Eco city: Future ecosystem with building, tree and windmill.
Eco city: Future ecosystem with building, tree and windmill.
credit: iStock / Olga Kurbatova

All of us humans, both individually and collectively, have to strike some reasonable balance between doing what we’ve done before (safe but boring) and trying something new (exciting but risky).

And when considering these two alternatives, of course, doing what we’ve done before generally wins. Because we know that what’s been done before has worked. And because we also know that lots of things don’t work; in fact, many things fail spectacularly. And so, very wisely, we generally stick with things that have been shown to work.

George Santayana nicely summed up this wisdom for us back in 1906:


credit: iStock/stellalevi

Sometimes I find myself making good headway through a book, only to be suddenly stopped in my tracks by a particular insight that suggests an entirely new way of thinking about a problem.

And then on certain inspired occasions I find my thoughts ricocheting from one such idea to another, something like one of those steel balls bouncing around in a pinball machine, darting back and forth to ever greater heights.

I came across one such passage recently in Kate Raworth’s excellent 2017 book, Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. …

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I’ve been making the case lately that the Republican Party is in decline, and needs to reinvent itself.

But perhaps something even more radical is needed.

For when we look at the current state of our two-party system in the US, nothing about it makes any sense.

Here in Seattle, where I live, our mayor has announced that the current term will be her last, and so we have a whole host of new faces appearing in our primary, the results of which will determine the two candidates who will be competing for the mayoral seat in the fall.


Republican and Democrat pointing fingers at each other
Republican and Democrat pointing fingers at each other
credit: iStock / Pict Rider

I recently wrote a piece offering Some Hard-Won Wisdom Concerning Cults. And I’ve written a couple of pieces recently questioning the direction of the current Republican Party. (See “The Decline of the Republican Party — First Gradually and then Suddenly” and “Where, Exactly, Are the Republicans Headed?”.)

And so, today, I want to ask the question: should either, or both, of our political parties be considered cults? I’d like to treat this question seriously, rather than simply indulging in the ritualistic name-calling that such an inquiry usually provokes.

So let’s go down my prior list of fourteen indicators of a…

credit: iStock / Planet Flem

As someone who once belonged to an organization later determined to be a cult, I can tell you that the warning signs are not always obvious.

The members of the group I belonged to weren’t living inside a walled compound, or even residing together at all. We weren’t hiding in some remote location — we gathered in the middle of a big city. We didn’t quit our jobs and sign over all of our worldly possessions to the organization in question. We did not wear any unusual garb. And we did not operate as a commune of any sort.

Indicators of a Cult


Antique illustration of Norwegian lemmings
Antique illustration of Norwegian lemmings
credit: iStock / ilbusca

Let’s first establish a little context.

  • In our 2016 presidential election, almost 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. Nonetheless, due to peculiarities associated with our Electoral College, Trump was elected as our president, fair and square.
  • In our 2020 presidential election, roughly 7 million more people voted for Biden than for Trump, and Biden received 306 Electoral College votes compared to Trump’s 232. What’s more, the Democrats achieved a federal trifecta, with majorities in the House and Senate, in addition to the presidency.
  • So far Biden’s approval rating is running somewhere between 53 and…

credit: iStock / Dilok Klaisataporn

I was reading recently about a couple of different situations involving traits of both leadership and followership.

First, there was the statement by Liz Cheney that “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen,” contradicting recent statements from Donald Trump, setting up a battle for Republican Party leadership, and prompting a Tweet from Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.) asserting that “Liz Cheney does not understand the responsibilities of leadership.”

Then there was the brouhaha at and around Basecamp, following some controversial leadership decisions announced by the founders, including: “no more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account,” and “no more…

We all know that the economy is important. We talk about it every day. But do we ever think about… how we think about it? How we visualize it? How we’ve been conditioned to think about it, perhaps unknowingly?

I. What I’m Proposing

Let me start with a pretty simple and straightforward picture of how I have come to see these things.

A. The Four Stakeholders

All significant economic activity involves exchanges between four different sets of stakeholders:

  • Consumers — Those who exchange small sums of money for goods and services.
  • Business (aka Capital) — Those who exchange large sums of money for the tools and buildings and…

Faces of many hues, viewed in profile, all looking to the right.
Faces of many hues, viewed in profile, all looking to the right.
credit: iStock / wildpixel

It was just a little over four years ago that I remember sitting in front of our TV with our neighbors, watching the election returns, preparing to celebrate.

I think it was the New York Times website that I had open on my iPad, showing a dynamic chart tracking the projected probability of victory for each presidential candidate.

And then, within what seemed like only a few minutes, those two lines — one red, one blue — changed direction, crossed one another, and reversed positions.

So much for the value of political prognostication.

It was a month or two after…

Credit: iStock / alphaspirit

Ernest Hemingway supplied two of his characters in The Sun Also Rises with a pair of memorably terse lines.

‘How did you go bankrupt?’ Bill asked.

‘Two ways,’ Mike said. ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’

Mike’s answer has been quoted endlessly since then, probably because it seems to perfectly encapsulate a recurring modern sensation of having things firmly under control, then seeing them start to slip slowly from our grasp, and then the next minute realizing we’ve lost hold completely.

And now, in 2021, the modern Republican Party seems to be taking its turn in Mike’s spot, sliding slowly — and…

Herb Bowie

Chief Practopian at The Practical Utopian

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