The way democracy is designed today, coalitions are required to pass legislation, which creates strange bedfellows between interest groups. There's no real reason that civil rights and pro-environmental legislation should go together. Or consider the big tent parties of the Democratic and Republican parties: while there are some core policy directions—such as the Democratic party being more in favor of policies that benefit the poor—for the most part, the party platforms are a patchwork of positions that require rhetorical stretches to unify.
Is it possible to construct a politics that doesn't require alliances? Can the right legislation pass on its own merits? As it currently stands, each interest group has to yield ground in order to maintain inclusion in the whole, so much so that democracy means nobody ever gets what they really want.
The middle-class understanding of wealth might actually be more positive than the attitude wealthy people have for themselves. The wealthy know that their wealth is not the product of hard work or talent, but of connections and opportunism. Those in the middle-class are stuck there because they are unaware of the dirty deeds necessary to get further.
The wealthy will always vote in their best interest. But since they are small, they need the inadvertent support of a middle-class that votes against their self-interest, otherwise they would have no power.
Even though we can't ultimately know what is happening inside the heads of other animals—and there's some who argue we can't even really know what is happening inside the minds of fellow humans—we can at least make some probabilistic guesses as to what animal cognition is like. Animals likely share our perception of physics. They must have a sense of solids. They must understand the Earth as "ground" that exists below their bodies. They must have a sense of time passing and of cause and effect. Predators must at least share the same sense of time with us, since they must anticipate the moves of prey. Deer react to the sight of predators by throwing their bodies towards safety, anticipating relief. Animals see colors, they feel the brush of wind, and they hear birds sing. They might even know that those songs are coming from birds, and because birds are not harmful, the sound is somewhere between soothing to non-threatening.
By recognizing our shared cognitive world with animals, we can bypass difficult questions like whether animals feel. Since so much of human consciousness has to do with things outside of emotions and self-awareness, it may not be necessary to understand whether those things exist for other animals for us to extend the circle of empathy.
Silicon Valley pushes the work-life harmony angle, persuading workers that they can "have it all." In every other industry, there is a tacit understanding that you are ultimately trading your time for money so you can buy the other things in life that are important. In some sectors, like Wall Street or Oil and Gas, there's an open acknowledgment that you are selling your soul for the sake of being a Master of the Universe. For the technocrats of California, there is no trade-off. One can be a Master of the Universe while creatively expressing oneself at work while affecting people's lives. Valley corporations have the three Ps covered: passion, purpose, and pay. Do what you love, help others, and profit handsomely.
Because of this, there is a palpable lack of cynicism while walking through the gourmet cafeterias of Zynga or Facebook. For a swath of workers, concentrated in one geographic region, utopia is already here.
A commonly mentioned reason for wanting to colonize another planet is to leave the Earth before we destroy it. A corollary reason could be to leave before evolution changes who we are. The Ancient Greeks, over the span of three generations built an academic body of thought out of thin air. But what followed the School of Athens was a relative intellectual darkness, which points to the possibility that there could be positive (and negative) attributes about us today that could disappear. Our thirst for interplanetary or interstellar travel could be evolved out, and then we would, as a species lose this chance forever. We are on a collective march towards peace, and IQ levels appear to be increasing, but if a dumb, war-like gene proliferated, it could take over the world like a virus. While humans could roam the earth for thousands or millions of years, our humanity—or at least the humanity that we cherish today—could be destroyed before we have a chance to preserve it somewhere else.
The idea that we are all living in a simulation, as presented in The Matrix, is meant to be a metaphor for having inauthentic lives as unwitting cogs in someone else's machine. But such simulations may not be new. According to Dawkins's allusions in The Selfish Gene, human evolution can be seen as a product of an evolutionary war between bacteria. Or more directly, we are part of a simulation that is serving our genes. We don't know what batteries we're powering, and what devil we are actually serving. So the question from The Matrix is not about whether we are in a simulation, but which of the myriad larger games operate contrary to the simulation that is the human experience. It's only sad for Neo, the protagonist in The Matrix, because he is a wage slave. Machines created these stultifying positions to keep humans busy while powering batteries to support the machines. The fact that some agent is limiting the free range of human expression for their own selfish purpose is what drives the revolutionary impulse.
If we can find such great games, and discover that they lead to our unhappiness, we should subvert them. Perhaps the revolution is already here, as technologies like The Pill attempt to subvert the plans that our genes have for us.
Maturity is about respecting consequence. When teenagers learn that words hurt people, or that driving drunk is dangerous, they've learned something about cause and effect. But maturity is also about disregarding consequence. Adults face mind-boggling decisions about committing to marriage, having children, and buying a house, and so it takes maturity to ignore all the fears of the potentially traumatizing consequences of those decisions, and proceed anyways.
The beginning of storytelling is the beginning of when words developed a life of their own. Originally, words were uttered for relational or informational notification such as, "Look out a snake!" or "I love you." In stories, words transcend space and time. A stream of storied text is like a magic spell that delivers blasts of pleasure when uttered. A story doesn't have to point to something happening here and now, and therefore it has a life of its own.
It's likely that the first shamans and druids were originally storytellers. Religion is all about the toll-free bridge between rhetoric and the soul. Sin is a word, which becomes a thought, which becomes one's damnation. The priest utters some words, perhaps even unintelligible words in Latin or glossolalia, which then lift one's spirits. It happens so automatically that we take for granted that a stranger can broadcast some words to a crowd and have it affect everybody's identities.
So, first it was the story, then came religion, and now it's self-help. The difference between religion and self-help is that the latter spells out the mechanics of the link between rhetoric and the soul. The power of positive thinking, or the laws of attraction, or Dianetics, all aim to not only show us that words have power, but that we can manipulate those words. Armed now with two centuries of psychological research, it's no longer necessary to tell people that God condemns them to make them feel guilty. Instead, a cognitive behavioral therapist explains how negative distortions create negative feelings which lead to negative actions, and it is up to us to dispute such distortions.
The arguments for selfish altruism are often convoluted stretches of kin selection. In the villages from which our Mitochorndrial Eve came, there was a good chance that a person drowning in the pond was related to you in some way. But even so, the benefits for the helper are small compared to the benefits for the recipient. If it were to be quantified, yes maybe the helper receives benefits down the line by having their relative's genes propagate, but the recipient benefits a hundred times more in that moment by not dying. The selfish part of an altruistic act is so relatively small as to be potentially meaningless.
Art and hierarchy are intertwined. Good art is determined by art critics and curators. Art critics write for an audience of art buyers, who are the wealthiest of the wealthy, and curators work for museums, which are large, beautiful, well-maintained and air-conditioned showrooms for such art. Art is then a pomp ceremony for the masses, much like a royal parade. It just glitters in the distance and justifies the high culture that sponsors it.
Self-improvement books operate primarily by telling readers what to do with their mind. The books are written independent of readers' personal experiences, and so they must speak through the plane of concepts, with exercises that can be done right then and there. The books emphasize finding focus, finding purpose, thinking positive, clarifying one's mission, etc., all of which drive towards looking inward at one's thoughts. As a result, self-improvement acolytes develop meta-cognitive judgment, which leads to internal conflict and neurosis.
Meditation, which is a clinically proven practice for affecting life-change, goes in the opposite direction, and teaches people that they are not their thoughts. The reason this works is because actual self-improvement doesn't happen in the plane of concepts, but through experience followed by insight.
Being stingy or frugal when one can afford to spend more is, in a way, like slumming. Slumming is the act of living or participating in a lifestyle that is beneath what one can afford. The term is pejorative because it's inauthentic. To dip into living poorly, is to show a false sense of struggle, and therefore elicits a false sense of endearment. Or to dip into living poorly is to temporarily taste alternative lifestyles, without any of the challenge associated with them, making them an incomplete or inauthentic experience.
Being frugal is normally considered a good thing, but the presentation is still inauthentic in the same way that slumming is. If a millionaire eats cheap burgers at fast food restaurants, they are presenting a false image to the rest of the diners. How you consume is the most obvious indicator of class, and both the slummers and the frugal are guilty of consuming beneath their station.