Joshua Greene's Moral Tribes — Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them

Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes — Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them is a mixture of political philosophy, evolutionary psychology, and ethics. The cool thing is that Greene is a clear thinker and superb writer, so the book is accessible to the educated layperson.

The central question of the book is:  In a modern, pluralistic society, how can diverse groups who disagree on fundamental issues come to agreement on matters of morality and public policy?

Pro-life versus pro-choice.  Small government versus Big Government.  Capitalism versus quasi-socialism.    Individualism versus collectivism. Theism versus secularism.   People have strong sentiments about these and other topics, and it often seems that reasoned argument is of no avail.

Greene uses the analogy of multiple tribes living near each other. Within each tribe there is broad agreement about morality and expectations of behavior. Indeed, our inbred morality was designed to deal with life in a tribe or village.  Humans have evolved to cooperate, to some extent, especially with people from the same family or tribe.  But for outsiders, our gut reactions often say: fight! When tribes interact and need to work together is there any way to resolve differences other than “might makes right”? (I hope democracy isn’t just another form of “might makes right.”)

Greene’s answer to the question “How can we come to agreement?” is:  we should use utilitarian reasoning.  That is we should aim to maximize happiness and reduce suffering for the greatest number of people.  He thinks utilitarianism, properly understood, is a “common currency” that lets us transcend our tribal differences.  He does not believe that utilitarianism is a moral absolute or that it amounts to a foundational principle or axiom for ethics. He just says that, pragmatically, utilitarianism works and it’s something almost everybody understands and uses in our daily lives.

He spends much of the book defending utilitarianism against supposed counter-cases in which it seems that maximizing happiness violates individuals rights.

For example, is it correct to push a person into the path of a train if it can stop the train from killing five other people?  That is, can we sacrifice one life for five by shoving someone? (Experiments show that the answer to such question depends on whether you personally have to touch the person, in contrast to moving a switch, for example.)

Is it correct to torture one person to increase the happiness of 1000 other people?

He argues that such cases never or rarely apply in the real world. I’m not sure he really establishes that.  He also says that although our gut reaction may be that sacrificing one life to save five may be a violation of fundamental rights, Greene thinks that, in fact, it may be the rational, moral thing to do, from the point of view of utilitarianism.   But in the real world, such counter-examples rarely if ever matter. For example, it’s hard to imagine that a utilitarian would support enslaving one person  to increase the happiness of others, since the loss of happiness for the slave would far outweigh the gain in happiness of the others.

A far greater problem for utilitarianism, I think is:  whose happiness matters?    All humans?  Including criminals and the insane?   Fetuses?  Greene says we needn’t be able to calculate firm numbers for such questions in order to use utilitarian arguments. But it seems that one’s opponent could always say “those people’s happiness simply doesn’t matter.”  And how about gorillas, whales and other animals? Does their happiness count but not as much?

Greene compares human morality to the operation of a camera. Modern cameras have two modes:  an automatic point-and-click mode, plus a manual mode in which we consciously and carefully adjust settings. Similarly, human morality has two modes.

Our auto mode morality is like the operation of a point-and-click camera.  We use it without thinking and it’s largely inborn.  Humans evolved to cooperate with others in a tightly knit group (our “tribe”). Our inborn, natural emotions related to in-group cooperation help us overcome the Tragedy of the Commons: situations where everybody suffers because nobody is willing to sacrifice their selfish needs for the greater good.  Auto mode includes intuitive reactions such as shame, compassion, loyalty, disgust, fear, and vengefulness. Auto mode was made for overcoming selfishness and for getting along with our group/family/tribe.

Manual mode morality involves conscious reasoning about options and outcomes.  Its conclusions about what’s right and just may be different from our gut reactions, which we tend try to rationalize with arguments. That is, we have auto mode moral intuitions which feel right, based on tradition, prejudice, and religion. And we try to justify them and raise them to foundational principles or “rights.” Often such arguments are question-begging and ad hoc. For example, Kant tried to show from first principles that masturbation was inherently evil. When we read his arguments now they seem silly.

Green makes a case that most arguments on both sides of the abortion debate are shallow rationalizations that don’t handle the hard cases (Does life become precious right after an egg becomes fertilized?   Does a woman have the right to abort a nine month old fetus?)

Though Greene thinks that much moral reasoning is rationalizations of prejudices or auto mode feelings, he thinks that manual mode moral reasoning can be a basis for living together in a pluralistic society.

The prototypical example of the Tragedy of the Commons is shared grazing land, which each farmer can use to graze cattle. If everyone grazes the maximum number of cattle, then the grass dies and nobody’s cow gets fed. So there has to be a way to ration use of the shared resource and prevent cheaters from taking more than their fair share.  It’s to each person’s individual benefit to graze as much as possible, and to cheat by violating any rules, but a society (and a species) needs a way to overcome such selfishness. Auto mode morality evolved/developed for that purpose.

Another example of the Tragedy of the Commons is the well-known Prisoner’s Dilemma, in which two prisoners are brought separately before interrogators and encouraged to betray each other.  If each prisoner betrays the other, they each spend four years in prison. If both prisoners are loyal to each other, the police have to settle for one year in prison for each, due to lack of evidence. If one prisoner betrays and the other stays loyal to his buddy, then the betrayer is let free and the betrayed prisoner spends six years in prison.  What should you, as a prisoner, do?  If your buddy betrays you, then it seems that you have to betray him; otherwise you’ll spend eight years in prison and he goes free. If your buddy stays loyal, then it seems you should betray him, because then you can go free. But if you can both stay loyal, then you’ll both benefit and get only one year in prison, resulting in a better outcome on average.

Greene proposes the similarly named “Tragedy of commonsense morality” in which different tribes of herders have to live together despite their radically different religions or political beliefs (e.g., socialistic communitarians versus individualistic libertarians).  Greene says that our auto mode morality won’t help much in such situations, because our gut reactions are so emotion-laden. But manual mode utilitarian morality tells us to use whatever system works best, based on evidence and reason.

Greene is a liberal (a progressive) and argues against the theory of morality proposed by fellow Harvard philosopher John Rawls several decades ago in A Theory of Justice. Rawls is not utilitarian. Rather, he believes that humans have fundamental rights that aren’t to be violated. One of those rights is to private property. Rawls believes that progressive taxation is unjust, because it violates the fundamental rights of people to enjoy the fruit of their labor. (His argument is more nuanced.) Even though from a utilitarian point of view progressive taxation may maximize happiness, it is still fundamentally wrong, because it violates basic rights.

From a utilitarian point of view, progressive taxation makes a lot of sense. As Greene says, the suffering among poor people by lack of income far outweighs the slight increase in happiness that a rich person acquires by getting an extra million dollars.  The marginal value of a dollar for a rich person is much less than the value of such a dollar for a poor person. It also better stimulates the economy.

In any case, a liberal can agree that redistribution of wealth is immoral and can point out that over the past several decades wealth has been redistributed unrightfully from the middle class to the rich.  Either way, conservatives lose.

The Anti-Wisdom of Eckhart Tolle

The Anti-Wisdom of Eckhart Tolle

Many spiritual teachers and pundits say things similar to what Eckhart Tolle said: “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but [always] your thoughts about it.”   In other words, suffering comes from yourself, not from your perceived enemies.  While it’s true that much suffering is self-made, it’s a gross and perverse exaggeration to say what Tolle said.

Scott Crow is in Olympia for a few days

Activist, anarchist, writer, organizer – Scott Crow – is going to be in Olympia for a few speaking engagements over the next few days. He will be at South Puget Sound Community College on Oct 25th at noon, Room 102, Building 26

Then he will be at Last Word Books on Friday, Oct 26th at 7:30 pm. and one more time in Oly on Monday, Oct 29th at Lecture Hall 2, The Evergreen State College at noon.

Want to understand anarchism? Learn more about it. It’s not what you may think.

Want to continue to misunderstand and misrepresent anarchism? As Bobby Dylan said, “you are going to have to serve somebody…” Choose today, who will you serve? You are going to have to serve somebody.

Black Flags and Radical Relief Efforts in New Orleans: An Interview with scott crow

Author and activist scott crow

“Solidarity not Charity” is a way of feeding people while addressing the underlying problems that cause hunger. The way this manifested itself in Common Ground was to immediately deliver and render aid where the state had failed, and then to leave structures in place so communities can continue to rebuild themselves as they see fit.”

Interview by Stevie Peace & Kevin Van Meter

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina both federal and local authorities failed the population of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. As a result, relief efforts from various sectors of American society flowed south. One of the first and most spectacular and aggressive efforts was Common Ground Relief — formed by strands of the anti-globalization and anarchist movements. scott crow documents these struggles in “Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective”, recently released by PM Press. In this interview, Crow describes the process of becoming an author after being an organizer, reviews the history and myths of Common Ground and explores possible lessons for future progressive and radical organizing. Visit crow’s website at http://scottcrow.org/.

Can you speak to the writing process behind “Black Flags and Windmillsand your shift from an organizer to an author?

One word: difficult. I don’t consider myself a writer; and while I have written a few pieces over the years, it has mostly been out of necessity. From my arrival in New Orleans I took copious notes. Every time I would get moments to get away, I would take notes about organizing and creating an organization to deal with the disaster following Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, I wrote communiqués from just days after the storm and continued for three years. I went back to all of those writings and began turning them into chapters. On a personal level it was healing to write: I came back with post-traumatic stress, couldn’t function in society and felt like the ghost in the machine a lot. The writing actually helped me to relive those traumas in a different way, to really dissect them. It was almost a five-year process; I feel so much better now than I did when I started the book. This is not to say that “Black Flags and Windmills” is a sorrow-filled book. There are lots of beautiful stories along the way and lots of really engaging organizing that was going on. The book describes the anarchist heyday of Common Ground, when the most self-identified anarchists came; this was early September 2005 until 2008. Afterward, the organization became much more structured in a traditional nonprofit way. This is not to denigrate it — just to say that the book focuses on this initial period of “black flags” at Common Ground.

Since memory is a tricky thing, I did outside research and revisited with people. I went back to news articles from grassroots media, reports and blogs to look at specific events and the way things unfolded. Then, I would ask key organizers and New Orleans residents, “Do you remember when this thing happened?” Sometimes it was completely different from how I remembered it. I don’t claim to speak for Common Ground, as I think that would do a disservice to the thousands of people who participated and the hundreds of key organizers that were there.

When I tell a story I want people to understand it and create common bonds. I wrote this book for people who might not have any understanding about radical or anarchist concepts. I always ask myself, “What would my mom think about this?” While I wrote it for people like her, my target audience was those who were coming into movements and might be inspired by what Common Ground was building. I used the stories in the book to give a primer on the theoretical background of anarchism in practice. Another part of the book is telling my own personal narrative. It’s not because I think my story is important, but I wanted to show that I am a regular person that was just caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Want to know more? Read the whole piece. Come sit in on one of the events.

Chomsky on Anarchism

For folks with an open mind who want to know more about anarchism:

 

Noam Chomsky on Anarchism, Marxism & Hope for the Future

 


Noam Chomsky is widely known for his critique of U.S foreign policy, and for his work as a linguist. Less well known is his ongoing support for libertarian socialist objectives. In a special interview done for Red and Black Revolution, Chomsky gives his views on anarchism and marxism, and the prospects for socialism now. The interview was conducted in May 1995 by Kevin Doyle.

RBR: First off, Noam, for quite a time now you’ve been an advocate for the anarchist idea. Many people are familiar with the introduction you wrote in 1970 to Daniel Guerin’s Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, but more recently, for instance in the film Manufacturing Dissent, you took the opportunity to highlight again the potential of anarchism and the anarchist idea. What is it that attracts you to anarchism?

CHOMSKY: I was attracted to anarchism as a young teenager, as soon as I began to think about the world beyond a pretty narrow range, and haven’t seen much reason to revise those early attitudes since. I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom. That includes political power, ownership and management, relations among men and women, parents and children, our control over the fate of future generations (the basic moral imperative behind the environmental movement, in my view), and much else. Naturally this means

a challenge to the huge institutions of coercion and control: the state, the unaccountable private tyrannies that control most of the domestic and international economy, and so on. But not only these. That is what I have always understood to be the essence of anarchism: the conviction that the burden of proof has to be placed on authority, and that it should be dismantled if that burden cannot be met. Sometimes the burden can be met.

If I’m taking a walk with my grandchildren and they dart out into a busy street, I will use not only authority but also physical coercion to stop them. The act should be challenged, but I think it can readily meet the challenge. And there are other cases; life is a complex affair, we understand very little about humans and society, and grand pronouncements are generally more a source of harm than of benefit. But the perspective is a valid one, I think, and can lead us quite a long way.

Beyond such generalities, we begin to look at cases, which is where the questions of human interest and concern arise.

Anarchist banner
RBR: It’s true to say that your ideas and critique are now more widely known than ever before. It should also be said that your views are widely respected. How do you think your support for anarchism is received in this context? In particular, I’m interested in the response you receive from people who are getting interested in politics for the first time and who may, perhaps, have come across your views. Are such people surprised by your support for anarchism? Are they interested?

CHOMSKY: The general intellectual culture, as you know, associates ‘anarchism’ with chaos, violence, bombs, disruption, and so on. So people are often surprised when I speak positively of anarchism and identify myself with leading traditions within it. But my impression is that among the general public, the basic ideas seem reasonable when the clouds are cleared away. Of course, when we turn to specific matters – say, the nature of families, or how an economy would work in a society that is more free and just – questions and controversy arise. But that is as it should be. Physics can’t really explain how water flows from the tap in your sink. When we turn to vastly more complex questions of human significance, understanding is very thin, and there is plenty of room for disagreement, experimentation, both intellectual and real-life exploration of possibilities, to help us learn more.

RBR: Perhaps, more than any other idea, anarchism has suffered from the problem of misrepresentation. Anarchism can mean many things to many people. Do you often find yourself having to explain what it is that you mean by anarchism? Does the misrepresentation of anarchism bother you?

CHOMSKY: All misrepresentation is a nuisance. Much of it can be traced back to structures of power that have an interest in preventing understanding, for pretty obvious reasons. It’s well to recall David Hume’s Principles of Government. He expressed surprise that people ever submitted to their rulers. He concluded that since Force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. ‘Tis therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular. Hume was very astute – and incidentally, hardly a libertarian by the standards of the day. He surely underestimates the efficacy of force, but his observation seems to me basically correct, and important, particularly in the more free societies, where the art of controlling opinion is therefore far more refined. Misrepresentation and other forms of befuddlement are a natural concomitant.

So does misrepresentation bother me? Sure, but so does rotten weather. It will exist as long as concentrations of power engender a kind of commissar class to defend them. Since they are usually not very bright, or are bright enough to know that they’d better avoid the arena of fact and argument, they’ll turn to misrepresentation, vilification, and other devices that are available to those who know that they’ll be protected by the various means available to the powerful. We should understand why all this occurs, and unravel it as best we can. That’s part of the project of liberation – of ourselves and others, or more reasonably, of people working together to achieve these aims.

Sounds simple-minded, and it is. But I have yet to find much commentary on human life and society that is not simple-minded, when absurdity and self-serving posturing are cleared away.

RBR: How about in more established left-wing circles, where one might expect to find greater familiarity with what anarchism actually stands for? Do you encounter any surprise here at your views and support for anarchism?

read the whole piece? Please do so. Time with Chomsky is almost always time well spent.

Open Societies versus Closed Societies

Let’s assume that a person really wanted to understand a foreign philosophy, a different way of setting up a society. If that was the case, I would recommend listening to Suzanne Guerlac talk about the philosophy of Henri Bergson. Thinking in Time

This is a dense program, but Suzanne is articulate and the interviewer asks probing intelligent questions, so if you have an hour where you really want to listen closely, I heartily recommend this program. It is especially powerful when Suzanne starts talking about how the evolution from a closed society to an open society is not an easy evolutionary transition, that Bergson thought it would take some sort of fundamental change in way of being to occur. Imagining that sort of thing is difficult. Yet those moments occur. Think Solidarity in Poland. Think the fall of the USSR, the sudden destruction of the Berlin Wall. In those moments, I suspect that an open society emerged, however briefly, before a closed society reasserted itself. Fits and starts. Evolution and change may not be orderly.

So, open societies. What would that look like? Listen hard to Guerlac’s discussion of love and livingness as something new, not love that arises with an object that is loved by a subject who loves, but when love arises in reference to all living things. Pretty amorphous stuff. And for those of you who need a lot of structure, this is not going to be your cup of vegan broth. But if you want to stretch a bit, and you want to commit the energy, I think this program will stretch you.

Against the Grain appears to be a wildly intelligent program. My friend Gar Lipow is the latest guest. Gar is talking about climate change and economic exploitation. Suzanne is so last week.

If you make it through the Open Society talk and thinking in time ala Bergson, and you want to think more about open societies, you could check out the mp3s at Audio Anarchy . The Anarchy Tension series is a good place to start if you have an open mind. You may come to the conclusion that this is simple utopian sophistry, that might be true, but it may also be true that if/when an open society emerges, this could be one of the ways that it will happen. This might be the shapeless shape of a certain kind of open society.

See some of you there.

Austin's Picks: Is Class Struggle Anarchism

Austin K sent this link along in an email this morning. It’s a couple of years old, but it’s still worth sharing and reading. The links go to interesting websites if you have an open mind about politics, which is to say, that you can imagine political positions that are broader than the republican and democratic party talking points. I am only posting two of the points that Nate pulls from Tom’s article. If you want to see the third point, you are going to have click on the link.  Fair use can look tyrannical.

Nate uses his What in the Hell …? website the way I use smallblueplanet.org, as a staging area to gather ideas, to store links and info, then to compose from that website for publication elsewhere. For me, that makes Nate’s What in the Hell… ? particularly interesting.

What in the Hell is Class Struggle Anarchism?

July 24, 2009

Austust another WordPress.com siteIt’s

Hat tip to Tom Wetzel for this fine article. Check it out. Full disclosure and a little bragging, I know Tom, we’re both involved in the Workers Solidarity Alliance, so I’m biased. Anyhow, read his piece.

My favorite three bits are quoted below. With these bits I was reading it and I was like “yeah, this is what I try to do in this kind
of work but I haven’t put it this clearly before,” which is a cool feeling, like the article put clearly into words what had been more of a gut feeling for me or stuff I’d fumbled and put badly before.

1. “Dual organizational anarchists often say that the role of the anarchist political organization is to “win the battle of ideas,” that
is, to gain influence within movements and among the mass of the population by countering authoritarian or liberal or conservative ideas. Bakunin had said that the role of anarchist activists was a “leadership of ideas.”

But disseminating ideas isn’t the only form of influence. Working with others of diverse views in mass organizations and struggles, exhibiting a genuine commitment, and being a personable and supportive person in this context also builds personal connections, and makes it more likely one’s ideas will be taken seriously.”

2. “mass struggles and mass organizing as the process for changing society…because it is through the active participation of growing numbers of ordinary people, building and controlling their own movements, that they develop the capacity and aspirations for changing society.

From the point of view of “organized anarchism with a class struggle perspective,” two kinds of organization are needed: (1) forms of mass organization through which ordinary people can grow and develop their collective strength, and (2) political organizations of the anarchist or libertarian socialist minority, to have a more effective means to coordinate our activities, gain influence in working class communities, and disseminate our ideas. In the World War 1 era Italian anarchists coined the term “dual organization” for this perspective.

Read the whole piece if you have a couple of minutes.

Austin's Picks: Autonomy Alliance

“It’s a scary time to be involved with radical class struggle. But was it ever any other way?”

Austin Kelly suggests you scan this one from LibCom.org:

 

 

Autonomy Alliance: The interview

 

 

An interview conducted with two members of St Louis libertarian group, Autonomy Alliance.

While in St. Louis, I was lucky enough to stay with two members of the Autonomy Alliance. In that time, I’ve been impressed with the level activity I’ve seen from the group—regular publications, public events (not the least of which included a screening of the 1971 film Sacco and Vanzetti), and running a once-yearly weekend school.

Unlike many of the city-based libertarian groups in the US, I hadn’t heard of them before. So I thought it’d be worth learning a bit more about them. The following interview took place with those same two members, although it’s in personal capacity, so should not be taken as the official AA positions.

Tell me a bit about the group. When were you founded? How many people are currently active? Are members active in any other organizations? What are the particular politics of your group and what level of political agreement do you strive for? What are the activities and projects you’re involved in?

Autonomy Alliance has been active for about 5 years, although it’s current core group has only been active since late 2008. There are about 10 members who attend regular meetings, vote on event proposals, and facilitate annual events. Our members are all involved with other local and national anti-capitalist organizations. AA is made up of PARECONists, social anarchists, radical feminists, and Wobblies. The goal has always been to bring together folks of different radical left-wing backgrounds into a cohesive organization to work on local projects, distribute literature, discuss readings and put out a quarterly newsletter.

One aspect of AA that differs from many radical groups is that we have defined membership, a democratic voting procedure, and agreed upon organizational by-laws which we collectively edit every year or so. While AA is still small in numbers, I think we’re able to focus our time and energy into local projects in a way that’s relatively efficient. I think we all want to avoid the pitfalls that come along with doing things in a disjointed and loosely organized way. We co-sponsor an annual event called Left Wing School, a day long series of workshops and panel discussions on a wide ranging number of subjects, from labor, environmentalism, feminism, Palestine solidarity, etc. The LWS has occurred every December for the past several years. In the past, we’ve also co-sponsored several commemorations of the 1877 General Strike. In 2010, we brought in famous labor historian, Jeremy Brecher, along with popular singer-songwriter David Rovics to participate in this event. It was attended by about 100 people.

Read the whole thing? or turn on Good Morning, America? You make the call.

The State is a Condition

“The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another…”

Gustav Landauer

Have to pack and set up the Really Really Free Market in Olympia.  Contracting other relationships, behaving differently toward one another?  Can we really destroy the state by behaving differently?

Why I Don't Trust "Isms": Chris Hedges Versus The Black Bloc

Originally published by CounterPunch – Editor Jeffery St Clair

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/07/hedges-vs-the-black-bloc-round-two/

by MARK TAYLOR-CANFIELD

A recent article by Chris Hedges is once again causing heated arguments among activists in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  “Black Bloc: The Cancer in Occupy,” was published in his syndicated Truthdig.com column back in February, but folks are now talking about it again at political organizing meetings and on social networking websites. After Black Bloc Anarchists broke windows, vandalized cars and assaulted members of the press during May Day protests in Seattle and Oakland, the issue has taken on a new urgency among occupy groups around the country.

Hedge’s scathing critique of these tactics has been challenged by many people who sympathize with Anarchist philosophy. Most occupiers in the major cities have adopted a policy of neither condemning nor endorsing Black Bloc actions because they usually vandalize only corporate banks and businesses. But the truth is, many occupy activists and most of the general public are turned off by acts of property damage committed as a form of protest. Black Bloc tactics have been criticized by some Occupy Seattle activists and Chris Hedges claims it is responsible for chasing the 99% away from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In my opinion, Hedges’ article was a purely emotional response to the Anarchists. Rather than using good research and obtaining first-hand knowledge, he simply wrote from a gut level reaction. Hedges later admitted during an interview posted at Truthout.org that he hadn’t spoken to any Black Bloc activists before writing the article. He says he listened to about four hours of Anarchist radio out of Eugene, Oregon and read some magazines and websites. Supposedly, the Black Bloc are a direct threat to the power of what he calls the “organized left” – a group in which he seems to claim membership.

Actually, I am getting really tired of ideologues of all persuasions, including Chris Hedges.

I don’t trust any “ism”!

First of all, a true anarchist would never identify themselves with a political or philosophical label because that in itself is highly limiting. Society will immediately identify and categorize you depending upon their view of that political philosophy. I simply refuse to be labeled, folded, spindled or wrapped in anything besides my own skin!

Call me whatever you like, but you’re probably wrong.

I prefer to build bridges and work with as many groups and individuals as possible while never permanently adhering to anyone’s religion, whether it be Christian fundamentalism or Anarchism. Also, I find that most people’s political or non-political affiliations are almost always based on their own psychological profile. People choose politics according to their own personal style. A left-brained materialist might find conservatism appealing while a free thinking artistic adventurer is probably not going to have much fun at a GOP fundraiser. In my view, political and philosophical distinctions are basically natural byproducts of the personality of the individual.

Ideologues refuse to accept this fact. They can’t resist the urge to lead irrational crusades in an attempt to either win everyone over to their way or thinking, or to destroy the opposition. As two prime examples, I cite both the fanatical US corporatist “War on Terror”, and their Islamic extremist enemy Al Qaeda.

Ideologies are simply theories, many of which have never really been put into practice. Theoretically, many of them sound great. But these same ideologies are also responsible for a lot of mass suffering and destruction on this planet. Communism was invoked under Stalin to justify the deaths of millions of people. The Christian dominionist ideology has been responsible for religious wars and widespread ecological disasters. Inevitably, those who claim to have the answer to all of the world’s problems are actually the ones who end up causing a lot more suffering by their proposed solutions.

I say, free your minds! Don’t allow any person, organization, philosophy or authority to determine what you think.

The main problem I have with many of the “isms” being promoted within the social justice movement is that they are based on archaic, antiquated philosophies. Quoting dead writers from decades or centuries past is not an adequate response to the serious environmental and social crises we are facing in the world today. Doesn’t anyone have an original idea?

Anarchism, socialism, communism, capitalism, libertarianism, etc. are all just more “isms” that limit free thought through peer pressure and self-perpetuating propaganda. I know that some will accuse me of being a “deconstructionist”, but I also reject that label as purely fashionable and ultimately irrelevant.

I try to avoid accepted political terms or labels whenever possible when I speak or write. I want to reflect reality, not ideology!

But this doesn’t mean I consider myself a cynic. Actually the opposite is true. I am dedicated to upholding ideals concerning justice, autonomy and personal freedom. It’s just that I don’t expect any particular spiritual, political or economic philosophy to solve all the world’s problems and create Heaven on earth for me overnight. To me, those kinds of false expectations are based on immaturity. It comes from an uninformed but very popular point of view which sees a solution to everything in one powerful man or woman, one political philosophy or one religious doctrine.

And what about the idea that there is going to be some kind of glorious revolution which will solve all of our problems?

Well, if the revolutions in the USA, France, Russia, Tunisia and Egypt are any indication, it looks like multiple uprisings will be necessary in order to maintain any semblance of the original resistance movements. The struggle for justice is an eternal battle that requires constant vigilance and strong dedication. The battle is never completely won but it is certainly worth fighting!

And a life without “isms” is its own reward. Avoid them and live free!

Mark Taylor-Canfield is an independent journalist and a member of the Occupy Seattle Media Working Group.

Originally Published @ Counterpunch.org

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/07/hedges-vs-the-black-bloc-round-two/