The Two Words to Watch For

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When some political entity feels backed against a wall, and in need of a knockout punch, one of two words will be featured in their language. This pair of terms provides clues about our political system’s structure. And you can learn a lot about an entity based on which word their statements emphasize.

For example, the CEO of Delta Airlines issued a release last week about Georgia’s election bill. The money line was concise: “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.

One can imagine his team of consultants carefully crafting the language …… debating the impact of phrases like “crystal clear.” By finishing with the word “values” they tried to establish an unassailable position. Who could argue with a company that defends its values?

A different kind of statement was also made last week: one I discussed previously. During an NCAA basketball tournament telecast, Charles Barkley said: ” I think our system is set up where our politicians …… are designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power.” Here again, a sentence’s final word received the most emphasis: power.

These two words – power and values – sit at the heart of every debate in America. And it’s instructive to observe whether one (or the other) of these terms is left out of some entity’s effort to influence those debates.

In Barkley’s case, an indirect reference to values was added to his more direct reference to power when he said: “I think most white people and black people are great people.

On the other hand, Delta wasn’t fully forthcoming about its orientation toward power. The company was deeply involved in crafting the Georgia election bill, as were other corporations. But this attempt to influence politics was downplayed until others called the company’s bluff. Delta is organized around a top-down structure, with employees and customers arranged into silos. The company skillfully exercises centralized power, both internally and externally.

Americans were free to feature the values debate throughout the first two centuries of the country’s history because our initial governing framework featured a robust balancing of power. But that dynamic has gradually shifted as centralized institutions – corporations like Delta, and statist bureaucracies – have garnered outsized influence.

In our own century, the Power Question is no longer resolved. More citizens, like Barkley, are calling for a re-balancing between centralized and citizen-based power. But the elites insist on hiding behind indistinct assertions about values, without acknowledging their behind-the-scenes machinations.

The liberal versus conservative values debate can no longer be regarded as the primary conflict of our society. Instead, the late-1700s power conflict of centralized versus citizen-empowerment has reemerged. But a deeper conflict always lies below these two fundamental debates. The Power Question and the Values Question compete for every entity’s loyalty.

Barkley and Delta have made their choices on the deeper debate. Both are focused on power. Unfortunately, only one of them will admit it.

Barkley and the Backlash

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Recent political comments by Charles Barkley have received a lot of attention, including an intense pushback. But his dust-up isn’t just another example of mudslinging. A sound structure sits below both sides of the debate he instigated. And every citizen will need to become more familiar with it.

Using unambiguous language, Sir Charles blamed both major political parties for America’s divisions: “I think our system is set up where our politicians, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, are designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power.” (Spoiler alert: regular readers will notice the importance of that last term.)

In response, Barkley’s detractors accused him of blindly following a “both sides” fallacy. One twitter user summed it up: “I’d love to see someone ask Charles to explain exactly which D politicians are trying to make white people and black people hate each other, which ones are using racial dog-whistles or racist tactics like voter suppression/accusations of fraud to divide and demean.”

This debate was instigated by the topic of race. But it’s centered on the two political parties. Barkley astutely wove together several subjects that weren’t often grouped together in past eras, but are increasingly associated with one another in ours: race, power, political parties, and intentional division.

Beneath the surface of our discourse, America has been experiencing a surreptitious yet unrelenting shift toward such connections. Barkley’s comments bring that perspective into the mainstream. But the underlying framework needs to be better understood ……

At the most basic level, Barkley acknowledges that the country’s primary conflict is not left versus right. Instead, he sees a top versus bottom division: centralized power structures in vertical opposition to the citizens. Then he favors one end of that axis by professing faith in those citizens: “I think most white people and black people are great people.”

Barkley’s detractors, on the other hand, insist that the country’s only conflict is left versus right: a horizontal framing that can label “the other side” as racist.

At the heart of this debate sit the RNC’s and DNC’s chameleon-like, shape-shifting self-presentations. Barkley calls out both as coercive, top-down forces. He accuses them of controlling people from their powerful position.

The response can be distilled to: “No, the parties are opposed!”

Where do the parties really reside? Both sit high in the upper quadrants of the circle ……

The two Fundamental Questions function as the foundation of this conflict. Barkley favors one: “Who should control power in America?” The backlash favors the other: “Which side exhibits better values?” Each of us much choose which to prioritize: Is the horizontal values question more important? Or should I focus vertically …… on power?

The parties pretend to compete on one, while they quietly cooperate on the other. Their power grab is becoming difficult to hide, though. If they can’t tamp down on comments like Barkley’s, they’ll be facing a two-front war for the hearts of the American people.

It’s not a war they can win.

Twitter’s Love Fest With …… NATO?

In a bizarre new chapter, the latest headline coming from social media reads, “Twitter Says It Purged Dozens of Accounts for ‘Undermining Faith in NATO‘.” The company’s explanation? The perpetrators had “ties with Russia.”

Why would a leader of the woke movement go to bat so assertively for a military organization? When Twitter shuts down accounts – and consequently free speech – it typically asserts social justice or other allegedly noble motives. Why NATO? Why now?

Two categories of justification characterize social media’s typical cancellations. In one, technicalities are cited: “Twitter prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization.” This was the excuse presented when they buried the New York Post’s Hunter Biden story.

The other justification is loosely defined as “preventing hate speech.” This one comes closer to a values assertion. It has been paraphrased as “we don’t want to be this kind of country.” While they rarely explain their motives thoroughly, the values Twitter promotes are aligned with ideas like community, the commons, and compassion.

Woke beliefs reside along a specific range of the political circle. And like all partisan movements, wokedom answers two fundamental questions. So, while it leads with progressive values – practically yelling them at every opportunity – the impact of its power answer now comes across louder. Social media’s efforts to control the flow of information using centralized structures have become a primary characteristic of the movement.

This exposes a fault line within a movement that would like to be known for its inclusive values. We can be certain that many members do lead with their conscience. But the leadership is now focused on top-down political control. And their motivations can no longer be hidden.

In this regard, the social media monopolies are following in the path of the Democratic Party. Its leadership – represented by the DNC – purportedly supported the citizen throughout the twentieth century, as demonstrated by its working class policies. In the early twenty-first, however, their policy objectives have moved much closer to those of the Deep State and its allies …… including the military.

This shift in position was driven by tactics. As entrenched national bureaucracy grew, it wielded more political power, despite claiming to be “non-partisan.” The DNC then had to move toward centralized policies because alliances were more effective there.

Twitter, Facebook and related companies occupy a location on the circle that’s quite close to (if not exactly aligned with) the position of the DNC. While they’re relatively new players in the game, their position is ages old. They know who their comrades are. They’re creatures of centralized power.

So it should come as no surprise that social media is acting on behalf of NATO. The military organization is actually much closer to Twitter’s political position than are the more values-oriented members of the woke movement.

This presents a problem for those whose consciences have drawn them toward woke beliefs. Should they continue to support centralized power? Or is there a better way to accomplish the societal improvements they seek?

Why the Citizens are Losing the War

This week witnessed two important actions that drew only slight notice. The first was a series of Eric Weinstein tweets directed at Jack Dorsey. The second was a mass email sent to Gab members by Gab’s founder, Andrew Torba. Both efforts tell us what’s right – and wrong – with their nascent movement.

Weinstein’s tweets attempted to call out Mr. Dorsey’s opaque algorithms that shadow ban citizen-empowering voices. Torba’s goal was similar: to rally “populists” toward new methods of action.

Both men are enlightened and erudite representatives of their positions. And both show the courage of their convictions. But there’s a difference between recognizing a problem and building an effective solution. They’ve completed Part A. There is no plan for Part B.

Their common theme centered on Big Tech’s disingenuous controls. But neither could separate his left-right leanings from the larger issue at hand. Weinstein’s tweets read like the plaintive pleas of a liberal jilted by a fellow member of the left. Meanwhile, Torba’s quite accurate comments about centralization were mixed with unproductive exhortations about his Christian beliefs.

Neither man was able to visualize today’s conflict with the required accuracy.

For example, social media wields influence at the behest of its enablers …… the DNC, Deep State, globalist CEOs, and related groups. None of those players functions as a free-standing entity. Each operates within an alliance that works to concentrate power. Their agenda sometimes leans liberal, but the far larger goal is control.

What Weinstein and Torba are missing is this: The primary conflict of our era is Centralized Power against Decentralized Power. It’s a significant shift from the previous era, where liberal values squared off against conservative values.

Each of these Fundamental Questions – Power and Values – drives a society’s decisions in different epochs. Torba and Weinstein have nobly stepped forward to lead today’s conflict, but they’re like generals fighting the last war. Left-Right divisions are now secondary.

Can either side of this new battle – centralized or decentralized – be considered inherently good or categorically evil? Many examples show the damage wrought by overly-concentrated power: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Saddam’s Iraq. Likewise, too much decentralization leads to chaos, as Somalia shows. The question America faces today is one of balance: can each side keep the other in check?

It’s clear that the elites are not being held in check. No citizen-empowering alliance counters today’s centralizing coalition. Instead, decentralizing voices “on the left” still naively address monopolistic figures “on the left” as friends. But Jack Dorsey is not their friend. Neither is any figure associated with the DNC. Meanwhile, on the right, activists like Torba don’t separate their religious beliefs from the society’s move away from liberty. This conflation of power with values has hamstrung efforts to build citizen-empowering coalitions.

Weinstein could easily undercut Twitter by becoming a prominent voice on Gab or Parler. But Torba has dis-invited liberals by mis-associating Christian values with free speech. Neither person will develop into a effective leader until he draws better distinctions between his adversaries and his allies.

A Q’Anon sequitur?

John F. Kennedy’s assassination spawned one of the modern era’s earliest (and most long-lived) conspiracy theories. It wasn’t the first, however. Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, produced an earlier theory when he warned of dangers presented by “the military-industrial complex.”

The media mechanisms weren’t yet in place to counter-punch with some story about Ike’s early onset dementia.

The dynamic has changed, however. Narrative managers now respond effectively to each new conspiracy …… creating intimidation. Therefore, unconventional ideas are introduced cautiously today, with the caveat: “I am NOT a conspiracy theorist, but ……”

Conspiracy theories are typically addressed on a case by case basis. A scenario gets floated. The credentialed class fights back. Meanwhile, the sheer quantity of allegations continues to grow …… Roswell. A Bilderberg cabal. The origins of 9/11. Obama’s birthplace. Q’Anon.

These conspiracies all have similar structures: each follows a pattern. For this reason, instead of looking into the specifics of any one belief, it’s more productive to assess the phenomenon as a whole. A “General Theory of Conspiracy” is required.

For example …… despite assertions that its believers are irrational, every alleged conspiracy involves logic: the weapons of choice are proof and disproof. This connection is significant because it indicates what’s missing from the discussion: conspiracies rarely involve questions of the conscience or the heart. Therefore, the combatants are aligned along the power axis …… the home of logic and reason.

Similarly, the lead suspects in any conspiracy theory are always entities that are intertwined with centralized power. Sometimes, particular individuals are alleged to be engaged in illicit activities, as in #ClintonBodyCount. More often, institutions like the CIA or FBI are accused of some cover-up. Other times, allegations focus on global collusion, like the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset”.

In contrast, those who generate the theories typically come from nondescript origins. Alex Jones and Mark Dice are examples. (Ike is a possible counter-example to this pattern, though he was the last president to be a champion of the common citizen.)

Crucially, two opposed characteristics of the power axis are at the heart of these conflicts. First, the top pole always favors opacity. Its inhabitants believe information should be “classified.” Few participants are placed on the “need to know” list.

In contrast, a hallmark of the bottom pole is transparency. Its inhabitants believe that everyone should have access to all public information.

This explains why conspiracy theories have been more prevalent in recent decades. As power gets concentrated in fewer locations – like Wall Street, Washington, Silicon Valley, Beijing, and Brussels – information impacting the public good has become closely held. This causes commoners to connect dots where few are to be found. They try to figure out what’s going on …… and to spread the information.

The power axis separates two regions of reason. Both sides are logical, but they take opposite approaches to the sharing of public data. Conspiracy theorists might be wrong in some cases …… or many. But they’re not irrational. And neither are their opponents. Conspiracies are a battle of opacity versus transparency.

I’d like to buy a consonant, please.

Linguistic gymnastics run rampant among the elites. The statements coming from Washington are increasingly nebulous. Are beltway players trying to clarify their positions …… or to obfuscate them?

The latest example comes in the form of a headline: “Dozens of Former Anti-Trump GOP Officials Discussing Formation of “Center-Right Breakaway Party'” Let’s dig into the Sajak-esque constructions of language contained in statements like this one ……

The story states that about 120 anti-Trump government officials – all Republicans – have participated in a zoom call to discuss forming a new faction of the GOP (or perhaps a new party altogether) to run on a platform of “principled conservatism.”

The leaks and tweets from the call contain a wide selection of linguistic gummy bears ……

…… this is a “new, independent” faction of the GOP.

…… they’re standing up to parts of their party “threatening American democracy.”

…… committed to “truth, reason, and the founding ideals.”

…… committed to “our values.”

…… “adheres to the constitution.”

Such vague statements can be momentarily assuaging, but they contain few conceptual nutrients. They’re harmful when they form too large a part of our daily diet. These benign-sounding concepts seem like ideals we should believe in, but clear definitions are rarely produced.

For example …… which parts of the constitution are they talking about? Do they support constructs like corporate personhood, which was never addressed in the founding document? Were their conservative “values” ever noted in it? What are their views on today’s bloated interpretations of the Commerce Clause?

And what about concepts like “truth” and “reason”? Are they asserting that their “nativist” co-Republicans lack the capacity for those qualities? Have they defined what makes a nativist morally or intellectually unpalatable?

These ideas are rarely clarified by the purveyors of political speech.

More information can often be derived from looking at an initiative’s point person than can be gleaned from its well-rehearsed script. That figure usually leads with their credentials, which can be sold more effectively than the vague message. Typically, a ringleaders’ curriculum vitae is a crucial first argument for a cause’s legitimacy.

In this case, the lead salesperson is “former CIA officer Evan McMullin”. His papers are presented in three words: Central. Intelligence. Agency. He’s joined by others with similar resumes, including several “former high-ranking members of the Homeland Security Department”.

Despite describing their platform in ambiguous language, this group’s credentials define them precisely. They’re not centrists. They seek control of centralized power.

Centrist versus Central. Distinguishing an -ist from an -al can be enlightening ……

Is anything inherently wrong with a centralist position that leans conservative …… as opposed to today’s Washington, where mainstream centralism now leans liberal? No. The problem lies not with a position itself, but with any lack of balance between opposed regions of the circle. Too much decentralization and too much centralization are equivalent threats.

To sort through such issues – and to re-build balance in our society – the American people must understand the true positions of those who seek to lead. Unfortunately, Mr. McMullen and friends have failed to describe theirs with clarity.

Defining the Undefended

Two of the most maligned movements of recent years are homeschooling and vaccination choice. Their advocates are frequently disparaged by mainstream media. So, why do these groups get singled out?

Both movements share common characteristics with other groups that favor decentralized power. In fact, related grassroots initiatives like permaculture, self-sufficiency, new urbanism, and others, are best understood as parallel components within a larger “meta-movement.”

This leads to a revised question: why are members of the other initiatives left largely alone while the homeschooling and vaccination freedom proponents are often attacked?

An answer is provided by their adversaries. Homeschooling presents a threat to teachers unions and their allies in the Department of Education. Similarly, vaccination skeptics question products produced by pharmaceutical companies: behemoths with deep influence in the halls of power. This manifests as diametric opposition on the political circle ……

Though their situation is unpleasant, anti-vaxxers and homeschoolers might be fortunate. The big kid on the block doesn’t like them, but at least he considers them a threat. In contrast, many of the parallel movements remain largely unacknowledged by powerful forces. It might feel like a blessing to the groups being left alone. But is it really?

Mohandas Gandhi – another occupant of the circle’s lowest pole – once observed: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” His quote describes a set of state changes that move a given situation, in increments, from one paradigm to another. Political energy ratchets up in each shift, until the conflict comes to a boil.

Nassim Taleb (yet another low pole member) attempts to harness this spectrum whenever he publishes a new book …… by actively antagonizing his critics. Agitated detractors then become effective marketing agents.

Charles Marohn, founder and CEO of Strong Towns, recently experienced a shift along this continuum. His organization – aligned with the new urbanist movement – has produced insightful analysis for more than a decade, much of it debunking orthodox economic doctrines like infrastructure spending and suburban sprawl.

Marohn flew under the radar for years, but was eventually noticed by powerful natural adversaries high up on the circle. They’ve now lodged formal complaints against his engineering license, not because of any lapse in professional judgement (Marohn no longer practices in the field), but because he endorses innovative approaches that could eventually threaten their entrenched financial interests.

Anti-vaxxers, homeschoolers, and Strong Towns members are further along on Gandhi’s energy continuum than their peers in the larger meta-movement. This causes an inversion of the question posed earlier. Instead of asking “why have particular citizen-empowering groups been singled out?” it would be more productive to ask what the related movements must do to get noticed.

To achieve success, the proponents of decentralized power will need to move past the “ignore you” stage of their development. “You win” might be defined as a new balance of power with centralizing forces, or as some other set of goals. Either way, change won’t arrive until conflict is confronted …… and political energy increases.

Guess-working the Gamestop Gambit

The significance of recent trading in highly-shorted GME stock was immediately grasped by several of America’s remaining honest journalists, including Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi.

Unfortunately, Greenwald’s reference to “the amorphous and trans-ideological politics driving both the Reddit uprising and the reaction to it” falls far short of a coherent systemic understanding. His comments show how Americans – even the most astute among us – are failing to interpret the political landscape with anything approaching accuracy.

To resolve this dangerous limitation, commentators will need to embrace a premise they might find unpalatable …… that an adequate understanding of the political paradigm can never be developed through words alone. Instead, the first step in any serious political analysis is the visualization of a properly constructed spatial model.

The term trans-ideological lies at the crux of Greenwald’s blind spot. It reflects our human penchant for adding length to a description when we don’t quite understand its pattern. Sporting seven syllables, this word’s definition is particularly fuzzy. We can only assume that Greenwald asserts a Nietzschian framing: “beyond left and right”.

It’s not wholly incorrect to use a term like “trans-ideological.” But to pair it with the term “amorphous” is to confess no knowledge of an alternative. A better model does exist, though.

For example, neither party in the Gamestop dispute is energized by issues regarding values …… the traditional battlefield between left and right. They reside instead, as Greenwald correctly notes, in the field of rational endeavor. This orientation toward the practical concerns of business and finance causes conflicts about power ….. not about values.

The two main combatants in the Gamestop conflict do take diametrically opposed positions. The financial oligarchy sits at the top of the political circle, while the Redditors reside near the circle’s bottom pole. This reflects an ordering of positions more consistent with the majority of recent American conflicts ……

The hedge funds might, or might not, function as the apex predators of today’s financial hierarchy. But they do rely on an understanding of (and exert influence on) today’s highly centralized system of banking, trading, and regulation. In contrast, the Reddit group relies on emergent self-organization, with citizens free to act as individual agents.

This gets to the crux of a misunderstanding that vexes even the most insightful observers in America today. Yes, it’s true that wallstreetbets members might lean slightly to the left or the right. But their primary loyalty isn’t horizontal; it’s vertical. They proudly practice a citizen-empowering politics.

The unacknowledged tendency to frame disputes as left versus right remains entrenched in mainstream thinking, even as some pundits attempt to form language describing another dimension. Values explanations might have been adequate in the past. But they’re counterproductive today, when the machinations of top down power dominate.

To assess the twenty-first century’s political crisis in terms of left and right – without clarifying their relationship to top versus bottom – is a conflation of the highest order. It’s a mistake from which recovery will be difficult, if not impossible. An alternative framing must be considered.

Not So Fast ……

It appears that the rightful ruling class, led by Joe Biden, has retaken control of the beltway. We’re free to exhale. And exhale again. But before anyone hyperventilates, we should explore how today’s turmoil is actually structured ……

The sighs of relief represent a thought: “the left is back in charge.” When you look closely, however, the nature of this new regime has been poorly defined by our media because the most astute criticisms of “the left” are currently coming from …… “the left.” Glenn Greenwald isn’t exhaling. Neither is Matt Taibbi. Bret Weinstein still holds his breath, hoping YouTube doesn’t banish him.

If an accurate political spectrum could be reduced to simple phrases, one statement would be: “There are two ‘lefts’ in America.” And this “other left” understands all too well that they’re being targeted by resurgent power brokers from Silicon Valley, DC, and Davos. Their worldview has too much in common with the conservatives now under attack.

Imagine, for a moment, being herded from a train at Auschwitz. You find yourself in a second group in line for the “showers.” Would it provide any comfort to you if some business adversary from your previous life was in the first group? This is the kind of question these liberals are forced to ask themselves about recently de-platformed conservatives. Who, exactly, is my adversary?

A precise model of allies and adversaries is needed. But even a loose model would expose the fallacy of labeling today’s Washington power regime as “left” …… because the incoming administration is closely allied with authoritarian groups.

For example, the deep state’s alphabet agencies, featuring actors like James Comey and John Brennan, cant be categorized as liberal or conservative. They’re creatures of centralized power. Similarly, Biden’s ascendance was aided by Republican stalwarts like Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney, and Fox News hosts. This wing of their party also asserts top-down control.

So, the image of “the left” being back in charge is deeply flawed. It’s based on a limited visual conception of the system. The only debate it allows is, “How far right – or left – are the players?”

The new regime doesn’t represent a victory of “left” over “right.” Instead, it exhibits a resurgent “top” against a newly-wounded “bottom.” The top of the circle does include slight orientations toward the left and right. But so does the bottom.

The discontented – labeled above – consist of libertarian conservatives and citizen-empowering liberals. They’ve been unable to join together into a political coalition thus far.

The top-of-circle actors do see the powerful potential of such an alliance, however. And they’re making every effort to shut down discourse within the lower quadrants. In its place, they promote a carefully constructed narrative: legitimate players have retaken their rightful roles.

But the elites have resorted to authoritarian tactics in their effort to regain power. They rely on disciplined coordination between left and right-leaning “centralists” who sit high in the circle’s upper quadrants. And they can only thwart their conservative adversaries by inflicting collateral damage on citizen-empowering liberals.

Election 2020 was Axis versus Axis

Our November 3 trip to the polls seems like a long time ago due to the intensity and unprecedented nature of the subsequent disagreements. But the underlying structure of that contest should not go unnoticed because it differed, in significant ways, from previous longterm trends. It tells us much about the shifting outlooks of the major political parties.

For example, Joe Biden’s “battle for the soul of this country” was a values-based statement, which the DNC leveraged to level charges of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny against its opponents …… while presenting itself as a bulwark against those bogeymen. The party’s goal was to keep public discussion aligned with matters of conscience. Its policy assertions were built on a foundation of morality.

In contrast, the Republican campaign slogan – “Keep America Great” – rehashed Trump’s combative 2016 focus on jobs, tariffs, and immigration. It’s policy platform sought to restrict political discussion to the power question. This tentatively populist approach reflected a shift from the party’s pre-Trump era, when centralizing tendencies were pursued behind closed doors, but downplayed publicly …… a position the Romney wing still endorses.

Thus, both of the 2020 campaigns emphasized the language of one Fundamental Question, while downplaying language from the other. This resulted in each party playing offense on its favored axis; then reacting to the opponent’s accusations on the other.

The non-emphasized axis still surreptitiously contributes to both parties’ agendas, though. The Democrats ask us to look the other way as they rely on power tactics like tech monopoly cancellation, media gaslighting, and deep state ambushes. Meanwhile, the Republicans quietly place pro-life judges on the bench, and pursue get-out-the-vote operations in the evangelical community. But this values orientation is kept under the radar.

When we step back toward a wider perspective, it becomes clear that neither party wants to align itself with an accurate, balanced paradigm. Instead, both seek the short-term advantages created by nasty name-calling and myopic talking points. Neither will address the realities of a complex worldview because an honest approach could compromise the instant gratification of an electoral victory.

How much longer can the republic withstand these short-sighted, winner-take-all tactics?