I did a show awhile ago called, “You can’t guilt a fascist” and I don’t think this point can be made enough. Appeals to the powerful to amend their ways and show more grace to their serfs are structurally doomed, because there is no compassion there to appeal to – that’s actually why those people are where they are.

Perfect executive confidence, untroubled and not restrained by any hint of compassion whatsoever.

But there’s a second problem with that approach – we aren’t serfs. Seriously, there are no people with more resources to throw around than us (and I’m speaking from near the bottom of us, not a comfy spot – and still). Every time we insist we are powerless serfs, part of what we’re really saying is democracy won’t work, give up.

If we who have been uniquely rewarded by these structures cannot figure out how to blend reason, duty and compassion, and do the individual work of winning people around to our cause, then democracy may indeed be doomed – but I’m not ready to write it off yet, and I don’t think anyone should ever do that unthinkingly.

There are alternatives in many other places in the world, they are not producing results we envy. Ask a friend who grew up in Somalia if government is the worst thing in the world. You may learn a lot, really fast.

When we remember we are citizens, we remember that the most basic tools we have are through democracy and small scale economics – thinking about where and how we spend whatever resources we have, and consciously choosing to actively nurture things we treasure. Evil people will continue to be evil, there is no amount of public pressure which can alter that – what we want is for them to no longer be powerful, or immune to consequences.

This means organizing to change the systemic corruption of government, punishing bad corporate actors, and the creation of institutions that prove new social benefits, and can radiate best practise examples elsewhere.

In other words, tons of hard work and sacrifice for no certain reward – and no one but us to do it.

Sorry if that sounds like a raw deal – but lets face it, it still beats the hell out of feeling helpless and useless, no?

We aren’t, not yet anyhow – I swear – not unless we actually choose that comfortable and heroic pain over duty.



  1. It’s a truism that social media (especially where anonymity is an option) plus politics (where, arguably, there shouldn’t be – except in the voting booth of course) can be a volatile mixture. With so much virtue signaling and sloganeering, there is great potential for agreement and alignment, as well as misunderstanding. And, hearing your wind-up in this, I’m struck by the vision of a bygone age before the internet and social media, when solidarity was, shall we say, less digital. And the idea that the revolution would not be televised was entirely appropriate, it being an eschewal of that false world of division – the discovery of a primal unity, rather than another lonely tribe.

    You seem to be grappling with some big themes here, of motivation, organization and commitment – not to mention communication and agreement. Can you locate the point of overlap between Kantian deontological (duty-based) ethics and utilitarian (consequentialist) ethics? They seem to be two ways of framing any problem. And, since the only real rule in ethics is “don’t be a hypocrite” (as hypocrisy begets cruelty, the opposite of humanity), maybe we should have faith we will learn, if we genuinely try our best to understand when we act. But too often reason is used for post-hoc rationalizations, rather than motivating principles. That’s why independent thought is so valuable. At the same time, maybe we shouldn’t be primed to question motives, if everything is a pragmatic negotiation.

    Put simply, we need to be sensitive to context. But institutions have their own agendas, and many that are quite justice-oriented have their own sense of historical context, which inevitably shuts out others. They might invoke the principle of equity as an expression of that historical context. And to a point, this makes sense. It ceases to make sense when it endorses that very prejudice / tribalism to which you refer. I think Jordan Peterson has some great points on this, often made very articulately. (He has other, not great points, which I believe I could talk him out of if we were stuck in an elevator.) What some heroes of the equity perspective (who tend to overapply their metrics) don’t understand is that views like his are not latent racism, or insecure reactions to threatened white male ascendancy. They’re reactions to a vision of humanity itself being threatened.

    We should seek relationships that are both challenging and forgiving. Those might be the only conditions in which communication can take place. At the same time, we can’t think of these as necessary, antecedent conditions for attempting communication. If we approach things like a negotiation, we’ll see that we’re already in an enabling context for growth, and we can steer the course of our interactions in many different directions.

    Cooperation, compassion and sharing. These are key values and key actions that must take place in the real world, among individuals that disagree. So we might ask, what are the deal breakers? – What points of disagreement render one ineligible for those things? The entrepreneurialism you refer to is admirable – but also susceptible to incorporation, virtue signaling. I would concur with your point about progressives being always on the defensive. The Right – whatever that really is – is always able to release some new monster to evoke the revulsion of moderates, effectively stifling organized, coherent dissent from the status quo.

  2. Incidentally, there are other, non-partisan reasons to not dislike Bill Clinton. For one thing, Monica Lewinsky herself has repeatedly said it was a consensual, albeit regrettable, affair. The connection with Epstein is still in the realm of an insinuation.

    • Cheers, Ian! Really appreciate the thought that went into this one – apologies that I can only hit a few of your fertile and important points.

      Second paragraph especially is dense with big ideas, but I can’t honestly claim qualification to answer. I’ve never read Kant (can you recommend one?) and while deontological and consequentialist are excellent words I will think about at some length, I haven’t ever begun from high theory.

      The real derivation of my philosophy is two-fold – I come out of a commune environment with some very unusual social features – mass predation on the innocent being the most important and suppressed quality by far. From there, lacking even a grade-school education, I went straight into retail, which is itself an extraordinary laboratory for observing power games and “polite” human masks (behind which hide most of our worst evils).

      It’ll sound simplistic, but I honestly think one of the clearest most useful philosophical insights of the 20th century was from humorist Dave Barry: “If someone is nice to you, but not nice to the waiter, they are not a nice person.” A lot of seemingly charming people reveal themselves as honourless and abusive scum, when they feel confident they can get away with it. (The customer is so rarely right, the very slogan is psychotic).

      It really is important to distinguish between people who would steal rape or kill if they could get away with it, and people who can consistently do the right thing, even if they don’t actually have to. That is a fundamentally different psychology, and our ideas of rights and limits must address both – even if we wish one side wasn’t here, and didn’t have to be factored-in.

      Nifty that you have a similar take on Peterson (one of the stronger recent antidotes to infinite-relativism navel gazing and psychotic existentialism) – I too appreciate many of his well articulated points – about meaning and struggle especially (collective evil too – but there he’s almost pure Jung). I even share the notion that I might be able to change his mind about a few key points in an elevator argument. He does that very rare thing – listen and engage broadly, instead of just spitting-up favourite taking points.

      Also – I really do not believe everything is a pragmatic negotiation – to me, that existentialist trap is all about raising ego to a psychotic level – which is probably exactly why the boomers embraced it so eagerly, and still defend it to this day – “the freedom to do anything up until I am stopped by force.” My memory of the 60s and 70s is clear – back then adults thought it was funny to take advantage of the innocent, and felt no shame whatsoever in the harm they caused, to young girls and women especially (but not only).

      That definition of freedom (the freedom to transgress against others recklessly and destructively for no other reason than whim) was a shocking low-point for western civilization from which we may not ever recover. Actually, I have so much more to say on this subject, that it is the meat of a whole ‘nother podcast script, coming soon!

      You are absolutely right to question sources and condemnation by implication – but it is important to understand the basics of victim psychology, also. When you are damaged by someone who is a great deal more powerful than you, it is very common to take a mental position that you were an active participant, with near-equal agency. In a way, this makes it hurt less, because by (falsely) taking on some of the responsibility for your own damage, you can diminish your feeling of powerlessness, and replace it with a feeling of remorse. The part about “doing better next time” actually can be helpful, but the part about excusing those with grossly asymmetrical power is all too easily misunderstood, misinterpreted and misused by others outside the situation to make many wrong points.

      It is obvious to me that Lewinsky is still, all these years later, unpacking it, bit by bit (which has been made enormously more difficult by the unwholesome spotlight – always prurient and misogynistic, rather than sympathetic). I’ll bet you ten bucks right now that within a decade, she’ll finally have the distance from it and the experience of life to clearly call it sexual abuse (that is, renounce her temporarily soul-saving distortion).

      Read up about Juanita Broaddrick and Paula Jones – by the time you’re using a state trooper to bring women up to your hotel room (this is NOT a roadie and rock-star situation) you are an abuser of power, through and through – (and no one ever disputed that part of the testimony).

      Economically, Clinton screwed the poor viciously and comprehensively. Locked up generations of black youth for petty crimes, and worst of all – by pulling the democratic party significantly right of centre, he dealt the American political left what may yet be a fatal blow. Carter had one major sin during his tenure – he started backing the Afghan rebels to cause trouble for the Soviet Union (and look where that has got us now). But like Johnson before him, he really did work on policy to help the little guy make progress and tilt the playing field toward fairness. Clinton was so completely devoid of those instincts, that Obama skated completely, and wasn’t even questioned. It was good enough that he wasn’t “THEM” – only, no it wasn’t. It isn’t US or THEM that needs to be stopped, it is the whole (mass suicide-pact) game!

      You raised a really interesting point earlier, about where we draw the line between considering self and society (perhaps lust and duty?) We can pose this question as a point upon which to meditate, but again my oddball experience (this time technician-head) suggests a different tack. What we can say with certainty is that what we have been doing (hundreds of millions of grasping petty and paranoid solitudes, constantly competing for meaningless loot) is not working. It is not producing useful cohesive patterns of social relationship, community building spirit, effective outreach between rival tribes or a valuation by anyone of practical result (paralysis, right when we should be building eco infrastructure at emergency pace).

      This is the biggest reason I oppose the idea of any sort of orthodoxy – left or right. WE AREN’T CORRECT YET, OR WE WOULDN’T BE THIS SCREWED! Since we don’t yet know what approach will produce helpful results in the world, we can’t yet know how to feel about all the societal values and their relationship, in order to foster useful function! Fixing any of our present opinions in stone is premature in the extreme. ;o)

      Any society that lasts centuries has worked out a stable balance – but our weird apex predator society has never even considered stability a goal. This may actually be the fundamental root of our irresponsibility. We actually think we have a right to burn it all, because no one taught us duty of care, respect, and responsibility to others, even those not yet born

      So since it turns out (having run the very costly experiment) that the richest population on earth isn’t the happiest, smartest or nicest, that kind of makes both the capitalists and the socialists wrong as hell all along, doesn’t it? (tee hee)

      Love ya, man – thank you for much extra fuel for that upcoming podcast!

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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