What is a Liberal? By Erik Lindberg

Most interesting essay I’ve read in a while. Acknowledging ‘physical reality’ beyond our sociology and politics convictions.

What is a Liberal? By Erik Lindberg, originally published by Resilience May 22, 2017


On a first glance, we might then revisit the notion of natural law and reconceive it as an ecological law that puts distinct limits on us (which, in fact, it does). This is far different than a humanistic natural law, but one might be tempted to believe that rational, self-interested enlightenment (or pragmatic anti-foundationalism) could lead us to a place where we will be ready to place limits on ourselves in the name of the Earth’s ecology.

A shallow introspection might suggest to those who have chosen limits that they have done so in the name of a Liberal-esque rationality. But in addition to the many philosophical problems with this view (why me?, why now?), a deeper introspection will confirm the existentialist’s conviction that we are not moved by rationality, but by identity, longing for purpose, even an adversarial desire. Favoring limits for us all, rather than accepting the bloody ascent of the strong, is not a rational choice, but a moral one, with roots spreading far beyond logical analysis or rational calculation.

There is, simply put, nothing that I can want and do that doesn’t affect someone else’s ability to do the same.[v] In Mill’s terms, there is almost nothing that someone might do that “concerns merely himself.” Contra O’Rourke, most things most people do most of the time are everyone else’s business—at least as long as doing involves consuming or in perpetuating a culture focused on consuming. …


Liberals of all stripes gasp at this sort of utterance, but that doesn’t make it any the less true. Although most of our scientists and academics ignore this fact (I would call it) of life on a crowded planet, which suggests Liberalism is an ideology, this position might nevertheless be established by an empirical analysis of the global quantities and distribution of natural resources and waste products.

Liberalism was founded in an age when there was plenty of “empty space” in which a consequence-free freedom might be conceived, and upon the belief that this sort of empty space might exist into perpetuity.

Early Liberals (the one’s whose precepts we unquestioningly continue to follow) simply could not imagine that the still relatively small human footprint of their era might within a few centuries absolutely overwhelm the life-sustaining natural systems. As Thomas Jefferson repeatedly declared, the American continent was, for all practical purposes, infinite. …

While I don’t believe in a divinity any more than I believe in forest gnomes or that sacrifice will bring the rains, I do believe that people have been willing to accept limits only according to the sort of belief that has usually been inspired by belief in a divinity—and that we therefore need this sort of belief.

Human sociability can only be bound (a word I use purposely) by ritual, prohibitions, the sacred and untouchable. This is why Liberals cannot abide the binding force of the religion—because it inhibits the freedom and pursuit of individual satisfaction that sits at the heart of Liberalism and organizes its anti-sociable order.

This guy offers some great stuff to discuss.

[viii] I don’t think it is possible to overstate the hazards. Himmler’s SS was in large part a cult used to instill this sort of conviction in its members.

With great success he managed to get hundreds of thousands of young German men to sacrifice the self for the sake of “something greater.”

How does one achieve this sort of success without the power and its near-inevitable abuse?

The Liberal of course has an answer, and a good one. There is nothing greater than individual rights, wants, and desires.

But this is perilous in its own way. What, in short, is the alternative and how does one get there?

I, of course, think an Earth Centrist philosophy would have been a good start, still is. Because after all the above is simply one smart guys perspective, and he did leave out plenty. In the end, we’re back at his mindscape, well educated and thoughtful, still not the other side, the ‘physical reality’ side of our perceptions.

Earth Centrism is about passionately appreciating Earth’s evolutionary story and her interwoven layers and the folds within folds of harmonic accumulating complexity that make up Earth’s biosphere. An appreciation for what it took to achieve the marvels we people seem intent on consuming as fast as absolutely possible.

Focusing on what you can learn about Earth and her story, that would have a potential to create a visceral bond as strong as any saints - but only if you have a connect with the outside “natural” world I fear. How can people in the city possibly relate to the natural aspects of this planet, the part that makes our existence possible.

How to trigger a passion for Earth’s story, Deep Time and how Geology and Biology made us, this moment in the flow of time?

What will we leave behind? Why care?

Our economy and livelihood is depend on excessive consumption, that can’t go on, there won’t be any going back to how it was. Cascading consequences will take a while to ripple through the system, but they will. Then there’s the weather. Sadly that’s going to be an increasing bitch, no matter how we look at it. How will we steel ourselves? How long will it take for cooperation and rationality and fact based thinking to reassert themselves? Can they? We could do so much if only . . . . . . .

Just some random thoughts there :wink:

I spent the past couple days working on something for my blog and I’m going to share it over here because I feel like pushing this “liberal” discussion and seeing if anything comes of it.

These days Leftist and Liberal gets bandied about as an insult with little thought given to what it actually means.

I believe in family, in community, civic participation and responsibility. I believe we are an interconnected society and need to take others into consideration, even though I have a huge independence streak running through me, the two can go together.

Why do Republicans need to demonize me? I believe economically all pockets need to have holes in them or capitalism becomes dysfunctional, as we see in America these days. The rampant hoarding by the super rich is an abomination and self-destructive in the long run.

I also believe that our planet’s biosphere is our life support system and deserves to be understood, appreciated, protected and nurtured with the future in mind. What’s so demonic about all that?

Though, at the same time, when I’m listening to this or that liberal spouting off, too often I find it too easy to roll my eyes and understand why so many on the right are repulsed. That’s why I’ve been looking around to see what thinkers have to say about liberalism in order to get a better handle on the term and how much of it still fits with my perceptions.

In stepped Erik Lindberg who wove together many threads to form an excellent coherent 3,600 word essay that resonated with my experience driven thoughts throughout. His parting shot,

with the historical conviction that something like true belief must be adopted

serves as an excellent segue into a review of Earth Centrism and recognizing the fact of Earth being our fundamental touchstone with reality, not to mention the origin of our birth and our destination upon death - and to consider what can be done with such an insight.

First, lets review key excerpts from Lindberg’s What is Liberal? …

For Lindberg’s words you’ll have to visit, https://whatsupwiththatwatts.blogspot.com/2020/07/liberalism-faith-erik-lindberg-and.html

Now comes the fun part since, as opposed to our pal Daniel, Erik believes religion is a sort of necessity, but that we need something to replace it. Or something in that direction. Seems like a place where I need to step up and do some witnessing. If you’ll excuse me, :wink:


My own mental world order begins with my life long love affair with learning about Earth and her creation story, along with the humans who have come to so dominate her. Being witness these past 6 decades of ever more amazing scientific insights and new understandings and reinterpretations of old assumptions has given me a visceral appreciation for the folds within folds of cumulative harmonic complexity flowing the down the cascade of time and presenting itself to us as a fantastical pageant of Evolution unfolding one day at a time.

I am made of star dust and in my blood flow evolutionary, cellular and molecular vestiges that reach back millions and billions of years and without who’s ancient achievements I’d have never come into existence.

For a spectator science has been a wild ride and the ever emerging new details never cease to blow me away. We keep learning to see reality more clearly all the time. Yet, people remain so dense and trapped within their egos, desires, fear - and then hundreds of millions actually mistake their own Ego for “God”. People who have shifted to belligerent hubris and who must create enemies out of all who disagree and try to share constructive evidence in order to paint a more realistic understanding.


I understand Earth’s Pageant of Evolution as a complex dance between geology and biology - having a deep appreciation of that reality, supplies this particular person, along with my own petty ego and insecure spirit, with an inner solidity and peace in the face of life’s travails and my own impending death, that no pick pocket preacher or ancient holy book can touch.

Given what thin-skinned people I have experienced over the course of my life, and how defensive and angry people of all stripes get when told there’s more evidence out there that requires some good-faith homework and learning, it seems plain that my sort of foundational solidity is missing in many.

Too many have no conception of this Earth and the flow of billions of years unfolding one day at time and the Evolution that created us and all we know and need. Thus, they can’t gain the spiritual strength such a fundament relationship with reality offers.


I was born of this Earth and I shall meld right back into her. I know this and it is good.

The spirit/soul, that my body and life fueled, can’t exist without the body that created it. When I die, its energy will likewise be absorbed into Earth’s biosphere and I myself shall have a deep dark endless peaceful sleep.

I learned to live my life today, heaven and hell were here on Earth, now, and it was my lot to do the best I could with what I had.

I also learned that The Passion of Jesus was all about life here on Earth! Here and now. Jesus is a guide for living people, to help guide and support us through the steps required when facing our own trials, tribulations and punishments.


Jesus’s Passion is about the promise of a rebirth that comes from honestly facing up to one’s own failings. Looking your guilt straight in the eye, dying on the cross of your own making. Then reawakening to a new dawn, changed, reborn, possessing a new perspective won through spiritual fire. Jesus is there, for those who reach out to his spirit, to help guide and comfort. Still, there are other guides and paths for other people.

After all, the God of Light and Time, Life and Love is beyond all petty vain human understanding, yet accessible to all who seek!


I am among the fortunately. Not in stuff and a fat wallet, but content, rich in experiences and people and a life time of mysteries revealing ever more wonders and mysteries to absorb. Gaining an appreciation for life’s nuances and it’s many wonders and having the sense to recognize and utilize my own good luck and good health.

What I have is way more solid than a cross and a petty judgmental Lord. I have a visceral appreciation that I was born of Earth’s Evolution and that my heritage can be tracked back millions, nay billions of years across the ever changing landscapes of this Earth, back, back to a terrible day when two small planets collided, back, back, to when fundamental particles where still figuring out what to do with themselves.

Inside my body it’s an even more amazing journey, down to my muscles and organs, down, down to highways of blood and cells, down, down to molecules working together, doing uncountable mechanical functions, suspended in a quantum soup.

Looking up at night I have a visceral sense of the universe as a four dimensional reality surrounding me, as I’m standing on the edge of this fantastical planet, whirling around the sun.

Likewise I can look at the waves on a shore and appreciate the reality of time’s arrow. I think about that shoreline having existed forever. Always moving in and out, up and down, while the opposing landmass was doing it’s things, but that shore line, flat or cliff, and those waves, they were always there. The pageant of Evolution flowing through my awareness. I get ridiculed by the sillies when I try talking about such things, but it’s true and frankly, it’s fact based.

It’s all a matter of curiosity and I don’t know what all. A fascination with the world, looking at it, trying to observe all of it and it’s nuances in the futile effort to ‘get’ it. Never succeeding but always retaining a little more information and eventually some understanding. Asking questions, pursuing answers, the years keep racing by as life’s mysteries are revealed one by one.


Hand in hand with this “Earth Centrist” perspective, is appreciating one of the most fundamental divides in our reality.

There is Physical Reality, stuff and processes, our bodies and all they hold and so on. Apart and distinct from that is the product of our human minds, consciousness, for my more poetic purposes I like referring to it as our ‘Human Mindscape.’

Neither Science or Religion are part of the Physical Reality of ‘stuff’ - they are products of our mind, of whatever it is that happens at the other side of physical synapses and molecular cascades.

Nothing Woo about this. It’s all about perspective and appreciating physical reality’s boundaries.


seeks to objectively learn about our physical world, but we should still recognize all our understanding is embedded within and constrained by our brain’s mindscape.


is all about the human mindscape itself, with its wonderful struggles, fears, spiritual undercurrents, needs and stories we create to give our live’s meaning and make it worth living, or at least bearable.

What’s the point? I think it’s about better appreciating our ‘frame of reference’ - and especially recognizing that we aren’t the center of creation, which I believe too many people including scholars fall into without even recognizing it.

This is important today because some others have convinced themselves that they actually have a personal Almighty God in their back pockets, when in fact our Gods are as transient as governments and the human species itself.

Religions, heaven, hell, science, political beliefs, economy, even God, they are all products of the human mindscape, generations of imaginings built upon previous generations of imaginings, all the way down.

That is not to say they are the same thing, they are not! Science is dedicated to honestly and objectively understanding

Still, both are destined to be swept away by the hands of time, while Earth and life and evolution will continue its dance.


Earth Centrism is about understanding and passionately appreciating Earth’s Evolutionary story and her magnificent interwoven layers and her folds within folds of harmonic accumulating complexity through time, to make up Earth’s biosphere at this moment. An appreciation for what it took to achieve the marvels we people seem intent on consuming as fast as absolutely possible.

I know from my own experience that focusing on what you can learn about Earth and her story has a potential to create a visceral bond as strong as any saintly words – but only if you have a connection with the outside “natural” world and are receptive to her lessons.

How can people in crowded cities possibly relate to the natural aspects of this planet, the part that makes our existence possible, the natural spaces I’ve spent most my life in and near and that have taught me my awareness.

How to trigger a passion for Earth’s story, Deep Time along with the love making of geology and biology that created us, along with a near infinite variety of other fantastical creatures and landscapes. An Evolution that will continue moving forward no matter how murderously we, self-centered people, manage to batter and destroy Earth’s current human society sustaining biosphere, along with our own species.

We could have done and been so much more, if only . . . . . . .

I use blogger and recently they also “upgraded” into a train wreck. I mean, beside all the weirdness one will just have to get used to, it’s got a great new weird bug - I paste a series of paragraphs and half one paragraph disappears from the post, even though my edit version reflects that I’ve indeed got full paragraphs. Not one freaky time, often. Getting my little essay posted was like a damned wrestling match. It’s insane. I thought I’d caught and fixed all, but apparently I missed one or more, or perhaps they propagate like sock puppets. I mean all the other maddening changes one learns to work around and live with, but jez not being able to trust that what you put in the text will appear on the page, that’s ridiculous. I didn’t want to edit that comment since second edits can mean disappearing.

Anyone here ever hear of such a thing - the Blogger thing that is?

That is not to say they are the same thing, they are not! Science is dedicated to honestly and objectively understanding physical reality while religion is concerned with the human imagination, our “soul” and spirit and our struggles through difficult short lives. They are different, but both are necessary human inventions we rely on.

Still, both are destined to be swept away by the hands of time, while Earth and life and evolution will continue its dance.