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Welcome to The Practical Utopian! Our mission is to identify and promote principles, values and actions that will result in a brighter future for humanity. Browse through our most recent content additions below, or visit our Explore Page when you're ready for a deeper dive into the site.

Recent Posts

Pillars outside of the US Supreme Court

The Personal vs. The Institutional

The problem here is that this conflict between the personal and the institutional is a false dichotomy.

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Engineer Inspecting the System

The System is Working Very Well, Thank You

(It's Doing Exactly What It Was Designed To Do)

We need to realize that the current system is, in fact, not broken. Instead, in truth, it is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

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Symbols of three world religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Rejiggering Our Religion

When it comes to religion, the main question for most people is whether to keep the one we were raised with or to lose it altogether. But now I’m starting to wonder whether, instead of losing my religion, it might not be better just to rejigger it a bit?

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The Moon

Apollo 11 - The Most Important Movie You'll See This Year

No matter what your age or orientation, it’s hard to gainsay the significance of humankind’s first trip through space to set foot on a celestial body other than our birth planet.

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Arrows Pointing Toward A Confrontation

What the Latest Trump Attack Means for Democrats

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of Trump’s recent attacks on four Democratic congressional representatives, all women of color, urging them to “go back … to the crime-infested places from which they came.” How should Democrats respond? Here are the sorts of positions I’d like to hear them articulate.

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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

The Dangers of Political Nostalgia

I’m not quite as old as Biden, and I’ve never served in public office, but I can still share his nostalgia for seemingly simpler times when our political leaders displayed some sort of respect for each other, even when they disagreed over issues of state.

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Culture loading…

The Progressive Problem

No wonder zombie movies have been popular of late: so many of us feel like increasingly isolated survivors having to fight off forces that we thought were previously vanquished and long buried, forces that seem to be arising all around us, springing at us from all sides.

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Social Media

How to Fix Big Tech

We all sort of know the problems, right? Monopolies. Lock-in. Stream addiction. Reality bubbles. Billionaires seeking market dominance. All other values taking a back seat to growth. I don’t think I need to elaborate. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably well aware of all these concerns.

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Reading a Detective Story

Building a Case for the Detective Story

Over the many years since the receipt of my Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Michigan, I have probably spent more rewarding hours reading detective stories than any other form of fiction.

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Longest ladder leads to the target

The Challenge for Democrats: Playing the Long Game

Right now Democrats are focused primarily on two things happening in 2020: 1. Beating Trump; 2. Regaining control of the Senate. These would both be great accomplishments for the party, and for the winning candidates. But for the country, not so much.

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Girls lying down in station wagon

The Devastating Tragedy of our Vanishing Middle Class

If you react in any of these typical ways, then I will argue today that you’re missing the bigger picture, and overlooking the most devastating consequences of our country’s loss of our middle class.

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Hammer and Nail Album Cover

Paul Thorn and his 800 Pound Jesus

I’d been aware of Paul Thorn for some time, but didn’t really become a fan until I saw him live last summer at The Ark in Ann Arbor.

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Woman stand up paddle boarding on a pristine mountain lake

How a Balanced Candidate Might Win the Presidency

I wrote recently to express my skepticism about the chances of a centrist candidate becoming our next U.S. president. I write today to share my belief that a balanced candidate might well win.

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checklist

My List of Requirements for our Next President

While many of us are waiting for our 2020 presidential candidates to hit the road and give us a chance to to get to know them better, I decided to stop waiting and let them know what I’m looking for in a new president. I mean after all, it doesn’t seem fair to make them guess.

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Citizen Kane and George Bailey

Citizen Kane vs. Citizen Bailey

I’ve often considered Citizen Kane and It’s A Wonderful Life to be complementary works, much like cinematic twins separated at birth.

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Three Approaches to Dealing with Problems

Our Three Human Approaches to Dealing with Problems

And How These Apply to the Issue of Global Sustainability

We all run into challenges from time to time, whether at work, at home, or in our communities. In general, I would suggest, we have three different approaches available to us when we try to respond to such situations.

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Science

A belief in science is one of the core Practopian principles. We embrace science as one way of understanding the universe in which we live, and we accept toolmaking (aka engineering) as one means of improving the human condition.

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Stuck in the middle

Is There Any Middle Left?

As the US political scene transitions from the Democratic successes in the midterms to the beginnings of the 2020 presidential contest, one of the most pressing questions to emerge is whether there is any meaningful middle ground remaining along the political spectrum stretching from left to right.

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Original Star Wars Poster

Rebuilding Trust In Our Large Institutions

I find it fascinating to compare the original Star Trek television series with the first Star Wars movie. And I think this comparison can reveal a lot about the current state of our culture.

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Coca-Cola

Our American Class System

In short, this was a period of our history during which class distinctions seemed to be fading. Sure, some people had more money than others. My mother drove a Ford Falcon, my father drove a Mustang, and my Uncle drove a Thunderbird.

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Heart made from hands

More Love

For me, love is an elemental human feeling that helps to bind us to one another, and to the world around us. It is a feeling of care and appreciation for, and attachment to, people and things of value that have an independent existence outside of ourselves.

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Government Shutdown

What We Can Learn from the Government Shutdown

As I write this, those of us in the U.S. are on day 30 of a partial federal government shutdown whose effects are increasingly rippling through our society.

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Capitalism

The Truth About Capitalism

No matter which way you lean politically, you probably have strong feelings about capitalism. It seems to me that there are a lot of odd ideas on this topic running around out there in today’s world. Let me offer some thoughts about what seems true to me.

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Omnipresent Technology

Have We Passed The Point of Maximum Useful Tech?

What happened between 1990 and 2018? Who stuck the playing card between the spokes of the bicycle for my mind, turning a mental enabler into an annoying distraction?

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Individual dancing

The Value of Individuals

A belief in the value of individuals is one of the core Practopian principles.

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A Green Environment

Calling for a US Sustainability Initiative

Looking back over the history of the United States, it’s easy to see in hindsight a series of events and actions that have either united or divided us.

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Compass pointing to Mission

The Importance of Mission

The dictionary on my Mac defines mission as “a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.”

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Please Stand By

A Broadcast Consciousness

Let me take you on a little journey of thought exploring some hitherto unconsidered aspects of our common cultural evolution.

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The Written Word in the 21st Century

Whether we are talking about the King James Bible, The Catcher in the Rye, On the Origin of Species, or Wikipedia, we recognize that writing things down is an important means of preserving human knowledge and wisdom, and that both writing and reading are invaluable human activities.

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Notifications

My Advice to Young People of All Ages

Today I’d like to change my focus and offer some advice for what people can and should do to improve their own personal lots in modern life. I have only a few recommendations, and they’re rather brief and straightforward, although I won’t claim they’re easy.

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An Integral Approach

A belief in an integral approach is one of the core Practopian principles. At its most basic, this principle simply means that people can see things from different perspectives, and that often no one way of seeing something is the “right” or only way.

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Fruitcakes

I’ve always considered this to be Jimmy Buffet’s masterwork. The musical backing is infectious, swaying and danceable, and the background vocals add depth. The words are cleverly crafted, and perfectly suited to Buffett’s conversational, wisecracking delivery.

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Imperfection

Belief in imperfection as a fundamental principle may seem like an odd concept but, in fact, it is an essential part of our thinking. Let’s look at some of the reasoning behind this principle.

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Vote 2018

US Political Observations for October 2018

In this brief respite between primary season and the general US midterm elections in November, I thought it might be fitting to offer up a few suggestions to those of us who will be participating, whether as candidates or as voters.

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Our Societal Disconnect

I was thinking recently about my own upbringing in Annapolis, Maryland, back in the sixties, and it occurred to me that there were several aspects of my experience there and then that I took for granted, but that are no longer very common today.

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The Village Green Preservation Society

This is a rather amazing song by The Kinks, first released in 1968. I loved this song from the moment I first heard it, but my appreciation for it has only grown over the years.

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Why I Call Myself a Practopian

I suffered a crisis of faith a few years ago: a crisis of faith in my atheism.

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Will the Circle be Unbroken

It’s certainly fair to categorize this song as a religious one, and more particularly as a Christian song, and yet, even though I consider myself to be a non-believer, my lack of faith doesn’t diminish my appreciation for this song in the slightest: if anything, I think it increases it.

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Cultural Evolution

A belief in cultural evolution is one of the core Practopian principles. But what do we mean by human culture? And by its evolution? Let’s dive a little deeper to uncover some of the significant ideas lurking behind this simple statement.

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A Twenty-Six Legged Stool?

A few years ago, when I was teaching software development, I often invoked the image of a three-legged stool, with each leg representing one of the essential leadership roles: leave out any one of them, you see, and your project is liable to fall over.

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Value Creation

Many of the Practopian Core Beliefs will seem rather straightforward to most people: Liberty and Equality, for example, are fundamental human values that should sound familiar no matter what your background. The belief in the importance of Value Creation, on the other hand, may be puzzling to many.

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What To Do About Big Business?

Has business gotten too big? Rather than trying to answer this question directly, let’s start by reviewing the fundamental architecture of all modern societies.

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Humanism

The first Practopian core principle states that “We are humanistic: we are focused on human concerns and human potential.” The primary intent behind this statement is to signal that we don’t claim to represent any authority other than our own very human selves, and that we focus on the interests of….

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Evolution and Its Implications

A belief in evolution is one of the core Practopian principles. But to say that we believe in evolution means quite a bit more to us than simply a denial of creationism. We also mean to imply that we believe in natural selection as a process for improving things, including human culture.

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Talking Openly about Hierarchy

I sometimes think that at least half of the confusion we currently experience in our civil discourse stems from our inability to speak openly and honestly about the nature of hierarchy.

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The Unraveling of The Common Good

I’ve recently read The Common Good by Robert B. Reich, and can recommend it heartily. It’s a lovely little book that can help remind us all that we have obligations to the societies in which we live and work, and that contributing to the common good should be a daily calling for all of us.

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A Traditional Remedy for the Facebook Problem: Competition

Facebook has been in the news lately due to renewed privacy concerns, and many observers have called for various solutions, including pledges from CEO Mark Zuckerberg to do better, as well as increased government regulation.

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A Practopian Approach to Gun Issues in the US

The recent Florida school shooting has again propelled issues surrounding gun violence into the forefront of our national dialogue. The Core Practopian beliefs may seem very broad and general, but I’d like to illustrate how they can be usefully employed in a specific debate such as this one.

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Technology Education for the Youth of Today

I came across a couple of things recently that got me thinking about the value of technology education, and what that training should look like. The first item that caught my attention was Kirk McElhearn’s blog post about “The Tech Industry’s Tunnel Vision about Coding and Language.”

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Art and the Eye of the Beholder

I’ve noticed that Big Thinkers – people like Ken Wilber and Yuval Noah Harari – tend to get confused about art and why it matters.

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Help! Help! The Robots are Coming!

Many pundits today are predicting a future of robots equipped with artificial intelligence so powerful that they will essentially render great swaths of humanity obsolete. Let me just make a few points concerning such imaginings.

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Our American Identity: Where To Next?

Like many of my fellow citizens, I’ve been struggling in recent months to understand exactly what it means to be American these days – to identify the central elements of our collective identity that still bind us together as some kind of unified whole.

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In Defense of Balance

When I founded The Society for Practical Utopians, I based it on a fundamental set of beliefs, divided up into principles and values. And the very first value, the one given preeminent position, is balance.

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A Compact, Extensible, Open-Source Belief System for the 21st Century

It often seems that there is little in this modern world that any two of us can agree on.

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Human Population Growth

If sustainability is the most serious issue of our time, then human population growth is certainly one of the most vital tools we have for making progress in this area. Let’s look at the topic of human population growth from a number of different perspectives.

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Another Way to Think about the US Elections

I was recently puzzling over the still surprising victory of Donald Trump in the recent US Presidential elections, when it occurred to me that there is another way to think about this whole chain of events.

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Christmas For All

Here we are at the end of another year, well into what many of us call the Holiday Season.

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Sustainability

As Practical Utopians, we want our culture to continue to evolve towards better and brighter outcomes for humanity. The biggest threat we see to this continued evolution is our ongoing exhaustion and degradation of our natural environment here on Earth.

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Making Sense of What Happened on Nov 8

Trying hard to make sense of what happened last night. Here are my thoughts. 1. Our country is almost equally divided into two camps.

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What We Need After the Election

It may be too early to know who will win on Tuesday, but it’s not too early to assess the major issues roiling the electorate and offer a few thoughts about what needs to happen after the voting is over – no matter who comes out on top.

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Developmental Levels as Evolving Social Structures

As human society has evolved over the centuries, we have developed different types of social structures.

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Religion, Storytelling and Art

Religion can be thought of as a collection of shared cultural artifacts that provide a sense of meaning about human existence.

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Human Nature

What does it mean to be human? This must certainly be a foundational question for all of us, when contemplating almost any aspect of our existence.

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The Four Quadrants of Human Knowledge

I first came across Ken Wilber’s work late in the last century when a friend handed me a copy of A Brief History of Everything as a birthday present. Wilber has described four quadrants of human knowledge, each representing a different and valid perspective on the same reality.

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Religious Freedom

When it comes to religion, I have to confess to being a bit of a mongrel. My mother was a Methodist. My father was a nudist. And I once called myself an immortalist. These days I choose not to align myself with any particular religious group.

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The Nature of God

Human records indicate that some sort of belief in a God or collection of gods is a feature of almost all human culture. No matter what the continent or age, a belief in powerful, supernatural beings that somehow influence human existence is a near-constant.

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Reasons for Belief

We often seem to assume that people say things, and come to believe them, because they are true. It seems to me, though, that people take up beliefs for a whole host of reasons, and the likely truth or falsehood of these statements is often the least of the motivating factors at work.

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The Systemic Era

We tend to divide up human history into relatively neat periods, and give them names like “The Agrarian Era,” “The Age of Industrialization” and “The Information Age.” When I look at what’s going on around me today and try to make sense of it, I am forced to draw the conclusion that we are deep….

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Developmental Levels

A number of authors and systems of thought espouse one or another series of developmental levels, in fields of study as diverse as psychology, sociology, economics and organizational development.

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