Today's -Isms

11 September 23


Twenty-two years later, it is as if the terrorist attacks on US symbols of might in the contemporary world, the New York World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and the diverted attack on the Capitol building— seeded terrorism amongst the worst of us. Then, the rigid refusal of the only-tentatively-committed-to-democracy conservatives in Congress to pass effective gun control legislation is, despite its 1st and 2nd Amendment masks, terrorism against the progressive politics of our democracy and the very long tradition of accepting immigrants who do not look like us or eat like us or worship like us. "Lone wolves" (by no means an oxymoron) have now understood the weak reflexes of the nation and see a way forward for their demented angers, feeling themselves part of the pack, though they do their deeds in schools and grocery stores and places of worship alone——nevertheless bringing terror to our children and ourselves.

That we have become inured to the bristling terror out there may be due to a trick our minds play on us to preserve our sanity, we lose the vivid horrifying pictures of what they do among us and in that way we regain our "composure." It may be due to the fact that we always knew from our days on grade school playgrounds and city streets that there were wolves among us, bullies, scrappers, dropouts, rebels, thieves, nihilists, now anarchists, often themselves cruelly abused, but nevertheless terrorists. In the abstract those of illwill and simmering self-loathing, community-loathing are quickly labeled evil of some kind. We learn to avoid them. The worst of them occasionally pounce.

The question is what to do about them. They have always been among us. Your Bible tells of them, of the unrestrained hatred they feed from and fear they spread, justifying themselves by the terror they instill. Religion buckles under the force of their animus, nations resort to storing them like cord wood in large groups where they learn they are not unique, but learn how to become even worse. The sad fact is that authorities, those among us who have taken jobs ostensibly to protect us make mistakes or let their inner thoughts loose to solve the problem. Does this suggest that there is a little wolf in all of us?

The history of civilizations and the evidence from pre-historical peoples suggests that we do have something of the tooth and claw within us. It is an irregular spectrum, perhaps, not a Gausian Curve, but a distorted curve with the best of us out there straining through our lifetimes to find a just rationale for suppressing these wolves in us, as if there were justice available, as if terrorizing one's children or allowing that to happen are chips to be played in this grizzly business. It is madness to continue this way; it is clearly the path to a never civilized situation that has but one obvious outcome. We will never become part of the galactic community.


Today's Isms

10 March 22

Multiple Working Hypotheses
~600 words

One of the reasons the geologists' method of thinking —as well as the thinking in many other disciplines in the sciences and humanities as well as the law— is not widely taught or known is because the Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses is seen as leading to the overturn of hallowed concepts of civilization! In other words, by definition, MMWH leads inexorably to the overturn of ideas become dogma.

Obviously, MMWH would challenge scriptures of all kinds, and actually did and generated interminable wars in Europe and jihads and might-makes-right hordes. It is true there were matriarchies in history, maybe there are elements of matriarchy in some cultures right now. I would begin with Icelandic culture and examine it very carefully for contradictory signs. But we all know that patriarchy is the rule almost everywhere, which provides us with a classic example of secular "mind control" that results from the Method of Single Working Hypotheses, which is what dictators use to thrive. One of my very oldest and best friends taught MMWH to me as we were both in graduate school fifty year ago. He was taught by his population genetics professor. I was converted and have tried to "live" MMWH ever since.

The linked article does remind us that MMWH is not the whole story of rational, responsible, human cognition. As a practical matter each practitioner will have favorite hypotheses. Gravity is real, whatever it is. The problem is what is it? There are many answers, currently none of them account for everything we associate with gravity. The field of communications practice known as propaganda abhors MMWH, and propagandists have come up with ways to get around the "natural MMWH" that almost everyone has and uses at least part of the time each day and in each epoch of their lives.

Last evening on MSNBC'S news show The Last Word the host of that program demonstrated—angrily, I thought—the very opposite of MMWH, interrupting and lecturing invited guests whose opinions differed substantially from the opinions he and the management of the show believed would "clarify" the very issue of our day:

whether and how to take the risk of fighting back in a war—or restricting ourselves to providing weapons—that might —because of engaging in the war ... or not— employ nuclear (or worse) weapons?

This is the complex problem facing President Biden of the US and the leaders of all nations. Buried in that question are many hypotheses that must be enuniciated, understood, weighed and arrayed in a way that provides at least the sense that it has been thought through competently. Since everyone's life is at stake, we should be given clear and convincing EVIDENCE that the decision to engage further or not was reached in every dimension of human reality.

It is completely obvious that Russia can obliterate the country of Ukraine. Ukrainians believe that they will fight back to the very end. The end is defined as the termination of ~40 million lives. The US and NATO and EU and the UN and all but half a dozen countries, notably including 2.8 billions in India and China, believe in their guts, hearts, and minds that the "to the end" scenario/hypothesis is unacceptable. Apparently it is acceptable, probably as a "lesser evil," to the Last Word host. We wish him the best of happiness and security in his retirement. His m.o. has crossed the line once again. He had already insulted Julia Ioffe in the same way and now both Lt.Col. Vindman and another person whose expertise and experiences go far beyond his own. Ciao bella, Lawrence!


(Russia & China and Today's Isms)

15 FEB 22

What is Race, If Not Real?
~1000 words

I have been thinking a lot about Adam Serwer's statement in February's The Atlantic that I quoted in my essay, "Race and Racism" on February 11th. Here is the quotation again:

It is not necessary for race to be real for racism to be real. It is only necessary that people believe race to be real. When people act on fictions, those actions have repercussions even if the underlying belief is false—even if the people know that the underlying belief they are acting on is false. The fact that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the media, of governments, and of financial institutions are untrue does not rob them of their explanatory power for those who choose to believe in them. For Thomas Jefferson to know, somewhere in the disquiet of his own conscience, that slavery was a “cruel war against human nature itself” did not in and of itself grant freedom to those he owned as property.
(The Atlantic, Adam Serwer, "Whoopi Goldberg's American Idea of Race," online, February 2022.

I think now that the fact of race and racism is that they are real mental constructs—ideas— but not facts in or about the natural, biological, human world, but really are facts in and about the ordinary human social/cultural world.

Having just said that I am obliged to also say that there is no evidence that Holly and Jim 1981biology, genetics, or inheritance are causally involved. Being Irish does not give you a bad temper or make a poet of you, but it does give you an unfair chance of red hair—10% chance—otherwise in the world 1-2% on a planetary basis. Yes, people with red hair really are treated differently and so they learn stuff that the rest of you do not. (Author and daughter when author's hair was still red.)

To unpack this let me begin to define a situation where a person of some "distinctions" from others asserts they and others with similar distinctions are being discriminated against or should be recognized for having those distinctions, those distinguishing characteristics. At some fairly large number of the distinguished group, they are called a "race."

This would apply to persons who believe themselves to be part of the Master Race as well as to those who celebrate their origins as African or Spanish or Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, Japanese, Chinese, etc., and much that goes with that heritage, set them apart, so for short, as the That-named race.

Obviously, taken from the opposite points of view, looking at others-with-distinguishing characteriscs and calling them a race uses a similar logic and illogic. The illogic is what concerns us. Here in the lands and epoch of plenty (with huge, glaring, irrational, and immoral exceptions) "race" groups have much less to fear from the Other race groups than once they did thousands of years ago.

Black is dark and associated with nightime, night terrors, impaired vision, hidden threats, evil, and so on, but none of those are causally related to skin color, except by the association fallacy. Nighttime—in darkness—is also the time of rest, relief from hard work, recuperation, sleep and marvelous dreams, and restored health, yet these qualities are suppressed by the fallacy of exclusion and suppressed evidence.

People cherry-pick the characteristics that bother themselves most, and then they associate and assign these characteristics to inheritance because they want to assert that those things are not a matter of choice. The die is cast for them; they are fixed that way and, therefore, always problematic. No need to investigate further.

There is ample evidence that human minds' pattern-seeking skills are involved in these and other fallacies of reason all the time. Some, probably most, of it is to establish "wieldy" (manageable) concepts out of unwieldy ones. So it is like the creation of slogans for more complicated situations we want to refer to easily and often politically.

There is a cousin of metaphor the trope (figure of speech) that refers to a whole thing by one of its parts, for example: "Lend me a hand with this, please." "The farm was run by five hands helping the owner." The synecdoche [sih NECK duh key] trope directs your attention to the hand because that is the object of interest and value of the loan or the employment, skilled hands, but clearly one is not supposed to detach one's hand and give it over, nor is the farmer surrounded by detached hands.

You may have never heard of synecdoche or metonymy or even know much about metaphor, but there are those of us who believe that tropes like these (including irony) are clues as to how and why many human cognitive processes take place. The race word "negro" is a synecdoche. One characteristic is pulled out to be representative of everything a dark-skinned person is and wants to be. A "wetback" is a synecdoche on getting a wet back from swimming across the Rio Grande River from Mexico to the US. A "kraut" is a person from Germany who supposedly eats lots of sauerkraut, a metonymy. The "ugly American" was a somewhat homely guy in the novel, who was actually the hero, but the synecdoche with the man's ugly face ironically became the label for the not-so-nice people in the book and eventually in society the oblivious and worse among real American tourists. A "rag-head" is a metonymy on desert people who wear a turban or other cloth head-covering. And so, it goes: reduction of complexity, elimination of qualities, concentration on something perceived as negative.

One point should be coming clear by now, however. Race is a mental, mostly linguistic construct—an idea, not a physical reality. Being a real idea, it becomes a social reality, unfortunately. If extra-terrestrials are visiting our planet, they do not perceive in their physical probings and examinations of us anything like race. If they are looking at our literature, though, they can see what is going on in our minds ... and cultures. It is shameful, of course, but advanced species understand that as we slowly emerge from our more primitive selves and tribes we are likely to have certain elements of our cultures persist into more modern situations, including our situation now.


(Society, Today's Isms)

11 FEB 22

Race and Racism
~1900 words

It is not necessary for race to be real for racism to be real. It is only necessary that people believe race to be real. When people act on fictions, those actions have repercussions even if the underlying belief is false—even if the people know that the underlying belief they are acting on is false. The fact that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the media, of governments, and of financial institutions are untrue does not rob them of their explanatory power for those who choose to believe in them. For Thomas Jefferson to know, somewhere in the disquiet of his own conscience, that slavery was a “cruel war against human nature itself” did not in and of itself grant freedom to those he owned as property.
(The Atlantic, Adam Serwer, "Whoopi Goldberg's American Idea of Race," online, February 2022.

Recently Whoopi Goldberg fell into a complex trap. She was/is being punished (!) for expressing what seemed to her as intelligent woman of color, of exceptional accomplishment, and a "cultural Jew," to be a clear-eyed view of a more basic and penetrating analysis of the Holocaust. Unfortunately she ignored the unpleasant and contentious and perverse fact stated in the first sentence of the quotation beginning this essay. Namely, whereas race is a purely fictional category without coherent definitions across the thousands of cultures in our world, but believing nevertheless that races are real and then to depend, to predicate, one's behavior on one's own fear of and animus toward the perceived differences among people (that you have assigned to one "race" or another) is a real event, a real fact—and must be taken into account. We generally agree that the belief and the behavior constitute "racism." But, as Adam Serwer subtitles his essay: "The 'racial' distinctions between master and slave may be more familiar to Americans, but they were and are no more real than those between Gentile and Jew."

We could call it "culturalism," and we do have already something called "culture wars" here in America. But, many seem to like the nuance and idea that the characterists and behaviors of those people go beyond culture and deeper into (in the modern world) genetics,—to something that is inherent and immutable within them, something that could not be untaught, but rather would have to be annihilated. I believe this is a holdover from our nomadic traditions in which the margins for error were narrow, indeed, and our tribe might meet yours when we might be weakest from illnesses or previous encounters. We have not been able to eradicate this security anxiety from within our cultures, because all of humanity are not on the same page, at the same level of cultural evolution. We only became modern settled human beings about 10,000 years ago, that's only 200 50-year lifetimes ago, during which patriarchies were interested in conquest and power, and mostly unconcerned with the evolution of societies.

The formal and aching question we have is very rarely answered to anyone's satisfaction. How are we to take a vicious fiction into account in our reality? You see, our cognitive failure to make a clear distinction, a boundary for such ideas, is casually written off as the "human condition." Yet this "quirk" of human mental behavior appears everywhere, sometimes viciously, sometimes not. We love fictions, fables, histories, and ballads about important deeds. We often think that children learn best when the truth is wrapped inside a fable. It is my experience that universities addressing the problem of critical thinking rarely get through to the epistemological or the behavioral reality of the overall appalling situation. In 2022 we have a gigantic snowball of fictions all frozen together as one thing which is perhaps 10,000 years in the making. Who would dare, besides, the intrepid Whoopi to peel some of that away to look closer!

Jews, in my understanding of this world, are not a race—they are a complex culture, which often includes religious observance of Judaism, but often not. The culture generally promotes a respect for learning and for the evidence employed in and for teaching, but there are illiterate and uneducated Jews, who do not lose their Jewishness because they may have learning deficits. Jews are thought to be agnostic about the supposition of a human afterlife. There are Ashkenazim (Ashkenaz being the Hebrew word for German) and Sephardim (Jews of Spain and Portugal) who are as biologically related as non-Jewish Germans from Hamburg are to non-Jewish Portuguese from Lisbon or Seville.

The important point is that the "human condition," which incorporates all the physical and mental biological systems and organic traits emerging from these systems, all which have survived through natural selection, all exist today in all of us. Each of us needs food, shelter, and opportunity to procreate or not. In addition there are cultural ideals and prohibitions that also have been transmitted during our current run at being a world-wide species trying on civilization for size. A good many of these genetic and cultural characteristics are about changes to ourselves and arise from within the huge change from being nomadic to being settled in agriculture and then pursuing arts, commerce, and industry all relatively recent departures from the skills and traditions of perhaps 250,000 years of our species existence. Humanity's "modern" religions, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Mithraism, Christianity, Islam, particularly, seem to have a component or even an axis of altruism and reflectiveness that is not apparent in contemporary spiritual ideas of the planet's remaining primitive people. We seem to be slowly, very slowly, accommodating ourselves to a larger and larger picture of what it means to be and what it demands of us to be civilized humans.

To characterize that evolution we note that we humans are hungry, naked, and intensely procreative, so we are also intensely competitive and often combative, jealous, envious, frightened, concerned, apprehensive, especially about strangers. We prefer people who "understand" our diet and the reasons we have for it. (Haggis and Lutefisk and BigMacs, for example) We prefer people who speak and perhaps read our language and the stories and points of view embedded in it. We prefer people who respect the work we have put into our own sustenance and may choose to imitate us rather than directly competing against us for the benefits it could offer to anyone. But, again, we are not all on the same page.

We do not know how to teach the boundary between early and recent humanity, partly because there are many still on the early side some or all of the time. It is one of those things that does not evolve very fast because the pressures to evolve are often not stronger than the many pressures to be "uncivilized." We decry bullying in families and schools, but have very few methods to apply to eradicate it. We have not set that boundary yet. We do not have a common understanding of "human nature" as the differences between Christianity and Islam could show. We countenance lying, and we have not distinguished it from the art of fiction, even the "harmless" fictions of songs ... like "Onward Christian Soldiers." That one is an obscene straddle if ever there was. What we are looking for is that boundary between our old semi-wild selves and our new "domesticated" selves. As an enthusiastic science-fiction reader, I imagine interstellar species to have found that boundary and the personal and group ways to honor it.

If you have been looking, reading, for a solution, I do not have it. I believe myself to be not a racist, yet I probably harbor something from growing up in suburban DC Virginia and accommodating my burgeoning self to the realities (in my day) of Colored and White drinking fountains, restrooms, and most importantly those segregated schools. All of us are what we are, and most of us rarely think about it except by contrastive comparisons. One thing we could do is encourage analogous, convergent, even harmonius comparisons. Religious authorities urge us to be conscious of our selves as (very ill-defined) modern humans, but like children's stories, they get bogged down in the traditions and fictions used to convey their message, becoming more and more absurd as passed down over millennia. In the United States in our current epoch we are confronted with a crisis of authority as White Supremacists seek control led by the recent President.

But I am pretty sure that one step toward a solution to racism is to set boundaries. What I mean is that it is fatuous of us today to imagine that very early homo sapiens, our fellow bipedal primates, the ones we call our direct ancestors as far back as 250,000 year ago, were very much like us.. For one we know only their skeletal remains and some of their artifacts and symbols. The Lascaux cave paintings are thought to date from 15,000 to 17,000 BCE, so many times older than any written record of ancient civilization (i.e., the Gilgamesh Epic from ancient Sumeria at 2100 BCE, giving a lot of slack in the timeline to develop language and numeracy before that. What I am trying to do is establish a boundary between our epoch and the epoch in which the survival skills of our species were actually warranted. The point being to assert that modern homo sapiens must be actually and truly sapient = wise to the point that they—some reasonable fraction of them—understand and generally practice being not savage, but sapient.

Immediately you say to yourself, I know of very savage people here and now in my country. Some of them have learned to sublimate what we now understand to be unacceptable behaviors into more civil and productive behaviors, such as Rugby and American Football or Short-Selling in the stock markets or playing dodgeball on the school playground at recess, but the savagery and risk-taking thrill is close to the surface. I agree, and yet we do not have a well-reasoned boundary line on such behaviors. The reason is, again, very obvious: there are very few of us still who have deeply sublimated every element of savagery perfectly and continuously, but some have come close and provide us a possible model of what our species with all its brains and hindbrains could accomplish, if only the incentives were not wrapped in unbelievable stories and religious dogma, but in scientific terms, postulates and axioms convertable to judicial statements.

I think that the history of ideas is dialectic, that it zig-zags, buffeted around by contesting ideas, and that the syntheses, the new ideas, sometimes die on the vine. Today's public discourse is too often yelling and screaming almost meaningless aphorisms and mottos. Bad thoughts drive out good new ones that require nurture and careful tending. So, we have to get back to a condition of ideational tolerance, where you can assert, if you wish, that haggis is good for me and present your evidence, and when you are laughed out of town, you will be given a ride home by those of us who know your thoughts were pure and well-meant.

I remain hopeful. I remain proud of what Whoopi Goldberg was attempting, but I think it could not have easily been said in the context she chose to say it.


(Today's Isms, Society)


Which History?
~1050 words

Do clock makers have a different knowledge and feeling about time? Do top-gun pilots? Do Members of Congress or parliaments anywhere? Historians do for sure. They may see time as a river with laminar flow dynamics (layers flowing at different levels and rates and slightly different directions, eddies, undertows), all within banks that change slowly with social and political seasons.

The essence of time is what happens in it. If nothing happens how does it feel? If you are eleven years old in the midst of summer, it is boring. If you are nineteen years old in Pleiku or Fallujah or Kandahar there are many, too many, things happening all at once. It is for the historians to identify these personal events in the river and show, if possible, how they are pieces of a narrative. It is important to say—to admit—that at the moments these events happen any story of their connection or disconnection is likely full of fictions and omissions. So, in a way, History per se, is as the Germans say Geschichte—a story, saga, tale."

Right now in the United States there are fierce struggles going on among people who want the main story of America to include moments and currents in the river of time that have not heretofore been mentioned much, if at all. An opposing faction has worried that opening up the story to new interpretations of very old facts and interpretations will destabilize it, and it will get worse and worse. So, for instance, Critical Race Theory (the unremitting facts of 400 years of Black slavery and subjugation) has been added to the river of time.

Illuminating and examining the main stream again and again is important, as the relationships between previously unconnected moments to main stream assumptions bring about new interpretations, some that may be embarrassing to some or worse—incriminating. Pandora's famous box is open in our epoch and at least two major points of contention about American History have flown out and are roosting noisily on the shore of the late 18th century and another on that shore, but extended all the way into the 20th century.

The more poignant of the new contentions is the idea that the American Revolution was actually more like a secession from Britain to avoid the growing anti-slavery movement in Britain itself and its Empire. The evidence for this idea is of various kinds. One can interpret the 1775 proclamation of the Royal Governor of Virginia to free any slave that would fight against the planters as evidence enough—those well-known planters who were militating for radical relief from the various oppressions of the Crown and Parliament: stamp taxes, and various other "humiliations." Professor Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina has a new book out Liberty is Sweet in which he spells out his thesis that maintaining slavery was the chief aim of "the powers who were" in the southern colonies, without the strength of which the northern colonies believed a new nation could not be safely asserted and formed. The "3/5ths of a person" definition of a slave in the US Constitution is a beating drum of the stark reality of slavery in the formation of the country.

The other significant new reinterpretation of the History of the United States is that it was not actually united at all, but rather was still a confederation of disparate sovereignties frequently and perilously on the verge of dissolution from the beginning until it finally fractured in 1861. If one accepts the premise that slavery v. anti-slavery was the main force for dissolution (The Rebellion), then after the Civil War the force was White Supremacy under the flags of Manifest Destiny politics culminating in Kipling's "White Man's Burden" in 1899, the eve of the twentieth century. And, one has to question how much of any of these elements have actually disappeared from the stream of our history. Professor Alan Taylor of the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia is the latest proponent of these ideas laid out in his new book American Republics.

Both Taylor and Holton are reviewed by Sean Wilentz, Professor History at Princeton University in The New York Review of Books, January 13, 2022. Professor Wilentz disagrees quite energetically with both men. There are at least two things to be said about that. Wilentz criticizes the selection of evidence and emphasis by both authors. Being partial, I believe Wilentz's selection of things to criticize is faulty and also poorly presented. This is the dialectic of history—thesis, then confronted by antithesis, and eventually producing a new synthesis, and so on.

But fancy dialectics aside, the other question I have is really much less academic. The story of America is just over 400 years old and in the making still. The story of the United States is approaching 250 years, rapidly, but uncertainly. The question is: What do we want to teach our children about the civilization we all have created here on the North American continent and the mythology about us which we and others have spread around the world?

Instantly, we say to ourselves that children should "believe in" our country and become patriotic. In a second flash, we recognize that learning one's country's history does not happen all at once, and thus as the child matures the deeper meanings are illuminated. Personally, I doubt that the illumination survives the weighty burden of what has been said before. It takes courage to rebel against parental authority, school authority, any authority. Do we then provide enough incentive for critical thinking as a basis for the natural transition to adult autonomy? Again, and with deep regret, I think the majority do not feel that incentive, do not practice critical thinking, and remain instead "Stockholm hostages" to palpably fictional but comfortable histories.

Alan Taylor at Virginia, but earlier at the University of California at Davis, is still actively working in the UCLA inaugurated California State Social Science and History Project that provides direct, sometimes hands-on curriculum support to K-12 teachers. The Project has had remarkable success in bringing the imaginations of public school students to bear on issues exactly like those above. So maybe there is hope for Virginia students as well. The project is a very welcome departure from the washed-hands distance of universities from public schools!


(Today's Isms)


Masculinism and Feminism
~700 words

Echo and Narcissus, by John William Waterhouse (1903) Lisa Featherstone's is a journalism I encounter every so often. I was drawn to her writing because of her surname. I know another Featherstone, and once looked up the name and found it to be nothing but pure British and not at all American indiginous. Lisa's piece in the NYTimes of December 4, 2021 reports on the Republican "obsession" with manliness, which instantly reminded me of Teddy Roosevelt and his attempted compensations for what he saw in himself as under-manliness, something short of sissyhood, completely clear of gay, trans, queer, or any other of the newer categories of gender identity, all of which must certainly befuddle the obsessed.

Lisa's essay runs aground for me when she writes (somewhat out of her own context and competence)—

"To thrive, many men also need the freedom not to be “men” at all, but rather to become sissies, scrawny historians or even women, a cultural evolution Mr. Hawley and his conservative ilk adamantly oppose."

For the record, Mr. Hawley is far scrawnier than I (192 lbs), and he's really not much of an historian, Lisa, despite having a baccalaureate from Stanford and a law degree from Yale and a book about, you guessed it—Teddy Roosevelt—and another book about the tyranny and cabal of silicon valley. His experience, beginning with Missouri rural, is clearly too far removed from the experience of the mainstream public and institutions, such as, say, #4-Virginia and #1-UCLA, my baccalaureate and doctoral institutions, for example. But, maybe Lisa did not err in writing the verb "need" rather than "want," given that she has a 15 y.o. son whose daily evolution has provided her with untold insight into the preconscious of her off-spring.

The issue in the Republican Party and with Mr. Hawley, in particular, is that the party no longer represents policies or points of view that resonate with majorities of the electorate—and most of them know it. Another way of expressing this is to say that the Republican Party is effectively obsolete and possessed with paranoid delusions about this unhappy evolution. In such a state, what should an earnest Republican pol do? A smart one like Hawley would usually caste around for instructive examples, but also emotion-laden excuses. What do you suppose a brilliant mind like his would quickly recognize? Certainly his sense of his own "elequence" would come under scrutiny, his transference and substitution of biological concerns to intellectual matters might flash brightly in the dreadnight of his own obsolescence. Would he ever wonder if his privilege and the superstructure that holds it up and together might be suspect? Is Reality social-Darwinist or not? Is the modern epoch a reach too far beyond red-in-tooth-and-claw? Is ignoring the humanity of Labor still a Republican virtue? Are intellectual elites right more often than not?

Masculinism is clearly the paranoid response of a certain predictable margin of "junk-packing" human beings to the perceived "onslaught" of modern feminism, which in a word is a daunting concept for these guys. Rurality begins with the idea of chores, many requiring heavy lifting and stamina. My uncle taught English at UNH for many years and with his wife and family ran a family farm, too. It was not that difficult, but it is not always done intelligently, in which case it more often than not sets up the age-old patriarchal model of family life and enterprise. Feminism, on the other hand, promotes a model where the feminine 50.8% of the population have an equal say and opportunity to thrive, rather than being subjected or subjecting themselves to a category of problematic humans who are just defensively and offensively larger.

The Republican's "Rough-Rider response" to assuage their widely perceived incompetence is, of course, dangerous. Feminists of all genders should beware of masculinism flags planted provocatively in domains inimical to the legal, cultural, and natural equality of all persons, especially by pounded-chest heros of those years, yore, eons, and millennia of swinish patriarchy. If they have not yet learned—nor even shown signs of learning—that History is the story of progressive evolution within the human species toward freedom of the individual to responsibly participate in society on an equal footing with all, the obsolescence of the Republican Party is probably fatal. Let's see if a few of them can rally their courage to create a new Eisenhower-like Conservative Party, while poor Lincoln spins in his grave.

[The image is "Echo and Narcissus" by John William Waterhouse (1903) and represents the core value of the "masculinism movement" ... pure, scrawny, beefcake narcissism.]


(Today's Isms)



Time (to Recover)

I have been reading about Conservatism and Liberalism for many years. I think each has something to say. I was always troubled by the bottom line issue, which then and now is how and why one or the other of these frames of mind treats the least fortunate among us.

Adam Smith 1723-1790 Recently I saw two hours of a PBS miniseries on Adam Smith. The narrator and producer were enthusiastic about the prescience and depth of Smith's analysis in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) and the earlier work The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). The time between these two works is important, but that is not the time I am going to talk about.

In Wealth of Nations Smith explains that the sum of people acting in a free market for their own benefit create a situation in which there appears to be a "hidden hand" guiding the overall market to be beneficial for the society generally. How this happens is based on the earlier book, Moral Sentiments, in which it is proposed that Trust among those involved in the market is the essential factor in society, and in Wealth specifically, that buyers and sellers have confidence that neither is a malign character interested in activities that would derange or destroy the market, the commons of buyers and sellers.

The problem—even in the conditions of perfect reliance on Trust and Market—is the time it takes to recover for those who are decremented by an "astute" play in the market. Thus when my cousin was asked by a famous company to move his lightbulb factory to Puerto Rico—presumably to lower the costs of labor—the loss of scores and scores of jobs in an already rustbelt region was a killer for many, and certainly a Jedi observing from the safety of her perch on the Moon would calculate that the benefit to Puerto Rico did not balance the loss to New England. Or, in otherwords, the "hidden hand" was in the pocket of the famous company.

Conservatives will concentrate on the labor cost and the reasons for it, including trade unions seen as unfair and ruthless characters intervening in the market. Liberals will decry the company's lack of loyalty to the workers that spurred them to unionize, pointing out that plenty of profits were made and that the lightbulb factory continued to be profitable. Liberals will say that the "moral sentiments" of the company were insufficient, while the conservatives will say that the factory was projected to go into unprofitability in a matter of a few short years, and that the market is not supposed to be a suicide pact.

You can see how the economic issue: labor cost v. profitability quickly turns to an issue of public ethics. We historians like to think we can unpack the history of situations like this and keep some kind of score. Taking the issue of "time to recover" as the neutral position, it is plain that a few individuals in management are far more agile in time than a town's labor force. So, the trade union is interposed to level the playing field, effectively (they hope) bringing the management of labor over to the side of labor.

Closing the factory (or moving it) is partly conditioned by the market for lightbulbs and the competition this famous company had to contend with. Beyond and prior to this it is clear that communications and trust had broken down long ago between the company and the labor force. Why that happened is partly because of ideas about the stratification of society into rich and not so rich, select and not select, leaders and followers, brains v. brawn, and many such diadic views all of which create invidious distictions (Veblin, et al) among people.

Whether Karl Marx was correct or not about the superstructure of ideologies and religions being the product of the economic circumstances, it is still clear that many Calvinist Protestants believed themselves to be select of God, privileged by their own good works, and meant to be the ruling class of nations. In terms of "time to recovery," these ideologies interpose thickets of emotion and unique logics that extend the time to recover, obviating it entirely in many cases. So, I come to the conclusion that in practice Adam Smith's argument in Moral Sentiments is often or largely ignored and forgotten and, instead, the market has become a Darwinian place, red in tooth and claw, where people are brought to the very brink of survival and some are sacrificed.

(Today's Isms and Economics)


What is Metaphor?

David Brooks, columnist in the New York Times has a talk at TED, for those of you who subscribe to TED's "ideas worth spreading." It is not a particularly world-shattering talk David gives, but it is a lot more humorous than I thought he was capable, having read years' worth of his op-ed pieces that try to define the political center-right in America. Brooks is a good student, well educated, not quite intellectual, but certainly the next best thing. He is a columnist, after all, and his forte is to see in the world things that would be of interest to others and things with a didactic purpose that he can mold further or try to deflect.

In the course of David Brooks's recent meanderings through the thickets of political theory he chanced upon the topic of metaphor, presented to him as the modus operandi of the typical human imagination. I am glad Brooks has brought this subject out into "the open," as it were, for it is a very important concern of philosophers of epistemology as well as practical people in Linguistics, like George Lakoff whose work on political issue frames is part of the total picture of American politics today.

Brooks makes the stunning error in his report about metaphor of putting a disparaging valence on the use of metaphor, stemming from its all too apparent poetic character. He has not gotten into the study far enough to understand that the differences between prose and poetry are minor, when it comes to understanding where they come from in the human brain and imagination. For instance, an honest study of semantics reveals that words, indeed the entire vocabulary of a language is a cemetery of dead metaphors, words the poetry of which has dissipated into nothingness leaving us with a sense of security that the name of the thing or process or quality is appropriate and real.

Brooks did not have the time or the inclination to go further into a study of Rhetoric to understand that metaphor is but one of several forms of linguistic analogizing, there being (depending on the theorist) at least four major types, categories that develop analogies in specific ways, such as metonymy which is the figure of speech in which a closely associated thing is substituted for the subject thing: "The British Crown spoke in no uncertain terms about the responsibility of every Englishman to his native land." Clearly the physical crown atop George's head did not speak, but suggesting so gives more authority to the utterance, as it conveys associations with history and power.

Synecdoche is another figure of speech that is one of the members of the metaphor family. Synecdoche substitutes a part for the whole or whole for the part, as in the familiar expression "a hundred head of cattle," of course not meaning detached heads, but the whole animal reduced to a crucial part.

Of the four figures of speech the one that is perhaps the most confusing is Irony. Irony depends on the negative associations of the substituted word or idea, and Irony can emerge from an otherwise straightforward metaphor, such as "my love, a rose" certainly beautiful, fragrant, but sometimes too thorny.

Brooks may later get into the intricacies of metaphoric analysis, and I wish him well in this, for the subject lies at the heart of human cognition. We extend our knowledge of the world by way of metaphors and explicit analogies, such as the idea of "planetary electrons" surrounding an atomic nucleus. We eventually lose the "surprise" of the metaphor and take for granted that electrons orbit the nucleus in fact. This idea extended our vision of physics immeasurably, and with quantum physics may have met its ironic association.

Read Brook's column of April 11th and enjoy the extension of your own imagination. You will never be the same, believe me!



What is a Liberal

I am extremely interested in the deep structure of ideology. Not just Liberalism or Progressivism, per se, but all ideologies. My studies of and in Russia were basically about Marxism and Leninism and Stalinism, and my studies on China about the KuoMinTang and then the Maoist version of Communism. But I have also studied western European ideologies and have noticed that "world views" and Zeitgeists may be more important that ideologies in determining what a person actually will do in a given situation.

World views and Zeitgeists (literally "spirit of the times") are cultural, that is, they are trains of thought and thinking that are sufficiently widespread to "have a life of their own." With obvious variations and differing perspectives from one generation to the next, world views seem to be the most deeply rooted and extend out into religion and psychology. Zeitgeists, as the name implies, are more ephemeral, and even may be more hazy concepts than world views. The spirit of the times of the "Roaring Twenties" was not shared by all or even most of the people in the United States or western Europe, but it was a definite cast of mind that even included a political ideology such that people "swept up in" the Roaring Twenties were in some sense "on the make" economically, socially, or sexually, and so there was a background belief that aggressive commerce, social climbing, or dalliance was acceptable, legal, expectable, and welcome in some overarching way.

Well, these thoughts passed through my mind this morning as I read E.J. Dionne Jr.'s column in the Washington Post about who Rahm Emanuel, the new Mayor of Chicago as of Tuesday, is and might turn out to be. In the middle of his essay, Dionne says

... One of my favorite (printable) Rahm quotations is his observation that the talk in his home when he was growing up led him to believe that the Democratic Party "was one of the 10 lost tribes of the Jewish faith." This primordial feeling allows him to understand every kind of Democrat.

Many assume he is more New Democrat than liberal because of his advocacy during the Clinton years of welfare reform, NAFTA and a tough approach to crime. He was more ready to compromise on health care than Obama was. And, yes, his mayoral campaign was more like a venture capital fund, a juggernaut financed by big contributions from some of the country's richest people.

But there's nothing illiberal about being against crime, and Rahm has consistently emphasized the toll of street violence on the poor, a theme he struck again in his victory speech on Tuesday. He understands the value of a certain amount of populism....

Dionne says that Emanuel may be a "New Democrat" rather than a liberal. Then he goes on to chalk up pros and cons for what Democrats believe and inferring what "liberals" believe. Dionne's specific exclusion of welfare reform from the agenda of "liberals" really annoyed me. It is as if to say that "liberals" are oblivious to the various complaints about welfare and its debilitating and other unanticipated consequences. It is as if "liberal" to Dionne conjures up some notion of a bleeding heart so intent on his or her guilt for the tribulations of the poor and infirm that they cannot see. So, I question whether Dionne really knows what he is writing about, first, and then I question whether contemporary Democrats actually subscribe to the "liberal" ideology, or have they run away from the mudslung word "liberal" and the ideology that word embraces?

Food for thought. I will leave you with my assessment. Dionne is basically liberal, but has been battered about so badly that he is slightly confused or at least willing to abuse a few terms for a nod from a larger audience than he believes he actually represents. And, yes, Liberals do have hearts, but they no longer bleed all over the place. In some sense the Liberal heart is hardened to the realities of politics, especially the GOP politics of taking no prisoners and listening not at all to what the opposition has to say.

Liberalism is the fundamental engine of our Enlightenment-inspired democracy and republic. Liberalism is a path of understanding of human events and futures parallel to the scientific method, in other words, rigorous, fair, carried out with humility, and not dogmatic or fixed in its discoveries and lessons. The spirit of the times, with TeaParty populists ranting around every corner, is not parallel to rational discourse or science. It is aimless pragmatism directed to accumulation of quick and easily ballyhooed victories to build up confidence for facing what is for many a very bewildering future.



The Sides Really Are at War

Some people have asked me why I jumped into the fray in Madison, Wisconsin, since Wisconsin is something of a backwater state, aggie, beery, and politically polarized since the days of Bob Lafollette. One suspects in Wisconsin that politics is modulated by the passing of generations and the stark differences between Catholics centered in Milwaukee and the Calvinist and Lutheran remainder. But, the answer is that Wisconsin is just the contemporary stage for a battle that has been going on for 150 years or more, namely, the battle for political, social, and economic hegemony in the United States.

Paul Krugman, fearless Nobelist and economist, wrote in the Sunday New York Times about Wisconsin's role in the larger battle and the current score. Democracy is losing! And, having said that, one wonders why individuals, Americans, enlist in the armies of the enemy?

What reasons could an individual have for siding with the forces that want to corrupt and obviate our democracy? First, I think, is the egocentric assumption that they, themselves, will rise into the milieu of the rich and famous. They believe that their current interests are to make sure there is a place for them above where they find themselves today. They are blissfully unaware of the sobering statistics on social and economic climbing. Even "new money" has to look "in" through the keyhole, but they ignore this.

Second, I think that proto-oligarchs, if that is what we should call them, fundamentally dislike the idea of democracy, even representative democracy. They distrust the masses motives and believe reflexively that majoritarian rule is just a tyranny of the crowd. The believe that the crowd will vote itself a free lunch and sponge off the "hard work" of others endlessly. They don't just dislike democracy; they are afraid of it and hate it without words to say so.

Thirdly, I think that people who have strongly held principles about public behavior tend to not respect people with variant views. So, for instance, if the Democrats support the idea of Choice in planning parenthood and our proto-oligarch does not, or at least is against abortion, then he will tend to avoid that group and by default or by earnest intend fall into the group that wishes to impose its rules on the private lives of others. To put it mildly, proto-oligarchs, being successful by some measure in business or industry, are awfully self-certain and so their view of what is public and what is private blurs to their own benefit.

Finally, but by no means exhaustively, the person who is ready to give up democracy to curtail the rights of others as "presumptuous," "uneconomical," "immoral," or any other rubric of opinion you can think of have a poorly developed sense of the social nature of the human species. They are hell-bent to understand the world as their authoritarian parents understood it. They lack compassion, and indeed such a word sounds fatally weak to them. How they manage to "practice" Christianity is a miracle of hypocrisy worthy of research by all the synods and diocese of man.

When you sum them up and understand their basic motives you understand that they are an implacable enemy. Many, if not most, of them seem to be immovable in their views, and we should not wonder at this, since they were formed as children in what really amounts to an abusive relationship with people upon whom they depended for life itself. They are who they are and what we can do about it is the biggest question.

We can understand that they cannot be eliminated quickly. We choose as a principle of humane activity to reject violence against them, so what can we do? The answer is that we must have a long period in which they are shown that what the Progressive and Liberal and Humane person does actually works! We cannot allow them political power for they will, as Reaganistas did, sabotage the best intended programs for social and economic justice. We must dominate their imaginations with truth about our species and its "condition." We must teach them democracy and tolerance, because they do not know it.



The Conservative Brainwash

Most of us Liberal Progressives have a decent appreciation for a good argument, an argument that marshals facts and perspectives, performs something like a syllogism, and concludes with striking assessment of a knotty problem. We recognize such arguments as being a few notches up the stick from the reality they pretend to represent, but that is the nature of human thinking and communication. It is symbolic and a little abstract no matter what we do to give it a sense of messy realism. It is, therefore, more than an idle complaint that some people pretend to argue, but are actually constructing a false picture of a nonexistent situation, using fabricated facts, and exploiting the well-known abuses of the syllogism. Why do they do this? Is their reality so bankrupt and threadbare that they must invent from whole cloth each time they speak, or is it that they have premises that overwhelm evidence and exclude the fullness of facts and observations?

Since the nominees were named for the 2008 election season the "rhetoric" from the conservatives has been stridently bereft of facts, yet the multitudes seem to love it, and they vote for it. It makes me lie awake at night wondering what must be the level of critical thinking taking place in, say, fifty million heads nowadays. It cannot be critical thinking and is probably would best be labeled "wishful thinking" if it were the least bit positive, but it is not. It is decidedly negative and destructive. So what do we call it? A few regular handles spring to mind, but they really do not carry either the tone or the burden of what is going on. The closest I can come to the overall purpose and strategy of the conservatives is the expression "brainwashing."

I think they are brainwashing themselves primarily and happy to pick up a few hapless converts along the way. In that sense the nonsense that is repeated endlessly by the conservatives out on the edge is more like a mantra than dialog. It is the hopeful repetition of an incantation with the object in mind of having it come true by some magical means. "Nam myoho rengai kyo." And all your deepest wishes will be fulfilled.

The process is a page from every religious culture that ever was. It is, at its best, a prayer for something, probably protection from the hostile elements of a an uncaring world. At its worst it is a threat and call to arms to stamp out and kill anything that sounds different and leads to a different conclusion. It is a war chant, a deliberate denial of manifest truth in favor of a theory of how things are that was superseded by science and rational thinking ages ago. It is a desperate plaint in the wilderness for a simple answer to complexity.

All of this was made quite plain in Paul Krugman's essay on Friday. He absolutely nailed both the real facts and the mendacious ploys of the conservatives in one short essay—a real masterpiece!



American Liberalism

After many years of grappling with the question of why the American brand of Liberalism seems to be less "satisfying or rhetorically inspiring" than virtually any of the contending forces out there, I finally ran across a very interesting article in Scientific American magazine, which goes part of the way toward explaining what classical "Liberalism" really is. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, writes in his regular column in SciAm about a book he recently read by Timothy Ferris, The Science of Liberty, in which the novel thesis laid out that as a matter of historical fact, the Founding Fathers of this nation, imbued with the newly found "Enlightenment" respect for scientific thinking—as a methodology—deliberately and sometimes unconsciously incorporated much of that scientific methodology into their thinking and into the Constitution itself! Shermer and Ferris point out that what we think of as a "liberal democracy" is short-hand for a scientific approach to politics and governance. This puts classical American Liberalism on an entirely new, novel, and provocative footing.

At the top of the American Liberalism website by the title you will see five concepts that we believe are fundamental and intrinsic to the core of Liberal thinking, guidelines, perhaps, for the multitude of problems, programs, and contingencies that a people will encounter in the course of running a "great experiment" like the United States of America. Each of these elements was initially thought to be an element of our ideology. But now, with the perspective that Liberalism is really ... really ... political sciences in the raw, in the flesh, in action, a way of thinking about running an experiment in which one is fully and perhaps fatally embedded, the five concepts look more and more like rules of behavior in this laboratory, markers and signposts to keep your eye on the ball.

If Liberalism is the scientific method for politics, and really is political science, per se, as Shermer and Ferris describe in some detail, then what is Conservatism ... besides being institutionalized pessimism? In the context provided by the watershed idea of Ferris that had been lurking in our history, but insufficiently explained to break loose from its supposed moorings in British parliamentary party politics, Conservatism is both an ideological position based on the fundamental belief that government is inherently dishonest and corrupt, because it is constituted and run by dishonest and corrupt men, a religious doctrine brought into the life of the nation, and moreover, it is effectively a denial of the scientific method, an idea so fundamentally irrational that it transcends politics and goes, AS IT IS GOING TODAY AT FOX AND TEA PARTIES ALL OVER THE PLACE, back to a vision of humanity that denies rationalism, reason, transcendence, and virtually everything that the Enlightenment stood for.

Let us be clear. Both Shermer and Ferris go to some trouble to emphasize that science is a messy process complete with the inevitable irrationalities of its practitioners, complete with falsified data, unproven hypotheses, discarded and discredited theories, but always more or less self-correcting (against the forces of ambition and sloth) by experimental testing, gathering of evidence, and rigorous and competitive evaluations. You see, it begins as a glimmer that they are absolutely correct that the Constitution was designed to replicate as much as possible the essential methodology of science. But, it also becomes apparent that any experiment in which the scientists themselves are part of the experiment is fraught with the possibilities of compromise, fraud, and paradox.

Moreover, with human frailties all too evident, the liberal democracy must learn to deal with the negative inheritance from the past, and with new threats to the methodology. It is no picnic, and the Ferris idea is anything but a panacea for governance and politics.

What it is, though, is a remarkable perspective on what we have conceived and carried forward with occasional mistakes and occasional remarkable successes. Read the SciAm article at least, and give your Liberalism a new breath of life.



The State of the World

The human condition is one of those grab-bag, black hole kind of ideas that includes anything and everything you might want to say about the goodness and perversity of being human and being human amongst humans and other living things and within a physical environment from which one might extract great wealth or not. See! The so-called human condition covers a lot of ground and just about the time you think you have a dinner speaker's chance of nailing it down, it changes.

It changes because we are all different in our multiplicity and all the same in our singularity. The practitioners of Zen and coiners of Zen koans should be good at this, but they have long since discovered that it doesn't make any difference to what they are after, which is, of course, inner peace. Well inner peace here and inner peace in Uttar Pradesh are two different things. You consider the vast array of creeds here and the vast array of gods and hero there and you wonder how the human mind can assume that sufficient similarity of purpose to make any communication possible.

Today in the Boston Globe, hot on the heels of a magnificent essay about the problem of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church, James Carroll writes about the problems of the Church as if they were old hat and perhaps overstated; my reading of his essay, not his avowed purpose. He is writing about the demise of egalitarianism and nationalism, although he calls egalitarianism "socialism" to make the point about decline.

I agree with him in a way. Clearly in the west, particularly Europe, the area in which modern nationalism got its start and strong voice and strong philosophical underpinnings, nationalism is much less than it was in the 19th century and the great wars of the 20th. And, just as clearly, with the demise of the Soviet Union, all socialist ideas have come under heavy scrutiny and criticism. In the U.S. particularly, since the U.S. was the leading opponent of the Soviet Union and developed its loins-girding rhetoric to a high art, the besmirching of socialism and communism have become a reflex and have long since departed from meaningful descriptions of what exactly "socialism" intends and intended, or what Lenin and Stalin and the Politburo did to Marx's theories to acquire and then maintain power. It matters a great deal because there are ideas embedded in "socialism" that are also embedded in even conservative ideas of the commonwealth and what a "republic" is.

It has been common practice in the last fifty years to acknowledge that nationalism has replaced much of what religion once provided as a unifying force over society. I tend to disagree with Carroll that nationalism is finished, however. I wrote about a week ago how the horizons of most people are local horizons and that home and hearth are steady concepts relating to family and the sense of one's place in the world. I was angry about that then and sarcastic and gave up on the idea of humankind truly understanding the complexity that 7+ billions of people creates on a small planet with limited resources and an ecology that will strike a balance and homeostatic compromise with what is at hand, whether that be us or not. Then a couple of days ago I read a piece by Manu Joseph of Mumbai, India, which takes off in a substantially different direction.

Joseph's essay mixes up things that Carroll cannot mix: internet address protocols, the pervasiveness of English because of the last (most recent) big fling with nationalism, and modern nationalism. Joseph demonstrates that nationalism and regionalism and even parochialism are far from dead, far from decline, and in fact are alive and growing in places we thought would skip that step.

That step!

In the west, because of our unique history (not to favor it, but only to note that it has not been replicated ... or understood very well), we have developed theories of history and "everything" that (perhaps modeled on human maturation processes and stages) include epochs in which we learn how to do things that were impossible or not even imagined in earlier stages. That is, we have the background notion that things are, if not improving, they are "developing" and, like James Carroll, we are charged with the duty to find the good and learn, pass it on, and be better tomorrow than we were today. The idea of progress is not exclusively western, you should know. The central tenet of Buddhism within the concept of "transmigration of souls" or "reincarnation" is that there is progress and regress both dependent ... as it is in the west ... on various freewill opportunities.

The galvanizing words within Manu Joseph's brief treatise are these:

"The world does not want to be unified. What is the value of belonging if you belong to all?"
In these two sentences Joseph demolishes Carroll. India has something over a billion people, more than all the (other) English-speaking and European countries combined! When Joseph jots down his syllogism, the stage is set for nationalism and for egalitarianism, whether it be "socialist" or not. If nothing else he has reminded us that the pace of "progress" is different in other places and of a much different gait.



The Psychologies of Conservativism and Liberalism

As the year 2009 wends onward to its more or less unsatisfactory finish, with the economy still up for grabs, with the war in Iraq punctuated recently by massive terrorist bombings in Baghdad and unresolved issues in the Kurdish area, and with the U.S. military, the CIA, and Blackwater all resolutely laying the foundations for a new thirty years war in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and maybe even Uzbekistan), liberals and conservatives are at one another's throats on a daily basis. If you watch MSNBC in the evenings, both Rachel and Keith are hard at work exposing the Fox Noise Network's ever proliferating lies and pseudo-histories of our times. Both go over the top a couple times a week, but Keith more than Rachel. Most Americans wish that Rupert Murdock could be expelled from our country and sent back to Tazzie or wherever he came from.

The differences between conservatives and liberals are not all concocted by pundits, however. The GOP and the Fox rightwingnuts have developed a new form of disloyal opposition, eschewing "loyalty" in the hope that any failure (human or institutional) will redound to their benefit in the mid-term elections next year. The GOP positions from Chairman Steele to Representatives Boehner and Cantor to Senators Hatch and McConnell are deliberate, and many of us can remember when the GOP acted quite differently. It has been a while, though. Certainly not since Gingrich strode into town in 1994.

The differences between conservatives and liberals are, most people suspect, something deeper than political/tactical and purely ideological. There seems to be an unbridgable moral gap between the two groups. Professor Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia has some ideas on this subject as reported in the December issue of Scientific American, which you should find quite interesting.

In a nutshell of Prof. Haidt devising are five key psychological "systems":

  1. Harm/care: Evolved mammalian attachment systems mean we can feel the pain of others, giving rise to the virtues of kindness, gentleness and nurturance.
  2. Fairness/reciprocity: Evolved reciprocal altruism generates a sense of justice.
  3. Ingroup/loyalty: Evolved in-group tribalism leads to patriotism.
  4. Authority/respect: Evolved hierarchical social structures translate to respect for authority and tradition.
  5. Purity/sanctity: Evolved emotion of disgust related to disease and contamination underlies our sense of bodily purity.
If you have not already read the article, take a wild guess which of these five "systems" are favored by liberals, then read the article and take a few minutes to pursue the links provided by SciAm.

Remember "POE" from Dr. Strangelove? Turns out the issue is not comedic; it's real and very fraught!



Capitalism, Fascism, and Socialism

Yesterday (February 16th), Thom Hartmann wrote a truly excellent article on FDR-era Vice President Wallace's remarks about whether Fascism "... Can Happen Here". Hartmann's article did not change my mind, but it did force me to realize that the issue is really "afoot," as they say. As everyone knows explicitly or "in their bones" we are now in very interesting times, the outcome of which could go in any of several undesirable directions.

Moreover, the issue is not straightforwardly explicable. There are a lot of good and true reasons to think that Capitalism is different from Fascist Corporatism. And, equally, there are a lot of people who, believing themselves to be "capitalists," are really more simply "entrepreneurs." And, there are "capitalists" who are already "corporatists" and don't even know it. Finally, there are rational people in politics and in the press who believe their job is to mediate the Obama Administration away from any "socialistic" tendencies the Democrats may have "under their tent" and in so doing these members of the press are misrepresenting "capitalism" and, wittingly or not, playing into the hands of people who are committed "corporatists" and lacking only the propaganda means to accomplish their aims.

Capitalism has become by the beginning of the 21st Century a complex creation of human ingenuity. Even in its early modern days in the Dutch Republic of the 17th century, Capitalism was complex and already linked culturally to Calvinist religion. It was, thus, something of an ideology with assumptions established in different parts of the Dutch culture. The Dutch were, arguably, the first modern country to dominate world trade. In a sense they defined what mercantilism was and, in so doing, gave a modern definition to "capital." Fundamentally, the study of macroeconomics begins to take shape during this period, that is, "mercantilists" began to understand the larger implications of the accumulation of capital and the necessary role of the state in the accumulation and preservation of capital.

Capital is according to 19th century analysis the accumulation of "surplus value," which is in the simplest terms the difference between cost of production and price. Capital has two important functions: one is to simply exist, accumulated, and to represent potential, and the other is as investment, that is, capital committed to discrete purpose. Capitalists are, therefore, persons who accumulate surplus value and persons who commit that value toward some kind of enterprise. Capitalists are not necessarily entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs are not necessarily capitalists, although they seek and must have capital. Capitalists naturally are aware of the environment in which they operate and so they seek safety for their accumulations of capital and they seek to minimize the risk associated with the capital they commit into investment. In other words, since the beginning Capitalists have not and do not exist in a vacuum; they exist in cultures and polities and like every other being on the planet they do what they can to control their cultures and polities. The activities of control are what interests us.

Capital and capitalists are but one part of the equation, however. You will find many definitions of what constitutes an operational economy, but the traditional view is that land and labor are the other two main components. There is not time to fully argue the reason for doing so, but I am going to substitute the term "commons" for the term "land" in this essay, because I think we need to understand the materiality of enterprise as also embodying the air, the water, the ecosystem, the planet. Perhaps we come to this substitution too late. The commons is the neglected part of the human enterprise equation, and the insertion of a partisanship for the commons is not only necessary, but has been largely misunderstood and too often deliberately suppressed.

But labor has its day. The Marxist analysis comes to the more than slightly simplistic conclusion that "surplus value" is actually the congealed value of the work of Labor. Taking that as a moral point, which Marx and Engels do (which is why Marxism has been so acceptable to many), they (along with the less precise predecessor utopians) arrive at the conclusion that control of the polity (and the economy) ought to belong to—be in the control of—labor, not in the control of culturally and religiously "irrelevant" or "unnecessary" individuals whose main aim and virtue seems to be acquisitiveness and more acquisitiveness through investment. Once the role of the capitalist is partly revealed, it becomes easy to see a way to replace them within the "division of labor" with technicians. It should be obvious at this point that these technicians will learn to call themselves "management" and that they have exploited both Capitalists and Labor to a calamitous fare-thee-well recently.

When Labor takes over the function of accumulating the surplus value of an economy and the function of determining how that value is to be invested, we call that Socialism. The idea that our elected representatives in Congress represent Labor is only partly correct, of course, so the current bailout situation is only by a long stretch of the imagination Socialism. Socialism is "social" only in the sense that the private accumulation and investment ambitions of individuals is replaced by putatively "public individuals," those elected or hired to do what Capitalists did theretofore. It is important to see that Socialism does not obviate the need for capital or "capitalists." It is merely a mode of control over the economy and the polity and the culture.

So then what is Fascism and Corporatism? In brief, it is the control of the polity and the economy and the culture by a combination of the Capitalists with the collusion of Management (now separating itself from the category of Labor), and importantly with "management" being defined and conditioned by the organized enterprises in which Capitalists have invested, that is, the corporations. The control of government, whether elected or not, is achieved by well-known indirect means, of which we have ample experience in the past sixty years. Rather than allowing themselves to be "dispossessed" by the threat of Labor taking matters into its own hands, Capitalists and Management use the government and economy to control Labor ... and to provide enterprises into which they can safely invest.

Almost needless to say in such a short essay, Corporatism is not a whether, but like Capitalism and Socialism a question of how much. It has already happened. The control of the polity is always a balance (or imbalance) among the contestant members of the economy. However, you should notice that of the three methods, Fascist Corporatism has the least moral authority ... only that which the Capitalist brings in from the remnants of Calvinist considerations for one's fellow man.

So, this is the point at which to introduce a concept from Barry Schwartz at TED. It is the concept of "incentive" v. "moral will and moral skill." The current Corporatists and Capitalists complain that Socialism provides no "incentives" for individuals to excel. They are incorrect, of course, but they miss the point that is crucial to the paradigm we as a People are about to create and pursue. It is that mere monetary incentives per se eviscerate moral will and destroy moral skills, the very things that liberal democracies depend upon as the antidote to the well-known problems of the human condition, the very thing that prompted the Founding Fathers to propose a form of government both strong and vital, but also checked and balanced against the all-too-familiar excesses of the human personality in the possession of the power of control.

It is and will be those who speak for the Commons who are possessed of the missing moral will and moral skill. It is the Commons that by definition unites us, the Commons that must above all other considerations be husbanded, cultivated, cared for, developed—yes, developed—and made the objective of Capital, the nexus of investment, the raison d'etre of management, the "happiness" we pursue.