Deconstruction part 1

A couple weeks ago a woman I love and admire very much posted this article. I enjoy reading her thoughts as we occupy very different space on the political spectrum but I respect her process and recognize we start with very different core values. I was shocked and dismayed however, that this piece spoke to her and she saw it as a logical piece of work.

In order to work through my own response and provide a coherent rebuttal I have written this deconstruction.

The italics denote my analysis (also as a ‘trained persuader’) of how he is presenting his ‘case’ in a less-than-straightforward manner and is instead appealing to fear, manipulative tactics, and dog whistle politics to garner support. I have linked to the most obvious and relevant logical fallacies at the end of each for those more interested in arming themselves against lazy analysis and argumentation.

I have also included a more straightforward response, engaging directly with the points afterwards.

We have deep divisions in this country that must be resolved if we are to move forward. It is important that we be honest and straightforward when discussing them. Disagreement in itself is not bad, but how we present it, how we engage with it, and how we resolve it should be the focus of our democratic project if we are ever to ‘make America great again.’

 

 

SA: As a trained persuader, I’m seeing a dangerous situation forming that I assume is invisible to most of you.

He gives himself authority and then makes a statement implying that alternative analysis is because we are not as experienced or intelligent as him.

Logic Fallacy: appeal to authority: You said that because an authority thinks something, it must therefore be true. 

Response: I am also a trained persuader, and have spent a lot of time teaching others to persuade. Lesson number one is that every persuader should rely on one’s argument, logic, analysis, and evidence, not personal history or accolades.

 

 

SA: The setup is that during the presidential campaign Trump’s critics accused him of being Hitler(ish) and they were sure other citizens would see it too, thus preventing this alleged monster from taking office. They were wrong. The alleged monster took office.

Characterizing history as a setup is in itself a setup. This construct is a classic tool of projection, usually employed to manipulate or gaslight. By eliding these two sentences he implies ‘wrongness’ about two ideas when in fact we were only wrong about one.

 Logical Fallacy: composition/division: You assumed that one part of something has to be applied to all, or other, parts of it; or that the whole must apply to its parts. 

Response: I think he is a monster. I think someone who is sexually predatory and sees women as objects is not a good person. I think someone who uses disproportionate power to refuse payment to small businesses that employ others after the work has been completed to be lacking in morals. I think those are rational and reasonable beliefs based on history, evidence and empirically-based facts. I also think he won according to the rules of the game. I was wrong and I am not ashamed to admit it. I believed that mocking those less powerful, demeaning and threatening violence, and demonstrating an unwillingness to learn important information to effectively execute the office of president would effectively disqualify him in the minds of the majority in all states. It did not, and he won the electoral college fairly, which in our system is the only measure that matters. He was legitimately elected president. He is still a monster, and now the monster is currently the most powerful person in the world. I’m not sorry I believed the goodness of people, just disappointed in where we got to.

 

 

SA: Now you have literally millions of citizens in the United States who were either right about Trump being the next Hitler, and we will see that behavior emerge from him soon, or they are complete morons. That’s a trigger for cognitive dissonance.

This is a deeply problematic dichotomy which bears examination.

Logical Fallacy: black-or-white: You presented two alternative states as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist.

Logical Fallacy: begging the question: You presented a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise. 

Response: This is reductive, inflammatory, and disingenuous. Targeting a specific religion and taking away their basic civil liberties as a precursor to making them second-class citizens is exactly how Hitler began. I am in no way saying that he is or will become Hitler, what I am saying is that to imply that behavior might emerge is to whitewash a pretty shocking 10 days of American history. This is definitional gaslighting.

For the record: I have been called a moron before. I have called myself moronic often and sometimes I am. Here’s the thing: I LOVE being wrong. I love it because it means I’ve learned something or the world changed a little from what I expected. I would love to be wrong in this instance. But, how DJT has behaved since taking office terrifies me as much as it disappoints. It is even more shocking the blasé acceptance of a clear double standard when evaluating the behavior of this president.  I believe in the power of this country and I genuinely hoped that the weight of that office would impress on him the duties he signed up to execute but he is not a leader. He isn’t quite Hitler (yet), he is certainly no Lincoln.

In a society that is stretched to breaking point, crying for leadership of any kind, divided by contempt and misunderstanding, he made it demonstrably worse. When tensions are high, and it is important to be the best example of us, instead of creating coalitions, or finding words that heal our divisions, we spend our days at the mercy of his whims and based on how he reacts to the television he watches instead of reading briefings on military operations.

 

SA: The science says these frightened folks will start interpreting all they see as Hitler behavior no matter how ridiculous it might seem to the objective observer.

This is an appeal to authority without the opportunity to interrogate that source which is problematic as a foundation for equal discourse. He names ‘The science’, without citation, a critical element of rational debate founded on an empirical basis. He invites those who agree with him into his camp of ‘objective observers’, thereby implying that only subjective observers would see something different and they are ‘ridiculous’. This sentence is analogous to historical statements that lay the foundation for repression of dissent.

Logical Fallacy: tu quoque: You avoided having to engage with criticism by turning it back on the accuser – you answered criticism with criticism.

Response: I don’t think the analogies to history are completely ridiculous, (neither does this german historian) although I believe we are approaching hysteria on a number of levels across the spectrum. I would caution that inflammatory pieces like this are more likely to make that occur. I think having contempt for the other side makes all of that worse.

 

SA: And sure enough, we are seeing that. To be fair, Trump made it easy this week with his temporary immigration ban. If you assume Trump is Hitler, that fits with your hypothesis. But of course it also fits the hypothesis that he’s just doing his job.  We’re all seeing what we expect to see.

This is classic dog-whistle. Depending on the position you occupy in society this statement will mean widely different things. ‘That’ in the first sentence is deliberately vague. Appealing to rationality in the face of confirmation bias would be a more convincing argument if this article was balanced. This dichotomy is also problematic.

 Logical Fallacy: no true scotsman: You made what could be called an appeal to purity as a way to dismiss relevant criticisms or flaws of your argument.

Response: ‘Temporary immigration ban’ deeply underestimates the impact of this policy on both micro and macro levels. We have already seen innocents denied access to medical care, to loved ones, to studies, and jobs and lives. I can attest that being held in limbo is a special kind of torture and is not an incidental issue to each person impacted. On the macro level, it does not improve security at home, and increases our risks abroad. It offends many allies, and undermines principles that have been sacred to our country since it’s founding. I don’t assume Trump is Hitler. I’m watching carefully to see what kind of leader and president he will be. I also don’t believe he is doing his job. His job is to lead the whole country, the people who agree with him and the people who don’t. For every negative comparison to Obama I will reply: Obama didn’t marginalize, Obama didn’t belittle, Obama didn’t ignore. Obama was not perfect, be he took seriously the job of serving and representing every single citizen of this country and in less than a week DJT has confirmed the hypothesis that he has no intention of doing the same. He has not brought us together. He has not improved our security. He has not improved our standing abroad. He has brought the federal government into conflict with state and local jurisdictions. He has supported the undoing of our health provisions with no alternative, and vowed to save taxpayers a whole 30 dollars a year by eliminating programs demonstrated to lift up those most in need, and the programs that support the foundations of our ongoing experiment with democracy. He has gotten into bed with Pharma and he has shored up the gates to the swamp while filling the pond with ‘gators.

 

SA: But lately I get the feeling that Trump’s critics have evolved from expecting Trump to be Hitler to preferring it. Obviously they don’t prefer it in a conscious way. But the alternative to Trump becoming Hitler is that they have to live out the rest of their lives as confirmed morons.

This is abusive. This is the equivalent of ‘She asked for it.’ Because she was drunk, or didn’t do the dishes or a million other excuses. Claiming to have insight into the mind and psyche of a group for which you clearly demonstrate contempt is a difficult argument to support. 

Fallacy: Gaslighting

Logical Fallacy: strawman: You misrepresented someone’s argument to make it easier to attack. 

Response: Are you kidding me? I think I have a pretty good handle on my own emotions and desires, thanks. Who the heck are you to assume you know me better than I know myself? How arrogant do you have to be to think that is a subject on which you are more well versed than I? Also, more generally, why would anyone WANT him to be Hitler? Unless we all have a massive death-wish? More likely that this a psychological projection. There is a lot of that going around.

You can keep calling me a moron, but it doesn’t change my ability to observe the world rationally, to gather information from a variety of sources, to check my own assumptions and biases and still conclude that he is a terrible president with dangerous instincts and ill-informed actions. I don’t work within your reductive confines, and I am happy to admit when I am wrong without shame. I’d rather be wrong sometimes and learn than be close-minded and not consider new information as it arises.

 

SA: No one wants to be a confirmed moron. And certainly not after announcing their Trump opinions in public and demonstrating in the streets. It would be a total embarrassment for the anti-Trumpers to learn that Trump is just trying to do a good job for America. It’s a threat to their egos. A big one.

Admitting we are wrong is hard, its why ‘trained persuaders’ often set up the conversation in such a way they can avoid that possibility altogether. Again, ascribing a reaction to the other side that there is no basis for but allows him to characterize the other side as petty, small and ego-driven.

Logical Fallacy: ad hominem: You attacked your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.

Response: I wouldn’t have been embarrassed if Trump had done a good job. I would have been relieved. After the last three weeks I can say that either he isn’t trying to do a good job for all Americans (an important note), or he is REALLY bad at it. I am proud to be American, and want us to be the best we can. I remember when truth, honor, integrity and justice were our national values. We had a historical narrative of helping up those behind us, and standing up for those in need. I miss those days, and wish we could get them back. I want us all to grow again, to return to the days of optimism and productivity, but I don’t want to do that by shutting the doors and pulling the ladder up behind us. We must be honest about where we are, where we’ve been, and what we are each willing to do to begin again to make our shared home better.

I learned in corporate life that there are three kinds of approaches to doing a job: spend your time and energy working to BE really good at your job; spend your time and energy working to LOOK GOOD at your job; spend your time and energy working to MAKE OTHERS LOOK BAD so you can look good in comparison. I know who I respected most and who I wanted to be in that list. I know who was driven by ego.

 

SA: And this gets me to my point. When millions of Americans want the same thing, and they want it badly, the odds of it happening go way up. You can call it the power of positive thinking. It is also the principle behind affirmations. When humans focus on a desired future, events start to conspire to make it happen.

I’m not talking about any new-age magic. I’m talking about ordinary people doing ordinary things to turn Trump into an actual Hitler. For example, if protesters start getting violent, you could expect forceful reactions eventually. And that makes Trump look more like Hitler.

Saying that ‘this is the point’ re embeds the idea that the previous statements were all neutral ground-work and that this is the only argument he is making when in fact the framing and phrasing of this piece has been making a point since the first sentence. In this construction DJT is untouchable. If Trump acts like Hitler it is only in response to my protest, removing the only means I have to speak up if he does act like Hitler, and undermining any argument I might make before I begin.

Logical Fallacy: begging the question: You presented a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise.

Response: If Trump ‘turns into an actual Hitler’ it will be because he made a choice to do so. I would be interested to hear what Jews and Gypsies, and homosexuals, and public intellectuals did to ‘create’ Hitler. The reality is that DJT has moved towards propaganda and repression from day one. Firing the Attorney General for defending the Constitution should make that pretty clear. Our system is designed for loyalty to the founding documents codified through history and custom for a relatively short period of time. I don’t believe the Framers had an idea for ‘alternative facts’ but Websters seems to have a pretty strong definition of what a ‘fact’ is, and it’s pretty concrete.

This reverse logic is what is causing me cognitive dissonance. Most history and social science would agree that increasing repression on those protesting doesn’t tend to do so well. Ask F. W. de Klerk. Protesters usually do so because they have been disenfranchised from traditional democratic mechanisms (like being purged from voter rolls, undue burdens for registration and/ or voting lines 6 hours long) There is ample evidence of that in myriad ways for many of the people who are speaking out. Many of the others are allies- using their privilege and positions to support the ideology that everyone’s voice should be heard.

 

SA: I can think of dozens of ways the protesters could cause the thing they are trying to prevent. In other words, they can wish it into reality even though it is the very thing they are protesting. In the 3rd dimension of persuasion, the protesters need to be proven right, and they will do whatever it takes to make that happen. So you might see the protesters inadvertently create the police state they fear.

Giving the protestors total responsibility while DJT attempts to steal total power is problematic. This construction implies that the future hinges on protestors alone, thereby avoiding the potential that DJT could also prevent this. In fact, each side has autonomous actors, and the reality is that one has much more power than the other. The only person with the power to create a police state is DJT and his administration. He could also choose not to.

Logical Fallacy: begging the question: You presented a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise. 

Response: This may be a radical idea, but I think we should judge DJT against the actions of previous presidents and our highest expectations for a leader. We have had protests (quiet virulent ones) in the past and we have never needed to resort to the kinds of repression that DJT is implying. Democracy means our leader must convince a majority of the populace, they should not coerce, that is the purview of authoritarians.

Again, this is a largely manipulative and abusive construction. This is the logic that says a woman didn’t fight hard enough, or contain herself enough, and if she had just stayed in line she would not have been raped or abused or disenfranchised. I personally think we should tell those committing crimes that they should not do so, instead of teaching already-threatened groups that they must always fear. We should tell boys ‘just don’t rape people, ever’ and we should tell DJT ‘there is no justification for a police-state in the United States, ever.’

 

SA: If you are looking for the tells that this dangerous situation is developing, notice how excited/happy the Trump critics seem to be – while angry at the same time – that Trump’s immigration ban fits their belief system. If you see people who are simply afraid of Trump, they are probably harmless. But the people who are excited about any Hitler-analogy-behavior by Trump might be leading the country to a police state without knowing it. So watch for that.

This is a contradictory statement, again, seemingly to blame protestors for potential future aggression by those against whom they protest. This is another version of divide to conquer.

Logical Fallacy: the texas sharpshooter: You cherry-picked a data cluster to suit your argument, or found a pattern to fit a presumption.

Response: This is the exact kind of argument used to justify repressive measures by an authoritarian state.

 

 

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Emotional labor for my Trump-Voting loved ones

It was my mother, as it is almost always the mother, who kissed my hurts, and taught me slowly the secrets she learned:

That feminism is asking for equality.
That equality doesn’t mean displacement.
That if we communicate clearly there is often more than one way to share an orange.
That I am enough as I am, and Louis IV invented rules of etiquette to keep his court busy.
That hearing my own voice, deep from my own soul, will always point the right direction. Continue reading

Please consider carefully

I feel compelled to write this because I am genuinely confused by something and it scares me. I have enjoyed debating friends on the other side of the political spectrum for well over a decade now.

I have always appreciated that we have different core values, or assumptions about people, groups and social drivers, but that we are united in a cause of contemplation, and finding the best solutions to make the world a better place for everyone.

After spending as much time as I have trying to find the other side of an argument, I can honestly say that I’m usually able to see and respect my opponent and the arguments they pose.

This is why I am confused:

I know that every friend I have, despite the ways in which we disagree, demonstrates integrity, commitment, and compassion. I know that you are kind and good people who practice respect to every individual you encounter regardless of gender, color, socio-economics, disability, sexual orientation, religion or even the dreaded apple/ android divide.

You believe in two sides to an argument and honest and direct engagement. You believe in the value of discussing issues with respect and tolerance. I would be shocked to hear you insult someone based on how they look, or how they pray, or how they struggle.

I know that you are leaders and hold yourself to high standards. So I honestly don’t understand why you aren’t fighting harder for the soul of your party and your side. You had a fringe group get really loud in a crowded field and yell to victory someone who demonstrates none of your best qualities, and undermines so many of your important arguments. Your candidate is openly bigoted, dishonest and corrupt. This is the foundation of his candidacy.

I like the idea of smaller government at times, I see how values around security can outweigh those of justice at times. But it terrifies me that we would further reduce a shoestring government, and empower our military and police, while simultaneously installing in our highest office a man who takes advantage of every loop-hole and exploits every person he can, who has already expressed a disregard for the checks and balances of our system. You could understand that the exploited would be in favor of more regulation given the way that his tactics are being celebrated as ‘good business’, and worse, ‘good leadership.’  That isn’t good business, it’s straight up exploitation.

I see the value of regulatory bodies when faced with someone who has no concept of enduring truth (or truth of any kind), has such little compunction being deliberately inflammatory for his own gain, and clearly doesn’t respect any laws or regulations if they curb his quest for more power. How will he enforce laws when he regularly disobeys them?

My side is terrified of gangsters like that, and see government as the best way to curb that kind of excess. You’ve repeatedly told me that there are other corrections for behavior like that, and that people are good-hearted and fair. But your party has chosen the biggest and most offensive gangster of our time and is anointing him king because they don’t like his opponent. He is currently under investigation for a number of crimes ranging from sketchy business and financial dealings to sexual assault of a child, his opponent has been cleared from every investigation against her.  Have we really stopped trusting all of our civil organizations? Do we have so little faith in our institutions and our fellow citizens? Have we left all reason and historical context behind?

This country is great because of our democracy AND our diversity. The experiment of the US was an inspiration around the world, and with the constant course corrections intended by the Framers, we have evolved so far beyond where we started. We all agree we still have a lot of work to do.

I have to ask, although I expect no response: All things being equal, are you really going to choose to install as the head of the most powerful military the world has ever seen someone who respects tyrants and not diversity? Who has no integrity and thinks facts and data are not important to the ability to govern? Are our families and future safe when the person who commits their lives to conflict can’t even rise above tiny hand jokes?  Do you believe that over the next four years he would be able to accomplish some of your goals, move the country closer to your ideals? Do you believe the economy, the environment, our education system, our infrastructure, our global security and social relations within the polity will be improved?

You are a member of a party because it represents your views, when it doesn’t, you have a responsibility to try to change that party, or seek an alternative. If a third party candidate is closer to your value-set, vote for them. But don’t vote for the guy who wears your jersey just because you want the win. The win in this case is such a loss for all of us, please, think carefully before you choose.

As a woman I am scared. I am beyond privileged that my gender is the only thing I have to really worry about. I am scared for my friends of color, of different sexual orientation, who carry any marker that isn’t white, cis-male, economically well-off and heteronormative. I am scared for their safety, scared for their mental health, scared for the environment in which their children will come of age.

You are all leaders, and good people, and some of the most intelligent people I know. You have a difficult choice in front of you; support your traditional side and the people who look like you, or choose your conscience, doing the right thing, but knowing your party will lose. Perhaps take as consolation the fact that the likely winner has skirted the political center for decades and demonstrated an ability to work across the aisle to move the country forward. The ability to compromise and evolve your thinking should not be demonized.

This is not Brexit, there is no argument on the other side. A denial or denigration of democracy is for keeps. If we don’t have a strong grasp of indisputable facts how can we even begin to understand where we disagree? How can we believe Trump will serve the public when so much of his life has been spent taking advantage of others? How will he bring together a deeply segregated polity when he himself is so deliberately divisive?

We are a divided country, with systemic and structural problems that need to be addressed right now. They are complicated problems that require difficult solutions and we have procrastinated for too long. I’m not asking you to vote for anyone, just to consider carefully before you give your very precious ballot to a bully who simplifies issues by denying their existence and like a ADHD puppy just moves on to the next thing. ‘Blizzard of lies’ is the best description I’ve heard about this election so far and it isn’t hard to identify the cloud causing the storm. I’ve never wished so much for a transferable vote system so we can see why people are choosing and how our priorities play out.

In the 1930s my grandfather, newly emigrated from Germany, was happy to be safe in this country even while he despaired for his family and friends suffering under the increasing strain of Fascism in Germany. My father grew up, secure in the belief that we would never forget and it would never happen again, I believed that too.

This is why I am now so confused and so scared. Edmund Burke once wrote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I don’t believe Trump is evil, but I think the rapid descent into white supremacy, fear, blame and lies is the greatest threat our democracy has seen in my lifetime. I’m terrified we will see and do nothing. I see so many leaders in the Republican party jumping on a bandwagon with someone I know they can’t respect, it scares me for the future of our entire political system.

I know we often have different core values that inform our choices, but fear, blame and post-truth politics are not values, or usually drivers of good decisions. This is why I want to ask, as a friend and fellow citizen, to please consider your choice carefully. Please discuss candidly and honestly with the people you know and vote for the person you believe is best equipped to govern the whole country. Please listen carefully to what Trump actually says during this debate about how he will help us improve our future. Weigh it against what you already know and what you find valuable. Decide how accurate or likely his plans are and the specifics of the policies he has in mind. If, after all that, you still believe he is the best person for the job, then vote for him. If not, vote for someone else. It doesn’t have to be Hillary, but don’t just go along this time. The consequences are too important.

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!)

Conclusion

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 4 (He said)

In a back-door fashion, I think we actually agree more than we’d like to admit. I still posit that the ‘collective’ has no rights and the ‘collective’ doesn’t make decisions. Groups of individuals come together to make decisions – at times via the state, at times via civil society and the free associations that individuals make amongst themselves. A small distinction but an important one to me.

Your whole paragraph on getting government to do your individual bidding proves my point exactly. Your political friend lobbying for personally-beneficial bills does so precisely because government is so large, that getting ahead is easier via government legislation (when you have the means/resources/connections) than fighting it out in the open market where you have to win or lose on your own. Government’s attempt to legislate each and every outcome leads directly to more and more people wanting government to do it’s bidding. (Aside – here I have to call out my Republican brethren and their support of big business. Too many Republicans are not pro-free market, they are pro-big business, and use the machinations of big government to support large incumbents to the detriment of small business job creators). Only when you shrink the size and scope of government will your political friend realize that there’s nothing to gain via lobbying and there’s higher return in competing in the free market.

Where we disagree fundamentally though is your third major paragraph. You view government and the ‘collective’ as the only thing preventing us as individuals from taking up pitchforks against our neighbors and running naked through the streets waiting for the next Robespierre to save us. I take the opposite view – government is the rate limiting factor in individual human potential. Don’t get me wrong – government has a role. Law and order, common defense, and enforcement of contracts. Those three things, when done well, provide the necessary infrastructure to curb the wild side of individualism, while allowing space for the individual to flourish. You see the individual succeeding if and only if the ‘collective’ is somehow diminished. I see releasing the individual to freedom and liberty as the only way over time to enhance the collective well-being of society. Civil society and free association are the ways in which we moderate individual relationships without government support, and the more government intrudes into that space, the more individuals will feel the need to hunker down and defend themselves. (I get the sense from this paragraph that you might not be a big 2nd Amendment fan).

I also came across the article linked here that is only tangentially related to the course our argument has taken, but one that sums up my viewpoint on this issue of government intrusion into the individual sphere.

Political Debates 3- In which it gets longer (She said):

I think you slightly concede the original point when you recognize the state as the balance to the individual. The state is the institution by which the collective makes decisions, but prior to ‘state’ there is still collective. The modern state is the specific institution we have chosen to expedite the decision-making and execution process, but the balance, at a philosophical/ ideological level remains individual and group.

In many ways, the tipping that you refer to, and the expansion of the government, is specifically because individuals feel it is acceptable to attempt to subvert the government (i.e. the agent/ institution of the collective) to benefit their individual wants. There is no personal motivation for an individual to contain themselves against others. I talked to a guy in politics who says he spends most of him time attempting to stop the government passing bills that individuals want sponsored to solve a specific personal problem. When an institution that needs to govern such a large body politic is being used (or is attempted to be used) regularly as a vehicle for personal advancement it seems somewhat self-evident that any kind of functionality will be necessarily reduced.

Although rights travel with individuals it is also incumbent on them to exercise those rights with responsibility and to consider the larger social order when making decisions about how they comport themselves when in the public sphere. I would actually argue that bureaucracy expands precisely because without a social fabric organizing the collective other means emerge to reduce anarchy and chaos and allow people to live in high levels of population density without going postal on a regular basis.

I think that actually is part of the explanatory principle behind your example- in order to ‘reduce conflict’ (put in that way because it doesn’t actually accomplish that in the slightest) governments have attempted to reduce the potential friction points by mandating every minute detail and then making those who govern argue about whether or not each individual act meets the statutes enshrined in law. I would completely agree that it doesn’t make sense, and that the increasing level of conflict is inevitable when predicated on that system. As well, the increasing numbers of details mean that those who govern are able to spend less and less time deciding principles and higher-order issues and more and more time spiraling down into municipal planting hell. (I could make some argument about the connection of the trees to the environmental impact and offsets, but I think that is tangential and time wasting so I’m going to refrain!)

Think about the most recent CEB work actually, the world is too variable to mandate specific process and actions, instead it is incumbent on leaders to set a vision and guardrails within which each individual attempts to reach that goal in the best way they see fit. The difficult in applying this to our current political situation is that we have lost any concept of a shared vision. My fear/ issue with resting too much power with the individual (through reduction of discourse to rights and more specifically individual rights ala Locke) is that when the balance tips too far that direction we lose any semblance or possibility of finding or establishing any kind of shared vision. If we had less people in the world, and lived in less highly dense areas that might work as a proposition, but we don’t. We must find a way to negotiate with those around us and that has to start from some kind of shared hope or expectation that can allow us a guiding principle. For almost 500 years we have been able to rely on systems of governance that reduce variability and contain the chaos around us, largely by pushing specific groups out, and building on their disenfranchisement and deprivation. Unfortunately for that paradigm we have hit several kinds of limits at once and that ideology is inadequate to address the individual and collective challenges with which we are faced. Instead of attempting to control external chaos so the individual can live largely in peace I think one of the new challenges of our time is to teach individuals to personally address the chaos that comes at them so they can deal more deliberately in their choices.

Totally agree with your entire paragraph about big government. Completely. (including the last sentence J)

I think the next time we are in the same place we should sit down and talk about the inequality bit. I’ll go find and read the book and you can elucidate that argument a little more clearly J

I see the possibility you point out about exposing fraud, but at the same time, non sequitur numbers, out of context, are easily misunderstood. Having been involved in academic research I am the first to admit that there is a lot of schlock that should never be paid for (again, because individuals want to be academics and want someone else to pay for it without thinking about the broader applications of the work they do) but I have also seen brilliance in unexpected places, spurred by connections and cross-over that to the uninformed would be easy to point to as ‘waste’ but has moved forward lines of inquiry/ analysis/ innovation that does have real value. Secondly, it is a little too easy for us to label as ‘useless’ funds paid for things we don’t agree with when, again, it may have universal value, or value to a group within society that is deserving of whatever benefit that patronage might provide but without specific context it becomes a waste or a joke instead.

I would be interested to hear your take on how we hope to get some kind of functionality as a state with huge numbers of individuals all competing against each other, with little shared  vision and even less goodwill to work together. How do we get to a point where it is possible to have some kind of public discourse around both principles and tactics and what the mechanism for execution looks like while attempting to reduce the apathy that bureaucracy instills both within those who are a part of it (read civil servants) and those who have to deal with it (all the rest of us poor schmucks)?

Still believing in some kind of greater good…

Political debates: 2- He said:

First, as soon as we start ‘balancing’ freedom of individuals with anything else, we’re already coming untethered. The only ‘balance’ there should be is the one the Constitution strikes between the individual and the state – a balance which has inexorably tilted toward the state since the founding, and accelerated with the expansion of the administrate state/bureaucracy. Second, the ‘collective’ has no rights. Rights travel with individuals. Individuals may choose to exercise those rights as part of a group (e.g. free speech by a protest march, owning private property with an investment team) but the rights are tied not to the collective but the individuals thereof (hence why I and many conservatives believe Citizens United was properly decided).

Anyway – I’ve been trying out the following argument on my socialist (truly) uncle to no avail, but let me see if it works on someone I consider much more rational. The reason we argue so divisively over politics, fight tooth and nail for every inch of our ideology, and most often fail to compromise is that the state impacts so much of our day-to-day lives. Government at all levels is so large and so expansive that we have to fight there, for fear of losing any semblance of the individual. For example – I sit on my county’s Board of Adjustment. We literally have ordinances that prescribe the size, number, and spacing of trees/brush/plantings that must encircle each type of commercial building. We spent an hour at our last meeting arguing if the current level of forestation on a piece of private property was sufficient to meet the statute for building a self-storage facility. And this is at the county level – let alone the state or federal level. When government starts to prescribe something as minute as the trees on my property, you’re damn sure I’m going to argue like hell when they try to mandate what gets included in my health insurance plan (something of infinitely greater importance to my overall wellbeing).

And when government gets so big – particularly at the federal level – you know who wins? Other big things – big business, big labor, big lobbying, etc. This to me is the overarching argument for smaller government at all levels. And you know why politicians of both parties don’t want that? As Instapundit blogger Glenn Reynolds is fond of saying – insufficient opportunities for graft. Smaller government – even with a decent safety net – would greatly increase the odds of compromise because no longer would we be talking about things that strike to the very core of our individuality. We’d be back to talking about whether there should be a tariff on Chinese goods, for lack of a better example. If you want politicians to get out of the pockets of ‘big’ things, you need to reshape the incentive structure – and so long as ‘big’ always wins (because they have the time/money/resources to actually figure out how government actually works), there will be no incentive to trim it down. And the thing that is mind-boggling to me about poorer Democrat voters is that they are getting royally f**ked by the upper class of their party who are the very elite who create the system that keeps them poor and dependent. [Yes, that last sentence was a bit of a gratuitous cheap shot, but you get my drift.]

+1 on getting rid of gerrymandering. I’d do away with it in a heartbeat. Draw horizontal and vertical lines across each state. We’d see partisanship go down in a New York minute.

On the inequality bit – I wish Democrats would admit they want equality of outcomes. Don’t be coy about it – out with it. Let’s have an honest debate. I’d love to know what a liberal’s ideal top tax rate is. What percentage of total taxes should the top 1% pay? Top 5%? Top 20%? When will we have enough? Here’s the thing that makes me die inside though – and what tells me that today’s liberals don’t actually care about raising people out of poverty – we know certain behaviors greatly increase the likelihood of being a middle class family and yet liberals outright REFUSE to facilitate policies that would incent those behaviors. Please read Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart – fantastic illustration of this. We KNOW that waiting until you’re married to have kids is a quote-unquote good thing. We KNOW that finishing high school is a similar good thing (but no, it must be in a public school taught by a unionized teacher, wah wah). And yet – nothing.

Lastly (for now) – pulling out random numbers is exactly how you expose the fraud of government spending. No one will fix the abomination that is Medicare fraud until you point out instead of giving quality healthcare to Grandma, government is busy researching whether rhesus monkeys respond to phallic symbols on the second Thursday of the month.

Yours in smaller government and a freer civil society,

Political debates: 1- She said:

Although I lean left, and I voted for Obama with lots of hope, I in no way blindly support his policies or rhetoric. There are a lot of flaws in him and his administration and I freely admit that, but I think most of that debate is a smokescreen. I think it is about both sides avoiding things we don’t want to talk about- because it makes us look bad, or because we are afraid there is no possibility of reconciliation. Who knows? Debating over whether he or his administration is at fault for a fatally flawed system ignores the greater point that most politically minded (young) people need to address which is

a)       How do we come to consensus on the things we can agree on (as an ideological basis for future policies) and

b)      How do we begin to tactically execute on those priorities in a way that balances freedom of individuals, some kind of safety net for those we deem to be unable to provide for themselves and deserving of some social support to enable them some dignity and the rights/ needs of the collective?

Politics has become so divisive- about how to beat the other guy, prove people wrong, take things away from one group so we can give it to another. But the reality is that we are all here together, and we do have issues that face us all and are better solved by finding common ground and then common solutions. There are collective action problems that must be solved together, and problems that when solved together are more likely to have positive and longer term solutions. At the same time it is unproductive (at best) to deny the individual as much power and responsibility for their own actions as feasible within a highly dense social population.

Both parties are now in bed with special interest groups in such a way that governance is almost impossible. It used to be that government was able to play mediator between factions within society who rightly or wrongly believed their interests to be mutually exclusive to other factions. At times government was able to help those groups find a common ground, and when they couldn’t both sides trusted them to arbitrate fairly for the best interests for society. Between campaign contributions and gerrymandering we have pretty well f*ed up the system we had working for us.

In terms of equality- I think is issue is less about the income equality, and more about the socio-economic level within which we think it is beneficial to have the majority of society exist. Once we have an idea about what that level is, there are a number of tactics that can be employed to attempt to bring more people to that point- but we haven’t agreed on that first piece. There are a lot of issues on the backend that make up the nuance- how much is any one individual or group responsible for their own poverty/ deprivation? Who has responsibility to change those circumstances- especially if we don’t all see ourselves on the same side? If I don’t agree with the moral choices they make how much do I get to dictate their behavior to balance the economic support I may be offering?

At the base level, any society attempts policies to contain chaos and anarchy: wealth redistribution, monopolies of violence and some form of bureaucracy are the main instruments by which that is accomplished but which nuanced articulation and instantiation of those policies we choose to use is undermined by the extent to which we are so busy yelling at and blaming the other guy for the things they are not doing…

Anyway… just a few opening thoughts 🙂

PS- I do think that pulling out random numbers from the budget about things we overspent on is both a red herring and unproductive but that might be the academic that still lives in my heart [response to a different thread]

So it begins

As many people know I like to debate, often more than is good for me. Over the last several months I have been having debates with people at work. (Yes, they were willing participants, I promise!)

One of the reasons I love my job, and my place of employment is the fact that I get to work with really intelligent, interested people. We happened to have a night out the same evening as the State of the Union. At first, I thought it would be a problem, exposing the significant political differences between myself and a few of my colleagues. Never deterred, I broached the subject with one I considered a friend and instead of assuming our friendship was over he agreed to have lunch and actually discuss the issues, like adults, and explore where we agreed and where we differed. He even offered homework to better understand where he was coming from!

Fast forward a month or two, and another person I work with heard about our ongoing debate. We began an email dialogue that has been highly thought-provoking (though slow as we are both very busy- although me less than him). A few weeks ago, as I was composing a response I realized that our dialogue might be of interest to other people. We disagree. A lot. But I think that we are managing to find the relevant points of clash and consider them in ways I don’t get a lot of exposure to elsewhere. I really value the ability to have hard conversations and I think we are lacking much of that in our current political discourse.  Although at times we veer towards jocularity (and have been accused of having a long-word contest) I think there is substance in the argument, and might help point out some of where our public conversations are missing.

Anyway, he graciously gave me permission to post the contents here for all to read. I hope you enjoy reading and that it might spur some intellectual reflection of your own. Always appreciate thoughts, responses or ideas in return, although I really can’t promise swiftness in my response.

They are rather long, so I will be posting as independent pieces, read in chronological order for it to make more sense.