On popping collars

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

While there’s probably some truth to this, it’s critical that we first distinguish between two groups of unreasonable people.

In the first group, you have rebels. These folks are defined by their animus, and are psychologically predisposed to complain. This is not to suggest that it’s necessarily a permanent condition; often it is not. Nor is it rare; most people are afflicted in their earlier years. As to its seriousness, in runs the full spectrum. Some rebels wear Hot Topic, and some commit murder.

The second group of unreasonable folks — the folks responsible for all progress — consists of those who agree when a subject is agreeable, and disagree when it is disagreeable. They neither concur nor dissent by reflex, but examine the situation carefully. They decide, and then express the content of their decision without regard to external influence.

In Shaw’s formulation they are the most unreasonable of all, though I’d prefer to think they’re the most reasonable. Regardless, progress depends on this second group. The first group doesn’t contribute to progress and may in fact hinder it.

Now let’s consider the polo shirt.

As it happens, it was a common practice throughout the eighties and nineties to pop one’s collar. For those unacquainted, this involves unfolding the shirt collar so that it stands upright toward the jaw. The collar fully covers the neck, protecting it against the harsh sun and melanoma. In this way, popping one’s collar was purely a matter of function.

However, popping collars soon became an expression of mainstream cool. Movie stars were doing it, as were those kids at school who never invited you to what was probably a terrible party anyway. The practice of popping one’s collar had lost all pretense to function, and became a matter of fashion for most people.

These people took their collar popping very seriously. That is, until they didn’t. They simply abandoned the practice when it became passé, and folded their collar back in response to social terror.

Still others persisted in standing their collar upright, whether out of utility or a sincere appreciation of its appearance, and they did so despite many threats of violence.

It is this last group that all progress depends on.

To put it simply, in the end, we cannot judge the popped collar. We can only judge the popper. We must look to their motivations, and determine whether they arise from their own will, or whether they merely pop with the times.

Let us celebrate the former and pity the latter.

Politics of fear

Crystal Fleming wonderfully articulated something that’s concerned me a lot lately, namely our politics of fear:

Governments and politicians routinely use fear to advance their corrupt agendas, enact violence and manipulate/control the balance of power. If you’re wondering why Trump has so many enthusiastic voters, it’s in part because they’re very afraid. Their hatred? Also driven by fear.

I’m not denigrating fear. It’s a normal human emotion and has its place. When handled wisely, fear can be an instructive tool for growth. The problem – in politics and elsewhere – is when we allow our decisions and action to be fully manipulated and determined by fear.

Whether fear is being wielded by the Right or the Left – the purpose is always the same: to manipulate, control and seize fear-based power. If you want a world with less violence, corruption and terror then you have to make a conscious choice to disengage from fear politics.

We each have to take full responsibility for moving beyond fear in our everyday lives if we are ever to move beyond fear as a species.

Check out the original thread on Twitter. I think it’s really spot on.

As Fleming says, fear is wielded by both major parties. I think it’s a crucial point. Many of us on the left are just as guilty as the Donald Trumps in the world.

We need to do a better job of recognizing that we’ve contributed to the sort of fearful environment that enabled Donald Trump to become a viable candidate in the first place. There’s no reason we must continue to do so.

Remember, we’re all stuck with one another — through November and onward. So let’s talk with one another already.

Behind the palace walls, no one is worried

From a recent article in Rolling StoneDemocrats Will Learn All the Wrong Lessons From Brush With Bernie, Matt Taibbi writes:

Politicians are so used to viewing the electorate as a giant thing to be manipulated that no matter what happens at the ballot, they usually can only focus on the Washington-based characters they perceive to be pulling the strings. Through this lens, the uprising among Democratic voters this year wasn’t an organic expression of mass disgust, but wholly the fault of Bernie Sanders, who within the Beltway is viewed as an oddball amateur and radical who jumped the line.

Nobody saw his campaign as an honest effort to restore power to voters, because nobody in the capital even knows what that is. In the rules of palace intrigue, Sanders only made sense as a kind of self-centered huckster who made a failed play for power. And the narrative will be that with him out of the picture, the crisis is over. No person, no problem.

This inability to grasp that the problem is bigger than Bernie Sanders is a huge red flag. As Thacker puts it, the theme of this election year was widespread anger toward both parties, and both the Trump craziness and the near-miss with Sanders should have served as a warning. “The Democrats should be worried they’re next,” he says.

But they’re not worried. Behind the palace walls, nobody ever is.

Through November and onward

The night before six Democratic primaries, and one week before a seventh, the Associated Press announced that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination. (Surprising to learn the Convention is completely superfluous.)

It does appear extremely likely, but it’s still worth examining this peculiar decision on their part.

An obvious consequence is a decrease in voter turnout. (See also.) Invariably some folks — of all political stripes — will read the news, believe that Clinton already won, and not bother to vote.

As Sanders’ supporters tend to be more engaged and active on the internet, it’s entirely plausible that they’re more likely to see AP’s announcement, and to see it sooner. If that’s the case, you’d expect them to be disproportionately harmed by the premature call.

It’s speculative, but rather likely given what we do know about phenomena like the bandwagon effect.

Nate Silver, however, offers a more convoluted account:

Democrats may be reacting similarly, rejecting Sanders’s insinuations that the system is “rigged” against him, and giving Clinton, the candidate who has won far more votes and elected delegates, a more emphatic majority.

Of course here he’s not speaking in his usual capacity as a kind of political pornographer. Here, he’s simply distorting reality.

As he assuredly knows, Sanders said just the opposite. Namely, that “[the primaries are] not rigged. I think it’s just a dumb process, which has certainly disadvantaged our campaign.”

Few vote in primaries at all, and we ought to be increasing participation. Not sabotaging what vestiges of democracy remain in this country. So, those are the likely consequences of AP’s call, and the work of folks like Silver generally.

It’s worth considering possible motivations behind the call, as well.  Cui bono?

Well, I can hardly imagine anyone besides Clinton and party loyalists who benefit. If anyone else benefits, I’m not aware of it.

What on Earth would it cost to report this after the Convention in July? You know, the place and time where the nomination actually occurs?

Or, if you have a peculiar confidence in Clinton’s immunity to scandal — you know, the candidate who uses surreptitious email servers to undermine FOIA, and who accepts contributions from despots, quite possibly in exchange for weapons — you could wait until next week.

Next week. You know, after everyone has actually voted.

Alternatively, you can hand Clinton a couple extra months during which she can harass Sanders supporters by proxy, and engage in irrelevant (and possibly counterproductive) negative campaigning against Trump. Evidently she’s beginning to appreciate that she won’t win in November on her own merits.

All this is unspeakable in many liberal circles, who have managed to rationalize away, say, the one million dollars that was spent by Correct the Record to engage in similar propaganda efforts directed at online youth.

You know, the Super PAC run by that man of great integrity, David Brock.

The one who admitted to enabling Clarence Thomas, the respectable gentleman who inspired our broader awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace by actually sexually harassing women.

Women like Anita Hill, the subject of Brock’s The Real Anita Hill, a fine work of victim-vilification or “character assassination”. His phrase.

The same David Brock who the LA Times called “a linchpin of [Clinton’s] shadow campaign”, and who directly coordinates with the official campaign. The historical campaign for women.

So with folks like these on board, we’ll continue to see growing efforts to vilify Trump and his supporters, and engage in obscene appropriations of substantive historical movements like the Seneca Falls Convention.

You know, the women’s rights convention organized by Quaker activists, natural predecessors to disciples of Henry Kissinger.

We’ll be asked to ignore the mathematical fact that taking two steps back and one forward is not an effective means of arriving at your destination. In this new arithmetic, the lesser of two evils orthodoxy, and a Democratic Party that’s been moving rightward for decades, somehow don’t add up to eventual catastrophe. Donald Trump foreshadowing what loyal Democrats will indirectly produce.

On the other hand, many have also come to recognize their power, and rather surprisingly discovered that a viable candidate of some integrity is still possible. They’re not going away, and anyone who’s paid much attention realizes the threat they pose to the status quo over the coming years.

A functional and minimally competent political party would accommodate them, recognizing the alternative is to sign its own death warrant.

Maybe they’ll come around and do so. Indeed Biden and Senator McCaskill have acted with some grace and patience with the process, and should be commended for it.

You know, the process in which one who receives about forty percent of the primary vote dares to represent his supporters in party negotiations.

Early indications suggest that poison ivy will accompany any supposed olive branch offered by party loyalists.

The trouble is, the electorate knows it.

Car-camping

I plan to spend a month or two, later this year, traveling across the country and car-camping. Nomadic beatnik, hippie vagabond, granola wanderer style. It’ll be smelly, but a lot of fun I think.

A few things to read:

(I obsessively read up on these sorts of things. Also, there’s a real cottage industry of car-living writer-advocates.)

How to alienate voters and allies

Well, Sara Benincasa has sure elevated political condescension to an art in her latest post, I’m Voting For The Democrat In November Because I’m Not A Human Tire Fire.

That’s not my judgment, incidentally, but Benincasa’s own:

You think this is condescending? I’m using small words to help you understand what many, many, many of us get: your assertion that you can’t in good conscience vote for Hillary is an insult to me and women and queer folks and all the people who benefit and even have a chance to thrive under Democratic policies. You’d consign us to 4 years of Trump and two or three decades of a disgusting, vile Supreme Court because you have a sad feelz in your tum-tum?

Disgusting and vile? Well, that sounds just awful!

True to the genre of being offended on behalf of others, Benincasa suggests that by writing in Sanders, I’m consigning folks to the flames. As one of said “queer folks”, I find myself in a bit of a pickle.

If I am relegating myself — and ‘my people’ — to hell-fire, when will this journey take place? Will I have time to pack my bags, or must I commute immediately after voting?

And given that my airline miles will have no purpose while I’m in hell, will I have the opportunity to upgrade to First Class for my trip? Or, if it’s anything like Delta, will I have to wait until I achieve status?

Granted, there is another possibility here. I might hate myself, and so, find hell a pleasant distraction from my self-loathing. Very good.

Of course, while Benincasa indicts the motivations and planned actions of others, she is oblivious to her own:

You don’t like Hillary’s past support for military actions in XYZ? Cool! Me neither, sometimes! Show me a president who has never made a decision that led to the deaths of women and children and innocent humans at home or (more likely) abroad and I will show you a lie. You think Bernie wouldn’t take military action if necessary? You think our bombs wouldn’t land on kids even if he took every precaution to ensure only military targets were hit? In what fucking world is the leader of any country a saint?

Saints don’t exist. Saints are a lie.

You think that’s an endorsement of policies that kill innocent children? Then you’re sorely in need of a course in reading comprehension.

Here, and throughout the piece, I learn a few things.

First, I lack the ability to comprehend what I read.

It’s a bold claim, having had the privilege of a first-world education. Granted the schools are in shambles, but I suspect that we’ve had some success in imparting this particular skill. On the other hand, there remain many people who do lack the skill. Sometimes owing to a lack of resources, and unsympathetic governments. Sometimes owing to biological disorders.

In fact, up to twenty percent of people may have a reading disability. Not necessarily something insurmountable, but some number will have difficulty in even basic reading comprehension. If I cared to exploit a group’s lack of privilege in some area for my own cynical political arguments, as Benincasa does throughout her piece, I might suggest that perhaps those folks wouldn’t appreciate her retort.

Of course, I don’t, because I haven’t surveyed those with reading disabilities to see how they feel about the common quip. So as for their positions on the matter, I’ll leave it for them to decide.

I’ll treat them like everyone else. You know, without condescending to them, and without assuming their consent. And if there’s some consensus in the group, and I think their arguments reasonable, then I’ll gladly support them. Pretty straightforward it would seem.

Second, and specific to her point, I learn that voting for a President doesn’t imply that you endorse their policies. It’s true in one sense: Namely that those who vote for a President often do so without believing they endorse their policies. Mostly, they’re unaware of their candidate’s actual policies.

However, it’s profoundly mistaken in another sense. If you indirectly contribute to a particular person being handed immense power, including the power to kill one million people without consequences, you are in fact complicit. Your complicity is in proportion, perhaps, to your knowledge of their policies. Everyone understands this if you’re talking about the mob, but if you talk about real authority, then suddenly it’s outlandish.

Still, as Benincasa concedes that she has such knowledge, there’s little question of her complicity. And of course she’s complicit, because we all are complicit.

Every moment we spend not attending to urgent matters — like the very real threat of human extinction — is a moment that’s profanely wasted. And when you have a President who has caused, say, one thousand deaths of Pakistani civilians — you know, actual human beings — I believe it is our moral obligation to impede such wanton violence. Few people even attend demonstrations, and still fewer engage in the sort of direct action that could force the end of militarism; these are shameful facts about who we are or what we’ve become.

It’s really no exaggeration to say that our unwillingness to accept minor inconveniences has resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent people over the years. And it’s striking that Benincasa misses these points, given that she also holds voters to high moral standards. But only when those voters purportedly oppress first-world women and queer people. If they’re anyone else, they’re a footnote.

Granted, she appears to anticipate this by writing, “Show me a president who has never made a decision that led to the deaths of women and children and innocent humans at home or (more likely) abroad and I will show you a lie”.

So, we’re all helpless and without options. We ought to enable Presidents because others have done terrible things. And so we’ve arrived at our hypocrisy and moral vacantness.

It only deepens, as she writes:

Barack Obama has done amazing things for queer people here! He has also okayed the use of drones that killed innocent children in Pakistan and elsewhere! If you cannot look critically at your candidate, you will not look critically at your President. You’re a cult member. Cult members never do anything good ever, except for the Amish people who make really great soft pretzels. But they still oppress women, even with their charming bonnets!

I’m sure she’s attempting to be amusingly irreverent here, but somehow I can’t find that legalized same-sex marriage is an effective counterpoint to killing innocent children1. The achievement of the former doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the latter. On the other hand, Jeffrey Dahmer once helped an old lady cross the street, so maybe everything is just a wash.

Finally, I learn implicitly that while our actions have no consequences whatsoever, the actions of others are very important to examine. Benincasa chooses to chastise Sanders supporters, while doing her due diligence to ridicule Donald Trump and his supporters.

This must be rather cathartic, but somehow I think chastising and ridiculing others is not a very sound strategy for gaining their support, or averting a Trump presidency. Rather, if you care about others, you’ll empathize with them. You’ll try to understand why there are people who are racist, you’ll try to understand why some folks support Trump, and you’ll try to understand that the two groups are not simply interchangeable.

That is, you’ll do this if you care to connect with other people, learn the origins of mistaken and often vicious beliefs, help address those origins, and help to convince those holding such views of the errors in their thinking.

Alternatively, you can play into a demagogue’s hand, and vilify them and their supporters.

You can choose to ignore the fact that many people who are profoundly hurting are flocking to Trump, partly as a result of his scapegoating groups. Those groups are perceived to be the cause of their ills, so if you want to inform Trump supporters of the truth, you’ll do so. Others flock to him because they’re tired of a politics that has marginalized them, and they find him authentic.

No person will listen to you while you berate them, so ridiculing them is either useless or counter-productive. In doing so, you will have changed nothing (or will have contributed to the problem), but you’ll gain the sense of having done honest work. For my part, I think there are far more impressive pillars in the fight for social justice.

This point is very general, applying to Sanders supporters and others as well. If you want to ridicule them as “Bernie Bros” or as harmful to those who experience discrimination in the first-world, you’re welcome to do so. In this latter case, you’ll have to explain why so many younger women and minorities are evidently working to sabotage themselves. It seems very unlikely to me, but oddly I think they deserve to give their input in the matter.

Again if you care about people, you’ll empathize with them. And in the case of “Bernie or Bust”, you might recognize that you’re attacking the very people who care most about social justice. You know, people who care about a living wage for all. People who are concerned with, or even ashamed of, our role in the world. And many do seem to think that voting for Sanders is the right thing to do, regardless of the nomination.

You can talk about whether that’s right or wrong, but if you vilify them, you’re only supporting our suspicions. Namely that there’s no space for those who oppose crypto-right-wing theology in the Democratic Party.

Postscript

There’s reason to believe that Ralph Nader didn’t cause Al Gore to lose the election. Many Nader supporters would have split for Bush, perhaps counterintuitively, and Gore had also pursued certain county recounts, and missed others more likely to have pushed him over the top.

Moreover, the vote differential in dispute was so infinitesimal, it’s clear the Democratic Party utterly failed. It’s not a victim of the Supreme Court, so much as the fact that Bush was elected because roughly half the voters voted for him. That’s the problem.

And it’ll happen again and again, so long as we use vilification as a tactic of… well, not actually convincing people, but airing our grievances.

All of this is also completely irrelevant, if you believe people are permitted to run for office, and that others are permitted to vote for who they see fit. The concept of “spoiling” an election is fundamentally undemocratic, and an insult to autonomy and arithmetic. But then, of course, voting is the least we can do.

  1. Nor do I think that supporting same-sex marriage, owing to the political winds, constitutes “amazing things”. I’d prefer to see it as doing what is plainly right.

Raised for slaughter

Ryan Boren shares his experience with the American school system:

In the late 80s and early 90s when I was in high school, the treadmill wasn’t as stressful and pervasive as now, but straight A students like myself were encouraged and expected to get on it. We were expected to join the student council and National Honor Society, give a shit about Who’s Who Among Students and National Merit Scholarships, and do extracurriculars we didn’t really care about. Who’s Who and National Merit came along with the tests I had to take, but I skipped the rest of the script. I saw it as styrofoam and a waste of time. What did this have to do with who I wanted to be?

My own experience with school was pretty similar, though I never saw very much in the way of “encouragement” or “expectation” from teachers. The expectations seemed already internalized by many of my peers, and were therefore unnecessary to express.

This precocious internalization is perhaps a part of what made my school district “top-notch”. As a reward for this, its buildings are not falling apart, and we were offered classes in Latin and philosophy.

Probably one of the most important things I’ve ever done was really an omission. I never took school very seriously.

One of the first lessons you learn in school is to relinquish one of your most basic expressions of autonomy: Your ability to use the restroom when you need to.

In school, I learned that you needed to ask another person for their permission. It’s obviously absurd, and everyone knows it, so there’s a kind of pretext. A fear of looming pedophiles, perhaps.

None of this is conscious or deliberate, of course, but such practices are nearly eternal. They persist by way of inertia and their utility. It’s obviously useful to have people always ask for your permission. And if they do so, you don’t even need to exercise your (usually illegitimate) authority. All this makes one feel very moral and important.

I suppose, then, there are three general approaches you can take to school:

  1. Take it seriously and do well.
  2. Regard it as nonsense, but play the game and do well.
  3. Regard it as nonsense, and don’t play the game.

I was fairly settled in that third camp throughout high school, but college put me closer to the second. It was a fine way to spend time and learn a few things. If all the classes I’d ever taken were taught as my philosophy courses — dialectical, tiny class sizes, written exams, essay-heavy — I’d probably have been planted in the first camp all along.

But they weren’t, and so I wasn’t. If I could do it all over, from Kindergarten, I’d have planted myself closer to the second camp. However, I suspect, it’s very difficult to maintain that split-mentality over time without losing yourself.

The trouble is, people like to do things that appear sensible. If what you’re doing doesn’t seem sensible, then you’ll stop doing it and descend toward the third camp. Or, you’ll start to believe that what you’re doing is sensible in order to preserve your sanity, and graduate to the first camp.

The latter is properly understood to be the process of indoctrination if you’re in North Korea, but here in the United States, this is called “adaptive behavior”.

Universal basic income

Andrew Flowers of Five Thirty Eight on universal basic income:

The idea is as simple as it is radical: Rather than concern itself with managing myriad social welfare and unemployment insurance programs, the government would instead regularly cut a no-strings-attached check to each citizen. No conditions. No questions. Everyone, rich or poor, employed or out of work would get the same amount of money. This arrangement would provide a path toward a new way of living: If people no longer had to worry about making ends meet, they could pursue the lives they want to live.

[…]

The economic uncertainty surrounding basic income is huge, and the politics of bringing such a program about on a large scale are daunting. But something makes this radical proposal so exciting that people and governments are increasingly willing to try it. Basic income challenges our notions of the social safety net, the relationship between work and income, and how to adapt to technological change. That makes it one of the most audacious social policy experiments in modern history. It could fail disastrously, or it could change everything for the better.

Basic income has attracted a motley crew of supporters, spanning the ideological spectrum. Efficiency-minded libertarians like the idea of streamlining the bureaucracy of the welfare state. Silicon Valley techies hope a guaranteed income would cushion the blow as automation replaces human jobs. Those with a more utopian bent, such as the organizers of the Swiss referendum, want to open up more options, to let people create art and free the world of … “bullshit jobs.”

Via Matt.

“Do not moan to me about Hillary Clinton’s problems”

In an interview with Bernie Sanders, Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC remarks on the plight of poor, poor Hillary Clinton:

But isn’t the bottom line that… she is now fighting a war on two fronts? She’s getting beaten up by Donald Trump on a daily basis. Aside from calling you “Crazy Bernie” on Twitter, he has been embracing you, he is building you up. He likes the fact that you’re taking her down.

Sanders interjects:

No, I don’t accept – I don’t except that proposition. Last I heard, Hillary Clinton is running for President of the United States. I am running for President of the United States. Trump is running for President of the United States. And what a candidate does is make his or her best case to the American people.

Mitchell grovels:

I’m just saying … the opposition to her, the negatives against her have been built up by Donald Trump, just hammering away at her. And up until now at least, he has not been going after you as much. She’s fighting two candidates and you’re fighting one.

Sanders retorts:

Oh, really? Really? Andrea, in every state that we have won — in 19 states — we have had to take on the entire Democratic establishment. We’ve had to take on Senators and Governors and Mayors and members of Congress. That’s what we’ve taken on. So, please do not moan to me about Hillary Clinton’s problems. I’m in this race to win. We’re taking on the Democratic establishment. We are standing up for working people … and we are going to fight for every last vote and delegate we can get.

Many folks are now moaning about Sanders’ phrase — “please do not moan to me about Hillary Clinton’s problems” — which is to say that they’ve internalized an expectation of dishonesty and flattery in their candidates. He’s supposed to take part in the whole melodrama, and not use such honest and ordinary language.

Many folks feel a need to treat Clinton with kid gloves. Every slight is perceived as ‘going negative’ or “getting beaten up” or a case of someone “hammering away at her”. Woe is me.

In my view, it’s extremely patronizing. Politics is vicious, and she’s participated in the fight for ages. She’s a perfectly capable and powerful woman, even if her more obsequious defenders strangely underestimate her.

All this is probably another test of ideology. If you think folks like Clinton deserve a pass because boogiemen like Trump attack her, then our political options will always remain limited to two evils. And our role as voters will forever be to decide which of these is less worse.

We needn’t continue down this path.

What do Trump and Clinton supporters have in common?

What do Trump and Clinton supporters have in common? According to a Reuters poll, they hate the other candidate more than they like their own.

About 47 percent of Trump supporters said they backed him primarily because they don’t want Clinton to win. Another 43 percent said their primary motivation was a liking for Trump’s political positions, while 6 percent said they liked him personally.

Similar responses prevailed among Clinton supporters.

About 46 percent said they would vote for her mostly because they don’t want to see a Trump presidency, while 40 percent said they agreed with her political positions, and 11 percent said they liked her personally.