Adam Gopnik: Liberalism. The “Left,” and the “Right”

Adam Gopnik: Liberalism. The “Left,” and the “Right”

Political/Books

A THOUSAND SMALL SANITIES 
The Moral Adventure of Liberalism
Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik: Liberalism. The “Left,” and the “Right”

In his latest book, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism, Adam Gopnik rejects “the right” and “the left” and advocates “liberalism,” which, he says, is more “potent” than either “conservatism” or “radicalism.” However, he acknowledges that “radical” and “liberal” traditions are “entwined, entangled, braided one into the other,” and he affirms many aspects of “conservatism.” These complications create confusion and make it difficult for him to clearly distinguish the two ideologies. 

So why not integrate the best elements from each perspective (and others) into an alternate worldview? Gopnik does not consider this option, though a blend of “liberal” economics and “conservative” racism, as evidenced by Tucker Carlson, could prove to be a serious threat as the old categories become outdated. A better blend is called for.

Following are some of Gopnik’s “liberal” principles that make sense to me (except for his “liberal” label): 

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My Story: Peer-to-Peer Community (Part One)

My Story: Peer-to-Peer Community (Part One)

About/Wade Lee Hudson

My Story: Peer-to-Peer Community (Part One)
By Wade Lee Hudson

My first organizing was on sandlot softball fields. Boys would show up and two “captains” took turns selecting teammates, assigned positions, and set the batting order. Two of the better players, which usually included me, served as captain, but anyone could do it, and many often did. There were no arguments about this decision. Each captain was dispensable. The players weren’t dependent on a leader. Little did I realize that this simple, horizontal, self-regulating, self-perpetuating, peer-to-peer structure would become a community organizing model for the rest of my life — though, alas, I followed it imperfectly.

My second project was the high school chess club, which I initiated. After advertising, some fifteen students joined and met weekly. At the first meeting, we randomly determined each student’s initial position on a vertical ladder. Players moved up and down the ladder as they won or lost. Another peer-to-peer structure, this one within a larger, democratic hierarchy: the school administration.

During high school, as is common, I participated in a clique. Mine was a group of five boys who read and discussed iconoclastic literature such as H.L. Mencken and Bertrand Russell and frequently gathered at night to smoke pipes and play poker. That informal structure also nurtured a rewarding sense of peer-to-peer community. As Bob Dylan sings, “I wish, I wish, I wish in vain / That we could sit simply in that room again.”

When I entered the University of California, Berkeley in 1962, I joined a student co-op as a boarder.

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Citizen University Sermons

Citizen University Sermons

Politics/Books

A review
Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy
Eric Liu
Sasquatch Books, 2019, 302 pages

Citizen University Sermons
By Wade Lee Hudson

Eric Liu’s latest book, Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility, and Democracy, is eloquent and inspiring. His exhortations to be engaged in civic activism, beyond voting, are compelling. In the end, however, he comes up short. He neglects the need for new, holistic structures that nurture an energizing cultural environment. 

The book consists of “civic sermons” that Liu presented at various locations throughout the country as part of a series of “Civic Saturdays,” a project of the Seattle-based Citizen University, which is dedicated to “building a culture of powerful, responsible citizenship.” In the Preface to the book, Liu declares:

We are the counterculture now. In a culture of celebrity worship and consumerism, we stand for service and citizenship. And in the age of hyper-individualism, we practice collective action and common cause. In a time of sentimentalism and showy  sanctimony, we stand for discernment and humility. In the smog of hypocrisy and situational ethics, we still live and breathe the universal timeless values and ideals of the Golden Rule, the Tao, the Declaration, and the Preamble of the Constitution. That is radical.

In the “A Divided Heart” chapter, Liu reports that a friend, Mark, who was a founder of the Tea Party, in so many words said, “Millions of Americans have felt left out and put down, told that they’re deplorable racists and bigots and sexists if they challenge the elites and insiders who are tolerant of everyone but them. They're tired of it, and with Trump, they found a way to say so.” Become America and the Citizen University aim to speak to these people.

Liu has concluded “Americans today lack the coherence and moral clarity and civic self-possession to resist a real Hitler, and that's one thing we’d better work on.”

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Identity Politics and Social Movements

Identity Politics and Social Movements

Identity Politics and Social Movements
By Wade Lee Hudson

An important recent Ezra Klein Show podcast is the interview with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an associate professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University and the author of How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, which traces the origins of the term “identity politics.” In the podcast, Taylor argues that the weakening of social movements in the 1980s contributed to a distortion of the term’s original meaning.

…So identity politics in that circumstance 

becomes almost a way of introspection, a kind of internal politics, a kind of way for oppressed and marginalized people to talk to each other, and to really turn away from this idea...of collective and social change [that] was in some ways rooted with the idea that white people would resist the dominant social order and that white people could play some role in a movement to transform society….

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Mutual Support for Self-Improvement

Mutual Support for Self-Improvement
By Wade Lee Hudson

Love, altruism, spirituality, partnership, community, and cooperation thrive when humans feel safe. These feelings also emerge in response to disasters when we tap reservoirs of compassion and restore faith in humanity. 

But when we’re afraid, we become angry, selfish, materialistic, domineering, individualistic, and competitive. Economic insecurity inflames those emotions.  Social conditioning, mainstream media, TV, movies, political rhetoric, and highly competitive schools reinforce these negative tendencies.

Supportive, joy-filled communities that provide safety help us rise above our negative emotions. Families, extended families, close friendships, neighborhoods, churches, synagogues, mosques, sanghas, community-based organizations, and workplaces nurture growth. We can use fear and anger to stop injustice, spread positive emotions, and help each other become better human beings. 

Intentional commitments strengthen self-improvement efforts. Wedding vows and mission statements illustrate the value of placing commitments in writing. These affirmations remind people of their commitment, help them hold each other accountable, and spread their values to others. By adopting clear, written policies, organizations can encourage their members to support each other with their self-improvement. 

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Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election

Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election

Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election
By Wade Lee Hudson

Several Democratic candidates and some pundits have injected promising spiritual commentary into the 2020 presidential primary campaign. Some have even gone beyond discussion of public policy to address how ordinary Americans conduct their daily lives. Trump’s example has certainly opened the door for this conversation. However, to the best of my knowledge, none of those candidates and pundits have thus far affirmed the need for an explicit, intentional commitment to mutual support for self-improvement.

The most popular Google search term during the second round of debates was “Marianne Williamson.” This surge of interest in the New Age author was prompted by her statement:

This is part of the dark underbelly of American society: the racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.

We’ve never dealt with a figure like this in American history before. This man, our president, is not just a politician; he’s a phenomenon. And an insider political game will not be able to defeat it.… The only thing that will defeat him is if we have a phenomenon of equal force, and that phenomenon is a moral uprising of the American people.

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The Politics of Petulance: A Spirited Defense of “Mature Liberalism”

The Politics of Petulance: A Spirited Defense of “Mature Liberalism”

Wade Lee Hudson

Donald Trump is another Joe McCarthy. So says Alan Wolfe in The Politics of Immaturity: America in an Age of Immaturity. Wolfe’s passionate, eloquent affirmation of “mature liberalism” is not uncritical of post-war liberals who challenged McCarthyism. But Wolfe urges us to remember “what they got right.”

Trump loved McCarthy’s lawyer, Roy Cohn, who was “notoriously malicious” and practised “the dark arts of American politics.” They became close friends and Cohn greatly influenced Trump.  When James Comey and Jeff Sessions frustrated Trump, he famously declared, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” His link to Cohn was more than personal. They shared the same worldview: demagoguery. Trumpism parallels McCarthyism .

Concerning many of the liberals who criticized McCarthyism and the radical right that emerged from it, Wolfe acknowledges:

Their rightful hostility toward the Soviet Union translated itself into a rigid anti-communism that became, for some, an ideology unto itself. Seeing fascism in unexpected places, they exaggerated the dangers posed by both the student movements and the black protest of the 1960s. Equality for women was the furthest thing from their minds…. Indeed, most of them, with the exception of Richard Wright and Reinhold Niebuhr, seemed to have not all that much interest in the question of race at all…. There may have been an antidemocratic tinge….

Nevertheless, Wolfe insists

for all their flaws, these thinkers stand redeemed today because they brought both the classical and the Enlightenment understandings of politics back to life and thereby offered a starting point for trying to understand why Americans, who profess to love democracy and freedom, elected as their president in 2016 a man and a party that seemed to respect neither….

One could dismiss or even attack their positions so long as American politics showed some signs of stability. Alas, such complacency, given the right-wing demagoguery shaking both the world and this country, is no longer affordable…. That is why, despite their occasional blind spots, it makes sense to return to what these intellectuals had to say…. If Trump's accession to the presidency does not cause intense introspection, nothing can. It is, furthermore, not an explanation of one rogue election we need. It is a discussion of what kind of nation we have become.

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Trickle-Down Tolerance

Human beings are a bundle of contradictions. Multiple instincts compete. Then, from time to time, external factors trigger particular inner experiences and the national mood fluctuates. Politicians, especially the President, amplify one human potential or another. To garner support, new leaders contrast themselves to old leaders. The pendulum swings.

In Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America, John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck examine this dynamic. They argue:

Simply being a member of a group is not the same thing as identifying or sympathizing with that group. The key is whether people feel a psychological attachment to a group….

The...power of group identities...depends on context. One part of the context is the possibility of gains and losses for the group…,[which] can be tangible...or symbolic, such as psychological status….

Another and arguably even more important element of the context is political actors. They help articulate the content of a group identity, or what it means to be part of a group. Political actors also identify, and sometimes exaggerate or even invent, threats to a group. Political actors can then make group identities and attitudes more salient and elevate them as criteria for decision-making.

Group loyalties “can and often do” create hostility toward other groups. But relationships to other groups “do not have to be competitive.

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The New Age Gets (Somewhat) Political

The New Age Gets (Somewhat) Political

A review
A New Republic of the Heart:
An Ethos for Revolutionaries
Terry Patten
North Atlantic Books, 2018
384 p., $17.95

Only a few political people are becoming more spiritual, but many spiritual people are becoming more political, aiming to integrate the personal, social, cultural and political dimensions of human experience. This development is encouraging.

The Shift Network, a clearinghouse of information about such integrative projects founded by Stephen Dinan, is “a transformative education company” that aims to “work together to create a better world…[by] shifting toward a planet that is healthy, sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous for all.” Their offerings do not “focus solely on your personal transformation but also on how we can shift our world.”

Marianne Williamson, an American spiritual teacher, activist, and author of 13 books, including four New York Times best sellers, is a candidate for President. Her new book, A Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution will be released April 23. She declares:

Corporatocracy has replaced democracy as our primary organizing principle, our government has become little more than a system of legalized bribery, and politicians too often advocate for short-term corporate profit maximization before the health and well-being of people and planet.

And Terry Patten’s 2018 magnum opus, A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries, rooted in Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, has received strong praise from many New Age thinkers as well as Joan Blades, MoveOn.org co-founder. Presented as “a guide to inner work for holistic change,” Patten’s 384-page book includes many valuable insights, especially with regard to personal and spiritual growth, often presented with poetic passion. Unfortunately, his political perspective is weak, and the book is redundant, contradictory, and inconsistent with its logic.

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Self Care

Self Care

There is self care of oneself and there is also self care of the movement.  Self care of the movement means that we look closely at (1) how we treat each other (2) how we support each other (3) how we give each other permission to rest, relax and have fun (4) how we hold each other accountable for saying what we do and doing what we say (5) how we model a movement that those not presently involved are drawn to be a part of and (6) how we come through this difficult period of time better and not bitter. With all else we have to do it may seem difficult to also do this work of self care.  However, in order to build a strong and lasting movement, it is critical to all the other work we do.  

Keep tuned for more information about self care in the upcoming Broadsheets. We will look at each of the topics listed above with questions that you can use for discussion in your organizations and groups. For more information and to have someone come to your group, please contact Penn.

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As I wrote above we are going to look at each of these topics individually.  I would suggest that you think of your own reactions to what is written below and then ask for time at your next meeting (if you are a part of an organization or group) and share this information and have a discussion.This is part of a larger article written by a friend of mine who lives and works politically in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is hoping that folks will sign on to a declaration called “Americans for Humanity.”   If you want more information, please contact me and I will send you the 8-page document. What follows can seem rather harsh but please dig deep inside yourself and see where there are grains of truth and then talk with others. The first step to making change is always to be honest and name the problem.

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DeRay Mckesson and the Domination-Submission System

DeRay Mckesson and the Domination-Submission System

Societies are based on self-perpetuating social systems. That’s why they’re stable. Personal, social, cultural, economic, and political elements are woven together, reinforce one another, and serve a common purpose.

America is fueled by the drive to climb social ladders, gain more wealth, status, or power, and look down on and dominate those below -- with little regard for others’ suffering. In doing so, we learn to submit to, envy, and resent those above us.

On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by DeRay McKesson, a dramatic memoir about his activism interwoven with essays, clarifies these dynamics. He writes:

There was a time when I believed that racism was rooted in self-interest or economics — the notion that white supremacy emerged as a set of ideas to codify practices rooted in profit. I now believe that the foundation of white supremacy rests in a preoccupation with dominance at the expense of others, and that the self-interest and economic benefits are a result, not a reason or cause. I believe this because of the way that white supremacy still proliferates in contexts where there is no self-interest other than the maintenance of power. I have seen it hold sway even in contexts where it does not materially benefit the white people who hold the beliefs.

McKesson argues that if we are to “change the system,” we must see how individual decisions “aggregate over time” to intentionally create “power over” rather than “power with.” He urges whites to not “forget that there is a larger system that led to their personal advantages,” and defines institutions as “the collective response of individuals, hardened over time.” This process produces “structural issues at play that promote oppression…., an intentional set of structures, systems, and institutions that allow the privilege to manifest.”

His image of the bully illustrates the point. …

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David Brooks on the Social Fabric

David Brooks on the Social Fabric

Backed by the Aspen Institute, David Brooks launched Weave: The Social Fabric Project to nurture what he considers to be a growing social movement. In his New York Times column, “A Nation of Weavers,” Brooks argues that this grassroots movement addresses “our lack of healthy connection to each other, our inability to see the full dignity of each other, and the resulting culture of fear, distrust, tribalism, shaming and strife.” He believes this movement will “usher in a social transformation by reweaving the fabric of reciprocity and trust.” Through these Weavers, he says, “renewal is building, relationship by relationship, community by community. It will spread and spread as the sparks fly upward.”

Brooks moves in the right direction, but stops short. He aims to go below the surface, but neglects root causes. He wants to address the “whole person,” but fragments the individual.

Brooks rightly argues that “America’s social fabric is being ripped to shreds.” And he’s right to lament the recent emergence of “hyperindividualism” and affirm “radical mutuality” -- that is, the belief “we are all completely equal, regardless of where society ranks us,” which leads us to “love across boundaries, listen patiently, see deeply and make someone feel known.”

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An Argument for the Declaration

An Argument for the Declaration

Activists undermine progress. Deep-seated tendencies reinforce fragmentation and drive away potential recruits. These divisive impulses, rooted in biological instincts inflamed by our hyper-competitive society, weaken our power.

Not everyone suffers from the same weaknesses, but most are burdened with many. “Americans for Humanity: A Declaration” aims to help overcome these barriers to personal, social, and political growth.

These personal problems include:

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Declaration Dialog

Following are documents reporting on feedback that I received during the drafting of Americans for Humanity: A Declaration and some of my responses:

Praise
Suggested Changes
Reservations
Criticisms

—Wade Lee Hudson

The Courage to Be

The Courage to Be

Paul Tillich is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, if not the most influential.

Originally published more than fifty years ago, his The Courage to Be (1952) has become a classic, designated one of the Books of the Century by the New York Public Library. It describes the dilemma of modern man, especially the problem of anxiety.

The 2014 edition includes a new introduction by Harvey Cox, author of The Secular City.  Cox situates the book within the theological conversation into which it first appeared and conveys its continued relevance in the current century.

Comments on the book:

“The Courage to Be changed my life. It also profoundly impacted the lives of many others from my generation.”--Robert N. Bellah, University of California, Berkeley

“The brilliance, the wealth of illustration, and the aptness of personal application . . . make the reading of these chapters an exciting experience.”―W. Norman Pittenger, New York Times Book Review

“A lucid and arresting book.”―Frances Witherspoon, New York Herald Tribune

“Clear, uncluttered thinking and lucid writing mark Mr. Tillich’s study as a distinguished and readable one.”―American Scholar

Excerpts from The Courage to Be:

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