December 11, 2018






December 29, 2017

Sartre (Part 1)

In the coming months I'd like to finally read Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness. My plan for doing so is to use Professor Paul Vincent Spade's class lecture notes as a guide, and in keeping with Professor Spade's advice to first read Edmund Husserl's The Idea of Phenomenology, as well as Sartre's The Transcendence of the Ego and Existentialism is a Humanism.

* * * * *

Spade's Introduction  to Husserl

Descartes believed that we can avoid epistemic error if we only affirm what appears to us clearly and distinctly (Principle #1). And what things can we clearly and distinctly perceive? My own existence, and the way things appear to me, the appearances, the phenomena.

Descartes believed that all phenomena are mental events, mind-dependent (Principle #2). Spade: It's like we're watching a movie; the phenomena are the pictures we see, representations of the external world. So how can we know what's really happening in the world? If we can't find an answer, we left with solipsism. Descartes tried to avoid solipsism by arguing for God's existence, but most subsequent philosophers rejected this answer.

If Husserl wants to avoid Descartes' solipsism, he must reject one of his two principles.

* * * * *

Kant. Noumena, the thing in itself = the realities behind the appearances (phenomena, the thing as it appears).

Kant, unlike Descartes, holds that the mind contributes something to the phenomena. The mind organizes perceptual data in certain ways. In other words, "c'ness is not altogether a passive observer of phenomena. It is active. It imposes a certain organization, a certain order on the raw data of sensation." Phenomena is a product of (a) "the raw data of sensation" and (b) "the interpretation imposed on those data by the mind." This is constitution. An ego that imposes this order is a Transcendental Ego.

Kant believes there humans put imposes certain categories on sense data -- e.g., causality, existence, substance/property. Kant does not believe that the categories apply to the noumena.

Kant believed we could be sure that our phenomena of reality were not accurate representations of the phenomena.

Kant noted that every thought we have, every perception we make, is from our own point of view. This is important b/c it means that "all our concepts, and so too all phenomena, which those concepts describe, carry with them an implicit reference to ourselves and to our point of view." Consequently, phenomena are not accurate representations of things-in-themselves. "Things-in-themselves are whatever they are with no special reference to us; phenomena, on the other hand, necessarily involve a reference (even if only an implicit one) to ourselves."

Note: Kant is not saying: My point of view might correspond with reality, but it might not, and I'll never know for sure. Rather, Kant is saying that the mind constitutes reality. (Which maybe means that c'ness totally shapes the way I see reality, so much so that maybe we couldn't even fathom what relaity would look like apart from our c'ness????)

But now we're back at solipsism. This is idealism, "the view that all reality is in some sense mental." It's hard to see how idealism differs from solipsism.

Kant of course can never know if there really is a thing-in-itself, and so it makes no sense to talk about noumena, just phenomena.

* * * * *

Husserl initially promised a way out of this idealism/solipsism.

Husserl's natural standpoint assumes that cognition is possible, in other words, it assumes that there is correspondence b/t our thoughts and what we are thinking about.

The phenomenological reduction = our judgments are confined, reduced, to the phenomena; we're not inferring from the phenomena something else.

H believes that my ego (or perspective) is not part of the phenomena, but I must take account of my perspective in any complete description of the phenomena.

First sense of immanence and transcendence = inside (the mind) and outside (the mind). If I think about Mars for ten minutes, then that thought is immanent in my act of thinking, while Mars itself is transcendent to my thinking about it. // Second sense of Immanence and transcendence = something is transcendent, not immanent, if an inference is required before I can make a clam about that thing.

H wants to find something that is transcendent in the first sense and immanent in the second sense -- in other words, something that is (a) outside the mind and (b) directly present to the mind (not present as result of inference).

The eidetic reduction. Universals are things that are directly given to use (redness is example; it is here now, and it is there later). Universals are objects of c'ness and they transcend c'ness.

The theory of intentionality: every act of c'ness is always c'ness of something. Thus, every act of c'ness transcends itself.

Intentionality makes transcendence possible! The ego is a passive observer. But in his later works, H abandoned intentionality in favor of the doctrine of constitution -- the transcendental ego organizes the raw data of experiencing, organizing, unifying, individualizing.

Terror Management Theory (TMT): A Summary (Part 2)

Responses to "The Other"

As previously discussed, cultural worldviews are vital to human thriving, as they mitigate death anxiety that would otherwise be debilitating. Cultural worldviews are maintained through consensual validation. Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski (2015) explain:
Cultural worldviews gain strength in numbers. For beliefs to serve as effective bulwarks against existential terror, people must be absolutely certain of their validity. However, most of the core beliefs we depend on for psychological security are based on faith rather than fact; they cannot be unambiguously proven. Consequently, the more people who share our beliefs, the more sure we feel that they are correct. If just one person believed God spoke to Moses in the form of a burning bush, antipsychotic medication would be sought to relieve this poor soul of his florid delusion. But when the same belief is shared by millions of people, it becomes unassailable truth. (location 2275)

Being around people who don't share our worldviews is consequently problematic, especially when mortality has been made salient. Pyszczynski, Solomon, & Greenberg (2003) write that we try to minimize the threat of "the other" in one of five ways. First, we might convert to their worldview (p. 29). In other words, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and adopt another worldview to mitigate your death anxiety. Second, we might try to convert them to our worldview (p. 30). Third, we might try to reconcile our two worldviews, incorporating parts of their worldview into ours (p. 31). Fourth, we might disparage our opponents, as making them seem pathetic and foolish bolsters faith in our own worldview (p. 29). Fifth, in extreme cases, we might try to annihilate them. "Often, the most compelling way to eliminate the threat posed by people who are to kill them and thus prove that your vision of reality must be right after all” (p. 32).

These authors argue that disparaging others is the most common response to people with different worldviews, and indeed some of the first TMT studies showed that reminding people of their mortality causes them to have less favorable views of those with opposing worldviews (Greenberg et al., 1990). Subsequent research has shown that mortality salience causes people to become more physically aggressive towards others.

McGregor et al. (1998), for instance, divided college students into two groups; one group was asked to write about their next exam, while the other was asked to write about their own mortality. Students were then given information about a student in a nearby cubicle, including that student's political identity. Students were told that the other student disliked spicy foods, and they were then asked to pour some hot sauce into a cup that the other student would have to consume. Students who'd written about their next exam poured out a modest amount of hot sauce for students who agreed and who disagreed with their political beliefs. On the other hand, students who'd been reminded of their mortality poured out a modest amount of hot sauce for students who shared their beliefs but a large amount, more than twice as much, for students with opposing political beliefs (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2015, locations 2471-2485).

Other studies have corroborated these findings. Pyszczynski et al. (2006) conducted a study in which Iranians were separated into two groups; participants in the first group were asked to write about dental pain, while those in the the second were asked to write about their own death. Participants were then asked to read two questionnaires, one completed by a Muslim who believed that martyrdom attacks against the United States were morally justified and another by a Muslim who believed that such attacks were not justified. Those who'd been asked to write about dental pain indicated that they were more interested in joining the cause of the anti-martyrdom respondent, while those who'd been asked to write about death indicated that they were more interested in joining the cause of the pro-martyrdom respondent (pp. 528-530).

Pyszczynski et al. (2006) conducted a similar student with American students. In this study, students were asked to write about either intense physical pain or the September 11 attacks. Students were then asked (a) whether they believed the US should engage in preemptive attacks against countries "that may pose a threat to the United States in the future, even if there is no evidence that they are planning to attack us right now," (b) whether the US should use nuclear and/or chemicals weapons "to defend our interests at home and abroad," and (c) whether the US should attempt to kill or capture Osama bin Laden "even if thousands of civilians are injured or killed in the process." Both liberal and conservatives students asked to write about physical pain tended to oppose these aggressive military actions. Liberal students asked to write about 9/11 were no more likely to support these aggressive actions, but conservative asked to write about 9/11 were significantly more likely to support such actions (pp. 531-533).

Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski (2015) point to another study which "found that death reminders made Americans more accepting of US intelligence using brutal and humiliating interrogation techniques (torture) on foreign suspects" (location 2498; see Luke & Hartwig, 2014). They also note that "[p]arallel studies in Israel found that reminders of mortality led politically conservative Israelis to view violence against Palestinians as more justified. These participants were also more supportive of a preemptive nuclear attack on Iran" (location 2498; see Hirschberger & Ein-Dor, 2006).

Practical Implications

TMT researchers have shown that the awareness of death can be an incredibly destructive force, contributing to neuroticism and a host of mental illnesses. Although adopting a worldview might effectively protect one against these problems, it can cause one to be aggressive towards outsiders, both verbally and physically. What's the answer, then? TMT research suggests three possibilities.

(1) Bolster your self-esteem. Considerable research has shown that self-esteem is correlated with lower levels of anxiety, as well as superior mental and physical health (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, & Schimel, 2004, p. 438). As discussed earlier, bolstering self-esteem also reduces death anxiety as well the need for worldview defense.

(2) Face death head on. Although our tendency might be to avoid thoughts of death, we might benefit from confronting these toughts. As we've seen, tremendous harm often comes when we try to banish death from awareness. Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski (2015) write, "Through diligent efforts to become familiar with the prospect (and the inevitable fact) of dying, one ideally becomes psychologically fortified to the point where, as Montaigne put it, 'I am at all hours as well prepared as I am ever like to be, and death, whenever he shall come, can bring nothing along with him I did not expect long before'" (location 3739).

(3) Engage in constructive forms of death transcendence. Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski (2015) write, "Making peace with one's death is surely a worthy goal with many psychological and social benefits. We humans are, however, not psychologically equipped to fully acquire such equanimity without an enduring sense of significance that extends beyond our individual existence" (location 3765). Borrowing from Robert Lifton, they discuss five types of death transcendence: (a) biosocial transcendence ("passing on one's genes, history, values, and possessions" or identifying "with an ancestral line of ethnic or national identity that perseveres indefinitely," (b) theological transcendence (believing in the existence of an incorporeal soul which will endure bodily death), (c) creative transcendence ("contributing to future generations through innovations in art, science, and technology), (d) natural transcendence ("identifying with all life, nature, or even the universe"), and (e) experiential transcendence (achieving " a sense of timelessness accompanied by a heightened sense of awe and wonder," something which can be achieved through drugs, meditation, certain cultural rituals, and "activities that provide a sense of flow, of losing oneself in contemplation and enjoyment") (locations 3765-3777).

* * * * *


Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., Rosenblatt, A., Veeder, M., Kirkland, S., & Lyon, D. (1990). Evidence for terror management theory II: The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who threaten or bolster the cultural worldview. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(2), 308-318.

Hirschberger, G., & Ein-Dor, T. (2006). Defenders of a lost cause: Terror management and violent resistance to the disengagement plan. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(6), 761-769.

Luke, T. J., & Hartwig, M. (2014). The effects of mortality salience and reminders of terrorism on perceptions of interrogation techniques. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 21(4), 538-550.

McGregor, H. A., Lieberman, J. D., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Arndt, J., Simon, L., & Pyszczynski, T. (1998). Terror management and aggression: evidence that mortality salience motivates aggression against worldview-threatening others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(3), 590.

Pyszczynski, T., Abdollahi, A., Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Cohen, F., & Weise, D. (2006). Mortality salience, martyrdom, and military might: The great Satan versus the axis of evil. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(4), 525-537.

Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Arndt, J., & Schimel, J. (2004). Why do people need self-esteem? A theoretical and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 130(3), 435-468.

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2015). The Worm at the core: On the role of death in life [Kindle version].

December 27, 2017

Terror Management Theory: A Summary (Part 1)

The Theory 

All mammals, including humans, experience terror when faced with the threat of death. Upon seeing a predator, an animal in the wild enters a state of fight, flight, or freezing. Similarly, if my car begins to spin out of control or if I wake up to discover a suspicious lump, I will have this same response. But unlike other mammals, humans are capable of experiencing this terror even when death is not imminent. I can be young and healthy, but simply contemplating my eventual demise can be enough to fill me with terror (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2015, location 208).

This can create significant problems. Having this fight-flight-freeze response in the face of an imminent threat is adaptive, but having it in the absence of such a threat can be debilitating, preventing one from carrying out the activities required for healthy, productive living. According to terror management theory (TMT), humans learned to solve this problem by creating cultural worldviews. A cultural worldview is a belief system which (a) affirms that existence has order and meaning, (b) prescribes standards for right behavior, and (c) confers value and death transcendence to those who meet these standards.[1] By believing in a cultural worldview and attaining the self-esteem that comes from meeting its standards, we're able to escape the terror that comes from death awareness (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2004, p. 20).

Unfortunately, cultural worldviews are incapable of perfectly protecting us from this terror. For the fact remains that worldviews are human inventions, and although certain worldviews might in fact be true, there's no way to verify this. If anything, reality gives people reason to question their worldviews, for life can be cruel and unfair, seeming to contradict the rosy narratives which worldviews affirm. The surest way to strengthen a worldview is to surround oneself with like-minded people. For worldviews are maintained through consensual validation, meaning that confidence in one's worldview is bolstered by being around people who share that worldview and weakened by being around people who oppose that worldview.


In order to test the validity of TMT, researchers devised two empirically verifiable hypotheses: the morality salience hypothesis and the anxiety-buffer hypothesis.

Mortality Salience Hypothesis

The mortality salience hypothesis states that, if in fact cultural worldviews serve the purpose of mitigating death anxiety, then reminding people of their mortality (mortality salience) will cause them to attempt to bolster those worldviews (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2004, p. 20). Since worldviews are maintained through consensual validation, it further follows that making mortality salient will cause people to react more positively to those who share their worldviews and more negatively to people who oppose their worldviews.

Rosenblatt, A., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., & Lyon (1989) were the first ones to test this hypothesis. In their first experiment, they presented municipal court judges with information about a prostitute and asked what they would set her bond at. Half of the judges were simply given information about the case and asked to make their decision, while the other half were first asked to briefly write what would happen to their bodies upon death and what emotions were elicited when they thought about death. The researchers hypothesized that the judges asked to write about their own mortality would have a more negative reaction to the prostitute since her lifestyle flouts the worldview of the judges, thus raising the possibility that their worldview "may not be universally valid." And indeed these judges came down much more harshly on the prostitute, imposing an average bond of $455, compared to $50 for the first group (p. 682). 

In another experiment, Rosenblatt et al. (1989) asked a group of college students to recommend a reward for a woman who helped the police catch a criminal. Just as in the first experiment, half of the participants were simply given information about the case, while the other half were first asked to write about their own mortality. Just as predicted, the students in the mortality salient group showed a greater eagerness to reward the woman, recommending an average reward of $3,476, compared to $1,112 for the control group (p. 684). 

The following year, Greenberg et al. (1990) tested whether "similar effects could be shown for reactions to targets who bolster or threaten the cultural worldview in other ways" (p. 309). These researchers took a group of Christian college students and asked half of them to briefly write about their own mortality. All of the students were then asked to evaluate two questionnaires, one purportedly filled out by a Christian and the other by a Jew. The students who hadn’t been reminded of death evaluated the Christian and Jewish writers equally, while those who had been reminded of death evaluated the Christian writer more positively and the Jewish writer more negatively (pp. 310-313). 

In a second experiment, Greenberg et al. (1990) asked a group of college students to read three short writings, one espousing positive views of the United States, one espousing negative views, and a third espousing mixed views. The students whose mortality had not been made salient rated all of the writers fairly equally, while those in the mortality salience group held favorable views of the pro-American writer and negative views of the anti-American writer.[2] 

These initial studies have been corroborated by hundreds of subsequent studies, one of which even showed that mortality salience increases physical aggression against one's political opponents. These studies have shown that the the mortality salience hypothesis holds up in different cultures, including indigenous cultures (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2004, p. 22). These studies have also shown that these mortality salience effects can be produced by other means -- e.g., showing participants footage of gory automobile accidents, interviewing them near funeral homes, and subliminal priming -- and that "reminders of other negative events, such as social rejection, failing an exam, intense pain, or losing a limb in a car accident," have not been shown to "produce the same effects as being reminded of one's mortality" (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2015, location 328). 

Anxiety-Buffer Hypothesis

The anxiety-buffer hypothesis states that if self-esteem protects us against death anxiety, then bolstering self-esteem will mitigate death anxiety when mortality is made salient (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2004, p. 20). Greenberg et al. (1992) gave participants a psychological profile purportedly based on their answers to a questionnaire. Some participants were given neutral evaluation reports while others were given positive reports. After receiving these results, half of the participants watched a clip from the documentary Faces of Death, while the others watched a clip of peaceful nature scenes. Participants then completed questionnaires measuring self-esteem and anxiety. Just as expected, those who received positive evaluations reported higher self-esteem than those who received neutral evaluations, and those who received neutral evaluations reported more anxiety if they watched Faces of Death than if they watched the nature clip. But everyone who had their self-esteem boosted reported equally low levels of anxiety, whether they watched Faces of Death or the nature clip (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2015, locations 768-794).

In a second experiment, Greenberg et al. (1992) had participants take what they believed to be an intelligence test. Some participants received no feedback on the test, while others were told that they did especially well on the test. Half of the participants were then hooked up to a machine and told that they would receive a series of painful electric shocks, while the others were asked to watch some colored lights. Participants who received no feedback on the test were more likely than those asked to watched the colored lights to perspire when anticipating the electrical shocks, a physiological indication of anxiety. But those who had their self-esteem bolstered were no more likely to perspire when expecting to be shocked than were those who watched the colored lights (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2015, locations 794-847).

Subsequent research has shown that not only does bolstering self-esteem mitigate death anxiety when mortality is made salient but also that bolstering self-esteem reduces the worldview defense which occurs after mortality is made salient. Like Greenberg et al. (1992), Harmon-Jones et al. (1997) gave a group of students a psychological profile, some of the profiles containing neutral evaluations and some containing positive evaluations. Harmon-Jones et al. (1997) then asked some students to write about their own mortality and others to write about television. Students were then asked to read and evaluate a pro-American essay and an anti-American essay. Just as predicted, those students who did not receive a self-esteem boost and whose mortality was made salient rated the pro-American writer more favorably than the anti-American writer, while students who received a self-esteem boost and whose mortality was made salient rated both writers equally (pp. 26-27).

Harmon-Jones et al. (1997) conducted a second experiment, this one replicating the conditions of the first experiment with one difference: instead of receiving a temporary self-esteem boost, students were categorized based on their dispositional self-esteem (as indicated by their scores on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale). Again, just as predicted, those students with moderate self-esteem scores in the mortality salient condition rated the pro-American writer more favorably than the anti-American writer, while those students with high self-esteem scores in the mortality salient condition rated both writers equally (pp. 28-30).

* * * * *


[1] Death transcendence can be literal or symbolic. Literal death transcendence implies the existence of souls which will endure after one's bodily death. Symbolic death transcendence implies that something one does will endure after they themselves die. Examples of symbolic death transcendence include having children, achieving fame, contributing to a cause, being part of a group.

[2] Although the first TMT studies showed that death reminders cause people to attempt to bolster their worldviews, Greenberg, Pyszczynski, Solomon, Simon, & Breus (1994) found that this effect could be weakened by making some seemingly minor changes. In one experiment, Greenberg et al. (1994) again asked participants to evaluate pro-American and anti-American writers, but this time that had those in the mortality salient group to think about death longer and more deeply. This time, participants in the mortality salient group were less likely than those in the Greenberg et al. (1990) study to view the pro-American writer favorably and the anti-American writer unfavorably. In another experiment, Greenberg et al. (1994) had some participants in the mortality salient group take a break before evaluating the writers while having others evaluate the writers immediately after writing about death. Those who read the essays after a short break viewed the pro-American writer favorably and the anti-American writer unfavorably, while those asked to rate the essays immediately after the death reminder rated the writers equally.

Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski (2015) write that based on these and additional studies, researchers concluded that people use two different psychological defenses in response to thoughts of death (location 2914). Proximal defenses are activated when thoughts of death are in our conscious awareness, while distal defenses are activated when thoughts of death have been relegated "to the fringes of our consciousness" (location 2927).

Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon (1999) define proximal defenses as "relatively rational, threat-focused cognitive maneuvers that push these thoughts out of consciousness." Proximal defenses might accomplish this through distraction -- e.g., "after passing a gruesome accident scene, a person might turn up the radio" -- or by using "various rationalizing cognitive strategies to deny one's current vulnerability." For example, "people may remind themselves that they get a lot of exercise, don't smoke, have relatively low levels of serum cholesterol, and so on. If thoughts of this nature are implausible because of clear evidence to the contrary (i.e., if people are aware that they do indeed possess risk factors of these sorts), they may use other cognitive strategies, such as denying the extent of risk that such behaviors or characteristics entail, focusing their attention on whatever evidence might be available to support a long life expectancy, or promising themselves to do what they can in the future to increase their life expectancy (e.g., I'm going on a diet next week, quitting smoking, and starting an exercise program)." Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon (1999) define distal defenses as defenses which "address the problem of death in a more indirect symbolic manner by providing a sense that one is a valuable contributor to a meaningful, eternal universe. Rather than pushing the problem of death out of consciousness or rationalizing it away into the distant future, distal defenses provide security by making one's life seem meaningful, valuable, and enduring."

* * * * *


Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., Rosenblatt, A., Veeder, M., Kirkland, S., & Lyon, D. (1990). Evidence for terror management theory II: The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who threaten or bolster the cultural worldview. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(2), 308-318.

Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., Simon, L., & Breus, M. (1994). Role of consciousness and accessibility of death-related thoughts in mortality salience effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(4), 627.

Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., & Pyszczynski, T. (1997). Terror management theory of self-esteem and cultural worldviews: Empirical assessments and conceptual refinements. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 29, 61-139.

Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., Rosenblatt, A., Burling, J., Lyon, D., ... & Pinel, E. (1992). Why do people need self-esteem? Converging evidence that self-esteem serves an anxiety-buffering function. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(6), 913.

Harmon-Jones, E., Simon, L., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & McGregor, H. (1997). Terror management theory and self-esteem: Evidence that increased self-esteem reduced mortality salience effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(1), 24.

Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., & Solomon, S. (1999). A dual-process model of defense against conscious and unconscious death-related thoughts: an extension of terror management theory. Psychological Review, 106(4), 835.

Rosenblatt, A., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., & Lyon, D. (1989). Evidence for terror management theory: I. The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who violate or uphold cultural values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(4), 681.

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2015). The Worm at the core: On the role of death in life [Kindle version].

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2004). The cultural animal: Twenty years of terror management theory and research. In J. Greenberg, S. Koole, & T. Pyszczynski (Eds.), Handbook of experimental existential psychology (pp. 13-34). New York: The Guilford Press.

August 11, 2016

American Politics and Conflicts of Interest

Politico's Katy O'Donnell writes, "No matter who wins in November, the next president will bring enormous potential conflicts of interest to the Oval Office...Americans could see a leader regulating the same banks that lend the Trump Organization millions of dollars, or one negotiating with foreign governments contributing millions to the Clinton Foundation." O'Donnell goes on to note something which all of us should find deeply troubling: such conflicts of interest are perfectly legal.

This past week some conservatives have trounced on Hillary Clinton for influence which the Clinton Foundation might have had during her tenure as Secretary of State, but as O'Donnell reminds us, this a bipartisan problem, one involving presidents, vice-presidents, members of Congress, and staffers. 

Meriam-Webster defines a conflict of interest as "a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust." We see this all the time in Washington. We saw this during the Bush years when the administration, led by officials with deep connections to defense contractors, led us into war. The friends and former colleagues of these officials benefited greatly from war. Perfectly legal. 

We see this in the revolving door that exists between Congress and corporations. While still in office, many lawmakers make deals to work for these corporations upon leaving office, and in the interim they push legislation that benefits their future employers. For instance, Senator Judd Gregg spent his final years in office "fighting reforms to bring greater transparency to the derivatives marketplace." Once a private citizen, he went to work for Goldman Sachs. Congressman Billy Tauzin pushed for Bush's prescription drug expansion and also helped "block a proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate for drug prices." In the five years after leaving office,  he made $19 million as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies. 

There's also the reverse revolving door wherein soon-to-be Congressional staffers receive "six-figure bonuses and other incentive pay from corporate firms shortly before taking jobs in Congress." An investigation by The Nation found that many of these staffers "are well positioned to influence multibillion-dollar legislation on issues ranging from tax policy to defense, and which impact their previous employers."

And of course conflicts of interest can result from campaign donations. Citizens United enabled corporations to “spend unlimited amounts of their treasuries’ money on political advertisements.” "In effect," Noam Chomsky writes, "the decision permits corporate managers to buy elections directly." Perhaps just as troubling, corporations do not have to publicly disclose that they're spending this money," thus preventing voters from understanding who is truly behind many political messages.”

I think that reasonable people can agree that none of this benefits the average citizen. If we care about democracy, we really need to do something.