Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Essay Of The Month: Andrew Sullivan”

luckyesteeyoreman‘s first comment here was in 2012. He has participated in our colloquy with passion humor and perception through over a thousand comments He has had Comments of the Day before, but not like this one—I’m note sure anyone has made a comment like this one. His catalyst was Andrew Sullivan’s essay on tribalism, and the comment was lost for a day in WordPress Hell, then languished as my time to spend on Ethics Alarms was taken up by transportation and the annoying things called “teaching ethics” and “making money, though not nearly enough.”

I’m sorry it took so long to post this. It’s thoughtful and pure, unadulterated luckyesteeyoreman, which translates loosely into “worth the time to read it.”

Here is luckyesteeyoreman‘s epic Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Essay Of The Month: Andrew Sullivan:

(I don’t have a title for this – only sub-section titles. I beg pardon in advance for unreadability. Maybe it should be titled “Lucky’s Madcap Mangled Manifesto #1 of 2017.”)

Andrew Sullivan, in his essay “America Wasn’t Built for Humans” (alternately titled, “Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism?”) did not address two particular opposed tribes. I will discuss them, giving them my own choices for labels. I will blame one of the two tribes entirely for the current state of human affairs. I cannot envision any resolution of the conflict, other than the virtual annihilation of one or both tribes. Make no mistake: The conflict and its impacts are historically cyclical, humanity-wide, and universal – not some uniquely American problem.


In one tribe are the “governists.” One might be more comfortable with calling that tribe “governmentalists.”

Members of the governist tribe view governance and its machinations – created, continually reformed, and sustained by an ever-omnipresent government, a source and repository of ultimate power – as the sole institution that is essential to the fulfillment of human needs. To the governists, governance must embody ultimate means of power and control over all people, over all other life forms, and over all resources known to be required for (1) sustainment of the lives that are subject to control, and (2) sustainment of the needed means for such power and control.

In the tribe that is irreconcilably at conflict with the governists are the “ownwayists.”

Ownwayists view themselves, as individuals, as sources and repositories of need-fulfilling power – power independent of the powers of government. Ownwayists view their individual power largely as sufficient for need fulfillment, but, limited by their own individual human limitations – where that power is not additionally limited by external forces. Thus ownwayists are unavoidably and eternally conflicted within themselves, over the need for government – powers external to themselves – to combine and orchestrate individuals’ powers synergistically.

A PAUSE: A reader might perceive that statists and individualists are synonyms for governists and ownwayists, respectively. I would have used those terms, if I had felt confident that they are accurate for the tribalism I am aiming to discuss here. I leave to others smarter than myself the resolution of any issue about the best, or correct, labels for the two tribes. In this essay, I will proceed using forms of governist and ownwayist.

The conflict between governists and ownwayists is exposed when ownwayists perceive (correctly or incorrectly) that governists are creating, or have created (knowingly or unknowingly) what I am calling Synergy Despoliation (SD). I could elaborate further here on that specific phenomenon, but have chosen not to. SD can evidence itself in, for examples, inefficiencies of governance; failures of governments to enable the meeting of human needs; and impositions of insufficiencies upon governed individuals which often, but not always, stem from excessive government control of the powers of those individuals.




Taking of power from individuals by governments happens, whether those so deprived are ownwayists or governists, and whether those with the power to deprive are ownwayists or governists operating within governments. Acquiring, holding and wielding of governance powers is not necessarily more coveted by any given governist than by any given ownwayist. Nor are there (yet) any inherent obstacles to access to governance powers that completely preclude any ownwayist from holding a position in government that is coveted by any governists. Any given individual can be conflicted internally, between co-opting oneself to governism and relying tenaciously and exclusively upon ownwayism, and on what extents one would embrace both.

Governments will hire from both tribes. In some cases governments will “spawn,” even transition and transform, governists and ownwayists such that some individuals re-set, and even switch, tribal affiliations. In the long run, however, any given government and its governance will eventually favor the existence, pre-eminence, and ways of the most “pure” governists.

In the final outcome, throughout history, governments and their governance continue to rise and fall, regardless of their tribal demographics. The conflict between the two tribes continues throughout history, too, regardless of the forms or tribal demographics of governments.


Where individuals realize that they are not alone and in a state where their individual powers are insufficient (or viewed as insufficient) for meeting their own needs (whatever the actual or perceived cause of the insufficiency), they naturally will tend to congeal into “interest groups.” Leadership of a group will naturally tend to strive (or to appear to strive) to synergize the power of group members – doing so naturally, generally, and typically, in a governist manner.

In a large and diverse society, the governistic nature of interest groups naturally leads to conflicts with other interest groups. The need for resolution, or at least, reduction, even minimization of those conflicts, leads to dependency on some overarching government. Naturally, such government is ultimately going to attract the interest of – and as a result will eventually be controlled principally and most of the time by – people who are, for the most part, governists.

As a result of the aforementioned “natural selection” of governists to control governments, ownwayists tend to be marginalized in society – inhibited from efforts to synergize their powers, even excluded from having powers of governance and status of authority within governments. Governists need the ownwayists and the ownwayists’ powers – but, being governists, their priority is typically on control of the ownwayists’ (and everyone’s) powers. Thus governists generally fail to achieve effectiveness of control of the means for achieving synergy through the optimal uses of ownwayists’ (and fellow governists’) powers.

SD is thus a natural and typical outcome of the strivings of governists and governments.

Typically, the ownwayist’s priority is on maintaining as completely as possible the control of one’s own powers. Even so, a negligible few ownwayists will utterly reject and eschew all benefits enabled, offered and conferred by government and governance (the so-called “off the grid” people). Coupled with their natural tendency to be marginalized, the vast majority of ownwayists set themselves up for having control of their own powers taken from them by government, and for being forced into dependency on government for the fulfillment of whatever needs that the government permits ownwayists to exercise their “own” powers to fulfill.

Ownwayists are thus culpable for Synergy Abortion (SA): most ownwayists choose for their government to have a monopoly of control over the synergizing of individuals’ powers. It is no surprise, then, that collectivism (and its inherent SD + SA) is a chronic symptom of “democratic” governments. As an alternative, “elitism” or “plutocracy” is merely the outcome of certain ownwayists’ near monopolization of government power while occupying stations of governance. As I have implied, there is no “polar opposite force,” as with a magnet, which keeps ownwayists and governists forever separated and never intermingled, and which inherently repels and prevents ownwayists from acquiring and exploiting power just as governists do, and vice-versa.



After self-examination, I have concluded that I am a “hardcore” governist. Virtually all of what circumscribes my life– my education, my employment, all the nice things of my existence – would not exist without the existence of, provisioning of, and my dependency on, government. Governists, and the government they have sustained, have made possible my life as I know it. I daydream of being a true and pure ownwayist. But that is only dreaming. I’m typecast, stuck.

Clearly (in my opinion, anyway), the governist tribe has become so predominant, so overpowering in its predominance, that at this time the extinction of the ownwayist tribe is a virtual reality – of a fidelity indistinguishable from actual reality. I am reminded of one of the laments by the madcap “newscaster” in the movie “Network,” Howard Beale. In his on-air rants, Beale said (I am distilling) that the madness that had overtaken his society – namely (my interpretation), boredom, and the need for the business of television to kill that boredom – had rendered everyone “as replaceable as piston-rods,” and, that “it’s the individual who is finished.” Finished, as in defeated, no longer relevant – for all practical purposes, dead. Beale further muses (paraphrasing): “Is dehumanization a bad thing?”

For fun, here are links to “Network” scenes, which follow the plot of the 40-plus year old masterpiece in chronological order:

Andrew Sullivan (perhaps a Beale for today) writes about a need for respect for individuality. For a society that has “progressed” toward dehumanization as far as has the one he is addressing (thanks to…wait for it…governism), there is not reason to hope for very much respect being given to being so respectful as he exhorts. Why? Because the individuality about which Sullivan writes and exhorts to be respected is already irrelevant – dismissed, cast aside, as good as dead – atomized, using his word. The overwhelming governism of identity groups has fully and permanently suppressed the ownwayism and its attendant potential societal benefits that are inherent to, and arise from, individuality. To borrow (out of context) what another historical figure said at another pivotal moment in history – be he real or fictional, or only thought to be either of those: “It is finished.” Ownwayism has been crucified at the altar of governism.



The truth is: shit is happening; the shit is morphing (or, being morphed) only to become more shitty, and it is almost entirely, inexcusably stupid, calamitously destructive SHIT! To wit, using just one example: THREE THOUSAND PAGES and more of federal law – ostensibly intended for every member of the society subject to that law to be as healthy as they could possibly be, from cradle to grave – combined with what will surely, eventually become ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PAGES and more of irreplaceable, irreversible “implementing regulations.” Governance like that is simply collectivized self-suffocation! Madness!

Bastiat Strawman Time!: The governists may as well craft law and regulations according to a “ration” for a known or projected total population: say, just to begin with, 10 pages of law and 500 pages of regulations per person – each ration of law and regulation customized to apply uniquely to each of 350 million individuals – but also subject to continual “reforms” (i.e., expansion), in perpetuity, person-by-person, whatever the population now and in the future.

I submit that there haven’t existed over all time enough physicians, attorneys, and government bureaucrats, on earth plus in heaven and hell combined, were it possible to have them all alive in one society, to make effective either such monstrosity of governance.

Whatever “government-free” powers exist, and whatever synergies and needs-fulfillment any individual ownwayist might offer and provide through exercise of such powers, have been effectively marginalized, aborted, and even nullified, and perpetually so. To illustrate: impromptu and voluntary, “non-professional” (ownwayist) emergency rescue assistance to Hurricane Harvey flood victims has been acknowledged and ostensibly appreciated via many media – but, with a not-subtle air of dismissal and derision – with a hint of actual racism, even.

One way to summarize media coverage of volunteer disaster response to Harvey is: “Awwww, just look at those poor, helpless helpers helping the needy! Isn’t that sweet? Isn’t that quaint? THIS is a job for SUPER-GOVERNMENT! (Let’s switch now to the Disaster Response Center, and hear the planners of The Plan for deploying their press kits and holding press conferences, in the run-up to the decisions that will be made on deployment of resources to aid storm victims.)”

Yeah. Let’s see if anyone has trustworthy hard numbers in answers to these two questions:

1. How many Harvey flood victims in most imminent peril had their rescues provided to them by FEMA?
2. Same question…but, by the so-called “Cajun Navy?”

The difference is that governists will lie about their inefficient numbers – even make them up – while in contrast, the ownwayists will be just efficient enough to “git ’er done,” insofar as their own powers make possible, and won’t even keep a count of what, or how much, they’ve done.

So which is better? Unquantified, unquantifiable, unaccounted-for, ownwayist tribal culture-enabled, mission-focused success? Or cleverly mis-counted failure that is spun into deceptive narratives of poor (at best), unaccountable, governist institution-focused “success?”

Yeah. Governments are going to fix climate change, too. Count on it.



Andrew Sullivan pleas to conflicting tribes and their members to turn to mutual forgiveness. His is a sweet hope, a sweet wish for possibility – but, he hopes for a reality that simply is not going to happen. The tribes’ conflicts are irreconcilable. Therefore, the conflicts will continue, and will continue intensifying real damage to people through continued mutual resistance of each tribe against the other, until one or both tribes are annihilated, at least figuratively if not also literally (and as I have said, annihilation of ownwayists appears virtually complete already).

Therefore, despite my own hardcore governist “orientation” or socialization, I fix blame for the current conflict between governist and ownwayist tribes squarely and fully on the governists. So I blame myself, too, in part. My attempt to make peace, serve reparations, and pay penance, is to increase my personal, direct, “hands-on” support to “mostly ownwayist” people whom I know (or whom I can access directly, personally). That is, I am behaving at least in some ways more like an ownwayist, and less like a governist, toward others who are willing to exercise their ownwayism and benefit from mine. What I am doing, I am not asking (and will not be asking) anyone else’s prior permission to do. But, the moment such permission becomes mandated by, or even just “moderately” controlled by, governance (and it will), I will be as good as dead, and the support I once provided, and any benefit it might have provided, will quickly cease and vanish.

Multiply that governist “co-opting” of my personal ownwayism, and the impacts of that, across the population of a locale…state…region…country…continent…country group.

Even an “all politics is local” approach will fail. It’s a grim outlook.

Ultimately, governists will “win” – until, they (and everybody) lose. Societies fall to anarchy.

But ownwayists (never fully immune or alien to governism) will survive –
thus only to re-start the Cycle of Human History.

It’s a vicious cycle. It’s the Human “Civilization” Cycle. “Praise The Lord!”

Enjoy what you can of life, everybody, in whatsoever place you may be in that Cycle.

26 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Essay Of The Month: Andrew Sullivan”

    • Great scene, inspiring lyrics! I am tempted to sing this as a follow-up to any playing of the National Anthem where “Kaeperkneeking” goes on. I wonder: how many people within earshot would get what I’m up to, and join in singing?

  1. Reading this was like reading my nerdy acid-head friend Mike’s essays in high school. I had to reread parts that confused me at times, but by the end of the piece it made total sense.

    • Thanks Mrs. Q – I can vouch for nerdy now and then, but can only fake being an acid-head…or, just coincidentally, chronically write like one.

  2. “It’s not much of a tail, but I’m sort of attached to it.,” says the Unlucky Eeyore each time he recognizes that something else of great importance is missing from the world. Only the Luckyesteeyoreman can pin it together like that. A bit higglety pigglety from being tossed around, but a useful cautionary tale nonetheless.

    Owl, a Twothirdswayist, thanks you for the bell-pull

  3. The only thing that gives me hope is that the governists can’t survive without the ownwayists since the ownwayists work and make money and allow themselves to be taxed.

    • I think you condensed into one sentence what was on my mind and motivating me to “slice the mental and spiritual thought-pie” as I did.

    • Thanks slickwilly. I appreciate your comments and feel honored that anything I say here would be of value to you.

  4. Thank you, Jack, for an honor (COTD) that, honestly, means more to me than awards I have been accorded in recent years for my on-the-job endeavors.

    When you commented “Tome of the Day,” I thought that signaled “the end” of your attention to what I said. Frankly, I wondered why I posted at all, because I wasn’t focused on ethics while I wrote. But, I did write because of Andrew Sullivan’s essay, which you chose for a topic. I don’t think I used the word “ethics” even once. I am always grateful (and relieved!) anytime one of my comments is constructive for your blog.

    I was not trying to find fault with anything Sullivan said, although clearly I differ with him on one point, about individuality. I was trying to build on Sullivan’s contribution. I credit Sullivan for cutting through an ideological dimension and illuminating a possible path out of the fog sustained by ideological conflict between individuals and groups. In my piece, I was aiming to cut through the fog of human thought (what else IS human thought?) in a different dimension – namely, a dimension where tribalisms tug at war within each of us – consequently driving whatever beliefs, worldview, ideology, viewpoints, or opinions any one of us might settle upon or commit to.

    Thanks too, to all fellow commenters who have commented in this thread! I really do value and will ponder long what you have said. I feel further honored and edified (and feel more Lucky than ever!) by your comments.

  5. The easiest way I know to describe a political conservative is “one who wants a smaller government than what exists currently.” And a liberal is “one who wants a larger government than currently exists,” although most believe that there should be an upper limit somewhere. I believe that’s fair to both sides.

    Assuming the above to be true…the government has increased tremendously by every measure over the last several decades. Percentage of incomes taxed, number of laws and regulations, number of government programs, number of people dependent upon government for their paychecks, you name it. If you could coagulate the various measures of government size into one single statistic, it’s fair to assume that however you crunch the numbers, the government has gotten bigger. Maybe 30% bigger, maybe 200%. But definitely bigger, and the growth has been constant.

    Assuming both of the above paragraphs to be true…suppose that all Americans were both logical and thoughtful. Each of us would have their own opinion about just exactly how “big” the government should be. Even today’s liberals have some idea of a ceiling, even if they haven’t thought about it much. But let’s assume they did think about it. Every year, as the government’s size increases, it would surpass a subset of Americans’ ceiling for tolerable government size. The number of Americans describing themselves as “conservatives” would steadily increase, and the number of “liberals” would decrease. Eventually, the government would start to get smaller, as we would all be conservatives and in favor of a smaller government. That’s what should happen.

    Of course, that’s not how that works. That’s not how any of this works. Americans aren’t thoughtful, they aren’t logical, and governments don’t get smaller. They get bigger until they explode. People have a tribal devotion to their political affiliations and don’t just switch sides very often. And most liberals’ definition of the “right” amount of government is “just a little bit more” ad infinitum.

    The governists will win, and they will keep winning until we all lose. The average lifespan of governments is not so very long. Tick tock.

    • Well said, Isaac. Progressives think that they can break the system so that they rule after a reset. They don’t understand that even low info voters will not trust them after such a disaster

    • Thanks, Isaac. You’re an inspiration to me because you said so directly, clearly and briefly what the problem is that I was talking in circles around.

  6. Jack, I tried several times to post a thank-you to you and the other commenters. I don’t understand these blockages! Lately, it seems like every one of my comments gets spammed. Yesterday, I saw a new blockage – a message that my 2nd, 3rd, etc. attempts were “duplicates.” Well, duh. So now WordPress is accepting comments but not posting them???

    Thanks for the COTD honor and thanks to fellow commenters!

    I now await the outcome of my one and only attempt to post THIS.

    • I just found 7 of your spammed comments, and released them. I think WordPress is punishing you for submitting the War and Peace of comments. Anyway, I’ll try to keep checking spam for your comments. You might try dividing the longer ones into two comments—all the spammed one were longish. I’m sorry.

      • Was my comment really that long? My Word counter said almost 2400 words. I did not think that length was all that unusual – maybe because I read so slowly, I have the mistaking impression that plenty of comments are as long or longer than mine was.

  7. For what might be a harbinger of a growing (I can only hope!) “ownwayist movement,” here is an excerpt from an announcement I saw, about an appearance and speech to a specific audience that occurred earlier today (I did not attend) – bold text is from my marking:

    “The Cajun Army is a volunteer organization that provided assistance in the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey. Their primary task was gutting houses, but members also helped supply campsites for victims and have now moved on to rebuilding projects.

    “[Cajun Army President Chris] King explains, ‘The biggest expectation in what I hope it becomes is…I hope it changes our country. I hope it changes people in other communities and teaches them —this is how we’re really supposed to live.’

    I am not, and in the past I have not been, a member of the “Cajun Army.” But, I might enlist, if they’re taking volunteers and the boot camp isn’t too physically demanding…

    • ‘Boot camp’ consists of the ability to drink a beer while performing other tasks as needed.

      Requirements to join include: owning a boat of some sort (airboat a plus); or your own wrecking tools (manual or powered); or you supply the beer.

  8. By the way, Jack, your selection of the still of Howard Beale for the lead image on this thread is PERFECT!

    I’ll admit: my comment was my Beale Moment. That could’ve been me there.

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