Moving Beyond Us vs. Them


Carl Sagan on Moving Beyond Us vs. Them, Bridging Conviction with Compassion, and Meeting Ignorance with Kindness

“In the course of looking deeply within ourselves, we may challenge notions that give comfort before the terrors of the world.”

demonhauntedworld_sagan“Unless we are very, very careful,” wrote psychologist-turned-artist Anne Truitt in contemplating compassion and the cure for our chronic self-righteousness, “we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves.” She urged for “the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.” But how are we to find in ourselves the capacity — the willingness — to honor otherness where we see only ignorance and bigotry in beliefs not only diametrically opposed to our own but dangerous to the very fabric of society?

That’s what Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934–December 20, 1996) explores with characteristic intelligence and generosity of spirit in the seventeenth chapter of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (public library) — the masterwork published shortly before his death, which gave us Sagan on science as a tool of democracy and his indispensable Baloney Detection Kit.

Sagan considers how we can bridge conviction and compassion in dealing with those who disagree with and even attack our beliefs. Although he addresses the particular problems of pseudoscience and superstition, his elegant and empathetic argument applies to any form of ignorance and bigotry. He explores how we can remain sure-footed and rooted in truth and reason when confronted with such dangerous ideologies, but also have a humane and compassionate intention to understand the deeper fears and anxieties out of which such unreasonable beliefs arise in those who hold them

He writes:

When we are asked to swear in American courts of law — that we will tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” — we are being asked the impossible. It is simply beyond our powers. Our memories are fallible; even scientific truth is merely an approximation; and we are ignorant about nearly all of the Universe…


If it is to be applied consistently, science imposes, in exchange for its manifold gifts, a certain onerous burden: We are enjoined, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, to consider ourselves and our cultural institutions scientifically — not to accept uncritically whatever we’re told; to surmount as best we can our hopes, conceits, and unexamined beliefs; to view ourselves as we really are… Because its explanatory power is so great, once you get the hang of scientific reasoning you’re eager to apply it everywhere. However, in the course of looking deeply within ourselves, we may challenge notions that give comfort before the terrors of the world.

Sagan notes that all of us are deeply attached to and even defined by our beliefs, for they define our reality and are thus elemental to our very selves, so any challenge to our core beliefs tends to feel like a personal attack. This is equally true of ourselves as it is of those who hold opposing beliefs — such is the human condition. He considers how we can reconcile our sense of intellectual righteousness with our human fallibility:

In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many cases consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.

But kindness, Sagan cautions, doesn’t mean assent — there are instances, like when we are faced with bigotry and hate speech, in which we absolutely must confront and critique these harmful beliefs, for “every silent assent will encourage [the person] next time, and every vigorous dissent will cause him next time to think twice.” He writes:

If we offer too much silent assent about [ignorance] — even when it seems to be doing a little good — we abet a general climate in which skepticism is considered impolite, science tiresome, and rigorous thinking somehow stuffy and inappropriate. Figuring out a prudent balance takes wisdom.

The greatest detriment to reason, Sagan argues, is that we let our reasonable and righteous convictions slip into self-righteousness, that deadly force of polarization:

The chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is in its polarization: Us vs. Them — the sense that we have a monopoly on the truth; that those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are morons; that if you’re sensible, you’ll listen to us; and if not, you’re beyond redemption. This is unconstructive… Whereas, a compassionate approach that from the beginning acknowledges the human roots of pseudoscience and superstition might be much more widely accepted. If we understand this, then of course we feel the uncertainty and pain of the abductees, or those who dare not leave home without consulting their horoscopes, or those who pin their hopes on crystals from Atlantis.

Or, say, those who vote for a racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, climate-change-denying political leader.

Sagan’s central point is that we humans — all of us — are greatly perturbed by fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, and in seeking to becalm ourselves, we sometimes anchor ourselves to irrational and ignorant ideologies that offer certitude and stability, however illusory. In understanding those who succumb to such false refuges, Sagan calls for “compassion for kindred spirits in a common quest.” Echoing 21-year-old Hillary Rodham’s precocious assertion that “we are all of us exploring a world that none of us understand,” he argues that the dangerous beliefs of ignorance arise from “the feeling of powerlessness in a complex, troublesome and unpredictable world.”

In envisioning a society capable of cultivating both critical thinking and kindness, Sagan’s insistence on the role and responsibility of the media resonates with especial poignancy today:

Both skepticism and wonder are skills that need honing and practice. Their harmonious marriage within the mind of every schoolchild ought to be a principal goal of public education. I’d love to see such a domestic felicity portrayed in the media, television especially: a community of people really working the mix — full of wonder, generously open to every notion, dismissing nothing except for good reason, but at the same time, and as second nature, demanding stringent standards of evidence — and these standards applied with at least as much rigor to what they hold dear as to what they are tempted to reject with impunity.

The Demon-Haunted World remains one of the great intellectual manifestos of the past century. Complement it with Sagan on science and spirituality, his timeless toolkit for critical thinking, and this lovely animated adaptation of his famous Pale Blue Dot monologue about our place in the cosmos.



Live Like You’re Free



Fear not — things are only getting better


People are, in most ways, freer than they have ever been in the history of the world.

Throughout most of history, outright chattel slavery (not just of minorities, but even within ethnic groups) has been commonplace. De facto ownership of wives existed in almost every society until a century ago. Less than a hundred years ago, it was fairly uncommon for most people to travel more than a few dozen miles from their place of birth within their lifetime. And even a decade ago in the “freest nation in the world,” it was unthinkable outside of a few progressive areas of the country for homosexual couples to hold hands in public.

Thomas Jefferson said in 1788 that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” That has certainly been true in the United States, but simply focusing on State expansion can mask an important truth: while liberty has suffered under the weight of government, it has also expanded in other directions. Like the tendrils of a vine reaching for sunlight despite an obstruction, liberty grows outward and upward. For every corrupt cop, there’s an entrepreneur making lives better through innovation, and for every bureaucrat, a programmer works to cripple tyranny at its foundations. For every useless bill, someone is working to make it obsolete.

Governments want you to live your life in fear: fear of terrorism, crime, climate change, Ebola, ISIS, and whatever other fear is politically expedient in the next news cycle. When people concentrate on fear, they are more willing to give over their liberties to an entity that arrogantly claims to be able to keep them safe. Many who love liberty live in fear, too. Their bogeymen are government spying, gun control laws, or any number of government conspiracies. While people can have good reasons to be afraid, shaking that fear altogether can be the most liberating experience of all. Encryption is infiltrating the mainstream (to the consternation of the FBI and others), and organizations like Defense Distributed are working to completely obviate gun regulation.

If you only look at the ways governments are expanding, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the fear. What is needed is a broader perspective — one that takes into account the myriad ways in which our lives are getting better despite State intrusion. Those with this perspective are hopeful about startup cities, seasteading, and groups building censorship-resistant free markets that ignore government regulations; they understand that we are richer, healthier, and more comfortable than those who came before us. Shed the fear, and embrace hope — not a false hope, but a reasoned, pragmatic confidence based on both the concrete avenues for liberation that we see and the general trend we can observe since the rise of capitalism. We have great cause for optimism.

You have been born into a time when you can communicate with thousands of people in an instant, people who share your interests and concerns. You can leave town for the weekend and see things daily that your ancestors could not possibly have imagined. Your job is almost certainly less physically taxing than any job any of your parents, grandparents, or virtually any person who lived prior to them ever had. Statistically, you are likely to live longer and better than anyone born before you. Entrepreneurs are busy creating and popularizing some of the first tools in history that are more useful for undermining coercion than for furthering it. Freedom is expanding daily in ways our predecessors could hardly have dreamed.

You are one of the freest people in all of history. Maybe it’s time to start living like it.



Matt Gilliland is the Program Coordinator for LIVE




The Greatest Story of Our Generation

Morgan Freeman Narrates the Greatest Story of Our Generation


Morgan Freeman narrates the greatest story of our generation – the story of the human journey at this critical moment in time. Of all the stories to belong to, this is the story to be a part of.

Don’t watch it from the sidelines. Don’t wait for the experts to figure it out. Ask yourself: how can I become one of the weavers of the story? It’s a tapestry with 7 billion threads. What contribution do I want to make?

If you’re not yet contributing to this story in some way, ask yourself why not? This is a story for everyone.



One bar closer to humanity



If This Video Doesn’t Convince You To Put Down Your Phone, Nothing Probably Will

This video will probably make you put your phone down for a minute. It hits the nail on the head when it comes to describing how our generation is missing out on so much in life because our current obsession with social media and mobile devices. It has changed our lives, but in some cases it may have changed it for the worse.

We’re so consumed by our phones and social networks, that sometimes we forget to live.

(Why Don’t You Try This)


Why I Refuse to Let Technology Control Me.

You need not delete your social networks or destroy your cell phones, the message is simple, be balanced, be mindful, be present, be here. 🙂








Ends, Means, and Leonard Read



An old dictum has done a lot of damage throughout history



Many of the most monstrous deeds in human history have been perpetrated in the name of doing good—in pursuit of some “noble” goal.

—Leonard Read


“The end justifies the means” has a long legacy.

Four centuries B.C., in his famous Electra, Sophocles wrote, “The end excuses any evil.” Fast forward 400 years, and Ovid, in Heroides, wrote, “the result justifies the deed.” And perhaps most famously, Machiavelli echoed this idea in his sixteenth-century book The Prince.

You can hear echoes of this sentiment in American popular culture, from former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis’s motto, “Just win, baby,” to Charlie Sheen’s philosophy of “winning.”

But do the ends really justify the means?

Those who believe so have rampaged through human history—particularly when they have exercised real political power. This belief has motivated all manner of tyrants and would-be social reformers, who have treated those living under their power as mere means. Immanuel Kant set out history’s most famous answer to exitus acta probat. But no one has offered a better, modern rebuttal to this view than FEE founder Leonard Read.

Time and again, Read returned to the idea that each person has sovereignty over himself—the power to choose, which is indispensable to that ultimate human end: one’s own happiness and flourishing. Read constantly emphasized the importance of individual growth, emergence, or personal blooming. And he reminded us that you are not free to the extent others control you. Your potential to create moral improvements is stunted by those who would use you to create their version of Utopia.

Read’s approach reflects a widely ignored aspect of this ends-means issue: Individuals and their development are both ultimate ends in themselves, and yet their services can be the means to others’ ends. This is the essence of voluntary cooperation. As a consequence, rather than framing policy as a question of ends versus means, the principle must be that no use of individuals as means to others’ ends can violate their potential for growth as the ultimate ends of society. As Leonard Read wrote, when “the emergence of the individual … [is] our objective,” rather than pigeonholing people into some designed or utopian social structure, then “the means … must be radically different.”

When our ultimate end is the greatest development of individuals’ human potential, then any means that undermines that development is inconsistent with society’s only purpose, which is to ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Otherwise, whenever violent aggression is used as an instrument of social design or control, all that human potential becomes diminished by degree.

One of Read’s powerful illustrations of his view was the redistributive State, grown gargantuan. The general view is that it benefits recipients, ennobles those who design and enact the transfers, and doesn’t “really” harm those from whom it is takes, because they are just paying their “fair share” to society. But the coercive process degrades everyone involved.

The harm imposed on those involuntarily taken from is not negated by a mere slogan with no clear meaning except that others want more of your resources for their purposes. Coercive funding deprives individuals of power over their honestly acquired income, derived from their self-ownership, based on others’ envy. As importantly, it preempts the growth that occurs as individuals engage in acts of kindness and charity.

Recipients of State transfers live on confiscated resources. And they are enticed to become non-producers wholly dependent on others for their survival. Their moral, intellectual, and social maturation gets short-circuited. Self-responsibility withers and sometimes dies. Integrity and the virtues it makes possible are put at grave risk. As Leonard Read wrote, “Unless an individual is self-controlling, his life is not truly his own.”

Along the way, those who direct the process increasingly become dictators over others’ actions, which sets up the moral corrosion and corruption that having power ultimately gives rise to. As Lord Acton reminded us, such power corrupts. No one ever became better because they acquired more power over others.

Another illustration is the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote Read cited more often than any other in his books: “Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end pre-exists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

Recognizing individuals as ends in themselves and as potential collaborators means that no social goal justifies treating people as cogs in some political apparatus. When the individual “is assigned that niche or role which the political priests believe will best serve whatever societal pattern they have formulated,” damage to the core of an individual’s humanity is assured.

“However lofty the goals, if the means be depraved, the result must reflect that depravity,” Read wrote.

He argued that when individuals and their development are recognized as the ends that matter, the morality of the consequences actually generated by policies and programs—as opposed to the imagined utopian results—is implied in the means employed. “Examine carefully the means employed,” he wrote, “judging them in terms of right and wrong, and the end will take care of itself.”




Humanity Can Be Best Understood in a Collective Context


#18 – “Humanity Can Be Best Understood in a Collective Context”



There are two basic prisms through which we can see, study, and prescribe for human society: individualism and collectivism. These worldviews are as different as night and day, and they create a great divide in the social sciences. That’s because the perspective from which you see the world will set your thinking down one intellectual path or another.

Advocates of personal and economic freedom are usually in the individualism camp, whereas those who think of themselves these days as “progressives” are firmly in the camp of collectivism.

I think of it as the difference between snowstorms and snowflakes. A collectivist sees humanity as a snowstorm, and that’s as up-close as he gets if he’s consistent. An individualist sees the storm, too, but is immediately drawn to the uniqueness of each snowflake that composes it. The distinction is fraught with profound implications.

No two snowstorms are alike, but a far more amazing fact is that no two snowflakes are identical either—at least as far as painstaking research has indicated. Wilson Alwyn Bentley of Jericho, Vermont, one of the first known snowflake photographers, developed a process in 1885 for capturing them on black velvet before they melted. He snapped pictures of about 5,000 of them and never found two that were the same—nor has anyone else ever since. Scientists believe that changes in humidity, temperature, and other conditions prevalent as flakes form and fall make it highly unlikely that any one flake has ever been precisely duplicated. (Ironically, Bentley died of pneumonia in 1931 after walking six miles in a blizzard. Lesson: One flake may be harmless, but a lot of them can be deadly).

Contemplate this long enough and you may never see a snowstorm (or humanity) the same way again.

Anne Bradley is vice president of economic initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics. At a recent FEE seminar in Naples, Florida, she explained matters this way:

When we look at a snowstorm from a distance, it looks like indistinguishable white dots peppering the sky, one blending into the next. When we get an up-close glimpse, we see how intricate, beautiful, and dissimilar each and every snowflake is. This is helpful when thinking about humans. From a distance, a large crowd of people might look the same, and it’s true that we possess many similar characteristics. But we know that a more focused inspection brings us nearer to the true nature of what we’re looking at. It reveals that each of us bears a unique set of skills, talents, ambitions, traits, and propensities unmatched anywhere on the planet.

This uniqueness is critical when we make policy decisions and offer prescriptions for society as a whole; for even though we each look the same in certain respects, we are actually so different, one to the next, that our sameness can only be a secondary consideration.

The late Roger J. Williams, author of You Are Extra-Ordinary and Free and Unequal: The Biological Basis of Individual Liberty (as well as several articles in The Freeman), was a noted biochemistry professor at the University of Texas in Austin. He argued that fingerprints are but one of endless biological characteristics unique to each of us, including the contours and operation of our brains, nerve receptors, and circulatory systems.

These facts offer biological bases for the many other differences between one person and the next. Einstein, he noted, was an extremely precocious student of mathematics, but he learned language so slowly that his parents were concerned about his learning to talk. Williams summed it well more than 40 years ago when he observed, “Our individuality is as inescapable as our humanity. If we are to plan for people, we must plan for individuals, because that’s the only kind of people there are.”

Proceeding one step further, we must recognize that only individuals plan. When collectives are said to “plan” (e.g., “The nation plans to go to war”), it always reduces to certain, specific, identifiable individuals making plans for other individuals. The only good answer to the collectivist question, “What does America eat for breakfast?” is this: “Nothing. However, about 315 million individual Americans often eat breakfast. Many of them sometimes skip it, and on any given day, there are 315 million distinct answers to this question.”

Collectivist thinking is simply not very deep or thorough. Collectivists see the world the way Mr. Magoo did—as one big blur. But unlike Mr. Magoo, they’re not funny. They homogenize people in a communal blender, sacrificing the discrete features that make us who we are. The collectivist “it takes a village” mentality assigns thoughts and opinions to amorphous groups, when, in fact, only particular people hold thoughts and opinions.

Collectivists devise one-size-fits-all schemes and care little for how those schemes may affect the varied plans of real people. Any one flake means little or nothing to the collectivist because he rarely looks at them; and in any event, he implicitly dismisses the flakes because there are so many to play with. Collectivists are usually reluctant to celebrate the achievements of individuals per se because they really believe that, to quote President Obama, “you didn’t build that.”

Take individuals out of the equation and you take the humanity out of whatever you’re promoting. What you’d never personally inflict on your neighbor, one on one, you might happily sanction if you think it’ll be carried out by some faceless, collective entity to some amorphous blob on behalf of some nebulous “common good.” The inescapable fact is that we are not interchangeable. Cogs in a machine are, but people most emphatically are not.

If this point is lost on you, then watch the 1998 DreamWorks animated film Antz. The setting is an ant colony in which all ants are expected to behave as an obedient blob. This is very convenient for the tyrant ants in charge, each of which possesses a very unique personality indeed. The debilitating collectivist mindset is shaken by a single ant who marches to a different drummer—namely, his own self—and ultimately saves the colony through his individual initiative.

Karl Marx was a collectivist. Mother Theresa was an individualist. One dealt with people in lumps. The other one treated them as individuals. The lessons in that clear-cut dichotomy are legion. They are ignored only at great peril.

So what does humanity look like to you: a snowstorm or snowflakes?

If your answer is the latter, then you understand what the philosopher and historian Isaiah Berlin meant when he wrote in 1958, “But to manipulate men, to propel them toward goals which you—the social reformers—see, but they may not, is to deny their human essence, to treat them as objects without wills of their own, and therefore to degrade them.”

Lawrence W. Reed
President of FEE


  • If you see the world as a collective lump of humanity, you’ll likely come to very different conclusions about life and economics than if you see it as composed of billions of unique individuals.
  • A snowstorm is only as big as its individual snowflakes are numerous.

  • Abstractions are just that, while individuals are real.

  • Take individuals out of the equation and you remove humans from humanity.

  • For further information, see:

“Individualism, Collectivism and Other Murky Labels” by Sheldon Richman:

“Maverick Mark Twain’s Exhilarating American Individualism” by Jim Powell:

“Methodological Individualism” by Warren Gibson:

“Hayek on Individualism” by Sheldon Richman:


To Be Normal Is The Ideal Aim of The Unsuccessful – Individuation – Carl Jung




Religion… has become the fiendish instrument of death.

The Malaysian Insider

Human race must overcome old beliefs to unify humanity – Tamil Maran


Looking over thousands of years of the story of humanity, most people would name as our greatest disappointment, the bloody reality of humans fighting over territory and religious belief.


If God really is the Father of all people, why do His children behave this way?

Surely the Creator gives us clues of an evolutionary pattern in the natural realm.

The cycle of the seasons shows a concept of cyclical orbits. The plant kingdom reveals a progression of birth, youth, maturity, old age and death.

Miraculously, the tiny seed becomes a great tree. In time, it disappears back to the world of carbon, reborn again through dispersed atoms in different forms, with one constant theme of change and metamorphosis.

In the natural kingdom, the serpent sheds its old skin, the glorious butterfly frees itself from the rigid cage of the chrysalis, and the delicate form of an infant child becomes an old tired bent figure looking at the threshold of death’s door – but a spiritual journey awaits the worn old man.

If you stand back and look at the broad sweep of history, this clear pattern emerges in all life, and the idea of birth, youth, maturity and decline becomes apparent in the story of religion as well.

It starts when God speaks to society through a chosen person, a Messenger of God.

From the Creator comes the real source of truth, and a true line of Prophets or Manifestations speaks those words of truth to humanity.

Those prophets: Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, etc., are the founders of civilizations and the real source of social and spiritual change.

The Messengers of God bring indisputable authority to the human kingdom, and they ask us to carry out their grand design.

This plan seems logical and progressive in its revelation, but what went wrong with the divine application? How did humanity fail to get the memo?

You can understand the process by knowing that decline is normal and rebirth is necessary. Atrophy and decay are a natural stage in the evolution of religion:

So it is with religions; through the passing of time they change from their original foundation, the truth of the Religion of God entirely departs, and the spirit of it does not stay; heresies appear, and it becomes a body without a soul. That is why it is renewed. – “Some Answered Questions” (page 165, author: Abdul Baha).

Our inherent qualities as human beings make this process occur.  First, we do not always see the “big” picture or panorama of religion. We usually see only the “little” picture, taught to us by religious leaders.

People contend that their religion is “true” or the “way”, while calling others “false”. Instead of questioning their own beliefs, people happily adhere to the faith of their forefathers.

There is a direct lack of independent investigation of the truth, and to what happens when we rely on tradition, superstition and dogma instead of thoroughly evaluating our own beliefs:

In short, by religion we mean those necessary bonds which have power to unify. This has ever been the essence of the religion of God.

This is the eternal bestowal of God! This is the object of divine teachings and laws! This is the light of the everlasting life!

Alas! A thousand times alas! that this solid foundation is abandoned and forgotten and the leaders of religions have fabricated a set of superstitions and rituals which are at complete variance with the underlying thought.

As these man-made ideas differ from each other they cause dissension which breeds strife and ends in war and bloodshed; the blood of innocent people is spilled, their possessions are pillaged and their children become captives and orphans.

Thus religion, which was destined to become the cause of friendship, has become the cause of enmity.

Religion, which was meant to be sweet honey, is changed into bitter poison.

Religion, the function of which was to illumine humanity, has become the factor of obscuration and gloom.

Religion, which was to confer the consciousness of everlasting life, has become the fiendish instrument of death.

As long as these superstitions are in the hands and these nets of dissimulation and hypocrisy in the fingers, religion will be the most harmful agency on this planet.

These superannuated traditions, which are inherited unto the present day, must be abandoned, and thus free from past superstitions we must investigate the original intention.

The basis on which they have fabricated the superstructures will be seen to be one, and that one, absolute reality; and as reality is indivisible, complete unity and amity will be instituted and the true religion of God will become unveiled in all its beauty and sublimity in the assemblage of the world. – “Divine Philosophy” (pages 161-162, Abdul Baha).

When the human race overcomes the prejudices and hypocrisy of its old beliefs, we can unify humanity and end the terrible scourge of war and killing that has plagued us throughout history. – August 3, 2014.