My Philosophy Can Beat Up Your Philosophy

Societies are very much like cities, in that, they are not inevitable results of nature; they are products of human design. And while we often feel helpless in the face of current reality, designs– of both cities and societies– can be changed. But doing so requires analysis and understanding of the current design.

That said,

While it is tempting to just “jump in” and participate in the emotional cacophony of our current political discourse, my studies of history make me pause and wonder why the sad unhappy things I see around me are happening. I can’t help but wonder of there is some efficacious way to quell the emotional violence that I see every day, on the news and on social media comment threads.

My grand conclusion du jour is this:

As primates, we are, like all other social animals, terribly aware of pecking orders. For examples, look at our fascination with rankings of everything, from sports teams to high school test scores to universities to restaurants . . . how many top ten lists are there?

It is this pecking order instinct, and the abuse of it by various people to further their own agenda, that is the cause of so many of our woes.

Pecking order issues are a little like salt in the diet. If you remove pecking order issues from a discussion, suddenly it gets very arcane and dull.

For example, if we are discussing philosophy in a civilized manner, that is, if we are not trying to establish relatively higher social standing, our pecking order relationship is politely set aside.  Once that is done, now we might actually make some progress in mutual understanding.

But . . . if we are NOT being civilized, then, well . . . HEY– my favorite philosopher can beat up your favorite philosopher.

In a pecking order contest, we are now highly motivated to just defend ourselves.  No consensus is reached.  No enlightenment or teamwork occurs.

Incidentally, when this level of pecking order conflict occurs, this is when suddenly everyone else tunes in.

Pecking order conflicts are great for TV ratings, as primates are fascinated by pecking order battles. Who will get voted off the island next? Who will win the championship?  Who will get dunked on?  Who will get humiliated at a congressional hearing?

A major contributing factor here is the loneliness and disconnection that so many of us suffer from. A psychologist once explained to me that people in disconnected “shame” states will seek to make themselves feel better by at least making themselves feel that they are superior (read higher on the pecking order) than other people as a replacement for their lack if connection. It has become a broad social phenomenon, and it gets worse as we get more and more digitally cocooned and isolated.

If you dispassionately sit back and watch our so-called political discussions, you will see that most of the time, it is just a pecking order conflict. It’s rarely about actual policy, or even facts; it’s about saying that my candidate / political “tribe” is of a higher social rank than yours, and thus, any amount of invective is fair game, because after all, this is not really about policies– it is the human version of a cockfight.

It is very easy to take people out of calm civilized behavior by creating a threat, real or imagined, to their ever so precious sense of social rank. Thus, conversely, if you seek real consensus, it is key to make yourself unthreatening to that person you are trying to reach. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (For more on this, see my Principles of Applied Stupidity.”)

– JL

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Delusions Are Delicious

As an author, artist, and speaker, one of my grandiose ambitions in life is to make some kind of contribution towards making the world a better place. I don’t mean band-aid fixes either. I mean making real systemic changes.

While I have had a fair number of small successes, I have found that making broad changes is vexingly difficult. And so, instead of trying to make change by the standard approaches of offering criticism or new ideas, I am pondering the science of change-ology generally, and here is the big discovery:

The real issue is the prevalence of  . . .  delusionism.

Delusionism– that is, the terribly common tendency to believe things that just aren’t true– is generally impervious to logic.

One can make all the logical arguments in the world, and they have actually been made, but they all result in the identical feeling-superior-to-those who-disagree-but-nothing-ever-changes result. They are ineffective because we have a delusion that logic is an effective approach to dealing with delusionism.

We all like to think the problem lies in the delusions of others, but with the possible exception of Mr. Spock, every human being is delusional. Using myself as an example, as a child I thought Santa Claus existed and was capable of amazing feats that transcended the laws of physics. You may call that childlike innocence, but it’s not; it’s delusionalism.

And just as we use the delusion of Santa Claus to make kids behave better, adults are quite susceptible to it as well. Many a person has been convicted because a witness was totally convinced they had seen them in their apt that night, when in fact that witness was totally delusional. “Fake News” is all about telling us an appealing delusion that serves the teller’s purpose.

The United States Constitution recognizes delusionalism, and tries to keep us honest by allowing freedom of the press. But it can only do so much. Delusionalism can overwhelm even the best written legal documents.

Delusionalism is rampant and here to stay. It is this inherent flaw in our biological design that we must recognize and be aware of. Merely making contemptous judgements of others in its grasp IS NOT EFFECTIVE if you truly want to make actual changes.  In fact, thinking that making logical arguments against their beliefs will be effective is itself delusional. (Although doing so does serve the delusion that one is inherently superior to another group– yet another popular delusion.)

Delusionalism has to be treated like water-born diseases such as cholera. We are all susceptible to it, it can’t be entirely prevented, but we can make sure the water supply is clean enough so it doesn’t get out of hand and destroy us all.

Anyway, if you seek real change, it is my contention that the quickest path forward is to recognize how trauma, fear, ignorance, and anxiety, as well as corruption of social and legal institutions, can exacerbate the tendencies towards delusionalism, the same way contaminated water spreads disease.   If you do not reduce delusionism first, all the other tools you have– like, say, logic– simply will not work.

When people are damaged, frightened, lonely, abandoned, or the waterways of their communication get contaminated with vitriol, they start to imagine grandiose alternate realities in order to cope with their actual existence.  People who are given too much power can be taken up in grand delusions as well.

Debunking the delusional fantasies of others has proven to be almost totally ineffective, so the fix lies elsewhere, upstream, in the systemic problems that lead to emotional and physical trauma . . .  that lead to heightened delusionalism in the first place.

There will always be demagogues, i.e., people who benefit mightily from the delusionalism of others, so like fighting cholera, it will be a long and never-ending battle. But we are suffering from delusionalism on a grand scale here, and if we do not face it and fix it, it will be, as it has been for so many others, the cause of our destruction.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Externalizing Evil

So I always hesitate to mention anything Hitler because he garners such immediate gut level responses, but bear with me for a moment.

As we struggle now with Russia meddling with our elections, to be fair, Hitler also saw Russia and the Bolsheviks as a major threat to his vision of civilization– so much so that he attacked them in spite of all military logic.   He was so obsessed with the threat Russia posed, Hitler actually thought that once he attacked Russia, Britain would see his point and become his ally in facing the threat of Russia and Bolshevism.

By the way, the day WWII ended, we took over Hitler’s project of fighting Russia.

Now I am not for a moment trying to support or justify anything Hitler did. My point is, that in is own mind . . . IN HIS OWN MIND . . . he saw himself as a “good guy.” And he saw the evil in himself as something that existed in others, outside of himself.  This is very common.

Now . . .

I am reading digital hand wringing all over today as people ask “How could Neo Nazis still walk among us?” This completely ignores what is really going on, which is,

We human beings are wired, by default, to externalize our feelings of shame and evil.  “The problem is not ME– it’s THOSE PEOPLE over there.”  And it is this propensity that is the problem, assuming you want to try to fix it.  And because projecting our deepest shame and fear onto others is so popular, I question whether anyone really does.

You see, just as we see Hitler as this terrible person, he saw Russia as terrible people.  Can you step back for moment from your own hard wired need to be part of a morally superior group, and see that the group that you feel morally superior to looks at you in the EXACT SAME WAY? And, by the way, perhaps not without basis and justification for at least some of their complaints?

(And do you really think you can go around saying to somewhat ignorant people, “Your great great grandfather, that you have been taught all your life to honor and revere, was a traitorous scumbag,” and not encounter some pushback?)

The folks that carried torches in that parade don’t see themselves as evil bad boys. They see themselves as heroes, marching to save something dear and noble, protecting it from, well . . .

. . . you.

You can argue who has the moral high ground til you are blue in the face.  And please don’t think I am taking their side– I know what they are doing is wrong.  But if I join a group of people who hate them, do I not then belong to a hate group?  Much as I love feeling morally superior to these people?

The problem is, nobody wants to admit that maybe we are not as noble as we think, and we are very eager– some might even call it a social necessity– to assign our sense of shame to someone else in order to cope with it.

Until we get away from allowing ourselves to always immerse ourselves in a belief that we are automatically morally or intellectually superior to some other group, we will inadvertently create those groups, and this process will repeat and repeat without end.  Condemnation will not solve this problem– it’s actually a symptom of it.  It feels good but . . . Until we recognize the shaming exclusionary rival tribe trauma that results in this counterbalancing behavior, of seeking solace in a sense of moral superiority (that is the basis for taking extreme actions against perceived enemies with now justified violence), we are not looking at the root cause.  Does anyone want to fix this problem, or do we too much enjoy having someone to feel morally superior to?

We have met the enemy, and he is us.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Melting Pot Is Cold

If you go to Italy, you will find all kinds of evidence of the Roman Empire. There’s the Colosseum of course, and the Pantheon– certainly must sees– and any number of Roman temples and ruins of this and that all over the place.

Before the Romans took over, for hundreds of years much of Italy was run by the Etruscans. But, unlike the many Roman remains and ruins, it is tough to find any Etruscan buildings.

This not an accident. It’s not because the Etruscans built their houses out of sticks. It is because, as Machiavelli explains, when the Romans first took over the joint, they did not want there to be any competition for their ideologies. They did not want the various local tribes to have a choice of maybe going back to worshipping the Etruscan gods.  So the Romans very methodically went around destroying anything Etruscan, and that’s why there are so very few remnants of the Etruscan society.

Similarly, when Cortez arrived at Mexico City, he found fabulous buildings and temples– and he had them all taken apart. Of course, there are still Aztec and Mayan temples out in the boonies, but in Mexico City they only recently found the remains of the massive temple that once stood in the center of town. He wanted the locals to be Catholic, and not have some other temple to go to.

The point I am making here is, when new cultures or centers of power take over, one of their first orders of business is to get rid of the competition, and this includes history and traditions of the people they are trying to take over. So it always saddens me a little when I encounter people whose American cultural awareness is, in terms of time, very shallow. They know all the current top ten hits, but if I ask them if they have ever seen “On the Town” or “Roman Holiday” or even “Casablanca” . . . their eyes go blank. Their own rich American cultural heritage is not something they are aware of. Never mind Gershwin or Aaron Copland, we’re talking fabulous pop culture like Rocky and Bullwinkle, and in some cases, even Bugs Bunny. I was amazed in talking to some millenials last week that they had no idea who Tex Avery was, and had never seen “Red Hot Riding Hood” or “King Size Canary.” These are timeless masterpieces of unadulterated fun that, like the monuments of the Etruscans, have been systematically erased by the modern pop culture machine that seeks to establish its own pre-eminence, and to do so it has to erase collective knowledge of competition from the past that far exceeds its own relatively poor quality.

Something else that is becoming painfully clear is that the kind of all inclusive, we-are-all-in-this-together kind of movie and song is no longer preeminent in our culture. They are being erased– and this is much easier than taking down stone fortresses– by an ever increasing volume of mass produced pop culture pushed hard by individual corporate interests. The nation, its cultural monuments, things that are collectively ours, are being taken down and replaced by things that are owned by smaller entities that have their own individual, not national, agendas. We ignore this at our peril. Singing the national anthem at ball games is not enough. Maybe making every kid say the Pledge of Allegiance every day was overkill, but something like that is necessary to maintaining national cohesion, especially in a melting pot like America. You have to keep the heat on to make things melt together. We all lettings things separate, and while this is profitable for some, it is not good for us as a whole.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Latest podcast –Break the Business

I am always eager to be a guest on podcasts.  To me, it’s the new borscht belt, a place to try out new material and just polish and reach new audiences.  to that end, I just appeared on a really interesting podcast done by entertainment lawyer Ryan Kairalla, called “Break the Business” . . .  Very professionally done.  My part starts at 19:45.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Current Levels of Creativity

So I read an article in the Harvard Business Review today that asked, are the super rich ruining the world’s great cities ?


The article made some statements regarding “levels of creativity” being as high as ever, and I confess I took issue with this.  My comment reprinted below.  Note how tactful I have become in my old age 🙂


This is an awfully broad topic, and while I don’t disagree with the facts herein, here is a slightly different take:

A big part of this discussion is, how does one define “creativity”? I think it is important to separate the craft elements, of, say, music or drawing, from the purely artistic elements, of actually generating new art forms and revealing new layers of the human experience.

Alas, when examined from that perspective, creativity is suffering. A few items:

The top grossing films this week are Wonder Woman, Captain Underpants, Pirates of the Caribbean, Guardians the Galaxy, Alien Covenant, and Baywatch. Instead of new ideas, you have three movies based on comic books, and three that are sequels, one to a TV show. Wonder Woman was created in 1941.

Two of the three top grossing Broadway shows this week are Hello Dolly and Groundhog Day.

The 20th century saw astonishing creativity in the realm of pop music, including the development of ragtime, jazz, blues, swing, rock n roll, and albums such as Sergeant Pepper. However, since the creation of hip hop in the 1970’s, there has been no significant innovation in pop music “form,” and in fact it can be argued that it is moving backwards into ever more simplistic harmony, and simplistic forms such as chant.

Can you name a significant / legitimate arts “movement” that has occurred in the last 30 years? Or perhaps a new dance “craze”? In the 60’s there was a new one every week.

There are many things contributing to what is, in my humble opinion, essentially a kind of broad artistic stagnation. One is, younger people who traditionally supported new kinds of art are either too distracted by social media or they are too financially strapped by education and housing costs to support live artistic events. Another issue of concentrations of wealth is that those with that wealth may choose to support staid symphonic institutions, not disruptive art forms that challenge the status quo. Another is the overly long copyright period, making it profitable to keep re-selling an idea from 1925 rather than creating new. Another is that, historically, large militarily dominant empires tend to be very conservative in terms of artistic growth. (Compare the Roman Empire to Renaissance Italian City States).

There are many contributing factors, both economic and political, but when we talk about “creativity” in terms of the development of forms, perception, and connection that true art must possess, one could make the argument that we are lagging behind on all fronts.

– Justin Locke

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cults, Terrorists, and Teens

When I was 20 years old, I found myself in an unusual situation. I had, at that rather young age, achieved my goal of becoming a professional bass player. In my eager drive to achieve this one goal, however, I overlooked various items. Yes, I had achieved much, but this was done at the cost of being ripped out of my peer group. No more dorm life, no more classes, no one to hang out with.

The people I was now working with were generally older than me, in some cases very much older.  Work itself was sporadic.  I had a lot of time on my hands, and I started to feel really lonely.

Long story short, being young, energetic, alone, and lacking any other option, I spent a lot of time walking around downtown Boston. And as I did that, I started having unusual adventures.

I discovered that there were various cultish groups who were constantly on the prowl for new members. They were trained to look for young people walking around with a lost and lonely look, e.g., me, and recruit me.

Long story short, there were various cultish groups, including Scientologists and Moonies and another group of Buddhists, who liked to sit around repeatedly chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.”

The Scientologists offered a “personality test.” I was bored so I took it. I did not hang around for the results. The Moonies were awfully organized, and I got corralled into a very persuasive seminar before escaping, all the while being chased by a young lady whose job it was to recruit someone like me off the street. Thank goodness for a 60 Minutes report, otherwise I might be still selling flowers in Gloucester or Logan Airport.

The point I am making is, there are organizations that understand the potential of the many young people out wandering the streets that have, for whatever reason, lost the cultural tapestry of desperately needed social connection.  I know how desperate one can be to get re connected. And this is a big piece of the terrorism puzzle.

The home grown terrorists we have in the USA have a common thread: they are not first generation immigrants coming here in secret cells. No, they are either second generation citizens, or the loner boy next door.  In either case, a their core, they are , as I once was, lost, disconnected, and insanely desperate, on a very basic lizard brain level, to find some sense of belonging.   Such people are terribly vulnerable and they can, in some instances, become fanatics because of the mental imbalance loneliness can cause.  Combine a little narcissism, grandiosity, resentment, anger, frustrated sexual desire, self destructive tendencies, access to weapons, and there you have a suicide bomber.

I realize terrorism is a complex problem, but we have to recognize the root human vulnerability that makes it likely for lost young men to seek something to join that seems noble in its purpose, however evil in reality.  We must, like generations past, start to pre-emptively recruit these young men and offer some path to camaraderie and a way to acquire real belonging in society.  Otherwise, we invite the horrific results of letting someone with evil intentions exploit this commonplace resource and use it against us.

– JL

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Emotional Infrastructure

So about 200,000 years ago, the species home sapiens– that is, us– became established.

While there weren’t as many of us back then, still, statistically speaking, it stands to reason that at some point in that 195,000 years of unwritten human history, there had to be a few Einsteins, one or two Da Vincis, and maybe even a Mozart or two.

So why haven’t we heard of them? Why are there no cave drawings of Mona Lisa?

The point I will immediately get to is, the Mozart we all know could not have existed, or at least, he would not have manifested as anything much beyond a primitive creature, seeking to merely survive from day to day, if he had not been surrounded by the infrastructure of violin makers, cello players, opera singers, architects who built concert halls, and so on . . . not to mention the whole system of music notation which, if it had not been widely established in the 200 years prior to, he would still hear his symphonies in his head, but would have no way to write them down, much less share them with anyone else.

It is quite possible that something similar is happening in our here and now. Perhaps there are people who have the same genius and capability of a 75,000-BC Mozart living among us, but there is no cultural/mechanical/industrial infrastructure allowing them to employ their gift, and they walk around confused and frustrated, just seeking to survive day to day.

Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates are all very clever, and would likely have done well in life no matter what, but it was the creation of the Internet infrastructure (not to mention roads and electricity and UPS) that made their high achievements possible. Without it . . . They would all just be another guy in the marketing department with personal idiosyncracies.

With all the emphasis on rugged individualism, there is a constant tendency to take our massive dependence on infrastructure for granted. We like to blame individuals rather than our collective failures to maintain infrastructure. The focus on individual failings distracts us from the real causes of our woes.

So, along with the infrastructure of roads, the electrical grid, metallurgy, copyright protections, and the internet, there is another kind of infrastructure that, like many of our roads and bridges and pipes, is crumbling away before our very eyes, and that is . . . emotional infrastructure.

The folks in Finland have figured out that emotional infrastructure is a sine qua non of a best-in-the-world educational system. They understand that the emotional health, that is, feeling safe and secure within their families, institutions, and peer groups, is the starting point for superior learning.

Here in the United States we always seem to be ignoring the need for emotional infrastructure. Just as bridges fall down and water mains break at inopportune moments, causing everyone all kinds of aggravation, by ignoring the need to maintain emotional infrastructure, we are seeing society, and our nation, crumble as well.

When I see a fellow citizen expressing bile and vitriol towards one political figure or another on a faebook comment, I do not see this as a logical face value argument about a given political theory.  They never hold up under scrutiny.  What I am seeing, and what I think we are all experiencing, are the symptoms of a disease, which is the loss of emotional infrastructure. The statements we hear are, more often than not, nonsensical, and yet they seem to get repeated endlessly. These are not issues of lack of individual logical ability, nor can the problem be fixed by shaming this or that individual. It is a symptom of the decay of emotional infrastructure, which is required in order to have logical thought, just as as electricity requires utility poles.

When we do not feel safe, when the norms of manners and politeness are cast aside, we lose the capacity to think calmly and objectively, just as losing the bridge makes us lose the ability to cross the river. It’s not our own individual failing, it is the loss of infrastructure that is making us all wet.  Without the collectively created infrastructure in place, we become limited in what we can do, both with our physical bodies driving across the river, and with our minds traveling to new realms of consciousness.

I don’t think we can overcome the divisiveness of our current political climate without seeing past the expressions of vitriol that are designed to destroy the emotional infrastructure that would normally not allow fanaticism to fester.  We must step back, rise above our emotional responses, and realize that the pithy condemnations of this party or that are really just symptoms of a disease. It is the loss of the underlying emotional infrastructure, of a loss of and desperate need for mutual respect, as well fear of being assaulted, that manifests as symptoms at all other areas of social discourse.

It is very hard to study for a test when you are hungry or you are afraid that you will be abandoned or beaten at any moment.  If our core sense of emotional infrastructure is lost, civilization is soon to fall as well.

Sadly, there are those who seek greater power for themselves, who know how easy it is to exploit the poor judgement caused by a lack of emotional infrastructure, and so as part of a broader scheme of oppressing those weaker than themselves, they seek to corrode and weaken emotional infrastructure, just as bacteria are thrilled by the vulnerability of bruised fruit. By ridiculing and flouting conventions of simple things like good manners, this makes them more able to subvert society for their own nefarious purposes.

It often said that at the beginning of every new war, the generals start by using the tactics of the last war. This is the case today. Just as Blitzkrieg warfare was totally new to the French in 1940, the kinds of emotional and economic warfare being waged upon us today are just as unfamiliar, harder to even comprehend, and we have no defense because we did not know we needed one.   These are not wars of physical territory.  We must recognize our vulnerability, we must recognize the threat, we must accept the presence of evil, and we must open our eyes and accept the responsibility that falls upon us as individuals and society to address the problem, or accept the horrific consequences of inaction.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Like Economy

I enjoy getting “likes” on my facebook posts, and I enjoy retweets of my tweets, and so on, but I have discovered a dark side to all this.

My name is Justin, and I am a like-aholic.

There is a severe addictive quality to getting “likes.” The need for connection and acceptance is hard wired into our minds, it is essential for survival, and so expressions of approval from others give us endless shots of dopamine. So its power has to be respected, the same way you would respect any opioid.

That said, in running my “facebook fan page,” I have noticed this propensity on the part of Facebook Inc. to tell me I am getting “likes” and “page views” and “shares” that, interestingly, I am not really getting. I will get a notice one week saying “Justin has one new like.” Then, a week later, I will get a notice saying “Justin has one new like.”  Out of curiosity I will go and look at the actual analytics– and guess what. The notice of the “new like” is a sham. The new like was just a rehash of last week’s like. It is now an old like.

The original like really did not have much real meaning, but then this meaninglessness is compounded by a pretense of there being more than one meaningless bit of digital recognition.  Even so, I am human, and I got a little rush out of it.

Still, Facebook presumably knows that the dopamine shot of “getting likes” is a powerful force, and so like any clever drug dealer, they are giving me inflated data to get me hooked on the feeling.  And of course, if I want another fix of more likes, well, now I have to pay (to “boost” the post.).

Of course, it’s not just me. There is a growing economy of likes and shares. It seems like there is a belief that merely getting liked and shared by itself is a path to real achievement and success. This is equivalent to thinking getting drunk leads to happiness.

Worse, sometimes, clearly false propaganda in my newsfeed is presented as truth because “this has been shared 60,000 times.” I like to think the general population serves as a filter for truth, but this is an illusion. You can fool most of the people most of the time. A lot of people drink Pepsi. This does not mean it is good for you.

All this support for an escapist illusion of connection is problematic on so many levels. It is a new addiction, it is taking over our world, and the addictive behavior it is cultivating is dangerous.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Latest Podcast Appearance

So I recently discovered a fellow here in Boston named Yuri Cataldo.   He does a podcast on what seems to be an ever growing trend, of people in the arts starting to seriously examine and rethink how they approach the business side of things.






Click on the pic above or link to:

I was really happy with this interview.  A lot of my highly experimental/exploratory thinking of my last two books coalesced into a cohesive presentation/conversation about how “poor kid thinking,” aka oppression training, is at the root of so many business difficulties.

I confess, it’s long!  an hour and a quarter.  Enjoy!   Thanks Yuri!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment