The Progressive / Liberal Mind: Lost, Confused and a Strategic Failure
The sensible are never free — N. Mailer
We are engaged today in a war on two fronts. One front is well known: Trump, the Koch brothers, giant global corporations, lobbyists, the super rich and the Deep State are singularly committed to a highly coordinated strategy in service to the domination of natural resources, data and all means of production and distribution. They demonstrate little concern for the planet, for local communities and appear poised to create a full-fledged global monoculture.
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Their job is to take everything that you cherish and destroy it. We call them the Extractors.
The second front is much more diffuse, discoordinated and gives the outward appearance of fighting the Extractors. We call this group the Liberal / Progressives. They are embedded in a wide array of philanthropic foundations, progressive think tanks and activist groups, news groups like the N.Y. Times, Washington Post and Mother Jones, and a whole host of companies and municipalities on the two U.S. coasts.
Their job is to move all the energy and resources for change into a diverse swath of discoordinated efforts loosely bundled around a strategy of resistance. And they have been carefully programmed for this job by the very Extractors they believe, in their hearts and minds, they are fighting against. This widespread confusion and impotence has been carefully orchestrated by the Extractors; they have been owning the rules of the game now for a long, long time.
Let me now show you how this plays out by analyzing the strategic mind of five essential Liberal / Progressive domains of activity: media, philanthropy and nonprofits, Business for Good and Impact Investing, activism, and the democratic party.
To begin, let’s get clear about the 3 Laws of Effective Strategy:
- Understand the mind of your opponent with absolute clarity;
- Understand your own mind with absolute clarity;
- Never engage your opponent on the battlefield.
And now with these laws as our backdrop, let’s get started with the Liberal / Progressive media where we see two strategies. On the one side with publications like Mother Jones and others like them you see a strategy of resistance. The strategic objective is to surface all the facts about the bad guys and their evil deeds in the hopes that once presented in the light of day, people will rise up against the Extractors, claim their freedom, and usher in a progressive agenda. With publications like the Washington Post and N.Y. Times, in particular, the strategy is to pursue a kind of radical objectivity that hopes the facts will speak for themselves such that the liberal framework will be seen as the smartest and most sensible way to move forward.
Framed within our Strategic Laws we see right away how both groups in their own way play right into the hands of the Extractors by either overtly or subtly pursuing a strategy of resistance. They engage their opponent on the battlefield and abide by his rules. Once there, winning becomes impossible. Relatively little if anything ‘new’ in the way of solutions is contemplated or put forward.
Looking next at Liberal / Progressive philanthropic models and their consorts nonprofits, their strategic confusion is rooted in the foundation of their business model. Their money comes directly from the Extractors, which makes all their philanthropic / nonprofit activity absurd on the most elemental of levels. The Gates Foundation is a classic case of this absurdity. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet — fine people by all accounts — make all of their money by playing the extraction game better than anyone else. They extract resources out of the ground and labor out of people for the cheapest possible cost: this is the essence of their supply chain and business/investment model. Then they turn around and dedicate a percentage of their titanic profits to helping people and the planet. This strategy is a perfect business model for them — and has been for the super-rich for many centuries — but even a beginner to math can see who this equation overwhelmingly favors.
Framed within our Strategic Laws we see a powerful failure to understand how the mind of the opponent operates. While literally hundreds of thousands of people and billions of dollars dedicate themselves to “change” the extraction machine is allowed to go on, unabated. With the nice touch here that the biggest extractors, and as such the destroyers of planet and people, are honored as heroes. They win twice as an expression of their strategic superiority.
‘Business for Good’ and ‘Impact Investing’ suffer from a very similar strategic failure to understand the mind of the opponent. Yet with one important and compelling twist. They recognize the ineffectiveness of the philanthropic / nonprofit model and seek to remedy this ineffectiveness by working directly within the realm of the markets and business. The problem, however, is that scale has been elusive, if not impossible, for one simple reason; their capital models remain grounded in the extraction paradigm. As a consequence, something in the ballpark of 95% of all Business for Good ventures either go out of business or are acquired by massive extraction based corporations and holding companies and are subsequently radically diluted — with careful purpose — of their capability to scale impact.
We see that the strategic failure of the Business for Good and Impact Investing group is grounded in a lack of imagination on the one hand, and a desire to be sensible on the other. Not only do these groups fail to understand how the Extractor class has carefully constructed the market/capital rules, but they fail to uproot their own inner conflict around being seen as successful. Yes, they want to do good, but within reason. Their inability, and unwillingness, to penetrate this dissonance degrades their efforts leading to coordinated and scalable power.
Now onto the activists and change agents. They stand in substantial opposition — intellectually — to the extraction game and they want to pull away from it. They want to create truly distributed and decentralized networks, they want to expose the hidden workings of the Extractor class; they want to fight. And yet, the quality of their skillful means never matches the quality of their intention. Why is this? Because they are always right.
They are “good” and the Extractors are “evil” in this line of thought. A powerful duality becomes embedded in their identity, and as such they lose all their flexibility and creative openness. They lose touch with the ground as well as with the blood and bone complexity that exists in the world by anchoring in a mind that is right. Predictably, they put all their attention into their resistance, and in a strange sort of way, feed their opponent. This is exactly how Trump rose to power — he was simultaneously fed and classically underestimated by the resistance. All the while, the powerful energy put into resistance fails to find viable expression in the building of alternative experiences and viable systems.
Activists do not practice any of the Three Laws of Effective Strategy. They have no applied understanding of how the mind of their opponent works, they literally live on the battlefield, and they refuse with a vigilance to self-examine. The unfortunate result of this confusion is that they become unwitting puppets, filling a crucial role designed by the Extractors for them to reinforce the emotional pull of duality.
Lastly we finish our analysis with the Democratic Party, for whom we can be brief. They have absolutely no intention of building anything different, and in the rare cases where they might (Bernie Sanders perhaps) they possess no skillful strategic means because they fall for the duality/resistance trap set for them by the Extractors. Despite outward appearances the Democratic Party has long ago forged an alliance with the Extractors:
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The cost of all this confusion and discoordinated activity is high. The Extractor is strengthened, and efforts that could produce viable and scalable alternatives to the extraction enterprise fail to materialize. Hence, extraction contingencies — those often with competing power agendas — employ the services of the Liberal / Progressives to do much of their bidding.
Soon after the recent election, the Koch brothers convened a retreat in Palm Springs. In the course of two days they designed and coordinated commitment around a strategy to deploy 500 million dollars. This tranche of capital represents one of the many massive investments they will make in the next four years in service to their version of a future. They will not be tied to the management of grants, they will not spend time researching best-practices, they will not seek board approval and they will not look for volunteers or big-hearted professionals willing to work for $40K per year. They will simply act with awe-inspiring clarity of purpose and unmatched skillful means.
During that same weekend, one can be certain Liberal / Progressive groups around the country hosted scores of workshops and retreats, foundation and nonprofit boards convened to determine how to best support their progressive causes, Impact Investors and Business for Good executives enjoyed ski-weekends with their families, thousands of activists around the country schemed the downfall of Trump, and the Democratic party was busy figuring out how to get a few of their own representatives elected in states like Kansas and Ohio.
The outcome of all this activity? Maybe a few hundred thousand dollars were committed to an isolated cause, scores of happy people came home from retreat closer to a state of enlightenment and emotional maturity, black-diamond runs were conquered, and the latest best-practice and scientifically verifiable project assessment tool was agreed upon.
The Extractor acts. The Liberal / Progressive indulges in a state of consoling illusion. The Extractor wins. He has mastered the mind of his opponent long ago, he owns the battlefield by defining the rules of engagement that every Liberal / Progressive group is committed to follow, and to our great surprise, the Extractor has a very clear mind and highly trained sense of purpose.
Culture creates reality, pre-programs experience, determines its proofs. Once the matrix is set, it is only in dreams or at the periphery of sound and sight that other possibilities present. — June O’Brien
Now that we have deconstructed the strategic mind of the Liberal / Progressive, and exposed its incoherence and weakness, we are in a position to reconstruct a new strategic mind capable of winning. When we win, we create a polycultural, economically sane future that is designed to cultivate love, compassion, joy and excellence in our children.
These children will go on to build models, systems, institutions, organizations and communities that preserve the ecological bounty of the planet while supporting the evolution of the next generation of children after them. It does not need to be any more complicated.
It is critical that we anchor our minds in practices that make sense. If you align with powerful and coherent practices you come into flow with your objectives as well as with others, and as such, gain a power and effectiveness that is impossible absent of such alignment. For our purposes, there is one particular practice that is of paramount importance right now. I call this a practice of Deliberate Intent.
The practice of Deliberate Intent is about purposefully withdrawing your fear and fascination around a bad (or evil) situation once you become aware of it by using focused, deliberate intent. You cannot do this by trying to stop thinking about it. You cannot do this by trying to ‘figure out’ the situation. The law demands that you withdraw your focus of attention and bring it instead towards the creation of a new paradigm of experience.
The importance of this practice cannot be overstated at this moment. Trump and his exploits have become a singular destination for the vast majority of public attention and thought. Couple this reality with the literal onslaught of news feeds reporting events grounded in terror, devastation and pain on the one hand, and the looming threat of climate/geopolitical/economic catastrophe on the other. All this ‘stuff’ draws the overwhelming majority of thought and attention into paralysis and isolation, creating a vacuum for imagination and self-confidence. The resulting negative emotions — despair, anger and resistance — ground strategies and actions that only feed the Extractor.
The challenging anomaly here is that despite what common sense might say, ‘staying informed,’ ‘fighting power,’ and ‘sympathy for the victims’ only feed the beast. The Extractors feed off your hate, your anger, your despair, your secret desires for vengeance at the same time that they delight in your meditation retreats, calls for compassion, shadow work and pursuit of inner happiness.
When the choice is made to be anchored in discipline, to place your intent beyond this well-designed play for your energy, emotion and thought, something very special starts to happen. You now disengage your thought out of the experiences you no longer wish to participate in. You use the practice of Deliberate Intent to literally withdraw your consent and support for the realities that are crushing to the spirit. This is how you make the choice to not participate, and it is the only way to create alternatives. Otherwise, your creative and moral imagination will be forever held hostage.
In this era, the practice of Deliberate Intent represents the most crucial and foundational element for effective strategy. Keep in mind, however, that the tunnel you must travel through has nothing to do with changing anything in the external world.
The moment thought moves towards change or resistance you fall out of alignment with the practice and unwittingly feed the very things you are opposed to. In other words, you can only attract the new by completely pulling your thought out of the old. If you want to alter the course of history and effectively win the war for the future, pull your thought completely and irrevocably out of every last ounce of Liberal / Progressive ideology. The moment you are no longer right is the moment you are now free.
I want to finish with the words of Wendell Berry, a rare man for whom both his words and deeds have much to teach us in this crucial moment:
One who presumes to know the truth does not look for it.
If change is to come, then, it will have to come from the outside. It will have to come from the margins. As an orthodoxy loses its standards, becomes unable to measure itself by what it ought to be, it comes to be measured by what it is not. The margins begin to close in on it, to break down the confidence that supports it, to set up standards classified by a broadened sense of purpose and necessity, and to demonstrate better possibilities.
Though it does not necessarily always work for the better — though indeed this swing from the center to the margins and back again may be in itself a condemnation — this sort of change is a dominant theme of our tradition, whose “central” figures have often worked their way in from the margins. It was the desert, not the temple, that gave us the prophets; the colonies, not the motherland that gave us Adams and Jefferson.
We are reminded here that the creation of something entirely new, — something that throws off all commonsensical notions — is not only possible, it is a central (albeit systematically hidden) part of the legacy of civilization. But to get there, you must abandon ordinary forms and become comfortable — perhaps even capable of thriving — when confronted by an almost overpowering sense of displacement and estrangement.
Once you have made it to the margins by pulling your thought and intention out of the play, you are now free to reconnect with your imagination in a way that will literally astonish. You will see clearly the mind of the Extractor and you will understand it. A sense of calm will accompany your understanding. This place is a place of power from which you can create, and attract, alternative experiences.
In a flash, you will see the futility of engaging the Extractor on the battlefield because you will see that he owns all the rules of engagement there. The smile that now liberates is the smile that recognizes how young you were to enter the fray in the first place. And this recognition can now become the true foundation as you cultivate ever deeper levels of self-understanding and joy.
The singular goal? An abiding — and well earned — internal sense of invincibility and confidence in your awareness. From here, victory is inevitable because you don’t have to know beforehand what to do and what is required. If you enter into a fight as a person that embodies this level of freedom, matched by skill and real power, you will own the mind of your opponent. At some point, when it is right for him to do so, he will recognize, in a flash, that you stopped playing his game a long time ago. And, in that moment, there will be absolutely nothing he can do about it.
“The man, the leader of the soldiers, does not know that he is witness to the development of a cultural strategy, a parallel reality. The two children, like others across the land, are creating it — subliminal to the dominant culture, but nonetheless a declaration of war. In this world of subtle gestures and of hidden meanings, in ways unseen by their captors, they communicate. The two children use this medicine to imprint their story upon the land. We will not forget.” — June O’Brien (The Last Song)
Andrew Markell is the Co-Founder of Exile, a company that creates, advises and helps capitalize transformative companies and market ecosystems dedicated to empowering people + planet. Here is an overview of what Exile is currently building as a systematic set of alternatives. Many thanks for reading.