Category Archives: Politics

Generational relationships to categories

When I was a young, pissed-off, alienated Gen-Xer (as if there was any other kind), we viewed categories with hostility. Not only did they never fit, they were rarely used with respectable intention.

When we saw someone approaching category in hand, things were not likely to go well. They’d clap the label on us, and proceed to deduce from it that we had characteristics a and b, that they could expect behaviors c and d, and — most importantly — demand that we perform duties x and y.

For most of us, there was only one category that fit us comfortably: none of the above. And these we couldn’t resist, which was all of them, we took it as a matter of course that they ranged from inadequate to ludicrous. We wanted to be unique. When we called each other freaks or weirdos, this was high praise!

Younger generations, however, seem to have much higher hopes for categories, and infinitely less regard for uniqueness. They seem to crave perfect categories, as an ideal self-description language. They seem to compelled to restlessly rework their categories and identity schemas, driven by a faith that with sufficient perfection these categories could somehow stand in for who they really are. They want their categories to function as a unique identifier, so anyone literate in identity could read the “speaking as a….” sequence and deduce the most important features of their selfhood from it.

But who could blame them, given how they were parented and educated? There is a huge downside to being the first digital-age baby boom.  They were born into a world where everything, including them, needs to be rapidly evaluated, scantron-style. They were groomed for mass processing. There were so many of these children to compare, to discipline, to train, to sort, to prepare for professional formatting, and there were relatively few adults left for parenting and education, seeing that tending children has been proven to be degrading, menial work that no truly talented, ambitious professional would choose. All the talented adults were off shoveling data from spreadsheet cell to spreadsheet cell, attending tedious depressing meetings, and making and selling disposable consumer products. Even before they were born, they were being IQ hacked in utero with Baby Einstein CDs. From the moment they were squeezed out of their moms, they were building resumes of impressive bullet points, learning “appropriate” behaviors, appealing to behavioral administrators to resolve every minor conflict, as they were rushed from milestone to milestone in their processing. And then social media hit, and even information was made tl;dr-proof. The bits got smaller and smaller, moved further and further from literature.

So, it is hardly surprising that younger generations cling to categories. Unique persons are utterly resistant to scanning. As far as their experience has taught them, category strings that can be decoded to produce a representation of who they are is the most reliable route to recognition. And so these categories are truly a matter of authentic being or oblivion.

I think this strategy cannot work. I think my old-fashioned existentialist disdain for categories as answers to the “who are you?” question is better. But the old answers and the old attitudes are not going to persuade anyone who has gone in for identitarianism.

We need a new, inspiring redescription of Liberalism, and I think it has to be rooted in a sort of category defiance. Liberalism is the coalition of the unique. What an exciting project, though!

Against bothsiderism

Bothsiderism is wrong. All intelligent people should reject it.

Why?

First, because “both” implies there are only two sides. I reject that there are only two sides in our current conflict (to which “bothsiderist” refers) or in most political conflicts.

With respect to understanding political situations I am a pluralist. Pluralists know that the very essence of a political situation is struggle among conflicting worldviews. Each worldview defines its own position, its own justification, and defines its enemies and speculates on their positions and motivations. These views of the situation never line up or harmonize with one another, and that’s precisely what makes it political. When trying to understand any political conflict I am an allsiderist, because that is what it takes to actually understand such situations.

Those most eager to accuse others of bothsiderism are something far worse than a bothsiderist. They are onesiderists. They have no serious doubts that their own theories about their enemies motivations are correct, and their enemies’ counter-theories are incorrect at best, and likely evil and/or insane. The other side has no valid point worth considering, or hearing, and suppressing their worldview is the best way to resolve the conflict. It is objectively clear there is only one true, good, just side in this conflict: mine.

With respect to picking sides among onesiderists I am a passionate neithersiderist. I see no reason to takes sides with onesiderists fighting against other onesiderists, and the fact each is completely unwilling to imagine that it is possible to be on neither side, nor that this alleged bothsiderism is tantamount to supporting their enemy.

I will go further and declare myself an anti-onesiderist. In fact, I reject the notion that ideological progressivists and the alt-righters are even two different things. They are one thing. They are a complementary pair that feed each other’s hatred and justify each other’s excesses, and combine to produce a single illiberal juggernaut bent on undermining and destroying our liberal institutions. Anyone who justifies their own rioting (as resistance to oppressors), their hatred (as righteous anger), their abuse (as speaking truth to power) and their bigotry (as a legitimate counterbalancing prejudice against the prejudiced), while seeing the rioting, hatred, abuse and bigotry of their enemies as beyond the pale, is themselves beyond the pale, not only for being rioting, hating, abusing bigots, but for being hypocrites. People have started rolling their eyes at accusations of hypocrisy, but eye-rolls are not arguments.

I long ago stopped seeing the political battle-line of our time drawn between left and right. We can quibble over economic policy later. We have bigger problems. The real battle-line today is perpendicular: we are now in a struggle between liberal and illiberal, or, to put it in the terms I’ve been using, allsiderists versus onesiderists.

Allsiderists try hard to be fair. They try to weigh different sides and assess tradeoffs. They do so because they want to get along with their fellow citizens. But onesiderism has advanced so far, become so aggressive, tribal, simplistic and destructive that it might be time to take forceful action and put down this double-insurrection.

Reconceiving the unconscious

Reading Schutz, and examining the structure of lived experience I am suspecting more and more that what we call “unconscious” and habitually conceptualize spatially as submerged beneath our awareness has been misconceived — or, to put it in more designerly language, is a conceptualization that introduces tradeoffs which might not be optimal for our purposes. And what is this purpose, I’d like to optimize for? I’ll try to pin it down: I think in popular thought (which is the thought that creates, re-creates and shapes society, through ethnomethods) we radically misunderstand the relationship between language and lived experience. We have a tendency to conflate consciousness and speech. If something resists language, and we find ourselves unable to capture it our memory with the help of words, that wordless memory of images, sounds, feelings, etc. seems to sink faster into oblivion, and to be harder to retrieve. My hunch is that words are nonverbal memory aids that condense experience from the mental environment. When we have words for what happens to us we are able to “objectify” what is going on, whether what is going on is “out there” in the world or “in here” in my memory. With language we produce sharper objectifications that go into our memories and we have mnemonic objects that will condense the sensory recollections when we wish to recall the experience later.

So in my model, the unconscious is just those mental activities that we have not articulated for objective knowing. But these are not autonomous demon-like beings who slip in the shadows and depths, who move us against our will when we ease our vigilance, hiding our under-selves from what our minds will tolerate. I see this as a nasty vestige of medieval religiosity — one that keeps popping up among people who fancy themselves secular, but whose minds still move in superstitious ruts.

I prefer to understand what we call the unconscious as that vast set of tacit perceptual, kinetic, feeling realities hiding in plain sight, but inaccessible to linguistic thought. They are there, real, tangible, important but we don’t have words for them so they evaporate like dreams after we experience them unless something happens to us that causes the vapor to condense again. One of the great benefits of words is they are reliable memory condensers.

Folks who “think visually” or who take their intuitions and mind motions seriously as real and significant prior to any ability to articulate or conceptualize or demonstrate or argue them have a capacity to create thoughts outside the dominant language games of the culture. I want to articulate some of these realities and make them more thinkable. But also, I want to banish the latter-day demons of the Freudish “unconscious” that seems to have reemerge to haunt our social and political anxieties.

I also find our beliefs about the role of language in our everyday behavior to mislead designers. If we believe users verbalize instructions to themselves that their bodies obey when using software, we stop trying to directly engage our hands. If we understand that language itself is an interface that we use to help us make sense of experience when other means fail, we create two layers of interface between users and their tools. A great user interface minimizes the requirement to verbalize, so tools become invisible, ready-to-hand extensions of the user’s will.

Try these ideas on with this line of thought. The political crisis we are in now, with deep roots in the American tradition, can be seen as starting with the rise of social media. Much of our social lives, and our lives in general, became heavily word-mediated. Normally, when people gather it is around experiences. Things are enjoyed together — food drink, music, art, laughter — and experiences unfold over the course of hours. Social media is fast language. TL;DR, scan, scroll, start, stop, scroll. Not only are people’s blah-blah flipped through like TV channels, but engagement is sporadic and flitting. Written literature has time to evoke, conjure, hint, suggest and condense memories and knowings. Fast language only recalls or refers. It is spastic and explicit. Expastic language could be a good word for fast language, dittos and hashtags. But things got worse when Covid put everyone in social isolation. Then the entire world had to be strained through screens. The realm of shared tacit realities constricted and the word-world expanded explosively. I think what we are seeing now is the opposite of an eruption of the unconscious. I think the sensible wisdom our tacit understandings were removed from the public setting, and brainless verbal logic took over and is running itself to its logical extremes inside s frictionless, gravityless vacuum of collective solipsism.

Political dyslexia

The terms “far-right” and “far-left” are being used far too frequently, casually, and imprecisely — and maybe completely incorrectly.

American conservatism is right, but has rarely gotten anywhere near far-right since the disgrace of Jim Crow. And America’s own New Deal reforms were nowhere near far-left either. I’ve seen Libertarianism called far-right, but it is right-of center at most, and it is arguable the exact center-point.

Here is how I view the range.

  • Far-right seeks inequality under the law. It works to establish formally ranked classes of people, each with different rights, duties and privileges.
  • Center seeks equality under the law. It acknowledges only one class of person: citizen.
  • Far-left seeks equity under the law. It works to give every citizen the same level of wealth and power, taking from those with more and giving to those with less.

Today’s Progressivism is a tricky case. It presents itself as left, and promises equity. However the equity it promises is not equity among every citizen as leftism normally does. It promises equity to protected categories of people viewed in aggregate. All protected groups will have an equal share in the highest classes. But this movement does not does not see inequality among classes as intrinsically problematic. It almost seems to view class inequality as just as long as every group has its share of the inequality. This acceptance of class inequality is more typical of the right. If you look at Progressivism through a more typical leftist lens and see it as a dominant ideology whose function is to establish, justify and preserve the hegemony of the professional class, collective equity is a legitimation strategy, not a program of substantial reform. This would help explain why Progressivism dominates nearly all mainstream institutions, including most Fortune 500 corporations, public education, popular entertainment, the popular press and popular culture in general. If Progressivism sought individual equity, it would threaten these institutions and would meet resistance from them.

If this is, in fact, the case, our nation is suffering from severe dyslexia.

Things are truly scrambled.

What is your paranoia type?

I formed a theory about the 2016 election. Who you voted for in 2016 was a function of you you hated more in grade-school: the bully or the tattletale.

This is also the key to understanding political paranoias: which of two dystopias are you are more afraid of? Are you more afraid of a hard totalitarianism perpetrated by brutes or a soft totalitarianism perpetrated by technocrats? Bullies with tactical weapons spilling blood in the streets, or tattletales with electronic surveillance and expertly administrated rehabilitation? I think the former are more terrifying if they prevail, but I think the latter is far more likely to succeed. Hopefully neither will.

Totalitarian misconceptions

I have not enjoyed my latest deep dive into totalitarian thought. It’s made me really crabby. Susan’s been hinting that maybe switching my morning reading would be a good idea. I’m going to record a few random impressions, just so I can see some output and make the ordeal feel less pointless.

  • Most of what we know and believe about totalitarianism comes to us via socialist, conservative and liberal propaganda, all of whom want to maximize the differences between themselves and the most despised totalitarian regimes (Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism) while emphasizing their affinity with their own opponents. So conservatives want to paint them as economically left-wing movements with strong family resemblances with our own progressivism, while progressives want to paint them as nationalist and capitalist to connect them with conservatism. Liberals primarily want to show totalitarianism as essentially illiberal, which, of course, is a correct analysis, but a pretty vapidly obvious one.
  • Totalitarianisms succeeded because they were unprecedented. There was nothing to compare them to, nor was there any reliable way to predict where they would go.
  • The main indicator of trouble was their violent rhetoric. But that was all-too-easily explained away, much as Communist or Antifa rhetoric is today by casual leftists.
  • Contrary to popular belief, racism is not an essential feature of totalitarianism. The Nazi obsession with race was regarded by Fascists as a fruitless distraction. Race was never an explicit theme in Stalinism.
  • There are clear lines of development from Marxism to both Fascism and Nazism. And Marxism was descended from Hegelian, transposed from an idealist metaphysics to a materialist one, and, as a loose consequence, from a contemplative movement to a practical one with revolutionary implications.
  • The primary difference between these and Bolshevism was not what we would identify as left-right today — neither a difference in economic theory or policy, nor different attitudes toward personal rights. It was primarily a difference between group identity: is the unit of loyalty class or nation? Fascism and Nazism were both nationalist forms of revolutionary socialism, where Bolshevism was an international revolutionary socialist movement.
  • The worst inheritance from Hegelianism is idolatry of history, the conceit that history contains a univocal truth that an initiate can learn and use to deduce all kinds of marvelous things. A materialist Hegelian acquires the ability to deduce the future based on an understanding of contemporary economic dynamics.
  • Mussolini was a vocal fan of William James. I think this is another of those idle dig from the conservatives trying to paint progressives as “smily face fascists”, but I’m bothered. Thanks a lot, Jonah Goldberg. I need to research this further and comb out exactly what was so appealing and useful about James to Mussolini. Goldberg seems to have a very shallow understanding of Pragmatism.
  • But! — this is ominous: George Santayana, who famously said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” also said “Of course I was never a Fascist in the sense of belonging to that Italian party, or to any nationalistic or religious party. But considered, as it is for a naturalist, a product of the generative order of society, a nationalist or religious institution will probably have its good sides, and be better perhaps than the alternative that presents itself at some moment in some place. That is what I thought, and still think, Mussolini’s dictatorship was for Italy in its home government. Compare with the disorderly socialism that preceded or the impotent party chaos that has followed it. . . . But Mussolini was personally a bad man and Italy a half-baked political unit; and the militant foreign policy adopted by Fascism was ruinous in its artificiality and folly. But internally, Italy was until the foreign militancy and mad alliances were adopted, a stronger, happier, and more united country than it is or had ever been. Dictatorships are surgical operations, but some diseases require them, only the surgeon must be an expert, not an adventurer.” And he said that in 1950.
  • I strongly suspect that totalitarianism as we (however insufficiently) know it is unlikely to happen again in a way we’d recognize at a glance. My own suspicion is that revolutions tend to be brutally illiberal, and are generated by technologically-driven economic and political change — rapid industrialization, the rise of mass media — changes that we have since absorbed and internalized. Whatever totalitarian threats we might face in the future are most likely to be driven by new technological innovations. My candidates are unsurprising: social media, phone cameras, mass surveillance and AI analysis of “big data”.
  • The current practice of pointing at phenotypical similarities between our and opponents’ behaviors and some Totalitarianism or another is a stupid intensification of conflict that ironically bears more resemblance to Totalitarianism (with its stark friend-enemy thinking, emergency-mongering, persecution/paranoia fantasies and, most of all, its hubristic compulsion to deduce the un-deducible) than the pointed-out similarities, which are superficial.

Great summary of A. James Gregor’s Totalitarianism and Political Religion

Dennis B. Mulcare’s Amazon review of A. James Gregor‘s Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History is such a thorough and clear a summary of the book, I’ve decided to post it here:

Note that the subtitle of this book, “An Intellectual History”, indicates that the scholarly evolution and consolidation of ideas and strategies integral to totalitarianism are the major focus of this book. This perspective contrasts with a necessarily selective recounting of persons, events, and outcomes in the large that typify history books in general. To me, the author’s focus is a big plus: more direct and immediate engagement of the origins, motivations, and rationales regarding historical happenings versus third-party recapitulations, reconstructions, and/or interpretations of those happenings. In “Totalitarianism and Political Religion” then, far more coverage is accorded to the seminal thinkers and energizing concepts behind 20th century totalitarian ideologies than to the historical figures, activities, and outcomes involved in their actualizations.

As the central concept of this book, a political religion is a faith-based political movement that embodies an institutionalized belief system. In its essence and organization, it sacralizes a profane base of power, thereby undergirding a system of coercive governance. During the early twentieth century, moreover, each of the three full-fledged totalitarian governments enlisted a customized political religion to motivate and control its population. In my understanding, the following elements in concert characterize or explicate the concepts and modus operandi common to the three aforementioned regimes:

1. Totalitarianism is a class of ideologies that seeks to control all aspects of life, commerce, and governance within a country or politically organized unit. Its doctrine and rationale are captured in an ideology, which typically relies on a political religion for its realization and dynamism.

2. An ideology is an all-encompassing doctrine that purports to explain the essence and workings of the world, and to prescribe or to proscribe the behavior of the humans within a polity. In all, an ideology is a closed worldview that claims to be secular in nature and to have an infallible basis grounded in science.

3. The ideologies of Leninism, Fascism, and Nazism were intellectually fully developed prior to their respective articulations and implementations by Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler. Largely, this book describes the historical trajectory of the intellectual evolution of each of these three “-isms”.

4. Sacralization is the ascription to a profane concept or object of the attributes that are normally properties or practices of traditional transcendent religions. The intent is to co-opt the natural religious tendencies if not the spiritual fervor of humans for purposes of the regime.

5. Instances of political religions examined in this book are: History as religion – per Engels & Marx; Revolution as religion – per Lenin; State as religion – per Mussolini; and Race as religion – per Hitler. All four cases in their particular manifestations share the salient characteristics of a generic political religion.

6. The de facto if implicit centrality of political religions in the above ideologies belies their claims of secular nature. Similarly, their emphatic normative prescriptions/proscriptions wholly discredit their scientific pretenses. In all cases, the various ideologies are based on faith, and not on empirical evidence or logical arguments.

7. Ultimately, the realization of a totalitarian ideology is seen to depend on a combination of: societal predispositions and circumstances; fanatical commitment to seeking power; technological resources to promote/enforce the ideological doctrine; and a suitable political religion. The latter serves to resonate with a society’s extant predispositions, to activate/sustain ideological doctrine, and to exploit the spiritual proclivities of humans in general.

For me, this book provided several novel and powerful insights, as well as learned exemplifications of some notions I had already possessed. New insights included: the seeming universal recognition among political theorists of the innate and persistent spiritual core of humans; and the force and persistence of ideas over their application, and hence the dominance of thinkers over practical or worldly political leaders (not that thinkers and leaders are mutually exclusive categories). Reinforced or exemplified notions were: the fanatical compulsion of certain activists to force their presumptuous, fatuous visions of worldly salvation on hapless populations; and the recurring reliance upon emotional appeals to engender and maintain popular support for a regime or its agenda.

Although the subject of this book would seem to be rather specialized, I believe that its treatment by the author possesses genuine appeal for many serious readers. In focusing on intellectual history, moreover, this book addresses a topic meriting broader interest, and in so doing fathoming WHY certain things can have happened as they did. Of lesser relative interest, to me at least, are general historical accounts describing factually or speculatively WHAT ostensibly did happen. Such a tradeoff reduces to addressing the core essence of a generic matter versus engaging the broader particularities of instances thereof. The former option, coupled with the author’s thoughtful and revealing exposition of a very important topic, underlies my high regard for “Totalitarianism and Political Religion”.

Totalitarianism and Political Religion

I think A. James Gregor’s  Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History will be the next book I read.

(Of course, I will set aside my strong disagreement on the characterization these movements as religious in nature. As so often happens, it appears Gregor confuses religion with that ubiquitous antireligion which often goes by the name “fundamentalism”, mistakenly viewed as religious extremism. I will never stop arguing that fundamentalism is the furthest thing from an extreme form of religion. Rather, fundamentalism is extreme misconception of religion — one that drives its adherents to extremes of persecution of whatever transcends its mental possessions, its mental idols. Authentic religion assists one to seek relationship with what transcends one’s own mental possessions — most of all idols. But I am digressing into what will surely become a tantrum if I don’t stop now.)

Here is the introduction to the book.

The twentieth was perhaps the most destructive century in human history. Certainly, more lives and property were consumed through willful human agency during those years than in any other comparable period of time. Human beings killed each other, and destroyed things, with such serious application that the entire century bore a nightmare quality. Millions upon millions perished. Entire cities disappeared — and whole continents seemed shaken. At the end, millions of broken human beings returned to shattered homes — and only few really could remember what it had been all about. We were told it was all madness — as though that might serve as explanation. In fact, the tragedy deserves more of an accounting than that.

Surely it was a time of madness, but the unnumbered dead of the past century deserve something more than that simple affirmation. The work before the reader attempts to provide something of an interpretive story of that doleful time — its beliefs, its passions, and its temper. Amid all the other factors that contributed to the tragedy, there was a kind of creedal ferocity that made every exchange a matter of existential importance. The twentieth century was host to systems of doctrinal conviction that made unorthodox belief a capital affront, made conflict mortal, and all enterprise sacrificial. Such belief systems were predicated on moral persuasions so intense and inflexible that they could tolerate only an absolute unanimity of opinion within their sphere of influence. Nor was unanimity expected only in opinions held. Entire categories of human beings — conceived somehow “alien” — were condemned to destruction because of some indelible deficiency — membership in some offending economic class, or as product of a blighted biological provenance. Communities so circumstanced became jealous of their homogeneity, their infrangible unity. In such an environment, thought became “ideological,” so that any opposition, no matter how temporary or trivial, appeared to threaten the extirpation of a faith, an insult to an entire manner of life.

The century saw the emergence of governments that charged themselves with the responsibility of governing lives in such fashion as to leave little to personal choice. Life was seen as willing service, implicit duty, spontaneous sacrifice, and selfless toil — and politics the infallible guide to it all. There were special books, written by special authors — that were to be venerated. There were Leaders, chosen by God or History — or both as one — who were Saviors, and Prophets, and All Seeing Sages. There were unitary political parties that were repositories of impeccable truth, sure science, and intuitive verities. There were guardians of it all — “vanguards,” and “hierarchies,” and “central committees,” all equipped with answers to all the questions that have puzzled human beings since the beginnings of consciousness. And there were “New Men” who would people a redeemed creation.

In war and peace these political systems demanded more of their subjects than any other system of government in human memory. In war, there was a ferocity and an ardor rarely experienced. Millions gave themselves over to combat without reserve. Whole populations continued to fight when everything was lost. We have identified those systems so typified by a variety of names — as “dictatorships,” as “despotisms,” as “totalitarianisms,” and sometimes, when passions somewhat abated, as “administered societies.” Whatever the names given, there was something in such systems that was unique — that sometimes did not register among those who saw in them something “regenerative.” That something was alive with a kind of fervor we have almost always identified with religion, spontaneous or institutional.

That is what this work has chosen to address: that clutch of ideas, identified as “political religion” that animates the systems considered. The presence of a political religion among all the other variables that shape events explains neither the history of those systems nor that of the twentieth century. The argument here is that the discussion of the role of political religion in such systems contributes to our general understanding of the complex period under consideration. The twentieth century was the product of so many contributing factors that no single insight could pretend to account for it all. The contention here is that a collection of beliefs, that share properties with the religions with which we have been familiar, operated in the twentieth century to make the contest of ideas and the challenge of arms more ferocious and destructive than they might otherwise have been.

We shall be concerned here with the history of such ideas. It cannot be an exhaustive history. That would exceed both the capacity of the author and the patience of the reader. Neither can it be a “true” account of the ideas of any of the authors to whom reference is made. It is not at all clear what the “truth” of any of the ideas of a political theorist might be — so many of their ideas defy any known process of confirmation. At best, what is attempted is to show that revolutionary leaders have referred to the work of political theorists and have drawn from that work certain implications. It is left to others to attempt to explain how and why ideas make human beings behave as they do — or in what circumstances such ideas become effective.

The work before the reader will attempt to deliver an account of the ideas that inspired many in the twentieth century, convincing them to live, to labor, to sacrifice, to obey, and to fight and die in their service. It will attempt to give dimension to the terrible tragedy of the twentieth century. It will be an account of secular faiths, bearing many names. It will speak of Marxism-Leninisms, of Fascism, and of National Socialism. Many have dealt with these ideologies as having the qualities of religion. It is hoped that this work contributes something to that important discussion.

 

Ingredients of political evil

  1. The incapacity to reason from any perspective but my own is ideological narrowness.
  2. The need to explain the complexity of life by reducing them to simple concepts is intellectual stuntedness.
  3. To undermine beliefs, judgments, feelings or actions of others using theories which I do not accept when used to cast doubt on my own beliefs, judgments, feelings or actions is intellectual hypocrisy.
  4. To judge others by different standards than those by which I judge myself is moral hypocrisy.
  5. Indifference to pain except that which I and my kind feel is empathy failure.
  6. The desire to make myself feel better by making another person feel worse is sadism.
  7. To listen only to those who agree with me, and to revile anyone who disagrees with me is tribalism.
  8. To attribute concealed malevolent motives to others despite their claims to believe and intend the opposite is paranoia.
  9. To see myself as exceptional, endowed with exceptional abilities, and entitled to exceptional treatment is hubris.
  10. To believe my own faith is ultimate and that there is nothing I can learn from my enemies is spiritual blindness.

These are all the ingredients of political evil I can think of.

My cultural assimilation

When I entered the work world, I had to abandon many of the cultural habits I’d acquired as a youth growing up weird in rural and semi-urban South Carolina.

Many of us in my social circle had developed a sort of subversive irony and had woven it into our personal styles, manners and subcultural customs. In everything we did and said, we signaled “I only work here.” If we were made to put on a suit and act straight, we wanted our act to be unconvincing: “This not me.”

We saw everyone who tried to assimilate and achieve as sell-out phonies, and any adoption of any externally imposed etiquette or shared efforts was beneath our dignity. We were proud to not belong.

After years of professional cultural assimilation, looking back I realize most of this worldview was just a punk-mutated form of standard working class attitudes — devices used to insulate and protect an individual’s dignity from the degradation of low-paying, low-autonomy jobs. My own family history straddles classes, and I believe a got a pretty strong dose of working class attitude as a kid, enough that I found well-adjusted, classier kids uninteresting and unfit for friendship.

Basically, in becoming professional, first through incredibly awkward attempts at code-switching, then later through genuine internalization I learned a couple of really important things I never could have learned without undergoing this incredibly uncomfortable, occasionally depressing, ordeal.

1) We cannot thrive in institutions we secretly despise. If we withhold ourselves, preserve our alienation, participate with reluctance and wear our membership like a mask, instead of figuring out some mode where we can be who we really are within the necessary constraints of social existence, our withholding is palpable to peers and leaders. If you are half-in and half-out, whether you know it or not, everyone around you feels it and knows it with immediate, intuitive certainty. And committed members of an organization will not — and should not — give you responsibility they know you will not own.

2) There is profound wisdom in professionalism. What seems like arbitrary etiquette that only signals in-group from out-group is in fact an organic social technology that permits members of organizations to function effectively and gracefully as collaborators, while protecting everyone from potentially conflicting personal idiosyncrasies. We suppress at work whatever is not needed to get the job done, not because it is essentially unacceptable and unworthy, but because it is sacred, unique and vulnerable and requiring the protection of privacy. Those things we keep to ourselves at work — or at least, in wiser times, used to keep to ourselves — politics, religion, controversial opinions — are the very things that might conflict, cause friction and drive unnecessary wedges between people who need to get along and work together.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be at least somewhat initiated into the professional world. If I’d chosen a counter-cultural life outside of business I may have clung to my romantic ideal of proud and principled alienation from the superficialities of professional life.

I am even more grateful I was not indoctrinated to believe that my childhood culture determined my essential identity  and defined who I am and who I must forever commit to being, lest I become a sell-out phony and a betrayer of my culture.

If I had been taught this, and learned to believe it with all my heart, I would have been left on the margins, locked out by my own refusal just to open the door and walk in. This would have been a disservice, a miseducation — a passing down of a self-defeating tradition.

We are not who we are because of culture, nor are we who we are despite culture. We discover who we are by collaborating with culture, experimenting with who we can be, and maturing into well-socialized but authentic individuals.

Nouveau puissant

If you are truly marginalized, you are used to being misunderstood, disregarded and misrepresented by people around you. You feel vulnerable and anxious about what might be done to you. You seek allies wherever you can find them to help and protect you. You learn to understand alien perspectives, so you can make effective appeals and influence the actions of other — or at least anticipate what they might do next so you can defend yourself.

Marginalized people are forced by necessity to develop insight and empathy. This is the consolation prize of marginalized existence, and its one real advantage. This is the source of the belief that powerless people know things powerful people cannot imagine.

When I meet a person who calls themselves marginalized, but who is overcome with imperious fury if someone seems to understand them with insufficient nuance — who is willing and able (or at least feels able) to punish anyone who dares treat them with less than perfect conformity to their expectations, without any apparent fear of reprisal — whose theories about their enemies are used only only to condemn and insult them, not to illuminate their logic or make sense of their behaviors — these people do not seem marginalized to me. They show no evidence of real insight or empathy — only a presumption of omniscience. Maybe they were taught things or read books by marginal people, but they themselves seem to have missed the real point of the lessons and absorbed nothing but the vices of marginalization: resentment and intellectual arrogance.

They are like nouveau riche, who play out the grotesque image of what poor people think rich people are like.

The nouveau puissant play out the evil, tyrannical image of what powerless people think powerful people are like.

They think it is now their turn to be what, in fact, only existed in their own imaginations.

Fact and opinion

Where do you draw the line between news and editorial?

The exact placement and sharpness of the line is debatable. This, however, does not make the distinction meaningless. Editorial argues a conclusion, and data is selected to support that conclusion. News attempts (with varying success) to present all relevant data regardless of what conclusion it might support or undermine.

Most of us learned long ago to scoff at claims of actual achieved neutral objectivity. We should not scoff at the intention to attempt it, though. After all, what is an ideal but an attempt to approach something unachieved and perhaps finally unachievable, but which points us toward something we believe is better? Facts are the product of such an effort, and their quality is a matter of how successfully they avoid being deployed to support any single argument. Opinions are the beliefs we argue, and their quality is a matter of how well they deploy facts to persuade others to reach a desired conclusion.

So basically, I am proposing that the difference between fact and opinion is one of intent, not of the truth of the content or how well supported it is.

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I would argue that the line dividing fact and opinion should also govern what is and is not taught in public schools. This is the line that separates education and indoctrination.

If I were a parent with young children I would be livid if I discovered that their school had officially adopted a political position and were intentionally indoctrinating my children to share their political opinions.

If the leaders of that school were to argue that their political opinions were not simply their own views, but were objectively true and good, I would be doubly alarmed because this indicates a degree of naivety and political immaturity that should disqualify a person from leadership of any organization.

If the leaders of the school argue that all education is intrinsically political, and all they are doing is foregrounding the political content, I would argue that whatever political content they are foregrounding should be a matter of public deliberation.

A belief that one is permitted to use whatever authority one has (or rather, has been temporarily granted) to advance one’s own political opinions indicates contempt for liberal democratic process.

If we were to subject the political content our children are being taught to public scrutiny, I am confident the outcome would be what it always is when things are done out in the open with full transparency: we will agree to teach pluralism and honor the right of individuals to reach their own conclusions. We would return to teaching what the vast majority of us accept, our best attempts at fact.

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I want to return to something I hinted at earlier. A lot of today’s political extremism is being driven by two naive notions.

1) Any ideal goal that has not yet been fully actualized (such as MLK’S dream) has been discredited and ought to be discarded.

2) If a line between one extreme and another (such as fact and opinion) cannot be clearly and sharply drawn, there is no real difference between these extremes and that no attempt should be made to observe any difference at all.

Most people I know who run around using these two notions have never really questioned them. Someone taught it to them as fact, it made sense to them, and it allowed them to go by their feelings instead of having to think things through or to consider the validity of other people’s beliefs. Education should teach people to question, challenge and resist such naivities, not train children to believe them unquestioningly.

“The personal is political”

1) “The personal is political”is a political belief, not a fact.

2) If I believe you hold this belief, you will not be welcome in my personal life.

Martin Buber’s distinction between the social and the interhuman remains centrally important to me. Personal friendship is a function of transcending the social and entering interhuman relationship  A person who politicizes everything does the opposite. They force the rules of social interaction into situations where, if they were transcended, if it were safe to transcend them, encounters with unique personhood could reveal novel, creative and transcendent possibilities.

Politicizing the personal destroys the possibility of this ever happening. This is why ideologues are so aggressive about such encroachment of the political into all things.

Ideologies are closed conceptual systems, hostile to whatever stands outside their horizons. They interpret the anxiety of what is outside their thought as evidence of malicious intent and impending harm, which they are permitted to meet with actual malice and aggression. This can happen anywhere, but is especially likely wherever social rules are not enforced, and so ideologues will find arguments for why more and more of the interpersonal should be subject to political regulation.

So people who politicize the personal are generally very constrained and timid but also aggressive people who are just not very interesting or rewarding to talk with. Nothing will come of it but sterile arguments. But also, ideologues are not trustworthy. Their first priority is defending their ideological convictions, and such people are often willing to destroy other people’s lives to do so.

I don’t like feeling bored or paranoid, so I keep ideologues as far away from me as possible.

Ritual design and privacy

The New York Times published an article last week “The Office Is Adrift. Divinity Consultants Are Here to Save It.”

There have been times in my life when I might have been friendlier toward the ideas in this article, but I’ve grown not only wary, but hostile to this kind of blurring of lines separating the personal and the private. The following is a slightly edited email I wrote to a friend this morning, who also reacted negatively to the article, for her own reasons.

Here is what is bothering me most about this article: The last thing any of us needs right now is compulsory religious practice handed down from on high by any ruling authority — private, public or (increasingly) both.

Another thing that bothers me for more personal reasons is encapsulated in this line: ‘Some of the rituals I grew up with in Protestantism really have emotional utility.” To which I commented in my notes: “Unitarianism in a fucking nutshell.” I grew up in a compulsory, artificial religion made up by folks who saw religion as serving utilitarian social and emotional purposes, and who saw traditional religious practices as crude, but salvageable social tools that could be put to better use by more evolved, rational, modern intellectuals.

Another line also leaped out at me: “‘We’ve seen brands enter the political space,’ said Casper ter Kuile, a co-founder of Sacred Design Lab. Citing a Vice report, he added: ‘The next white space in advertising and brands is spirituality.’”

This entry of brands into politics translates directly into the entry of political ideology into the workplace, which I view as a direct threat to the private realm of individuality. Suddenly your employer has a legit business case for meddling with your personal worldview, your private judgments, your utopian hopes, your faith. Suddenly, outward behaviors — etiquette and professionalism — are not enough. You must adopt certain sociological theories, attitudes toward spirituality, feelings about other people, because these innermost secrets do subtly affect other people, not only in what you do (motivated reasoning, biased judgments, microaggressions), but even worse, in what you do not do (silence is violence!) and these little actions and nonactions add up to grand-scale oppression. Therefore, we are entitled to rummage around in your personal convictions looking for evidence of thought crimes, because we take seriously our obligation to take part in creating a more just society. Besides (according to our own political view) everything is unavoidably political — we are just making our politics more explicit and intentional, which means abandoning pretensions of “neutrality.”

What can be said of politics can also be said of religious faith: everything is unavoidably a matter of religious faith. What we hold sacred and make central to who we are shapes what we think, how we feel, how we interact, what we are motivated to do. Our collective values have everything to do with the quality of our work lives, and so they are a valid concern of any enlightened employer. And therefore rituals that affirm these values are a reasonable thing to require from employees.

But even if those rituals are not compulsory, they create performative belonging and not-belonging. Back when I was a youth, the UUs created a little ritual where the children would leave the adult service to go to R.E. (Religious Education) and they would playfully skip out to this jaunty and saccharine children’s ditty on the piano. I resented being pushed into this ritual performance of what these assholes thought childlikeness was. The kids would produce childlikeness, and the adults would laugh, and rejoice and contemplate how they would like to recover their own childlikeness. I’d wait for it to end, then angrily sneak out, with renewed alienation. Years later, among Orthodox Christians, I was the one who never crossed himself, who never asked priests for blessings, who at Easter never said “indeed he is risen!’ In response to “Christ is risen!”, though, on occasion my agnosticism moved me to answer “perhaps he has risen.”

These actions put me outside of these groups, to them and to myself. And that is one of the functions of rituals, to exteriorize faith in visible behaviors. It is a physical way of confirming shared conviction, which is why *religious* communities do them.

And this points to why only religious communities should do them. We enter a religious community and gather with them precisely because we share a common faith and are happy to see others who share that faith with us. Synagogues, churches, temples are spaces set aside for gathering to affirm, share and cultivate faith in various ways. And those present who do not share the faith will feel with utmost tangibility the issue of belonging or not belonging.

Rituals remove that shelter of reticence which softens and downplays inner difference in situations where people of diverse faith must collaborate and accomplish things together. Instead of rituals of inner faith we do rituals of etiquette, where we demonstrate outer respect, willingness to set aside, suppress or even conceal inner differences in order to take up common goals and to collaborate effectively and harmoniously as possible. It is true, this does mean we must disguise ourselves in certain situations, that we will sometimes feel phony or compromised, or that many of the most important aspects of ourselves must remain un-expressed in work settings.

But if we are alert and reflective and work actively and intentionally to develop more mature understandings of personhood and social existence, something weird happens to us. We grow to develop an intense loyalty to these “soulless”, “formal” institutions that observe boundaries between public, social and private realms and preserve each with thoughtful tradeoffs. The etiquette rituals become almost matters of inner faith — the acknowledgement that not baring our souls to each other all the time permits us to develop as unique persons.

This ties into some thinking I’ve been doing on Richard Rorty’s idea of the public and private realm. I think there’s a third realm between the two, that we should call the social realm, where we come together as members of groups and interact in rule-governed ways but outside the scope of law.

The controversy of our time is where the boundaries should be drawn between these three domains. Which changes ought to be political, and are matters of legislation and legal penalty? Which are social, and are matters of etiquette and interpersonal penalty? And which matters are private, and should be protected from politics and society?

Ideological xenophobia

Short version:

If xenophobia is fear of strangers, it pays for us to ask where in our lives other people seem strangest and most alien.

In the past, it was geographical and cultural otherness that unnerved us most and aroused our hostility.

But in this globalized age, we find people from other cultures — at least the cosmopolitan representatives of other cultures we tend to interact with — to be anything but strange.  To us, they seem like one of us. Cultural differences don’t bother us like they used to.

So where do we feel distance now? Where do we feel the most foreignness? Where do we most fear the unfamiliar?

I would argue the distance between worldviews is now the hardest to traverse.

And I would argue that the very forces that have made it easy to stand on the other side of the Earth make it difficult to understand a worldview antithetical to our own.

Consequently, our sharpest sense of otherness and greatest temptation to start othering people who differ from us is now aimed at worldview.

Let’s call this fear and hostility to people with other worldviews ideological xenophobia.

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Long version:

Merriam-Webster defines xenophobia as “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.”

Normally, strange and foreign applies to different geographies and cultures. These strangers were not like us, because they were from remote places with unfamiliar manners.

But today, in a global economy, where in urban centers cosmopolitanism prevails, where geographical distance is closed with telepresence and affordable high-speed travel, perhaps otherness is no longer geographical. We are used to cutting through superficial cultural differences, different speech patterns, different appearances, so that they no longer seem strange to us — as long as we are assured that they share a similar worldview.

It is a peculiarity of our time that it is actually easier for a person to cross oceans and stand on the other side of the Earth from our own native land than it is for us to learn to think from a perspective opposite of our own. It is now philosophical distance that is hardest to traverse, that creates the most unnerving communication barriers, and which makes people feel strange and threatening.

In this age, we must be vigilant toward new forms of xenophobia — the fear of people who are strange to us because they do not share our worldview.

This vigilance means listening out for the kinds of things traditional xenophobes said about people from other countries, but applied to other beliefs. “I just don’t trust people like that.” “Their beliefs are primitive.” “They are irrational.” “I can’t put my finger on what it is, exactly, but that person just seems weird.” “They threaten my beliefs and ideals.” “They need to either adopt our ways, or shut up, or go away, or face being forcibly pushed out.”

Fighting ideological xenophobia, of course, does entail automatically adopting, or celebrating or even tolerating every difference we find in everyone who ideologically differs from us. It only means not automatically rejecting it or condemning it differs from how we see things. Just as we learned that we had to push aside the discomfort of unfamiliarity and suspicion of other cultures so we could  understand them properly from the inside, the same is the case with other worldviews. If we take their strangeness or apparent threateningness at face value we will never understand them or be able to connect with them.

Traditional and ideological xenophobia share a single origin. It is the result insularity — of knowing only one way to live, think and feel, of being told one’s own way is the best and only good way, and being taught that other ways are worse and less correct. We’ve been on our guard against xenophobia in the forms that have plagued humanity in the past, but we have failed to catch the fact that one particular style of fighting xenophobia can become narrow, brittle and superficial, and can produce its own strange form of xenophobia, which sees as xenophobic any ideological Other who wishes to overcome xenophobia in other ways — deeper ways.

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I think I might start defining ideologies as “xenophobic worldviews”. I’m using xenophobic, in the deeper (fear of stranger) sense of the word, of course.

Feeling, interpretation and reality

I showed this clip of Henry Thomas’s audition for E.T. to Susan yesterday. She says she hadn’t stopped thinking about it since, because it has raised important questions for her: Isn’t it strange and even disturbing that someone can have that much emotion about something that is purely imaginary? This raises further questions: How much of what we feel is directly caused by reality? How much comes from how we interpret reality? How much of it is a response to our own imaginations?

For Susan, this clip is a dramatic case study for exploring some basic questions important to both educators and religious people connected with cultivating ways of thinking, perceiving and acting in the world.

When she shared her reflections with me, my mind took it in a social-political direction: What does it mean to understand another person’s experiences? What elements in accounts of experiences can be reasonably debated? What norms ought to govern conversations about other people’s experiences and what they imply about truth and morality?

Some actual real-life examples:

  • Someone has a religious experience and undergoes a conversion. They see, hear and feel things that they know are real which suggest new truths to them that they consider indubitable and universal. How ought they relate their new truths to someone like myself, who has not experienced what they have? How should I respond to their truth claims, and the assertion that the claims are relevant to and in fact binding to me?
  • Someone is situated differently in society than I am, and has been from birth. They have been treated differently, learned (and absorbed) different beliefs about themselves, must behave differently to get along, and consequently have developed a very different worldview than mine — one that (according to this worldview) makes me unable to understand how they think and feel, implicates me as responsible for the state of society that has produced and continues to produce their situation. And further, the convergence of the essential unknowability of this alien worldview, my complicity in their suffering and my obligation to sacrifice to remedy this state of affairs produces a defensive reaction from people with my worldview. How should I address these claims? How do I respond to the claim that (according to this worldview) there is really only one acceptable response?
  • After a lengthy, arduous and painful struggle with a set of questions, I have a philosophical epiphany and undergo a conversion experience. Only personal struggle with the line of thought I followed will induce the conversion, and until the conversion is undergone, the conversion is impossible to understand at all. I feel isolated in this new worldview (it is like spiritual solitary confinement), and desperately need others in my life to understand it, but to do so requires inordinate amounts of time, energy and suffering. In this situation, what is reasonable to ask from loved ones, especially when they are unable to understand my distress?

 

My friend who shared this video with me got barraged  out of the blue with thoughts yesterday, as these questions coalesced in my head. We had debated the understandability of marginal perspectives, and the morality of listening versus arguing, and trusting versus challenging, and for me this video became a great reference point for the conversation. Here’s the spew, slightly cleaned up:

I can’t believe they were taking E.T. away from Henry Thomas!

Those emotions he was having were real.

And that means the thing he was having emotions about is also real, otherwise we are telling him that his emotions are not real and valid, right?

The only way I can know the truth about the reality he is having emotions about is to talk with him and let him explain it to me. Because i am not the one having those emotions, I have to listen to him about it and believe what he tells me. It is not my place to argue against experiences I don’t know.

Right?

That’s the logic of Progressivism.

There is a confusion between:

  1. the subjective experience (including the emotions),
  2. the interpretation that produces the subjective experience of the emotions, and
  3. the reality that is interpreted and becomes object of the subjective experience.

Progressivism blends these three things into a single unknowability that requires us to listen to the one and to believe what they tell us about a reality they are experiencing, about which they and have special and exclusive knowledge.

Not that there is not special and exclusive knowledge involved in the account. I cannot really know or dispute #1. There I must take someone’s word for it.

But I can, through active listening, come to understand #2. With effort and feedback, I can pick up their way of interpreting their experiences and apply it to make sense of phenomena (this is known as intellectual empathy), even if I cannot have exactly the same subjective experience they have. Further, I can compare this way of interpreting phenomena with alternative interpretations of the same phenomenon, and note the different implications and see where different emotions might occur. While interpretations are not really debatable, they are open to a gentle  form of challenge that far too few people know about: dialogue. I call it gentle because it requires voluntary mutual effort to achieve. (There’s another grisly alternative to interpretive change, which I will only mention but not discuss. Brainwashing can replace one interpretation with another.)

And #3 is entirely public and open to dispute, apart from all emotions. Claims about reality are about things we have in common. The fact that they are perceived, interpreted, experienced and produce knowledge through subjective experience (#1) does not make the reality itself subjective. The reality remains transcendent and open to a plurality of interpretations and subjective responses. It is here where debate is appropriate.

Only if we take it for granted that feelings and objects of feelings are inseparable can we conclude with progressivists that it is impossible to understand the experiences of other people. Only the feelings they have about those experiences are unknowable in principle.

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Many Progressivist who are parents harm their children irreparably though this same confusion. When their children throw tantrums, they fail to pick apart the validity of their emotions from their mode of interpretation and its fidelity to fact. Because the emotions must be honored, so does the childish worldview and the current understanding or misunderstanding of the state of affairs. This prevents children from growing up and learning to separate these three ontological layers, which is a condition of civilized adulthood. Or to put it in old-fashioned language, they spoil their children and make them into confused narcissistic permanent adolescents.

Private totalitarianism

Two of the more novel features of my “ambiliberal” political diagram:

  1. According to this framework, left versus right is a matter of egalitarianism versus hierarchy. Those hierarchies can take any number of different forms depending on the principle of rank. Traditionally, right-wing movements have followed traditional form, such as aristocracy, theocracy or plutocracy. But according to this framework, we should also be alert to newer forms of rank, including technocracy, the rule of experts, which is easily confused with leftism — especially when expertly administered fairness is its primary legitimacy claim .
  2. The nation state is only one kind of concentration of power. Any sufficiently cohesive group, for instance a class, can also rule through other means besides law. For instance economic and cultural levers can be used to control a population as effectively as laws and courts — even outside of constitutionally protected areas. In fact, the reach of coordinated private power can legally violate the Bill of Rights. This affords a private hegemon far more extensive and invasive reach, less oversight and fewer limitations.

If you consider these two possibilities together, it seems not only possible but likely that the next kind of totalitarianism we see could be a private totalitarianism.

 

Man, I really hate Fundamentalism

Religion (when it is real religion) helps form an active, mutual relationship between a person and the infinite reality in whom each person participates as a unique, divine spark.

Fundamentalism (which is misunderstood as extreme religion, but which is failure of religion) severs relationship with infinite reality and replaces in with beliefs. The entirety of Fundamentalism’s metaphysics — “god”, types of people, categories, moral judgment — takes place inside the skull of the “believer”. Its heaven is imagined and the god who riles over this imagined kingdom is the believer. I call this misapotheosis: stupid confusion of oneself with God and confusion of Creation with the paltry product of one’s own creative imagination.

Fundamentalism places all emphasis of the factual content of its belief, so it sees no connection between itself and other denominations of Fundamentalism. What could be more opposite, Christianism and Progressivism? But each approaches belief the same way and approaches non-believers the same way. The faith is identical, and the differing content is a superficial difference.

Recovering “Christian” Fundamentalists are especially vulnerable to Progressivism. Fundamentalists rarely are able to recover real religious life. They wander through life god-gutted and empty, able only to stop the Fundamentalist habits, but unable to re-conceive religious life in order to live it. Then something like Progressivist Fundamentalism comes along and the sheer familiarity of it is seductive. Fundamentalism kicks back into motion with new omniscient fervor.

New drug, old habit.

I will say it again: the distance between Fundamentalisms is paper-thin. The distance between Fundamentalism (and its always-oppressive political agendas) and authentic religion (and its liberal agenda — yes liberal religion is the purest form!) is vast.

Meditation on the ten-thousand everythings

….it was said that one god, Hermes Trismegistus, had dictated a variously estimited number of books (42, according to Clement of Alexandria; 20,000, according to Iamblichus; 36,525, according to the priests of Thoth, who is also Hermes), on whose pages all things were written. [Anomalogue: From what I’ve read, Hermes Trismegistus was not a god; the god Hermes is a different being.] Fragments of that illusory library, compiled or forged since the third century, form the so-called Hermetica. In one part of the Asclepius, which was also attributed to Trismegistus, the twelfth-century French theologian, Alain de Lille — Alanus de Insulis — discovered this formula which future generations would not forget: “God is an intelligible sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” — Borges, “Pascal’s Sphere”

The universe is made entirely of absolutely unique particles, each constituting the very center of the universe. Only from the vantage point of one of these myriad centers can any of the other myriad particles be understood as identical to any of the others.

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“The ten-thousand things” of the Tao Te Ching are also ten-thousand everythings.

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Myriad is a quantitative quality; it means uncountably many. Ten-thousand was traditionally used to represent myriad, but computers have rendered ten-thousand too puny, so now we say zillions or gazillions.

We should not confuse myriad with infinity. Infinity challenges reality at the definitional — de-finition — level, the category level, which alone makes quantity possible. Only a particular viewpoint can render unique things identical.

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Some spiritual people view Liberalism, the coalition of the unique, as shallow and dry, but this has more to do with the prejudices of conventional spirituality than with the depth or richness of Liberalism itself.

The deepest things are cloaked by myopia. Only looking deeply can reveal depth.

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