Our Life Among the Reactionary Right

The Left and the Right in Relationship

We find that, in our location and life circumstances, we are in contact with a variety of people across the ideological spectrum(s), along with across cultural differences. This diverse town is a major medical and research center centered around a liberal state college. The writers workshop here is the oldest of its kind. Though relatively small, the community draws people from all over the country and all over the world; and it’s situated amidst farmland, pulling in many residents and workers who grew up in rural communities and small towns as well; thus balancing out the middle class WEIRDness (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic). But our own bias is mostly that of a local yokel, if someone who at times has lived in other states and regions of the country. Most of our life has been in this town and, though without a college degree ourselves, we fit in just fine with our intellectuality, love of learning, and book obsession. All of that, of course, goes along with our liberal-mindedness.

Yet, as radically left-liberal as we might be, we were raised by conservative parents who are rightward socially, religiously, and economically, if they are somewhat moderate; and we spent our teen years in the conservative, nay right-wing authoritarian, Deep South. Even now in being surrounded by liberalism, for various reasons, we somehow end up spending much of our time talking with those on the right, some more reactionary than others: Republican partisans, fundamentalists, Tea Partiers, MAGA supporters, and alt-righters. Some are family, while others are friends and coworkers. They are a diverse bunch and so they wouldn’t agree on a number of issues, but among them there is a common disconnect that comes up again and again. It’s certainly frustrating, to a leftist, and often just plain strange and disconcerting.

We probably spend more time thinking about such people than they spend thinking about us, and so here we are. Let’s give an example. There is one guy we’ve personally known for a long time. He is an all around conservative Republican trapped in a right-wing media bubble and echo chamber. His views tend toward the conventional, though increasingly reactionary as he ages. He more or less fits the stereotypical profile of demographics and life experience that one might expect, though not relevant for our present purposes. Among our right-wing relationships and acquaintances, he is the one we talk to the most regularly and the most engagingly, for the simple reason we’re around each other a lot. So we are particularly familiar with his worldview and what motivates it. We are informed of his background and what has shaped his life.

He is smart and educated, as is the norm around here, and yet his understanding is so narrowly confined as to give him no larger perspective. Admittedly, he has physically seen more of the world than we have. Intellectually, though, he is less well traveled. Anything that disagrees with his beliefs and biases is often dismissed out of hand. Though retired from the educational field, he simply doesn’t have much curiosity outside of what he already knows or thinks he knows, and having been an expert in his field he is prone to the smart idiot effect, in believing he doesn’t have to research a topic for himself to have a relevant opinion that is to be taken seriously. When point blank given evidence that contradicts his views, he’ll typically refuse to look at it and just digs in further; the standard backfire effect that research shows is more common on the Right, and well-educated conservatives most of all (an interesting phenomenon we won’t discuss further here).

All evidence that doesn’t confirm his bias is asserted as having a liberal bias or is somehow wrong, faulty, or whatever; without any need to prove it (e.g., climatology science is false, manipulated, and corrupt because he read one right-wing book on the topic and so no further information is needed). He won’t offer counter-evidence, just assumes he is right until he is proven wrong, which is impossible to do in his own mind since he already knows he is right. How does one respond to that? Of course, when this anti-intellectualism is pointed out, he gets defensive and asserts that, as someone on the left, we’re just calling names. No, we’re not. We’d love to have a meaningful intellectual discussion with him about many topics, but his intellectual willingness in many cases is not up to match, though not for lacking general intelligence, far from it.

A Liberal Mind Amidst Right-Wing Media

If this otherwise nice fellow were merely stupid, we wouldn’t bother talking to him in the first place or at least we wouldn’t engage with him beyond casual chatter. Yet in having been bottle-fed on early Cold War propaganda, he lacks intellectual defenses against manipulative media. He tends to mindlessly repeat the rhetorical framings, narratives, and talking points he hears from right-wing media and political elites. Unlike us, his media consumption doesn’t extend very far, pretty much limited to sources that conform to the same basic set of scripts. He doesn’t have exposure to any left-wing media or even moderately liberal media, in the way we are constantly exposed to right-wing and conservative media. Part of the reason for this difference is that we have an uncontrollably driven sense of curiosity that ends up leading us all over the place, along with what we inadvertently pick up from the surrounding cultural and media milieu.

As a liberal-minded liberal, it’s hard for us to imagine not wanting to know other perspectives. Besides, even when trying to mind our own business, it’s impossible to ignore right-wing media when it’s constantly in our space, such as televisions playing in the background and newspapers laying about. Keep in mind that all corporate media has a right-wing bias, if only in terms of the capitalist realism and class war of the ownership class (i.e., the super-rich elite who own most of the corporate media that is concentrated in a few transnational corporations). Also, consider that, if you go anywhere in the United States, the most common channel to be playing in any place of business (restaurant, bar, hotel lobby, etc) is Fox News. This isn’t a right-wing country, at least not in terms of supermajority public opinion, but we are ruled by a right-wing elite, media and otherwise.

That is the thing. In our having liberal-minded thin psychic boundaries, it’s not part of our capacity to block out what is in the world around us, whether or not it would be our preference. We are hyper-attuned and sensitive like a staticky shirt picking up lint everywhere we go, the kind of cognitive tendency that comes up in studies on what distinguishes liberals and the liberal-minded. It’s an expression of high openness to experience, and it has other affects as well, in terms of the dual trait openness/intellectuality. Though we may be an extreme example in our roving curiosity, surveys show that liberals in general consume more conservative media and alternative media than do conservatives of liberal media and alternative media; partly because liberals are on average younger and spend more time on the media-diverse internet. Then again, it’s hard for a liberal to do otherwise, of any age group, as right-wing media is pervasive, while leftist media is mostly excluded from the ‘mainstream’.

Anyway, it’s just in the nature of liberals to be liberal-minded, that is to say motivated by intellectual curiosity and cognitive complexity, and so seeking out a greater variety of views and sources. One of the strengths and weaknesses of the liberal-minded personality trait openness is that the boundaries of the mind are thin and porous, that is to say the opposite of highly focused and narrowly confined. To the degree one is liberal-minded one would not be content and satisfied listening to the same set of opinions over and over, hearing talking points parroted. With wandering and sprawling minds, curiosity tends to get the better of liberals. We on the left are vulnerable to being drawn into the corporate-controlled media environment, just because we’re curious and that is mostly what is available. It takes a lot more conscious effort and intention to look for underfunded leftist media.

Let’s consider some specifics. For instance, according to audience data, a liberal is more likely to watch Fox News than a conservative is to listen to NPR, even though the former is much further right than the latter is to the left; as even NPR is mostly privately-funded (i.e., corporate-funded) and, according to one analysis, gives more airtime to right-wing think tanks (an analysis that was already biased in labeling centrist think tanks, to the right of the American public, as ‘liberal’). To find a leftist equivalent of the extremist rhetoric heard on Fox News, one would have to look even further left to alternative media, but such media territory is a complete blindspot for most conservatives, as well as for many liberals. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the United States who is not intimately aware of Fox News, what it spouts, and the effect it has. It’s strange considering most Americans, on most issues, are to the left of the political elites, including the DNC elite. Yet majoritarian left-liberal views are so silenced in ‘mainstream’ media, even supposed ‘liberal’ media, as to be treated as near non-existent.

This is part of a larger pattern of ideological divide. Similarly, someone on the left is more likely to be familiar with genetic determinism than someone on the right is to be equally familiar with epigenetics, and the same for numerous unequal disparities of knowledge: leftist knowledge of corporate capitalism versus rightist ignorance of Marxism and communism (or even ignorance of the anti-corporatist capitalism of the American founding generation), leftist knowledge of neoliberalism versus rightist ignorance of anarchosyndicalism (or any other similar variations of socioeconomic leftism), leftist knowledge of right-libertarianism versus rightist ignorance of left-libertarianism (despite left-libertarianism being the original meaning of ‘libertarianism’), leftist knowledge of fundamentalist apologetics versus rightist ignorance of pagan parallels in Abrahamic religions (the latter of which was written about by Thomas Paine, the main inspiration for the American Revolution), and endless other examples.

So, one side is always coming to the table with greater familiarity with the other side, but it is not mutual to an extreme degree. Instead of knowledge, right-wing rhetoric turns leftists into inane cartoon characters. In listening to Fox News, one lady we know is always saying how absurd and crazy is the political left, by which is typically meant the DNC elite. Indeed, if one were to mostly watch Fox News and little else, it would be hard to not be shocked by leftist politics that, as portrayed, makes absolutely no sense. But what doesn’t occur to the indoctrinated reactionary mind is that maybe it’s the media caricature, not the target of derision, that is absurd.

Getting to Know the Reactionary Right

Because of a lifetime of such a media environment, and because of being liberal-minded in our curiosity, we have become quite conversant not only with conservative ‘mainstream’ media like Fox News and The Wall Street Journal but also have gained long familiarity with more alternative stuff: Reason Magazine, Epoch Times, Imprimis, etc; along with the websites, blogs, and Youtube channels of religious apologists (e.g., Stephen J. Bedard), racists (e.g., Richard Lynn), white supremacists (e.g., Steve Sailer), genetic determinists (e.g., HBDchick), anarcho-capitalists (e.g., Stefan Molyneux ), and on and on; ad nauseum. Also outside the bounds of respectable society, we’ve listened to the likes of Alex Jones, Stephen Bannon, and Jordan Peterson long before most on the Right had even heard those names.

After seeing him in Richard Linklater’s movies in the early Aughts, it was from Alex Jones that we first learned of the concept of a false flag operation; that was when he had yet to go full Looney Tunes, if he was already teetering on the edge of sanity. As that decade ended, during the Obama administration, Stephen Bannon came out with a documentary on generations theory that we saw; and we quickly recognized it as propaganda. Our parents were watching a lot of Fox News at the time and Glenn Beck became a common presence in our life. On our own, around then or maybe earlier, we checked out the largely unknown Greg Gutfeld on his late show on Fox News, but found it boring; and now he is the new primetime comedian commentator to fill Beck’s absence. It was during that period when we first came across talk of Jordan Peterson, his not having been politicized back then and, instead, mostly known for his 1999 book Maps of Meaning. It was actually a Canadian liberal who introduced us to him; prior to his having embraced the alt-right, having become an IDW (intellectual dark web) figure, and having turned his life into political spectacle.

In the past, we used to actively seek out such interesting and intriguing, sometimes bizarre, stuff and would look into almost anything, as we felt morally obligated and intellectually compelled to understand what was going on in the world, including what was bubbling up in the reactionary mind. At times, depending on our mood, we could and still can be openly curious to almost any alternative view, if sometimes just for shits and giggles. The most extreme paranoid fantasies and rantings, in the more innocent times of decades past, could be taken as mere entertainment; because there was no mass movement and corporate media pushing them to the extent seen now, and certainly there had yet to be a Donald Trump presidency and a MAGA insurrection. Our alternative-loving mentality has had a way of leading us down strange, sometimes dark, paths; a habit we blame on our tender young psyche having been imprinted upon by Robert Anton Wilson and Art Bell; what once were gateway drugs for the curious liberal.

We don’t regret our past explorations. It made possible for us to follow all the lines of influence that eventually formed into the present deranged reactionary right, though it would’ve been hard to have predicted what it was to become in its full glory. We were right there at the beginning and it’s fascinating to think back on it. We came of age in the ’90s and viscerally felt the changes in the air. When still in high school, while down in South Carolina, we’d sometimes catch the early right-wing radio talk shows, such as Laura Schlessinger and Rush Limbaugh, along with occasionally listening to fire-and-brimstone preachers as they can be mesmerizing. Following that, we spent several summers in the Bible Belt region of North Carolina, where we worked at a Christian camp and, also while dating a local girl, got to know far right fundamentalists up close and personal.

All in all, the world of the reactionary right is not alien to us, even as it will always be something outside our own mentality. We’ve lived with it, grasped what it is, watched it develop, felt its impact in our gut, and seen what it does to others. It influenced us as well, if only in determining what we didn’t want to be. Now we’re in a different place in our life. We’ve tried to learn to be more discerning in what we put into our mental space, as we’ve found too much of the crap out there to be torturous and usually pointless, not worth wasting one’s time upon. Concern for mental health required us to stop such bad habits of wide-open curiosity, if we still prize an open mind. Nonetheless, it’s not like we can isolate ourselves. Even now, we know the exact talking points that are popular right at this moment on Fox News. We absorb it all like a sponge, all the more reason to set clear boundaries.

No Shared Knowledge, No Mutual Communication

To get back to the conservative guy we mentioned, for all the above reasons and more, we know where many on the right are getting their thoughts and ideas from, whereas few on the right have any clue about where those of us on the left are coming from. It’s a immense chasm to cross, and so it makes actual and mutual communication a rarity, but it can happen at times and that is what motivates us to reach out to the right-wingers within our personal world. Frustration aside, we do enjoy dialogue with those of other views, and that is why this particular conservative has occupied so much of our attention. When not taken in by right-wing fears, he actually is capable of nuanced thoughtfulness and so talking with him is far from a waste of time. Plus, we simply value our relationship with him on a human level; not everything is about overt ideology.

Because of our larger perspective with a broader knowledge base, we are able to sense our way into his worldview; and so we sometimes can couch our own views in the language, ideas, and frames that make sense to him. Yet he can’t return the favor, as it simply is not in his capacity. Our holding all the responsibility for translation can be tiresome. Even then, only on occasion do we successfully manage to lure him out of his reality tunnel of ideological realism and groupthink. At those times, he is able to be somewhat clear-minded and critical, if only briefly for he soon falls back into a more comfortable stance. The only reason we’ve been able to reach him at all is because the political right is fractured and the cracks offer opportunities for light to shine in, creates weak points to gain leverage and wedge open just enough before the openings snap shut again.

In contrast to his GOP partisanship, we are an equal opportunity critic of the entire two-party duopoly. This is useful in that we can get him to lower his defenses by our attacking the DNC elites, particularly the Clintonistas, of which we despise all the more as they stand in for the entire Left on corporate media spin, while in reality third way politics mostly triangulates itself between the moderate right and the corporate right, with some liberal sugar to help the poison go down. In talking to him, we can segue from such criticisms of Democrats into even harder hitting critiques of the totalizing corruption of both parties within a common power structure that dominates society. This usually works in drawing out his semi-libertarian streak, but his defenses return at the slightest hint of ideological threat. We have to be cautious in not being too provoking, and our success is spotty at best.

Still, we can often get him to agree, surprisingly, with rather leftist views (on the problems of neoliberalism, excessive CEO pay, near monopolies, externalized costs, harmful inequities, culture of trust breakdown, monied corruption, etc). That is as long as we don’t point out that we are expressing leftism. The main challenge is that, no matter what, he will always mentally still be living in the early Cold War. A McCarthyist battle against authoritarian Stalinism and in favor of authoritarian fascism will never end in his Burkean moral imagination, and no non-authoritarian third option is quite possible as a viscerally real choice, despite his being able to intellectually conceive that non-authoritarianism sounds nice as an ideal and in theory. Basically, like most on the reactionary right, he has no actual understanding of democracy or genuine concern about it. How could he when all he hears is anti-democratic rhetoric on right-wing media?

Democracy is just a word to be bandied about and, in reactionary style, defenders of democracy get caricatured as attacking ‘democracy’ (i.e., the status quo of the Establishment). Yet, since he is part of the respectable classes, he can’t admit that he is anti-democratic (i.e., right-wing authoritarian) and anti-egalitarian (i.e., social dominance orientation), if not entirely (like many Americans, he is ideologically schizoid). Such an admission would be politically incorrect, even on the political right. This is the double bind we are caught in as a society. Many individuals can’t openly declare and commit to what they actually value, believe, and uphold. Another obvious example is how racists these days deny being racists, whereas in the past they’d have been proud of their racism, to the point of open supremacism and eugenics. This goes hand in hand with the political right co-opting the label of classical liberalism, while eschewing the ugliness of classical conservatism, but eschewing it in name only.

Reaching Out to the Closed Mind

To this conservative guy, old school neocon President Joe Biden is a communist or else he is a communist puppet under the control of Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders. And the corporatist Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) is likewise communist, despite it increasing the wealth and power of the private oligopoly of insurance companies, and despite it having originated in a right-wing think tank and having been first implemented by the Republican Mitt Romney (it would make more sense to call it Romneycare). Everything that isn’t far right is communist, or anything that is right-wing but then adopted by the Democratic Party. And whatever you do avoid the topic of postmodern Marxism, a complete oxymoron since postmodernists and Marxists are historically bitter enemies, to such an extent that declassified records show that the CIA intentionally promoted postmodernism to combat Marxist influence. Such facts are irrelevant, though, in speaking to those on the Right.

In not knowing themselves, in refusing to know themselves, right-wing reactionaries know the other side even less and know the larger world not at all. So, lost in such darkness, they are prone to frightening nightmares, where what they project outward is cast back upon them as shadows; with all the shadow boxing that entails, wild punches being blindly thrown and haphazardly landing upon the innocent. Their only sense of the entire Left is a fantastical phantasm that would instantly dissipate in the light of self-awareness, but that would require them to lift it up into open-eyed scrutiny. How does one talk to someone on the Right when their words drop off into empty air filled with the insubstantial imaginings and frightening specters that only they can see? Yet in being part of the same society, how can we not talk to these others, how can we not attempt to reach out? After all, they are our family and friends, our neighbors and coworkers. They aren’t really other, even if that is how they perceive us or rather how the media they consume portrays us.

“You’re the only people alive on the earth today.”

“You’re the only people alive on the earth today. All those people who created traditions, created countries and created rules…they are dead. Why don’t you start your own world while you’ve got the chance?”
~ Bill Hicks.

What is rarely, if ever, taught in public education, much less heard in elite institutions of politics and media, is that this anti-authoritarian demand to be free of the past was one of the main views of the American revolutionaries, including many major leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, having openly defended direct democracy and majoritarianism. They often spoke of this problem as the ‘dead hand’; a criticism applied to any established institution, tradition, custom, norm, law, constitution, or holy book. Freedom is always in the present because it is the only moment in which to act freely. To live shackled to the past, in being beholden to the dead, is to not be truly alive; instead, it’s to be infected with the soul sickness of the zombified living dead. One of the greatest of oppressions is to be haunted by a past that controls one’s mind, identity, and ability to act; held with the vice-grip of commanding voices that possess the victim, like J. R. R. Tolkien’s Gríma Wormtongue whispering into the ear of King Théoden of Rohan.

During the American Revolution, the radical advocates for the living generation and living constitutionalism came to be called the Anti-Federalists, only because they lost the war of rhetoric when the so-called ‘Federalists’ took control in dismantling the Articles of Confederation and enforcing centralized government controlled by elites (this kind of radical critique, such as when Bill Hicks speaks it, is now identified as ‘liberal’ or ‘leftist’). But in reality the ‘Anti-Federalists’ were the strongest defenders of actual federalism as decentralized power and self-governance. Levi Preston, a revolutionary veteran, as an old man simply stated what the American Revolution was about, “Young man, what we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”  He clarified exactly what he meant. Right before that, he said, “Oppressions? I didn’t feel them. I never saw one of those stamps, and always understood that Governor Bernard put them all in Castle William. I am certain I never paid a penny for one of them. Tea tax! I never drank a drop of the stuff; the boys threw it all overboard.” It was not a tax revolt, as if early working class Americans were willing to fight, sacrifice, and die in defense of capitalism. Their sense of freedom denied was much more visceral and communal, with political implications right from the start. They were social justice warriors. They understood that the political is personal and the personal is political.

Such righteous assertion of self-independence, self-autonomy, and self-governance — the Spirit of ’76 living in the Spirit of the People — is not possible if one places the authority of corpses and ghosts over one’s own self-authorization and self-authority, any more than one can be free by submitting to the power of an aristocrat, king, or pope (or dictator, demagogue, etc; or partisanship and lesser evilism). Every living generation, morally and practically, has no choice but to choose for themselves, again and again. Even choosing submission to the dead is a choice of the living and so responsibility for the consequences of that choice cannot be denied. That sense of freedom-loving, almost anarcho-libertarian, independence is why many of the revolutionaries didn’t see the revolution as having ended with the defeat of the British Empire and so continued to fight against corrupt and oppressive elites, including against the plutocratic and oligarchic Federalists (e.g., Shays’ Rebellion); with the Spirit of ’76 never having gone away. Jefferson’s hope and Paine’s promise spring eternal; as evidenced by the thousands of riots, revolts, uprisings, insurrections, protest movements, and mass strikes that have happened since that time.

The colonial working class radicals and revolutionaries weren’t the only ones who bucked against new oppressions replacing the old, even ignoring rare aristocrats like Jefferson. Many others understood or suspected that leading Federalists like Alexander Hamilton were consciously modeling the new ‘constitutional’ republic on the British Empire and the British East India Company, if those like James Madison figured it out too late. These Federalists aspired not to be free but to be the next ruling elite of an even greater global superpower. Such schemes were a real threat, as we can see with what the United States has become, but it’s obviously not like no one saw it coming. Consider moderate and principled Federalists like John Dickinson, initially resistant to revolution at all and later the draft author of the Articles of Confederation, who feared such imperialistic centralized and concentrated power; as expressed in his purse and sword argument (basically, an Anti-Federalist argument; and the Articles did become a touchstone of Anti-Federalist thought). Even the Anti-Federalist Abraham Clark, supposedly the one who suggested a constitutional convention, was unhappy about the results; to such an extent that he warned, “We may awake in fetters, more grievous, than the yoke we have shaken off.” That worry turned out to be prescient, like so many other Anti-Federalist warnings and predictions.

Decades later, Jefferson would admit in private correspondence that the experiment of constitutional republicanism had been a failure because the founders failed to understand the mother principle, that of democratic self-governance. He said that the Spirit of ’76 only lived on in the spirit of our people (and in the “will of the people”; not in the constitution or government), the only hope that the gains of revolution would not be entirely lost. The people, as advocated by the Anti-Federalists, understood the soul of the American Dream better than the elite, as promoted by the faux Federalists. That fundamental conflict is what our country was founded upon and it remains with us to this day. Not even the American Civil War was able to undo that moral corruption and political foundering because there was no one in leadership who was wise enough and brave enough to throw the Ring of Power into Mount Doom when they had the chance, and indeed there were numerous opportunities to course correct, to revive the anti-authoritarian and egalitarian vision of the Articles of Confederation.

None of this is merely about the past but about the ever present choice of each and every new living generation. That is why Bill Hicks’ words resonate with us today, the same reason the words of the Anti-Federalists inspired revolution back then. The authority of those words are not in who said them, be it a comedian or a ‘Founding Father’. The force of those words is in knowing they speak truth for time immemorial, as we can verify that truth in our own minds, hearts, and souls; can observe it, test it, and prove it in our lived experience; can touch it, feel it, and know it in the world around us. The sense of being a living generation of people is not an abstraction but what cannot be denied. First appearing in the Axial Age, there was the notion that all living people, as individuals or communal selves, can have direct access via experience and relationship to ultimate truth, natural law, higher reality, or divine being.

The message of Hicks and the Anti-Federalists is ancient, fundamentally spiritual and religious in nature — as Levi Preston explained, “We read only the Bible, the Catechism, Watt’s Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanack.” The point is that they read these texts for themselves, as literacy was becoming common, and so the words were brought to life by their own voices. Rising literacy rates and availability of reading material, including radical pamphlets written by Paine, was the main force behind the revolution of mind that preceded the revolution of government and society. With an emerging independent-mindedness, the once mostly indentured and wretchedly oppressed colonials were gaining confidence in themselves. Unlike in earlier eras, they could read for themselves, interpret what they read for themselves, think for themselves, and so act for themselves.

There was a change not only in mentality and identity, for it was part of an ongoing shift in an entire worldview, a transformation of experienced reality; what first was planted in the Axial Age, took root in the Middle Ages, and finally was coming to fruition in early modernity. It’s a sense of being enmeshed within and inseparably part of a living world. This is what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God being all around us. And it’s what the 14th century peasants meant, in revolting, when they demanded equality on Earth as it is in Heaven. That is what then inspired those like the Quakers, having come into their own during the radicalism of the English Civil War, to formulate their view of living constitutionalism; the source of John Dickinson’s thinking, as he was raised Quaker. Living constitutionalism, according to the Quakers, treats a constitution as a living document, not a dead piece of paper; for it is considered a compact between a living God and a living community, a specific living generation of people. Ironically, the reactionary right tries to cast shade on living constitutionalism as anti-traditional, when they know nothing of the traditions our society are actually built upon.

No one, not in the past nor in a distant place, can speak to anyone else on behalf of God or speak for anyone else in relationship to God (i.e., the highest truth, reality, and authority). We are all responsible for our own connection to and discernment of the ultimate. This is why natural law, now often co-opted as reactionary rhetoric, could in the past be perceived as radically dangerous in challenging the entire basis and justification for human law, as politically-established and government-enforced. That is what Jesus was invoking in challenging Jewish and Roman hierarchical authority and social institutions, casually dismissing them as if irrelevant with a zealous and charismatic confidence that the truth he knew could not be denied or harmed, no matter what the ruling elite and Roman soldiers may do to his body. In the living moment, he acted on, demonstrated, and proved the truth he spoke; emphasizing he was not special in this manner by telling others that they too were gods, of the Holy Spirit. The living God is not far away in Heaven but here on Earth. The living Revelation is not in the ancient past but right now. The living Word is not in a book but in the world. The living Reality is experienced and known by those with eyes to see, ears to hear.

* * *

Let us make a small note here. We briefly mentioned the reactionary but didn’t go into further detail, as it wasn’t our present focus and we’ve talked about it plenty elsewhere. But as always, it can’t be ignored. What we did mention is how the reactionary has largely co-opted the rhetoric of natural law and so repurposed it to regressive ends. The deeper point, though, is that natural law originated in the radical, not the reactionary. A similar thing can be said of living constitutionalism. Sure, the reactionary can co-opt the social force and political results of living constitutionalism, as it can co-opt almost anything and everything. That is unfortunate, if it also shows the weakness and limitations involved. What the reactionary can never do is co-opt the moral force and motivating essence of natural law, living constitutionalism, and such. That is the beating heart that we are speaking of. The reactionary is always deadening. It is death and brings death to everything it touches, most of all rot of the human soul. It’s love versus fear, vitality versus anxiety, life versus death; but the two sides are far from being equal. One is light and the other mere shadow.

The living moral force of the living truth and reality is inherently and fundamentally radical and forever retains the radical; it is progressive and never regressive, liberating and never oppressive. All that radical literally means is a return to the root; and hence a return to underlying nature, fundamental truth, first principles. That is the point of showing the long history of this shared inheritance of profound wisdom, making clear that the roots of the radical go deep into human nature and human society. Not mentioned at all here is that the notion of a living experience of a living world is rooted even further down into the most archaic layers of our shared humanity, back to bicameral and animistic societies. No amount of reactionary co-option can undo this power. That is because it originates and is sourced within us, individually and collectively. As long as humans exist, the radical living challenge will remain potent and threatening. That is the whole point of why the reactionary feels compelled to co-opt the very thing that undermines it, in grotesquely wearing it like a superficial mask. This is the reason that a probing intellectual, spiritual, and moral discernment is of the utmost.

Yet it’s not only that the reactionary can’t undo the radical for neither can it stop it from spreading. That is precisely what has been happening these past millennia, as a new mentality has been taking hold, beginning as a spark and catching fire again and again. The Holy Spirit is a burning fire, the world aflame in light. The mistake many make is thinking that Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought is merely about a dully simple, reductionist, and materialistic individualism. But that false understanding is because the radicalism of the past has been obscured, as has been the radicalism of Western origins and the radicalism of the American founding. For instance, take the appearance in the ancient world, as if out of nowhere, of the idea that there is a common humanity, a universal human nature, a shared world, a single cosmos. During the Axial and post-Axial ages, that radical understanding came up in the words of numerous prophets, philosophers, wisdom teachers, gurus, and salvific figures. Human identities have grown ever broader over time. The peasantry, in revolting, came to an emergent class consciousness. The colonists, in revolting, upheld the ideal of global citizenship. Such an expanding and inclusive worldview keeps on growing, with each age of tumult bringing us to new understanding and a greater identity.

So, there is what is ancient to human society, even primal in having originated within the human psyche from millions of years of hominid evolution. To experience the living fusion of self and world, human and non-human is the undifferentiated state that forms the baseline of human existence. That isn’t to say differentiation, therefore, is bad; of course not. But starting millennia ago, a divide began to form, a mere crack at first, that has since fractured and splintered into modern psychosis. The radical impulse has never been to resist or deny differentiation that has made possible modern individuality, but neither has it sought to dismiss and devalue the communal identities of the past, the very ground of the bundled mind that we stand upon. Instead, what radical thinkers have advocated is how to transform and reform past communal identities, such that collective health and sanity can be maintained. Abstract identities, however, disconnect us from the living sense of belonging to others and to the larger world. For most of human existence, belonging has meant an identity of tribe built on a deep sense of place. That concrete immediacy and sensory immersion remains essential and necessary. Yet in a globalized interconnected society our ability to perceive a shared living reality is potentially immense; the imaginative capacity to sense, feel, understand, and know that other people are equally real. It’s the task before us, the ancient ideal and aspiration that guides us.

* * *

Roger Williams and American Democracy
Founding Visions of the Past and Progress
Whose Original Intent?
Anti-Partisan Original Intent
US: Republic & Democracy
 (part two and three)
Democracy: Rhetoric & Reality
Pursuit of Happiness and Consent of the Governed
St. George Tucker On Secession
The Radicalism of The Articles of Confederation
From Articles of Confederation to the Constitution
The Vague and Ambiguous US Constitution
Wickedness of Civilization & the Role of Government
A Truly Free People
Nature’s God and American Radicalism
“We forgot.”
What and who is America?
Attributes of Thomas Paine
Predicting an Age of Paine
Thomas Paine and the Promise of America
About The American Crisis No. III
Feeding Strays: Hazlitt on Malthus
Inconsistency of Burkean Conservatism
American Paternalism, Honor and Manhood
Revolutionary Class War: Paine & Washington
Paine, Dickinson and What Was Lost
Betrayal of Democracy by Counterrevolution
Revolutions: American and French (part two)
Failed Revolutions All Around
The Violence of Bourgeois Revolutions and Authoritarian Capitalism
The Haunted Moral Imagination
“Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”
“…from every part of Europe.”

The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence
A Vast Experiment
The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty
America’s Heartland: Middle Colonies, Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest
When the Ancient World Was Still a Living Memory
Ancient Outrage of the Commoners
The Moral Axis of the Axial Age
Axial Age Revolution of the Mind Continues
A Neverending Revolution of the Mind
Liberalism, Enlightenment & Axial Age
Leftism Points Beyond the Right and Beyond Itself

Erotic Fantasies of Moral Imagination

“[A]n unalterable fact about the body is linked to a place in the social order, and in both cases, to accept the link is to be caught in a kind of trap.”
 ~ Lewis Hyde

Conservative Sexual Fetishism

Conservatives, as you might’ve noticed, have always had a fetish about other people’s sex lives, an obsessive-compulsion that drives their reactionary minds like a dominatrix wielding a whip; and in the Burkean wardrobe of the moral imagination, conservatives really do like to kink it up. Particularly titillating to fantasize about is that of other people having perceived illicit sex, be it pedophilia or bestiality or simply garden-variety homosexuality (i.e., anything religiously proscribed, consensual or not, that will get you a one-way ticket to Hell). There is the irresistible allure of the taboo, and large swaths of human experience are taboo in conservative ideology. That is a lot of material to work with in scripting and staging morality porn on the inner stage of the conservative soul. So, what could otherwise be a normal, healthy, and pro-social expression of sexual freedom, in being denied, becomes distorted and demented. This perverted mentality is motivated by the same vexatious urge behind the preoccupation over other people not having sex as well, the barely submerged eroticism bursting forth like the plump bosom underneath a tightly-bound bodice on the cover of a romance novel. Even in negation, suppressed sexual energy overwhelms like being told to not think about pink elephants.

The unnatural concern in having one’s focus neurotically drawn toward others not having sex is evidenced by the popular Christian genre of virginity porn (e.g., the Twilight novels written by a conservative Mormon); the sexualized obsession with innocence that, to consider another category of culture war fantasy, also underlies right-wing conspiracy theories of pedophilia, innocence harmed and defiled. Or think about the weird phenomenon of purity rings, where a young woman’s public identity of moral purity and social worth is constructed according to the imagined non-act of avoiding vaginal penetration, whatever sexual acts she actually does or does not do secretly in her private life; it then being a question of how far can she go (kissing? groping? heavy petting? fellatio?) while maintaining this prized ‘virgin’ status that, according to belief, is ultimately determined by an omniscient, intrusive, and voyeuristic father-god who, like a peeping tom, watches his human children’s every sexual act or non-act, as the case may be, and judges it like giving an ice skating score (for humor: Garfunkel and Oates, The Loophole). Praise be! Now there is a fascinating fetish. The intensity of thwarted desire, like floodwater building behind a dam, combined with a sadomasochistic religiosity; that could become immensely intoxicating.

It’s amusing that Edmund Burke made famous the conservative-style moral imagination in his lurid portrayal of a wild mob, seemingly with lecherous and lascivious intentions, having violently ripped away the French queen’s delicate underclothing; presumably revealing her tender flesh and womanly parts to the prying eyes that sullied her purity, innocence, and nobility — basically, it was a rape fantasy and it obviously got Burke all worked up and excited. It was an invented scene of repressed sexual frenzy being messily released like a young boy’s ejaculate, not an accurate historical account of sociopolitical events during the French Revolution; and it is to be suspected that the pent up libido, one of the few real and accurate details, was based on Burke’s personal experience. That writing has set the tone for the reactionary mind ever since, and it helped liberals like Thomas Paine to make clear what was so dangerous and perverse about such untethered frothing. In any case, it was Burke who named this kind of ideologically-motivated and collectively-expressed fantasizing as ‘moral imagination’ and, in demonstrating it’s compelling persuasiveness for the reactionary mind, the practice of it has stuck as the main weapon of culture war and moral panic ever since.

Conservative Projections of Shame

Such inventive eroticism, equal parts lustful and prurient, is symbolic of all things illicit, far beyond being limited to any possible variety of sex act (described or implied, denied or suppressed); as representing the bestial nature of the body, an expression of Adam’s Original Sin, the eternal field of battle between God and Satan, good and evil. It doesn’t matter what other people are actually doing or actually want to do, nor necessarily about the fantasist’s behavior either. This is entirely about the conservative’s carnal nightmares that they are trapped in, as they can’t escape their own mind; and, indeed, they apparently get off on it, which surely further adds to an endless cycle of masochistic shame that draws them ever back into the shadow of their own unresolved issues. It certainly makes for a time-consuming hobby, if one is worried about getting bored; and the reactionary mind, in particular, despises boredom. That is the necessity of melodramatic political theatre and political spectacle — it is entertainment, pure and simple; as much or more to entertain the one telling it, in how the purpose of evangelizing is mostly to further entrench the conviction of the evangelical, not about converting unbelievers and saving souls.

All of that might be fine, if conservatives were able to keep such dark fantasies and fetishes as a private psychosis and delirium, and as long as no illegal acts were committed (each to their own, live and let live; as a liberal would say), but no such luck. The freedom of personal imagination and the responsibility of personal conscience, as idealized and practiced in a secular liberal democracy, has never been the keystone of conservative moral order inseparable from conservative social order. The problem is that, as part of their lust for power, they are always trying to use their own perverse imaginings as rationalizing fodder for culture war in order to supposedly stop other people from doing what conservatives do in their own minds, whether or not acted out in their own private lives. They can’t stand their sense of self-disgust and so feel compelled, if in a state of horror, to set it loose on the public stage. It’s a cry for help, but the rest of us aren’t sure how to help them. Should we have a national intervention for the sake of public health?

Conservatives are forever trying to pass, reinforce, and defend laws against what they deem immoral behavior, sexual and otherwise, not because of what non-conservatives might do but because conservatives fear, maybe for good reason, that they can’t control their own behavior. They think they know what others would do because they know what they would do, if they had the opportunity, for they are fantasizing about it all the time. So, they seek to apply a distorted Golden Rule: Rather than do unto others as you would want others do unto you, it’s stop others from doing what you believe is wrong as you would want others to stop you from doing as bad or worse. That is how the reactionary mind assumes social order must be maintained, by way of authoritarian systems of social control, since people are treated as inherently bad and untrustworthy. Everyone, after all, is a born sinner; an old theological dogma that persists even into the secular thought of many non-religious individuals.

Conservative Social Control Replaces Self-Control

In the dark corners of the reactionary mind, the terror and torment is that these shameful fantasies, repeating over and over as hidden sins and repressed lust, will escape out into the real world and make for interpersonal messiness; but, as Jesus warned, even a sin of thought is still a sin; no doubt a condemnation that plagues the worried soul of many a conservative. It must be frightening to have such a libidinously demented fantasy life that always feels out of control, like a demonic force ever tempting one to horrific wrongdoing and moral depravity. We might not want to be too harsh considering that conservatives, in respect to themselves, might be correct about the need for external power and hierarchical authority of behavioral control. They might really become dangerous, if they ever stopped collectively suppressing their anti-social tendencies and harmful desires. Maybe they need all the assistance they can get.

No doubt, the persistent sexualizing that is played out on the inner stage of the conservative mind isn’t merely that of innocent and impotent passing thoughts, as the reactionary mind is addicted to what it denies, pulled toward what it pushes away. This oppressive repression acts as a fuel to the fire of their anxiety-driven righteous anger of self-loathing, what makes them so worked up in a way that liberals have a hard time understanding. Such sexual repression, as endless examples show, really does increase sexual compulsion and/or malbehavior. Think of how many gay-hating preachers later were found out to have been covertly following an active gay life, sometimes using church funds to do so. Or think of all those priests who, in having taken vows of bachelorhood and abstinence, ended up taking advantage of the children under their care. Conservatives are warning about the darkness they know intimately in their own hearts. It’s an indirect admission of an uncomfortable secret and an unpardonable guilt that they can’t give voice to in a more straightforward manner, for the public humiliation would destroy them.

So, they express these uncontrollable urges as dark temptations and harmful inclinations projected onto those other supposedly bad and dangerous people: leftists, liberals, and atheists, or else minorities and the poor, strangers and foreigners, those perceived as deviant or different, basically any target that can be conveniently othered and scapegoated (literally, living beings to be sacrificed after symbolically placing the community’s sins upon them). One such immorality play, particularly powerful, in the conservative imaginary is bestiality, and there isn’t much else like it. As with the exaggerated emphasis on and disturbing obsession with pedophilia, the conservative holds bestiality aloft as a caricatured sexual extremism that stands in for nearly every sexual act other than missionary style between a religiously married man and woman; although, within a conservative patriarchy, there is greater forgiveness toward a heterosexual male’s non-marital or extramarital sexual activities (men have needs, so goes the argument), and there is some wiggle room about age of consent for many conservative societies.

Conservative Symbolism and Imagination

Intriguingly, within a worldview of debilitating anxiety over impurity and perceived threats, the moral imagination of the reactionary mind has often used animals to make its points about the needs and claims of cognitive certainty, shared identity, group boundaries, social order, class/caste hierarchy, and moral worth: peasants and slaves as beasts of burden, the indigenous and backwoods whites as wild creatures, Africans as monkeys, Irish as white gorillas, Jews as a sub-species, immigrants as diseased rats, homeless as stray cats, and on and on; such bizarre metaphorical stereotypes being endless. As another example, ethnic Catholics, in the WASP imagination, were historically likened to ‘animals’ breeding out of control; in justifying xenophobic demands of anti-immigration, oppression, segregation, and eugenics. Ironically, this anti-ethnic and anti-Catholic prejudice was the reason that most American Protestants (in both main parties), during most of the 20th century, supported family planning clinics, birth control, and abortions. Civilized humans, in their superior self-restraint, supposedly don’t give into the wild lust of wanton bestial copulation and procreation.

This brings us to the proper role of the proper kind of sex, and hence what is improper. Within this ideological worldview, if all other humans unlike oneself (non-WASPs, non-Americans, non-whites, etc) are mere animals or are animal-like, then someone of the right group having sex with someone of the wrong group is akin to committing bestiality, incurring moral impurity for all involved and requiring punishment or exclusion to reinstate the moral order, to make the world right again. The perception of the natural world, be it sincere belief or cynical rhetoric, has long been implemented as a metaphorical model for the human world; most powerfully symbolized by the physical body. So, bestiality is never really about bestiality, in all its glory of ideological resonance; and, more broadly, sexuality is never merely about sexuality; similar to why conservatives preaching on abortion aren’t actually talking about the claim of killing fetuses and aren’t actually expressing concern for the sanctity of human life.

Filtered through symbolic conflation, every culture war issue means something else, all rhetoric of moral panic points elsewhere. It’s just distraction of ideological sleight-of-hand. This might be why bestiality, something that doesn’t actually come up in normal life all that often, plays such an outsized role on the American right in their social commentary, culture war, religious moralizing, and political narratives. It gets awkwardly mentioned way too often that it starts to make the rest of us feel a bit uncomfortable. What is up with this strange obsession? Outwardly stated, the eternal warning of social conservatives is that, if as a society we allow gay sex or whatever, it will inevitably lead to a libertine free-for-all where sexual deviants will roam the land anally-raping cows and molesting children; or something like that. In that moral worldview, there are only two possibilities, total repression or mass orgy; with the wrong choice leading to bad consequences — first anarchy and chaos will burst forth upon the streets and into the schools, preying upon the innocent, and then social breakdown and societal collapse will follow in its wake.

Conservative Storytelling and Fearmongering

Do many conservatives really believe any of this? Probably not. That is besides the point. It’s make-believe and useful-fiction, if still powerful, both powerful as social control and powerful as political theatre. It’s not uncommon for people to act according to what they, deep down, know isn’t true; for suspension of disbelief is required to some degree in any fictional narrative or fictional enterprise. And humans have a talent for knowing and not knowing something at the same time. It’s all about telling a ‘good’ story. We liberals get confused because we have a tendency to take conservatives at face value, since they are always proclaiming their own literalism. Of course, they could never admit that narrative matters more to them than truth because, then, the spell of the narrative would be broken. The story told is more comforting than would be reality disclosed because, no matter how fearful and discomforting that story, the conservative doesn’t want to become aware of what they really fear, what is in their own heart and mind. This is why their moralistic storytelling is often confused and doesn’t quite add up, when rationally analyzed. The purpose is not to make sense but to make nonsense, to disconnect one from direct and visceral sensory experience of reality. Such a way of thinking is shown with an amusing example, going back at least to the 1990s but probably earlier.

An old conservative argument is that the Western Roman Empire fell, not because the Christians turned it into a self-destructive theocracy, but because the Roman population suddenly started having too much butt sex. Strangely, Romans were supposedly less gay when they were pagan worshippers and only turned to a widespread fondness for men-on-men action once Christianized in the last centuries of Roman reign. It’s not clear how that puts Christianity in a positive light, but for whatever reason a significant number on the religious right find it a compelling argument for why they should once again be allowed to return to their nostalgic dreams of theocratic longing, to Make Rome Great Again! But was the Empire ever great in the first place? In any case, there is no decline of the Empire for a simple reason: The Empire never ended. That is how a wise philosopher once put it, in talking about the authoritarian right-wing of his own time. It has never ended because the power-mongers will never let it end, in reality or imagination. Yet, if you listened to them, you’d think the Empire is in a constant state of threat; that at any moment the radical left and/or the dirty masses will rise up to finally defeat and destroy the Forces of Order for all time, bringing on an Age of Darkness and Despair, the End Times foretold in Holy Scripture.

But the reality is the Empire can never end as long as its foundations remain protected within the insurmountable walls of the reactionary mind. God and His Kingdom, like the supernatural beings of fairyland, are always receding as the Age of Miracles and Magic disappears into the hazy past; while the reactionary mind longs for the return of the archaic voices of authorization, in their comforting certainty. In the reactionary mind, the Queen is forever being violated and ravished, and yet the Empire somehow remains forever in place. The Queen comes out every day, like a Disneyland worker putting on her costume and acting out her role, to the delight of her audience. The other ghosts of the haunted moral imagination, in various guises, likewise get trotted out to keep the whole charade going. It is sort of amusing, when one takes it as a strange and deranged form of entertainment. Along with watching actual porn on the internet, the conservative creates ideological porn to be viewed on an inner screen. By the way, according to internet data, porn viewing rates are highest in the Bible Belt, specifically with the highest rates of gay porn. When religious conservatives preach about the evils of sexuality, the sins of the flesh, they have many porn viewing hours under their belts to assist their mentally visualizing in great detail what they claim to hate so much. Let’s just say they Biblically know what they’re talking about. The moral imagination of the reactionary mind is so vivid for a reason.

Conservative Fantasizing About Bestiality

All of this craziness was brought back to our attention because of a particular case of right-wing moral panic, involving the right-wing’s beloved bestiality fetish. The self-identified conservative Ryan Farmer, just some random dude online who salivates over people having sex with animals, earlier this year wrote critically about Maryland’s House Bill 209 that is a repeal of Section 3-322 of Maryland’s criminal code, what has been called the ‘perverted practice’ statute. That statute “is built on a foundation of animus against homosexuals, but goes substantially farther, likening oral sex—which surveys demonstrate is practiced by upwards of 80% of adults—to bestiality” (The Honorable Luke Clippinger, HB0209 2022-01-21 Testimony to House Judiciary Committee). It was already technically unconstitutional and effectively unenforceable because of an earlier federal court decision, but police officers were still charging gay men with violating it (Bradley S. Clark, Why does Maryland law still prohibit sexual contact between same-sex couples?). The morally outdated law was simply being used to harass individuals, as motivated by the immoral bigotry of police officers who were using it as a cudgel of prejudice.

That was the real issue. Socially acceptable and consensual acts of sexual freedom, even something as simple as fellatio, were being conflated with bestiality; and homosexuality was being implicated as well. To reinforce this evil caricature of otherwise normal and healthy sexual behavior, Farmer stated that, “Effectively, this is legalization of bestiality, as these Delegates have no clear interest in re-enacting the criminality of performing sex acts with an animal” (2022 HOUSE BILL 209: MARYLAND DEMOCRATS SEEK TO LEGALIZE ACTS OF BESTIALITY). That is, as always, total bull shit. Being “a proud Marylander,” he had to have known that House Bill 641, signed into law a few years ago, had already made bestiality illegal separate from all the rest (Dawn White, Gov. Hogan Signs Bill Making Bestiality A Felony). So, why is he lying? Well, to the reactionary mind, there never needs to be a reason to deceive and manipulate, as long as it gins up fear and anxiety; that is all the justification that is required, mere moral panic for the sake of moral panic. It’s what the conservative craves, the state of agitation that feels normal to the permanently agitated psyche.

As a side note, one might strongly suspect that, as with gay porn, bestiality rates are probably higher in the Bible Belt and in other conservative areas, considering all of those lonely conservatives out in rural areas (what happens in the barn stays in the barn), and who knows what is going on beneath the thin veneer of normality out in the conservative suburbs (always a favorite setting for horror stories); but unfortunately, it’s doubtful there is good data on such things. In all seriousness, that is an interesting thought. Maybe conservatives are rightfully concerned about bestiality because they know or suspect that it’s common in their own conservative communities. It’s a similar logic that led Edmund Burke, in being familiar with the English precedent of regicide, to focus on the beheading of the French king. His real concern, unstated because it was too threatening, was nearer to home. Rather than French events having influenced English society, it was actually the Anglo-American recent past of English Civil War and American Revolution that had inspired the French revolutionaries. That is precisely what made it so terrifying. Someone like the Englishman Thomas Paine, radical and revolutionary, was a homegrown product of traditional English culture; a strain of moral imagination that was best left unacknowledged.

Conservative Moralistic Authoritarianism

It does make one wonder. Of all things, real and imagined, why is bestiality in particular so horrifying? It’s not as if conservatives are generally and strongly motivated by concern for animal wellbeing, such as in terms of the fundamentalist belief that God created animals solely for the purpose of being used by humans. Many and maybe most conservatives apparently are fine with what those on the left would often consider cruelty and harm toward other species, involving laboratory testing, puppy mills, factory farms, slaughterhouses, hunting, meat-eating, environmental damage, ecosystem destruction, mass extinction, etc; not that all of these issues fall along simplistic and dualistic ideological lines. Here is the point. If you were asked if you’d prefer that someone killed and ate you or had sex with you, which would seem the better option and which the worst? Assuming an animal had consciousness and intelligence, how do you think they’d answer that question? The sense of moral depravity and deviancy, in the conservative mind, has nothing to do with the animal’s rights and protections, the animal’s life and happiness; and has nothing to do with reduction of suffering, according to the least harm principle; nor is it about defense of consent, considering the most conservative (and most religious) countries and U.S. states have the lowest ages of consent for sex. What is perceived as wrong by conservatives is the perceived moral harm to the social order, the impurity that would infect society. So, the concern is not that of what a human does to an animal but what the taint of the animal does to the human.

The average individual on the political left would more likely be consistent in equally opposing both bestiality and carnivory, on principle, as neither could be deemed consensual acts and as both potentially betray the least harm principle; although application of principle can be complicated and nuanced, something a liberal would also be more likely to openly admit and intellectually justify (e.g., there are environmental and ethical leftists and liberals who eat meat, albeit they typically have environmental and ethical arguments for their dietary choice). At the other ideological extreme, more than a few right-wing libertarians would quite possibly perceive neither bestiality nor carnivory as problematic, at least not necessarily in terms of libertarian principle (if for other reasons), in that their concern is merely or primarily about human liberty; and not necessarily the ethics of animal rights and animal protection; but of course, the response of left-wing libertarians would be a different question with a different spin on ‘liberty’, probably more in line with the liberal. So, whether liberal or libertarian, there would be a consistent principle, albeit a different preference and application of principle, but the reactionary mind of the conservative has no similar consistent principle, other than defense of hierarchy for the sake of their own power and authority; and hence the reason social science research finds that hypocrisy is common among right-wing authoritarians, which research in turn links to social conservatism.

Conservative morality, though ideologically dogmatic, is not fundamentally and primarily about anything specific in a real world sense but whatever can get used as a rhetorical red herring while the actual purpose remains obscured, often hidden in plain sight. It’s not about sexuality, as it’s not about abortion, drugs, etc. And it’s not about the treatment or mistreatment of animals, children, or whatever else. Nor is it about rights and liberty. What it is about is denying the agency of the subordinate class, that is to say to keep the oppressed in their place; a rigidifying and stratifying of the social order by way of shutting down of the public mind and moral imagination, hence fear and anxiety as a potent psychosocial force. Social conservatism is and always has been a central component of authoritarianism, a defining feature in fact; and the viscerality of the body and bodily experience (sex, abortion, menstruation, motherhood, sexually-transmitted diseases, etc) is one of the most powerful tools through which to narratize, a point made by Lewis Hyde about metonymy, but also emphasized in Michel Foucault’s biopolitics. It is upon and through the body, along with physicality in general, that ideological worldviews and identities are interpellated, enacted, and enforced; although it’s through a return to direct sensory experience of embodiment that such an ideological trap can be undone, a reconnecting to what was disconnected.

Look to any authoritarian regime, organization, or group and you will always find an enforced submission to constrained and exclusionary sexual mores, identities, and roles; and punishment of oppression, violence, or banishment to anyone who doesn’t comply to group identity and groupthink (e.g., libertines), anyone who challenges the ideological system (e.g., feminists), anyone who otherwise doesn’t fit in (e.g., transgender), and anyone who is required as scapegoat (e.g., homosexuals); where the perceived consequence of punishment is taken as proving the merit and necessity of the moralistic system. The right-wing social order must be maintained at all costs, simply because social order is valued on its own terms; not justified by how it serves the people, for everyone must justify themselves in serving it because, if failing that, their continued societal membership in good standing might not be justified at all. A totalitarian order is considered a necessity because, in a dualistic worldview, without it nothing stands between civilization and the forces of anarchy, chaos, and destruction. But to the liberal-minded, such authoritarian order itself is the madness. That is the gut-instinct in pushing back so hard against sexualized culture war. Freedom, in all ways, is worth fighting for.

* * *

Trickster Makes the World
by Lewis Hyde
pp. 169-170

[A]n unalterable fact about the body is linked to a place in the social order, and in both cases, to accept the link is to be caught in a kind of trap.

Before anyone can be snared in this trap, an equation must be made between the body and the world (my skin color is my place as a Hispanic; menstruation is my place as a woman). This substituting of one thing for another is called metonymy in rhetoric, one of the many figures of thought, a trope or verbal turn. The construction of the trap of shame begins with this metonymic trick, a kind of bait and switch in which one’s changeable social place is figured in terms of an unchangeable part of the body. Then by various means the trick is made to blend invisibly into the landscape. To begin with, there are always larger stories going on— about women or race or a snake in a garden. The enchantment of those regularly repeated fables, along with the rules of silence at their edges, and the assertion that they are intuitively true— all these things secure the borders of the narrative and make it difficult to see the contingency of its figures of thought. Once the verbal tricks are invisible, the artifice of the social order becomes invisible as well, and begins to seem natural. As menstruation and skin color and the genitals are natural facts, so the social and psychological orders become natural facts.

In short, to make the trap of shame we inscribe the body as a sign of wider worlds, then erase the artifice of that signification so that the content of shame becomes simply the way things are, as any fool can see.

If this is how the trap is made, then escaping it must involve reversing at least some of these elements. In what might be called the “heavy-bodied” escape, one senses that there’s something to be changed but ends up trying to change the body itself, mutilating it, or even committing suicide…

The Political Ratchet is a Political Racket

In the United States: Antifa, as a label, refers to no existing organization. And anti-fascism, as an ideology, is linked to no known acts of terrorism. These have become primary targets of bipartisan state oppression, as rationalization to suppress populist protest movements and to eliminate leftist critics of authoritarianism, social dominance, and psychopathy. This is how democratic self-governance is prevented, how a banana republic is maintained. This is how lesser evil voting ratchets up greater evil politics.

“On September 9, the news came out that a whistleblower within the Department of Homeland Security had filed a complaint about the department’s Trump-appointed leadership instructing him to downplay the threat represented by white supremacists and play up the dangers posed by anarchists and anti-fascists. Yet it has largely escaped notice how Joe Biden and other Democrats have embraced Donald Trump’s talking points about anarchists and anti-fascists. It is convenient for centrist Democrats that they can pose as Trump’s moderate critics while appropriating his talking points about protesters, letting him do the dirty work of establishing the narratives that justify state repression.”

The insidious workings of the political ratchet
from CrimethInc.

Reactionaries Seeking Reaction

The reactionary mind, to a large degree, is simply another way of speaking of conservatism; at least in Anglo-American society. That is separate from speaking of this being a reactionary age. Anyone can be pulled into reaction, but not everyone gets stuck in reaction. It’s the latter that is what it means to be a reactionary as an identity, rather than a passing state.

Yet we can narrow it down further. The most reactionary of reactionaries help us to understand what exactly is the modus operandi of the reactionary mind. As the name suggests, a reactionary is one who easily reacts and so is constantly in a reactive pose. This coincides, of course, with regressive politics; but it’s important to remember that reactionaries aren’t ideologically consistent.

It all depends on what they are reacting to. They don’t define themselves but are defined by their reaction. They are the shadow of liberalism, progressivism, and leftism; not to mention the denial and suppression of all that is traditional. There is no ultimate substance to the reactionary mind, much less a principled position. Like chameleons, they change with conditions.

Even that doesn’t fully get at what is going on. It’s not only that they react to anything and everything. That reaction is both their mindset and their entire worldview. They only understand reaction and so they also want to elicit reaction in others. They try to instigate reaction in general, to create a total shit-fest of reaction, because that pulls others into reaction where the reactionaries have the advantage.

Conservatives, on average, are more likely to be misinformed and spread misinformation; as compared to liberals. Yet it is not found evenly across all conservatives. There is a specific sub-type of conservative with a need for chaos. This is the reactionary extreme that is the most likely, in particular, to share fake news; along with a motivation to spread hostile political rumors and support negative behaviors toward politicians. They know it’s fake. That is the whole point. It is intentional disinformation, but not necessarily as propaganda.

The causal distinction appears to be conscientiousness. Those sharing fake news tend to be low in conscientiousness, a direct correlate to the need for chaos. But high conscientious conservatives are no more prone to this behavior than liberals. Interestingly, liberals in general are lower in conscientiousness and yet their liberal-mindedness seems to offer a protection against this reactionary behavior. Liberals, whether low or high conscientiousness, were not more likely to share fake news.

So, the defining feature of the reactionary mind is both their own reaction and the seeking of reaction in others. This goes to the old saying about wrestling with a pig. Both of you will get muddy, but only the pig will be happy. In the end, reactionaries are like the disobedient little boy who has come to believe that any attention is good attention. Maybe they didn’t get enough love as children.

* * *

All that said, these chaos-loving conservatives are a bit perplexing, in making sense what is the reactionary mind. Conservatives, on average, have higher measures of conscientiousness. So, what does it mean for a conservative to be low conscientiousness? Conscientiousness is what makes conservatives love social order, what makes them good, submissive, and obedient workers, religious adherents, Nazis, etc. This relates to the conservative-minded need for closure, which in turn makes one “prone to embrace competitive conflict schemas” (Margarita Krochik & John T. Jost, Ideological Conflict and Polarization: A Social Psychological Perspective).

High conscientiousness not only predicts conservatism but also authoritarianism (Eric W. Dolan, Personality traits predict authoritarian tendencies, study finds). Both are also linked to extraversion and agreeableness, with the one trait they diverge on is neuroticism. In some ways, an authoritarianism is just the extreme expression of a social conservatism under stress; and one might expect that neuroticism rates increase with conservatives when under stress. For an example of stress, pathogen exposure and parasite load are correlated to both authoritarianism and social conservatism, probably mediated by the disgust response.

If it’s true that stress might increase neuroticism, it might also suppress conscientiousness and so unleash a need for chaos; or what from a liberal perspective seems like chaos. Social conservatives are people who are vulnerable to stress and so easily overwhelmed by it. But under less stressful conditions, they are able to manage stress and actually have a great talent for doing so. Their need for order, control, and predictability serves this purpose; up to the point it stops working. Potential authoritarianism as personality can quickly become manifest authoritarianism as behavior, as political action, power, and oppression.

Under chronic stress, everyone can have greater psychological reaction, social dysfunction, aggression, divisiveness, fantasy-proneness, magical thinking, odd beliefs, paranoia, xenophobia, stereotypical-mindedness, and mentally illness. The strongest form of this that can really mess up a society is high inequality that induces collective madness (Keith Payne, The Broken Ladder). But simpler factors can have an affect, even if only temporarily. Get liberals somewhat inebriated and, with their neurocognitive functioning compromised, they’ll fall back on speaking in the kinds of stereotypical thinking that is more common among conservatives.

The need for chaos is linked to social dominance orientation (SDO) and dark personality (psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism, sadism). And all of these certainly increase with severe and chronic stress, particularly high inequality. That is what we’ve been seeing in recent years, although the conditions have been worsening for decades. It’s been gasoline and a match throw on dry grass during a drought.

There also would be a strong resonance between the need for chaos and conspiracy-mindedness. This isn’t only a general mistrust and suspiciousness (Beth Ellwood, People with a higher conspiracy mentality have a general tendency to judge others as untrustworthy; Marius Frenken & Roland Imhoff, Don’t trust anybody: Conspiracy mentality and the detection of facial trustworthiness cues) but also a tendency to act conspiratorially (Karen M. Douglas & Robbie M. Sutton, Does it take one to know one? Endorsement of conspiracy theories is influenced by personal willingness to conspire). Those who are untrustworthy project onto others, in assuming everyone is like themselves.

And all of that has everything to do with dark personality and SDO (Evita March & Jordan Springer, Belief in conspiracy theories: The predictive role of schizotypy, Machiavellianism, and primary psychopathy; Beth Ellwood, Machiavellian and psychopathic personality traits linked to belief in conspiracy theories). It is all mixed up. These are all the various derangements of the mind that crop up in a deranged society.

Like those spreading fake news having lower conscientiousness, those spreading conspiracy theories tend to be lower in agreeableness (Tim Christie, Study: Disagreeable people more prone to conspiracy theories). It’s the socially conservative mind switching to its reactionary dark mode, as defensive posture against perceived extreme uncertainty and potential threat. The willingness to share fake news might be caused by a total breakdown of reality discernment, specifically trust in authorities to discern reality. That makes perceived reality a free-for-all where every claim is equally plausible and it simply becomes a matter of confirmation bias.

What is fascinating is that the need for chaos is a corollary to the need for order. To the conservative mind, the only two options are order or chaos. It’s a black-and-white mentality. What conservatives fear more than anything is the breakdown of social order as, to their mind, it’s a breakdown of moral order. It’s an existential crisis of their very sense of reality, their sense of meaning. When desperate enough, they will do anything to reaffirm meaning, even if it’s invoking chaos. It’s related to the conservative proneness to fantasizing about violence, particularly redemptive violence; from overthrowing the government to hoping for the End Times (Violent Fantasy of Reactionary Intellectuals).

Some have theorized that totalitarianism, what generally means authoritarianism, is caused by social isolation, loneliness, and anomie. These are common features of modern society with mass urbanization and industrialization, as exacerbated by high inequality and as results in social breakdown. Loneliness, by the way, is a predictor of the need for chaos (Camara Burleson, Need for Chaos and Predicting Radical Behavior in a Political Setting). Such conditions increase social conservatism in the population, even on the ‘left’, and this pushes social conservatism to extremes. Liberal-mindedness simply can’t function well when the conditions of health disappear.

* * *

Don’t Cry for QAnon
by Daniel Cubias

Chaos Theory
by Amanada Darrach

The “Need for Chaos” and Motivations to Share Hostile Political Rumors
by Michael Bang Petersen, Mathias Osmundsen, & Kevin Arceneaux

Personality Type, as well as Politics, Predicts Who Shares Fake News
by Asher Lawson & Hemant Kakkar

Study finds conservatives with a need for chaos are more likely to share fake news
by Eric W. Dolan

Of Pandemics, Politics, and Personality: The Role of Conscientiousness and Political Ideology in Sharing of Fake News
by M. Asher Lawson & Hemant Kakkar

Low Conscientiousness Conservatives and the Desire for Chaos We further contend that behavior of low conscientiousness conservatives is motivated not only by vehemently promoting the interests of their group, but also by denigrating other rival groups. Such a staunch inclination to elevate one’s group at the expense of other political outgroups is an act of negative partisanship — a reality that has become increasingly common due to the exponential rise of intense political polarization since the start of the 21st Century (Abramowitz & Webster, 2016; Van den Bos et al., 2007; Westwood et al., 2018). As
conservatives generally score higher on social dominance orientation – a set of beliefs that acknowledges and supports hierarchical differences in society (Kugler et al., 2014) – they may be more likely to criticize other groups to defend their own (Jost et al., 2003). Conservatives in comparison to liberals are also more vigilant in perceiving social threats to their group (van Leeuwen & Park, 2009), which can further increase their tendency to actively denounce other groups and outgroup members. This desire to promote the status of one’s group at the expense of other groups and outgroup members can lead to a generally hostile mindset, labelled a “need for chaos” (Arceneaux et al., 2021). The need for chaos is described as a drive to disrupt and destroy the existing order or established institutions in an attempt to secure the superiority of one’s own group over others. Such a mindset is especially salient when dominance-oriented individuals feel they are being marginalized and rejected by the broader cultural environment (Arceneaux et al., 2021; Krizan & Johar, 2015; Twenge & Campbell, 2003).

Given the lack of orderliness, diligence, and self-control associated with low conscientiousness individuals, coupled with the high social dominance orientation and group loyalty among conservatives, we contend that low conscientiousness conservatives will be more likely to entertain beliefs and engage in behaviors that seek to cause chaos, as a means to defend their group. Indeed, existing research has shown that people are more willing to believe and share outlandish conspiracy theories when it helps them to achieve a positive image of their group, its dominance, and its existence (Douglas et al., 2019; Roberts et al., 2009). Likewise, the desire to cause chaos also leads to less support for outgroups such as immigrants, and a greater desire to increase one’s social status and alter the current power structure, especially when political polarization is rampant (Arceneaux et al., 2021; Van Bavel & Pereira, 2018). Consequently, we predict that the interaction effect of conservative political ideology and conscientiousness on sharing of fake news will be mediated by this desire for chaos.

Furthermore, recent research has highlighted that the dissemination of fake news is largely driven by people’s inattention to accuracy. Once accuracy beliefs are primed either implicitly or explicitly, individuals are relatively more judicious when it comes to the sharing of fake news (Pennycook, McPhetres, Zhang, & Rand, 2020; Pennycook et al., 2021). However, our proposed effect, where low conscientiousness conservatives share fake news due to an elevated desire for chaos, is indicative of a motivated process. Specifically, when low conscientiousness conservatives perceive fake news as a means of furthering their social goals (Douglas et al., 2017) and sowing seeds of destruction (Arceneaux et al., 2021), the accuracy of news stories should play a smaller role in determining their intentions to share such stories. In other words, people who pursue general destruction to defend their ingroup should indicate higher subjective assessments of the accuracy of fake news, as long as it serves the agenda of their group, which in turn will predict the sharing of such news. Thus, when motivated to believe false information as accurate, priming individuals with accuracy beliefs might not be enough to deter the spread of misinformation. Rather, such motivated individuals will perceive false news as subjectively more accurate and hence share falsehoods at a higher rate regardless of accuracy
primes.

The Un-Silent Generation

It’s funny that one of the oldest living, yet still quite relevant, generations is called the Silents (1928-1945). That is such an amazing misnomer when one looks at the individuals who have defined that generation. Consider the single greatest religious right mastermind in recent American politics, Paul Weyrich, who was the leading figure behind the culture wars, Moral Majority foundation, and the right-wing Shadow Network. He may not have been out in the public limelight, but he was never silent and his voice carried in the halls of power. Still other Silents like the plutocrats Rupert Murdoch and Charles Koch continue to have an outsized influence over the American mind and society, as never before seen.

Yes, the Silents have often been overshadowed by the media and political narratives spun around the generations immediately preceding and following them, the Greatest Generation (or G.I. Generation) and the Boomer Generation. It’s true that the main conflict they fought in, the Korean War, never received much attention; in the way did World War II and the Vietnam War, although many Silents were among the military and political leadership during the latter. Yet even as they haven’t had one of their own elected president until Joe Biden, he is our current president and the oldest ever to assume office. Likewise, although they lost majority in Congress some years back, Silents nonetheless maintain key positions of power not only with the presidency but also with several major political elites like John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Fauci, and Bernie Sanders; and that is only to list the Democrats (The Dying Donkey). Both parties are held captive by the elderly.

Some Silents like Weyrich operated more in the background, but plenty were out in the open and hard to ignore, for good or ill. Far from being silent or silenced, they possibly have been the loudest generation, not to mention maybe the most powerful and influential (as many are still among the ruling elite). Also, despite being portrayed as moderate and modest, their generational cohort includes plenty who were far left radicals and far right extremists, along with some who were downright demented and dangerous. More importantly, they are the single longest ruling generation in American history, a title that is often wrongly given to Boomers. The Silents’ collective voice is still with us and regularly heard in the corporate media and coming out of Washington, D.C. That’s impressive for a demographic consisting mostly of people in their 80s and 90s.

It goes far beyond political and corporate control. Don’t forget that much of the music that defined the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was produced not by Boomers but by Silents. They comprise some of the greatest Rock ‘n Roll legends of all time, people who back in the day disturbed their elder’s peace of mind in being a part of the soundtrack of youthful rebellion and revolt, not to mention Elvis Presley’s provocatively gyrating hips that shocked a nation — people were easily shocked in the good ol’ days. It’s similar to how many of the cultural and activist leaders of of that era, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Timothy Leary, were also of that not so silent generation. The Sixties that gets blamed on Boomers would not have happened without the so-called Silents’ widespread influence and inspiration. Many of them were radical voices of protest, critique, and demand during one of the most tumultuous periods in American history. That isn’t even to discuss the great writers and artists that came out of that generation, some of them with wild and crazy imaginations or else intellectual and psychological insight, social critique and commentary; not to mention diverse public intellectuals.

There is a diversity of Silents who were famous or infamous icons, terrorists, activists, leaders, politicians, public intellectuals, influencers, writers, musicians, artists, and stars. Besides those already mentioned, here is a small selection:

  • Che Guevara (if not American), Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Ted Kaczynski, and Sirhan Sirhan;
  • Bernie Madoff, Jack Welch, Sheldon Adelson, Colin Powell, Ross Perot, Norman Schwarzkopf, Oliver North, Bob Woodward, Jim Bakker, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and John McCain;
  • Warren Buffett, George Soros, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Walter Mondale, Madeleine Albright, Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid, Harvey Milk, Ralph Nader, and Noam Chomsky;
  • Jack Kevorkian, Larry Flynt, Gloria Steinem, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, Flannery O’Connor, J. G. Ballard, Margaret Atwood, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jim Henson, Fred Rogers, Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan, and Wavy Gravy;
  • Jane Goodall, Andy Warhol, Barbara Streissand, Jane Fonda, Joan Baez, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, Bill Cosby, Patrick Stewart, George Takei, Barbara Walters, Joan Rivers, Jerry Springer, and Geraldo Rivera;
  • Et cetera.

Many others were born on the cusp at either side of the somewhat arbitrary generational bracket, some right at the edge and even more a few years shy — some definitions of the Silent Generation put the starting point at 1925, which would include the likes of Malcolm X and Gore Vidal. For a more recent example, if President Donald Trump had been born 6 months earlier, he would be labeled a Silent. And Hillary Clinton is just slightly over a year past the generational demarcation. Among the most represented in power are more than a few first wave Boomers who basically had the same life experience as Silents in having had grown up in the stultifying Fifties and reached adulthood before to the Sixties heated up (e.g., Hillary Clinton began her political aspirations as an Eisenhower Republican). So, combined with the Biden presidency (along with the continuing influence of Murdoch, Koch, Soros, Gingrich, Cheney, McConnell, Pelosi, Fauci, Sanders, etc), the most recent years of political rule has been largely dominated by the Silent Generation and their age adjacent peers, with the younger generations having a hard time breaking into power or gaining representation.

Rather than having been silent all these decades, one wonders when they’ll finally become silent. They are maintaining significant control during this transformative period of the Fourth Turning (Neil Howe and William Strauss), from which will follow a new generational cycle (approximately 80 years) and the establishment of the hold on the sociopolitical order, handing over the reigns of power in determining who will be their ideological heirs (e.g., in having helped to pick the present crop of Supreme Court ‘Justices’). That means they’ll have disproportionate influence in shaping society for the rest of this century. No one is against old people from having a voice, but it is a problem when they silence the youth voice. The main problem, of course, is not that they are senior citizens; rather, how reactionary that generation has become over time. For too many Silents, their position for a long time has simply been a defense of their power and the benefits they’ve accrued, at the cost and sacrifice of the rest of society.

A thought experiment of questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEIRD Personality Traits as Stable Egoic Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cognitive Scientist Shows How Culture Shapes Personality Traits
By Elizabeth Arakelian

Complex societies produce people with more varied personalities. […] But this covariation is neither random nor easily explained by genes. The social and ecological environments in which we develop, the scientists said, have a lot to do with how we develop. Our personalities are created by the patterns of behavior we exhibit that are relatively stable over time. But what creates those patterns, and why do they persist?

That’s the question Smaldino is exploring with collaborators from UC Santa Barbara, California State University Fullerton and the University of Richmond. Their research, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, suggests societies differ in the personality profiles of their members because of the different sociological niches in those societies. The diverse niches in a society — the occupational, social and other ways people navigate through daily life — constrain how an individual’s personality can develop.

Psychologists have traditionally relied upon the statistically derived “Big Five” personality traits to structure their research: openness, consciousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Smaldino and his colleagues question the universality of this model in their work, instead exploring why certain traits — such as trust and sympathy or impulsivity and anxiety — bundle together as they do in particular places.

The researchers looked at personality data from more than 55 societies to show that more complex societies — those with a greater diversity of socioecological niches — tended to have less covariation among behavioral traits, leading to the appearance of more broad personality factors. They developed a computer model to create simulated environments that varied in their number of niches, which demonstrated the plausibility of their theory.

“The importance of socioecological niches basically comes down to this: How many ways are there to be a person in a given culture?” Smaldino said. “What are the number of successful strategies one can use to thrive? If you’re in a complex society, like the wealthy parts of America, there are just myriad ways to be.

“No matter how idiosyncratic you are, you can find a community that accepts you. On the other end of the spectrum, say in a small-scale foraging society, your behaviors are going to be a lot more constrained. This affects the ways in which behaviors cluster together, and the patterns that manifest as personality characteristics.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rice, Psychology, and Innovation
by Joseph Henrich

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Right Fears, the Left Desires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes on terminology:

We don’t make an absolute differentiation in how we use the labels of left-wing, leftism, liberalism, and left-liberalism. Even ‘progressivism’, at this point, has mostly been subsumed within this political left matrix, although earlier last century there were conservative and right-wing progressives of the old school Whiggish strain (many of them imperialists, nativists, antisemites, eugenicists, xenophobes, racists, white supremacists, and fundies). But there is separate historical development of the ‘left’ and the ‘liberal. We’ve covered this information before, but we’ll rehash it here.

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

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

Liberalism stands out as unique among these terms. Unlike conservatism, it’s earliest definition had nothing to do with governance, politics, political parties, social order, power structure, legal systems, social movements, and such. To this day, it maintains more of its basic meaning as a psychological predisposition, a behavioral mentality or attitude, a way of relating to or treating others, and how one inhabits or acts in the world; particularly, as measured in FFM openness, MBTI intuition and perceiving, and Ernest Hartmann’s thin boundary type. Most simply, liberalism always has carried the meaning of generosity of spirit, although conservatives argue that liberals are being generous with other people’s money. This spiritual generosity, of course, never was inherently and primarily about money; as it mainly suggests an attitude of loving-kindness, sympathetic understanding, compassionate action, moral concern, helpfulness, and forgiveness which may or may not be expressed through material resources, private or public.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Axial Age Revolution of the Mind Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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