Saturday, September 02, 2017

Politics: Break away from the usual "axis"!

Many of you know that I've long railed against the hoary-lobotomizing so-called "Left-Right Political Axis." Oh, sure, it's one thing to use it as a very rough marker. But anyone who assigns it actual, intellectual meaning is pretty much discredited from the git-go. Want an example?
This "study" of the political divide in America - supposedly thorough and insightful - only proves you can perpetuate a calamity, by asking the wrong questions. Focusing on race, identity politics, immigration and vague economic populism, the perpetrators of this mess never getting to any of the real reasons for today's inchoate rage.  

Just one question would have blown out every other factor, demarcating our cultural divide:

"Which 'elites' in American life do you blame and despise?"

Almost all Americans share a reflex called Suspicion of Authority (SoA), taught by every brave Hollywood underdog tale. Republicans fret about faceless-conniving bureaucracies and Democrats about faceless-conspiring corporations. In normal times, each side can grudgingly admit the other may have a point. But today's enemy elite fixations are more stark. 

Liberals know the U.S. is being taken over by a plutocrat oligarchy. Fox-watching conservatives save their true rage for -- not other races or immigrants -- but scientists, journalists, teachers, doctors, civil servants and every other type of expert-smartypants. Those smarmy-lecturing-patronizing elites are the enemy, and aristocrats can do no wrong.

This is the old underpinning of the US civil war, going back to 1778 when southern tories supported the King and when 1860s confederate soldiers marched for their plantation lords. Today's oligarchy knows their greatest obstacle is the millions of expert fact-users... and hence fact-users are now Enemy #1.

Racism is real and deadly! But it does not map as perfectly onto American conservatism as hatred of fact. (And note: facts tend to kill racism!) 

Alas, while Robert Heinlein predicted all this, more than half a century ago, democrats seem compelled to ignore the one factor that correlates perfectly. And bright-but-stupid 'studies' like this one fall into the same, tiresome trap.

See more on how desperately the right is fighting against facts.
== Danger! Danger! ==
The most important civil liberties advance of the 21st Century, so far, was when the Obama Administration joined multiple courts in declaring a citizen's right to record the police. I wrote about this 20 years ago in The Transparent Society (1997; see p.160) discussing how vital it is that we can exercise sousveillance at the level of the street, where power can most-directly affect us. I'm generally a moderate fellow, but we must be militant about our right and power to look back at authority, or else our revolution and renaissance and brief era of hope will end.
Only now:  "In a free speech ruling that contradicts six other federal circuit courts, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a district court ruling that says Americans do not have a first amendment right to videotape the police, or any public official, in public."

News reports on this are scanty and some claim that this is only about making recordings inside a police station. Even if that's so, I'd claim a steep burden of proof falls on those who would restrict a citizen's right to record.

Sure enough, in a deep-red state, this principle is under attack. 

Only... I blame the good side's lawyers! They base their arguments for sousveillance on the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment and sometimes the Fifth... when it is in fact the under-appreciated SIXTH Amendment that most clearly protects the citizen against abuse by authority. That's the rule granting us the power to compel revelation of facts in our own defense, allowing our ultimate recourse...

...the Truth.

== Inspect your own assumptions ==

If you plan to have credibility - both with your opponents and in your own mind - you should grade and scale your political and social reactions. Yes, your opponent may be bad and wrong.  Indeed, today “he” (and I refer to the whole movement that engendered you-know-who) is very bad.  

Nevertheless, may I offer some impudent, off-axis and contrary suggestions?

First off, be able to question your own assumptions.  Here's a method I’ve provided, called the Questionnaire on Ideology. Take the test! You’ll learn plenty, especially about your own reflexes and underpinning values.

But coming back to our current civil war…

1) Keep in mind ways that things could be a lot worse than they are. (And hence why impeachment is a very bad idea.)  

2)  Don’t just oppose reflexively.  There are times when it’s appropriate to push back directly, as in Sumo wrestling. But many more when it’s best to look for a judo move. Let me repeat (ad nauseam?) one that I wish half a dozen democrat leaders would do, even if they have to hold their noses -- the Short Straw Gambit.
The current storm falling on Senator Diane Feinstein, because she counseled "patience" is a worrisome example of the "left" imitating the right's intemperate tantrums.

3) Win over your opponent’s wavering allies by proving that his caricatures about you are lies. For example, every single metric of U.S. national health - including those that conservatives should care about, like military readiness, entrepreneurship, employment, business startups and trends in deficit spending - all have had better outcomes across democratic administrations. Oh, and Berkeley protestors are not “typical of liberals” whatever Sean Hannity says. Deny them the comfort of their favorite stereotypes.  

4)  Look for concessions that make you look like the moderate reasonable one — before you wage total war on your crazy opponent’s unreasonableness.  For example (and you are not gonna like some of these):

- Build the damn wall.  There is nothing intrinsically evil about maintaining control over our national border. Clinton and Obama each doubled the border patrol and prioritized legal immigration over illegal. (Ponder why Republican factory and farm owners actually preferred the latter.)  As for the “wall”? Sure, Trump’s macho project is an exercise in phallic overcompensation! So? Then use it as a bargaining chip. Make an offer that he’ll leap at.

“Okay. We’ll pass a few billions to upgrade fences and maybe do a stretch of absurd “wall”… if you’ll amnesty the Dreamer Kids and do some bipartisan Obamacare fixes.”  

You don't think he'd leap at that? Prioritize!

- Voter ID. Sure, in principle, over time, we can envision everyone identifying themselves in order to vote. Don't make your opposition about that! Instead make it -- 

“You $%%#! GOP cheaters blatantly are using this "I.D." thing as an excuse as voter suppression.  But that would change if you red-staters finally allocate major funds for compliance assistance, to help the poor, divorced women, the elderly etc. actually get their ID straightened out. That would help them in dozens of ways, far beyond regularizing voter registration (which should be automatic, by the way.) Ideally, both sides would win-win.

"Of course that’s the last thing you cheaters want, as you deliberately close DMV offices in order to make getting ID harder. But if you do offer massive compliance assistance, we'll go along with gradually phasing in voter ID."

- Voter fraud. Donald Trump’s new 'electoral commission' is the most blatant gathering of thieving, lying cheaters seen in our lifetimes. But it can be turned against them: 

“We’ll cooperate in a full scale investigation to find your mythological “dead people voting”… if we get equal representation on this commission and it also goes after right wing cheats like rigged voting machines, purged voter rolls, gerrymandering and Tuesday-only voting.” 

Of course they'd refuse.  But the offer paints them in a corner and makes clear they are the electoral fraudsters.

== A suggested compromise sure to rouse your anger ==

- And now, a judo offer that will rile nearly all of you up and make you snarl at me!  It starts with this headline: “Trump pushes to sharply cut the number of legal immigrants and move U.S. to a 'merit-based' immigration system.” 

Let’s be clear, illegal immigration was always an absurd issue. Red Americans seem upset that our nation's demographics are changing, but undocumenteds aren’t doing that.  It is legal immigration that's been altering the face of America, and Democrats truly are responsible for that! Dems have always favored legal immigrants, who can join unions and eventually vote, over undocumenteds, who undercut union wages and cannot either vote or complain about bad work conditions.

To be clear, I am not objecting to America’s changing demographics, per se.  If the kids adopt our open-tolerant-diverse-rambunctious-hopeful-individualistic-scientific-pragmatic-ambitious-generous and fun-loving culture… did I mention culturally diverse?... then we (this civilization and humanity) win. It's the revolutionary, anti-feudal and pro-future meme that makes us different/memorable and worthy of forging tomorrow.

 We are a nation of immigrants.

But all liberal policies aren’t automatically correct in all ways, boys and girls. And you gain credibility when you’ll admit that maybe 5% or 10% were errors. In particular, many aspects of the legal immigration structure that Democrats put in place have been stupid and self-defeating. 

Like basing most of it on an endless web or ‘chain’ of family reunions. Re-uniting separated family members is right and proper for parents and children, and maybe in a few other cases. But I don’t agree when it comes to cousins, aunts, uncles and yes, most siblings. And before you lash out, will you please try to pause and consider just how evil and unfair this system has been?

Take Somalia. A country filled with people who want to come to America. Why should Joe be luckier than Fred, just because Joe has relatives in the U.S.? Joe is already luckier than Fred, because his U.S. relatives send him money and hire lawyers to help him with red tape. But Fred and his daughter Malia are just as deserving of luck!  What if Fred and Malia work harder? What if they strove more diligently for education or to build skills that have a ready market in America?

Is it awful to give some preference to immigrants who worked harder for it? Who will more likely be creative, productive and pay more taxes here? Taxes that will then let us increase our generosity in the world? That is what already happened! The rich nation of immigrants that was America after WWII was the engine that propelled the whole world upward. And yes, that means our criteria should be generous and non-racist and all that... but we can still have criteria.  And 'family reunions' are among the least generous and least morally supportable criteria imaginable. All that policy has ever done is declare: "if you are already luckier than everyone else in the homeland, then you get to stay luckier, as a matter of law."

The new Trump proposal "ends chain migration," Trump said, referring to the preference for uniting family members in the current immigration system. It would implement a points-based system for awarding lawful permanent residency, or green cards.

Dig it, pals. I despise that whole crew and you know how hard I have fought them! How hard I continue to fight them.

But we are better off rank ordering our priorities!  Let's make clear some things are non-negotiable and others… well… we’d talk about, if they ever send us adults to talk to?  That gives us credibility with the wavering adults who are right now pondering jumping off the GOP’s sinking ship.

And it is in those five or ten million residually-sapient American conservatives that our hope for victory will be found.

==  What are YOUR biases? (yes, you) ==

Time to draw attention back to my Questionnaire on Ideology.

Seriously, you are in no position to rant about our political landscape unless you know your place on it. And the stupid-lobotomizing so-called “left-right political axis” is not helpful. In fact, it does vastly more harm than good.

So go ahead. Take the quiz!  The Questionnaire on Ideology will cause you to ask yourself things you had taken for granted. Have the guts.


George Desmond said...

Another great piece!

Paul451 said...

From the last thread, but it struck me as bizarre enough to warrant polluting the new thread:

(In response to my drug-nationalisation proposal)
"The old school liberal within me is greatly concerned with all concentrations of power."
"and argue instead for judicially stripping addicts of certain adulthood rights until they get clean."

That's a concentration of power you're happy with?

You're more comfortable giving government the ability to arbitrarily strip a person of their rights as a citizen based on a 3rd party claim of "addiction", than you are with the government inefficiently running a business. Your fear of "governments running businesses" is so great that you don't even notice how outrageous is the power you want to casually hand over as an alternative.

Paul451 said...

Trump has appointed as the head of Dept. Educaton's anti-fraud unit, the former head of a for-profit college that had to settle a large anti-fraud case with the Dept. Education.

David Brin said...

Always passionate and well-spoken, Jim Wright (Stonekettle Station) is well worth visiting online. He is a living lesson in what we need, to survive this phase of civil war and go on to make starships. It's not political litmus tests, but something else that is far more important... an American penchant for pragmatic, grownup, tolerant willingness to talk things out. Only also, to fight evil when we have no other choice.

See also his greatest hits

And for comparison? An example of that pure evil. A genuine monster:

At the opposite extreme is this woman congressional candidate who grew up in “hillbilly” poverty and knows what combination of grit, hard work, values, determination… and help from a decent civilization… helped her single mom to raise 5 kids on $6000/years.

Chris Heinz said...

I tried to take the test

I could not click on answers. Am I doing something wrong?

duncan cairncross said...

Harping back to the previous post
First the two worst drugs in terms of actual harm - tobacco and alcohol are legal!

Why are the WORST legal - and not the least bad?

Addiction is NOT as big a problem as we used to think -
The initial studies had a rat in a cage with it's drug lever - and nothing else!
It turns out that if you give the rat some friends or toys or even just a better cage the drug lever does not have such a strong attraction (surprise!!)

I am very much on the page of legalization and regulation - the way alcohol is treated
(But I would increase the legislation on alcohol)

Zepp Jamieson said...

Chris Heintz said, "I could not click on answers. Am I doing something wrong?"

No, I spotted the call-to-action placekeeper on the questions. Presumably we were supposed to just think about the questions/choices proffered.

I have to admit that I got a bit bored by two-thirds the way through when I hadn't yet seen a question or option I hadn't already considered at one point or another, usually more than once.

Paul SB said...

Paul 451,

Referring back to the previous thread, I seem to act as a magnet for mad elves in recent years, I don't know why. It's not like I have been handing around Mirkwood much lately...

I am doubtful that drug cartels would not resort to violence to defend their trade as they have in Mexico. However, having read your last post on the subject I think if your plan came up as a ballot measure I would vote for it. Let it get beta tested at the state level first and see how it goes before trying it on the national level.


I agree with your sentiment re: alcohol and tobacco. Most people will say that we tried Prohibition and it was a huge failure. These drugs are traditional intoxicants in the West, though alcohol is pretty much traditional everywhere (they were brewing beer in Mesopotamia a millennia before they were harvesting wheat) and the tobacco tradition only goes as far back as Sir Walter Raleigh. There are people who consider "when they little" to be tradition enough to fight and kill over. I had to take a class on drugs to get my teaching license, which seems sensible. One thing I got from that is that people are more likely to become addicted to tobacco than cocaine because tobacco is cheap enough and available enough that people can afford to use it daily, whereas the concentrated essence of the coca leaf is neither as ubiquitous nor as affordable. Ditto alcohol, though alcohol has the unique distinction that the withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. Best to stay the hell away from any of it.

I've only recently discovered that the younguns have discovered pre-Columbian North America's premier entheogen, Jimson Weed. They are calling it "Hell's Bells" because it has a reputation for giving you very bad trips. I see the stuff growing all over the place, and you can buy it for your garden under the name of Angel's Trumpet. Until recently it seemed like it was only the natives and archaeologists who knew about its hallucinogenic properties. Probably the internet has made that information more widely available.

Since you're in the Island of the Long White Cloud, would you happen to know what the Maori used to communicate with the divine?

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Paul
As far as I can see the Maori seem to be about the only people without some sort of sacred drug

Tony Fisk said...

@Duncan, you surprise me, since Maori were descendants of Polynesians, who had Kava.

(Similar things were said of Australian Aborigines, but look up 'cider gum'... I might add that certain lower storey shrubs in the Australian bush have been found to have ... interesting properties)

Like fly agaric (the Santa shroom), "Angel's Trumpet" has some v. dangerous toxins. A one-way trip if you're not careful.

What I was going to say... Donella Meadows tried handling the drug problem in her book "Thinking in Systems". Found it's a complex issue between suppliers, buyers, and enforcers, but (surprise!) increased enforcement leads to increased violence, and vice versa.

I am watching what happens now that marijuana has been legalised. I suspect it will become another big industry along with alcohol and tobacco, with all the issues that entails.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Tony
Kava seems to be limited - I don't think it will grow here

Unknown said...

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Paul SB said...

Duncan and Tony,

The Wikipedia on Kava says that the New Zealand climate is too cold to grow kava, but the Maori have a related plant with a similar name that has similar properties. The article does not say it has the same hallucinogenic properties, but alkaloids tend to have that effect if taken in sufficient quantities. They also can be the last trip you ever take, if taken in sufficient quantities, but that's the nature of many hallucinogens.

While we're at it, here's another article that is more medical in orientation.

Kava is something you can get at any health food store, and is kind of trendy. I wouldn't go anywhere near it.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Particle or wave? Do you own a cat?

Unknown said...

“We’ll cooperate in a full scale investigation to find your mythological “dead people voting”… if we get equal representation on this commission and it also goes after right wing cheats like rigged voting machines, purged voter rolls, gerrymandering and Tuesday-only voting.”

This sounded like a reasonable offer, but who is "we?" So far as I can see, there are none of "us" in positions of power in the US to make this offer; "they" do not need "our" cooperation (or don't think they do, which comes to the same thing.)

You then state that Republicans will refuse, but the refusal will make them look bad. I agree with the first part, but doubt that there will be much media time spent on the second part, even outside Fox News. If you don't have a conscience, you don't care about looking bad if nobody's looking.

I apologize for the cynicism, but don't see the practicality at this point. The current party in power has "victory disease."

Jumper said...

Often I tell people with whom I am discussing politics, "The only reason you group people into this 'left-right' baloney is because the mainstream media tell you to." You know the sort to spring this on.

TheMadLibrarian said...

I would be delighted to read WP articles, but no matter what I do, they will not acknowledge my unblocking ads on their site so I can read their articles. Then they pop up ads at random times across my other web pages!

Was Heinlein writing about this issue in 1917? Pretty sure 1953 is not more than a century ago, unless you're going in time-travel reverse about the Revolt in 2100.

Enough nit picking about typos and other annoyances.

Tacitus said...

A bit of a rehash, but better than the last posting. You are at last starting to get close to asking the right questions.
More thoughts when time permits.


Jumper said...

A younger friend some 13 years ago asked me what I knew about Jimson weed and I recited some third hand stuff I had read. He then informed me that right in my town unbeknownst to me, was a thriving thornapple cult the young were indulging in! He told me two stories, both of which were eerily similar: in two separate instances the experimenters ended up running through the streets naked at the wee hours, were caught and beaten by police, and arrested.

Paul SB said...


I think you misread something. From the original post:

"Alas, while Robert Heinlein predicted all this, more than half a century ago..."

David Brin said...

Guys. Any of you FB users care to home in on this page and denounce it for me?

I can't figure out how to "denounce" such a page.

Hamish said...

Paul SB..

I recall the post originally saying "a century ago", and thought it must have been a slip of the keyboard. Apparently Dr Brin has edited it since.

David Brin said...

Indeed, Hamish. Was that wrong of me?

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin

On FB - there are three wee dots on the cover photo - click on them then click "report"

I have done that on that page with the Dr Brin photos - dunno if anybody at FB will pay any attention

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Was that wrong of me?

No, but the New York Times would have had a blurb at the bottom saying something like "An earlier version of this story misstated the interval of time between Heinlein's publication and the present."

Me, I'm still trying to get used to the 1950s being more than half a century ago. Most of the 60s too, for that matter.

I was also surprised to find out (on this site, btw) that Jack London had written a dystopia dominated by corporations more than an actual century ago. Before the First World War, even. Before the Cubs's were through with World Series wins in the 20th century.

duncan cairncross said...

Talking about 50 years
I have just found a paperback - a quartet of novellas set 50 years in the future
It was published in 1992 - about 2042
We are now exactly half of the way there!

I'm sure that I read it back in the 90's but I intend re-reading now at the halfway mark!

Paul SB said...


No biggee. I was tired last night and didn't read it until this morning. NBD.


That Jack London might have written a work of corporate dystopia over a century ago doesn't surprise me one bit. That was the time of J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, need I go on? Then there's "The Jungle," Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class," Herbert Spencer's distortion of biology erroneously called Social Darwinism, the Gilded Age. The Ludlow Massacre wasn't until 1917, so a bit later, but that was just a more blunt expression of the belief system that makes those lucky enough to be born into wealth or to claw and murder their way into wealth a higher-order race than the rest of us. America has only come close to living up to its ideals in the few decades after WW II when prosperity was not hoarded by minuscule fractions of the populace, and even then the McCarthy Era was a huge blotch on those vaunted ideals.

Salim Digital Marketing said...

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Paul451 said...

[Dutch spam?]


Re: Facebook photo copier.

You can file a copyright complaint via

That's part of their DMCA requirement, so they can't ignore it if you report it properly. (That said, of the DMCA compliance mechanisms I've looked at, that's a really badly designed report system.)

However, they are required to pass on your complaint and contact details to the accused party, so you might want to use an email/address that you don't mind being public (for eg, your lawyer or agent.)

If you don't get a response to the online-form, the snail mail address to send a written DMCA take-down notice is:

Facebook, Inc.
Attn: Facebook Designated Agent
1601 Willow Road
Menlo Park, California 94025
650.543.4800 (phone)
650.560.6293 (fax)

But then the burden is on you to properly format the DMCA notification.

Have fun.

[If you're curious, I got there via "Help" (at the bottom of the page), then "Policies and Reporting" at the top. Then "Copyright" from the drop down. Then the link in "How do I..." under "Reporting Copyright Infringement on Facebook".]

Paul451 said...

"(That said, of the DMCA compliance mechanisms I've looked at, that's a really badly designed report system.)"

Wow, just had a look at google's, and it actually manages to be worse.

Paul451 said...

Just Google translated the dutch spam site, and it turns out its a host for links intended to help you raise your search results on Google. Which is what spammers are doing when they post here. So spamming an SEO site to SEO the SEO site.

Jumper said...

How'd you even find the identity-thief site? Which is also a crime the malefactor is committing in a way. Also alert the Red Cross, who may be going to dispense funds to the scammer.

David Brin said...

Thanks guys. Though I've found it hard to parse how the fellow was actually harming me. Still, I complained.

Jumper said...

Out to scam someone somewhere, it looked like. A public service to bust him.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul451 | That's a concentration of power you're happy with?

No. It makes my skin crawl. However, there are many other options that risk bowel movements instead. 8)

I just finished reading what you placed at the end of the previous thread, so I’ll summarize things a bit.

1. You’ve obviously thought about the nationalization a lot more than I have, therefore, I’ll retreat a bit and complain only about my partial understanding of your partially articulated idea. Since no one expect you to write a book on it and post it here, I’m basically admitting that this kind of debate will cause us to talk past each other unless we are willing to write more or meet face-to-face.

2. It would appear we both agree on the need to break the profitability of the illegal trade. Possibly because of the other illegal/immoral things they are willing to do? If so, I’m applauding over here. On this, I AM willing to use force, but I suspect the minimum needed doesn’t involve much more that removing incentives.

3. If I had to make a choice between doing nothing and doing it your way, I’d pick your way in less than a heartbeat even with my partial understanding of your partial articulation. The way we do things now is the worst possible way I can imagine it working. Literally. The Worst I Can Imagine. That isn’t the choice, though. I’ve seen decriminalization of MJ on our California ballot a couple of times. My choice has been FOR or AGAINST. A number of libertarians get worked up over this stuff, but that’s not what draws me to them. I think we need to flex and consider alliances with people who see things your way or else face a long future of having no decent choices.

4. (Regarding efficient, optimal markets and their magical appearance after non-market approaches are ended) I tend not to put the words ‘efficient’ and ‘market’ in the same sentence if I can help it. I come at this as a physicist a lot of the time and ‘efficient’ has a special meaning to us. Work done/Heat input. The market isn’t an engine of any kind let alone one where we can define efficiency. I know the economist have a definition, but I don’t think much of it. It focuses upon transactions clearing and not the ‘work’ being done. ‘Optimal’ doesn’t belong in the same sentence as ‘market’ for a similar reason. Particular individuals with particular goals can define ‘work’ and ‘optimal’, but markets are ecosystems OF individuals and groups. When my fellow libertarians put these terms together, my mind just glitches on the non-sequitur.

Alfred Differ said...

@Steven | For those below them, they had nearly absolute power in dictating rents and calling up tenants for warfare. The only restraints were preventing rebellion by lesser nobles under them and keeping the peasants alive. (I exaggerate, of course)

Oof. You do worse than exaggerate. You prompted Larry to refer to Dickens as if his fiction was a decent representation of history. Dickens wrote propaganda and far too many people fail to realize this.

There were places in Eastern Europe where the nobles had the kind of absolute power you describe, but that was generally NOT the case in Western Europe. Read some actual history and especially recently-dated economic history and you'll encounter a less simplistic version. For example, English nobles were often hemmed in by common law. The power they DID have was still quite large and often enough to game the system against those below them, but it was far from being absolute. The lower classes in England had a seriously bad attitude against tyrants of any kind for several centuries and one does not have to descend to the lowest of them to find them. Look up Cromwell's family and work out which class he was in.

As for the American Founders, you might want to take another look at them and ask which class they were in too. It is admittedly a mix, but if you take the wealth estimates we have for some of them and scale them up to a modern 21'st century scale, you'll find some of them were filthy rich. It's not unreasonable to argue that they rationalized their participation in a rebellion with concepts from a popular social philosophy (liberalism of the time), but also managed to defend their wealth from peers who had representation in Parliament when they did not. Jefferson was no yeoman farmer. Washington was a rich dude. So was Franklin. Yes... even Adams.

Leveling of the playing field appeared on the field of battle over a century before our revolution when the English civil wars occurred. The people who wanted that were literally called 'levelers.' Many saw the idea as incredibly radical and abhorrent. Along with all the other 'nut-cases' unleashed in that 20 year era, so much of what we think of as part of the American Experiment can be traced to them including the reactionary response that led a coalition to track down a son of the beheaded King and re-instate him. Surely that would save them! Nah. The ideas percolated and the next Stuart knew darned well he faced limits.

Peasant revolts are pretty common in Western European history, but what is much more common are limits faced by Nobles. We imposed STRONGER limits and wrote the nutty Leveler idea into our Constitution. We are far from the first to impose stronger limits, though. The Dutch had them too... before the English.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

You prompted Larry to refer to Dickens as if his fiction was a decent representation of history. Dickens wrote propaganda and far too many people fail to realize this.

Ouch. Ok, fair point about fiction. But you then go on to describe England when I was using the example of immediately pre-Revolution France. Did the French aristocracy not have that sort of arrogant power which eventually led to their beheadings?

Jefferson was no yeoman farmer. Washington was a rich dude. So was Franklin. Yes... even Adams.

Washington married rich (as did Hamilton). I've heard that John Hancock was either the richest or the second-richest man in the colonies. I've also heard that most of the wealthy founding fathers (including Hancock, though not Hamilton) died in poverty.

Alfred Differ said...

@Larry | I've always felt the French of that time were the odd ducks of the region. Their nobility came closer to absolute power and they seemed to think of all activities as political activities which re-enforced the model. They weren't unified, though, and there was a definite 'enlightenment' presence there. One of the biggest, actually. Because of the power their nobility had, though, the Enlightenment took a different, more bloody course there. England got off light with an early 20 year period of civil wars and then an ouster of the Stuarts when they seemed to forget the earlier lesson. Much less blood, though their neighbors weren't so lucky.

The beheadings in France included way more than the nobility. They went and did what the English considered (a century earlier) but then shied away from the actual deeds. The Englightenment's general anti-church stance comes from France mostly.

Regarding how the Founders died, you'll probably just feed into my lack of great concern for wealth inequality. It can be quite a challenge to preserve one's extreme wealth for one's children. We see people get filthy rich now and then, but fail to notice that their portfolios are VERY far from diversified. They can get filthy poor about as fast until they fix that problem... and many don't.

But yah. Many of them died much poorer. The world went through a fantastic change in that era and the value of agricultural land did not hold up. Such land in North America was never worth the phenomenal sums of money it was in old Europe, but it was easy to bet incorrectly here and many did. A slave was typically valued at the price a man would earn in wages over 12 years, so when that value crashed a few decades later it showed another bad bet. None of that matters, though, when considering motivations for the Founders to rebel. Many of them were rich men with no way to purchase representation in Parliament. The games they could play in England weren't available to them in the Colonies. Still... I like the rationalizations and will forgive them for being men of their times. My wife points out that I am too... of this time. 8)

David Brin said...

Interesting reason the British made revolution in gradual phases and never completely. French nobility built their mansions in Paris to be close to the king and just extracted wealth from their estates and hence were purely hated in both places. English patricians built their mansions in the country and snubbed filthy shabby London. Their peasants saw them in boots wading around, managing the estates and meeting the tenants. Result was far, far less resentment of the nobles in BOTH city and country and British country folk marched and dies for their lords, while French peasants chopped theirs to bits.

Tony Fisk said...

When did the dichotomy you describe between French and English nobles arise? One common theory is that the decimation of the French nobility at Agincourt had a lot to do with subsequent problems.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Tony
The British Nobles and King encouraged archery
That is a bit of a two edged sword - it gives you a useful weapon when waging war but it gives the common folk something of an edge - you have to be a bit more careful how you treat a village of archers

Paul SB said...


Your wife has very useful advice here:

"...I like the rationalizations and will forgive them for being men of their times. My wife points out that I am too... of this time. 8)"

Something we all need to do our best to be aware of. More specifically, most people are products of their young adulthood, from their high school years to about age 25, when their lobes are fully wired up. It helps to take everything we think with a grain of salt (some of us need buckets) because of how easily our thinking gets fossilized in a particular time. Generally the ideas we are most sure of and get most emotional about are the ones we most need to examine with this in mind.

As far as odd ducks go, I think you have that one backwards. Pretty much all of Eastern Europe were more similar to France than England or Holland, as were Prussia, Bavaria, Bohemia, the various principalities of Italy (where most of the lords weren't even on the peninsula most of the time, because they were mostly French of Spanish, and Spain as well. Nobles tend to extract, impoverish and oppress because they can, and because they feel superior to those they exploit. France may have been a bot more extreme than some others, but was hardly an exception. Revolts tend to happen not when things are at their worst, but when expectations are rising faster than change. French people had England and Holland right next door, so French merchants could bring back tales of different lands where things were a bit better and French nobility suffered in the comparison.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Pretty much all of Eastern Europe were more similar to France than England or Holland,

I remember reading once that when the Nazis were relocating Jews to the concentration camps, they used very different tactics depending on whether the group was from Eastern or Western Europe. The easterners were used to being threatened by authorities, so the Nazis would just round them up and move them along with guns and snarling dogs and such. For the westerners, who were more used to dealing with authorities in a more egalitarian manner, the Nazis would be obsequious, almost as if they were butlers, footmen, and chauffeurs providing a service, until the victims were lured into a situation they could not escape from.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: (just returned from a trip to an internet free zone)

"Only... I blame the good side's lawyers! They base their arguments for sousveillance on the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment and sometimes the Fifth... when it is in fact the under-appreciated SIXTH Amendment that most clearly protects the citizen against abuse by authority."

We've gone over this one. Here are the limitations on the Sixth:

(1) In all criminal prosecutions..."
Meaning that the power to compel witnesses applies when one is criminally prosecuted. For ordinary interactions with government, or when someone ELSE is criminally prosecuted, it does not apply. In civil trials, one doesn't have an unrestricted power to compel witnesses. In non-trials, one doesn't have any power to compel witnesses. For most of us, 'non-trials' constitute 99%+ of our lives.

(2) " be confronted with the witnesses against him..."
In some cases, one can 'confront' a video the same way one 'confronts' a living, human witness. Often, one cannot.

(3) " have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."
It wasn't until Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) that this was interpreted to mean "counsel will be appointed if one cannot obtain it" - and even then, that only means in criminal trials (no free counsel in civil, immigration, or other legal contexts). That's despite wording that suggests counsel SHOULD be available (and often, isn't) - for most of our history, the meaning was that the courts cannot prevent a person from having an attorney, not that (in certain limited settings) one automatically gets an attorney. I point that out to underscore the limited extension of the 6th, and hint at why it alone is an unreliable basis for a universal right intended to apply in all contexts to all persons involved in sousveillance (whether they are charged with a crime or not).

We are better off trying to extend the 1st, 5th, or even the 2nd to apply in this context: we want a 'universal' right, not one that only begins to apply when the government threatens you with prison.

David Brin said...

Louis XIV threatened the lives of nobles who did not come to Paris. He made elaborate king-worship rituals for them to perform. English nobles generally snubbed the king.

donzellion “In all criminal prosecutions..." can and generally is applied to evidence that MIGHT be applicable in some future criminal prosecution. If it were interpreted in the broad way that 1st amendment rights are now interpreted, then it should be taken to mean “I have a right to record and access any truth that might exculpate me or prevent powers from abusing me.

You know that’s the only reasonable interpretation and we are heading that way, thank God.

donzelion said...

Alfred: "Peasant revolts are pretty common in Western European history,"

Indeed, BUT most peasant revolts (and every 'successful' one) were themselves backed at critical junctures by at least some 'nobles.' The idea of 'limiting nobles' was always intricately linked to nobles calculating their own interests vis-a-vis other nobles. THAT limits the power of nobles far more effectively than the pitchfork crowd.

What makes the Renaissance special, and the Enlightenment even more special, and the Labor movement among the most special of them all was the concept that the 'nobles' who sponsored uprisings were less important than the process of limiting their power and factional interests. HOW nobles are limited is more important than THAT they are limited. The beauty of 'government capitalism' (that is, capitalism with a strong government operating behind the scenes) is that capitalists MAY dedicate their achievements to advancing further social good - sometimes willingly, sometimes through coercion (though seldom coercion comparable to what they deploy against their own employees) - often unwittingly. We do that primarily when we perceive potential 'usefulness' for each person - even, the sons of bastards and 'whores' (Hamilton) can rise up to make our world better.

David Brin said...

FDR wasn't a "traitor to his class." He SAVED his class from guillotines.



donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "then [the 6th Amendment compulsory witness clause] should be taken to mean “I have a right to record and access any truth that might exculpate me or prevent powers from abusing me."

You do in fact have that right, and it's nearly universal...when you're charged with a crime. But it does not extend to any right to manufacture and produce 'evidence' outside a criminal context.

Lawyers, like scientists, don't always get to be 'creative' with their use of the facts and law as they exist. Our job (when acting as lawyers) is seldom to make new law: we gotta work with what exists now, and hope that with a gentle nudge or two, things may change. While I like the creativity in the approach, I dread the "criminality" implication of extending the 6th because we should NOT live in a world where our every interaction with the government is perceived as defending ourselves from potential criminal charges it might bring against us.

A.F. Rey said...

Just for grins, I was watching a segment on CBS' Sunday Morning this last weekend on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers. Bobby Seal, one of the founders of the organization, echoed one of your themes.

Cowan asked, "When kids come up and ask your advice today about guns, you tell them?"

"You don't need guns today," Seale replied. "The cell phone is the best piece of technology we got to observe cops. You can have an international cop watch program without a gun."

Cameras, not guns, from a former Blank Panther! Who knew? :)

A.F. Rey said...

And for one more grin, I just saw the answer to last week's puzzler on Car Talk.

Q: What do these famous people have in common? Ulysses S. Grant, Rudyard Kipling, Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland, and Calvin Coolidge.

A: They are best known by their middle names.
Hiram Ulysses Grant (he added the "S" for Simpson later on in later in life), Joseph Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Stephen Grover Cleveland and John Calvin Coolidge.

I wonder if there are any modern examples that you can think of. ;)