The Democrats: What Happened to Equality?

By Wade Lee Hudson

Books and articles often show me new angles, offer new information, or deepen my perspective. Rarely do they change my thinking in a major way. Elizabeth S. Anderson’s 1999 tour de force “What is the Point of Equality?” is an exception. I’m still absorbing the impact of her passionate manifesto. No wonder colleagues have called that 50-page article “path breaking” and The New Yorker described her as “The Philosopher Redefining Equality.”

Anderson wants to end oppression by creating communities “in which people stand in relations of equality” to one another. Her thinking is rooted in numerous grassroots egalitarian movements, such as the civil rights, womens’, and disability rights movements.

Unfortunately, however, most grassroots political movements today don’t clearly reflect those social values. Rather, they focus on material reality. And, as indicated by what they said at the September 2019 debate, neither have the Democratic candidates for President absorbed her insights.

In the following review, which includes extensive excerpts, I place in bold her language that prompted new insights for me, and place in italics points that strengthened my convictions. 


As Anderson sees it: 

Recent egalitarian writing has come to be dominated by the view that the fundamental aim of equality is to compensate people for undeserved bad luck—being born with poor native endowments, bad parents, and disagreeable personalities, suffering from accidents and illness, and so forth…. This “equality of fortune” perspective [or “luck egalitarianism”] is essentially a “starting-gate theory”: as long as people enjoy fair shares at the start of life, it does not much concern itself with the suffering and subjection generated by people’s voluntary agreements in free markets…. 

[Their] writing…seems strangely detached from existing egalitarian political movements…[that have fought for] the freedom to appear in public as who they are, without shame, [and] campaigned against demeaning stereotypes. 


 National Popular Vote interstate compact

they could award them to the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide, regardless of the state outcome. That’s the elegant approach of the National Popular Vote interstate compact, which achieves a popular vote not by abolishing the College but by using it as the framers designed it — as a state-based institution. So far 15 states and the District of Columbia, with 196 electoral votes among them, have joined the compact, promising to award their electors to the national vote-winner. The compact goes into effect once it is joined by states representing 270 electoral votes — the bare majority needed to become president — thus guaranteeing the White House to the candidate who won the most votes.

Old Brain, New Brain, Cross-Partisan Dialog

By Penn Garvin, Lois Passi, Wade Lee Hudson

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

How to Listen:

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

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

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

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

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


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

•Old and New Brain:

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


Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election

Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election
By Wade Lee Hudson

Several Democratic candidates and some pundits have injected promising spiritual commentary into the 2020 presidential primary campaign. Some have even gone beyond discussion of public policy to address how ordinary Americans conduct their daily lives. Trump’s example has certainly opened the door for this conversation. However, to the best of my knowledge, none of those candidates and pundits have thus far affirmed the need for an explicit, intentional commitment to mutual support for self-improvement.

The most popular Google search term during the second round of debates was “Marianne Williamson.” This surge of interest in the New Age author was prompted by her statement:

This is part of the dark underbelly of American society: the racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.

We’ve never dealt with a figure like this in American history before. This man, our president, is not just a politician; he’s a phenomenon. And an insider political game will not be able to defeat it.… The only thing that will defeat him is if we have a phenomenon of equal force, and that phenomenon is a moral uprising of the American people.

This statement inspired New York Times columnist David Brooks to post an op-ed titled “Marianne Williamson Knows How to Beat Trump.” Prior to quoting Williamson’s statement, he wrote, “It is no accident that the Democratic candidate with the best grasp of this election is the one running a spiritual crusade, not an economic redistribution effort. Many of her ideas are wackadoodle, but Marianne Williamson is right about this.” He also addressed personal, social, and cultural issues:

None of us want congenital liars in our homes or our workplaces…. Human difference makes life richer and more interesting. We treasure members of all races and faiths for what they bring to the mosaic…. We want to be around people with good hearts, who feel for those who are suffering, who are faithful friends, whose daily lives are marked by kindness.

And referring to Trump’s mean-spirited values, he concluded, “You can’t beat a values revolution with a policy proposal.” Rather, he echoed Williamson’s call how a “moral uprising” with his call for “an uprising of decency.”

On the Aug 2 Newshour, Brooks pursued the same argument: 

And so they need to talk about values, and they need to tie it to policies, but say, I’m for kindness, I’m for diversity, I’m for honesty. And the only person who seems to get that is Marianne Williamson, and because she’s not just trying to run a purely economic campaign. She at least gets it…. I think what she says about that and what she says in the debates was exactly right.

On the program, Mark Shields replied:

I do differ from David. I think there is a strong spiritual, almost religious chord to the Democratic story. I mean, there is no abolitionist movement in this country without religion. There is no anti-war movement without religion in its ranks. There is no civil rights movement…. Listen to Elizabeth Warren’s speech at the PUSH conference. It was highly religious. It was on Matthew 23, and it was quite spiritual. 

However, Warren’s appeal to religion is rooted in the Social Gospel, which has been a Protestant movement that applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially economic injustice. This heavy focus on economics reinforces the materialism that Brooks criticizes. In fact, as summarized in’s piece, “Is it me or is Marianne Williamson making a lot of sense?” Williamson’s focus is also political and economic, not personal and cultural issues that deal with daily life. It seems Brooks is trying to co-opt Williamson into his advocacy for a cultural revolution (which stops short of calling for deep personal transformation). 

Pete Buttegieg’s religion also is rooted in the materialistic Social Gospel. None of the 27 issues discussed on his website address personal or spiritual change. In town halls and interviews, he does discuss his spirituality. He told Father Edward Beck that he believes “Scripture is about protecting the stranger, and the prisoner, and the poor person, and that idea of welcome. That’s what I get in the Gospel when I’m in church.” Concerning his own spiritual development, he talked about “finding the humility to realize that there were forms of truth that I was not going to be accessing through reason [which] kind of prompted me to look for more..” And he appreciates how “ritual organized prayer makes sense because it is a way to tune my own heart to what is right.” However, he also does not discuss the need for self-improvement.

The exception to this pattern is Cory Booker. In “Can I Get a Hug?” Jonathan Van Meter quotes Booker as saying “I think we’re becoming a society where people, especially men, can’t be vulnerable. I don’t hide my emotions. I just don’t,” and reports:

He talks about love and kindness and compassion and empathy all the time. He calls America “a physical manifestation of a larger conspiracy of love.” …In a potentially vast field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, [he] stands out for having said: “I love you, Donald Trump,” because, well, that’s what Jesus would do…. My faith tradition is love your enemies. It’s not complicated for me, if I aspire to be who I say I am. I am a Christian American. Literally written in the ideals of my faith is to love those who hate you.” … He noted he had just come from a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting where he had lifted a line from his stump speech: “Before you tell me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people.”

Booker’s fluency with faith isn’t restricted to Christianity. His Facebook feed includes mentions of the Buddha, he referenced the Hindu god Shiva in a recent interview, and at Oxford in the 1990s he chaired the L’Chaim Society…. An image of Mahatma Gandhi [is[ one of the few adornments on his office walls. “I’ve studied Torah for years. Hinduism I’ve studied a lot. Islam, I’ve studied some, and I’ve been enriched by my study. But, for me, the values of my life are guided by my belief in the Bible and in Jesus.”

In “Cory Booker could be a candidate for the ‘religious left,” the Religion News Service reported that Booker says that every morning he prays on his knees and then meditates. Republican Sen. John Thune is reportedly a member of his Bible study (along with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand). And in ‘I’m calling for a revival of grace in this country’ the same news service quotes Booker:

Faith without works is dead…. I imagine God has a place in heaven for…people that don’t believe in God but live every day in accordance to the precepts that I try to live up to…. I’m calling for a revival of grace in this country. I speak very passionately for the need to love each other. I used this line in a hearing just now: “Patriotism is love of country, and you can’t love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women.”

In his closing speech at the second debate, Booker said:

We know who Donald Trump is, but in this election, the question is who are we as a people?  We have serious problems in America. We have deep wounds and seriously deeply rooted challenges. We desperately need to heal as a nation and move forward. Because we know in this country that our fates are united, that we have a common destiny. The call of this election is the call to unite in common cause and common purpose.

The Booker campaign website reports that while in college he worked as a peer crisis counselor and after graduating from law school he moved into a low-income neighborhood, where he still lives, and “teamed up with the other tenants to take on a slumlord accused of intentional neglect of the property and won.” The site declares:

  • The lines that divide us are nowhere near as strong as the ties that bind us.
  • Our movement [aims] to unite people and build a more fair and just country.
  • Bringing people together to do things that others thought were impossible. 
  • He believes that when we join together and work together, we will rise together.
  • The answer to our common pain is to reignite our sense of common purpose to build a more fair and just nation for everyone. 

Those statements at the debate and on the website do not explicitly affirm his spiritual convictions, but they do imply them. Together with his affirmations on the campaign trail, they make him an authentic voice for personal and spiritual growth that involves honest self-examination and a commitment to self-improvement. He’s not perfect and no savior, but a promising development nevertheless.

The Democratic Primary: A Comment

The question is not whether to pursue big, structural reforms. The question is whether to focus on big, structural reforms that the American people support now. There are many such reforms. Medicare for All is not one of them, as revealed by good polls.

Hardly anyone talks about one possible scenario. A “public option” attracts many people to switch away from their private insurance. Then, support for a complete transition to Medicare for All might be much stronger.

–Wade Lee Hudson

The Systemopedia’s Principles (7/28/19 Draft)

Following is the latest draft of the Systemopedia’s core Principles. I want this statement of principles to be as brief as possible, while also including essential points. Your feedback is welcome.




The Systemopedia is based on these principles:

— Our institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals are woven together into a global, self-perpetuating social system, “the System.” Everything is connected.  

— The System’s primary purpose is to encourage everyone to climb social ladders, look down on those below, and look up to those above. 

— The System teaches individuals, organizations, and nations to dominate or submit — by accumulating status, wealth, and/or power at the expense of others. It cultivates envy, resentment and disrespect, and undermines self-empowerment and mutual support.

— Individuals reinforce the System when they are excessively selfish, materialistic, domineering, individualistic, and/or competitive.

— Transforming the System will involve establishing a new purpose of our global society, such as: to serve the common good of all humanity, the environment, and life itself.

— Massive, nonviolent, grassroots movements focused on achievable objectives can help achieve that goal. 

— Face-to-face communities whose members set aside time to support each other with unlearning oppressive conditioning and nurturing self-improvement can help grow those movements.

— Improving national policies is critical. With healthy patriotism, each nation can focus on its own interests while cooperating with other nations to help each other do the same. 

— Transformation in one country alone is difficult if not impossible. “Americans for Humanity” offers an example of how to move toward global transformation.

— We can respect legitimate authority, honor our highest ideals and best traditions, recognize everyone’s dignity and humanity, and learn how to more profoundly:

       — respect ourselves and each other;

       — oppose efforts to dominate others due to one of their identities;

       — nurture partnerships;

       — appreciate the awesome beauty of the Creation and the power of the Creator, and;

       — cultivate humility and acknowledge mistakes.

— When the government has created or reinforced social, racial, or economic injustice, we can use the government to reverse those actions and establish fairness.

— We can avoid scapegoating and demonizing. No one element controls the System. We are all responsible.

— With evolutionary revolution, we can build on the best qualities of the current system and eventually transform it — that is, implement structural reforms that change its appearance and character.

— Reforms undertaken within the framework of a clear commitment to principles such as these can contribute to long-lasting systemic transformation, but work that is only focused on the compassionate reform of one element of the System can also be helpful. 


Once Again, the System Wins and the Democrats Lose

By Wade Lee Hudson

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

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

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

Originally posted here.

“Humility and Rationality”

Humility and Rationality
By Wade Lee Hudson

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

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

Kahneman argues that humans

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

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

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