Skip to content

The Problem with Identity

2015 August 19

We all have an identity, or rather, we all have identities. You may have a religion, a country, a profession, and so on. A Buddhist American Accountant female bisexual Patriots fan.

And so on.

Our identities are both accidents and predetermined. They are accidents of birth–the body we are born with, where we are born, who are parents are; the nature (the body, including the brain) and the nurture (the conditioning we receive through our lives and the physical changes our lives impose on us–starting with nutrition. Few things will screw you up for life faster than bad nutrition as a child).

We take these identities to be who we are in different contexts. You are never more your nationality than when in another country, for example: ex-patriot communities can be very strong and if there aren’t a lot of you, suddenly just coming from the same country is a very strong tie. As a teenager in Bangladesh, I experienced this first-hand. Every Canadian was a potential pal. Anyone who spoke English and was from a western country ranked close.

Within our own countries, we often identify first by what our work is: The first question we ask others is usually, “So, what do you do for a living?” We assume this is important.

One can base their identity on skin color or gender–or the rejection of gender norms.

Identity  is often strongest if the identity is in conflict with society. To be gay in 1950, or Russia today, is defining. To be a public cross-dresser matters. To be dark-skinned in America gets you a ton of unpleasant attention, to be visibly Muslim in Germany the same. Some identities mark you out as a safe target for certain types of aggression: transgenders, women, and black males, for example.

The more people treat you as an identity, the more you either become that identity or react against it. For every gay who makes that integral to who they are, there is one who thinks it shouldn’t be so important, who wants to be recognized for something else. The same for women or those whose skin color isn’t the norm in their country, and so on.

To be proud of an identity one didn’t earn is an odd thing. People who are proud of their heritage always strike me oddly: You didn’t chose your parents or ancestors, of what is there to be proud?

Most people who are religious just belong to their parents’ religion and don’t take it very seriously. If they’d been born in a different religion, they’d be at the same level of engagement.  Again, what is the source of pride?

Likewise, to be proud of your biologically and socially assigned gender seems odd. Did you choose to be male or female? Even if your society has norms that must be met to be a “real man” or “real woman,” well, you just did what almost every other man or woman does.

Proud of your parents? Well, I guess, but, ummm, if anything it should go the other way.

Identity, too often, is little more than tribalism.

It is, however, an advanced form of tribalism.

Humans are wired to operate in groups of up to about 150 people. That’s as many people as most individuals are able to treat as individuals.

You can treat those people as individuals, you can care about them and look after them as individuals. You can trust them because you know each of them individually

To care about more people, you must have an identity in common which allows you to see them as part of your band, and to trust them.

Tribes (the step above bands) did this. Nations did this. Religions did this. The Zeus cult was used to allow people to trade safely together, since they worshiped (and feared) the same God.

To have a shared identity is to belong to a community. There are shared communities everywhere. One woman I know travels the world and finds friends and places to stay because she is a long-time fan of a particular band, and knows other fans.

Identity can become community, and members of communities can care for each other.

The strength of shared identities can pretty much be determined by looking at how much they care for each other or trust each other.

Shared identities leading to caring communities (which can mean caring enough to pick up weapons to defend each other) is the bright side of identity.

The dark side, of course, is that anyone you don’t share an identity with is someone you don’t owe as much care to.

“Not one of us” is one of the most dangerous statements in the world; ostracism is often death. You can see it today in all the refugee deaths: They aren’t “us.” You can see it in the refugee camps, statements of, “We aren’t going to let them become one of us.”

We find ourselves in four types of games. Me against the world. My group against the world. Humanity against the world.

And then there’s “We are the world.”

It is jejune to act as if me against the world, or my group against the world, or even humanity against the world doesn’t work. North Americans and Europeans have higher standards of living than most others because they out-competed many other groups, and that includes “wiped entire other groups out.” They won their wars.  They ruled or bullied almost every part of the world at one point or another.

As individuals we can certainly create “good” lives by out-competing everyone around us. Many people extend this to their own families.

And humanity can use the entire world as its preserve, without caring much (if at all, in practical terms) what happens to other life forms, including ones like dolphins, which are clearly sentient. We can “win” from this, and we have.

But we can also lose by doing this, because we are not isolated from other people, other animals, other plants. Heck, from microbes (especially not from microbes).

How we treat other people comes back to haunt us. We hurt them, they hate us. We make them poor, they pollute, that pollution eventually hurts us. We deny them medicine, they get sick, that sickness pool eventually hurts us.

We treat other beings and, indeed, the unliving world, as something other than us, not caring for them, or for it, and we get climate change. We pollute, which is a win for the industries who do it, and we suffer huge levels of chronic illness.


We do this because we do not identify with other people. America is against Russia, against China. India is against China. Muslims and Christians are against each other. The rich are against the poor.

Blah, blah, blah.

We certainly don’t give a damn what happens to other animals, not in any practical sense; the number of large fish in the ocean, for example, has dropped about 90 percent since the 30s, and the 30s had already seen huge drops. The Grand Banks, off the Canadian Maritimes, in the 15th century, were so rich with fish you could simply drop a bucket in and come up with fish. Today that fishery is gone.

We are killing trees that create the oxygen we need to live. The ocean’s oxygen cycle is in danger.

Our identities, our refusal to identify with everyone, and especially with everything, is going to wind up killing a lot of us. A hell of a lot of us.

But I want you to consider this another way.

What sort of people do you like being around?

I will posit that most people enjoy being with other people who are happy. People tend to be happy when they are healthy, have enough stuff, and do work they enjoy.

Happy people are just way better to live with. Happy people also don’t commit nearly as much violence. Security for others is security for us. Happiness for others is happiness for us. People who are prosperous in the truest sense, which is to say, people who are not scared of losing their prosperity, are generous. (Most people in the world are not prosperous in that sense.)

Identity links us to others, but it also cuts us off from others. We can win from that, as individuals and groups, but we are at the point now, due to limited resources and carrying capacity, where we cannot win as a species that way.

And perhaps we have always lost as a species, and as individuals, if you consider the highest good to be love. For those who truly love, want the best for others.

I recognize in identity the attempt to connect with others, to overcome human limitations. I hear in it the attempt at human choice, when our identities are not the ones approved of by our communities.

But I believe, in the end, that if someone’s most important “identity” doesn’t allow them to identify with all life, that identity has become mal-adaptive to our survival.

Identifying with all life doesn’t mean tolerating all behaviour, rather the contrary, by the way. The problem we have can be boiled down to selfishness, greed being a species of selfishness.

That doesn’t mean people have to live like crap; that’s a myth. Yes, we will need to reduce carbon expenditures and environmental impact and make room for other species, but that can be done in a way that is win/win because we live in ways that are terrible for our health, for our sense of meaning, and for our happiness. We will have to live differently, not worse.

That’s another article, though, but to want to do the right thing, you have to believe it is the right thing. If your identity doesn’t include the rest of humanity, or the rest of life as worthy of life, and a good life, you will not and cannot do the right thing.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

As Corbyn Rolls Towards the British Labour Nomination

2015 August 14
Picture of Jeremy Corbyn

Picture of Jeremy Corbyn

So, Jeremy Corbyn, who believes in re-industrializing England, re-nationalizing the railroads and various other genuine left-wing policies is cruising towards the Labour nomination, leading every poll.

I am, of course, pleased.

Let us examine why:

  1. Neoliberalism has been in charge in England since Thatcher in the 70s. There were some good years, but the simple fact is that most of the population is no better off than before her, and many are worse off. Neoliberalism, for most people in Britain, has failed. Incomes are stagnant or down, university tuitions are way up, universal healthcare is being dismantled, the welfare state is mean and stingy, and increasing amounts of people can’t afford to buy a home where the jobs are (London). Thatcherism, and Blair’s “New Left” has failed.
  2. Corbyn talks like an ordinary human being. He has held to the same principles and policies for his entire life, even when times were against him. It is credible that if elected Corbyn will actually implement those policies. Being yesterday’s man is important, because the media is full of stories about how the younger generations are doing worse than their parents and grandparents.  Sure, Corbyn wants to do stuff that is out of fashion, but those old-fashioned politics, according to the media, worked better than the new-fangled ones.
  3. Labour has lost two elections in a row. Worse, they were wiped out of their Scottish stronghold by the SNP, who won because they ran to Labour’s left.  Contrary to all the squealing from neoliberals like Blair, the evidence is that Labour lost more seats because it was too right-wing, rather than because it was too left-wing.

A lot of Labour politicians and officials are whining about Corbyn, stating that Labor will be wiped out if he wins the election. All that doom-mongering has done nothing I can see to slow Corbyn down. I would go further, I would say that having Tony Blair against him is to his benefit. Labour may have been better than Conservative, but Blair accelerated neoliberal policies, and got Britain into a war that is very unpopular on the Left. The more Blairites blare, the better for Corbyn.

As I noted before, the most important thing for people with genuine belief (and Blair is a true believer) is maintaining control of all parties likely to gain power.  Labour falling would be a major blow to neoliberalism (of which the New Left is part).

I’ll discuss Corbyn’s policies later. They aren’t bad ideas, per se, but as with Syriza (in a much less serious way), I wonder if he understands just what would be required to make them work. The current world economic structure was set up specifically to make sure that the sort of policies which worked in the post-war, liberal period, the sort of policies Corbyn wants to institute, can’t work. Indeed, they aren’t even allowed by the various, existing trade agreements.

In the meantime, barring something major, I expect Corbyn will be the new Labour leader. And I expect he will be the next Prime Minister of Britain, because Cameron is going to keep driving most Britons’ standard of living into the ground.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The Control of Parties and the Rise and Fall of Ideologies

2015 August 14

All political parties have ideological beliefs. If it seems a party does not, it generally means they accept the status quo (invisible as an ideology) or they are a cult of personality, which is still an ideological position.

(Originally published May 19, 2015. Back to the top as it’s very relevant – Ian.)

For those who hold an ideological position which does not control the current majority party, the job is to keep a party firmly in an alternative ideology.

In first-past-the-post systems, there are often two or three parties which are viable. In most places with real democracy, parties do not have more than two or three terms, then the public grows tired of them and votes for the second party.

If your ideology controls the second party, odds are strong you will eventually wind up in power, simply due to public fatigue with the current party.

Therefore your job, as a left-winger, right-winger, or whatever, is to keep control of that party. This takes precedence over winning the most immediate election. Winning by becoming a lite version of the other ideology does not serve you. Having the second (or every) party be neo-liberal is not in the interests of anyone but neo-liberals.

If you are the first party, of course, it is your job to make it so that the second party (and however many other parties there are, if possible) accept the postulates of your ideology. As many have noted, Margaret Thatcher was not successful so much because of her policies, but because Labour came to adopt her policies as well, just somewhat watered down.

There is no alternative

– Margaret Thatcher

Now, what was said about second parties is true of third parties and so on, all the way down. The New Democratic Party (socialist, labor-based) came from virtually nowhere in Alberta to win because they still existed. They will be able to raise corporate taxes and so on because they remained true to some socialist principles. Though I have grave disagreements with Syriza, they are in power because they still exist and came out strongly against austerity. They could have watered that down–and they would have been in power sooner.

The Communist Party in Greece, castigated by many for not joining Syriza, was correct not to do so: They did not believe that Syriza would do what was necessary, or what they believed in, so they did not join.

The Liberal-Democrats in England killed themselves by joining the Tories as a minority partner. They gave into almost everything the Conservatives wanted, and, as a result, were seen as “Tory-Lite.” No reason to vote for them.

Let me put this precisely: The job of a political party is either to get a few specific people into power, or it is to offer a clear option to the voters. If it is the latter, then your job is to make sure that this option you offer remains available. In many cases, if you do so, you will get into power fairly soon—after two to three terms. In other cases, if you are a minor party, it may take decades.

If you genuinely believe in your policies, in your ideology, whatever it is, then that is fine. The public has a right to choose, you just make sure they have a real choice and not a menu that is all of the same.

Every ideology fails. Every one. There will always be a point where people are hungry for something else, and you will be there.

Then, once in power, your job is simply to show that your ideology can work. If you fail to do so, the public is entirely justified in throwing you back out. Of course, an ideology being badly implemented once or twice does not mean it is necessarily flawed, it may just mean it was badly executed or that the circumstances were not right for it to succeed. You will need to evaluate which of these is the case before you dedicate your life to such an ideology and fight to keep your party aligned with that ideology.

An ideology can lose for a long time before it wins. The Greens and the Pirates have won little, but that does not mean they might not be the parties of the future. Old parties can become new parties: Labour was not always neo-liberal; in Canada, the Liberal party under Justin Trudeau is directly opposed to many of the policies of his father in the 70s and early 80s. (Trudeau elder having introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms Justin had the Liberal party vote to largely abrogate.)

Neo-liberals should fight to keep Labour in England and Liberals in Canada neo-liberal. Those who support other ideologies can fight to change those parties; fight for other parties, or create new parties.

In all cases, again, the job is to provide a clear choice for the population, someone to vote for. (This is why I dislike purely regional parties, though obviously that problem is hard to avoid if your mandate is independence. It is a pity the Scottish Nationalist Party could not have run nationally–perhaps all of Britain should join Scotland.)

Party control, in any case, and in many democracies, and especially one where structures favor having only two or three major parties, is generally more important than winning any individual election. Most anything your opponents do can be undone if you get into power and still believe in undoing it. Again, this is why Thatcher won by changing Labor–because the old Labour party would have just undone virtually everything she did.

What we have had, now, for about 40 years, is a right-ward ratchet: A very right wing party gets in power and does radical things or a moderate neo-liberal party like Labour or the Democrats gets in power and basically accepts the status quo, with very minor rollbacks, and continues the rightward drift in most areas.

Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall, pushed through NAFTA, started the no-fly list, and heavily restricted welfare. Obama ramped up the drone program, went after whistle-blowers far more than Bush ever did, and is, in general terms, far worse on civil liberties than even George W. Bush.

Stopping ratchets means keeping control of the party which will be back in power eventually. This is hard to do, after two consecutive losses, a party will begin to believe it needs to become like its opponents to win. This was true of the Republicans in the 40s as much as it is true of Democrats after Reagan and Bush Sr. or as much as it was true of Labour after Thatcher and Major.

If you have lost the battle for the second party, then (while maintaining an outpost there for a future takeover attempt), you should find a third party to champion your cause. You will not be able to stop the ratchet effect (left, right, totalitarian, permissive, or whatever). But when the ideology fails, as it will (I guarantee this, it is not in question, only matter of time), then you will have another fair shot at power. You may not succeed, new ideologies may arise to supplant you, or other problems may stymy you, but you will have your shot.

Keep control of parties. If you cannot, create them.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Why Trump, Corbyn and Sanders Are Doing Well

2015 August 12

Let’s state the obvious about Trump.

No, not that he’s a joke, or a sign of fascism, or any of that.

Rather that a lot of what he says makes sense. His policies aren’t as crazy as people make out, and people who support him aren’t as stupid as the media pretends.

  • He doesn’t want to cut Social Security. Jeb Bush does. Obama has talked this up.
  • He wants full universal healthcare. Yeah, he badmouths Obamacare, but he’s badmouthing it from a position of, “Give them the real thing.”
  • His idea of returning manufacturing to the US and doing bilateral trade deals is not insane, or crazy, except to neo-liberal apologists and people too stupid to realize they’ve imbibed the economic philosophy of neo-liberalism, whose results have been the stagnation and then absolute decline of ordinary American wages. This is how capitalism worked for about half of capitalism’s history. Disagree if you like, but it’s not crazy.
  • His idea of simplifying the tax code enough so that ordinary people don’t need professionals to fill out their tax forms is a good one. Jimmy Carter, by the way, wanted to do the same thing.

I’m not a fan of Trump, there are plenty of reasons why he’s problematic, but he’s actually an economic populist on many issues. People shouldn’t overlook that this comes married to some nasty nativism, but I’m tired of people who are lumping all parts of the Trump campaign together.

Populist, nativist, runs off at this mouth.

And folks, he told the truth about buying politicians.

Trump is doing well because he is telling some truths other politicians won’t, and because his actual policies sound good to right-wing populists. Populists have been divided into right and left for a long time, but it’s feelings that matter to right-wing populists. Trump comes across as a straight shooter and that’s why they’ll vote for him. (It is also why many of them will cross the lines to vote for Sanders if he’s the Democratic nominee and Trump isn’t the Republican one.)

Anyone who feels like a “run-of-the-mill” politician loses big points in the current environment, because people feel like normal politicians are why we’re here, in this shithole economy, with no end in sight and plenty of reason to believe it could get a lot worse.

Sanders, Trump, and Corbyn in England (whom I’ll write about in a bit) are all doing well because of this dynamic. People are sick of the status quo and they will take a chance with anyone who is willing to actually bloody well try something different than the usual. And because most people don’t parse just on policy positions (nor should they, since politicians lie), what they are looking for are candidates who don’t act like the normal candidates and who therefore might actually do something different.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Further Notes on Meditation and Cultivation

2015 August 11
by Ian Welsh

One of the great problems with most commentators on religion, spirituality, and even philosophy is that they have not cultivated. If you have not seriously cultivated (which includes more than meditation), your odds of understanding what the founders of the great religions were trying to do are small.  You cannot understand philosophers with attainments, and you certainly can’t understand the mysticism.

Kali standing on Shiva's corpse

Kali standing on Shiva’s corpse

Such people are reduced to literalism, or to muttering about hallucinations and delusions. They listen to Socrates, through Plato, saying “no man knowingly does evil” and can only say “this is nonsense”—which it is, if you’re unenlightened, because what certain enlightened people mean by knowledge isn’t what ordinary people take as knowledge.

Let’s start there: Socrates was known to freeze in place and lose all sense of the outer world. This is most likely Samadhi, a type of (very deep) trance state. Buddhists list three types, but anyone who can do even the lowest is an advanced adept.

Krishnamurti claimed that to him moral facts were facts in the same way that physical facts are. If you see a train bearing on you, you jump out of the way. When moral facts are perceived the same way, known the same way, that knowledge is very different from your knowledge that “I shouldn’t kill.”

No one who knows moral facts in that way does wrong if they can possibly avoid it. All knowledge prior to that is not knowledge in the sense that an advanced adept means the word.

In fact, such adepts will tell you that you really don’t know anything. Nothing. This is very common in Buddhism. The world is illusion, mediated through the senses and the mind, both of which are inherently unreliable. You know nothing.

The Delphic Oracle said that Socrates was the wisest man in Greece. He said it was because other people thought they knew something, but he knew he knew nothing. (Careful reading of the dialogues will indicate he did believe he knew some things, but not in the way ordinary people do.)

What are the early Socratic dialogues about? Proving to other people that they don’t know anything.

This is similar to Zen Koans: The idea is to break people’s conditioning and mental models. When you realize that intellectual thought can’t actually grasp true knowledge and stop trying, you create space to actually understand. (More on this further down.)

Let us step to another matter: “Turn the other cheek.” Another common enlightenment experience is that other people are you. Everyone is just a mask on the same underlying reality: God, Awareness, the Tao, whatever. We are the same entity. If you hit yourself does it make sense to hit yourself again in response? To someone who literally perceives everyone in the world as themselves the idea of responding to violence with violence is counterproductive, insane.

Progress on the cultivation path requires learning how to stop paying attention. If you watch your mind, you’ll notice that your attention is always somewhere. On what you’re reading, on what you’re seeing, on what you’re feeling, on the thoughts rushing through your head, on your worries for the future, your regrets for the past, and so on.

Various practices, not just meditation, strive to teach you to not have your attention anywhere. Try it, right now. Try to pay attention to nothing. Unless you’re quite extraordinary, or have done a lot of work, I doubt you can: Your attention’s always somewhere. Maybe you can put it nowhere briefly, for a few seconds. If so that’s actually impressive, most people can’t.

In order to investigate what you actually are, you have to stop paying attention to anything, including your thoughts and feelings.

So the cultivation path spends a ton of time on this. Let’s run through some ways.

Teaching You to Notice and Control Your Awareness.

This is your breath watching —anapana, or a variety of other exercises. You put your attention on something, and you keep it there. Beginners can’t do this for any length of time. Thoughts distract them, itches catch their attention, sounds demand notice, in time one’s heartbeat roars. Once you can put your attention where you want and keep it there, you’re closer to being able to put it nowhere–if there aren’t too many distractions.

Mindfulness Meditation

In mindfulness meditation, you watch your thoughts but don’t get involved in them. As you do so, they tend to die down, but they rarely go away entirely. This isn’t about getting rid of thoughts, though that’s a bonus to whatever extent it happens, it is about learning to, yes, pay no attention to them. And because so many people think they ARE their thoughts, it is about learning that you aren’t your thoughts. If you can pay attention to something, it isn’t you.

Karma Yoga

The God Krishna said that one has the right to one’s work, but not to the results. To a secular type, this sounds horrible, but what he’s saying is this: Don’t worry about it. Do good work, don’t worry about the results, because so much of that is not in your hands. You plant the crops, the rain doesn’t come in time, you get a bad crop. You do your best on the exam, there’s no point in worrying about results.

Confucius told people to do the right thing, but not worry about how doing the right thing worked out in the world. Same idea, and when you also know what the right thing to do is without having to think about it, “never steal, never kill, give charity, do what your father says, etc…” well you also don’t have to think much about what to do. Make most daily behaviour between people ritual “bow x depth to person of Y rank, greet them with z words” and so on, well, a lot more decision making is taken away. You don’t need to think about this, or worry that you did it wrong. Mental space is cleared.

Vows of Poverty, Silence and Monastic Codes

By now you’re getting the idea: more stuff you don’t have to worry about.  Friars or Mendicant monks (like most Buddhists and many Hindu Sanyasan) eat what they are given by people.  That’s it.  They own nothing beyond their clothes and begging bowl, and they don’t work.  They don’t have children to worry about, they no longer care for their parents.  Whole vistas of thought and worry and emotions are cut off.

There are innumerable practices like this. They all reduce cognitive and emotional load.

Who Are You?

Who you are is known: You are awareness. But actually identifying with awareness beyond an intellectual way is damn hard. You reduce all the stuff above to create space, but it is also often necessary to reduce attachments significantly. Mindfulness meditation, as noted, teaches you that you aren’t your thoughts. Vispassana, where you concentrate on body parts or sensations teaches you that you aren’t those parts. You concentrate on a pain in your toe and ask, “Am I that pain?” You concentrate on your heart, your head, your little finger, whatever, “Am I this?” No, you are whatever is aware of the sensation, body part, or sensation.

Then you start doing the same thing with sight and hearing, with things outside your body. Am I that? Of course you aren’t. But in time you begin to wonder what’s so different about that which is “outside” your body, “outside” your mind and that which is inside. Is any of it really “outside?”

You aren’t anything your senses show to you. You are nothing you think. You are nothing you feel. The discriminating intellect can figure this out just through reason, but most people can’t make the leap from that to the experience that you are none of these things, you are the awareness in which all these things reside.

Layers of Enlightenment Experience

There are a lot of different experiences on the enlightenment path. Let’s run through a few.


Hang out in certain cultivation circles and you’ll often overhear the phrase: “There is nothing you can do.” This is deceptive, but it’s a common experience. Krishna talks about this, that the enlightened person does nothing. The actual experience is that your body moves without you, you think without volition, you make decisions without volition, and so on.

Let me point out that this is congruent with science. Scientists can tell when you’ve made a decision, and it happens before “you” are consciously aware of it. In the early enlightenment your mind, your ego, starts perceiving this, and it interprets it as “I didn’t decide to that!” Some people really hate this experience, for reasons I trust are obvious. This isn’t the final enlightenment experience, which for many, reintegrates. Instead it is a point where you don’t identify as what you truly are, awareness, but become aware that your ego/mind is not actually calling the shots.

Everything Is In Me

This experience usually comes after non-doership. Everything except other people is seen as being inside of you. The monitor, the mouse, the walls, the buildings, they are all you. This is supposed to be a wonderful experience, akin to being master of all you see. It’s all you!

Of course it is all you, and it always was. That doesn’t mean it has no independent existence (though it doesn’t seem like it does), this is direct perception of neurological fact: Everything you perceive is through your various senses, which are interpreted by your brain (and maybe a non-physical mind, though you need not believe that). Everything you ever experience is a representation of an outside you can never directly perceive. (Kant: You never know the thing as it is.)

At this point you are experiencing the world as inside you because your only experience of the world is inside you, that’s all.

Cutting the Senses

One of the Yogic goals is to learn how to shut down all the senses. Sense, touch, kinaesthetic, etc… When you do this, what you get is a sense of infinite whiteness. It is very similar (perhaps identical) to many near-death experiences. Certain parts of the brain shut down. The idea here is simple enough: Shut off all senses, see what remains. Cut off the part of the brain that keeps time, and even more mind-bending experiences occur. If you’re a careful thinker you’ll understand why this is valuable.

Causeless Joy

Most of what I’ve written about I haven’t experienced, or I’ve barely touched the edges. I’ve had episodes of this, however. Here’s the odd thing, and I don’t know the reason for it, but when you stop attaching to anything, stop worrying about anything, you get absurdly happy for no goddamn reason. Confucius talked about this, he said that when you acted without worrying about consequences and always acted morally, you would be happy. I’ve never been able to stay there for more than a day at a time, but it’s a very nice place to be, and many adepts manage to sit there permanently. (Also common is to start feeling love for everyone, again with no discernible cause. This is VERY different from what we normally call love, which is contingent, even with our children, but especially with romantic love. I’ve experienced this, though not for any lengthy periods.)

Identification with Awareness

As best I can tell when you actually identify with awareness you avoid suffering.  This is that level. Awareness never suffers. Everything, including pain, happens in awareness, but awareness is not affected or changed by it. This is the part where the advanced adepts start talking about how it’s not this, not that. It has no characteristics, it is affected by nothing, but it creates everything. It is uncreated, blah, blah, blah.  Doesn’t mean you can’t experience pain, and you may do a lot of screaming, but it isn’t suffering, it’s just pain and once it is done, it is done. At this level you really get that everything is ephemeral; that everything ends, that there’s no point in clinging to anything, etc, etc.  No, I’m not there.

Everyone Is One

Common high level experience as noted above. Of course, by common we aren’t actually talking a lot of people, but it has been reported by many of the great masters. Nope, never been even close, myself.

God Identification

There are a couple different levels of this. The first seems to be identification with a specific concept of God, the second is God as cosmic awareness, as all that is, the eternal within everything else resides. Never experienced this, not close to it, and the writing on it is ambiguous. But it is dead common for Yogis, Saints, and mystics of high attainment to say “I am God.”

Religion and Cultivation

The great religions appear to have all been created by people who were advanced on the cultivation path. You can look at them and see the influence.

Prayer, Especially Repetitive Prayer

Ever been told to say 100 Hail Marys? Seen people counting off prayers with prayer beads? This is mantra meditation, which tends to still the mind if done long enough.

Confession and Absolution

Ok, God has forgiven you your sins, so you can stop worrying about it, got it?


Food is one of the hardest things to stop clinging to. Perhaps you should go without food for a while and see it’s not so big a deal. (Note that Mohammed put this into Islam in a big way through Ramadan.)


It’s not that there is anything wrong with sex, but constantly thinking about sex gets in the way of detachment. So, spend enough time not having sex to get over it.  This is also why same sex monastic communities are common: most people are heterosexual, and the less they see of people they find sexually attractive, the easier it is to get over sexual desire.

Buddha is reputed to have said that if there were two desires as strong as sex no one would ever enlighten.

There are also some technical reasons for not having sex or masturbating which may have some validity.

Trust in God, Master, or Guru

We covered this above, but again, if you put your trust in God or Guru and just do what they say, it reduces a pile of worry, decisions, and so on. Of course, this trust can be deeply abused, and I’d never swear obedience to a Guru, but the system has worked for many.

Make No Images of God

If you’re meditating on God (common on the devotional path, noted below), it’s best to have no image, because otherwise you’re meditating on a picture, rather than on something that has no characteristics. (If you can meditate on a God with no characteristics this is incredibly valuable and you will make progress fast.)

Final Notes

You can be a straight atheist or agnostic and progress as a cultivator. The final step in cultivation is often said to be “the end of spirituality.” This is one meaning  of Kali standing over a dead Shiva: The end of spirituality. There is no need to believe in God (though you can conceive of awareness in the broadest sense as God. But you can also call it many other things). What does seem to be a common experience, however, amongst the highest adepts is the idea that your true self is eternal– not immortal, but eternal.

The main things to understand here are: a) the process of learning to pay attention to nothing, and; b) that the experience of enlightenment genuinely changes how you experience and perceive yourself and the world. Enlightenment is not intellectual knowledge, though intellectual knowledge IS helpful on the path, despite what many say.

You can get there a bunch of ways. Often the path is divided in two: the path of discrimination (eliminating everything you aren’t, and attachment to it, till all that is left is what you are), and the path of devotion, in which you trust completely in God and Guru till you are so detached and worry free that you can also see the truth. (The last step on this path is the infamous, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him point,” but you have to be damn advanced before you need to kill your Gods. Until then, God is a great crutch.)

When you have some understanding of the enlightenment path you can re-read the great religious-mystics with a new eye, and you can actually understand much of what they were trying to do with the rules set up for religion. Many of these rules were cultivation practices meant to give ordinary worshippers a chance at some real attainment. You can understand that when a mystic with real attainment tells you to “Treat your neighbour as yourself” he or she is really thinking, “They are you, but you’ll never believe it, so just treat them that way for now.” You understand why they want you to put your faith in God. And so on.

May the world open before you.

(For the record, I am not enlightened.)

Further Reading

Some Notes on Meditation

Personality and Destiny


If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

So You Want to Understand the World? A Reading List

2015 August 7
by Ian Welsh

On occasion, I get requests for reading lists. Here’s one, not exhaustive.

Olson, Mancur.  “Power and Prosperity”

This book is really about information and the failings of both central planning and market economies. There is an extended discussion of why the USSR both worked and then didn’t. This explanation is easy to apply to late capitalism if you have a bit of imagination. Folks go on about oil prices and so on, but if the USSR’s economy had been working properly an oil price collapse would not have taken it out.

This book is also good as a study of the way people at the peripheries always try to manage the center (or up). You can never trust the information from people who have incentives to manage information.

Jacobs, Jane. “The Economy of Cities” and “Cities and the Wealth of Nations”

These two volumes are really one extended book. This is an extensive examination of how innovation happens, why it usually happens in cities, the beginning of agriculture and the way cities affect non-city areas and how those areas affect cities back.  It is also good for a diagnosis of what goes wrong with cities at a higher level than her “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

Virtually everything Jacobs wrote will reward you for reading it, but start with these two. Also, even combined, it’s shorter than Death and Life.

Machiavelli, Niccolo.  “Discourses on Livy” and  “The Prince”

Read BOTH. Do not just read the Prince. It is incomplete without the Discourses. The two are essentially pieces of one work. I recommend the Penguin edition because Bernard Crick’s forward is particularly good and balanced. Machiavelli deals with both popular and aristocratic Republics as well as Principalities. Some of this is dated, but a remarkable amount is eternal. If you want to understand the role of conflict to keep a State alive, the question of personality, the matter of selecting leaders, and so on, Machiavelli is the place to start. You probably won’t like a lot of it – Machiavelli wrote during a period when Italian cities were being sacked regularly, a violent and rapacious period, and his lessons are hard. But he is a believer in freedom, and it is important to understand his pragmatic arguments for Republics.

As you read it, apply it to modern societies. Oh, and Machiavelli gets a fair bit of the history wrong, but as Crick notes, it’s not a big deal. Evaluate his hypotheses yourself.

Collins, Randall. “A Guide to Non-Obvious Sociology”

This is a nice short book, and it covers topics like crime and religion that most people don’t understand how to evaluate properly.

Collins, Randall. “Max Weber: A Skeleton Key”

This is the best introduction to Weber, especially his economic thinking, that I’ve read, and an excellent antidote to the Parsonian emphasis on “The Protestant Ethic” which misrepresents Weber. In particular, Weber’s look at how status, class, and wealth interplay is important. It may be fashionable to sneer at his theories about how ideas and religious life affected economic life, but I believe they are still important.

Polanyi, Karl. “The Great Transformation”

How did capitalistic industrialization happen? Hint: People didn’t embrace it, because early industrial capitalism was shit. It was literally worse, far worse, than being a serf. People had to be forced off the land and made to work by Marx’s whip of hunger. Understanding how it happened is really, really important. If you don’t understand how capitalism and industrialization occurred, you understand neither. We sneer at Luddites, but if you had fight in you and were a worker, you’d have been one too.

Hall, Peter.  “Cities in Civilization”

Ok, here’s your door-stopper. Hall covers the golden ages of cities from Athens thru Berlin and onto modern London. Each section is a serious analysis of how a particular city really worked; but by that he means much more than city. For example, the section on Berlin basically covers how Prussia industrialized. This book will reward more than one reading, and it shows that there are a lot of different ways to create Golden Ages. When you can recognize both the differences and the similarities, you’ll have gotten what the book has to offer.

Flannery and Marcus. “The Creation of Inequality”

A magisterial survey of societies from the virtually completely egalitarian to the most inegalitarian with an eye to how we went from being “hopelessly egalitarian” to extremely stratified societies. Most people don’t read enough anthropology, and what they do read isn’t in context. This will cure you of both problems, and the details of the societies make for fascinating stories besides. Not a short book.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. “The Spirit Level.”

This is the book that glues the thesis “inequality is bad for everyone including people at the top” to the door with superglue.  The data is extensive, conclusive and absolutely brutal. Because inequality is the subject du jour, this is required reading, and demolishes the argument that what matters is just “what people have,” and not their position relative to others in their society.

Ha-Joon Chang. “Bad Samaritans”

There are a lot of books telling you why neo-classical and neo-liberal economics are bunk. This is the most accessible of the bunch, and maybe the best I’ve read. It concentrates mainly on how countries industrialize and why the standard advice does not work.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.  “The Age of Roosevelt” series.

The transition to the New Deal economy is extraordinarily important for us to understand. We have seen the transition from the post-war economy (essentially a modified New Deal economy) to neo-liberalism if we’re old enough. We’ve seen the left to right; but not the right to left.  This is a long work, but it rewards the reading and is particularly good on explaining how Roosevelt iterated: If one thing didn’t work, he’d try something else. (h/t @mathewstoller).

Concluding Remarks and Further Reading

I don’t have access to my full library right now, so this is a sketch of a list. But it will still reward your reading. I’ll note that you can’t understand 20th century history without understanding Freud and Marx. Lenin is very brief and as such there’s no reason not to read him. The same is true with Freud, who is a good writer besides. As for Marx, well, a collection of excerpts can work, or you can find any number of good summaries. You aren’t reading to agree, you are reading to understand the people who created the intellectual background of an entire century, without whom you cannot understand the rest, including the vast majority of literary fiction in the mid-20th century and the “serious” plays.

Everyone should also read a good translation of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”.  Read Mao on guerilla warfare (you can find this online, it is brief.)  Read Marshall DuSaxe “My Reveries Upon the Art of War” because people need to understand how terrible early firearms were (and DuSaxe is an entertaining writer.)  Military history in general is important, in particular you need to understand the affect of military technology on society and vice-versa.  There are weapons technologies which tend to produce egalitarian societies (close order infantry weapons, mass conscription weapons life firearms, for example) and those which tend to produce inegalitarian societies.

You may hate religion, but you cannot understand Western thought if you have not read the Bible.

Pick up a book of Plato’s dialogues and suck it up, they’re actually well-written. For a general introduction to Western philosophy, Bertrand Russel’s “History of Western Philosophy” is a good start, you can grab what he doesn’t cover later. Remember that he’s an analytical philosopher, but he’s still good at covering what you need to know.

At some later point I’ll post some introductory texts to Chinese and Indian thought. These traditions are as rich as Western thought, and for most of history they were more technologically advanced than us. For now, just note that Western Philosophy and Eastern took decidedly different turns: Much of Eastern philosophy is concerned with the actual experience of consciousness through  mind- and body-altering disciplines. They are supplements to meditation, breathing exercises, and so on, and are hard to understand if you don’t take that into account. Even someone as secular as Confucius is offering a system which has significant elements of cultivation culture within it (for example, it has the equivalent of the Bhagavad-Gita’s “Karma Yoga,” where you do the right thing no matter the results. It also has thought auditing, an active style of meditation where you stop all non-virtuous thoughts.)

A more complete reading list would also deal with fundamental issues of human nature and would have a reading list for psychology, mass psychology, and neuroscience. For now, start with Antonio Damasio’s “Descartes Error,” read Irving Goffman’s “Interaction Ritual,” and peruse a copy of “The Sociological Imagination” by C. Wright Mills. For feminism, I suggest Simone deBeauvoir’s “The Second Sex,” which I have found touches on almost all issues that later feminists raise. These will get you off to a good start.

Remember also that much that seems social includes physical roots.  Climate change, for example, had a lot to do with the French Revolution and Dark thru Middle Ages history can be read to the accompaniment the weather records.

And you must understand the change from hunter-gatherer societies to horticultural and agricultural societies as well as the cycle between them and nomadic or barbarian societies.  There are no good works on the latter that I am aware of, unfortunately, understanding tends to arise from reading the history.  Understand that much of this is due to economies of violence and disease.  Hunter-gatherers lose because of these factors even though hunter-gathering is generally a much more pleasant way to live than most agricultural societies.

Take a look at the physical geography of change: how did steam power spread, what did it demand?  How does this differ from the wind and water revolution that preceded it?  How do soil, climate and planting technology work together to configure society?  Why did Greeks, who made toy steam engines, not industrialize? (It’s not just about slaves.)

Please feel free to include other books you think worth reading in comments.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

What the Final Retreat Did to Greece’s Government

2015 August 5

This bit from Ballast’s interview with Kouvalakis is important:

Some people suggest that Tsipras is buying time, and waiting for the Spanish general elections in November in order to have Pablo Iglesias’s support – that he is counting on a Podemos victory. Do you think that’s credible?

This type of argument is obviously false. In signing this agreement, Greece has been subjected to a straitjacket far worse that which the previous memorandums imposed. It is an institutional mechanism for putting the country under supervision and dismembering its sovereignty. It is not simply a matter of a list of very harsh austerity measures, as the naïve might imagine, but also means structural reforms that will reshape the core of the state apparatus: the Greek government is effectively losing control of the main levers of state power. The tax system will become a so-called ‘independent’ institution; in fact it is passing into the Troika’s hands. A budgetary policy council is being established, with the authority to impose automatic budget cuts if there is the least sign of Greece not meeting the surplus targets fixed in the memorandums. The statistics agency is also going to be ‘independent’, which in reality means that it will turn into an apparatus for the real-time surveillance of public policies – an apparatus directly controlled by the Troika. And all of the public assets that it is considered possible to privatise have been placed under the control of a body run by the Troika.

Now lacking in any control over their budgetary and monetary policy, Greek governments of any coloration will now be deprived of any means of action. The only thing that will remain under the control of the Greek state is the repressive apparatus. And we can clearly see that it is beginning to be used like it was before; that is, in order to repress social mobilisations.

Of course you can always end this sort of thing as long as you still control the police and military. But it does mean that any transition will be a bloody mess: You have to re-seize control, the people in the ministries aren’t likely to be loyal to you, you have to figure out who is loyal and fire the rest, then you have to bring in new people and try to implement your plan. It’s widely stated that the Greek civil service is corrupt, but this civil service will be disloyal.

Those who call this a coup are right. Once upon a time Germans had to fight to conquer Greece. Not this time.

The rest of the interview is worth reading: Kouvalakis notes that Syriza under Tsirpas went in without any backup plan in the event that “perhaps the Troika won’t give us a good deal just because we ask nicely and make good arguments.” Many people in Syriza thought this was a terrible idea, they were all overruled.

Tsirpas keeps looking worse and worse.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

The Writ Is Dropped and the Canadian Election Is On!

2015 August 2

Prime Minister Harper has dropped the writ. The campaign is about twice normal length, with the election on October 19th, a bet on Harper’s part that his money advantage and superiority in third party money will matter more in a longer campaign.

Harper’s been PM for ten years, though only since the last election has he had a majority government. He’s changed Canada significantly. Economically, he ended the mixed economy policy which had been Canada’s strategy for well over 100 years, letting manufacturing wither on the vine, while doubling down on resources. He invited in record numbers of guest workers, and his government underwrote residential mortgages, leading to a housing bubble which is now, in relative terms, almost twice as large as America’s was when it popped.

The result of all of this is the worst economic showing of any Prime Minister in post-WWII history. Tying the Canadian economy so heavily to oil and other resources turns out to have been a bad bet.

Harper has also instituted what might be called the “paranoid style” of governing. Ministers are on a short leash, and scientists and bureaucrats are not allowed to speak to the press without going through the government.

All of the Conservative Party’s victories have seen cheating by the Conservative Party, with multiple criminal investigations. In response to this, Harper removed Election Canada’s mandate to investigate electoral fraud, and its mandate to encourage turnout.

In civil liberties, Harper has annulled about half of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with the aid of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Pierre Trudeau, who ran Canada in the ’70s and into the early ’80s.

Justin was leading in the polls from the moment he was selected Liberal leader until he had his party vote for bill-C51, the bill which gutted Canadians’ civil liberties. That decision saw the New Democratic Party, the only one of the big three parties to oppose the bill, swing into first place, a lead it has kept in most (but not all) polls, marginally, since then.

Traditionally, the NDP has been the third party. In the last election, under the charismatic Jack Layton, it surged to second place, but after Layton’s death from cancer and the coronation of Trudeau, it has been solidly in the third place.

This is an important election for Canada. If the NDP wins, and especially if it forms a majority government, there will be changes that matter. One shouldn’t overstate them; Mulcair, the NDP’s leader, has gone out of his way to reassure the business community. But Mulcair has also been consistent in his attachment to the environment, in his dislike of the tar sands, in his understanding of Dutch Disease, and the mixed economy. He has promised not to raise the retirement age, and on a variety of other neo-liberal agenda items, he has been in opposition. He has also promised to abolish Canada’s unelected Senate, and to move to some form of mixed-representative government (some geographic seats, some party list seats.)

Canadians, overall, are tired of Harper, mostly because of the economic news but also in part due to his paranoid style of ruling (and it is ruling). However, Harper’s support is concentrated geographically in the West and southern Ontario, and it is certainly possible he could still win.

The current dynamic is mostly about Trudeau’s liberals shooting at the NDP, the NDP shooting at the Conservatives with a few shots back at the liberals, and the Conservatives mostly concentrating fire on Mulcair.

For as long as I’ve been alive, the Liberals have always told people to vote strategically: to vote Liberal to keep Conservatives out, because Liberals had the best chance of winning. It is delightful to see the shoe on the other foot now.

We’ll see how it plays out. I think the odds slightly favor the NDP, but there’s a long campaign ahead, and I expect the Conservative party to cheat. If it comes down to only a few seats, as it probably will, that cheating could make the difference.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


US Corruption vs. World Corruption

2015 July 31
by Ian Welsh

One of the most hilarious things to me is Americans whacking other countries for being corrupt.  Russia is a favorite target, but the US abuses virtually every non-Western country for “corruption.”

I’ve pointed out before that this is absurd. There is no more corrupt country in the world than the US. The bank bailouts were pure corruption, performed even though a supermajority of the population was against them, even though the banks had broken the law systematically, and even though the banks were bankrupt due to decisions they knew were corrupt, illegal, and (yes), stupid.

The US election system is flagrantly corrupt, with billions of dollars of direct and indirect donations from the rich. You buy supper with a candidate for thousands of dollars a plate. You buy White House access with much larger donations. Third party PACs spend hundreds of millions.

The bribery in the US is legal. Legal. That does not mean it is not bribery. That does not mean it is not corruption. This system was arranged by the monied classes to ensure that politicians owe them and do not harm them, and that they continue to pass laws and take actions which help them.

The regulatory class is completely owned. There is a revolving door between Wall Street and the Treasury and Federal Reserve, for example, and Wall Street pays far better. When senior officials leave, they get jobs from those whom they regulated, or give speeches for six figures a pop. Politicians are treated the same, receiving lobbying jobs worth six to seven figures, board positions, and so on.

This is all legal, but it is corruption.

Jimmy Carter recently said this, with respect to Citizen’s United:

an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery

But don’t be deceived, Citizen’s United was just the final capstone: The US was already a completely corrupt, bought, and owned regulatory state before Citizen’s United.  Citizen’s United just made it much easier.

I repeat, in absolute terms, there is no more corrupt country in the world than the US. In relative terms? Who knows, but the US being corrupt matters more than corruption in any other country.  (Though China is coming on strong.) US financial law is essentially extra-territorial: The US is capable of crippling other countries’ economies almost entirely with simple Treasury orders. The US has the world’s largest military and regularly intervenes in other countries with air strikes, assassinations, and general terror.

What is unique about America is not its corruption, many countries are corrupt, it is the sheer hypocrisy the pretense that America is not corrupt, because Americans have made their corruption legal.

Corruption is the inevitable consequence of concentrated wealth.  It always occurs when you have great inequality, it cannot be avoided.

You want corruption back to reasonable levels? You want it illegal again? Take the oligarchs’ wealth away from them and break the great monopolistic and oligopolistic companies or bridle them with uncorrupted regulators who will crawl up their backside and tax the hell out of them.

Nothing else works (and the second solution works for a while). Nothing else has ever worked.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.

You want you country back, and your children and yourselves to have a future?

It’s you or them. So far Americans keep choosing them.

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


The Role of Character and Ideology in Prosperity

2015 July 28

I want to take readers through some of my previous writing on ideology and character, and how they help form the societies we live in.  Taking the time to read these articles (a short book’s worth), should vastly improve your understanding of the world and the articles to come. It should be worth your time even if you read the articles when they were published, as, at the time, they lacked both context and commentary, and were not collated to be read together so that the connections were obvious.

Baseline Predictions for the Next 60 Years

While not an article about ideology, this is an article about where our current ideology and character are going to take us: to the brink of disaster and possibly beyond, while continuing to impoverish and disempower larger and larger segments of the human race. This might be a slightly optimistic piece; there’s some reason to believe our actions in the world’s oceans could destroy the oxygen cycle, and if this is so, events will be much, much worse.

What an Ideology Is and Why We Need a New One

Too many people think ideologies are some airy-fairy nonsense, while they themselves are pragmatic men and women operating on common sense and facts. Such people are amongst the greatest of all fools: Our entire society is based on interlocking ideologies; the primary of which are neo-liberalism, capitalism, human rights and socialism. It is not obvious, nor was it obvious to most societies that have ever existed, for example, that food should be distributed based on money; nor that ideas could be property. How we organize things, our particular ideas about markets and their role, and our ideas about who should lead us, are ideological. If we want to change society, we need to be able to control markets so they aren’t producing a world that makes us sick, unhappy, and, in increasing numbers, dead.

How to Create a Viable Ideology

We may look at current trends and realize that if we don’t reverse them, and reverse them fast, billions will suffer or die; but creating an ideology which can reverse these trends requires us to understand what makes an ideology viable and powerful. An ideology which does not create believers willing to die, and to kill, on its behalf, will lose to those that do. An ideology which cannot prevent people from selling out, from betraying, will definitely lose in the current world, where there is so much money available at the top to simply buy out (for billions) those who create something new, so that anything new can be neutralized into nothing but a monetization scheme.

Our Theory of Human Nature Predicts Our Policies

The ideas of an ideology determine how our society is run, and, of those ideas, none is more important than what we make of human nature.

A Theory of Human Nature Suited to Prosperity and Freedom

If we are trying to create a prosperous, free world, our policies must be based in a theory of human nature that is both true (enough) and which leads to policies which create widespread affluence and human freedom.

Character Is Destiny

Ideology and character are intertwined. Character determines what we do, what we don’t do, and how we do it. The character of large numbers of people determines the destinies of nations and of the world itself.  If we want to make the world better (or worse), we must change our own characters. Those who fail to understand how character is created (and changed) will never change the world–except accidentally.

How Everyday Life Creates Our Character

Along with, as noted, our destiny. I always laugh at radicals who want more schooling, because schooling is where people learn to sit down, shut up, give the approved answers, and do what they’re told. Working life, as an adult, continues this process of learned powerlessness and acquiescence and even in our consumptive and political lives we continue the trend; choosing from the choices offered, rather than producing what we actually need for ourselves.

How Everyday Life Creates Sociopathic Corporate Leaders

Those who lead our corporations control most of our lives, even more so than the government, because they set the terms by which we live, die, and can afford the good things in life. Our daily lives are prescribed by these people, from how we work to what we eat, to what we entertain ourselves with. We need, therefore, to understand the character traits for which our leaders are chosen, and how the process of choosing works. If we can’t learn to create and choose better leaders, we will never have a better world.

The Difference Between Ethics and Morals

If we want an ideology that tells us how to create both a better world and the people with the character to create that world, we must understand what sort of people they should be. To accomplish this, we must first understand how they treat other people–the people they know, and more importantly, the people they don’t.

The Fundamental Feedback Loop for a Better World

The shortest article on this list, this is also one of the most important and speaks directly to how money directs behaviour and how that directs our choice in leaders.

Living in a Rich Society

It’s been so long since parts of the West were truly prosperous that people forget what it’s like, and forget that it creates a different type of person than a scarcity society.

Late 19th and Early 20th Century Intellectual Roots

Lived experience creates character and character feeds into ideology. It’s worth looking at how various themes of the Victorian era were created by those who lived through that time and the time that came before it.

What Confucius Teaches Those Who Want a Better World

Amongst those who have created powerful ideologies, Confucius is in the first rank; Confucianism has been the most important ideology of the most populous and advanced region of the world for most of the last two thousand years–or more. Confucius was very aware of what he was trying to do, had a theory of human nature, and a theory of character. We would be fools not to learn from him.

Concluding Remarks

I hope that those who are interested in creating a better world will read the articles linked above. What I’ve written amounts to a short book, and the ideas are interrelated. If you have read a few of my posts, or even read all of them, but not thought of or read them with each other in mind, you cannot have the full picture of how these ideas work together, and why the different parts are necessary.

Ideas are often destroyed in practice by those who do not understand the reasons for the various pieces of the puzzle and prescriptions. These people feel they can pick and choose without that understanding. Character and ideology and ethics and every day life are all intertwined; you cannot pick one and say ,”This is supreme. They create each other.

Of course, the above is not a complete intellectual package. Large chunks are missing. My next piece will be a review of some key economic articles specifically concerning why the world is as it is today: Why we lost post-war liberalism, why we have austerity and neo-liberalism and so-called free trade. That piece comes after this one because without understanding our own characters and the characters of our leaders and how ideology works, we cannot understand our current circumstances.

I will then be moving on to new articles on technology, geography, and environment, and their effect on societies though the ages, with an emphasis on those technologies and environments which create prosperity, freedom, and egalitarian cultures and exploring why they do so. There is a great trend today, an argument, about changing our tech to improve society, but it will only work if we understand how technology changes society.

Originally published Oct 2, 2014.  Republished July 28, 2015

If you enjoyed this article, and want me to write more, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.