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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

* * *

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.

Leftism Points Beyond the Right and Beyond Itself

Table of Contents

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

Introduction and Summary

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

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

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

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

And it is affirmed that:

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

* * *

Political Spectrum, Liberal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Origins: Tribalism and Pseudo-Tribalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Axial Age to Modernity: Universalism, Egalitarianism, etc

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Values Are Not Culture Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Freedom to Belong, Responsibility to Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Reactionary Right, Leftover Liberalism, and Leftist Supermajority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conclusion: Egalitarianism and Abundance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservative Liberals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

All of the following text is from the linked article:

Media Gloats About Censoring the Far Left
by Ted Rall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-19 and States, Lives and Jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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