Blog, Politics

An Open Mind Is Not the Same as a Head Full of Holes

Originally published February 15, 2017 on The Huffington Post

One of the charges that conservatives constantly hurl at liberals is that they are basically hypocrites. Although they say that hearing all points of view is the cornerstone of free democratic societies, they really only want to hear that with which they already agree.

Take the case of the highly inflammatory provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Recently, Yiannopoulos’s right to speak at UC Berkeley was hotly contested by Berkeley students. It even sparked outside agitators to engage in violence. Does this mean that Berkeley students were thereby violating one of the core principles of liberal thought? Yes, if they wanted to prevent Yiannopoulos from speaking altogether. No, if they were merely expressing their right to protest hate speech.

Conservatives confuse the basic principle that all points of view, however odious, have a fundamental right to be heard with the dubious principle that every point of view is entitled to be heard without any protest whatsoever. As if conservatives don’t protest loudly when they hear speakers with whom they disagree strongly.

Just because I condemn hate talk before or after the fact is not equivalent to preventing it in the first place, unless of course it can be shown that there is a very strong possibility it will lead to bodily harm. Tolerance of intolerance does not mean that I don’t have a fundamental right, yea obligation, to speak out forcefully against intolerant points of view.

Because liberals endorse the right of all viewpoints to be heard does not mean that it categorically endorses all viewpoints. An open mind is not the same as a head full of holes.

The heart of liberalism is healthy debate, not the uncritical acceptance of any point of view.

Blog, Media + Politics, Politics

Ethics for a Complex, Dangerous World: The Moral Imperative for Thinking and Acting Systemically

Originally published February 15, 2017 on the Huffington Post

The Odious Concept of Ethical Thresholds

Unfortunately, most people don’t understand the fundamental nature of ethics. Yes, the ultimate purpose is to arrive at actions that are clearly ethical. However, the method or process by which one arrives at and justifies an ethical proposition is as important as the proposition itself. Thus, ethics is basically about the different methods that different schools of ethics use both to arrive at and to justify ethical propositions. One of the most powerful ways of doing this is by putting a proposed proposition in the form of a generalized assertion to help determine if it applies universally.

One of the most important cases is President Trump’s justification for his policy of banning Muslims from entering the U.S. Putting it in the form of a generalized ethical proposition not only shows how poor his grasp of ethics is, but more importantly, how odious it is: “Whenever the numbers of people who are detained from entering a country are small in comparison to those who are let in, then one is warranted ethically in enacting such a policy.” In other words, “Whenever the numbers of people who are harmed by a policy are small, the policy is justified.” To which a good Kantian would reply, “To harm just one person is to harm all the members of society for the principle cannot be generalized such that it leads to a just world.”

Worst of all, the proposition both promotes and dignifies the dangerous concept an ethical threshold. As long as the numbers of people who are hurt are below some magic number, then our actions are ethical. It thus raises the treacherous question, “How many would have to be hurt before one’s actions are deemed unethical?” All of this is not only morally odious to a Kantian, but extremely dangerous.

Yes, weighing benefits versus disbenefits is the hallmark of Utilitarian Ethics, and as such, always tugs at us for who can be oblivious to benefits versus costs, especially if the costs are cataclysmic? While it must always be taken seriously, Utilitarianism can never be the sole basis for acting ethically, for it invariably leads to the odious concept of ethical thresholds. Therefore, there must be other bases.

In those societies that strive to be just, they struggle to arrive at and practice a set of principles each of which is just in and of itself. Thus, a person applying for entry is to be judged primarily on his or her individual merits, not on their country of origin, race, religion, etc. Whether a person can support one’s self or requires which kinds of help, affirms primary allegiance to the country to which he or she is applying, and especially to its democratic principles, etc. are potentially legitimate criteria, depending of course on how they are actually implemented. In other words, the criteria for admittance must not be rigged against particular countries or groups unless it can be demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that the members of a particular group such as ISIS are irredeemably dangerous. The burden of proof is thus intentionally set high for he or she who would impose barriers.

Making Connections: The Moral Imperative of Our Times

Thinking and acting systemically is key. Indeed, it is the moral imperative of our times. At a minimum, it requires us to acknowledge that the major schools of ethics in Western societies were formulated when ethics was primarily a matter of rightful conduct between a foreseeable number of individual actors or agents with clearly foreseeable benefits versus disbenefits.

In contrast, thinking and acting systemically means asking among many things, “As best as one can determine, who are all the parties who will benefit as well as be hurt the most by any proposed action?” This in turn requires the ability to see and to acknowledge the intended and unintended consequences of one’s actions. In short, it requires the ability to make important connections before they are crystal clear, let alone certain.

In a world that is interconnected along every conceivable dimension, the ability to foresee and to make important connections is more vital than ever. Indeed, only those who have the ability to make important connections will survive, let alone prosper.

For instance, because we’d all be forced to pay higher prices, a 20 % tariff on Mexican goods is a direct tax on American consumers. The country imposing tariffs thus has as much, if not more, to lose than the country being targeted.

Slowing down and preventing Muslims from entering the country hurts the U.S. in that it alienates Muslims worldwide. Just when the cooperation of Muslims is needed more than ever, there is less incentive to help a government that is viewed as inherently hostile to them. It only furthers the fear that banning Muslims plays directly into the hands of ISIS, which it has. It also encourages long-time allies to rethink their commitments to the U.S.

As Republicans are discovering, as odious as they find the Affordable Care Act, getting rid of it poses severe problems. For one, it threatens to blow up insurance markets, for what will be the size of the remaining pool of people able to afford coverage, and who will they be, both of which are crucial in determining premiums? For another, millions who have had coverage, often for the first time, are threatened with losing it. And of course, there are no viable alternatives on the horizon. The potential political damage to Republicans is thus enormous.

Despite the fact that over 97% of reputable climate scientists worldwide believe on the basis of sound science that humans are primarily responsible for Global Warming, far too many still vehemently deny the connection, and thereby the entire phenomenon. Unfortunately, by the time they finally admit it, it’ll be too late to do anything serious about it.

With the exception of Global Warming, none of the foregoing is automatically or conclusively true. Every one of them is highly contentious, which is generally true of all issues that are important. Indeed, the matter is easily turned on its head: something is important if and only if it raises intense differences.

The Age of Uncertain, World-Changing Connections

Obviously, one’s level of education, political affiliation, ideology, raw intelligence, etc. all play critical roles in determining whether one sees potential interactions. Although it’s tempting to portray conservatives and Republicans as least likely to acknowledge interactions, especially the more complex they are, far too many academics and those with narrow world views are unable to admit them as well. For this reason, it’s false to single out any particular group.

In short, the ability to think expansively is more critical than ever. We are deeply in The Age of Uncertain, World-Changing Connections.

This does not mean that we should take seriously, let alone accept, every proposed connection, least of all those that are the result of conspiracy theorists, the purveyors of Fake News or “alternative facts.” It means that traditional forms of handling and portraying complex issues are no longer adequate. We need both new and old media outlets that can display side by side the opposing arguments and evidence for and against important connections. It’s no longer sufficient to turn to separate sources to get the arguments pro and con for important issues.

Dialectic Reasoning

It’s not that both sides of important issues necessarily need to be equally credible, but that one of the most important ways of determining what’s credible is by viewing the strongest case that can be made for and against any important proposition. The issues we face are too important not to be examined in such a manner.

In short, dialectic reasoning needs to be front and center. It’s the foundation for ethical thinking in a complex, dangerous world.

Blog, Politics, Psychology

News Alert: Psychologists Discover Pathological Pettiness (PP)

Originally published February 10, 2017 on the Huffington Post

Psychologists have discovered a new mental disorder for which there is no known treatment: Pathological Pettiness or PP for short. The condition is manifested by the constant need to respond bitterly to the slightest threats to one’s person. Thus, the numbers of people for and against one are magnified all out of proportion. In short, the person cannot tolerate anything that diminishes his or her sense of self-worth.

The condition is difficult to diagnose and treat because it similar to other well-known disturbances such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The primary difference is that controlled lab experiments reveal that those suffering from PP are able to detect the most minute slights to their person that those suffering from other disorders are able to ignore.

Quarantines have been proposed until one can get a better handle on treating the disease. If unchecked, the fear is that PP will spread uncontrollably and thus infect sizable numbers of the population. If this were to happen, an accompanying disorder would take hold, Alternative Fact Syndrome, the need to make up whatever suits one’s sense of realty. There is also no known treatment for this highly disturbing and infectious disease as well.

Blog, Politics

For And Against Trump: A Bitter Dialectic That Is Literally Tearing Us Apart

Originally published February 7, 2017 on the Huffington Post

We are caught in the throes of the fiercest dialectic imaginable. It not only shows no signs of letting up, but of getting worse everyday. In a word, it’s literally tearing us apart.

Let me state both sides as briefly and as strongly as I can.

For Trump
Those who support President Trump generally feel harassed if not threatened by those who say they are liberals and thereby supposedly tolerate different points of view, but really don’t. At best, they are liberals in name only. Basically, they are hypocrites. They are constantly complaining about everything that doesn’t go their way. They are hysterical whiners who can’t accept the fact that they lost the election fair and square. They are unwilling and unable to give Trump a fair chance. As a result, they are lacking in fundamental fairness. They deserve to be feared, if not loathed altogether. They are incapable of understanding that those of us who voted for Trump did so in spite of his bluster and coarse language, which we often wish he didn’t do and use because it gets in the way of his basic message. We voted for him because of his demonstrated business successes. We took him at his word to Make America Great Again! Who else can drain the swamp in Washington and bring back good paying American jobs? Hillary? No way! The Clintons are interested only in themselves! They cannot be trusted!

Against Trump
Trump’s constant denigration of women, Hispanics, blacks, Muslims, Secretary Clinton, shrill bombastic tone, offensive attitudes, threats against other countries and those who don’t agree with him are cause not to give him a chance. Indeed, he’s already blown it. In short, he fills us liberals with fear and loathing. His early actions against Muslims only confirm our fears. In addition, the threat of war and violence are all-too-real and constant. All of the above are grounds for impeachment. Trump is supremely unfit to be president because of his temperament and lack of qualifications. Indeed, he suffers from serious mental illnesses. His constant shifting back and forth between whatever reality suits him at the moment is strong evidence of psychosis. And, narcissistic personality disorder doesn’t even begin to describe what ails him. Who else tweets at 3am when he or she is most alone and therefore most afraid of being ignored? Who else but a sociopath feels no guilt about stiffing his workers?

Any Way Out?
As they are stated, it’s impossible for the diehard proponents of either side to come together. But then the basic purpose of a dialectic is not for either of the two highly antagonistic positions. It’s for those who can extract a kernel of truth, or understanding, however small, from either side. Thus, even though I am heavily in the Against Trump side of the dialectic, the For Trump side helps me not just to understand but to feel the intense anger of those who voted for Trump have towards a system that has not only ignored them, but humiliated them continually in the worst ways imaginable. They are treated as if they were than nothing more the punch lines of poor jokes.

I blame myself and my fellow Democrats for abandoning our commitment to working people. We certainly don’t have to agree with everything that they say and do, let alone any group, but we do have to understand their pain. Without this, we are truly lost.

Blog, Politics

A Serious Exercise In Damage Control: Protecting Ourselves From The Crisis Prone President

Originally published January 27, 2017 on the Huffington Post

By virtue of his endless stream of hateful tirades, constant campaigning, pettiness, deep character flaws, repeated refusals to share his tax returns, and to separate himself clearly from his countless businesses, President Trump has earned the dubious distinction of being The Crisis Prone President. And, this is only his first week in office! The major question is, “What we can do to protect ourselves from the never-ending crises he’s capable of fomenting?”

Damage Control Mechanisms are generally acknowledged as one of the most important parts of Crisis Management. Nevertheless, a great deal of misunderstanding surrounds them, the prime one being that they exist primarily to contain the damage after a major crisis has occurred. While it’s certainly true that damage containment is one of their main purposes, more importantly, Damage Control Mechanisms basically exist to prevent major crises from occurring in the first place. This is precisely why they must be invented far in advance. It’s also why creating them in the heat of battle is self-defeating.

The classic example is BP’s oil spill in the Gulf. Millions of gallons of crude spewed before the well was finally capped. Sadly, the environment continued to suffer damage long afterwards. The disaster revealed the folly of not having well-tested and maintained Damage Control Mechanisms prior to being allowed to operate in highly sensitive areas of the world.

Given their extreme importance, how do President Trump and his advisors fare with respect to Damage Control? Are they acting in accordance with best principles, or are they instead in violation of them?

Physical Containment is one of the major forms of Damage Control. One creates an actual physical barrier that walls off and thus keeps a crisis such as a massive uncontrolled fire or oil spill from spreading and doing damage to other unaffected parts of an organization, sensitive regions, and even whole societies. In President Trump’s case, his repeated failures to “build a wall” between his far flung business interests and the Presidency is not only in direct violation of the whole idea of Physical Containment, but it actually increases the chances of a major crisis due to direct conflicts of interest. What’s particularly onerous is that the particular type of crisis is already well known. There is thus no excuse for not preparing well in advance.

Another major form of Damage Control is Dilution or Dispersion. In this case, one deliberately takes steps to decrease the concentration of a toxic chemical, or more generally, neutralize a potentially dangerous situation. It also includes Deflecting a crisis onto another part of the environment or party. Trump constantly uses this tactic. He is constantly shifting blame for his own self-created problems (berating the intelligence agencies, treating women and minorities with derision, etc.) onto others such as the “crooked news media.”

One of the more important and positive forms of Damage Control is Openness and Transparency. It preempts a crisis before it takes root. In Trump’s case, he would have to reveal his tax returns, which he adamantly refuses to do, thus adding to the perception that he has serious issues to hide.

Finally, Admitting Mistakes, Accepting Blame, and Responsibility are also critical. They are key in establishing and restoring trust. But then Trump rarely if ever apologizes for anything. And of course, his base doesn’t want him to apologize for that would mean that he’s not the all-powerful superman they need him to be.

In short, the best Damage Control is preventative, proactive in the best sense. It is not reactive, or after the fact.

Against this, what does Trump consistently do? First, he’s heavily (“bigly”) into denial. Instead of acknowledging facts, he constantly makes up whatever suits him, never mind that it conflicts what he just said a moment ago. Denial thus leaves no room for Openness and Transparency, Admitting Mistakes, Accepting Responsibility, etc. He also constantly attacks, bullies, demonizes, insults, mocks, and threatens his enemies real and imagined. He thereby constantly makes crises for himself and others. To protect his overly fragile ego, he uses the most primitive defense mechanisms such as sharply dividing the world into good and bad guys. And, God help you if you’re a bad guy.

In sum, Trump is a living, breathing veritable “swamp” of crises. Our only protection is to engage in pre-emptive Damage Control.

Of course The Constitution is our ultimate safeguard and form of Damage Control. But as always, it’s people who enforce The Constitution. That’s why the women’s marches across America are only a beginning. There need to be mass protests every day. For instance, ordinary citizens who are in serious danger of losing health care need to make their faces and bodies known. They need to besiege the halls of Congress wearing signs, “Without Health Care, I am certain to die! Is that what you want to do to me?”

And yes, the Democratic Party must relearn how to reach out to a broader base with a more inclusive message. It must demonstrate sincerely that it not only cares about the harsh lives of those who voted for Trump, but that it can truly help them.

In short, we have to do everything in our power to Neutralize Trump.

Blog, Media + Politics

Fake News: The Product Of Fake Inquiry

Originally published 12/16/2016 on the Huffington Post

Fake news is due primarily to the serious loss of trust in established institutions. Far too many have abandoned traditional ways of arriving at the “truth.” Since “truth” is fundamental to the issue, let me analyze fake news from a philosophical perspective.

One of the preeminent ways of acquiring valid knowledge is by means of expert consensus (historically known as empiricism). “Truth” is that with which a group of independent, well-qualified experts agree. More generally, it’s the average of independent data, observations, etc. The tighter the agreement between the data, experts, etc., the more that the average is regarded as the “best approximation of the truth.”

For example, the “body of ‘reputable scientists worldwide’” is in strong agreement that human activities are largely responsible for global warming. Thus, that humans are responsible for global warming is essentially settled.

Those who are susceptible to fake news—especially conspiracy theories—generally start with a set of “preconceived truths such as “one can’t trust the biased news media, etc.” These “truths” are so strongly held that they are incontrovertible. One then works backwards to find sources that unequivocally support one’s predetermined views. Instead of using independent journalists who are experts in seeking out facts and counter checking them meticulously, one gravitates—indeed, seeks out— instead towards groups of partisan advocates, i.e., “favored experts.”

Well-known cognitive biases are paramount in both forming and in confirming one’s favored beliefs. Confirmation bias—deliberately searching out those sources that support one’s favored conclusions—is predominant. So is cognitive closure. One’s preferred truths are impervious to modification.

With the growth of social media, one cannot counter fake news merely by presenting scientific evidence and engaging in reasoned argument. Scientific evidence and reasoned arguments are generally rejected. Instead, one needs friendly, trusted faces that can embed scientific evidence in compelling stories.

If social media were truly responsible, it would deliberately develop sites that were devoted to countering fake news. It would also hire editors to ferret out fake news. In addition, it would employ reputable scholars to test what’s most effective in countering fake news.

We’re naïve if we think that “scientific facts” alone will counter fake news. It wouldn’t exist if it didn’t fulfill deep emotional needs.

To respond to such needs, we need to bring Jon Stewart out of retirement to host a new show along the lines of Fake News Exposes! Stephen Colbert is expert enough to take on the job as well!

In the end, fake news is anything but a joke.

Blog, Crisis Management, Politics

The Crisis Prone Presidency

Originally published 12/15/16 of the Huffington Post

Those of us who study corporate crises distinguish between Crisis Prone versus Crisis Prepared individuals and organizations. Crisis Prone individuals and organizations put their primary energies into all kinds of faulty rationalizations that allow them to persist in the false belief that they will never have a crisis: “we’re too big and powerful to have major crises;” “crises only happen to others;” “if a crisis happens, someone will come to our rescue,” “there’s no need to prepare for what’ll never happen.” They are prime cases of denial writ large.

In sharp contrast, Crisis Prepared individuals are constantly probing themselves and their organizations for dangerous rationalizations that keep them from preparing for worst-case scenarios. They accept that all crises are preceded by a steady stream of early warning signals that show that a major crisis is highly likely. As a result, they do all they can to put in place specific procedures that will pick up early warning signals. In this way, they hopefully head off major crises before they actually happen, the best form of Crisis Management. Nonetheless, since even with the best of preparations crises still occur, they constantly work to improve and maintain Damage Containment mechanisms. They know that the worst time to set up Damage Containment is during the heat of actual crises. As a result, they are absolutely ruthless in rooting dangerous rationalizations that prevent them from being Crisis Prepared.

My colleagues and I have shown that Crisis Prepared organizations experience significantly fewer crises, are substantially more profitable, have fewer lawsuits and injuries, and lose fewer days in resuming operations than Crisis Prone Organizations. In short, Proactive Crisis Management is not only the right ethical thing to do, but it’s good for business.

Against this backdrop, President Elect Trump fares extremely poorly. In failing to set up a true blind trust, he’s setting himself up for major political conflicts of interest. From the standpoint of Crisis Management, a blind trust is one of the major forms of Damage Containment for potential financial and personal crises. It helps ensure that one’s political office will not be used for financial gain. But then, in order to set up a blind trust, President Elect Trump would have to own up to the very real possibilities of major conflicts of interest. In a word, he would have to stop engaging in denial, which given his personality is one of the most difficult things for him to do.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Too many of his cabinet appointments have already set off hailstorms of protest. They are sure to be embroiled in crises for years.

Trump’s constant use of Twitter is nothing but sorry form of preemptive Damage Control. Instead of heading off crises, it only exacerbates them. So do all his preposterous claims, for instance that he actually won the popular vote because of all the illegal votes that were cast for Hillary.

I expect Trump to stumble from one crisis to others again and again. (China?) Of course, none of this really matters to his base. If anything, they want him to create major crises in order to “drain the Washington swamp.” But what happens if all his promises to bring back jobs and help the middle class only end up helping him and his business cronies? Do we really expect the case of Carrier to be easily replicated?

Are we prepared to confront the crisis when so many downtrodden workers realized that they have been royally betrayed?