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Fixing the World #2: Moral Calculus

2017 February 6
by Ian Welsh

The first rule of creating and maintaining a good world, or a good society, is living in something approximating the truth. If you are delusional, you cannot make good decisions.

The second rule is that your ethical system must, if applied, create a good world.

This is harder than it seems. Ostensibly, we all agree that murder is bad, theft is bad, fraud is bad, and so on. We say that every human life has value and that all humans were created equal. We say that all life has value.

But in our actual actions we prove that we believe none of these things. We excuse mass murder by our own countries. We prioritize the deaths of people not like us over people like us–generally at very high ratios. We place human life over animal life, to the point where we are genociding multiple species every day. We prioritize property over human life more often than not, refusing to spend small amounts of money that would; easily save lives. We have enough food to feed everyone but don’t. We have enough industrial capacity to give everyone a decent life, but don’t.

We have known for decades that we were killing off animal species and did far too little. We have known about climate change for decades and done essentially nothing.

Our ethics are monstrous. They have led to a great die-off of other animals. They currently cause the death and suffering of hundreds of millions of humans who need do neither.

Until we value everyone’s life, and until we value the life of other animals at least to the point where we aren’t genociding them, we will not and cannot have a good world overall.

It is often said, by the supporters of the current regime, that things have never been so good, but I don’t believe the statistics. Even if they were true, it would not matter, because the reality they describe is not sustainable. If I know I’m doing something which makes me comfortable today but will lead to mass death tomorrow, that isn’t ethical, and that’s what we are doing.

We can have that good world when a Somali’s life matters as much as an American’s and when a both a billionaire and a poor person receive quality health care. We can have a good world when the possibility of a species extinction is considered, and treated as an emergency. We can have a good life when we look at the human footprint in the world and we don’t allow it to destroy multiple other species. We can have a good world when we make sure everyone gets fed, everyone has a decent set of material goods, and everyone is free to do more or less as they choose, so long as their actions are less harmful than the good they do, and don’t lead to the forseeable and preventable suffering and death of others.

It is insane that we are worried about AI and robotics, for example: The idea that machines might be able to do the work that humans do should fill us with joy. It’s insane that we cannot imagine a world in which humans do not have to do mostly meaningless drudge work to survive. That we cannot figure out how to distribute resources to people without making them spend the better part of their waking adult lives doing shit they’d rather not do. (If you’d win the lottery and keep your job, congrats, you are the exception. Most people would not.)

The right thing to do is generally the right thing to do. It is the great tragedy of the human race that we don’t believe that being kind and not hurting other people (or preventing suffering and enabling people to do what they will so they hurt none, and not being mass murderers of other species) is in our self-interest.

It is precisely in our self interest–it is the only way we will ever create a world that is really good to live in for the vast majority of the world’s residents.

The great task, I would suggest, is not “opposing Trump” (though that’s certainly a good thing, as was opposing Obama’s shitty policies, or Bush’s, or Clinton’s) but in trying to figure out a social system that aligns with ethics.

This is where the critics will cry about how human nature is incompatible with doing the right thing.

Perhaps that is so, though I do not believe it. But if it is so, Earth will remain hell for far too many, and we are in some danger of wiping ourselves out, along with all our victims in the non-human world.

But perhaps it is not so, and just as we could not fly until recently, we simply haven’t figured out yet how to be good at scale. And perhaps we should treat this problem as the most important problem in our society, because everything else which seems important from climate change, to war, to Trump, to fascism, is simply a manifestation of the fact that we suck at being ethical; at being kind.

All lives have value. Everyone’s suffering matters. Everyone should have a good life. These are prescriptive statements: statements that to be true, we have to make true. They are truths that will never be absolute, we will never reach 100 percent. But we can get far closer than we are today, and it is on us, as a species, if we do not.

It is a choice. Good and evil are a choice. And the first step towards evil is to say, “The pain of people like me matters more than the pain of people who are not like me.”

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45 Responses
  1. Hugh permalink
    February 6, 2017

    Ethics are the principles and rules we have to live in the society we want to live in. If that society is to be fair and just, it must encompass those who are like us as well as those not like us. This does not mean anything goes, but rather the differences we are willing to live with. We need to look at what our obligations are as citizens and we must dare to ask the question of how much is enough. Hint: In a fair and just society, there are no billionaires. Billionaires are an example of too much.

    Where I differ with Ian is that I believe we must concentrate on our own society. We can not makes choices for people in other societies. Just as we must live with our own choices, they must live with theirs. We can and should offer help where we can, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the members of those societies.

  2. Jeff Wegerson permalink
    February 6, 2017

    China recently cancelled all 85 new coal electricity generating plants and shifted the money ($365 billion) to clean energy. The U.S. under Trump going gung ho on fossil. Texas is the #1 U.S. state for wind energy. So called economics is the driving force now for those realities.

    Hugh, things like those suggest to me that we very much participate is a global single society.

  3. brian permalink
    February 6, 2017

    Jesus had the best meme about this. ‘Do unto others as you would want to done unto you’. Too bad that one didn’t last once other people did so horrible things you couldn’t ‘Turn the other cheek’.

    ‘Do the right thing’ runs into issues because you can’t get everyone to agree what is the ‘right thing’. Saving fish but causing a water crises in cities? Enforcing equality or using the people best for the job?

    What you are asking for is a World Government whose responsibility it is to protect world assets and look after every human being on Earth – which is a noble goal.

  4. nihil obstet permalink
    February 6, 2017

    Concentrating on our own society should include getting it not to damage other societies. That means not allowing goods made with environmental damage and abused labor into our country. It means stopping organizations like the IMF from bullying countries into maximizing cash crops over feeding their populations. Trade and foreign policy must be ethical for the other countries as well as for us.

    There’s no necessary conflict between equality and using people the best for the job. That apparent conflict arises only because it justifies inequality, as though brain surgeons would really prefer to be janitors if only it weren’t for the pay difference.

  5. EmilianoZ permalink
    February 6, 2017

    We say that every human life has value and that all humans were created equal.

    I believe this is one of the basic tenets of liberalism but not of conservatism.

  6. Nancy permalink
    February 6, 2017


    I agree that the key is the Golden Rule. Unfortunately, many people do not seem to be capable of living this way. They are are not happy unless there is someone or some group that they can feel superior to or keep down, whether race, sex or religion is used as a selection criterion.

    I think that this is generally due to either unconscious self-hatred or sublimated feelings of inferiority. If you truly do not love and value yourself, how can you love and value others?

  7. Webstir permalink
    February 6, 2017

    Ian, you said “This is where the critics will cry about how human nature is incompatible with doing the right thing.” And concluded by stating that the first step towards evil is to say,“The pain of people like me matters more than the pain of people who are not like me.”

    Maybe the Christians have it right. Maybe we are born to original evil. I learned a bit about “implicit bias” as a psych undergrad. It’s extremely difficult to overcome. We all do it to varying degrees. To overcome it one first has to recognize it’s even going on, and then, one has to actually care about it enough to overcome it. It takes a kind of self-administered cognitive behavioral therapy. We’re talking about some seriously advanced “frontal lobe over-riding reptilian brain” thinking here.

    And as said in a previous post, when times are good and resources plenty our brains can afford to take on the additional burden of over-riding the reptilian impulse. But when times are tough we revert to tribalism, which is just another way of saying that we retreat to the safety of those who aren’t constantly tripping our implicit bias alarms.

    Needless to say, it seems we’re moving in the wrong direction to, as a species, get to a place where we all feel comfortable over-coming our implicit biases.

    If anyone is interested, here is link to how we can work to recognize and overcome them:

  8. Montanamaven permalink
    February 6, 2017

    There is another biblical law. The 2nd commandment to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” As I interpret this, it means that one must first “love” thyself. In order to “love thyself”, you have to be in touch with who you really are. It demands much self reflection and self knowledge and an acknowledgement of strength and weaknesses. It is the capacity to see your shadow self; the dark side. By this process there should be a way of being an individualist without sacrificing community. This is one of the basic descriptions of anarchism before the word got hijacked. Anarchism literally means “without a ruler”. Anarchism has many currents such as individualism, mutualism, communism…that “all flow towards the great sea of freedom.

    I tend towards Hugh’s vision of fixing ourselves, our communities and our nations first. In the process, one would hope we could build a more equitable and peaceful world. But the U.S. Is pretty far gone in terms of being the biggest bully around. If we can, at least, start looking inward and acknowledge our dark side as a nation that has polluted and ravaged the world, maybe we can walk back from the brink. That’s why I’m glad Trump said we are all killers.
    But is he going to try to stop the killing and bullying? I don’t know, but that we are even allowed to be talking about this instead of “America the Exceptional” is mind blowing in itself.

  9. Montanamaven permalink
    February 6, 2017

    Read Putin’s 2015 UN speech whose theme was “Do you (US) realize what you have done?”

    In the Middle East. He also says that the Russian Federation has learned from the Soviet Union’s mistakes. ‘The USSR tried to impose their ideology on other nations all over the world. He and Russia realize now what a mistake that was. Each nation has what he calls a right to “sovereign democracy”. They have a right to determine their own way of governing. I think anarchists often don’t care how a region or nation is organized. It can be a monarchy, a chiefdom, a representative body. But it has to be a place for freedom, equality, and security. No one should want for food, clothing, shelter. The problem here in the US and other capitalist countries seems to arise from the view of private property vs personal property. When is the owning of land “too much”? What should be the limit to wealth? Again we have not been allowed to have these conversations. TINA has been the doctrine. I hope the young will start having a lot of these conversations and not be drawn into the Roach Motels called our political parties.

  10. Ian Welsh permalink*
    February 6, 2017

    Unfortunately what other societies do matters too much. We are going to need a hegemonic ethical system, because one society stopping destroying the world doesn’t stop the world being destroyed.

    This is unfortunate, I wish it wasn’t the case, but it appears to be.

  11. StewartM permalink
    February 6, 2017

    But perhaps it is not so, and just as we could not fly until recently, we simply haven’t figured out yet how to be good at scale.

    I think this sums up much of the problem. Hunter-gatherers had more humane societies because the congruence of self-interest and being good to others in a small society. In a society where there is no storable wealth and no “independence”, your survival is best insured by maintaining the good will of others (you look after them because you know there will be a day when they will have to look after you). Likewise, hunter-gatherer societies were geared to long-term outcomes, any harm you do to others you know is likely to rebound to you; if nothing else you have to live with the consequences.

    All that is screwed up in more derived societies. There you don’t have to live with the consequences of your bad behavior, even today the rich would probably avoid supporting the policies they do if they actually had to live in Flint, Michigan or Camden, NJ and deal with the results every day. The bad consequences may not affect you in your lifetime (the “death bet”) and may mostly effect people on the other side of the world you never see.

    I had hoped that the internet and connectivity would have helped more with the latter. I have people I call friends across the globe, so that people in other countries and in other cultures aren’t some faceless, nameless “them” to me. But it seems that most just use it to connect to people within their culture and to reinforce memes rather than to challenge them.

  12. February 6, 2017

    “If you truly do not love and value yourself, how can you love and value others?”-Nancy

    I am not sure how one can “love thy self” since self/identity is always changing (who I was vs. who I am vs. who I am becoming) and I don’t know if that should be/remain our society’s central motivation. After all, it isn’t very just/ethical to be “happy with who we are” if it harms those around us or keeps us from making ourselves (or the world around us) into something greater.

    I think what we are really talking about is the difficulty in increasing the “quality of man” in a time/place that promotes and defends everyone’s unique self not matter what. Our society discourages us from discussing who is of superior quality, who isn’t, and why. But without these discussions we can’t establish “truth” and without “truth” we can’t create the consensus needed for a change.

  13. Montanamaven permalink
    February 6, 2017

    Webstir is on to something. When there is plenty and people feel secure, they have tendency to be more cooperative and generous. I find that with the people I work with. When there is plenty of work, they are much more willing to recommend their colleagues to their clients when they are unable to help those clients at the moment. But there are a few who are unwilling to do that because they always see the glass as half to three quarters empty. They live in fear of falling into poverty. If there was a Basic Guaranteed Income with a job guarantee, free health care and a comfortable pension for old age, much fear would be removed. Less fear would bring about the ethical climate Ian talks about, I betcha . FDR said it better than me in his Freedoms speech.

  14. Montanamaven permalink
    February 6, 2017

    @Stewart M. Yes, I like the comparison of hunter gatherer societies with the agricultural societies. I read Christopher Lasch’s book “The Revolt of the Elite”. In not so long ago days, the rich guy who owned the factory lived in the town whether it was Flint, Kalamazoo, or Allentown. He had a certain amount of responsibility. But now the elite can flee to far flung corners of the world and never have to mingle with the riffraff. They even threatened to do this in the last election. Another book that is great and mentioned by Lasch is Oldenberger’s “The Great Good Places”. In saloons, salons, cafes, and barbershops of neighborhoods, all sorts of people from all sorts of jobs met and exchanged ideas. With the suburbs and exurbs, we lost those democratic spots. I seek them out whenever I can to find out what other people think and how they think. Jung had a word for people who after understanding their own strengths and weakness, then turned to the task of trying to get in the shoes of other people and trying to understand people different than they. He called it individuation. That is part of the process of “knowing (loving) yourself and what another person might have to offer you to complete a task.
    Small societies make more sense to me.

  15. Hugh permalink
    February 6, 2017

    Montanamaven, if we commit to making sure we all the basic building blocks for a decent life, there is no justification for large concentrations of personal wealth or for inherited wealth.

    Ian, a hegemonic ethical system means a hegemonic world society. Nahgonnahappn. Large parts of the world have no interest in such a system. Large parts would immediately reject it as neocolonial and if it was in any way tied to controlling overpopulation, as genocidal. As I have pointed out repeatedly, much of the world is going to collapse in the next 20 to 50 years due to overpopulation, climate change, resource exhaustion, and environmental destruction. It doesn’t matter there is a way out if people ignore it or refuse to take it. The real question will be what to do when hundrds of millions of individuals from these failed societies head for those societies still intact.

  16. Jeff W permalink
    February 6, 2017

    The great task, I would suggest, is…trying to figure out a social system that aligns with ethics.

    This is where the critics will cry about how human nature is incompatible with doing the right thing.

    Perhaps that is so, though I do not believe it.

    I don’t believe it, either. In one environment, people will act ethically; in another they won’t. A friend just mentioned that when he passed his driving test in India, he had to give a bribe to get his driver’s license; in the US, that wouldn’t happen. In Japan, you lose your wallet in a taxi in Nara and it’s returned, perfectly intact, nothing missing, to the police station in Tokyo, where you live—it happened to my nephew, part of the “Lost and Found” nature of Japan; I doubt that occurs with the same degree of reliability in the US. Denmark saved nearly all of its Jews from the Nazis during World War II; Bulgaria saved 50,000 of its Jews.

    The point is not that people in this country or that are more “virtuous” when it comes to seeking pretty bribery or returning lost items or saving lives. It’s that those are environments in which people behave that way. The question is what’s going on in those environments and in similar ones where people “do the right thing”? It involves some behavioral analysis—and it’s not made easier by statements about “human nature.” (Ian’s pointed to answers in the past with regard to prosperity.)

  17. Tomonthebeach permalink
    February 6, 2017

    “This is where the critics will cry about how human nature is incompatible with doing the right thing.”

    People do the wrong thing for a variety of reasons from evil intent to misadventure. Ethics as we know the subject sets down rules for human behavior and then invents rationalizations to justify violating those same rules.

    When the wrong thing happens, regardless of the trigger or trigger puller, it animates segments of society to rectify the wrong thing. WWII was a great example. It gave the majority of Americans a single purpose. After the world war, all we had left was democratic ideals and capitalism. We chose capitalism, and we can see where that is leading us.

    Roddenberry probably came as close to describing Ian’s utopian alternative social order by animating all mankind toward the quest for knowledge – to boldly go where no man has gone before in order to learn; not meddle.

  18. Some Guy permalink
    February 7, 2017

    “But perhaps it is not so, and just as we could not fly until recently, we simply haven’t figured out yet how to be good at scale.”

    We only figured out nuclear warheads recently as well. This sort of utopian ‘we are the world’ thinking strikes me as a recipe for disaster, and a projection of a very particular to a certain time and place sort of sentiment as the answer for all times and all places, but I can’t claim any particular insight, so who knows.

    “Tests have shown that suspicious or hostile
    Their lives need not be shortened
    Truth be told, they can live a long, long while
    Tickled to death by their importance”

  19. Ché Pasa permalink
    February 7, 2017

    No Utopia without power and the ability to wield that power without compromise come what may.

    Even with a gloss of ‘democracy,’ in other words, Utopias are by their nature impositions of Rule from On High, at least at any meaningful scale in a technological social context.

    On the other hand, small-scale, minimally or non-technological societies — if not too badly mauled by the dominant society — can sometimes reach a near-Utopian condition on their own, something close to what the Utopians of the dominant society might consider ideal. Much of early Utopianism was based in discoveries about the supposed idyllic lives of Natives in other parts of the world, previously unknown to Europeans, and soon-to-be or already conquered or destroyed by their Betters.

    “Our ethics are monstrous.” Whose ethics? Be specific. If you’re talking about the monstrous ethics of the power – elites and their toadies, that’s one thing. But you can’t accurately apply those ethics to the entirety of any given population or society, because most people won’t even know what the ethical framework of their ruling class is and won’t practice Ruling Class ethics. They may have a common Big Idea — such as Christianity or another religion — but how it is interpreted and practiced is entirely different depending on one’s position in the society. One may discover with shock and surprise how less awful the Lower Orders are and how different they are than their overlords.

    Surprisingly, the kernel of your Utopia may be at your feet.

    I’m old enough to remember when The World of Tomorrow was to be a paradise brought on by technology, machines, unlimited and “safe” nuclear energy, and the eventual triumph of North American style governments, “Judeo-Christian” ethics, and controlled-capitalist economies. A key feature of this World of Tomorrow was the provision of superior living standards and leisure for the working class. It wasn’t just a matter of material benefits — though those were important. It was the idea that health and comfort and time for oneself and one’s family — for the masses — were as important or more important to the well-being of society as a whole.

    It never worked out (because it wasn’t intended to), and we certainly don’t have anything like that now — not for the Lower Orders at any rate. It can’t happen under our current decadent and corrupt political and economic systems, and the vacant space that passes for morality. It’s simply out of the question… Or is it?

    Those systems are unstable and are coming apart. As they do, those who have power and wealth will cling ever more tightly to their advantages no matter what happens to anyone else or to the globe itself. That will merely accelerate the instability and chaos until the systems collapse.

    And then? Given the adaptability of societies and individuals, I’m not entirely sure most people would notice, at least not right away. They might take a system collapse as just another shock in a long, long line of them and carry on almost as if nothing had changed…

  20. someofparts permalink
    February 7, 2017

    One thing that has to be a factor here is the way humans create ourselves. Humans are literally born premature, in the sense that we are not born without a complete set of instincts. In order to walk around on two legs, female humans must have narrower hip spans than our primate cousins. Thus all of us are born premature in terms of having incomplete instincts.

    What we teach new little humans from the very start literally shapes what they will become to an extent not possible for our fellow creatures. Any plan for a better world that does not spot this and address it will crash and burn. This is why I think our Abrahamic belief systems are a critical part of the problem. How can a system that silences and excludes women ever do anything but doom us all?

  21. realitychecker permalink
    February 7, 2017

    “The first rule of creating and maintaining a good world, or a good society, is living in something approximating the truth. If you are delusional, you cannot make good decisions.”

    Well, Ian, IMO you could have stopped right there. Not because there are no important things to be achieved even after we have achieved a state of better truthfulness. But rather because that goal in and of itself is of such grand ambition, of such fundamental importance and also of such difficulty to achieve, that it is pretty grandiose to assume its achievement and then plunge ahead to implement other grand planning.

    So, then, what is the best way to get closer to truth? Many will proclaim their possession of “truth,” only to find themselves immediately beset by arguments that they have missed the mark. And that difficulty, of being able to prove the “bestness” of anything, is inherent in the problem.

    But there is another way, one I endlessly urge on people, and one that is most frequently not picked up on by most.

    That way is, concentrate on identifying falsity, in all its forms, and then reject falsity AND its source whenever you realize that falsity is what has been proffered to you. Virtually all evil depends for its success on convincing others of something that is false.

    If you become skilled at detecting and rejecting falsity, which is relatively easy to do using logic and factual comparision techniques, then by definition what is left is something closer to the truth.

    This technique does not necessarily produce the ideal creative solution in and of itself, but it does have the surpassing virtue of keeping one from wasting unlimited amounts of time and energy by going down the WRONG paths. And if we could just reverse our modern passion for going down all the wrong paths that get presented to us, we would be in a much better place overall, and closer to that thing we want to call truth and ethics (two concepts that should be permanently linked in the minds of any rational human being).

    That has been my mission all along on the Internet, to get people to “reality check” by identifying and rejecting falsity in all its forms, and it takes many, many forms, all of which can be united under the label “mindfuckery.” I don’t claim any great skill in coming up with the “best” creative solution for any of our complex problems, but I will argue that the skill of being able to detect and reject falsity AND ITS SOURCES would quickly bring us all to a much, much better, as in more effective and hopeful, place than we have been mired in for years and years.

    Food for thought?

  22. Billikin permalink
    February 7, 2017

    EmilianoZ: “We say that every human life has value and that all humans were created equal.”

    I believe this is one of the basic tenets of liberalism but not of conservatism.

    So conservatism is anti-American? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. . . .” — Declaration of Independence

  23. someofparts permalink
    February 7, 2017

    I think Chris Hedges is calling for a general strike in response to the Trump regime. He seems to be convinced that if we don’t act now, the civic room to act at all will be gone within six months.

    Meanwhile, at Jacobin, someone responded to such thinking with a big dose of reality-based, historically literate cold water.

    In a world where we would be murdered like dogs and erased from history for attempting to create the marvelous world Ian has described, does a way to get clear of our self-destructive barbarity even exist?

  24. wendy davis permalink
    February 7, 2017

    @ realitychecker: while i have a number of quibbles with ian’s main thesis that would be hard to address in brief, since you reckon he could have stopped after his first two sentences, i have a question. if your mission is to detect falsity, how do you separate that from one’s opinions and beliefs? you say that one can find the truth by “using logic and factual comparision techniques”.

    for instance, i’ve seen you support capitalism here, with a slight nod to ‘a mixed economy’, but could you use your technique to support capitalism per se as a system under which all citizens could be treated justly and fairly, both in the courts, economically, under the inherent class system at play in the US?

  25. Billikin permalink
    February 7, 2017

    It is good to see what is. It is also good to see what may be. Choosing what may be over what is often involves a personal loss. Hence the saying, “Virtue is its own reward,” because the world does not, as a rule, reward virtue. Hence the value of sacrifice, which, in its original meaning, is to make sacred. Virtue often appears to be unrealistic, foolish, irrational.

    Doing the right thing is often impossible. Almost all deeds are imperfect. But doing nothing is seldom right, either. It denies responsibility. Better to sin boldly.

    Yes, we are part of a system, and a system of systems. But, as in all things, we start where we are. Perforce. To the extent that we can, we make the world — our world — better. Brick by brick. Step by step. The universe can take care of itself.

  26. Billikin permalink
    February 7, 2017

    Sorry, I did not quote EmilianoZ correctly. It was someone else whom he quoted about every human life having value and all people being created equal. It was Emiliano who said that conservatism does not agree with that. I should have put that statement in quotes.

    It was I who said that if Emiliano is correct, then conservatism is anti-American.

    Sorry for not being clear.

  27. realitychecker permalink
    February 7, 2017

    @ wendydavis

    Well, Wendy, in all honesty, since you have seen fit on your blog to falsely describe me as someone who wants to “murder everyone he disagrees with,” and who thinks he is the “ultimate arbiter of justice,” I have to conclude that I can never expect to get any honest or sane feedback from you, and so I think the best thing for me to do is ignore you from now on and forever.

    Go and dishonestly paraphrase someone else. You’re dead to me.

  28. Steeleweed permalink
    February 7, 2017

    Maybe it’s time to admit the species is simply defective and will self-eradicate (and possibly eradicate much of the natural world), at least as long as we function in groups higher than Dunbar’s Number.

    There may be hope for related species to improve on our performance. Saw an article on one of the science sites about a troop of primates (forget whether chimps, gorillas, orangutans, whichever). The normal procedure if the Alpha Male dies is for some other male to become Alpha. In one observed case, that didn’t happen. The troop simply began functioning cooperatively, including mating, without anyone dominating. If I could track down the article, I’d be tempted to join them.

  29. StewartM permalink
    February 7, 2017


    So conservatism is anti-American? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. . . .” — Declaration of Independence

    I would say “yes”. Conservatism in the US isn’t that much different than its counterpart in Europe–a distrust of the intellect’s ability to construct a better and more just society, and a deference towards tradition and emotive responses (especially regarding religion and morality). Also inherent in conservatism is a belief in some “natural elite”, and that rule is best left to them. If you hold all these as contrary to the spirit of the Declaration (Lincoln did) then the answer is “yes”.

    I know this doesn’t match all the right’s rhetoric about “liberty” but said “liberty” (as Lincoln once summed up so well) is much more about the wolf’s ability to eat the sheep:

    The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.

    The right is all in a furor when the government steps in to help the poors, but when it steps in to forward largesse to Boeing or Citibank or Exxon-Mobil, not so much.

  30. wendy davis permalink
    February 7, 2017

    @ realitychecker: please don’t imply that you haven’t said those things on these pages over the past few months. well, you did scale it down this week to “they should be sent to a desert island”, but you constantly imply that you know who the bad actors are who should be…terminated. you seem vexed that folks here don’t want to really discuss an armed revoution, but hey: bob avaikan at is calling for one.

    but i doubt you’d be able to put rational thought leading to better ethics as far as capitalism goes, as: capitalism’s purpose is not only to create more capital, but requires a wage slave class as our feudal overlords reap the rewards of our toil. there used to be a bit of recompense for that back in the FDR days when he offered a social safety net partially as a gift to the wobblies and other labor strikers for ending their strikes for the duration of WWII.

    but i guess i’ll just have to live w/ being dead to you, rc. but calling people ‘dry drunks’ and such names may make you dead to others here one day.

  31. Max Osman permalink
    February 7, 2017

    Thanks for getting Somali right, it’s a personal tick.

  32. realitychecker permalink
    February 7, 2017

    So many fools. So many dishonest people. So little time.

  33. realitychecker permalink
    February 7, 2017

    @ wendydavis

    You don’t deserve any clarification, given your disgusting dishonesty, and that slanderous paraphrasings have been your way for years, but here it is, anyway:

    ” . . . you seem vexed that folks here don’t want to really discuss an armed revolution . . .”

    From your own little fingers, I wanted people to have a philosophical discussion about whether and when a revolution might be justified. Period. And why the fuck shouldn’t we? Are we living under the consent of the governed? Is the Declaration of Independence an act of murder?

    You can’t find any actual QUOTES that say what you paraphrase. You just pull your dishonest paraphrasings out of your ass.

    Contrast that with what you paraphrased it as, and then go fuck yourself with a cactus.

  34. Hugh permalink
    February 7, 2017

    Conservatism and liberalism are both lies, both distractions. Both are suffused with a sense of entitlement at the expense of others. Outcomes which are mostly attributable to luck or are heavily subsidized by and dependent on society as a whole are morphed into the just deserts of virtue and merit. It is all a con, a waste of time. What is important is to keep your eyes on the prize, the kind of society we can live with and want to live in. Focus on that. The rest is noise.

  35. Ché Pasa permalink
    February 7, 2017


    Hedges has been saying we’ve got six months before The End for years. He’s a vat-dyed Color Revolutionary — having experienced the thing first hand in Eastern Europe when time was. Make of it what you will. Color Revolutions were not exactly what they were made out to be. Their backchannels, rise and funding were not necessarily spontaneous. That aside, though, they did what they were intended to do — acquire more fertile territory for the spread of neoliberalism. Victory!

    As for Perfesser Gourevitch’s cautionary essay over at Jacobin, it could hardly be more characteristic of the Old Line Socialist mantra: “we’ve been there, we’ve done that, don’t bother.”

    Several general strikes were called during Occupy to no particular effect. The Old Line Socialists claimed then, as they do now, that the activists were doing it wrong, they hadn’t put in the hard work of organizing, they were alienating the working class, yadda yadda, and nothing would work but a revolution of the working class that would smash capitalism once and for all.

    Nobody paid much attention to them, as clearly they hadn’t accomplished anything to speak of in the last 50 years. If anything, capitalism was more ascendant than ever, even in those few Socialist outposts that still survived.

    But Hedges burst into tears calling Occupy — or what he saw of it in New York — “The Revolution!” It had finally come!

    Well, no. Not quite. It could hardly be The Revolution when it wasn’t… sponsored properly.

    Trump himself is making the country ungovernable. He will either be deposed or the whole enterprise will fall to pieces. Or… both.

    And there will be plenty more noise to sort through.

  36. wendy davis permalink
    February 7, 2017

    @ realitychecker: oh, i don’t mind talking about armed revolution. i’ve started a series about the possibilities of the current zeitgeist possibly having created space for an anticapitalist revolutionary movement, although it would have to be global, imo. i’ve gotten bogged down since part I w/ RL and other issues, but i will at least feature the call in one part, although i can’t see they have many actual allies yet.

    there are jut so many links to contend with, imaginings from the few actual leftists still around that taming them into readable parts has me stymied. and of course, almost all of the offerings see that finding common ground among possible/might be likely affinity groups would be the hardest thing, as always. conversations on the ground coupled with building alternatives on the ground sound the wisest to me, along with finding ways to provide basic needs for the most economically oppressed and immiserated, a bit akin to what the black panthers did way back, only…larger. tough rows to hoe, everyone grants, especially as so many of us have wolves always at the door now.

    one can never tell what might light the spark that might lead to more good folks creating a better world intentionally, can one? the army corps just notified congress that it’s granted the permit to finish the DAPL final leg under lake oahe at standing rock. dunno what will come next; a lot of those folks are channeling crazy horse’s hoka hey, it’s a good day to die! now. and whoosh, are the po-po goin’ after those they perceive as ‘leaders’ of the movement.

  37. Willy permalink
    February 7, 2017

    Most people don’t mind being controlled as long as it’s done in ways acceptable to them. We can’t all be chiefs – just the way humanity evolved. But with population and technology always expanding the way it is, it’s getting harder all the time for the disgruntled clansmen to club the defective chief over the head in his sleep.

  38. StewartM permalink
    February 7, 2017


    What is important is to keep your eyes on the prize, the kind of society we can live with and want to live in. Focus on that. The rest is noise.

    But how do you decide what is good, what is desirable, what is important, and by what process you can and should use to get there, without any conceptual framework? Do you conceive it from via deduction(this is how people should behave, let’s construct a society that rewards/punishes people to this end) or induction (this is how people actually seem to behave, let’s construct a society that recognizes this and either allows the behavior or channels it)? So much of political discussion involves “paradigms talking past one another”.

    Western “liberalism”, as I see it, is the product of the Enlightenment (“let’s apply the same scientific method that has proven so effective in knowing the universe to human social problems”). It is largely inductive, allows for experimentation (i.e., “social engineering”), assumes people are the same across time and place (“human nature” is a constant), and tends to use tangible and material measures for success. “Conservatism” is more deductive (“people *should* behave this way, this a priori is right or wrong), elevates what is “moral” or “good” over tangible measures, and may deny that a better society is even possible (“this is as good as you can ever make it, deal with it”). Conservatism at its best (rarely applied) can make a good argument that social structures are like ecosystems, intricately interconnected, and that changing part of a society can have unforeseen and unintended consequences, so care must be taken in making changes. However in practice most conservatives (US at least) are such rabid anti-environmentalists that they shun this argument.

    My point akin to John Maynard Keynes’ quip: ““Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” Where you are coming from and how you judge ‘good’ and ‘success’ drives what you strive for.

  39. Hugh permalink
    February 7, 2017

    StewartM, if our ancestors had had to puzzle over every little thing and turn fairly simple problems into testaments to complexity, they would never have descended from the trees. There is much more that unites us than divides us, but if all we concentrate on are the divisions and differences, we were better off staying in the trees.

  40. brian permalink
    February 7, 2017

    Honestly, all these comments are so … euro-centric, myopic, and contained to only the western ecosystem. You read like it is only the Western system that exists as you discuss how to flip the systems of power in the Western world. Try convincing General Butt-Naked of Liberia about your plans. Or better yet, go to the Hans and try to convince them or even communicate what you’re saying. Frankly, it’s embarrassing to read this.

  41. Willy permalink
    February 8, 2017

    Well, there is that nation best known today for lye soaked fish and floppy ski hats, where it was once fashionable to pillage and rape unarmed Scottish monks. Not sure how that place got turned around, but I think the how may be as important as the what in our quest. I’d suggest we all go over to Gateway Pundit for some pillaging and raping, but we might want to make sure we’ve got all our truths in a row first.

  42. Lisa permalink
    February 8, 2017

    To start you have to get rid of organised religion, in particular the Abrahamic ones have to go.

    Though the Abrahamic ones (Catholicism, the later Protestants and their off shoots as well as Judism and Islam) have some of the worst records around (the ‘christian’ ones are right at the top by a looonngg way of course), many others (such as in India) as as bad.

    Their social programming is built on hatred, violence, discrimination, punishment (especially of children), strict and crippling gender differences, deliberate ignorance and endless hypocrisy and lies.

    Plus maintaining the class, power and economic structures for the benefit of the elites. (No one is more right wing economically than them).

    It is no accident that US Right Wing Authoritarians come predominantly from such backgrounds. Their ‘homosocial’ model of gender relationships and roles means basically psychologically damaging (mostly) males until they become borderline (at least) sociopaths.

    Their modes of behaviour and how they parent means child sexual abuse is endemic amongst them, it is actually an inevitable outcome of their social programming methods (and that hypocrisy again).

    When you have the Pope saying “it is beautiful” about a father physically punishing his child…you know something is really wrong with them. When 7% of Australian Catholic priests (at least) sexually abused children and 50% of them worldwide break their celibacy rules, yet lay down their ‘laws’ for others sexually. When the Russian Orthodox church fights to de-criminalise domestic violence … When the (under investigation) Australian Catholic Archbishop called belief in climate change ‘paganism’ (good ‘christians’ don’t believe in science and love coal) … is there any place for this stuff in a good society?

    So you have got to get rid of them first, drive them out of any influence on society, their institutional hatred of anyone not ‘them’, their homosociality, their neurotic sexuality, their endemic child abuse, their grovelling to elites means you can never have any equality or equitable sharing of resources as long as they have ANY say on society.

    Look back in the 60s/70s in working class socialist Glasgow we all knew religions were our enemy, they always sided with the elites, their aim was social oppression to back up the economic and class oppression.

    A working class person who follows an organised religion is an idiot, working for their own oppression …and that is a male, any female of any level in society that does the same is brain dead..

  43. February 8, 2017

    I believe in in all that you are saying Mr.Welsh.I have studied solutions to the problems that you elucidate.Check out my campaign description.You don’t have to give a penny but please critique my solutions(I think you will find some interesting ideas).This campaign is the culmination of nearly a decade of research(and a lifetime of experience).

  44. StewartM permalink
    February 8, 2017


    Life is complex. Even improving yourself as an individual, let alone as a society, depends on what you define as “good” and what you think is the correct path to get you to “good” and what measures for “good” are appropriate and true. That was just as true for our ancestors too.

  45. Hugh permalink
    February 8, 2017

    StewartM, and if all we are willing to do is wrap ourselves up in sterile definitional exercises we will never get anywhere. In fact, we will never even get started anywhere. All we will do is navel gaze.

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