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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Building a “Full-Stack Society” with “New Power”

Building a “Full-Stack Society” with “New Power”

Building a “Full-Stack Society” with “New Power”
By Wade Lee Hudson

Process is important. So is product. Advocates for democracy who focus on mobilizing popular power can forget that the tyranny of the majority is a real threat. New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World -- and How to Make It Work for You by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms acknowledges this reality, and offers a solution. …

They make a strong case for dynamics that are “open, participatory, and peer driven.” Yet they also write: ”As we see with ISIS and the growing hordes of white supremacists,... the tools that bring us closer together can also drive us further apart.” Heimans and Timms argue we can avoid this danger by creating “a world in which all major social and economic institutions are designed so that [all] people can more meaningfully shape every aspect of their lives.” 

According to their vision:

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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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Politicians, Movements, and Democracy

Politicians, Movements, and Democracy
By Wade Lee Hudson

These days Democratic politicians often talk about building “movements,” but they rarely talk about how they want to help build those movements. Most of them only talk about gaining supporters for their campaigns and then mobilizing those supporters from time to time, as did Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders. But to a considerable degree, Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, a member of “the Squad,” is an exception.

During a recent Pod Save America podcast, “Our lawless, wall-less president," at the 42:10 mark, Pressley reported: 

I want to be in coalition…. Evicting this President...is all about movement building. It’s about organizing and mobilizing.… These times demand unprecedented activism and unprecedented legislating. And that’s not work we do alone…. When our democracy is working again on behalf of the American people [we will need] pressure on the outside that activists and agitators continue to exert….

The way I’ve been getting at the issue of housing, which is my number-one constituent concern, is that I’ve been convening, since well before I was in office or elected, the Equity Agenda roundtable discussion where we engage the community. They’re not a traditional town hall. We have breakout sessions. It’s a two-way dialog. I’ve always maintained that those closest to the pain should be closest to the power, driving and informing the policy making. So I take my cue from the community…. I’m cooperatively governing….

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Racism and Support for Trump

Political/Racism

Racism and Support for Trump
By Wade Lee Hudson

In “We Aren’t Seeing White Support for Trump for What It Is,” Thomas B. Edsall reports on recent studies that examine some of the complexities concerning race, class, and poltics in the United States.

According to these findings, “whites with relatively high incomes — in the top two quintiles of the income distribution — but without college degrees” have fueled the “the surge of whites into the Republican Party.” Many of these relatively well-off individuals probably “fear that in the Knowledge Society their life chances are shrinking.”

However, low-income whites without college degrees “are conflicted in their partisan allegiance.” Though these individuals have shifted toward the Republican Party, “they frequently hold liberal economic views — that is, they support redistributionist measures from which they benefit.” One reason many of them voted for Trump in 2016 is that he took “liberal” positions like protecting Social Security and creating infrastructure jobs.

Low-income whites with college degrees were 1.5 percent of white voters in 1952. Now they are 14.3 percent of all voters and have become “the most loyal white Democratic constituency.”

Concerning racism, one study suggests that bias against groups such as Lithuanians, for example, are “substantively indistinguishable from those measured when Blacks are the target group,” suggesting that prejudice against “the other” is sometimes a large part of the problem with racism.

Another study examined the “multidimensionality” of racist attitudes. “There’s all sorts of feelings, attitudes, and knowledge surrounding issues of racial groups and racial inequality.” People may be resentful, fearful, unaware of structural racism, unwilling to be aware, and/or actually empathetic about inequality. This approach “proved especially effective in identifying voters who backed Obama in 2012 and switched to Trump in 2016.”

Edsall concludes his essay reflecting on a recent Pew poll that found 7 percent of the electorate “undecided.” He argues, to win back the White House, Democrats must address these voters with “pragmatic diplomacy and persuasion — and show a new level of empathy.”

An Open Letter to Cory Booker

An Open Letter to Cory Booker

After posting Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election, which includes praise for Senator Cory Booker, I watched “The Family,” a five-part Netflix documentary about The Family — the authoritarian, evangelical organization that owns luxurious residences in D.C. where elected officials are invited to live communally at bargain rents and convenes the National Prayer Breakfast, which has been addressed by every U.S. President since Dwight Eisenhower. After viewing that film, I discovered that Booker participates in a Bible study group led by Senator James Inhofe, a leader in The Family.

Given these discoveries, later today at a gathering for his Presidential campaign, I hope to ask Booker: How do you evaluate Senator’s Inhofe’s theology?…

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Restructuring Democracy

Restructuring Democracy
By Wade Lee Hudson

A powerful tyranny of the majority might sustain itself over time, but pluralistic democracy requires perpetual reform. No constitution, set of institutions, legislation, or electoral victory can rigidly translate popular views into public policy while at the same time protecting the rule of law and guaranteeing individual rights. Preserving and improving pluralistic democracy requires steadily dissolving selfish power and updating outmoded institutions.

Established political actors tend to isolate themselves from their constituents. They act in their own self-interest and the self-interest of wealthy benefactors. Political institutions are inherently based on power imbalances. Certain individuals play roles that others do not, which gives them greater power. Bureaucracies emerge. Experts and elites rule. Institutions become captured by powerful interests. Constitutions, with their focus on elections, limit how people can have a voice in the shaping of public policy. This dynamic calls for popular action not limited to elections. 

These realities lead some uncompromising populists to argue that democracy is not possible within any institutionalized system. They say democracy is possible only when the disenfranchised rise up, transgress the system, bring down established forms, and exercise power directly, if only temporarily….

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Old Brain, New Brain, Cross-Partisan Dialog

Old Brain, New Brain, Cross-Partisan Dialog

By Penn Garvin, Lois Passi, Wade Lee Hudson

Penn Garvin, an activist and organizer living in rural PA recently wrote the following:

How to Listen:

(1) Put aside your own beliefs and enter into new territory as an anthropologist

(2) Watch your reactions to what you hear – when do you get angry, defensive, scared, etc. – try to understand how you are being triggered

(3) Try to listen for what is the anger, fear, etc. underneath what the other person is saying – don't just listen to the ideas, policies, “what we should do” that they are saying

(4) Validate with the other person anything that you can – don't be fake because people sense that – but are there things being said that make sense to you even if you don't agree and maybe there are things being said that you agree with in part

(5) Don't try to work anything out or agree on anything at first – just be able to feed back to the person accurately what they have said to you so that you both know that they have been understood.

+++++

Lois Passi, a Unitarian Universalist living in PA who works with her local United Way to end poverty, recently included in one of her sermons the following:

•Old and New Brain:

The old brain’s job is to detect threats to survival, and to respond to those threats either by fighting the enemy, fleeing from the enemy, or if neither of those is possible, hunkering down and enduring (fight, flight or freeze responses)….

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George Lakey and How We Win

George Lakey and How We Win

A review
How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning
George Lakey
Melville House Publishing, 2018, 221 pages

George Lakey and How We Win
By Wade Lee Hudson

George Lakey understands internalized oppression. If anyone would support mutual support for self-improvement, you’d think he would. But his new book, How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning, primarily relies on top-down training. 

Though the book presents many valuable recommendations concerning tactical nonviolence, as well as a compelling overview of Lakey’s rich, long history as an activist and nonviolence trainer, it does not propose intentional, open-ended, peer-to-peer support as a way to unlearn negative conditioning and become more fully human. 

How We Win includes some material about personal issues. It affirms the need to “avoid competition” between activist groups and to “establish productive relationships” between activists. …

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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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Once Again, the System Wins and the Democrats Lose

Political/Multi-issue/Articles

Once Again, the System Wins and the Democrats Lose
by Wade Lee Hudson

The Democrrats should have opened the Mueller hearing (months ago) with an expert counsel posing questions for 30 minutes to highlight the key points in Mueller’s report. That could have provided a clear, concise, compelling narrative that would have been devastating to Trump. But no. They chose to give all of their politicians face time on national television (in disjointed five-minute segments) to help them get re-elected. First things first. So the most compelling testimony happened in the last hour of a seven-hour hearing (which dragged on and on, losing most of the audience and the hearing’s impact).

As I discussed in “Democrats, Border Walls, and Social Polarization,” the Democrats acted in a similar manner with regard to the government shutdown over border-wall funding and the Kavanagh hearings. Maneuvering for re-ellection was primary then as well.

The System teaches everyone to climb social ladders and look down on those below and look up to those above. The goal is to boost egos and accumulate status, power, and/or money. Congress is a near-perfect example. Unfortunately, the System has conditioned all of us.

Humility and Rationality

Humility and Rationality

Humility and Rationality
By Wade Lee Hudson

A review
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011, 512 Pages

Controlling emotions, instincts, intuitions, and biases is like riding an elephant. As Jonathan Haidt wrote: “The emotional tail wags the rational dog.” In his magnum opus, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman sums up decades of research and urges readers to strengthen “slow thinking” to better manage “fast thinking.” Rationality demands discipline, practice, and effort, but over-confident, we often fail. A humble understanding of why and how we don’t always choose the most rational action can help us be better human beings. 

Kahneman argues that humans

often need help to make more accurate judgments and better decisions, and in some cases policies and institutions can provide that help. The assumption that agents are rational provides the intellectual foundation for the libertarian approach to public policy: do not interfere with the individual's right to choose, unless the choices harm others. For behavioral economists, however, freedom has a cost, which is borne by individuals who make bad choices, and by society that feels obligated to help him. The decision of whether or not to protect individuals against their mistakes, therefore, presents a dilemma.

Whether to require motorcyclists to wear helmets is an example. Requiring everyone to get health insurance is another.

Social-change activists have much to learn from Kahneman’s work, which calls for a commitment to overcome the arrogance that interferes with learning from mistakes. No wonder pride has been considered the number-one sin, and humility the number-one virtue. 

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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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Rural Resentment and 2020

Rural Resentment and 2020

By Wade Lee Hudson

Hillary Clinton might be President today if she’d read articles Katherine J. Cramer wrote prior to 2016.  A Wisconsin native, Cramer has studied political attitudes in rural Wisconsin since 2007. She’s informally visited with residents, engaged in extensive conversations, and listened closely. What she’s learned is revealing. Now that the University of Chicago Press has published her book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, Democrats have no excuse if they don’t pay attention to her discoveries in the 2020 elections.

Cramer’s book echoes Enchanted America: How Intuition and Reason Divide our Politics (see “Irrational Populism”), which calls for “an overarching theory beyond the idea that all elites and outsiders are bad and the people are good.” In a similar vein, Cramer argues that ordinary people should understand their circumstances “as the product of broad social, economic, and political forces,” rather than the “fault of guilty and less deserving social groups.” She says, “The purpose of this book is...to illuminate how we blame each other.”

[You’re invited to help develop an overarching theory that explains those broad forces by  participating in the Transform the System Dialog.]

According to Cramer, her term “rural consciousness”

signals an identification with rural people and rural places and denotes a multifaceted resentment against cities…. I heard them complaining that government and public employees are the product of anti-rural forces and should obviously be scaled back as much as possible…. It informed their frequently negative perceptions of public employees.

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Irrational Populism

Irrational Populism

Irrational Populism
By Wade Lee Hudson

Intuitions provide insight, but “gut feelings” can lead to irrational dogmatism if they aren’t subjected to scientific logic and deliberative thinking. Enchanted America: How Intuition and Reason Divide our Politics concludes that the rising global populist threat calls for “an overarching theory beyond the idea that all elites and outsiders are bad and the people are good.” TransformTheSystem.org offers such a theory. Its aim is to counter scapegoating, demonizing, and counter-productive, misplaced anger.

Our primary problem is not the elite. Our primary problem is not how our economy and government are structured. Those problems are symptoms. Our primary problem is the System---our domination-based social system that weaves together all of our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals, who reinforce the System with selfish daily actions.

Enchanted America, by J. Eric Oliver and Thomas J. Wood, documents how “Intuitionists” are gaining ground against “Rationalists.” They write:

The Intuitionist/Rationalist split is not like other political divisions in the United States. Intuitionism poses an threat to democracy. It is neither benign nor temperate. It bristles against open inquiry, is intolerant of opposition, and chafes at the pluralism and compromise modern democracy requires. It is prone to conspiracy theory, drawn to simple generalizations, and quick to vilify the other.

Intuitionists reflect an “absence of conscious purposeful thought [and] rely on their internal feelings.” They just “know” that some things are right. One form of Intuitionism is “magical thinking,” which contradicts ideas “that are validated by testing and observation.”

Rationalists, on the other hand, “utilize abstract theories, philosophical deductions, and observable facts.” They view problems “in a dispassionate manner, seeking pragmatic, technical solutions.”

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Crime, Scapegoating, and Daily Life

Crime, Scapegoating, and Daily Life

By Wade Lee Hudson

In a New Yorker essay, “Who Belongs in Prison?”, Adam Gopnik comments on several recent books that address key criminal justice issues, including scapegoating and the desire for revenge. Those concerns apply throughout society.

Locked In by John Pfaff argues that prosecutors have been given freedom to imprison whomever they wish for as long as they like without going to trial…. Gopnik reports that Charged by Emily Bazelon "puts flesh and faces to Pfaff’s statistical and largely abstract proposition." …Revenge is an issue Gopnik examines in some detail.

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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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