Sunday, May 29, 2005

another pause: recent events

I just returned from the annual Future in Review or FiRe Conference, in San Diego. A terrific gathering of technologists, venture capitalists, visionaries and explorers. A highlight was an onstage interview with Elon Musk (founder of PayPal) whose Falcon rocket may soon offer cheaper unmanned access to space and start beating the hell out of Lockheed and Boeing... and Burt Rutan, whose Spaceship One opened the way for commercial, private human access to sub-orbital space.

While chatting in the hall, I offered the following joke that they seemed to enjoy:

"Want to help Russia and America at the same time?

Send half our lawyers, freedom in both countries will go up.

Send half our business school grads and MBAs, both economies will skyrocket.

And send half of NASA's managers. America will get a great space program and Russia some good farm labor."


(Actually, I've been telling that one since 91. Don't get me started.)

=== === ===

Norman Spinrad - often a ranting bad boy in the genre of science fiction - also happens to have one of its sharpest critical eyes. In a recent issue of ISAAC ASIMOV'S MAGAZINE, he offers the following quotables, relevant to our ongoing topic.

"Science fiction can envision not just technology and science beyond that presently existing in the universe of the reader, but cultures evolved beyond our own, and create a belief in the reader that such things are possible, indeed MUST demonstrate that they cohere with the realm of the possible in order to do so.

"And if we believe that something is possible and it really is, one can be moved to attempt to make it so. Thus science fiction is not only a visionary literature that can transcend the culture in which it is created but a transformational literature that can, and has from time to time, evolved those cultures onward."


--

This just came in from a reader. Some of you may have seen it already. An absolutely brilliant faux scientific talk about the process of resurrecting the lost subspecies of vampires. The callous, smug amorality is exactly how science can and often DOES go wrong. http://www.rifters.com/real/progress.htm . It is also gruesomely hilarious and eerily plausible.

And yes, it has a slight anti-modernist tinge. But not really! Satire, dire warnings and self-preventing prophecies are very much part of the process by which science tames its own arrogance and modern people have managed (so far, much of the time) to generate positive sum games... getting the good while preventing the worst or most obvious mistakes. Anyway, this thing is a hoot.

----

I was especially amused that one of you tried to make a case that democrats are the ones engaged in blatant attempts at election stealing nowadays. We should all re read that fellow's remarks. (1) in order to contemplate just how contorted logic can be used to set up weird points of view... and to see Limbaughism in action. (2) in order to stretch your OWN minds to see an alien point of view.

At one level, like many Limbaughisms, this one may contain a grain of truth. Events in San Diego and WA state show that democrats can hypocritically do some of the same things they criticize. (You all know that I do not shy away from skewering leftist hypocrisies.) At another level, of course, it is the coal mine calling a pencil black, Rush's standard technique. If even one of HUNDREDS of electoral allegations are true, the present administration is illegitimate. And on no level even imaginable can it claim to have a mandate.

Two out of ten thousand issues:

(1) Rush promised us indictments. Hunneds. Tousens. Milliuns of indictments, as soon as "honest men take over the filing cabinets" in DC. It would be an entertaining housecleaning as the "most corrupt administration in human history" (the Clintons) met justice in greater numbers than French aristos in tumbrels.

Only... a funny thing has happened on our way to the guillotines... The number of former Clinton officials indicted for actual malfeasance in office has been - after 5 years - ZERO!

It is the 1st time an 8 year administration has ever had ZERO indictable corruption revealed in its aftermath. This "black-is-white" reversal of expectation is not only deeply disappointing for those who want a good scandal-show... but is typical of Limbaughism. The railing incantations fill true believers with indignant wroth, so much so that they can evade any glimpse at actual facts. So much that they can convince themselves that a bunch of aristocrats who hold tightly to EVERY rein of government for their own enrichment, controlling nearly all media, are STILL UNDERDOGS. And honest ones, at that.

(2) Another of a million betrayals of this country that WILL be indicted someday -- my contention that this administration has overseen the steepest plummet in US military readiness in our lifetimes. I'll finish with one latest bit of supporting evidence.

Officers Plot Exit Strategy - By Mark Mazzetti
LA Times Staff Writer, May 22 2005

KILLEEN, Texas — Army Capts. Dave Fulton and Geoff Heiple spent 12 months dodging roadside bombs and rounding up insurgents along Baghdad's "highway of death" — the six miles of pavement linking downtown Baghdad to the capital city's airport. Two weeks after returning stateside to Ft. Hood, they ventured to a spartan conference room at the local Howard Johnson to find out about changing careers. Many young lieutenants and captains, key leaders in combat, are deciding against Army careers in light of the open-ended war on terrorism.

50 comments:

Tony Fisk said...

'And send half of NASA's managers. America will get a great space program and Russia some good farm labor.'

Or send them to Mars! It would demonstrate a more effective redistribution of NASA's budgetting woes, rather than gonad pinching measures like terminating the Voyager program at the point it moves into the unknown, and trashing the computers that can read the Pioneer data tapes to assess the Pioneer anomaly. (Has anyone pointed out to NASA the cost of dismantling the computers that can read the old Pioneer tapes? That might give 'em pause!)

Don't get me started.
...Oops!

1) ...The number of former Clinton officials indicted for actual malfeasance in office has been - after 5 years - ZERO!

We're dealing with unknown knowns here. These are the things that we don't know exist, but which we know ought to exist.

That the highly competent and rigorous search for this evidence has, to date, found nothing just goes to show how secretive the Clinton administration was, and totally blows your case for the number of secrets having increased in the last four years.

2) Officers Plot Exit Strategy
well, that's the low end of the Officer Corp. The high end is covered by Gen. Myers.

David Brin said...

Since the Clinton Administration was the first to actively reduce govt secrecy on a large scale. And since it increased public access through Open Meetings. And since Clinton offered more access to the open press in any month than the present president has in 5 years... your interpretation of the lack of indictments does make one smile.

The only way that you can use the excuse of secrecy is if you also posit toweringly fantastic levels of COMPETENCE... as well as internal solidarity among BC era officials that would seem to defy not only human nature but their own self-interest.

No, you evade the issue. We were promised hundreds of indictments and got none. This is a fundamental and overwhelming damnation of the credibility of Limbaughism, showing it for the Big Lie exercise in NewThink that we all saw, all along.

And yes, the Nasty Left does it too. The diff is that Clinton was not a member of that loony fringe. (They hated his endless willingness to talk, negotiate and compromise.) But the Nasty right has control over all branches of our government, and most media.

This does not disturb you?

(Oh, I find it hilarious. Michael Moore called BC the "best Republican president in years" while the NAACP called him "the first black president." Dang!)

donna said...

The Clinton adminstration, secrets? Please. This was the most investigated administration in history - they chased the man's SPERM, fer Chrisakes.

We'll find out where Bush's sperm goes the day hell freezes over, that's for sure.

Tony Fisk said...

...errrm, maybe I should have added a smiley! ;-)

Tony Fisk said...

...and, yes, it does disturb me!

tdr said...

Not to worry, Tony. I thought your comment was funny. I got your parody of Rumsfeld's unknowable unknowns speech and saw your comment for the joke it was meant to be, at least the part that followed the space program bit. Ironic, isn't it? By the way, I agree with your points about Voyager and Pioneer. As I'm apparantly a mere Limbaugh parrot, let me shout out "mega-dittos" to you in agreement.

As for the blogger's response to my comment. Thanks are due him for plugging it though he found it weird and unhuman. I appreciate the tolerance. Thanks are due him also for acknowledging the truth of what I said even though he diminishes its significance. And finally, thanks to him for providing evidence with his response that supports my main point that Bush's opponents, mostly the liberal Democrats but apparently their militant moderate allies as well, refuse to accept the legitimacy of the elections in which the voters gave him not just one term in office, but two. Have a day.

David Brin said...

What a very weird statement. As a long time supporter of SETI, I had hoped that when we encountered alien logic it would be... well... at least somewhat logical.

Ambi said...

I have just read that the Republicans are starting a militant anti-Hillary-campaign, to stop her before she runs for President. I wondered why they thought this was necessary, since they have McCain who could beat her, according to some early polls. Then I read that they want to get rid of McCain, too, after he stopped their attempt to get rid of the filibuster...

I think they might be successful in stopping McCain in the Republican primaries, but if the past is any indication, Hillary Clinton has the ability to survive any campaign directed against her, and the Republican attempts might just ensure she gets elected in 2008. I wonder how long it would take them then to reverse their position on filibusters...

Nate said...

On the Clinton thing, one of the points that you must understand about the conspiracy minded

Nate said...

On the Clinton thing, one of the points that you must understand about the conspiracy minded is that the lack of evidence of a conspiracy is evidence that the conspiracy must exist, and is even better at hiding its misdeeds than they'd thought. So the less evidence there is, the more convinced they can become.

As for the legitimacy of the elections, given that the SINGLE hand-recount in Florida, when it was finally finished, many months after the imported rioters and the rest of the circus, found that by every count, George W. Bush lost in 2000, well, I really don't have anything to say there.

And on the officers not re-enlisting bit, I know a number of military and (mostly) ex-military folks, and the only one who's still active duty isn't going to stay on after this stint's over, even though he'd originally been planning to go career. Amazing how an endless war with undefined objectives and lack of planning can do that.

Nate said...

Bah, sorry about the weird half-post, blogger barfed on me. Feel free to delete it, and this one, Dr. Brin.

David Brin said...

" Amazing how an endless war with undefined objectives and lack of planning can do that."

Always consider the possibility that what your thought was malign was due to incompetence.

BUT always be willing to consider the opposite, as well.

The astounding levels to which the Iraq War is being managed in the DIEMETRICALLY OPPOSITE FASHION to our successful campaigns in the Balkans and Afghanistan is clearly a result of different plans instituted by the Clinton and Bush Administrations. (Afghanistan is credited to Clinton because W simply said "Go!" to a plan already in place. He had no time to do anything else.

The question is this. Is the toweringly different approach simply a result of incredible incompetence?

Or might there be more afoot?

Think of the effects. Our economy strained, nation utterly divided, alliances ruined, military readiness in a complete nosedive, officer corps collapsing and undergoing political purge, deficits skyrocketing, oil prices skyrocketing as Iraq production plummets... and these are just the "conservative" types of calamities.

We are told that these are temporary side effects. But what if they were the goal, after all? Who would benefit?

Now add a relentless campaign to drive the people of Iran back into the arms of their mullahs. And the violence in Iraq serving to recruit ten new jihadists for every one we kill....

There is one group that benefits. Hint. They aren't US citizens. Though they do spend a lot of time in Las Vegas.

Portlander said...

On the one hand, the September 11th attacks may have derailed investigations into Clinton's administration. On the other hand, the feds had the resources to go after Martha Stewart on the slimmest of grounds.

Maybe the Republicans actually had a (brief) moment of clarity and decided that they should use their combined control of the Presidency and Congress to push their agenda, instead of sticking it to powerless has-beens.

I'm doubtful that the Clinton administration was 100% clean. That doesn't describe any group of human beings I'm familiar with. Surely some Deputy Assistant Undersecretary received an illegal trip to Paris. I'm betting that Bush just isn't very interested in pursuing the matter. Maybe he's hoping his successor will be of a similarly charitable mind. He'd better hope, 'cause I'm sure not in a charitable mood after 4.5 years.

Ryan Somma said...

"Limbaughism" I like that term. I draws a distinction between his fanatical devotees and rational conservatives.

Are the Dittoheads a lost cause? Most anti-rhetoric sites gave up fighting his nonsensical reasoning long ago, and yet the man still holds so many Americans in his irrational paradigm, programming them with hours of ranting every day.

It's amazing how otherwise reasonable people can fail to see the conflicts and contradictions in thought. Throughout Clinton's second term, Limbaugh's daily mantra was his disbelief that we had a president who failed to get the popular vote. Now popular votes are for idiots. Big government was bad under Clinton, but its important and necessary under Bush. Global Warming isn't because of greenhouse gases, it's because the sun is getting hotter.

The Limbaughists are marginalized in intelligent debate, but they are still a powerful voting base. Is there any way to open their minds?

Jacare Sorridente said...

I would just like to point out that several of the posters here are falling victim to the human tendency toward arrogantly assuming that any who disagree with them are mindless sheep following a charismatic leader.

How is it that one side has come to represent (in the minds of certain posters, at least) all the concerned, wise and intelligent Americans while the other is peopled by ignorant, stupid, corrupt sheeple? And further, if the one side has so many smart folks, why does that side keep getting whipped in political battles?

There is something more at work here. Clearly seen is another common human behavior that Brin has commented on- the dividing into groups of "us" and "them". Unfortunately this tendency is clearly a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop. The more that you attribute sinister motives or stupidity to folks who disagree with you politically the more difficult you make it to ever resolve differences and reach a compromise. And this applies equally to both sides of the debate. Unfortunately it seems that the temptation to demonize the opponent is too strong to resist. That leads us to the point where both sides find cooperation intolerable because of all the vitriol which has been spewed back and forth.

Brin has mentioned several times that the GOP has been hijacked by radicals, apparently not recognizing that the same is certainly true of the Democrats. I think that it can be safely said that moderate Americans (and I think that there are still many who exist) are not the least bit enthusiastic to exchange the extremes of one party for the extremes of another. Certainly anyone can see that there are many things which have gone wrong in the Bush administration, but until the opposition can become dispassionate enough to identify what has been done right they stand no chance of achieving a clear majority of popular support.

For those of you who can't possibly imagine what George Bush may have done right, I'll give you a hint: This is the same blind spot that virtually every science fiction author has when imagining future societies. They neglect one of the most powerful driving forces of human behavior, or else when they do touch on it they attribute it only to the bad guys and ignorant fools in the story.

Jacare Sorridente said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve B said...

Jacare said: "...moderate Americans (and I think that there are still many who exist)..."

This has made me think. For many many years I considered myself a moderate American. I'm a registered Republican, and tend to agree a lot with those who are identified as "moderate" Republicans (and some "moderate" Democrats...). But am I really moderate? What exactly is moderate?

Since shortly before the 2004 elections, I've been posting on political blogs. I like to think that I give both sides of an argument a fair hearing, and try to research and think out my responses in detail. And the net effect is that I now know much more clearly where I stand on a lot of different issues than I did a year ago.

And I realize I'm not really a moderate - I'm a radical. An extremist. I find that once I've researched an issue and listened to all sides, I tend to come down HARD on one extreme of that issue or the other. But not anywhere remotely close to our current right/left orientation.

Fiscally I seem to be very conservative, but in the sense of fiscal responsibility of the government to the people as a whole, not always necessarily the traditional sense of doing what's fiscally best for businesses. When it comes to social issues, particularly those involving sexuality, I find myself very liberal. There are fiscal issues where I have a more liberal view (such as where the environment is concerned...) and social issues where I have a conservative view (such as those which impose a fiscal burden...), but almost always the view, once I realize where I actually stand, is extreme and strong.

And this self-discovered extremism on my part makes me really wonder -- is *anyone* truly moderate? Is moderate a term we use for those who just haven't decided yet, either because they've been unwilling or unmotivated to research the issue and stake out their position? Is moderate an average of extremes? Or is moderate simply a term we're applying to those who simply can't be categorized in our monochromatic left vs. right terminology? I can't even honestly say I'm grey -- I'm splotchy.

Somehow I can't see "splotchy" replacing the term "moderate", however more accurate it may be... :-)

David Brin said...

I can understand the poster who complains that I see the present GOP leadership as monstrous, without seeing the same in the democratic leadership.

First, I do see worrisome trends as lefties like Howard Dean push out moderates from Clinton's Democratic leadership council.

But please, you are mixing apples and oranges. I have (as people will clearly attest) made very clear my antipathy towards the recidivist Marxists and postmodernist platonists on the left, who infest campus literature departments (and who, incidentally, despise science fiction). These people would be tyrants if they could.

There are two major differences between the monsters of the left and those of the right, right now.

1) the monsters of the left keep trying to gain control over the democratic party, but they have not yet succeeded.

Honestly, when looking back at Clinton, what's your beef? The reason Limbaugh etc chose to screech at "criminality and immorality" - without ever, ever, ever, ever finding a single smoking gun (save one stained dress) - is because there was so little for an honest, decent and moderate minded conservative to object to.

WHILE trying for healthcare and environmental advances, Clinton doubled the Border Patrol, eliminated deficits, increased military readiness, spurred small business, reduced secrecy, reduced the federal payroll (nondefense) for the 1st time in a century and reduced the number of LAWS for the 1st time ever.

What exactly are the policies that bothered you? I am sure, if you dredge hard, you'll be able to find some... but you'll also find that Clinton was willing to engage and talk about them. Hell, he had Barry Goldwater over to the White House more often than Bush & Reagan did!

So don't give me that $#@ about how the dems and Gops are equivalent right now. They WILL be, if we allow the radicalization anger to keep sweeping the Blue States. Justified anger... but anger is what the Sith Lord... I mean Karl Rove... wants from us.

2) The radical left simply has no power to harm us right now. I mean, TELL ME YOUR SCENARIO! What exactly do you envision them doing? Even if Howard Dean were president? Inviting in UN black helicopters to run America? Establishing a politburo? I mean yeesh! If that comes ANYWHERE near being antyhing more than a cheap sci fi fantasy, I will be helping you fight.

But NOW there is one group of maniacs assaulting civilization. They control EVERY BRANCH of government and nearly all media. They have demolished our alliances, torn down our military readiness, purged the officer corps, divided the nation, ruined our finances, put our kids in debt, disarmed the border patrol, sabotaged science and made America hated everywhere on Earth.

I mean, what is so hard about this?

If Hillary Clinton gets the nom in 2008, then the anti-liberals may have reason to start waving banners. If Howard Dean gets it, then we should talk about Ecotopia and saying plague on both their houses. But NOW!?

Puh lease. Our job is to make sure there will be elections in 08... at all.


----

oh, here's one:


Socialism collapsed because it did not allow prices to tell the economic truth.

Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow prices to tell the ecological truth.

--Oystein Dahle, former Vice President, Exxon, Norway

(A wise person always keeps an eye open to HIS OWN SIDE's possible failure modes.

Rob said...

Let me start by quoting a Republican:

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of
justice is no virtue."

You all know who said that. And I think we (liberals, progressives, modernists, whatever) all agree that our liberty is under direct and indirect threat, from perils foreign and domestic. What we disagree on is the means of overcoming the domestic challenges without leaving ourselves open to the foreign threats. Is there a way to convince the American people that brute force is not the way to protect ourselves from terrorism? Can we speak clearly and calmly to the American people, outlining in painstaking detail the errors of the current approach and the benefits of our own, have it sink in and be reflected in the voting in the next election cycle?

Recent history seems to indicate that we can't. The successful approach appears to require appealing to voters' emotions rather than their reason. How many voters voted for Bush even though they disagreed with his policies? Over a year after "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq and still no end in sight? Is it elitism to then say that maybe, just maybe there is a (potentially large) segment of the American people that are disconnected, uninformed "sheeple" who have no interest in what government does as long as it doesn't directly affect their lives in obvious, visible ways? Who vote on irrational bases of faith or feeling, and who therefore are immune to arguments from reason? Is it whining or arrogance to call a spade a spade?

We tried the calm rational approach already. Clinton's agenda was neutered, and Gore and Kerry both lost. "Red-state" Americans value strength and aggressiveness more than tweedy academic analysis or "wonkish" policy detail. It takes someone like Howard Dean or Ross Perot to wake up the sleeping sheeple and get them to become politically active. Either that, or a tremendous and obvious crisis like the Great Depression and WW2.

It's time for liberal extremism! We must become vocal and shrill in our outrage when our values are demeaned and debased. And I don't mean we have to become militant hippies! That's not Liberalism, at lease it isn't to me. My idea of Liberalism is the use of government power in the service of the people, helping people to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity," and establishing the conditions that enable us to exercise our rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

I have a lot more to say about this, but I'll have to do it later.

Jacare Sorridente said...

the monsters of the left keep trying to gain control over the democratic party, but they have not yet succeeded.

This is where you and I disagree. The monsters of the left do not have COMPLETE control yet, perhaps. But they have enough control that your average American very rarely hears anything but the radical positions. This is no doubt due, in part, to the fact that the radical agenda is more sensational and hence covered more extensively, however, this is not the sole reason. For example, who are the leaders of the DNC? While Harry Reid gives some balance to the leadership you would be hard-pressed to find leaders further to the left than Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi.

Honestly, when looking back at Clinton, what's your beef?
I think that on the whole Clinton was a pretty good president. Sleazy in his personal life, perhaps, but then that seems to be fairly traditional for men of power everywhere, including many US presidents.

So don't give me that $#@ about how the dems and Gops are equivalent right now. They WILL be, if we allow the radicalization anger to keep sweeping the Blue States. Justified anger... but anger is what the Sith Lord... I mean Karl Rove... wants from us.

Please note that I didn't say the two parties are equivalent. However, in a number of the previous comments I saw clear indications of the very same self-satisfied attitude which most alienates people from the "liberal" positions- the assumption of intellectual superiority and the labeling of those who disagree as ignorant fools. You have yourself pointed out this tendency in a previous essay.

The radical left simply has no power to harm us right now. I mean, TELL ME YOUR SCENARIO! What exactly do you envision them doing?
It all depends on how you define harm, I suppose. As you are from California you will, no doubt, view social issues differently than I. Nonetheless, what I fear, and I think many Americans fear is that if Democrats wielded the same power as Republicans currently do they would legislate the very things that the courts are trying to enforce by judicial fiat. That is to say, a general steamrolling of conservative social values. Doubtless that sentence alone is sufficient to raise cries of "Bigot!" and perhaps "Hatemonger!" and so on, but as this post is getting to be very long I won't elaborate further just now.

They control EVERY BRANCH of government and nearly all media. Once again, this statement in itself is sufficent to illustrate the wide gulf that separates your viewpoint from mine. I would argue that as a general rule the social leftists exercise far greater control over the judicial branch of government than the conservatives do. Further, while many local news outlets are likely to be conservative, the majority of major news sources (eg NYT, LAT, CNN etc) are quite clearly leftward-leaning.

To wrap up this post I will try to summarize my point: The GOP quite clearly has done things which are harmful to our country. I think that perhaps the only thing that keeps them in power is the fear of social policies which the radical leadership of the Democratic party is selling.

Rob said...

One quick hitter:

"WHILE trying for healthcare and environmental advances,"

Which he failed to get ("Single-payer healthcare is Communism!"), or have been repealed/ignored/sabotaged by the current administration...

"Clinton doubled the Border Patrol, eliminated deficits, increased military readiness, spurred small business, reduced secrecy, reduced the federal payroll (nondefense) for the 1st time in a century and reduced the number of LAWS for the 1st time ever."

Which of these are programs opposed by Conservatives on principle? Answer: none. Well, maybe the secrecy one; and it seems to me the secrecy is back as strong as it ever was, or stronger. Change is irrelevant unless it is LASTING. Little of consequence Clinton did that conflicted with conservative principles has survived or will survive this administration.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Can we speak clearly and calmly to the American people, outlining in painstaking detail the errors of the current approach and the benefits of our own, have it sink in and be reflected in the voting in the next election cycle?

Recent history seems to indicate that we can't. The successful approach appears to require appealing to voters' emotions rather than their reason.


Well, I just finished a long post, but I feel impelled to respond to this poster. I hope that you will forgive my frankness when I say that I believe that you have completely missed the boat. I believe that your thinking is entirely backwards, on the lines of a salesman who can't sell a pound of dark chocolate deciding that he will thenceforth attempt to sell dark chocolate by the tonne.

What the more liberalised coastal areas of the country seem to fail to realise is that you have to change what you are selling. Do you truly think that the average American is such a fool that he worries not a whit for the deficit, for poor energy policies and ballooning budgets? Can you not see that this very position is the exact antithesis to everything which Brin has said Modernists believe in his previous essays?

I may be wrong, but I think that if the Democrats were capable of convincing voters that they would be very circumspect in tampering with American social values concerning issues such as marriage, and abortion and so forth then th eRepublicans wouldn't stand a chance. The problem, however, is that any specific Democratic leader, even if entirely sincere in his avowal not to touch such issues, will not be believed because of the image of the party which is painted by those who would dearly love to alter those institutions.

Rob said...

"The GOP quite clearly has done things which are harmful to our country. I think that perhaps the only thing that keeps them in power is the fear of social policies which the radical leadership of the Democratic party is selling."

So the argument is, yes, the GOP has CLEARLY done things harmful to the country, but we should keep on electing them because otherwise gays could get married and that's worse than having the country go on.

Insert Jon Stewart "Huh?" facial expression here.

But for me to point out how illogical this argument (which I agree with you is widely held) is means I'm being an elitist and arrogant radical liberal extremist.

I wish some conservative would sit down and explain to me logically how gays getting married will destroy the family. And do it entirely without mentioning God or any other aspect of religion.

Rob said...

"Do you truly think that the average American is such a fool that he worries not a whit for the deficit, for poor energy policies and ballooning budgets?"

The average American elected and re-elected the current administration. So apparently, he is such a fool. Other concerns seem to take precedence, such as strutting around the world brandishing our strength and declaring our intent to do whatever we gosh darn please, pursuing our own interest regardless of the consequences to other nations, and securing corporate profits over the needs, objections or concerns of the citizens. And of course, that's not to mention keeping gays from getting married.

"I may be wrong, but I think that if the Democrats were capable of convincing voters that they would be very circumspect in tampering with American social values concerning issues such as marriage, and abortion and so forth then th eRepublicans wouldn't stand a chance."

If all the Democrats just became Republicans, we wouldn't have all this controversy. No thanks. I believe gays (and hermaphrodites and Martians) should be able to get married. Conservative Republicans won't support that. I believe unused embryonic tissue that is scheduled to be destroyed should be used for stem cell research. Conservative Republicans won't support that. I believe we should lead the world to democracy by example, not force. Apparently Conservative Republicans don't support that. And on and on.

We're talking past each other. And really, when one side bases its arguments on logic and science and the other on faith and tradition, how can it be otherwise? Both sides see the other as irretrievably misguided. Neither side will admit the other side's premises. Indeed, why should they? In their minds, the other side is completely wrong.

The only issue in doubt is the number of Americans who can be persuaded by logic and the number that rely on faith and tradition; and of those, how many will actually vote their preference. It seems to me that those who decide based on faith and tradition are more likely to vote than those who rely on reason and logical argument. That's the trend we have to reverse.

Jacare Sorridente said...

So the argument is, yes, the GOP has CLEARLY done things harmful to the country but we should keep on electing them because otherwise gays could get married and that's worse than having the country go on.

Hyperbole aside, as long as "Liberals" remain clueless as to why anyone could possibly oppose their social agenda they will repeatedly lose the elections.

But for me to point out how illogical this argument (which I agree with you is widely held) is means I'm being an elitist and arrogant radical liberal extremist.

Not at all. What would lead one to classify you as an "arrogant radical liberal extremist" is the apparent inability to take into account the position of others and perhaps work to reach a compromise position. When you mischaracterize the opposition and insult their beliefs as mindless ignorance you are hardly likely to win anyone over to your point of view.

Rob said...

"...as long as "Liberals" remain clueless as to why anyone could possibly oppose their social agenda..."

I don't think we're "clueless". We're puzzled. We've tried to make the logical case why it should make no fundamental difference to traditional heterosexual marriage if we allow committed gay couples to receive the same blessing; it just doesn't seem to get across. We don't admit the validity of arguments such as "God said gays can't get married". God apparently said a lot of stuff that got misinterpreted when those old shepherds wrote it down, and He hasn't bothered to come back recently to clear it up, so those accounts are all suspect. We don't admit the validity of arguments such as "allowing gay marriage will demean the institution and destroy the family," because such assertions are made without proof and we don't agree that the consequences necessarily follow. So where is the room for compromise there?

We don't mind discussion of our social agenda; we're happy to do so! But the discussion must have a logical basis, and assertions must be empirically proven or at least susceptible to rational analysis, otherwise the discussion is pointless.

Jacare Sorridente said...

I didn't really want to drag this into a debate about gay marriage, but I suppose we may as well discuss it. The whole of the debate rests on one or two pivotal assumptions. The first is: what is the purpose of marriage? I think that the clear reason that government got wrapped up in the marriage business is because it is in the best interest of society to throw its weight and imprimatur of approval behind institutions which tend to make the society in question more stable and productive. As such, the vast majority of societies have developed a preference for a series of behavioral rules which contribute to the stability and productivity of society. These rules include things like respecting and caring for elders, strictures against sex out of wedlock, a general intolerance for taking what one doesn't own, and marriage, to name a few. Beyond the clear intuitive weight of the idea, there is also strong evidence to support the fact that children who are raised by a mother and father are much more likely to be productive members of society. For a social darwinist, then, it should be apparent that societies which encourage marriage and discourage alternative parenting methods will be more successful ( all other things being equal) than ones which do not.

From a purely materialistic viewpoint, therefore, it makes sense for society to adopt marriage as a hallowed social institution in order to increase the likelihood that more of the children will grow up in an environment which gives them the statistically highest probability of becoming productive members.

Now then, if one proceeds from the assumption that marriage is about public recognition of the love that one being bears for another then it makes no sense at all for society to get wrapped up in the marriage business, unless publicly declared love somehow increases the inherent stability of society.

I would argue that on the contrary, characterizing marriage as a glorified public display of affection is inherently de-stabilising as it leads to things such as frequent divorce with attendant cost to stability for the children as well as costs in emotional damage, economic damage and so forth to the involved parties.

James said...

Rush Limbaugh? How is that guy even relevant anymore? I'm surprised that anyone would use anything he said in an argument for either side. He's an extremist, neh?

I find it humorous that people keep having these Dems v. Reps debates. Don't you realize that if either side ever got their way indiscriminately, this country wouldn't be worth living in? Yikes. The very thought makes me shudder.

--James in S.D.

Rob said...

I didn't really intend for the discussion to shift to gay marriage either. I was using that as the most obvious example to me of the larger problem we face: Conservatives/Romantics and Liberals/Modernists are talking past each other because they aren't speaking the same language. One speaks the language of science and reason; the other the language of belief and tradition.

It also touches on another point I was trying to make, about conservatives being more motivated to vote than liberals. Putting a measure on the ballots of a dozen key states to ban gay marriage caused an increase in conservative votes in those states. Liberals didn't turn out to oppose them, or at least they didn't in great enough numbers to offset the conservative increase. We need a little of the liberal extremism that Dr. Brin thinks we should avoid, in order to get liberals off their duffs and into the voting booths.

To answer the specific issue (and nice try at a rational analysis of the value of traditional marriage): the analysis needs a little clarification. What is the purpose of marriage? The answer is still vague after reading that post, but I think the argument made boils down to:

-It is in the interest of society to promote institutions that make it more stable and productive;
-Traditional marriage makes society more stable and productive because history shows that children raised in a heterosexual environment develop into more productive citizens.

These two points (if I have divined them correctly) make so many assumptions that we could start our own blog on them. There is no evidence that non-traditional marriage is any less (or more) likely to raise children to be productive members of society; that's an assertion without proof, and the only way to get proof is to allow non-traditional marriage and see what sort of children get raised over a long period of time. How do we know that non-traditional marriage won't in fact be MORE stabilizing to society than continuing to discriminate against people in committed non-traditional relationships? We don't. We DO know that the people so discriminated against don't feel like they are being made part of society, and instead feel alienated and ostracized. Will their being alienated and ostracized make the society they live in more stable and productive? It doesn't follow.

Let me address some specific points in the analysis.

"Beyond the clear intuitive weight of the idea, there is also strong evidence to support the fact that children who are raised by a mother and father are much more likely to be productive members of society."

The intuitive weight of the idea is none too clear to me...and I haven't seen any of this "strong evidence". More assertions without proof stated as if they were facts.

"characterizing marriage as a glorified public display of affection is inherently de-stabilising as it leads to things such as frequent divorce with attendant cost to stability for the children as well as costs in emotional damage, economic damage and so forth to the involved parties."

Whereas characterizing marriage as a "hallowed institution" leads to none of those things? Again, it doesn't follow.

"For a social darwinist, then, it should be apparent that societies which encourage marriage and discourage alternative parenting methods will be more successful..."

Fortunately for us, liberals AREN'T Social Darwinists. Social Darwinists believe that people should be left to fend for themselves; the strongest will survive and thrive, while the weakest go to the wall.

"From a purely materialistic viewpoint, therefore, it makes sense for society to adopt marriage as a hallowed social institution in order to increase the likelihood that more of the children will grow up in an environment which gives them the statistically highest probability of becoming productive members."

That's all well and good, if you accept the premise that traditional marriage is the only marriage that will fill the bill. As I've said, that premise isn't proven, only asserted. What is the percentage of children raised in non-traditional households that go on to be productive members of society? I don't know. But that doesn't mean I can then go and say "see, we don't know, so that proves that it's a bad idea."

Unless Conservatives are willing to discuss the validity of their assumptions, we're not dealing with logical argument; and the debate will go nowhere.

David Brin said...

One of you said: "I think many Americans fear is that if Democrats wielded the same power as Republicans currently do they would legislate the very things that the courts are trying to enforce by judicial fiat. That is to say, a general steamrolling of conservative social values. "

I'd sure love examples. As usual, I see a complete conflation of "conservative" vs "fundamentalist" values, which are in many case diametric opposites. Certainly Barry Goldwater would have been ridden out on a rail.

As for the courts being "lefty"... well, I've picked myself off the floor now. Um... W is president today BECAUSE the courts have squelched every protest over his brother's blatant and relentless vote-theft. All but two Supremes were appointed by GOP presidents. Again, what do you want?

" I think that perhaps the only thing that keeps them in power is the fear of social policies which the radical leadership of the Democratic party is selling."

Again ZERO SPECIFICS! Why? because even the radical lefties aren't asking for very much at all. Very little new spending. (Yes, Kyoto is on the table.) Limbaughism depends on vagueness.

"What the more liberalized coastal areas of the country seem to fail to realise is that you have to change what you are selling. "

Yes! What is killing the Left today is their absolute inability to admit victory. Addicted to self-righteous indignation, the Left cannot credit the American people with having largely defeated sexism and racism and classism. Instead they escalate their standards to absurd levels and deride people who have tried hard to fix their souls, exactly as they were asked to do. THAT is why the Left is hated.

And it is a real bummer. Because there are plenty of "lefty" issues that need urgent attention, as badly as sexism once did. Environmentalism is a core issue that cannot be soled by EITHER techniques of the Left (Kyoto) or the Right (sabotage science and pretend it's no problem.)

I blame Lefties. They helped bring about the radicalization trend. By escalating "tolerance fetishism" they just HAD to shove Gay Marriage into the faces of moderate-conservative americans who had already shrugged and mostly consented to the practical measure of Civil Unions. These people are just as responsible for Bush as Karl Rove is.

Having said all that, I again defend the dems. Guys like Dean have a long road to go before they root out the Clintonites like Reich and Reid and Feingold and Warner who resemble the demonized caricature of liberalism about as much as Dick Cheney resembles a public servant.

"I wish some conservative would sit down and explain to me logically how gays getting married will destroy the family."

Please! Let's TRY at least on this blog to follow the topic, which is (overall) REDEFINING TERMINOLOGY! Real "conservatives" may squint in distaste at gays, but they should be far more disgusted by apocalypts and kleptocrats. We have GOT to grab genuine american conservatives like George Will and shake them! Until they are willing to admit that we are not seeing a bunch of separate monstrous anecdotes, but a PATTERN of monstrous betrayal of the republic, civilization, and yes, conservatism.

Moderate liberals, reach out! Hillary recently did by saying abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." Pragmatic conservatives may heed that. It will sound satanic to the romantics.

People, can we agree on one thing? Let's campaign to get all the news organizations to change the colors for next election from Blue-Red to Blue-Gray. No metaphor could better illustrate what is really going on. And it has little to do with left and right.

Rob said...

Hey James, the Republicans (Conservatives) are on the very brink of immanentizing their eschaton. Time for liberals to wake up!

Nate said...

Okay, color me radical leftie here, and no offense to Dr. Brin or the others, but I keep seeing Howard Dean invoked as this scary-boogeyman-evil-ultra-liberal-romantic, and I just don't get it. Same with Nancy Pelosi. They're not wacked out super-liberals, any more than Hillary Clinton is. They have that reputation, perhaps, from the constant repition of Republican talking points by the "liberal media", but being a partisan Democrat and scary-evil-liberal-commie aren't the same thing. So, honestly, what is so frighteningly evil about Dean, or Pelosi? For that matter, how is national health care some kind of bad ultra-left thing, considering how amazingly screwed up our current health care system is?

Also, blaming "liberals" for pushing gay marriage is rather goofy. It was a court case, brought, IIRC, by a single couple in Massachusets. It wasn't the Democrats, or boogeyman college professors, or anybody else. And once it was brought, the court had to decide it, which they did by going from the Mass. constitution. And then you got the instant backlash from the fundamentalists, which begat its own backlash, including the stunt by the mayor of SF, and a couple other places, IIRC. And I don't feel the need to get back into that discussion, but if we discuss "traditional families", let's start with discussing harems, and multiple wives, and clans living in the same houses, and...

The "ultra-left" is well-known because crazies are much more fun to interview. And individual reporters tend to be more liberal (though their editors and, crucially, the owners, are more often conservative), so they can sort of understand the nuts on the left, and write about them better, while the nuts on the right tend to be nearly alien. And often religious fundamentalists, and there's hardly any publication in the US that'd dare diss somebody's religion as nutty, even if it is. This is through a combination of misguided "tolerance" and the network of people like Limbaugh that'd spread this "travesty" around quickly, and bury the reporter and his/her paper under a tide of indignant letters.

Rob said...

But Dr. Brin, where are these "moderate conservatives" you speak of? Are they susceptible to being reached out to, or will they retreat into party-line obduracy every time we approach them? It seems to me that they are like the vaunted "Iranian moderates" that we have been hoping will kick out the mullahs over there for over two decades now. Are they really there, or are we just wishing so hard we've convinced ourselves they exist?

All the news I see is of the Republican leadership continually taking the side of big business over the needs of citizens, of religious fundies over scientific evidence. How can you reach out to people who deny the very definition of science, instead insisting on instructing students that theories without empirical evidence are just as valid as those with decades of provable results; or to those who believe that all the evidence of an impending global climate crisis should be discarded if remediation hurts the U.S. corporate bottom line? Where are the moderate conservatives who are disappointed in the administration's headlong rush to invade Iraq, based on faulty (or even possibly manufactured) intelligence, without a credible, carefully-reasoned plan for the aftermath? Why are the moderate conservative Senators, except for 7 mavericks who seem to have earned the condemnation of all and sundry, so set on passing every single one of the President's judicial nominees over the objections of the minority? Are there enough moderate conservatives in the House to sustain calling for an investigation of Tom Delay's alleged ethics violations? How many moderate conservatives have come out in opposition to the President's not-quite-a-plan for Social Security? (According to Josh Marshall, as of March 5th it was 24 in the house and 6 in the Senate. Hardly earth-shaking numbers.)

I see little evidence of these moderate conservatives anywhere near the levers of power in this country. If they are there, they are well-hidden. Meanwhile, the extremist conservatives seem to be running the show.

Joel said...

On parenting:
I had ignorantly assumed that the objecttion to gay marriage was that it wouldn't result in conception. Pardon my misconception.

The evidence does point strongly to two-parent homes being better than one-parent homes. However (and these studies might be hard to do due to lack of subjects), I've heard that three-, four-, or five-parent homes, like the old hippie communes, are more effective still. I wish I had done my homework to back that one up, but there might even be solid research behind that assertion. It makes sense that a variety of role models would do a kid good, but having two of the same sex shouldn't hurt variety too much, especially if the parents in question are not overly attached to stereotypical gender roles.

On the termini of life:
Like a lot of liberals, I'm anti-abortion in the sense Hillary Clinton is: I think any other birth control method is preferable to abortion. The pragmatic way to prevent these procedures from happening is to support other modes of birth control.

I would like to see a scientific study on the effectiveness of abstinance: anecdotally, the human will breaks more easily than the average condom, but I have yet to see hard statistics. Perhaps kids should be supplied with a redundant system?

Please, let's carry this debate further. I think it's productive.

Ambi said...

The current US election system encourages the extremes on both sides. They both have an agenda and follow it instead of having to explain why they have different opinions, and their focus gains them the primaries, and in gerrymandered districts the seats.

If the system would be changed to superdistricts which send 5 Representatives to Washington, this would not only lead to both parties having Representatives from every superdistrict, but probably also to moderates from both parties gaining one seat each, so neither the very liberal nor the very neocon politicians could dominate the House.

Such a change wouldn't need a constitutional change, a law change is enough. But alas, the current House majority wouldn't vote for it. (A House with a Democrat majority might, to prevent a return to the current neocon domination)

Jacare Sorridente said...

I'll leave the ancillary issues aside and try to respond to the relevant question at hand. Dr. Brin asked for specific examples of what conservatives fear from the Democratic social agenda. Here are a few: Legislation allowing gay marriage. The worst excesses of abortion encouraged (e.g. abortion of nearly full-term babies). Requirements for teaching homosexuality as a natural alternative to heterosexuality.

I think that most Democrats wouldn't want to touch such issues with a ten-foot pole. However, there are others who would be very glad to see such measures enacted. Therefore these measures are identified with Democrats.

As for the courts being "lefty"... well, I've picked myself off the floor now. Um... W is president today BECAUSE the courts have squelched every protest over his brother's blatant and relentless vote-theft. All but two Supremes were appointed by GOP presidents. Again, what do you want?
As you have pointed out repeatedly, the left-right axis is insufficient to identify much of anything. I am speaking of socially liberal judges which do things like declare attempts at compromise on the homosexual marriage issue illegal (ie no civil unions) or squelch any attempt at public decency laws in Las Vegas (ie the city cannot stop giant billboards of nude women advertising prostitution from being erected).
Sure, there are conservative judges, especially in the South (the fellow with his horrendous ten commandments sculpture) but since legislating socially conservative values generally means maintaining the status quo, these judges don't have nearly the same effect on social issues as their liberal counterparts.

Again ZERO SPECIFICS! Why? because even the radical lefties aren't asking for very much at all. Very little new spending. (Yes, Kyoto is on the table.) Limbaughism depends on vagueness.
I made the assumption that most people know what the controversial social issues I mentioned are. Again, I don't think that most candidates would affect most social policies much, but the perception of where Democrats stand on such issue is what controls the outcome.

Yes! What is killing the Left today is their absolute inability to admit victory. Addicted to self-righteous indignation, the Left cannot credit the American people with having largely defeated sexism and racism and classism. Instead they escalate their standards to absurd levels and deride people who have tried hard to fix their souls, exactly as they were asked to do. THAT is why the Left is hated.

This is where you and I can agree completely. The liberals are not the only ones to do this either. The Libertarians have plenty of good ideas to offer as well, but when the avergae person doesn't buy the whole package (especially the tinfoil hats and black helicopters) the libertarians deride them as fools.

...I keep seeing Howard Dean invoked as this scary-boogeyman-evil-ultra-liberal-romantic, and I just don't get it. Same with Nancy Pelosi. They're not wacked out super-liberals, any more than Hillary Clinton is.
I think it all depends on where you are standing. Since on any given set of political issues there is a sort of sliding scale as to where people stand the question arises as to which people you classify as radicals- after all, they are just a smidge to the left or right of the next politician over.

But Dr. Brin, where are these "moderate conservatives" you speak of? Are they susceptible to being reached out to, or will they retreat into party-line obduracy every time we approach them?
I think that either your requirements for a moderate conservative are overly stringent or else your political opinions are too far left if you can't find any moderate conservatives. Simply put, a moderate is someone who is willing to compromise.

Nate said...

Jacare Sorridente said:
I think that most Democrats wouldn't want to touch such issues with a ten-foot pole. However, there are others who would be very glad to see such measures enacted. Therefore these measures are identified with Democrats.


Okay, hang on. So because you can point to one or more Democrats or liberals who believe something, then it's the position of all Democrats and/or liberals? That's false in so many ways, and is why I generally try to keep my criticisms of Republicans confined to the crazy statements made by elected officals or powerful leaders.

Legislation allowing gay marriage. The worst excesses of abortion encouraged (e.g. abortion of nearly full-term babies). Requirements for teaching homosexuality as a natural alternative to heterosexuality.

Legislation of gay marriage. Wasn't one of the main Republican complaints about the whole gay marriage thing the fact it was being "imposed by the courts"?

And who is advocating the "abortion of nearly full-term babies"? Not just fighting restrictions on abortion, but actually advocating that people should go get "abortions of nearly full-term babies"? There is a difference between the two, and I can't think of anyone who's advocated having abortions for the fun of it. And when I say "who" in this case, I mean who as in anywhere near elected office or any position of power, not random.college.professor or fringe group? The consensus position on abortion that ever liberal I know of has is that it's not a good thing, and we should encourage sex-ed more to prevent it. We don't (generally) believe "life begins at conception", though drawing where the line is isn't an easy process, either.

So your controversial social issues boil down to homosexuality and abortion. Is there anything else?

I think that either your requirements for a moderate conservative are overly stringent or else your political opinions are too far left if you can't find any moderate conservatives. Simply put, a moderate is someone who is willing to compromise.

And where are the conservatives and Republicans who're willing to compromise? Not President Bush. Not the leaders in the House or the Senate. They've forced through all their desired regulation by strict party loyalty on votes and by "compromising" in the Senate while forcing their version through the house, then "reconciling" the two different bills to the House version in the comittee. The modern Republican party isn't willing to compromise, and treats compromise as a sucker's bet.

Which is the biggest reason I'm against compromise right now, on the part of liberals. The Democrats have done the compromise thing, and what happens is a simple pattern. Republicans propose something silly. Democrats want to look "reasonable" by compromising, so they agree on something they don't like, but isn't as extreme and silly. Then, a while later, the Republicans propose something silly, and when Democrats balk, they go "Well, you agreed to X, and this is only a little sillier than X, so why don't you be reasonable and compromise?" I went into this more over on my LJ.

And the cycle repeats itself, which is why the political "center" has been scooting right, and the Democrats have practically reached the positions of the Republicans 20 years ago. So no, I have no interest in compromising with people who won't keep their word and see compromise just as a chance to drag you further their way over and over. Which is what the leadership of the modern Republican party has been doing for a long while now.

You can see the same kind of issue in lazy reporting. "Liberal says X, conservative says Y, truth must be Z, somewhere in between." Sometimes that's true, but when one side is being dishonest, or you pick people who're different levels of extreme (a moderate of any stripe versus a radical, for example) then it falls apart. And it CAN equally apply in the direction of liberals, but lately, it hasn't been, in my experience.

Nate said...

Oh yes, I'd forgotten, the things I write for my LJ make much less attempt to be reasonable than things I post here, and sometimes contain foul language, like that one does. I guess I need to sign up for Blogger if I want to be able to edit posts to put things like this disclaimer in my other post? Since I can't seem to edit it this way.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Okay, hang on. So because you can point to one or more Democrats or liberals who believe something, then it's the position of all Democrats and/or liberals? That's false in so many ways, and is why I generally try to keep my criticisms of Republicans confined to the crazy statements made by elected officals or powerful leaders.

I think I need to make it clear here that I am trying to portray my analysis of the current state of political discourse, not necessarily my position. If there were a good moderate up for election as president then I would vote for him. I liked Wesley Clarke and Joe lieberman, for example. However, I still think that my analysis of the general situation as seen from the eyes of conservatives is true. I know several people who didn't vote for Kerry even though they didn't like Bush because he came across to them as talking moderate while actually holding radical Democrat views. Why they thought so I am not sure, but I think that a lot of it comes from the general perception of the issues the Democratic party supports, and that perception is controlled in large part by the radical members of the party.


Legislation of gay marriage. Wasn't one of the main Republican complaints about the whole gay marriage thing the fact it was being "imposed by the courts"?


Yes, but the idea here is that if the Dems controlled things we would get botht the courts AND legislation from the congress.

And who is advocating the "abortion of nearly full-term babies"?

One needn't advocate it to allow it. This is the essential result of allowing any type of abortion any time- Some people will choose to have abortions shortly before the baby is born.

So your controversial social issues boil down to homosexuality and abortion. Is there anything else?
Sure, there are plenty. I just don't know that clogging up this Blog with a discussion of all of them is appropriate. There are things like the right to privacy and how far one can go in protesting and how much control parents can have over their children and all sorts of other social issues which are involved.

And where are the conservatives and Republicans who're willing to compromise?
Well, it really is sort of a vicious cycle, isn't it? Many people won't vote for the Democrats due in part to social issues and so the Republicans assume they have a mandate. Then some Democrats think that they must move farther left to distinguish themselves from the Republicans (e.g. Dean) and so the voters choose Republicans and the Republicans think they have a mandate...

The Democrats have two things going for them- they have all of the things which the administration has done which alienate their base (e.g. the huge deficit and debt for fiscal conservatives)and they have an established base which is highly unlikely to defect to the other side. If they could shut up the radicals and make a true attempt to attract the moderates then they could beat the Republicans soundly.

Anonymous said...

The thing about social conservatives is that they seem to want to tell other people what they can't do. As the cliché goes: "if you don't support abortions, don't have one." That doesn't seem to be good enough for social conservatives, however, so the real question is not why are liberals out of touch with mainstream America, but why does mainstream America hate freedom so much? Why do y'all care so much about what other people are doing with their lives, things that will have absolutely no effect on your own?

And while we're on the subject of what the real question is, I'd like to ask Jacare where he got the ridiculous idea that being pro-choice means "encouraging" people to have abortions? Dude, I'm a San Francisco boy, a child of commune-dwelling hippies, and in my entire life, I have never heard anyone say that we should "encourage" abortions of any kind, late-term or early-. Unless you count some of Ann Coulter's remarks about liberals, of course. If that's a standard belief in conservative circles, then the real question is who fed you such a line of horsecrap?

Rob said...

"Simply put, a moderate is someone who is willing to compromise."

OK, so there are at least 7 moderate conservative Republicans (and 7 moderate liberal Democrats) in the Senate. Where are the rest?

Party leaders are elected by majority vote within their caucus. The majority leaders of the House and Senate can hardly be described as being willing to compromise with liberals, on any issue you care to name. Therefore my conclusion is that the majority of their respective caucuses are similarly unwilling to compromise, and therefore (by the stated definition) cannot be described as moderates. And these Congressmen were elected by majority votes in their respective districts and states, so those electorates cannot be described as moderate either. Finally, President Bush did get 52% of the popular vote in 2004. How many of those votes can be characterized as coming from moderate conservatives, when his administration's every action virtually cries out extremism?

Where are these moderate, compromising conservatives? The whole world wonders.

"...the general perception of the issues the Democratic party supports, and that perception is controlled in large part by the radical members of the party."

...just as the general perception of the issues the Republican party supports is currently determined by the radical members of that party, who seem to in fact be the majority of that party either literally or by tacit approval of the putative "moderates".

Dr. Brin is right, and you've hit upon the same issue: the problem is that Modernism/Liberalism has been redefined as "do as thou wilt" hedonism, where anything goes and Sodom and Gomorrah are recreated right here in River City. Every time a Liberal appears and proposes a compromise position (say, "let's pass a law allowing abortion on demand in the first trimester only, second trimester only with parental consent and extended consultation on alternatives, third trimester only in the most extreme and irreconcilable cases"), the radical conservatives freak out and make all kinds of ridiculous statements about how terrible it is that anyone can even think of allowing abortion under any circumstances, what would Jesus say, Liberals are godless Mengele wannabes, on and on. Meanwhile, the notional moderate conservatives stare off into space. (Don't focus on abortion here; this pattern holds up on almost any social program proposal you can name.)

There's nothing to be gained by offering compromises until these alleged moderate conservatives show up and take back control of their party. All the hippie liberal treehuggers left to go start the Green Party, so we've already cleaned out our Augean stables.

David Brin said...

People please be nice. Jacare is being a very good interlocutor and a smart one. The questions he asks NEED answering. He is the kind of conservative modernist we need. Desperately.

Joel contributed -- "I would like to see a scientific study on the effectiveness of abstinance: anecdotally, the human will breaks more easily than the average condom, but I have yet to see hard statistics. Perhaps kids should be supplied with a redundant system?"

... the human will breaks more easily than the average condom... I love that!

There is some material about Red State hypocrisy at: http://www.davidbrin.com/realculturewar1.html The ability of redders to rant about "values" when their entire methodology is dubious, with a failed track record. Blue states have vastly lower teen pregnancy, divorce and domestic violence rates. And when you eliminate the "urban factor", they have lower crime, as well.

See my "questionnaire on ideology" at http://www.davidbrin.com/ Especially the part about "human frailty vs maturity". Betting on our kids being able to decide for themselves has been the great American gamble. Yes, it often fails, but statistically, this modernist notion has been a great success.

Re congressional districts, again, please see: http://www.davidbrin.com/realculturewar1.html While I am far more enraged at the unified and monomaniacal GOP than at the scattered, ill disciplined and disorganized dems, I see BOTH parties having colluded for decades in a gradually escalating trend of gerrymandering districts that makes Huey Long look like Ben Franklin.

The media just concentrates on how the majority party in each state reams the minority party. (And I'll un-gerrymander California ONLY when Texas and FLA agree to do it to an equivalent number. I ain't no fool.) But that misses a key, never-reported issue.

Today, only a few districts are "competitive." In effect, we have a "vote pooling' democracy in which like-minded people are gathered and given a rep. If you are not a member of the party OF your district, you are disenfranchised. At http://www.davidbrin.com/realculturewar1.html I suggest that we respond by making the PRIMARIES the locus of politics.

Jacare added: "Dr. Brin asked for specific examples of what conservatives fear from the Democratic social agenda. Here are a few: Legislation allowing gay marriage. The worst excesses of abortion encouraged (e.g. abortion of nearly full-term babies). Requirements for teaching homosexuality as a natural alternative to heterosexuality. I think that most Democrats wouldn't want to touch such issues with a ten-foot pole. However, there are others who would be very glad to see such measures enacted. Therefore these measures are identified with Democrats."

Exactly. These are screeching-silly ideas that no high-status democrats have ever proposed. Why, it would be like the GOP UNIFORMLY coming out for a total reaming of the middle class to favor elites, abandoning the border patrol, taring down our defenses, shattering alliances, and handing policy over to secret cabals of aristocrats. Could never happen.

re libertarians, go to http://www.davidbrin.com/ and see my speech at one of their national conventions. It has spurred a modernis-pragmatist movement in LP circles... that is glacially trying to turn them into a real american party. By the year 2100, at this rate. They cannot even see the shame... that they did not do to W what Nader did to Gore. That betrayal helped set us on this road to hell.

But I do agree with the writer who asked: "But Dr. Brin, where are these "moderate conservatives" you speak of? Are they susceptible to being reached out to, or will they retreat into party-line obduracy every time we approach them?"

Fact, bright guys like George Will and William F Buckley and (yes) Billy Graham are willing to express discomfort anecdotally. But they cannot pull back and see the conflagration. Barry Goldwater did, but he's dead. We need them to stand up now.

Having said that, let me retort to the ralinzing liberal - wrong! The moderates have not been becoming 'more republican'. That fallacy is based on left-right thinking. If the democrats radicalize, they may win. Particularly if henchmen turn on the monsters and blow whistles. But it will be yet another "victory" in a pyhhric Culture War. The Left may win. But modernism and America lose.

We will only really win if we are able to step back and see that "moderates" are not tepid. The key word is not "compromise". It is pragmatism, negotiation, maturity.

Oh, the full term abortion issue is s stalking horse. Americans have drawn the line at viability. So why are there "partial birth abortions"? Have you ever heard the full truth about them?

Nearly all of them are due to something called anencephally, or the complete lack of a functioning brain. Ultrasound cannot tell until very late, but what's in the womb has no cortex. Can you blame women for wanting to get the tragedy over with as soon as possible, instead of giving birth to a mockery that will then wither away in days without have thought a single thought? The reason for this exception to the first trimester rule is never brought out.

Jacare raised "The right to privacy".... exqueeeze me? The present Gop is better at that issue... how? This is my area of expertise, by the way.

Jacare Sorridente said...

The thing about social conservatives is that they seem to want to tell other people what they can't do.
The only society in which no one tells anyone else how to live is anarchy. Since I very much doubt that this is what you are advocating, I wonder very much why it is that you raised this point.

And while we're on the subject of what the real question is, I'd like to ask Jacare where he got the ridiculous idea that being pro-choice means "encouraging" people to have abortions?

I often think of things in terms like economists use, which is to say that a given stance on an issue either encourages or discourages a related behavior. For example, offering tax-free 401k plans encourages saving. By the same token allowing unrestricted abortion encourages abortion.

Therefore my conclusion is that the majority of their respective caucuses are similarly unwilling to compromise, and therefore (by the stated definition) cannot be described as moderates. And these Congressmen were elected by majority votes in their respective districts and states, so those electorates cannot be described as moderate either.

If elections were really affairs in which people were allowed to vote for the best candidate among a multiplicity I should be inclined to agree with you. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. If one is presented with a choice between two distasteful candidates, whom should one choose? And what is the alternative?

As to the part about abortion- what you are suggesting is actually the very sort of compromise which I think could work very well. However, the vocal radicals from both sides will always do their best to defeat such measures.

Dr. Brin said a number of things I agree with, so rather than being a "dittohead", I will just addresss some points in which he has differed with me.
The key word is not "compromise". It is pragmatism, negotiation, maturity.
I view these terms as one and the same. There is no capacity to compromise if practicality does not prevail- otherwise the "compromise" is really just surrender.

Oh, the full term abortion issue is a stalking horse.

Of course it is. Nonetheless, that is what some, pehaps many, conservative voters fear. Again, this is why I would support changing the law to something similar to what Rob suggested.

Jacare raised "The right to privacy".... exqueeeze me? The present Gop is better at that issue... how? This is my area of expertise, by the way.

I raised the point as an important social issue beyond abortion and homosexual marriage. I certainly do not think that the GOP is the paragon of virtue when it comes to privacy, though they certainly do seem to know a thing or two about privacy- after all, they are quite good at keeping secrets from everyone (such as just who had input when defining the nation's energy policies).

Anonymous said...

Brin said a while back: "Please! Let's TRY at least on this blog to follow the topic, which is (overall) REDEFINING TERMINOLOGY!"

I'd like to throw something else into this delightful mix. Given the current behavioral pattern our government exhibits, which Brin is raising the alarm about, I'd like to offer the idea that we need more hackers. Not more people to illegally break into computers. More people who do the kind of hacking Paul Graham describes in his essay "The Word 'Hacker'":

http://www.paulgraham.com/gba.html

Here is what by my lights is the kernel of the essay's value [and is in the spirit of this whole blog-and-comment discussion]:

"Let me put the case in terms a government official would appreciate. Civil liberties are not just an ornament, or a quaint American tradition. Civil liberties make countries rich. If you made a graph of GNP per capita vs. civil liberties, you'd notice a definite trend. Could civil liberties really be a cause, rather than just an effect? I think so. I think a society in which people can do and say what they want will also tend to be one in which the most efficient solutions win, rather than those sponsored by the most influential people. Authoritarian countries become corrupt; corrupt countries become poor; and poor countries are weak. It seems to me there is a Laffer curve for government power, just as for tax revenues. At least, it seems likely enough that it would be stupid to try the experiment and find out. Unlike high tax rates, you can't repeal totalitarianism if it turns out to be a mistake. [But what about Gorbachev-Yeltsin and the USSR >>> Russia + independents -- isn't that at least an approximation???]

This is why hackers worry. The government spying on people doesn't literally make programmers write worse code. It just leads eventually to a world in which bad ideas will win. And because this is so important to hackers, they're especially sensitive to it. They can sense totalitarianism approaching from a distance, as animals can sense an approaching thunderstorm.

It would be ironic if, as hackers fear, recent measures intended to protect national security and intellectual property turned out to be a missile aimed right at what makes America successful. But it would not be the first time that measures taken in an atmosphere of panic had the opposite of the intended effect."

Anonymous said...

Jacare said:

And while we're on the subject of what the real question is, I'd like to ask Jacare where he got the ridiculous idea that being pro-choice means "encouraging" people to have abortions?

I often think of things in terms like economists use, which is to say that a given stance on an issue either encourages or discourages a related behavior. For example, offering tax-free 401k plans encourages saving. By the same token allowing unrestricted abortion encourages abortion."


By such a definition, the passage of an anti-gay marriage bill encourages discrimination against homosexuals, which makes your point about not labeling conservatives as bigots for taking a such a stance just a tad hypocritical, don't you think?

Jacare Sorridente said...

By such a definition, the passage of an anti-gay marriage bill encourages discrimination against homosexuals, which makes your point about not labeling conservatives as bigots for taking a such a stance just a tad hypocritical, don't you think?

I think you are looking at the issue backwards. Your stance assumes that homosexual marriage is a de facto right which a new bill would take away. In fact, any legislation along those lines would be confirming the current state of affairs. Now, if you consider the current state of affairs to be one of discrimination against homosexuals then any legislation which prohibits gay marriage would encourage discrimination by definition.

I hold the position that since the rights (hospital visitation, right to inherit etc.) that homosexuals are ostensibly working to procure are already almost universally available via certain legal paperwork, perhaps a simplification and streamlining of the legal processes could be enacted which would make it easier for them to obtain these privileges without changing the way our society treats marriage. In such a case I do not think that homosexuals are being badly used at all, nor do I think that your accusation of discrimination can justly apply.

Nate said...

Jacare Sorridente said:
"I hold the position that since the rights (hospital visitation, right to inherit etc.) that homosexuals are ostensibly working to procure are already almost universally available via certain legal paperwork, perhaps a simplification and streamlining of the legal processes could be enacted which would make it easier for them to obtain these privileges without changing the way our society treats marriage."

This would raise the question, on both sides, of at what point would something with the same legal privlieges of marriage not BE marriage? I doubt that many of the fundamentalist crowd would be happy with civil unions with the same rights as marriages, as evidenced by some of the anti-gay marriage bills, which specifically banned civil unions as well. And the fear that if people see gay families in "almost-marriage", and the world doesn't explode, then support for actual gay marriage would grow.

On the more liberal side, aside from "Seperate but Equal", there's the question of why do all this work to replicate marriage, instead of just expanding marriage? (Though there would probably be other benefits to the streamlining of legal processes, which may make it a worthwhile goal anyway)

Civil Unions with most/all of the rights of marriage do seem to be broadly popular among most of the population, except the conservative fundamentalists, mostly. They may not be the goal of social liberals, but they're a step in the right direction, and address many of the problems. But as I said, a number of the anti-gay marriage bills specifically prohibited civil unions, too. A fact that was probably not known to many of the people who voted for them.

Anonymous said...

Jacare said:

"I think you are looking at the issue backwards. Your stance assumes that homosexual marriage is a de facto right which a new bill would take away. In fact, any legislation along those lines would be confirming the current state of affairs. Now, if you consider the current state of affairs to be one of discrimination against homosexuals then any legislation which prohibits gay marriage would encourage discrimination by definition."

Fair enough; if civil unions offer all the legal rights and priviledges of marriage, any inherent discrimination is so minor as to probably be in the mind of the beholder. (Of course, many of them don't, but that's a separate issue.) I wonder, though, as does Nate, what the point would be in keeping "marriage" heterosexual while offering all of the legal rights of marriage through a civil union, but if it's just about word choice, then it's not worth any sort of argument.

Jacare Sorridente said...

I wonder, though, as does Nate, what the point would be in keeping "marriage" heterosexual while offering all of the legal rights of marriage through a civil union, but if it's just about word choice, then it's not worth any sort of argument.

It is all about perception, isn't it? Many companies already offer such benefits as health insurance for same-sex partners and so forth. With a few hours and a few hundred dollars any couple which so desires may meet with a lawyer and set up aills, trusts, powers of attorney and so on. If these benefits are freely available then what exactly are the gay rights activists fighting for? Well, for one it is somewhat inconvenient to set up things as I mentioned above. That is why I suggested that something could easily be set up to streamline the paperwork. It needn't be a civil union or anything of the sort- it could be as simple as a sort of package offered by private law firms.
The reason that this is a good compromise is because the homosexual couples get what they really want- an easy and efficient way to share economic assets and benefits while the pro-marriage crowd gets what they want- the continuation of marriage as it has existed in the social sense for a long time.

Jacare Sorridente said...

Quick note for clarity- the "aills" in the above post was meant to be "wills".