A Proposal for a Freethought Revolution within American Politics

A Call to Action for Freethinkers everywhere, for a non-Dogmatic ‘Third Voice’ and a Revival of Science and Skepticism

FORWARD: My Invite Letter to the Science, Reason, Skepticism and Freethought Communities

My name is John. I am an Army and DoD Veteran and a social science advocate. I have seen the damage done by political dogmatism, partisan tribalism and polarizing ideology, from our damaged neighborhoods here at home to diverse locations around the world, from South America, Africa, and the Balkans, to the Middle East and Central Asia. It has hurt us here at home, on almost every front and issue. Our very ability to have conversations, and to reason critically, is under attack by rigid ideology and politically dogmatic modes of thinking. I am tired of seeing political dogmatism get a free pass, while science, freethinking and reason continue to be pushed to the margins of our political conversations by the Left and the Right.

No more. I am fighting a homefront battle for a revival of reason and scientific thinking within American politics and ideology. I’m working — from the pub and street corner to the halls of academia and activism — to help build a movement around this aim, and I offer solidarity with anyone who wishes to collaborate or express a similar aspiration.

Please join this fight.

An Opening Statement about this proposed (self-organizing) movement

Can ‘freethinking’ become a revolution within American politics, breaking down the walls of our polarized conversation? Can reason, freethought and skepticism become galvanizing points of convergence for people across the country, in a way that can intellectually and morally supersede the traditional ‘conservative / liberal’ dichotomy? Can this at least occur for a significant and growing number of people? Can the voices of science and reason become vocal, respected and recognized forces within mainstream political discourse?

We have reached a critical juncture — a social and moral crossroads — where our many science and skepticism communities can come together to fight for these things, with the same focus and vigor as with any other issue. The current American culture of political labels, ideology and identity politics is one of our biggest barriers to human, social, economic and moral progress. It is also a direct threat to scientific progress and scientific thinking. Political and moral differences are in our nature, as the field of moral psychology has given great insight into. We are indeed merely human — but reason, skepticism, and humanizing conversation across our ‘idea tribes’ can, to a hopeful extent, help us move beyond the excesses of rigid ideology and dogmatism which have been so pervasive within our political culture.

One day, we will hopefully realize that the real fault line — the defining schism — should be between ‘reasoned compassion’ and the things that are harmful and antithetical to it.

Arguably, this struggle can be said to take place along two deeply important axes:

(1) Between Reason & Science versus Dogmatism, Emotional Tribalism & Ideology,


(2) Between Human Dignity and the suppression of it, regardless of tribe or ideology

It is science and reason, alongside free inquiry and a genuine compassion for sentient creatures, which formed the Enlightenment bedrock of our enduring philosophy and our very way of life. Under the tidal wave of divisive identity politics, we have lost our love of truth, of free inquiry, and of the innate value and dignity of the individual human being. Like Humankind in The Neverending Story slowly killing off Fantasia with the decline of books, of higher thinking, and of hope and imagination, we have almost lost the very ability to dream and aspire.

Let us dream once again. Let us build an unprecedented bridge between Freethinking and American politics, in ways we never imagined doing, and set sail for undiscovered horizons.

My article on Medium.com ( https://medium.com/@johnkirbow/desegregating-our-tribal-moral-communities-a-plan-to-bridge-the-divide-d3e576cc3156#.knxtkzjyh) which discusses some of these ideas in more detail, such as how we should re-define our entire paradigm toward the discussion of police, communities, and the Black Lives Matter movement

The Problem: Identity Tribalism, Rigid Political Ideology, and Dogmatism

The unwillingness to change our minds is among our biggest problems, across politics and ideology. It is arguably one of the chief concerns of a reasonable, humane, and morally reflective society. The unwillingness of people to engage in a Socratic, scientific and skeptical mode of thinking — to be exposed to uncomfortable views, to welcome dissenting viewpoints, and to seek out new evidence and facts that may not square with our worldviews or our sense of ‘group belonging’ — is something that all sides of the spectrum must eventually come together to promote an awareness of and address head on. Identity politics and political dogmatism inverts our values in unbelievable ways. Being anchored down into one’s ‘tribal-moral community’, fixated within the comforting platitudes of one’s political dogma or ideological purism, is not a virtue, and the willingness to change one’s mind is not a vice. Our failure to reverse this moral equation is itself one of our biggest barriers to a free country, a flourishing society and a better world.

This would be a way to empower science, reason, and critical thinking, while also ‘converging’ — in reason-based, humanizing, non-dogmatic ways — across our ‘ideological tribes’, onto issues of shared human concern (such as much-needed reform within our justice system). This is a rallying cry for all advocates of science and reason to support an emerging movement to transcend to primacy of ideological labels and partisan identity politics. To directly confront and engage with political dogmatism — on all sides. To spread and share a much-needed message: fearlessly taking on the entire enterprise of anti-rational argument and intellectual dishonesty, across the spectrum, can be among the next great frontiers of reason and freethinking! To come together, as freethinkers, to combat the role of polarization, tribalism, dogmatism, purism, and rigid ideology that has arguably hijacked so much of America’s conversational landscape.

Our pressing problems of human wellbeing and controversial social issues are not best addressed by political purism, dogmatic prudence or ideological platforms — they are best addressed by science, reason, moral sincerity, and evidence-based thinking. It is not the arrogant assertion of dogmatic or ideological correctness from the Left or the Right that is best suited to traverse the problems of justice reform, police reform, poverty, safety nets, violence, crime, social inequality, or racism and bigotry; it is the willingness to be wrong, to change our minds, and to seek out answers through skepticism and Socratic discussion.

We should proclaim this from every corner of public conversation. We should strive to make science, reason, and freethinking a proud voice that is just as deserving of a platform within our discourse as any political platform or ideology. As freethinkers and advocates of the scientific — rather than the emotional or political — ways of arriving at answers, we have been relegated to the corners of the conversation for too long. This must stop. We will not be silent anymore.

What Are We Standing Against?

What are we standing against? We are standing against the bad, dishonest, counter-productive, or hurtful forms of conversation that detract from the issues and damage the discussion, no matter what side of it different people are on, what their demographics are, or what political tribe they hail from. We are standing — as freethinkers and intellectually honest human beings first and foremost, before any political identification — for more integrity across the entire spectrum, and against the entire enterprise of dishonesty and anti-rational argument, on all sides. We are standing against the unwillingness on all sides to apply criticism inwardly.

The Left and the Right both need reformations of freethinking and skepticism, science, and Socratic, reasoned discourse, and — above all — a willingness to foster inward criticism and conversational schisms against anti-rational, dishonest or immoral trends within their wider ‘idea community’.

No one — be it blacks , whites, community leaders, police officers, Muslims, or immigrants — is benefitting from the status quo of our national mode of conversation. It seems increasingly the case across our cities and marginalized communities, from the United States to much of Europe. All of us — no matter where we fall politically or ideologically — should share a common concern for bad arguments and the glaring absence of logic and reason in our discussions on important issues.

What Would such a Movement Stand For?

I. Above all, we stand for promoting A Celebration of Science, across the Political Spectrum

What can become the unifying theme of a ‘Third Voice’ in America, and perhaps in much of Europe? The general idea of having a ‘new center’ of sorts, amidst absurdities and extremes — including tribalism and purist dogmatism — seen within the loud corners of either side, is not new. In fact, over the last decade, it has become increasingly sensible and necessary amidst the backdrop of our conversational terrain. A number of movements and attempts to build on a ‘middle ground’ or non-sectarian common framework for Americans have been in play for some time. This reflects an emerging unrest and dissonance within our wider population, spanning across political affiliation, race, religion, and geography. Science and reason — and a more humble and humanizing way to have conversations — just might be the frameworks for this bridge. But it will not come if we do not build it.

II. It is time we finally end this self-imposed political segregation between our moral, demographic and ideological communities.

We need to start lowering the barriers to having conversations with those we disagree with. We need to start humanizing one another, across the hurtful and thought-limiting barriers of our tribalism. Muslims and Christians and atheists need to more freely converse. Black Lives activists and retired police need to be sitting down regularly. Police and community residents need to be sitting down regularly. Student activists and skeptical, freethought activists should be sitting down and conversing regularly across our campuses. The entire enterprise of social / political activism should converse with the world of science, reason, through Socratic discussion, in the streets and in the halls of academia and the platforms of alternate media.

No one outside of a very small circle of elites is benefiting from this ‘wall of conversational segregation’ — and it has to stop. We need to empower a new, emerging reasonable center between the extremes of dogmatism and polarization within much of the Left and the Right, and propel the role of science and reasoned-based thinking within our society. To empower it as a better-understood, more well-recognized voice of public discourse, as a better way to arrive at answers than the screaming voices of dogma and ideology.

People from the hills of Kansas or the plains of Texas need to be talking with liberals in Portland; suburban upper-middle class whites need to be having conversations with non-whites living in public housing; New Yorkers need to be talking with gun-loving, church-going rural Southerners. We need to de-segregate the conversation in this country, in a humanizing and reasonable way. Our self-imposed separateness has become one of our biggest barriers to reason, and to compassion, empathy, and moral imagination.

From my book-in-progress. Lessons from the Warzone need to be applied to healing and bridging divides in our own country, from the farmlands and hills of the Midwest to the streets of Chicago or Atlanta.

In every Generation, efforts at sensible answers, based on evidence, logic and reality-based thinking, are mocked and ridiculed by wild-eyed zealots on both sides, often with labels such as ‘weak’, ‘deceptive’, ‘naïve’, traitorous’, ‘hateful’, ‘elitist’, even ‘satanic’. But sensible voices should rise above the tides of pseudoscientific nonsense, stubborn ideology, and the simplistic reductionism of identity politics. We must rise up. Reason itself must rise up, if we are to flourish as a nation.

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PART TWO of this PROPOSED ROADMAP will follow soon, taken from my written Position Paper and from my upcoming book. Examples of how we can work with the human reality of emotions, identity politics and cognitive bias will be addressed, through a dynamic application of moral psychology as well as SOF (Special Operations Forces) and COIN (Counterinsurgency)-based ‘Tribal Engagement’