Category Archives: Sociology of Knowledge

Evil Socialism and the Green New Deal


The common complaint against the Green New Deal is that it amounts to socialism. In the US socialists are of course on the same plane as child molesters. Nothing they say can be good and nothing that could lead to socialism can possibly be good. Any government largesse in favor of the poor, but not the rich of course, is quickly labelled socialism. When massive subsidies are given to the rich this is not socialism. This is good for business. When farmers get huge subsidies somehow that is free enterprise. After all they deserve those subsidies.  The poor deserve to suffer and therefore should suffer in silence.


The most famous recent example, were the enormous subsidies to the rich by the Bush and Obama administrations after the 2008 financial collapse. This is a good example of what has often been called socialism for the rich.  John Kenneth Galbraith described such actions this way, “Socialism is deeply abhorrent in the culture of contentment but not for the financially most contented.


This is perhaps one of the reasons Galbraith said, in another book, The Affluent Society, “wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding.” That is exactly the reason I am suspicious of their current objections to the New Green Deal. A good recent example of this phenomenon was the massive tax cuts the British Prime Minster Liz Truss advocated and led to her downfall today.  Fortunately, the British did not swallow her arguments.


I admit I am not an economist. That is a gross understatement. I am not trusted to make or endorse cheques or to reconcile our modest home accounts. As a result, I don’t really know if the ridicule heaped on the proponents of the Green New Deal are justified. I just know that I am deeply sceptical whenever I hear the well to do defending their turf.  I want to hear from independent impartial expertise without skin in the game. I will withhold judgment until then.


I wish John Kenneth Galbraith was still around to help. We need clear and independent thinking on this. We should be deeply sceptical about the spokespersons for the rich.

The privileged like their privileges


The contented and well-off people around the world are not interested in the Green New Deal think that plan is so absurd because it will cost too much money. They are less concerned about the costs of climate change which they know are so far being born largely by the poor. Efforts to improve matters for them are not worth it. Besides, the affluent are doing very well and enjoy the status quo immensely. What’s not to like if you are rich?


John Kenneth Galbraith knew as well the general satisfaction the well-off have in regards to their privileges and the extent to which they are easily able to offer moral justifications for them. Denial of privileges to the less well of are similarly morally justified. Inevitably, the denial is ‘for their own good.’ As Galbraith pointed out,

The first and most general expression of the contented majority is it’s affirmation that those who compose it are receiving their just deserts.  What the individual member aspires to have and enjoy is the product of his or her personal virtue, intelligence, and effort… there is no equitable justification for any action that impairs it… The normal response to such action is indignation, or, as suggested, anger at anything infringing on what is so clearly deserved.”


The rich and powerful always command a ready and willing bevy of economic experts to espouse the solid justifications of their privileges. The poor and vulnerable of course do not have the benefit of such a cadre of expert support at their command. As a result, Galbraith pointed out, “ One of the most reliable, though not necessarily most distinguished, accomplishments of economics is its ability to accommodate its view of economic process, instruction therein and recommended public action to specific economic and political interest.”

For such reasons I am leery about accepting the view of economists that the wealthy deserve the massive subsidies they receive for their oil and gas interests. Those subsidies massively exceed subsidies to the poor to help them pay their energy bills.

It is understandable why as result political leaders are quick to give the wealthy what they want and look with greater scepticism at the claims of the needy. But it really should be the other way around. As Galbraith emphasized, “mainstream economics has for some centuries given grace and acceptability to convenient belief– to what the socially and economically favored most wish or need to have believed.”


One of the most notorious examples of course was the so-called theory of trickle-down economics that was quickly latched onto by the Neo-conservatives, and others, for the obvious reason that it closely matched their own views and interests. This theory is now widely discredited by independent economists, though the rich still love the theory and continue to use it to justify their privilege. For example, Trump and the Republicans used it repeatedly in 2018 to armour their claims that the Trump tax cuts that largely benefited the wealthy were for the benefit of all.   It did not matter that all the evidence was to the contrary. Trickle-down-economics was in turn supported by economic theories of Professor Arthur Laffer. One excellent example was the theory of the Laffer curve or supply side economics, which held that a reduction in taxes would actually result in increased government revenues.


This is what Galbraith had to say about that theory:

“It is not clear that anyone of sober mentality took Professor Laffer’s curve and conclusions seriously.  He must have credit, nonetheless, for showing that justifying contrivance, however transparent, could be of high practical service.”


The history of the treatment of the Laffer curve is reason to be careful in accepting economic theories that support the interests of the proponents. It can lead to some wild conclusions. Again, Galbraith had this tart remark about it, “Supply side economics convinced people amazingly, that the rich needed the spur of more money, the poor the spur of their own poverty.

I wish Galbraith were around to analyze the economic implications of the current Green New Deal. But like him, I think it is good to be skeptical of the desires of the well off in analyzing proposed changes in public policy. There are reasons why they usually get their way, as the less well often end up sucking socks.

The Rich need money; the Poor need Poverty


Although John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out how  the socialist and capitalist countries are similar, but in the west the

“controlling contentment and resulting belief is now that of the many, not just of the few.  It operates under the compelling cover of democracy, albeit a democracy not of all citizens but of those who, in defense of their social and economic  advantage, actually go to the polls.  The result is government that is accommodated not to reality or common need but to the beliefs of the contented, who are now the majority of those who vote.”


Galbraith points out this discrepancy of governmental treatment of the poor compared to the wealthy in amusing terms, though the consequences are far from amusing:

“The substantial role of the government in subsidizing this well-being deserves more than passing notice.  Where the impoverished are concerned — a point to which I return — government support and subsidy are seriously suspect as to need and effectiveness of administration and because of their adverse effect on morals and working morale.  This, however, is not true of government support to comparative well-being.  By Social Security pensions or their prospect no one is thought damaged, nor, as a depositor, by being rescued from a failed bank.  The comparatively affluent can withstand the adverse moral effect of being subsidized and supported by the government, not so the poor.”



Subsidies to the poor are always on a very different level than subsidies for the wealthy. The poor are always underserving, the rich always in need. Not only that but subsidies to the rich or well-off are always for the benefit of society as a whole. Subsidies to the poor are given out of the largesse of the well-off. The rich are to be complemented for permitting their money to be used on the poor. As well, the rich are to be complemented for accepting subsidies not really for themselves but in order to benefit society as a whole. The poor should be looked down on for accepting charity. It shows they are not of strong character. That is just how it works when you control the political process. As a result of such attitudes, when the Green New Deal proposes to spend money to ease inequality of incomes, we must treat the howls of protest from the affluent with careful skepticism. They might have a point, but we should not assume they have a point.

Although Galbraith was describing the United States the same things happen in Canada too.  In Canada the contented accept government subsidies through CMHC, CDIC, RRSP’s, farm supports, DREE, and numerous grants to businesses.  Particularly the oil and gas sector which has done so much to create the problem of climate change enjoys subsidies in the billions. Subsidizing clean energy or green projects is seen instead with alarm by the contented.


Business sees no problem in going to the public trough for itself, but not so for the poor. They are also extreme in their defence of their own privilege. Witness the recent puny attempt by the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau in making fairly modest tax reform proposals in Canada principally around reducing the benefits of well-off Canadians in earning money through a corporation rather than personally. Those benefits of course go largely to the rich. In my practice of law it was not common to see homeless people come in to incorporate their scrounging ‘businesses.’

Even though he was a privileged Harvard economist, former Ambassador, and confidant of the rich and famous, Galbraith had similar scepticism:

 “While self-interest, as we shall see, does frequently operate under a formal cover of social concern, much social concern is genuinely and generously motivated.

Nonetheless, self-regard is, and predictably, the dominant, indeed the controlling, mood of the contented majority.  This becomes wholly evident when public action on behalf of those outside this electoral majority is the issue.  If it is to be effective, such action is invariably at public cost.  Accordingly, it is regularly resisted as a matter of high, if sometimes rather visibly contrived, principle…”

Given the power of the affluent to influence public opinion, it would be surprising if the Green New Deal were easily proven to be a rational plan to reduce climate change.

Socialism for the Rich


As my favorite political philosopher Hannah Arendt made clear more than 50 years ago, notions of left versus right are hopelessly out of date. For example, no one believes in free enterprise anymore.  Least of all business people, who are the first to lobby the government for grants, subsidies, and protections.  Witness the farmers, often thought to be the last bastions of individualism.  They are now among the quickest and loudest in their demands for government intervention.  What we see now is what others have called “socialism for the rich.”  Or what David Lewis, years ago, referred to as “corporate welfare bums“.

At the same time, the ideas of the left have also been discredited.  The welfare state is seen as a prison, governed by mediocrity.  But the voices of dominance and privilege are heard loud and clear, and are usually accepted at face value, while no credence is given to the voices of the dominated.  Their voices are considered cranky, silly, and immature.

The philosophy of privilege, namely, conservatism, or its newest version, neo-conservatism, particularly in the US, but also in Canada, has been very effective in imposing its agenda and its very vocabulary on government.  The public sector is regularly pictured as a burden on individuals, as sapping their strength and vigour.  The free market is lauded as the engine of real growth and the savior for all of our woes.  For example, in Canada, the Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank, is given a wide press each year when it announces “tax freedom day“.

It is implied by such comments that public institutions merely consume, while not providing anything of value.  But is it really true that video games are more valuable than public libraries? Is it really true that toys are more important than public swimming pools?  Public services are often more important than private services.  Through them we have clean water, clean air, accessible hospitals, standards for safe food, housing for seniors, safe roads, and mind-expanding education.  Public services are not a drain on our initiative.  They are what frees the creative juices in each of us.  Without them civilization is a dream.


My  favorite economists, John Kenneth Galbraith understood this process and explained it with his customary verve. As he said,

“…individuals and communities that are favored in their economic, social, and political condition attribute social virtue and political durability to that which they themselves enjoy.  That attribution, in turn, is made to apply even in the face of commanding evidence to the contrary.  The beliefs of the fortunate are brought to serve the cause of continuing contentment, and the economic and political ideas of the time are similarly accommodating.  There is an eager political market for that which pleases and reassures.  Those who would serve this market and reap the resulting reward in money and applause are reliably available…

…there were few doubts among the happily privileged, strongly  self-approving, if hygienically deprived, throng that surrounded and sustained Louis XV… a forceful set of economic ideas, those of the Physiocrats, affirmed the principle by which those so favoured were rewarded .  These ideas supported and celebrated an economic system that returned all wealth, superficial deductions for trade and manufacturing apart, to the owners of the land, the aristocrats who inhabited and served the court.

The case continues.  The great entrepreneurs and their acolytes who were dominant in British, German, French and then American political and economic life in the nineteenth century and into the early decades of the twentieth were not in doubt as to their economic and social destiny, and this, again, was duly affirmed by the companion views of the classical economists. ”


And of course, this process continues to this day. Those who speak to power with news that power wants to hear are quickly given an audience.  Such people  find themselves much less welcomed. The privileged see their privilege as natural, right, and good. That happened then, it happens now, and will happen forever.

Galbraith even pointed out that this process was common in the Soviet Union, which we all know bore no resemblance to its reputed realm of justice and equality. As he said about socialist countries inside the Soviet circle, “They were protected in their fortunate position by the presumed power of socialist principles…Thus, to repeat, was belief accommodated to the need and comfort of the favored.”


What does this have to do with the green new deal? Everything. Proposals for reform of our energy system are made, and immediately rejected by the contented in power.  Radical proposals are seen as absurdly expensive clap trap. Radical proposals are often wrong, but what about the status quo?  There are clearly people who benefit from it and they will do everything in their power to prolong what they find comfortable and delay or dismiss which is not in their narrow interests. The rich would have us believe that the only socialism we can afford is socialism for them. The rest of us should be content with rapacious capitalism.

Perhaps the green new deal is not as ludicrous as the contented would have us believe.


A Conservative  Wet Nightmare


I was hearing a lot about the New Green Deal.  Until I wasn’t hearing anything anymore. The Green New Deal drives Republicans in the US and Conservatives in Canada, apoplectic. That is why Samantha Bee has called the Green New Deal the “Republicans wet nightmare.


Why  don’t we hear about it anymore. Were the criticisms of it from conservatives so radically convincing? Or did interest groups get their away (again)?

Dominant groups invariably react to anything that undermines their dominance with scorn, mockery, and howls of opposition. They think the upstart must be irrational, if not absolutely insane. Listen to their howls. They scream it; they mean it. It makes no sense. None.

This is what the dominant groups in the US did when Roosevelt introduced the original New Deal. It was completely absurd they claimed. We can’t afford it. It will bankrupt the nation. How could anyone say in a time of 25% unemployment that the country must put those people to work? It made absolutely no sense they assured us. Well–they were wrong. Entirely absolutely wrong. Roosevelt has been credited with saving capitalism from its greatest foes–the capitalists! Now they complain similarly about the Green New Deal.

Is that how it will be with the Green New Deal? We have already heard the screams and howls of laughter, mockery and pain.

Karl Mannheim, in his landmark book, Ideology and Utopia, building on an insight of Marx, first pointed out that ruling groups can in their thinking become so intensively interest-bound to a situation that they are no longer able to see certain facts which might tend to undermine their sense of domination.  The ideology of ruling groups often obscures the real condition of society from itself, and often even to those groups that dominate.  The ideology of ruling groups is self-serving.  As a consequence, such groups often do not recognize the unpleasant facts which might detract from their domination.  This is usually accomplished naturally, without conspiracy.  To them, all dissent, as Herbert Marcuse noticed, is irrational, if not insane.

No one likes to lose privileges. That is the long and short of it. In fact, groups with resources, will use those resources to protect their privileges. That does not mean that all their arguments are bogus. It just means we ought to be wary of them. We should, as John Stuart Mill made clear, always look at the other side. Are we getting the whole truth from the privileged groups or are they using their influence to influence those in power to do their bidding?

Over that past 3 decades industries in the oil and gas sector, including some of the richest corporations in the world have spent enormous sums of money to convince political leaders, and even us the mere peons, that what is good for ExxonMobil is good for us too.  Is it?  Is the Green New Deal really that radically subversive? Or are we being sold another bill of goods? As the Sergeant on the television series, Hill Street Blues used to warn the police before they went out on their beat each morning: ‘Be careful out there.”

That was wise advice to the beat cops. That would be wise advice to us peons.

Green New Deal


Not many people are talking about the Green New Deal anymore. Is that because its ideas have been destroyed? I think not.

So what is the green new deal?  As Lisa Friedman of the New York times said, “

It has been trumpeted by its supporters as the way to avoid planetary destruction, and vilified by opponents as a socialist plot to take away your ice cream.”

The Green New Deal is a plan championed by some Democrats in the US that lays out a grand plan for tackling climate change. That is of course why it is so controversial. It was introduced in the US by a radical Democrat Representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, also a Democrat.

Their proposal called on the US government to wean the US off of fossil fuels and curb greenhouse gas emissions across the country while guaranteeing new high paying jobs in clean or green energy industries. At the same time, it called on the government to maintain justice by helping people who would lose their jobs as a result to get new jobs in the green economy.  The resolution also tried to cure societal problems like economic inequality and racial injustice. The resolution wants to ensure that clean air, clean water, and healthy foods are recognized as basic human rights. Sounds great, but is this Pollyanna pie in the sky?

The plan also provides that after a 10 year mobilization to reduce or even eliminated carbon emissions. 100% of American electricity should be delivered by renewable zero emission sources. Every building in the country should be upgraded to be more energy efficient and the country’s transportation system overhauled by investing in electric vehicles and high-speed rail. The American government must invest in job training and new green development, particularly in communities that rely on jobs in fossil fuel industries.

Their resolution was not binding on Congress.

Of course, Republican political leaders mocked the plan as being bone-headed and wildly unrealistic.  Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has said the deal would force Americans to have to “ride around on high-speed light rail, supposedly powered by unicorn tears.” President Trump said it would take away your “airplane rights.”  Some Republicans said eating meat would be banned and that Democrats wanted to take away your hamburgers!  Horrors! According to Lisa Friedman, “Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming and chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, warned that ice cream, cheeseburgers, and milkshakes would be a thing of the past because under the Green New Deal, “livestock will be banned.” It did not matter that the resolution said none of those things. But such wild claims tamped down the enthusiasm of Democrats who had supported the plan for a Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal is based on  the original New Deal launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help the US recover from the Great Depression in the 1930s. That plan included a series of public works programs to put people who were out of work to work in manual jobs like planting trees, building facilities in National Parks and various public works such as bridges, schools, and other public projects for the common good. Like the Green New Deal that followed, this deal was strongly criticized by the rich as being over the top expensive and would drive the country into bankruptcy. It did no such thing. Many credit it with saving capitalism and helping to pull the country out of the recession.

As an example of criticism from the right, Donald Trump has said the Green  New Deal would cost 100 trillion dollars. Of course, the conservative critics, like Trump ignore the cost of doing nothing to fight climate change as he proposed. Supporters of the Green New Deal say the doing nothing to fight climate change will cost more than the Green New Deal. Here is what Friedman reported in her New York Times article: “Modernizing the electrical grid across the United States could cost as much as $476 billion, yet reap $2 trillion in benefits, according to a 2011 study issued by the Electric Power Research Institute.”

In Vermont they estimated that their plan to convert 100 percent to clean energy would cost $33 billion but now they are finding the state is seeing substantial job growth in clean energy sectors and has said the transition should save the their taxpayers money.

Who is right? Who knows? Not me.

What I do know is that a lot of opposition comes from people who stand to gain a lot money from maintaining the status quo. Sociology of knowledge warns us to be suspicious of such criticism. The reasons for their opposition are obvious. And many of them have spent a lot of money convincing political leaders to do nothing significant about climate change. And they were very successful in doing that, while the rest of us are paying an enormous price for exactly that.

Cultural Relativism


If you want to understand Indigenous People you should know something about anthropology. Sadly, I know little about anthropology. Of course, as faithful readers of my blog know, absence of knowledge has never stopped me from offering my opinions. Today is no exception.

I have said that to understand the relationship of the invaders of the western hemisphere to the Indigenous people cannot be understood without realizing the arrogance and superiority they felt to indigenous people.

Franz Boas, sometimes called the father of modern Anthropology was perhaps the first anthropologist to poke holes into the false sense of superiority of the west. He was interested in how beliefs and convictions coalesced into something he referred to as culture. He thought this was a valid organizing principle. So does Wade Davis another eminent anthropologist. Boas, appreciated, as very few of his fellows did, that cultures of the west had a lot to learn from indigenous cultures.  As Davis said of Boas, “Far ahead of his time, he sensed that every distinct social community, every cluster of people distinguished by language or adaptive inclination, was a unique facet of the human legacy and its promise.”

Each culture provided an opportunity that every one who contacted it would be well advised to pay attention to it and learn from it. Ideological blinkers are never helpful. Boas is seen by many as the originator of modern cultural anthropology and for good reason.  He looked at cultures without bias and without suffocating feelings of superiority. Boas wanted to learn from people he met. He was not there to teach them. He was not there to save them, he wanted to benefit from their stored ancient wisdom. That attitude was extremely unusual in its time. Boas worked among many people including the Inuit of Baffin Island, the indigenous people of the west coast of North America and in every case made sure that his students kept an open mind. Boas ensured that his students communicated with the indigenous people they met in the language of those people. He asked them to participate as much as possible in the lives of those people they studied.  As Davis said of Boas,

“Every effort should be made, he argued, to understand the perspective of the other, to learn the way they perceive the world, and if at all possible, the very nature of their thoughts. This demanded, by definition, a willingness to step back from the constraints of one’s own prejudices and preconceptions. This notion of cultural relativism was a radical departure, as unique in its way as was Einstein’s theory of relativity in the discipline of physics. Everything Boas proposed ran against the orthodoxy. It was a shattering of the European mind, and ever since, anthropologists have periodically been accused of embracing an extreme relativism.”

That does not mean we have to abdicate from making judgments. That does not mean we can’t cherish the good from our society too. Lets cherry pick the best from each world. Lets just not be blind to the good fruit from our kin. When we make judgments, lets make sure that they are informed, based on reasoning not wishful thinking, or worse, no-thinking, and free from bias. In other words we should always try to be ideal observers.  We owe that not only to them, but to ourselves.

One day Boas in the cold winter of 1883 was caught in a dreadful snowstorm in northern North America. It was the mother of all blizzards. Temperatures dipped to minus 46º C. That would even impress people from the prairies of Canada like me. Boas and his group understandably became disoriented in the storm. For 26 hours in the freezing cold there was nothing he could do to help his men. He left himself and his entire crew to the care and custody of the local Inuk companion and their dogs. Eventually the Inuk guide led them to safety and the men survived, though half dead when they arrived. They were nearly frozen to death and nearly starved. The next day Boas wrote this in his diary,

“I often ask myself what advantages our good society possesses over that of ‘savages’ and find, the more I see of their customs, that we have no right to look down on them…We have no right to blame them for their forms and superstitions which may seem ridiculous to us. We highly educated people are much worse, relatively speaking.”

Boas opened the eyes of anthropologists, but many more. Many people came to realize we have a lot to learn from others. Our hubris must be put on the shelf.

Boas  explored the idea that random beliefs could coalesce into what he called “culture.” Boas was among the first to promote the idea of culture as an organizing principle of anthropology.

Boas became the leader of modern cultural anthropology. He studied with an open and unprejudiced manner how human social perceptions are formed and how members of distinct societies become conditioned to see and interpret the world. I would say Boas was the father of modern cultural anthropology and also the father of the sociology of knowledge.

Boas insisted that his students learn and conduct their research in the language of the place and even participate in the lives of the people that they studied. These were revolutionary ideas at the time.  Davis said of him, “Every effort should be made, he argued, to learn the way they perceive the world, and if at all possible, the very nature of their thoughts.”

Of course this required his students to set aside their preconceptions and actually look at, and listen to, the people they were studying. Prejudice had no place in their science. One had to look skeptically at one’s own cultural preconceptions in order to avoid being enslaved by them.

This led Boas to his revolutionary idea of cultural relativism. According to Davis, “This notion of cultural relativism was a radical departure, as unique in its way as was Einstein’s theory of relativity in the discipline of physics. Everything Boas proposed ran against orthodoxy. It was a shattering of the European mind, and ever since, anthropologists have periodically been accused of embracing an extreme relativism.”

This does not mean that all cultures are equal. It does mean that all cultures merit respect. It does mean that all cultures have something to teach us. It does mean that cultural arrogance is misplaced. As Davis said,  “In truth, no serious anthropologist advocates the elimination of judgment. Anthropology merely calls for tis suspension, so that the judgments were are all ethically obliged to make as human beings may be informed ones.”

Boas wanted to see the world through the eyes of his subjects. He wanted to walk in their moccasins. He practiced radical empathy, not arrogance. That is the attitude we need to understand Indigenous issues. Not arrogance. Not a sense of superiority. Empathy is much more helpful.

Sociology of Knowledge & the “Discovery” of the Americas

The story of exploration, “discovery,” conquest, and colonization of the western hemisphere By Europeans is incredibly important and incredibly interesting. The explorers were astonishingly brave. They sailed towards what many people thought was the edge of the world where they would fall off. Yet they did it. They plowed ahead no matter what the dangers. They were brilliant in their adaptions. Yet, also importantly, there was a dark side to the impact of conquest and colonization. That dark side, in my view, grew out of the soil of the Original Sin. Often it showed the utter brutality of the conquerors. The Christians, for examples, seemed profoundly barbarian.

We must always remember that all “knowledge” is coloured by ideology. This is what the sociology of knowledge is all about.  We see the world through the invisible lens of our own beliefs and presumptions. It is very difficult to avoid this. As Wade Davis in his brilliant book The Wayfarers, said “Knowledge is rarely completely divorced from power, and interpretation is too often an expression of convenience.”

The study of anthropology was born out of a deep attitude of superiority, as did so much of “knowledge.”  People believed in an evolutionary model in which 19thcentury men like Herbert Spencer saw that societies developed in a linear progression from savagery to barbarism to civilization.

In time anthropologists learned a lot more and abandoned the error of their earlier ways. As Davis, reported,

“Such transparently simplistic and biased interpretation of human history, though long repudiated by anthropologists as an intellectual artifact of the nineteenth century, as relevant today as the convictions of Victorian clergy who dated the earth at a mere 6,000 years, has nevertheless proved to be remarkably persistent, even among contemporary scholars.’

Davis gave a powerful example of this in a  Canadian book, Disrobing the Aboriginal History: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation, that ridiculed the very idea that the original inhabitants of the Americas had anything useful to offer to the Europeans they encountered. Here is what that book said, “Never in history has the cultural gap between two people’s coming into contact with each other been wider.” The profundity of this ignorance is astounding, and I will have a lot to say about how wrong this idea was as we meander through this issue. That does not mean the idea is not common and deeply pervasive.

It is pervasive because it is deeply embedded in the ideology of supremacy that grew out of the fundamental sin–White Male Human Supremacy has been the implicit underlying ideology of the west for centuries. It cascaded through the generations. It blinds everyone under its influence, both the alleged superiors and the presumed inferiors. Everyone has been infected. It makes the privilege invisible.

For generations indigenous peoples have been taught they are inferior. For generations white people have been taught they are superiors. And likewise, men are superior, and women inferior. Or that Christians are superior to all others. And finally, and still largely underappreciated, that humans are superior and animals and nature inferior. These attitudes are so pervasive that it is almost impossible to dissent. These assumptions are invisible. They imbue nearly everything that happens in the west. Any dissent from the predominant ideology is automatically seen as irrational if not insane. As Herbert Marcuse noted, dominant groups rarely acknowledge anything that undermines their dominance. They just don’t see it.

Members of the dominant group do not even see their privilege. This is just who they are.  Only those who relentlessly try to act like ideal impartial observers with fellow feeling and are armed with critical thinking skills are able to extract themselves from the influence of the dominant ideology and even then, only with great difficulty.