Investigating THEE’s “7 Primal Quests”

The purpose of life?

This is certainly bold, isn’t it? I imagine many people would be skeptical in hearing that someone claims to have any insight into their purpose of life. I would be. I am.

It’s so subjective, for one, and there are so many ways of looking at it, questioning it. Did some deity assign my purpose of life? Do I choose it at some point, or just fall into it? Is there really any purpose to life at all? It’s not particularly difficult to make the case that we are simply organic machines, bent on survival and reproduction alone. But that is, in itself, a purpose of sorts.

As impenetrable as it may seem, the topic holds universal appeal. It’s a question humanity has asked itself time and time again, which makes it even more difficult to accept that here and now, someone figured it out.

One of the first pages in the satellite, Answers to “The Purpose/Meaning of Life,” addresses these concerns, and it does so without discounting the many other approaches or ideas regarding what the “purpose of life” might be. The myriad ways of approaching our personal purpose—be it religious or psychological, intellectual or ethical—have their place in the taxonomy. They are important to human endeavor in some way. This sort of purpose, as part of the taxonomy, is much more specific, more focused.

Think of it as answering this question: If you had to say what drives the type of things you do with your free time, what would that be?

Sure, we all have the regular rigmarole to deal with—stay employed, eat, keep clean, spend time with the family—the normal stuff. But what makes you happy, and more importantly, what do you feel best doing? I think of it as what you really want to do when you get off work. Are you itching to hit the bars and go dancing? Is there a painting you’re working on that you want to get home and continue working on? Are you off to go volunteer at a soup kitchen? Did you hear about some new life affirming activity, like yoga or meditation, and you’re excited to go try it out?

The taxonomy identifies seven distinct “Quests” and asserts that we all strongly relate to at least one of them. These quests are our purpose. They are central in our identity. They are why we do what we do when we have the choice of things to do.

Of course, the taxonomy being what it is, there is a technical, epistemological rationale for the existence and validity of these quests, but I don’t want to get into that. My personal experience is what sold me on these quests. I can think of everyone I know and, with a bit of speculation and maybe an assumption or two, I get the sense that they fit quite nicely into one quest or another. Also, it helps to think of the Quests as emerging out of a taxonomic inquiry rather than someone’s attempt at philosophy or theology. Furthermore, they are part of a much larger context—the Your Better Self framework and the taxonomy as a whole. Apparently, much of this framework’s discovery was quite surprising and unexpected. You can read about Warren Kinston’s shock and awe at stumbling across parts of this framework in its Background Story.

The Quests

Reading through the quests reveals fairly straightforward descriptions, but it forces self-examination. It touches on the “searching” that, when articulated, is nearly the most succinct description of what if fundamentally means to be a human being.

We search for pleasure. We search for meaning. We search for truth. We want to help others. We want to create something new and beautiful. We want some guiding light to show us the way through life. We want to feel one with the universe and ourselves and each other. 

In a way, every one of us is all of these things. This makes it hard to self-identify. But again, what most speaks to you? What reminds you of others you may know?

My Struggles with The Quests

The Pleasure Quest seems vacuous to me. I acknowledge its existence. My job used to be to entertain these people. I would play gigs at bars or festivals or casinos and see them in their element all the time. I even made close friends with some, but I always wondered how they lived that way without looking for “something more.”

I am equally repelled by the Obedience Quest. How can following be at all satisfying?

These sort of highlight THEE diversity for me. I try not to judge and simply accept The Pleasure and Obedience Quests as a reality without questioning their value.

I’m a bit confused by the Meaning Quest. THEE says that for someone on a Meaning Quest, “The Purpose of Life is to find a personal meaning for existing.” This seems kind of circular. And is it perpetual searching? So, if you find something that adds meaning to your life—having children or doing well at your job—is that satisfactory or must you then continue your search?

I think I am on a Meaning Quest—and a Creation Quest (proving that we can be on two at once as discussed on the THEE page Personal Combinations). I’ve attached my identity to being a musician, a writer, a father, a thinking person and various other things. This may be why it’s so confusing to me; it’s a bit too close to the cuff. And I do personally find it difficult to be ultimately satisfied—though this may be part of the human condition.

Interesting Taxonomic Side-Note

The psychological/social dichotomy is one of the clearest examples of a THEE oscillating duality. Level 1, Pleasure Quest, is focused inwards: What makes me feel good? Level 2, The Meaning Quest, is focused outwards: What social role can I play that gives my life meaning? Level 3, The Enlightenment Quest, is focused inward: What within me is a true expression of my “self?” Level 4, The Salvation Quest, is focused outward: How can I help others? Etc.

There’s a lot of exciting discoveries regarding oscillating dualities in The Architecture Room in the TOP Studio. It turns out manipulating them in a certain way spawns frameworks for overcoming difficulties in life.

Where Further Exploration Will Take You

Understanding the Quests paves the way for exploring some fascinating stuff, like how to become a better person, ideas addressed by religion such as Oneness, divinity and good and evil and how we as a species can enable a more harmonious communal existence.

These topics might be next on my list of inquiries.

But understanding the quests is necessary to gaining understanding during deeper inquiries into the Your Better Self framework.

Until next time, happy discoveries.

Changing Politics to Match the Times

Welcome to my 100th blog!

For the occasion, I thought I would discuss an idea to take THEE principles off the Internet and into the political arena. Let’s talk about real solutions that, without a violent revolution or total social upheaval, could bring about much-needed, radical change to our political system—and it wouldn’t even be that hard to do!

The trick is to make it seem as if what we’re doing isn’t radical at all. If we can manage that, it will keep politicians and the media from marginalizing the initiative and writing it off as the mad ideas of some whacky fringe group.

As I have discussed numerous times in my 100 blogs, (yes, I’m going to milk it when I can) we are entering a new phase in our political development. THEE calls it Conventionalism and perhaps its most striking feature is a populace that is much more active in politics as a single, unified group. This will be enabled by advances in communication technology and will be a reaction to the obvious failings of the political and social elite (and us, quite frankly) during the current political phase—Plutocratic Pluralism.

An Anchor 

Step one is to continue our adherence to the already-existing constitutional system. This isn’t because the Constitution is perfect and the forefathers (speaking as an American here) were demi-gods who graced us with their infinite wisdom. It’s because the Constitution is familiar and has deep cultural roots. It’s something a mass of people knows about and can largely agree on. It provides for solid political ground, something to latch on to for a crowd—which has the tendency to be a catalyst for chaos if there’s not some boundary over which they unconsciously agree not to cross.

“Politics by the people” has its downsides. When the crowd gets fired up, scary things can happen. But this can be tempered by, as noted above, a compass like the Constitution and the diffusion of power and responsibility. This is where interest groups come in.

The Political Unit that Counts 

Every democratic society is rife with a multitude of diverse, quasi-political interest groups. This isn’t the Republican Party, the prison industrial complex or the pharmaceutical lobby we’re talking about. Imagine something more on the scale of the Prostate Cancer Coalition or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. They span the spectrum of human interests but the common thread is that they must all engage with the political system to some degree. And there are just so many of them. It is estimated that there are 1.5 million non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the U.S.

The leaders of these groups, for the most part, are well versed on the problems inherent in the uncaring bureaucracy, the ineptocracy and the kleptocracy. They realize that they are competing with large, vested interests who have armies of lawyers and lobbyists. They generally feel powerless and marginalized because they are—but only because they stand alone. Yet, more people belong to some interest group than to any given political party, probably without even realizing it. My wife, for example, is a member of the American Translator Association and I pay my yearly dues to the American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). A lot of latent power waits, spread across these many groups, aching to be tapped.

I understand that it’s difficult to imagine that groups as different as a bird watching society and a music publishing association could have anything in common. However, their efforts to influence the political system are often thwarted, and there are reasons for this, reasons leaders understand. These reasons are what could unite them.

The Plan

Let’s start another interest group, an interest group interest group. The THEE page that describes this plan gives a suggestion for naming it the National Association for Proper Politician Participation and Practices (NAPPPP). But that’s not really all that important. It would have only three simple duties.

  • Reach out to the multitude of interest groups and organize itself as a nexus. Our new “meta-interest group” would act as a meeting point for all of a society’s interest groups. 

  • Survey and gauge these groups, ask them what stands in their way. It must be about the political system, not something within their particular realm of interest. Maybe it is that they don’t have enough financing to compete with corporate lobbyists. Maybe their protestors keep getting beaten up and arrested. Maybe Congressmen don’t even respond to their communications with anything other than a stock letter. It’s up to these interest groups to determine what most stands in their way. 

  • Lastly, this meta-interest group will find common themes, organize an annual convention and invite representatives to attend and conduct referenda. Groups will vote on, say, to reform the tax code so that corporations can’t take advantage of loopholes—and our meta-interest group will submit the results to government. 
Just imagine the headline!

Every Interest Group in America, Representing 280 million People, Pushes for Tax Reforms 

And you’ve got your grassroots, non-violent revolution. Politicians would hate it. They’d have no choice but to respond in some fashion—perhaps only a token speech at first, but if these annual conventions gain steam and referenda keep coming, we could see real, democratic change based on the Conventionalist ethos.

That’s the basic thrust. Please visit THEE’s Conventionalist satellite for deeper understanding.

Or, just think about it for a while. It won’t solve all of our problems. However, consider these points: 

  • The meta-interest group could be operated on a relatively small budget and with a small secretariat. 

  •  It would perhaps be the most democratic aspect of Western society as it currently stands. 

  •  It wouldn’t seem too radical, because who’s threatened by a bunch of translators and musicians and bird lovers getting together? 

  •  It could affect real political change at a time when too many of us feel totally powerless and adrift in the choices of elites who exist well beyond our reach. Our own little interest groups are, however, easily within reach. 
 What do you think? Leave a comment with your response.

Lavabit, Willy Wonka and Economic Intervention

Governments tend to attract some very intelligent, educated people. They offer decent pay, benefits, vacations, sick time and the perks of working for a large, successful organization.

So why do governments on the whole seem to be so stupid?

It’s not my intention to be inflammatory. But I’d be rather surprised to learn you hadn’t thought something similar at some point in time.

Granted, governments must grapple with a wide range of conflicts and dilemmas. There are all sorts of people to please—fat cat CEOs, foreign powers, central bank chairpersons, lobbyists, the party apparatus, and of course, the teeming masses. Even then, “the masses” isn’t some homogenous body. There are thousands of interest groups and organizations that emerge from the populace—not to mention every individual’s personal opinion and agenda. It’s a lot to think about.

But the jockeying for government attention by a wide variety of vested interest groups is only a feature of our current political paradigm. It likely won’t ever totally disappear, but as a defining, driving force in society, it will fade.

The perceived stupidity isn’t stupidity at all—it’s the mentality of the politician. They want power, then they want more power. We can’t really fault them. We need some sort of government. And government inevitably has power. So it attracts people for whom wielding power is attractive. These are politicians. While we all want power over our own lives, it takes a special mentality to crave power over vast numbers of unknown others. As such, the pursuit of power is an important and necessary drive in society, like the drive to be an entrepreneur or an activist or an academic.

What emerges is the paradox of control.

Politicians think themselves in control of something wildly complex and beyond them, things like entire economies or the activities of other sovereign nations or the actions of their people.

As I’ve discussed in a previous blog and its sequel, two of the best ways government can intervene in the economy is to vocally support commerce and promote capitalism. It’s very simple, actually. Politicians are, out of necessity, good at giving speeches that’s all they must do to help set a social context in favor of commerce.

If only they could leave it at that!

I’m reminded of the case of Lavabit. Edward Snowden used Lavabit to send and receive encrypted emails to and from the United States. Power-centered bureaucrats and politicians got wind of this and, in the early days of the ongoing NSA scandal, subpoenaed Lavabit’s owner, Ladar Levison, for information on his clients.

In an admirable display of his principles, Levison refused to give up the information, preferring to shut the business down instead. It was, after all, his business’ raison d’etre to not give up personal information. He was even told that to speak about the experience with the press (and his lawyer!) would result in some unspecified, but sufficiently scary, consequences.

Lavabit filled a gap in the marketplace. It’s not illegal for people to want their information kept private, and some people do. So it’s not as if the government was cracking down on prostitution rings or drug cartels.

Government coercion, born of fear and the misguided notion that their actions could stop up a hole in the marketplace inadvertently created a destructive ripple effect. Commerce was discouraged. Someone will fill the gap, probably from outside the U.S., depriving that country from a small but significant industry. Last I heard, New Zealand’s Kim Dotcom was planning on offering a similar service.

It’s pretty easy to screw up the economy when deliberate action is taken. Increasing taxes to the wealthy results in tax havens cropping up, brain drains, decreased investment and more corruption as rich people turn to paying bureaucrats off to achieve their aims. Banning certain products or services results in black markets or offshoring. Bailouts mean more money printed, leading to inflation, and more debt. All sorts of unintended things occur. I’m reminded of the two most beneficial economic policies to emerge from the U.S. government—the G.I. Bill and the freeway system. Neither was intended as an economic intervention. Both were a boon to the U.S.

I guess the lesson is: don’t think the government is going to save you. They’re more about power than they are about your prosperity. Yet, everyone seems to have their eyes turned toward statehouses and administrative buildings, just waiting for someone to emerge—like Willy Wonka from his factory—with a sugarcoated solution and a big, silly smile. What’s government going to do? Say: “We don’t know what to do…” That’d go over well come the next election. Maybe, as has been said dozens of times in this blog, we’ve got a responsibility. At the moment, I would say that responsibility is to quit expecting so much from government. Start expecting more from yourself.

Great Dreams and the Goodness Within Us

“To this war of every man against every man, this also inconsequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues. No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” 

 -Thomas Hobbes, Laviathan 

In a sense, these are powerful, motivating words. There is a Spartan in all of us; there is a warrior, a violent individualist. Hobbes speaks to a deep, latent beast inside of us. And while he is condemning this unavoidable aspect of man, one can’t help but sense an alignment with something old, dark and natural that we all share.

Our most basic instincts are animalistic—we must survive. If we didn’t, well, then everything else is pointless.

This penchant for violence and brutality got us through some tough times as a species. The classic scene is the primordial wilderness; a night sky filled with stars, dense, steamy jungle and a small band of near-primates gathered around a fire. The dreaded saber-toothed tiger leaps out of the brush and the men, sinewy and strong, fight back, stabbing at him with their sharpened, fire-hardened sticks until they kill the beast.

Our violent nature was not only directed toward other species. The current manifestation of mankind is the distant progeny of the most deadly and heartless our species could produce. Murder was not a moral issue for early man; it was an accepted way of life. Tribal wars killed off a significant portion of the would-be gene pool no doubt. The ancient Assyrians would slaughter entire cities in a day, killing tens of thousands in a matter of hours.

The darkened annals of history hold untold scores of genocides.

One mustn’t even look to the ancients. We all know about the Nazis, you might have heard about the Kurds or the attempt to kill off Bosnian Muslims in former Yugoslavia. But have you heard of the Cathars? They were a fringe Christian sect in Southern France. The Vatican and the Parisian kings considered them a thorn in their side and over several years during the 14th Century, killed them off to the man. Perhaps a few drops of Cathar blood flow through the veins of a handful of villagers in Languedoc, but they are effectively gone without a trace. How many more races, creeds and ethnic groups that we’ve never heard of have been wiped out?

And who does that leave? The killers.

This is partially why it is so difficult for us, as a race, to actively pursue producing Goodness, to enable peace, harmony and communal existence. We must fight a raging battle within ourselves. This paradox is our Achilles Heel. It is our impediment to progress and evolution and it must be overcome.

What’s required is a conscious, active, aware use of another part of us. I believe and see evidence of something ethereal within humanity; there is goodwill. It is often brushed aside in today’s spiritual climate, where mechanistic materialists—the scientific determinists who populate much of neuroscience and evolutionary biology—and militant atheists seem to hold the floor of our society’s discussion in some great, echoing filibuster.

But it’s that part of us that film studios try to tickle with cutesy Christmas movies. It’s the part of us that awakens in even the most hardened, jaded person when they happen across a child or animal in danger. It’s the part of us that enables the existence of organizations like Amnesty International or The Red Cross. It’s the part of us that tingles when we hear one of Martin Luther King or Gandhi’s speeches, when they powerfully assert ultimate values like freedom, truth, justice and beauty.

The pain and suffering that grabs headlines and our collective attention is a web as fine as spiders silk. In between the threads is not a void, but a great many tiny successes that together, are much greater and more powerful than the darkness. If this were not the case, we probably wouldn’t exist anymore—or the fight for goodness would be long dead. And it’s not. It has survived millennia of attempts to destroy it.

What sustains us are our dreams, great dreams that, as THEE puts it, consists of “having a personal vision of a good world and believing that any goodness that comes into the world can start as easily from you as from anyone else.”

This is the answer to Hobbes’ Laviathan. And I think he tried to show us that—and succeeded to some extent.

I have great dreams, you have great dreams. We all do. Let’s hear yours.

To Be Complex and True, or to Be Simple and Easy

We like to do what’s easy, or should I say, we like to do what’s easier.

I think modern civilization makes it even easier to do what’s easier. It’s no longer necessary that every family must work their own field and raise their own livestock and govern their own tribe. I write this, by the way, as I sit in my apartment, impatiently awaiting the delivery of my new washing machine. 

Things are particularly easy in smaller doses. Of course, it’s unfathomable to our minds that everything “is one,” but we’ve gone even further. We’re not a species; we’re Germans or Indians or fans of the Philadelphia Eagles or Mormons or Republicans or BMW owners or someone who only listens to vinyl or whatever. It’s dizzying the number of ways we’ve devised to split and fracture ourselves.

One of the great maxims of science is that nothing should be conceived of as more complicated than is absolutely necessary.

From a wide angle, humans and their ways are quite complex. But from behind our own eyes, it’s all very simple. I am what I understand myself to be, everyone else rambles through my periphery, separate and distinct from my “self.”

But now these paradoxes are getting too complicated.

It’s only natural—too much sonder, as they say these days—would be confusing. Who’s got the time? To evaluate each political issue, for example, would be too time and energy consuming. Rather see what my favorite pundit has to say about it, or hold it up to my ideological scaffolding, see if it hangs.

I’m as guilty as anyone. My nickname is high school was “Commie Tommy.” I had a Che Guevara T-shirt. I listened to Rage Against the Machine, hung on every word that came from Tom Morello’s mouth. If only that was the most embarrassing aspect of my teenage years.

Now, I’m confused rather often. Where do I put new information? I’m no longer satisfied to accept or reject something based on previously held ideological notions. When something new arises, I think: “Is it good for me? Is it good for everyone else? Should I worry that it’s good for everyone else or just worry about myself? What do all the certified MENSA members in the comments section have to say? I should probably think the opposite to be safe.”

Of course, this paves the way for relativity, something rather dangerous in its own right. It’s quite good for some things, like what kinds of music someone likes or questions such as: “Do you more enjoy spring of autumn?” But for others, there does exist truth and falsehood, joy and suffering, creation and destruction.

The fact of the matter is we are more complex creatures than we are simple. Just inside our own minds is something seemingly endless. What is it? You don’t even know! If you did, please enjoy your tenured position at the Ivy League university of your choice and a legacy as long as the human race happens to survive.

Then, make it bigger. Think about society. All of those little microcosms bumping into each other, communicating, doing things, bouncing ideas and thoughts around, trying to reconcile their own will with their family, their community, their country, their race, their species.

It’s so much easier to say things like: “This group is good, that one is bad. I’ll do and think and say what they do and not what ‘the other’ does.”

But that’s not fair, it’s not correct and you know it. You live it, but you know it’s not at all accurate. It’s like a biologist saying that skin cells are good and liver cells are bad. It’s absolutely ridiculous. And it is counter-productive to the progress of biological science because it’s simply not true and it misses the whole point. Biologists absolutely must understand that it’s all part of this overwhelmingly complex system.

Is being human any different? Surely not! 

The truth, the real honest-to-goodness truth is that “you” and “we” are complex. There are all sorts of bits and pieces to us, separate in their own way, but joined together to make us human. And man, it’s hard work getting down to the truth, especially when we’ve got kids and bills and surviving on our minds.

That’s why I understand why the work I do for TOP goes relatively unnoticed, why THEE in its entirety has yet to take off. Where to begin, right? How can a grand ordering seem so chaotic? What does “RH’7” mean anyway? How do I wrap my head around a spiral or a tree or an oscillating duality? I just clicked a link to get some insights on how to make my business profitable, expecting some pithy 10-step article about location and advertising and customer service.

I know what you got. I created the link!

We are always considering how to make THEE and TOP more accessible. Someday we might strike communicative gold.

In the meantime, take my word for it that what’s going on here is important. It’s truth and beauty and symmetry and, yes, even simplicity itself at times.

And if you’ve got the energy and time, talk to us! Challenge a claim I make in the blog. Ask for clarification or give your opinion in the comments section of thee-online. Have a conversation on Twitter. Leave a comment on Facebook. Watch a YouTube video and tell us what you think. I guarantee that conversing with you would be the highlight of my workday. And we both might learn something in the process.

Confusing and Clarifying Work and Play

I never gave much thought to work. I have and do work, of course, as most of us do. There have been many mornings (or afternoons depending on the job) where I’ve dragged myself out of bed while whining: “I don’t want to go. Work is no fun.”

Conversely, there have been days when the hours flew by and I finished up the day feeling accomplished and fulfilled.

There have been many things I’ve done that were extremely stressful and taxing, though I did them purely for my own, personal fulfillment. Does that make me a masochist? Last year, for example, I released my fifth studio album and for the fifth time in a row, I lost money.

Recently, I had a yard sale. According to my European friends, this is a uniquely American phenomenon. I filled a large portion of my yard with items I no longer wanted and labeled them with price tags. My daughter and I put a few signs on the busier roads near my house and my wife took out a couple of online classified ads. Then the three of us sat on our porch for most of the day as random people drove or walked or biked up to our house to pick through our belongings and haggle us over items we were offering away for 50 cents.

We ended making a couple hundred dollars while ridding ourselves of a lot of dead weight. At one point, I remarked to my wife that it was the most relaxing day I’d had in recent memory.

I’ve had jobs where I worked in the traditional sense. My first two summers in college, I would pick up large rocks at construction sites by hand and toss them into tractor buckets. I worked with hardened cowboys in the rocky, snow-tipped mountains of Utah who, by the age of forty or so, couldn’t get through a workday without a few cheap beers.

For six years, I was a short-order cook at a series of busy restaurants. Cooks are notorious for a warrior mentality and lifelong brotherhoods are formed under the crushing weight of the peak-hour rush. Knives become a blur, shouting and profanity becomes the common language and blood boils in the heat and stress as two or three guys pump out upwards of two hundred plates. It takes an amazing amount of concentration, efficiency and focus and there’s a certain addictive quality to it. Few cooks make more than $50 a day, if that. But you don’t have to look very hard to find someone who considers it his or her calling in life. I could always hold my own, but I was never one of those guys. And when I was offered management positions, I always turned them down. I considered it a temporary arrangement and if I was going to be there, I wanted to be on the front lines.

Nowadays, I can make a few hundred bucks in a day writing marketing copy for pawnshops and payday loan outfits from the comfort of my front porch. It’s really boring and one of the highlights of my week is writing this blog for significantly less. Another highlight is writing articles for a Berlin arts and politics magazine for free.

I Could Have Just Read Your Resume. What’s the Point? 

The point is: “work” is really complex. It’s a psychosocial phenomenon. If the previous stories prove nothing else, it’s that work is only partly about money.

Sometimes work is fun, and having fun is work. But work is never play. The difference is that when it’s work, you have a sense of accountability for the outcomes, and to yourself and those you’re working for. 

Take the yard sale example. I didn’t really care if anyone bought my junk. I would have given it to the thrift store down the street if they hadn’t. Yeah, I made some money—which was nice—but there was no real sense of responsibility. And as I said, it was ultimately a very relaxing day.

On the other hand, cooks make next to nothing but they work very hard. Furthermore, most of them take cooking very seriously. Let that comfort my more conservative readers who worry when they see that a tattooed cook with a mohawk is handling their food. I can almost guarantee that your order might be the most important thing in his life at that moment. I’m sure the same goes for most professions.

I’ve just begun to embark upon THEE’s Levels of Work framework. It’s still quite new, so I’m sure in a few months or so, once I’ve properly processed it, I’ll be able to write more specifically about things. But I’m starting to think of work as concept or phenomenon in a whole new, extremely fascinating way. Check back in the blog for more developments. And while you’re at it, let’s hear some of your work experiences.

Imagining a Future Politics: Looking Backwards While Moving Forward

I never thought I’d write this, but I miss the good ‘ol waning days of the Industrial Revolution, back when six year-olds worked in coal mines and the gap between society’s richest and society’s poorest was so wide that to this day, it’s used as a measuring stick for social inequity. Yes, the Victorian Era, when prudishness and repression were the norm and homosexuality was a prosecutable crime in England—even if you were a celebrity.

Now don’t stop reading yet! I’m quite happy that these practices have gone by the wayside. What I want to bring back is what ended up abolishing them.

The Industrial Revolution was an absolute orgy of free markets and lassaiz faire capitalism. Business interests like the East India Co. spurred on rapid global expansion of the British Empire and laid waste to the environment while exploiting not only foreign peoples but native women and children as well.

It was the era of Individualism, where enterprising, intelligent, hard working (and lucky) folks faced almost no political or social roadblocks to wealth and success. It all came with a hefty price, though. For one, the competition between European nations to industrialize and compete economically (mostly with Britain) resulted in World War I. But beyond that, unimpeded business endeavors caused what we call the tragedy of the commons, where individuals pursuing their own self-interest destroyed public or shared land and resources.

In response, the British government and its people called for some trusted body to investigate a hairy situation and find out not only what a sensible course of action might be, but what the people themselves wanted to see. These investigations became known as Royal Commissions. (A little personal side-note—you can read about one of my ancestors, Patience Kershaw, testifying before the Ashley Mines Commission in 1842, telling her story of dragging buckets of coal through tunnels on her hands and knees six days a week for 12-hour days.)

As the Empire broke apart, Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand took up the practice of Royal Commissions, and most Western countries had their own versions as well.

Now, on to the point. A few blogs back, I advocated for a more rational and truth-oriented approach in politics as we move forward into a new phase. It’s obvious to most that politics has become absolute madness in so many ways, with a corollary being the decline in Royal Commissions and public inquiry in non-Commonwealth countries, such as the United States. For example, if you take a look at this list of Australian Royal Commissions from 1900-present, you’ll notice that between 1900 and 1950, there were 85 Royal Commissions. Between 1950 and 2000, there were just 39. Since the turn of the century, there have only been six.

This decline is disturbing. Commissions such as these are powerful tools for the betterment of society. They operate independent of any branch of government or political party, they are given wide powers to investigate into matters often off-limits to journalists or even law enforcement and their recommendations are, more often than not, passed into law eventually.

Nowadays, bureaucrats and politicians seem to have a rabid case of commission-phobia. You’ll notice, for example, that after campaigning to close Guantanamo Bay and halt what many consider inhumane interrogation tactics in 2008, President Obama pushed aside the formation of a commission into interrogation tactics in 2009. And when the NSA scandal broke—a perfect time for a commission inquiry into surveillance practices—an investigation was initiated, but it was filled with Democratic Party insiders rather than being a formal commission, or at all independent for that matter.

Commissions are merely an outward expression of something deeper. It’s not inquiries or reviews that have politicians scared—they are perfectly capable of fixing or tampering with these. It’s that formal commissions’ independence allowed them to not be fiddled or tampered with in their search for truth and it’s truth that strikes fear into the hearts of every modern politician.

And it’s not even wishy-washy philosophical truth. It’s simple questions like:

Is it true that 2/3 of those killed during drone campaigns are civilians, yes or no?

Did banks and corporations who agreed to repay their money from the bail-outs within a certain period of time do so, yes or no?

The problem is, we’re not going backwards in our political development and the emergence of rationalism came out of the excesses of the Industrial Revolution and Individualism. That time is passed. Now we have to deal with the excesses of financial manipulation and corporatism with government suppression of civil liberties. The pressures here are growing.

However, we must start to imagine, and see the seedlings of a future political era molded by new communication technology and increased participation of the masses. It will be the age of mass opinion, of the crowd and all that comes with it. In a sense, it could be considered the opposite of rationalism. Crowds are not known for being rational and/or intelligent.

Nevertheless, we can absorb and utilize useful features of previous political eras. So while rationalism in this sense might not be the defining feature of politics, it can still exist and be influential. Current sentiments toward politicians show that we don’t trust them at all—and for good reason. But, if the crowd’s opinion is that independent commissions and other truth-seeking bodies are valuable, we could enjoy the best of both worlds.

In Hopes of a Truth-Seeking Society

There’s something I’ve been hearing a lot lately—the call for a more scientific society. Scientific American thinks Big Data is the wave of the future. British associations call for more scientists in political office. As far back as 1998, UNESCO released an opinion piece of sorts, declaring that “scientists have an increasing obligation to become involved with policy makers and the public in finding or implementing solutions as means of adaptation to issues that are both local and world-wide…”

If you follow this blog, you might be anticipating some sort of defense of the opposite. It’s not uncommon that I take a devil’s advocate position in this space. But this time, I want to join the chorus. Call up the choirmaster, see if there’s a position in the baritone section!

Really, I couldn’t agree more. However, I would like to clarify some terms. By “scientific,” I mean truth-seeking. Though often considered synonymous, being rational or scientific frequently means floating along with the current of what is popularly considered true. If we are not too arrogant and have even a minimal grasp of the history of ideas and knowledge, we can safely assume that our current era is no different than previous ones. Our knowledge of the universe and ourselves, though generally more than in previous epochs, is no less flawed, incomplete or, at times, completely wrong.

Current problems in inquiry span the spectrum from physics to neuroscience to politics to pop culture, but for this blog, let’s focus on what most applies to our personal and social lives (that is the focus of this blog after all) and take a look at the social sciences.

The social sciences have always been considered soft in the middle—things are so subjective, theories might assert opposing viewpoints, studies are subject to various biases, and at times it seems that the border between philosophy and science greatly overlaps.

I don’t see this as really the problem, and I’ll get into that later. What seems to be the problem lately is a lack of integrity. It’s difficult to trust much of what we’re seeing lately—for a variety of reasons.

A few striking examples:

  • Diederik Stapel’s falsified data to support his premise that a dirtier environment correlates with racism. It was a relatively big study. It garnered significant attention, but it turns out he simply made a lot of it up. 

  • The Positivity Ratio” This could be a canary in the coal mine. It begs the question: How many studies like this exist that we’re not putting in the effort to debunk? Essentially, this 2005 paper claims that there is a sort of magic ratio (2.9013) of happiness to unhappiness that determines any given person’s success in life. It seems silly in those terms—and it is—but this study has been cited nearly 1,000 times on Google scholar alone, showing the danger for bad science to quickly proliferate. 

  • Modern economics is one of my favorite axes to grind. First of all, look around, it’s not working. Second of all, is it a social science—as in having to do with people—or is it abstract mathematical models

What’s the solution? 

There are many. First, social science and its critics might simply embrace what is “wrong” with social science. Yes, it’s ambiguous—people are ambiguous. Yes, it is subjective—experience is subjective. Yes, it is philosophical—what it is to be human, individually and socially, is a philosophical quandary. Sure, these are problems when you’re concerned with demarcation, pseudoscience and academic definitions, but we should be concerned with reality.

Academic research is important; it has its place. So, when we engage in it and present it, we need to do so with more rigor—both from researchers and scientific publications and their journalists. This goes without saying. But the state of scientific publishing is dismal and evermore racked with scandals and uncertainty.

While much of the responsibility for bad scientific publishing falls on the heads of publishers, editors and journalist, much of it falls on us as well. We continue to click through to We continue to take un-replicated, pop science research using white kids at expensive American colleges for subjects as gospel. That needs to change.

But there’s more.

A New Approach is Possible 

The social sciences are in crisis, but we can see this as a good thing. Necessary and positive changes often emerge from crisis and breakdown.

My hope for what comes out of this crisis is the acknowledgement of a unity. We cannot truly comprehend it (almost if we really try), but we can acknowledge it. And in doing so, we can begin to understand the interrelation of the social sciences. While the work of psychologists and sociologists within their respective fields is important and necessary, they shouldn’t feel that there is some border over which they cannot cross. The sum of the social sciences should simply be a mirror of the multi-faceted, yet unified and one-contained phenomenon that is the individual. You feel a unity within yourself, don’t you? Zoom out and you’ll find that you probably feel a similar multi-faceted, yet unified and one-contained phenomenon that is all of us—or society. You’re unique, but also the same as everyone else. Can current social science handle that apparent contradiction?

What social science needs is a method for—and openness to—trans-disciplinary inquiry, and THEE offers that method. We are, after all, individuals, members of a family, a neighborhood, political beings and spiritual all at once. THEE is a myriad of different, distinct “things,” or elements we all share that, when combined, are the total person and the society he or she and all others create. The insights within, discovered and undiscovered, seem boundless. It is a social science in and of itself, dedicated to helping create a world fit for people by acknowledging the truth about them, not just what seems popular or in-fashion.

Mankind has always been served by the willingness and openness of individuals and society to investigate and accept new pathways to truth. Science has already undergone various revolutions and every time this occurs, we leap forward in our overall social development.

Social science still has much to teach us, but only if we’re willing to change our attitude from “make it interesting so people keep coming to the website” and academic wrangling to orienting ourselves to making our personal and social lives better. That is a scientific society I would like to see.

The Earnestness of What’s Important

I often think back to a seminal moment I had in high school. It was a rough time—as it is for most people at that age. Everything was so dramatic, so magnified. I struggled with physical changes, family issues, social acceptance and my place in the world. Didn’t we all.

I was walking between classes. I must have been late to something; there was no one else in the hallways or in the yard. I asked myself, very earnestly, what was important. It wasn’t so much what was important to me personally, rather what was important in general. My conclusion? Money.

I remember being disappointed with my own answer, as if I had uncovered some dirty little secret about society or human nature.

Looking back, 15 years later, I have to admit that I wasn’t necessarily wrong. That pimply-faced, awkward boy—how wise he was! Of course, money is important in a sense. We all need it to survive in society. But it wasn’t my answer that was wise—I think I missed the mark there a bit—it was the question.

What’s important to us is of the utmost importance, don’t you think? That’s not just a play on words, it’s quite profound if I say so myself. I’d be happy to take credit for the profundity too, but it’s not mine.

We’re delving into the depths of what makes our personal and social reality go round. We’re talking about values. And values seem to be drastically underappreciated in general, which is strange. One would think that what’s important would be seen as rather… important. (OK, I’m writing important so much, it’s starting to lose its meaning.)

There is a branch of philosophy dedicated to values of course. It’s called axiology. But we all know how the esoteric word-bending of philosophers rarely makes any impact on the world at large.

Still, it’s strange that we don’t talk more about values. They are the “why” of everything we do. Maybe it’s because we tend to take them for granted.

Exploring values can take you in a thousand directions. Each one of us is the sum of our values. They are our identity. We express it in the things we buy, or what we wear, or the sorts of friends we acquire or how we raise our children.

We join or create groups around shared values. Nations and societies rally around values. Young men go off to war to defend values espoused by kings, clergymen, senators and presidents, knowing they could very well die.

They can be seemingly arbitrary—like wearing the color black—or they can change the course of human history—the old go-to example being how Helen of Troy’s beauty launched a thousand ships. 

Values conflict, and so people conflict. These conflicts express themselves in everything from devastating wars like World War II, or in festering sores like the Israel-Palestine conflict, or even when husband and wife are trying to pick what color to paint a room. The concept is the same—what’s important to me is different from what’s important to you. Let’s fight about it.

Value conflicts are to be expected. What is important to each of the 7 billion living people is quite diverse, ergo human diversity, ergo human conflict. This can never change, nor would we want it to. Thankfully, something very beautiful has been happening within humanity in recent history. We have begun to discuss diversity, are much more aware of it than in times past and, as a species, we are often encouraged to accept and value diversity as something enriching. However, we tend to orient our attention to diversity toward things like race when we orienting it to values might be more beneficial. 

So, let’s start talking about it. Seriously. If values are at the root of conflict, and harmony is a value nearly all of us can agree to share, let’s put values on our social to-do list and start considering them in earnest. If one tenth of the academic studies and papers that are produced, or a fraction of the outrage that follows a court decision involving race could be allocated to values, we might see some real progress!

Values are absolutely fundamental in personal and social life, so they are absolutely fundamental in THEE. Unfortunately, very little happens to be on the website about the basic principles of values, though there is a little info and space for it. Ultimate values (one of many types) are explored on the website in terms of spirituality and humanity’s ability to create goodness—or badness. That’s a big topic, perhaps for another blog. Still, it’s worth looking at, if nothing more than to understand yet another way in which values underlie fundamental aspects of humanity.

TOP’s creator, Warren Kinston, wrote a giant book about values that is freely available for download. Once I’ve read and processed the entire thing, I thought I might put it on the website myself. Then again, maybe you could be the one to develop it for mass consumption—and learn a little something in the process, or we could do it together. I think it’s important.

Be Epic, Be Something Great, Take Responsibility Part 3: Our Role in Imagining the Future

In part 1, we acknowledged your dissatisfaction and sense of powerlessness in the face of our current social crisis. In part 2, we discussed the need and nature of change itself and identified the need for some guidance on the way forward. Here, we discuss that way forward.

This is a big topic. Oh man, what a big topic! Currently, many a revolutionary organization calls for a three-step process, those steps being:

  1. Education – We learn about the current state of affairs, understand the truth behind the propaganda, diffusion, distraction and lies, and pass this information along however we can and as much as we can. 
  2. Non-violent resistance – things like boycotting products, services, companies and corporations that are in cahoots with the powers-that-be and/or are detrimental to society and social progress. It’s about protests and community gatherings. It’s about making the power structure aware of our extreme dissatisfaction, striking fear into their hearts and pushing them to step 3. 
  3. The physical pushback – This is the outright revolt, the uprising, the physical toppling of the power structure. It is most often portrayed as “the revolution,” usually suggesting that it might be oriented to violence.
 This is a fairly realistic view; one supported by loads of history, but let’s make it better. Let’s do a little addition and subtraction. We’ll call it revolutionary math!

First of all, step one is lacking substance and tends to focus on ideology. We hear much about what is wrong, not about anything positive. Understanding current events and how they relate to corruption and injustice is fine. And understanding the ideas and theories of the great social and political thinkers is all well and good. But there must be a more well-rounded education that includes how society might reasonably develop and what it might realistically look like.

This leads us nicely into step two. Having subtracted, from our first step, a dependence on ideology and an orientation toward the long list of maddening problems journalists, pundits and would-be revolutionaries love to reference, we’ve got to balance the equation by adding a couple of things to step two.

Step two is just a means. It asks us to do things—but why and to what end? Perhaps amidst all the hubbub of action and assembly, we start considering and planning for the future we want. Let it be something that allows thinkers and those of integrity to ascend to the halls of power. Let it be non-utopian, rational and realistic. More on that below, but first, let’s subtract an assumption out of step three.

While violence will certainly be a part of this coming social transition, it doesn’t have to come from us. The power structures and supporters of the status quo will use any method available to hold on to power or maintain course and heading. We’ve already seen a complete lack of integrity from our leaders and self-inflicted blindness by those who want nothing to change; why not expect more of the same. And as desperation mounts, the more coercive they will become. However, we do not have to participate. Many positive social changes have come without any violence from the masses—Gandhi’s India, Dr. King’s civil rights movement, the fall of the communist totalitarian regimes in the Eastern Bloc. We can do it again. However, step three does get one thing right: any change will require the participation of most, if not all, of us.

The great revolutionaries of the past, for good or ill, like Guevara, Castro, Lennin and Marx, were certainly right about some things—one of those being that revolution is about hearts and minds. Revolution is not a point in time, nor is it a battle cry. It’s not an excuse for violent or destructive behavior. It’s a mentality, a way of life. It’s fuel and purpose and strength. When it spreads, it is the magnificent act of a society and its peoples taking responsibility for their past, present and future.

This gathering of the masses is a defining feature of what we can expect after our current political state of affairs buckles under its own weight. THEE calls it the Conventionalist mode. Here, our responsibility becomes more an explicit factor than in any previous political era. Only when the course of society is determined by our willingness to participate in politics and not by the goals of elites, vested interests, self-serving bureaucrats and corrupt politicians, will we have any hope of sensible government.

The question is—and this takes us back to issues inherent in step two—what is it that we’ll ask for. What will we hope to gain from our revolution? As the crowd comes together to call for change, they will inevitably fall prey to the crowd mentality. Like the French Revolution, will we call for the execution of our former leaders? Or, like the Cuban revolution, will one deposed dictator only install another (or plutocrats or parties, etc.)? The dissonance of Conventionalism lies in the irrationality of the crowd and the need for rational political choices. We’ll need to go back and revisit the principles of a political mode now largely ignored—Rationalism.

We’ll need to take into account people’s values. We’ll need to find ways to reign in the goals of individual politicians and moneyed interest groups. We’ll have to look to case studies, consider human nature over idealistic, utopian pipe dreams.

This is all much easier said than done. When the crowd takes over, the rational voices crying out for reason, pragmatism and an acknowledgement of the sometimes dirty realities of politics get swallowed up in a sea of rage and resentment. Torches and pitchforks.

To all you would-be revolutionaries, we at the TOP Project want to help. We offer ourselves and resources for realistic, rational and positive change. We offer frameworks for handling political tensions as well as for determining political choice. We offer insights into appropriate governance at different geopolitical levels and a glimpse at where we’ve been politically and where we’re headed.

No one has “the answer.” We certainly don’t. However, we have important guiding principles necessary for positive social change. Any revolutionary hoping to use these principles need only to custom-tailor them to the nature and values of their society.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Be Epic, Be Something Great, Take Responsibility Part 2: The Meaning and Origin of Large-Scale Social Change

Things have to change, that’s for sure.

A lot of people have come to that conclusion recently. A lot of movements, large and small, have cropped up in response to that conclusion.

People are thinking. They see things like ignorance, apathy, corruption, violence, crime, poverty and desperation. They start looking for root causes and they often whittle it down to one institution or another. Some blame government, others blame religion, some think it’s their society’s approach to education. Maybe it’s the media, or a lack of morality—maybe it’s simply the existence of a certain idea like communism or nationalism or anarchism.

Some see it as an unhealthy combination of all of these things. And they’re right to think systemically. Society is a dynamic, moving, fluid “thing” composed of individuals, social institutions, organizations, governance systems, business arrangements, ideas and more. It is impossible to pinpoint one of those things and say, “That’s the problem. That’s what needs to change.”

Still, things in general within society don’t seem to be going well these days. Things in general seem to be falling apart!

Societies have fallen apart in the past. It’s nothing new. The difference now is that it’s happening amidst a population of aware, educated, liberated people—most of whom are more than capable of seeing, feeling or intuiting that their society, and consequently them, are on a dark, foreboding path. 

Nevertheless, I’ve been seeing a certain approach toward our problems rear its head more and more lately, that approach being: “Tear it all down!”

I hear things like:

“Well, animals don’t send their young to classrooms to be indoctrinated. Education itself is a ridiculous institution.”

OK, animals don’t really endeavor to do much of anything except survive and reproduce. (Obviously, some animals like gorillas and dolphins have slightly more complex social arrangements, but you get the idea.)

Or, I’ll hear:

“Government is immoral. Get rid of it altogether.” 

Well, then you’ve got a bunch of unsupervised people with jet fighters and nuclear bombs running around. Then you’ve got no rule of law and no hope of justice beyond taking matters into your own hands. That’s never gone well.

For societies to operate at all, certain institutions must exist. Government is one of them. Education in some form or another is too. Various moral institutions crop up around everything from a society’s most treasured ultimate values to what they think is acceptable or unacceptable speech. Businesses, even those mean old corporations, provide us with products and services and jobs that are required for the urbanized society we have created over thousands of years. Moreover, they enable large, beneficial projects that would be unfeasible otherwise.

This is not to say that these institutions don’t need to change as well. They do! That’s the whole point. The issue is how they should change and how we can sensibly enable that. Our institutions are a reflection of the society that we’ve created, and as such, are built upon the same values, beliefs and ethical principles that brought us to this unfortunate crossroads. It all becomes so daunting when you start to realize the scope of what we’re up against. It’s not as if we can just take our metaphorical screwdriver, make a few minor adjustments to the social machinery and expect anything substantial to happen. We’re too far gone for that.

What needs to change is us. And that might be the hardest thing to do of all.

In the spirit of things, let’s examine “change,” shall we?

Change implies that some system existed and that a different, new system has emerged out of it. It’s a matter of states. There was a state of affairs, now there is a new state of affairs.

The current state of affairs, in America at least, is the mentality that more stuff is better. It’s the mentality that coercion and force—upon other nations, each other and ourselves—is perfectly acceptable. It’s the mentality that while our politicians are corrupt and stupid, there’s nothing we can do about it and it’s not our fault. It’s the mentality that we deserve something for nothing. It’s the idea that we can have total freedom and total security at the same time. It’s the mentality that other peoples, other ways of thinking don’t matter—or maybe don’t even really exist.

The new state of affairs must be different. That’s the “change” we require. Tearing down the social machinery will only result in new, maybe worse, social machinery. It is only when we become fundamentally different that our thoughts and subsequent actions will permeate and ripple throughout the rest of society, gently molding our institutions into what we will them to be.

Now, you might be thinking: “Telling us that we all need to change really isn’t all that helpful.” That’s true. The real question is how to go about doing that. People and societies change on their own anyway. The difference now is that we have past failed revolutions to learn from. While we know that ideology alone never works, we do have relevant principles that we can apply. So we ought to be able to get some sense of what is possible and beneficial. This investigative work has been done as part of TOP. It doesn’t give answers but it let’s us all think for ourselves, and does offer some sort of general direction that is both feasible and desirable.

Check out the next blog and we’ll talk about how THEE can enable healthy, conscious social change.