Leftism Points Beyond the Right and Beyond Itself

Table of Contents

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

Introduction and Summary

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

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

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

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

And it is affirmed that:

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

* * *

Political Spectrum, Liberal Framework

What does ‘left-wing’ ideology refer to? What was the original and basic meaning? The main element and motivating force of leftism has been to perceive the world and society, people and groups more as interdependent systems or processes than as reified things, unchanging categories, and isolated units; much less in terms of fixed and immutable laws, known certainties, absolutist dogma, and authoritarian institutions (or, if you prefer, unquestionable institutional authority).

By ideology, this implies not only ‘ideas’ in the narrow sense as principles, values, and belief structure but also ‘ideos’ as worldview, mindset, and imaginary (i.e., a leftist conception of ideology). This is based on thinner boundaries of mind that promote experience and identity that is more fluid in allowing things to overlap, shift, and merge (i.e., liberal-mindedness as expressed in social liberalism; or: FFM openness, MBTI perceiving, and Ernest Hartmann’s thin boundary type). In creating and promoting the conditions for greater empathy and compassion, it is what derogatively gets called ‘Bleeding Heart Liberalism‘ (initially used to describe those seeking to illegalize lynching), similar to being a ‘tree-hugging hippy’ and ‘sympathizing with the enemy’.

This distinguishes it from the political right where everything is defined by what evaluatively and hierarchically separates one clearly demarcated category from another (us vs them, ingroup vs outgroup, worthy vs unworthy, pure vs impure, good vs evil), within the rigidified boundaries of the egoic mind (FFM conscientiousness, MBTI judging, and Ernest Hartmann’s thick boundary type) — even left vs right, treated as a black/white division, falls prey to the reactionary right-wing; something we will try to carefully avoid. This is why conservatives more strongly obsess over narrow and/or exclusionary group identities (race, religion, ethno-nationalism, etc) and atomistic conceptions of identities (lone individuals, consumer-citizens, capitalist actors, social Darwinian competitors, nuclear families, etc). This lends itself to conventional thought that gives an appearance of certainty and orderliness, a sense of predictability and familiarity. A place for everything; and everything in its place.

On the global stage, this plays out in Manichaean narratives like the Catholic Crusades, Manifest Destiny, White Man’s Burden, Cold War, and Clash of Civilizations; not to mention the overuse of the war metaphor, such as War on Poverty, War on Drugs, and War on Terror. This is where there must be a winner and loser; the winner, of course, is presumably the good guys and they take all in a final victory against the forces of evil, or else the bad guys win and all that good is destroyed. There is little, if any, room for moderation, tolerance, and cooperation (other than convenient and often fleeting alliances), much less equality and fairness.

Lockstep solidarity is intentionally constrained to an insular group identity, what could be called pseudo-tribalism because of how it mimics tribalism but without the intimacy of actual tribes. To be a Westerner or American, White or Evangelical is to be part of an exclusive and exclusionary group that includes vast numbers of strangers who otherwise have nothing in common since most of the members have never met or shared any experience beyond mass media, nationalistic propaganda, and such. This is what makes pseudo-tribalism reactionary, neither leftist nor traditional; and so this gives the modern and increasingly postmodern right-wing a distinct flavor.

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

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

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

Considering the complications and confusions, it is fair that some complain about the problems and limitations of these broad ideological labels, particularly the amorphous and often non-identifying left-liberal supermajority that has been suppressed and silenced. But that is all the more reason for us to pinpoint the distinctions that do matter, the distinctions that have remained relevant and potent across the centuries. The leftist difference that makes a difference keeps reappearing, no matter how often it is attacked or mimicked by the reactionary right. But it is often easiest to see something by looking back when it was still young and fresh, not yet grimy and scarred from historical accretions.

There is a thinking style — fundamentally communal and collective, broadly systemic and holistic, potentially integrative and integral — that consistently shows up as one of the defining features of the left-wing that influenced, informed, and inspired the earliest and most radical of Enlightenment thought (e.g., Baruch Spinoza‘s panentheism) and post-Enlightenment thought (e.g., Karl Marx’s historical materialism). It’s what underlies Germanic communal freedom, as opposed to Latin individualistic liberty; along with capturing the essence of egalitarianism and fraternity, particularly in terms of the Axial Age ideal of a universal humanity and the Enlightenment Age ideal of a global citizenry, but resonating with an aspect of tribal belonging as well. As for the latter, one might suggest all leftist politics begins not in abstract ideas but in the concrete lived reality of small local communities that give meaning to ideas (e.g., the labor organizing and strikes of factory workers in a factory town). That certainly was the early history of the left, a populist movement that initially formed from the bottom up.

* * *

Origins: Tribalism and Pseudo-Tribalism

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

Let us consider a historical example. In presaging Classical Greece, the Presocratics were the first to speak of a universal and singular kosmos that acknowledged a larger sense of a shared world inhabited by diverse people across a continuous landscape and contained within the same immense universe (literally, one verse; i.e., one story of the world and of humanity). That is to say we all look up at the same stars, something that may seem obvious to the point of being banal but wasn’t commonly understood until long-distance travel became common. At the same time, it’s the ability to think about the world abstractly in this manner that makes possible map-making where the known world can be divided up by abstract boundaries that defined larger socially constructed identities (a Greek or a Jew, a Roman or a Barbarian), and thus make possible one variety of reactionary pseudo-tribalism.

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

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

Modern ethno-nationalism is a result of the reactionary mind and, once established, it is a further contributing factor in establishing and entrenching the conditions for the reactionary mind to spread; even as liberal mind might use this as a jumping off point for a greater sense of identity. In being a component of liberalism, it was the radical potential of modern nationalism that made possible the multicultural American, as envisioned by the progressive Thomas Paine, that transcended the insular bigotry of the mere rights of Englishmen and so was effectively wielded as a weapon against British authoritarian claims of rule. As he wrote in ‘Common Sense’, it was undeniably “absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island,” especially when “Not one third of the inhabitants, even of this province, [Pennsylvania], are of English descent.”

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

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

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

* * *

From Axial Age to Modernity: Universalism, Egalitarianism, etc

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

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

About universalism specifically, such thinking had become more common as alphabetic languages, written texts, literary traditions, and abstract thought became widespread in the Axial Age and post-Axial Age empires (the precursors of modern WEIRD culture that took hold with mass literacy). This was seen also in natural law, as formulated by Stoics and later adopted by Christians. It was initially a radical idea and one can still sense what, at various points in history, made it such a threat. The first generation of Christians, similar to the Stoics before them, flouted the laws and social customs of both Jews and Romans, and they did so according to the belief in a higher truth of natural law that stood above human law. This was an early expression of universalism as radical egalitarianism, specifically grounded in communitarianism and often literal communes with shared work and resources, not to mention positions determined by egalitarian lots. This was in direct conflict with the authoritarian hierarchies (dividing aristocracy from slaves) in the Roman world, hierarchies of status that determined privilege and oppression in having made clear that all were not equal before God or man.

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

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

It’s historically complicated, but over time the radicalism of natural law seems to have faded almost entirely. It’s become neutered in being largely identified with the reactionary and regressive at this point. Fundamentalist apologetics has come to treat their beliefs about social order, gender, family, abortion, etc as akin to natural law and so seek to enforce it through human law (i.e., theocracy); in spite of the fact that Jesus offered very little light on the subject or, if anything, a rather anti-fundamentalist view in his having heretically challenged the Jewish fundamentalism of his own era. Jesus went so far as to deny his own mother on multiple occasions; not to mention having told one man about his father’s corpse to let the dead bury the dead; and having declared that he came not to bring peace but to turn son against father, daughter against mother. As for abortion and homosexuality, he was silent, as was the Old Testament. Christian family values?

Traditional Values Are Not Culture Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Freedom to Belong, Responsibility to Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Reactionary Right, Leftover Liberalism, and Leftist Supermajority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet here we are. The right-wing systems, structures, and institutions remain in place. It really doesn’t matter what someone like Donald Trump or Steven Bannon personally believes, since it’s almost guaranteed that they wouldn’t care about one of their own family members getting an abortion or getting gay married. They aren’t anti-liberal ideologues, but they realize pretending to be so is convenient rhetoric for manipulating a segment of the public. The strange thing is most of those being manipulated probably also are fine with these issues on a personal level. This is all about symbolic politics and symbolic identities — it’s a story being told. What views and opinions, values and ideals are held by individuals is irrelevant and moot. That is the power of systems over the mind, which is understood across the political spectrum but it’s only leftists that speak this truth. Right-wingers understand that right-wing systems work precisely by being taken as a given, by being left in the background where they cloak themselves in the shadows of moral imagination.

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

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

* * *

Conclusion: Egalitarianism and Abundance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is the most important thing in life?”

The answer, according to a hunter-gatherer: 

  • “Meat.”
  • “Honey.”
  • “Corn porridge.”

That is the order he gave them in. He paused between stating each. But the first answer came without any pause. And the last one would’ve been introduced during colonialism.

To emphasize his point, he later said, “If we have meat, honey, and water, then we are happy. Thank you, friend.” He didn’t bother to add the corn porridge in the second answer. Corn porridge is probably only what they eat when they have nothing else.

Then further on, the interviewer asked, “What is your biggest struggle?” Guess what the hunter-gatherer’s answer was. “Meat.” It really does all go back to meat, although they did explain the importance of water as well. Honey is a nice treat, but they kept coming back to meat.

This hunter-gatherer was really obsessed with the baboons they were going to hunt that night. He was quite excited about it. Those baboons on the rock in the distant meant meat.

Meat makes the world go around, including the fear of becoming meat. The first answer to their greatest fear was, “Lion.” Eat or be eaten. The hunter-gatherer’s whole live is obsessed over the next kill and avoiding being killed.

Honey is pleasurable and good quick energy. Plant foods can be eaten in a pinch or for variety. But, for humans, lack of meat in the wild means death.

“We created this beautiful dream, but we imposed a nightmare on somebody else.”

One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, “a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.”

Dr. Gabor Maté, Beautiful Dream of Israel has Become a Nightmare

The quote in the title is a statement made by Dr. Gabor Maté. It comes from a talk that is part of a longer interview by Russell Brand. The beautiful dream is that of Zionism. The man speaking is Dr. Maté, a Jew and an infant survivor of the Holocaust. Many in his family died in Nazi death camps. Early on, he spent time in Israel and Palestine, and so he saw the conflict firsthand. After an idealistic youth, he became disillusioned about Zionism, although not disillusioned about humanity.

Besides speaking on a personal level, he is also an expert on trauma and addiction. He has a compassionate attitude about how humans get trapped in harmful patterns, but he also has an uncompromising moral position. Unresolved trauma can be dangerous, particularly at the level of a large population. In the interview, he said: “I can understand the warmth that Jews have for Israel; I used to be in that same camp. I can understand, after the horrors of the Nazi genocide, how we desperately want some protection. I can understand all that. But none of that excuses what we are doing… There are no two sides…in terms of power and control and its pretty straightforward. There was a land with a people living there and other people wanted it, they took it over, and they continue to take it over, and they continue to discriminate against, oppress and dispose that other people.”

The early Zionists had a slogan, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Dr. Maté mentions this and points that all of the Jews knew the land was not without a people. Many Jews, he says, knew this and so argued against Zionism. His conclusion is that it inevitably was a “colonial project” involving the imperial powers at the time. He goes so far as to call it “ethnic cleansing” that he says is continuing. He asserts this is undeniable to anyone like him who has studied the history and who was there to see what actually happened. There is one thing he doesn’t mention, though. Maybe some of the Zionists took that slogan seriously and literally. The fact of the matter is many Israelis have not treated Palestinians as if they were people. In nearly every case of human oppression throughout history, the victims are portrayed as animals and brutes or as non-animals, or as simply not existing and not mattering — unheard and unseen.

Rhetoric is powerful, particularly beautiful dreams that become enmeshed in shared identities. They can feel empowering even, but they can also lull us asleep and we might find ourselves in nightmares. “Don’t be afraid to be disillusioned”, Dr. Maté says to his son. “It’s better to be disillusioned than to be illusioned. And don’t be afraid to be disidentified. Don’t identify with something outside of yourself to the extent that you become uncritical and blind.” Later on in his talk with his son, he emphasizes that ignorance is not an excuse. “So that the question for a lot of people these days is not what do you know — because it’s true, if all you do is you read the mainstream media, you’re not going to find out very much — but what you could find out if you wanted to. So, don’t be afraid to be disillusioned.”

In watching another video on the Some More News Youtube channel, someone going by Beretta249 left a comment. It’s a good example of how someone becomes disillusioned with Zionism or else how someone loses sympathy with those wielding it as a dangerous and deadly weapon. This person stated that, “For me this “conflict” got uncomplicated when I saw the IDF firing artillery, like modern 150mm guns, into Gaza. That isn’t precision. That isn’t proportional. That’s firing artillery into a city. That’s random slaughter. Like firing a shotgun into a fishtank” (Uncomplicating The “Complicated” Palestine/Israel Conflict – SOME MORE NEWS). The worst part is this random mass violence mostly kills children, the most innocent of innocent.

The jerry-rigged rockets used by Palestinians are cheaply designed, unprofessionally built, lacking in any guidance system, highly ineffective, and rarely kill anyone. Comparing those Palestinian rockets to the near carpet-bombing the Israelis do is like comparing firecrackers to bazookas. When those committing mass atrocity and crimes against humanity invoke, “The Holocaust!”, one’s only response is to shake one’s head in sadness and despair. Anyone with a soul and a beating heart can’t help but become disillusioned. Such trauma-induced psychosis strains one’s capacity for compassion and understanding, but we have to try to heal these wounds if the cycle of violence and victimization is ever to stop.

Some further quotes from that video:

187 Trauma and Israel (with Dr. Gabor Maté)
from Under The Skin with Russell Brand

Gabor Maté
from Promised Land Museum

* * *

Here is another interview with his son, the journalist Aaron Maté, where Dr. Gabor Maté discusses the related topic of antisemitism:

“From the beginning, there were Jews who said: Yeah okay we need a state, maybe. And we have a right to seek protection. But the reality is that, in Palestine specifically, there’s already another people. And there’s no way to create a Jewish state in Palestine without doing violence to the local population. And so, from that perspective, Zionism becomes a colonial project. It can only be achieved at the expense of the local population and only by cooperating with the leading imperial imperial power of the time which is Britain which which controls Palestine after the First World War.

“And so, within the Zionist movement, there’s this debate, right. There’s this giant slogan, “A land without a people for people without a land”, intimating that Palestine was an empty land. But the Zionists knew right from the beginning that there was no land without a people. And both Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion, in almost identical words, said that when the Arabs fight against us it’s not terrorism; it’s nationalism. They’re fighting for their own land just as we would in their situation. So they were clear about this.

“Then you get the horrors of the Second World War and the worst and the most horrific imaginable expression of antisemitism and racism in history. And now you have the identification of the Jewish state with Jewish survival and the fight against antisemitism. So that. when a lot of the Eastern European Jews who emigrated to Palestine then came up against the Arabs the local Arabs who (for previously valid reasons as Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky pointed out) opposed to take over their land, they just saw them as another bunch of antisemites.

“So there’s been this confusion right from the beginning. Now it’s become much stronger in recent years as more and more people are in the world have woken up to the reality of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that took place in 1948 and has really been taking place ever since. And so now the uh the charge of antisemitism is being raised against just about any critic of Israeli policy. So it no longer matters that whether somebody actually is making a legitimate criticism or whether somebody’s coming from an antisemitism place. The two are confused quite deliberately, I think, by propagandists who who serve the interests of Israeli policy. And that means a lot of the mainstream Jewish leadership in North America. […]

“When you identify with something, whether for economic or emotional or political or any combination of reasons, and you make yourself the same as that, then when that’s criticized you’re going to feel criticized. And so what I’m saying to people is: Don’t be afraid to be disillusioned. It’s better to be disillusioned than to be illusioned. And don’t be afraid to be disidentified. Don’t identify with something outside of yourself to the extent that you become uncritical and blind.

“I read a book by Albert Speer who was Hitler’s architect and armaments minister, I think. He spent 40 years in jail as a war criminal in Spandau after the war. And, in his biography, he talks about that everybody is always asking me or my generation what we knew about what was going on; the crimes, the antisemitic and anti-people anti-human crimes of the Nazi regime. And he said, the real question is not what we knew but what we could have known had we wanted to find out. And he gives a couple of examples which are more detailed now where he had very strong clues that something horrible was happening in the east (i.e., the death camps), but he never pursued the clues. He didn’t want to find out. He didn’t actually know. I believe he didn’t know, but he could have known. He didn’t want to know.

“Now that’s the same dilemma for all of us The difference being that these days you can read the Israeli histories of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In fact, there’s a book called the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by the Israeli historian Illam Pape who had to leave Israel. H lives in Britain now. He came under such hostility. You can read the articles of Gideon Levy in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, that details it almost daily, the horrors of the occupation. You can go online and see any number of Israeli soldiers talk about what they had to do and how they are ashamed of what they did in the occupied territories. So that the question for a lot of people these days is not what do you know — because it’s true, if all you do is you read the mainstream media, you’re not going to find out very much — but what you could find out if you wanted to. So, don’t be afraid to be disillusioned.”

Gabor Mate on anti-Semitism and Zionism
by Phil Ebersole

“He said he has gone through three disillusionments in his lifetime—with Hungarian Communism, with American exceptionalism and with Zionism. Disillusionment is painful, he said, but it is better to be free of illusion than a slave to it.”

Gabor Mate on the misuse of anti-Semitism and why fewer Jews identify with Israel, an interview for The Gray Zone.

America in denial: Gabor Mate on the psychology of Russiagate, an interview for The Gray Zone.  With transcript.

* * *

“We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world.”

Beautiful Dream of Israel has Become a Nightmare
by Dr. Gabor Maté

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.

The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth. […]

My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.

Addiction is a Response to Childhood Suffering: In Depth with Gabor Maté

John Lavitt: Given the history of such patterns of institutionalized evil, does evil actually exist? Isn’t such evil beyond being just about childhood trauma? Having survived the Nazi genocide, aren’t you sometimes worried that it could happen again?

Gabor Maté: If you mean can it happen again, it has happened again. We have seen massacres of human beings all over the world. We have seen it in Rwanda, we have seen the Americans slaughter half a million Iraqis, we have seen Israelis slaughter Palestinian children, we have seen American soldiers wiping out men, women and children in Vietnam and get away with it, and we see the horrors perpetrated by the Islamic state in the Middle East right now. While nothing on the industrial scale of Auschwitz has happened since then, in terms of human violence, cruelty and a complete willingness to make other people suffer, that has continued ever since. 

So am I worried that something like Auschwitz will happen again? I don’t think history repeats itself in that way. But it doesn’t have to take Auschwitz. You don’t need Auschwitz for humans to be deliberately and viciously cruel to one another. We see that all the time. Now, does evil exist? Yes, evil exists. Evil not as a kind of abstract force or as an embodied devil, but as the expressions of human pain that finds some release in creating pain in others, and that’s unconscious. The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says evil does not have an absolute existence, but has a relative existence rooted in the human unconscious. If you look at people who are willing to perpetrate such things, you look usually at traumatized people.

John Lavitt: […] As a Jewish man who lost family in the Holocaust, how do you reconcile your love of your family’s tradition with such a state of affairs? Isn’t Israel similar to the survivors of trauma that you write about? How can Israel return to what you define as a lost dream?

Gabor Maté: John, I thought this was going to be an interview about addiction. Why are we talking about the Middle East?

John Lavitt: Gabor, my interviews are focused on addiction, but they are not just about addiction. I examine as much of the history and writings of the subjects that I interview, and I try to find the most engaging and powerful questions based on my findings. This root of this question is not because I have a flag to wave in terms of an agenda. Rather, when I read the article, it affected me deeply, particularly the part about wanting to ask your friend, “Can we not be sad together?” That truly moved me as a Jewish man also conflicted by the actions of Israel, thus giving rise to the question. 

Gabor Maté: Okay, I got it, John, thank you for answering my question. In relation to what you asked, you can’t return to dreams. Dreams are not real by definition. The idea that you could somehow beautifully and cleanly create a refuge for European Jews by taking away the land from the local inhabitants was never more than a dream. It could never have been done. The only way you can ever take land away from the people that live on it is to kill them or to expel them and oppress them. That’s reality. 

People were willing to do that because they thought the European Jews had suffered so much that that suffering gave them the motivation and the right to make others suffer. Right now, we are dealing with the impact of that decision, and the way it’s going, we’ll continue to deal with it for decades to come. For me, it’s not a question of returning to a dream but a question of waking up from a dream. We have to wake up from the dream that it was ever possible to find a beautiful solution to the European Jewish problem by creating suffering for people in the Middle East. We have to wake up from that dream. It was never possible. 

Not only was it never possible, the people that did it knew it was not possible. Privately, they talked about it. Publicly, they pretended otherwise. And I’m talking about going back a hundred years or more. They knew there was another people there. They knew that there was no land without a people. In terms of what that means in the present, we’re not talking about expelling Israelis, we’re not talking about any particular solution here, but if you want to find a solution, let’s wake up from the dream and certainly let’s wake up from the dream that many Jews have that you can continue to keep doing this and somehow it’s going to turn out okay. It’s not going to turn out okay. We are creating intense suffering for other, and we are going to create intense suffering for ourselves. 

* * *

From a different interview, Dr. Gabor Maté talked of Jordan Peterson’s “suppressed rage”. We were reminded of that because of his focus on trauma. Peterson obviously has unresolved issues that get projected onto others and get expressed in dark views of humanity.

Peterson makes verbal threats, writes of violent fantasies, praises bullying, claims slavery is the natural state, pushes fear-mongering, and preaches conspiracy theories. The latter is seen with his ranting about “cultural Marxism” which originated in Nazi Germany as an antisemitic conspiracy theory called Jewish Marxism or Jewish Bolshevism.

This is what is so sad about Peterson constantly warning about Nazism and portraying the left as Nazis. He is a crypto-Nazi that, because of unresolved trauma, is playing out trauma in his political visions and reactionary demagoguery. This pattern among reactionaries is sadly all too common.

Maybe unsurprisingly, Peterson gives unquestioning support to Israel. He equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. And he regularly retweets Ben Shapiro who supports war crimes against Palestinians, going so far as advocating that Gaza be carpet bombed.

Peterson believes that peacefully protesting for Palestinian freedom is antisemitic oppression. Apparently, to his mind, Apartheid is freedom and the only freedom Palestinians deserve is to submit to being ruled over by those more powerful. As George Orwell put it, “Slavery is freedom.”

This is what makes Dr. Maté different in talking from experience. Peterson, as an ideologue, only knows these issues from secondhand sources and so they become fodder for his demagogic rhetoric. But to Dr. Maté, the Holocaust and Israeli Apartheid are personally real in his experience.

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 time has arrived when we should definitely make up our minds to recognize the Indian as an individual and not as a member of a tribe. The General Allotment Act is a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass. It acts directly upon the family and the individual.

Teddy Roosevelt, Address to Congress

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.

The Effect of Land Allotment on Native American Households During the Assimilation Era
by Christian Dippel and Dustin Frye

Toward the end of the 19th century, with the conclusion of the Indian Wars and the closing of the frontier, reformers and the U.S. government turned their attention towards the cultural assimilation of Native Americans, ninety percent of whom were living on the reservations created in the previous decades. This is signified by the famous 1892 quote: “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”1 Assimilation efforts were centered on land allotment policies that broke up tribally owned reservation lands into individually owned homestead-sized land allotments. As the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) commissioner noted: “if there were no other reason [for allotment], the fact that individual ownership of property is the universal custom among civilized people of this country would be a sufficient reason for urging the handful of Indians to adopt it.” Allotment was the cornerstone of federal Indian policy beginning with the passing of the General Allotment (or ‘Dawes’) Act in 1887 until it ended with the passing of the Indian Reorganization (or ‘Howard-Wheeler’) Act (IRA) in 1934 (Carlson, 1981, p18).

When a reservation was opened for allotment, all families on the reservation were given allotments, and these allotments were held in a trust managed by the local Indian agent (the BIA’s local superintendents in charge of a reservation). Trust-status meant allottees could not sell or collateralize an allotment. In order to obtain full ‘fee-simple’ legal title for their allotment, allottees had to be declared “competent” by the BIA agent (Carlson, 1981; Banner, 2009; Otis, 2014). In short, Indian allotment was designed as a conditional transfer program aimed at cultural assimilation. The first ‘treatment arm’ was an unconditional transfer program: receiving an allotment gave the allottee the unconditional right to use the land for their own purposes, as well as the right to leasing rents. The second treatment arm was only obtained conditional on proving one’s “competence.” Allotment’s conditional transfer arm (full title) was worth almost 20 times annual per capita incomes in our data, orders of magnitude larger than modern-day conditional transfer programs. Our paper is an investigation into how individual households responded to the incentives created by this program.

We hypothesize that individual allottees responded to the allotment policy’s incentive structure by signalling cultural assimilation to the BIA agents in order to be able to obtain full property rights over their allotments. First evidence of this comes from an annual panel of reservation aggregate data from the BIA’s annual reports from 1911 to 1934. In addition to schooling, these data include very direct measures of assimilation or assimilation-signalling, namely the number of “church-going Indians” and of those “wearing civilized dress.” We combine these data with the universe of Indian allotments, which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has digitized with geo-location and issuance year. In a within-reservation over-time comparison, we find that school-attendance, the number of church-going Indians and the number of those wearing civilized dress increased in lock-step with the expansion of allotment, even after controlling for potential changes in school and clerical infrastructure.

1 Quote from a speech by Capt. Richard Pratt, founder of the first Indian boarding school. Appendix-Figure A1 shows one of the many “before/after” pictures one finds in association with the Assimilation Era.

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.

We Are All White Liberals Now

“Before asking who should speak for liberalism, we should note that liberalism is doing very well on its own account. Almost everyone is a liberal, although nobody likes the label. This is largely because no matter what sort of liberal you are, there is another sort of liberal that you are not. . . In political terms, liberals are citizens of anywhere and therefore citizens of nowhere. They are the Ishmaels of political life, the wandering spirits, an influence in all tribes but a dominant force in none.”

Philip Collins, How did the word “liberal” become a political insult?

I previously criticized Zach Goldberg’s article on white liberals. He wanted to make them out to seem like not only extremist ideologues but also psychologically abnormal. At times, it comes across as a soft-pedalled conservative diatribe, but some of his analysis brings up some good points.

It’s even more interesting when we ignore his conclusion and, instead, acknowledge that the average American is in general agreement with white liberals. White liberals may be a minority in the strict sense, particularly limiting ourselves to self-identified liberals, but “white liberalism” apparently has become the majority position. We are all white liberals now or most of us are, including an increasing number of non-whites and non-liberals. Embrace your inner white liberal!

Anyway, the relevant takeway is that a real change is happening. I don’t know that white liberals are the canary in the coal mine or otherwise deserving of special treatment. But because the mainstream is so obsessed with them, they get all the credit and blame for so much that is happening. So, looking at this one demographic might tell us something about Americans in general and where American society is heading.

Considering most Americans are further left than the mainstream would like to admit, this really isn’t fundamentally an issue of white liberalism at all, of course. It’s just a way of distracting from the decades-long leftward lurch of public opinion and a shifting psychological profile of personality traits and moral values. That is all the more reason to look at what is happening among white liberals, if we take them as representative of something far broader. For all the condemnation they get, and some of it deserved, they are fascinating creatures.

Supposedly, for the first time in history, there is a demographic that has a pro-outgroup bias. White liberals state a more positive view of those not like them than those like them. What is not mentioned are other demographics like non-white liberals and leftists who might show this tendency even more strongly. There isn’t necessarily anything special about white liberals. It’s simply liberal-mindedness taking ever stronger hold in the American psyche and this showing up clearly first in particular demographics.

Goldberg speculates that the cause is the internet. White liberals are leading the way in embracing the new media, although that is probably true of social liberals in general (black liberals, Asian-American libertarians, Latinx social democrats, etc). Social liberals tend to be the most liberal-minded in being open to new experiences (FFM Openness, MBTI Intuition, etc). That openness, in this age of media proliferation, contributes to greater exposure to different views and ideas. For all our fear that social media feeds into echo chambers of disinfo and extremism, so far the internet has also been a powerful force of liberalization.

It’s easy to forget how radically liberal our society has become. Most American conservatives today are more liberal or even leftist than the average liberal was maybe only a century ago. So much of what we’ve come to regularly question, doubt, and challenge was simply accepted as normal reality and undeniable truth not that long ago. The American majority, white and non-white, is now far to the left of John Locke, the prototype of Anglo-American white liberalism. In place of that earliest and most respectable expression of Enlightenment thought, we are ever more embracing the radical and rabblerousing liberal vision of Thomas Paine, the most important American founder now forgotten.

We can be transformed by this revolutionary liberal-mindedness or we can be shaped in reaction to it. But in either case, it has come to define our entire society. Indeed, we have all become white liberals, whatever that means. The white liberal is the symbolic force and totemic spirit of American society. Let us not forget, though, that the underlying moral potency of this white liberalism was always built around the radical other, slowly but surely brought into the fold in redefining not only what it means to be American but, more importantly, what it means to be human.

The threat and promise of a more inclusive empathy and more expansive identity was always the seed of irritation around which the pearl of idealism grew, from the Axial Age to the modern revolutionary era. In the egalitarian conviction of Thomas Paine, maybe we are coming closer to the time when we can all declare that we are citizens of the world. Imagine a global society where nearly everyone had a pro-outgroup bias, where a compassionate sense of the other was the moral mirror that we held up to ourselves, where we finally lived up to Jesus’ radical teaching that we are judged by the treatment of the least among us. Imagine…

* * *

America’s White Saviors
by Zach Goldberg

The Moral Foundations of the Modern White Liberal

A large body of work in this field consistently finds that liberals score significantly higher than conservatives on the personality trait “agreeableness” and more specifically on its sub-dimension of “compassion.” In social science studies like these, agreeableness represents the tendency to be altruistic, tender-minded, cooperative, trusting, forgiving, warm, helpful, and sympathetic. The trait is closely linked with empathy and compassion toward the suffering of others. […]

A substantial line of research reveals that, out of these moral considerations, liberals generally attach the most importance to the foundations of harm/care and fairness. While conservatives also tend to rate these foundations as important, their moral compass is broader and includes a greater concern for violations of purity (e.g., “whether or not someone was able to control his or her desires”), loyalty (e.g., “whether or not someone did something to betray his or her group”), and authority (e.g., “whether or not someone respected the traditions of society”). As with empathy, the liberal concern for harm/care and fairness relates to a larger set of targets (e.g., animals, the needy in other countries) than it does for conservatives, who are generally more concerned with threats to the in-group. The liberal conception of ‘harm’ is also far broader, which lowers the threshold at which their moral alarms are triggered.

[…] white liberals—especially the self-identified “very liberal”—are significantly more likely to report intense or extremely frequent feelings of tenderheartedness, protectiveness, and sensitivity when considering the circumstances of racial and ethnic out-group members. A related graph below displays the average differences in feelings of warmth (measured along a 0-100 scale) toward whites vs. nonwhites (i.e., Asians, Hispanics, and blacks) across different subgroups.

Remarkably, white liberals were the only subgroup exhibiting a pro-outgroup bias—meaning white liberals were more favorable toward nonwhites and are the only group to show this preference for group other than their own. Indeed, on average, white liberals rated ethnic and racial minority groups 13 points (or half a standard deviation) warmer than whites. As is depicted in the graph below, this disparity in feelings of warmth toward ingroup vs. outgroup is even more pronounced among whites who consider themselves “very liberal” where it widens to just under 20 points. Notably, while white liberals have consistently evinced weaker pro-ingroup biases than conservatives across time, the emergence and growth of a pro-outgroup bias is actually a very recent, and unprecedented, phenomenon.

Not surprisingly, data from the American National Elections Studies (ANES) shows white liberals scoring significantly higher on measures of ‘white privilege awareness’ (e.g., ‘how much does being white grant you unearned privileges in today’s society?’) and ‘white guilt’ (e.g., ‘how guilty do you feel about the privileges and benefits you receive as a white American?’). Both of these variables are strongly correlated with measures of liberal racial sympathy (or what is more traditionally referred to as ‘low racial resentment’)–the white liberal scores on which reached an ANES-high in 2016. Previous research has shown that these collective moral emotions, triggered by historical wrongdoing and perceptions that an in-group’s advantages and privileges are illegitimate, can can increase support for reparative and humanitarian social policies. That is exactly what has happened in recent years as white liberals have become increasingly supportive of affirmative actionreparations, and increased immigration.

The Social Media Accelerant

[…] Data from the General Social Survey reveals a roughly 170% increase in the number of weekly hours, from 5 to 13.6, that people reported spending on the internet between 2000-2018. Between 2006 and 2018, the percentage of respondents listing the internet as their primary news source jumped roughly 33 percentage points from 14.2% to 47.6%. Turning to social media, data I pooled from the Pew Research Center shows a similar increase in the percentage of people reporting social media use between 2008-2016, from 34.8% to 73%. These increases have occurred among all whites, regardless of political affiliation, but not to the same degree. White liberals place ahead of conservatives on every one of these measures of internet use and social media exposure. They spend significantly more weekly hours on the internet; are significantly more likely to list the internet as their primary news source; and significantly more likely to consume news from and be politically active on social media. A 2016 Pew Racial Attitudes survey further shows that of the 74% of white liberals (vs. 55% of white conservatives) reporting social media use, roughly 44% (vs. 30% of white conservatives) say that at least some of the posts are about race or race relations. And, more generally, 70% of white liberals (vs. 51% of white conservatives) report discussing race relations or racial inequality with others either “sometimes” (39%) or “often” (31%).

An analysis of GoogleTrends data, graphed below, shows that the frequency of searches for race-related and “woke” terms has grown substantially since the beginning of the decade—a period that happens to coincide with the social media boom and the emergence of so-called hashtag activism (e.g., Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter). This period also saw the rise of the Huffington Post—an online progressive blog and news site that prolifically opines on race-related issues. Whereas just 13% of white liberals reported regularly visiting the site in 2012, over 30% did in 2016. A similar pattern is observed for digital readership of The New York Times (NYT), which grew from 16% to 31% among white liberals between 2012 and 2016—during this same period, according to a recent content analysis I conducted—the percentage of Times articles mentioning race-related and woke terms saw unprecedented growth. For instance, whereas just 0.4% (or 334) of articles referred to racism in 2012, this figure had doubled by 2015 (to 0.87% or 813) and reached over 2% (or 2,353) by 2018. Interestingly, the number of monthly NYT articles mentioning racism also closely tracks Google search interest in the term.

Cultural Freedom, Legal Liberty

The following is more thoughts on the contrast between Germanic ‘freedom’ and Latin ‘liberty’ (see previous post: Libertarian Authoritarianism). The one is a non-legal construct of a more general culture, whereas the other is specifically a legal construct that was adapted to other ends, from philosophical ideal to spiritual otherworldliness as salvific emancipation. One important point is that liberty is specifically defined as not being a slave according to the law, but freedom is not directly or necessarily about slavery since freedom is more about what you are than what you are not. Though Germanic tribes had slaves, they weren’t fundamentally slave-based societies in the legal sense and economic structure of the Roman Empire.

Furthermore, the distinction is partly that ‘freedom’, as a word and a concept, developed in a pre-literate society of Germanic tribes, from which it was imported into England and carried to the American colonies. This freedom was expressed in informal practices of proto-democracy such as out-of-doors politics where people met on the commons to discuss important matters, a tradition that originated in northern Europe. Latin, on the other hand, was a language of literacy and the Roman Empire was one of the most literate societies in the ancient world. Our understanding of ‘liberty’ is strongly influenced by surviving ancient texts written by the literate elite, but the more common sense of ‘freedom’ was, in the past, mostly passed on by the custom of spoken language.

On a related note, Hanna Arendt was on the mind recently. She spent her early life in Germany, but, as a Jewish refugee from the Nazis, she had strong opinions about certain issues. By the time Arendt was growing up in 20th century Germany, I’m not sure how much of the premodern Germanic notion of freedom remained, but maybe the underlying culture persisted. It meant, as noted, belonging to a free people; and that was part of the problem, as the Jews were perceived as not belonging. The old cultural meaning of freedom was not part of formal laws of a large centralized nation-state with a court system. One was either free as being a member or not, as it was defined more by sociocultural relationships and identity.

What was lacking was the complex legalistic and political hierachy of the Roman Empire where there were all kinds of nuances, variations, and complexities involving one’s sociopolitical position. Being a Roman slave or a Roman citizen (or something in between), as a legal status, primarily was defined by one’s relationship to the state. Liberty was also an economic matter that signified one owned oneself, as opposed to being owned by another. The metaphor of ownership was not a defining feature of Germanic freedom.

The problem the Jewish people had with the Nazis was a legal issue. The civil rights they once possessed as German citizens suddenly were gone. The civil rights, Arendt argued, that the government gives could likewise be taken away by the government. Something else was required to guarantee and protect human value and dignity. Maybe that has to do with a culture of trust, what she felt was lacking or something related to it. The Nazis, though, were maybe all about a culture of trust, even if Jews were not in their circle of trust. Mere legalities such as civil rights were secondary as expressions of culture, rather than culture being shaped by a law system as part of legalistic traditions and mindset.

Arendt may never have considered the difference between liberty and freedom. It would’ve been interesting if she could have drawn upon the cultural history of the ancient Germanic tradition of freedom as community membership, which resonates with the older worldview of a commons. Liberty, as originating within a legalistic mindset, has no greater authority to proclaim outside of law, be it actual law (the state) or law as metaphor (natural law). Even invoking natural law, as Stoics did, can be of limited power; but it was used with greater force when wielded by radical-minded revolutionaries to challenge human law.

A deeper understanding of culture is what is missing, both the benefits and the harms. Maybe the Nazis were going by that culture of freedom and the Jews, as a perceived different culture, simply did not belong and so were deemed a threat. In a culture demanding a sense of belonging to a shared identity, difference could not be tolerated and diversity not allowed. Certain kinds of legalistic systems, on the other hand, can incorporate multiculturalism as seen with the Roman Empire and Napoleon’s French Empire, the military of the latter having consisted of soldiers that were primarily non-French. One can legally have citizenship and civil rights without having to share culture.

Also, it might be similar to how different ethnic groups can belong to the same larger Catholic Church, while Protestant traditions have more often been ethnic or nation specific. Catholicism, after all, developed directly out of Roman imperialism. It is true that Catholicism does have more of a legalistic structure to its hierarchy and practices. It was the legalistic view of buying indulgences as an economic contract with the Church as representative of a law-making God that was a major complaint in the Protestant Reformation. Protestants, concentrated in Northwestern Europe, preferred religion to have a more personal and communal expression that was concretely embodied in the congregation, not in a churchly institution of rules and rituals.

Like the Germans, the Scandinavians (and Japanese) have also emphasized the cultural approach. This common culture can allow for effective social democracies but also effective totalitarian regimes. Maybe that is why the American Midwest of Germanic and Scandinavian ancestry was the birthplace of the American Melting Pot, sometimes a cultural assimilation enforced by violent threat and punishment (English only laws, Second Klan, etc); and indeed some early Midwestern literature portrayed the homogenizing force of oppressive conformity. To the Midwestern mind, American identity too often became a hegemony (even making claims upon Standard American English), but at the same time anyone who assimilated (in being allowed to assimilate) was treated as equal. Some have noted that American-style assimilation has allowed immigration to be less of a problem than seen with the more common practice of housing segregation in Europe.

So, it might not be an accident that Southerners always were the most resistant to assimilate to mainstream American culture, while also being resistant to Northerner’s notions of equality. The hierarchical society of the South does to an extent allow populations to maintain their separate cultures and identities, but does so through a long history of enforced segregation and discrimination of racial laws. That is why there is still a separate black culture and Scots-Irish culture of the lower classes, as separate from the Cavalier culture of the ruling class — it’s separate and unequal; i.e. liberty. Assimilation is not an option, even if one wanted to, but the nature of the overall culture disinclines people from wanting it, as seen in how Southerners have continued to self-segregate themselves long after segregation laws ended.

The Southern emphasis on individual liberty is because it’s generally the individual who relates to the state and it’s laws. The communal aspect of life, in the South, is not found in governance so much as in kinship and church. That is the difference in how, particularly in the Midwest, the Northern attitude tends to more closely mix community and governance, as communal is more seen as cutting across all groups that are perceived as belonging (maybe why kinship and church is less central in the Midwest; and related to the emphasis on the nuclear family first promoted by the Quakers from the Scandinavian-settled English Midlands). Ethnic culture in the Midwest has disappeared more quickly than in the South. But this greater communal identity also defines individuality as more cultural than legal.

Legalistic individuality, in the modern world, is very capitalist in nature or otherwise expressed in material forms. Liberty-minded individualism is about self-ownership and the propertied self. To own oneself means to not be owned by another. That is why Thomas Jefferson saw individual freedom in terms of yeoman farming where an individual owned land, as property defined freedom. The more property one has, the more liberty one has as an individual; because one is independent by not being a dependent on others but rather to make others dependent. This relates to how, during the colonial era, the Southern governments gave more land based on their number of dependents (family, indentured servants, and slaves).

That is why a business owner and others in the propertied class have greater individuality in having the resources to act with less constraint, specifically in legal terms as money and power have always gone hand in hand, particularly in the South. A factory owner with hundreds of employees has more liberty-minded individuality, in the way did a plantation aristocrat with hundreds of slaves. Inequality before the legal system of power and privilege is what defines liberty. That explains how liberty has taken on such potent significance, as it has been tightly controlled as a rare commodity. Yet the state of dependence is more closely connected to liberty in general, as even aristocrats were trapped within societal expectations and obligations of social role. Liberty is primarily about one’s legal status and formal position, which can be a highly structured individuality — maybe why Stoics associated the ideal of liberty with the love of fate in denying free will.

As African-American culture was shaped in the South, this legalistic mentality might be why the black movement for freedom emphasized legal changes of civil rights, initially fighting for the negative freedom (i.e., liberty) of not being actively oppressed. They wanted equality before the law, not equality as assimilated cultural membership — besides, whites were more willing to assent to the former than the latter. This same legalistic mentality might go the heart of why Southerners are so offended by what they describe as illegal immigrants, whereas Northerners are more likely to speak of undocumented immigrants. This is typically described as being ideological, conservatism versus liberalism, but maybe it’s more having to do with the regional divide between the legalistic mind and the cultural mind where ideological identities have become shaped by regional cultures.

There is also a divide in the ideological perception of protest culture, a democratic phenomenon more common in the North than the South. To the Southern mind, there is an old fear about totalizing ideologies of the North, whereas their own way of life is thought of as a non-ideological tradition. Liberal rhetoric is more grounded in the culture of freedom as more all-encompassing ideological worldview than coherent ideological system as embodied in Southern legalism. This makes it more acceptable to challenge laws in the North because culture informs the legal system more than the other way around; that is to say, law is secondary (consider the living, as opposed to legalistic, interpretation of the Constitution that has it’s origins in Quaker constitutionalism; a constitution is a living agreement of a living generation, not the dead hand of law). That is maybe why there is the conservative pushback against a perceived cultural force that threatens their sense of liberty, as the culture of freedom is more vague and pervasive in its influence. The conspiracy theory of Cultural Marxism is maybe the conservative’s attempt to grasp this liberal-minded culture that feels alien to them.

Liberty and freedom is part of an old Anglo-American dialogue, a creative flux of ideas.To lop off one side would be to cripple American society, and yet the two remain uneasy and unresolved in their relationship. Sadly, it’s typically freedom (i.e., positive freedom and sociocultural freedom) that gets the short shrift in how both the left and right too often became caught up in political battles of legalistic conflicts over civil rights and court cases, even to the point that the democratic process becomes legalistic in design; with the culture of freedom and democracy being cast aside. Consider the power that has grown within the Supreme Court to decide not only political but also economic and social issues, cultural and moral issues (e.g., abortion). As democracy has weakened and legalism further taken hold, we’ve forgotten about how freedom and democracy always were first and foremost about culture with politics being the result, not the cause. The gut-level sense of freedom remains in the larger culture, but the liberty-minded legalism has come to rule the government, as well as the economy. That is why there can be such clashes between police and protesters, as each embodies a separate vision of America; and this is why property damage is always featured in the corporate media’s narrative about protests.

The ideal of freedom has such power over the mind. It harkens back to an earlier way of living, a simpler form of society. Freedom as culture is a shared experience of shared identity, maybe drawing upon faint memories of what Julian Jaynes called the bicameral mind. When the Bronze Age was coming to an end, a new kind of rule-based legalism emerged, including laws literally etched into stone as never before seen. But the mentality that preceded it didn’t entirely disappear. We know of it in ourselves from a sense of loss and nostalgia we have a hard time pinpointing. That is why freedom is such a vague concept, as opposed to liberty’s straightforward definition. We are haunted by the promise of freedom, but without quite knowing what it would mean to be free. Our heavy reliance on systems of liberty is, in a sense, a failure to protect and express some deep longing within us, the simple but undeniable need to belong.

Abstract Symbols of the Reactionary Mind

The reactionary mind is obsessed with reified abstractions translated into symbolic visions and causes. This is seen with Edmund Burke’s moral imagining of the overthrow of the French monarchy (nearly a rape fantasy of the queen), to which Thomas Paine noted his lack of concern for the actual people harmed by that monarchy (more concern for the plumage than the dying bird). The reality was irrelevant. The whole point of the wardrobe of moral imagination is to dress ideology in fancy attire, to cover up the ugly truths of power that otherwise would not be palatable.

This reactonary affliction can be found among most modern people to varying degrees. One can see this among partisans in both parties and viewers of corporate media, as shown in how constructed narratives dominate nearly all public debate, in the process of silencing majority opinion and real concerns. But the greatest comorbidity is conservative-mindedness and so the strongest symptoms are found among the conservative persuasion.

Conservatism is inherently reactionary as it is entirely defined by its reaction to liberalism, in having been born out of counter-revolution. It’s never been able to shake its origins. Even when liberals turn reactionary, they tend to do so by becoming more conservative-minded — think of the Clinton Democrats with their police state law-and-order, neocon war-mongering, etc. Political correctness too, whether of the liberal or conservative variety, is reactionary. Still, it’s not equal levels of the reactionary.

In one sense, the primary meaning of conservatism is the state of being more or less permanently stuck in reaction. For liberals, it is more often a temporary or partial state, more often in reacting to something particular. But American conservatives find themselves reacting to the entire liberal order upon which the country was founded. They sometimes even call themselves classical liberals as a reactionary throwback to a prior era, whereas conservatism by itself has no specific meaning, other than a general sense of loss and nostalgia that can be applied variously as circumstances require.

Part of the reactionary mind is an anti-intellectual bent. After all, right from the start, it was a complaint against Enlightenment thought. Yet it’s been forced to jerry-rig it’s ideological agenda out of the scraps left over from the Enlightenment project. So, conservatives will typically praise modern economics, technology, etc while acting suspect of the very scientific thought and institutions of learning that made it all possible.

This kind of anti-intellectualism is not found to the same degree on the American left, as the evidence shows (see: Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science). There is no Democratic equivalent to the proudly anti-intellectual President Donald Trump, no left-wing equivalent to the anti-intellectual Evangelical movement. It simply does not exist. No one is immune from the reactionary contagion, but neither is everyone equally vulnerable to it.

That is the reason conservatives, not liberals, have most strongly taken up Burke’s moral imagination. It’s the reason for the incessant pounding of culture war issues going back centuries. Culture itself becomes an abstract ideology, contrary to the traditional view of culture, what distinguishes reactionary conservatism from non-reactionary traditionalism. The one thing that the reactionary right borrows from traditionalism is some of its symbolism, such as their love of religious pomp, military display, etc; although, in chameleon-like fashion, the reactionary will just as likely borrow from the left as needed.

This reactionary ideology of culture gave birth to ethnonationalism and the nation-state, a modern invention that helped destroy and replace the ancien regime, even as it made claims on being its heir. Up until the world war era, most Europeans and Americans still didn’t identify primarily with the nation-state but rather with local communities and regional populations. It was a much more grounded experience of culture, as opposed to the Platonic ideal of European culture, white culture, etc sold by reactionary conservatives — their own brand of identity politics.

For example, conservatives will argue that social democracy is possible in Scandinavia only because of some vague concept of culture, as if culture is an unrooted and unchanging reality that forces itself upon us like an archonic power. Yet they can’t explain why much of Scandinavia, in being so successful now, was economically impoverished and culturally backwards in the 18th and 19th centuries. Northwestern Europeans who are presently among the tallest people in the world once were among the shortest because of poverty and malnutrition.

Scandinavians, compared to many other areas of the West like France and Britain, were slow to end feudalism, urbanize, industrialize, and democratize. The 20th century social democracy we argue about appeared rather late and abruptly. It would’ve been completely unpredictable based on observations of Scandinavian culture in the centuries prior. Cultural fatalism, as some fossilized essence of national character, is an abstract ideology detached from historical and human realities.

This focus on abstract cultural ideology is specifically to distract from concrete actions of political organizing and economic restructuring, policy reforms and political interventions. Some of those Scandinavian countries came to social democracy through large-scale labor movements, nation-wide strikes, and workers parties. Some conservatives counter by pointing out that Scandinavian-Americans have also done well with lower rates of poverty and inequality. What they leave out is those Scandinavian-Americans, like their kinfolk back in the homeland, enforced their culture of fairness and trust through concrete actions: populist revolt, farmer-labor parties, farmer co-ops, Progressive reforms, sewer socialism, etc.

The US states with larger populations of Scandinavian ancestry, nonetheless, never had a majority Scandinavian culture, as the majority tended to be German-Americans. Even then, the individual US states could only accomplish so much because they didn’t have the full power and autonomy of actual nation-states. This made it harder for them to establish the kind of social demcracies that took hold in Scandinavian countries. It was more complex and challenging to implement a nationwide strike within dozens of states across the entire continent of the United States, as compared to a nationwide strike in a country smaller than many US states.

Still, it’s impressive how far these Scandinavian-Americans, with the help of German-Americans, were able to get with leftist organizing and democratic reforms. Declaring their moral and political authority in 1873, the Minnesota Grangers stated: “We, the farmers, mechanics and laborers of Minnesota, deem the triumph of the people in this contest with monopolies essential to the perpetuation of our free institutions and the promotion of our private and national prosperity.” Like their brethren across the Atlantic Ocean, these ethnic Scandinavians meant business. No wonder they made sure to create societies with low poverty and inequality whereever they went. It isn’t some mysterious cultural quality detached from politics.

As with cultural fetishism, this same pattern of reified abstractions turned into symbolic fantasizing is seen with many other right-wing reactionary views, particularly when the reactionary goes full conspiratorial. So much of the anti-leftist Cold War propaganda was dependent on conspiracy theory because it’s effective as both narrative and distraction. It maintains its hold for many Americans. Think of the paranoid obsession with postmodernism and leftism, such as with Cultural Marxism and QAnon, often combined with antisemitism (e.g., Jewish space lazers causing wildfires) as was the case with Nazi Cultural Bolshevism and Jewish Bolshevism.

A conservative we are familiar with is always ranting about this kind of thing, but we know that he has never talked to or read anything by someone who advocates postmodernism or Marxism. We pointed this out to him and his response was that he knows what he sees with his own eyes. That is an odd claim. Nearly all of his views come from secondhand information as gained from Fox News, Wall Street Journal, Imprimis, The Epoch Times, etc. Mediated reality has replaced his directly experienced reality, to such extent that the corporate media has come to feel like “his own eyes.”

A new favorite of this particular conservative is the reactionary Jordan Peterson who, as a member of the Intellectual Dark Web, is one of the popular ‘critics’ of (neo-)Marxism. Keep in mind that, at his debate with Slavoj Zizek from a year and a half ago, Peterson admitted to having never read anything by Karl Marx. So, his knowledge was also secondhand or maybe further distant. That means maybe millions of Americans who got their anti-Marxist views from him and his larger influence are several times removed from any knowledge of actual Marxism.

But to the reactionary mind, all of that is irrelevant. They already ‘know’ Marxism without actually having to know any facts about Marxism or to personally know anyone who is a Marxist. What matters is the symbolism and, to the reactionary mind, all of the culture wars is a battle of symbols. This is the power of what I call symbolic conflation. The real issues under debate are something else entirely. The point is to use the wardrobe of moral imagination to hide the real issues behind symbolic issues, to protect the moral order as a sociopolitical force.

It’s also why conservatives latch onto AIDS and abortion as symbolic issues, since a disease or pregnancy can be portrayed as carrying its own moral symbolism as punishment. This supports their ideological realism for the punishment is made to appear like a natural and inevitable consequence of the moral sin to be punished. For a liberal to support the cure of the disease and to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place, that would untangle the knot of symbolic conflation in showing that the ideological realism was merely yet another social construction of social conditions, not divine reality or natural law.

This is demonstrated most clearly by the abortion debate, the first nut cracked in revealing the tender pulp of symbolic conflation. It quicky became obvious that the debate was never about facts or about lives, much less the facts about lives. Conservatives, when confronted by the data showing abortion bans on average increase the abortion rate, will unsurprisingly dismiss the data. But if one keeps pushing the issue, some conservatives will reveal their more honest opinion in baldly stating that, rhetoric of baby-killing aside, the moral concern is not actually about the lives of babies. Rather, it’s about the principle.

Listen to that. It’s about the principle, a principle abstracted from not only lived experience but abstracted from actual lives. It’s similar to the abstract nature of cultural ideology and culture wars in general. What makes this possible is the lack of concrete experience. Most of what conservatives know about Scandinavian social democracy, Marxism, postmodernism, etc is from right-wing media, not lived experience and personal relationships. That is the key component, in how right-wing media repeatedly hammers the very issues that are the most disconnected from the experience of their audience.

Theoretically, conservatives could simply seek out liberals and leftists in order to hear their views firsthand or maybe pick up a book written by such people. For example, an anti-choice activist could visit a family planning center to learn how preventing unwanted pregnancies prevents abortions and improves lives; or they could look at the data that, rather than being black-and-white, most Americans support both women’s choice in most situations while also wanting strong regulations of certain areas of the abortion issue.

But then, in the issue becoming concretely and personally real, the symbolic conflation would lose all symbolic power. The conservative realizes this Achilles’ heel and so, in keeping issues as abstract symbols, protect against this threat. This is why undeniably concrete issues like climate change and police shootings cause particular fear and anxiety to the conservative mind. It’s much more challenging to counter these with symbolic conflations, and hence a greater tendency to simple denialism.

That is partly what makes the American left different. Leftists criticize American-style inequality and poverty, class war and plutocracy, corporatism and neo-fascism because they experience it in their everyday lives and see it in the world around them, as leftists criticize the corruption and oppression of this banana republic because it is forced upon their experience, or as leftist criticize Christianity from the perspective of having been raised in it and surrounded by it in this Christian society. Because of this, leftists know capitalism and Christianity better than rightists know communism and atheism. In fact, the average American atheist has more knowledge about the Bible and Christian history than do most Christians.

So, for the left-winger, these problems of the right-wing social order aren’t symbolic issues, abstract concepts, and distant realities. They can’t be avoided, as long as one remains in this country. Such concrete experience and factual knowledge is less prone to reactionary fantasizing and symbolic conflation. That isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of reaction on the left, more than is desirable, but not to the same extent, not even remotely close to being equivalent. Partly, this is because the American left-wing mostly overlaps with liberalism, specifically liberal-minded traits that are pretty much defined by not being reactionary. Left-wing ideologies are fundamentaly about egalitarianism and it’s difficult to be for egalitarianism while against liberal values of freedom, openess, compassion, tolerance, and fairness.

That said, the liberal-minded might find it harder and harder to hold out against the reactionary over time. Mediated reality might quickly become the norm and the rise of deep fakes might rock the world. It’s not clear that liberalism will survive this onslaught on reality. All of American society could become ever more reactionary. The symbolic style could become more of a force on the political left. Consider how the Black Lives Matter movement gained majority support of Americans, including white Americans, through social media where videos of police brutality was shared. That is an example of mediated experience changing perception and public opinion.

The resuts may be positive in this case if it eventually does lead to police reform. But once we come to rely on media in this fashion for collective action, and as media technology advances, we could become ripe for reactionary fear-mongering and manipulations. Unless we find a way to democratize media, particularly the internet, but also democratize the larger society and economy, it might be a rough time ahead. If we become more divided and isolated, unmediated reality could become a rarity.

At present, it’s hard to imagine our plutocratic society even further dominated by corporate media and tech companies that would not become full-on reactionary, with liberal-minded leftism disappearing or becoming so distorted as to be dysfunctional. The craziness of media-fomented QAnon movement, already having infiltrtated Congress (in more than one way, legally and illegally), might be a sign of the future to come for the entire political system and society. Cultural experience, abstracted from concrete experience, might come to look more like a media echo chamber. Never before seen group identities will be constructed and we might become ever more dissociated and dislocated.

On Homes and Happiness

Bhutan sounds like a lovely place to live. It exemplifies civic virtue and culture of trust. And it’s probably the most powerful example of social democracy in the world, including free healthcare, despite limited wealth. They are even environmentalist-minded, legally requiring most of the country remain forested, banning of the importation and use of farm chemicals, and being the only carbon-neutral country in the world. But it also might be the only country ever to implement a political system akin to Jeffersonian republicanism, specifically based on the yeoman farmer.

All of this is accomplished through public policy. This is seen with Bhutan’s official practice of guaranteeing there are no homeless. The solution is simple without the need to provide public housing or subsidized housing. Instead, for anyone in need, the government gives a plot of land large enough for them to build a house and have a garden. At the very least, the individual would be able to have basic shelter and do subsistence farming, maybe even grow enough to be sold at a local market.

This is basically the idea that Thomas Jefferson had, but it was never fully implemented. Jefferson took it a step further in one proposal. He suggested that only landowners should vote, but he also believed everyone should have land. The way to accomplish this was to give every citizen some land when they reached adulthood. This would only work with an economy built on small farmers, as Bhutan has done.

Bhutan doesn’t end with that. There are many awesome things they do as part of a common vision of public good. The most famous principle is their measuring the success of their society by the standard of happiness and, indeed, the society is accordingly quite successful. This is the only country with a Gross National Happiness Commission and an official Minister of Happiness. It is ranked as the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest country in the world — not bad for a country that few Westerners have heard of.

This emphasis on happiness should also remind us of Jefferson’s way of thinking. Whereas John Locke wrote of “life, liberty and estate,” Jefferson preferred “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” He might have been inspired by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who identified natural rights with happiness. In Jefferson’s worldview, happiness is essential to the consent of the governed in a free society. Bhutan takes this to a whole other level, not merely guaranteeing the private pursuit of happiness but making gross national happiness a public policy.

As such, Bhutan sheds light upon what freedom means, beyond the American obsession of hyper-individualism. The word ‘freedom’ has the same Germanic etymology as ‘friend’. To be free means to be among friends, to be a member of a free people, to belong and be welcomed, to call a place home. We only have rights to the degree that those around us protect our rights and support our shared freedom. In Bhutan, this is not only a shared ideal but a collective practice. No one is happy or free alone.

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It should be noted that technically Bhutan can’t be described as Jeffersonian republicanism. It is, after all, a democratic constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system like the United Kingdom. So, it’s not ruled by the king who acts as head of state. Executive power, instead, resides in a council of ministers (i.e., the cabinet) and a prime minister. Still, a republic is first and foremost defined as not being a monarchy, irrespective of its democratic status.

But it, nonetheless, captures the spirit of Jefferson’s vision built on the independent yeoman farmer and landholding citizenry. And, if they got rid of the mostly symbolic remnants of monarchy, they could officially be the real deal, a fully-fledged Jeffersonian republic. A big factor might be the strong defense of local culture that is made possible by its small size and small population, not unlike the Nordic countries, and not unlike the states when the United States was founded under the Articles of Confederation.

There is another similarity that comes to mind. All of this has to do with the alternative visions of modernity, not merely a reaction to it. Anti-Federalists like Jefferson worried about how privatization and monopolization would leave most of the population landless, powerless, and impoverished — as happened in Europe. This worry was based on the observed results of the enclosure movement that ended feudalism and created the oppressed landless peasants who were forced into homelessness, sometimes as refugees or else flooded into cities and sent to colones where they struggled and starved, got sick and died.

These landless peasants weren’t happy, to say the least. And no one cared about their happiness, much less their survival beyond providing cheap labor for emergent capitalism. This desperate and miserable working class, often forced into workhouses and indentured servtude, was close to slavery and sometimes in conditions worse than slavery with their only freedom being death. The land of the Commons and the rights of the commoners they or their ancestors once enjoyed had been stolen from them, and they received no compensation for this theft.

That is what Jefferson, like Thomas Paine, was responding to in proposing land reforms. Maybe the happiness of everyone should matter, not only that of the aristocracy and plutocracy. Yet such Anti-Federalists understood the world was quickly changing. Modernization and industrialization would transform society. They didn’t seek to stop this ‘progress’ but to moderate it’s speed and buffer the worst consequences. This was a countervailing force to the laissez-faire attitude of uncontrolled and unregulated capitalism where capitalists would rule society.

That is maybe what has made Nordic social democracies so successful. Early on, the public demanded interventions to soften the rough edges of tumultuous change. There was an intentional public planning to ensure all citizens benefitted from progress, not merely enriching the already rich and powerful. These countries allowed modernization and have become advanced countries, but they did it without destroying their sense of a shared culture of belonging and freedom. Bhutan, a late-comer to modernization, seems to be following this same path of prudence and public good.

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