Fathers and Roses

I remember you walking up the stairs at night and checking if I was asleep. It was a comforting game that I only played when I had already won.

I remember basement steps, and doing the hard icky jobs, just so others wouldn’t have to.

I remember the shop and the mysteries it held. I remember a big office and an old pickup.

I remember the scuffed leather chair, a cocked head and a phone resting gently while joking threats conveyed a total sense of safety.

I remember homework at the kitchen table and the red circled commas.

I remember lamb’s brains, and the comforting thought that you were human.

I remember Chapman picnics, and carnivals and T ball and soccer games.

I remember camping, and beach adventures. Hauling the crab pots seemed like nothing to you and the activity was so much more fun than sitting on the spit. I remember measuring and the pleasure of ‘too small, throw it back!’ The scuttling in the bottom of the boat was not scary because you were there.

I remember beer batter pancakes and building fires.

I remember carpools and your protectiveness as you understood I was not a girl who backed down.

I remember the startling idea that you were that kind of parent too, calming babies and changing diapers.

I remember planting trees on hillsides and an I5 Thanksgiving and Rice Hill.

I remember early mornings and the moment I knew what you were thinking by how you breathed.

I remember a sunburn on one leg because you let me drive the whole way to the beach.

I remember ‘hearts were made to be broken’ and ‘hey Carol, we have the back seat to ourselves’

I remember Stanford’s dinners, and early morning RAC visits. Flowers and cards.

I remember hair-cuts and olive groves and field trips with no contingencies.

I remember you saying ‘yes’, to school dances, and rides and every question I ever thought to ask you.

I remember every time you rescued me, and there are many.

I remember kindness. And humility. And a willingness to learn, always.

I remember ‘hands in the water, when I could not swim, I hung on to him’

It was always all right.




Always beginning again

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. Drucilla Ileen Curnutt Hamblin was born June 15 1902. She had a first-rate mind and was a certified teacher in a one-room school house to support first her family of origin and then her family of destination. She taught school to support the family while my grandfather attended dental school. After having children she devoted herself to homemaking, raising my mother and uncles to value education, hard work and family. Her sons all became dentists and my mother, well, for those lucky enough to know her, understand how incredible a woman she was.
Ileen made three meals a day for years in the Arizona heat well before air conditioning was widely available. She made clothes to outfit her children and grandchildren and did works of public service in her spare time. Her selflessness was expected, that was just how things were. None of us will ever know how she felt about an education cut short, a professional life out of reach and a lifetime of putting others first. She encouraged my mother to pursue an education and find her own self-fulfillment. Ileen sent Carol away so her daughter could pursue a path of actualization and died before they had a language to find common ground.
My mother encouraged me to follow my dreams, often to the other side of the world, and despite missing me terribly, she felt strongly that she was following in her own mother’s footsteps. I’m grateful for that encouragement, even as I mourn the times we could have had together and the delay that meant my mother will never play with or care for my children in my lifetime.
On this day of my grandmother’s birth I am also grateful for all the other strong, selfless, amazing women whom I have the privilege to know. We are all taking different paths through life; some are rearing the next generation with love and passion, some are starting on new professional lives with courage and resolve, most are the glue that hold us together in all our myriad ways. I’m grateful too for their partners and allies in navigating this complex, difficult world. There are so many ways to show love, to let others know we care. There are many things today to fear; the rise of authoritarianism, the hatred that leads to violence, and the uncertainty of what lays before us.
My mother taught me that the only thing that will help us through is to try to love enough to understand and celebrate our differences. So for anyone reading this, I hope you see the love you have in your life. I hope you know that your mother loves you, even if she doesn’t always know how to say it. I hope you have the courage to open your heart to love, and to persist, even when it seems hopeless.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants. I never knew my grandmother, but I know that so many of the ways I am lucky in this world I owe to her tenacity, conviction and persistence. Happy birthday Ileen, today is an important day.LexmarkAIOScan13_4-2

Motherless Mother’s Day


There comes a brief glimpse

Of a choice: Happiness or fear


When you have the option

Do you choose yourself?


How much can you risk?

How open can your heart stretch?


When tears flow freely

And you don’t know which are for the bitter and which for the sweet


How tight should you pull the thread

When you sew your broken pieces back together?


When you set out on a new path

In an unknown direction


When you let the dam breach

And the river unleashes


What poetry is written in your soul?

In the quiet moments

I am fine talking to myself

But when I think about sharing with you my throat closes up (physiological response)


Being public unintentionally becomes just another psychosis

Another ‘you or me?’ moment


I reach so hard for ‘us’ and yet

It is something we both have to fall




Trust is so painstakingly constructed

And it is so easily swept away


In tides

And tears

And moments of thoughtlessness or frustration


I don’t like ‘you or me?’

It presupposes there is no ‘us’


That is what makes this hard

Hard to know when to risk being hurt

Hard to know when I’m strong enough for my heart





Its true that only mothers can understand some things

But we all understand love and exclusion

And overwhelming pressure


Sometimes we choose to let go

And sometimes we choose to hang on


We can only know the fit of our own oxygen mask

And we have to trust that we will be there in the end


It is hard

being the same

And different


Beautiful in the spaces between the pressures

The moments of laughter

And abandon



It’s so much harder to negotiate when we just don’t understand the words other people use

Makes the quiet easier in comparison

Rebrand? Or different content channel?

So. It has been a while since I have expressed myself. I also haven’t posted here. I’ve shifted recently to a different kind of medium (highly influenced by my sister) so there will be some of that for a while.

2015-07-27 20.35.48

10k ft Grind

There is something about entitlement
That makes the wearer immune to social cues
To the need to empathize or notice
The half they take out of the middle
And the half they leave for everyone else

The body language of those who notice
Are a testament to the tamping down
The physical manifestation of bowing beneath a sociopathic God

The sitting up in response has become foreign
The stretching of those muscles that are tightest

Upon changing positions we notice
But the paradox remains
Why would one risk losing taking up the most space?
We have a mythology of taking from others, that celebrates those that take

And we rarely stop to notice
The space we already inhabit
Or the other we killed off
As we set death-knell to ‘real’

I own every inch of space in my own body
Ironic then, that the more space I take in the world,
the less I’m supposed to inhabit?
The more uncomfortable I’m made in my own skin

I don’t know if the blank stare or the contempt is more isolating
It takes confidence to be the sane person in an asylum
And hysteria is an old name for ‘impatient with idiocy and ego’
so many diminishing superlatives

How do we fail every time we succeed?
Some unknown fraternal counter factual
That ties our Möbius strip into a Gordian knot
More binding than shoes, or matrimony

The freedom of a truly deep breath
Has much deeper ramifications than my diaphragm
The pause of a moment or two before you begin again


2015-03-08 15.43.11


My fitness goal for this year is kindness
My health insurance recommends mindfulness
Which does have health benefits in a Realist world

But undeniable

Listen to more music
Dance with myself
Enjoy sunshine

Resolutions to bring balance
And joy

Rainbows only come after the storm
And it’s important to look when the weather clears
Clouds roll in
And roll out
And light particles reflect different ions in different spectrums

Babies born at midnight on New Years can live in a whole other century
Does it change their identity?
Or would they always be themselves?

We start each day, each moment, each year and decade fresh with new possibilities
Each moment we have a choice
to embrace where we are
Or regret the things lost
The paths not taken

The future always unfolds before us
But it also unfolds back
All the little choices
And coincidences
A book left behind accidentally brought us each to this one eddy in the river of time

5 years later
I’m still learning from you
I see your love spread
Shared through the world and each person in it
I hear your words
I see your kindness
I will always miss your laughter

Heart survives
Sometimes the heart strings stretch too far
And I’m afraid they will break
But I never do

2016-01-05 18.05.04

On the insanity of many things

I was sent a link today by a colleague. He was a little worried because it was Jezebel, both by the idea of him being on Jezebel (way to be welcoming to allies) and by what it might say that he was sending me a link. The video was funny-ish, if you like laughing at people and their insanity, but the part that was weirdest to me were the YouTube video adverts preceding the actual content. The first was startling by both the level to which I was offended and the distance from the mark; thinking I would be a good prospect.

Its possible I was more surprised after a week at Dreamforce learning about the tools that currently exist for truly world-class targeting of content and prospecting. But the first link was for a breast enhancement cream, and the second for some ridiculous new form of face-paint. Not that I don’t care about my own presentation (albeit admittedly much less than many of my peers), but SO many things about me say that the ad is both unlikely to be successful in getting my money and likely to make me very very angry.

I also noticed the number of things they did with marketing to try to fix what seems to me to be a product based on so many flawed ideas and damaging assumptions. Using an RSA style to ‘teach’ as an introduction into a way to further the message of superficiality seems oxymoronic (emphasis on the moron). The juxtaposition of insight to shallowness is startling. Furthermore, how they got to a place through my activities or history thinking I would be a good prospect is currently boggling my mind.

enhancement add

I went to try to complain to YouTube but of course that is almost impossible. Lots of ways to complain about the video, none to complain about the advert.

I don’t totally know how to react other than to dismiss it as a product of modern life. But I find it strange that shaking it off is the only solution to something this totally screwed up on so many levels. I guess ranting to a twitterverse of total strangers is a close second to actually trying to fix any of the myriad inherent problems in the situation. Talk about a radical view of power and total disenfranchisement…

Political Debates 9: (She said)

This was a difficult debate to find coherent themes for and I wanted to try to draw it back to some specific points of crystallization so I’ve grouped by theme below.

Individual v. Collective

I think you are mischaracterizing part of my argument, but for the sake of discussion I’ll engage with your comments about the individual unfettered or within a collective governance structure. I see the difference caused because she, the individual, isn’t simply left alone in isolation without any governance structure. She is placed in a situation that incentivizes rampant individualism acted out against others. That is the point, that our governance structures are created as a result of the need to contain individual self-actualization, protecting the rights of those who would otherwise be exploited, and protecting the majority from destructive forces that benefit the few by harming the many. My argument is not fully for one or the other but that there must be a balance between the two. That’s why I believe in sensibly regulated private exchange. I think regulation is pretty important though to create a more level playing field and ensure competition, maintain quality and protect consumers, protect the environment and our economy. (full disclosure: I copied most of these benefits of regulation directly from the Wikipedia article but that doesn’t make it any less relevant.)

I don’t disagree with your points about individual self-interest demonstrated by the VA case (actually, they kind of help make my point), but I also wonder what engenders the level of fear that would let people die instead of owning to a mistake? What allows someone to abandon a basic sense of morality? How close to disaster are they? What happens if they lost this job? How desperate must one be to sacrifice another? And why are they in that space? Surely if the government pays them enough, and they don’t fear unemployment the only reason they could sacrifice those others is because they are somehow evil. And yet- they took a job intended to help someone else. There must be powerful social forces at work that help engender this result, or we must write off whole groups of people as evil or subhuman.  I choose to believe there are forces at work, so I don’t have to write off other humans.

My perception of the individual is specifically not anarchic, I agree that people are naturally social and often come together voluntarily, but I think that Capitalism and Democracy are necessary correlates and serve to balance the dangers inherent in each. Democracy, when properly functioning, restrains the potential for human exploitation, and Capitalism encourages innovation and supports a vibrant and dynamic public sphere. Liberalism is an important third pillar, and ensures we navigate the dangerous path around majoritarianism and chauvinism, but it is important we are careful to maintain the bonds that unite us. People are both social and self-interested (for profit or to avoid danger), we need to take into account both possibilities, and structure society in such a way to help allow for and contain the opposing tides which means a discussion about a cohesive social fabric is highly germane! J

Also, I think I might totally agree with about moral relativism, although I think it might be a beginning, not an ending. I totally understand why it seems scary, but I think our government was founded as a first attempt at allowing for a high degree of difference while still making tactical decisions about matters of common concern. It would seem like maybe we should try to continue that project?

Power Imbalances/ Inequality

At the point you admit we have a major problem when income is concentrated year after year I think you kind of concede much of the argument we are having. I honestly thought you might be joking for a minute there.  I’m not ruling out completely movement within the 1%, or even some movement within the top 3%-10% (I think this is pretty generous, but why not indulge slightly), but pretty much all evidence points to stagnant social mobility across the country, and decreasing potential for those not already wealthy to become so. This isn’t inherently a problem, but when we take away the things that used to provide a basic safety net, and we are unable to grow our way out of our current societal ills, we need to rethink our equation.

I also think it’s pretty obvious that disproportionate levels of education in this country, as well as different access to health care, mental-health care, socio-communal acceptance levels, etc engender inherently unfair contract negotiations. There are clauses in contracts written specifically because if you went to law school the clause is meaningless and if you didn’t you are somehow automatically at a disadvantage (because- y’know, not having gone to law school wasn’t hindrance enough for the highly paid lawyers to beat them in any kind of negotiation) You can even put metrics against it- there are high levels of variability in the infant and overall mortality rates. Sure, overall we all live longer- but there is a widening gap. Inequality in our society is bad and getting worse and that’s a problem for all of us.

If you believe in any positive rights, but the government is not the agent who should be concerned with their provision, I would be interested in what actor is responsible instead?

‘Structural unaddressed violence’ is specifically not a debate term. It encompasses the idea that there are structural issues within our society- things like access to basic human-rights-based services- that unfairly advantage and disadvantage other groups; access to things like good schools, an education in the things necessary for functioning as a citizen and securing future basic provisions, or access to basic childhood preventative health care.

It also encompasses a similar argument from a different discipline. The idea that violence is executed sometimes by specific actors against others, and sometimes inflicted in such a way that the individual internalizes that violence and continues the harm against themselves. We don’t address it for a variety of reasons, but our choice to remain with the status quo should not be taken as proof that inherent power relations are ok. Also, I think it’s important to note that we are beyond any notion of patriarchy and exclusions that could ever be mistaken for vague.

I’m also a little confused about your statement about non-discrimination as I read news pretty regularly about how SCOTUS keeps making judgements that specifically discriminate access to basic health care based on gender. And specifically in ways that demonstrably lead to economic, educational and other forms of discrimination and disproportionality (a woman’s ability to plan her family has long-term material consequences for both her and her society. You can say she can ‘just go buy it herself’ but when many families live hand-to-mouth an additional $250/ year can be overwhelming)

I would actually love to hear your arguments about the ‘check your privilege’ brigade. I don’t believe in cutting off avenues of debate- if you think there is something to be said there that adds to your overall argument, or is in some way an answer or foundation I would say that is totally germane.

 What’s to be done?

I think what we both definitely agree on is that what we are doing now isn’t working. The problem with your charter schools example as the alternative is an age old question in research: what happens if they fail? What happens to that group of students- failure for them becomes a lifelong issue, that we either will pay for in forms of social insurance, crime, or the further moral decay of whatever relativistic place we inhabit?

I have to disagree with your premise that ‘despite enormous sums of money’ education is failing. That assumes that the only thing that impacts the education of our young people is the overall aggregate amount of material resources over a long period of time. This is a problematic statement on a lot of levels- a) not sure it really is all that much money when it all shakes out, and b) unfortunately isolating specific parts of social infrastructure, alternately funding and defunding them, subjecting them to huge outside pressures and then blaming them for failure seems a little like a thumb on the scale to me. There was an Economist article a few years ago about the importance of respect and parental involvement in the overall success of children. How well respected are our teachers when parents struggle to name their childrens’ teachers instead of reality TV stars?

I agree we need to try something else, because what we are doing isn’t working. But we also need to ensure that we do not lose more generations of students in our experimentation. I would also posit that there have been successes as well as failure. So my question is why scrap instead of reform? Why do we have to throw out everything and treat something that really shouldn’t be subject to market pressures in the same way we treat any other commodity for trade?

Also, as an aside (and with gratitude to my brother the policy-smart-guy) The argument that government size is related to income inequality “is absurd for a few reasons. First, the size of government has grown both under times of growing and shrinking inequality. Government grew a lot from 1930-1960, yet inequality shrank. The better indicator for inequality is marginal tax rates. As they have shrunk over the last 40 years, inequality has skyrocketed. Also, there is zero evidence that trickle down, supply side or minimalist government reduces inequality. In fact, the laisse faire 1920s saw a massive rise in inequality.”

On utopian socialism, it is, and I don’t advocate it, but it seems like almost every other industrialized country of the world has somehow gotten the balance better than we have. They oscillate between spectrums, but there are mechanisms to try to avoid barbarism, and a total denial of huge classes of people as people. I don’t believe all people will be totally equal and neither should they be. But I think we lose something as a society if most individuals are not allowed to at least have a fighting chance to reach their full potential. But for that to happen it takes a balance of functioning democracy and capitalism- we need both. I see your point re: xenophobia in Europe but I also don’t see furnaces, and the redirection of scarce resources to exterminate marginalized groups. I would still say we are doing better than we have.

I think I agree a little more with the Canadian system than you- there is both a letter and a spirit of the law, and to ignore the spirit completely is as foolish as believing we know what The Framers would think about politics today. Again, balancing the history and context, why they were writing, is as important to reading what they wrote. Sadly, writers almost always assume that audiences will understand their context- because they inhabit the same temporal space, or because they will inevitably be minor students of history. We know this, it’s demonstrated in literature critique and critical theory and cognitive psychology. We have to impute something of why they wrote what they did, as well as just the literal text. That is specifically the job of the judiciary, to interpret. If they were smart enough to know that interpretation was such an important piece of the functioning of law, they had to also expect that their intentions would be considered, as well as the letter of the laws they were drafting.

Also, do you honestly believe that we have the possibility of civil discourse at this point to deliberate on Constitutional amendments? Do you think if those in power even tried that there is even the slightest chance of an actual debate on the issue? In the chamber? With actual evidence? And would any of the media outlets actually respect the importance of the debate? The system is broken. I sincerely hope we all realize that and converse from within that context.

Laws aren’t usually created in abstract. At times they predate the actions they are designed to contain, when a large enough majority is afraid of the potential of something to make that decision. I would posit that more often however laws are made in specific response to needs within society. A harm that is large enough governors decide that action must be taken to curb or contain that harm. More than that, usually laws are created to protect those in society least able to protect themselves. I totally agree that in the last 30 years unfortunately some of that execution has shifted and the willingness of private interests to subvert the good of the people has taken hold. But it doesn’t negate the fact that we have to find a solution to the problems that face us, and that so far, some form of effect government has been the most successful means of doing that.

Honestly, that might be part of my difficulty. I still believe in an old-fashioned idea of government. In which it contains people of integrity- who see their job as a responsibility to be completed with honor. When did that change? When did we come to distrust those who stand up to take that responsibility? Does our slide into a never-ending political race mean we think only those driven by ego will put themselves up? Governance and its correlate government are specifically mechanisms of individuals trying to make efficient the mechanisms of our collective life. There are major issues in the manifestation we have, but I’m struggling to understand where the heart of your argument is. For example, you have many instances where our current bureaucracy is ineffective- is the issue that government should not be the mechanism for delivery of basic positive rights? Or do you truly believe that not all people have a right to a life unencumbered by preventable diseases?

The article you sent on positive and negative rights was a great one. (I mostly ignored the rhetoric at the beginning J) I mean, my basic and possibly simplistic answer is that it might just be easier if we viewed basic health provision as a positive right best ensured by government, and businesses paid higher taxes instead of purchasing the means for enacting that right privately (i.e. redirect the funds they pay one entity and pay another instead). The government could more effectively negotiate with large insurance companies and private citizens wouldn’t have to subject their negative rights to public negotiation. That way private groups wouldn’t have to be agents of the state and everything would be a bit easier? (I am awaiting your argument about the waste in government providing health care with great joy!)


I think that is plenty for us to be getting on with. But I can’t believe I forgot to talk about use-value and symbolic-exchange! Use value and symbolic-exchange-value are some of the best things I learned in my studies! It’s the spectrum between which something has value for the actual material resource it is/ can be used for and value based on the symbolism it invokes in us. A car is a car- but a branded car gives me a meaning and identity far beyond taking me to the store for milk. This is relevant because the concepts through which we understand society are becoming more and more abstract and difficult to negotiate. I think we need to reground ourselves in what we think matters, what we can agree on, and an attempt- however impossible it might seem- to agree to a process to negotiate difference in a way that leads to meaningful compromise and progress.

Always lovely to hear your ideas!

Political Debates 8: (He said)

Miranda – to keep the thread appropriately wieldy, albeit incredibly lengthy, an item-by-item response to your note, below in red text, composed over a few days. If some things don’t follow, that’s why!

1) (the danger of allowing an individual to pursue personal ends) Here’s my problem with this argument – if, to take your assumption, that an individual left alone to pursue personal ends is inherently destructive to society, how and why do individuals magically become good-hearted collectivists looking out for the well-being of society when we put them in this thing called ‘government’? As we see as bureaucracy ever increases, the danger that an individual acts in his/her naked self-interest actually increases when in government – see the VA scandal (falsifying wait times to meet a quota, rather than actually taking care of a fellow human being). The incentives become perverse. Set that aside though – I actually don’t buy into either your perception of individual action when left alone, or how to form a collective sense of the good. Your perception of the individual is one of solitary interest, almost anarchic. People are by nature social creatures, and thus, there are many times when they collectively come together voluntarily to pursue a common goal. While there certainly are individuals that are destructive to society, there are many more voluntary organizations formed specifically for the betterment of society. The most obvious example is prison ministry. Here’s a group of people – of their own accord, based purely on their faith/understanding of ‘the good’ – helping those most of us have cast aside. They didn’t need to be told to do it by government; they did it as a group of individuals.

 I don’t want to go too far down this path, as it’s not overly germane to the rest of argument, but I’d argue the primary reason we don’t have a cohesive social fabric anymore is the rise of moral relativism, the decline of religion and faith, and too many people who don’t buy the classical conception of natural rights. It is much easier – and government far less needed – to establish common sets of decency, morals, and societal standards when there is indeed a common language around faith, morals, virtue and ‘the good’ – historically established by a (relatively) common Judeo-Christian religious faith. When those latter parts are actively torn down, the individual will struggle to find him/herself (and opens the way for government as the faith/religion replacement). The world of moral relativism is a scary one – you’ve got today’s American left decrying a ‘war on women’ while simultaneously shouting down Ayaan Hirsi Ali because she reminds them that genital mutilation is still common in the Islamic world. As I said – that’s a whole other topic.

2) (Levels of inequality in our system are both highly problematic and increasing in disparity

I’m a bit confused on your point re: individuals fairly negotiating. I need an example. Are rich people steamrolling poor people in contract negotiations? Are there laws you’d like to see around contracts, private property, and other protections that aren’t there already? Shouldn’t we be prosecuting people for negotiating in bad faith? I’m just not seeing the tie between inequality generally and this notion of negotiating on an equal playing field. And can we use plain English? ‘Structural unaddressed violence’ is a debate term for points with no real meaning. If it’s unaddressed, why aren’t we? Not enough laws on the books? Prosecutorial discretion? Victims afraid to speak out? A vague notion of patriarchy?

 Some other related points though. I’m not saying that we should not be interested in positive rights. It would be great if everyone has a minimum standard of living. I’m simply saying that it’s not government’s responsibility to ensure them, and in fact by making it government business, we actually exacerbate the inequality. Our country’s own experience plays that out, particularly in the past 15 years. As government has grown in size and scope, so has income inequality. Jay Nordlinger, a National Review writer, has made a point that bears mentioning. Imagine a scenario where one individual makes $20,000 and another makes $50,000. The next year, after both get 20% promotions and raises, the first makes $25,000 and the second makes $60,000. Both are absolutely better off than they were the year before, as is ‘society’ writ large, but income inequality has increased. Is this acceptable to the left? For many, no, even though there is economic improvement across the board. Thomas Sowell also makes a key point that gets lost very often – income inequality is point in time, yet people move up and down the income spectrum across their life span. As I imagine is true of all of us on this chain, we were in a different income bracket when we started our careers than we are now. What we should actually be tracking is whether across someone’s productive career, they are moving up those deciles (his research shows that on the whole, that’s true). Where I would agree we would have a major problem is if income inequality actually becomes an oligarchy where there is zero movement across the income spectrum with income concentrated in the same hands year after year. Even the top 1% changes with pretty fair regularity. Again, I’ve gone a bit afield here, but a long winded way of saying that I simply don’t view inequality with as negative an eye as you.

3) (how to address the previously disenfranchised groups in society

A very difficult problem to solve, and one that I don’t have a great answer to. (I’ll spare you my cynical thoughts on the whole ‘check your privilege’ brigade). However, I will be incredibly redundant with my previous emails to make a point – what we are doing now isn’t working. There have been some GREAT articles on education in the black community to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Brown v Board. Regardless of ideology, they all point out that on many measures, education quality and achievement for black children remain miles behind that of white children. Schools remain remarkably segregated in many communities. All of this despite enormous sums of money into those very schools. If we collectively are truly focused on raising up previously disenfranchised groups, and not simply trying to spend more government money, at what point does today’s left say ‘it’s not working and we’ll try something else’? Let’s put some metrics in place to achieve and let’s experiment. Let’s try something new. If it doesn’t work, great! One try down, many more to go. If we aren’t happy with the progress disenfranchised groups have made to date, let’s throw out what we’ve been doing rather than simply saying we need more money.

 As a side note, I’m also in the Chief Justice Roberts school of thought: if we want to stop discrimination on the basis of race/sex/gender, let’s stop discriminating on the basis of race/sex/gender. Back to my very first point – maybe if we focused a bit more on the individual and a bit less on the group, we’d make some more progress.

4) (the literal constitution

Lots of ifs, ands, and buts in this one! I agree with your last two sentences – the colonists never expected to fully break with Great Britain. My wife and I watch Sleepy Hollow, and it had the good reminder that even the revolutionaries thought of themselves as English (e.g. Paul Revere couldn’t have said ‘the British are coming’ as people would have been very confused). Moving on to more substance, though – I begin and end my argument with the Constitution as while political theory is well and good, we have a country to run, and that country is governed by a set of laws, of which, the Constitution is first and foremost. I’d love to read your dissertation, as an aside. I’m personally not an originalist – trying to ascertain the precise motives and intents of individuals 200+ years later is a fool’s errand. However, I’m in Justice Scalia’s camp – I’m a textualist – I try (as best as my feeble mind enables) to look at what the text actually says, not as how we’d like it to be read. This is where liberals try to cheat – rather than be honest and simply say “we don’t like what parts of the Constitution says, and thus, we want to call for a convention to propose amendments,” they attempt to subvert it by passing laws that clearly go against the text that’s there. This is also where I fall in the Scalia camp – whenever he’s asked what part of the Constitution he’d like to change, he always says the amendment process – it is incredibly cumbersome and when you do the math, something like 2% of the population via their states could hold up an amendment. That said, to me, the Constitution isn’t something where we can waive our magic wands, cover our eyes, and just will it to be what we want it to be. If the Constitution does not hold – a law above other laws – then how can we expect any branch of government (or the administrative state) to hold in regard any law passed by Congress? You’re exactly right – there are probably parts of the Constitution not well suited to the life and times we live in. There’s a process to change it. Use it, and convince the public you’re right.

5) (what about socialism is terrible?

To your question in the middle of the paragraph. . .ummm. . .because it doesn’t work and has been shown every time it’s been used to leave people poorer and less well off than before? Or are you one of those “well, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho, Allende, Castro, etc. just didn’t do it right and my version would be infinitely better?” You’re smarter than that (I hope). In theory, socialism is utopian. People have different talents, different abilities, etc. and to ever imagine a world where all is equal is to undermine (again) the individual in service to the state. To a couple of my previous responses, I’m big on the outputs and metrics of things – my take on the 20th century is that socialism is an unabashed disaster, and to think that it continues to be pursued despite the evidence is an indictment of our political leadership.

 I’d counter quite quickly the ability of the EU to contain violence and xenophobia. Have you seen Greece recently? Neo-Nazis are taking 10-15% of the vote! The political parties that just swept to the European parliament in France? Are you forgetting the marked rise in Islamic extremism throughout the continent? Riots in the Paris suburbs? The murder of Theo van Gogh? The rise of Geert Wilders and the exile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali? The anti-Semitism that continues to infect some parts of Europe across the ideological spectrum? I could go on, but you see my point.

 Next time I see you, you’ll have to remind me of use-value and symbolic-exchange-value. Sounds like more rhetorical debate points again 🙂 And I’d care much more about the environment if the left didn’t use it as an excuse simply to expand government power, rather than actually try to come up with good solutions.

6a) (recognize that the practical realities of human nature make it almost impossible to practice natural rights) I actually agree with this paragraph in its entirely, yay us! To me, this is the very definition of government – to protect the natural rights we all have. You’re absolutely right – some people will try to take those rights away, absent a government with police power to ensure they don’t. As a leaning libertarian though, that’s pretty much where my definition of government ends – law and order to protect the natural rights of its citizens (a VERY simplified definition, but you get my drift).

6b) (almost all of history chronicles groups infringing on the rights of others)  Agreed again, with the big caveat that the government we have today does far more with far less effectiveness than the conception of government outlined in (a) and (b). I’d be entirely onboard if that’s all government was doing and not, to recall my first exchange, prescribing the number and type of trees on private property to surround a storage facility.

6c) (hoping to get to is an elucidation of what that would actually look like in practice). How about this – shut down the Department of the Interior and sell all federal land? Or remove the government from the health insurance industry? Or get rid of fuel economy standards? Or get rid of the Export Import Bank? Or provide vouchers so individual families could choose the school they wanted their children to attend? Or make the country right-to-work so there was greater freedom in labor markets? Privatize the VA hospital system, or give veterans vouchers so they could have the freedom to choose a hospital? There are so many policies we could pursue that would increase individual liberty and freedom, and yet we pursue none of them.

6d) (redistribution policies grew the overall economy and led to much greater equality)  I’d suggest reading Kevin Williamson’s broadside “The Dependency Agenda.” Fabulous quick read that undermines much of your proposition. I have it on my Kindle, so happy to share with you. The fact is this – much of the growth of the economy and the rising tide occurred BEFORE any of The Great Society programs of the Johnson administration. The poverty rate was falling just fine before we vastly expanded the scope of the state. (As an aside, Williamson’s piece also highlights the incredible racism of Johnson and others in pushing for Great Society reforms). I also can’t buy the argument that we had a ‘huge amount of deregulation’ when the government today is larger than is ever has been, and the Federal Register of promulgated regulations gets larger every year. Sure, we deregulated some energy markets and airlines, but government inexorably grew larger.

6e) (Positive and Negative rights are fundamentally intertwined). I simply disagree on the point, primarily due to where my own thinking on the issue starts. I not only believe in natural rights, but as a Catholic, I also believe I (and everyone else, whether they like to believe it or not) is made in the image and likeness of God. Because of that, we are born with an intrinsic dignity and freedom that government should be unable to take away. To me, the whole purpose of self-government is to ensure that to the best of our admittedly flawed human abilities, we protect those inherent (negative) rights of everyone. Is it better for the populace when economic growth occurs and people are better off? Of course it does. My interpretation of economic history though is that only when individuals are free to pursue their self-interest away from the machinations of the state does society truly flourish. As Williamson points out in his book, we spend $65,000 per poor family per year in government welfare, transfer payments, tax credits, etc. and yet our poverty rate is stubbornly persistent. Your proposed way hasn’t worked.

6f) (the breaking of social hegemony and expansion of bureaucratic institutions) I’m a letter of the law kind of guy. How naïve of me, right? To my earlier textual point – the law is what the law says. I feel like you’re looking for ‘emanations of penumbras’ to quote the horrifically argued Griswold opinion. I will admit that the 14th Amendment absolutely expanded the power of the federal government to ensure that Congress had the mechanisms to enforce equality where needed. But even now, the expanse of that power as exercised has gone far beyond what the 10th Amendment and the enumerated powers of Article 1 ever intended.

6g) (the Constitution without reference to either the context of writing or the context or interpretation)  I’m getting redundant so I’ll stop after this – but the law is the law is the law. We can’t wish what we want it to be. There’s a process for doing so – it’s called amending the Constitution or passing laws via Congress that comport with the Constitution. I realize I’m fighting a losing battle here, given all the infringement on the Constitution I see regularly, but someone has to stand up for common sense.

7) (What does the statement ‘we are all in this together’ mean) Honestly, I think it’s a statement made by liberals to make us feel warm, cuddly, and fuzzy about the government taking more of our individual liberty away. Your 3rd sentence (highlighted) reminds me of the DNC video at their 2012 convention – ‘government is what we call things we do together’ – which I so fundamentally disagree with. Don’t let my staunch individualism fool you – we do absolutely have the charge to look out for our fellow man. But that springs not from government telling us that it is so, but because (as I mentioned above) that each one of us is created by God. And when it comes from that point, there is a mandate to help one another, to serve our communities, to help the less fortunate, etc. It comes from faith and a knowledge that there is something beyond this earth. Government is coercion and dependence. Ultimately it’s semantics – what is ‘this’ that we’re in together? If it’s government, then I answer no. If it’s individuals choosing voluntarily to act collectively toward a common, shared goal, then yes, I’m all in.  

* (the recent controversies over policy debate rules.)  I ran into that link a couple weeks before you sent this note. Ask me for my thoughts on it when I see you in person. There aren’t enough curse words in the English language to describe the monumental level of asininity going on here. Perhaps the next time I’m asked to deliver on an MBO, I’ll just say that I think MBOs are an artificial construct created by corporate masters to ensure bonuses don’t get paid out equitably, and thus, I’ll be measured and paid against how often I show up to work. Because that would fly…

 Until next time. . .

Political Debates 7: (She said)

So I have lots of specific points of clash to the arguments you are making, and I will address them (probably to the detriment of the unwieldy documents once again), but I also have some higher level thoughts unrelated. There were a number of points I made in that last unwieldy email that were left unaddressed; neat rhetoric, slightly problematic argumentation.

1)      Namely, the danger of allowing an individual to pursue personal ends, specifically when there is a lack of social fabric that contains the ways that individual pursuit can have detrimental effects on society. The individual unaware (or uncaring) of fellow citizens can be highly destructive and we have little in the way of a collective conception of good to contain that. Constitution notwithstanding that is a very real danger in society that you left completely unaddressed. The individual as a locus of power also fails to address many of the collective issues we currently face: how does the free-market solve for environmental harm? Or historical disenfranchisement and disempowerment?

2)      Levels of inequality in our system are both highly problematic and increasing in disparity- this has consequences both on the individual and on the functioning of society. Violence and crime are often the manifestation of structural unaddressed violence and infringe on many citizen’s ability to exercise both positive and negative rights.  The majority of your arguments are predicated in a private sphere in which individuals can fairly negotiate, but you have not addressed a single one of the points I previously made about the impossibility of that function for many of our fellow Americans.

3)      I would be very interested to hear how you address the previously disenfranchised groups in society. It is simple to dismiss the fact that the framers were largely racist, misogynist elitist people. In and of itself that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I recognize they were a natural product of their time. In fact, the privilege afforded them by that place in society allowed them more time to think and formulate ideas about societal structures that are more robust and have lasted incredibly long. Overall their privilege was a benefit to pretty much everyone that came after them. That being said, there are still a number of issues to which they (and many contemporary equivalents) were able to be blind while those less privileged are unable to ignore. (see new Harvard class on privilege)

4)      Similarly, I am surprised that the crux of your argument seems to begin and end at the constitution. While I agree that it is a pretty amazing piece of legislation, and the Framers were more intelligent individuals than most of us could ever hope to be, ignoring the context within which it was written, as well as the context within which we find ourselves is problematic to interpreting the document itself and applying it to current socio-economic realities. It is also dangerous to ascribe to the current narrative of the framers original intent. I may be more attuned to this (y’know, writing a dissertation on it and all), but the reality is that the story we are told (and continue to tell) is significantly different than historical fact bears out. The fact that almost a third of the colonists retired to Canada demonstrates the ambivalence with which the revolution was greeted. It has been the central tenet of the ongoing debate about Jefferson’ original intent with the Declaration ever since; the tension between the form of governance required for such a large state, and the levels of autonomy espoused as justifications for the Revolution. The Declaration was intended basically as an opening argument in an expected legal battle against Westminster. They had no idea it meant an actual split with Parliament. They saw themselves as an evolution within the canon of the Magna Carta, the establishment of Westminster and Cromwell.

5)      That canon has continued to evolve (albeit slowly and not without problems) but looking at alternative models of democracy can offer instructive lessons and we are naïve if we don’t consider the significant pitfalls we might be able to avoid. The expansion of bureaucracy throughout the EU, while problematic in myriad ways, has contained high potential levels of violence and xenophobia at the very least in Greece and likely in other states as well. Also, what is it specifically about socialism that is so terrible? Cooperative enterprise seems pretty important these days and making sure we continue to recognize use-value as well as symbolic-exchange-value ensures our system of exchange remains grounded in the material- pretty important for things like sustenance and making sure the environment doesn’t completely implode and kill us all 🙂

6)      I think most of my specific points of rebuttal are related to the previous overarching point, but I’ll go slightly deeper and rebut a few specific items.

  1. It’s disheartening that you don’t believe fully in natural rights. That essentially says that individuals really have no meaning without the paternalistic hand of government/the majority to tell us what we can/cannot do”: It’s not that I don’t believe in them, it’s that I recognize that the practical realities of human nature make it almost impossible to practice them, and while in the abstract there is value in recognition, if there is an impossibility of exercise I’m not totally sure of the actual value to society. It actually recognizes that there is the possibility of infringement of rights in a variety of ways that must be recognized and guarded against, if only through vigilance.
  2. “there are rights that existed before the creation of government”:  Totally agree, which is why I am a Constructivist, but I also recognize that almost all of history chronicles groups infringing on the rights of others. The only peaceful societies that are allowed to live without infringement are externally violent or serve as hubs for resource/ economic trade and are left alone because those militarily powerful recognize the value of a neutral sphere within which business can be done. We ignore this historical reality to our potential detriment, regardless of the laudable reasons for doing so.
  3. So for most, my arguments about individual liberty are an utter abstraction”: I think where I keep hoping to get to is an elucidation of what that would actually look like in practice. I think I don’t disagree with you completely in the abstract, but when attempted in practice, it rarely functions as the ideal, and more often disenfranchises those already less privileged.
  4. Inequality has not gone down despite an increased social safety net that spends more money every year… today’s liberals pursue more of the same” : Because it worked! In the 1950s and 60s redistribution policies grew the overall economy and led to much greater equality from all disenfranchised groups in society. Inequality overall had gone down and civil rights expanded across most groups, until a huge amount of deregulation during the previous administration increased income inequality and allowed those with power in society to continue amassing it while simultaneously disenfranchising those without power on a number of levels (income, general prosperity, voter rights etc) (if you want citations I’ll give them, but decided it was better to actually send this)
  5. Again, while an abstraction, if government were smaller and played less a role in our day to day lives, you’d find that the exercise of those negative rights will lead to improved social and economic outcomes.”  : So, wow. How is my previous statement hogwash?  Rhetorically strong, but doesn’t actually address the argument in the sentence just previous to that you quoted “Allowing all individuals access to some base level of provision/ safety net allows them to exercise all the other rights and improves civil society in precisely the way you advocate”   I’ll say it again more clearly. The two kinds of rights are fundamentally intertwined. It is impossible to exercise a right to free speech, or even to vote, if one doesn’t have a roof over one’s head. Moreover, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs demonstrates that if you don’t have dinner, or a safe place to sleep, you are probably going to put your energy there, instead of attempting to sway others in society to support your party of choice. Even if government were smaller, and some were able to exercise negative rights to the extent that it improved society overall, the group with that potential is a small and relatively privileged one. The extent to which their ability to exercise negative rights detracts from many others positive rights, and consequently their secondary ability to exercise negative rights must be taken into account when assessing the overall well-being of the body politic. To be clear: It wasn’t a mistake to intertwine them, it is rhetorical acrobatics to attempt to separate them when in reality they are fundamentally related to each other.
  6. The federal government was constructed as the least powerful governmental entity – not the most”: The difficulty with this statement is that while it is true in the letter of the law, in order to forge some kind of multi-national identity it was necessary to expand both the conception and the practice of federalism. It is not an accident that the federal government expanded at precisely the same time civil rights were being expanded to many groups oppressed for centuries. Integration was the only possible answer when so many were so disenfranchised that coercion by the dominant group was impossible. As that hegemony broke bureaucratic institutions expanded to codify the balances of power that have emerged as a result.
  7. “let’s not try to skirt around it with more and more regulation that doesn’t fit at all with how our country was founded – on the individual, on natural rights, with government there to protect those rights – not to create new-fangled ones because we can’t imagine an individual doing something ‘the majority’ doesn’t like.” : I think this is part of the difficulty of this argument, and my earlier point about grounding it in the Constitution without reference to either the context of writing or the context or interpretation. It wasn’t founded completely on the individual. The rhetoric used to justify the case against Westminster was highly individualistic, but the reality was then and continues to be that the negotiation between the individual and the mechanisms of state was intended as an ongoing dialogue and to ignore that (and proclaim the  individual as the only possible locus of authority is highly problematic)

7)      I think my last point is related to the non-sequitur question I posed some time ago. I am genuinely interested in what the statement ‘we are all in this together’ means to you. My conception is that as citizens, fellow members of the body politic and travelers of this particular space in time, there are things that we have in common with our neighbors and there are common problems that are best faced together. I’m interested in what the statement means to you. To what extent does ‘together’ mean only those to whom we bind ourselves by choice? To what extent are we bound by forces beyond our control? To whom are we bound? What obligations do we owe others in society and on what are those obligations founded? I think the difference in our answers might point to the deeper causes of our disagreement and actually, strangely to possible solutions. (and after all- aren’t we all solutions oriented people? J)

As an aside- I will defend to the death your right to say whatever you want and I actually agree that those who seek to shut down free speech are problematic, but I would also draw your attention to the recent controversies over policy debate rules. There are many ways of shutting down free speech, or failing to recognize how the rights of others to speak can be undermined by historical power imbalances 🙂 Totally agree that attempts to redress that imbalance must be done very carefully, but I would say that the issue is not totally one-sided…

Looking forward to all of your free speaking in return!!