What we're about

This is a meetup group for people in the Philadelphia area who are concerned with the current political turmoil in America, but who also feel that the prevailing liberal-vs-conservative political paradigm is unnecessarily limiting our ability to think rationally about politics & search for policy solutions. If you like to talk politics but you've got some eclectic or moderate views that leave you feeling out of place at most of the activist groups, party meetings & political rallies in our area, this meetup is for you!

However, if your political views put you on the far left or far right of the political spectrum - i.e. you're a socialist, anarchist, fascist, or religious fundamentalist - please go elsewhere. Also, if you consider yourself a moderate Republican or moderate Democrat but your views are just generic talking points you've gleaned from listening to the pundits on Fox News or MSNBC, this group is not for you. It may seem uncharitable to exclude people, but from past experience our discussions just don't work very well with these folks, since they tend to see all of our problems as the result of only one of our political parties - i.e. they're not "agnostic".

"Political Agnosticism" is a term I came up with back in 2015 to represent a non-dogmatic approach to politics that acknowledges uncertainty and the validity of multiple perspectives, and looks for practical solutions without worrying about adherence to an overarching political ideology. The purpose of this agnostic, skeptical & free-thinking approach is to avoid treating politics as a "culture war" based on group identities or a clash of "political religions" based more on devotion to a party than knowledge of the issues. Instead, when we cover a political issue, we look at what experts in various disciplines know (and don't know) about it, tease out the ethical implications, note the tradeoffs between different policy approaches, and then look at potential solutions that encompass everything we've learned.

The only political values that are prerequisites for members are a belief in civility & tolerance towards those we disagree with, a belief in traditional civil liberties like the freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of association, and respect for institutional norms like separation of church & state, academic freedom, press freedom, government transparency, and due process. These principles of an "open society" form the preconditions for the existence of a non-partisan political forum like ours.

We are affiliated as an independent salon of the Burke-Paine Society (BPS), a national organization that takes its name from Edmund Burke & Thomas Paine, two Enlightenment-era political thinkers that exemplify the conservative & progressive strands of the "classical liberal" tradition. The BPS is based on 4 core values - Inclusiveness, Empathy, Intellectual Curiosity, Humility - and is committed to 3 objectives: (1) rebuild cross-partisan trust, (2) redefine the national identity, (3) ignite a political renaissance. To learn more, visit their website: https://www.burkepainesociety.org/

Our general approach to politics is based on a concept we've borrowed from another organization, the Circle of Reason, called "pluralistic rationalism" i.e. a personal commitment to reasoning, regardless of one's worldview. We start by assuming that reasonable people can differ in their cores values, whether it's framed as a preference for freedom vs security, tradition vs progress, individualism vs communitarianism, meritocracy vs egalitarianism, patriotism vs cosmopolitanism, etc. However, this approach is also premised on the belief that we should all commit to following the rules of logic & evidence-based reasoning. "Pluralistic Rationalism" is based on 3 tenets that are complementary to the core values of BPS - they are: (1) Factualism (as opposed to Denialism) for sourcing knowledge, (2) Skepticism (as opposed to Dogmatism) for vetting knowledge, and (3) Moderation (as opposed to Emotion) for expressing knowledge. To learn more about "pluralistic rationalism", see the Circle of Reason's website: http://www.circleofreason.org/

We are committed to creating a space for non-partisan political discussion based on intellectual honesty, mutual respect & civility. That means adopting the conversational principles of charity & good faith, avoiding name-calling, and trying to understand the best arguments that can be made for each side.

The goals for this meetup group are as follows:

(1) We try to understand why people - including ourselves - are predisposed by inherent psychological traits, cultural milieu & life experiences to have different moral intuitions & political orientations. We generally use a mix of the Big Five personality traits & Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory.

(2) We look at moral philosophy to try to better understand how moral axioms logically connect to one another and form ethical systems like deontological ethics, utilitarianism, and contractarianism. We examine how these ethical systems form the basis for political philosophy, legal philosophy, and normative theories in the social sciences.

(3) We try to increase our level of rationality by learning how to spot logical fallacies, cognitive biases, flawed statistics, and irrational forms of thought like conspiracy theories & moral panics. The work of the "rationalist community" (e.g. Eliezer Yudkowsky, Scott Alexander, Julia Galef, Spencer Greenberg) is a big influence in this area.

(4) We try to educate members on both the fundamentals and the latest research from the social sciences, and we discuss how this relates to current events & trending political topics. Aside from looking at academic research, a lot of our reading material comes from data/explainer journalism sites, econ & policy blogs, as well as the major public intellectuals & pundits from across the political spectrum.

(5) We try to imagine alternative types of political & economic systems that could provide better outcomes for the future based on both theory & empirical data. This often involves looking at various "maps of the policy landscape" like the Cato & Fraser Institutes' Human Freedom Index, SPI's Social Progress Index, the Economist's Democracy Index, the UN World Happiness Report, and others.

(6) As part of our effort to break away from the narrow range of ideas represented by the two major political parties, we often look at constellations of ideas that could be described as syncretic, contrarian or heterodox. This often involves looking at ideas emerging from various blogosphere niches like market urbanism, civic hacking, ecomodernism, effective altruism, futurism & strategic forecasting, and the rationalist & skeptic communities. We also look increasingly to intellectuals who've been excluded from academic orthodoxies or "canceled" in mainstream media outlets, such as the scholars associated with Jonathan Haidt's Heterodox Academy and Peter Singer's Journal of Controversial Ideas, Keith E. Whittington's Academic Freedom Alliance, Yascha Mounck's Persuasion, Jeffrey Gedmin's American Purpose, the major journalists who've recently moved to Medium & Substack (e.g. Bari Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Michael Tracey, Jesse Singal, Katie Herzog, Matt Yglesias, Zaid Jilani, Freddie deBoer), the ideologically diverse thinkers of the "Intellectual Dark Web" (e.g. Sam Harris, Brett & Eric Weinstein, Maajid Nawaz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, the various writers at Quillette & Areo Magazine) and the more holistic thinkers of the "Intellectual Deep Web" (e.g. Keb Wilber, Peter Limberg, Daniel Schmactenberger, John Vervaeke, and the various thinkers associated with Alex Beiner & David Fuller's Rebel Wisdom blog).

(7) In order to do our part combatting political polarization, we borrow ideas from a range of organizations that are currently working on enabling mutual understanding & civil dialogue, such as Andrew Brummett's Burke-Paine Society, Frank Burton's Circle of Reason, David Blankenhorn's Braver Angels project (formerly Better Angels), Alexandra Hudson's Civic Renaissance, Liz Joyner's Village Square, Joan Blades' Living Room Conversations, John Gable's AllSides team, David Nevins & Debilyn Molineaux's Bridge Alliance, Lisa Swallow & Kareem Abdelsadek's Crossing Party Lines, Tim Dixon & Gemma Mortensen's More In Common project, David Brooks's Social Fabric Project (a.k.a. Weave), Gary Kasparov's Renew Democracy Initiative, Charles Wheelan's Centrist Project (now called "Unite America"), Irshad Manji's Moral Courage Project, the newly founded University of Austin, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), and others.

Upcoming events (4+)

Bi-Weekly Discussion - Do Our Elections Need Reform?

Online event

This is going to be an online meetup using Zoom. If you've never used Zoom before, don't worry — it's easy to use and free to join.

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UNDERSTANDING THE ELECTION REFORM DEBATES

INTRODUCTION:

What you're seeing below is a blank discussion outline. If there's no title listed above for this meetup, it probably means I haven't decided on the topic. If there's a title but not much else, it means I've picked a topic but I'm still looking around for articles & videos clips to stimulate discussion.

If you see the topic and think it's interesting, please RSVP early since this gives me a general idea of about how many people will be showing up.

I typically try to finish up the discussion outline the weekend before a meetup, but sometimes I can't finish it until a couple days before the discussion. Luckily, I only ask that people watch a few video clips prior to attending the meetup and they generally only come to 30-45 minutes total, so even if it takes me until the day prior to finish up the discussion outline you'll still have time to prepare.

* So what's up will all the X's below? Meetup's new format gives me a very short character limit that makes long discussion outline impossible. However, I found a way around it - by copying old meetups before the new character limit was introduced. But there's a catch, if all of the blank space isn't filled when I copy the meetup, the new shorter character limit will be applied, so I'm forced to fill up all the available space with X's. I know that sounds kinda ridiculous, but it's the only way I can still write up long, detailed discussion outlines.

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DIRECTIONS ON HOW TO PREPARE FOR OUR DISCUSSION:

The videos & articles you see linked below are intended to give you a basic overview of some of the major debates over various plans to reform the way America conducts elections. As usual, I certainly don't expect you to read all the articles & watch all the videos prior to attending our discussion. The easiest way to prepare for our discussion is to just watch the numbered videos linked under each section - the videos come to about about XX minutes total. The articles marked with asterisks are just there to supply additional details. You can browse and look at whichever ones you want, but don't worry - we'll cover the stuff you missed in our discussion.

In terms of the discussion format, my general idea is that we'll address the topics in the order presented here. I figure we'll spend about 30 minutes on each section.

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I. UNDERSTANDING HOW FREE & FAIR ELECTIONS RELATE TO GOOD POLICY & GOV'T LEGITIMACY - AND THE PROBLEM OF VOTER IGNORANCE:

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1a) Ilya Somin, "Democracy and Political Ignorance" (video - 3:47 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhHLXK6IK7E

1b) Christopher H. Achen & Larry M. Bartels, "The Key Takeaways from Democracy for Realists" (video - 1:05 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTkcV3UbJZ0

1c) Jason Brennan, "Can one argue against democracy?" (video - 2:25 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwzoKjim_8E

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II. UNDERSTANDING PROPOSALS TO MINIMIZE VOTER FRAUD THROUGH VOTER I.D., LIMITS ON ABSENTEE BALLOTS & PAPER (NOT ELECTRONIC) BALLOTS:

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2a) The Federalist Society w/ Derek Muller, "Do Voter ID Laws Burden Voters?" (video - 5:30 min)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5w-fPQtmq6g

2b) The Heritage Foundation, "How does vote-by-mail work and does it increase election fraud?" (video - 4:17 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lX_3NSC4b-Q

2c) NYT w/ J. Alex Halderman, "How I Hacked an Election " (video - 4:23 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8eujrTyRRE

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III. UNDERSTANDING PROPOSALS TO MAXIMIZE VOTER TURNOUT BY REDUCING VOTER SUPPRESSION, FELONY DISENFRANCHISEMENT & DISCARDED BALLOTS:

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3a) NowThisNews, "GOP Voter Suppression Tactics Explained" (video - 3:59 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVu4NVaQR3g

3b) ProCon.org, "Felon Voting: Should Felons Be Allowed to Vote?" (video - 3:56 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VBxyVGmUuc

3c) WCNC, "These absentee ballots were discarded because USPS couldn't track them" (video - 2:58 min)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKAMrYYlCS4

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4a) The Washington Post, "Gerrymandering, explained" (video - 2:41 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGLRJ12uqmk

4b) Alex Gendler, "Which voting system is the best?" (video - 5:32 min.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaxVCsnox_4

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Braver Angels Workshop: "Bridging the Divide on Climate Solutions"

Climate change is one of the most contentious issues confronting our nation, and in many ways California represents a flash point for the debate. Many climate advocates claim that wildfires, floods, mudslides, and droughts are the consequence of a warming climate and aggressive intervention is required. Others argue that radical climate policies will cause greater economic and social harm than will be caused by climate change. The debate over climate change and what to do about it has become increasingly heated and divisive.

About the Event:
"Bridging the Divide on Climate Solutions," a Braver Angels workshop designed in collaboration with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), teaches communication skills that will allow people to talk more constructively with each other about solutions to climate change.

The Southern California Alliance of Braver Angels and the California region of CCL have teamed to offer this virtual workshop on Sunday, January 30, 2022, from 1pm to 4pm Pacific time, which is 4pm to 7pm Eastern time.

**Please plan to stay through the duration of the workshop. The workshop includes group work which is most effective when the group stays together through the entire event.**

Braver Angels requests you either print or have handy during the workshop the PARTICIPANT GUIDE, and to please have a writing utensil and extra paper to write on during the workshop. You can download the Participant Guide here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1w4sbiHlMgaD2drWPk_mFqlYUyvwinbXyf2QSzJwqS5g/edit

Once you RSVP, you will receive the video conference meeting connection information in your Eventbrite confirmation email, and the organizers will send a reminder in the days leading up to the workshop. If you do not receive either message or have trouble finding the meeting access information, please email [masked].

If you are new to Zoom, this two minute video will help you get started - https://www.dropbox.com/s/94hasufa41rvja5/Zoom%20instructions%2C%20events.mp4?dl=0

For the best video conference experience and to be able to participate fully, please upgrade your Zoom application to the latest version.

About Braver Angels:
Braver Angels is a national nonprofit with a mission to depolarize America (https://braverangels.org/), which is partnering with Citizens’ Climate Lobby to advance depolarization of discussions of climate change. This workshop uses the techniques of Braver Angels to depolarize discussions, enhance discovery of ‘reasonable citizens,’ accelerate the discovery of common ground, and to encourage common action.

About Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL):
CCL empowers everyday people to work with their community and their members of Congress on climate change solutions. Their supporters cover the political spectrum and work in more than 450 local chapters. You can learn more about their organization here: https://citizensclimatelobby.org/about-ccl/

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Free Library Event: Barbara F. Walter, "How Civil Wars Start"

Online event

Event Title: Barbara F. Walter, *How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them*

Date & Time: Mon., Jan. 31, 2022; 7:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. EDT

Cost: FREE or $31.00-Book with ticket and signed book plate

Note: Books will be mailed after the event.
Please allow up to three weeks for delivery (U.S. orders only).
Books sold by Uncle Bobbie's Coffee and Books

Even though the event is free, you'll still need to register for tickets in advance at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-barbara-f-walter-how-civil-wars-start-and-how-to-stop-them-mo-tickets-230635716637

About the Author and the Book:
Political scientist Barbara F. Walter is known for her work on bargaining theory and political violence, especially the outbreak and resolution of civil war, and the logic of terrorist violence. She is the author of *Reputation and Civil War: Why Separatists Conflicts are So Violent* (2009); *Globalization, Territoriality, and Conflict* (2006); and *Civil Wars, Insecurity, and Intervention* (1999). The Rohr Chair in Pacific International Relations at the School of Global Policy & Strategy, she is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is on the editorial boards of the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and International Studies Quarterly, among other academic journals. Walter has received grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the United States Institute of Peace.

In her latest book *How Civil Wars Start* (2022), Walter examines the substantial increase in violent extremism around the globe in order to explore the rising possibility of a second U.S. civil war...

Political violence rips apart several towns in southwest Texas. A far-right militia plots to kidnap the governor of Michigan and try her for treason. An armed mob of Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists storms the U.S. Capitol. Are these isolated incidents? Or is this the start of something bigger? Barbara F. Walter has spent her career studying civil conflict in places like Iraq and Sri Lanka, but now she has become increasingly worried about her own country.

Perhaps surprisingly, both autocracies and healthy democracies are largely immune from civil war; it’s the countries in the middle ground that are most vulnerable. And this is where more and more countries, including the United States, are finding themselves today.

Over the last two decades, the number of active civil wars around the world has almost doubled. Walter reveals the warning signs—where wars tend to start, who initiates them, what triggers them—and why some countries tip over into conflict while others remain stable. Drawing on the latest international research and lessons from over twenty countries, Walter identifies the crucial risk factors, from democratic backsliding to factionalization and the politics of resentment. A civil war today won’t look like America in the 1860s, Russia in the 1920s, or Spain in the 1930s. It will begin with sporadic acts of violence and terror, accelerated by social media. It will sneak up on us and leave us wondering how we could have been so blind.

In this urgent and insightful book, Walter redefines civil war for a new age, providing the framework we need to confront the danger we now face—and the knowledge to stop it before it's too late.

About the Free Library Author Events:
The Author Events program at the Free Library of Philadelphia offers the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with today’s most celebrated voices in the humanities and sciences. Prior to the COVID pandemic, Author Events were held at Parkway Central Library at 1901 Vine Street in Philadelphia; however, for now they are all virtual events hosted through Crowdcast.

* For more information, call the Author Events Office at[masked] or email [masked]
or go to: https://libwww.freelibrary.org/programs/authorevents/?id=109751

Making Sense Podcast Event: "The Future of Democracy"

Online event

Join Sam Harris as he discusses "The Future of Democracy" with Anne Applebaum, David Frum, George Packer, and Barton Gellman in a LIVE Zoom webinar on Wednesday, February 2nd at 2:00pm EST (11:00am PST). The event will run approximately 2 hours. Time permitting, they may take questions from the Q&A function in Zoom.

This is FREE for subscribers to Sam Harris's "Making Sense" podcast - you can register here: https://www.samharris.org/events/the-future-of-democracy

If you're not a member, you can join for $14.99/month or $99.99 yearly (only $8.33/month): https://www.samharris.org/subscribe

About the Speakers:
* Sam Harris is a philosopher, neuroscientist, and public intellectual. He holds a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from UCLA. His work touches on a wide range of topics, including religion, terrorism, ethics, free will, rationality, neuroscience, meditation, psychedelics, philosophy of mind, and artificial intelligence. Harris came to prominence for his criticism of religion, particularly fundamentalist strains of Christianity and Islam, and is known as one of the "Four Horsemen" of New Atheism, along with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. He's the author of 9 books, most recently *Making Sense: Conversations on Consciousness, Morality, and the Future of Humanity* (2020).

* Anne Applebaum is a columnist for the Washington Post and a Pulitzer-prize winning historian. She has a M.A. in international relations from the London School of Economics (LSE) and is currently a Professor at the LSE’s Institute of Global Affairs where she runs Arena, a program on disinformation and 21st century propaganda. She has written extensively about communism and the development of civil society in Eastern Europe. Her most recent book is *Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism* (2020) that discusses democratic decline and the rise of right-wing populism with authoritarian tendencies, with three main case studies: Poland, the U.K., and the U.S.

* David Frum is a neoconservative political commentator and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He has a M.A. in history from Yale and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Over the years, he's worked as an editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, a columnist for Forbes, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, and a contributing editor at National Review. He is currently a senior editor at The Atlantic as well as an MSNBC contributor. He's the author of 11 books, most recently *Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic* (2018) and *Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy* (2020).

* George Packer is a journalist, novelist, and playwright. He is a staff writer covering foreign policy at The Atlantic and wrote for The New Yorker from 2003 to 2018. His book *Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century* was a 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist. His other books include *The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America* (2013), covering the history of the US from 1978 to 2012, and *Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal* (2020), that diagnoses America's descent into a failed state.

* Barton Gellman is a staff writer for The Atlantic, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, and also holds an appointment as Visiting Lecturer and Author in Residence at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He has contributed to three Pulitzer Prizes for The Washington Post, based on reporting on the 9/11 attacks, the vice presidency of Dick Cheney, and the Edward Snowden leaks. He holds a master's degree in politics from University College, Oxford. He is the author of three books, the most recent being *Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State* (2020). Gellman's recent Atlantic article "January 6 was practice" has warned that Republicans are undermining the electoral process ahead of the 2024 election, possibly leading to a constitutional crisis.

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Past events (451)

American Purpose Debate: "Is Brexit Fueling Nativism?"

Online event

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