Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann Explain Why Congress is Failing Us

Moyers and Company, April 26, 2013

BILL MOYERS: Even if the threat of terrorists went away, none of those bold projects Glenn Greenwald described as defining American greatness would happen today. Our government is paralyzed and dysfunctional, and it’s getting worse than ever. Just ask Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, as I’m about to do.

For decades, these two political scientists were on the go-to list for Beltway pundits and reporters seeking wisdom on the curious ways of governance. But then, almost exactly a year ago to this day, they published an op-ed piece in The Washington Post headlined, “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.Mann and Ornstein argued that democracy and the economy are in a crash dive, and that congressional gridlock was largely the fault of the Republican Party and its takeover by right wing radicals. What’s more, they said, the mainstream media was adding to the problem by resorting to “false equivalency,” pretending that both parties were equally at fault.

The article was based on their book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. A paperback edition, with a new preface and afterword, will be out later this year.

Thomas Mann is the W. Averell Harriman Chair and a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. Norman Ornstein is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In their book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks, they predicted, “If President Obama gets reelected but faces either a continuing divided Congress or a Congress with Republicans in charge of both houses, there is little reason to expect a new modus vivendi in which the president and GOP leaders are able to find reasonable compromises in areas like budget policy, health reform and financial regulation.”

Welcome to the both of you.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Great to be with you, Bill.

THOMAS MANN: Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: Okay, the election’s come and gone and the deep dysfunction that has gripped our government for so many years now is still with us. What are you thinking today?

THOMAS MANN: You know, the election was even more stunning, in a way, in its sweep than we might have imagined. So you would have thought things would be different. Maybe in an issue or two, like immigration, it will be. But if you look at the gun issue, the background check, so much of the focus has been on the four Democrat apostates who drifted away from their party.

Forty-one of 45 Republicans voted no. That includes people from states that wouldn’t naturally be a part of a big gun culture. What’s the reason? It’s the tribalism we described in the book that continues. If he’s for it, we’re against it. We’re not going to give him a victory, even if we were for it yesterday. And I’m afraid that pathology is still a driving force, dramatically so in the House; a little bit less in the Senate. But as we saw with background checks, not quite enough.

THOMAS MANN: Sadly, divided party government, which we have because of the Republican House, in a time of extreme partisan polarization, is a formula for inaction and absolutist opposition politics, not for problem solving.

You know, it wasn’t that long ago when you could actually get something done under divided government. There’d be enough members of the opposition party who want to legislate, not simply to engage in what we used to call the permanent campaign is now a permanent war. But that doesn’t happen anymore now. It’s Republicans are unified in their oppositions, or beholden to a “no new tax” pledge that really keeps the country, the Congress, and its political system from dealing honestly and seriously with the problems we face.

BILL MOYERS: Well, take the gun vote again. It occurred to me that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may have made a fatal blunder when he caved earlier in the year and didn’t go for the end of the filibuster, as he could have. Do you agree with that?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: I have mixed feelings about that, Bill. The difficulty that Harry Reid faced was to do this would cause a lot of turmoil in the Senate. There are so many other ways that a minority party can bollix up the works. And it’s worth a price, if it’s going to lead to legislative outcomes. But with a Republican House, all those bills passed would have met a graveyard.

BILL MOYERS: They could have still blocked it over in the…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Could have still…

BILL MOYERS: Anything that…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: …blocked it.

BILL MOYERS: …passed in the Senate.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: So he went for a deal with Mitch McConnell which makes it easier, if the two leaders want to do something, to overcome individual rogue senators, like a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul. But it didn’t bank on, he didn’t bank on the Republican leader basically going back to where he had been for the first four years of the Obama administration on nominations for judges and top administration officials, and on a whole host of bills, and once again raising the bar to 60 routinely.

BILL MOYERS: You really surprised me last year, because I know how hard you both have worked to be bipartisan and to work with Democrats and Republicans, but you were very blunt in the way you came out and finally, you know.

THOMAS MANN: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: …named names and pointed fingers. You wrote, “The two parties are not equally to blame because the Republicans have become extreme both in,” quoting you, “in terms of policy and process.” And you’re saying here today, a year later, that’s still the case?

THOMAS MANN: It’s very much the case, Bill. We had no choice but to say it. It was in some ways, it was obvious if you if you look at the situation, and there is a body of scholarly research that has demonstrated this rightward march of the party, both among elected officials, but also rank-and-file Republicans. And the strongest, most extreme of those, the Tea Party people, have pulled the others back toward them. It’s a reality, and it’s not just ideological difference either. They begin with those differences, but then it’s the strategic hyper-partisanship, what Norm referred to earlier: If Barack Obama is for something, we have to be against it because he’s not a real American.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Let me just offer a bit of a caveat here on two fronts. First, we’re not saying Democrats are angels here. Plenty of flaws there. But I also hold out still some hope for the Senate. You have a number of Republicans in the Senate, and this has less to do with ideology than with focus. Are you there to solve problems, or are you there either to pursue a radical agenda or to gain political advantage? Everybody’s going to look for political advantage.

There are problem-solvers in the Senate. They are flawed ones, as we saw with the gun bill. You know, people like Lamar Alexander or Bob Corker, who joined with most of their colleagues. But I’ve talked to them when it comes to either reforming the nomination process, doing something in a larger fiscal sense that will include revenues, acting on immigration. I think you’ve got some opportunities here. Those opportunities will go to the House, and the only way they’ll pass is with far more Democrats than Republicans. And they may not make it through. But we don’t have a lost cause yet in the Senate.

Now, the recent evidence is not great on that front. And the fundamental pathologies that we wrote about and talked about and we just felt an obligation that we’d built up some capital over the years. What’s it for if you’re not going to spend it now?

BILL MOYERS: You riled the Republicans but you riled the press by talking about false equivalency. Their evenhanded treatment of decidedly uneven behavior on the part of the two parties, the equal treatment for true and false statements by advocates, equal weight to competing spin between opposing politicians and pundits without regard to the accuracy of either. You didn’t get invited on the Sunday talk shows after that, did you?

NOMAN ORNSTEIN: And still haven’t been.

THOMAS MANN: You noticed that? It’s because those programs are predicated upon having spin from one side and then the other side. We’re not the first to point out the, this artificial balance. I mean, reporters, good reporters do it partly out of a sense of professionalism, to be fair. To be wary of allowing your own personal political views to influence your writing. All of that is good.

But now it’s a safety valve. It keeps you from being charged as a partisan. It satisfies your producers, worried about advertising. And frankly, it’s become really quite pernicious. We point out example after example in the book where they treat clearly unequal behavior as equivalent.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: You know it’s not even that we weren’t invited on the Sunday shows, it’s the radio silence on the topic. So you mention “The Washington Post” piece that appeared at right at the time that the book was published. And it just exploded on the scene, frankly; partly because of the title, which was “Let’s Just Say It: Republicans Are the Problem”.

You know, within less than 24 hours after it was up unannounced on The Washington Post website, they had 5,000 comments. They stop counting after that. We got over 265,000 Facebook referrals; 1.5 million web his. That weekend it appeared on a Thursday, and then in the paper on Sunday. That weekend, this was the topic of discussion in Washington, there’s no doubt about that.

All those Sunday shows have panels, their charge being, let’s talk about what people are talking about in Washington. Nothing. You could invite other people on; you may not want to have us for one reason or another. How can you not raise the issue at all? Because it’s so uncomfortable for them to even raise the notion that they should focus on the truth rather than this notion of balance no matter what. And that remains the case.

BILL MOYERS: So look what’s happening. Senate Republicans are filibustering and blocking scores of executive and judicial nominations, as you point out in your new preface; they’re delaying the confirmation of others. They’re still willing, as you said last year, to use any tactic, no matter how dangerous and destructive, to damage the President and to force its will on him through a form of policy hostage-taking. You say that this policy hostage-taking was devised by this group, calling itself the “Young Guns.” Who are they?

THOMAS MANN: They are Eric Cantor they are Paul Ryan, and the third is the Republican whip Representative McCarthy of California. They laid out before the election a strategy to take hostage the full faith and credit of the United States by threatening not to raise the debt limit to accommodate previous decisions made by Congress, and signed by the president. It’s hard to imagine a more destructive action that could be taken.

We’ve got problems here, but there is still a flight to the dollar around the world. The one thing we have going for us is people trust the dollar and trust the fact that Treasury will pay its obligations when people buy bonds. But they were going to take that hostage in order to get immediate spending cuts.

BILL MOYERS: There was some compromise in January over the, over the deficit. Were you encouraged by that? Did you get an adrenaline shot when you…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: No. And unfortunately. And here’s the reason why. I mean, first of all, of course, we knew that the leverage was with President Obama in this case, not with people trying to hold something hostage, because inaction here would mean sharp tax increases across the board. And after that, the president can come back and say, “I want to propose the biggest tax cut in history for everybody except those making over $250,000 a year.”

So you could, it was clear there would be some kind of a deal that would emerge, whether before or after. One of the things that was discouraging about this is it happened very late in the game, of course, as we know. It was Joe Biden meeting with Mitch McConnell and coming up with a plan.

But here’s the plan that gets 89 votes in the Senate, including some of the icons of the conservative wing of the party which is really a radical wing of the party, from Pat Toomey to Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn. And it goes to the House, and John Boehner, who may have the worst job in America could barely get a third of his own party to go along. Now, that’s a modest deal. If you can’t get more than a third of your House Republicans to support a deal like this, that doesn’t speak well for the prospects of change.

BILL MOYERS: And you say that he, that Cantor more than any other politician helped to create the series of fiscal crises that you described just a moment ago?

THOMAS MANN: He really did. He hovered around John Boehner as Boehner was getting into negotiations with the president over the course of 2011 to head off the debt ceiling crisis. Bob Woodward…

BILL MOYERS: The Watergate Bob Woodward.

THOMAS MANN: Yeah.

THOMAS MANN: Watergate Bob Woodward has written…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Now the post-Watergate Bob Woodward.

THOMAS MANN: …written a book about these negotiations and did a lot of talking to the Republicans. And ended up saying Boehner and Obama reached a deal and Obama walked away from it. Well, Eric Cantor, in his interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker couple of months ago basically corrected him. He said, Well, I talked to Boehner and said it really wouldn’t be a good idea to reach a deal now because then the issue evaporates, the president gets the credit, and he has a better chance of being reelected. Better to keep it alive and fight it out in the in the election.

BILL MOYERS: And it didn’t pay off for them, did…

THOMAS MANN: It didn’t pay off at all.

BILL MOYERS: Except they held the House but it didn’t pay off for them in the Senate. He lost two seats in the Senate. Didn’t pay off for him in winning the presidency?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: It was a, call it a riverboat gamble, I suppose you could say. Because what Cantor said in that interview was, if we win it all, then we don’t have to compromise. They didn’t; but the reaction wasn’t, all right, now we have to compromise. Instead it was, we’re still not going to compromise.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve said you have some hope for the Senate. There is some seeming to have to someone from afar movement on immigration. Is that must be hopeful to you?

THOMAS MANN: It is, but it’s so different than everything else. The reason there is movement on immigration is because Republicans have such a powerful incentive to move on immigration.

BILL MOYERS: Because they lost the Latino vote…politics.

THOMAS MANN: They’re on the verge of being marginalized in presidential politics. They are losing overwhelmingly the Latinos, Asian Americans, other immigrant groups the young voters. The growing parts of the electorate are moving away from the Republicans to the Democrats. They have a reason to do it. Hardball politics, not grand, bipartisan consensus. And they’ve put it together well. It’s a group of Republicans and Democrats who are working out this bill. Obama has…

BILL MOYERS: In the Senate, right?

THOMAS MANN: In the Senate. Obama stayed off to the side, as they requested, because it’s very hard for Marco Rubio to support anything the president’s campaigning for. So his absence is what they needed to move this along.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: But we shouldn’t just focus on the members themselves. There are, in the House, at least a few people who’d like to work to solve some of these problems and Boehner among them, I think. And…

BILL MOYERS: You really believe that?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: …some others well, I think, you know, he’s sees himself as the Speaker of the House. And some of it is political as well. He’s being pushed by other forces. But it’s really important that we focus as much on the outside forces as the inside ones.

BILL MOYERS: Such as?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Well, when the fiscal cliff debate came up and we get this bill coming over with 89 votes in the Senate, and you had around that time, before those negotiations, Boehner trying to get a little traction, knowing there would be a tax increase. Coming up with his very poorly named Plan B, you know? I think maybe some of his members rejected it because they thought they didn’t want an over-the-counter drug here.

But it was, give me some traction. I’d propose a million dollars as the level here, and then we can negotiate. And some of his members were ready to support him, just to give him that traction. The Club for Growth, Heritage Action step up and basically said, you members, you lift your heads out of that foxhole and support any tax increase, and you’ve got a target on your backs and millions of dollars in a primary against you.

Some of this is coming from the kinds of people who we’re electing to office, through a nominating process that has gotten so skewed to the radical right. But some of it is an electoral magnet that pulls them away from voting for anything that might have a patina of bipartisan support because they’ll face extinction.

THOMAS MANN: Bill, this is such an important point. Nowadays, political parties are not organizations, they’re networks. We talk sometimes about parties versus outside groups. No, no, no. The outside groups are part of the political parties, and so too are the media outlets. The large funders. It’s a broad system. Super PACs don’t exist as independent forces. They in fact are run by former party operatives and leaders of one kind or another.

And right now, you have a conjunction of forces that you can see in the conservative media, in the funding organizations, and in the Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers. And it all comes together to provide such overwhelming pressure on individual Republicans to toe the line, to oppose even when they want to engage in problem solving.

BILL MOYERS: So when you mention The Club for Growth, you’re talking about essentially Wall Street finance group of private citizens who will take on a Republican in the primary to defeat him if he doesn’t toe the line on what the financial interests want?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: And these are financial interests who don’t just focus on financial interests. Many of them are themselves radical either libertarians or who have a very strong ideology. And so The Club for Growth will intervene not just on tax issues, but on others. And they’re joined by other groups. You know, when Jim DeMint left the Senate

BILL MOYERS: To head The Heritage…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Head the Heritage Foundation, you know…

BILL MOYERS: Right. A very conservative organization.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Which used to be a think tank. Now, of course, it has a 501(c)4 called Heritage Action. They’re raising money. They’re aggressively participating in the political debates, and will in campaigns. Because you can have as much impact as Tom said, it’s all part of a party apparatus now. From the outside, if you use the leverage of money, and you can also use the leverage of the social media, the talk radio hosts, and others, who have such a dominant impact on the party now, that it takes the problem solvers and puts them in a really, really tricky situation.

BILL MOYERS: You say, in the book, that what we all know: President Obama made great efforts to work cooperatively with the Republicans during his first term. Didn’t get him anything in terms of legislation; got him maybe a second term. But in The New York Times this week, Michael Shear and Peter Baker say, call him, “A president who hesitates to twist arms.” Can you not be president without twisting arms?

THOMAS MANN: Oh, I think that’s a myth.

BILL MOYERS: Do you?

THOMAS MANN: I just think the press is now overrun with President Obama’s personal shortcomings. That he doesn’t engage, that he doesn’t put pressure on members, doesn’t tell them what to do. He doesn’t give them bourbon and branch water and he and he doesn’t raise hell with them. And the reality is that presidential leadership is contextual.

He’s operating with a Republican Party that’s part of this broad apparatus. What can he do to any one of those Republicans? He can’t do anything. He’s not in a position to do it. He tried negotiating early, that was his brand, right? The post-partisan President. He realized what he was up against, and then he said, you know, I’ve got to maneuver, position myself with the Democrats in a way that we can get some things done.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: You know, I would say on the gun issue too we’re premature here. It’s not only that you can’t twist arms in the same way that it might have been available to you before. And the few arms that he could twist on the Democratic side were almost all, with one exception, people who were up for reelection in really tough places. You’re always going to tread a little bit more carefully there. And on the Republican side, it’s not clear what either schmoozing or arm twisting would do.

But my guess is you’re going to see this, the issue of a background check come back. You’re also going to see some executive actions, we’re already beginning to see them, to make sure that people who shouldn’t have access to guns have to go through a process to make it happen. So it’s not only that, this meme in the press: “Why can’t he be like Lyndon Johnson or like Bill Clinton?” As if all the schmoozing that Bill Clinton did got him a single Republican vote for his economic plan. And it took seven months to get the Democrats helped his health care plan, or kept him from being impeached.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, I’m not impressed when people say, well, Barack Obama’s not Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon Johnson is…

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Today he couldn’t be Lyndon Johnson…

BILL MOYERS: Couldn’t be Lyndon Johnson.

BILL MOYERS: This is not the 1960s when Congress had a huge bevy, a large bevy of moderate Republicans.

BILL MOYERS: So who wins, and who loses, when we have this deadlock and dysfunction?

THOMAS MANN: Well, first of all, the public and future generations really do lose. We have serious problems, short and long term, in the country. We’re going to have to figure out how we can compete in a global economy where not just low value but high value jobs may end up elsewhere. We’re going to have a radically different workforce as the population changes, not only in terms of having more African American, Asian American and Hispanic Americans making up a part of that workforce, but as the population gets older and lives longer.

We’ve got challenges in terms of energy and the environment, how you compete in a globe where the threats are very different ones. If you have a government that can’t function, or that gets caught up in a war of the roses where what’s most important is doing short-term damage to the other side, shed a little blood so that you can take over and implement a revolution, we’re all going to lose.

But I think in political terms, I just don’t see a Republican Party that continues down this path. And I’m not alone in that. The Jeb Bushes of the world, and the Haley Barbours of the world, and the Mitch Daniels of the world, and the Chris Christies of the world see it too. If you move off the mainstream and pursue a radical ideology, and if you say, “We’re just not going to make any movement at all,” in some of these issues, eventually voters are going to say, “Enough of this.”

THOMAS MANN: Bill, we’ve been living through now years of stagnant wages, of high unemployment, of growing economic inequality. So the work of our legislature, our governments makes a big difference. And right now, those issues are not being addressed in any substantial way because of the dysfunctional politics, and because the Republican Party has drifted so far from the mainstream of our politics. If there’s optimism, it’s one that the old democratic accountability still works.

BILL MOYERS: Small “d” democratic…

THOMAS MANN: Small “d” democratic accountability, that a party that goes so far from the mainstream gets disciplined, gets beaten, gets hit over the head with a two-by-four by the voters. And then other voices can emerge within the party to change things. That’s perhaps the most the most important. Over time, though, we’ve got changes to make. We simply have to increase the size of the electorate in primary elections as well as

BILL MOYERS: Turnout, voters.

THOMAS MANN: Turnout, voters –

BILL MOYERS: You see that as the–

THOMAS MANN: Participation and turnout. It’s absolutely key because the smaller the turnout, the more extreme the views. And the more likely they are to appeal to the very people who are who are defending the core values of that party.

BILL MOYERS: Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. Thank you for joining me and thank you for writing this.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Thank you, Bill.

THOMAS MANN: Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: America lost a happy warrior and I lost a friend this week – Bob Edgar, the president of the citizens’ lobby Common Cause. A fearless advocate for a fair and just America. You will find my eulogy for him – and other tributes – at our website, BillMoyers.com. And there’s more on our Facebook page and our Twitter feed. I’ll see you there, and I’ll see you here, next time.

© 2013 Public Affairs Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Big Ideas

“What is miss­ing I think from the equa­tion in our strug­gle today is that we must unleash rad­i­cal thought. … Amer­ica has never been moved to per­fect our desire for greater democ­racy with­out rad­i­cal think­ing and rad­i­cal voices being at the helm of any such a quest.” We Must Unleash Radical Thought, Harry Belafonte,  February 2013  - 

 “Millions of people around the world find themselves searching for a more meaningful, relevant, and profound way to engage with life. Not only do they want to become more conscious as individuals, they want to personally participate in the creation of a better world…The fourteen-billion-year project that is our evolving universe has reached a critical juncture where it needs conscious, creative human beings to help build the next step, together.” Andrew Cohen, Conscious evolution for thinking people, EnlightenNext magazine

The big picture

The Big The­o­ries Under­writ­ing Soci­ety Are Crash­ing All Around Us — Are You Ready for a New World? by Ter­rence McNally, Alter­Net, Jan­u­ary 27, 2010…Many of the ideas and insti­tu­tions that define our cul­ture are break­ing down — and that’s a good thing…today’s crises are part of a nat­ural process — clear­ing out what no longer serves us to make room for a new way of being…We can no longer afford to indulge out­dated world­views. In order to deal with the crises we now face, we’ve got to act on the new real­i­ties and under­stand­ings revealed by science…Rather than focus­ing on what’s com­ing apart, we want peo­ple to under­stand that this cri­sis makes it pos­si­ble to move to a much higher level of evolution.…Every cell counts. Every human counts.

Human nature

Scientists find visions of a benevolent future society motivate reform By Eric W. Dolan, Wash­ing­ton Post, March 21, 2013 — Activists, take note: Peo­ple sup­port reform if they believe the changes will enhance the future char­ac­ter of society…people sup­port a future soci­ety that fos­ters the devel­op­ment of warm and moral individuals… If you can com­mu­ni­cate how a pol­icy will serve its pri­mary func­tion and help community-building, our research sug­gests you will gain broader pub­lic support.

Multiple crises

The Fate of Humanity Is at Stake Noam Chom­sky, Alter­Net, Octo­ber 5, 2012…There are two issues of over­whelm­ing sig­nif­i­cance, because the fate of the species is at stake: envi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter, and nuclear war…gov­ern­ments have not responded to the change with any…urgency…This reac­tion demon­strates an extra­or­di­nary will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice the lives of our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren for short-term gain. Or, per­haps, an equally remark­able will­ing­ness to shut our eyes so as not to see the impend­ing peril… Pas­siv­ity may be the easy course, but it is hardly the hon­or­able one.

Civilization

What is civilization by Will Durant — Civ­i­liza­tion is social order pro­mot­ing cul­tural cre­ationIt begins where chaos and inse­cu­rity end.Man dif­fers from the beast only by edu­ca­tion, which may be defined as the tech­nique of trans­mit­ting civilization…

Values

The Values Question by David Brooks,New York Times, November 24, 2009 — …all great public issues…[are] a debate about what kind of country we want America to be. During the first many decades of this nation’s existence, the United States was a wide-open, dynamic country with a rapidly expanding economy. It was also a country that tolerated a large amount of cruelty and pain — poor people living in misery, workers suffering from exploitation. Over the years, Americans decided they wanted a little more safety and security. This is what happens as nations grow wealthier; they use money to buy civilization…

Global values

Global economic crisis also values crisis - Davos poll — by Tom Henegan, Religion Editor, New Frontiers, Reuters, January 27, 2010 – Two-thirds of people around the world think the global economic crisis is also a crisis of ethical values that calls for more honesty, transparency and respect for others, according to a World Economic Forum poll. Almost as many name business as the sector that should stress values more to foster a better world, said the poll for the Forum’s annual Davos summit that opened on Wednesday

Compassion and empathy

The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin, Interview by Amanda Gefter, New Scientist.com, February 17, 2010 …before we can save ourselves from climate change we have to break a vicious circle and embrace a new model of society based on scientists’ new understanding of human nature…We have to think deeper, to think as a human family… Empathy is the invisible social glue that allows a complex individuated society to remain integrated…

Wisdom

Wisdom: The Forgotten Dimension?  by Mary Jaksch,  January 12, 2013…Wisdom means having the moral will to do right by other people, and to have the moral skill to figure out what doing right means. This is not a new idea; it is something that Aristotle taught that in ancient Greece.…A wise person takes the overviewCompassionate action – the outflow of wisdom – happens when we stop being the center of our concern . Then we can open up to a wider view of reality that includes the suffering of others, as well as our own – and  respond with compassion.

Critical thinking

Dark Ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment by John Atcheson, Common Dreams, June 18, 2012 — We are witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world… Much of what has made the modern world in general, and the United States in particular, a free and prosperous society comes directly from insights that arose during the Enlightenment. Too bad we’re chucking it all out and returning to the Dark Ages…Now, we seek to operate by revealed truths, not reality.  Decrees from on high – often issued by an unholy alliance of religious fundamentalists, self-interested corporations, and greedy fat catsare offered up as reality by rightwing politicians…Second, the Enlightenment laid the groundwork for our form of government. The Social Contract is the intellectual basis of all modern democratic republics, including ours.  John Locke and others argued that governments derived their authority from the governed, not from divine right.  Governments could be legitimate, then, only with the consent of the governed. Jefferson acknowledged Locke’s influence on the Declaration of Independence and his ideas are evident in the Constitution. Here again, our founders used reason, empiricism and academic scholarship to cobble together one of the most enduring and influential documents in human history.  For all its flaws, it has steered us steadily toward a more perfect union. Until recently… We are, indeed, at an epochal threshold.  We can continue to discard the Enlightenment values which enabled both an untold increase in material wealth and a system of government which turned serfs into citizens.  A system which – for all its flaws – often managed to protect the rights of the many, against the predatory power of the few. Or we can continue our abject surrender to myths, magical thinking, and self-delusion and the Medieval nation-state those forces are resurrecting. Republicans and Tea Partiers may be leading this retreat from reason, but they are unopposed by Democrats or the Press. And in the end, there is a special place in Hell for those who allow evil to prosper by doing nothing. 

Climate change and overcoming denial

The Earth Is Full by Thomas L. Fried­man, New York Times, June 7, 2011 — You really do have to won­der whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century…and ask our­selves: What were we think­ing? How did we not panic when the evi­dence was so obvi­ous that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population red­lines all at once? “The only answer can be denial,” argues Paul Gild­ing… “When you are sur­rounded by some­thing so big that requires you to change every­thing about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the nat­ural response. But the longer we wait, the big­ger the response required.”…we are cur­rently grow­ing at a rate that is using up the Earth’s resources far faster than they can be sus­tain­ably replen­ished, so we are eat­ing into the future. Right now, global growth is using about 1.5 Earths.…That is what hap­pens when one gen­er­a­tion in one coun­try lives at 150 per­cent of sus­tain­able capac­ity….…We will real­ize, he pre­dicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is bro­ken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on peo­ple work­ing less and own­ing less. “We are head­ing for a crisis-driven choice,” he says. “We either allow col­lapse to over­take us or develop a new sus­tain­able eco­nomic model. We will choose the lat­ter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.” 

Common good

How the Com­mon Good Is Trans­form­ing Our World by Dou­glas LaBier, HuffingtonPost.com, Octo­ber 17, 2010  … a steadily grow­ing con­scious­ness and behav­ior that refo­cuses per­sonal lives and pub­lic poli­cies towards pro­mot­ing the com­mon good. By the “com­mon good” I’m refer­ring to a broad evo­lu­tion beyond val­ues and actions that serve nar­row self-interest, and towards those guided by inclu­sive­ness — sup­port­ing well-being, eco­nomic suc­cess, secu­rity, human rights and stew­ard­ship of resources for the ben­e­fit of all, rather than just for some….It’s an aware­ness of inter­con­nec­tion of all lives on this planet, and a pull towards act­ing upon that real­ity in a range of ways. They include rethink­ing per­sonal rela­tion­ships, the respon­si­bil­ity of busi­ness to soci­ety, and the role of gov­ern­ment in an inter­de­pen­dent world.

Politics and power

America’s War for Reality by Robert Parry,  Jan­u­ary 15, 2013 by Con­sor­tium News — The real strug­gle con­fronting the United States… is test­ing whether fact-based peo­ple have the same deter­mi­na­tion to fight for their real-world view as those who oper­ate in a fact-free space do in defend­ing their illu­sions.….Sim­ply put, the Right fights harder for its fan­ta­sy­land than the rest of Amer­ica does for the real world. The Amer­i­can Right’s col­lec­tive depar­ture from real­ity can be traced back decades, but clearly accel­er­ated with the emer­gence of for­mer actor Ronald Rea­gan on the national stage…Facts didn’t mat­ter; results did… this strat­egy wouldn’t have worked if not for gullible rank-and-file right-wingers who were manip­u­lated by an end­less series of false nar­ra­tives. The Repub­li­can polit­i­cal pros manip­u­lated the racial resent­ments of neo-Confederates, the reli­gious zeal of fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tians, and the free-market hero wor­ship of Ayn Rand acolytes…That these tech­niques suc­ceeded in a polit­i­cal sys­tem that guar­an­teed free­dom of speech and the press was not only a tes­ta­ment to the skills of Repub­li­can oper­a­tives like Lee Atwa­ter and Karl Rove. It was an indict­ment of America’s timid Cen­ter and the nation’s inef­fec­tual Left. Sim­ply put, the Right fought harder for its fan­ta­sy­land than the rest of Amer­ica did for the real world…This post-modern United States may have reached its nadir with George W. Bush’s pres­i­dency. In 2002-03, patently false claims were made about Iraq’s WMD and vir­tu­ally no one in a posi­tion of power had the courage to chal­lenge the lies… the nation lurched off into an aggres­sive war of choicethe United States con­tin­ues to see the con­se­quences of three decades of right-wing delusions…The coun­try is going to need its con­scious inhab­i­tants of the real world to stand up with at least the same deter­mi­na­tion as the deluded denizens of the made-up world. Of course, this fight will be nasty and unpleas­ant. It will require resources, patience and tough­ness. But there is no other answer. Real­ity must be recov­ered and pro­tected – if the planet and the chil­dren are to be saved. 

It’s Time to Fight the Status Quo by Bill McKibben,  Solutions Time For Outrage On Behalf of the Planet, June 7, 2012…slogans and proposals and will mean nothing without the requisite power standing behind themAll along, two things have been clear. One, the scientists who warned us about climate change were absolutely correct…Two, we have much of the technological know-how we need to make the leap past fossil fuel…We need politicians more afraid of voter outrage than they are of corporate retribution…So, if we have an emergency, and we have the tools to fight it, the only question is why we’re not doing so. And the answer, I think, is clear…They go against the power of the status quo, and hence they will be enacted only if we build movements strong enough to force them…We’ll never get the solutions we need—the solutions everyone has known about for two decades—unless we build the movement first.

Culture wars

We the People, and the New American Civil War by Robert Reich, Com­mon Dreams, Novem­ber 6, 2012 .…I think the degree of venom we’re expe­ri­enc­ing has deeper roots.…In other words, white working-class men have been on the los­ing end of a huge demo­graphic and eco­nomic shift. That’s made them a tinder-box of frus­tra­tion and anger – eagerly ignited by Fox News, Rush Lim­baugh, and other peddlers of petu­lance, includ­ing an increas­ing num­ber of Repub­li­cans who have gained polit­i­cal power by fan­ning the flames. That hate-mongering and atten­dant scape­goat­ing – of immi­grants, blacks, gays, women this degree of divi­sive­ness would have taken root had Amer­ica pre­served the social sol­i­dar­ity we had two gen­er­a­tions ago. The Great Depres­sion and World War II reminded us we were all in it together. We had to depend on each other in order to sur­vive. That sense of mutual depen­dence tran­scended our disagreements…The chal­lenge – not only for our pres­i­dent and rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Wash­ing­ton but for all of us – is to redis­cover the public good.

America’s story

The Con­sti­tu­tion is inher­ently pro­gres­sive by John Podesta and John Halpin, Politico.com, Octo­ber 10, 2011 - Pro­gres­sives dis­agree strongly with tea party views on gov­ern­ment, tax­a­tion, pub­lic spend­ing, reg­u­la­tions and social wel­fare poli­cies……As pro­gres­sives, we believe in using the inge­nu­ity of the pri­vate sec­tor and the pos­i­tive power of gov­ern­ment to advance com­mon pur­poses and increase free­dom and oppor­tu­nity…Cou­pled with basic beliefs in fair play, open­ness, coop­er­a­tion and human dig­nity, it is this pro­gres­sive vision that in the past cen­tury helped build the strongest econ­omy in his­tory and allowed mil­lions to move out of poverty and into the mid­dle class. It is the basis for Amer­i­can peace and pros­per­ity as well as greater global coop­er­a­tion in the post­war era…the story of Amer­ica has also been the story of a good nation, con­ceived in lib­erty and equal­ity, even­tu­ally wel­com­ing every Amer­i­can into the arms of democ­racy, pro­tect­ing their free­doms and expand­ing their eco­nomic opportunities…

Democracy of the people, by the people and for the people – the only countervailing force sufficient to stand up to the power of money

Democracy Should Be a Brake on Unbridled Greed and Power - Bill Moyers…Interview with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now — The greatest change in politics in my time has been the transformation of democracy, America, from a citizens’ society, the moral agency…to a consumer society, where most of us are caught up on that treadmill, trying to get more…I think this country is in a very precarious state at the moment….the escalating, accumulating power of organized wealth is snuffing out everything public… I think we’re at a very critical moment in the equilibrium. No society, no human being, can survive without balance, without equilibrium…We don’t have equilibrium now. The power of money trumps the power of democracy today…democracy should be a break on unbridled greed and power, because capitalism…can turn from a servant, a good servant, into an evil master. And democracy is the brake on my passions and my appetites and your greed and your wealth. And we have to get that equilibrium back… you have to exercise your will optimistically, believing that each of us singly, and all of us collectively, can be an agent of change. And I have to get up every morning and imagine a more confident future, and then try to do something that day to help bring it about.

Threats to democracy

Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes, and We May Be Running Out of Luck by Bill Moyers, May 17, 2008 , CommonDreams.orgThe reigning presumption about the American experience…is grounded in the idea of progress, the conviction that the present is “better” than the past and the future will bring even more improvement. For all of its shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, “The system works.” Now all bets are off. We have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear, and the great American experience in creating a different future together has been subjugated to individual cunning in the pursuit of wealth and power …there is a class war and ordinary people are losing it.extremes of wealth and poverty cannot be reconciled with a genuinely democratic politics. When the state becomes the guardian of power and privilege to the neglect of justice for the people as a whole, it mocks the very concept of government as proclaimed in the preamble to our Constitution…Our democracy has prospered most when it was firmly anchored in the idea that “We the People” — not just a favored few — would identify and remedy common distempers and dilemmas and win the gamble our forebears undertook when they espoused the radical idea that people could govern themselves wisely.

Republican extremism

Let’s just say it: The Repub­li­cans are the prob­lem By Thomas E. Mann and Nor­man J. Orn­stein, Wash­ing­ton Post, April 27, 2012
….We have been study­ing Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics and Con­gress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dys­func­tional. In our past writ­ings, we have crit­i­cized both par­ties when we believed it was war­ranted. Today, how­ever, we have no choice but to acknowl­edge that the core of the prob­lem lies with the Repub­li­can Party….The GOP has become an insur­gent out­lier in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. It is ide­o­log­i­cally extreme; scorn­ful of com­pro­mise; unmoved by con­ven­tional under­stand­ing of facts, evi­dence and sci­ence; and dis­mis­sive of the legit­i­macy of its polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion.
When one party moves this far from the main­stream, it makes it nearly impos­si­ble for the polit­i­cal sys­tem to deal con­struc­tively with the country’s challenges.

Citizen education and participation

We have an open­ing in this cri­sis for a deep trans­for­ma­tion in Amer­i­can politics…But it requires peo­ple — this is the hard part — to get out of their sort of pas­sive resignation…and engage among them­selves in a much more seri­ous role as citizens…to force the chang­ing val­ues of the sys­tem. William Grieder being inter­viewed by Bill Moy­ers, July 24, 2008 

Education

“The new edu­ca­tion must be less con­cerned with sophis­ti­ca­tion than com­pas­sion…The old empha­sis upon super­fi­cial dif­fer­ences that sep­a­rate peo­ples must give way to edu­ca­tion for cit­i­zen­ship in the human com­mu­nity…Human des­tiny is the issue. Peo­ple will respond.”  Nor­man Cousins

Economic justice

Trickle-Down Cruelty and the Politics of Austerity by Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed , July 11, 2011 …Any society that allows the market to constitute the axis and framing mechanisms for all social interactions has not just lost its sense of morality and responsibility; it is given up its claim on any vestige of a democratic future. Market fundamentalism along with its structure of extreme inequality and machinery of cruelty has proven to be a death sentence on democracy. The time has come…to rethink what a real democracy might look like and to consider what it will take to actually organize collectively to make it happen.

Imagining a new economics

Reclaiming Our Imaginations from ‘There Is No Alternative’ by Andrea Brower, Fri­day, Jan­u­ary 25, 2013 by Com­mon Dreams — We live in a time of heavy fog. A time when, though many of us dis­sent and resist, human­ity seems com­mit­ted to a course of col­lec­tive sui­cide in the name of pre­serv­ing an eco­nomic sys­tem that gen­er­ates scarcity no mat­ter how much is actu­ally pro­duced. To demand that all have enough to eat on a planet that grows enough food, that absurd num­bers of peo­ple do not die from pre­ventable dis­ease, that utter human depri­va­tion amongst plenty is not tol­er­ated, or that we put the nat­ural laws of the bios­phere above socially con­structed eco­nomic “laws” — is pre­sented as unre­al­is­tic, as the fan­tasy of ide­al­ists or those who are naive to the “com­plex­ity” of the world’s prob­lems. If we cre­ate and recre­ate the world every ­day, then how has it become so sup­pos­edly absurd to believe we might actu­ally cre­ate a world that is hon­estly mak­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, jus­tice and democracy? Cap­i­tal­ism — the logic of sub­or­di­nat­ing every aspect of life to the accu­mu­la­tion of profit (i.e. the “rules of the mar­ket”) — has become today’s “com­mon sense.” It has become almost unthink­able to imag­ine coher­ent alter­na­tives to this logic, even when con­sid­er­ing the most basic of human needs — food, water, health­care, edu­ca­tion. Though many have an under­stand­ing of capitalism’s fail­ings, there is a res­ig­na­tion towards its inevitability…What sus­tains the tragic myth that There Is No Alter­na­tive? Those com­mit­ted to build­ing a more just future must begin re-thinking and reveal­ing the taken-for-granted assump­tions that make cap­i­tal­ism “com­mon sense,” and bring these into the realm of main­stream pub­lic debate in order to widen hori­zons of possibility…

Failure of the main stream media

How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign by Dan Froomkin, Huff­in­g­ton Post, 12/07/2012 — Con­tribut­ing edi­tor, Nie­man Reports … cov­er­age in 2012 was a par­tic­u­larly calami­tous fail­ure, almost entirely miss­ing the sin­gle biggest story of the race: Namely, the rad­i­cal right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Repub­li­can Party, both in terms of its agenda and its rela­tion­ship to the truth… Democ­rats were hardly inno­cent but…the Repub­li­can cam­paign was just far more over the top.”…[Mann and Orn­stein] dra­mat­i­cally rejected the stric­tures of false equiv­a­lency that bind so much of the capital’s media…The 2012 cam­paign …exposed how fab­u­lists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as tak­ing sides… if the story that you’re telling repeat­edly is that they’re all…equally to blame — then you’re really doing a dis­ser­vice to vot­ers, and not doing what jour­nal­ism is supposed to do…

America’s Soul

Crimes Against the Soul of America by Caroline Myss, Huffington Post, September 5, 2009  There is such a thing as a crime against the soul of a nation. A person or a political party can deliberately incite actions that diminish the strength, the integrity, and the overall well-being of a nation’s inner core. America’s soul is in a fragile state. It has suffered severe violations over the course of this past decade and to lesser degrees, in previous decades…of all the crimes covertly and overtly committed by the Bush administration against the soul of America, none is as vile as the deliberate efforts they poured into turning American against American. We see that in the near hatred between the Republicans and Democrats, between liberals and conservatives, between free-thinkers and evangelicals that continues to fester. This crime was a strategic one, a well thought out plan to fragment the people of this nation in a type of contemporary replay of the Civil War. And sadly, the Republicans succeeded. Thank you, Karl Rove. The result is that the soul of America is exhausted, wounded, mistrusting, suspicious, fearful — and compromised. This is not a soul that can rebuild a country, not if you know anything about the laws of nature and the fundamentals of healing…A conscious effort to “dumb down” the education of this nation qualifies as a crime against the soul of America.…I deeply believe the soul of our nation can’t take much more of their strategy of deliberate division against the people of their own nation. That is a true crime — and perhaps their greatest crime — against the soul of this great nation.

Moral politics

A Values– and Vision-Based Political Dream by Benjamin Mordecai Ben-Baruch, Tikkun, Winter 2011, We need leaders and organizers to inspire people and communities to act on their values and hopes. We need help articulating our values and vision of the ideal future. Right-wing successes have been achieved by appealing to peoples’ fears, hatreds and prejudices. But the politics of hope is stronger than politics of fear. Imagining our future based on our highest ideals can mobilize us to overcome the paralysis of fear and hatred. The politics of hope is not issue oriented, and people who share the same values and vision often disagree on the issues…We need to go beyond issue-oriented politics and the politics of fear to a public discourse focused on articulating our vision for the ideal future and what that future would look like. We need a vision of a society without the injustices of poverty and social inequality. We need a dream..

Spiritual progressives

Idealism, Conscience And The Spiritual Left by William Horden, Huffington Post, March 1, 2010  …Spiritual Left did not, of course, originate with the 60s.…it dates back at least to 1838, when Emerson and other Transcendentalists began their quest for a path “away from the old ‘religions of authority’ into a new ‘religion of the spirit.’”…sought a first-hand experience of the divine grounded in nature and community rather than institutionalized dogma. Rooted deep in the grain of American culture, the Spiritual Left has long acted as the progressive conscience of the nation, championing as it did from its very beginning unpopular causes like abolition and women’s rights… Amorphous and anti-authoritarian, the Spiritual Left is perhaps best defined as a borderless association of leaders. Free thinkers and independent seekers of spirituality beyond dogma, its members engage in–and disengage from–political activism as a matter of personal conviction, not ordained groupthink…The Political Left will need to return to the moral high ground of progressive American thought and give voice to the American conscience of compassion if it is to recapture the imagination and heart of its spiritual counterpart. It has to want to change the world for the better, not just get elected…

Imagination

A Time for ‘Sublime Madness’ by Chris Hedges, Jan­u­ary 21, 2013 by TruthDig.com - The planet we have assaulted will convulse with fury. The senseless greed of limitless capitalist expansion will implode the global economy. The decimation of civil liberties, carried out in the name of fighting terror, will shackle us to an interconnected security and surveillance state that stretches from Moscow to Istanbul to New York. To endure what lies ahead we will have to harness the human imagination…It is the imagination that makes possible transcendence…“Ultimately, the artist and the revolutionary function as they function, and pay whatever dues they must pay behind it because they are both possessed by a vision, and they do not so much follow this vision as find themselves driven by it,” wrote James Baldwin. “Otherwise, they could never endure, much less embrace, the lives they are compelled to lead.”

Global Convergence

A Global Convergence of Social Movements?  By Joe Brewer, Chaotic Ripple, Cognitive Policy Works In Collaboration, Economic Patterns, Social Change on May 24, 2011 — What will the world look like in 2050? 2070? 2100?…Imagine if the major social movements of the world — sustainability, global justice, world federalism, corporation reform, open collaboration, and social finance – were to congeal into a new way of being.  There are trends that suggest this is already happening.  We can help amplify this convergence.  Or we can suppress it…

Global Consciousness

We May Be Wit­ness­ing the First Large Global Con­flict Where Peo­ple Are Aligned by Con­scious­ness and Not Nation State or Reli­gion By Naomi Wolf, Al Jazeera Eng­lish, Posted on AlterNet.org, Novem­ber 1, 2011  …Sud­denly, the United States looks like the rest of the furi­ous, protest­ing, not-completely-free world. Indeed, most com­men­ta­tors have not fully grasped that a world war is occur­ring. But it is unlike any pre­vi­ous war in human his­tory: for the first time, peo­ple around the world are not iden­ti­fy­ing and organ­is­ing them­selves along national or reli­gious lines, but rather in terms of a global con­scious­ness and demands for a peace­ful life, a sus­tain­able future, eco­nomic jus­tice and basic democ­racy. Their enemy is a global “cor­po­ra­toc­racy” that has pur­chased gov­ern­ments and leg­is­la­tures, cre­ated its own armed enforcers, engaged in sys­temic eco­nomic fraud, and plun­dered trea­suries and ecosystems…

Transformation

The Great Turn­ing: The End of Empire and the Rise of Earth Com­mu­nity by David Kor­ten, Jan­u­ary 27, 2008 …find­ing a path­way to a viable human future is the Great Work of our time…Our envi­ron­men­tal, social, and eco­nomic sys­tems are col­laps­ing around us….This is a defin­ing moment for the human species. We have a brief win­dow of oppor­tu­nity to nav­i­gate the pas­sage from a self-destructive Era of Empire, char­ac­ter­ized by 5,000 years of vio­lent dom­i­na­tion, to an Era of Earth Com­mu­nity char­ac­ter­ized by peace­ful partnership.…This is arguably the most excit­ing time to be alive in the whole of the human expe­ri­ence. Cre­ation is call­ing us to rein­vent our cul­tures, our insti­tu­tions and our­selves. It is in our hands. We have the power. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for.

Peace and prosperity for all

5 Ways to Achieve World Peace and Prosperity — 2048: Humanity’s Agreement to Live Together  …One of the most pernicious myths is that peace and prosperity are hopelessly complicated and unattainable…This is untrue. Peace and prosperity can be attained through the realization of five basic fundamental freedoms, for all people, everywhere in the world. They are: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, freedom for the environment, and freedom from fear…The problem is those who are presently profiting…have an interest in maintaining the status quo. It is time for the human rights community to have the strength and daring to band together so that we have the clout to stand up to this narrow-minded view…Awareness can be created with … only 1% of humanity to share the news…This 1% of humanity already exists…now the Internet and 2048 are bringing all these communities together…


Jonathan Haidt Explains Our Contentious Culture

Bill Moyers – transcript – February 3, 2012

Excerpt

BILL MOYERS interviews Jonathan Haidt, author of book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Jonathan Haidt has made his reputation as a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, where he and his colleagues explore reason and intuition, why people disagree so passionately and how the moral mind works. They post their research on the website yourmorals.org.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. People I meet on the left, on the right and in the middle agree on one thing: our country is in a mess, and our politics are not making it betterBut as the ship of state is sinking, the crew is at each other’s throats, too busy fighting to plug the holes and pump out the water. And everything’s been made rotten by the toxic rancor and demonizing that have shredded civil discourse and devastated our ability to govern ourselves…

JONATHAN HAIDT: …liberals are much higher than conservatives on a major personality trait called “openness to experience.” People who are high on openness to experience just crave novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel. People low on it like things that are familiar, that are safe and dependable. If you know about this trait you can understand a lot of puzzles about human behavior…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Anytime we’re interacting with someone, we’re judging them, we’re sharing expectations, we think they didn’t live up to those expectations. So, in analyzing any social situation you have to understand moral psychology. Our moral sense really evolved to bind groups together into teams that can cooperate in order to compete with other teams.

So, some situations will sort of ramp up that tribal us-versus-them mentality. Nothing gets us together like a foreign attack. And we’ve seen that, 9/11, and Pearl Harbor. And, conversely, when there are moral divisions within the group, and no external attack, the tribalism can ramp up, and reach really pathological proportions. And that’s where we are now.

JONATHAN HAIDT: …tribalism evolved, ultimately, for war. And when it reaches a certain intensity, that’s when, sort of, the switches flip, the other side is evil, they’re not just our opponents, they’re evil. And once you think they’re evil, then the ends justify the means. And you can break laws, and you can do anything, because it’s in the service of fighting evil.

BILL MOYERS: When I saw the title of your book, The Righteous Mind,” I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” Because you point out that the derivative, the root of the word righteous is an old English world that does mean just, upright and virtuous. Then it gets picked up and used in Hebrew to translate the word describing people who act in accordance with God’s wishes, and it becomes an attribute of God, and of God’s judgment on people. So the righteous mind becomes a harsh judge…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Our minds evolved not just to help us find the truth about how things work… But in the social world, our minds are not designed to figure out who really did what to whom. They are finely tuned navigational machines to work through a complicated social network, in which you’ve got to maintain your alliances, and your reputation. And as Machiavelli told us long ago, it matters far more what people think of you than what the reality is. And we are experts at manipulating our self-presentation. So, we’re so good at it, that we actually believe the nonsense that we say to other people.

BILL MOYERS: So, take the subtitle. Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Why are they? And what does the righteous mind have to do with it?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Politics has always been about coalitions and teams fighting each other. But those teams, those teams were never evenly divided on morality. Now, well, basically it all started, as you well know, on the day Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act

BILL MOYERS: He actually said to me that evening, “I think we’ve just turned the South over to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. And he was prescient, that’s exactly what happened. So there was this anomaly for the 20th Century that both parties were coalitions of different regions, and interest groups. But there were liberal Republicans, there were conservative Democrats. So the two teams, they had, they were people whose moralities could meet up. Even though they were playing on different teamsfor the first time we have an ideologically pure division of the parties. And now, this groupish tribalism, which is usually not so destructive, we can usually, you know, when you leave the playing field, you can still meet up, and be friends. But now that it truly is a moral division, now the other side is evil. And there’s nobody, there aren’t really pairs of people who can match up, and say, well, come on. We all agree on this, let’s work together.

BILL MOYERS You remind me that when we set out to try to pass the Civil Rights Act of ’64, and the Voting Rights Act of ’65, LBJ commissioned us to go spend much of our time with the moderate Republicans in the HouseEverett Dirksen, the senior Republican from Illinois and the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate and he was the one who, in the critical moments, brought a number of moderate Republicans to vote for the Civil Rights bill. You’re saying that was a deciding moment, a defining moment?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So there are three major historical facts, or changes, that have gotten us into the mess that we’re in. So the first is the realignment of the South into the Republican column, which allowed both parties now to be pure. So that now there are basically no liberal Republicans matching up with conservative Democrats. So, the parties are totally separated. The second thing that happened was the replacement of the Greatest Generation by the Baby Boomers.

BILL MOYERS: The Greatest Generation fought World War II. Came home. Built the country, ran the economy. People’s politics, and, created this consensual government your talking–

JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly. These are people who joined groups, had a sense of civic responsibility, participated in the democratic process. And so these people, as they moved through. I mean, they could disagree. Politics has always been contentious. But at the end of the day, they felt they were part of the same country, and in the Senate and the House, they were part of the same institution. They’re replaced by the Baby Boomers. And what’s their foundational experience?

It’s not responding together to a foreign threat. It’s fighting each other over whether this country is doing evil, or good. So you get the good/evil dichotomy about America, and about each other happening in the ’60s, and ’70s, when these people grow up, assume political office. Now, you got Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. It’s a lot harder for them to agree than it was for Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, the Baby Boomers, I think, are more prone to Manichaean thinking….Good and evil…. Manichaeus was a, I think, third century Persian prophet, who preached that the world is a battleground between the forces of light, and the forces of darkness. And everybody has to take a side. And some people have sided with good, and of course, we all believe that we’ve sided with good. But that means that the other people have sided with evil…

And when it gets so that your opponents are not just people you disagree with, but when it gets to the mental state in which I am fighting for good, and you are fighting for evil, it’s very difficult to compromise. Compromise becomes a dirty word.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right, that’s right. Because once you’ve crossed over from normal political disagreement into Manichaean good versus evil, to compromise, I mean, we say, you know, his ethics were compromised, you don’t compromise with evil. Now, I think it’s especially an issue for Republicans because they are better at doing, sort of, tribal team based loyalties. The data we have at yourmorals.org shows that conservatives score much higher on this foundation of loyalty, groupishness

JONATHAN HAIDT: The Republicans can hang together better. And part of it is, they’re better at drawing lines and saying, ‘I will not go over this line.’

BILL MOYERS: But governing is all about brokering compromise…You cannot in a pluralistic, multicultural society with all the different beliefs, have a mantra that unites us all. You’ve got to broker compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, it depends what perspective you’re taking. If you’re looking at the good of the nation, you’re absolutely right. But for competition within the nation, taking this hard lined position is working out pretty well for them. So, sure. You can have a hard line against compromise. And especially if the other side can’t get as tough, can’t threaten to break legs, you end up winning.

And I think Democrats are a little weaker here. And certainly Obama took a lot of flack for that, in his negotiation strategy with the Republicans, as far as I can see, he’s never really presented a credible threat. So, they’ve been better off walking away from the table.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but the country suffers, doesn’t it, when-

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. Absolutely-

BILL MOYERS: Boehner and the Republicans think it’s immoral to compromise, and Obama thinks it’s immoral not to compromise?…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Obama is such a great orator and wowed so many of us in the campaign. But then, once he was elected, you know, he’s been focusing on the terrific, terrible problems that he’s had to deal with. But I think he has not made the moral case that would back up the arguments from the politicians in Washington.

I think the Democrats need to be developing a credible argument about fairness, capitalism, American history. They need to be developing this master narrative so that when they then have an argument on a particular issue, it’ll resonate with people. And they’re not doing that. But the Republicans have.

…The third is that America has gone from being a nation with localities that were diverse by class, in particular, let’s say. You had rich people, and poor people living together.

It’s become, in the post-war world, gradually a nation of lifestyle enclaves, where people chose to self-segregate. If people are concentrating just with people who are like them, then they’re not exposed to the ideas from the other side, from people that they can actually like and respect. If you get all your ideas about the other side from the internet, where there’s no human connection, it’s just so easy, and automatic to reject it, and demonize it. So once we’ve sorted ourselves into homogeneous moral communities, it becomes a lot harder to work together…

JONATHAN HAIDT: …organizes morality into six moral foundations or concerns….the first one is care, compassion, those sorts of issues, liberals have it turned up to 11…The next two, liberty and fairness, when liberty and fairness conflict with care, are you going to punish someone, or are you going to be compassionate? Liberals are more likely to go with care…. The next three, loyalty, authority and sanctity, what we find, across many questionnaires, many surveys and analyses of texts and sermons, all sorts of things, is that liberals don’t talk a lot about loyalty, you know, group loyalty. They don’t talk a lot about authority and the importance of order and authority, maintaining order. They don’t talk a lot about sanctity. Conservatives on the other hand, what we find is that, they value all of these more or less equally.

And I think this is part of the reason why conservatives have done a much better job of connecting with American morality and convincing people that they are the party of moral values….

on the right, where they do sacralize America, they can’t think about the nuances about how America is not always right, American foreign policy did contribute to 9/11, but you can’t say that because people on the right will see that as sacrilege. So they’re blind. Whereas people on the left have a more nuanced view.

So, you know, everything’s a Rorschach test. As long as there’s any ambiguity, one side will see the things that damn it, the other side will see the things that praise it….I think something is wrong with our Democratic and capitalist system. And this is where I think the left has really fallen down in articulating what’s wrong. The right has been extremely effective and has funded think tanks that have made the case very powerfully for what’s good about capitalism.

And they’re right. I mean, without capitalism, without free markets, we would not have the massive wealth that supports you and me and everyone else who doesn’t physically make stuff. But since you need the push and pull, you need the give and take. You need the yin and yang. You need a good argument against that view. And I think it needs to be an argument about how capitalism, yes, it is good. But it only works under certain conditions…

JONATHAN HAIDT: …cooperation and competition are opposite sides of the same coin. And we’ve gotten this far because we cooperate to compete. So you can say that liberals are more accurate or in touch with how the system works. But I would say they’re more in touch with some aspects of how systems go awry and oppress some people, ignore other people. Liberals see some aspects of where the social system breaks down. And conservatives see others. You have to have consequences following bad behavior. That is as basic an aspect of system design as any. And that’s one where conservatives see it much more clearly than liberals…

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, well, how do we do that when, in fact, there’s a great advantage to one side or the other side to demonize the enemy? And here, you know, you bring us right to Newt Gingrich and his career.

BILL MOYERS: In 1990, Newt Gingrich was chairman of something called GOPAC, which was a conservative political action committee. And he issued a memo to the members, the conservative members of that organization about words that conservatives should use to describe themselves and words they should use to describe Democrats and liberals.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Abuse of power, betray, bizarre, corrupt, criminal rights, cheat, devour, disgrace, greed, steal, sick, traitors, radical, red tape, unionized, waste, welfarehe had words there that touch all six of the foundations

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. It can because that makes you stronger in the contest within the group. Within the nation your side can beat the other side if you demonize, but it makes the nation weaker. Most of our politics is driven by the people at the extremes, the people who have these dispositions fairly strongly, get passionate, get engaged, give money, blog, argue. Those people rarely cross over. So, but most Americans are not that politically engaged, and they’re the ones that decide the elections. So, since most people aren’t extreme either way in their basic disposition, they’re up for grabs. And, whichever party can connect with their moral values. And this is where I think again, the Democrats have not fully understood moral psychology. I listen to them in election after election, especially 2000, 2004, saying, ‘We’ve got this policy for you. We’re going to give you more support,’ as though politics is shopping.

As though, ‘Come, you know, buy from us. We’ve got a better deal for you.’ The Democrats, I find, have not been as good at understanding that politics is really religion. Politics is about sacredness. Politics is about offering a vision that will bind the nation together to pursue greatness. And Republicans since Ronald Reagan have been really good at that…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Something we need to talk about here is what’s called the confirmation bias. That is, you might think that our reasoning is designed to find the truth. And if you want to find the truth, you should look on both sides of a proposition. But in fact what happens is, when someone gives you a proposition, our minds, we send them out, we sent them out to do research for us..

The only cure for the confirmation bias is other people.

So, if you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason. And this is the way the scientific world is supposed to work.

And this is the way it does work in almost every part of it. You know, I’ve got my theory, and I’m really good at justifying it. But fortunately there’s peer review, and there’s lots of people are really good at undercutting it. And saying, “Well, what about this phenomenon? You didn’t account for that.”

And we worked together even if we don’t want to, we end up being forced to work together, challenging each other’s confirmation biases, and truth emerges… Wisdom comes out of a group of people well-constituted who have some faith or trust in each other. That’s what our political institutions used to do, but they don’t do anymore.

BILL MOYERS: You’re helping me to understand this fundamental dichotomy in American political life, the- a country that mythologizes the rugged individual…But a country that’s now governed by dogmatic group politics, right?

JONATHAN HAIDT: … once you see the basic dynamic of human life is individuals competing with individuals, but when necessary, coming together so that the group can compete with the group. So it’s perfectly consistent for the right to worship rugged individualism at the individual level and to see government and especially government safety nets and nanny states as deeply immoral because it undercuts rugged individualism.

JONATHAN HAIDT:… The problem is that government, whoever has the reins of government uses it for moralistic purposes…

Full text

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. People I meet on the left, on the right and in the middle agree on one thing: our country is in a mess, and our politics are not making it better. The problems seem insurmountable, three times last year congress came close to shutting down the government. In August, we almost defaulted on our more than $14 trillion debt, which could skyrocket even further if the Bush tax cuts are continued and spending is untouched at year’s end.

But as the ship of state is sinking, the crew is at each other’s throats, too busy fighting to plug the holes and pump out the water. And everything’s been made rotten by the toxic rancor and demonizing that have shredded civil discourse and devastated our ability to govern ourselves. Just look at the ugliness of the election campaign. So we’re left with paralysis, dysfunction, and a whole lot of rage.

On that cheery note, listen to this fellow. I first saw him on the website TED.com, that stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design.” It’s the non-profit that brings together some of our most creative and provocative thinkers.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Suppose that two American friends are traveling together in Italy. They go to see Michelangelo’s David. And when they finally come face to face with the statue, they both freeze dead in their tracks. The first guy, we’ll call him Adam, is transfixed by the beauty of the perfect human form. The second guy, we’ll call him Bill, is transfixed by embarrassment of staring at the thing there in the center. So here’s my question for you: which one of these two guys was more likely to have voted for George Bush? Which for Al Gore? I don’t need a show of hands because we all have the same political stereotypes, we all know that it’s Bill. And in this case the stereotype corresponds to a reality. It really is a fact that liberals are much higher than conservatives on a major personality trait called “openness to experience.” People who are high on openness to experience just crave novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel. People low on it like things that are familiar, that are safe and dependable.

 

If you know about this trait you can understand a lot of puzzles about human behavior. You can understand why artists are so different from accountants, you can actually predict what kinds of books they like to read, what kinds of places they like to travel to and what kinds of foods they like to eat. Once you understand this trait you can understand why anybody would eat at Applebee’s, but not anybody that you know.

 

BILL MOYERS: Jonathan Haidt has taken the core of that speech which you can see at our website BillMoyers.com, and turned it into an important and timely book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, to be published in March. His ideas are controversial but they make you think. Haidt says, for example, that liberals misunderstand conservatives more than the other way around, and that while conservatives see self-sufficiency as a profound moral value for individuals, liberals are more focused on a public code of care and equity.

 

Jonathan Haidt has made his reputation as a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, where he and his colleagues explore reason and intuition, why people disagree so passionately and how the moral mind works. They post their research on the website yourmorals.org.

 

Welcome.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Thank you, Bill.

 

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean righteous mind?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Anytime we’re interacting with someone, we’re judging them, we’re sharing expectations, we think they didn’t live up to those expectations.

 

So, in analyzing any social situation you have to understand moral psychology. Our moral sense really evolved to bind groups together into teams that can cooperate in order to compete with other teams.

 

So, some situations will sort of ramp up that tribal us-versus-them mentality. Nothing gets us together like a foreign attack. And we’ve seen that, 9/11, and Pearl Harbor. And, conversely, when there are moral divisions within the group, and no external attack, the tribalism can ramp up, and reach really pathological proportions. And that’s where we are now.

 

BILL MOYERS: So, but, it’s sort of a tradition to divide into teams. The Giants versus the Patriots. Or the Republicans versus the Democrats. Us versus them, is almost something un-American to suggest that there’s something wrong with that?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: No. Groupishness is generally actually good. A lot of research in social psychology shows that when you divide people into teams, to compete, they love their in-group members a lot more. And the hostility toward out-group members is usually minimal. So sports competitions– and I’m at a big football school, UVA. You know-

 

BILL MOYERS: University of Virginia-

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: University of Virginia. And you know, the other team comes, there’s, you know, some pseudo aggression in the stands. You know, hostile motions. But, you know, that night, there aren’t bar fights, when everybody’s drinking together downtown.

 

That’s the way, sort of, healthy, normal, groupish tribalism works. But, the tribalism evolved, ultimately, for war. And when it reaches a certain intensity, that’s when, sort of, the switches flip, the other side is evil, they’re not just our opponents, they’re evil. And once you think they’re evil, then the ends justify the means. And you can break laws, and you can do anything, because it’s in the service of fighting evil.

 

BILL MOYERS: When I saw the title of your book, The Righteous Mind,” I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” Because you point out that the derivative, the root of the word righteous is an old English world that does mean just, upright and virtuous. Then it gets picked up and used in Hebrew to translate the word describing people who act in accordance with God’s wishes, and it becomes an attribute of God, and of God’s judgment on people. So the righteous mind becomes a harsh judge.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. I chose that title in part because we all think, you know, morality is a good thing, justice, ethics. And I wanted to get across the sense that, let’s just look with open eyes at human nature. And right, morality is part of our nature. And morality is, makes us do things that we think are good, but it also makes us do things that we often think are bad. It’s all part of our groupish, tribal, judgmental, hyper-judgmental, hypocritical nature. We are all born to be hypocrites. That’s part of the design.

 

BILL MOYERS: Born to be hypocrites.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Born to be hypocrites. That’s right.

 

BILL MOYERS: How so?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Our minds evolved not just to help us find the truth about how things work. If you’re navigating through a landscape, sure, you need to know, you know, where the dangers are, where the opportunities are. But in the social world, our minds are not designed to figure out who really did what to whom. They are finely tuned navigational machines to work through a complicated social network, in which you’ve got to maintain your alliances, and your reputation.

 

And as Machiavelli told us long ago, it matters far more what people think of you than what the reality is. And we are experts at manipulating our self-presentation. So, we’re so good at it, that we actually believe the nonsense that we say to other people.

 

BILL MOYERS: So, take the subtitle. Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Why are they? And what does the righteous mind have to do with it?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Politics has always been about coalitions and teams fighting each other. But those teams, those teams were never evenly divided on morality. Now, well, basically it all started, as you well know, on the day Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. You tell me what he said on that day. I think I heard you say this once.

 

BILL MOYERS: He actually said to me that evening, “I think we’ve just turned the South over to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours.”

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. And he was prescient, that’s exactly what happened. So there was this anomaly for the 20th Century that both parties were coalitions of different regions, and interest groups. But there were liberal Republicans, there were conservative Democrats. So the two teams, they had, they were people whose moralities could meet up. Even though they were playing on different teams.

 

And once Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and the South, which had been Democrat, because Lincoln had been a Republican, so once they all moved over to the Republican party, and then the moderate Republicans began to lose office in the ’80s, and ’90s, and the last ones going just recently, for the first time we have an ideologically pure division of the parties.

 

And now, this groupish tribalism, which is usually not so destructive, we can usually, you know, when you leave the playing field, you can still meet up, and be friends. But now that it truly is a moral division, now the other side is evil. And there’s nobody, there aren’t really pairs of people who can match up, and say, well, come on. We all agree on this, let’s work together.

 

BILL MOYERS You remind me that when we set out to try to pass the Civil Rights Act of ’64, and the Voting Rights Act of ’65, LBJ commissioned us to go spend much of our time with the moderate Republicans in the House, and in the Senate. Because he said, “When push comes to shove, and when the roll is called, we’re going to need them to pass this bill.” And at one point, in the signing of one of those bills, he turned and handed the pen to Everett Dirksen, the senior Republican from Illinois and the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate and he was the one who, in the critical moments, brought a number of moderate Republicans to vote for the Civil Rights bill. You’re saying that was a deciding moment, a defining moment?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: So there are three major historical facts, or changes, that have gotten us into the mess that we’re in. So the first is the realignment of the South into the Republican column, which allowed both parties now to be pure. So that now there are basically no liberal Republicans matching up with conservative Democrats. So, the parties are totally separated. The second thing that happened was the replacement of the Greatest Generation by the Baby Boomers.

 

BILL MOYERS: The Greatest Generation fought World War II. Came home. Built the country, ran the economy. People’s politics, and, created this consensual government your talking–

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly. These are people who joined groups, had a sense of civic responsibility, participated in the democratic process. And so these people, as they moved through. I mean, they could disagree. Politics has always been contentious. But at the end of the day, they felt they were part of the same country, and in the Senate and the House, they were part of the same institution. They’re replaced by the Baby Boomers. And what’s their foundational experience?

 

It’s not responding together to a foreign threat. It’s fighting each other over whether this country is doing evil, or good. So you get the good/evil dichotomy about America, and about each other happening in the ’60s, and ’70s, when these people grow up, assume political office. Now, you got Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. It’s a lot harder for them to agree than it was for Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan.

 

BILL MOYERS: So we get through the culture wars. Fights over abortion, prayer in schools. And that conflict becomes very polarizing.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly.

 

BILL MOYERS: And that’s because of the Baby Boomers, and-

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, the Baby Boomers, I think, are more prone to Manichaean thinking.

 

BILL MOYERS: Manichaean thinking. Good and evil.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. Manichaeus was a, I think, third century Persian prophet, who preached that the world is a battleground between the forces of light, and the forces of darkness. And everybody has to take a side. And some people have sided with good, and of course, we all believe that we’ve sided with good. But that means that the other people have sided with evil.

 

And when it gets so that your opponents are not just people you disagree with, but when it gets to the mental state in which I am fighting for good, and you are fighting for evil, it’s very difficult to compromise. Compromise becomes a dirty word.

 

BILL MOYERS: Let me play you an exchange between House Speaker John Boehner and Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes.” Take a look at this.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We have to govern, that’s what we were elected to do.

LESLEY STAHL: But governing means compromising.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: It means working together.

LESLEY STAHL: It also means compromising.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: It means finding common ground.

LESLEY STAHL: Ok, is that compromising?

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Let me be clear I am not going to compromise on my principles, nor am I going to compromise the will of the American people.

LESLEY STAHL: You’re saying “I want common ground but I’m not going to compromise.” I don’t understand that, I really don’t.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: When you say the word compromise, a lot of Americans look up and go, ‘oh, oh, they’re going to sell me out.’ And so finding common ground, I think, makes more sense.

LESLEY STAHL: I reminded him that his goal had been to get all the Bush tax cuts made permanent. So you did compromise.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We found common ground.

LESLEY STAHL: Why won’t you say– you’re afraid of the word!

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: I reject the word.

BILL MOYERS: He could barely say the word compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right, that’s right. Because once you’ve crossed over from normal political disagreement into Manichaean good versus evil, to compromise, I mean, we say, you know, his ethics were compromised, you don’t compromise with evil. Now, I think it’s especially an issue for Republicans because they are better at doing, sort of, tribal team based loyalties. The data we have at yourmorals.org shows that conservatives score much higher on this foundation of loyalty, groupishness. And the Republican, I mean, which job would you rather have in Congress? The Republican whip or the Democratic whip? You know?

BILL MOYERS: Right.

JONATHAN HAIDT: The Republicans can hang together better. And part of it is, they’re better at drawing bright lines and saying, ‘I will not go over this line.’

BILL MOYERS: But governing is all about brokering compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes, absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: You cannot in a pluralistic, multicultural society with all the different beliefs, have a mantra that unites us all. You’ve got to broker compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, it depends what perspective you’re taking. If you’re looking at the good of the nation, you’re absolutely right. But for competition within the nation, taking this hard lined position is working out pretty well for them. So, sure. You can have a hard line against compromise. And especially if the other side can’t get as tough, can’t threaten to break legs, you end up winning.

And I think Democrats are a little weaker here. And certainly Obama took a lot of flack for that, in his negotiation strategy with the Republicans, as far as I can see, he’s never really presented a credible threat. So, they’ve been better off walking away from the table.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but the country suffers, doesn’t it, when-

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. Absolutely-

BILL MOYERS: Boehner and the Republicans think it’s immoral to compromise, and Obama thinks it’s immoral not to compromise?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, that’s true. I would say Obama could’ve done a much better job with his negotiating strategy.

BILL MOYERS: By?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Obama is such a great orator and wowed so many of us in the campaign. But then, once he was elected, you know, he’s been focusing on the terrific, terrible problems that he’s had to deal with. But I think he has not made the moral case that would back up the arguments from the politicians in Washington.

I think the Democrats need to be developing a credible argument about fairness, capitalism, American history. They need to be developing this master narrative so that when they then have an argument on a particular issue, it’ll resonate with people. And they’re not doing that. But the Republicans have.

BILL MOYERS: So the Greatest Generation disappears. The Boomers come along. The Civil Rights fight divides the country. And the third one?

JONATHAN HAIDT: The third is that America has gone from being a nation with localities that were diverse by class, in particular, let’s say. You had rich people, and poor people living together.

It’s become, in the post-war world, gradually a nation of lifestyle enclaves, where people chose to self-segregate. If people are concentrating just with people who are like them, then they’re not exposed to the ideas from the other side, from people that they can actually like and respect. If you get all your ideas about the other side from the internet, where there’s no human connection, it’s just so easy, and automatic to reject it, and demonize it. So once we’ve sorted ourselves into homogeneous moral communities, it becomes a lot harder to work together.

BILL MOYERS: This gets us to the, what you talk about in the book, consensual hallucinations.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Right.

BILL MOYERS: What’s that?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So I assume many viewers have seen the movie “The Matrix” and, or, one of those movies. And, it’s a conceit in the science fiction book that the matrix is a consensual hallucination generated by computers and that we all live in it.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

JONATHAN HAIDT: And I think this is a brilliant social psych metaphor. Back when we all encountered people of the other party, you couldn’t have a consensual hallucination that wasn’t interrupted by other people.

But once we can all live in these lifestyle enclaves, we only watch certain TV shows, we only go to certain websites, we only meet people like us, the matrix gets so closed in that each side here lives in a separate moral universe with its own facts, its own experts. And there’s no way to get into the other matrix, to just throw, you can’t just throw arguments or scientific studies at them and say, ‘Here conservatives, deal with this finding.’

It’s not going to do anything. And conversely, they throw it back at you. We all feel as though we’re living in reality. But them, they’re caught up in this matrix. They’re in la-la land. But we’re all in la-la land. If you are part of a partisan community, if you’re part of any community that has come together to pursue moral ends, you are in a moral matrix.

BILL MOYERS: My side is right, your side is wrong. Just ipso facto, right?

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: Let me get some clarity on one of your basic foundations here. Your research in the book, you and your associates, organizes morality into six moral foundations or concerns. Sketch them briefly and tell me how liberals and conservatives differ on each of them.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Sure. So, if you imagine each of our righteous minds as being, like an audio equalizer with six slider switches, and the first one is care, compassion, those sorts of issues, liberals have it turned up to 11. And we have this on a lot of different surveys. Liberals really feel. When they see an animal being mistreated, they’re more likely to feel something than conservatives, and especially than libertarians, who are very, very low on this one.

JONATHAN HAIDT: The next two, liberty and fairness, when liberty and fairness conflict with care, are you going to punish someone, or are you going to be compassionate? Liberals are more likely to go with care.

JONATHAN HAIDT: In other words, care trumps liberty and fairness, even though everybody cares about all three of those. The next three, loyalty, authority and sanctity, what we find, across many questionnaires, many surveys and analyses of texts and sermons, all sorts of things, is that liberals don’t talk a lot about loyalty, you know, group loyalty. They don’t talk a lot about authority and the importance of order and authority, maintaining order. They don’t talk a lot about sanctity. Conservatives on the other hand, what we find is that, they value all of these more or less equally.

And I think this is part of the reason why conservatives have done a much better job of connecting with American morality and convincing people that they are the party of moral values.

BILL MOYERS: Let’s get down to some brass tacks, or brass knuckles as one might want to say. There’s so much anger and incivility in our politics today. And the twain do not seem able to meet.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: You have a lot of photographs of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street that get at how moral psychology divides us, just-

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: Walk me through some of these.

JONATHAN HAIDT: The first step that we all need to take is to understand that the other side is not crazy. They’re not holding their position just because they’ve been bribed or because they’re racist or whatever evil motives you want to attribute.

JONATHAN HAIDT: So what I’m hoping my book will do is kind of give people almost a decoding manual so they can look at anything from the other side and instead of saying, ‘See, this shows how evil they are,’ you say, ‘Oh, okay, I see why they’re saying that.’ All right, so, let’s take, ‘Stop punishing success, stop rewarding failure.’

BILL MOYERS: I remember seeing that at one of the early Tea Party rallies.

JONATHAN HAIDT: So that’s one version of fairness. Fairness adds proportionality.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, if people work hard, they should succeed. If people don’t work hard, they should fail. And if anyone bails them out, that is evil. You should not bail people out who have failed, especially if it’s because of lack of hard work, something like that. So as the right sees it, government is evil because it keeps punishing success, with redistributive policies, okay, take from the successful and give to the unsuccessful.

And it keeps rewarding failure by giving out welfare and other payments to people who aren’t working. So what I’ve found is that fairness is at the heart of both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. But because the words have different meanings and they relate to additional moral foundations, that’s why they’re really, very, very different moral views.

There was a lot of empathy and caring at Occupy Wall Street. So this sign, “I can’t hurt another without hurting myself.” This is part of the ethos on the left, this is why you get a lot of Buddhists and sort of the Christian left.

It’s a lot of emphasis on care and compassion. When they talk about fairness, it’s in particular, fairness, that will benefit the weak and the poor. So, here’s a sign, “Marching for the meek and weary, hungry and homeless.” “Tax the wealthy, fair and square,” as though because they’re hungry and homeless people, it’s fair to take from them and give to them. Now, I think there are really good arguments for why we need to increase tax rates on the top. But simply saying, ‘Some have and some have not, therefore it’s fair,’ that’s not a moral argument for most Americans.

BILL MOYERS: And what’s the conservative moral position on this?

JONATHAN HAIDT: The conservative moral position is the Protestant work ethic. It’s karma.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by that?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So karma, karma’s a Sanskrit word, for, literally for work, or fruit. That is, if you do some work, you should get the fruit of it. If I help you, I will eventually get the fruit of it. Even if you don’t help me, something will happen. It’s just a law of the universe. So, Hindus traditionally believed it’s, that the universe will balance itself, right itself. It’s like gravity. If I am lazy, good-for-nothing lying scoundrel, the universe will right that and I will suffer. But then along comes liberal do-gooders and the federal government to bail them out.

So I think the conservative view, for social conservatives this is, is that basically liberals are trying to revoke the law of karma. Almost as though, imagine somebody trying to revoke the law of gravity, and everything’s going to float away into chaos.

BILL MOYERS: All right, let’s go back to Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Flags are everywhere. American flags are everywhere at the Tea Party. And you never see them defaced, modified, touching the ground. At Occupy Wall Street, however, the majority of them had been modified.

So here’s one showing America as a nation taken over by corporations and war. Here’s another one, “Occupy Wall Street, the 99 percent is you.” Now, what this shows, I think, is that at Occupy Wall Street, certainly ‘The flag is not sacred, I think America is not sacred.’ The left tends to be wary of nation states. And this is, I think, a nice example of how sacralization blinds you.

And on the right, where they do sacralize America, they can’t think about the nuances about how America is not always right, American foreign policy did contribute to 9/11, but you can’t say that because people on the right will see that as sacrilege. So they’re blind. Whereas people on the left have a more nuanced view.

So, you know, everything’s a Rorschach test. As long as there’s any ambiguity, one side will see the things that damn it, the other side will see the things that praise it.

BILL MOYERS: But isn’t there reality below that Rorschach test? If Occupy Wall Street is saying, ‘Inequality is growing, the American dream, upward mobility is disappearing. Fifty million people in poverty,’ something’s wrong with our democratic and capitalist system-

JONATHAN HAIDT: And I think something is wrong with our Democratic and capitalist system. And this is where I think the left has really fallen down in articulating what’s wrong. The right has been extremely effective and has funded think tanks that have made the case very powerfully for what’s good about capitalism.

And they’re right. I mean, without capitalism, without free markets, we would not have the massive wealth that supports you and me and everyone else who doesn’t physically make stuff. But since you need the push and pull, you need the give and take. You need the yin and yang. You need a good argument against that view. And I think it needs to be an argument about how capitalism, yes, it is good. But it only works under certain conditions.

There’s a wonderful new book out called The Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer. And they say, ‘Democracy is like a garden. And the capitalist system is like a garden. You can’t just say, ‘Free market, grow as you like.’ You have- it takes some tending.’

And even as Adam Smith knew, only external regulation can prevent externalities, prevent monopolies. You got to have a clear argument about what capitalism is, why it’s good, and how to make it better. And, as I see it, the left hasn’t done that.

BILL MOYERS: Does your research suggest it’s preferable to have a greater moral range?

JONATHAN HAIDT: When I began this work, I was very much a liberal. And over time, in doing the research for my book and in reading a lot of conservative writing, I’ve come to believe that conservative intellectuals actually are more in touch with human nature. They have a more accurate view of human nature.

We need structure. We need families. We need groups. It’s okay to have memberships and rivalries. All that stuff is okay, unless it crosses the threshold into Manichaeism. So I think that it would be very difficult to run a good society without resting much on loyalty, authority and sanctity. I think you need to use those.

BILL MOYERS: But it seems to me that liberals, progressives are more in touch with the nature of the social order. I had an anthropology teacher at the University of Texas who had spent five years amongst the Apaches in West Texas for his graduate work.

And he used both their example and the example through ages of saying, through the long history of human beings, we have accomplished more by cooperation, than we have by competition. And it seems to me that’s the truth that progressives or liberals or whomever you want to call them see that conservatives don’t.

JONATHAN HAIDT: But cooperation and competition are opposite sides of the same coin. And we’ve gotten this far because we cooperate to compete. So you can say that liberals are more accurate or in touch with how the system works. But I would say they’re more in touch with some aspects of how systems go awry and oppress some people, ignore other people. Liberals see some aspects of where the social system breaks down. And conservatives see others. You have to have consequences following bad behavior. That is as basic an aspect of system design as any. And that’s one where conservatives see it much more clearly than liberals.

I think I’m a centrist, in terms of liberal conservative. And I feel like I’m sort of, I sort of, like, stepped out of the game. And now that the game has gotten so deadly, I’m hoping that, in the coming year, I can be the guy saying, ‘Come on, people, just, here, understand the other side so you stop demonizing, and now you can argue more productively.’

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, well, how do we do that when, in fact, there’s a great advantage to one side or the other side to demonize the enemy? And here, you know, you bring us right to Newt Gingrich and his career.

BILL MOYERS: In 1990, Newt Gingrich was chairman of something called GOPAC, which was a conservative political action committee. And he issued a memo to the members, the conservative members of that organization about words that conservatives should use to describe themselves and words they should use to describe Democrats and liberals.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Abuse of power, betray, bizarre, corrupt, criminal rights, cheat, devour, disgrace, greed, steal, sick, traitors, radical, red tape, unionized, waste, welfare. Quote, “The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.” Those words were used, as you know, quite successfully.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So two things to say about Gingrich. One is that he’s a screaming hypocrite. But as I said, we’re all hypocrites. That’s part of the design. The other is that he’s a very good moral psychologist. And as I’ve said, the Democrats are generally not.

JONATHAN HAIDT: So he had words there that touch all six of the foundations, you know, from abuse of power to sick and corrupt for the sanctity stuff. So while I’m non-partisan, my big issue is demonizing.

BILL MOYERS: And yet you also acknowledge that demonizing the other can be rewarded politically.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. It can because that makes you stronger in the contest within the group. Within the nation your side can beat the other side if you demonize, but it makes the nation weaker.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Most of our politics is driven by the people at the extremes, the people who have these dispositions fairly strongly, get passionate, get engaged, give money, blog, argue. Those people rarely cross over. So, but most Americans are not that politically engaged, and they’re the ones that decide the elections.

So, since most people aren’t extreme either way in their basic disposition, they’re up for grabs. And, whichever party can connect with their moral values. And this is where I think again, the Democrats have not fully understood moral psychology. I listen to them in election after election, especially 2000, 2004, saying, ‘We’ve got this policy for you. We’re going to give you more support,’ as though politics is shopping.

As though, ‘Come, you know, buy from us. We’ve got a better deal for you.’ The Democrats, I find, have not been as good at understanding that politics is really religion. Politics is about sacredness. Politics is about offering a vision that will bind the nation together to pursue greatness. And Republicans since Ronald Reagan have been really good at that.

BILL MOYERS: At the same time, it can blind you.

BILL MOYERS: It can bind you–

JONATHAN HAIDT: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: -into a tribe, but it can blind the whole tribe.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Absolutely. That’s what we’re stuck with. That’s the nature of moral psychology. You got it.

BILL MOYERS: There’s a chapter called “Vote For Me, Here’s Why.” Let me run down a series of points you make in that chapter, and get your short take on what you want us to take away from that. Quote, “We’re all intuitive politicians.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So a politician is always asking the question, ‘How am I doing?’ As Mayor Koch used to say. That’s what we always want to know. And so when we interact with people we’re intuitively we’re like politicians, out to get their vote. Out to make them like us, make them be impressed by us. Who knows if they could be useful to us in the future.

So we say one thing to one person, one thing to another. We change our views, our attitudes. Oh, did you like that movie? Oh, I hated it because I know that he hated it, oh yes, I loved it, because I know that she liked it. We do this all the time. And we don’t even know we’re doing it.

So many people think, ‘Oh, you know, I dance to, I move to my own drum. I, you know, I’m independent. I’m a maverick.’ People think that about themselves. But research shows that even people who think that about themselves are just as influenced by what other people think of them. Basically we are clueless and hypocritical about ourselves. We’re actually moderately accurate in our predictions of other people. Our blindness is about ourselves.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “We are obsessed with polls.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Once again, what we really want to know is what others think of us. The research shows that when you give people the opportunity to cheat, in a way where they can get away with it, because there’s no reputational consequence, most people cheat.

Other research shows that philosophers, and moral philosophers are no better than anyone else. So we all think that we’re going to behave, we’re going to have this inner moral compass. But really what we’re most concerned with is what’s this going to do to my poll numbers.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah. I remember, you quote somebody’s research in here, that they looked into how often books on ethics were taken out of the library, and not returned. And it was a very high ratio. And often by moral philosophers, or teachers of ethics. Right.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Eric Schwitzgebel, a philosopher, looked at how often books had not been returned, from lots of libraries. And, right, the ethics books were more likely to have been not returned than other philosophy books. My guess is that moral philosophers are extremely expert in coming up with justifications for whatever they want to do.

BILL MOYERS: This one hit me personally. Quote, “Our in-house press secretary automatically justifies everything.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. When someone accuses you of something, you can’t help it. Instantly, your mind is off and running, drafting the press release to explain how, while it might look like I was hypocritical, but actually, so, we just, this is the way we think automatically. And again, it’s part of this sort of Machiavellian psychology.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “We lie, cheat, and justify so well that we honestly believe we’re honest.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Everybody believes they’re above average in honesty. But in fact, again, the studies show that when you give people a chance to cheat, literally the majority take advantage of it.

They’ll fudge a number here, or they’ll go over-time. They’ll change an answer on a test, if, say, they get paid more money for getting more correct answers, for example. And the amazing thing is they’re able to justify it. They’re… they walk out of there thinking that they didn’t cheat and lie.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “Reasoning and Google can take you wherever you want to go.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Something we need to talk about here is what’s called the confirmation bias. That is, you might think that our reasoning is designed to find the truth. And if you want to find the truth, you should look on both sides of a proposition. But in fact what happens is, when someone gives you a proposition, our minds, we send them out, we sent them out to do research for us.

But it’s research, like, as a lawyer does, or as a press secretary would do, it’s like, ‘Find me one piece of evidence that will support this claim that I want to make.’ And if I can find one piece of evidence, I’m done. I can stop thinking. Well, that’s the way we’ve been for millions of years. And, well, hundreds of thousands of years.

And suddenly Google comes along. You don’t have to do any research. You just type it in. You know, “I think Obama, was Obama born in Kenya?” Just type it in. You’ll find hits. You know, “Is global warming a hoax?” Type it, you’ll find hits. So Google can basically solve your needs for confirmation, 24 hours a day.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “We can believe almost anything that supports our team.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So it’s bad enough when we’re cheating and dissembling and manipulating things for our own benefit, but when we’re doing it for our team it somehow is even more honorable, and easier to do. And this brings us right back to the culture war. People can believe any kind of crazy nonsense they want.

If you hated George Bush, when he was President, and somebody would give you an argument. I mean, you, it just seems automatically compelling. And you don’t have to think very hard, conversely, now, about Barack Obama. So, all these things I’m saying. These biases of reasoning, that are so obvious at the personal level, when you ramp them up to the group level they get even more severe.

BILL MOYERS: This one took me aback, because it flies right in the face of my predisposition. “Anyone who values truth should stop worshiping reason.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: The idea of sacredness, the idea of sacralizing something. What I see as an academic, and as a philosophy major as an undergrad, is there are a lot of people in the academic world that sac- they think, oh, you know, no sacred cows. We shouldn’t sacralize anything.

But they sacralize reason itself, as though reason is this noble attribute, reason is our highest nature. And if we could just reason, we will solve our problems. All right, that sounds good on paper. But given all the stuff I just told you about what psychologists have discovered about reason, reasoning is not good at finding the truth. Conscious verbal reasoning is really good at confirming.

We’re really good lawyers. So what this means is that if you sacralize reason itself, you are first of all wrong about it. And as I say in the book, follow the sacredness. Wherever people sacralize something, there you will find ignorance, blindness to the truth, and resistance to evidence.

BILL MOYERS: So what does, what did the Hebrew prophet mean when he said, “Come now, and let us reason together.” Are you saying we can’t get at the truth that way?

JONATHAN HAIDT: No. That actually is very wise. Because what I’m saying here is that individual reasoning is post-hoc, and justificatory. Individual reasoning is not reliable because of the confirmation bias. The only cure for the confirmation bias is other people.

So, if you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason. And this is the way the scientific world is supposed to work.

And this is the way it does work in almost every part of it. You know, I’ve got my theory, and I’m really good at justifying it. But fortunately there’s peer review, and there’s lots of people are really good at undercutting it. And saying, “Well, what about this phenomenon? You didn’t account for that.”

And we worked together even if we don’t want to, we end up being forced to work together, challenging each other’s confirmation biases, and truth emerges. And this is a place where actually I think the Christians have it right, because they’re always talking about how flawed we are. They’re encouraging us to be more modest.

And from my reading, these apostles of reason nowadays, they’re anything but modest. And they think that individuals can reason well. Wisdom comes out of a group of people well-constituted who have some faith or trust in each other. That’s what our political institutions used to do, but they don’t do anymore.

BILL MOYERS: You’re helping me to understand this fundamental dichotomy in American political life, the- a country that mythologizes the rugged individual.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Right.

BILL MOYERS: But a country that’s now governed by dogmatic group politics, right?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So this gets us right into sacredness, one of the dictums of the book is “follow the sacredness.” It, once you see the basic dynamic of human life is individuals competing with individuals, but when necessary, coming together so that the group can compete with the group. So it’s perfectly consistent for the right to worship rugged individualism at the individual level and to see government and especially government safety nets and nanny states as deeply immoral because it undercuts rugged individualism.

But at the same time, for them to be tribal and to come together around a pledge on taxes. Now, Grover Norquist was brilliant in exploiting the psychology of sacredness in making them sign this pledge. Even if many of them knew in their heart it was the wrong thing to do, we’re so concerned about our poll numbers, we’re so concerned about what people think of us, any candidate that said, “No, I’m not going to sign,” you can bet Norquist was going to hold his feet to the fire.

 

And now they’re stuck. And you get that crazy scene in that Republican debate, “If you could work out a deal, $10 of spending cuts for every one dollar of tax increases, would you take it?”

 

BRET BAIER: Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10 to one as Byron said. Spending cuts to tax increases. Speaker you’re already shaking your head. But who on this stage would walk away from that deal? Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes you’d walk away on the 10 to one deal?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: It’s straight out of all the conformity experiments in social psychology. It’s– you don’t want to look, you don’t want to be the one who stands up and is different. It’s a lot of conformity pressure. A little further out, it’s not just that you’re afraid of being different, it’s that you know what’s waiting for you if you didn’t get your hand up. And that is Grover Norquist and everybody else saying, “He’s going to raise my taxes, he’s going to raise my taxes.”

BILL MOYERS: And you will be ejected from the group.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: You’re not longer in the tribe.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: Out to the wilderness, right-

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. Now, we can go even further back, and this is what I think people on the left have trouble understanding, is the rejection of taxes, this dogmatic attitude about taxes, it’s not just, ‘Oh, I want to keep my money, give me money, I’m greedy,’ it’s that the federal, they’ve seen the federal government, and this begins in the ’30s with Roosevelt, they’ve seen the federal government doing things that they think are evil. That is, the government got into the business of bailing people out when they make mistakes. Now, usually people need help not because they made a mistake. There are important reasons to have a safety net. But welfare policies, and it got even more so in the ’60s, the government began doing things that supported people who were slackers or free-riders.

So as entitlement programs grow, as they begin to do things that are really antithetical to conservative ideas about fairness and responsibility, now government, it’s not hard to see government as evil. And the only way to stop it is to starve the beast.

BILL MOYERS: What’s the Democratic liberal left equivalent of the tax pledge, no new taxes, the group think on one issue that, if you violate it gets you thrown out of the tribe?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Right, well, it’s touchy to talk about, but basically I think the new left, the commitment that was made in the ’60s, was toward victim groups. So it was civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights. Now these were all incredibly important battles that had to be fought. And again, follow the sacredness. If you sacralize these groups, it makes you, it binds you together to fight for them.

 

So the sacralization had to happen, the sacralization of victim groups had to happen to bring the left together to fight what was a truly altruistic and heroic battle. And they won, and things are now better in this country because of that. But, follow the sacredness. Once you’ve sacralized something, you become blind to evidence.

So evidence about, let’s say, how welfare was working, or any other social policy that many of these social policies would backfire. But you can’t see it because you’ve sacralized a group. Anything that seems to be helping that group, anything our group says is going to help them, you go with. So both sides are blind to evidence around their sacred commitments.

BILL MOYERS: I want to go to a very important moment in an early Republican debate that seems to me to go to the heart of what you’re writing about in terms of moral psychology and how the conservatives see it. This was a question to Ron Paul. Let’s play it.

WOLF BLITZER: Let me ask you this hypothetical question. A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it. But, you know, something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it. Who’s going to pay for, if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?

RON PAUL: Well, in a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him.

WOLF BLITZER: Well, what do you want?

RON PAUL: But what he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would have a major medical policy, but not be forced–

WOLF BLITZER: But he doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have it, and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

RON PAUL: That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody–

WOLF BLITZER: But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

RON PAUL: No.

JONATHAN HAIDT: This is a perfect example of what the culture war has turned into. It’s a battle over ideas about fairness versus compassion. So the reason that that video went viral is because of the applause at the end.

So I got sent this video by a lot of people because, oh, my God, these Republicans are so heartless. They’re so evil and cruel and terrible. But it’s exactly Aesop’s ant and the grasshopper. The grasshopper fiddles away all the summer while the ants are working and working and working, preparing for the winter. The grasshopper says, “Oh, you’re being silly, working so hard.” And then winter comes. The grasshopper comes, knocks on the ants’ door and he’s starving to death, he’s freezing. He says, “Take me in. Feed me.” And as some liberals see it, the point of the ant and the grasshopper and that the ants are supposed to feed the grasshopper. But that’s not what Aesop meant.

And that’s not what most Americans think it means. So what they’re applauding for there and what they’re saying, “Yeah, let him die,” the reason they’re saying that is because they want a world in which karma functions. This guy made a choice. He made a choice to be a free rider. He made a choice to not buy health insurance. And if karma works as it should, no one will pay for it and he will die. Now, if you care, if you value the care foundation, that is extremely cold. But if you value fairness as proportionality, that’s what has to happen.

BILL MOYERS: What did Aesop mean?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Aesop meant, that you better take care of yourself because if you don’t, if you’re lazy and you expect others to take care of you, you deserve to die. You deserve to be left out in the cold. And that’s why welfare has always been so contentious because, on the left, they think it’s doing good bringing money to their sacralized victim groups. But on the right, it’s doing bad because it’s encouraging dependence. It’s discouraging hard work. It’s rotting away the Protestant work ethic. And it’s encouraging irresponsibility. Welfare’s always been an incredibly contentious.

BILL MOYERS: It has been but liberals and progressives are right, are they not, when they say government has been a big force in the development of this country, all the way from infrastructure, canals, and railroads and airports and all of that to the social contract, which prevents elderly people from falling into a life of despair at the end of their years.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. That’s all true. And if the Democrats could make a good, clear case of what the proper role of government is, I think they’d be successful because that’s absolutely right. The problem is that government, whoever has the reins of government uses it for moralistic purposes.

They use it to further their sacred ends. And they use it to channel money and programs and largesse to their favorite groups. So people on the right don’t trust government to do what’s right with their tax dollars. And the left, again, needs to come up with a clear story about what is the proper role of government and what is not. And they need to regain the trust.

BILL MOYERS: But it means that we can never get together to try to resolve it when one party says ‘we won’t compromise’ and the other party says ‘you are evil.’

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. That’s right. So, we’re in a lot of trouble. I don’t see an easy way out here. There are some electoral reforms that would make things better. But the problem is that all electoral reforms will tend to favor one side over the other, which means it’s very difficult to get them enacted.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you’re also asking the very people benefiting from the present status quo system to change what is to their benefit.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: To keep it going.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So, I mean, my only thoughts about how we can make the kind of end run about this, is we need to develop norms of certain things that are beyond the pale, certain things that are bad. And so, for example, just as we developed our discourse about, say, sexual harassment, you know, when movies and TV shows from the ’60s, it was common. It was laughed at.

But, you know, in just a few decades we’ve come a long way and recognized certain kinds of behaviors are unacceptable. We’ve changed our attitudes about smoking in public. We’ve done all sorts of things like that. We’ve moralized things. I’d like to propose that we moralize two things.

One is demonization. When you have people saying, you can disagree as much as you want, but when you start saying, “They’re only saying that because they’re, you know, they’re a racist or they’re in bed with this company,” or, and even though sometimes that might be true. But we are so prone to dismiss other people and demonize their motives that we’re usually going to be wrong about that. So if we could begin to see this in each other and even challenge each other and say, “Hey, you’re demonizing.” Like, just, you know, disagree with them but stop attributing bad motives to the other side. So if ten years from now people sort of recognize that and could call each other out on in, that would at least be some progress.

The other one is corruption. Until we develop a massive groundswell of public revulsion at the fact that our Congress is bought and paid for, not entirely of course. Many of them are decent people. I don’t want to demonize. I’m sorry. But the nature of the institution is such that they’ve got to raise tons of money. And then they’re responsive to those interests. So perhaps there’s some norms that we could develop that will put some pressure on Congress to clean up its act.

BILL MOYERS: Jonathan Haidt, thank you very much for sharing your ideas with us.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Oh, my pleasure, Bill. This has been great fun.

http://billmoyers.com/segment/jonathan-haidt-explains-our-contentious-culture/

How the Right Has Turned Everything Into a Culture War — And Why That’s Terrible for Our Democracy

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet, February 28, 2012

Excerpt

The political press takes it as a given that there is a sharp dividing line between the “social issues” propelling the culture wars (abortion, school prayer, gay rights) and matters of substance (the economy, foreign policy, immigration and safety-net programs like unemployment benefits). But as the American conservative movement has veered sharply rightward over the past 30 years, that line is no longer so clean. Today, conservatives have a social argument for every subject of debate – everything has become part of the culture wars…
the intermingling of social and concrete issues has accelerated in the age of Obama… today cultural narratives dominate conservatives’ arguments.
This is not just a matter of academic interest. It’s helping to fuel the growing reality-gap between conservatives and liberals – and not just because we continue to see these issues as matters of substantive policy while increasingly they see them as cultural. It’s also because people tend to be more defensive about social issues, and less likely to be open to counter-arguments or new information.

In his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don’t Believe in Science, Chris Mooney explores years of research into the cognitive and neurobiological features associated with our ideologies. “The way the mind works,” Mooney writes, “suggests that good arguments only win the day when people don’t have strong emotional commitments that contradict them.” Scientists, he writes, have long noted that “cold reasoning (rational, unemotional) is very different from hot reasoning (emotional, motivated).”

We are better able to have a cool, unemotional debate about the merits of, say, higher or lower corporate taxes. But cultural beliefs resonate more deeply, especially with conservatives; these beliefs become integrated into their identities, and once fixed, are difficult to dislodge with factual arguments. One area where conservatives and liberal tend to differ, according to Mooney, is “in their need to defend their beliefs, their internal desire to have unwavering convictions that do not and cannot change.” The culture wars are ultimately tribal, and as Mooney notes, conservatives are more likely to “be sure that their group is right, and the other group is wrong – in short, their need for group solidarity and unity, or for having a strong in-group/out-group way of looking at the world.”

So, having turned substantial issues into cultural debates, the right is more deeply invested in their outcomes, and less likely to be swayed by the reality we see around us. That “facts have a liberal bias” has become more than just a quip, and this is part of the reason why…consider some of the specific ways that what we think of as debates over concrete matters of public policy have been “culturalized” by the right.

The Economy and the Role of Government…this is the area where the culturalization of formerly non-social issues is most apparent.

Gun control…at this moment in our history, the substantive debates over guns are virtually nonexistent….Guns are too critical to the culture wars; they represent what Karl Rove called an “anger point” that stokes the passions of the conservative base…

a fringe conspiracy theory…reinforces the “othering” – the in-group/out-group dichotomy – at the heart of the culture wars…
Foreign Policy…
Immigration…

Everything Has an Element of Culture Wars…We have entered into an era of public discourse where issues like solar energy are being framed as issues of liberty and freedom…All of this does not serve our democracy well….

Full text

The political press takes it as a given that there is a sharp dividing line between the “social issues” propelling the culture wars (abortion, school prayer, gay rights) and matters of substance (the economy, foreign policy, immigration and safety-net programs like unemployment benefits). But as the American conservative movement has veered sharply rightward over the past 30 years, that line is no longer so clean. Today, conservatives have a social argument for every subject of debate – everything has become part of the culture wars.

Viewing tangible matters through a cultural lens is not new. In the 19th century, dime novelist Horatio Alger wrote a series of formulaic books about poor, young, street urchins meeting some wealthy benefactor who teaches them the value of hard work and living a clean life. Once the urchins get on a properly Protestant, chaste path, their fortunes grow and they end up rising to the middle-class. It’s a narrative that resonates with the right today.

But the intermingling of social and concrete issues has accelerated in the age of Obama. Many on the right consider Barack Obama alien – consider birtherism, or Dinesh D’Souza’s claim that the president is influenced by “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior.” Whereas social issues once served as a distraction from matters of substance, today cultural narratives dominate conservatives’ arguments.

This is not just a matter of academic interest. It’s helping to fuel the growing reality-gap between conservatives and liberals – and not just because we continue to see these issues as matters of substantive policy while increasingly they see them as cultural. It’s also because people tend to be more defensive about social issues, and less likely to be open to counter-arguments or new information.

In his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don’t Believe in Science, Chris Mooney explores years of research into the cognitive and neurobiological features associated with our ideologies. “The way the mind works,” Mooney writes, “suggests that good arguments only win the day when people don’t have strong emotional commitments that contradict them.” Scientists, he writes, have long noted that “cold reasoning (rational, unemotional) is very different from hot reasoning (emotional, motivated).”

We are better able to have a cool, unemotional debate about the merits of, say, higher or lower corporate taxes. But cultural beliefs resonate more deeply, especially with conservatives; these beliefs become integrated into their identities, and once fixed, are difficult to dislodge with factual arguments. One area where conservatives and liberal tend to differ, according to Mooney, is “in their need to defend their beliefs, their internal desire to have unwavering convictions that do not and cannot change.” The culture wars are ultimately tribal, and as Mooney notes, conservatives are more likely to “be sure that their group is right, and the other group is wrong – in short, their need for group solidarity and unity, or for having a strong in-group/out-group way of looking at the world.”

So, having turned substantial issues into cultural debates, the right is more deeply invested in their outcomes, and less likely to be swayed by the reality we see around us. That “facts have a liberal bias” has become more than just a quip, and this is part of the reason why.

That is not to say that conservatives have stopped deploying non-cultural arguments – many still do. But consider some of the specific ways that what we think of as debates over concrete matters of public policy have been “culturalized” by the right.

The Economy and the Role of Government

Many conservative policy experts and politicians still make the same substantive arguments they have for years about corporate taxes sending jobs overseas or “entitlements” breaking the budget, but this is the area where the culturalization of formerly non-social issues is most apparent.

Consider one of the most enduring and pernicious untruths in our political economy. As I wrote last summer, most conservatives have come to embrace the view that poverty and inequality don’t actually result from tangible economic factors.

Rather, the poor are where they find themselves as a consequence of some deep-seated cultural flaws that keep them from achieving success. They’re held back, the story goes, by what is known alternatively as a “culture of poverty,” or a “culture of dependence.” It’s a popular fable for the right, as it absolves the political establishment for public policies that harm the working class and the poor.

It’s also thoroughly and demonstrably untrue, flying in the face of decades of serious research findings. Yet it reinforces the in-group/out-group dynamic at the center of the culture wars and raises conservative defenses to factual information.

An excellent example of this is the simple fact that there are now 4.5 unemployed people for every full-time job opening (and 7.5 people looking for a full-time gig if you include those stuck “involuntarily” working part-time jobs), yet it remains a core belief on the right today that the unemployed are simply lazy – a cultural flaw — and therefore unemployment benefits (which are extremely modest in the United States relative to other wealthy countries) contribute to the problem.

The hottest book in conservative circles right now is Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, which calls for dismantling the social safety net based on a cultural analysis of inequality and has been touted by everyone on the right, from raging social-con Rick Santorum to David Brooks, the New York Times’ Upper West Side-friendly “center-right” columnist.

As far as taxation, the stand-by claim that taxing the wealthy leads to lower business investment has been overtaken by another cultural narrative – the Randian view of a world made up of a few virile, virtuous “producers,” and the many “parasites” who feed off their labors. It’s the producers who create wealth and make a better world, and they do so by pursuing their own dreams of success. In Ayn Rand’s books, though, moochers and petty, visionless bureaucrats persistently bite at the ankles of her capitalist “supermen,” which has the effect — unintended, but pernicious nonetheless– of harming all of society. Therefore, freeing the wealthy from their obligations, freeing the elite from their social contract with the rest of us, is the apex of morality. Rand may have been a staunch atheist, but this argument resembles a religious viewpoint more than it does a matter of simple economics.

Guns

Last week, Newt Gingrich claimed that “you can’t put a gun-rack in a Volt” – drawing a cultural line between gun-owning “real Americans” and granola-eating hippies who want to drive electric cars. (As is so often the case, Newt happened to be wrong.)

A few weeks ago, Talking-Points Memo covered a panel on dating at the Conservative Political Action Conference. At one point, participants were asked what one might do on a good right-wing date, and one of them replied, “A gun club works really well for that thing… It’s conservative, it’s fun, most women haven’t done that before…you get to look like you know what you’re doing.”

Gun control is an issue that has always cleaved more neatly along rural-urban lines, a gap that’s both substantive and cultural, than the left-right ideological divide. A lot of otherwise conservative mayors and police chiefs in densely packed cities have long favored stricter gun controls, and otherwise liberal politicians representing wide-open rural expanses have not.

But at this moment in our history, the substantive debates over guns are virtually nonexistent. In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a decisive ruling in favor of those who oppose restrictions on gun ownership. It was the last in a string of moves by the courts that have made Americans’ right to own firearms as secure today as they have ever been. The 5-4 decision established that all Americans have a fundamental, individual right to bear arms that constrains not only the actions of the federal government, but states and municipalities as well. It was a long-sought victory for gun rights advocates and a resounding defeat for those who favor stricter controls. In the words of conservative legal scholar Glenn Reynolds, the ruling meant that the Second Amendment “is now a full-fledged part of the Bill of Rights.”

In the wake of the ruling, gun control advocates now dedicate themselves to objectives with which the vast majority of gun owners agree – closing the so-called “gun show loophole” and keeping guns out of the hands of felons and potential terrorists. A 2009 poll by conservative messaging-guru Frank Luntz found that “NRA members and gun owners support sensible new measures to combat illegal guns, including closing the terror gap (82 percent NRA members support, 86 percent non-NRA gun owners support), closing the gun show loophole (69 percent / 85 percent), and requiring gun owners to report lost and stolen guns (78 percent / 88 percent).” Luntz, in an op-ed, characterized what remains of the issue as a social one, writing, “The culture war over the right to bear arms isn’t much of a war after all. As it turns out, there is a lot everyone agrees on.”

But the gun lobby hasn’t allowed the bitter debate over the scope of the Second Amendment to be settled. Guns are too critical to the culture wars; they represent what Karl Rove called an “anger point” that stokes the passions of the conservative base.

It’s worth adding that, among the more paranoid elements of the conservative movement, the idea that gun owners are not secure with their firearms springs from a fringe conspiracy theory about Barack Obama supporting a UN treaty that amounts to a “back-door” attempt to disarm America. This, again, reinforces the “othering” – the in-group/out-group dichotomy – at the heart of the culture wars, framing the issue as a conflict between (“real”) Americans and foreigners.

Foreign Policy

After killing Osama Bin Laden, escalating the war in Afghanistan and drawing down troops in Iraq, polls show that President Obama has evaporated Republicans’ traditional advantage on “national security.” Aside from portraying cuts in the defense budget as apocalyptic, if you watch the right’s current discourse on foreign policy, it’s now almost entirely cultural in nature.

Consider the conservative charges against Obama in the realm of foreign policy. As a factual matter, Robert Schlesinger noted that Obama had, as of last January, mentioned “American exceptionalism” far more frequently than his predecessor, George W Bush. But that didn’t keep Kathleen Parker from writing at the time that exceptionalism is a “word that isn’t much heard from this president but that tumbles so easily — and adamantly — from the lips of Republican[s],” and it hasn’t prevented the right from obsessing on the supposed failure.

Or consider Mitt Romney’s frequent and wholly erroneous claim that Barack Obama “went around the world and apologized for America.” Or consider the words of Franklin Graham, a prominent figure on the religious right, who questioned Obama’s religion based in large part because, “[Under] President Obama, the Muslims of the world, he seems to be more concerned about them than the Christians that are being murdered in the Muslim countries.” These words belong squarely in the category of the culture wars.

Even before Obama was elected, a great deal of the right’s views of foreign policy were culturally informed. With his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington had an enormous impact on Republican foreign policy rhetoric, helping to inform George W Bush’s “war on terror.” Huntington was explicit in his social analysis of geopolitics, writing:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural… The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Immigration

Here is where this hypothesis is on its shakiest ground, not because immigration isn’t a cultural issue, but because one can argue that it has always been so. We talk about competing policies – “enforcement only” versus a more comprehensive approach – and those are certainly matters of substance. But the degree to which immigration has become a top-tier, litmus-test issue for the right, the degree to which it’s become polarized, has everything to do with the culture wars, and this is apparent in the symbolic issues that come up in the debate. Think about the brouhaha over displaying Mexican flags, or the fight to keep states from printing government forms in multiple languages.

In 1986, the father of the modern anti-immigration movement, John Tanton, wrote a memo laying out what he saw as the potential problems with our immigration system. He discussed a range of issues, including the economic and political impacts of large numbers of immigrants arriving in the United States, but much of his concerns centered around cultural issues. “Will Latin American migrants bring with them the tradition of the mordida (bribe), the lack of involvement in public affairs, etc.?” he asked. “What in fact are the characteristics of Latin American culture, versus that of the United States?” Arguing that Hispanics are inherently harder to educate than other groups, he wrote: “We’re building in a deadly disunity. All great empires disintegrate, we want stability.”

Twenty-five years later, the same social fears continue to inform conservative arguments about immigration. Lamenting the push for comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly claimed that advocates of the bill, “hate America, and they hate it because it’s run primarily by white Christian men. Let me repeat that. America is run primarily by white Christian men, and there is a segment of our population who hates that, despises that power structure.”

Samuel Huntington’s follow-up to The Clash of Civilizations, the influential book Who We Are, stems from the same premise, but covered with a more academic veneer. Reviewing the book for Foreign Affairs, Alan Wolf wrote that it’s riddled with “ moralistic passion — at times bordering on hysteria.”

He eschews realistic treatment of American history in favor of romantic nostalgia for Anglo-Protestant culture. And then there is the book’s fatalism: Huntington tells his readers that he is a “patriot … deeply concerned about the unity and strength of my country based on liberty, equality, law and individual rights,” but he portrays the United States as haplessly without resources in its struggle with immigration, as if the country’s identity were too fragile for the challenges it faces. Although Huntington was deeply troubled by the 1960s and their aftermath, he managed to maintain his cool in subsequent books. Immigration has touched his nerves in a way that flower children and protesters never did. Who Are We? is Patrick Buchanan with footnotes.

It was also, at heart, a social argument for limiting immigration.

Everything Has an Element of Culture Wars

Those are but a few examples of once-concrete debates over public policy having been tainted by the culture wars. There are others: The right’s obsession with light-bulbs and scorn for Priuses; justifying voting restrictions based on unfounded fears of undocumented immigrants voting; and conservatives’ blind insistence that because we supposedly “have the greatest healthcare in the world,” we can turn our backs on the data that belie that claim and ignore the plight of the uninsured. As the Policy Shop’s Mijin Cha wrote this week, “climate change has been slowly entering into culture war territory for a while now.”

We have entered into an era of public discourse where issues like solar energy are being framed as issues of liberty and freedom. Not to mention the backlash against seemingly innocuous policies, like bike lanes and smart growth. To see the somewhat dry issues of renewable energy and sustainable development discussed in the same vein as reproductive choice and marriage equality is strange, to say the least.

All of this does not serve our democracy well. While it may be difficult to find common ground on matters of public policy in a closely divided country, it’s all but impossible when the emotional heat of the culture wars – the tribal affinities – is added to the mix. It makes the right guard its positions more closely, and causes conservatives to defend themselves from any inconvenient facts that conflict with their positions.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

http://www.alternet.org/news/154339/

Why is the Charter for Compassion so Important?

by Karen Armstrong, Huffington Post.com, November 18, 2008

Excerpt

… at the core of every single one of the world religions is the virtue of compassion…Each one of the world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule — Do not treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself — and maintained that this is the prime religious duty… wherever I go — east or west — I find that people are longing for a more compassionate world. The aim of the Charter for Compassion is to change the conversation, make it cool to be compassionate, and bring the Golden Rule back to the center of religious life…

We need to implement the Golden Rule globally, so that we only treat other nations as we would wish to be treated ourselves. We need a global democracy, where everybody’s voice is heard with sympathy and absolute respect. Any ideology — religious or secular — that breeds hatred or contempt is failing the test of our time, because if we do not build a more compassionate global community it is unlikely that we will have a viable world to hand on to the next generation.

Full text

It is bitterly ironic that our world is so dangerously polarized at a time when we are linked together — electronically, financially and politically — closely than ever before. The powerful nations can no longer ignore trouble spots in other parts of the world; what happens in Iraq, Gaza or Afghanistan is likely to have repercussions tomorrow in London or New York. But the atrocities of September 11, 2001 and its tragic aftermath split the world into rival camps that are growing daily more estranged.

The religions that should help to heal these divisions have themselves been gravely implicated in the terrorism and violence of our time. Actually, the chief cause of our present troubles is political but in regions of the world where warfare has become chronic — the Middle East, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya — religion has been sucked into the vicious cycle of aggression, strike and counter-strike.

Yet at the core of every single one of the world religions is the virtue of compassion, which does not mean “pity”; its Latin root means to feel with the other. Each one of the world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule — Do not treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself — and maintained that this is the prime religious duty. Everything else in the Torah is “only commentary,” said Rabbi Hillel; you can have faith that moves mountains, said St Paul, but without charity it is worthless. The Prophet Muhammad said that a person who did not fulfill the Golden Rule could not be called a believer. And each of the faiths also insists that you cannot confine your compassion to your own group. You must have “concern for everybody,” love your enemies, and honour the stranger.

Yet — some magnificent exceptions — rarely hear our religious leaders speaking of compassion. All too often the message is strident, intolerant or else overly concerned with dogmatic belief or a particular sexual ethic. But wherever I go — east or west — I find that people are longing for a more compassionate world. The aim of the Charter is to change the conversation, make it cool to be compassionate, and bring the Golden Rule back to the centre of religious life.

So please contribute to the Charter on line. We need everybody’s insights — atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims — everybody! We need to implement the Golden Rule globally, so that we only treat other nations as we would wish to be treated ourselves. We need a global democracy, where everybody’s voice is heard with sympathy and absolute respect. Any ideology — religious or secular — that breeds hatred or contempt is failing the test of our time, because if we do not build a more compassionate global community it is unlikely that we will have a viable world to hand on to the next generation.

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-armstrong/why-is-the-charter-for-co_b_144666.html

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-armstrong/why-is-the-charter-for-co_b_144666.html

 

10 Ways Our Democracy Is Crumbling Around Us

By Les Leopold, AlterNet, April 5, 2012

Our democracy is in grave danger. In fact, it may already be fatally wounded as a financial oligopoly increasingly dominates American politics and the economy. What’s most remarkable about this new form of oligarchy is that it has no face. There are no flesh and blood oligarchs, only unnamed investors. The big financial sharks can swim among our 401ks. They can flex their awesome power without getting fingered. They can set the entire direction of government activity without lobbying at all.

Here are 10 reasons to worry.

1. Money and Politics
Our democracy is supposedly rooted in the idea of one person, one vote. But the introduction of big money into politics distorts, and perhaps, destroys that ideal. Unlike most advanced democracies, we have failed to eliminate the destructive impacts of money on politics. The cost of our campaigns are rapidly rising. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision further accelerated this trend so that now there are virtually no limits on how much billionaires can spend on their preferred candidates.

Bankers too are getting into the act. One recent super PAC, “Friends of Traditional Banking” is seeking races where it can “target the industry’s enemies and support its friends in Congress.”

Of course the obvious result is that all candidates, regardless of party, spend most of their time begging for money, not legislating. You can’t get elected without kissing the oligarchs’ rings.

2. Voter Disenfranchisement

At the core of modern democracy is voting – we get to choose who governs us.  If that’s the case, then we should be very concerned about how the electorate is being dismantled. Let’s start with the fact that if you’re a felon, you may not be permitted to vote at all. Since we have the largest prison population in the world, we also have more than 5 million disenfranchised felons, and former-felons. (The voting rules vary by state.)

Equally telling is the tidal wave of new voting laws sweeping through state legislatures.  According to a recent report from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, “More than 5 million Americans could be affected by the new rules already put in place this year — a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.” These new restrictions include tougher laws requiring photo IDs, proof of citizenship, removal of early and absentee voting, and making it harder to restore voting rights after criminal convictions.

The rapid spread of these nearly identical disenfranchise efforts is not accidental. They come directly from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which the New York Times reorts is “a business-backed conservative group, which has circulated voter ID proposals in scores of state legislatures.” The oligarchs funding this effort include American Nuclear Energy Council, the American Petroleum Institute, Amoco, Chevron, Coors Brewing Company, Shell, Texaco, Chlorine Chemistry Council, Union Pacific Railroad, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Waste Management, Philip Morris Management Corporation, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. (http://www.alecwatch.org/chapterone.html)

Perhaps the most pernicious efforts involve state legislation to discourage voter registration. (You would think that in a democracy we would do everything possible to register voters and to encourage them to vote.) Take Florida for example. The New York Times reports how the state has basically eliminated voter registration drives.

“The state’s new elections law — which requires groups that register voters to turn in completed forms within 48 hours or risk fines, among other things — has led the state’s League of Women Voters to halt its efforts this year. Rock the Vote, a national organization that encourages young people to vote, began an effort last week to register high school students around the nation — but not in Florida, over fears that teachers could face fines. And on college campuses, the once-ubiquitous folding tables piled high with voter registration forms are now a rarer sight.

And then of course, there’s Gore v Bush where the Supreme Court ordered the halt of a recount in Florida that would have declared Al Gore, not George Bush, as president.

3. Our Skewed Distribution of Income

Sometimes we forget that money in politics wouldn’t matter if our income distribution wasn’t so lopsided. Ever since the Greeks invented democracy, there has been a question about the relationship between political and economic democracy. Is it possible to have political democracy if the income distribution is severely skewed? Of course, you don’t need to have full equality of income to have a viable democracy. But does there come a point when a skewed distribution of income makes a sham of democracy? If we’re not already there, we may be getting close. As this chart shows, we lead the world when it comes to our income gap.

Ratio of CEO Compensation To Average Employee Compensation in 2000

Japan          10:1
Germany      11:1
Switzerland   11:1
Sweden        14:1
New Zealand 16:1
France          16:1
Spain            18:1
Belgium         19:1
Italy              19:1
Canada         21:1
Australia        22:1
Netherlands   22:1
Britain           25:1
Hong Kong    38:1
Mexico         45:1
Argentina      48:1
South Africa  51:1
U.S.             365:1

(Source: Michael Hennigan, “Executive Pay and Inequality in the Winner-take-all Society,” Finfacts Ireland, August 7, 2005.)

4. Tax Breaks for the Super-rich

You know the oligarchy is rolling along when it wins enormous tax breaks during good times and bad, under Democrats and Republicans. This shows up in two important ways. First, we see a decline in the top marginal tax rate from 91 percent during the Eisenhower years down to 35 percent today. But what matters even more is the 15 percent marginal rate on capital gains and similar kinds of income. That’s how Mitt Romney gets to pay only 13.9 percent of his massive income in taxes.

While we would love to blame it all on the Republicans, the chart below shows that the effective tax rate on the rich (after all deductions) has been plummeting no matter which party holds office. And although President Obama is currently very upset about the Republicans call for even more tax cuts for the super-rich, he was also unable to raise taxes on top income earners when the Democrats controlled Congress. In addition, the Democrats were unable to close the outrageous carried interest loophole that fattens hedge funds. Nor did they get near passing a financial transaction tax on Wall Street. Oligarchs don’t like to pay. And their money makes sure it stays that way. Is that democracy?

5. Wall Street Bailouts

Another sure sign of financial oligarchy is when the national vault breaks open for Wall Street bailouts and stays open. It’s become clear that too-big-to-fail banks remain far too large to fail. In fact, they have grown larger. They can continue to bet with impunity knowing that if they lose big, we will bail them out again. Under democratic capitalism this is called a “moral hazard.” But really it’s the ancient morality of oligarchy.

The sequence of events leading up to and through the financial crash is a stain on our democracy. First the largest banks and investment houses went on a wildly profitable gambling spree. They created and sold fantasy finance instruments that they knew were toxic to the core. They got their lapdog rating agencies to bless them with AAA ratings. And then they peddled the trash all over the world. Along the way housing prices were puffed up to astronomical highs since high-risk mortgages were needed to create the corrupt securities. Government, after years of ideologically informed deregulation, aided and abetted the entire process. The toxic trash created the crash.

For a short time it seemed as if Wall Street would pay for the damage it had caused – that the large banks would be broken up, that homeowners would be bailed out, that the unemployed would be put to work, and that Wall Street gambling would be eliminated with the passage of New Deal-like controls.

But the oligarchs would not stand for it. They got bailed out, not the average American. Too-big-to-fail banks used our bailout funds to get even bigger. And the reforms are weak and yet to be instituted.

That’s not what Americans wanted or expected. But under our financialized democracy, that’s what we’re getting…and more is yet to come.

6. Deficit Hysteria

It’s remarkable to watch how oligarchs shift the national conversation toward debt and away from themselves. By the summer of 2011, both parties where clamoring for cuts (which they call “reforms”) in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. As the Democrats moved to the right, the Republicans went even further, demanding more tax cuts for the rich and more draconian cuts in social programs – from food stamps to Head Start. All of this becomes possible because of the national drumbeat about deficits and debt.

With massive investments in think-tanks and media infrastructure, Wall Street’s minions successfully persuaded Washington that the American people, not Wall Street, should pay for the damage that Wall Street created. That’s the very definition of oligarchic chutzpah.

7. Crumbling Social and Physical Infrastructure

When you’re a financial oligarch, you live in your gated community, you send your kids to private schools, you go to your own expensive healthcare providers, and travel on your private jet which leaves from its own private terminal. You could care less what happens to the rest of America. You have no interest in funding public education. (In fact, the very profitable student loan market depends on rising education costs.) You would think that business leaders would want an educated workforce. But the real oligarchs don’t care. They can get their workers from anywhere in the world. What about the decay of our roads, bridges and public transportation? Doesn’t business need that too? Productive enterprises do, but the financial elites rely almost entirely on a privately controlled electronic infrastructure. Cracked bridges don’t matter.

But financial elites do care deeply about privatization. Turning over the government to the private sector is a thing of beauty for oligarchs. It’s a nice transfer of taxpayer money to firms that can use political muscle to gain contracts. The insecurity of competitive markets is eliminated as you waltz off with military and civilian contracts worth billions. (See Colin Greer’s “The Biggest Engine of Economic Growth? 8 Ways Taxpayers and the Government Are Necessary to Capitalism.”)

When America was competing with the USSR, maintaining some semblance of substantive democracy was critically important. It’s not an accident that during the Cold War we invested heavily in higher education, transportation and social programs like Medicare and Medicaid. We even supported unions. Oligarchs were constrained in the name of freedom. No more.

8. The Failure to Create Jobs

Until recently, our democracy would not tolerate high levels of unemployment. In fact it was suicidal for any politician or political party to preside over severe recessions that lasted over a year. And even during the Great Depression, it was expected that government would do everything possible to create jobs and protect the unemployed. That sense of urgency is long gone as the oligarchs have flexed their political muscle.

We are now four years into the crisis and the unemployment rate remains stuck at around 8 percent. In the past, such levels would have forced government to create jobs programs left and right. At the very least, federal money would have gone to state and local governments to prevent more public layoffs. Instead, we are witnessing an on-going human catastrophe, especially for the long term unemployed – those without jobs for 26 weeks or more. These workers will find it extremely difficult ever to find work again. A vital democracy would not stand for it. Instead, we are getting far too used to it.

9. The Revolving Door

Democracy is also in peril when financial personnel slide back and forth between Wall Street and Washington. It’s an unwritten rule that the top Treasury officials must come from Wall Street in order to “reassure” markets. Hank Paulson, Bush’s Treasury Secretary, formerly served as the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Tim Geithner, Obama’s Treasury Secretary previously was the head of the New York Fed, which is considered the informal board of directors for Wall Street. These officials truly believe that what’s good for Wall Street is good for the country.

For example, while Paulson was misleading Congress and the media about the dire situation at Fannie and Freddie in 2008, he then rushed to New York to tell his hedge fund buddies (who once worked for him at Goldman Sachs) that Freddie and Fannie soon would be nationalized. That secret tip was worth hundreds of millions to those hedge funds which then shorted the stocks and made a killing. Paulson obviously believed that the nation was served better by speaking truthfully to the oligarchs while lying to our democratic leaders.

Then there’s Peter Orzag, the former Obama budget director, widely known as a deficit hawk. Orzag was in government throughout the bailout period and was intimately involved in pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into failed banks like CitiGroup. Two years later Orzag leaves his high-level government position to take a multi-million dollar job with…CitiGroup.

Meanwhile congressional members, staff and civil servants also have their eyes glued on lucrative financial jobs in the very industries that are supposed to control in the name of the public good. Some already are auditioning by spending their time in Congress managing their own investment portfolios. Staff members are behaving like day traders.

This is what the ugly transition from democracy to oligarchy looks like.

10. Worshiping the Market Gods

Perhaps the biggest danger signal comes with the growing worship of financial markets. For nearly 3,000 years there has been an uneasy tension between money-lenders and governments of all kinds. But until recently government usually held the upper hand. Not so today. The financial markets have more power than ever before, and every political leader knows it. That power translates into the anthropomorphic qualities assigned to markets which now have a range of human emotions: Markets “approve or show their displeasure;” become “jittery or remain calm;” and “show concern or provide support.” They can take down governments, cause debt crises and generally veto policies that get them “uneasy.”

How bad is it? Just think about when the rating agencies – the petty apostles of Wall Street — reduced their ratings on U.S. government debt last summer. Politicians and the media actually took them seriously. How crazy is that? These same rating agencies turned tricks for Wall Street banks and mis-rated thousands of mortgage-backed securities leading up to the crisis. They are the walking embodiment of abject failure and they should have gone under along with their mis-rated securities.

Instead, when the deficit discussion was mounting in Washington, these same rating agencies had the gall to cut U.S. debt ratings….and we took them seriously? The “markets” sure didn’t because interest rates remained at record lows. Yet, pundits asked, “What must we do to get our AAA rating back?” They should have been asking: “How much do those rating agencies owe the American people for damage they did to the economy and how do we get it back?”

Is It Too Late for Democracy?

The game’s not over yet. We still have freedom of expression and the right to protest – more or less. Occupy Wall Street both showed how the debate could be altered, and how easily the authorities could end the encampments. So, it’s an open question whether we have the will to build and sustain a broad, powerful anti-Wall Street movement.

The financial rot is deeply impacting our democratic structures. It should worry us when Wall Street and its political minions warn that we might become the next Greece. They, of course, are referring to the debt crisis. But Greece is also the very place where finance is crushing democracy. Austerity is being rammed down the throats of the Greek people and democratic government can no longer protect the infirm and the unemployed from the onslaught of the oligarchs. It is both sad and frightening that it’s happening at the historical birthplace of democracy.

We all are Greeks.

Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It, Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009.

© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/154884/

http://www.alternet.org/story/154884/10_ways_our_democracy_is_crumbling_around_us

Restore the Basic Bargain

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog, November 29, 2011

Excerpt

For most of the last century, the basic bargain at the heart of the American economy was that employers paid their workers enough to buy what American employers were selling.

That basic bargain created a virtuous cycle of higher living standards, more jobs, and better wages…

The basic bargain is over…

New data from the Commerce Department shows employee pay is now down to the smallest share of the economy since the government began collecting wage and salary data in 1929.

Meanwhile, corporate profits now constitute the largest share of the economy since 1929.

The latest data on corporate profits and wages show we haven’t learned the essential lesson of the two big economic crashes of the last seventy-five years: When the economy becomes too lopsided – disproportionately benefitting corporate owners and top executives rather than average workers – it tips over…

In other words, we’re in trouble because the basic bargain has been broken.

Corporations don’t need more money. They have so much money right now they don’t even know what to do with all of it…

Nor do the wealthiest Americans need more money. The top 1 percent is already taking in more than 20 percent of total income – the highest since the 1920s…

We’re in a vicious cycle. The only way out of it is to put more money into the pockets of average Americans. That means extending the payroll tax cut. And extending unemployment benefits…

A basic bargain was once at the heart of the American economy. It recognized that average workers are also consumers and that their paychecks keep the economy going.

We can’t have a healthy economy until that bargain is restored.

Full text

For most of the last century, the basic bargain at the heart of the American economy was that employers paid their workers enough to buy what American employers were selling.

That basic bargain created a virtuous cycle of higher living standards, more jobs, and better wages.

Back in 1914, Henry Ford announced he was paying workers on his Model T assembly line $5 a day – three times what the typical factory employee earned at the time. The Wall Street Journal termed his action “an economic crime.”

But Ford knew it was a cunning business move. The higher wage turned Ford’s auto workers into customers who could afford to buy Model Ts. In two years Ford’s profits more than doubled.

That was then. Now, Ford Motor Company is paying its new hires half what it paid new employees a few years ago.

The basic bargain is over – not only at Ford, but all over the American economy.

New data from the Commerce Department shows employee pay is now down to the smallest share of the economy since the government began collecting wage and salary data in 1929.

Meanwhile, corporate profits now constitute the largest share of the economy since 1929.

1929, by the way, was the year of the Great Crash that ushered in the Great Depression.

In the years leading up to the Great Crash, most employers forgot Henry Ford’s example. The wages of most American workers remained stagnant. The gains of economic growth went mainly into corporate profits and into the pockets of the very rich. American families maintained their standard of living by going deeper into debt. In 1929 the debt bubble popped.

Sound familiar? It should. The same thing happened in the years leading up to the crash of 2008.

The latest data on corporate profits and wages show we haven’t learned the essential lesson of the two big economic crashes of the last seventy-five years: When the economy becomes too lopsided – disproportionately benefitting corporate owners and top executives rather than average workers – it tips over.

In other words, we’re in trouble because the basic bargain has been broken.

Yet incredibly, some politicians think the best way to restart the nation’s job engine is to make corporations even more profitable and the rich even richer – reducing corporate taxes; cutting back on regulations protecting public health, worker safety, the environment, and small investors; and slashing taxes on the very rich.

These same politicians think average workers should have even less money in their pockets. They don’t want to extend the payroll tax cut or unemployment benefits. And they want to make it harder for workers to form unions.

These politicians have reality upside down.

Corporations don’t need more money. They have so much money right now they don’t even know what to do with all of it. They’re even buying back their own shares of stock. This is a bonanza for CEOs whose pay is tied to stock prices and it increases the wealth of other shareholders. But it doesn’t create a single new job and it doesn’t raise the wages of a single employee.

Nor do the wealthiest Americans need more money. The top 1 percent is already taking in more than 20 percent of total income – the highest since the 1920s.

American businesses, including small-business owners, have no incentive to create new jobs because consumers (whose spending accounts for about 70 percent of the American economy) aren’t spending enough. Consumers’ after-tax incomes dropped in the second and third quarters of the year, the first back-to-back drops since 2009.

The recent small pickup in consumer spending has come out of their savings. Obviously this can’t continue, and corporations know it. Consumer savings are already at their lowest level in four years.

Get it? Corporate profits are up right now largely because pay is down and companies aren’t hiring. But this is a losing game even for corporations over the long term. Without enough American consumers, their profitable days are numbered.

After all, there’s a limit to how much profit they can get out of cutting American payrolls or even selling abroad. European consumers are in no mood to buy. And most Asian economies, including China, are slowing.

We’re in a vicious cycle. The only way out of it is to put more money into the pockets of average Americans. That means extending the payroll tax cut. And extending unemployment benefits.

Don’t stop there. Create a WPA to get the long-term unemployed back to work. And a Civilian Conservation Corp to create jobs for young people.

Hire teachers for classrooms now overcrowded, and pay them enough to attract people who are talented as well as dedicated. Rebuild our pot-holed highways. Create a world-class infrastructure.

Pay for this by hiking taxes on millionaires.

A basic bargain was once at the heart of the American economy. It recognized that average workers are also consumers and that their paychecks keep the economy going.

We can’t have a healthy economy until that bargain is restored.

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Robert Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including “The Work of Nations,” “Locked in the Cabinet,” “Supercapitalism” and his latest book, “AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” His ‘Marketplace’ commentaries can be found on publicradio.com and iTunes.

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/8644-restore-the-basic-bargain

Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots

Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots and Rick Santorum by Henry A. Giroux,  Truthout | Op-Ed, February 22, 2012

Right-wing fundamentalists such as Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum hate public schools, which he suggests are government schools wedded to doing the work of Satan, dressed up in the garb of the Enlightenment. Santorum, true to his love affair with the very secular ideology of privatization, prefers home schooling, which is code for people taking responsibility for whatever social issues or problems they may face, whether it be finding the best education for their children or securing decent health care. Actually, Santorum and many of his allies dislike any public institution that enables people to think critically and act with a degree of responsibility toward the public. This is one reason why they hate any notion of public education, which harbors the promise, if not the threat, of actually educating students to be thoughtful, self-reflective and capable of questioning so-called common sense and holding power accountable.

Of course, some progressives see this as simply another example of how the right wing of the Republican Party seems to think that being stupid is in. But there is more going on here than the issue of whether right-wing fundamentalists are intellectually and politically challenged. What makes critical education, especially, so dangerous to radical Christian evangelicals, neoconservatives and right-wing nationalists in the United States today is that, central to its very definition, is the task of educating students to become critical agents who can actively question and negotiate the relationships between individual troubles and public issues. In other words, students who can lead rather than follow, embrace reasoned arguments over opinions and reject common sense as the engine of truth.

What Santorum and his allies realize is that democracy cannot function without an informed citizenry and that, in the absence of such a citizenry, we have a public disinvested from either thinking reflectively or acting responsibly. There is nothing more feared by this group of fundamentalists than individuals who can actually think critically and reflectively and are willing to invest in reason and freedom rather than a crude moralism and a reductionistic appeal to faith as the ultimate basis of agency and politics.

What Santorum and his appeal to theocracy longs for is a crowd of followers willing to lose themselves in causes and movements that trade in clichés and common sense. This is the Tea Party crowd with their overt racism, dislike for critical thought and longing for outlets through which they can vent their anger, moral panics and hatred for those who reject their rigid Manichean view of the world. This is a crowd that embraces the likes of Santorum and other fundamentalists because they provide the outlets in which such groups can fulfill their desire to be amused by what might be called the spectacle of anti-politics.

As the anti-public politicians and administrative incompetents in Arizona made clear in their banning ethnic studies and censoring books critical of a conflict-free version of American history, critical pedagogy is especially dangerous. Not only does it offer students a way of connecting education to social change, it also invokes those subordinated histories, narratives and modes of knowledge in an attempt to give students often rendered voiceless the capacities to both read the word and the world critically. But the religious fanatics and privatizing fundamentalists do more than censor critical thought; they also substitute a pedagogy of punishment for a pedagogy of critical learning. Too many children in America now attend schools modeled after prisons. Schools have become places where the challenge of teaching and learning has been replaced by an obsession with crime, punishment and humiliation. Too many young people are being charged with criminal misdemeanors for behaviors that are too trivial to criminalize.(1)

What are we to make of a incident in a Stockton school where a five-year-old was handcuffed and taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation? This hard-to-believe event happened because the child in question pushed away a police officer’s hand after he placed it on the child’s shoulder. What does it mean when young people are charged with assault for engaging in behaviors that, in the past, would have barely solicited a teacher’s attention? How do we defend a public schools system that warrants the pepper spraying of a child with an IQ well below 70 because “he didn’t understand what the police were saying?”(2) This is barbarism parading as sound educational and disciplinary practice. As is well known, zero tolerance laws have become a plague imposed on public schooling. In fact, they have become a shameless quick and easy fix for punishing young people. For example, Texas served more than a 1,000 primary school kids over a six-year period with tickets for misbehaving and, in some cases, fines ran as high as $500.(3) In Chicago, Noble Street schools, run by Michael Milkie, set up a dehumanizing discipline system that repeatedly issued demerits and fines to students “for ‘minor infractions’ ranging from not sitting up straight to openly carrying ‘flaming hot’ chips.”(4) In the course of three years, ten Noble schools netted $386,745.00 in fines. The Advancement project has called such disciplinary practices “pernicious and harmful to youth.”(5) No doubt, but they are also harmful to poor families who have to choose between buying food and paying school administrators for punishing and cruel fines. In many respects, this amounts to a tax on poor people, one that Matthew Mayer, a professor in the graduate school of education at Rutgers University, described as “almost medieval in nature. It’s a form a financial torture, for lack of a better term…. because it likely has no bearing on students’ academic performance and disproportionately hurts poor families.”(6) Clearly, this practice cannot be defended as a disciplinary measure, however stringent. On the contrary, it is a form of harassment, one that is aimed at both students and their parents. And what is the pedagogical rationale for this illogical and cruel practice? Students in this pedagogical scenario are reduced to Pavlovian dogs, while the anti-public privateers extend the reach of the punishing state into the school and make a large profit to boot.

What is it about critical schooling and pedagogy that is so dangerous to the religious and ideological fundamentalists?

The most obvious answer is that critical pedagogy believes in forms of governing that respect both teachers and administrators on the one hand, and students on the other. That is, it supports those institutional conditions that extend from decent pay to equitable modes of governance that make good teaching possible. Second, it argues for modes of education that extend the capacities of students to both critique existing social forms and institutions and transform them when necessary. Put bluntly, it insists that knowledge is crucial not merely to thinking critically, but also to acting responsibly in the service of civic courage. What the critics of critical pedagogy refuse to accept is that as a moral and political practice, rather than an empty and sterile method, critical pedagogy offers the promise of educating students to be able to reject the official lies of power and the utterly reductive notion of training as a substitute for an informed mode of education.

Paraphrasing Bill Moyers, critical pedagogy is, in part, part of a project whose purpose is to dignify “people so they become fully free to claim their moral and political agency.”(7) In this instance, critical pedagogy opens up a space where students should be able to come to terms with their own power as critical agents; it provides a sphere where the unconditional freedom to question and assert one’s voice, however different, is central to the purpose of public education, if not democracy itself.(8) And as a political and moral practice, pedagogy should make clear both the multiplicity and complexity of history as a narrative in which students can engage as part of critical dialogue rather than accept unquestioningly. Similarly, such a pedagogy should cultivate in students a healthy skepticism about power, a “willingness to temper any reverence for authority with a sense of critical awareness.”(9) As a performative practice, pedagogy should provide the conditions for students to be able to reflectively frame their own relationship to the on-going project of an unfinished democracy. It is precisely this relationship between democracy and pedagogy that is so threatening to conservatives such as Santorum, Sarah Palin, and other religious advocates of the new theocracy as the only mode of political governance and learning.

Education as a critical moral and political project always represents a commitment to the future and it remains the task of educators to make sure that the future points the way to a more socially just world, a world in which the discourses of critique and possibility in conjunction with the values of reason, freedom and equality function to alter, as part of a broader democratic project, the grounds upon which life is lived.

This is hardly a prescription for political indoctrination, but it is a project that gives education its most valued purpose and meaning, which, in part, is “to encourage human agency, not mould it in the manner of Pygmalion.”(10) It is also a position that threatens right-wing private advocacy groups, neoconservative politicians and religious extremists because they recognize that such a pedagogical commitment goes to the very heart of what it means to address real inequalities of power at the social level, and to conceive of education as a project for democracy and critical citizenship while at the same time foregrounding a series of important and often ignored questions such as: “Why do we (as educators) do what we do the way we do it”? Whose interests does public education serve? How might it be possible to understand and engage the diverse contexts in which education takes place? In spite of the right-wing view that equates indoctrination with any suggestion of politics, critical pedagogy is not simply concerned with offering students new ways to think critically and act with authority as agents in the classroom; it is also concerned with providing students with the skills and knowledge necessary for them to expand their capacities both to question deep-seated assumptions and myths that legitimate the most archaic and disempowering social practices that structure every aspect of society and to take responsibility for intervening in the world they inhabit.

Education is not neutral, but that does not mean it is merely a form of indoctrination. On the contrary, as a practice that attempts to expand the capacities necessary for human agency and, hence, the possibilities for democracy itself, the public should nourish those pedagogical practices that promote “a concern with keeping the forever unexhausted and unfulfilled human potential open, fighting back all attempts to foreclose and pre-empt the further unraveling of human possibilities, prodding human society to go on questioning itself and preventing that questioning from ever stalling or being declared finished.”(11) In other words, critical pedagogy forges both critique and agency through a language of skepticism and possibility and a culture of openness, debate and engagement, all elements that are now at risk in the latest and most dangerous attack on public education.

The attack on public schooling and critical pedagogy is, in part, an attempt to deskill teachers and dismantle teacher authority. Teachers can make a claim to being fair, but not to being either neutral or impartial. Teacher authority can never be neutral, nor can it be assessed in terms that are narrowly ideological. It is always broadly political and interventionist in terms of the knowledge-effects it produces, the classroom experiences it organizes  and the future it presupposes in the countless ways in which it addresses the world. Teacher authority at its best means taking a stand without standing still. It suggests that, as educators, we make a sincere effort to be self-reflective about the value-laden nature of our authority while taking on the fundamental task of educating students to take responsibility for the direction of society. Rather than shrink from our political responsibility as educators, we should embrace one of pedagogy’s most fundamental goals: to teach students to believe that democracy is desirable and possible. Connecting education to the possibility of a better world is not a prescription for indoctrination; rather, it marks the distinction between the academic as a technician and the teacher as a self-reflective educator who is more than the instrument of a safely approved and officially sanctioned worldview.

The authority that enables academics to teach emerges out of the education, knowledge, research, professional rituals and scholarly experiences that they bring to their field of expertise and classroom teaching. Such authority provides the space and experience in which pedagogy goes beyond providing the conditions for the simple acts of knowing and understanding and includes the cultivation of the very power of self-definition and critical agency. But teacher authority cannot be grounded exclusively in the rituals of professional academic standards. Learning occurs in a space in which commitment and passion provide students with a sense of what it means to link knowledge to a sense of direction.

Teaching is a practice rooted in an ethico-political vision that attempts to take students beyond the world they already know, in a way that does not insist on a particular fixed set of altered meanings. In this context, teacher authority rests on pedagogical practices that reject the role of students as passive recipients of familiar knowledge and view them instead as producers of knowledge, who not only critically engage diverse ideas, but also transform and act on them.(12) Pedagogy is the space that provides a moral and political referent for understanding how what we do in the classroom is linked to wider social, political and economic forces.

It is impossible to separate what we do in the classroom from the economic and political conditions that shape our work, and that means that pedagogy has to be understood as a form of academic labor in which questions of time, autonomy, freedom and power become as central to the classroom as what is taught. As a referent for engaging fundamental questions about democracy, pedagogy gestures to important questions about the political, institutional and structural conditions that allow teachers to produce curricula, collaborate with colleagues, engage in research and connect their work to broader public issues. Pedagogy is not about balance, a merely methodological consideration; on the contrary, as Cornelius Castoriadis reminds us, if education is not to become “the political equivalent of a religious ritual,”(13) it must do everything possible to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to learn how to deliberate, make judgments and exercise choice, particularly as the latter is brought to bear on critical activities that offer the possibility of democratic change. Democracy cannot work if citizens are not autonomous, self-judging and independent – qualities that are indispensable for students if they are going to make vital judgments and choices about participating in and shaping decisions that affect everyday life, institutional reform and governmental policy. Hence, pedagogy becomes the cornerstone of democracy in that it provides the very foundation for students to learn not merely how to be governed, but also how to be capable of governing.

One gets the sense that right-wing pundits, politicians and religious bigots believe that there is no place in the classroom for politics, worldly concerns, social issues and questions about how to lessen human suffering. In this discourse, the classroom becomes an unworldly counterpart to the gated community, a space for conformity and punishment as a tool for perpetuating dominant market-driven values and white Christian religious values. This is not education; it is a flight from self and society.

As Eric Fromm has pointed out, this type of education embodies a flight from freedom, produces authoritarian personalities and punishes those who refuse to live in a society modeled as a fundamentalist theocracy. The outcome of this type of anti-enlightenment education is not a student who feels a responsibility to others and who feels that her/his presence in the world matters, but one who feels the presence of difference, if not thinking itself, as an unbearable burden to be contained or expelled. Santorum and his fundamentalist allies argue for a notion of education that supports the notion of the teacher as a police officer, clerk or pitchman for privatization rather than an understanding of educators as engaged public intellectuals. That is, as intellectuals and civic educators who work under conditions that enable them to embrace the authority, respect and autonomy necessary for making education worldly practice and critical pedagogy an empower experience.

The current assault on young people, public education and critical thinking is first and foremost an attack not only on the conditions that make critical education and pedagogy possible, but also on what it might mean to raise questions about the real problems facing public education today, which include the lack of adequate financing, the instrumentalization and commodification of knowledge, the increasing presence of the punishing state in the schools, the hijacking of public education by corporate interests, the substitution of testing for substantive forms of teaching and learning and the increasing attempts by right-wing extremists to turn education into job training or into an extended exercise in patriotic xenophobia and religious fundamentalism.

As the right-wing juggernaut destroys the social state, workers protections, unions and civil liberties, it is easy to forgot that a much less visible attack is being waged on young people and especially on public schools and the possibility of critical forms of teaching. Critical pedagogy, that arch enemy of fundamentalists everywhere, must be understood as central to any discourse about educating students to be informed, skilled and knowledgeable critical agents, but, more importantly, it must be understood as the most crucial referent we have for understanding politics and defending all aspects of public schooling as one of the very few remaining democratic public spheres remaining in the United States today.

Footnotes:

1. I take up this issue in great detail in Henry A. Giroux, “Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?” (New York: Palgrave, 2010).
2. Chris McGreal, “The US Schools with their own police,” [5] The Guardian UK, (January 09, 2012)
3. Ibid.
4. Rosalind Rossi, “‘Flaming hot’ chips, gum, other ‘infractions’ costly at some schools,” [6] Sun Times (February 14, 2012).
5. Ibid.
6. The Associated Press, “Chicago School Draws Scrutiny over Student Fines,” [7] ABC News (February 20, 2012).
7. Bill Moyers, “Discovering What Democracy Means,” [8]TomPaine.Com (February 12, 007).
8. Jacques Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University,” p. 233.
9. Edward Said, “Reflections on Exile and Other Essays” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 501.
10. Stanley Aronowitz, “Introduction,” in Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom (Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), pp. 10-11.
11. Zygmunt Bauman and Keith Tester, “Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman” (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), p. 4.
12. Chandra Mohanty, “On Race and Voice: Challenges for Liberal Education in the 1990s,” Cultural Critique (Winter 1989-1990), p. 192.
13. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime,” Constellations 4:1 (1997), p. 5.
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[6] http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/10626363-418/flaming-hot-chips-gum-other-infractions-costly-at-some-schools.html
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“We Must Unleash Radical Thought”: Harry Belafonte

“We Must Unleash Radical Thought”: Harry Belafonte’s Stirring Speech Accepting NAACP Spingarn Medal, 20 February 2013

h his rise to worldwide stardom, the musician and actor Harry Belafonte has been deeply involved in social activism for decades. One of Dr. Martin Luther King’s closest confidants, Belafonte helped organize the March on Washington in 1963.

On Friday, the NAACP awarded Belafonte their highest honor, the Spingarn Medal. “Numerous strategies in the quest of our freedom have been played out at all levels of the social spectrum,” Belafonte says in his acceptance speech. “What is missing I think from the equation in our struggle today is that we must unleash radical thought. … America has never been moved to perfect our desire for greater democracy without radical thinking and radical voices being at the helm of any such a quest.” [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: The son of Caribbean immigrants, Harry Belafonte grew up on the streets of Harlem and Jamaica. In the 50’s he spearheaded the Calypso craze, become the first artist in recording history with a million selling album. He was also the first African-American musician to win Emmy. Along with his rise to world wide stardom, Belafonte became deeply involved in the civil rights movement. One of Dr. King’s closest confidants, he helped organize the march on Washington in 1963. Well, on Friday night, the NAACP honored him with their highest honor the Spingarn Medal. He began his speech referring to Mayor Cory Booker’s introduction.

HARRY BELAFONTE: Mayor Booker, that was heavy. I don’t know that I’ve ever been introduced quite like that before. As you called out the moments that represent the crossroads of the paths in my life, I’m reminded that no matter how I am anointed for what it is that I do and try to do it was never without the knowledge and the joy that what I said and what I still say was really rooted in the courage and strength of so many remarkable people who befriended me and who counseled me and who became an intricate part of my journey. And to sit here and to watch you do the work that you do in the city of Newark, which is not a garden, not a paradise, but a place of remarkable struggle [Applause] You are to be anointed for how well you are doing your job in Newark. But your mother didn’t tell you everything. But your daddy was my best friend.

What I am about to say I had occasion to say a couple of weeks ago. I was in California celebrating the NAACP Image Awards. And what made that event, which I have attended quite often and I have been anointed with the awards at different intervals in my journey, but, what made this one particularly significant was that it was the first time that in the history of the NAACP awards, the Spingarn Medal honoree was being platformed. So, the country go an opportunity to not only look at the young men and women who have achieved so much in the arts, but to also take a moment and a pause to look at our social concerns as well as our social journey.

The speech I’m about to give is one that I gave the night on television. Some of you may have heard it. And for those of you who haven’t, I will give you the opportunity to hear it now. For those who are hearing it for the second time, my hope the redundancy doesn’t drive you from the room. But it won’t be long. But, it says there is a preciseness to the thought, when I put those thoughts on paper that it was about America as I see it today and where we stand.

The group that is most devastated by America’s obsession with the gun is African-Americans. Although making comparisons can be dangerous, there are times when they must be noted. America has the largest prison population in the world and the over 2 million men, women, and children that make up the incarcerated, the overwhelming majority of them is black. African-Americans are the most unemployed, the most caught in the unjust systems of justice. And the gun game, they are the most hunted. The rivers of blood that wash the streets of our nation flow mostly from the bodies of our black children. Yet, as the great debate emerges on the question of the gun, white America discusses the constitutional issues of ownership while no one speaks to the consequences of our racial carnage.

Where is the outraged voice of black America? Where and why are we muted? Where are our leaders? Where are our legislators? Where is the church? Not all, but many who have been the recipients of this distinguished award, were men and women who spoke up to remedy the ills of the nation, they were all committed to radical thought. They were my mentors, my inspiration, my moral compass. Through them I understood America’s greatness, I understood America’s potential. Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and others like Fannie Lou Hamer, and Ella Baker, Bobby Kennedy, and Ms. Constance Rice, and perhaps for me most of all, Paul Robeson.

For me Mr. Robeson was the sparrow. He was an artist who made those of us in the arts understand the depth of that calling when he said, artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are the civilization’s radical voice. Never in the history of black America has there ever been such a harvest of truly gifted and powerfully celebrated artists. Yet, our nation hungers for their radical song. In the field of sports, our presence dominates. In the landscape of corporate power, we have more African-American presence as captains and leaders of industry then we have ever known.

Yet we suffer still from abject poverty and moral malnutrition. Our only hope lies in the recall of a moment which has been to referred to earlier here, and was my last meeting with Dr. King. It was just before he left to go off to Memphis to join the strike with sanitation workers. We held a strategy meeting and Dr. King — the meeting was in my home, and Dr. King, during that meeting, appeared to be distracted and in a dark mood. When we asked him what was the matter he said, we have come far in the struggle for integration, and although we may be winning some battles, we have not won the war. And I’ve come to the conclusion that in our struggle to integrate, we may be integrating into a burning house.

That thought we found it deeply disturbing. And when we asked him if such was his belief, what would he have us do? His reply was, we will have to become firemen. Numerous strategies in the quest of our freedom have been played out at all levels of the social spectrum. Youth groups, women’s groups, labor groups, religious groups, the list goes on and on. And yet the opposition persists in its resistance to our quest. What is missing, I think, from the equation in our struggle today is that we must unleash radical thought. America keeps that part of the discourse mute. I would make an appeal for the NAACP as the oldest institution in our quest for human dignity and human rights, that we stimulate more fully the concept and the need for radical thinking. America has never been moved to perfect our desire for greater democracy without radical thinking and radical voices being at the helm of any such quest.

The pursuit of justice is all I have ever known. And I have often said that what defines a true patriot and reading a book, “The Life of Theodore Roosevelt,” I came upon a quote where he said that when the state finds itself moving away from its commitment to the rights of the citizen, when those rights are being trampled and misguided, when there are those who would wrest from the Constitution the quality that it attempted to give all of us then citizens of the nation have not only the obligation, but, the right to challenge the state and those who run it. And he said, if we fail to do that, if we fail to meet that moral criteria, then we the citizens should be charged with patriotic treason. And that struck me because what we’re really on is a journey to end the treasonous behavior of the contemporary political scene. And what it is trying to do to steal our votes [Applause] — to steal our votes. To what it is doing to our women, to what it’s doing to our children, to what it’s doing to wherever black people have moments of need and want. I would ask that unless Black America — or I would say that unless Black America raises its voice loud and clear, America — and it is specifically our responsibility of all cultural diversity that makes up this nation and its promise to be great, the most powerful force is the voice of African-Americans, and America will never become whole and America will never become what it dreams to be until we are truly free, and truly a bigger part of this.

AMY GOODMAN: The legendary actor, musician, activist Harry Belafonte, speaking on Friday night, awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal. He turns 86 years old on March 1st. You can go to our website for our full interview with Harry Belafonte, our archive of interviews.

CEOs average $12.3 million in 2012, 354 times the average worker

by Laura ClawsonFollow for Daily Kos Labor, Apr 15, 2013

 Excerpt

The AFL-CIO is out with its Executive Paywatch. Here’s how some of the numbers break down:

  • In 2012, CEOs of S&P 500 Index companies averaged $12.3 million in total compensation, while rank-and-file worker wages averaged $34,645, for a ratio of 354 to one.
  • In Germany, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio is a relatively modest 147 to one. Workers make more—$40,223—and CEOs make less—$5,912,781. In Canada, it’s 206 to one. In Sweden, Australia, Japan, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom, and other countries, the ratio is below 100 to one.

The comparisons with other nations and with our own past are a powerful reminder that how things are in this country right now is not how things have to be to have a healthy economy. The growing inequality in the United States that goes beyond a few CEOs isn’t good for our economy or our politics. But when you consider that 354 to one ratio, you understand the power that’s lined up against changing things for the better.

Full text

The AFL-CIO is out with its Executive Paywatch. Here’s how some of the numbers break down:

  • In 2012, CEOs of S&P 500 Index companies averaged $12.3 million in total compensation, while rank-and-file worker wages averaged $34,645, for a ratio of 354 to one.
  • CEO pay fell five percent from 2011 to 2012, but that’s mostly because of Apple CEO Tim Cook. The stock he got in 2011 vests over 10 years, but was counted all at once, skewing 2011 CEO pay data. If you take Cook out, average CEO pay increased five percent in 2012.
  • In Germany, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio is a relatively modest 147 to one. Workers make more—$40,223—and CEOs make less—$5,912,781. In Canada, it’s 206 to one. In Sweden, Australia, Japan, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom, and other countries, the ratio is below 100 to one.

The comparisons with other nations and with our own past are a powerful reminder that how things are in this country right now is not how things have to be to have a healthy economy. The growing inequality in the United States that goes beyond a few CEOs isn’t good for our economy or our politics. But when you consider that 354 to one ratio, you understand the power that’s lined up against changing things for the better.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/04/15/1201903/-CEOs-average-12-3-million-in-2012-354-times-the-average-worker