Saturday, August 20, 2005

More misc collected items from the Culture War front... plus an old anthem...

In the months since John Kerry's defeat last November, asking "What's wrong with liberals?" has become something of an obsession for pundits across America. Did they lose because they were crushed by the right-wing attack machine, because of those ever-nebulous moral values, because they were soft on national security, or because they hadn't bashed corporations enough? Some of these? All of these?

 In Return of the "L" Word: A Liberal Vision for the New Century, Douglas Massey takes a long, hard look at these questions and comes up with some surprising answers. His book reminds us of just how much liberalism has accomplished over the 20th century, of why it eventually declined, and what liberals need to do to usher in a new realignment in politics, one that wrestles the country back from the now-dominant right.

Part of the answer, Massey contends, is to create a new market-based vision for liberalism, one that avoids the pitfalls of both conservative free-market dogma and the leftist ideologies of old.

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"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

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Fred Mitouer offers a powerful quote from James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg in The Sovereign Individual (1997) that seems to be talking about the “confidence” aspect of modernism.

"In short, the future is likely to confound the expectations of those who have absorbed the civic myths of 20th century industrial society. Among them are the illusions of social democracy that once thrilled and motivated the most gifted minds. They presuppose that societies evolve in whatever way governments wished them to - preferably in response to opinion polls of scrupulously counted votes. This was never as true as it seemed 50 years ago.

Now it is an anachronism, as much an artifact of industrialism as a rusting smokestack. The civic myths reflect not only a mindset that sees society's problems as susceptible to engineering solutions; they also reflect a false confidence that resources and individuals will remain as vulnerable to political compulsion to the future as they have been in the 20th century. We doubt it. Market forces, not political majorities, will compel societies to reconfigure themselves in ways that public opinion will neither comprehend nor welcome. "


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And now, moving toward the esoteric:

RELIGION AND SECRECY IN THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION: The Gentleman, the Prince, and the Simulacrum, BY Hugh Urban Ohio State University ()

“In this article... I will suggest that we look at the Bush administration through the lenses of three controversial theorists who have had much to say about secrecy in both its religious and political dimensions: the German-born political philosopher, Leo Strauss, the Florentine philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli, and the French postmodern theorist, Jean Baudrillard. I have chosen these three, seemingly disparate, theorists because they correspond to and help make sense of three of the most important forces at work in the Bush administration, namely: 


1) the Neoconservative movement, which is heavily indebted to Strauss' thought and has a powerful presence in the Bush administration through figures like Paul Wolfowitz (a student of Strauss) and the Project for a New American Century;
2) the manipulations of Bush's pious public i

mage by advisors like Karl Rove (a reader of Machiavelli) and Vice-President Dick Cheney (often compared to Machiavelli), who have used the President's connections with the Christian Right for political advantage; [16] and 

3) an astonishingly uncritical mainstream media, whose celebration of Bush's image as a virtuous man of faith and general silence about his less admirable activities is truly "hyperreal," in Baudrillard's sense of the term.”


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Finally, here’s a choice rant I spotted:

I'd love for some rich liberal to make a huge spashy advertised dare to red-staters. "You claim your approach is better at raising moral offspring than our humanist ways. Then test it! First, let's agree on criteria. And to prove that we really aren't morally all that much different from you, , let's agree in advance that the following things generally range from undesirable, to bad, to downright evil:

divorce
teen pregnancy
dropping out of high school
illiteracy
children born outside a stable marriage
venereal disease
addiction to drugs or alcohol
incest
adults imposing sex upon children under sixteen
domestic violence


Of course we could argue endlessly over which of these is worse that others, either truly evil or tolerable-if regrettable. But let’s agree that each and every of these things are clear markers of something gone wrong. You claim that you have a better handle on how people ought to live. Then stand up and prove it by showing that you are doing better than us, in all these measurable ways.

We, with all our urban problems, ghettos, and huge influx of immigrants, as well as our so-called loose urban moral values, ought to fare worse in all these categories than folk who are salt-of-the-earth, rural, bible-quoting red-staters, with the Ten Commandments posted in the courthouse and Intelligent Design taught in schools. Right?

Wrong. By every one of the measures listed above, blue-staters are doing not only better, but FAR better.

Just one recent example. The number of methamphetamine labs that law enforcement agencies seized in the urban states of Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire in 2004 was 5. The number seized in Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas? 2,546.

Perhaps it’s time to stop dismissing each other and start listening for a change. We’ll start by recalling that religious folk once played a huge role in promoting liberal causes. Combatting poverty and segregation and unjust wars. If people of deep faith no longer feel a connection with progressive liberalism, maybe we played a part in breaking that old link. We blue-staters could learn a little humility, too. We don’t always know everything.

Red-staters, on the other hand, need to stop fearing tomorrow. Most children make good choices when you let them see and sample from the world. Isolating them and relentlessly preaching at them clearly does not work.

Oh, one more thing. We in blue states took all the damage from terrorism and pay most of the taxes in fighting it. Dismissing us as immoral “others” won’t help America to be strong. It’s the opposite of “united we stand.”

Still, if you insist on a “culture war” we can comply, as our forefathers did in fighting to end slavery. Dismiss the ‘decadent’ urban North and you may be in for more than you bargained for.”


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Yeesh. This guy has been eating too much chile. Reminds me of the ongoing proposal to change the “red-blue” formalism to “blue-gray”! Now let’s join him in a round of The Battle Hymn of the Republic....

Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord.
He has trampled all the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored...


There’s got to be a better way.

38 comments:

jomama said...

I have yet to disagree in substance
with anything Davidson and Rees-Moog
said in The Sovereign Individual.

Visionaries they are.

daveawayfromhome said...

The red state / blue state is just another us-or-them simplification used by people to avoidhaving to think in any kind of depth. If you look at this web page you can see that most of the country could better be described as purple. See:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/

Nate said...

The real split isn't by states. The sharpest differences are really between rural and urban. And suburban, too now, I suppose. Because they're very different kinds of places and work best with slightly different rules. To take one instance, talk about guns in rural areas, people think hunting rifles. And most people live far enough apart that there's space to go use them. In the city, people think handguns, and there's really nowhere to go shoot anyway. They're much more dangerous with so many people close together. Which is part of the problem with gun control debates. Both sides are talking about completely different things. And the same with a number of other issues. And then those differences get preyed on and inflated by people who want to keep people divided.


And I don't really see much of anything that I, crazed liberal that I am, can disagree with in the interview with Massey.

David Brin said...

Ugh, someday remind me to post my essay about gun control... not right away, please.

Tony Fisk said...

@Dave and @Nate.

Just after the Nov. election, DB pointed out a cartogram showing the 'real' voting distribution.

As Nate says, the divide is more urban/rural.

My take on it is here.

Purple, indeed!

Seth said...

I've said this before, and I'll say it again: "Liberalism" did not fail. John Kerry just was not a good candidate.

Its a truism in politics that you can't win without the middle. And W managed to get moderates to vote for him. How? How did this happen?

Because Kerry made it happen, thats how. From his 18 SUV's to his insanely wealthy wife, Kerry just oozed "do as I say, not as I do" from every pore.

Kerry was stuck trying to reconcile the following:

1. He voted for the use of force in Iraq.
2. "Wrong war, wrong time."
3. He said that he still would have voted for the use of force.

Before you guys all jump up to defend the Kerry positions, try this on: I will GIVE you that Kerry was completely right and that these positions are utterly reconcilable.

But so what? W dragged that stuff out and implied that Kerry was completely unsure of whether to hand the country over to the terrorists or not. Subsequently, Team W managed to take a decorated war hero and make him a wuss... Kerry was flat out outmanuevered.

In one debate, W said "My opponent has a plan to get out of Iraq. It's called the Bush plan." Unfair? Probably. But Kerry failed to distinguish his position on Iraq. I read his plan. I read W's plan. On paper, they looked alike.

Finally, the guy just wasn't very likable. You shouldn't have to point out that your candidate is an "alpha male" as one Kerry staffer put it. This should be readily apparent.

The democratic party is going wrong in thinking that they are losing on character or on a specific set of moral principles. That isn't the problem. The problem is that the Democratic politicians whine constantly about the fact that people don't like them, and complain bitterly about the unfair tactics of the right, instead of just sucking up their losses and trotting out better people.

The real problem is that the smart and attractive democrats are all actors and actresses, and the whiny jerks are in office. The whiny jerk republicans are all talk show hosts, the comparitively smart and attractive ones are in office.

tc said...

I’d not seen the voting distribution cartogram before. Thanks, Tony Fisk, for posting a link. That’s the sort of basic analysis that I would like to see from the media. Discussions based on that kind of info wouldn’t fit as easily into segments between commercials, but it would help the public gain insight into what’s really going on.

Whiskey1, I agree with the direction of your post, but I’m uneasy with what I see as generalizations. Forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted and you summarized points to fit into a blog posting. I do thank you for avoiding much of the vitriol that pervades statements from folks who didn’t support President Bush. That kind of emotion distracts from questions like “What are the real issues facing us?” and “What do we do about them?”

But to build on your statements about Senator Kerry: just why did the Democrats choose him? It’s just naïve me talking, but I think a more moderate candidate like Rep. Richard Gephardt would have captured the moderate vote while still appealing to his base constituency. That’s kinda the point, isn’t it?

I think that you might be giving the “smart and attractive” Democrats too much credit. I can’t tell you how badly their activism played here in the Midwest. The U.S. has real issues facing us. Hearing the Dixie Chicks or Barbara Streisand berate anyone who disagreed with them as they sit in relative luxury sounded elitist and aristocratic. I think we come back to Mr. Brin’s essay about self-righteousness/chemical dependency – I really can’t think of another reason these rich and famous people wouldn’t at least pretend to treat fellow citizens (read, potential voting allies) with respect. I can only imagine how the election would have played out if those “attractive” people had appealed to the better emotions in the electorate.

NoOne said...

According to Nate

The real split isn't by states. The sharpest differences are really between rural and urban. And suburban, too now, I suppose.

Don't forget the exurbs! I live in a college town which fits the exurb model. Originally very liberal but slowly and surely, thanks to an influx of ex-urbanites who seem to immediately gravitate toward the charismatic churches, the town is showing a red Doppler shift. Read more about exurbs here.

Anonymous said...

It could be that the red states are so rigid *because* they have these problems, and believe their ancient values are the only way to solve them. Having dealt with some people for whom "the Old Time Religion" in all its stiffnecked irrationality would be a step up from where they're at, I can understand, even if I disagree with 90% of what they're saying.
Or to quote their Sacred Book, "it's not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick." That their medicine is toxic to those of us on any higher level - well, I have a cancer patient in my family and understand THAT paradox all too well!

Pat Mathews

Rob Perkins said...

The red-state blue-state stuff is, I agree, an oversimplification. The rant about various domestic violence and broken family issues is also telling, but I'll point out that it, too, IMO, is a strawman.

In any case, I live in a "red" county, in a "blue" state, which is shot through with meth labs and domestic violence and all the sins of Hugh Urban's list, I can't take his comparison with any seriousness. Maybe that was David's point.

I don't mind a resurgence of classic liberalism, but I don't think that's what the Dem's are championing, today. We need liberals, IMO, who embrace the fact-on-the-ground of deeply committed religious people, who are not afraid of science and technology, and of modernism in general, and who embrace all the gifts of a rich spiritual life and a tolerant modernist point of view.

But one of the things that troubles me about David's modernism is the apparant (apparant!) straw man created out of how he characterizes the neocons, as if (it appears to me) there is no good idea in them.

I could use a course correction on that, if I'm off base. Or if I've mixed too many metaphors! ;-p

I'm also troubled by a dichotomy which appears to shove so many religious Christians into a place where all they do is wait for Armaggedon and the Rapture. I'm surrounded by Christians who believe both of those things, and not a few other apparantly self-contradictory things, but who also embrace the practices and principles of optimistic modernism.

It makes me wonder if the dichotomy is useful at all.

And, ohyeah, the last image on that cartogram of the Bush/Kerry contest makes the borders of the U.S. look like China. Which means nothing except that I have an imagination. :-)

scalefree said...

The solution to the problems we face isn't driven by ideology or personality but technology. We need to stop fixating on individuals or even policy positions as an answer to what ails us. The problem is structural - democracy as envisioned by the Founding Fathers doesn't scale to a society as large & complex as ours has become. We need new, technologically mediated institutions based on emerging concepts of social networks, emergent semantics, collective intelligence & self-organized systems. It's only after we've designed, built & implemented these new types of systems that we can start posing the really hard questions that lay ahead of us to them.

For some background material on what I'm talking about, try reading Extreme Democracy & the Rand report Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks: A Framework About Societal Evolution.

Tim

David Brin said...

Cindy Sheehan won't get out of the news. Despite the fact that she is a TERRIBLE poster girl for liberalism, anti-war people keep coalescing around her.


Except of course, that Sheehan might as well be another brilliant Rove creation. She perfectly fits the image of liberal war opponents that red-staters WANT to perceive. This draws attention away from portions of the anti-war message that might actually influence wavering conservatives, like:

- is the war being executed competently?

- what has it done to US military readiness (e.g for a surprise emergency)?

- what has it done to our alliances and leadership?

- is polarization the same thing as "united we stand"?

- What do the states do - robbed of their trained guard units - if they have emergencies?

- why should we listen to bozos who had saddam in their hands in 91, only to betray the Iraqi people and
leave him in power for 12 more years?

These are questions that zing the brains of smart redstaters. Sheehan only reinforces their sense that
Rove may be right. That it's a choice between a tough texan and making the new Capital San Francisco.

d

PS... Anybody see any oil coming out of Iraq? So much for the "we went there for the oil" theory! What HAS
happened is that SAUDI oil became much more valuable/expensive.

daveawayfromhome said...

My biggest problem with John Kerry, aside from just not liking him much, was that I felt that his nomination was more a result of political machinations rather than a choice of Democratic voters. It was mid-March, and already he was being declared the winner, with unions and Hollywood stars stepping up behind him. Even though the Conventions are little more these days than a big show, it was still a little disconcerting to see the primary essentially declared over before the snow had even finished melting. I despise BushCo, but I couldnt gather much enthusiasm for Kerry, either. Middle-of-the-road people who didnt despise Bush may have found it easier to vote for him if they felt the same way about Kerry that I did.

-dcc-

Tony Fisk said...

Quoth David:
Yeesh. This guy has been eating too much chile.

Like some others 'round here ;-) Actually, he does try to be balanced in places. But I agree, his tone is unnecessarily inflammatory, especially to his 'target' audience

Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord....
There’s got to be a better way.


There is (to define this guy's rant, at least). I'd look to the Beatles:
Try to see it my way,
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong.
While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we may fall apart before too long.
We can work it out,
We can work it out.


Red/Blue, Blue/Gray.
... Fuel/Air.
Idle speculation: Kerry seemed to quit the field pretty abruptly after the election, despite widespread claims of voting fraud. Maybe an old vet' smelt the napalm, and didn't want to strike sparks? (That's a *very* idle speculation BTW: I'm too remote to comment in-depth on US politics or, indeed, on how bitter this cultural divide has become at a personal level)

Except of course, that Sheehan might as well be another brilliant Rove creation.

(paranoia)
Ah, yes! How is old 'TB'? He seems to have dropped out of the news recently. What could have taken his place in media attention?
(/paranoia)

@Dave: your comments echo the general feeling at the Australian election: I don't think Howard was all that popular, but the opposition leader of the time was an untried quantity with a loutish reputation (who has since departed). Stick with the devil you know.

Continuing the parallels: the libs now have control of both houses (celebrated by a friendly finger from one triumphant senator to green's senator Bob Brown: that out-take sure has got around!)

It could have been worse. The 'Family First' party (three guesses as to policies) *nearly* got control of the balance of power, but missed out. This time.

And, there is irony: the only effective policy opposition that Howard currently faces is from his own backbench: a fellow called Petro Georgiou!

Interesting times!

mapletree7 said...

Great Massey interview. Mirrors thoughts I've been having about how the stock markets work. Does our current system of public ownership really result in the greatest good for the most individuals? But what to replace it with?

Seth said...

mapletree said:"Does our current system of public ownership really result in the greatest good for the most individuals?"

Compared to what, though? Compared to other systems, historically? Without question. Compared to any possible system? Almost certainly not.

But I have some major reservations with the Massey interview. For example, he contends that "since 1980, there has existed a political economy in the United States that has benefited 20 percent of the population at the expense of the other 80 percent. "

This is partisan in the extreme and very misleading. It means nothing, and in fact, the amount of wealth in the US has increased enormously, unemployment is still lower than it was during the Carter years, real wages are up... etc. etc.

He has some good talking points for what the democrats need--decent candidates and an actual message--and the "new market" idea sounds good, but when I actually read his ideas of what to do they are the same tired old super regulatory pap.

The media, for example... you know what the best way to nail the old style media and create a new world of competitive, non corporate media is?

Go give the wikimedia people 5 bucks, and listen to, read, and support your favorite podcasters and bloggers. Go hyperlocal. You know the best way to get companies to look to the future and care about the environment? Invest in green stocks or just sell your stock in a company when you hear about a big layoff.

Then blog about it, tell the world what you did and why you did it. (No, you will not find this stuff on my blog right now, but you used to find stuff about why I quit smoking and switched to natural meat and stopped eating fast food... hmmm... maybe I should get into that stuff again...)

Scream into the void. But don't try and get everyone to pass a law. Thats just pointless. Get everyone on your side first, THEN pass a low.

Sheesh. Democrats.

Wintermute said...

Hmmm, so we're more purple than red and blue. We can't cut up our populations (as we do) into red and blue. Perhaps two options are not enough. Perhaps representative democracy is not enough. Can we work within the radically unrespresentative systems of bipartisan 'representative' democracy to bring about a more representative system?

I don't think that Kerry was a bad candidate, I think that he was basically the SAME candidate with a different face. There were no significant differences between their plans or their rhetoric, and with two of the same options, who are we to vote for? It won't change much if we get Kerry into the white house-we'd still be at war and terrorists would still want to attack us. Is this a democracy which is good enough for us? I want more, and I don't think that I can get it by voting in the system I want to change, but I don't know what else to do.

This is that anarchist in me coming out again. Someone help me figure out what to do. I am very lost. How do we represent our purpleness?

Wintermute said...

It seems that someone has pre-emptively answered part of my question while I was composing it.

Go give the wikimedia people 5 bucks, and listen to, read, and support your favorite podcasters and bloggers. Go hyperlocal. You know the best way to get companies to look to the future and care about the environment? Invest in green stocks or just sell your stock in a company when you hear about a big layoff.

True, that is one of the best things we can do right now. But what about those people who don't have enough money to do so, those whose very interests are at the heart of this issue.

If we are to:

Scream into the void. But don't try and get everyone to pass a law. Thats just pointless. Get everyone on your side first, THEN pass a low.

How are we guaranteed a candidate who would actually change the system for the better rather than simply maintain the status quo of bipartisan "un"-representative democracy, even if that's what people come to want? How do we get our message into the mass media which have really come to constitute our views and to define the issues?

Tony Fisk said...

I know I risk starting to sound like a 'spag blogger' for Worldchanging, but this article referring to the large scale production of nanotube ribbons is worth a look (and might cast a bit of cheer on an otherwise gloomy tone developing here)

On purpleness, and its fair representation in a government: DB has mentioned a 'modest proposal' for achieving this, but has either forgotten, is refining, or just hasn't gotten 'round to describing it yet.

Anyway, here's my two cents worth. I've been mulling this one over for a bit and, to be honest, I can't see how 51% of the vote can't be prevented from ruling the roost at any given time.

Then I got to thinking what the most honesty inducing factor in a mid-term government with 51% of the vote might be. One item that popped up was by-elections.

So, what if, rather than one grand bruhaha every 3-4 years, elections were staggered so that there was one state (or whatever best represents a parliamentary vote) per month?

I'll leave you folks to think through the ramifications of that, while I go stock up on the bandage supply.

Meantime, I'm interested in what extreme democracy, open vote etc. might achieve. Siebold & co. notwithstanding, I think online voting has possibilities.

David said...

You have an interesting blog - read the news from Australia at http://australianbusinessnews.blogspot.com/ - I think you'll find it of interest.

David

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Seth said...

Wintermute Asked:"True, that is one of the best things we can do right now. But what about those people who don't have enough money to do so[invest in stocks], those whose very interests are at the heart of this issue."

Damn near anyone can afford to invest in stocks these days. Seriously. If you have a bank account and are over 18, you can invest. Check sharebuilder.com out if you don't believe me.

In fact, my personal belief is that you can't afford not to invest. But that is a whole other topic...

You can also make good purchasing decisions, which amounts to the same thing. It really matters what you buy and don't buy.

The mainstream media may always be the mouthpiece for the mainstream parties. But by participating in alternate media, writing your own news stories at wikiNews or contributing to hyperlocal news projects, you reduce the net influence of the mainstream media.

Think of... a graph, in the graph theory sense of the term. The graph represents the entire mediasphere, including individuals who just read newspapers or talk to one another. One vertex is the Associated Press. Lets say that the weight of a node is determined by the number of connections. Obviously, the AP is very heavy, because all the corporate news distributers connect to it and get their news from it. You can't really change that, and its pointless to try.

However, if YOU personally are connected to a large number of other nodes, the AP exerts relatively little pull on you. And in turn, each of your connections supports, a little bit, everyone that you are connected to and reduces the AP's pull on them. And so the more you communicate, the less important the mainstream media becomes to the entire graph... which is a metaphor for the entire world.

The culture war is not won by changing CNN. CNN starts to change when the weight of the graph starts shifting our way.

The same is true for politics, which is why I tell people that any vote for a major party is a wasted vote.

Nate said...

The thing about Kerry is, I think he would have made a good President. I don't think he did a good job at all as a candidate, though. For just the most obvious example, he didn't do ANYTHING about the Swift Boat liars for weeks. He didn't attach them to Bush, even though they were working for Bush. He didn't release the military records that had the same people who were smearing him praising him. He never made a clear and simple case out of his Iraq position ("I believed it was necessary, but these bozos are too incompetent and/or corrupt to do it properly, look what's happened.") He never pushed anything like, oh, I dunno, voting reform.

Basically, he never went for the throat, or fought back nearly hard enough. Which let Bush tag the "Flip-flopper" and other smears on him, while posing as "tough". Yeah. Willing to be "tough" with other people's lives, and no ideas other than being "tough". He never tried to burst Bush's "nice regular folks, y'all" bubble with the truth.

And despite that, he still managed to get 49% of the vote.

And while it might not be a popular answer here, sometimes the way to fix things IS regulation, and enforcing the regulations. Most of the consolidation of the media has happened in the past twenty years, thanks to thing like the end of the Fairness Doctrine, the Telecommunications Act, deregulation, FCC leinency, etc. Blogs and other alternative news sources are good, but there's plenty of people who get just get their news from the TV news. Most of which, honestly, is just noise. You get a headline, then a blurb, then back to you at the station, Rob. Because there isn't really much competition when three companies own all the TV stations, radio stations, and newspapers. And then they cut out the local reporters and do the news from a central place miles away, serving six cities.

And no matter how snappy a message we come up with, it has to be able to get out to people, past the lazy guardians of the "mainstream" media if we want to get make any kind of dent.

Seth said...

Regulation of the media increases the number and power of information gatekeepers, which is bad for alternative messages. The only way to increase the power of alternative messages is to share and support them.

The fairness doctrine, for example, solidified the power of the two party system by enshrining "both sides" into law. Not "all sides" but rather, the two dominant sides. This led to the situation we have now.

Campaign finance reform, in its latest incarnation, can be used to prosecute bloggers who mention one candidate but not "the other" within 60 days of an election. This is a bad thing.

Think about the graph... where does regulation increase the weight? With you, or with gatekeepers and regulators? Sure, it means that you can enforce a hearing from "both sides" but they are both OFFICIALLY SANCTIONED sides.

Media consolodation hasn't changed the message much, because all the papers were getting their news from the big pipes anyway, and they still are.

No one on earth just gets their news from the TV. They also get their news from the people they talk to. Of whom you are one.

You cannot, by definition, regulate your way to a revolution. We will not win the culture war by attempting to use the tools of power against themselves. You need people.

Rob said...

Douglas Massey, or David Brin? You make the call:

MJ: Let's shift over to the political landscape. You see the conservative movement today as being spearheaded by what you call a variety of fundamentalisms. Can you explain what those are?

Yeah, I did a lot of reading trying to understand fundamentalism, and there was one interesting scholar I ran across—Martin Marty of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago—who spent more than a decade studying fundamentalisms around the world. Basically fundamentalism is not about religion, it's a political movement that often uses religion for political purposes. And fundamentalists are essentially all the same, whether you're talking Hindus or Buddhists or Muslims, Christians, Jews. They selectively draw from sacred texts to achieve political goals in the modern world. And they're essentially engaged in a war against modernism, against what has been accomplished through the modern liberal political economy—which includes the liberation of women, the end of the subordination of minorities, the end of privilege, all those things really disturb many fundamentalists. And they turn to religion as a way of marshalling their forces to attack all these things.

So it's not about religion at all.


Emphasis mine. From the article Dr. Brin linked to at the head of his post. Looks like I might have to get that book.

Wintermute said...

Wintermute Asked:"True, that is one of the best things we can do right now. But what about those people who don't have enough money to do so[invest in stocks], those whose very interests are at the heart of this issue."

Whiskey1 replied: Damn near anyone can afford to invest in stocks these days. Seriously. If you have a bank account and are over 18, you can invest. Check sharebuilder.com out if you don't believe me.

In fact, my personal belief is that you can't afford not to invest. But that is a whole other topic...

You can also make good purchasing decisions, which amounts to the same thing. It really matters what you buy and don't buy.


Corporate lobbying and boycotting, which seems to me what you are mildly recommending, is not democratic. I don't have a good summer job, and I am going to school on loans, so I actually can't afford to buy stocks (literally). Nor would I want to, even if it makes me money (its a moral thing). If it really matters what you buy and don't buy, then apparently I don't matter much (because I don't buy much). To me, this is unacceptable, and ridiculously undemocratic.

For example, the man who favors (say) making investment as risk free as possible (which involves protecting investors from any criminal actions that are commited by a corporation they own stock in, as we do now) will likely be a businessman. He will obviously have more votes than me, the basement-suite dwelling philosopher who disagrees with risk free investment (in the sense of making shareholders inculpable) and has very few votes because he studies instead of working a lot.

I don't think boycotting and lobbying the corporations is the solution to our need to democratically represent our purpleness. It is fairly clear which interests would dominate and succeed in this system-the wealthy businessman or corporation's interests with more money than most of us could ever dream of-even more so than they do now. So, since what I'm worried about IS the present domination of the democratic process by corporate and big business players and ideologies, I think that accepting a lobbying/boycotting method of effecting change would be counterproductive since it would further empower these elites into an even more undemocratic system.

I agree with nate that: while it might not be a popular answer here, sometimes the way to fix things IS regulation, and enforcing the regulations. Most of the consolidation of the media has happened in the past twenty years, thanks to thing like the end of the Fairness Doctrine, the Telecommunications Act, deregulation, FCC leinency, etc.

The fairness doctrine needed to be fixed, but there were two ways this could be done: either by eliminating it (which was the Reagan administration's choice) or by changing "both sides" into "all sides." The latter option would have forced corporate media to hold more open debates, invite people on to talk that are complaining of being marginalized, etc. With no fairness doctrine the profit motives of the corporate media simply took over and now we see nothing but what you would expect from an unregualted corporate "information" supplier-substanceless fluff. Personally, I think it was better before.

But the media are only part of the problem, they are not the whole problem. As scalefree says:

The problem is structural - democracy as envisioned by the Founding Fathers doesn't scale to a society as large & complex as ours has become. We need new, technologically mediated institutions based on emerging concepts of social networks, emergent semantics, collective intelligence & self-organized systems.

With the pace of technological innovation as it is, a leader that is only accountable every 4 years is radically inadequate. We need a system that is more responsive to change. In a few words, we need a more bottom-up approach to democracy rather than a heavily top-down model like we have now. In its extreme form this is what we call anarchy, when communities and individuals make the rules, they do not follow those made by others. This is more democratic, but my main question is: how do we bring about something like this within the present climate without getting too radical? If we can't rely on the mass media (which, contrary to Whiskey1, I believe still is the major news source for far too many people) to disseminate anything but biased news, it is unlikely that any corporate entity is going to stir up the status quo by discussing voting reform.

Suppose that we as a nation want more democratic control. We have fought the meme war and created a society where people are willing and ready to take more democratic power into their own collective hands. Now which presidential candidate is going to run on a voting reform platform? Both? Neither? I think neither, because neither party is going to allow a person to climb their ranks just to change their jobs (or to potentially put them out of jobs).

So, how do we get better control of our country? How do we enact a system which has more checks and balances (in a word, accountability) so that we can avoid ever having such a bad neo-con infestation again? Aside from fighting the meme war and aside from lobbying for corporate responsibility, how can we work within the democratic systems we have to bring about a better democratic system. Is it impossible, or just very unlikely?

I'm gonna look on Davidbrin.com for that moderate proposal. Dr. Brin has already answered my questions there.

Rob said...

@whiskey1
The fairness doctrine, for example, solidified the power of the two party system by enshrining "both sides" into law. Not "all sides" but rather, the two dominant sides. This led to the situation we have now.

No, the Fairness Doctrine said absolutely nothing about "both sides" (from the MBC article linked below, emphasis mine):

"This doctrine grew out of concern that because of the large number of applications for radio station being submitted and the limited number of frequencies available, broadcasters should make sure they did not use their stations simply as advocates with a singular perspective. Rather, they must allow all points of view. That requirement was to be enforced by FCC mandate."

And it was never a law: in 1987, after the FCC announced it was dropping the policy (due to a decision by the then Republican-run Commission), a law WAS passed but the legislation was vetoed by President Reagan.

Read this Museum of Broadcast Communications article and this NOW with Bill Moyers report.

Rob said...

@whiskey1 again:
Regulation of the media increases the number and power of information gatekeepers, which is bad for alternative messages. The only way to increase the power of alternative messages is to share and support them.

Regulation doesn't increase the number and power of information gatekeepers. To the extent that there ARE gatekeepers, regulation is the ONLY available means of making sure they adhere to rules and procedures in the course of their gatekeeping. And if the regulators are doing their jobs properly, those rules and procedures will HELP alternative messages succeed IN THE FACE OF attempts by the powerful established media to stamp them out. Problems occur when the regulators themselves are corrupted by outside influence, perhaps seduced by those same media giants they are supposed to be overseeing, and the regulations are "reformed" or "deregulated" in the name of "clearing up the red tape" or "getting government off our backs". That's when you see waves of consolidation, big voices getting bigger and small voices bought or legislated out.

I have yet to see any industry where "deregulation" or "reform" has led to unqualified positive results. There always seems to be some negative effect or consequence that partially or completely counterbalances the supposed good. Regulations are generally instituted for good reasons, not simply to punish or constrain commerce out of spite. We can debate the merits of this or that regulation, but blanket condemnations of the concept of regulation are in my view counterproductive.

David Brin said...

Rob, I don't agree about deregulations not being successful.

Fact is that markets need perpetual fine tuning and regulations from one era should ALWAYS be viewed with skepticism by later eras.

Sound libertarian? You bet! I am a libertarian! That is... a heretical and quasi-statist one. Human nature and human history shows that we should ALL lean a bit toward skepticism toward elites' temptation to regulate, micromanage and meddle in our lives and markets.

What I hate is some of the prevalent MYTHS about deregulation.

There have been eight or nine major deregulations since the seventies. Of these, nearly ALL were driven and motivated by the DEMOCRATS! Banking, trucking, telecommunications, airlines, Fedex/UPS... all of them with mixed but mostly positive results.

Especially FedEx... the archetype that proves libertarians should be incrementalist-reformers instead of purist-dogmatist radical hypocrites.

The GOP did drive SOME deregulation efforts. Savings & Loans. Oil/energy companies. The accounting industry.

And yup. Guess what happened with THOSE!

Fact. The GOP seldom even PROPOSES real deregulation. Because aristocrats like regulation. It can be fine tuned to guarantee profits. To pass costs on to the public. And to privatize all benefits.

Rob said...

Here's an excellent article by Alfred Kahn, last chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board in the Carter Administration and now Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Cornell. He gives an overview of the deregulation of the airline industry, which he and virtually everyone agrees was necessary to allow more efficient provision of passenger air service in this country. But even he, one of the architects of a "successful" deregulation, points out that the story doesn't end there:

"In this as in all other unregulated industries, there is always the possibility of anti-competitive behavior. That is why we have antitrust laws. The reconcentration of the industry reflects, in part, the failure of the Department of Transportation to disallow even one merger of direct competitors. Also, some of the largest airlines have, at least in the past, used their computerized reservations systems to handicap their smaller competitors. Frequent-flyer programs, operating agreements and mergers with regional feeder airlines, and deeply discounted discriminatory fares have all put smaller competitors at a severe disadvantage and contributed to the demise of many of them."

Even after you deregulate, there are still some things that have to be monitored. Or to put it another way, regulated. It's just a different kind of regulation.

Of course this is out of context with the remainder of his article, which is solidly behind the theory that taken as a whole, deregulation of the airline industry was a good thing. And my point is not that deregulation is always a bad idea or that regulation will solve all of our ills. But I don't think we should go completely the other way and say some deregulation was good, so more deregulation is better and total deregulation is best. And there are some out there who seem to believe that.

I simply disagree with whiskey1's blanket statement that:

You cannot, by definition, regulate your way to a revolution. We will not win the culture war by attempting to use the tools of power against themselves.

I disagree that revolution is called for. Revolution from what, democracy? To what? Why should we not use regulations and legislation and all the other peaceful means at our disposal to fix our corrupt and debased institutions, rather than declaring a pox on all their houses? The problems we face are not insurmountable; mostly they stem from a general public that simply isn't aware of what is going on. Look at the Social Security "reform" debate; the longer the President went out on the road, the more he talked about it even to picked crowds, the more the polls showed Americans disapproving of his approach. If we take the time (and have the time!) to educate people, I think we'll find that in the end the Liberal/Progressive/Modernist approach (the rational approach) will win out over the Neo-Conservative/Fundamentalist/Romantic one. Even a day late and a dollar short, Americans are coming to the realization that Iraq isn't working out like we were being told it would; and they're starting to ask hard questions.

We don't need a revolution. We need a rediscovery. A Re-Enlightenment.

Seth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seth said...

@wintermute, rob

You guys didn't hear a word I said, did you?

Nate said...

@whiskey1

Regulation of the media increases the number and power of information gatekeepers, which is bad for alternative messages. The only way to increase the power of alternative messages is to share and support them.

I have to disagree. If the government says, say "You can only own 1 radio channel, TV station, and newspaper in this area," how does that increase the number of gatekeepers? It creates more, by not allowing situations like we have now, where even in major metropolitan areas, nearly all of the radio and TV channels and newspapers are owned by like 4 companies. And as those 4 companies are just a subset of the about 6 companies that own almost every major TV & radio network, newspaper, book and music publishers, movie companies, etc, etc, there's not real "competition" there.

Because that's how things keep working now. In most rural areas, the "local" reporting is done from counties away. And even in more urban areas, there's little connection with the media, because it's owned and operated as part of a giant company from far away. It's not like a little store with ties to the community and an interest in the future of the community, it's just numbers on a balance sheet.

Markets don't exist without regulations. Regulations lay the ground rules, and need tweaking from time to time, but without them, there's even more nothing to stop people from cheating than there is now.

Seth said...

@Nate

Different kind of regulation. I'm talking about CONTENT regulation, such as the fairness doctrine.

@wintermute

First, no one is talking about corporate lobbying or boycotting. I'm just suggesting that one of the most effective thing you can do is spend your money well. Regardless of how much you have or don't have.

And shareholders damn well should be inculpable for the criminal behavior of a corporation they hold stock in. They have no control over the criminal behavior. They are unaware of the criminal behavior. They committed no crime.

Are you suggesting that if you shop at Qwik-E mart, and Qwik-E mart is a front for a drug dealer, that you are criminally liable? Seriously?

A lot of what you are saying makes sense. But you can't enforce content controls. It just doesn't work.

Look, during the time of the fairness doctrine the highest amount of the vote gathered by a third party was 8% by the libertarians. After the fairness doctrine it was 15% by the Reform party. Then, after the latest round of campaign finance reform, the Reform party dropped to about 1%. Think about that: Content Regulation will always favor the parties in power. Finance reform will always favor the parties in power.

Now, the content of the news has really not changed much in the last 100 years or so. Check the papers from 100 years ago if you don't believe me. And the major news services package about 90% of the news regardless of who owns the station or paper. News is a product, they buy it wholesale, package it, and sell it to you.

But alternative channels are a different story. I get my news from wherever I want to get my news. RSS feeds and news aggregators are free. They are free of content regulation, they are free of market regulation. And interestingly, this is one of the few areas where the little guys can compete with the big guys.

@all
Its been fun. See you after the semester is over. Must study.

Rob said...

Its been fun. See you after the semester is over. Must study.

Obviously, that should come first. Best of luck.

You guys didn't hear a word I said, did you?

I heard you, but I just don't agree with you.

I'm talking about CONTENT regulation, such as the fairness doctrine...you can't enforce content controls. It just doesn't work...Content Regulation will always favor the parties in power. Finance reform will always favor the parties in power.

Well, government in general will always favor the parties in power; that's how it works. And right now, the parties in power are legislating things like perpetual copyrights, first-to-file patents and digital rights management. They are making it illegal to do anything with "their" content that they don't want you to, generally involving crossing their palms with silver. Your argument is apparently that the game is rigged so it's pointless to play; in other words, the system is so corrupt that it is beyond repairing, and we need a (possibly bloody) revolution. My argument is that yes it is corrupt, but not beyond repairing if the people can be educated about it.

RSS feeds and news aggregators are free.

For now.

They are free of content regulation

For now.

they are free of market regulation

For now.

this is one of the few areas where the little guys can compete with the big guys

For now.

Remember Napster? Thanks to the perpetual copyright laws we allowed to be passed, the free sharing of music has been converted into something only done by pirates and thieves. The recent Grokster decision moves us down the road to making just writing software a violation of the law. The Federal Election Commission just held hearings on whether blogs that post political content should be regulated as campaign contributors. You're right, the parties in power, unchecked, will arrange things to suit themselves. That's why we must be vigilant and ready to educate the people, who still hold the ultimate power in this country, about what's going on.

Content control is not the reason third parties have never been able to climb out of the cellar in this country. Don't mistake the effect for the cause. Third parties remain pathetically small here because of our winner-take-all election systems which make votes for third parties essentially wasted votes. People don't want to waste their votes, so when the chips are down and big issues are at stake, people tend to concentrate their votes with the party most likely to affect the outcome in their favor. Also, I would suspect that a large percentage of Americans aren't even aware of the existence of third parties, or if they are, what those parties stand for.

Wintermute said...

Are you suggesting that if you shop at Qwik-E mart, and Qwik-E mart is a front for a drug dealer, that you are criminally liable? Seriously?

That's not at all what I'm suggesting, what I'm suggesting is that if you owned a part of the Qwik-E-mart that was a front for a drug dealer that you should be held criminally liable. If your corporation knowingly dumps pollutants illegally, you should be held criminally liable if its your company. Otherwise there is no reason why a corporation wouldn't commit a crime if a robust cost-benefit analysis said that it would be profitable to do so.

Mark Johnson said...

I think there are mainly two forces at work against Modernism.

One; The number of people who have a respect for science (and in saying respect, I mean an appreciation of its abilities and an understanding of how it can be used) has declined. The replacement for this has been a meme of Free Markets and that business will bring about the great future that science with its bombs and GM foods cannot.

Two; A minority has leveraged a small group of loyalists and has taken over the election system. For about 12 years I've watched as stealth Religious Right candidates have entered into school boards and the voting boards. Once in place, they have managed to get voting machines produced by loyal corporations. Short answer; the votes are rigged. The Dems in Congress and the Senate are almost as corrupt as the Republicans, so their silence has been bought by the threat of losing office (possibly, this is an un-said feeling like the one that has the press quivering in fear) or that the only higher power they believe in is polls.

The ideas expressed here are pretty good. But the main problem I have is that they are based on a false assumption. The Democratic message, while a little wimpy, has been moving toward being more progressive for some time. If you live in the real world, you quickly see that the Politically Correct and Socialist whining tree hugger is a lot rarer and not really the threat that the Right makes of it. There has been a good media effort to show only the extremists of both sides... but I don't think this belief in Democrats as Commies increased from 2000 to 2004. I don't think that there was a 25% increase in Evangelicals in the country and that MORE Republicans were excited by the Bush years. Why does nobody look at that? How could a real Republican, who cares about fiscal responsibility and non-intrusive government get MORE excited about Bush? How does the country get that much more religious in four years when the actual vote showed that younger people had become MORE likely to vote Democratic (Kerry's best market it seems).

The best explanation for Bush winning in 2004 was the push to put in Electronic Voting Machines. Just read the statistical analysis and you will see that Bush increased in votes almost exclusively in areas that had installed these Slot Machines. The exit polling showed Kerry winning by 6% on Tuesday night -- and I believe that was what the actual vote was.

A Good summary on MSNBC by Keith Oberman

Strangely, other than the one anomaly, the only press covering this is tech magazines.
And Here.

A Liberal site, but it links to hard facts
More here.

Why do we keep calling this a conspiracy theory? We now have hard proof that Bush lied about the reasons for the Iraq war. That they wanted to invade Iraq from the time they took office. They even actively hindered the 9/11 investigations. So if they are going to lie about issues of national security, is it so farfetched for this group to cheat on an election?

The world makes a lot more sense if you just admit that the Bush administration is a bunch of crooks.

Mark Johnson said...

As long as we are talking about election reform...
I would like to do away with the "run-off". We take a look at a ALL the Democratic and Republican and Alternative candidates--and all States vote in the same WEEK. Then, we vote for our favorites from 1 to 5 in any party. The weighting for secondary and lower candidates will be very important in this process. But it means that you could Vote for your favorite people and on down rather than holding your nose and voting for the most likely to win because he is better than the other guy. I would make it simple by ranking a 1st vote as 5, down to a 5th vote as a 1 and then stamp that in stone.

Another tweak to electronic voting; all votes are accessible on the web. Each voting ticket has a unique number and the voter can enter their number into the voter.gov website and see how they voted. The same verified database that the voter can check is the one used to tally the votes. Perhaps the unique number could be on a drivers licence/ID card -- that would allow enough privacy
while still maintaining access by the voter.
Also, I'd like to see percentage power. Rather than a win or lose voting system. More like a Parliament.

I don't want to see elections each month. That would turn people off more and make corporate money MORE influential.

I'd also like to do away with ANY donations to candidates. This is just political bribery legalized. If we go to a system where all the candidates get voted for at the same time with no run off, and we admit that electing our leaders is something that is so very important we can't allow it to be manipulated. Then we get rid of all the money and PACs and just have debates of equal time on PBS. You will still have the media coverage and people can still hold rallies -- so there no perfect way to get rid of the corruption of Power. But the system we have now is really bad and really corrupt. As Ross Perot once said; "It isn't the candidate with a good idea that we need, we have all kinds of plans sitting around that are great. We have to get rid of the lobbyists or you will never get the good plan." That's why I voted for him twice. Even after I thought him paranoid. After 5 years of Bush II, I don't think he was paranoid when he talked about all the dirty tricks.

So, with a 1 to 5 system I think we would get better selections. If a candidate throws a lot of mud, then the guy they criticize might get harmed, but the candidate throwing the mud will lose to someone else (this doesn't prohibit the phony candidate who will be used as a mud slinger, but nothing is perfect). A candidate will have to differentiate him/herself so that they can stand out, but a candidate can't be too extreme to get a polarized base's support and then lose 4 out of 5 of the next preference votes.

While I'm recreating the world here, I'd like to remove some of the budget power of the politicians and give it to the Taxpayer. This idea, I am sure that Libertarians will love; Put many of the bills on a form that is sent with taxes. Say we start out with 10% of the budget -- take it from the automatic increases that are put in bills to account for inflation, and allow taxpayers to decide which programs get increases and decreases.

Increase the portion of the budget decided by Taxpayers by 1% each year. People who pay more tax, get more representation on the budget--but that I think seems fair. It means that rich guys who shirk taxes get less influence. Some think that people cannot handle this responsibility. But I think that taxpayers just moving money towards programs that would reduce taxes would quickly re-adjust itself. When things start going wrong, I think that empowered citizens will most often make thoughtful decisions. This is why Juries, do a pretty good job in courts--in general, people are actually very good decision makers if you give them the power to make decisions. Congress still sets up the programs and bills, but if it doesn't get support from taxpayers down the line, the pork projects can get starved to death.

The problem with America is that we don't train ourselves to operate on an Adult level. The Modernist/Romantic debate is an old one. Raising children to take on responsibility and encouraging them with rewards makes a better adult than scaring them with Hell or just feeding them Candy and Praise. If we want a responsible government, we need to become responsible adults and see value in Modernism and Romanticism. Debate needs to move towards discussion and we need to quit fighting with different TRUTHs and start negotiating with ideas.

In the short term however, I don't think we can get to a better system without a massive change in leadership. I dream of a Nuremburg style court hearing to review everyone from Abrimoff to Z. Throwing Negroponte or Ashcroft in prison would send a good message to other countries that we are ready to be a good world citizen again.