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Sat Dec 9, 2017, 06:08 PM

A Potter's Field




Over the fourteen years that I've been a member of the DU community, a number of my essays have made use of various models from psychology and sociology that I find helpful in understanding “politics.” Today, I thought it might be interesting to consider a variation of the model developed by Ralph Potter, of the Harvard Divinity School, for understanding ethics. Potter himself created this variation, in an attempt to illustrate how an individual in the United States was likely to identify in the world of politics.

To begin with, I want to make it clear that I was never fortunate enough to sit in Potter's classroom. My interpretation comes from but one page of notes I scribbled down during one of Daniel Sheehan's lectures. Older forum members will remember Sheehan, a Constitutional lawyer, from his work on the Karen Silkwood and the Greensboro massacre cases. Younger members may be familiar with his efforts to protect Lakota lands from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Sheehan was a student of Potter. Hence, if this makes sense, all credit goes to Potter and Sheehan; only the mistakes belong to me.

Potter taught that there were five general groups of voters in our country, and that by using the box model, one could identify which group an individual belonged to. First, let's consider the five groups, from left to right on a graph: the left system, the left marginal, the neutral marginal, the right marginal, and the right system. In this context, the systems groups believe in radical change, and the marginal groups believe in moderate change to improve the social-political reality in America.

Potter's “box” remains, as in the ethical model, a four-pane window, but the factors in each is different. In the top left pane, we have the universe, specifically how did it come into being? In the top right, we have the question of why it exists, and how it is unfolding? The bottom left asks how did consciousness arise, and is it unique to human beings? The bottom right asks about our ability to understand the universe, and if that understanding is limited to our five senses?

From the answers to these questions, one can identify – with relative accuracy – if one is a utopian (left system), a reactionary totalitarian (right system), or one of the three more moderate (marginal) groups in between on the graph.

Where an individual is located depends upon the factors that result in the person's answers to those four questions within the box. These include life experiences, including economic status and educational background. The person educated in a strict “creationist” religious context will generally hold very different views than a person who has a background in science, for example. A white man will have distinct experiences from a non-white woman. And there are many other factors.

As a general rule, no single answer to a specific box determines where the individual is placed upon the graph. However, it is safe to say that a rigid world-view predisposes a person will tend to be on the right. Yet, it remains important to remember that each individual has opinions they believe to be true, even if these beliefs are clearly errors in thinking and/or understanding. And that the more entrenched these beliefs are, the less likely “facts” are to change their level of understanding. Hence, for example, attempting to reason with a nazi is futile.

Now, Potter believed that the goals identified with FDR's New Deal represented the most sane, fair construct for our society at that time. He recognized that the tensions between those who demanded that these be fully institutionalized, and those who believed they could only take place by way of compromising with the right wing, was essential to our understanding of the problems we continued to face. Attempting to institutionalize the goals fully risked a right wing (military) coup; compromising resulted in allowing the seeds of social dysfunction to remain, and to surely grow into “new” variations of old problems. And, if one appreciates some of the social-political cycles in America, it brings us to LBJ's “Great Society,” and the same general dynamics. We could also consider President Obama's health care program, to bring us to more current times.

Perhaps some of you know exactly where I'm going with this. I wish that you'd remind me, because at my age, I'm easily confused. Instead, I'll use this for an awkward transition to my limited understanding of some of Sheehan's philosophy. But let's use Putin's Russia for our model now, rather than the United States.

Putin, and all those he employs, believe in social Darwinism. They hold to the theory of “survival of the fittest.” They recognize both the dangers and advantages of life in the crumbled empire. They define “fitness” in terms of the economic and political power that the elite class holds in their society.

They are not stupid per se. (The Trump family being an exception to this rule.) They do not limit their views to the immediate future, or simply their own country. They understand issues such as global warming, with the rising coastlines, will cause mass migrations from some of the most populated parts of the world within a couple of decades. They understand the economic implications of society's addiction to fossil fuels. They realize that economic collapses do happen. They appreciate the limits of resources in even “good” times.

As corporate elites, what might they be expected to do? Let's think hard. Perhaps gather as much power and wealth as they possibly can seems one possibility. They are hoarders, preparing for the worst case scenario, thereby insuring the worst case scenario. And who is their natural ally in this? What type of individual is happy, even eager, to have a “strong leader” speak for them? Think for them? Steal from them? Yes, the reactionary totalitarians on the far-right. Those that we cannot reason with. Those who are no more capable of changing their minds, than your lawn-mower is.

These “strong leaders” know what every tyrant throughout history has known: that in order to control a large population – even for a time – it is essential to divide groups, instill fear, and create a climate where the reactionary totalitarians “hate” some identified group, so that they blame their low level of being on the “enemy.” And they will become willing to dehumanize that “enemy,” be it Jews, Native Americans, immigrants, or gay and lesbian people.

Hence, it is essential – flipping back to the USA from Russia – that we not allow fractures to grow, and divisions to become entrenched, between the left-systems and the left-margin groups (re: Democratic Left and Democratic Party). Or between the young and old, the various ethnic groups, etc. For as those divisions take place, it serves to insure those worst-vase scenarios. The “election” of Trump is a glaring example.

When the left-systems and left-marginal groups are united, they become capable to reasoning with some among the neutral-marginal and even right-marginal groups. And that, and only that, can prevent the rise of a fascist totalitarian state (and/or remove a “strong leader”), and to open up the potentials for dealing with the very real and growing crises that human beings face in the years to come.

Peace,
H2O Man

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Arrow 27 replies Author Time Post
Reply A Potter's Field (Original post)
H2O Man Dec 2017 OP
Solly Mack Dec 2017 #1
H2O Man Dec 2017 #3
Solly Mack Dec 2017 #4
H2O Man Dec 2017 #7
Solly Mack Dec 2017 #9
H2O Man Dec 2017 #13
NRaleighLiberal Dec 2017 #2
H2O Man Dec 2017 #5
NRaleighLiberal Dec 2017 #6
H2O Man Dec 2017 #14
NRaleighLiberal Dec 2017 #16
Kirk Lover Dec 2017 #17
NRaleighLiberal Dec 2017 #18
Kirk Lover Dec 2017 #20
Mr.Bill Dec 2017 #8
H2O Man Dec 2017 #15
Vilis Veritas Dec 2017 #10
H2O Man Dec 2017 #21
democrank Dec 2017 #11
H2O Man Dec 2017 #22
coeur_de_lion Dec 2017 #12
H2O Man Dec 2017 #23
coeur_de_lion Dec 2017 #27
kentuck Dec 2017 #19
H2O Man Dec 2017 #24
lunatica Dec 2017 #25
H2O Man Dec 2017 #26

Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 06:16 PM

1. Thank you

I like to read and mull things over in my mind. Not necessarily share what I'm thinking, though there are times when I do. Primarily because my mind races ahead of my mouth, often darts off in different directions - as one thought lends itself to another - and finally settles. By then, I'm usually too full to share.

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Response to Solly Mack (Reply #1)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 07:59 PM

3. Fair enough.

And I'm fine with people disagreeing with me on things like this .....as long as they like the Dylan song, of course.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #3)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 08:02 PM

4. I wasn't disagreeing. I was letting you know I was thinking about what you wrote.

Sorry for any misunderstanding.

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Response to Solly Mack (Reply #4)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 08:08 PM

7. Yes.

I understood what you meant. I was hoping that, at some point, you might add to the ideas I tried to express, even if it's a bit different than mine. (I'd even be willing to consider if using Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever" would have been better than Dylan. But Paul's "Penny Lane," not so much.)

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #7)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 09:04 PM

9. So, like, the whole of Dylan but only the Lennon-majority of the Beatles? :)

Throw in some Etta James for me and the list couldn't be completed without some bluegrass. Though by no means fully complete with just those few either. I enjoy a little angry rock along with my angst rock.

A lot of people speak of life being unfair as a fact without once considering the actions taken by themselves and others to make it a fact.

My box? I'd challenge the validity of the facts presented. I'm not talking gravity, evolution, or the earth not being flat, etc. of course.

Example being those who claim the poor are lazy as fact. It doesn't have to be an actual fact if that's the conclusion/"fact" a person puts in their first box - all the rest of the boxes will fill up with beliefs/evidence supporting the desired conclusion labeled a "fact".

But the motives of power/authority for claiming something as fact.

I even challenge my own. So I don't let myself off the hook. I'm a glutton that way. Motives can be as fluid as water.

And I'm not even really at the box yet much less the rest of your essay. lol

See what I mean? My mind does wander.




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Response to Solly Mack (Reply #9)

Sun Dec 10, 2017, 03:46 AM

13. And that's

a Good Thing .....that you "wander" (re: journey) in your mind. I've long enjoyed your contributions on the forum, and like the way your brain works.

It's a Good Thing for people to take this box model, and think of other ways to make use of it.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 06:46 PM

2. lots of food for thought there. One other thing that has been on my mind recently...

As we move farther from a for the most part "we are all in this together to beat the bad guy" war - the last being WW2 of course - many in our country have no idea what drawing together is like - the last "wars" in particularly were video game, comfort of home, no sacrifice asked for wars (except for those directly involved, and their families). I've read a few times where younger generations actually don't fear tyrant type leadership as much as older folks who lived through it did.

Being a country that doesn't do history particularly well (we certainly don't learn from past mistakes), part of what is going on is a cycle - and it is enabled because of so many with no real context (or skin in the game).

Just meanderings as the music plays and the snow flurries fly....

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Response to NRaleighLiberal (Reply #2)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 08:03 PM

5. Right.

Overall, the general population has not responded to crises until those events are well underway. That has not proven to be a positive in terms of resolving the various crises. In fact, quite the opposite. I find this curious, considering that our brains are better able to predict the future than that of our closest relative, the Neanderthal. Perhaps a similar fate awaits us.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #5)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 08:05 PM

6. I don't think there is a "perhaps" about it. I think humans v1.0 are fatally flawed

narcissism, greed, tribalism, on and on - we are nasty pieces of work in general. We haven't evolved at all at seeing the world - peoplekind - as a whole. The us vs them will do us in - actually, what we are doing to the world - the climate - will do us in.

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Response to NRaleighLiberal (Reply #6)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 02:03 PM

14. One of the

people who influences my younger son's thinking holds that human evolution has hit a new phase, that is similar to when a large group of grasshoppers become locusts. And there does seem to be more than a bit of that type of swarming phase going on. That might fit into Rubin's teaching that all organic life on this planet -- including humanity -- serves the purpose of the Earth.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #14)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 02:06 PM

16. I am having a sad, contemplative day...

We've had this most wonderful dog, Mocha - (we've had four wonderful dogs in our 37 years of marriage - Mocha was our newest arrival, and is about to be the last to go). She is a sweet pure bred chocolate lab we were given when she was a puppy. She has been an exemplary being - a pure, fun, cheerful, kind spirit. She can't use her legs any more, she is approaching 14, all she can now do is lay on her bed - I carry her out to do what she has to do. It is time - I know it.

But the magical richness of life that living with our dogs for 37 years has taught my wife and I is that we may be able to talk the most, drive, earn living, etc - but dogs - probably all animals, in general - we have nothing on them in wisdom, decency, purpose.

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Response to NRaleighLiberal (Reply #16)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 02:15 PM

17. I bought my dog a wheelchair.....and a harness to. Is she on rymadyl? Glucosamine/chondrotin

 

worked wonders for years. I'm sorry I do know what you are going through all to well.

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Response to Kirk Lover (Reply #17)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 02:32 PM

18. Yes, we are through all of that. She is telling us it is time.

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Response to NRaleighLiberal (Reply #18)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 02:58 PM

20. I'm glad you are listening to her. n/t

 

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 08:34 PM

8. I find it far easier to start hating groups of people

when they are faceless beings on the internet. But when interacting with people In person, they mostly seem to have more in common with me than not. Trouble is, lately, I've been running into more people who seem to think they are on the internet even though they at face-to-face with me. These people are easy to identify and discredit, ironically because of what I have learned on the internet.

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Response to Mr.Bill (Reply #8)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 02:06 PM

15. Interesting.

I think that much of what is going on today is like an extension of "road rage." And much of that does take place on the "information highway" of the internet, and has spilled over onto face-to-face interactions with "strangers." There is too much aggressive behavior these days.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 09:10 PM

10. Personally, I think this nails a lot of what is happening.

Lots to think about here.

A question that remains for me is how does knowledge of this lead to action when so many in the corporate elite level of the model are also spread across the spectrum? Seems like we need a large network a very well funded corporate elites of our own...

Another problem with understanding ethics is that perception/life experience can skew any single ethical model to include variables from all models.

But this OP is amazing. Thank you again, sir.

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Response to Vilis Veritas (Reply #10)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 06:11 PM

21. Thank you.

I think that Malcolm X was correct when he said that history provides the best education for a road map on how to deal with current problems. I believe that the Civil Rights movement gives us the best model for how grass roots movements can spark changes at higher levels.

There was foundation money used in important parts of the movement, but the majority of it was organic. I suspect that same dynamic holds true today. The Democratic Party, at the top levels, seems very capable of accessing much the same corporate financing as the republican party. At the grass roots level, there are -- in my opinion -- advantages to remaining organic, and to avoid becoming dependent upon corporate donations.

I was impressed when Howard Dean opted to run in the presidential primaries, and financing most of his campaign on grass roots donations. That same dynamic was even more impressive with Bernie Sanders. One need not be a fan of either Dean or Sanders, to recognize and appreciate the potential power of the grass roots.

What is required for success is that neither the heads of the party, or the grass roots, think of themselves as entirely in control. We need a well-coordinated movement.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 09:15 PM

11. There are some life-threatening fires in California right now.

Dangerous, quickly-spreading wild fires. No one person can stop them. In this case, it takes a village plus a lot of other villages.

Not all firefighters wear the exact same suit. Not all firefighters live in the same state, worship in the same church, see their country's problems in the same way. Some firefighters may be left-systems, some right-systems. What unites them is their recognition that the fires are dangerous and must be extinguished.

Donald Trump is an extremely dangerous wildfire supported by arsonists and pyromaniacs. We must stop him....together.

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Response to democrank (Reply #11)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 06:16 PM

22. Well said.

Very well said, indeed. Thank you for this.

Your last two sentences will lead to my next OP. I hope that you don't mind if I expand on that, giving credit where credit is due. What you wrote reminded me of something important that Carl Jung spoke of. And it has to do with the wildfires you mention.

Thanks again.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Dec 9, 2017, 10:58 PM

12. As you know

I just moved back to my home town, where I have lots of distant cousins. Some of them - one side - are appalled that I voted for Obama twice and that I think Trump is a dangerous lunatic and a fraud. The other side of the family are all sensible democrats who are just as freaked out as I am about what is happening.

So basically in my own family I can see very clear examples of "moderate" people, in various stages of leaning to the right. Even though my cousin R voted for Trump he is in most areas of his life very sensible and I know him to be an extremely kind hearted man. I would call him a moderate. My brother is a pretty radical right wing nut and there is no reasoning with him.

I could probably talk some sense into cousin R. I have given up on my brother.

Your OP was brilliant as usual. But can I get you to give me some examples of how to influence the moderate right wingers in our families and social circle?

I would also appreciate some suggestions for reading Potter and Sheehan. I can't see myself reading an entire book of theirs - I'm not you - but maybe a good article or two?

I'm so grateful for your beautifully thought out essays. You are the voice of reason and your words bring me peace.

'

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Response to coeur_de_lion (Reply #12)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 06:28 PM

23. Thank you.

About your family: keep in mind that Freud noted that psychotherapy can work for anyone, excluding the Irish. I'm not sure he based that upon his dealings with my extended family, but I suspect so.

I've found two things that prove effective with people who supported Trump, or who mistakenly believe it is "patriotic" to semi-support whoever is in office. Within the first group, I encounter people who belong (or belonged) to various unions. Most are unaware of Trump's long history of fucking union workers. When they learn of this, they begin to see him differently.

With the second group, I focus on the Trump-Russian scandal. Many, even most, are not following it closely. But enough evidence has been made public that it is rather easy to show them that Trump is but a petty mobster, being used to benefit the Russian mob.

I'll look for some resources on Potter and Sheehan. I'm far more familiar with Daniel and his work. You might find him even more wordy and longer-winded than me. He is Irish, after all.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #23)

Tue Dec 12, 2017, 10:24 AM

27. Irish? I love him already

I have noticed that some Trump voters in my family tend to turn away from the subject of Trump now rather than wanting to engage. Probably ashamed of their choice but too proud to admit it. Or maybe they can't find any argument in favor so they just keep quiet.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 02:33 PM

19. United we stand, divided we fall?

Excellent writing!

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Response to kentuck (Reply #19)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 06:30 PM

24. Exactly.

It really is that simple.

The divisions between the various groups are being exploited, and not for our benefit.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Mon Dec 11, 2017, 06:34 PM

25. And the measuring stick for their belief in their superiority is money

Making a fortune is tied into the capacity to use everything in their power to gain the power at any cost. Somewhere in their limited thinking is the idea that if God didn't want them to be rich he would take their wealth away, so, of course, God must love them above the poor.

Money is the seed thought which they nourish and care for with every breath, every thought and every action. It is their value measurement, as in the value of something is in direct proportion to how much it costs. They will eschew beauty which is cheap in favor of expensive glitz which has no intrinsic value beyond the arbitrariness of labeling it expensive. They will purchase something for the creators name rather than any true value it will have. For example, they don't own art. They own "a Picasso". Or "a Rembrandt", etc.

They actually think of nothing else except money. It is their raison d'etre, and takes wings with their every spoken breath.

They do not trust anything or anyone who speaks of other things. And it's this commoness they share that keeps them in their narrow social circles. Even to the exclusion of people like pretenders such as Trump himself. His self worth is 100% tied into his money. It's almost the only thing he talks about or refers to. And it's the reason he exaggerates how much he has.

To me this is a very important factor which most people don't talk about. How money dictates your life. We know how the lack of money molds lives. Well it does the same when there is plenty of it in your life. Money is an incredibly insidious and important fact in our lives. Worshipping it isn't just done by the rich.

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Response to lunatica (Reply #25)

Tue Dec 12, 2017, 09:49 AM

26. I agree fully.

There is class warfare taking place. The republican tax plan is nothing if not a continuation of "Reaganomics." And what you wrote is consistent with the idea that most people do not recognize a crisis, until if effects them personally. Thus, there are good Democrats who know intellectually that the economy is terrible, but they are not feeling it as a crisis. Yet, most of them will, in the future.

Thank you. Much appreciated.

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