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October 22nd, 2009


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01:36 pm - Politics - Musings on Liberal Frustration
This recent New York TImes article about Earl Blumenauer and the Frustrated Left sums up many of my current opinions about politics. Blumenauer is a staunch progressive who also happens to be the Representative from my portion of Portland, and someone who I am always happy to vote for.

I mostly agree with Blumenauer about most of the reasons that things have not gone in a more progressive direction than they have:
Mr. Blumenauer, a member of the tax-writing and climate change committees with a devotion to trying to improve the livability of American cities, said he did not think Mr. Obama had shifted his ideological stance since his election and did not blame the president for the problems slowing the liberal agenda. He said he saw a combination of factors — the troubled economy, the sheer scope of the nation’s problems and an unexpected level of Republican opposition — as the culprits.
The scope of the problems is a very real issue, and the wretched state of the economy makes everything else more difficult. However, the key culprit is the Republican Party. I am hoping that Obama will get over his desire for bipartisanship, because perhaps the biggest problem facing the US is the fact that one of our political parties is fundamentally evil - it's political base is a mixture of the greediest and most callous of the rich and the members of the poor and middle class who are most focused on racism, sexism, xenophobia, and religious zealotry. This is the party responsible for the "birther" and "death panel" madness both among Republican supporters in the mass media, and among Republican members of Congress. I suppose that this is why The Daily Show has been the best news show for at least the past 5 years - few people on the actual news networks are willing to say just how insane the Republican Party has become, and how is has dragged the most conservative edge of the Democratic Party also down there to the same level of madness.

I suppose our biggest hope is that the Republican Party continues (as it has been doing since the 2008 election) to drift further to the right and become increasingly shrill and increasingly crazy, since that may guarantee that (like during the Great Depression) it becomes a purely regional party with little national influence, at least until it becomes less the playground of the vile and the mad.

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Comments:


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From:alobar
Date:October 22nd, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
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If the Republicans continue their drift to the right, the Democratic leas=dership will chase after them so the Democrats continue to be the lesser of two evils (but just barely!)
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From:krinndnz
Date:October 22nd, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
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Although the authoritarian movement that dominates the Republican Party is pretty evil, we shouldn't forget that Obama never promised to be better than Clinton, who in turn was merely a competent imperial manager. We remember Clinton with unreasonable favor because of his personal charisma (which Obama definitely shares) and because his administration was compared to Reagan, Bush, and Bush, who together assembled an impressive 20-year track record of evil acts (which Obama might also share). I was also very amused by Tom Tomorrow's recent strip "The Idea Of Obama".
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From:mindstalk
Date:October 22nd, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
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Republicans and the filibuster are a big problem, but there's also that not all of the Democrats are progressive.
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From:heron61
Date:October 22nd, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
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Absolutely. However, I think much of the problem is changes in the Republican party over the past 30 years now mean that conservative has become a synonym for barking mad. Thus, conservative Democrats, who wish to appeal to at least some Republican voters, have also become disturbingly conservative.
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From:erelin
Date:October 23rd, 2009 03:04 am (UTC)
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Calling one side of a debate evil is tempting to be sure, but sadly life is not like fiction: Narratives have good and evil as it appeals to the human mind. To call one side of an argument "evil" is an oversimplification- one that works quite well in some situations, but usually it simply denotes an astonishing lack of understanding for the other side of an argument. I mention this, because to be in that position can be a major tactical disadvantage. If you place your enemy beyond rational understanding, you do two (basic) things:

1) You place him in a category that cannot be reasoned with, negotiated with, or converted to. This can be of benefit, if you are trying to convince people who you are not expecting to do reason or tactical analysis, as it makes them immune to many distractions and attempts of tactics by the other side.

2) You make them beyond rational understanding. This is because rational people do not knowingly commit evil acts, whereas "evil" people do. This almost always puts anyone who is attempting to do a tactical analysis at a severe disadvantage.

Republicans are not evil, but rather a particular mismatch of ideologies that is based along the democratic process. To acquire power, they rely on two basic facts: 1) In a non-equal situation, half of people are below average, and 2) Even a smart person may have ignorance on certain issues. They have built a power base that is based upon exploiting these facts- using Religion and Cultural Norms to back their power base. These people- who are well-intentioned but ignorant, form the constituents of the Republican Party.

However, exploiting ignorance isn't enough, as the ignorant don't give you the Rhetorical, Economic, and Power factors you need to actually gain and maintain power. Therefore, they hedge their economic arguments on the idea that the Rich and Powerful(tm) should be allowed to maintain their hard-earned (to them) positions of power. As many of the upper class cannot even conceive of how to survive in a lower economic bracket, and the prospect of ruin is a great fear, these groups are driven to the Republican Party, which offers larger incentives and financial backing to those who have gained power. This grants them many people skilled in Rhetoric, Economics, and those who come from powerful and predominant families. Only those who are extremely egalitarian, or those who take great objection to their social views, would join their opposition, as their opponents propose almost the opposite view.

Finally, they allow (and fund) religious groups that have perpetuated their scapegoats- connecting them with the power brokers mentioned above. This makes these religious groups dependent upon them, keeping them from moving to progressive tendencies. This also unifies the power base of the religious groups, which improves their hold on the ideologies of their constituents, makes for easier use of funds in recruitment, and creates groups that reinforce illogical and even contradictory views.

This is all done to maintain a power base, and becomes a self-perpetuating philosophy. Those who are drawn to the republican party for either ideological or economic reasons become drawn in socially, meaning they must adapt the views of the other half to properly function within the party. Their power brokers become dependent on the system they have created, even as they benefit from it. Their constituents become incapable of breaking free from it, as they lack proper information. Any who would change the party cannot get the votes they need to do so, as the constituents won't go for it and their opponents are rabidly against them. Those in the middle can be exploited via a lack of information and social pressure. And they can draw upon some of the most powerful, most intelligent, and most wealthy people in the country to devise tactics and create strategy. This is how they stem the tide of progressive movements.

When you say an opponent is evil, you mean that they willingly commit evil acts. As no one who behaves rationally does this, you make them into a group that does not behave rationally. If a group does not behave rationally, you cannot predict their movements. Ergo, it is better to understand their system, rather than label it.
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From:heron61
Date:October 23rd, 2009 03:44 am (UTC)
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I do not remotely believe that most Republican voters are evil, some are simply older and are used to voting for a party that (as was true prior to the 1980s) very different, others believe what they see on Fox news, and some agree with some of the tenets of the party, and see these as more important than the parts that they disagree with. However, I firmly believe that the actual organization - the few (generally quite wealthy) people in charge of the party, and also the vast majority of federal level politicians who are part of it are definitely evil. As such, the key to change involves a mixture of attempting to appeal to Republican voters, combating the lies and bias of far right media sources like Fox news (and preferably restoring some balance to mass media with the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine).

When you say an opponent is evil, you mean that they willingly commit evil acts. As no one who behaves rationally does this, you make them into a group that does not behave rationally.

One of the few good things about the recent administration is that they often didn't behave rationally - on issues ranging from the economy to the Iraq War they believed their own propaganda & ideology rather than various fact-based reports that were presented to them. In addition to being greed-happy con artists, they were far less effective than they could have been, because all records we have access to show that they honestly expected many of their irrational policies to succeed, rather than just serving as lies designed to enrich themselves and their wealthy supporters.
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From:erelin
Date:October 23rd, 2009 05:00 am (UTC)
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You seem to have mistaken my comments for a judgment on the rationality of specific republicans in the Bush Administration. What I am saying is that you cannot hope to understand an opponent that you have put beyond the bounds of rational decision making. Most bad decisions, along with most good ones, are based on the options, logic, and information available at the time. Moreover, if you put someone beyond the bounds of rational decision making, you cannot hope to understand their strategy and tactics. If one day, my strategy will consist of "Increase Voter Turnout" and the next day, my strategy will consist of "Purple Elephants are Shiny"- you can't hope to predict what I do next. Therefore, assuming that your opponents- and that means the key decision makers in the Republican Party- are rational decision makers is a necessary and vital assumption in attempting to understand their strategy and tactics. A person who is deliberately "Evil" flies in the face of rational decision making. To label your opponents as evil is to reduce their complexity, and make their motives beyond understanding. And if you cannot understand their motives, you cannot hope to predict their strategy.

This is actually why I hate the progressive movement in this country. Conservatives actually encourage liberals to portray conservatives as evil, NOT because it will distance you from potential allies as many have suggested, but because it puts your constituents and leaders in a position where you cannot hope to collect enough information to form a coherent strategy of dealing with the conservative movement as lead by the Republican Party. If you stopped thinking about it in terms of ethics and started thinking about it in terms of tactics, you'd see that most of this stuff is rather transparent and that while you might lose some of your self-righteousness, that you would gain the ability to shut down the Republican-Conservative movement permanently, or at least cripple it for the next 50 years. You assume your opponents are stupid and evil, and are surprised when they beat you. Assume instead your opponents are smart and have a different definition of value and you can hope to understand and predict their behavior: which allows you to WIN.
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From:hasufin
Date:October 23rd, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
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I think you are very much correct. Smug self-righteousness and unilateral action does not improve the national discourse. The reality is that the vast majority of those acting on the political stage - conservative and liberal both - act out of a complex of motives. In fact I'm reasonably confident that those motives are largely the same: continue to exist in a political role (i.e., appease voters and contributors, maintain good relations with other politicians, etc); and forward their own ideological agenda.

The scary part, I think, is the realization that people at any given part of the political spectrum maintain a rational, self-consistent, and perfectly logical worldview. Their agendas are thus not provably "wrong" or "evil". They're just starting from different premises and assumptions, and there's no particular reason to consider those premises in any way inferior to any other set of premises.

One other thing I will mention is that even if it is practical to completely silence a group, and even if their basic agenda is completely repugnant, it is never desirable to do so. When a group perenially feels that it has been disempowered, Bad Things Happen.
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From:erelin
Date:October 23rd, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
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I am not sure that terrorism is always a direct result of a silenced group: although that is A reaction. It depends, I think, on the methods of silencing. It's a bit like a street fight: if you bring a knife, you are inviting knives to be brought against you. If you bring a gun, you are inviting guns to be brought against you. When the methods of extermination of a group include killing, you invite them to try to kill you in return. If you silence a group with less-violent means, you don't create the "opening" terrorism requires as a rational response.

Look at Environmental Terrorism- which advocates the destruction of buildings and certainly risks human life on occasion. Outright murder, however, is beyond their scope- because it is beyond the scope of the crimes they are working against. Compare this to political terrorism, which puts the blame (rightly or wrongly) of deaths (in the third world, usually due to poverty) on opposing political factions or nations. This puts killing on the table. It stands to reason that if you silence a group with the least force possible (it is possible to completely silence groups or effectively silence groups without physical force) then you are able to quell the threat of forceful retaliation against you.
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From:hasufin
Date:October 23rd, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
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Well, for one, environmental terrorism is terrorism... and some of the plots which have been considered would curl your hair - blowing up dams, trying to acquire or create biological weapons... there are a few who are indeed quite willing to kill others. Fortunately not that many.

In general, people will have their message heard. The more they are silenced (or, more accurately, the more that they feel they are silenced), the greater the pressure and thus the greater the chance that extreme measures will be taken. I don't think that there's any sort of scaled response going on; rather it's simply that larger groups, which are more effectively marginalized, are more likely to yield people willing to kill others.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:October 23rd, 2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
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I think that rational people do knowingly commit evil acts to further their own self-interest. I define evil as any act which furthers one's own agenda and harms someone else. By this definition, many common acts, such as not reporting a monetary gift on one's income tax return, are evil, because the government is being deprived of tax money.

Altruism, by contrast, is irrational because it sacrifices one's own interest for the sake of another. In many cases, the one doing the altruistic deed suffers harsh consequences (from financial setbacks to death) as a result of his or her deed.

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From:erelin
Date:October 23rd, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC)
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There is a large difference between an act and a person. A person can commit an evil act, no question: many people have experienced performing an act that is basically wrong (speeding, cheating on taxes) when the personal benefit flies in the face of either societal norms, creates the potential of harm to others, or whatever metric you choose to use. But rational people do not sit back and play the part of Cruella deVille and be evil for its own sake. To do so, a person would have to believe themselves to be evil: not merely to be a person who can do wrong, but rather to believe that committing morally wrong actions is "right."

And, with whatever metric you choose to use to determine whether or not an evil act has been used, there is no question that some people choose to ignore that metric. If, for instance, you define an evil act is defined as one that "flies in the face of God's will," all it takes is an atheist. If you define it by "intentionally causes harm to others" all it takes is someone who is self-interested. What is important to note is that these people do not share the same definition of evil that you do. It is not a matter of Wrong=Right for them, but a question of a different value structure.

Even if we agree on a definition of evil, we must accept that others will not share this view. People who commit evil acts, even regularly, often have complex motives, reasons, and justifications for their behavior. These motives and values can be understood, which allows you to understand and predict their behavior in a way that labeling them as "evil" does not. By applying that label to a person, rather than an action, you put that person into a realm where they believe that what is wrong is right. Certainly, this is a powerful tool for indoctrination, but it means that you cannot rationally follow their plans and decisions.

Altruism actually makes sense from a logical perspective, and is far from irrational. For if all people were altruistic, everyone would benefit from the deeds of others. And many minor cases of altruism (the giving of a little money to support a cause here and there, opening a door for someone who is carrying a heavy load) cost next to nothing and provide the person with no consequences. Like causing harm, the risk goes up with the level of altruism provided: a person who commits a terrible wrong risks a terrible backlash, much the same as one who commits an altruistic deed may- as the beneficiaries may have enemies or others may grow jealous of the favoritism. In both cases, intensity leads to greater risk- and so they are the same, not opposing, functions. In addition, altruistic deeds make us feel good, and help us affirm that we are good people when we commit "evil" acts. This can be used to explain individuals such as Dale Carnegie- who simultaneously oppressed workers rights (sometimes- at least implicitly- allowing the use of violent force) and supported massive charitable organizations and devoted himself to public works projects.

If we choose (and I think it is reasonable to) to define Dale Carnegie's acts against the rights of others to be evil, then his altruism makes sense as it could be used to justify his actions to himself as well as others. If you were to plan against such a person, I would suggest taking their resources and funneling it through a charity into a cause (such as worker's rights) that they do not support but may fund anyway out of a sense of moral obligation for the wrongs they have done. For then, they are funding the fight against them, and this provides you with a superior tactical position. Such a person might, even upon discovering exactly where the money was going, keep funding you out of a sense of morals and attempt to ignore the cognitive dissonance, an act that would lead to greater flaws in planning against your cause.
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From:rhiannasilel
Date:October 23rd, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC)
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What's really sad is at one time they weren't all that bad. We have Teddy Roosevelt to thank for our national parks and the beginnings of a conservation movement in this country. At one time, poor Southern racists were all Democrats because Lincoln was a Republican. It's so weird when you think about it in terms of the century and not just the past 20 years. What the happened?

I don't have an issue with the US having a fiscally conservative party (I wouldn't join it, but I don't fundamentally have a problem with its existence.), which is really what they should be putting their focus on instead of these backward outdated social agendas that are based on fear and superstition. I listen to their rhetoric and they just come across and uneducated and insane. Rab even comments on how in the UK they wouldn't even qualify as Conservatives and would probably be one of the fringe parties like the British National Party.

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