Sunday, April 01, 2007

Invite Them Home: Part II

A DIVE INTO THE PAST

I have long held that this latest era of assault against modernist civilization calls for a multi-layered response. A diversity of strategies and tacts, fighting back against the Enemies of the Enlightenment on as many levels as they have been attacking the Great Experiment and everything that America originally stood for. (continued from Part 1)

Yes, there is a place for “sumo”-style grunting and pushing of normal politics. We must tussle over specific bills, specific scandals. I have a few suggestions of my own. Go get em, Congressfolk.

And yet, we must remember to step back, now and then, and recall the big picture. None of the up close squabbles -- likt the US Prosecutor firings -- will solve our overall crisis, the debilitating disease eating like a cancer at America’s heart.

First on our agenda, some attention must be paid to addressing the underlying causes of “culture war,” the devastatingly divisive, artificial sickness -- nothing less than a resumption of the 1860s Civil War -- that has been foisted on America by some genuinely evil men, who do not want a civilization that is of, by, or about either the People, or the Enlightenment.

Bona fide enemies of progress, including many who actually want to see the world end in a garish, biblical bloodbath...

...or else who strive actively for a return to feudal-style hierarchies of inherited privilege.

... or else who want to yatter about being pro-free-market while betraying those very same markets at every turn, undermining the reciprocal accountability that genuine enterprise depends-upon. Cheating in old-fashioned ways, exactly like the conspiring elites that Adam Smith despised most.

And yet, none of those factions -- none of those three fanatical portions of the Karl Rove “big tent” -- could have accomplished very much without a fourth group.

Want some irony about the last twelve years? While powerful neofeudalist lords (both at home and abroad) were the chief winners... and fiery religious fanatics fanned the flames with anti-future rhetoric... this entire era of “Republican resurgence” had its origins NOT with those varieties of know-nothings, but with a band of sincere and brainy nerds!

A bunch of wonky professorial types -- many of them Jewish or Libertarian, some of them former youthful Trotskyites -- with personalities and psychologies profoundly unlike those actually controlling the GOP -- the fraternity jocks, plutocrats, petrosheiks, and Book of Revelations junkies.

Intellectuals who dreamed, plotted, and then midwifed a completely reborn neoconservatism, rising like a phoenix out of the ashes of GOP collapses in 1964 and 1974.

Former believers in the conservatism of Barry Goldwater (whose grave-spinning now powers the whole state of Arizona), these intellectuals of the right retrenched after the ruination of Watergate, taking refuge at the feet of dyspeptic grouches like Allan Bloom... and especially Leo Strauss, an emigre from Holocaust-horror, who foisted upon impressionable youths a strange-but-transfixing, romantic notion.

The notion that it was their duty to abandon the good-natured pragmatism and open accountability of rich, happy, generous and successful America, in favor of the same kinds of incantatory madness that had turned Strauss’s home continent into hell on Earth.

Yes, they all nodded as Strauss told them to, by all means, dive into older traditions of ideological dogmatism, scholastic rationalism, Kantian/Hegelian hypnosis and platonistic self indulgent essentialism! Never mind that that entire approach had a terrible track record, compared to the outrageous successes of Yankee, fact-based empiricism, rights-based idealism, pragmatic negotiation and our never-ending pursuit of self-improvement.

Alas, from the point of view of frustrated wonks, the latter approach had one major drawback - it demanded an easygoing, “we’ll see” attitude toward truth.

An approach more atune to science than philosophy. (Ask Richard Feynman. Ask Albert Einstein or Leo Szilard. The less people understand about the world, the more eager they seem to be, to demand that it conform to their dogmas. The more stridently they tell it what to do. I swear, physics should be a job requirement for anyone going into politics.)

And so, given their incantatory bent, the young conservative nerds (many of them at the University of Chicago) ate up Strauss’s story - his tale about the noblesse oblige of an inherently superior intelligencia. His advice to imitate Europe and to prefer Plato over Franklin. Including Plato’s smug prescription that it is perfectly all right for rulers to lie like hell.

In much the same way that the “mythology” arm-wavings of Joseph Campbell would later appeal to Hollywood egotists, Strauss catered to the intense self-flattering need of men like Kenneth Adelman, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and so on, nurturing their self-image as misunderstood, but destined-for-greatness, young philosopher kings.

Moreover, Strauss urged these young acolytes to seek (like Alcibiades) a glorious vision of aggressive foreign war, in service of a holy cause. An idea that worked so very well for Alcibiades...and for the fanatical regimes of 1940s Europe.

(I go into all of this elsewhere. Just follow links above.)


A WELL-PLANNED COUNTER-ATTACK AGAINST DECADENT LIBERALISM

Thus inspired and with a profound sense of mission, these intellectual soldiers marched forth to do battle with a liberalism that they not only saw as decadent and corrupting, but also personally insulting. A liberalism that - while incredibly successful at transforming civilization (e.g. civil rights, womens’ rights, unprecedented social mobility, self-made wealth and self-expression), had also begun to expose a choice array of achilles heels. Some really ripe inconsistencies and hypocrisies and other easy targets.

And so, with the end of the Cold War afoot, the Straussian Boys focused on those weaknesses, sharpening their arrows and designing an ingenious plan of war.

We all know what happened next, as their rationalizations mixed with a ferocious southern-rural suburban strategy, turning America’s cities into The Enemy, a campaign that was abetted by dear collaborators on the far left.

Indeed, it was quite a ride for The Boys, while it lasted, overseeing some of the most brilliant and successful political turnabouts since Scipio went to Carthage, including that masterful work of public polemic, Newt Gingrich’s aforementioned “Contract With America,” and culminating in a decade that seemed to prove Plato right, when he asserted that democracy is for saps.

A time when power coalesced - as the neocons had planned - into the hands of a righteous class of platonic philosopher kings.

Well, almost.

Actually, it was seized by kings, all right. An aristocracy that (as in Hellenistic times) at least seemed to appreciate philosophers. Seemed to. For a while. Until...

...until things all started going down the tubes for the classic neocons. Because, as history shows, there is a world of difference between dogma-driven power-grabbing and proficient statecraft.


NEXT TIME... THE NEOCONS BRILLIANT PLAN FALLS APART

40 comments:

mona said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Brin said...

Something for the regulars, down here under "comments."

Do any of you know of a site where -- like YouTube -- people can upload video -- even 45 minute TV shows -- but, unlike YouTube, restrict access to viewers who have password access?

One would figure this'd be less morally or ligeally fraught than YouTube podding of copyrighted content. And yet it would let people show selected items to selected small groups.

I could really use a service like that.

Oh, Stefan shared this with me.

http://www.google.com/tisp/

"Be sure to click "get started now!"" he said.

As Stefan knows, this is an idea I posted online years ago!

david brin

Bob Kopp said...

David,

This Straussian-conspiracy theory is totally unfair to Leo Strauss, who was not strongly political and was most definitely not a militarist. The neoconservatives who studied with Strauss are but one group of his students; his students also include a number of prominent liberals, including Bill Galston of the University of Maryland, who served in the Clinton administration, and my mother, the treasurer of the State of Maryland.

I urge you to take a look at some more reasoned articulations of Strauss's views, most especially a op-ed by Jenny Strauss Clay, Leo Strauss's adopted daughter, in the New York Times some years ago. http://www.well.com/user/mp/xxStrauss.html

Also see http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/books/review/25alter.html and http://www.bsos.umd.edu/gvpt/lpbr/subpages/reviews/norton1204.htm

Bob Kopp

David Brin said...

It is not militarism, per se, that I zero in-on. It is the extollation of Platonism and European modes of rationalist idealism... the precise-same styles of thinking that led to Marxism, Leninism, Fascism and so on.

The notion of Platonistic "philosopher kings" rulling for the good of all is right there in The Republic and it does not even map on the left-right political axis. Hence, many lefties ascribe to it... though a bit more disguised by compassionate mantras. Nevertheless, the underlying notions are the same.

Whatever group you are a member of, feel free to "logically" come up with rationalizations for why you deserve power and should use any means to get it... for the good of all, of course.

If leftist followers of this mind-set have been more benign, it is not because their personalities are less inherently bullying. Indeed, some of the brickbats hurled by the neocons at frippy lefty political correctoids are absolutely on target! Indeed we can see where that side can tip. Just look at the USSR.

But lefty-paltonists are constrained in the US by a vast counterweight of liberal pragmatists reformers who cannot give two flicks for Plato. Why do you think the Trotskyites abandoned the left and plunger to the far right? Snobby intellectuals have always found good pickings on the floor, near the tables of the mighty lords and kings.

Bob Kopp said...

BTW, as a University of Chicago alumnus, I'd also like to criticize your previous use of the term "faux-European" (in the linked essay) to describe the U of C. Chicago is one of the great universities of the world to take root in the distinctively American world of the post-Civil War United States. The school's ethos does, certainly (and like Mr. Strauss), emphasize serious grappling with primary texts -- but original authors seriously does not make one "faux-European".

Chicago was the home of John Dewey, one of the greatest American philosophers. It was one of the first co-ed universities in the world, and one of the few not to restrict the number of Jews admitted. In the post-World War II era, Robert Maynard Hutchins, the president of the University, led an effort to draft a world constitution. It is the home of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It is very much an American university, not a "faux-European" university, one devoted to scholarship and one that has a long history of openness shared by few other American schools.

Bob

Bob Kopp said...

I don't take issue with your criticism of Plato. But Leo Strauss was not a Platonist ideologue. He was a teacher who challenged his students to closely read great books -- not just Plato (who, I'll agree with you and Karl Popper, does have attitudes that tend toward authoritarianism), but also Aristotle and his successors.

In general, my point is this: yes, Leo Strauss has former students who are neoconservative Platonists. But that's not because they're Strauss students. (As you note, many neoconservatives are former Trotskyists -- certainly not something Strauss, whose only explicit political positions were anti-Communist and anti-Nazi, was responsible for; and something which indicates their own Platonistic predilictions.)

Criticize neoconservativism and Platonism all you like. But please don't lend your good name to the conspiracy running around imagining that the neoconservative movement began plotting its takeover of the American government in the University of Chicago's Cobb Hall forty years ago.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Meanwhile, the Gulf of Tonkin incidents have begun in Iraq:
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/070401/1/47k8w.html

RandomSequence said...

zorgon,

It started a month ago: .

An Iranian general, with background in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, disappeared from Turkey in February. No one has heard or seen from him since. Then, this last month, that same Revolutionary Guard takes British soldiers as POWs, and violates their Geneva rights by parading some on TV.

The monsters are playing chicken again.

RandomSequence said...

Bob,

The problem isn't the Straussian per-se, but an unravelling of the relationship of the American super-rich and the population. Some Straussians are helping to write the ideological justifications. You can find philosophers throughout the elite universities who have been working on this project for more than a generation.

This is the same mindset that has trapped Latin America in poverty for 500 years - the idea that the elite are not inherently tied to the populace in general. The ultra-wealthy in Venezuela think of Miami as their first home, leading inevitably to the Chavez counter-reaction. Names don't matter - but culture does.

On the opposite side, we've seen Europe return from complete devastation in fifty years because, after WWII, everyone realized that they were "eating from the same pot," as Germans have described it for me. In short, top Germans realized that their own success depended on the success of the rest of their society, and have managed to build the EU out of complete devastation.

Dan said...

I can't figure out how to e-mail you, so choose this way to wonder whether you've seen the Steven Pinker essay on how the Enlightenment has led to less violence.
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/pinker07/pinker07_index.html

TwinBeam said...

I wonder if the Iranians grabbing British sailors is a clever ploy - grab them, do all the usual propaganda things that everyone expects from Iran and no one really believes.

Then come to a diplomatic agreement to release them "despite their crimes", that creates the impression world-wide that Iran can be dealt with diplomatically, JUST before America would have bombed you.

Of course, if they tie the sailors to the centrifuges, we'll know they're just being Iran, playing chicken and expecting to get away with it, as usual.

Anonymous said...


Oh, Stefan shared this with me.

http://www.google.com/tisp/

"Be sure to click "get started now!"" he said.

As Stefan knows, this is an idea I posted online years ago!


You were an early supporter of the online prank? ;)

Jose said...

It's worth noting that Europe has moved well beyond the polemics of its bad old days. There's a wariness to polemic here which is by no means extends to everyone but as someone who has lived in the US, Canada and Europe I can't help but notice the difference.

I can safely talk about politics here with anyone without people getting their backs up. In fact I'm more comfortable discussing politics with a contrary opinioned Brit than I am with a similarly opinioned Canadian.

I suspect that the root of the problem doesn't begin and end with the neocons but with the highly partisan nature of the politics in the USA (same goes for Canada). That atmosphere is just ripe for political players to exploit.

David Brin said...

Sorry to have delayed answering. Frenetically busy.

Anyone know the trick of subscribing to my RSS feed from Blogger? It’s my own darn blog. But I’ve looked it over and can’t figure out how to answer people who write in and ask “how do I get RSS?”

Bob Kopp, thanks for your citokate about the University of Chicago. In fact, I hold much more complex opinions toward this unique American institution. I own a copy of the epic compilation the GREAT BOOKS OF THE WESTERN WORLD that emerged from that place, under the guidance of M. Adler and R. Hutchins. And indeed, I will admit that “faux-European” may be both unkind and inaccurate in describing the unusual approach that those two - and others - brought to the U/Chi. Sure, their emphasis on intellectualism, scholasticism, pedantry, quotation-as-evidence, and... well... what I’d call platonistic patterns of prioritization, may seem “European” from the perspective of a University of California and Caltech graduate. But that ignores the ways in which U/Chi boldly forged its own path, with an almost brash style of confident innovation that any European pedant would instantly diagnose as extremely “American.”

Lest there be any doubt, I am glad U/Chi was,,, and is... out there doing its thing. I chunckle at the presumption of categorizing the “great books” and disagree with many pro/con choices. But I own a set and glad (basically) that it exists. I even would like to see more experiments like the spin-off liberal arts college, St. Johns, that uses TGBotWW as its central curriculum. (I’d like to start a university that revolves its entire curriculum around SETI. Because it would thematically unite all arts and sciences!)

Having said all that -- partly to prove that I have a clue what I am talking about -- I have to tell you that I am deeply wary of any trend that draws scholastic life back toward scholasticism. The Enlightenment took a deeply wrong turn on continental Europe. Especially in France, but everywhere that Platonistic incantatory “reason” was decreed to be the right path to become “enlightened.” (Versus the Anglo-Scots American branch that emphasized empiricism, evidenciary falsifiability and citokate.) I lived right next to a branch of the University of Paris for two years. I saw the way that kind of thinking resulted in every single student wearing all-black, all the time, without a single scrap of color. Ever. Any intellectual tradition that has such a deep effect on the psyche has got to be wrong.

I admit I have not imbued myself in Leo Strauss in great detail. What I have read suggests to me that he not only brought that tradition to our shores, but catered to the inherently frail egos of nerds who desperately wanted to see themselves as inherent philosopher kings. This smug, flattering appeal is inherent in Plato and his entire tradition. And I do not care if the nerds then become lefty proto-tyrants or righty proto-tyrants. They will be fully equipped to rationalize monstrous things.

Sorry Bob, the burden of proof is on you to refute Strauss’s role in promoting this kind of thinking. He was their philosophy prof. It was his job to teach critical thinking. Not the kind of “criticism” practised by on-campus lefty postmodernists today, tendentiously using “if-then” incantations to prove their own righteousnesss...

OR the kind practiced by neocons, tendentiously “proving” that they should be free to lie like hell, for the greater good. No, it was his job to teach them about the human propensity for self-delusion and the only method that has ever overcome it. Criticism that is fiercely RECIPROCAL, competitive, iterative, and humble in the sense of always accepting the one phrase that every physicist knows and repeats, but that is never uttered by a Platonist.

“I might be wrong.”

----
Let me join Dan in highly recommending Steven Pinker’s essay on the historical trends in human violence. Especially Don Q.
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/pinker07/pinker07_index.html

---

Anonymous, I am a big believer in “dimensional analysis” of resources and potentialities. MCI and Sprint began when railroads and gas companies realized they had rights of way into all cities and strung fiber optics along those paths. Into an average home? Cable TV coaxial has had the big advantage in bandwidth tho phone lines carry DSL. Some have tried using power lines. What else is there? gas and water lines have complex valving. But there is a conduit into almost every home that HAS NO VALVES! And yes, this was my idea ten years ago.

---

Joe, sorry, but I lived 2 years in Britain and 2 in France and I don’t see it. Only in the last 10 years have Americans become anywhere near as locked into their parties as Europeans always have been. Indeed, parliamentary systems are INHERENTLY party driven. Whereas the Congressional system has always had an element of “I represent my district more than my party.” (Less in the last ten years.)

If Americans have lately become biliously partisan, that’s culture war. A resumption of the Civil War. I am praying that it’s temporary madness.

---

David Brin said...

Oh, the rise in American partisanship is also rooted in gerrymandering, of course.

Ramarren said...

You can get rss feed of any Blogger blog by appending atom.xml to URL, like this: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml

Mark said...

In much the same way that the “mythology” arm-wavings of Joseph Campbell...

Someday you are going to have to explain your hatred towards Campbell. To me, Campbell always came across as a modernist explaining why romanticism appeals to the human psyche. He attempted to explain things in the most scientific rational he could use like Freud and Jung. Sure, it isn't perfect but it is still quite useful.

In fact, doesn't a large percentage of your opinion about the modernist versus romantic dichotomy come from reading Campbell?

Mark said...

Oh, the rise in American partisanship is also rooted in gerrymandering, of course.

I actually think the rise in partisanship has more to do with the South finally voting for the party of Lincoln than anything else. For decades this country really had four parties that pretended to be two. For all the silliness, that was actually a good thing, but mostly an historical mistake and coincidence. Today, the parties are more closely aligned to their ideologies and thus we end up more partisan.

David Brin said...

Campbell was only scinentific and rational in the sense that french postmodernist philosophers are rational. They use polysyllabic, jargon-rich incantations instead of theological/mystical incantations. The crux remains the same. As with Freud and Marx & Jung, everything is a just-so story, never a hypothesis meant to be joyfully beaten to death.

I could come up with 10,000 stories that did NOT fit Campbell's patterns. But that's not the crux of my objection. My chief objection is that he never looked for a simpler-than-Jung explanation for why so many tales followed similar patterns. Like economics, with the bard needing to flatter the guys who had the food and had the beer.

In fact though, I do NOT "hate Campbell". I have read him and find some of the pattern insights useful. I am much more irked at Bill Moyers, for only tossing softball pitches instead of cornering JC with hard questions.

I can respect a romantic. I ARE ONE! I respect Tolkien very much. See my essay about him. A much more honest and smart romantic than, say, Lucas. Nevertheless, I have a point to make and one that is not made enough, nowadays. That romanticism ruled every other civ and did a really really lousy job of it.

Re gerrymandering, I had a LONG article about it and there can be little doubt that it is a major source of radicalization in America, as elected legislators had less and less to fear from moderates and would see only their own partisans as possible threats, needing to be catered to.

Mark said...

Thanks for the thoughts on Campbell, it's a question I've been meaning to ask for a while, now.

It's been many months since I read the gerrymandering article, so I hardly remember the details, but I do believe gerrymandering plays a role in this increased partisanship. I just don't think it plays the primary role.

But neither the death of the Dixiecrats nor gerrymandering explain why I am so much more partisan now than 10 years ago. And I think many other moderates have walked this path recently as well.

I could write something quite lengthy on why I'm more partisan, but let's leave it as assuming this is all a positive (and/or negative) feedback loop and there are several base reasons that all feed into the loop.

Max Wilson said...

I'd say this was rather important:

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070409/kors

-Max

Don Quijote said...

Since the fall of Communism we have had:

US -Iraq war ( 91 to present ) - body count at least 1/2 million , possibly over a million.

Russia - Chechnya anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000

Congolese Civil War - 3.5 million

Rwanda - 800,000

Balkans - ?

Not counting the Civil war in Somalia,the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia, the Darfur Genocide, the civil war in Sri Lanka, the never ending civil war in Colombia, the Israeli/Lebanese war, the Israeli palestinian War and those are just the highligts.

With very little research I could come up with another half a dozen civil wars.

A world of peace and prosperity.

HawkerHurricane said...

On the subject of getting more partisan, I can only speak for my own reasons.
It's a reaction. I saw great gobs of misleading information put out that was pro-Republican, information that was easily disproven... now I take any statement that looks pro-Republican with a grain of salt, assumed to be false until proven otherwise.
Is there Democratic misinformation? Sure! But not on every TV station, almost every radio talk station, and there's no television station dedicated to getting out the pro-Democratic/anti-Republican message 24/7.

So, my partisanship is an information filter: tell me something pro-Republican, I check it before I believe. Tell me something pro-Democratic, and I let it slide until I come across something that contradicts it.

NOTE: I don't go for the "Republican=conservative, Democratic=liberal" meme. Republicans haven't acted very conservative for the last decade or so; and Democrats are filling the gap very nicely. And Dr. Brin is right, the left/right axis doesn't work very well.

Jon said...

BTW, recently I finished the book, "The Deserter's Tale
The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq" by Joshua Key as told to Lawrence Hill. I'd like to know what our resident author here thinks of it (when he has the time, of course.)

HawkerHurricane, does your library have it? I'd be interested in your take on it as well, as a former military man.

Doug S. said...

The "Gilded Age" of the late 19th century was also an era marked by great political partisanship driven by, well, nothing that seemed all that important in hindsight. One major culprit was the "spoils system" - if you were elected, your buddies and supporters got jobs and opportunities for graft, while your opponents got hit in the wallet. I suspect that we've been living in another Gilded Age for quite some time.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Almost all the comments seem to bear on the ancillary question of Leo Strauss' putative diabolism rather than the main issue of your post.

"Inviting them home" sounds like a good idea and something like what we need to do. The current system effectively sets up two parallel realities that never meet. The Red States folks listen to Faux News and country music and always vote their safely gerrymandered far-right pols back into office, while the Blue States folks listen to Air America and smooth jazz and always vote their safely gerrymandered far-right pols back into office. When the two groups go online, the Red Staters only visit instapundit. while the Blue Staters only hit dailykos. An exaggeration, I know, I know, but fearfully near the reality.

Trouble with inviting them home is the naked hatred so many Red Staters feel for the Blue Staters. It's summarized neatly in this article:
http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/column?oid=oid%3A460781

I've felt that trembling stare of nake hate myself from people in Red States. They just hate the Blue Staters on sight. It's visceral. The Red Staters' way of life is dying and they know it and they can't do anything to stop it, and they take out theira rage on the only available targets, the "furrin citified folks."

As for the alleged "culture war" itself -- could it be it's more bark than bite?

Research seems to suggest so.

http://www.pearsoned.com/pr_2004/071504A.htm

Hawker H said...

Jon
We don't have it on our shelves, it's not in the database or on order.
Politically sensitive books are most often recieved as a donation, and usually not announced in advance. One day, I imagine, we'll have 2-3 copies appear in our daily delivery from the central library.
(Unrelated note: We always get the latest Ann Coulter/Sean Hannity/Rush Limbaugh within days of it's release... and the latest version of Scientology, for the same reason)

Personally, I don't like deserters, especially people who desert while 'in the line'. A empty slot in the ranks can be disasterous.
That said, (if he's telling the truth) I think I understand why he did it.

Red State/Blue State/Purple State Divide:
I have relatives who are farmers in 'small town' Alabama. Visiting the town without family with me, and the people look at me as "other". I recognize the look, I've seen it in Japan (Gaijen!), Thailand, Pakistan, Kuwait... they look at strangers the same way some countries look at obvious foreigners. But show up with a relative, and everything is fine... "This is my grandson/nephew/cousin Hawker from California, he's in the Navy!" and suddenly I'm no long one of the "other" to be distrusted, but just someone from the "Butler" clan that they never met. And they understand servicemen, they all know someone who served thier 4 years and most know someone who made a career. Suddenly, accent and way of dress don't matter, I'm one of them and fit in. Someone walks in and I'm introduced "This is Coot Butler's nephew, Hawker. Hawk, this is Selma Atmore's daughter's husband..." It doesn't matter that I don't know who Selma Atmore is, never met her daughter, everyone is identified by who they're related to, not where thier from or what they do.

Nate said...

While I agree somewhat with the premise of the "Culture War?" book, because most states and even most counties except the most sparse or the most dense were shades of purple, but part of their premise is hooey.
According to a groundbreaking new book "Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America” most Americans stand in the middle of the political landscape, preferring centrist candidates from either party to the extreme partisans who often emerge from the primary process. It is the political parties and the media that have ignored this fact and distorted public perceptions.

Yeah, great. Sure. So, when was the last time the Democrats ran an "extreme partisan"? Not for President. Not for most seats in Congress. The Democrats have been so busy trying to be "reasonable" and "moderate" while the Republicans have been gleefully running as far off to the extreme right as they can. It's the same fallacy of "They're both just as bad." And if that's the line they're pushing, then they're just falling into the Republican trap of portraying anything liberal as crazy and out of the mainstream, while the craziest of the Republicans are normal. And that's one of the things that's been killing the Democrats, since they've been so scared about being accused of being liberal they've just been being Republican lite, and that doesn't motivate ANYONE.

Back on to Red States. It's really Red Counties, which are mostly the rural sparse counties. And the exurbs, where suburbanites move to pretend they're living in the country and enjoy the beautiful view and bitch about the lack of the big stores, then bitch when other people move out there and the stores move out there and their view gets blocked by a new development and so then they move to a development another 30 minutes out. I see that happen every day.

ANYWAY, back on point, which was about the world and rural stuff, before I started ranting. Things that work in rural areas often work because people are so few and so spread out. If you don't like somebody, you can ignore them with miles between you both and not have to run into them. You can't do that so well in a city, where they live on the same block or in the same apartment complex. Well, you can ignore them, but you can't completely pretend they don't exist, because they're right there.

And in that, the world's a lot more like a city. Not just because a lot of the world's population growth is happening in cities. But because the world's getting more crowded and more connected. You might not like somebody, or some country, but the chances are, you're going to have to deal with them. We can see how well Bush's "ignore and threaten" methods of diplomacy have worked with North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and even our closest allies in Europe, Canada, and anywhere else. Rural, "red state" solutions don't work for a lot of things any more. We need to at least pretend to tolerate people well enough to work with them when we have to. The problems facing the world require us to.

Doug S. said...

I don't know who's responsible for this, but thank you; you've made the world a much less scary place.

Stefan Jones said...

Nate's observation:

The Democrats have been so busy trying to be "reasonable" and "moderate" while the Republicans have been gleefully running as far off to the extreme right as they can.

. . . is a nice lead in to this interesting post on Pendragon about Overton Window Theory.

In brief: The conservative media establishment is increasinly alarmed about bloggers because they are throwing a monkey-wrench in their effort to make positions which were formerly associated with gibbering right-wing loons as normal and positions formerly associated with the center as commie stuff.

RandomSequence said...

Doug S.,

My guess is thank Pelosi. She's been over in Syria, and the tale of the wires is that Syria cobbled the agreement together.

David,

Do you every worry that human beings, as a species, are just too damn stupid for the contemporary world? At the bottom, the only reason I can think of for the current con (just like the Nazi con before, and the Soviet con, and...) is that, at heart, peoples is stupid. How can you invite them home, if that's the ultimate problem? Run another con on them, this time in their own interest?

Maybe the only solution is a breakthrough in neuroscience that increases average human intelligence by five SD? My prediction is that we're at least fifty years away from that.

Stefan Jones said...

I don't think it's stupidity. It's ignorance.

You can cure ignorance, but it is expensive and a lot of hard work.

Also, ignorance is comfortable and useful. You can sell ignorant people cigarettes, Hot Pockets, Hummers, and lottery tickets. And George W. Bush.

David Brin said...

Hawker wins prize for the most insightful post. It is vital to remember that the renewed American Civil War is complex on a variety of levels. Many of the same people who nod during sermons that relish an Armageddon battle in which blood will gush from the eyes of nonbelievers will also idolize people of color who fit into some admirable niche - like sports - and would leap to vote for Condi Rice for president, if given a chance.

Given a propitious turn of conversation, they can be tugged into expressions of “americanism” traits like tolerance of eccentricity, suspicion of aristocrats and even respect for science. Indeed, this helps explain why 2/3 in polls are said to believe the genesis story... AND two thirds answer yes to evolution.

This complexity of character is at a crux point. The whole aim of Culture War has been to take advantage of resentment toward long hair cityfolk for many things, ranging from the burning of Atlanta to desegregation to Watergate and so on. And the thing that (understandable according to weird human nature) they resent most is that liberalism nearly always proved to be right. Hence the DENIAL aspect of it all. “Who me, ever prejudiced against blacks? Who me, repressing womens’ rights? Never.”

If you deny that moderate/modernist liberalism was ever right, only then can you enter a hate-fest. It is a Big Lie of huge proportions... and liberals have been far too slow realizing that it must be fought at a PSYCHOLOGICAL LEVEL.

Above all, we must realize that scoring brief victories will not suffice. If 2008 turns into yet another 1964 and 1974 and 1992 for these folks, they will do the same thing. Slink away, nurse their wounds, and grow angrier than ever. If 1,000 Bushies go to jail for blatant and horrid crimes, this will not repudiate neoconservatism in the eyes of Red America! Not unless liberalism -- and a decent branch of conservatism, awakened from ostrich-hood -- unite to teach the right lesson, for a change.

---

The release of the 15 Brits (if true) is great news. But I must still chide some of you for not getting it. The Mullah Party in Iran is the chief ALLY of Bush! They gain, politically, by this dance of brinkmanship. Dig it. Even if we pound the living crap out of them, with three carrier battle groups, the Mullah Party wins!

This has to be hammered home, over and over. Already some of our neocons are yattering that a few pinprick strikes will scare the “Iranians” into backing off. This smug view is diametrically opposite to everything that history tells us about human nature. It is not how Americans would react, if someone else struck US with some “pinpricks” or even a devastating blow. People who speak this way are monstrous fools.

What ANY strike on Iran will do is unite the country and end all possibility of rapprochement with the liberals and young people of that country, for a decade. Which is exactly what the mullahs AND Bush apparently want.

---

Doug, I deeply yearn for increases in human effective intelligence. IQ studies suggest it is happening... glacially... when we need a surge, like in Poul Anderson’s wonderful classic novel BRAIN WAVE. (Get it!!!!!!)

Alas, I see few prospects for such a surge in the near future. And if it did come suddenly, the period of adjustment would be stunningly painful, possibly lethal. Which is why the chief mission of my entire life has been studying and working on the problem of increased human collective intelligence.

The entire Enlightenment has been all about this project and it has been astonishingly successful, so far. Utilizing emergent properties that arise out of out disputation arenas (science, democracy, markets, etc.) we have learned to bet on Locke’s Wager, that systems of reciprocal accountability and citokate can unleash the “good” side of human nature through joyfully competitive creativity, while keeping our Hobbesian devils constrained... NOT by dogmatic rigor and authority, but by each other.

Locke’s wager is our only chance. I personally believe it is the one brilliant thing that could get us past the Fermi Paradox to be the ones who rescue every other intelligent life form out there. Only...

...only we are teetering. The chaos and culture war we are seeing is s toned down version of what you’ll read in BRAIN WAVE. I believe, deep-down, culture war and the attack upon modernism is the dying reflex of a humanity that is not sure it wants to pupate and grow up and fly.

TwinBeam said...

So the Iranians released the sailors. That increases the odds for my pet theory that they may have been taken in order to deliberately create a crisis which could then be resolved via diplomatic means.

March 23rd would not have been the first time British sailors inspected ships in those contested waters. If protecting their sovereign waters from the British was so critical, why not do it sooner? Why wait until it looks like the US is ramping up to attack Iran?

If the theory is correct, we'll start hearing - perhaps in the UN - that it is too soon to use force against Iran in the Uranium refinement issue, as they've shown that they are open to constructive diplomacy.

Stefan Jones said...

John Rogers asks:

Why was Cheney hanging out in the shrubbery during Bush's last news conference?

RandomSequence said...

David,

Actually the glacial increase worries me even more than no increase. The problems aren't the median - they're the followers. They basically just regurgitate what the ninety-percenters say in their own communities. The problem is that 110-130 IQ range. They're smart enough to be slick, but don't have the capability to really get a good grasp on what's going on.

Sorry, I'm feeling a bit despairing today. But the wealth of data required to make even the most preliminary of guesses regarding science and politics is overwhelming. How can democracy work, when even the people who infest our academic institution lack the education and plain old smarts to understand the kind of issues we're grappling with?

How can we ask people to "get" global warming, when to honestly get it, you have to understand differential equations, boundary conditions, and the differences between equilibrium and non-equilibrium systems? Most folks with a PhD in biology can't understand that, much less most folks with a high-school diploma or a BA in English from the local community college. Really, what percentage of the population can significantly understand science as anything other than a craft? 1% of the general pop, maybe 10% of scientists?

Even simple probability is past most biology Ph.D students (from personal experience).

This is what the neo-cons recognize. Unfortunately, they're mostly 90%ers too - most lack the education or capability to actually know what the hell they're talking about either - they're just good enough to throw the jargon together. All past technocracies have failed on that point.

Hawker H said...

I claim no special insight, only memory. I didn't make the connection (outsider=foriegner='other) until the early 1990's, after my 2nd visit to Thailand. Thais who weren't trying to sell me something looked at me the same way the townfolk of southern Alabama did... the unspoken question being "What right do have to be in my territory, Farang-Yankee-Gaijen-Barbarian-outsider-stranger-infidel. After many visits over 3 decades, I finally made the connection. It was strange to realize that in a town within 50 miles of where I was born, where my mother had grown up, in the middle of America *I* was a barbarian, assumed to be hostile until vouched for by someone civilized.

RandomSequence said...

HH,

Try appearing racially ambiguous. You get to be a foreigner everywhere - you're always looking for the vouch that you're an ok x, where x is whatever racial category is disliked in your current locale. And that's true everywhere - in Alabama, Wisconsin, New York and California.

Pat Mathews said...

You said ["...and the way Barry Goldwater and Billy Graham seemed willing to adjust and redefine and move on to a newer, better conservatism."]

I noticed both are of the older generation today's ideologues spent so much youthful energy trying to deride and discredit and claim as Satan Incarnate. I heard it from the left, of course. (Amusing: Jefferson Airplane accused said senior citizensm then in power, of thinking they were the Crown of Creation - a term later applied to the Airplane's contemporaries in power.)

Now it seems to me in many large issues those old GIs were a far more reasonable lot than their successors.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Excellent article summarizing what Dr. Brin has remarked on to the effect that Repubs enjoy all the benefits past generations of liberals fought for even while fanatically fighting against them:
http://scienceblogs.com/grrlscientist/2007/04/a_day_in_the_life_of_joe_repub.php

With liberal candidates now refusing even to appear on Faux Noose, we're dividing into two completely separate media environments. Dr. Brin has claimed that the current pushback by reactionary sociopaths is "their last chance" to turn back the clock and reinstall the millenia-old high-priest-and-royalty fiefdom over Western culture.

But Faux Noose isn't going away. These alternate-reality propaganda sources are going to continue to vomit out lies and convince people that the exact opposite of reality is what is going on. I have to wonder -- how can you run a country when half the media presents an unreal fantasy world contrary in every way to the observable facts?

How do you make a democracy work when half the news media tells us that Democrats are traitors, the tax cuts of the last 6 years went mainly to people earning under $30,000, that WMDs were found in Iraq and used against our troops, that Saddam and Al Qaeda worked hand in hand to pull off the 9/11 attack, that opposition to the current iraq occupation is "Stalinist" and "treson," that adding more mercury and more dioxin to the water tables will enhance Americans' health, that Iran is a monstrous terrorist regime about to strike at us with a vast array of nuclear weapons unless we bomb and invade and destroy them, that public education is a satanic conspiracy to destroy belief in god, that evolution is a delusion cooked up by drug-addled atheists, and that it is written clearly and specifically in the constitution that the government of the United States has the power to kidnap citizens off the streets without charges and torture them for as long as may be desired?

How do you make a democracy work when half the media are telling those kinds of insane lies, and when half the population of America believes those lies "because I heard it on Fox News and read it int he Washington Times -- it MUST be true!"...?

I saw a poster the other day with Hillary Clinton's face and a big international barred-circle NO symbol superimposed on it. The poster read: RE-DEFEAT COMMUNISM IN 2008.

How do you make democracy work when half the media is vomiting out those kind of insane lies and when half the population believes it?

From now on, it's just going to be perpetual war to the death just to get basic facts acknowledged.

The "reality-based community" will have to spend all our time and all our energy to prove basic facts -- like the sky is blue, the earth is round, evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the available evidence, there were no WMDs in Iraq. We won't have any time or any energy for new proposals because we'll all be so busy piling up mountains of evidence to demonstrate that the earth circles around the sun and humans didn't ride dinosaurs to church every sunday in prehistoric times.

How can you run a society under those conditions?