Friday, November 30, 2012

A daily annoyance: those friggin' leg scooters

Now, it seems, humble crutches aren't enough for medical supply companies. Instead of this cheap and effective way of helping people with foot and leg injuries to get around, medical supply companies have made these little scooters where you bend your knee, put it on a pad that has wheels attached to it, and scoot your way around---holding onto a metal bar that goes up from it. What a pointless excess. I'm sure that the people who use them are just renting them, but, still, we have a country where many, many, people don't have adequate health care whatsoever....and then we have little toys that are completely unnecessary pressed onto the public, for those who can afford it. 

Just from a resource perspective, looking at the metal and possibly leather used in it, the material could go to much better causes instead of a boutique product that only the self-satisfied medical equipment industry wants. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The thing about globalization that is surprising, in retrospect, is how few people saw it was a kind of imperialism

Not that it's over, but I think we have a resurgence of power blocs that has made the traditional notion of a pure neoliberal globalization obsolete. But, the thing is, globalization in the eyes of its defenders always had two parts: First off, factories would be going overseas, but then those factories would be commanded by the "Creative Class", comfortably living in the United States and Europe.

Robert Reich, who has now become a socialist of sorts, in his "The Work of Nations", outlined very clearly a pyramid where the creative, first world Americans, were at the top of the heap as Symbolic processors, manipulators, basically people who do stuff with ideas and then get other people to realize them in practice, in the third world. We in the first world were thought to have miraculously transcended the need for manufacturing work and could now retreat into rarefied fields where we would all have flex time schedules and weekend blow jobs at Esalen after the workshops.

Of course, most of the United States was not, and to the extent that we're still living in a similar paradigm, still is not, benefitting from all of this. The "Creative Class", so called, was always small, and most likely will always be small, as opposed to the amount of people who actually make things.

Philosophy in the 19th century, why it came from certain countries and not others

It's been observed that in the early 19th century much of the intellectual ferment came from Germany. The Romantics, the Idealists, the Kantians, all originated there....and this intellectual climate later went on to produce Marx and Engels. But why this should be the case is a little obscure, although not totally. The lands that are now known as Germany industrialized much later than the rest of Europe, and in point of fact while there was an intellectual culture there, it wasn't as developed as in France or Great Britain, where both England and Scotland made major contributions to the Enlightenment. Instead, the German lands of the Holy Roman Empire were late developers, and so when the early 19th century hit, and history caught up to them, intellectuals took it as their cue to try to make their contribution, and in this the backwardness which existed actually proved a virtue.

It was a virtue not because ignorance is ever a virtue, but because although these places didn't contribute much to the Enlightenment, they contributed very heavily to the Renaissance, and Renaissance thought was preserved in these areas in ways that it hadn't been elsewhere. Elsewhere, you had had the "Battle of the Books" talked about by Jonathan Swift, in these lands you didn't. Which meant that after the French Revolution, and even during it, you suddenly have German scholars able to give a counter-point to everything based on this thought that had come before, which changed the game considerably. Renaissance flexibility was pitted against reductive materialism from the Enlightenment, and interesting things happened as a result.  One of the interesting things that happened, in the end, was Historical Materialism, the Materialism of Marx, which, in its original and non-vulgar forms was quite different than the mechanical materialism that came before, with Marx himself declaiming that his materialism was not an extension of that...not only once, but in many places.

In proper Hegelian fashion, the tension between the backwards looking Enlightenment, which looked back on classical sources, and the forward looking Enlightenment, that resembled more what we would consider today to be pure philosophy, was cut by something completely different. This something different would, towards the end of the 19th century, mutate into something virulently bad, but most people who look into these things would no doubt agree that the original thought of the early Romantics, and the Idealists, had little to do with the vulgarizations that took place later on.

Later, the Russians would try to do the same trick---looking at the unique position of Russian society, culture, and intellectual tradition and trying to criticize the west as a whole, including Germany and the Idealists, based on this position, not on the understanding that they were necessarily superior but on the understanding that Russia's position in the world enabled it to give an interesting and potentially valuable commentary on what was happening in Western Europe.

Many of these approaches, particularly in the late 19th, early 20th century, such as those of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, combined a Russo-centric ideology with Marxism and socialism in general, both in an industrial and in an agrarian-populist form, populism in this sense taken to refer to the pre-capitalist traditions of the Russian countryside that were thought to still exist.

*on edit: one of the reasons for the intellectual backwardness of the German speaking lands was the Thirty Years War, a series of revolts started by the Protestant Reformation that essentially ended the Renaissance tradition there. Although France had its Wars of Religion, and England had its English Civil War, neither of them appear to have left the destruction that the Thirty Years War did.

None of which is to imply an anti-work attitude

With the post below, talking about the pettiness of middle class bourgeois capitalism. It's not the work that's the problem, the problem is the character of lower level, and sometimes middle level, managers towards workers, where often times the people who are stupidest and most obedient, having the most god and country values, are promoted to managers, who then go overboard what is necessary. The work is fine, as well as self discipline at work, but these people are caricatures of the more positive values associated with these things, and, consequently, often make life unpleasant for petty reasons unrelated to people either doing or not doing their jobs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Tea Party--also indicative of middle class bourgeois capitalism

Because it's not all people acting against their class interests---there have to be people who are receptive to it, and guess what, the mix of Christianity, rancid patriotism, anti-statism, and capitalism that typified the tea party movement also represents the mindset of many lower level and possibly mid level managers at small and medium sized businesses---the kind of morons who read nothing but pop-management theory and spout off about the virtues of the free market all the time.

So in a way, the Tea Party wasn't simply an aberration but part of what the U.S. encourages to a certain extent. If you echo the belief in Christianity, saluting the flag, and pro-business beliefs of your superiors, you can get ahead fast in certain places. 

Empiricism is great, unless you dissent from mechanical materialism

In which case, empirical evidence is discounted because it's philosophically incorrect. What I mean by that is this: at the juncture of the 18th and 19th centuries there was a great amount of discussion about whether the mechanistic mindset, that of atomism, was all there was, or whether there was some other element that wasn't being considered that also explained things. This element was, somewhat misleadingly called "spirit", or "organic unity", and denoted in general the connecting forces and movement within what we perceive as materialist reality rather than the atomic reality itself. This aspect of life, the process of living, the flow of events, the development of individuals, plants, and the interrelationship between various parts that transcends the parts taken individually, is empirically observable as well.

Looking at society, at our lives, our history, at how the world appears to work, it's very easy to see a succession of relationships between people, places, and events themselves that in turn lead to new relationships, on top of the raw material facts that the relationships take place with. There's mass and there's motion, in other words, and you can't necessarily determine what motion a billiard ball has from its chemical constitution. Yet, although we can empirically see this, talk about it, and to some extent quantify it, because what we're seeing is not primarily a "thing" but relationships between things, saying that there are causes and elements to life beyond that of chemical reactions, sometimes brings on disbelief. Surely, we're all bags of chemicals whose thoughts, feelings, nature, and the rest, are determined solely by those factors. Surely, when you talk about relationships that you can't directly see in the sense of a piece of coal, determining things and being a source of meaning in life, you're getting into realms that are unproveable. But it is proveable, in that I can perceive them, talk about them, and in certain ways examine them, but just not put them under a microscope.

Which gets preference, then, the philosophical attitude of materialism, which is just that, a philosophical model, or the experiential awareness of relationships, sometimes called "spirit", organic function, synergistic functioning, motions in process and actions? 

Moral relativism and moral arbitrariness

We all know that different cultures value different things, and that they often have very different takes on what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes, what we take from that is that, gosh, because there are so many different takes there must not be anything that's right and wrong....and in fact, we should just sort of give up on trying to sort it out. It's all relative, right?

Well, the thing is that in every one of those systems of thought you have people who have devoted their lives to sorting out what's right and what's wrong on a very thorough level. You have folks in India who have spent their lives looking at questions of this nature coming up with different answers than folks in China who have done the same thing, coming up with different answers from people from the Islamic world who have been doing the same thing. I'm certain the parallel could be extended to African societies and to societies in Asia and Polynesia, and elsewhere, where there's more of an oral tradition as opposed to one that's recorded in books. Even though culture is relative, culture is also, then, deep.

If you look at things and just say "Well, it's all relative", what you miss is the depth of the engagement with the human experience that's encoded in that culture. What we call "culture" is really just the aggregation of attitudes and values that are both new and old. There's culture that's just a fad and culture that's deeper. Both types of culture contain notions of what the individual is like, what the proper way for the individual to relate to society as a whole is, what the proper way for society as a whole to be like is, and what the acceptable ways for all of them to relate to each other are. Looking at in reference to history, where culture builds on itself, you have an encyclopedia of the human experience, one which people in trying to come up with moral codes, or ideas about morality, have engaged fully. If you yourself don't go in for that, and instead stay on the outside of things just declaring that it's all relative, you cheat yourself out of this engagement with life.

None of this is to say that culture itself may not be derivative from economics, influenced by historical accidents, or by other sorts of environmental influences, but, despite this variability, it's the best thing that we have, and any substitute that compensates for influences which really are variable that we think our static will similarly have to engage life on a comprehensive basis. If it doesn't, it will just clear away what, though variable, is a good attempt given the context, without putting anything comparable in its place. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Does morality legally rule society?

There's an argument that says that we live in a utilitarian society where everything is determined simply by rules of pleasure and pain, or, as an alternate, condemning what causes pain as being legally impermissible so as to ensure the most non-pain possible without further compulsory action. But is this really how things are? Some have argued, and I'm inclined to agree, that while a society may say that its code of conduct is simply derivative from a formula like avoiding causing pain, in point of fact a society can never get away from a more elaborated moral code.

This is enshrined in the notions contained in law. It has to be, by default, because Law and the place of a person with reference to legal processes are the one area where conduct absolutely has to be taken into account. When you look at the legal system, there are very clear standards of conduct that it expects on the part of folks, conduct that perhaps comes out more in civil cases than in criminal ones. It's very easy to see where right and wrong come down, in a very utilitarian sense, with regards to criminal acts, but in civil suits, where it's a measure of someone not keeping their word, or of acting in a way that's very detrimental to an individual without necessarily being criminal, it's a different story.

Not only that but civil law complements criminal law, so that criminal law is thought to be pursued by society itself in order to preserve its sense of justice, while civil law deals with making right the state of an individual who has been wronged.

If you look at the ideas contained in civil law, you see quite a bit of moral judgment on individuals about what is reasonably right or wrong personal conduct with regards to integrity, duty, and honesty. These things form an implicit moral code that governs our society, albeit one which isn't taught or even discussed. We're just all supposed to "know" that you should act in certain ways that will end up being in harmony with civil law.

Society, in this scenario, always has an implicit moral code because such a thing is necessary for wrongs beyond the most crude to be righted.

With that in mind, it's worth asking why exactly the types of things that are discussed within civil law are never discussed within schools, or within society itself as a whole. Ideas about duty, obligation, moral integrity, and honesty, are regarded as being so out of place in discussion that even to suggest that individuals naturally have some of these in relation to their fellow men and women is to bring up the accusation of imposing one's moral agenda on someone else. But that's what our society legally runs on.

In point of fact, when things like virtue or conduct beyond not physically hurting people or stealing, get put out there the accusations of being an oppressive extremist blossom. I think that a more appropriate response would be to question why exactly people aren't thinking of these things already, and why it's so much of a shock to folks when people come into the public sphere wanting to talk about these things.

More statistics: Red States...36.3% of population would get 48 out of 100 Senate seats

Because there were 24 of them which went for Romney, with a total of 112,106 million people. So in other words there's a 12% difference between the percentage of the population they make up and the amount of Senate seats they have. Translating that out, the way the Senate is divided up makes them have the representative power of 36,689,000 more people than they should have. Which, for comparison's sake, is within a million of the population of California, which has roughly 37,254,00 people, meaning that our Senate rules give the red states additional power close to that of the state of California, above and beyond their actual population.

*on edit: this is if all the Red States had two Senators in Congress. The actual makeup of the Senate is a little bit different, with some red states having one democrat and one republican and some blue states having the same. Yet, the stats are similar in that you have 55-45 on the side of the Democrats, either with the party itself or with people who vote with it the majority of the time.

How Democracy Works: 2012 election

According to "The Guardian", Wyoming, Idaho, Oklahoma, Kansas,Utah, Kentucky,West Virginia, Nebraska, Arkansas,  and Alabama all had support for Romney at 60% or higher....making up a total of 59 Electoral Votes out of 538, or roughly 11%. For comparison's sake, New York State has 29 Electoral Votes, and both Michigan and Ohio have 18, with California (who has the most electoral votes of them all) having 55. In other words, go on and vote your heart out, red states---your population is so fucking small it makes no difference. Have a nice day.

*on edit: in other words, the electoral votes of California and Oregon, 55 and 7, respectively, totally negated all of the 60% and over support for Romney.

*on edit part 2: this is borne out by the population of these states. The voters of these states are representing the whole population, and if you add up the populations of the 10 states with 60% up and higher support for Romney, you find that the total (by 2010 Census numbers) is 27,213,918--out of a total population of 308,745,538 for the U.S. as a whole plus DC for 2010...which comes out to about 8.8% of the U.S. population--actually lower than the percentage of electoral votes they got. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Well, we found out how numerically strong the Tea Party was, didn't we?

Because the Tea Party, at least the people still involved with it, were promoting it as a sleeping giant that was going to be revived, and Fox News and allied media organizations did their best to portray what was actually believed in by a marginal group of people in the United States as being a popular movement. The truth came out in the election. Nearly every swing state, except North Carolina, went to Obama, even Florida, which even they couldn't rig effectively in Romney's favor. Not only that, but Tea Party candidates who were elected to Congress two years ago were summarily thrown out. Allen West is no more a Representative, neither is Joe Walsh. And, not surprisingly, the implicit endorsement of sexual violence, or at least saying that, hey pregnancy from rape is gift from god, one of the most insane and macabre statements possible, lead not only to the candidates who said these things being defeated but women in general mobilizing to vote for their interests on a large scale.

The Tea Party style Fox News politics proved to be a Tempest in a Tea Pot, the speech of an Idiot with Sound and Fury, signifying nothing. Money can only buy so much.

Grover Norquist, whose daddy told him about the evils of taxation by stealing parts of his ice cream cone when he was kid, got a petition to have him publicly punched in the groin....and, beyond that, it looks like his policies are being rejected by Republican politicians, finally.

Free market politics linked to ignorant Christian theocrats have to be one of the least appealing parts of the American political landscape, a place where the Constitution is looked at as an inspired, unchangeable, document, by people who have never thought of trying to read some of the legal commentary talking about how the Constitution is actually understood in practice. Debate about the Constitution? For shame! It happens every time precedent is re-evaluated.

I don't know quite what to call the Tea Party folks, possibly the last stand of folks in rural America who are woefully outnumbered in our country, and have been for quite some time, but who because of the way our political system is structured, and because of what the media favors, have assumed an importance way outside of their actual numbers. The folks who believe that the earth was created in literally seven days, that the Constitution is unalterable, that the free market in its most obnoxious form is sacred, and who, beyond a few points, really don't care about the Freedom that they so loudly trumpet, are a rind of scum that I'm glad has now been put in their place, hopefully.

The folks running Fox News, running the multi-national corporations, will have to find some other proxy movement to advance their own interests now.

Me, I would gladly welcome some sanity in terms of what the Republican party could potentially offer.

As this blog has lately pointed out, there are quite a few advantages to a moderate social conservatism, good points to be made, that are not being made whatsoever in the current environment. All political philosophies have something to offer, and I think a great balance would be to incorporate some of each of the main three together into a new combination, however, one which stands at its bottom as truly socially radical, in the Marxist sense of workers' power and socialism. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Romney and the "Gifts" statement

That statement, being that Obama won because he promised "gifts" to minorities, women, and young people, demonstrates how out of touch he is with the current state of the Democratic Party. What many conservatives don't realize is that the Democratic Party that used to be more comfortable with entitlement programs without critically evaluating them is no more. Instead, progressive democrats still support entitlement programs, but in my experience the vast majority of them do so in ways where the reasoning has been shifted to counter conservative critiques of the same.

In a way, the conservatives, while not winning, at least made their point, in that progressive thought, as it exists now, started out fighting from a position that was kind of on the ropes. The progressive writing and thought that's prevalent now started out not from the position of dominance that liberal thought in the early '80s inherited from the '70s and '60s, but from being completely and totally criticized throughout the Reagan-Bush era and abandoned to centrism by the Democratic party in the Clinton era. What's called Progressive thought now had to justify itself both against conservatives who were against any sort of programs whatsoever and against people from the liberal party in power itself who believed that "the era of big government is over". Because of this, progressive thought is much stronger and more consistent than liberal thought at the end of the '70s was.

You can see it as the thesis, '70s thought, being opposed by the anti-thesis, Reaganism, and the latter being opposed by another anti-thesis, leading to a return to the original position altered and wisened by the encounter.

Which is why so much of the rhetoric of the Rush Limbaugh's of the world is regarded as just absurd by many progressives. Limbaugh and company, and Romney with his "gifts" statement, are feeding on stereotypes that haven't been true about progressive democrats for twelve years, with the 2000 election being the watershed year where many folks abandoned the mainstream democratic party in order to pursue a more progressive agenda. It's not like there aren't folks out there who still expect the government to compensate them for everything without demanding any sort of change on their own part, but I would doubt that many progressives would take the demand at face value these days.

Obama, for his part, seems to completely understand this new position, and his actual statements during the debates had no trace of the "entitlement mentality" that folks are now accusing him of using to get votes. In fact, probably because of being Africa-American, I think he avoided anything that could possibly look like that in a way that went a little bit too far. But in any case, what you have with Obama's ideological positions and with those of many, probably most, progressive democrats is a far cry away from the late '70s, where when folks wanted more welfare and more entitlement programs democrats would kind of just give in without really considering the overall rightness, justice, or social impact of those programs on the country as a whole.

Values, competition, and socialism

I think that although the danger of a non-competitive socialism has been grossly exaggerated there still is definitely a potential for lack of competition to have adverse affects on society. I see competition as a secondary, but necessary, part of society, something that's encapsulated in a dialectical moment, so to speak, between collective phases.

Competition in the sense that we're familiar with, associated with capitalism, partially came about as a response to the completely static society of the feudal middle ages, where there was no possibility of social mobility whatsoever. You were stuck in whatever social position you were born into, unless you could escape to the city and try to reinvent yourself. With the decay of feudalism and the revolt against it, individual competition came into its own, but just as feudalism, with it's all encompassing, static, stifling, system, went too far, so the ethos of competition go too far in the other direction. All supports, social and otherwise, were jettisoned as being unnecessary and oppressive, as opposed to simply some of them.

We can see the consequences of this today, where health care, for example, is strangely enough linked to individual competition in the philosophies of some, in that if you're responsible enough you should be able to either pay for medical care outright or get adequate health insurance. What this ignores is the huge weight of society against the individual, a weight that is not geared towards the human scale but completely overwhelms it. Issues like this, if they're going to be addressed, need to be addressed socially, without simply saying that an individual alone can solve all the problems him or her self.

Yet, individual initiative, the impulse to improve ones self, the impulse to go out and do things that are creative and interesting, as a good thing, is a very important contribution. The comparison that some people have drawn between socialism and feudalism is only partially true, in that in my opinion it's apathy, rather than any sort of forcing a person into a certain occupational mode, that's the real potential source of stasis. I suppose that what's considered the "Party Line" could also play a role, but if that "line" also includes positive, integrative, values that help both the individual and society as a whole lead positive, successful, lives, then that's not quite as bad.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A slightly different graphic: socialism, liberty, values

Expresses it a little bit more succinctly, in that it makes clear that although values and socialism are a check on liberty as an absolute value, that can be pursued without any sort of impediment whatsoever no matter what the economic or social consequences, that it's still a core value. I literally see the three sides of this figure as being completely interdependent, with each of the sides checking the other. 

Simply combining values in the way I've described with socialism has the potential to squeeze out personal liberty and freedom. That's not what I'm getting at. Freedom and Liberty are essential as both avenues of personal expression and as checks against the unlimited power of society against the individual.  

Values plus Socialism tends to oppression. Socialism plus Liberty without Values tends towards an aimless mediocrity, Liberty plus Values without Socialism leads to injustice. 

In this way, the whole of society can be stabilized and functional, as opposed to lopsided and self destructive. 

Also, "Liberty" here means personal freedom in the sense that folks who call themselves liberal, as well as classical liberals, believe in. It doesn't mean whatever abstraction folks in cowboy hats who look into the distance and mouth slogans about Liberty and Freedom seem to mean, something that has little to do with liberty acted out in practice.

Values and Socialism

I think that many authors have gone wrong by supporting the kind of values that I've been talking about while, paradoxically, supporting the free market system. To me, this makes no sense. Capitalism is one of the prime sources of the atomization and alienation that exists in today's society. To truly get to the source of this, to change it, requires not just a shift in what some believe is the surface of society, where values exist, but in the material substructure of society itself as well. The two would have to go together. Capitalism produces both alienation and then class society, which adds insult to injury. Class society needs to be abolished by workers taking power, and the bourgeois class overthrown.

But what is behind Capitalism? I think that the capitalist impulse was originally made possibly by the Protestant Reformation and by the damage that it did to European society in destroying values without adequately putting anything in their place. The Reformation can be seen as the idiot cousin of the Renaissance, which tried to reform Medieval society in a much more enlightened way. Instead, you had an auto-da-fe of destruction which allowed a vacuum to arise where instead of engaging the world, "faith" took the place of practical values, and personal enrichment---taken to be the result of personal piety, ironically, taking the place of a more community based identity. This was an identity where people fit into a whole.

Of course, this collective sensibility was contextualized within feudalism, yet I think it would have been possible to overthrow the oppressive features of feudalism without turning the ideal of society into one of isolated beings bumping into one another now and then. Such a thing, with progressive values added, would yield something very close to a socialist ethos, albeit one with a different cultural context.  The values of liberalism aren't a problem as long as the greater context does not threaten social continuity in a deep way, and if these values can co-exist, relatively libertarian features can come into being.

My word, Taco Time offering Tamales now....I can only shudder

Although not Latino, I have a great respect for Mexican and Hispanic culture, and Taco Time (a local Northwest chain) distinguishes itself by offering half hearted imitations of Mexican food that truly scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of authenticity. Witness "Mexican Fries", which are Tater Tots served with salsa. Tamales are an art form, and I'm expecting Taco Time to offer something resembling a kind of Frankenstein concoction of semi-Tamaleness. Will they use corn, or will they use some other grain?

Liberation, both for the responsible and for morons

Thinking about it, it's interesting how different the reality of things like liberalization of drug use has been from the ideals that initially guided it, as well as the liberalization of other things that have come out of the '60s. You have the start of it with people like Timothy Leary, teaching at Harvard, who explored drugs in a very refined environment, eventually moving up to a mansion in upstate New York called Castalia where a sort of utopian commune of personal exploration was established. Then, you have the end of it, or where it is now, with good old boys in trucks gettin' high on the weekend on top of getting drunk, with no social or personal idealism whatsoever. The difference between the two is the sense of responsibility and personal values that guided the initial explorers, which is totally absent in the worst parts of the drug culture today. I think, in general, that folks have learned over the last several decades how to responsibly use marijuana and other drugs, but that it's likely been a pretty prickly path, with the worst representatives of the culture still out there.

In terms of personal liberation, I remember going into a headshop in Florida and seeing a belt buckle for sale that had pot leaves next to a Confederate Flag. Obviously, the people there weren't getting much social progressivism out of their drug use. We have the ICP mentality instead, where folks who have none of the idealism of the early explorers just take drugs and other things as an excuse to further their own agenda. Sexual liberation could fall under the same category, where as opposed to the very considerate and negotiated pioneers of the movement, you now have ICP again putting out lyrics like "Bitch, you's a ho, and ho you's a bitch, everybody know's your a mother fucking bitch" and asking girls to show them their breasts.

Liberation is great if a sense of responsibility and guidance is added to it, but without that, it's an open field, with both the folks who you'd like to see use it using it along with folks who you'd prefer not to.

"Sheriff Joe humbly suggests he be invited to the White House to drink beer and/or give advice"

Sheriff Joe humbly suggests he be invited to the White House to drink beer and/or give advice From Daily Kos :

"I can just imagine Obama saying, "You know what? I don't think we've heard from enough batshit insane crackpots, during this immigration thing. Why don't we call in that one crazy-ass guy from Arizona—no, the other one. Yeah, let's give him a call and see what the guy who we filed a lawsuit against because he can't stop violating the civil rights of people in his county thinks about immigrants. We'll light up some cigars, and he can fill me in on how batshit insane racist conspiracy assholes think the country should be run. We should get right on that." "

The United States and Values

It seems that we are unique in the world in not really believing, as a whole, that folks would benefit from having advice on how to be a good, upstanding, person. Virtually every civilization in the world, from Africa to pre-Columbian America, from Asia to the Middle East, has had insights and guidance about how to be a good person, and Western society itself had a continuous, unbroken, tradition of it going from Plato's time in 300 BC up till the later Enlightenment, about two thousand years. Yet here we adopt a laissez faire attitude towards it. Interesting.

Of course, there are those here who say that they believe in these things, folks associated with the Christian right, but in practice they're more concerned with their Christianity, including adherence to obscure biblical precepts, than in actually pursuing these things in a reasonable manner. But why let a few, or in this case, many, bad apples spoil the bunch? 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Experiences with activism....and some flaws

My experience, and one of the reasons I've slightly changed things, is that while there are many good people who are involved with activism for various social causes, there's a trend, especially amongst younger people to have a real moral blindness about their own lives. There are some folks, not all, but a significant number, who are capable of being compassionate to folks in many other countries, sympathetic to the plights of many people in the U.S., but who when they lead their own lives make unethical and selfish choices that don't fit with their overall compassion at all. I don't think it has anything to do with the belief systems themselves, in fact the charge that because some people fuck up now and then means that the overall cause is wrong is, in my opinion, an illogical cop out.

But what I do believe is that things like pettiness, immaturity, letting a touch of fame go to ones head, turning people into raging selfish assholes, are more present in the activist community than in others because basic personal moral values aren't really a part of the scene. There's morality on a social level, morality on a world level, but to talk about values in a way that has to do with the very micro-level is something that's often off the radar screen. In fact, discussions of things like character and virtue probably sound suspiciously conservative, like something that the Christian Right would put out there, and therefore suspect. It may be conservative, but it's a conservatism that does not rise to anything that the right wing of the Republican Party would endorse. Folks are so concerned with personal freedom, with liberty, and with morality as it plays out on the other side of the world, or possibly in their own communities, that they never look at the fundamental way they themselves act in their own lives.

I need to clarify that I believe that this is just a partial defect, something that can be easily corrected by putting an awareness of those values back in there, and not something that indicates some sort of chasm that can't be breached. I believe that the fights for social justice are good, of course, as well as the fights for equality and liberty, but that on a personal level, when folks are engaging in those fights, more is necessary than what has been present in the past.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Are people naturally good? A discussion.

Provocative question, to be sure. What I mean by that has to do with the notion that we're all autonomous beings who, when we reach the right age, are able to jump into being virtuous, good, people, simply because we're human. It's an idea that's present in classical liberalism, which implies that if by possessing human nature and reason we're automatically predisposed to be good, what happens to us previous to being, say, 16, really doesn't matter.

I mean, it matters if it's traumatic, but, short of that, if things haven't actually hurt someone, if we all inherently know what's right and are predisposed to do it, then surely what parents do or don't do doesn't really matter for those fifteen and some months years. Because we naturally know what's right and what's wrong. If that's the case, then there really isn't much of a need for community to instruct kids except to tell them not to hurt others....but once you do that, you pollute the notion of a free, naturally virtuous, humanity, because when a person reaches an age that people identify as being autonomous it's not clear whether their goodness is because they naturally embody it or because of previous training.

"Naturally Evil" has just as many problems, however, suggesting that the truth may be somewhere in the middle....with people not necessarily being good or bad. "Good" implies something beyond adequacy.

In any case, great criticisms of the idea of natural goodness have come from both the Left and from conservatives. The Left has pointed out the enormous contribution that environment gives to a person's understanding of the world, while the Right has emphasized the importance of values and how they impact a person's life. Environment is much larger than values, and if a person suffers from institutional discrimination because of who they are, they can have all the values they want, work as hard as they can, but it will still be extremely hard to change things. This election cycle has unfortunately seen values being applied to absurd things, like the idea that individuals can afford health care if they're just hardworking and virtuous enough, without the need of any social influence to shape the environment.

However, while changing the environment is extremely important, especially here in the U.S. where environmental concerns have been semi-officially disbelieved in, and where we address them far less than almost any other country out there, having a good environment is not necessarily sufficient for having a good life in and of itself. While things like crime go down dramatically with an improved environment, with more economic equality, with a juster system of society, there are still plenty of people from decent backgrounds who go through life in a very aimless manner, without direction or insight into the world, wondering what it's all about.

They're often opposed by people from more disadvantaged backgrounds who have been able to transcend what they've experienced, and who in the process have attained a strength of character and sense of virtuous behavior that is lacking in the folks who are more advantaged. Because of this difference, the folks who have had to shape their character in order to attain what have attained are better suited to make their way in the world in a meaningful manner. This suggests the importance of values, on top of---not in contravention to--environment, as something necessary for personal satisfaction in life.

So are people naturally good? In my opinion, people are always contextualized within their environment, which interferes greatly with what "naturally" is supposed to happen, but as a secondary factor values are also important in directing people from just being "okay" to being truly good, which benefits not just society as a whole but themselves as well, because what folks learn that makes them good also helps them to get the most out of their own lives.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good old student debt: now it's effecting the middle class

And people are up in arms about it. The fact, though, is that none of this is particularly new. It's not like we lived in a utopia where everything was affordable and, horror of horrors, something changed, making it completely unaffordable to many people. For folks who are working class and minorities, the situation has gone from bad to bleak, while for the middle class it's put another crimp in their self-victimization mentality. Self-victimization? Did I forget to mention....everyone in college is poor, right?

That's the modus operandi that you'll find everywhere from the most humble to the most elite institutions, and while there are quite a few people who actually don't have money who are there, colleges in the U.S. for a very long time have been class biased about who gets to go there, and lots of the people who claim to be poor are actually lying.

There are two broad classes of people in college: folks who earned their place through hard work and competition, who managed to get there because of their actual merits, and those who got relatively mediocre grades but whose parents have money. Lots of folks who are in college in the U.S. who are "poor" are actually slackers whose parents are financing their education and who are actually quite privileged, people who because they don't have a complete free ride but have a part time job, for instance, invent stories of victimization and hardship to make them seem like they're actually suffering for their education.....while they take a similar, apathetic, attitude to their studies in college.

Meanwhile, there are folks who actually work hard and who don't have those privileges, who really do suffer, but, since everyone is poor in college, they're just part of the crowd. None of which is to say that folks who come from more privileged backgrounds never actually earn their place, or that they're never hard workers, or don't take their studies seriously, but the trend is clear: you can only slack off in college if you have money, otherwise you'd be taking classes at a community college and delivering pizzas.

In terms of class, and how class bias is just assumed to be part of the deal, Ann Arbor in Michigan is a great example. Home to the University of Michigan, it's one of the classic college towns, a very prestigious one as public universities go. As someone who grew up in Michigan, I know Ann Arbor quite well, and like it, but you'd be forgiven if you thought, driving through Ann Arbor without knowing that it was a college town, that it was a place where there were multiple country clubs and other elite institutions, that, in other words, it was a rich, upper class, suburban city. The reason it looks like that is simple: the people who are admitted to and go to U of M are disproportionately wealthy, in a way that bucks the trend of what the campus would look like if people who were qualified from all income brackets were admitted.

For some people, U of M is their dream school, something that they work very hard all their lives to get into. For other people, U of M is a fallback school just in case they don't get into someplace else.

So when the New York Times runs stories about student debt starting to be crushing, I have little doubt that beneath the platitudes is the concern that readers of the New York Times will now see their children be effected, as opposed to non-elite people who are only vaguely aware of the paper's existence. While folks who are really and totally, truly, impacted by the price increases, working class and minority students, have staged some very good protests in California, trying to keep a previously good system from shutting them out, a lot of the sound and fury is coming from families that have more money than that who are concerned that their kids will be the ones who will be de-classed, who will be shut out of the life that they previously thought they would automatically get.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Well, it looks like America has turned it around

It only took eight years. I have to say that one of the most depressing experiences I've had in politics was watching the returns come in during the 2004 election. In retrospect, it seems perfectly logical that Bush would win based on the patriotic fervor that swept the country after 9/11, and that had continued up until the election, but at the time folks on the Left didn't see it that way. We all had this romantic idea, romantic in a bad sense, that because the 2000 election was stolen Bush still didn't really reflect the mood of the people of the United States. A lot of people, myself included, expected the 2004 election to be a vindication of opposition to Bush that had formed in response to what had happened, on the theory that lots of people in the U.S. were turned against him by the 2000 debacle, didn't accept him as President, and then had this feeling confirmed by his actions post-9/11. It didn't exactly happen that way. Many people were in fact apathetic, and even if they weren't many were swept up into the 9/11 madness and no longer really remembered or cared about the 2000 election. Bush was now the hero, leading the war on terror. But we, with our bunker mentality, didn't see it that way.

Fortunately, times change, and the election of Barack Obama the first time started a process of change that's been confirmed with this past election, where the most reactionary overgrowth, the moldy rind on the cheese of America, so to speak, was overcome. It's a very welcome change,  and it confirms that people in the U.S. weren't just humoring Obama these past four years but actually appreciated and approved of him.

It took people a little while, but they got there. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Much of the Values critique of Liberalism comes from the Occupy Seattle experience

If you're wondering what I mean by "Values critique of Liberalism", which should be "My values critique of (philosophical) liberalism", look Here.

Before talking about Occupy Seattle, I want to say that my understanding is that what happened in Occupy Seattle did not generally happen in the Occupies across the country, and so is sort of unique. In other places the Occupy movement is still strong, and is still doing productive things. Seattle, by contrast, has no more Occupy movement, and hasn't for a long time, because some very selfish people decided to take it over and run it into the ground.

What happened in Occupy Seattle is a great example of how freedom and autonomy alone aren't enough to make for a good movement or a good society as a whole. There, you had folks who were highly ideological who wanted to take control of the movement, who were also unethical and dishonest, who had no moral objections to manipulating the system of direct democracy to get what they wanted. However, because we, and Occupy, decided to respect people's autonomy and freedom to an nth degree, not encroaching on them whatsoever, when these folks should have been called on their bullshit and told to either change or be excluded from the movement, there was no mechanism to accomplish this. There was no way of getting rid of people, or punishing people, who were disrupting the process and using it for their own ends, which were at odds with the goals of Occupy as a whole.

One nice way of avoiding that in the future is to say that, yes, Values matter, character matters, honesty matters, and that personal freedom and autonomy do not always rule the day. I would much rather infringe on someone's idea that they have the personal freedom to do whatever they wanted to the point of destroying things for the whole than let something that had much positive value, like Occupy, descend into shrillness, irrelevancy, and all the rest. 

Liberalism and Values, in relation to the previous post

In which I said that the triangle of my values, mutually supporting, was Liberalism, Values themselves, and Socialism.

Well, what I mean by the importance of values is pretty straightforward. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that when I criticize liberalism, I'm not doing so in the sense of people who spit it out as an insult, who see it as an epithet that's responsible for all the ills of the world.

Liberal values, the things that liberalism stands for, are good enough, but what I believe is that although they're necessary, they're not sufficient. Simply looking at society as being made up of autonomous beings who chart their own destiny, and having society reflect that, is functional. It doesn't lead to the destruction of society, it doesn't lead to terrible and shocking things happening in the street. But, on the other hand, simply looking at things from a liberal perspective does not, in my opinion, lead to anything particularly spectacular.

While a society where the only concerns are freedom and autonomy is functional, I believe that in order to get to a society that rises above mediocrity and functionality there needs to be a recognition and implementation of deeper values that go farther into the human experience. Those are the values that I'm talking about. Many of these values were previously supplied to society in the form of maxims and ideas that were intended to build character. Those are largely lost in today's society.

Instead of teaching people how to be good people, good citizens, decent individuals, we emphasize people's freedom to do whatever they want---as long as it doesn't impact others in a way that breaks the law. Between that status, freedom and autonomy as long as it doesn't seriously hurt other people, and having what I'd consider to be a culture truly built on respect and good conduct, there's quite a chasm, and it's one that liberalism alone can't bridge, because it doesn't recognize that it exists....or if it recognizes that it exists it doesn't know what to do about it.

Mutual respect is essential, but I feel it should be a social minimum, not the state that we're aiming for. Things can be quite bad without being bad enough to fail the test of perfect freedom as long it doesn't negatively effect someone else in a serious way. To really live in a decent society, things that are identified, or have been identified, with good moral character need to be acknowledged as positive values that improve life.

New graphic: what I believe in

I see "Liberalism, Values, and Socialism" as making up three sides of a triangle that is mutually supporting, where each side depends on the others for balance and stability. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Meanwhile, Floridian voting officials still trying to find out how they can swing it to Romney....

At least I'd like to think that that was the case. I mean, we have 100% reporting and only absentee ballots left to count. Do people down there really believe that this will make a difference? I think they may be a little put out by not being able to fuck up the election this time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Not to belabor the point, but this wasn't the victory of interest group politics

It was the victory of a broad based economic populism that recognized traditional interest group politics as a valid but secondary feature....which is what folks have been saying for, shit, since Clinton's last term, would be necessary for a true version of left politics to come to power in the United States.

Jesus, demographics aren't destiny if you can shift your demographic appeal

There is such a thing as being able to reach out to voters who might not have been previously supportive. This whole "demographics, demographics, demographics" theme misses the point, which is that people don't automatically vote for a party or for and ideology because of their demographic features, they vote for it because they feel it represents them and their interests.....and if a party can re-engineer things to appeal to an overlooked demographic without alienating the rest, they can do pretty well. It's just what others have called the "poverty" (kind of the wrong term here) or "paucity" of thought that people in the mainstream have about what the fundamental concepts of politics are about that limit them to thinking that conventional liberalism, like we've seen in the last sixty years, and conservatism, are the only options.

Obama won, and his campaign to win did something brilliant

Which was very simple: appealing to economic populism, thereby taking the focus off of race, and certainly shirking the very stereotyped and inaccurate opinion of folks that people on the Left are just concerned with identity politics. 

The talking heads are talking all about demographics, not about ideology

And that's a shame because the actual change that is giving Obama the election is a fundamental shift in ideology that's happened over the last four years in response to the economic crisis. But, these folks are so invested in the tired ideas that got them their jobs that actual social change and current history is off their radar. 

Diane Sawyer coming off like a drunk Julia Child...


Wow, back to ABC's main stream...commentators seem drunk and/or senile

Just saying. Slow, slurred.

Wow, so "Liveblogging" an election isn't like doing it with a debate...

More like watching paint dry and pointing out some interesting ways it evaporates every now and again.

..and Mourdock has likely lost, according to ABC News

Strangely enough, saying that pregnancy via rape is a great thing is a losing proposition.

Elizabeth Warren has won, yeah!

That's all.

So I WAS liveblogging the debate at a bar....

Then I figured out that I could have beer, ABC News, and the Internet at home....and that despite doing it solo the company would likely be better, overall, with less distractions....

Diane Sawyer talking about all the countries looking at the U.S. election

In an exasperated way that makes me think she'll say "Look at all these countries! With different names, in different places? Who knew all of these existed?"

Live blog starting:

We got ABC TV, as well as New York Times online and other things going on. Check the RSS feed for up to date snippets. 

Seattle Times and the "Democrat Party"

Which is how they're referring the the break in a the Democratic Party headquarters in Seattle. The only people who refer to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat Party" are the Republicans. The name "Democratic Party" is what the "Democratic Party" calls themselves, and altering that because of some sort of partisan concern is like renaming the Socialist Party the "Authoritarian Socialist Party" because people object to the name.

Pre-live blogging: Florida

I can't believe that the polls close at 7:00 in Florida. Unsurprisingly, it's states in the South that have the earliest closing times.

Live blogging the election from a local pub tomorrow night

Starting at 6:00 Pacific time. As the night wears on, and the wares of the pub take hold, interesting things might come down the pike.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Why America's Poor Vote Republican---a counterpoint

Gary Younge's article "Working class voters: Why America’s poor are willing to vote Republican" was surprisingly unenlightened, something that's not usually the case with Younge. It basically said that race and gender were issues as well. My perspective is somewhat different. 

I think that the preference of some working class voters for the Republican Party comes about because of the situation that they find themselves in, as opposed to not being informed, or being racist. People who are working class many times find themselves having to struggle to advance themselves and to maintain themselves. They find the need and the necessity to enter into competition with others as a matter of course. The cause is lack of stability, lack of opportunity, lack of a guarantee of a good life. From that position, the ideas of the free market, competition, and not giving people undue privileges and preferences through government programs makes sense. However, what they don't see is that their immediate situation is just that---immediate, and not reflective of the possibilities of society as a whole.

The things that are lacking in the lives of many working class people are the things that make it easier for people who are more bourgeois to be generous with their policies and money, but this does not mean that these things are only believed in because the folks in question are somehow just latte drinking folks with privilege.  The fact is that the scarcity and competition that working class people experience are both artificial, both created in the end by capitalism and by capitalist society. 

The immediate necessities of day to day living favor a more Republican identified economic policy for success, but in the long run what's really needed to resolve things is a socialist program that involves sharing wealth across the board---including sharing the wealth of the bourgeois class across the board, which is the very anti-thesis of what works in the short run. 

The solution to the need for competition isn't to eliminate the idea of a middle class that doesn't have to compete so hard, but to socialize that situation so that everyone benefits from it.