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.