Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Contempt for the Masses - a modern curse?

I want to riff upon some common drug-highs that most people partake-of.  One is the alluring condition of despising our pitiably stupid neighbors.  Another is the temptation to believe that history comes and goes in "cycles."

Are your neighbors all stupid?

This topic came up last time, flowing out of my observations about the recent movies, Surrogates.  And, while I have groused about the obvious - even blatant - overlaps with both my novel Kiln People and the widely distributed Leslie Dixon screenplay, that was not what bugged me moist about the Bruce Willis film.  Rather, it was the dismally uniform premise -- shared by far too many Hollywood productions -- that all new technologies are inherently evil and that they will automatically be horribly misused by nearly all human beings.

Look, any sensible person is of two minds about "the masses," recollecting Churchill's line that democracy is the worst form of government... except for every other that's been tried.  We have seen how flawed popular government can be.  I am mindful of what happened to Periclean Athens and to Republican Florence.

Indeed, when Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had erected on the White House - and got adulation for calling upon his followers to "think only of this morning!"  - I knew that we'd be in for a generation of spendthrift foolishness. Thirty years of delays in doing much about energy independence coincided with virtual abandonment of ambition in science or space, while we spent ourselves into deep debt, based upon a Supply-Side theory that made no sense, even before it was disproved. The left did chime in, with idiocies of its own.  And then came a high-treason madness called Culture War...

Oh, no question that our neighbors have given us plenty of reason to suspect them of -- ahem, at best -- shortsighted and parochial thinking.

But note that this reaction spans all boundaries of politics, whether or not the facts support your particular prejudice.  Surface rationalizations differ, from left to right, but we all suckle the same, deeply smug fantasies from popular culture.  The underlying inclination is too common to ignore, flowing from movies into real life.

If the shared theme that drives most Hollywood plots is Suspicion of Authority (SOA), then the most common background assumption is that the majority of people around the hero (and hence, around you) are nincompoops.

Of course, that ninnie majority never, ever includes you.

See my article: Our Favorite Cliche: A World Filled with Idiots. 

Defending the masses

Of course, I am human.  Indeed, this very screed reflects a meta-irony... that I feel contempt for the masses, because they give in to this blandished hypnotic trip  so easily!

And yet, since contempt for the masses is the most common reflex, I am forced, out of sheer contrariness, to stand up for the other side. The "people" after all, have repeatedly been polled as much more willing to invest in new energy
than our aristocracy ever was.

Moreover, there are plenty of counter-examples that suggest the opposite.  For example, recall the era of the "Clinton Surplus?" Members of Congress salivated over spending it all on favored programs. Others promoted giant tax cuts, especially for the wealthy classes. Amid all of this, only two groups spoke up for using the surplus instead to retire the national debt. Those two groups were economists and ... the general public.

 It was the middle class "populace" who wanted to pay off the debt before getting a tax cut!  Their forward-looking citizenship was far greater than the "gimme!" attitude of most of the aristocracy.

TYTLERCALUMNYThis runs diametrically opposite to the cynics' favorite quotation, variously attributed to "Tytler" or to Alex Tyler --

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a 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 dependence; From dependence back into bondage."

As it happens, this spurious "quotation" has also been repeatedly proved to be utter and complete drivel. It has taken an unprecedented propaganda campaign to drive wedges into and between components of the middle class, in America.  And even so, it is still the bourgeoisie that not only puts up most of the taxes but also relentlessly proves to be the caste the least interested in "largesse" and the most willing to pay for the civilization that they live in.

... next time... Contemptuous Memes Part II: Cycles of History"

--Read more about the Tytler Calumny

finally some news...

51OXHNpuNeL._SL500_AA300_PIaudible,BottomRight,13,73_AA300_ Looking for something to help you through the long commute?  Or to listen-to while basking under the sunlamp?  Recorded Books has just issued the full book-on-tape version of BRIGHTNESS REEF read by George K Wilson.  This will soon be followed by INFINITY'S SHORE and HEAVEN'S REACH.

H+ asked David Brin, Ben Goertzel, J. Storrs Hall, Vernor Vinge, and others: "Is a Terminator-like scenario possible? And if so, how likely is it?" 

See a Planetary Report on the discovery of a likely "skylight" opening in a volcanic lava tube on the moon.  It suggests that such lava tubes currently exist and offer large subterranean spaces for possible human use as shelters, in future colonization.

"Albedo Yachts" and Marine Clouds: A Cure for Climate Change? A proposal to create 1500 robot ships that use wind power to inject micron sized droplets into the atmosphere.  Sounds better than most forms of geoengineering because it ivolves no toxins and can simply be stopped at any time.  But I wonder, might these wind powered vessels be combined with wind powered STIRRING of shallow sea bottoms (as depicted in my novel Earth?  This stirring would fertilize desert ocean areas the way nature does it, instead of through the proposed method of dumping powdered iron (which has unintended consequences like acidification.)  In contrast mud-stirring has no conceivable way to do harm because it replicates nature's own method.

Two Victoria University professors who specialize in sustainable living, say pet owners should swap cats and dogs for creatures they can eat, such as chickens or rabbits, in their disturbingly titled new book Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living. The couple has assessed the carbon emissions created by popular pets, taking into account the ingredients of pet food and the land needed to create them.  "If you have a German shepherd or similar-sized dog, for example, its impact every year is exactly the same as driving a large car around," Brenda Vale said


Ilithi Dragon said...

Hmmm... Dr. Brin, and anyone else, would you happen to have a list of examples of the 'common masses' showing real ingenuity and general intelligence and capability, etc. handy? It would be really nice to have an article giving a solid parade of such examples a good presentation (a project I wouldn't mind undertaking myself, if I had the time), but in lieu of that, a list of examples to counter the 'sheeple' comments and arguments would be nice to have.

I'll see if I can come up with a few examples of my own over the next few days.

Tim H. said...

The notion of public support for retiring the national debt contrasted with nominally conservative politicians clamoring for tax cuts seems to be just one of the ways conservatives tend not to be. Might be a lot of possibilities for someone who writes more skillfully than I.

Woozle said...

It seems to me that a lot of the time, at least in the modern era, much apparent "mass stupidity" can be attributed to manipulation by the "mass media".

People tend to trust the mainstream media (TV, newspapers), which can be a virtue when it is trustworthy, but media consolidation has resulted in the sad fact that it no longer is -- it has become a tool for a very few to have a frightening degree of control over what a large percentage of the country believes to be true and reasonable.

In essence, the "nervous system" by which we form a national consensus has been converted from a free marketplace of ideas to a propaganda machine, with bits of truthiness mixed in for authenticity where they don't conflict with the main agenda.

I propose the following:

(1) Deconsolidate: Nobody should be allowed to own more than one media outlet anywhere in the country, be that broadcast radio, broadcast TV, or periodical. Possibly cable media should be included as well, at least as long as there is no real competition between carriers. We need more voices.
(2) De-profitize: The airwaves are a common resource, and should be used solely for the common good -- only nonprofit companies should be granted access. (This isn't to say that on-air advertising should be illegal; just that revenues from ads need to be spent on programming, equipment, employee salaries, etc. and not given to shareholders who are then incentivized to maximize those profits at the expense of delivering a quality service.)

Am I getting too radical and "socialistic" here?

Woozle said...

Oh, and the other prong of the fork is that kids need to be taught skeptical thinking in school (how to tell a reasonable argument from a bad one, logical fallacies, rhetorical manipulations, the importance of evidence...) from Kindergarten on -- but I don't know if there's any clear path forward towards accomplishing that.

Media deconsolidation can at least be accomplished by legislation, however politically unrealistic it may be to suggest doing so.

Unknown said...

There's always Francis Galton's statistics discovery that the average of guesses can be a better indicator than individuals

"In 1906 Galton visited a livestock fair and stumbled upon an intriguing contest. An ox was on display, and the villagers were invited to guess the animal's weight after it was slaughtered and dressed. Nearly 800 gave it a go and, not surprisingly, not one hit the exact mark: 1,198 pounds. Astonishingly, however, the mean of those 800 guesses came close — very close indeed. It was 1,197 pounds."

It's interesting that he thought the crowd would less accurate guessing than individuals

Here's the Wikipedia link

Tom Crowl said...

This is a great topic!

Regarding Galton, the ox and the remarkable accuracy of the mean guess:

There really IS both intelligence and wisdom in crowds. The challenge is that simply having a crowd isn't enough by itself. You also have to consider the experience and independence of the guessers... as well as the influences on them.

For instance if CNBC was covering the fair and they collected their guesses only after Marlena Barteromo interviewed a slew of ox "experts" from Goldman Sachs...

We could most likely get that crowd to "bid" their guesses on the weight of that ox up to a good 3000 lbs no matter how much it actually weighed!

The point I'm making is actually echoing Woozle (and Dr. Brin as a practiced contrarian) regarding the importance of good, unbiased information and ESPECIALLY the encouragement of rational skepticism and independent thought.

Unfortunately our political Parties and the whole culture of "brands" really just hate that. Their goal is to get you thinking in packs which is understandable from their perspective.

But it's not in your interest!

I take a bit of a cheap shot in my latest post Compensation & the Social Network:

"Elizabeth Warren suggests that the middle class has been treated like a "Thanksgiving Turkey" to be carved up and eaten by it leaders in business and politics.
She's essentially right. Except it's a very rare turkey that actually will buy the carving knife and pay for the meal. And then commit suicide and crawl into the oven."

The reason it's a bit of a cheap shot, is that as Dr. Brin has pointed out, the general population has actually had a much better sense of what's needed to be done...

It's just that mechanisms have failed to allow crowd wisdom to be encouraged and effective.

And THAT will breed the kind of cynicism so devastating to the social contract!

Acacia H. said...

Well, NASA successfully launched the Ares IX rocket... and in many ways helped affirm continuing the program. While there are calls to discontinue the Ares IX, there are some significant differences between Ares IX and the military programs that have been canceled already: first and foremost, the Ares IX actually worked and did what it was supposed to.

I suspect that if the Ares IX had died on the launchpad or suffered some other catastrophic failure while in flight (a problem that occurred frequently in our early space program), then we'd see the Ares program killed. However, Ares (and Constellation) are needed to replace a space vehicle that while effective at recovering satellites and delivering components to the ISS, is not safe.

(No doubt if NASA had continued through with its earlier plans to have a next generation shuttle rather than just upgrade the existing design, this wouldn't be the case. Sadly, the military applications of the shuttle (among other things) forced NASA to stick with a vehicle that ended up being outmoded and eventually dangerous.)

Of course, just because Ares IX was a success doesn't mean that the Ares V rocket (the heavy lifter) will continue. But it's nice to see that we're developing a vehicle that should help keep America in space.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Tony Fisk said...

A recent essay by Alex Steffen echoes a lot of what I'm seeing here and is recommended reading. Unfortunately, the debate got a bit sidetracked by a perceived slur on the transition township movement as being more dark than green. A pity, because he made some interesting remarks about what a 'bright' green community should be like (how to recognise 'contempt for the masses' being one topic touched on)

David Brin said...

That's a good, wise... if understandably vague... essay by Alex. Recommended.

Of course the extremum of his message is my novel - The Postman. Or contemplating what it would take to PREVENT having to be that resilient.

TCB said...

The masses (obviously) are composed of individuals; the individual (paradoxically) is also a mass, of contradicting personality facets. I vaguely recall an essay by Robert Anton Wilson (whose memory I venerate) on the subject of the deadly plague of stupidity. His point was that it's almost impossible to avoid being stupid in at least some areas at least some of the time. We can't all be Leonardo da Vinci.

Unless institutionalized, humans tend to show signs of intelligence when they have to or when they're interested and engaged. I can think of people whose grade-school political thinking fills me with barely-disguised contempt, and yet they can rattle off assured and factually grounded analysis of whether some NFL halfback I never heard of is worth the amount of money he just signed for.

I think we can take that well-known phenomenon as a piece of evidence that sombunall of "the masses" in this country at this time are not yet in enough pain to focus on their duties as citizens. It's also worth considering that our political system could be seen as a somewhat undemocratic mechanism hidden behind a Potemkin facade of democratic process. So every four years you get to choose between a candidate who faithfully serves the Wall Street oligarchs versus one who will say catty things about them but daren't really inconvenience them by trying to serve you, the average voter.

Also, it really is difficult to know the truth beyond your immediate vicinity. Woozle mentions part of the problem: the oligarchs own the media and deceive the public in order to remain in control. I finally understand how old liberals defended Stalin: they simply assumed, for years, that nothing in the newspapers about gulags and mass murders could be true. These were the same papers that created the Spanish war of 1898 out of thin air, after all. Me, I don't believe a word they say about Hugo Chavez. He's probably a stand up guy.

There are so many other variables. Why, in the US, do we work more hours and have less vacation time than, say, Europe? Why do we have colossal educational loans if we go to college? I'd argue that this isn't all an accident: tired, overworked, fearful people don't protest, don't ring doorbells, don't educate themselves... but they will anesthetize themselves with a beer and a ballgame on the teevee.

I guess what I'm saying here is that blaming the masses is blaming the victim, to a considerable degree. My pet theory is that sociopaths control society, to an unrecognized extent; if you want to really fix things, forget piss-testing employees for drugs; start testing upper-management and government applicants for sociopathic tendencies. I wrote a whole essay about this idea back around 2005 and I still think it's good to go:

Tim H. said...

An analogy comes to mind, imagine an ocean liner where the first class passengers are allowed to to pillage the lower class cabins and engineering areas to enhance their cabins, and only get a slap on the wrist for scraping away from the inside of the hull.

Woozle said...

TCB said "Why, in the US, do we work more hours and have less vacation time than, say, Europe? Why do we have colossal educational loans if we go to college?"

I think this is a very important question. I'm probably harping on Dr. B's riff about diamond-vs.-pyramid societies here, but the US is often described as one of the richest societies in the world -- and yet the mainstream populace seems to find themselves able to afford less and less (unless we're just talking about electronic gadgets).

We used to have more of a welfare net, apparently. Dr. B probably has a clearer historical perspective on this, as I wasn't paying much attention to politics at the time, but my recollection is that Reagan tossed a lot of people out of mental hospitals (so they could roam the streets and be a drain on towns and neighborhoods instead of being properly cared for) and I've recently learned that Clinton (under pressure from the Gingrich Neocons) got rid of the guaranteed social safety net in 1996.

We used to be able to afford those things, and had them, but now it's political poison to suggest any movement in that direction. What happened?

I think we're being ripped off -- and when things like these monstrous bailouts and bonuses keep happening, one begins to have the glimmering of a theory as to where all the wealth might be going.

Unknown said...

"I think we're being ripped off -- and when things like these monstrous bailouts and bonuses keep happening, one begins to have the glimmering of a theory as to where all the wealth might be going."

To a large extent, those things are funded through tax. The US has rather low taxation, somewhat lower than even the lower-taxation Western European countries (though the tax burden is different; minimum wage workers in many European countries pay almost no tax, but the moderately wealthy do have a higher burden).

Then, there's the US spending on its military, which is a higher proportion of its GDP and a much higher proportion of government income than any other highly developed nation.

The recent bailouts and so on are probably not the reason, and we're bailing out our banks in Europe as well (and some EU countries are spending a lot more per capita than the US is).

Tim H. said...

In fairness to the shade of Ronald Reagan, the original plan for the mentally ill was to replace the large state hospitals, as featured in One flew over the cuckoo's nest, with neighborhood clinics. State legislatures chose to spend the savings from hospital closures on projects dear to their campaign contributors, or tax cuts.

Ilithi Dragon said...


Which is an example of why the argument that "The federal government should let the states handle this" usually actually means, "the federal government should let the states NOT handle this."

Forth: Ultra-American spelling of 'fourth'

Stefan Jones said...

The masses will earn my respect when they figure out how to use the recycling bins in my apartment complex. Bags of dog poop are not corrugated cardboard!

'mocanso': Next big novelty dance craze, this time from Mongolia.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Stefan Jones said...

Bags of dog poop are not corrugated cardboard!

It was before the dog ate it.
} ; = 8 P

Anonymous said...

Probably the single best example of the ingenuity and capability of the average America were the two bicycle mechanics who created the world's first airplane. Herr Doktor Professor Otto Lillienthal in Germany couldn't manage it, but a couple of bicycle mechanics in America did. Along the way, they had to correct Lillienthal's chart of wing drag coefficients, which turned out to be wrong.

We could also cite Jack St. Clair Kilby, the ordinary schmuck who got turned down by every Ivy league college because he just wasn't smart enough to cut the mustard. When National Semiconductor hired him everybody in the lab was on Christmas vacation, so Kilby got bored and decided to create the world's first integrated circuit.

America abounds with stories like these. Average guys nobody ever heard of who create all sorts of breakthroughs. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, a couple of college dropouts who created the first personal computer, it just goes on and on.

TCB said...

I just took Dr. Brin's questionnaire, though I'm not sure if the submission process worked. It depends on some sort of E-mail submission voodoo, you see. Having spent a couple of hours on it, I saved my answers as a text file. I can't abide the thought that the submission system (which I thought kludgy) ate that much effort. If anyone cares, I'll submit it as a Very Long Comment.

Tony Fisk said...

...and don't forget John Harrison, the obscure Lincolnshire carpenter who somehow started getting into timepieces: the eighteenth century equivalent of rocket science. In an era when 'accurate' meant 'within fifteen minutes per day', he was able to produce clocks accurate to within a second a month.

Years later his H-4 marine chronometer made it feasible for a scientific expedition to voyage to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus, and make a few other discoveries as well.

He only received the Longitude prize just prior to his death through a special act of parliament, championed by that arch-tyrant and lunatic, George III.

bility: an indispensible item as in 'we all need a bility'. In the Australian bush, this has been corrupted to 'billy tea', also indispensible.

David Brin said...

I get some... perhaps not all... of the questionaire forms and I keep them filed, in case someone, someday wants to compile the data. But the main purpose is to get people thinking along new and different parameters and perspectives, than the standard ones. Like the wretched "left-right axis".

Instead, the questionnaire at:
asks about the "time flow of wisdom" and about dogmatic purity vs pragmatism, or what kinds of "propaganda" people see out there, in the world.

The aim is to help folks re-evaluate their very own assumptions.

Acacia H. said...

Here's something on the political front: leaked documents on ethics investigations by the White House into various politicians. Looks like Obama isn't just sitting on his heels... and I suspect the "leak" was deliberate by an Obama supporter in the White House to let the people know that their President isn't just another of the "same-old same-old." ^^

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Huzzah for investigations of ethics violations!

$50 says Fox turns it into some kind of Orwellian thought police committee or some such, though.

Tom Crowl said...

Speaking of seeking out group intelligence... this ought to generate some serious excitement:

Darpa Network Challenge that they just put out today!

Any ideas?

Tom Crowl said...

The Darpa Network Challenge

(from their website)
The challenge is to locate ten moored red weather balloons located at ten fixed locations in the continental United States. Balloons will be in readily accessible locations, visible from nearby roadways and accompanied by DARPA representatives. All balloons are scheduled to go on display at all locations at 10:00AM (ET) until approximately 4:00 PM (local time) on Saturday, December 5, 2009.

Stefan Jones said...

Haven't finished reading it, so I can't give a full appraisal, but Cory Doctorow's new novel Makers has some good grass-roots alternate-economics action going.

A lot of the enthusiastic energy of a technophilic Analog story, but by a avowed lefty.

Available as a free PDF.

rewinn said...

It may be simply piling on to pick apart the Tyler quote, but it seems to me:

*If "the average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years" then, reckoning from the founding of Harvard (1630s) our North America colonies beat the odds even BEFORE our Civil War ... and the Chinese would say Tyler left a digit off his "average".

* "[A] democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy" is hard to square with the collapse of medeiveal Iceland's sort-of democracy, which was more related to environmental issues instead of the fiscal policy of its non-existent central government.

*If "...the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury..." then George W Bush has never been president.

As to the main topic, honesty compels the admission that when someone disagrees with me, then I *feel* that they are wrong, whether they or I are the majority. There's nothing wrong with having that feeling, so long as one doesn't act on it.

Rationality requires a sort of Intellectual Golden Rule, by which I apply the same rules of evidence and logic to their claims as I wish they would apply to mine. Experience shows me that I, whether in the majority or not, am sometimes "wrong", much as it pains me to admit it.

As to examples of the common masses showing ingenuity and common sense, I suggest talking to farmers. Not Agri-business hacks, working massive enterprises barely distinguishable from Soviet-era plantations and quite happy to spoil the topsoil and squeeze thousands of pigs into tiny feedlots just to squeeze out another dollar today and to heck with tomorrow, but real dirt farmers who have immensely complicated problems to solve in a dozen different fields, starting with plant and animal biology ... and who plan to pass on a working farm to the next generation's next generation. I think you'll find the bulk of them not necessarily good at calculus but very good at making rational decisions that are good for the community.

Information technology cannot be underestimated as a means of increasing the intellectual power of the masses. Gutenberg's movable type freed recorded knowledge from the tyranny of the scribes, or rather, the institutions that could afford to support scribes. The Protestant Revoluntion and the Enlightenment followed.... and eventually "Common Sense" and our American Revolution.

In the current era, control over traditional media is increasingly centralized, corrupting the free flow of information that "The Masses" need to make decisions. Fox "News" lost tens of millions of dollars for years and years before finally turning a profit, because it was a deliberate attempt to infect the common flow of information with propaganda (pretty successful too!)

Fortunately, Social Media technology promises to replace traditional media for information dissemination. Already there are more headlines transmitted by Twitter than on dead trees; wikipedia is on average more reliable than any traditionally produced encyclopedia, thanks to a process dependent on the masses.

While in any particular information transaction, the masses may be simply wrong (e.g. when wikipedia reports, briefly, that Emperor Palpatine is the Pope, or that Brawndo has the electrolytes that plants crave) for the most part the masses will be "right", especially if we make sure they have the tools to figure things out on their own.

I mean, on OUR own. We're part of the masses, and this blog is part of the masses discussing issues free from the control of centralized media.

Marino said...

On topic: yes, both Spengler's cycle theory of history and "voting largessse from public treasure" meme are common rightwing fare (Odd how a sci-fi loving Euro leftie ended up communing with a list of GOPpers and furtheer right like the one I'm going to speak about now)

OT, or maybe not, but good for the registry, re: 10,000 McVeighs.
I belong to a discussion list and a thread came out, about a lawsuit against using drones in places like 'Stan due to civilian casualties. The debate followed the usual subject creep and it ended up into something like "Under Obama a new technocratic fascism is taking power, we're already two nations at war, and "when (notice the "when", ot "if") the dance begins, there will be an OK in every city" or "OKC will look like a walk on the beach", and the underlying assumption seemed that OKC was a legitimate act of private war against the "eevil libruls".
This said by someone who, in another thread praised the Serbian ethnic cleansing because they "were fighting against Islamic invaders", and the Bosnia's Moslems were there for centuries. I'm really scared, my country suffered badly from the terror wave of the '70s.

Ilithi Dragon said...


Wouldn't that poster's comments be grounds for referral to the Department of Homeland Security? There is a line between freedom of speech and making terroristic threats, after all.

TCB said...

Ilithi Dragon, re: Marino's comment:
Bill Maher said it well: "In this country the right has way more freedom of speech." Or, as liberal websites oft say, IOKIYAR. It's OK if you're a Republican. Right propagandists have been painting targets on abortion M.D.'s backs and getting away with it for a long while, to cite one obvious example. Yet it's the kids who sabotage logging equipment who are called "domestic terrorists."

More on the subject of far-right propaganda organizations: in D.C. you can see three daily papers on a streetcorner. The "liberal" New York TImes, which let Judith Miller pipeline pro-war disinfo in the run-up to Iraq; the "liberal" Washington Post, which has drifted a bit to the right of the NYT; and the Washington Times.

The Washington Times is in many ways the mold from which Fox News was cast. Behind the scenes it is owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a Korean cult mogul, billionaire, and crypto-fascist with yakuza ties who did time in federal prison for tax evasion and has sworn to take down the United States as we know it. The Washington Times has lost an estimated three billion dollars over thirty years. That's thirty years times a hundred million. And Moon and his far-right crowd seem to have gotten their money's worth, in tax breaks etc.

Robert Parry (who broke the Iran/contra story) has many ugly details at Consortium News. He has several books' worth of deep investigation at that site on the scary infrastructure of Bushism, US cryptofascism, and the truth about culture-war treason going back all the way to the secret Reagan/Iran plot of 1980.

Disclaimer: Dr. Brin is correct about the left/right terminology being problematical, but it at least serves as a semi-useful shorthand in cases like this.

Ilithi Dragon said...

TCB I was not aware of that of the Washington Times. That is very disturbing...

Ilithi Dragon said...

On an entirely unrelated note, what are you guys doing for Halloween this year? I've been running around the office in a Guy Fawkes costume all day.

Tony Fisk said...

You do realise that Fawkes was the seventeenth century's version of Timothy McVeigh, don't you?

Oh well, I suppose bogey-men have to keep up with the times as well.

(So beware the measured tread of the DHS coming up the garden path tonight! Rendition or treat?)

Marino said...

re: Guy Fawkes, I assume it was more a reference to V for Vendetta than to the original plotter

Carl M. said...

Middle class folks like...Sarah Palin. No contempt for her around here, I'm sure.

Ronald Reagan: lower middle class background. No contempt for him either, I'm sure.

Tea Partiers: middle class. No contempt for them.

Fundamentalist Christians. No contempt there.

On the other hand:

Jimmy Carter, Al Gore: Southern Patricians. Can't like them...


Hey. Snarling and villification of the other side is standard politics. Don't claim to be above it and indulge in it on the same site. It's unbecoming.

Some posts back, you claimed that liberals had a better prediction record than conservatives, and gave some decent examples.

Some counter examples:

Name a liberal entitlement program which didn't suffer massive cost overruns. The Tea Partiers are screaming mad over government takeover of healthcare in part because previous entitlements/welfare programs ended up costing WAY more than originally proposed.

Back in the Reagan era, my liberal friends predicted a massive arms race, the spread of fascism, and World War III. Instead, we got a mass breakout of democracy and an end to the cold war. We got a peace dividend in return for those Reagan era war deficits.

As for global warming deniers, they still remember Carl Sagan's prediction of Iraq War Winter.


Neither side has a monopoly on overblown/incorrect predictions.

That said, feel free to continue calling George W. Bush a smirking chimp. He deserves it.

Acacia H. said...

Sorry Carl, but that doesn't wash. See, Obama was raised by a single mother and grandparents in a lower middle class family. Yet there is massive disrespect for him among the tea partiers and their ilk.

So. Is the dislike of Obama by these "common folk" racism, or partyism? After all, it can't be classism by your own definition of the word. ^^

Rob H.

Catfish N. Cod said...

My pet theory on the supposed "stupidity of the masses" is that it's simply a sampling artifact. People aren't "stupid" as a general rule; they're just not focused most of the time, the way small interest groups are. When The People really sit down and talk over a major problem for months on end, they usually come to the right decision.

It takes longer for the entire United States to decide something than a small group does (like a committee, or even a New England town meeting) because there are more links and a greater memetic diffusion tensor. But when we figure something out (like that we were duped on the Iraq War), you couldn't move us with the greatest propaganda outfit in the universe.

Which is the kernel of truth behind Churchill's quote: "The American people can be counted on to do the right thing... after trying everything else."

It just *looks* like we're floundering and saying inane things. The truth is, most people only spend a small fraction of their brain contemplating politics, environmental issues, et cetera; most of the time they're trying to drive, or cure cancer, or total out third quarter earnings, or setting up their next night out. The wheels of distributed intelligence grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.

David Brin said...

Carl, find where I said that lefties don't suffer from the allure of contempt for the masses?

Marxism... and especially Leninism... was all about hypocritically praising the masses, in theory, while in reality squashing the life out of them. I was speaking of all humanity, there.

OTOH, your statements are deeply flawed. Did you know that the rebuilding of the US Armed forces, that the right credits to Reagan, began under Carter? Did you know that the Soviet arms budgets did NOT go up, during RR's buildup, and hence, he deserves no credit for "driving the USSR over the cliff, in a vain effort to keep up?"

The USSR collapsed because Breszhnev had already sent it down its arms-buildup craze, in the wake of apparent US weakness after the debacle of a land war of attrition in Asia. That accelerated the end game of George Marshall's grand "wait them out" strategy. They were already starting to fall apart when RR entered office.

Hence the shift to Andropov and the Gorbachev... who was the one who made the REAL difference. Do you have a clue how many crazy, old guard commies Gorbachev fired, over the course of six years? Probably not. Reagan-worshippers don't like to pay Gorby any attention. But HE was the one who had to do the hard, daily work of making th Soviet Collapse soft and peaceful, instead of an Earth-killing spasm.

Look, I defended RR many times. His "evil empire" speech was right-on and the lefties were crazy for hating it. (OTOH, Bush's "axis of evil" speech was raving hypocrisy and aimed at ruining all options for the US... except to jump into another debilitating land war of attrition in Asia....

As for cost overruns? Sure, entitlements get away from you. I have long felt that conservatives and libertarians had their best polemical stances when it came to critiquing liberal excess. Indeed, the ONE TIME the neocons, under Gingrich, actually NEGOTIATED...

...the result was Wlefare Reform, a fix that repaired a startling number of bad policies and really helped America. Alas, that was the ONE time he cooperated and negotiated in good faith with Clinton and the dems. Soon thereafter, total Culture War began. The neocon congress became the laziest, do-nothing body in US history. The GOP reps became lockstep partisans whose only words were "no" and "fillibuster."

But here's the crux. I won't be lectured to about budget-busting... by the nation's worst budget-busters....

Rob Perkins said...

I know some people who suffered a little bit under the welfare reform law.

Rob H, Obama was not just raised by lower middle class Americans, but they were also white! The man's background confounds almost every attempt to pigeonhole him, but my conservative friends and relations are not paying attention to that...

...because they have no idea what his history is, and refuse to read the memoir he wrote, at the request of others, before he even had a chance to be famous.

As books go, it's no Startide Rising but it is still worth spending time reading.

Tacitus2 said...


A minor correction:

You won't be "lectured to about budget busting---by the nation's worst budget busters (to date)".

You may appropriately question the sincerity of modern day budget hawks, their Damascene Road moment coming so suspiciously soon after they were voted out of power. But you are generally honest enough to take lumps when and if they prove to be just desserts.


David Brin said...

Okay, right.

But dig it, I think it is fair to give Obama a little time. Nine months into a dire emergency he did not create, isn't it fair enough to let the Keynsians have a bit of rope?

After all, Keynsianism asks for big deficit spending ONLY when needed at times like this.

In contrast, Supply Side demanded total deficit spending ALL the time! In order to give subsidies to the rich, in a fairy tale incantation claiming this would result in... erasure of deficits!

Look, isn't it time to pull the plug on that mythology, that religion? The experiment was run, fully, totally, across thirty years. Giving vast subsidies to the rich has had one effect -- to make the rich vastly richer -- without doing a scintilla to boost economic activity or increase net tax revenues. The bleeding under Reagan and both Bushes was not acute, aimed at dealing with a particular year's crisis. It was systematic, relentless and planned.

Okay, let's put it this way. If Obama gradually moves us toward black ink and fiscal responsibility. Will you guys finally be willing to drop the cliches and bury Supply Side... for good?

sociotard said...

Perhaps, but if he doesn't? Do we just throw up our hands and say that the mess Bush left was just too big to be fixed? Or that it was all those Republicans in the Senate and House that stopped his strategies from working?

To me, this looks like the only outcomes are Democrat Victory and Democrat Excuses.

TCB said...

Dr. Brin rites: "Okay, let's put it this way. If Obama gradually moves us toward black ink and fiscal responsibility. Will you guys finally be willing to drop the cliches and bury Supply Side... for good?"


A famous example of a falsehood that keeps returning from the grave is the Abraham Lincoln misattribution which says in part "You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich." In fact this is from a pro-business lecturer 50 years after Lincoln, but keeps getting repeated As Lincoln's after debunking ad nauseam.

Snopes for example has a page on this: Lincoln On Prosperity which merely leads true-believing Tea Partiers to say that Snopes has a liberal bias. This leads straightaway to a sort of game of Whack-A-Proof. It's like Whack-A-Mole except that the True Believer whacks any reference you offer with a giant stamp that says Liberal Bias and you have to come up with new references which in turn are only good until the stamp comes down.

Lincoln did, however, say this: "But another class of reasoners hold [snippage] that labor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed; that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could never have existed without labor. Hence they hold that labor is the superior – greatly the superior – of capital." From: Lincoln, Abraham. "Annual Address Before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 30, 1859."

Incidentally, I get my nose out of joint when Reagan defenders say "go ahead and dump on W cause he betrayed Reagan's ideals etc..." As I see it Bush is the logical end result of Nixon and Reagan. The one and only Reagan policy I ever supported was that of arming Afghan mujahideen to fight the Soviets. And I have since repented of that you betcha buddy hoo boy do I ever repent.

TCB said...

O and I simply must throw in my $.02 about Andropov. In the Fall of 1983 he was so sick he couldn't be evacuated if Moscow were nuked. The Soviets were *terrified* that Saint Ronald was serious about starting a preemptive nuclear holocaust, and started planning for this fear as May 1981. A friend told me he'd been traveling in Eastern Europe in late 1983 and I said "You could have died there!"

The Reds were already paranoid about Reagan, but at the start of September 1983 came the diplomatic crisis of Soviet jets shooting down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 after it overflew prohibited airspace at night. 269 people died, one a sitting US congressman. It's been suggested that the flight was deliberately used to "tickle" Soviet radar and thus gather intel about Soviet air defenses. Seems Korean Air Lines would do any favor Korean Central Intelligence Agency asked, and KCIA would do anything CIA asked. So who knows.

Before September 1983 ended a Soviet satellite mistook the sunrise over the US for a ballistic missile launch (I'm oversimplifying) and Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, the Soviet Air Defence Forces duty officer at the helm that day, declared it a false alarm and maybe saved the world. He has since been showered with a couple of awards and a thousand bucks or so.

Then at the beginning of November the US and NATO held an exercise called Able Archer 83 which "simulated a period of conflict escalation, culminating in a coordinated nuclear release." Basically it was ten days of heavy radio traffic as HQ's and field units all over Europe read scripts like a cross between Red Storm Rising and War of the Worlds. Bedridden old Andropov and the rest of the Politburo had to spend a week and a half listenting to GRU reports and wondering if there was going to be a big SURPRISE! and the end of this show.

Able Archer 83 ended with a whimper and we all didn't die, but the extremem nervousness inside the Kremlin was top secret which average citizens didn't really begin to hear about for more than a decade. Reagan didn't hear about it right away either; the following August he made his infamous joke: "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia. We begin bombing in five minutes." It's said Reagan's much more conciliatory attitude toward Gorbachev resulted from the sobering effect of Reagan beginning, after a couple more years, to hear the chilling inside dope I just recapped.

Happy Halloween!

David Brin said...

Actually, far more interesting than Reagan's rather bland and highly over-rated role in the fall of the USSR is Gorbachev's real story... how he took adv of every failure of competence in the soviet bureaucracy (and they were innumerable!) as an excuse to fire lots of crazies.

Korean Air 007 was one
Submarine catastrophes were others.

Chernobyl was the big one... he fired maybe 3 or 4 thousand guys.

But an unsung hero was a young German (certified) lunatic named Matthias Rust, who flew a little cessna plane across the most heavily defended air corridor on the planet and then swooped around Red Square in Moscow 3 or 4 times, before landing right in the square.

The police were sure it couldn't have happened without permission and posed with him and got autographs... till finally it got bucked up high enough that someone said "WTF!!!????"

While he was in Lubyanka prison, I hear Rust got Ice Cream with every meal. He let Gorby fire another thousand guys.

And STILL the Old Guard almost pulled off their counter coup. Seriously, had he not fired all those guys and replaced them with younger pragmatists, we likely would have all fried, when Ron pushed them real hard.

TCB said...

Hah! I'd forgotten about Rust. The mental image I get is that a fly can safely land on a crocodile's nose, where you'd be crazy to lay your hand.

I do regard Gorbachev as a genuine hero. I also feel that George H.W. Bush bears at least some shame for throwing away the chance to help Russia become a truly free long-term ally after the Soviet debacle. Here it is, the early 1990's, the ex-Soviets want advice on how to restructure their economy, and who does the Bush-led US government send? Wall Streeters. Investment bankers, Federal Reserve/World Bank/IMF super-geniuses and Masters of the Universe.

This may mostly be 20/20 hindsight, but I can almost imagine the conversations between some of these Wall Street advisors and their hosts.

American Investment Banker Jones: So, Oleg, you're going to have to privatize all these State-owned industries. All these huge farms. All those oil fields and gold mines.
Russian Party Bigwig Voroshilov: That's a big task, Fred. The State owns nearly everything. How should one handle such a massive project?
Jones: It is hard to say what all these assets are truly worth. We capitalists say that a thing is worth what someone will pay. So it is important to sell to the right someone. We must set up a process for accepting credible bids.
Voroshilov: At present there are few people with any real assets in Russia that they can bid, therefore the expected value of the assets under auction might be considered a kind of collateral for their own purchase, da?
Jones: Indeed! But who can you, as the auctioneer, trust?
Voroshilov: I trust my relatives.
Jones: What if there are bids from people you don't trust?
Voroshilov: Paperwork is often lost.
Jones: Yes, all too often.
Voroshilov: A toast to good advice!
Jones: Here's mud in your eye.

A few years of that and you get oligarchs and Putin.

David Brin said...

Russian privatization was utterly monstrous.

Anonymous said...

Contra Woozle: sadly, while it's easy to blame Reagan for the flood of homeless people who filled the streets during his reign of error, the facts speak otherwise.

In this case I must regretfully blame the liberals. Yes, the left. Specifically, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.

During the early 1960s a coalition of liberalls, correctly appalled at abuses in mental hospitals (where sexual and other kinds of abuse by underpaid orderlies was rampant), proposed using the new generation of antipsychotic drugs to treat many of the mentally ill in outpatient clinincs. In part liberals' enthusiasm was driven by pharmacology. We should recall that in the early 1960s, the introduction of lithium as an effective treatment for what was then called manic depressiion (today called bipolar mood disorder) was brand new, and today's antipsychotic medications like chlorpromazine and haloperidol were also relatively new. (Those medications didn't produce the zombie-like side effects of earlier meds like thorazine, though they did have other side effecst, notably tardive dyskinesia.)

Fired up with idealism and technological brio, the Great Society troupers thought their proposal would end the scourge of abusive institutionalization for mental patients.

You can see the problems, can't you?

Idealism...technological brio...the roots of the Viet Nam debacle.

In this case a variety of huaman fallibilities conspired to doom the Great Society mental health reforms. Firstly, the idea was that mental patients were to be treated in outpatient clinics. The problem, though, is that it depends on mentally ill people voluntarily and regularly taking their meds. Most didn't. A recurring cycle: when the outpatients took their meds their delusions went away, they thought everything was fine, they stopped taking their meds, they became delusional again and wandered away into the community and it became impossible (or very difficult, as in costly) to track them down and force them to take their meds.

Second, as mentioned, the states were supposed to build 2,000 outpatient mental health clinics but only 500 were actually built. A lot of that budget crunch resulted from the Viet Nam war, which slashed revenue sharing to the states to pay for the Apollo program + the Vietnam war.

Even if all the clinics had been built, though, the scheme would never have worked. The fact of matter simply is that mentally ill people for the most part can't be treated in outpatient clinics.

As much as it would be convenient to blame Ronnie for this, the idealistic liberals are actually responsible for the epidemic of homeless mentally ill people on the streets.

Moreover, we are now paying the price in blood for this failed liberal policy.

A good example of how both the right and left are responsible for the mess we're currently in, though, in fairness, the far right has a whole hell of a lot more to answer for over the last 15 years.

Tacitus2 said...

Very true words. Genuine bipolar folks (as opposed to gaunt, unhappy celebutants) never want to take meds when they are "up". To do so would make them forego that euphoric, omniscient high that lets them soar o'er us puny worms and create fabulous works of art, and to invest every dime of the family fortune in mango futures.

They are fascinating people, but almost literally, cursed. The depressive phase is a coal black pit, and the concurrent substance abuse and social issues are near insoluble.


And per a previous topic, I am giving my President a reasonable time period to show us where he is going. The electoral cycle is by design, a less patient beast.

Carl M. said...

I wasn't saying that lower middle class people get an automatic pass for the Right. I was saying that the curses from both Left and Right are primarily ideological, not class or race based.


As for understanding Obama's background, see C.M. Kornbluth's short story "The Adventurers."

ash said...

Obama and the Israelis

Very unpopular in that country

Sidereus said...

How about this stunning new image of Enceladus: