Is a Wider View of the Abortion Debate Possible?

The answer to that question is “no” if you listen to the mainstream media’s partisan positioning. But I was struck today by the shortcomings of Mike Shedlock’s attempt to parse the issue. If someone of his high caliber struggles to frame abortion with adequate depth, then America will continue to tear itself apart.

Here’s the comment I posted to his website ……

I’m still waiting for a pundit to approach the abortion question with the perspective necessary for a deeper understanding.

Haven’t seen it yet.

Instead, we get emotion, opinion, and partisan positioning. (Though, it’s difficult to criticize either side for the emotion it feels.)

It seems likely that where a society, or an individual, comes down on this issue is never a direct decision. Instead, it’s a downstream consequence of the answer to other, more fundamental questions.

For example, here’s a question a century-and-a-half in the making: Will America continue to move toward becoming a maternal-centric society? (…… a move that began in the mid-nineteenth century.) Or will our country return to its earlier, more paternalistic roots?

This question affects many issues, one of which involves the acceptability of intra-society killing (example: abortion) versus the acceptability of inter-society killing (example: war).

One of the ancient human ironies is that maternal cultures, despite all their compassion, have typically condoned the killing of their own youths, right up until the rites of passage into adulthood, while paternalistic cultures that celebrated the killing of alien tribes’ members rarely countenanced the killing of their own youths.

If you can’t wrap your head around this pattern, read Joseph Campbell or Marija Gimbutas.

The maternal versus paternal duality is so deeply embedded in the human condition as to have become inescapable. Our ancestors have passed it down to us in a form that is now described as “liberal” versus “conservative”, represented by the two national political parties. But it’s so much older than the current debate.

Has any pundit examined this?

Taken further, have any of them assessed how resource abundance (versus scarcity) affects a culture’s tendency to tip toward the maternal (versus the paternal)?

In other words, can peak oil impact our society’s decisions about abortion more than a few aging lawyers in black robes? Is it really a coincidence that this issue has come to the fore as supply lines have disrupted? Can Mish’s libertarian leanings fit into a comprehensive framework that accommodates abortion’s orientation toward the society’s conscience?

No one has been looking into such questions. Maybe it’s time someone did.

My Body. My Company’s Choice.

If you crave power, and you sit in a position of authority, you will always stack the odds in your own favor. And if you’ve consolidated an outsized capacity for control over others, you will allow your opponent few options as you proclaim some new edict.

This is the state of play for the latest Covid mandate, the one in which the U.S. government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration – OSHA – now requires all employees of the companies it supervises to get the state-sponsored jab.

There are two potential ”outs” for the citizen who wants to avoid the vaccine while simultaneously holding on to their job. One option allows vaccine skeptics to check the box for a medical exemption. For the other, they can check the box seeking a religious exemption.

Two options to save your paycheck while maintaining your personal agency. You are granted no other choices by the powers that be.

Due to the gradual centralization of power that has occurred across recent decades, authorities have gained tight control over the medical exemption option, since any approval must go through a doctor, and all MDs are now clustered within the silos of a top-down system. At the apex of today’s hierarchy sit centralized institutions like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH). Just below them on the organizational tree are powerful groups like the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Hospital Association (AHA). Once these “middle manager institutions” sign off on a dictate, the doctors face liability issues or employment termination if they choose to not comply.

Your healthcare professional’s advice is no longer guided by the Hippocratic oath. It is now determined by the policies of his or her financial umbilical.

Since the medical exemption is systemically controlled, the religious exemption becomes the only potential alternative for employees seeking to avoid the vaccine. Unfortunately, it’s also a choice that provides little relief. Instead, it represents a fighting retreat that merely delays progress toward the authorities’ goal of full uniformity. Those who check this box do so knowing it’s a poor choice. They are forced to hope that the society-wide psychological fever will break before the totalitarian goal is reached.

Most folks who check the religious exemption box are also vaguely aware of a conflation in their position. But they have no other option. Still, it’s instructive to understand the flawed logic put forward by their bureaucratic masters.

On the political circle, pure religion – which can be defined as “a reliance on un-provable and un-dis-provable Truths” – resides at either the left pole or the right pole. In other words, one’s subjective insights might orient toward paternal beliefs, or they might favor maternal beliefs. Either way, the conscience has governed.

But skepticism of the new vaccine technology is based, almost universally, on an individual’s reasoning. While there are many instances in which conscience can, and should, take the lead, in this case belief is determined by a person’s use of logic to link facts. Therefore, the debate over the most effective responses to Covid19 is objective.

The supporters and resisters of every potential Covid treatment rely on reason to decide their preferred approach. This reality sits at the heart of the ”follow the science” mantra. Both sides believe that the processes and procedures of science support their position. This means that most debate about Covid responses falls on the vertical axis of the political circle. It has few intersections with faith or conscience.

Two interesting developments follow from this connection …… one with important short-term consequences, with the other being of greater long-term magnitude.

In the near term, those who seek to avoid the mandated vaccinations have been painted into a corner by the limited two-box options. They aren’t allowed to “object” to the centralized authorities’ views based on ”objective” arguments. The roulette wheel has been weighted to land on “follow the mandate.”

In the longer term, however, establishment institutions are being forced out into the open, away from the protection of their foxholes. For example, throughout the twentieth century, they successfully utilized an intellectually dishonest gambit I’ve labeled The Great Conflation, in which their objective power ambitions were hidden behind intense (and sometimes ginned-up) debates about values. This agitation toward chronic left-versus-right conflict allowed them to quietly consolidate their grip on power while subjective debates raged on the public square.

But in recent years the dynamic has changed. And in recent months, the rate of change has begun to accelerate. Their opponents have learned how to effectively confront them on objective grounds, and they’re doing so with increasing success.

The centralists have not sat still in response to this new development, but have moved to restrict the free flow of ideas in public spaces. Rather than restore the authorities to the throne, however, this violation of long held American free speech norms has further eroded the country’s faith in its centers of power, specifically the corporations and national bureaucracies.

Thus, the centralists are watching their defensive position slowly erode. Each day, members of their base, especially the members their liberal base, are re-thinking their views about America’s governance. A gradual move toward citizen-empowerment is occurring, individual by individual.

But an important step remains. And there’s no guarantee that the newly-resurgent citizen coalition will self-organize into some functional form. Only when conservative citizens and liberal citizens recognize that their power commonalities outweigh their values differences, will an effective counterweight to concentrated power evolve. Only then will centralist mandates be mitigated.

Pelosi Confirms the Political Circle

The ruling parties in Washington have played their game of political brinkmanship once more, with the ginned-up tension ending predictably. Budgets, debt ceilings, and default became urgent topics of discussion. The usual suspects dusted off their doomsday statements. The drama grew until an “imminent government shutdown” was once again ”narrowly averted”.

The structure of this kabuki theater is much simpler than we’ve been led to believe. It reduces to one unit: dollars. The debate distills no further. Yet the significance of that simple common denominator – the dollar- within the larger game is chronically underestimated.

A country’s currency is crucial to the exercise of power, whether it involves exchanges between two citizens, between many companies, or trade between nations. But currency deals in numbers. And numbers are pragmatic methods of measurement. They don’t try to tell us which god to believe in.

In shutdown dramas, numbers are used to buttress the prerogatives of top-down political control. Since dollars always deal with power, they live on the vertical axis of the political circle, whether they’re drawn to the top pole (as in this case) or to the bottom (where the citizens are empowered).

Our political elites – planted firmly atop the circle – now require massive quantities of the green stuff in order to dispense favors to the groups that keep their centralized system in place. Those groups include government agencies, activist organizations, global corporations, and supporting nations. Whenever the threat arises that the federal fire hose might dispense those favors with less force, the elites choose to tax the common worker further. If that proves insufficient (as it usually does in recent decades) they confiscate from America’s future citizens by debasing the currency through money printing.

This reverse Robin Hood repossession scheme can’t occur in broad daylight, though. Political cover must be constructed to sidestep a backlash. Commoners must be made to understand that it’s all done for their own good. Thus, we witness Nancy Pelosi’s linguistic gymnastics this week, asking for her colleagues to focus on ”values” rather than on numbers or dollars.

Readers of this blog know that an accurate model of political partisanship reduces to two Fundamental Questions. One question addresses power. The other deals with values. One is objective. The other subjective. Every American answers both questions. And every American weighs one against the other.

These two questions are at war. They engage in constant conflict with one another to establish which will be dominant. We collectively choose, over time, which one will act as alpha in our era.

Fortunately, when the participants are intellectually honest, sincere compromises and coalitions can be forged between these two very different foundations of the political system. The conflict can be harnessed.

But that’s not what Pelosi was attempting to do. Hers was a ”nothing to see here” approach. The Speaker chose diversion, rather than acknowledge the unprecedented power grab inherent within the latest spending proposal.

This shell game is being perpetrated by many players in Washington DC – not just Pelosi. The party politicians publicly tell us that one Question (Values) is far more important …… often posturing as if it were the only subject worthy of discussion. Meanwhile, they privately focus their attention on accumulating vast amounts of centralized control (Power).

Their approach has begun to wear thin, though. The jig is almost up. Pelosi’s focus on values is from a bygone century. Growing numbers of citizens now see the Power Question as the issue that must be addressed. Despite the best efforts of America’s propagandists, they’re choosing empowerment of their fellow citizens over the centralized dictates of a political and corporate elite.

Three Assumptions the Republic Must Question

The Eleventh (and Final) Essay in a Series on Democracy

Few citizens regard American society as healthy today. And few have a fix for the deepening problems we face. Useful solutions will not emerge until several of the theoretical assumptions underlying today’s political system are re-examined.

Here’s a list of three assumptions that – when questioned – can help you to re-orient your thinking ……

Trend One: The Deification of Democracy

Today’s common mantras call for vague concepts like “saving our democracy,” “protecting our democracy,” or “preserving our democracy.” These shrill cries share an approach: they place one particular idea on a pedestal.

This view of democracy differs starkly from the view taken by America’s founder’s. Figures like Franklin and Adams disparaged it. They would have agreed with Winston Churchill’s far more forgiving assessment: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Gradually, through America’s recent history, the political class has taken the opposite approach. Democracy has become deified.

Ironically, this trend was accompanied by a concurrent reduction in the level of control that citizens have over their own lives. A dangerous and propagandistic centralization of power has occurred each time democracy has become more direct. Centralized power, in itself, is necessary to some degree, and can often be a benign force in society. But today’s excessive levels of centralization are feeding a growing authoritarian dysfunction in America.

To reverse the trend toward top down control, the concept of democracy will need to be approached with a more skeptical attitude.

Trend Two: Process versus Principle

The founders placed democracy within their constitutional form of government because it stood the best chance of preserving the beliefs they held dear. But democracy differs, in its basic nature, from the other “founding ideals” …… important ideas like justice, rights, liberty, equality, peace, and freedom.

Those ideals are principles. Democracy is a process. Democracy is useful only in its potential for preserving those principles.

When the process is valued more than the principles, however, a political system devolves into dysfunction. Hence, the situation we’re experiencing in early twenty-first century America.

Trend Three: A Disregard for Scale

Most media pundits look at every development through a national lens: events in remote parts of the country are interpreted as: “Here’s what we need to fix in America.” Somehow, the solution to each these “problems” is always to give more control to bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, technocrats in Silicon Valley, or top-down commercial corporations in New York City and elsewhere.

The strictly national approach is not what Ben Franklin envisioned when he described America’s new government as “a republic.” The original framework empowered states, localities, and individuals to the same extent as it empowered national interests. Any discussion of democracy without taking into account this sharing of power between a variety of scales will lead to authoritarian attempts at controlling citizens’ lives.

Discerning Discrete Democracies

Part Ten in a Series on Democracy.

…… “Americans love democracy.”

…… “We must defend democracy around the world.”

…… “Our country is the greatest democracy on earth.”

Grand statements like these are regularly tossed about on the public square. Unfortunately, they’re so broad that democracy’s specifics are often assumed, but not assessed. This can be dangerous.

Throughout recent decades, the concept of democracy has gradually become deified. And when some process gets placed on a pedestal, social taboos constrain the discussions surrounding it. We fail to examine the sacred object’s intricacies. We don’t see its limitations.

Any discussion of democracy’s limitations must look back toward the founding figures of our country. They were skeptical of the concept. Some even disparaged it. Yet they still chose to place it at the center of their republic. Something in that structure caused them to become more comfortable with the process.

So, a question must be answered: “What is the relationship between a democracy and a republic?”

The answer distills to one concept: scale.

Scale, by definition, distributes along a continuum. We acknowledge the two ends of that continuum with the terms large scale and small scale.

Americans have gradually come to discuss democracy as if it were strictly a large scale endeavor. Our discourse focuses on presidential contests, nationwide popular votes, and the latest politician to ascend the national stage. This untested assumption underlies the new HR-1 bill, which places elections under centralized control, removing decision-making power from the states.

It would be easy to assert that “a republic” focuses on the opposite side of the continuum: small scale. But the idea of a republic is more broad. America’s founders envisioned a variety of simultaneous scales.

This establishes the basic definitions of two terms ……

…… A democracy – as currently discussed by mainstream figures – addresses only the largest scale of our society’s decision-making.

…… A republic – as envisioned by the country’s founders – encompasses the continuum of all possible scales.

Franklin and friends never eschewed the importance of national decisions: the 1787 constitutional convention was convened because the Articles of Confederation failed to address nationwide problems. But the smallest scale wasn’t neglected either. Their debates weren’t settled until individual liberties were protected by a Bill of Rights.

The constitution also addressed other scales along the continuum. States rights was one focus. And the rights of local jurisdictions to determine their own affairs were protected too.

America’s republic is often equated to a democracy, but that description is inadequate. A republic is actually a set of democracies: citizens participate on several levels concurrently: national, regional, local, grassroots, and informal. The constitution acknowledges this tension between the various scales of decision-making. It attempted to create a balance in which no particular level has an unfair advantage.

Today, we ignore this tension between scales. National affairs are granted the lion’s share of attention.

America now faces a decision: Will it continue to embrace a limited, failing conception of democracy? Or will it once again become a republic? The grand statements ignore this decision.

Oligarchs for Democracy!

Part Eight in a Series on Democracy


Alexander Solzhenitsyn noted that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart.

Similarly, no part of the political circle can be labeled as inherently good or evil.

But …… long-term imbalances in the distributions of positions do allow those with evil intent to get traction in a society. When too much power is concentrated in one location – and is unchecked by citizen-empowering initiatives – a Stalin or Saddam can gain control.

In the shallow discourse of recent decades, accusations of evil were framed as “left versus right”. Since 2008, however, assessments have become more realistic. The growing power of “the elites” is now discerned as a threat.

Today’s elites congregate at the top of the political circle, pretending to fit the flawed framework of “right,” “center,” and “left”. These labels do apply. But only in a limited way. On the right reside oligarchic bankers, military interests, and corporate CEOs. On the left, academic and statist bureaucrats join the social media monopolies. At the upper pole sit deep state agencies, central banks, and globalist actors, like George Soros and Klaus Schwab.

Both major political parties have facilitated today’s imbalance. Republicans often took the lead throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, with members like Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey continuing the tradition. But it is today’s Democratic Party, despite its past defense of working people’s interests, that now hurtles toward an unprecedented and unbalanced concentration of political power.

The two-party machinations were slow and methodical. And yes, some members were, and are, evil. One method of choice was to gaslight Americans into an uncritical and shallow deification of democracy.

There are no coincidences in politics. And it’s no coincidence the march toward an unbalanced centralization of power was matched by a movement toward “pure democracy.”

Charles Marohn recently addressed this trend when he observed that …… as our country has become “more democratic” it has also become “less representative”. In other words, the emasculation of local/regional government has increased the power-distance relationship between citizens and those who hold meaningful power.

The 1913 shift to direct election of U.S. senators established the precedent for greater power-distance. By removing decision-making from state legislatures (and consequently, from locally-elected legislators) the seventeenth amendment concentrated power in Washington. This proportional relationship between centralized power and “pure democracy” isn’t random. It’s an axiom of politics.

Those who seek to concentrate power further are aware of this axiom. But it’s unrecognized by propagandized citizens who giddily cede their constitutionally-protected powers to distant “authorities.”

The popular HR-1 bill currently making its way through congress is the latest example of this process. If it passes, it won’t be the last. Powerful centralizing forces will then be emboldened to challenge the electoral college’s legitimacy.

This dangerous trend toward imbalance will inevitably facilitate evil acts. The antidote is for Americans to grasp the difference between “a democracy” and “a republic” …… medicine to be explored in future posts.

Democracy As Circle

Part Seven in a Series on Democracy.

There exists a set of beliefs that almost every citizen holds to be self-evident, and America’s faith in them remains strong, whether our political position leans liberal or conservative. These “foundational ideals” – like justice, liberty, democracy, freedom, equality, and rights – are complex and amorphous. Yet they work together to energize our society.

A sharp and unacknowledged distinction divides these concepts. Democracy is a process; the other beliefs are principles. The two parts are then governed by a hierarchy: process must follow behind principles. Unfortunately, our society’s gradual deification of democracy has subverted this natural hierarchy …… leading to today’s dysfunction.

Politics is the core mechanism of democracy, of course. It sorts into three stages: (1) Conflict arises. (2) Collective discourse develops to address that conflict. (3) Then, if the process is sound, decisions emerge. As new conflicts are generated, the three stages repeat.

It’s no coincidence that these stages are addressed by the political circle. The terms politics, democracy, and political circle function like synonyms. They describe the same process ……

It should be noted that Benjamin Franklin’s term for this process – republic – is also a synonym for the circle, and it parallels democracy ……

The American republic was structured as a process of conflict-definition, discourse-engagement, and decision-making. It includes elements of democracy. But it includes other safeguards also.

So …… what does the republic attempt to protect? The framer’s spoke often about the foundational human ideals of justice, equality, liberty, rights, and the like. The republic’s structure safeguarded those founding ideals.

Various regions of the political circle have attempted to guard specific principles, claiming them as their own. For example, “libertarians” in the lower right quadrant attempt to uphold “liberty”. More recently, the newly-invigorated lower left has championed “freedom” and “rights” as it battles first amendment infringement.

Perhaps the foundational principles do self-organize into some ordered form on the circle. It’s more likely, however, that they don’t reside on that structure at all. Instead, they all sit at the center …… combining their complex, idealistic, energetic, self-contradictory, and amorphous characteristics. No specific political position can lay claim to them there.

We can think of these principles as resembling a large campfire, whose intense interactions generate large amounts of energy. None of us can get too close their heat. Instead, we encircle it, paying close attention …… while remaining linked to our neighbors who also surround it.

But an important question has been missing from mainstream discussions of politics: What causes us to sort into specific positions around the circle?

The answer is that an underlying structure – or set of calculations – informs where each individual places themself around this fire. Each citizen views the founding ideals from a different vantage point because each citizen answers two fundamental questions in his or her own way ……

…… What values do I believe our society should uphold?

…… What form of power is the best path to those values?

These commingled questions bring order to our discussions. They lead to decisions about the American republic’s foundational principles.

Does Democracy Play Well With Others?

Part Six in a series on democracy.

“Bayonet Charge” by Winslow Homer

At some point, during the passage of time, the concept of democracy ascended to the position of first principle in the minds of many Americans. It became an alpha belief …… the prime driver of our society.

Does democracy deserve to hold this exalted place?

Democracy was initiated by our country’s founders, but it wasn’t necessarily championed by them. Instead, they ranked it behind other ideals. For example, Ben Franklin asserted that liberty was of greater importance. (“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what they are going to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote”) Likewise, Thomas Jefferson elevated the concepts of “rights” and “equality” in his independence declaration. Democracy wasn’t mentioned.

Liberty, rights, and equality weren’t the only beliefs to bid against democracy for the founders’ loyalty. Nor are they the only ideas that compete for ours. Other timeless concepts, like justice and freedom, also demand our attention when new conflicts arise.

The elevation of one concept above others has created a dangerous imbalance that remains unacknowledged. Our nation’s “love of democracy” is rarely calibrated against other important beliefs. Unfortunately, democracy can be used to remove our liberties. One vote can create inequality. Only a delicate balancing act can prevent such overreach.

Above all, a crucial distinction escapes us: Democracy is a process. The other beliefs are principles. We fail to distinguish that the process exists to uphold the principles. The system doesn’t work in reverse.

Democracy is often fraught with errors, and therefore cannot be regarded as superior to the principles it was designed to uphold. One example is found in America’s winding path toward universal suffrage. While that noble achievement is commonly championed as a “victory for democracy”, it’s more accurately described as a victory for “rights,” “liberty,” or “equality.”

In truth, democracy often failed during efforts to acknowledge the right of all citizens to vote …… especially in the case of African Americans. Initial steps toward black suffrage were made only after a bloody war: a conflict between two democracies that had previously been one democracy. Later efforts stalled for almost a century before Jim Crow was overturned. Those malicious laws were also erected in the name of democracy.

A more nuanced set of priorities must be established: while the processes of democracy can help to further entrench important principles within the nation’s governance, they have also, at times, stood in the way of those ideals.

Democracy is indispensable. There’s no realistic alternative to its role in supporting concepts like rights, equality, and freedom. But it is not an end in itself: merely the best available means to an end. When this role is misunderstood, democracy can be wielded against the principles it was designed to uphold.

By placing one belief on an idealistic and purist pedestal – at the apex of importance – Americans are neglecting other foundational beliefs. The process is overrunning the principles it was meant to sustain.

What’s Really the Matter with Kansas?

Part Five in a series on America’s conception of Democracy.

I lived in New York City for several years and in the state of Kansas for a similar duration. They are two of the eight American Nations I’ve had the good fortune to observe firsthand. (Colin Woodard posited a total of eleven.)

These experiences led me to the unconventional thesis that debates about our democracy can be distilled to down two places. America can be described as “Kansas versus New York City.”

This pairing might strike you as asymmetrical: One is a state; the other is a city. But each represents a development pattern: Kansas is rural; NYC is urban. They reside on either side of a duality that sits at the heart of some important upcoming decisions about the future of our democracy.

The conflict between urban and rural has simmered under the surface of America’s decision-making process for years …… with urban/suburban interests gradually gaining power. Now, an inflection point has been reached. Will metro areas accumulate so much power that rural spaces lose political self-determination, in a weird case of life imitating The Hunger Games? Or will the pendulum swing the other way?

These questions lie beneath the electoral college debate. Kansas is one of the few states (Wyoming, Vermont, and Montana are similar) where population centers remain small: the urban vote is dwarfed by rural priorities. Conversely, in the state of New York (like Illinois, Oregon, California, and others) one or more metropolises dominate political decision-making.

This can be described as sets of parallel contrasts ……

…… Rural versus urban

…… States versus cities

.….. Distributed versus concentrated populations

…… Distributed versus concentrated political power

These pairs function like synonyms: Distribution, rural, and state on one side versus concentration, urban, and metropolitan on the other.

Another duality parallels them, too. But its commonality goes unnoticed ……

…… The electoral college versus popular presidential election.

It’s no coincidence that the abolish activists mostly reside within concentrated coastal metro regions, while electoral college defenders are ensconced in flyover states. For verification, witness the figures who demand electoral college change, like NYC representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former New York Senator Hillary Clinton. A recent bill to abolish the college was sponsored exclusively by representatives of major population centers, mostly on the east and west coasts.

This pattern was established decades ago when America shifted to the direct election of senators. The seventeenth amendment was promoted as “more democratic.” In practice, however, it caused rural areas to lose agency. Much local and regional control was ceded to a corporate-influenced east coast metropolis.

Like before, today’s direct election activists frame their message as “seeking better democracy.” But the outcome would lead to another grant of power to densely-populated areas. Political power itself would become more centralized.

The elites of New York, and their allies, seek to disenfranchise distributed power. The first blow was struck by the seventeenth amendment. The next effort is against the electoral college. They hide the stick of concentrated power behind a carrot of direct democracy.

What is Your Assessment of the Citizen?

Photo: AndrewHorne

A person can view the American citizen in one of two ways. He or she can attribute agency to the citizens – trusting them to be actively responsible in the management of their lives and relationships. Or, the citizen can be viewed as someone who should passively accept direction and aid from their betters. This initial tendency determines an entire downstream range of political viewpoints.

The active versus passive assessment has little to do with a person’s values. Someone who leans liberal might see the citizens as responsible …… or they might not. The same dynamic applies to someone else who leans conservative.

It also doesn’t apply to a person’s standing in life. Someone’s record of success might have been high, or moderate, or “not-so-much.” It has little bearing on how they view the capacity of others to manage their own lives.

So, this appraisal of competency and trustworthiness doesn’t apply to most human categories. But it does apply to the question of power. Those who favor centralized solutions – whether elites or commoners – see the bulk of their fellow citizens as lacking life skills. In contrast, a person who favors decentralized power has placed great faith, in most cases, in their neighbors’ capacity for getting on with life. This faith tends to be consistent, whether the quantity of neighbors numbers one, or 330 million.

Examples asserting a passive view of citizens abound. In the corporate media, we see it in a willingness to propagandize information. In the two major political parties, it can be observed in strained efforts to pander publicly, while making backroom deals privately. In the policies forged by those parties, obsequious efforts to provide free perks are in ample evidence. This bread and circuses mentality – encouraging passivity – has characterized the approach of concentrated power for at least five thousand years …… and probably for far longer.

In contrast, decentralized power has always preferred to allow fellow citizens to actively assemble – and disassemble – as they see fit.

In short, the passive-active judgment applies to the vertical axis of the political circle. It does not apply to the horizontal axis. It’s an orientation that’s key to understanding the twenty-first century’s rising political conflicts. This re-birthed form of conflict began its slow move toward center stage a few decades ago, and has since been supplanting the left-right debate in importance.

The struggle can’t be understood with outdated terms like “liberal” or “conservative.” But Americans still attempt to discuss it within that framework. Terms like centralized and decentralized must be applied instead.

It can be productive to ask a question whenever some prominent political figure places himself or herself in front of the cameras. “Do the underlying assumptions of this person’s stated positions posit the citizens as recipients of some powerful entity’s wise policy prescriptions?” Or do they expect you to act responsibly as a member of your family and community?

It’s helpful to ask such questions of those who attempt to shape your opinion. It’s also helpful to ask them of yourself.