingly radical possibility turns out to be quite common, as the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. — author of the classic book, “The Vital Center,” no less — pointed out. The abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, labor rights, the New Deal, civil rights for black Americans, Reagan’s laissez-faire revolution and same-sex marriage all started outside the boundaries of what either party favored [except that Reagan’s corporatism was simply an extension, if more extreme, of the prior corporatism in both parties; more of the same but worse]. “The most consequential history,” Harris wrote, “is usually not driven by the center.”

Political and economic journalism too often assumes otherwise and treats the center as inherently sensible. This year’s Democratic presidential campaign has been a good case study. The skeptical questions posed to the more moderate Democrats are frequently about style or tactics: Are you too old? Too young? Too rich? Too far behind in the polls? […]

Once you start thinking about centrist bias, you recognize a lot of it. It helps explain why the 2016 presidential debates focused more on the budget deficit, a topic of centrist zealotry, than climate change, almost certainly a bigger threat. (Well-funded deficit advocacy plays a role too.) Centrist bias also helps explain the credulousness of early coverage during the Iraq and Vietnam wars. Both Democrats and Republicans, after all, largely supported each war.

The world is more surprising and complicated than centrist bias imagines it to be.

People worry that ‘moderate’ Democrats like Joe Biden are the same as Republicans. Our study suggests they may be right
by Kevin Singer and Alyssa Rockenbach

Strikingly, in almost every case, the responses of moderate men are very similar to conservative men and women. Their level of agreement with the statements above is as much as 14 percent lower than moderate women, who are more likely than men to lean Democratic, or liberal men and women.

This IDEALS finding is on par with a recent Gallup study encompassing over 29,000 interviews with American adults, which revealed that moderates and conservatives remain closely aligned in their ideological preferences.

This raises important questions heading into the election: Is a moderate male candidate a bait-and-switch for Democratic voters? Are they actually casting their votes for a conservative?×

That moderate men most resemble Republicans has been confirmed, of all places, on dating apps. Brittany Wong of HuffPost writes, “It’s almost become a coastal cliche at this point: If someone lists their political views as ‘moderate’ on a dating app, the thinking goes, go ahead and assume the person is a conservative.” One interviewee noted, “It’s just in my experience, even ‘moderate’ guys tend to have extremely different views on topics that matter to me, like gun control, women’s reproductive rights and immigration.” Sometimes, moderate men who appear to bend liberal turn out to be “faux woke,” according to one interviewee who was initially attracted to someone whose profile featured photos at a women’s march. Eventually “he slowly started to drop his facade,” revealing behaviors inconsistent with his professed political beliefs.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has grown increasingly frustrated with moderate Democrats during her tenure, saying at a recent event, “The Democratic Party is not a left party. The Democratic Party is a center or a center-conservative party.” Her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, recently deleted a tweet comparing two moderate Democrat coalitions — consisting mostly of men — to Southern Democrats who favored segregation and opposed civil rights. During this election cycle, a recurring criticism of Vice President Biden has been his record on school desegregation.

Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists
By Davd Adler

The warning signs are flashing red: Democracy is under threat. Across Europe and North America, candidates are more authoritarian, party systems are more volatile, and citizens are more hostile to the norms and institutions of liberal democracy.

These trends have prompted a major debate between those who view political discontent as economic, cultural or generational in origin. But all of these explanations share one basic assumption: The threat is coming from the political extremes.

On the right, ethno-nationalists and libertarians are accused of supporting fascist politics; on the left, campus radicals and the so-called antifa movement are accused of betraying liberal principles. Across the board, the assumption is that radical views go hand in hand with support for authoritarianism, while moderation suggests a more committed approach to the democratic process.

Is it true?

Maybe not. My research suggests that across Europe and North America, centrists are the least supportive of democracy, the least committed to its institutions and the most supportive of authoritarianism. […]

What Does It Mean?

Across Europe and North America, support for democracy is in decline. To explain this trend, conventional wisdom points to the political extremes. Both the far left and the far right are, according to this view, willing to ride roughshod over democratic institutions to achieve radical change. Moderates, by contrast, are assumed to defend liberal democracy, its principles and institutions.

The numbers indicate that this isn’t the case. As Western democracies descend into dysfunction, no group is immune to the allure of authoritarianism — least of all centrists, who seem to prefer strong and efficient government over messy democratic politics.

Strongmen in the developing world have historically found support in the center: From Brazil and Argentina to Singapore and Indonesia, middle-class moderates have encouraged authoritarian transitions to bring stability and deliver growth. Could the same thing happen in mature democracies like Britain, France and the United States?

We Are All Egalitarians, and Always Have Been

Man is not man as yet,
Nor shall I deem his object served, his end
Attained, his genuine strength put fairly forth,
While only here and there a star dispels
The darkness. Here and there a towering mind
O’erlooks its prostrate fellows: when the host
Is out at once to the despair of night,
When all mankind alike is perfected,
Equal and full-blown powers – then, not till then,
I say, begins man’s general infancy.

Robert Browning, Paracelsus, 1835

What is egalitarianism?

It was suggested, half joking and half serious, that we are all white liberals now. There has been a radicalizing force within post-Enlightenment humanity that has manifested a particular strain of human potential, such that it has transformed our society and come to define the modern West, American society most of all in being founded on a liberal aspiration of revolutionary idealism. This has been previously explored in what kind of shared identity we are becoming in fulfilling an ancient moral vision, not initially even a promise but a mere whisper of a small voice of conscience first felt at the foundation of modern civilization as it was laid down during the Axial Age. That whisper was a tremor that became an earthquake that overturned society and now is settling back down into an unforeseen societal order clothed in new robes of moral imagination.

The beating heart of this inspiring, if tumultuous, moral vision is a profound and unshakeable sense of egalitarianism. It remains as radical today as it was in centuries and millennia past. But what does it mean and where does it come from? The conflict we are experiencing today in protests and revolt, even minor insurrection threatening far worse to come, is essentially the same conflict that arose in the Axial Age following the collapse of Bronze Age civilization and the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Archaic authorization was lost and a new kind of rule-based and brutally violent authoritarianism first emerged. That was what the Axial Age prophets were responding to, with Jesus arriving shortly after that period of the revolutionizing of the human psyche and identity.

Jesus Christ, like many Axial Age prophets before him, preached an egalitarianism that would come to rock the world starting as early as the Peasants’ Revolt in the Middle Ages when the Black Death disrupted the social order, kinship networks were being dismantled by the Catholic Church, and the enclosure movement began the erosion of feudalism (the clearest point of origin for the WEIRD culture of individualism; see Joseph Henrich’s The WEIRDest People in the World). The Peasants’ Revolt is what some consider the first modern revolution and class war. It presaged the far more radically transformative English Civil War that was the model of conflict from which the American revolutionaries took inspiration (see Kevin Phillips’ The Cousins’ Wars), and an early expression of proto-liberalism, proto-socialism, and proto-Marxism.

Looking back on the ancient world, what stands out is that Jesus didn’t passively resist, much less peacefully submit to worldly power. At one point, he even went so far as to have commited the greatest sin in the capitalist mind, in having committed property damage with his terrorizing the moneylenders by overthrowing their tables in the temple, a direct threat to the entrenched authority of the established social order and moral order. To the respectable elite and loyal citizens of the time, such an act was unimaginable and unacceptable, a defiance of all that was good and worthy. Jesus’ violence against property, within the ruling system of wealth and power, was as bad or worse than the regular violence of Roman authority in killing and torturing untold numbers of innocent people, a fate that would later befall Jesus as well; and so established the Christian tradition of martyrdom as inherited from the Stoics’ egalitarian re-envisioning of liberty as spiritual emancipation.

The elite response to Jesus at the time probably sounded a lot like Edmund Burke’s fear-ridden condemnation of the French revolutionaries in their daring to rise up against the nobility of robed power, in their having sought to disrobe monarchical authority so as to show it as the naked power it always was (or as the infamous Thomas Paine put it: “He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird”). Surely, many in first century Rome repeated the exact same false equivalency we hear today, that Jesus was a violent terrorist like those Jewish zealots called the Sicarii who sought to overthrow the Roman Empire with revolt and killings, equating property damage to deadly violence. This claim of false equivalency is based on an ancient claim of hierarchical power in its attempt to discredit and dismiss those who challenge it from below. That is because the same fundamental conflict remains unresolved not only in society at large but, more importantly, within the human psyche.

It’s a deep and profound sense of divide within us that gets expressed in our social relations and the social order. That is why, even after all these millennia later, it still feels like a raw wound. We’ve never recovered from what was lost with the archaic bicameral mind. One can sense what that earlier mindset must have been like by looking at some simpler societies. The Piraha exemplify this with their radical sense of communal solidarity and egalitarianism, along with their more fluid sense of identity. They express none of the oppressive anxiety and violent authoritarianism that defines the modern world. They are far from the only example of this expression of human nature. It maybe should teach us something fundamental about our shared humanity. Egalitarianism isn’t juat another modern ideal invented by intellectuals. It is the core principle of human nature that we’ve forgotten. But in our rigidly hierarchical and hyper-individualistic society, we don’t know how to healthily express this egalitarian impulse.

In denying our own nature, what results is endless conflict. The answer some offer is to further suppress the impulse and to project it onto radicals as scapegoats, as if egalitarianism itself could be cast out from respectable society, something inconvenient and unecessary as with the surgical removal of a vestigial organ. This is a way of disidentifying from the egalitarianism that is so threatening not because it’s imposed from the outside by radical totalitarian dogmatism but because this primal force of moral truth keeps emerging from within. This conflict gets expressed as violence all around. How can we imagine a peaceful society when we refuse to accept the very essence of our own human nature? The first and greatest violence is the disconnection from and denial of this most fundamental moral command of spiritual authorization. We are at war with ourselves and our whole society is built on this anxiety-inducing conflict.

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 fundamentaly the egalitarian center of our being. To embrace this revolutionary radicialism (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.

We need to become fiercely passionate and compassionate, to know with absolute certainty and hold with unswerving conviction the truth of who we are and who we have always been, in speaking to who we may yet become. Egalitarianism isn’t to be forced onto the world by mere social change, protest movements, and political action but, first and foremost, to be remembered and resurrected as our birthright, a gnostic unforgetting of ultimate reality (anamnesis), the awakening to the source of our humanity like a thirst-quenching spring bursting forth from a crack in ancient stone. This moral vision of faith and truth, of freedom and fairness can never be denied or destroyed. No matter how many are killed by authoritarian power, no matter how much oppression is enforced, egalitarianism itself cannot be defeated as long as there is a single human left breathing.

The proof of egalitarianism is in our heart and soul, in each of us and in all of us, irrefutably verified and proven in our own direct experience, felt in the solid ground of our shared being. The echo of archaic authorization is heard in our longing for freedom, a piercing ache that can cripple us with fear, anxiety and nostalgia or inspire us with hope and promise. No matter how lost we can feel in our shared struggles against those who seek to divide and isolate us, may we choose hope again and again; and, however difficult to grasp, may we never forget the promise of egalitarianism, of fairness and freedom, the solidarity of fellow-feeling and spiritual kinship that lifts us out of darkness into the open light of moral vision.

We are all egalitarians. We are a truly free people, the very expression of the egalitarian, a living faith. Let our actions be our prayer, the embodiment of hope’s fulfilment. This is not an endpoint but a beginning, a neverending revolution of the mind, an eternal return of what was never lost, the kingdom all around us. What is true within human nature is the truth of humanity as part of nature, as part of the world out of which we formed. We are not wandering alone in the unknown, not refugees in a foreign land. In listening to this voice of moral authorization, it tells us that we belong, that we are at home in the world, that we are welcome among friends. It is a simple assurance and sense of trust, a faith in humanity.

This is egalitarianism.

For you are all children of God in the Spirit.
There is no Jew or Greek;
There is no slave or free;
There is no male and female.
For you are all one in the Spirit.

Based on Galations 3:28, Stephen J. Patterson, The Forgotten Creed

When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.

John Ball, 1381 sermon at Blackheath, after his release from prison during the Peasants’ Revolt