amor mundi

Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, January 21, 2017

What If They Gave An Inauguration And Nobody Came?

(Unfortunately, the answer to the question asked by this post's title is: the inauguration happens anyway.)

Since the Trump administration apparently has banned (within hours of its first day in office) the National Park Agency from tweeting because of the following image, it is the least we can do to ensure the image circulates as widely as possible nonetheless. Perhaps the thin skinned tyrant will get in such a snit about being upstaged by the Women's March (like his loss by unprecedented millions and millions in the popular vote) he will devote a few days to a freakout about it that will postpone Republican efforts to destroy healthcare, diplomacy, education, public goods, the economy, the environment by those few days and hence save lives.

Of course, the Trump choice to devote the resources of the administration in its first official press conference to peddling a patently and even hilariously false account of "historical unprecedented crowds" reveals terrifying things -- the priority given to glorification of the Leader above all other issues, public declaration that certain citizens are "enemies" and Constitutionally protected activities like journalism and protest are dangerous or possibly even treasonous, threatening the press and citizens with unspecified reprisals, exhibiting from the first a complete disregard for the regulative power of verifiable truths, even quite obvious truths, and so on -- to those who have been warning for months by now that Trump is an authoritarian figure rather than merely the conventionally stupid evil sort of candidate Republicans usually offer up.

Terrible things are about to happen, but Trump is an unpopular figure with terrible approval numbers with an agenda and attached to Republican majorities with agendas that directly and obviously harm majorities of Americans. Obstruct everything. Don't give an inch. Keep Trump reacting to slights and humiliations. Tear his fragile ego down and tie the Republican Party to his as he falls. Keep the Republicans in disarray. Let those timorous males in the House calculate what loyalty to an historically unpopular White House or what a vote to privatize Social Security or raise the retirement age for working class citizens (and not multimillionaire Senators with guaranteed healthcare, for instance) might mean to their prospects for re-election in two years. Keep them on the defensive: Who compensates those who lose healthcare access or reliable retirement? Who pays for your billionaire tax cuts? Who pays for an erratic belligerent foreign policy? Plaster the faces of sympathetic people suffering from Republican policies -- broken families, scared kids, bullied vulnerable people, treatable conditions wreaking havoc, bankruptcies, foreclosures, suicides, police violence, wreckage demolished by greenhouse storms described as such. Undermine the confidence of these bullies, make them think twice before harming vulnerable people or closing off our investments in our shared futures, let them know they face immediate exposure, ridicule, and eventual recall.


The Great Sort Is Now Complete

At last, every Republican is now an awful bully and every Democrat (me included) is an awful know-it-all.

How "AI" Doesn't Matter

Thinking about the world is the world mattering to the thinker. So long as nothing matters to robots and algorithms, to speak of "AI" is always to lie. There are no, nor have there ever been, nor can we be sure there ever will be any AIs in the world. Indeed, as it is presently constituted the very idea of "AI" is simply a kind of error. The closest "AI" comes to material reality is as a discourse, that is to say, as an ideological framework. It is apt, that so much of the reactionary work of this ideology is a matter of not-mattering, of denial and disavowal: "AI" is the denial, without evidence but with reasons, of the indispensability of biological brains and also lived struggles in which intelligence as a personal and historical force is incarnated in the world, denials at once facilitating the disavowal of our collective responsibilities to support the lives and dignity of our intelligent companions as a general matter as well as the disavowal by owners, users, coders of machines of specific responsibilities for the costs, risks, disruptions and inequities mediated by their machines.

Friday, January 20, 2017

On A Day of Darkness, California Strives To Be A Light To The Nation

Proud to be Californian!



You know the expression, "As Goes California, So Goes the Country." It doesn't hurt to recall some history in this connection.

After all, California elevated that asshole Reagan into power and prominence years before the rest of America did. And we had our own idiotic anti-governmental tax revolts a whole decade before everybody else. And then we let Republican reactionaries whip up a draconian racist crackdown on precarious immigrants and recreational drug use in which the State Republican Party doubled down on white resentment politics rather than adapt to the needs of a rapidly diversifying electorate to the ruin of the party's viability in the State. Hell, we even already elected our own stupid stunt reality tee vee star to our highest office after a ridiculous substance-free killer clown special election spectacle with the Governator.

And do you know what else?

We saw through Reagan's anti-government anti-democratic anti-civilizational gimcrackery before the rest of the country did. We reaped the ruinous harvest of debt and crumbling infrastructure and normative breakdown with which anti-tax revolts inevitably must be paid. The richly diversifying and secularizing reality of California's population soon overwhelmed the procedural tricks through which an entrenched minority of Republicans sought for years to obstruct the will of the people in the State legislature.

And now our State is run from top to bottom by Democrats. We run Sacramento with supermajorities. We are far from perfect or even reliably perfectionist. Of course, there are Democrats who are terrible, or corrupt, or corporatist, or who knows what -- and some are politically to the right of the constituencies they represent and one might well want them primaried while others might be vulnerable to Republican takeovers which would weaken the Democratic majority's power even if the individual Republican replacement were not, in the abstract, more than marginally worse than the imperfect Democrat. As I never cease reminding my fellow Democratic lefties (whether liberal, sustainable, social democratic, democratic socialist, anti-racist, queer-feminist, or all of the above like me), partisan politics is all about diverse winning coalitions that do better as coalitions than the alternatives actually on offer, organizing campaigns for best policy proposals and candidates actually on offer, given the diversity of stakeholders with whom we actually share our world, our time, our problems, and our possibilities. Partisan politics is a contingent, convulsive, compromised, costly effort -- there are no certain victories, there are no secure accomplishments, there is never total and lasting consensus, there is no occasion for purity of choice or conduct, only best compromises to build on, and there is no justification for self-congratulation, only battles won together for now to be celebrated briefly together before the next building effort.

But here in California there are strong women, people of color, queers, differently enabled people conspicuous among our public servants, and they reflect (though not yet enough) the knowledge, needs, strength, skills, creativity inhering in the real diversity of our people. We celebrate our diversity and are now working to secure the well-being of us all. In what less than a decade ago under a Republican governor and in the face of Republican obstruction was often called "a failed state," we have implemented Keynesian macroeconomics, harm-reduction policy models, and climate science to transform our priorities and our practices. (Republicans have as little patience for these disciplines as they do for evolutionary theory or women's healthcare decisions.)

We are now solvent and prosperous and growing. (How much of that is another round of irrational exuberance whomped up by the robo-feudalist VC con-artists of Silicon Valley I leave to the side for once.) We are struggling to get closer and closer to a living wage paid for by ever more and more progressive taxes. We are investing in public education, we are building vast sustainable public works in energy and transportation.

We are working to contain climate catastrophe through regulations that will extend across the country since California on its own is the sixth largest economy on earth and it is easier to treat us as the national standard

We are modeling best practices and creative new legislation to make voting easier for every citizen as is our fundamental right, to ensure trustworthy elections, to regulate the ownership and use of guns, to end the racist war on drugs. (As we can and must still turn the tide from jails to homes and schools, from incarceration to care, from military occupation to accountable and representative community policing.)

It is to be hoped that somehow California will find a way to protect the Affordable Care Act here while we await the end of the Trump-interruption, perhaps in concert with other Cascadian states like Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and an Arizona full of seniors dependent on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security ready to flip blue. Certainly California State lawsuits and deep-pocketed California insurance company lobbyists can muck up dismantlement of the ACA long enough to give Democrats a chance to make the unqualified, unfit, unpopular, unacceptable Trump a one-term president, one hopes still leaving enough ACA intact by the end to repair and then build on.

We are even beginning to implement the formalization of long-standing professional norms (for example, the expectation that presidential candidates release their taxes to the public to ensure that they have no conflicts of interest nor have engaged in illegal or inappropriate conduct) the violation of which by Trump (also Sanders, by the way) has endangered the Republic of which our State is a part. If Trump wants to be re-elected, he will have to submit his taxes if he is to have his name on the ballot in this State the population of which is too large for any candidate to dismiss, even if they have no expectation of winning it.

California has been here already and points the way forward.

California is the Resistance. Trump lost here by millions, he will never be our President.

California is the Living Alternative. You can be California or you can be Kansas. You decide.

California is building better shared futures, here and now and together, for all Americans.

During the Trump interruption, California will be America's greatest laboratory of democracy.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trek Prefs

Given how much I loved Next Generation when it came out and hated Enterprise when it came out I must say, in retrospect, with a longer run I'm pretty sure Enterprise would have accumulated as many tolerable and even good episodes as Next Generation. Enterprise seemed at first a craven capitulation of Trek to a W. ethos profoundly antithetical to it and I couldn't forgive it that -- it was only the Battlestar Galactica reboot that seemed to read what American science fiction needed to be doing in W.'s America.

Anyway, now that Bush isn't the raw wound he remained for six years or so I find I can enjoy Enterprise the way I would Dark Matter or Killjoys now, as an entertaining show with occasionally interesting conceits and engaging character developments. Definitely Enterprise was a show that got better with each season. Although I will admit the casting for the show endlessly annoyed me (I essentially only really liked Phlox, T'Pol, and Hoshi in an abiding way), the early temporal war and  terrorism plots were clumsy, the dramatic story of the supplanting of an earlier human spacer culture was neglected, and the show deferred for no good reason the much more gripping story (especially to diehard fans) filling in details and dwelling in the dramatic politics of the birth of the Federation from the perspective of a comparatively backward eventually indispensable bit player, Earth, in that tale.

Of course, a new and different hopelessness has now gripped the land... Time for another Trek series: Here's hoping Discovery sticks to the Trek ethos and acts as resistance and alternative to Trumpism as it should. (Or must we rely on The Expanse?) My wish for a non-Star Fleet human-minority series on a Federation cruise ship (to Risa?) sfnal-melodrama-sexfarce directed by Pedro Almodovar will probably not be fulfilled. 

Take what I say with a grain of salt, of course. Voyager and Deep Space Nine are my favorite Star Treks, which I understand is an unpopular opinion, and I for one find the original series still compulsively watchable but Next Generation mostly unwatchable now. Essentially if it's Will episode I am grossed out, if it's a Barclay episode I am creeped out, if it's a Data episode I am rolling my eyes already, and if it's a Wesley episode I want to slap somebody. If it weren't for Picard, Guinin, Q, Beverly, and Ensign Ro, Next Generation would be a near complete bust for me, with a handful of standout episodes. As it is, Next Generation is the only Trek I don't have on DVD.

The original series actually seems more interesting from an sfnal point of view, it is an aesthetically unmatched show (none of the subsequent series has come close to the beauty and iconicity of its art direction, all the more astonishing given the limitations the first series was working with), and nothing comes close to the camp pleasures of the original series when it... goes there.

All that said, love the original series though I do, I must say the boy-man "badassery" of Captain Kirk the fanboys claim to love so much has been replaced in my own DVDs of the series with a diplomatic and rather sensitive if emotionally dramatic Kirk who avoids stupid fights and illiberal opinions. It's funny, Kirk seems far more like Picard than like Janeway, who in the stress of being torn from the Federation often finds she must actually behave rather more as the fanboys pretend Kirk behaved in order to fulfill her responsibilities as Captain. Of course, the fanboys who love Kirk for who he wasn't don't always also seem to love Janeway for who she was. And be all that as it may, Sisko is the craziest badass in the Federation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Club That Would Have Me As A Member?

It seems I have more regular readers now that, in my estimation, I am saying far less that deserves to be read.

Happy Happy Joy Joy

I know how Democrats are just sure to win back State legislatures and more House seats in 2018... use the mid-terms to re-litigate the 2016 primary!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

One Week Left

One week before teaching begins again... The course is called "For Futurity: A Clash of Futurisms" and I really have to put a syllabus together. I worry that the shocking Trump victory and Republican prevalence across all levels of government (despite majorities voting for Democrats for President, Senate, House...) will steal futurity from the present and most immediate futures better than the present and that makes putting this class together incredibly difficult. Of course, the bulk of the class is a critique of futurology (which is, I guess, my thing), but I had meant to contextualize my usual anti-futurological dog and pony show with various modernisms, utopianism/dystopianism, Italian Futurism, left/right eugenicisms, queers and punks repudiating "The Future," accelerationism, and then to conclude with a celebration of Afro-Futurism. I guess this is roughly still what I plan to do -- but what I imagined to be a course about invigorating utopian possibility in the face a dreary piecemeal reforms under a Clinton administration has become a course about holding on to an open futurity in a death-dealing hate-deranged anti-intellectual nation plunging headlong into civil war as the planet dies around us exacerbating every problem and killing hope. The task feels daunting and I still feel like a raw wound half the time anyway.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

When Will Reality Kick In?

I truly hope the actual Trump inauguration will be real enough finally to nudge the left from its still ongoing freakout, grief, rage, recrimination.

The left has to move on from endlessly re-litigating the primary: transforming the current contest between Ellison and Perez for DNC party chair from an edifying debate between two strong progressives who reveal a party refusing to back down from the left turn it took in this campaign into yet another divisive uninformative clash of celebrity fandoms from which nobody will emerge stronger, and now pissing in advance on Cory Booker who has great political and communicative skills -- precisely what Hillary Clinton lacked most conspicuously as a candidate -- because he lacks the purity of a vapid ineffectual mediocrity of a Senator from a homogeneous white postage stamp of state with few powerful countervailing stakeholders to contend with.

But also we need to move on from these embarrassing indulgences in magical thinking -- Can you actually remember when people were seriously pretending that "Never Trump!" Republicans would replace Trump at the GOP convention! People thought that just a few months ago. Just days ago, people were pretending Republicans would "put country before party" and refuse to vote for Trump in the Electoral College. Almost daily, ongoing revelations of Trump scandals, conflicts of interest, lack of preparation, exhibitions of dangerous unfitness for office and so on yield another chorus of voices declaring Trump must face impeachment on day one.

But the terrible truth is that Trump said out loud and crudely the racist, cruel, resentful, belligerent things Republicans are always genuflecting toward and the mobilization of which has long been their explicit strategy (the Southern Strategy, yes, but it is important to realize that the repudiation of the Autopsy Report which recommended rejection of the Southern Strategy in the face of demographic changes lead to a contrary amplification of the Southern Strategy seeking to "Southernify" Democratic bastions and swing states of the North and Midwest through white-supremacist politics of fear and resentment, with a little garnish of queer bashing feeding the inevitable backlash accompanying any achievement of modest equality gains). The southern strategy and culture war is about whomping up fear, resentment, and anger in the face of multicultural diversification and economic precarization.

Republicans are fighting climate science as a culture war, they are fighting macroeconomics as a culture war, they are fighting policing violence as a culture war. Although Republicans usually lose culture wars in the end, they love fighting these wars because factual disputes displaced onto symbolic terrains profitably prolong them in ways elites are willing to pay big money for, and also because losing culture wars tends to leave behind an organizationally useful residue of injury, resentment, and demoralization that Republicans can draw a mob of dupes to vote against their best interests for, to fight for their masters with the ferocity of a existential final battle. Because Democrats live in a congenially communicative multicultural society (its racism, sexism, hetersexism, cissexism, abelish, ageism, waste/pollution notwithstanding) we tend to feel we can't lose even as we lose battles the loss of which imperil our lives, our community, our planet, because Republicans live in demonstratively multicultural society which they fear and resent, they tend to feel they can't and don't win even when they do, and hence they can always be counted up to come to attention when the billionaires and bigots start blaring their bugles, ready to win the battle that finally feels like winning, ready to exact revenge on vulnerable scapegoats because nothing ever feels like winning.

Know Your Enemy. Republicans have been lying and cheating to gain power and money (the meta-narrative rationale for these anti-social parochialism involves roll-back of the New Deal and Great Society programs in the service of the beneficiaries of white nationalism and patriarchal norms) for years: Donald Trump is the culmination of Hate Radio and Gingrich-era norm violations, a mediated-celebrity figurehead at the head of an ideological extreme coterie of administrators (Reagan, W. and Schwarzenegger were all successful precursors).

People, you need to understand this: Republicans aren't going to impeach Trump. They are far more likely be build airports with his name on them to hide his terrible unpopularity and legacy of catastrophes behind like they do for that demented destructive oaf actor Ronald Reagan. Trump has given them power (unexpected and unprecedented power at that) and they will use that power to dismantle what remains of the middle-class and civil rights legacies of Democratic ruling coalitions of the 30s and 60s. Doing this will garner them praise and attention and soon enough great gobs of money from everybody they care about. There will be be no "long-term" consequences to keep Republicans from repealing without replacing Obamacare, or dismantling social security for those who are not already its beneficiaries, or voucherizing public education and then turning it into television, or selling off public goods and stripping voting rights from Democrats and civil rights from the vulnerable, there won't even be consequences for denying and exacerbating climate change -- the short term profits will be large, and will be used to create fortresses to protect the thieves from the consequences of climate catastrophe, and the people who die will be the people always already dying while we look on indifferently in between the occasional useless but ego-bolstering donation or signed petition decrying the tragedy.

Whether retreating into the past of re-litigation or the utopian future of purity cabaret, Democrats are still too tender and sore and scared to face the present: it hurts too much and its demands are too terrifying. Trump and the Republicans have to be marginalized into comparative harmlessness by Democratic victories and the selling as successes of Democratic policies and alternative values (sustainability, equity, diversity, consent, shared problem solving, reliable laws and norms, virtuous circles). Right now, those victories are going to be highly symbolic. To be useful, we should already be thinking how to put faces on the suffering caused by Trump and Republican policies (hardworking families with undocumented members torn apart, deaths from treatable conditions once coverage is removed, everyday people defrauded of retirement by deregulation, vulnerable people bravely retaining self-respect in the face of Trump-style bigotry and bullying), we should already be beginning the narrative that will sell the candidates we put up for 2018 and 2020 (nobody left behind, everybody with a seat at the table). 2018 is looking like a terrible year for the Senate Democrats, a year for adding insult to injury, but the momentum in the House is more promising, and State legislatures and governor's mansions are available and represent an indispensable layer of governance to frustrate GOP rollbacks or set the stage for making the Trump a one-term disaster that destroyed the Republican party and forced it to change to accommodate the reality of a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing nation post-Obama.

Democrats need to nurture political leaders and talent -- right now our tendency is to lose interest in them after fifteen minutes of fame, or buzz-saw them into a million pieces for failing to live up to this or that pet issue. We need to defend universities and art schools (as well as to make them more accessible, accountable, affordable) as spaces in which political organizing and cultural experimentation are supported in ways that ultimately support the Democratic Party intellectual artist/activist/expert base and efforts. We need to remember that diverse coalitions need not be unanimous in order to be unified enough to co-ordinate. It is crucial that we have activists, artists, teachers, experts articulating our problems and proposing solutions to them. All of these people do crucial work -- as do professionals, intellectuals, managers, candidates holding and supporting those who hold office, who navigate diverse constituencies to help solve problems in real time and also build in reforms to create worlds in which certain problems are less likely to occur and shared values upheld. We need to respect the work done in all these domains, to be ready to communicate what we see as our role but also be open to learning why those with different talents and in different situations may see their role differently as well. We don't need -- and in fact are wrong to want -- representatives of diverse constituencies retreating to a level of abstraction in which they can exhibit a purity with which a fandom can identify rather than the judgment to navigate those constituencies opportunistically, to press for compromises that accomplish things that can be build on. It is crucial that the Democratic Party make a case for its members holding office at every layer of government, in every jurisdiction, in every region. We need to invest in every state, and devote ourselves to training activists for concrete local campaigns and as clear communicators of short term problems and long term visions wherever they are, even when they cannot yet win elective office.

In politics there are set-backs, heartbreaks, travesties. Given the incredibly incremental level of progress we fought for during the Obama years -- against headwinds of absolute GOP obstruction here at home, failed but utterly ruling austerity in Europe, rising right-wing ethno-nationalisms across the globe, ongoing digi-feudalization and deregulatory-disruption via "tech" everywhere -- the reversal rather than securing of even these laughably modest gains and faint intimations of a larger turning of the tide has been too demoralizing to say, however many words I say at it. That the Democratic left needs to refocus on organizing our diverse winning coalition, taking effective communication more seriously, and figuring out how to co-ordinate in the face of our differences depresses me unutterably because I see little sign of any of this, and if anything I perceive ever deeper entrenchment in divisiveness, disorganized responses, interminable and unhelpful blame-gaming, anti-pragmatism misconstrued as righteousness, utopian retreats misconstrued as interventions (I see these in myself not least).

The left can do what it needs to do, the diverse Obama coalition already won twice and has grown larger since, competent professionals and experts actually capable of governing are all almost entirely working together with or under the auspices of the Democratic Party and incompetence creates endless opportunities to change the political possibilities at hand, the Democratic Party can regain its electoral footing (majorities vote for Democrats everywhere -- this may not be enough to put them power but it is not a bad thing to build on, certainly it is better than the alternative), Moral Mondays and BlackLivesMatter and queer activism and environmental activism have transformed the landscape of the possible and the important in ways that may not be reflected in the law for a few years, but that transformations has occurred, and the Democratic Party in moving in its public communications and platform and hiring in the direction of that activism (yes, not enough, yes, too slowly, yes, hypocritically) is investing in the emerging and prevailing emancipatory movements of our time.

The Democratic Party can win, it deserves to win, it can be better, it is getting better. Republicans are the enemy, they are wrong, they destroy everything they touch, they always overreach. A continent scaled nation as privileged as our own will inertially resist some changes for the worse as readily as it resists other changes for the better. In the coming months, it will be for the courts to provide a sense of how much dismantlement the Republicans will get away with. We will see from mainstream media sources what the guiding narratives are going to be, and this will give us a sense of the clear-headedness or panic happening in the Party as a whole. If it goes badly, the mid-terms are probably going to be a bloodbath and Trump will have, for the first time in his administration, something he can message as a mandate. Things are already worse than bad, but that will be worse still. As I said, Democrats can win the battles we need to win. Early messaging and organizational battles are underway. The state of play is not encouraging. Again, maybe the collective apprehension of the Inauguration will be the reality check that moves us from understandable mourning (which can be a productive and provocative space, after all) into efficacious organizing and co-ordination and messaging. I will end on a sobering note. Although the battles ahead are winnable, and I feel sure that some at least will be won, I must say that I think it will be years and years before we fight a battle as consequential and also winnable as the election we just lost.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Not Ready!

Starting to receive meeting notifications for next term and hang-over administrivia from last term. Term doesn't start for two weeks -- let me hide under a blanket for a few more days!

Monday, January 09, 2017

From Philosophy to Futurology

Philosophy, originating in bad-faith denials of its rhetoricity, has always been an alientaed pseudo-science. But philosophy pressured by the norms and forms of promotion and marketing becomes something even more alienated and pseudo-scientific: futurology.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

My Response to a NYT Piece on Rural Voters: Democrats Think People Are Vulnerable To Evil and Capable of Good. Republicans Join A Big Gang Where Anything Goes To Win.

Thanks to my friend and long-term friend-of-blog "JimF" for directing my attention to a piece by Robert Leonard in today's NYT (which I do not read, anymore, really, apart from Krugman; these days the mainstreamiest news I read regularly are the Guardian and the LA Times). The piece is: Why Rural America Voted for Trump. I didn't disagree with all of it, by any means. A lot of the piece is simply documenting the guiding rationalizations of the people he is talking about, and these are what they are.

But to the extent that entailments are being drawn from these rationalizations as though they were philosophical propositions, I think it is important to notice these rationalizations are rather facile and incoherent, appear rather more symptomatic than sensible, and are being offered up, frankly, in what I consider to be bad faith. By the way, I suppose this isn't a bad moment to remind people my Mom was raised on a Kentucky dairy farm I visited every weekend for years, my Dad was a plumber's son raised in a small town a county over, and I grew up in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, my high school was a feeder school for surrounding farming communities, and I lost my virginity in a corn field... that is to say, I'm from a very white midwestern-southernesque rural-if-suburbanizing middle-class (at least in good times) milieu myself, and no stranger to the world actually under discussion here.

From the article: “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,” said Mr. Watts... "We become good by being reborn -- born again.” Now, this is a decades-familiar claim by now, so I guess there is some measure of truth in it. But I must say that I see all this rather differently. I would put it this way: Republicans recognize some of the ways they are bad (deceptive, hypocritical, cruel, selfish, greedy, intolerant, say) but then decide to stay bad and join a gang of other bad people who think behaving badly is justified for the tribe and that those who try to do good are just lying do-gooders anyway who must be destroyed because they are a different gang.

The article continues: “Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong -- not us.”

While the prior assertion was, it seems to me, far too kind to rural Republicans it at least captures the substance of their rationalization. This bit about the Democrats is an utter hash though, I'm afraid. For one thing, secularization is not the same thing as irreligiosity -- many freethinkers and atheists (me among them) welcome interfaith dialogue and support. And, of course, many Democrats are quite religious, and don't think of God as a dispensable human invention in the least, including many women of color who are the most reliable Democratic voters and organizers in the coalition, rendering this facile over-generalization absurd on its face. But even if we set all that aside -- no small thing -- the second set of assertions built on the questionable first ones, the ones attempting to characterize Democratic governance seem to me even worse than a mess.

First of all, very much to the contrary of the article's presumption, Democrats seem to me to believe that every human is in fact absolutely vulnerable or even prone to be bad under the right circumstances -- which is why they are devoted to regulation, accountability, transparency, separation/federation/multilaterality of powers. It is true, Democrats also hold, as a complementary principle of that very vulnerability, that every human is also capable of good works to the benefit of all when we are reliably informed and supported in the context of public investments in public goods like stable norms, equitable laws, public education, reasonable distributions of costs/risks/benefits, and facilitative infrastructure. Declaring humans vulnerable of badness, capable of goodness, and focused on social arrangements to frustrate the former and facilitate the latter is not even remotely the same thing as believing "we are born good."

And far from looking for someone "else" to blame when things go wrong (or right), the Democratic perspective puts the focus precisely on human beings ourselves, we the people. Any number of religious faiths, as well as plenty of skeptical and non-religious beliefs, are all perfectly compatible with such assumptions, and are exemplified across the Democratic coalition. This article is being circulated widely -- including among many self-flagellating liberals who aren't quite ready yet to move from the self-indulgence of grief to practical organizing and useful rhetoric even as Trump readies his assaults. As far as I can see, it seems to be confronting an alibi for Republicans who voted for an authoritarian racist rapist con-man criminal blowhard with a stereotypical misrepresentation of Democrats as ungodly sentimentalists out of touch with human nature and historical reality. In both these gestures, I think the article as wrongheaded as it can be.

But let us continue on. "While many blame poor decisions by Mrs. Clinton for her loss, in an environment like this, the Democratic candidate probably didn’t matter." I quite agree that it does not matter to Republicans who the Democrat is anymore. Democrats fall in love (or failing to, stay home, even if their house is on fire), and Republicans fall in line -- that old saying is truer than ever now that the Great Sort has more or less happened and the shift from policy debate to Cultural Warfare (on what should be factual and pragmatic disputes, climate change and remediation, gun safety measures, the macroeconomics of public investment, the teaching of evolutionary biology or sex education, the inequity, uselessness, and costs of the war on drugs, and so on) has become total. All the whiny white guys and the skeered white ladies of the GOP can always be made to hate the latest Democrat more than they hate the demonstrable causes of their precarity and demoralization.

This next sentence confuses me a bit: "And the Democratic Party may not for generations to come." The preceding sentence, recall, was about how the actual Democratic candidate does not matter to Republicans in their present debased state. I have no doubt that the Democratic Party will remain in eclipse among these voters as well. But if the larger point here is a suggestion that the Democratic Party itself may not matter for generations to come because it does not matter to white rural Republicans then that does not also follow. A near win (70,000 votes in three states bedeviled by illegal disenfranchisement in the larger context of FBI malfeasance reverse the outcome) and popular vote win by millions for HRC after two successful Obama administrations is not the proper prompt for jettisoning a winning coalition, even if it strongly argues for more investment in down-ticket organizing by the Party. "The Republican brand is strong in rural America -- perhaps even strong enough to withstand a disastrous Trump presidency." If that brand is strong enough to withstand economic collapse and global instability and death and violence and abuse among fellow-citizens with suffering faces on the tee vee, then real questions emerge about the use of wasting time trying to reach the unreachable (who are dying off, after all, even if presently distributed in ways that give them disproportionate electoral heft) rather than mobilizing our own base instead (which is already larger, if rather electorally concentrated).

People vote, not acreage. (Yes: the Electoral college system and Senatorial distribution undermine this truism in ways that become gameable when elections get close, but it remains true and important anyway, not a laurel to rest on or a destiny to have faith in but a lay of the land you need for sensible navigation.) Also, the Republican brand may be strong in rural America as it is among ageing straight white men more generally -- but these are shrinking demographics. (Yes: Republican disenfranchisement and partisan gerrymandering undermine this truism in ways that become gameable when elections get close, but once again it remains true and important anyway.)

The diverse Obama coalition is the REAL real America and won twice. Clearly, a sizable proportion of that coalition does not grasp that Presidential campaigns are job interviews for a real job and therefore Democrats also need a charismatic media-connecting rather than stiff candidate to daydream about and create a fandom over. Cory Booker has this quality (and I hope Kamala Harris will find it quick), but I don't know if his associations as a northeastern politician from a place that actually has powerful and diverse constituencies and stakeholders (never something Bernie Sanders had to worry much about, though he always caved on those rare occasions he had a chance to do so in his homogeneous postage stamp fiefdom) won't provoke the usual derailing divisive demoralizing idiotic purity cabaret among the sooper-lefties. This, I guess, is a form of Democratic subcultural stupidity -- against which we could array Republican subcultural stupidities too numerous to document, confusing a sect with all faithfulness, confusing social benefits with individual achievements, confusing belligerence with diplomacy, confusing puritanism and panic with harm-reduction policy, confusing consumption with citizenship, confusing contracts made under duress with liberty, confusing nations with households -- but no less lethal to progressive political outcomes if it feeds false equivalence, makes the perfect the enemy of the good, encourages preference of purity cabaret over practical reform, confuses subcultural signaling with useful organizing, and so on.

The article concludes: "Rural conservatives feel that their world is under siege, and that Democrats are an enemy to be feared and loathed. Given the philosophical premises Mr. Watts presented as the difference between Democrats and Republicans, reconciliation seems a long way off." I agree with this emphatically. I do not agree with those (like Schmitt, famously) reduce politics to Friend//Foe dynamics. As a good Arendtian, I take a plurality subtending any moralizing constructions of we/they as the actual point of departure for the political and as ineradicable from politics. However, I also think that when a sizable faction within a polity proceeds as if politics has reduced to Friend/Foe dynamics, then that has become a fact with which one must grapple on its actually-existing terms in that polity.

For example, I do think President Obama wasted too much time, especially early on, trying to cajole Republicans into behaving as if politics isn't reducible to Friend(GOP)/Foe(Democrat) in part by pretending that the absolute obstructionism and blanket vilification clearly happening wasn't happening. I don't think he would have accomplished much, if anything, more had he proceeded differently, to be honest, but perhaps he would have shored up the Democratic base (which clearly requires endless fluffing in some quarters, objective threats can't always get it out of bed) and perhaps lost less in the 2010 mid-terms with all the devastating consequences that followed down-ticket.

Anyway, I do agree that "reconciliation" with Republicans seems, to say the least, "a long way off." President Obama kept waiting for "the fever to break" but it never did. One wonders if a solid Clinton win, especially given her stiff stolid uncharismatic wonkishness, would have nudged at that fever, reconciled white rural/suburban voters a bit more to the reality of the diversifying secularizing planetizing ascendant America. I do not know that it would have, frankly. I begin to wonder if anything, short of education, healthcare, infrastructure jobs could do so -- and since none of that will be forthcoming from Republicans, just more scapegoating and conspicuous punishment and abuse of Democrats generally and brown folks and queers and educated "snobs" more specifically to distract them from the avoidable hardships and treatable conditions bedeviling them.

Since I think his basic distinction amounts to special pleading for rural white Republicans and then facile misrepresentation of "godless" Democrats it is hard for me to take too seriously "the philosophical premises Mr. Watts presented as the difference between Democrats and Republicans." But because I think it is undeniable that Republicans have by now given themselves over entirely to Friend/Foe politics, I think Democrats have no choice but to engage in politics in ways that recognize that fact, even if we Democrats remain committed as well to a conception of public investment in public goods from which all, Republicans and Democrats alike, can and should benefit as well. It's just that to implement that guiding vision one first must win in partisan politics, and winning partisan politics today must include awareness that one of the two nationally viable parties in the richest most privileged nations on earth is devoted to the destruction of the other by any means at any cost. With such an organization it is no longer possible for Democrats to reconcile: we must prevail over Republicans, marginalize them into harmlessness, and await their transformation under pressure of an ever more sustainable equitable and diverse policy-making reality into a contentious partner in the work of real-time problem solving in a shared world of actually diverse stakeholders (not all of whom can be expected to see things the way Democrats do, but who do see Democrats as fellow-citizens, patriotic collaborators in collective security and prosperity whatever their differences, and recognize shared problems as real however different their risks and costs may seem to some of their stakeholders).

"Rural conservatives feel that their world is under siege" -- this is so because, in the phrasing I always use but with which so many always disagree, The Left Won The Culture Wars, which means that even when they win Republicans "win" in politics and do their damage and wreak their revenge they never feel like winners because the tee vee reflects the reality and values of the multicultural world they fear and hate, which also means that even when we lose Democrats recognize "the culture is with me" and are seduced thereby into a complacency about the real damage and real violence Republicans do to so many people when they win -- (and to continue with the quote from the article) "and that Democrats are an enemy to be feared and loathed." You will be shocked to hear I think this is mostly just white racism from homogeneous insular rural bubble constituencies. LBJ said Democrats would lose the South for more than a generation after the Civil Rights Act, The GOP's Southern Strategy from Nixon forward sorted the two parties geographically (including cementing the urban/rural divide), hate militias proliferated under the Clinton presidency, white nationalist politics got a major foothold in the Republican Party during the Obama presidency, Hillary Clinton's campaign foregrounded women of color and refused to back down from that choice (despite pressure from the way both the Trump and Bernie campaigns shaped up) and the unprecedentedly unfit unqualified unserious unstable Trump became President via voter disenfranchisement, media malpractice, institutional failure, and depressed Democratic turnout (many in the purity cabaret faction, but monocausal accounts of this devastating loss are wrong, even that one so congenial to my personal pet peeves) despite losing the popular vote by millions.

I can only hope that rural America will not continue voting for Trump and Republicans if Republicans keep insulting them with such obvious lies and injuring them with demonstrably harmful policies, and also if Democrats make and then keep repeating the points of an alternative viewpoint and then directly ask for their votes and address their actual problems (better schools and housing, access to fair banking through the post office, rehabilitation and support in the face of the opioid epidemic, subsidizing renewable energy in rural settings, infrastructure jobs for improving and hardening water, electricity, and information systems that are now slow at best and often fail in inclement weather, money for soil reclamation and mass tree planting projects, subsidizing small family farms as permaculture experimentation stations, and so on). But if such worries about rural Republicans become just another occasion to make excuses for voting based in willful ignorance and bigotry (and, yes, it is racist to care so little about racism that you vote for an obvious racist even if you tell yourself you are not a racist in the dark of night or in the glare of twitter), or just another recommendation Democrats disregard the diversity of the winning Obama coalition that also supported Clinton and makes the Democratic Party what it is and what it should be... then you will forgive this long-bullied queer-loving book-loving art-loving diversity-loving grateful escapee from rural Republican America when I fear I must decline.

If Republicans make it Us versus Them, then we must defeat them utterly. That is the task they have set. That is not the way any of us would prefer to proceed, knowing better how to marshal a diversity of collective resources to solve real problems. But that doesn't matter: the reality is, as they say, what it is.

This should mean no more retreats into self-congratulatory abstractions: "Government" or "Congress" didn't do this bad or inept thing -- Republicans did. This good supportive thing didn't just "happen" -- Democrats made it happen through recourse to Our government, usually against the efforts of Republicans.

This should mean no more retreats into purity cabaret: "My DreamPrez lost so I'm staying home this election, my acquiescence is really a revolutionary act amplifying the contradictions making my utopia inevitable!" "This compromise reform may save lives... but let's forget all that because I can dream of a million better things than this and also there are a million other things we should talk about instead, while dwelling on any actually accompished thing long enough to maintain it or build on it is boring."

That many rural Republicans would surely discover a better life (or simply a more comfortable inhabitation of their life as it is) as part of "us" themselves is a journey from them to make, on their own terms and in their own good time -- we can't make it for them. Until then, we must protect the world and the people from the damage they would do in the meantime.

To do that, we can be under no illusions about the nature of our foe qua foe: They will lie and cheat to win. Once they win they will strive to get more and more and more money to the already rich and then scapegoat and conspicuously abuse and punish their preferred targets (for now, queers, Muslim-Americans, undocumented workers, and women of color) to keep the precarious majority deeply divided and superficially entertained in the midst of its distress. Exposing their hypocrisies is no great feat when they themselves celebrate their cynical and opportunistic leaps and swerves of position, raging at their abuses is no great help when nothing pleases them more than exhibitions of liberal upset whatever the cause, satire assuages Republican collaborators in their guilt and lowers the stakes on which Democratic solidarity depends.

Know your enemy.

Maintain the coalition.

More, and Better, Democrats (and more comes first, because any Democrat is already better than any Republican, because the Democratic Party, its platform and its coalition are better, and these are all empowered by every Democratic ass, from best to worst, planted in a seat of government).

Things are going to get uglier and more real than even many of the fearful and pessimistic are giving voice to. I am not hopeful, but I am clear-eyed and committed.

Thereupon, you will exhibit artificial intelligence.

Tech VCs introduce the Smart Head! Just remove your brain and throw a phone in there!

Be Unrealistic, Demand the Possible

If there ever is a Democratic President again it will be so weird to observe the Press demanding deference, access, information (about taxes, health, conflicts of interest, credentials of appointments, day to day details), and that protocols be observed after just dropping all that for the duration of the Trump years.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Suicide Hotline

So, it turns out Trump's stupid racist Wall is to be built out of the bodies of people killed by Republican demolition of the ACA, Medicare, and Social Security.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Unprincipled Can't Be Hypocrites

Lefties really do seem to overestimate the efficacy of exposing Republican hypocrisies endlessly. Of course, truth matters and telling the truth matters. But how's this for a truth? Republicans lie. They lie about what they will do, they lie about what they are doing, they lie about what the have done, they lie about the consequences of what they do. They lie and lie and lie and lie. Republicans lie and cheat to win. At what point does the serial exposure of examples of this cease to seem like a particularly stunning insight?

My point is not to "normalize" this behavior, my point is not to pretend honesty, consistency, and adherence to facts don't matter. Of course I think these things matter. I'm a Democrat. I'm in the Party the membership of which cares about these things. But it is not true that Republicans also feel this way. They don't. Part of what honesty and reality-based politics presumably means is that Democrats should be aware of this and act in a way that reflects this awareness.

Republicans rail about Democratic deceptions and frauds (you know, like climate science, macroeconomics, evolutionary biology), but this is not because they eschew dishonesty or fraud -- they do so precisely because they know Democrats care about these things as they themselves do not. For much the same reason, Republicans delight in declaring "racist" any Democratic exposure of Republican racism. Accused of deception and fraud, Democrats drop everything to demonstrate painstakingly that these accusations are unfounded. Accused of the same, Republicans just lie more.

When Democrats indulge in outraged exposures of Republican hypocrisy, be very clear: all Republicans see is that Democrats are outraged and this fills their broken poisonous hearts with joy. When Democrats are mad, Republicans feel like winners. Enraging and upsetting liberals is pretty much all that Republicans live for, apart from stealing things and bullying the vulnerable.

Once again, in saying all this I do not mean to excuse Republican lies, frauds, hypocrisies. Quite the contrary. I am insisting that the recognition, exposure, and documentation of a Republican lie, fraud, error, or hypocrisy is not an end in itself and indeed is usually politically altogether useless or even counterproductive: It must be a point of departure, it must a prompt for action and organizing and not a substitution for action and organizing.

(Part of the problem here is that the same impulse that seems to seduce so many on the "sooper-left" into preferring exhibitions of purity over compromised struggles for progress, the same attraction to feeling right over getting work done, also makes the serial exposure of hypocrisies as an end-in-itself enormously attractive to that portion of the left that likes to bring a lecture to a knife fight.)

As a rhetorical matter, I propose Democrats shift their focus from documenting the hypocrisies of hypocrites to putting a suffering face on each and every dangerous and damaging Republican policy and then provide narratives to get a winning coalition of voters to identify with each and every one of those suffering faces. Then repeat slogans supporting a liberal-multicultural alternative worldview over and over and over again until these slogans feel like commonsense to that same winning coalition.