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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Fundamentalism and the Death of the Republic

Fundamentalism and the Death of the Republic (Part I):
When I was a kid, I was told that one should distrust scientists and intellectuals because their worldview wasn't "biblical," or "spirit-filled." Comic books were distributed, and even a musical staged showing a dictatorial "professor" confounded by an earnest, Bible-quoting student who stood firm in his faith, responding to scientific fact (often mistaken, and often dogmatically stated without a hint of irony) with endless scriptural references and homey "examples" of the absurdity of scientific "belief."
The anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge strain in this country has always been closely affiliated with evangelical religious institutions, since the great awakening of the 1840's. The "Jocko-Homo" of the 1920's, the Jack Chick tracts of the 1960's-70's, to the nonsense of Ray Comfort, Ben Stein and the Creation Museum today have all had this in common - they reject scientific inquiry and attempt to substitute some sort of "faith-reasoning" in its place.
The reasons for this are not hard to suss out. The fundamentalists institutions are in the business of selling certainty. What their "flock" is looking for is absolute statements of comfort and assurance, and an identity to belong to with a leader to follow. Science is not about certainty, or comfort, or obedience. Insofar as you are a good scientist, you are a bad fundamentalist; insofar as you are a good fundamentalist, you are a bad scientist. Science and intellectual inquiry are their natural enemy.
It is a short step from discarding all the science to believe in Noah's Ark, to believing in trickle-down economics. If you are already in the habit of discarding evidence and ignoring data so you can believe that early men ploughed with dinosaurs, then it's easy to disregard statistics showing that violent crime is down, not up, or that most people on public assistance are either children, aged, or disabled. It's easy to disregard statistics showing that immigrants are a net gain to our economy, and less likely to engage in violent crime than the general population when you are willing to believe that the sun stood still for Joshua. If you can believe that the world was made in six days, it's easy to discount the science on climate change. God could fix it by Tuesday, if that's His will.
Fundamentalism is a totalizing movement - it seeks to control everything about its followers' lives - the music they listen to (remember "Christian Rock?") the books they read, the news sources they get, even their schools and colleges. It is, at its root, as unamerican and undemocratic a movement as we have ever seen here since the fall of the German-American Bund. It has done immense damage to the lives of millions, to women and children especially, to the nation, and to Christianity itself.

Fundamentalism and the Death of the Republic (Part II):
In the end, the damage that Christian fundamentalism does to the Republic will not be via its rejection of science or reason. It will do it's damage by discrediting the very concept of faith and belief. Science will not fall because of yahoos like Ben Stein and Ray Comfort, it is Christianity that will be damaged. The very idea of faith will suffer.
By making religion a matter of rejecting reason, and by making religion an "identity movement" that paints anyone who doesn't subscribe to its dictates as the enemy, the religious institutions of the Republic lose their ability to act as social hubs - as places where common civic experiences can be celebrated, or common griefs can be shared. These are not functions to be lightly cast aside. They are the mortar that holds a society together.
And republics need faith - not religious faith, but a willingness to temporarily forgo personal advantage for the possibility of building a better world. By damaging the very concept of faith, deligitimatizing it in the eyes of the educated to serve their insular and self-isolated "flock," the fundamentalist movement damages the Republic as a whole in its very essence.
A republic is aspirational. It hopes and strives against history to create something better that what the majority of history has produced. Take away faith, you take away the motivation for a Republic, or even a better society.

Fundamentalism and the Death of the Republic (Part III of IV)
I was present at two events that signaled a significant change in how fundamentalist evangelical protestants saw their role in politics: the 1974 Kanawha County Textbook Protests, and the 1976 commendation of Anita Bryant's "firm stand" against homosexuality at the Southern Baptist Convention.
Prior to 1974, fundamentalist evangelicals were quite varied on their political stances, but they were generally firm on the idea that the church was no place for secular politics. Politics was considered "of this world," and something "rendered unto Caesar." I remember my father, who was the minister of a small, fervently Biblical literalist and fundamentalist church standing firmly against political speeches or endorsements being made at, or through the church.
Less than one year later he was marching on the Board of Education alongside the Ku Klux Klan, demanding the resignation of elected officials for "ungodliness" from his pulpit, and attending rallies with people who endorsed, and carried out the firebombing of an elementary school.
Why this radical change? A new organization, not yet prominent, called the "Heritage Foundation," targeted the Kanawha Valley for a political campaign designed to turn these nominally independent churches into footsoldiers for the GOP. Their tool in doing this was a slide show portraying "new" textbooks, (they had actually been in use for years) as endorsing and encouraging homosexuality, Communism and Satan worship. By selective quotations, and often outright lies about what was contained in those textbooks, they outraged the members of these churches, who were largely uneducated and politically unsophisticated (even today, Southern Baptists have one of the lowest percentages of college graduates of any large denomination at 19%. The national average is 26%.) They provided organizers and arranged rallies to whip up these people into a righteous rage.
It succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. I was held out of school for the better part of a year, in defiance of the truancy laws, people were shot not a half-mile from my home, and an elementary school was firebombed. Thousands of children were sent to unequipped and unaccredited "church schools" in the basements of churches where the curriculum consisted of the memorization of Bible verses, and the study of "historical" and "scientific" pamphlets supplied by - you guessed it - the Heritage Foundation.
In 1976, Anita Bryant, a former Miss America, revived her flagging celebrity by taking very public stands and crusading around the country denouncing homosexuality, and claiming that homosexuals were using the schools to "recruit" children into their "lifestyle." At the 1976 Southern Baptist Convention, (I was present with my father who was sent by our church as a "messenger") a resolution was passed to support her crusade. This resolution was used as a tool to propagandize and spread misinformation about the homosexual community, and to purge the seminaries of "liberals" who refused to denounce homosexuality publicly. This removed every "moderate," and anyone who opposed using the church as a political tool from Southern Baptist institutions. It also established the precedent of using the church as an arm of right-wing "values" crusades.
The insistence on "values voting" meant that the fundamentalists became a "faith based" arm of the GOP. They have remained so. This allowed the turning of the formerly Democratic South, over time, to a Republican stronghold, unreachable by argument or appeal to fact by anyone who did not cater to their intolerant agenda.

Fundamentalism and the Death of the Republic (Part IV of IV):

To recap: Christian fundamentalism has become a political, totalizing movement that is, at its root, an exclusive, anti-science, anti-intellectual, identity-based, supremacist, socially intolerant "base" used by the corporatist, pro-capitalist faction of the Republican party as "footsoldiers" who are, due to their self-imposed social and intellectual isolation unreachable by factual or logical persuasion. They are thus perfectly content to vote and agitate against their own social, economic or political interests if their language and symbols are adeptly co-opted by the demagogues of the right. There is no analogous movement on the left to speak of, although their intolerance and "buzzword" based process is rivaled by the much less politically significant "politically correct" faction of the Democratic Party.

There has been much hand-wringing by certain thinkers on the moderate left as to why the Christian fundamentalist movement has gone "all-in" with Trumpism, when the leaders of the Trumpist junta are not, in terms of their lifestyle, much like them. Trump and his circle are irreligious, licentious - the photographs that exist of the First Lady posing in lingerie in seductive photos would have been considered utterly unacceptable by an earlier generation of fundamentalists, and Trump's divorces would have disqualified him. My father said many times that a man who had been divorced would not be acceptable as President since, "If he can't run his own home, how can he lead the country?"

This was, of course, before the apotheosis of Saint Reagan, which was made possible by the 1970's politicization of the movement.

People who find this shift incomprehensible badly misread the modern fundamentalist movement, which is tribal and identity based rather than based in any real conviction about righteousness or personal purity. Homosexuality is loathed and feared not for reasons of sexual purity (note the willingness of the movement to welcome back "repentant" sinners - leaders who "stray" from their marriages or who even engage in homosexual behavior) but because homosexuals, in their eyes represent a rival "tribe," who are perceived as representing a "lifestyle" that is secular, and incompatible with their own.

Christian fundamentalism sees pluralistic, secular democracy with its emphasis on dialogue and science-based policy as a threat to their carefully manicured reality tunnel. They see secular education as an attempt to recruit their children away from their lifestyle. There will be no reconciliation with them; compromise is impossible, since serious inquiry is taken as a "lack of faith." Since the social life of a Christian fundamentalist centers around the church, which is liturgically centered around the figure of the "preacher," rather than around a hierarchy and the sacraments, it is, by its nature compatible with authoritarianism.

Modern Christian fundamentalism is a threat to the Republic, and its pluralistic principles. It will always be so, and those who value pluralism and a healthy, multicultural society must seek to limit its power and scope. To do otherwise is to abandon the power of faith and moral aspiration to an authoritarian religious sect that is "fundamentally" incompatible with "E Pluribus Unum," and Constitutional governance and that has abandoned the social message of the Gospels. It is not only a threat to the Republic, it is the most puissant threat to the proper social role of Christianity, and to the concept of faith itself. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Draft of a manifesto

The synergy between intrusive, authoritarian government, the corporatization of the for-profit media, and the increasing dominance of a few conglomerates has created a situation that is properly termed "inverted democracy." The populace is dominated by the interests of the investor class, and in day to day life their needs and dignity are subordinated to its greed and short-sighted selfishness. By political work, organization, targeted, strategically valid protest, public education, and being economically responsible consumers and producers we can create space for both living and building politically, economically, and socially effective networks that can create real, dynamic change. The stranglehold of inherited and hoarded wealth derived from economically unproductive activity on our political systems and daily lives must be broken. We deserve better. We demand and work for better. We resist. To that end, we set the following goals: Political, economic and social empowerment of the disadvantaged. Institutional barriers, discrimination and economic exploitation of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, the poor, the disabled and those wrongfully oppressed for living peacefully as they please must stop. The systems that support such oppression must be opposed, and eventually replaced by a humanistic commitment on the social level, equality in political institutions, and basic fairness and freedom from want in our economic lives. Every human being has the right to a decent education, necessary health care, healthy nutrition, shelter, and dignity. No excuse can be made for failure to provide these necessities to every human being in our community. No human being should have to live in fear of violence. Those who live peacefully should be free of coercive interference by any governmental or social entity. The desire to prevent others from living as they please, to love who they please, to consume what they please, to transact as they please, provided they harm or defraud no one, is inhuman, socially corruptive and unconscionable. Brutality is poison to a free people. Those who have offended against the laws should be humanely treated, with a goal of educating, preparing and re-integrating them into society. No government is good enough, or wise enough to wield the power of life and death over its citizens, and execution is a barbaric practice with no place in a modern, free society. No prisoner shall be abused, tortured, or denied habeas relief under any circumstances, and those responsible for such outrage should be subject to the full penalty of law. Privacy is a basic human need. No government, and no private entity is entitled to any information about a private citizen that is not knowingly, voluntarily granted, or by way of a proper warrant from a public court. No government is entitled to keep secrets from its people indefinitely. In the case of matters of national security, no information can be kept from the public for longer than seven years, and that only with a finding by a public court that such secrecy is essential to an imminent national security need. Every human being has the right to be respectfully heard. The political institutions of this country must be made to listen to the voices of its citizens, not to inherited or rentier wealth. To that end, all campaigns should be publicly financed, and strict limits should be set on political contributions. Such contributions should be public, and only from individuals. Inherited wealth is a cancer on democracy. Estates and gifts should be progressively taxed to prevent domination of our economic and political system by unearned wealth. Arbitrage is a burden on the wealth and economic opportunity of the people. A tax should be placed on all large financial transactions, and another on short-term transactions and sales of securities held less than one year. Our nation should never defile itself with wars of aggression or military actions based in the desire for conquest or dominance. All combat actions must be authorized by the legislature, unless they are in answer to an imminent threat to our nation. In such a case, such executive action must be authorized by the legislature within seven days, on pain of impeachment. Military expenditures should be limited to 2.5% of GDP, except in time of war, declared as such by the legislature. Defending our air, water, and food production by scientifically based regulation is essential. Our climate is under threat, even as our energy needs grow. We must begin a serious, long-term commitment to turning away from fossil fuels towards a sustainable energy system, investing in the necessary infrastructure, and in the technology and scientific research necessary to ensure both the future of our environment, and our productivity. Infrastructure is the lifeblood of a productive society. Our communications and transportation networks and our public facilities are in desperate need of repair and upgrading. We will invest both capital and political effort into making our infrastructure the best in the world. We covenant to fight for our nation, and to never cease working for a better, more just and prosperous republic. So say we all.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Contempt For the Pigeon

Let's assume that someone falls for a "short con" in front of us. Some slick matchstick man takes them for a few bucks on the shell game, say. The first time you see the poor sucker get taken for a few bucks, it's sort of amusing. The con man is so slick, and the mark so credulous, that it's hard not to see some justice in it.
But then, the pigeon falls for it again. The very same hanki-pank. And again. And again. It starts to get uncomfortable to watch - the mark on tilt, the glee of the huckster as he reels in every last dime.
He falls for it again, and again and again. The very same con. Identical in every detail. It starts to seem monstrous. You're filled with pity for the poor sap, clearly he's in the grip of some sort of compulsion.
Again and again and again. Exactly the same patter, pitch, turn and sting. Again and again.
Eventually, you start to feel a creeping contempt for the victim. What's wrong with him? You start to suspect that he's so pathetic that he knows he's being taken. That he somehow, perversely enjoys being taken advantage of.
That's where I'm at with the average American. You've been taken for a ride so many times with the exact same, shopworn pitch, that I don't even pity you anymore. I'm struggling to avoid contempt.

"Gut" Thinking

So much harm is done in the world - so much terror inflicted on the helpless by people who "know" they're right, and their "gut" tells them that they have license to hurt others. Set a raft of evidence in front of them, it matters not. What their "gut" tells them is more important that all the data the best minds in the world can gather. I "know what's right."
Well, go to it, then. You've always had your way, and you always will. Until someone who knows in his "gut" what is "right" hits the nuclear button, or releases the final pathogen or just slits the throat of the next-to-last human being. How can you argue with him? How can you tell ISIS or any other terrorist that they're wrong? After all, they'd tell you their "gut" tells them what to do. They "know what's right." That's what their holy book tells them to do.
The people who try to think with their intestines will be the death of us all. And I'm not sure we don't deserve it. A species so gifted, and yet so dedicated to bloody-minded stupidity as a moral principle is an abomination, anyway.

Monday, April 3, 2017


During these dark, hard days, I've decided to post an incomplete honor roll of gratitude. Both because I want to thank some folks, living and dead, and because I need to remind myself who I'm still living for - to pay their kindness forward:
First, my beloved wife, Kathleen. Above all. Everything I know of joy and love comes from her.
My grandfather, Elvin Thornton - who taught me that the measure of a man isn't how much he makes, or how famous he is, but how many he can help, protect, and provide for. He also introduced me to the first author that shaped me: William Shakespeare.
My grandmother, Charlotte Waggoner - The first person who loved me for who I am, rather than who they thought I should be.
J.D. Waggoner, my uncle - He taught me that humor and music matter.
Eric Waggoner - who showed me that I am not alone. 
My fifth grade teacher - Carol Moran. She taught me that it's good to be smart, that reading is the gate to a bigger world, and that writing clarifies and sharpens the mind.
My high-school philosophy teacher - David Richards. He actually taught me to think rigorously, research carefully and write with accuracy and persuasiveness.
My high-school creative writing teacher - Tom McNair. He was the terror of my 11th and 12th grade years. Demanding, uncompromising, brilliant and totally unwilling to accept excuses for anything but my best work.
My first acting coaches - Joe Don Winters and Carolyn Goss. The first time I knew that I had a talent that could lift an audience, and tell stories that mattered. They taught me that theatre is a craft, not just an art. That it takes skill, discipline, and hard work.
Sifu Lai and Noyan Temuj - Who taught me the martial arts I still practice. And taught me that calmness, clear headedness, and discipline are true strength. They taught me that pain is not the enemy, and that sheer power is not enough to achieve true victory where it really matters.
SSgt Jefferson White - who made a soldier of me, and then taught me it was important to be a good man first, then a soldier.
Maestro Martinez - who made a swordsman and a gentleman of me.
Scott Dial, David McBride and Michelle Michele Gatton - whose friendship sustained me during a very hard time in my adolescence.
Professor Donald White - my freshman philosophy teacher. He insisted on the widest possible reading, and the clearest possible thinking.
Hawk Lambert, Ed Katschke, and Steve Cothern. My patient, thoughtful, creative and joyous friends who basically hand carried me through the darkest year of my life.
Dave McGinnis, Deborah Brown, April Simpson Angell-McAteer, Jeff Robinette, Debbie Bender, Herbert Gardner and, God rest him, Greg Garner, who were my friends when it couldn't have been easy. You saw my flaws, and stuck by me anyway. I love you for it.
Professor Robert Newman - a mentor, a teacher, and a friend. He taught me the role of joy and friendship in philosophy. 
Judge Daniel O'Hanlon - a mentor with both infinite kindness and a whip-sharp rod of rhetorical discipline when needed. I came to his court with a license, a head full of mush, and good intentions, and left a lawyer. The best work I've done for my home state so far came because of his leadership.
Barbara H. Allen - My model as a lawyer, and the model for so many great virtues as a leader and a friend. The master of "Duck-Fu," the ability to look calm and placid on the surface, while paddling like mad underneath. If I lead, I want to lead like Barbara.
And if you are reading this now, my comrades, my friends, those I wish to serve, those I will shelter if needed; those I fight beside and those with whom I bear the burdens, I am more grateful to you than my powers of communication can express. There are so many more. How can I feel other than blessed?

Becoming Your Best Self

Here's something that was given to me by a dear mentor many years ago. If you take this brief exercise seriously, it may change things for you. It's not a "miracle," or a new-agey magic trick. It can't hurt you, and it may be the most valuable thing I own. But as it was given to me freely, and it costs me nothing to share it, I give it to you, my far-flung fellow strangelets and dearest comrades:
Sit quietly where you won't be interrupted or distracted for five minutes. Not where you poop. I heard you out there, Bueller. 
Now picture the person you would like to be. Your very best self. Don't worry about whether you think you have the grit or the discipline to become that person, or whether you've failed before. We all have, and we all will. That doesn't matter. We're going to learn to use those failures to our advantage. 
Picture that person as clearly as you can. How do they dress? How do they stand, move, talk? What are the traits that make up this personality? Make sure you like them! If you don't then think seriously about what you really want to be.
Don't think about things that mostly are out of your control - reputation, fame, work, health, money, etc. Think about this person's personality and how they interact with the world and its events day to day. Your very best self.
Think seriously about what this person would do, what matters to them. How do they react to news - good and bad? How do they spend their free time? What do they enjoy, love, and abhor? You might even think about what they eat. 
Now, try to understand that you can be that person. Becoming them is simple, and really not very difficult since we're going to do it in very small steps. As often as you think of it, ask yourself, "What would my best self do? How would they spend this moment, react to this, treat this person? Little things matter; would they do that, say that, eat that?
Then do that. Just that. Do what you think the person you want to be would do, even though you're not that person yet.
It will feel strange at first. You will be doing things that you don't really feel like doing yet. You'll fail. Many times. It won't always be clear to you, and sometimes, you'll lack the necessary strength and discipline. But how do you think your best self reacts to mistakes? Surely, with forgiveness and gentle encouragement. Hear their voice. 
Over time, striving to react like that person would, doing the things that you think they would do, it will start to feel natural, day by day. You will get into the habit of doing what your best self would do - reacting the way they would react. Not at first, but moment by moment, day by day, you will become what you are imitating. 
It's really all that simple. Picture your best self. Ask "what would that person do?" Strive to do it. It will change you.
"Assume a virtue if you have it not. That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat, Of habits devil, is angel yet in this: That to the use of actions fair and good He likewise gives a frock or livery That aptly is put on. Refrain tonight, And that shall lend a kind of easiness To the next abstinence, the next more easy." 

- Hamlet, Act III, Scene 4

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

From the Hour of the Wolf

It is a tribute of the highest order imaginable to the foresight of our lauded ancestors that this race of idiots, this tribal clot of ninnyhammers has managed to get by for almost four generations without incinerating or poisoning itself entire.
I would bet on humanity making it another generation - mostly because if I lose the bet, I will be a cloud of radioactive ash or a poisoned lump of room temperature worm dirt, as will the bookie, so I will not have to pay my losses. Nothing else would provoke me to bet on such an unlikely proposition as that this malignant troop of maladapted, self-mangling primates, "man the wise" - oh the irony, making it another twoscore years.
And good bloody riddance I say. We have improved things immeasurably for ourselves since we stopped painting beautifully proportioned bison on cave walls and began scrawling crude drawings of sexual organs on public buildings, but there is not another organism on this planet with cause to give thanks for our rising to the pinnacle of evolutionary dominance, with the exception of a few disease pathogens who obviously don't care what company they are seen in.
We are the only animal - so far as we know, that are aware of our own existences as individuals, and of our own mortality. This represents a great opportunity - one that we are busily trashing - to make the most of our time. We know that our lives end, so one might THINK that knowledge would cause us to be both kind and busy - aware of how short a time we all have to achieve, to build, to bring joy into one another's lives. You would think that the gift of Death would lead to the wisdom of living purposefully.
BUT no. Instead, we waste our dwindling moments clawing at each other, snapping our jaws and our pitiable teeth at each other's throats to gain some useless bauble to add to a horde of other baubles that are already breaking our backs and our spirits with the bearing of them. We enslave one another as a condition of giving those we employ enough resource to buy a roof, a meal, a small, mostly illusory measure of security. And lots and lots of baubles.
We are an idiot species, retarded in adaptation, seemingly frozen in evolution, neglectful of our fellows, our young, and the fouled condition of our own nests. What is coming is more than justice, it may even be mercy if there are gods left to watch this farce, which has far exceeded the time in which it could have been entertaining.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Sad Time of Division

I've seen a couple of friends lament that they feel their feeds have become "echo chambers," and that they feel the need for "balance." Balance is not always a good thing. The question is, what things are you going to balance between?
Balance is a good thing if it is between two plausible, morally valid positions. It is not a good thing if you attempt to "balance" between a morally valid position and an immoral one. You don't want to be "sympathetic" to a Nazi, or a Stalinist, nor do you want to behave in a way that they would find acceptable.
If you were alive in Italy in the 1920's, would it distress you if you had no friends who supported Mussolini? Certainly not. History occasionally forces us into a time of dividing. I believe this is one of those times.
There are legitimate, valid sources of the Conservative position. The Wall Street Journal comes immediately to mind. National Review often has excellent work. But there are no morally valid perspectives from a deeply immoral movement like Trumpism. It is a totalizing movement, that sees truth as something entirely at their will and whim. Such a worldview makes honesty undesireable. Maybe impossible.
Not every Trumpist is a sexist, a racist, or the sort of person who wants to take away the health care of vulnerable people or take food from old people and schoolkids. But they have decided to support a movement that that does support all those things. That is a moral decision, and whether you want to be associated with those who have made that decision is a moral decision, too. It's not an easy decision, but it is an important one. Choose wisely.

Thinkers and Ideology

For someone who aspires to be a thinker, adopting a point of view, or worse, an "ideology," and then defending it fiercely makes as much sense as falling in love with a mayfly. If you are honestly studying, and honestly thinking you will not have the same position tomorrow that you have today.
Every honest thinker who becomes part of a "movement" sets themselves up to be a traitor. As Nietzsche put it, thinkers do not make good political party members - they think themselves through the party.

Interview on "The Farkas Files"

Here's the interview I gave on "The Farkas Files." David is an excellent host, and the conversation was wide-ranging. Thanks, David.

Interview, "The Farkas Files"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Would I Dance with Donald Trump?

Would I dance with Donald Trump?
Would we shake our aged rumps
And boogie on the White House lawn
And laugh and drink 'til logic dawns?
Would I tango with Melania?
And say with raised glass, "Hey, good on ya!"
While Bannon swings and pirouettes
We dance, our malice to forget?
Alas, though by the thought excited,
You and I are not invited.
We are not rich or well-connected
And we have never been elected.
Dionysius saves, he cleans
Souls better than the Nazarene.
But joy and laughter do not grace
The evil smirk, the orange face.
There is not wine enough to cleanse
The sorrow, or to make amends
To all those suffering in fear.
No, there will be no dancing here.

Free Trade Isn't Free

The theory goes that the economic prosperity of a country is best served by having extremely low barriers to goods from foreign countries. A larger, more dynamic market that allows businesses to go where they wish in search of lower costs, and that allows free movement of goods increases profits, and – eventually - lowers prices for consumer goods.

The first part of that happy forecast has largely proven true. Corporate profits have exploded as free trade policies have spread across the world. Productivity has climbed (although free trade isn't the primary driver of that – automation is) and the stock market has soared.

And the middle class in the advanced countries has been devastated. Why is that? What's wrong with the “free” trade system? Why has its human cost proven so high?

The wealthy will always resist any attempt to redistribute wealth to those left behind. And since wealth equals political power and influence, it is almost impossible for workers to get a fair share of the increased productivity that "free" trade (which is not free - the workers pay for it) creates.

It is worthless, even cruel to tell the workers that they have to "reeducate" themselves for the "new"economy, since they generally have the least economic margin - both in terms of money and time; and political parties that serve the interests of the rich will cut spending on education and relief for the workers as part of "austerity" measures.

This is not theoretical. It is exactly what has happened in any country where "free" trade has become the norm. The concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, along with the concentration of political power that results has led to historic levels of wealth inequality. And in countries where inheritance is largely untaxed, this leads to a death spiral for the working middle class, and a monopolization of political power by inherited wealth.

The solution is to use government, and its ability to tax excess profits to redistribute wealth to reeducate and support the workers as they are forced to retool, reeducate, and relocate themselves. It is manifestly unfair to expect that the investing class should reap all the benefits of free trade, while the working class must bear all the burdens, risks and sacrifices.