A site on the future of psychology

A Counter Wedge?

            Although I am ardent supporter of Barrack Obama and will gladly vote for him in the next election, it is nonetheless the case that he has (so far) failed to be the great uniter that so many of us hoped he would be. In my estimation, perhaps his greatest failing has been that he has not been able to lead the United States toward a compelling vision of the future. Indeed, so troubling has been the absence of such a vision that many moderate, democratic leaning individuals, like Tom Friedman, have started making explicit calls for the emergence of an independent party with a vision to move us beyond the polarized entangled mass of dysfunction that is our current government toward a long term plan that ensures that America will thrive in the future.

             Why has Obama failed to develop a unified vision that can lead us toward the future? In my opinion, he has failed to recognize the simple fact that it is impossible to unify fundamentally incompatible visions of reality. Obama has an incredible ability to grasp complicated issues and arrive at reasonable conclusions, and if all parties he was leading shared the same foundational knowledge-value structure, he would be the right man for the job. But he is so dispositionally inclined toward integration and compromise that he has been slow to draw the line in the sand and marginalize positions known to be incorrect. This is a central issue because there exists in the United States of America a large portion of the population that has embraced a justification system that is simply incompatible with mainstream, scientific knowledge. I am, of course, talking about the social conservative wing of the Republican Party that embraces religious fundamentalism and a young earth creationist version of reality.  

             I argue in the final chapter of my book that “there exists a great and problematic divide” (p. 265) between the domains of modern academic knowledge and anti-intellectual religious fundamentalism, and that this divide must be remedied if we are to disentangle the current political morass and build a pathway of America’s future on a shared foundation. An excellent article in today’s New York Times, The Evangelical Rejection of Reason, makes precisely the point I do in the book. Deep Christian faith and spirituality need not be disconnected from modern scientific knowledge. However, literal religious fundamentalism, which is “defined by a simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most of the Republican candidates have embraced”, is in fact diametrically opposed to scientific understanding writ large.

             In the mid 1990s, Philip Johnson spearheaded “the Wedge”, which attempted to position the construct of Intelligent Design in between Young Earth Creationism and secular scientific knowledge, in a way that aligned the religious against the secular. The wedge was a very successful strategy. The Times op-ed piece by Giberson and Stevens points the way to a counter wedge. Secular individuals like myself can be broadly aligned with the Evangelicalism laid out by the authors (and shared by many of my friends). Together, we must join forces and cure America of the “intellectual disaster” that is religious fundamentalism.


Comments on: "A Counter Wedge?" (15)

  1. Marlene Henriques said:

    Gregg – A nice blog, and I wholeheartedly agree with your first posting. However, the idea of a third party is a frightening one in that it would change our whole political process. There have been several other spokespersons who also feel this way.

    Keep up the good work. The site is very appealing and user friendly for those of us not “into technology.”

  2. jasonbessey said:

    Hi Marlene,

    There actually are third parties already, but none of them have any chance of winning, (except at the local level and occassionally at the state level), because of our winner-take-all electoral system. We’d have to go to a proportional representation system for third parties to actually get anywhere…and that’s not going to happen, at least any time soon.

    On a positive note, third parties do occasionally bring new ideas into the process that at first are too radical for the major parties, but eventually get absorded into the major parties. (And I think most third parties — at least at the leadership level — understand that this is their function.)


  3. jasonbessey said:

    Hi Gregg,

    Nice post. And an excellent article from the NY Times. Interestingly, I thought there was an article in the NY Time from the previous day that was excellent, as well, from Harvard history professor, Jill Lepore: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/opinion/sunday/heres-the-guy-who-invented-populism.html

    In response to the content of your article, (and once again, expressing my Georgist-leanings), one belief held in common between those who (scientifically) believe that the earth came about through evolutionary processes and those who are “creationists”:

    …the earth, (and all its resources), was NOT made by human beings, yet we all need it to live and make a living.

    Indeed, the common ownership of land was central to the economic system under Mosaic law. Leviticus 25:23 states, “The land shall not be bought and sold into perpetuity. For the land is mine, saith the Lord. You are all but sojourners here”.

    An interesting website on this perspective can be found at http://www.landreform.org/map.htm

    In regards to your concerns about divides that must be remedied, George’s thought has, (and still does), currently done just that. George’s “ardent supporters” have included many people from across multiple divides, including liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, libertarians and greens, labor and entrepeneurs, free-marketers and socialists, secularists and the religious.

    I’ve personally spoken with Tea Partiers who admire George. I’ve been informed by Georgists in New York who’ve gone to the Occupy Wall St. protests and that they have found support there, as well.

    The “common ground” amongst these various divides is quite literally “the common ground”. 🙂

    — Jason

    • Gregg Henriques said:

      As always, you offer an interesting and deep perspective. What are your thoughts about the pragmatics and practical reality? The current world is set up so differently than what you are proposing, would it even be conceivable that things would change? That is not to say you shouldn’t advance the argument, only that I am wondering about how change might happen. For example, from my own vantage point, being open to deep religious perspectives, but very concerned about literal religious fundamentalism, it is conceivable (though highly unlikely) that a movement around that idea could emerge. Could a “1 tax” candidate emerge, even as a third party?


  4. jasonbessey said:

    Hi Gregg,

    Thank-you for your comments.

    You stated that, “the current world is set up so differently than what you are proposing, would it even be conceivable that things would change?” I have to say, this is an interesting comment coming from a guy who offers a proposal to radically reshape the current world of psychology!” 🙂 Considering that the “current world” of psychology “is set up so differently than what you are proposing, would it even be conceivable that things would change”? Of course, you would correctly say “yes”, it is conceivable that things would change…and you would be correct. For as we both know, change always begins with an idea…even if that means such an idea comes to fruition long after we’re gone.

    But there is the issue of “pragmatics and practical reality”. For one, an idea actually has to “get out there”. It would be nice to see people in academia “rediscover” George, especially in psychology and the social sciences. I suspect people from a wide range of specialities would find George’s thought useful in their own particular intellectual areas.

    I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock in party politics, including third parties. Third parties are pretty ineffective, (though they can “get an idea out there” to some small degree). The two major parties are run from “the top-down” with their own entrenched interests, so I think substantative change coming from either one of them is essentially a contradiction of terms…at least at the federal level.

    But then there’s the saying, “Think Globally, Act Locally”. People in their own local communities could go to a “split-rate” property tax system which means a lower tax rate on the buildings & improvements than on the “spatial-location value” of the land. Over time, such a community could gradually shift over to a pure land value tax. (Altoona, Pennsylvania recently became the first community in the country to go to a LVT system). States could simultaneously, and gradually, shift taxation off of productivity.

    However, the problem with this is that most state constitutions do not allow for different tax rates on real estate, (I think Pennsylvania is the only state that can). Thus, state constitutions would have to change, which is no small potatoes!

    Which brings us back to the issue of “getting an idea out there”.

    So basically there are “pragmatic and practical” ways to go about this…but it would involve a lot of hard work from lots of folks in a coordinated way. But I guess that’s what “useful mass movements” are made of, eh?

    On a final note, I think Henry George’s words in his concluding chapter of “Social Problems” seems quite relevant to your post:

    “Social reform is not to be secured by noise and shouting; by complaints and denunciation; by the formation of parties, or the making of revolutions; but by the awakening of thought and the progress of ideas. Until there be correct thought, there cannot be right action; and when there is correct thought, right action will follow. Power is always in the hands of the masses of men. What oppresses the masses is their own ignorance, their own short-sighted selfishness.” http://schalkenbach.org/library/henry-george/social-problems/sp22.html

    If only more people would take those words to heart these days!


    • Gregg Henriques said:

      Thanks. Perhaps it is because I am confronting the real and pragmatic problem of moving from the idea phase to an implementation phase that it was on my mind, and so I asked the question. Interesting thoughts…


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  6. Hi Gregg,

    There are some interesting and informative posts on the blog. I’ve enjoyed it.

    While I agree with you that religious fundamentalism is an intellectual disaster, presenting religious fundamentalism as the cause of Obama’s failings is quite a stretch. For starters, let’s not forget that Obama himself is a firm believer in ancient mysticism. Obama earlier this year: “When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and our people, and when I go to bed at night, I wait on the Lord and I ask him to forgive me my sins and to look after my family and to make me an instrument of the Lord.” Not reassuring for many of us who prefer logic and reason to faith and mysticism.
    You say: But he is so dispositionally inclined toward integration and compromise that he has been slow to draw the line in the sand and marginalize positions known to be incorrect. This is a central issue because there exists in the United States of America a large portion of the population that has embraced a justification system that is simply incompatible with mainstream, scientific knowledge. I am, of course, talking about the social conservative wing of the Republican Party that embraces religious fundamentalism and a young earth creationist version of reality.

    Examples? I’d like to see at least one specific case where Obama compromised when he had the opportunity to marginalized a position known to be incorrect. When has the young earth creationist version of reality come into play with political compromise during the Obama administration? I’m not arguing this hasn’t occurred, but I can’t think of any examples.

    Is it possible that Obama and his supporters hold positions that are not intellectually sound? Might some of those positions be responsible for his woes?

    Obama is a strong advocate of perpetual, illegal, undeclared wars. He is partially responsible for (and a strong advocate of) unrestrained spending that’s dramatically increased our national debt by *trillions* of dollars in his 3 years in office. He has ordered the extrajudicial killing of US citizens without charges or due process. He has kept the American gulag up and running in Guantanamo. He has “bailed out” corporate friends with billions in taxpayer dollars. He has escalated the war on drugs. He’s on pace to deport more immigrants in one term than Bush did in two, tearing apart families across the country. He opposes gay marriage. Unemployment has risen during his term, despite his massive unproven “stimulus” spending.
    Those of us who prefer logic and facts over hero-worship and wishful thinking saw these programs as doomed to failure long ago. It’s worth considering that these positions – nearly all of which represent a continuation of or escalation of failed Bush policies – might be more responsible for Obama’s problems than the creationists.

    But there is another more fundamental (pardon the pun) point: Gregg asks: Why has Obama failed to develop a unified vision that can lead us toward the future? and In my estimation, perhaps his greatest failing has been that he has not been able to lead the United States toward a compelling vision of the future.
    A larger question: is it good or necessary for a president to develop a unified vision to lead us to the future? Are we sheep in need of shepherd? Can we not all live as individuals following our own vision for the future? Must we follow a unified vision 5 year plan laid out by a Dear Leader figure?

    Top down central planning is a failed system of government. This is not an opinion. It is a fact. Any research will show the success of bottom-up free societies vs. top-down centrally planned societies. The “entanglement” of our government is a feature, not a bug. The system is not designed for one man to develop a unified vision of the future for all to follow. It is designed to prevent just that. And if you happen to like the unified vision of the future that you imagine Obama offers, I’m guessing there might be someone in office someday soon who’s vision you might not enjoy quite as much.
    There is a good deal of policy in the Democratic party that requires a more intellectually honest evaluation. Both sides of our one party system engage in belief in unproven and illogical systems. I hardly think the religious right is alone in their commitment to inflexible belief systems that are harmful to the rest of us. In fact, I believe that the support of perpetual war and failed economic policies is far more harmful to the world than rejecting science in favor of a creationism.
    Freedom to have an individual vision brings out the best in people. Rather than one man leading millions with his own vision, the superior and moral system allows the millions to follow their own vision of the future.



    • jasonbessey said:

      Sorry Gregg, but I think I’m pretty much gonna have to go with Matt on this one!

      What’s implied in your post is that change is needed “within” the context of our existing social-political-economic system.

      Consider the possibility that our existing social-political-economic system itself is what needs to be changed.


      • Gregg Henriques said:

        I open to change that could come from the outside.

        I certainly agree with you that creationists are not the root of all of Obama’s problems. Indeed, it is politically toxic to attack the creationists in the short term, which is why it is an issue that is left alone. But, in the long term, the culture wars represent one of the foundational fragmentations that keep our society from functioning effectively as a whole. And the point of the post was that if Obama had the kind of vision I hoped he would have, he would have been working toward a counter wedge. Matt, I appreciate the passion you have for your views. As you know, we simply have fundamental disagreements about the nature and role of the government in modern society. I also disagree with the implication that following a visionary leader inevitably results in an Orwellian-North Korean, Dear Leader State. Indeed, the United States was founded in large part by rallying around a visionary leader, George Washington.

        My bottom line is voiced at the end of my book. Can we construct societies that tend to enhance dignity and well-being with integrity? I am all for any effective answers to that question.


  7. jasonbessey said:

    Gregg: Can we construct societies that tend to enhance dignity and well-being with integrity? I am all for any effective answers to that question.

    Jason: I would answer your question, “Yes”. As human beings, we are certainly capable of that. But for me, an important follow-up question is, “But from the “top-down” or from the bottom-up”? And I would answer my self-posed question as “from the bottom-up” — that is really the only way such a society can be authentically “constructed”.(or perhaps, “spontaneously ordered”?)

    First and foremost, people have to actually value things like “dignity”, “well-being”, and “integrity” and make those values manifest through their actions towards others.

  8. I think it is possible to have a society with dignity, well-being and integrity. It is important that we take an honest look at what our government is doing both at home and abroad. Actions speak louder than words. A strong message is sent about US values (to citizens and the world alike) with every assassination, bombing and military action. The same goes for our criminal justice system, trade barriers, debt and support of abusive governments around the world. A commitment to peace and free trade would do more to solve our problems than any invasion or predator strike. So long as our government is committed to the use of force, threats, torture, assassinations, and generally telling everyone how to live, we will never have dignity, well-being and integrity in society. The way the left ignores the Obama administration’s human rights and civil liberty abuses is similar to the creationists ignoring scientific fact. Obama is an enemy of individual liberty and civil rights. The facts are there for any open minded person to see. How can we expect dignity in a society when government solves it’s problems with violence and reckless debt?

    • jasonbessey said:

      Hi Matt,

      There is much that I agree with in your comment. I certainly share your sentiments about abusive government.

      However, I believe that you are falling into an all-too-common false dichotomy, at least implicitly.

      Often times, (typically from “the right”, “conservatives”, and “libertarians”), we hear of attacks against “big government”. And this is a frustration that I share.

      On the other hand, (typically from “the left”, “modern liberals”, and “progressives”) we hear of attacks against “big business”. And I share this frustration, as well.

      But my larger frustration is when these two targets of attack, (which these days could be framed as “The State vs. The Corporation”), are dichotomized. What I’m getting at, is that “big government” and “big business” are not opposing tendencies, but the flip-side of the same coin. They are two mutually reinforcing institutions. They are not opposed to each other — indeed, you can’t have one without the other! They, in a manner of speaking, “feed off each other”..

      In our time, this “coin” is manifested in “The Corporate State”. About a century ago, it was “The Industrial State”. Before that, “The Mercantilist State”. Before that, “The Feudalist State”. Before that, “The Slave State”.

      By focusing on one “side of the coin” and not the other, (while assuming that one side represents the whole “coin”), the larger picture is not only missed, but utterly distorted. As a consequence, we mis-diagnose,our social, political, and economic woes, and thus we never manage to find the appropriate solutions.

      And as a further consequence, of such a false dichotomy, the forces of power and privilege march on in this world and grow ever-stronger, year after year, generation after generation, century after century. This false-dichotomy serves their interests better than anything else. For as Julius Caesar once said…

      “…Divide and Conquer”.

      Have a good one,

      P.S. Perhaps you might enjoy (what I think) is a very cool essay by a guy named Kevin Carson called, “The Subsidy of History” http://www.thefreemanonline.org/featured/the-subsidy-of-history/
      (I wouldn’t mind reading Gregg’s thoughts on that essay, either!)

  9. Jason,

    No doubt that our form of government contains a large dose of corporatism. Government and corporations are indeed two sides of the same coin. Total agreement there. I direct my criticism at government because they are the entity that is supposed to treat everyone the same under the law. I admire businesses that do not engage in lobbying government for protection and favors. But it’s hard to blame them when they accept those favors. Is a struggling business supposed to pass on a tax break or subsidy when its competitors are accepting them? Tough call when you have a family to feed.

    I do not take the side of corporations. Corporations fear free markets more than nearly anything else. I am for absolute free markets (including labor, i.e. unrestricted immigration). Foreigners do not want to hear Bush and Obama rattle on about freedom. They want access to our markets. That is how we can change the world. Free trade. Nations that trade are far less likely to go to war. Yet our government restricts trade (in part because of the state’s love for war). Sure, the sugar industry asks for that protection, and we all pay far more for sugar because of it (one of the many hidden taxes in our corrupt corporatist system). But they government should say “no”. Not the corporation.

  10. Great article. I’ve read some Carson in the past. Definitely one of the more unique voices out there. I hope to have more time to comment later.

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