Monday, April 16, 2007

Invite The Neocons Home: Part IV

I have been swamped for a while. Countless distractions... including a kitchen remodel (argh.) And planning for the August trip to Japan and China. Sorry to have neglected you all for a while.

This means things have accumulated. So what follows will be one of those ill-disciplined (and too-long) but possibly entertaining rants, as I hurry to finish up the present series.

Invite The Neocons Home: Part IV


AN APPETITE FOR VENGEANCE

Want to understand where today’s “red-blue culture war division of America” began?

Way back in the eighties -- the Reagan era -- American politics seemed polarized, but nothing like this. Indeed, when I lived in Britain, from 86 to 87, and in France from 90-91, I often remarked how Europeans appeared to define themselves - and all their views - according to primly-prescribed party lines, while Yanks -- even politicians -- seemed more eccentric and individualistic in defining themselves and their views.

For a while, pragmatic and undogmatic America seemed somewhat immune to one of the most perniciously persistent human tendencies -- the ever-present temptation to define ourselves and others according litmus lists and membership in lockstep clans. The ruination of many a great nation, this curse of oversimplification seemed to have abated for a while. Only now it is back with a vengeance, threatening to undermine and overwhelm the nation of Franklin, Edison and Ike.

So, where do we look, in order to grasp the etiology of a despicable and nation-splitting social disease called Culture War?”


A PLETHORA OF DIAGNOSES

Well, you could focus your attention on a rising hostility between rural and urban citizens.

Or ponder any recent electoral map and allow instant pattern-recognition to reveal the obvious. That we are witnessing a re-ignition -- or phase three -- of the American Civil War. The revenge of the Confederacy.

Or else you might scrutinize the weird “education hump,” in which both the least and the most educated tend overwhelmingly to swing democratic, while support for the GOP clusters pretty tightly around an average of three years of state college. (With a few glaring exceptions, of course... the cluster of right wing intellectuals who are the core topic of this series.)

Especially telling is the reaction attributed to Karl Rove, when he was confronted with this “hump” -- featuring the defection of nearly every American citizen with a smidgeon of advanced learning, including most of the highly-educated US officer corps. Paraphrasing, Rove essentially shrugged and sniped - “I guess there’s such a thing as knowing too much.”

To which one might respond. “Maybe a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

From another, more psychological perspective, who could fail to notice the recent surge in anti future and anti-science romanticism? I have made a strong case that this worldwide reaction encompasses not only our purported foes in Islamist fundamentalism, but also millions within our own country and civilization. Neighbors who share a deep fear of the approaching era of Homo technologicus. An age when human beings may rise rapidly in power and understanding, to become (for better or worse) apprentice gods.

(While we must oppose the retro-nostalgists, who call for an end to scientific ambition and engineering-based progress, can you honestly blame them for feeling uneasy? Worry about the possible cost of headlong progress is not limited to right wingers and religious fanatics. Fear and hostility toward the future also motivates many on the left, for example. Nor are all of their concerns and questions invalid! Though their answers nearly always are.)

Related to the psychological hypothesis is the biochemical theory... that Culture War is a manifestation of a nation-wide surge of addiction to the most widely available and abused drug of all -- self-righteous indignation.

Of course, cynics have their own, favorite explanation for Culture War.

Greed. Pure and simple.

Indeed, the last decade or so can certainly be viewed as a Great Kleptocratic Raid upon our civilization, led by a new clade of rapacious and secretive co-conspirators who have used every trick of power and influence to (for example) circumvent longstanding rules concerning government competitive contracting, using the trumped-up excuse of “terrorism”... as if any combination of mad bombers could match a fingernail of the threat once posed by real adversaries, during the Cold War, an era when contract rules were strictly enforced, and when legislative “pork” was pure and lean, compared to today’s snorting hog fest.

(Lest I be called a “class warrior,” or pinko, for even raising this spectre, I will post a more detailed elaboration on this particular view of culture war below, in comments.)


THERE IS AN INTELLECTUAL SIDE TO NEOCONSERVATISM

All of these theories make some sense in their own ways, just like the one hundred and forty views of Mount Fuji. And yet, even taken together, they are incomplete when it comes to explaining the disease of Culture War.

For example, in spite of their collusive power and relentless vampiric greed, the new plutocrats could never a movement make. Nor - despite taking over most mass media - could they persuade enough millions to vote for their shills and puppets, so that a lagniappe of cheating could swing power into their laps.

Not without plenty of persuasive cant and razzle-dazzle diversions and lots of incantatory legerdemain.

In other words, not without help from some really smart servant-savants.

No, if you are talking about Neoconservatism as a fully developed mantric system, filled with polysyllabic incantations worthy of Marx or Augustine or Machiavelli, then you need to examine the REAL “neoconservatives”... which I do in some detail elsewhere. The shamans and priests who waved their arms about and conjured up the excuses. The rationalizations. The rallying cries. The lengthy missives that allowed millions of decent “ostrich conservatives” to pretend that this was still the party of Barry Goldwater.

How did the priesthood form? And where did it get the tart, acrid taste of relentless resentment that made it so effective at stirring hatred toward “liberals”?


I KNOW THESE GUYS. DON’T YOU?

Here I want to discuss one small, crackpot theory, but one with big implications. For, you see, when I look at fellows like Paul Wolfowitz and all his pals, Adelman, Perle, Nitze and their ilk, I cannot help but sense that I know these guys. I knew the archetype, from many years spent on-campus. I recognize some of their travails and the patterns of their sufferings, their triumphs. And it leads me to offer yet another hypothesis... more of a story than anything I can actually prove.

I suggest that the neoconservatism that we see today -- in all of it’s bilious rancor, steaming vitumen and no-prisoners hatred -- had true roots in a bitter separation and divorce that took place at our universities decades ago, when, like bitter-exiled husbands, the conservative intelligencia stormed off to get lonely new apartments and then grumble into their beer, together. Muttering about ex spouses who were poisoning the minds of the kids.


That is how it must have felt when America’s conservative academics faced the confrontational left in the sixties, seventies and well into the 1980s. Raised on notions of collegial argument and scholarly disputation, they soon learned about the power of self-righteous indignation from a militant wing of liberalism that had some very good reasons for wanting social change... but that had no sense of political humility, whatsoever. No awareness of the tragic lessons of hubris.

Don’t you lefties out there dare to deny that your side committed awful excesses. Whenever conservative scholars dared to lift their heads, or to speak out with “yes... but...” they faced a potential firestorm. Shouts, at minimum. Demonstrations and even trashed-offices. Outrages of - at-minimum - rudeness and immaturity that sometimes tipped into outright criminal assault.

Indeed, despite all of the good works wrought by liberalism, across a century of progress, the lefty indignant tendency to push “political correctness” was the dark and pernicious side of a worthy movement. Pushed by a noisy few, “PC” gave conservatives something to point to, every time they wanted to diss “liberals.” Moreover, it stoked, in each new neocon, a sense of being the romantic, underdog victim of tyrants.

Eventually, things grew so hot that -- one after another -- the scholars of the right simply left campus, altogether. Carrying with them the bitterness of any exiled divorce’ -- banished from any further contact with the kids.


IN EXILE... FINDING NEW FRIENDS

I remember witnessing some of these forced departures, and the cries of glee from shortsighted demonstrators, when this or that conservative academic hastily departed, finding shelter at (for example) the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation. Faux-academic milieux where fellows and scholars got to pretend they were still professors. How that amused the victorious PC police, back on “real” campuses.

Silly-ass fools. For it is a sad truth about human nature that we always preen, exaggerating the value of our triumphs and underestimating the intelligence of those we have brought low.

One unexpected side effect was that conservative think tanks acquired not only fresh brain power but also unprecedented ferocity of focus. And not only because the newborn neocons brought with them boatloads of anger.

They became focused and coordinated teams also because the fat cat donors paying the bills at these conservative institutes were only somewhat interested in theory, after all. To a much greater degree, financial backers of the Heritage and other neocon foundations demanded new pragmatic tools for the acquisition and utilization of power.

(Well, after all, these are "faux" campuses. Only bright fools would call them academia.)

And so, gradually, supposedly libertarian groups like the Cato Institute began redefining “markets” and “freedom” and “regulation” in order to suit the needs of he-who-pays-the-piper. Until, today, Cato scholars honestly cannot imagine a market-cheating monopolist they won’t make excuses for.

Not even glory days under Ronald Reagan slaked this increasingly adversarial hunger for ever-greater influence. For example, the chief lesson that neocons learned from the Iran-Contra scandal was not the one moderates might expect -- that open accountability is a good and desirable corrective force in American life.

No, the lesson learned -- with fierce determination -- was that genuine power must encompass all branches of government.

Go to those earlier links, if you want to follow this tale further. But for now, we are at the point of asking the pertinent question.

How can we best cure this sickness? Especially now that a few of these bright apologist-nerds are starting to stand up, blinking in dismay and asking “what have I done?”



NEXT TIME: A SOLUTION -- INVITE THEM HOME AGAIN

41 comments:

David Brin said...

ADDENDUM

(An informal rant about why today’s robber barons are worse than ever.)

Returning to the Great Klepto Raid, I said (above) that I should elaborate, lest I be accused of socialist tendencies or “class warfare.” So, straight off the bat, let me avow that the Communist Nomenklatura of the old Soviet Union fit this ancient pattern of aristocratic power abuse perfectly, and with even more ruthlessness that we have ever seen in our own, hone-grown cheaters.

Moreover, it is also quite clear that only a minority of today’s billionaires are engaged in kleptocratic cheating.

In fact, as a person who knows six billionaires on a first name basis, I have to say that I believe the FRACTION of our top elite who are engaged in rapacious, insatiable and unproductive/destructive cheating is probably pretty low, by historical standards.

Having made their fortunes through the (relatively) fair delivery of superior goods or services, none of them perceives “winning” as a zero sum game, in which civilization must lose, in order for them to prosper.

To a man or woman, each of them despises the new plutocrats who are pulling the strings of culture war. And if the “good” billionaires ever wake up completely and get organized, civilization will have powerful battalions on its side.

Nevertheless, I challenge others to find me an example, across the history of large civilizations, when the sort of thing described here did NOT happen. Indeed, preventing parasitism by elites is the core reason why our New Civilization was invented.

Dismally predictable, yes. But in some ways, the barbarian plunder raid that we are now enduring - may be even worse than such things were in the past. Not only have trillions -- yes, trillions -- vanished into crony-contracts and pork, but national policies have been manipulated in order to open up society’s jugular even further.

For example, plunging us into a version of nation building war that could not have been more wasteful and unsupervised and stupidly-managed had that been the intent, all along.

Alas, unlike the classic robber barons of a century ago, these latter-day plutocrats lack any of the social graces, style, or sparks of public spirit displayed by their predecessors. A loose coterie of golf chums, spanning the globe, those financing and running the neocon revolution make J.P. Morgan and look like quite a satiable fellow, rich in fairness, farsightedness, humor and noblesse oblige.

Hawker Hurricane said...

I have had a "Aha!" moment.

Robert Heinlien used to say in his novels that democracies failed when the masses realized they could vote themselves largesse (bread and circusses, mostly) from the public purse to the detriment of the wealthy and successful and the eventual detriment of the whole society. (Sounds like Ann Rand)

But, the reality we are facing right now is the wealthy fooling enough of the masses to vote against thier own self-interest in order to get themselves largesse from the public purse to the detriment of the whole society... a society that they DO NOT see themselves as part of.

Andrew said...

@hawker

Heinlein was probably refering this quote (of uncertain origin):

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage.

I've seen it attributed to Alex Fraser Tytler and Alexis de Tocqueville, among others.

Here is an interesting historical analysis:
http://lorencollins.net/tytler.html

RandomSequence said...

David,

If this is Civil War III as you say, isn't it about time that we dealt with it, straightforwardly? We've tried bringing the South into line generation after generation. The rest of the country has saved the South from their own mistakes, foibles and absurd greed generation after generation.

Why don't we stop? A modest proposal: split up the country. Stop taking cash from NYC, Los Angeles and Chicago to pay for schools in Alabama. If Alabama doesn't want public education, let them deal with the consequences. If Mississippi doesn't want Medicaid or Medicare, let it be their problem. If Louisiana doesn't want to invest in R&D, let them bear the long range cost.

If Texas wants a Bush dynasty, let it be their monarchy! If Georgia wants a theocracy, let 'em at it! Those in the South who don't want to put up with the results can change the South or leave. Those who love an aristocratic retro theocracy can move to the South. We can see after a few generations who ends up as a third world country. We can find out if the "Venezuelan" model would work, if they just spoke English.

RandomSequence said...

HH: Robert Heinlien used to say in his novels that democracies failed when the masses realized they could vote themselves largesse (bread and circusses, mostly) from the public purse to the detriment of the wealthy and successful and the eventual detriment of the whole society. (Sounds like Ann Rand)

But ain't that silly? Why would anyone assume that the aristocrats are any more far sighted than the masses? It's one of the arguments in the Federalist papers for the constitution: that the federal system would keep the majority of debtors from voting away their debt.

It was a stupid argument then as now, but it has a certain attractiveness as long as we assume that we are in the elite with the wisdom to care for the system, but that everyone else is a rabble that only wants to fill their belly. All systems have the problem that whoever is in power will be short-sighted and steal, steal, steal. Democracy, if anything, should be less likely to be robbed blind because it should be obvious that we are robbing from our own children. Democracy primarily fails due to lack of education, and therefore understanding of the implications of our votes.

Heinlein was sometimes bright, but sometime writing pulp has a corrosive effect on the mind.

Stefan Jones said...

That's a very interesting article, Andrew.

The "people will vote themselves largess" meme could be an older version of the "Wisdom of George Carlin" or "What Andy Rooney thinks about _____" emails I get now and then.

Or the oft-quoted "Chief Seattle" speech ("we do not own the earth, the earth owns us") that was written by a Hollywood screenwriter.

Pat Mathews said...

There has been one other time when we were exactly this polarized and the self-righteous rancor was heard throughout the land - to the dismay of the Great Compromisers such as Calhoun and Clay -

Just before the Civil War.

Let's hope this time their eyes have NOT seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord - on either side!

Allen Bryan said...

A modest proposal: split up the country. Stop taking cash from NYC, Los Angeles and Chicago to pay for schools in Alabama.

You just flunked Enlightenment 101. Go read the first few sections of The Federalist again. Letting an antagonistic province secede is NOT a recipe for peace and prosperity; it's a recipe for more war.

How many countries in the world would *love* for North America to be embroiled in wars? How much easier would it be to start such wars if the United States balkanized -- especially during heated disagreements? Are you really so eager to see another "Third World country" on your doorstep... one that will undoubtedly blame you for pushing them out of the most successful nation-state in history?

Meanwhile, I invite you to visit Orlando, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Norfolk, Virginia; Huntsville, Alabama; and Houston, Texas... and tell their citizens to their face that the South is a hopeless place. If you can. If you dare.

"Those in the South who don't want to put up with the results can change the South or leave."

Or they can try both. I left... but I still try to change the South for the better. Why don't you? Is it easier to denigrate others from a distance and thereby wash your hands of them? After all, they're not your fellow citizens... are they?

RandomSequence said...

Allen,

South America has been pretty much warfare free for a century, excepting some small border skirmishes. Do you think the Russians should have held on to their Soviet satellites? Wouldn't China be better off if they just got over their fetish on Taiwan and brokered an Independence deal? Sometimes an amicable divorce is better than a marriage, particularly if one partner has to be kept in line through domestic violence.

And don't quote eighteenth century gibberish at me. I'm not that enamored with the Federalists - pure polemic, much of which doesn't stand the test of time. I don't see any reason that blue states and red states have to be at war - we're all at heart businessmen, aren't we? We just happen to disagree on some principles of governance (and that includes Orlando, Fl - have you actually lived there? It's mostly north of the Mickey-Donald line, making it pretty darn Southern).

I'm exactly suggesting that we respect each other as free citizens. Let the marketplace test our different social systems. The south has kept on trying to push its special identity for centuries. Why won't you let them try it out? Afraid they may succeed? Or too patronizing to let them try? And are they afraid that they'll fail without the rest of the country pulling them from the fire?

TwinBeam said...

Allen Bryan: You just flunked Enlightenment 101. Go read the first few sections of The Federalist again. Letting an antagonistic province secede is NOT a recipe for peace and prosperity; it's a recipe for more war.
-----
You've got a bad case of Double-Think going on there Allen: "Englightenment requires that we force people to do things the right way (our way)"

David Brin said...

While the immature and angry part of me wants to go to Ohio and Indiana and kick folks there around till they remember which side of the Civil War their forefathers fought on... and then start singing the Battle Hymnn while we all don blue...

...there is another part that knows better. Dig it, the re state folks ARE vastly more enlightened than they were, thirty years ago. Vastly. They can shift. We just gotta reach out to ostritches.

zorgon the malevolent said...

Dr. Brin's fourth installment shows more balance than the third. Some cogent arguments here.
Two other diagnoses not mentioned: the rise of the corporation as an immortal juristic person enshrined in law. The supreme court decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394 (1886) seems the inflection point in turning corporations into legal persons with the full rights of a human being. Full text here:
http://supreme.justia.com/us/118/394/case.html
This decision remains as abberrant as the Dred Scott case. The consequences of Santa Clara v. SPR proved extreme. Prior to Santa Clara, individual corporate officers bore full responsibility for corporate malfeasance. After Santa Clara, corporate officers could commit any number of crimes, then slough off the legal responsibility on the corporation. But the only real power the law has is to fine or imprison, and both penalties bounce right off a corporation. Fine it and the company just raises its prices; and you can't imprison a corporation. Capital punishment, i.e., dissolving a corporation, obviously isn't effective, since it's easy for the corporate officers to set up another corporation using another name. These examples show that a corporation is so unlike a person that it is legally insane and contrary to common human decency to consider a corporation as a legal person. A corporation is immortal, unkillable, can justify extorting an essentially infinite amount of cash from the public (since it has no ordinary human needs as a person does and can never be said to be "making too much money," unlike a person), doesn't feel pain, can't be put in jail, and can't be fined since it will always vampire more cash out of the general populace to make up for any fine imposed by law -- no matter how large. Giving a corporation legal personhood is about like giving a immortal Frankenstein's monster with an insatiable thirst for human blood legal status as a human being -- it's grotesque, and spells disaster.
When Santa Clara became enshrined in law, it became impossible to imprison or fine individual corporate officers except for the most flagrant criminal violations. That meant, practically speaking, that corporate officers got carte blanche to steal and cook the books and as long as they could semi-plausibly claim any kind of deniability, the legal fiction of the corporation took the blame, not the people running it. This opened up a pandora's box of corporate criminality that has steadily spiraled out of control ever since. Enron represents only the most recent refinement of legalistic methods for distancing corporate officers from their crimes. Indeed, the real scandal of the Enron affair is that essentially everything Lay and Skilling did was technically legal. That stems directly from the Santa Clara decision.
The second diagnosis not mentioned: gerrymandering. This has led to many more safe seats on both sides of the aisle, and consequently to much greater extremism on both sides.
The third diagnosis undiscussed: the decline of major media (originally only 3 TV networks and no independent or niche press available nationwide) along with the concomitant rise in narrowly focussed niche media (partisan internet political sites like www.redstate.com or www.dailykos.com, and niche "new" networks like Faux News and Air America). When the news media served essentially all the people, they had to remain fair. That requirement vanishes when you get a news network aimed at a narrowly-defined market segment of known uniform opinion. Worse, as Kahneman and Tversky showed in their Nobel-prize-winning economic research, groups tend to be more extreme in their opinions than individuals -- leading to bizarre situations in which (for example) juries deliver verdicts of which each individual member strongly disapproves. This biasing effect of groups has been exacerbated by the rise of the internet, which greatly facilitates the formation of ever-larger political groups such as with www.moveon.org.

Fortunately, the rest of the world continues its pushback against the revolt from modernity:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/16/world/asia/16pakistan.html?ex=1334376000&en=2ac073d9a10c8147&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

nytimes: "Thousands rally in Pakistan city against [Taliban] school."

Pat Matthews remarked:
There has been one other time when we were exactly this polarized and the self-righteous rancor was heard throughout the land - to the dismay of the Great Compromisers such as Calhoun and Clay - just before the Civil War.

Permit me to demur, with the greatest respect. Re-read your history. You'll find that in 1798, the schism twixt the Federalists and the Jeffersonian agranian democrats was far worse than today. The Alien & Sedition Acts were far more dictatorial than anything the current maladministration has passed, and both sides went at each other with meat hooks. Jefferson's liaison with Sally Cummings got publicly outed by a paid political operative, an infamy that makes Karl Rove's Swift-Boating look timid. The newspapers regularly published cartoons showing the president as a baboon.

The election of 1824 was far more savagely divisive than the 2000 election. Partisan shills in Congress chose Adams as President even though Jackson had more popular votes. Enraged, Jacksonian Democrats refused to refer to Adams as the president, but instead called him "Your Fraudulency" throughout his term. Upon Andrew Jackson's election in 1828, oil paintings were produced showing him as a tyrant wearing a crown and royal purple, trampling on the constitution and wielding a king's sceptre.

The catastrophic deflation from 1873-1897 and the subsequent move to tie the currency to a gold standard bankrupted millions of farmers and threw the agrarian rural parts of the United States into chaos. William Jennings Bryan's failed candidacy and the subsequent triumph of the robber baraons inaugurated the Gilded Era, which led directly to anarcho-syndicalism and bomb-throwing radicals. The terrorism of the Haymarket bombing and the assassination of president McKinley were direct consequences of that robber baron triumph. The violence and divisiveness was a lot worse than anything we've seen even during the Weatherman bombings in the Viet Nam period.
Speaking of which, doesn't anyone remember the SDS and the Weathermen blowing up buildings during the Viet Nam war? I don't know how old you folks are, but as a kid I watched cops beat priests to a bulb on TV. I saw police rioting and beating people in wheelchairs and reporters, live, on TV, from Chicago in 1968. I listened to callers praising the National Guardsmen who murdered the 4 students at Kent State in Ohio in 1970. I heard hundreds of people at at time jam the phone lines calling in to the radio to urge that more peaceful student protesters be shot to death.

Today's political divisions are mild compared to those of the Viet Nam or the Federalist-Jeffersonian split, or the silver-standard/gold-standard divide.

Really, some of the commenters here need to read more history and see just what kind of atrocities went on back then. At the height of the William Jennings Bryan period, coal mine operators set up machine gun emplacements and hired Pinkerton goons to assassinate striking coal miners in the middle of the night, or beat them to death with axe handles on public streets. During the Pullman strike, federal troops mowed down protesting railroad workers in a hail of bullets. Say what you like about today's political divisions, but we don't have anything near that extreme going on today.

Workers were literally getting starved to death and shot and beaten to death back then. Today, the worst that happens is that L.A. riot police used batons illegally against striking Latino janitors in 2000. That's a far cry from shooting down unarmed workers with machine guns.

Average people on both sides of the Viet Nam protests were opening calling for the murder of the opposition by 1970. I don't hear anything like that going on today during the second Iraq conflict -- only a few fringe lunatics like Ann Coulter are calling for the murder of any political opponents today.

During WWI, the divisions were so violent that ordinary citizens who walked schnausers got their dogs kicked to death. Mennonites who refused to serve when drafted were railroaded into prison and then tortured by handcuffing them high onto the prison bars so that their hands lost blood flow and had to be amputated. The Palmer raids remain a classic travesty of justice. Nothing that extreme has gone today, or recently.

The McCarthy era was much worse than today. Back in 1953, even subscribing to the New York Times was considered grounds for dismissal from a job for "communist sympathies." Anyone voicing support for McCarthy's enemies was not only summarily fired, but usually blacklisted and forced into poverty. Say what you like about Karl Rove and his allies, but they don't have anything like that kind of power today. I don't see Noam Chomsky being dismissed from his post at MIT for speaking out against the Iraq war, and I don't see Cindy Sheehan being beaten by goons with axe handles because of her opposition to the war. Things are bad now, but nowhere near as bad as during the McCarthy witch hunts.

So let's get some perspective here. It's an unpleasant divisive time for America, but mild compared with the Haymarket riots or the Jacksonian era or the craziness that culminated in the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Allen Bryan is right when he responded to the "modest proposal" to "split up the country" by remarking:

You just flunked Enlightenment 101. Go read the first few sections of The Federalist again. Letting an antagonistic province secede is NOT a recipe for peace and prosperity; it's a recipe for more war.

This is at the core of why Lincoln fought so long and so hard to keep America together. Some detractors short-sightedly claim that Lincoln was drunk with power and fought the civil war to establish federal supremacy. But the real reason is that Lincoln surely understood that if the South seceded, America would immediately break up into multiple city-states, and shortly thereafter they'd find themselves at each other's throats.
C'mon, think about it. If the south secedes, who's next? I can guarantee you there would be at least half a dozen parts of the country that would demand to secede. Southern California (wealthy and resentful of having its income plundered to pay for backward parts of the U.S.), New England (disgusted by the profligacy and Big Government of the rest of the U.S.), the southeast including Florida (heavily Latino-influenced culture resentful of being ignored by the Anglo-dominated media and entertainment industries), Ecotopia in the Northwest (which despises the anti-green car-worship and wastefulness of the rest of the U.S. and loathes the politically reactionary midwest and deep south politically speaking), the deep south (incensed at the lack of godliness in the rest of the U.S.), the midwest (infuriated by the domination of the media and national discourse by urban centers), the mountain states (sick to death of the selfishness and greed and urbanization of the rest of America, and resentful of having its natural resources despoiled by distant corporations for short-term gain), and the Michigan-Minnesota-Wisconsin-Pennsylvania rust belt (maddened by its total neglect by the rest of the U.S. even as the rust belt cities like Detroit rot and convulsively die and crime spirals out of control while education funds collapse).

For a detailed description of the multiple incompatible cultures embedded in America, see the book The Nine Nations Of North America by Joel Garreau, 1981:
http://www.amazon.com/Nine-Nations-North-America/dp/0380578859
You'd see the U.S. fly apart under its own centripetal political force...and the next catacylsm you'd witness was a Thunderdome-style gladiator academy match between adjoining states that would wage savage warfare against one another to regain what had been allegedly stolen from them, or to keep what was supposedly theirs.

We saw an inkling of this during the Great Depression when phalanxes of state police formed barricades across the state highways leading into California, armed with shotguns, and at gunpoint turned back incoming families who had packed all their possessions into their Model Ts for the trip out of the Dust Bowl.

Do we really want to go through that again?

We're smarter and wiser than that, aren't we, folks?

Vietnam tour operator said...

Exotic Ho Chi Minh City, still referred to as 'Saigon' by many, has preserved its distinctly Asian feel and ancient culture, where monks pray in the numerous pagodas, temples and mosques. The capital Hanoi, is a pleasant and charming city of lakes, shaded boulevards and public parks. The old quarter, built around the Hoan Kiem Lake, is an architectural museum-piece characterised by its narrow streets. Ha Long Bay, with its 3000-plus islands rising from the clear, emerald waters, dotted with beaches and grottoes created by waves, is one of Vietnam's natural marvels.

David Brin said...

Wowzer, Zorgon. Post of the day.

And, yes, much of our dismay over today's political climate arises from the illusions of the Post WWII era during which people... well.. seemed to keep on getting better.

Sometimes painfully and under psychological duress. But McCarthy gave way to stronger accountability, Jim Crow gave way to civil rights. Transparency kept increasing along with our standards, so that few would ever acknowledge THAT progress had been made. Yet we knew, deep down, that it was happening.

Moreover, post WWII featured the fantastic achievement of VERY flat social and wealth order (among whites at least) mixed with low confiscation of market profits and burgeoning economics.

I agree that the way to win Civil War III is to WIN it. By pulling decent conservatives' heads out of the sand and making them see that they are better than this. Better than the monsters who have taken over their movement.

(Oh, Max? STOP using the Ostrich trick of always going to the same well "Clinton lied under oath!!" It is hoary and utterly meaningless. A crutch of all crutches. A romanticism.

(The crux is the rate and importance by which a man lies, not whether ONE lie is associated with a legalist piece of mystical mumbo. FACT: There is no evidence that BC EVER lied to us, even once, ABOUT THE JOB OF GOVERNANCE THAT WE HIRED HIM TO DO!

(On the other hand, the clear evidence is that Bush and his cronies lies as a matter of breathing, even when they do not have to, but especially if it has anything at all to do with running our country.

(Live with this. LOOK at it, at last, with open eyes. One is bright day and the other is the very darkest night.)

Finally, Zorgon, you hit on the reason why I oppose Puerto Rico statehood. No racism involved at all. If 99% of the PR voters say "we want in and we swear ON OUR CHILDREN never to change our minds, then sure. Fine. But I will not let in - on a 55% vote - a "state" that might change its mind and vote 55% to secede a year later. No way.

Pat Mathews said...

Zorgon - I never said the runup to the Civil War was the ONLY time we were terribly polarized - just that it's the one that came to mind.

Zechariah said...

I'd actually support cutting PR loose altogether. Let them be their own little island nation.

But yeah, don't cut the South loose. What if they took evangelical christianity to the extreme and made an Iran style theocracy? yeesh. You don't want that for a neighbor.

Max Wilson said...

Great post, Zorgon.

-Max

Max Wilson said...

Oh, Max? STOP using the Ostrich trick of always going to the same well "Clinton lied under oath!!" It is hoary and utterly meaningless. A crutch of all crutches. A romanticism.

You'll note that I was actually talking about a Bush official. Having sworn to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," it's actually immaterial whether he can find some legalistic interpretation which makes his statement come out technically not false. ("I didn't have any replacements in mind on December 7. That email was written half a year earlier.") In the context of the question that was asked, he violated the oath he swore. I know this is a totally foreign mode of thinking to you, which is why you assume people are insincere in their outrage--and probably a lot of them ARE just being partisan--but I won't trust a man who has no honor.

And in fact, I'm tired of listening to your ad hominem attacks. I still need to hear what liberals are saying--occasionally really good points are made that I wouldn't have considered myself, and Zorgon's post today was excellent--but I'll be doing it elsewhere. Goodbye.

-Max

Stefan Jones said...

Ditto. Good perspective.

One day I hope to re-watch Ric Burn's stunning, dense, "New York" documentary. The history of my birth-city is a microcosm of the life and times of the country, and some of that history is unbelievably violent, gritty, and awe-inspiring.

David Brin said...

For the record, I would sure like to know what was even remotely "ad hominem" about my parenthetical remark to Max.

Yes, it was controntational, and critical of a tactic of argumentation, but in a manner that anyone would reasonably take with a thick skin.

But above all there was not... one... scintilla... of anything that could possibly be parsed as ad hominem.

Max, are you there? YOU have accused me of doing something directly evil to another person.

YOU bear a burden of proof, right now, to show that the accusation is true.

And it is not.

Max Wilson said...

Quick answer: Instead of addressing the substance of ideas, you impute motives and then attack those. I'm not fond of the neocons but the "nerdy schoolboy" characterization is tiresome, and it seems that whenever I say something your response is to turn around and claim that I don't actually believe the things I just said I believe, and that they're merely rationalizations for my real positions which, I gather, are a lot uglier. I find it baffling and devoid of substance.

-Max

TwinBeam said...

Zorgon starts out with a nice recitation of the history of divisive politics in the US - but then plunges off into a Thunderdome fantasy, in which every disagreement leads to secession.

Lenny Zimmermann said...

Seems to me there is one place where we do have a very violent and huge divide amongst Americans. The "War on Drugs". Police may not be taking on entire mobs and shooting them down in the streets, instead they are now shooting down little old ladies in highly disruptive and destructive "no knock" SWAT team, militaristic raids based on nothing more than hearsay evidence from often untrustworthy informants.

Sure they are not shooting down 4 Kent State students in a single sitting, instead the kill citizens and dispense death sentences for minor offenses on an almost daily basis, just one "druggie" at a time. Or even one gambler at a time, in the case of guys like Sal Culosi. Of course allowing a completely unregulated market, like the illicit drug trade, to exist where competing interests not only have no recourse but seem to prefer vigilante justice to air their griefs and "turf battles" just adds to the totals of victims, including more than a few truly innocent bystanders. And all for what? Because we somehow think now that Prohibition works? Like it implies on http://www.leap.cc/, there's a difference between the likes Al Capone and Pablo Escobar?

There's plenty of that good old fashioned violence out there, and plenty of self-righteous, moralistic folks all too willing to continue ramping up the "War on Drugs", increasing sentencing and jailing a far greater percentage of black males than even South Africa ever did during Apartheid. That violence is still there, we just seem to have gotten really good at ignoring is.

David Brin said...

Max, you utterly avoided the issue.

You have accused me of wronging you with ad hominem attacks. I demand to know precisely what they were. Or else admit that that was a flip-out on your part. Please be grown up about it and do one or the other.

I tell you directly, there were none. None... at... all.

Secondly; this is a blog and one that is unabashedly eccentric. Calling the neocon intellectuals "nerdy schoolboys" is incredibly mild when these guys designed a bilious and nation-divisive "culture war" that has neighbor attacking neighbor, instead of negotiating like adults.

Culture war was THEIR plan. They cannot whine if I wage it. Nd in the mildest terms.

What? You'll also complain if I point out something about MOST of the GOP office holders who howled at Clinton for grabbing a bit of nookie in a hallway? That a majority... a MAJORITY... of them had had nasty divorces over far worse infidelities and cruelties?

Or that today's top GOP presidential candidates have SIX horrific divorces among them (two of them while their wives were deathly ill)... while NONE of the top dems have any divorces at all, or even accusations of infidelity?

If I call the right a pack of hypocrites, for ignoring the huge divorce and infidelity "gap", while screeching at us about morality, am I being rude?

Really? It seems to me that that is simply holding up a perfect illustration of a word in the English language. None of us, in all our lives, will see that word better illustrated. Ever.

"Nerdy Schoolboys"? That is your example of nasty polemic on my part?

Max, you are welcome here. Your input is always intelligent and we need guys like you.

But please, it is going to be rough for you in here. And the basic reason is not our fault.

Your entire movement is fighting for its life against doppelgangar body-snatching monsters who will destroy American conservatism, if men like you do not start standing up. Right now.

Me? I do NOT want to see conservatism destroyed. I admired Barry Goldwater. He is pleading you, from the grave. Guys like you had better take the hand that's being offered by guys like me...

...Or it will be the campus lefty flakes who you stare up at, giggling over the ruin of your movement.

David Brin said...

AND NOW, A SHARP TURN TO TAKE A SWIPE AT THE LEFT!

Specifically, the anti-globalization dopes, who oppose free trade... instead of doing the mature thing and helping developing nations get the labor and environmental laws that would make trade work even better.

Now this from the Progressive Posicly Institute:

Tariffs are the United States' Most Regressive Tax

The income tax is the U.S. Treasury Department's largest single source of money. Raising a likely $1.2 trillion in 2007, this week's 1040 forms will bring in nearly half the $2.54 trillion in total 2007 national government revenue.

Next come social insurance taxes, led by the payroll tax which funds Social Security and Medicare, at $873 billion;

then corporate income taxes at $342 billion,

then excises taxes on gasoline, liquor, and cigarettes at $57 billion.

Last and smallest in the tax menagerie are the estate tax and the tariff system, both of which will raise a bit more than $25 billion.

Alike in the money they raise for government, estate taxes and tariffs are not alike in the people who pay. The estate tax is mainly a tax on wealth, covering only estates above $2 million and (to quote the IRS) "affecting only the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans." The tariff system is mainly a tax on want, raising most of its revenue on life necessities and cheap consumer goods, and affecting poor families with children more than anyone else.

Last year, clothes raised about $9 billion of the total $25 billion in tariff revenue, shoes brought in another $2 billion -- nearly as much as cars. Food raised $600 million, mostly from cheese, butter, orange juice, and canned tuna. Cheap household goods, including: towels, forks, spoons, suitcases, drinking glasses, and plates, added about $2 billion more.*

Altogether, life necessities and mundane consumer products make up about 10 percent of imports but raise about 60 percent of tariff revenue. Mostly paid by the poor.


In fairness, the lefty dopes who oppose free trade are mere silly-people, compared to those at the other end, who want to end the Inheritance Tax... the "tax that nobody ever has to pay." THAT campaign is pure evil.

Somebody describe for the others here why 2010 will be the Year That Grandpa Hides From His Heirs. It is a hoot.

Forrbin said...

Off-topic, but I was thinking about Virginia Tech and Transparency after I heard some students on NPR talking about the cops bashing in their door and making them surrender.

It seems to me that most of the coverage today is reaction and trying to understand what happened, while what people are looking for is information about safety. A simple, transparent means of getting some calming safety/civilization information out might be putting the police dispatcher information out as MP3 streams--rather than watching regurgitated, reprocessed news packages of what people think of what happened, interested people could monitor what is going on and act appropriately. People seem upset at the information flow from the authorities to the stakeholders--transparency could help. If a far-off grandparent streamed the Tech dispatcher stream (like a police scanner) in the background, they could know when nothing is going on, and if something did, they could call their grandkid.

Googling I found http://www.dxzone.com/cgi-bin/dir/jump2.cgi?ID=3494 Iand http://www.hrconnect.com/streaming/ but was unable to make things work.

Anyway these sorts of technologies could enable the people in the area and those that care about them to get relevant information and make useful decisions, as opposed to the only sorts of decisions that the data and broadcast media can provide: "Stay home and watch Fox" "Beware of foreigners", etc..

Anonymous said...

Heinlein was probably refering this quote (of uncertain origin):

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage.

I've seen it attributed to Alex Fraser Tytler and Alexis de Tocqueville, among others.

Here is an interesting historical analysis:


Whomever this is, he or she is undoubtedly restating Plato (consciously or unconsciously).

- B. Dewhirst

ErnieG said...

Both RS and AB from my reading have made points which support a stricter

interpretation of the constitution.

The constitution is supposed to limit the power of the federal government.

An education department is an unconstitutional department.

Social Security is unconstitutional.

Medicare is unconstitutional.

The above three examples are ones that usurp the ninth and tenth ammendments to the

Constitution.

There are many other unconstituional laws,and programs that the Congress has enacted

over the years.

RS you seem to be saying that the constitution should be interpreted as the current

concensus warrants.

If this is not a government of men as opposed to a government of laws I don't know

what it is.

A president who interpretes the constitution by denying basic principles of common law

as it suits him.

A Congress which abrogates its responsibilities for political expediency.

Supreme court justices with life tenure who march to ideological tunes played by the

side (party) that nominates them. Who usurp the Legislatures powers by using

prescriptive judgements, in effect creating law.

We have a mechanism to change the constitution if we want the above programs and

departments. Unfortunately we do not use it. We have people using expediency as an

excuse to thwart the laws of this country.


The basic problem we have in this country is the rush to twist and distort our

government by all parties by disregarding the principles we need for a civil society.

It is lack of principle or values or civic virtue.


My main point is when we stray from the constitution we create the greatest problems

for our Republic.

If you build your house on shifting sand it will fall.

Brother Doug said...

Brin I agree with you on this installment but in the comments section I think you should be very careful about using the terms Free Trade or Globalization. Both of these have been turned into ideological mantras that have very little resemblance to how our economy really works.

Doug S. said...

L.E. Modesitt, Jr. has used the same premise (citizens in a democracy will vote themselves unsustainable government largesse) to explain the decline of the United States in some of his science fiction novels.

David Brin said...

The "largesse" canard is despicable and thoroughly disproved. For the entire span of the neocon revolution, middle class voters have relentlessly polled that they want deficit reduction before tax breaks.

Don Quijote said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don Quijote said...

In fairness, the lefty dopes who oppose free trade are mere silly-people,

New threat to skilled U.S. workers

The master plan, it seems, is to move perhaps 40 million high-skill American jobs to other countries. U.S. workers have not been consulted.

Princeton economist Alan Blinder predicts that these choice jobs could be lost in a mere decade or two. We speak of computer programming, bookkeeping, graphic design and other careers once thought firmly planted in American soil. For perspective, 40 million is more than twice the total number of people now employed in manufacturing.


You'll excuse me if I am not all that eager to see my job sent overseas, I have a mortgage to pay and kids to put thru college.

Don Quijote said...

The second diagnosis not mentioned: gerrymandering.

The number of Representatives was set to 435 in 1929, now in 1929 the population of approximately 122 million, that's a representative for every 280 thousand constituents, today we have a population of 300 million giving us a representative for every 690 thousand constituents. Now if we had a fixed ratio of 250 thousand constituents per representative, the number of representatives would go up (1200 at the present time) and the likelihood of successful gerrymandering would go down.

Nicholas Walter said...

Don Q - in an odd twist, about a year ago George Will's column in Newsweek advocated the same thing. Agreeing with George Will made me feel kind of dirty, but it *is* a good idea.

Francis said...

Don,

You seem to object when America's wealth gets shared through free trade. I know already you are some form of socialist (as under American definitions am I) - but does restricting what should be shared make you a National Socialist.

(Yes, that was a very cheap shot - but why do you think it's America contra the world?)

Ernieg, why on earth do you want to drive America back into the 18th Century? Your intended destruction of the US public healthcare system (such as it is) will bring back rampant disease epidemics. Your destruction of social security will almost certainly (the last one was a definite) bring back work houses and starvation for the poor and elderly. And the US education system, as bad as it is, is still better for American productivity and the economy than nothing would be.

Quite frankly, I can think of no better way to push America into the third world than you are advocating. And I can't think of any departments I'd destroy before those three if I wanted to destroy a country.

Hawker the H said...

refering to my earlier reference...

Does history show ANY instance where a Democracy where the masses voted itself 'largesse' to the point where the Democracy collapsed (was conquered)?

I can name a couple of cases where the wealthy voted themselves 'largesse'... and voted to bribe the poor to keep them from rioting... but the poor masses rarely had the power to vote, much less the power to vote themselves goodies.

Francis said...

Hawker,
Does history show ANY instance where a Democracy where the masses voted itself 'largesse' to the point where the Democracy collapsed (was conquered)?

AFAIK, they've never had the opportunity. Athenian democracy wasn't for slaves, Roman democracy was weighted, and AFAIK, prior to the printing press democracy was entirely impractical for anything larger than a city state. This means we more or less need to wait for Cromwell or the French Revolution. And since then, the best (or perhaps only) examples I can think of of democracies voting the masses too much money are Britain in the 1970s, Sweden in the 1980s-1990s and France now. (Norway might be in the process of it when their oil runs out). And we all still stand - and in all cases except France have recovered. (And France isn't too serious).

Don Quijote said...

You seem to object when America's wealth gets shared through free trade. I know already you are some form of socialist (as under American definitions am I) - but does restricting what should be shared make you a National Socialist.

You'll have to point out that "free trade" for me cause I don't see it (neither NAFTA, nor CAFTA nor WTO are it).

Don Quijote said...

And here is more of that so called "free trade"

U.S. trade deals raising drug prices abroad: Oxfam

Strong intellectual property protections in U.S. free trade deals have hurt developing countries, pushing up drug prices in Jordan by 20 percent, an aid advocacy group said in a report released on Tuesday.

Beefed-up property rights for drug makers, which have been built into U.S. free trade deals like the one with Jordan, "will make it harder and harder to sustain public health systems," said Rohit Malpani, a trade analyst with the advocacy group Oxfam in Washington.
...
The Oxfam report found that drug prices in Jordan have increased by 20 percent since 2001, when the bilateral deal with the United States was implemented, and are up to six times higher than comparable drug prices in Egypt.


Ah, the benefit of "free trade"...

RandomSequence said...

ErnieG,

You kinda get me, and kinda not. My point vis-a-vis the constitution is that we are not following it - we already started abandoning by the 1820's, and the civil war was a complete abrogation. My problem, as you surmise, is not that it change - human society is always built on shifting sands. Any attempt to stop that is a fool's errand - there is no fixed stone to build on.

But we should do it explicitly. Otherwise we run the risk of a movement away from politics, and therefore democracy. We shouldn't hold our ancestors thoughts as sacred - they were fools like us, no less, but no more. Each generation needs to fully and explicitly renew the social contract.

Whereas generations ago everyone who was enfranchised was involved in politics (as so ably exemplified by the examples up-thread), today a majority of Americans really don't think politics is any of their business. In the short term, that makes society more stable (safer). In the long term, I can only see aristocratic tendencies reasserting themselves.

Re: the rest and the South.

Y'all take the threat of internecine war too seriously, methinks. The colonial period of American history is just as long as the United States, with little conflict rising to the level of warfare. The period of the Articles of the Confederacy showed little risk of inter-state warfare either. What it did show was the risk of quick democratization - that was the impetus for the constitution, not any real threat of inter-state warfare. For a modern example, see the EU. Multiple states in a federation, with little risk of warfare. And of course, the sovereignty of states in South America has led to blessedly little open warfare for over a century, and even before that few examples that reach traditional European levels.

But on the other side, the history of China's centralized state is frightening. Yes, it did lead to prosperity, but it also lead to a deadening of innovation. The centralization of the Roman state did the same, leading inevitably to the dark ages. We have a big state - maybe a little more political diversity would be a good thing, once we abandon this fixation on nineteenth century solutions?