The Autocracy App

The Autocracy App
By Jacob Weisberg OCTOBER 25, 2018 ISSUE
The New York Review of Books

A review of:

  • Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
    by Siva Vaidhyanathan

  • Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
    by Jaron Lanier

...A professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, Vaidhyanathan is a disciple of Neil Postman, the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death. In that prescient pre-Internet tract, Postman wrote that Aldous Huxley, not Orwell, portrayed the dystopia most relevant to our age. The dangers modern societies face, Postman contends, are less censorship or repression than distraction and diversion, the replacement of civic engagement by perpetual entertainment.

Vaidhyanathan sees Facebook, a “pleasure machine” in which politics and entertainment merge, as the culmination of Postman’s Huxleyan nightmare. However, the pleasure that comes from absorption in social media is more complicated than the kind that television delivers. It encourages people to associate with those who share their views, creating filter bubbles and self-reinforcing feedback loops. Vaidhyanathan argues that by training its users to elevate feelings of agreement and belonging over truth, Facebook has created a gigantic “forum for tribalism.”

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...What would the world look like if Facebook succeeded in becoming the Operating System of Our Lives? That status has arguably been achieved only by Tencent in China. Tencent runs WeChat, which combines aspects of Facebook, Messenger, Google, Twitter, and Instagram. People use its payment system to make purchases from vending machines, shop online, bank, and schedule appointments. Tencent also connects to the Chinese government’s Social Credit System, which gives users a score, based on data mining and surveillance of their online and offline activity. You gain points for obeying the law and lose them for such behavior as traffic violations or “spreading rumors online.”

Full implementation is not expected till 2020, but the system is already being used to mete out punishments to people with low scores. These include preventing them from traveling, restricting them from certain jobs, and barring their children from attending private schools. In the West online surveillance is theoretically voluntary, the price we pay for enjoying the pleasure machine—a privatized 1984 by means of Brave New World.

The Declaration: Criticisms

Following are criticisms about drafts of Americans for Humanity: A Declaration that were expressed during the drafting and my replies (in italics):

  • Thank you for your work on this vision. It’s not that I don’t share much of what this document states however it does not mention the reality of the giant squid stranglehold racial/economic/social institutions have on humanity’s conscious and unconscious actions. The only way to move from the everyday to day here and to arrive there [your vision] is by facing what keeps us apart, recognizing and understanding our privileges, listening to those with less, ... ack I don’t have time for this now. We have to do the work of disengaging from either/or divisive thinking/living/being and to begin to recognize our common humanity. I like to think of us as humans being with all life. Human chauvinism is another way to distance from the spark of balance with all living things.

    • I appreciate the kind words and agree the Declaration does not explicitly talk about the giant squid, which I call "the System" and have written about extensively. It's hard to really address those issues briefly without using vague abstractions and I wanted the Declaration to be brief and concrete. My plan has been to do talk about the System with supplemental materials that folks could read after they get involved -- such as "An Argument for 'Americans for Humanity,'" which is being written. Your comments on it would be most appreciated.

    • However, though the Declaration is brief, with it I do try to get at what I see as the heart of the System, with elements such as:

      • affirms individuals’ multiple identities

      • opposes efforts to dominate others due to one of their identities

      • relies on love and trust rather than hate and fear

      • encourages members of the movement to:

        • improve their emotional reactions

        • engage in honest self-examination

        • support each other with their personal and spiritual growth

        • avoid oppressive or disrespectful behavior

    • If we tell people they must deal with A, B, and C problems, they react defensively and their problems are reinforced. This declaration is based on the proposition that it will work better to clarify a positive vision, and leave it to individuals to determine how they fall short and which problems to work on. Encouraging people to engage in honest self-examination would be a great and essential first step, it seems, In  An Argument for 'Americans for Humanity," I have a long list of personal issues, introduced by "Not everyone is afflicted with all of these personal problems, but most of us are burdened with many: " followed by " A popular movement committed to addressing these issues could bolster its power."  Your comments prompted me to add some items to that list, for which I thank you.

    • Your further thoughts would be most appreciated.

  • I have been relatively silent because I view the campaign as "apple pie and mother's love."  

Who could be opposed ? ... (practically) no one ... and, so what !  

Who would agree ? ... (practically) every one ... and, so what !

The result of agreement is that nothing happens ... or needs to happen ... and, so what?  

Agreement should mean tacit consent to be a part of fighting for ... or against something where change is called for.  

All change seems to require struggle ... but in the pledge for universal humanity, there is no hint or expectation of struggle.   

One additional observation and concern is the title:  "Americans for Humanity"

America is a continent made up of dozens of sovereign countries.  For the U.S., or U.S. activist to lay claim to the entirety of America is the height of arrogance, selfishness, belligerence, hypocrisy, and the put down of all other peoples and countries of the Americas.

Perhaps a more respectful title might be "U.S. People for Humanity," or, simply "People for Humanity," or, alternatively, "The Pledge (or Mission) for Universal Humanity"

    • I don’t know that practically everyone agrees. I’m not aware, for example, of an activist organization that “encourages members of the movement to:

improve their emotional reactions

engage in honest self-examination

support each other with their personal and spiritual growth

avoid oppressive or disrespectful behavior

supports members who want to form small teams that share meals, strengthen connections, provide mutual support, and plan other activities”

    • Are you? If so, which one or ones do?

    • As for “struggle,” it seems to me that these points explicitly affirm struggle:

the growth of a popular movement

pressures Washington to implement policies supported by strong majorities of the American people

engages in nonviolent civil disobedience and consumer boycotts when needed

    • Concerning the use of “Americans,” when I lived in Mexico for extended periods I noticed that Mexicans routinely referred to USA residents as “Americans.” I never once heard them refer to North and South America as “America,” which is technically correct. Though some activists have made your point, it seems paternalistic for us to allegedly protect people from language they accept.

    • Also, I see the need for a “superordinate” identify that could unite USA residents and help us I’m sorry to hear about those family/personal issues. Hang in there! Hope to be in touch later.overcome our tribal divisions. I think a healthy patriotism is possible -- in every country -- so that strong nation-states can better control unbridled global corporations and financial institutions. As the declaration states, we can “honor our nation’s gains, criticize its failures, and help build a more perfect union.” We need a word or phrase that can refer to “the inhabitants of the USA.” Always using that long phrase, or “US people” does not seem feasible, especially in the title.

    • NOTES: In “Arguments for ‘Americans for Humanity: A Declaration,” I wrote:

      • Most countries identify themselves and their residents with one word. The United States of America, however, has four words. So most people throughout the world refer to us as “Americans.” No disrespect toward those who live in other North and South American countries is intended by the use of that word here. By strengthening a deep sense of ourselves as both Americans and human beings, we can help overcome divisions that undermine the unity that is needed for effective, sustained, nationwide political action.

  • I have one question/flag... what do you mean by Americans? do you mean the people of the United States? I know self identified Americans who are not from the United States namely Central and South Americans. I’ve always felt it arrogant for people in the USA to use America as a shorthand for United States as if they one and the same. Was there ever a discussion about this? I’m sorry I don’t have the time to get involved with the work you and others are doing and that I barge right in with this question....

    • I sent this respondent a reply that included much of the content included in the previous reply, as well as:

      • Most countries identify themselves and their residents with one word. The United States of America, however, has four words. So most people throughout the world refer to its inhabitants as “Americans,” though technically the primary definition of “America” includes North and South America. Some people argue it’s disrespectful for USA residents to identify themselves as “Americans.” No such disrespect is intended here….

      • Fundamentalists regularly inflate the importance of particular words. They turn them into icons. It's also possible to turn them into anti-icons. Anyway, that's my take. I'd be interested in your further thoughts, and will include your comment in the Log.

  • I have one question or concern, and that is the title "Americans for Humanity." I am concerned that it sounds kind of "patriotic,"  or nationalistic, I may be overly concerned about that, but using the term "Americans" for some people connotes "white Americans" or seems to exclude immigrants who are not American citizens yet. So I am not suggesting that you change the title at this point, just mentioning this as something that may possibly put some people off. Thanks for putting this together, it is an ambitious project and I really support it.

Your concerns are valid. However, I do affirm a healthy, self-critical patriotism. It seems strong nation-states are an important counter to the ravages of uncontrolled global capitalism. So I added “As an inhabitant of the United States of America,” and “Honor America’s achievements, criticize its failures, and help realize its ideals.”


The Declaration: Reservations

Following are reservations about drafts of Americans for Humanity: A Declaration that were expressed during the drafting and my replies (in italics):

  • Not sure how people will respond about connecting up around this since we all are so inundated with coalition building right now -- Indivisible, state orgs, working with other organizations around climate, immigration, etc.  This seems a bit on top of and a bit more amorphous for groups out in the field to sign on to. But doesn't mean there might not be a good response and some great ideas of where to go. Keep me posted. Penn Please note that my new address is penngarvin@gmail.com.  I don't always get the Hotmail emails so please change so I keep getting yours. Hope all is well,

  • Almost all of the response I've received has been positive, but I agree that most activists will not take it on -- though, as I see it, doing so would not require much additional time. Rather, it would merely require a shift in perspective -- away from a narrow focus on immediate impact toward one that includes a deeper, clear commitment to underlying values and principles that are commonly neglected.  In particular, I know no membership organization that explicitly, in writing, encourages their members to examine and improve their emotional reactions and provide mutual support for self-development. Are you?

    • We need one or more massive, united, democratic, multi-issue national movements that overcome our fragmentation and stay together over time. To achieve that goal, activists need to overcome their egoistic, competitive, power trips and their strident rhetoric that demonizes opponents. A clear commitment to an alternative way of operating could help that effort. The Declaration aims to nurture that kind of commitment. If Donald Trump and climate change can't elicit a unified movement -- other than Presidential campaigns -- it seems the odds for compassionate unity are slim. Nevertheless, I persist, with support from people like you.

  • However, just seeing the document itself would not be sufficient for me to have confidence that the organization truly lives by these ideals.  I would be worried that the references to identity might be used as a springboard to turn the words into a meaning I don't support - a single-issue politics with nonviolent civil disobedience that focuses on blaming others, often lower on the social ladder, for exhibiting "personal privilege" in the guise of engaging in honest self-examination - because that is a central feature of our current disarray.

I support and am working for deeper change that I think most also agree on and that involves a different framing: slowing down the pace of life, working across borders to shorten the work week and make more time for non-materialistic pursuits.  I have seen the focus on "identity" too often used to "fight for equality at the top", and I have seen that "enlightened struggle" used to effectively co-opt what I would otherwise have felt must be a universal sentiment for the good and the right.

Thanks!  I am glad you are still in touch

    • I hear you. Thanks much for keeping in touch.

  • I would, however, encourage you to make explicit two objectives that, from my own point of view and that of many others, are fundamental to the survival of the world and hence to the realization of all the other objectives. They are, as you might imagine, a green revolution dedicated to the containment of global warming and preservation of the natural environment, and an end to war and militarism, beginning with a verifiable international program for total and irrevocable nuclear disarmament and aimed ultimately at complete general disarmament. With the weapons gone, the only way to end international conflicts will be what it always should have been: vigorous diplomacy and reasoned compromise. Continued best wishes,

    • I agree with you, but my basic intent was to focus on fundamental principles in one page and avoid another long “laundry list,” which would dilute that focus. Other specific policies are also priorities….

  • in my writings I try to use the concept of the polarity (barry johnson) and write something like: we need A AND B - but neither A- (the exaggeration of A) and B- (the exaggeration of B) thereby i hope to make visible that I do not rely on the either or logic and see the problems of the exaggerations of the different polarities

    • I very much agree. Though I did not use “and” I added the “polarity” as the next bullet point.

The Declaration: Suggested Changes

Following are changes to drafts of Americans for Humanity: A Declaration that were suggested and my replies (in italics):

  • I do have trouble with the "tyranny of the majority" line. I know what you mean and agree with your intent but this is also a right wing Trumpian phrase used to justify voter suppression. Too easily misunderstood.

    • I deleted that phrase.

  • I could sign it if it were edited to qualify the language in the item that references pressuring the government to implement policies supported by “strong majorities” so that we are *explicitly* here talking about “dignity-based,” “humanity-based” or otherwise valued-aligned policies backed by strong majorities. As you know, majorities are sometimes part of the problem in a democratic society (as regards unpopular or vulnerable minorities).

    • Good point about majorities. Previously I’ve qualified the idea with “compassionate,” but overlooked the issue this time. Does that work? That word is used elsewhere only once, so using it here would not be too redundant. It would read: “pressures Washington to implement compassionate policies supported by strong majorities of the American people.”

  • I would be happy to sign it, but would strongly encourage that we include something like commit to living in a world where  the US ends all the wars and threats of wars the US is involved in around the world and sign and agrees to the abide by the international treaty to abolish all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth, and agree to commit to solving all disputes by mediation, negotiation and justice for all parties in all conflicts.

    • [NOTE: This comment led to a series of exchanges. Eventually I added to the Declaration: “encourages supportive relationships with other countries, backs their right to self-determination, promotes human rights, and advocates peaceful resolution of conflicts with mediation and negotiation”

  • Thank you for circulating your positive suggestions. Most of them resonate with me. I have offered a few edits and comments below — I hope constructive — in the spirit of acquiring broader support for your agenda.

  • Examine myself honestly and improve my emotional reactions, such as channelling anger more productively.

  • Welcome support from others. [I would add this one as the beginning of the statement below that starts with “Encourage the growth of a popular movement…]

  • Affirm personal identities based on characteristics such as race and gender. [I see this statement as contradicting other statements such as “respect the essential equality of all human beings,” “human family,”etc.]

  • Oppose efforts to dominate others due to their ascribed or chosen identities.

  • Channel anger productively.

  • Honor America’s achievements, criticize its failures, and help realize its ideals. [Why America here but US in the next?]

Thanks much. Very helpful. I thought long and hard about your comment on personal identities. I decided the wording was wrong. It suggested the affirmation of identities based only or primarily on a specific characteristic, which is problematic. As I discuss in “Multiple Identities, Politics, Freedom, and Equality,” I think that exclusive approach is wrong. So the declaration now reads:

  • encourages everyone to identify as a member of the human family

  • affirms individuals’ multiple identities

  • opposes efforts to dominate others due to one of their identities

Please let me know if you have a problem with that. Concerning your first point, I prefer short bullet points. I use both the U.S. and America partly to avoid repetition and partly because I prefer to use the U.S. whenever that works, for “America” can refer to more than the U.S. Thanks again!

Thanks, good compromise. I will look up the piece you wrote.

  • All noble goals....except that "big money out of politics."  So, where does "big" begin? Who decides...a rich man or poor man?    And should we cap the amount a candidate can spend...or any third-parties which would support their candidacy?  It makes for a great bumper sticker...but upon closer examination is more like the beautiful golf drive is really, REALLY long....and looks really good...until it turns and lands in the top of a yucca plant. To be a noble goal, it cannot be illegal or immoral.  :-) PS Best wishes for the new year and keep up the good work.

Good points. My basic  intent was to articulate fundamental principles in one page and avoid another “laundry list.” So your comments led me to delete “get big money out of politics.”

  • I like it overall. I would have difficulty forming small teams just now. Maybe that could be a question at the end rather than a signed pledge.

    • I modified it to clarify that small groups would be an option.

The Declaration: Praise

The following words of praise have been offered for drafts and the final version of Americans for Humanity: A Declaration:

  • Thanks for sending this and doing this work.  I definitely sign on to this. I am working with my folks here about self care of the movement so I will send this on to some of those I work with and I will use this in the presentations and work I am doing here.  Thanks!

  • Wow!  They have left no stone unturned.  Impressive work! 

  • Thank you for sending this to me.  I love the work you do. 

  • A culmination of some hard work. Great job.

  • This is great!

  • I think this is amazing. It should be turned into a sticker or postcard people can use.

  • Thanks for continuing to work on this. This is exactly the kind of document that would be affixed to the wall of a meeting or community room for an organization I'd actually be inspired to join.

  • A great document to which I'd be honored to sign on. It seems like an aspirational statement, though, so I imagine that even some signers wouldn't necessarily uphold all of it (e.g., "Examine myself honestly").

  • I don't agree with every word but every word isn't important to me.  We're kindred spirits who desire to live our lives in accord with life-affirming principles like these.  I understand that you want to organize people around peace and love and fairness in this declaration. I'm grateful to know you and be in a circle of people that values these principles.   I support you and would sign this statement without change. If and when the opportunity presents itself, I would like to present a national political action plan to an appropriate group of signatories.

  • These are of course wonderful aspirations for a sane world! I am glad to sign, but can’t do anything else.

  • Your commitment and tenacity to the goals of universal humanity are unassailable, deeply respected, and greatly admired.  

  • Maybe missing more on the link between the way we treat the environment and each other, but it's a good start! And I would sign it. Thanks for pursuing this project.

  • Based on our experiences, we do not see even one statement or quality that we would critique.So we bless you and your deeply-felt initiative to keep infusing this language and these kinds of conversations into our neighborhoods and evolving culture.

  • I respect the tremendous work you’ve done and are doing.

  • Sounds and looks good!

  • At a first glance this sounds left, But if you look closer it is not…. A lot like how I see integral politics... Ken Wilber. Keep up the good work of a prophet

  • I do have trouble with [one line].... Rest is excellent.

  • This is quite good. I'm ready to sign it.

  • This declaration is a very strong presentation of the objectives you envision for a caring community, and I would gladly sign it just as it is, even though I would not become an active member.

  • Looks good to me.  

  • I appreciate your commitment and engagement in seeking a better world. Seems a reasonable statement, but as I’ve mentioned previously I’m already engaged in so many such conversations, I’ve not the time or energy to be involved in starting or framing a new one....

  • Sounds good.

  • This pledge is coming together well.  Once complete, I can and will be using it to create an artistic rendering and will frame it. And share it. And present it to you. Not in any way to benefit myself but to enhance your achievement. I have so enjoyed watching and reading your process throughout these years.

  • Thank you for sending this to me. I love the work you do.

  • Yes, I would sign. Comprehensive! Thanks

  • I really love what you have written, I think it is great!

  • Yes! Looks great, nicely done.

The Declaration: Signers

The following individuals have signed Americans for Humanity: A Declaration:

Ben Ament
Bob Anschuetz
Asoka Bandarage
Scott Beckman
Jonathan Betz-Zall
Dan Brook
John Cloud
Norman Degelman
Micky Duxbury
Penn Garvin
Stephen Gerritson
Carolyn Reuben Green
Roma Guy
David Hartsough
Glenda Hope
Wade Hudson
Mary Hudson
Ingrid Kepler-May
Alan Levin
Katherine Sofos Looper
Shyrl McCormick
Robert Morgan
Daniel Nissenbaum
Bernhard Possert
Jakob Possert
Steven Lee Shults
Anonymous
Anonymous

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Irrational Politics

Irrational Politics

Human beings join tribes. This instinct is biological. Tribes assume moral superiority over and seek to dominate other tribes. Winning is primary. The price of victory is secondary. These battles produce strong emotions that distort reality.

When tribes join with other tribes into super-tribes, a threat to one tribe is a threat to every tribe. Life becomes more dangerous and irrational. Republicans and Democrats are super-tribes. They focus on winning the next election.

The development of these electoral super-tribes has undermined the ability of legislators to compromise, which is the heart of democracy. Legislators must compromise to address difficult problems, but increased polarization has made it more difficult. Tribalism is pulling the country ever deeper into a downward spiral of bitter gridlock.

Compromise is not always timely. Militant activism can help bring attention to pressing issues and build pressure for stronger improvements. But outside the electoral arena, on the left and the right, doctrinaire, victory-centric tribes have also formed super-tribes. They demonize opponents, resist all compromise, and disregard the consequences of their actions. The result is profound fragmentation.

The time has come for everyone to step back and engage in critical self-evaluation. Learning to overcome arrogant, hyper-competitive, domineering tribalism is essential in order to unite and transform this nation into a compassionate community.

Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity by Lilliana Mason analyzes Republicans and Democrats. Her book applies to other tribes as well.

Mason argues:

A single vote can now indicate a person’s partisan preference as well as his or her religion, race, ethnicity, gender, neighborhood, and favorite grocery store. This is no longer a single social identity. Partisanship can now be thought of as a mega-identity.

Mason calls this dynamic “social polarization.” The convergence of multiple identities into one mega-identity leads to greater stereotyping, prejudice, and emotional volatility -- and makes us “increasingly blind to our commonalities.”

Read More

Democrats, Border Walls, and Social Polarization

Democrats, Border Walls, and Social Polarization

As Lilliana Mason reports in her shocking, disturbing Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became our Identity (2018), many scientific studies prove that human beings are afflicted with a deep-seated instinct to polarize into highly competitive, mean-spirited tribes. Emotions rooted in the body associated with politics and sports are remarkably similar. Those powerful feelings, often unconscious, can distort reality and undermine ethical behavior. Winning becomes primary, consequences secondary.

In order to win, polarized tribes will sacrifice their own self-interest as well as the needs of others. Tribal members enjoy seeing opponents suffer even if they themselves don’t benefit. Their unconscious bias results in destructive discrimination and produces a self-reinforcing downward spiral. Rather than reach agreement on how to relieve suffering, they prefer to fight win-or-lose symbolic, ideological battles over abstractions like “the government,” “capitalism,” or “the wall.” Meanwhile four percent of the world’s children die by the age of five and the planet is burning up.

Mason argues that both Republicans and Democrats are examples.

Read More

Multiple Identities, Politics, Freedom, and Equality

Multiple Identities, Politics, Freedom, and Equality

For me, the most important article of 2019 may prove to be “The Philosopher Redefining Equality” by Nathan Heller in the January 7 issue of The New Yorker. The article’s subhead is “Elizabeth Anderson thinks we’ve misunderstood the basis of a free and fair society.” The caption for the lead illustration is “Our real concern should be equality not in material benefits, Anderson argues, but in social relations: democratic equality.”

Heller writes:

Her work, drawing on real-world problems and information, has helped to redefine the way contemporary philosophy is done, leading what might be called the Michigan school of thought. ...She brings together ideas from both the left and the right to battle increasing inequality,...

Born in 1959, Anderson specializes in moral and political philosophy. Right out of graduate school, Princeton University offered her a tenure-track job, but she decided to stay at the University of Michigan, where she is now the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies (which she named after Dewey when the university elevated her to its highest professorship). As soon as I get it, I plan to read her 2017 book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It).

Heller reports:

“The Industrial Revolution was a cataclysmic event for egalitarians,” Anderson explains.... “We are told that our choice is between free markets and state control, when most adults live their working lives under a third thing entirely: private government.”

As summed up by Heller:

Read More

Declaration -- 1/10/19 Draft

Twelve subscribers to my lists offered valuable (positive) feedback to the first two drafts of “A Declaration for Compassionate Community.” Those drafts with revision marks are posted here. A log of the feedback and my responses is posted here.

Those reflections prompted me to re-organize the document as a pledge (see below) that opens with “next steps” that everyone can take immediately, and concludes with the declaration of support for the growth of a popular movement. The new title is “Americans for Humanity: A Pledge.” Aiming to make it as short as possible, on my own initiative I’ve also deleted some of the initial content.

What do you think of this option? Suggested changes?

My plan is to send this draft to the same subscribers and incorporate suggested changes so long as they are forthcoming.

Then, if and when there’s strong consensus, I’ll seek feedback from many individuals not on those lists -- and ask you to do the same with people you know.

The goal is to make the statement as good as possible.

Then, if and when there is strong support for the latest draft and no more substantial suggested changes are being submitted, we can consider whether and how to circulate it for endorsement.

Americans for Humanity:
A Pledge

(1/10/19 Draft)

As an inhabitant of the United States of America, I will:

  • Serve humanity, the environment, and life itself.

  • Improve my emotional reactions;

  • Examine myself honestly;

  • Avoid oppressive or disrespectful behavior;

  • Support others with their personal and spiritual growth;

  • Welcome support from others.

  • Strengthen my sense of myself as a member of the human family.

  • Affirm personal identities based on characteristics such as race and gender.

  • Oppose efforts to dominate others due to their identity.

  • Respect the essential equality of all human beings.

  • Rely on love and trust rather than hate and fear.

  • Channel anger productively.

  • Promote partnerships that empower people.

  • Support individual rights and the rule of law.

  • Nurture democracy throughout society.

  • Honor America’s achievements, criticize its failures, and help realize its ideals.

  • Help transform the United States into a compassionate community.

  • Encourage the growth of a popular movement that embraces these values and:

    • Fully represents and gives voice to the American people.

    • Attracts people with face-to-face community and caring friendships.

    • Supports members who want to form small teams that share meals, strengthen connections, and plan other activities.

    • Pressures Washington to implement policies supported by strong majorities of the American people.

    • Engages in nonviolent civil disobedience and consumer boycotts when needed.

    • Cooperates with movements in other countries that also serve humanity, the environment, and life itself.

To sign, click here

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NOTES:

  1. The latest version of this pledge will always be at https://goo.gl/MYF4s3

  2. An archive of email comments without authors identified will be at https://goo.gl/Q8Pj6s.

The American Dream, Redefined

The American Dream, Redefined

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua is a valuable, challenging book. The American Dream, however, is more complicated than Chua acknowledges.

Chua affirms a self-critical American Dream “that recognizes past failure.” She also rightly criticizes those who reduce America to “a nation founded on genocide and on the backs of slaves.” She writes:

In America, it’s the progressive elites who have taken it upon themselves to expose the American Dream as false. This is their form of tribalism…[which] creates a virtuous Us and a demonized Them.

Her point is well-taken. Progressives often express a holier-than-thou attitude toward typical Americans and do not adopt a balanced stance toward America’s strengths and weaknesses.

Chua’s less judgmental perspective declares that “generations seeking justice have done so for the promise of America….  [which] allows -- indeed, gains strength from allowing -- all those subgroup identities to flourish…. “ She proposes strengthening America’s identity as the only nation that is not based on ethnicity, but rather is an inclusive “super-group” with everyone “united by their common humanity and love of liberty.” She believes:

It’s not enough that we view one another as fellow human beings; we need to view one another as fellow Americans. And for that we need to collectively find a national identity capacious enough to resonate with, and hold together as one people, Americans of all sorts…. What holds the United States together is the American Dream.

But her definition of the American Dream is mistakenly rooted in the pursuit of great wealth.

Read More

A Marshall Plan for the Earth

A Marshall Plan for the Earth

Naomi Klein’s exhaustive, passionate This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014) is an inspiring call to action that exposes many myths associated with the climate debate. But it falls short.

Some ten years ago, Bolivia’s representative to a United Nations climate-change conference, Angelica Navarro Llanos, declared:

If we are to curb emissions in the next decade, we need a massive mobilization larger than any in history. We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth. This plan must mobilize financing and technology transfer on scales never seen before. It must get technology onto the ground in every country to ensure we reduce emissions while raising people’s quality of life. We have only a decade.

During that conference, Klein, author of No Logo and Shock Doctrine, met with Navarro Llanos. Klein says that meeting was “the precise moment when I stopped averting my eyes to the reality of climate change, or at least allowed my eyes to rest there for a good while.” That experience led her to write This Changes Everything.

Read More

Transforming the World: A Scenario

Transforming the World: A Scenario

Dedicated to humanity, the environment, and life itself, the Purple Alliance pushes for new national policies supported by a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

As part of the Earth Community, the Alliance promotes democracy, respects the rights of individuals, opposes the tyranny of the majority, and pushes political parties to back proposals that have supermajority backing while also pursuing their other principles.

The Alliance affirms the value of compassionate personal identities based on political party, ideology, theology, nation, race, gender, geography, or other factors. At the same time, the Alliance encourages strong identification as a member of the human family.

From this perspective, the Alliance promotes the nonviolent transform-the-world movement, opposes one group disrespecting or dominating another group based on that group’s superficial characteristics, and supports the use of force to restrain people who violate the rights of others.

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Comment on "Question: How Activists Operate"

The fifteen responses to “How should political activists improve how they operate?” were rich and diverse. As one correspondent commented:

Wow!  My first learning from reading all of your responses is this:  How very _different_ all our concerns /seem/ to be! :open_mouth:  Are we even "on the same page"?

I agree the responses cover a wide range. Thus far, however, it seems to me they’re largely compatible, though they may reflect a serious divergence in terms of priorities.

The response that had the strongest impact on me was Shariff’s. In the piece I’m writing now, a scenario that presents a narrative for how we might move toward systemic transformation, I was beginning with a focus on narrow short-term goals and concluding with an affirmation of fundamental long-term goals. His call to be clearer about ultimate goals led me to be more upfront at the outset about the ultimate goals being proposed there. Carolyn’s call for long-range goals moves in that direction, but Shariff seems to be talking about something more fundamental.

The Four-Fold Practice suggested by Jeff has merit. Though I disagree with the (anti-political) statements about “judgment” (we can make judgments without being judgmental), I like the essay’s four simple suggestions and the brief elaborations presented in italics. But the paragraphs on each point that follow often lose me. They seem too complicated and raise too many red flags. And the essay seems to be part of a much more complicated training process that includes elements like “the seven helpers.” As such, it feels like “disabling professionalism.” I believe we need simpler methods that empower more easily.

Jeff’s “The Four Roles of Change” fruitfully identifies different roles activists can play, affirms the value of each, and argues they ideally complement each other. But I’m uncomfortable with the notion that rebels “force” power holders to make a change and the suggestion that if a campaign “settles for less,” it has necessarily been “co-opted.” The reluctance to seek reconciliation through negotiation and compromise and instead try to impose one’s will by force strikes me as problematic. As Camus analyzed so incisively, it’s easy for rebels to let their anger lead them to internalizing the values of the oppressor against whom they originally rebelled. It seems this essay crosses that line. Steve’s recommendation to avoid demonizing and seek compromise is more convincing.

I like Yahya’s proposal to “listen as much as they speak” (if not more!), Deetje imploring activists to sing, Ronnie and Michael’s call for more nonviolent action, and Justice’s reminder that “peaceful ends require peaceful means.” Mike’s reference to Smucker’s book seems worth investigation. I think Bob’s complaint about abstract ideology is well taken. I hope Nancy has success with her appeal to scholars to be activists as well. And I like Thomas and Lenin’s point about sharing the lives of those being organized, but the emphasis on “explaining” seems too Leninist.

My main reservation about others’ responses, however, is that they all seem to focus on thinking and behavior, and do not address feelings. They neglect the need for deep personal change, constant self-improvement, and mutual support for that effort, which can change how activists operate.

In “Letter from a Region in My Mind,” in 1962 James Baldwin wrote:

Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become. It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives, that makes the discussion, let alone elucidation, of any conundrum—that is, any reality—so supremely difficult. The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality—for this touchstone can be only oneself. Such a person interposes between himself and reality nothing less than a labyrinth of attitudes. And these attitudes, furthermore, though the person is usually unaware of it (is unaware of so much!), are historical and public attitudes. They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person. Therefore, whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.

Baldwin also said:

The day will come when you will trust you more than you do now, and you will trust me more than you do now.  And we can trust each other. I do believe, I really do believe in the New Jerusalem, I really do believe that we can all become better than we are.  I know we can. But the price is enormous, and people are not yet willing to pay it.

That’s why my response to the focus question was: “Cultivate more humility and engage in more honest self-evaluation to nurture more self-improvement.”


The Thriving World, the Wilting World, and You

The Thriving World, the Wilting World, and You

[NOTE: This explosive speech led to the fantastic book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.]

I gave the following speech at the Aspen Institute’s Action Forum, on July 29, 2015, in Aspen. The talk — on generosity versus justice — was to my fellow fellows in the Aspen Global Leadership Network. As a result, it contains some obscure jokes and references. After it popped up in David Brooks’s New York Times column and stirred an outpouring of discussion, sympathetic and critical, I decided to post the prepared text here on Medium. The video is also available here and below. Discuss!

…The Aspen Consensus, in a nutshell, is this: the winners of our age must be challenged to do more good. But never, ever tell them to do less harm….

[To read the speech, click here.]

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A Vision

The transform-the-world movement serves humanity, the environment, and life itself. In each country, movements attend to the interests of their country -- and cooperate with movements in other countries to pursue global interests. To protect themselves from powerful, selfish, global financial forces, they support strong nation-states.

In the United States, the movement promotes the general welfare and aims to more fully realize America’s highest ideals -- political equality, human rights, and popular rule.

The movement encourages identifying as a member of the human family, affirms other compassionate identities,…


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Donald Trump: The Triumph of Frustration, The Failure Of Vision

Donald Trump: The Triumph of Frustration, The Failure Of Vision

Stop Paying Attention to Trump. Start Paying Attention to the People Who Voted for Him

For the longest time, all during the presidential campaign, I kept telling people to STOP paying attention to the Twitter shenanigans of Donald Trump. He is a sociopath, a charlatan, and will be one of our most failed presidents. Not because of his agenda, but because of his lack of one. His role is to further the continued unraveling of this society. Just stop paying attention. I see no need to feed his ego need for notoriety by paying any more attention to him than the sentences I just wrote.

However, there's a real story here, one that most of the Left and the mainstream media are choosing not to follow. This story is not about Trump. The story is about the people who voted for him, and made him President of the United States….

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Plutocracy is a Myth: The System is Us

Plutocracy is a Myth: The System is Us

The American people hold the power. The wealthy do not rule. They do not direct, exercise control, determine what happens.

When a supermajority of Americans unite and act forcefully, they persuade elected officials to respect the will of the people. But unified action rarely happens. Fragmentation and passivity allow the rich and powerful to get what they want.

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Mobilizing the Compassionate Supermajority: A Declaration for Global Transformation

Mobilizing the Compassionate Supermajority: A Declaration for Global Transformation

By improving ourselves, our culture, and our institutions, we, the compassionate supermajority of the American people, can help the United States honor its highest ideals: political equality, human rights, popular rule, and, as affirmed in the Constitution, “promote the general welfare.”

With this effort, we can help transform the world into a caring community dedicated to the common good of all humanity, ourselves, the environment, and life itself. In each nation, individuals and communities can pressure their leaders to cooperate with other nations on shared humanitarian concerns.

We can nurture mutual respect, moral commitment, and spiritual development. We can learn steadily how to set aside negative tendencies and do what we really want to do: be more compassionate. Rooted in powerful grassroots movements, we can overcome polarized gridlock by building new structures to give the supermajority a greater voice.

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In recent studies, two-thirds or more of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats, said elected officials lose touch with their constituents, don’t care “what people like me think,” put their own interests first, and fail to give Americans a voice. They said the wealthy have too much power and agreed that the amount of money individuals contribute to political campaigns should be limited….

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