10 July 2016

Love notes

This is going to be a post about love, sex, and relationships.

I know, the thought of reading such a thing, from me of all people, makes you groan. Depending on your inclination you've probably got the appropriate canned response ready. Who wants to listen to another entitled male nerd whine about what he's owed by women? Why doesn't this gross old man realize his failures at life ruined this part of human experience for him.

Well listen, you aren't wrong. The genesis of these micro-essays is my wrestling with, on the one hand, doubt and embarrassment, and on the other, my longstanding commitment to the principle that everyone has a valid claim on the human desire to love and be loved.

It's an internal argument that hits so many broader personal insecurities and doubts on its way down. Surely, being single in my mid-30s is just a thing someone should learn to live with; I'm not special, I should tell myself, there are many people like me, and they've accepted this, so why can't I? Every new disappointment brings with it some Sometimes I only half-jokingly wish for the sweet release of a painless and affordable castration; if I can't mentally discipline myself to accept the consequences of my life choices, then let Father Biology do his thankless work.

We've heard the glib mantra “everybody needs love” in so many song lyrics and popular romances that the real egalitarian idea behind this sentiment is mostly not taken seriously. It isn't a luxury, or the exclusive property of young adult book cover models. It includes the awkward, the anxious, the ugly, the dissenters, the experimenters, the naive, the simple, the unsteady. To say, I exist, I have a human need for sex and intimacy, and I will express it no matter if it makes you groan or gag to imagine it, is a defiant act.


There is a certain perspective that comes with being a poorly-seeing virgin in your mid-30s. Not all of it is melancholy; most of it isn't, in fact. There are a lot of things that most of my compatriots would find utterly quotidian by now that still are full of wonder and curiosity for me.

Two of these are the peculiar multi-tiered reality in which people exist to me, and its relation, the visceral immediacy of close physical presence and human contact. I prefer to take most of my human interaction through text; a method where I'm more comfortable, being freed of the strains of insecurity and time to explore the depths of whatever imagination and personalty I have. It's also where other people become liberated from the weight of keeping up appearances to say and write material they might not have intended someone like me to see. I've always believed in the idea that a person's digital presence is something more akin to their real selves; a place where they'll reveal more of their private thoughts than what their low regard for me would typically warrant.

As I go about my daily life in public, most people I interact with are people I can't really see. I am aware they are there, only insofar as I see the few identifiable signs I've come to use to distinguish them from the other mental files I keep of the few people I know. But I can't look them in the eye, and after they're out of sight whatever subtle features they might have to really differentiate them, to make them truly unique, are lost to me. No one comes close enough to seem like flesh and blood, just temporarily opaque sheets of skin stretched over the keystrokes they'll eventually spill out into the digital realm.

What does it mean when your body has no memory of physical intimacy? The obvious consequence of course is that fantasy becomes something of a chore; images and dreams have only so much power when there's no spark or friction that can be conjured; like persistently tipping a glass of water into your mouth that's long since been sucked dry of its contents. But it also means the simple act of human touch is still an explosion of magnificence, indescribable, otherworldly to you. The human body has a unique irreplicable tension and temperature; its weight atmospheric even when inches away. This is where people become real, the word—to steal an appropriately scriptural phrase—made flesh. It is fitting that we would never grow bored with it.


The paradox of romance for me has always been this: People seem to generally expect two things from a relationship social companionship, and physical intimacy. But the former seems intellectually irrelevant; if you have a circle of acquaintances and friends to act as confidants, why do you need a partner? But this leaves us with the alternative which most people will steadfastly resist, that their relationships are predicated first and foremost on sexual gratification. Myself included, since if I can dismiss my feelings of loneliness as a mirage, overcoming lovesickness should be a breeze, since surely I can prove myself to be driven by more than thirst alone.

This is far too simple of a dichotomy, as everyone knows. There's nothing shameful in enjoying the fruits of carnal sin with a partner, and the social and emotional connections we have with a lover are more expansive and intricate than the ones we have with friends. Those connections themselves push all kinds of biological buttons inside of us, so it's fallacious to suggest there's any real separation between these ideas at all.

It wouldn't be fair to write this post without taking a pass at the evergreen question “what does love mean to me?” I think it's a rather profound exercise, actually. Inspired by the documentary “Love Me” about mail-order brides, I've become piqued by the idea of some kind of oral interview project where I pester couples about their relationship, how it started, what it means to them, what they think their life would be missing if they didn't have it, and so on.

It's very easy to think about love in terms of what you're getting from or giving to someone else. And there's a lot of merit to these things about vulnerability, support, connections, sharing, and so on that you've doubtless heard thousands of times before. All of these are things we want, and want to do, and of course it's important to satisfy ourselves, but they don't seem quite sufficient. For me, the most remarkable thing is that, with a partner, we get to live two lives at once, and that's a thrilling, frightening, transcendental thing to experience. We envelop each other; more talents, more responsibilities, more feelings. How can we be in multiple lives at once? It makes sense humans have been seeking some supernatural explanation to explain it for millennia.


I am often taken by the idea of another person spending their time thinking about you while you aren't near them. Of course, there is an element of self-flattery here. We like the idea of being important enough to someone else, that we've captured their imagination to such a degree that they spend part of their day thinking of what we might do, or how we might react to a given situation.

But I'd like to think there is something a little more transcendent about this. In our own body, we're self-contained. We've explored most of the depths of our personality, our whims, the levers and pulleys that animate us now seem very mechanical in our own observation. But when someone else, someone special to us in particular, creates an image of us in their own mind, it's a renewal of our existence, an extension of our humanity. We are experiencing life with them, helping them, inspiring them, in a fashion that's entirely new, because a unique individual has made us for themselves.

I've realized recently that, if I'm really honest with myself, I don't keep chasing romance because I have any genuine belief there might be a person someday who wants to spend a lot of time together with me. The combination of my choices and circumstance just makes that nearly impossible. I do it because it's still a rush of excitement to imagine the possibilities, however unlikely. Is it healthy? Possibly not. The constant rejection can be mentally draining, and skews my personal social perception into even more insular self-consciousness. But I do it, primarily I think, because it makes me feel like part of the human experience, and that, if I gave up, I'd be surrendering part of my humanity to the forces of self-doubt and social conformity.

19 April 2016

Always on the sunny side

This election has been magnificent. What more could you possibly ask for? When Bernie Sanders announced he was running for president last spring, how many people could have imagined this was how it was going to play out?

Oh sure, winning would have been nice. But winning was never in the cards. And there's the unpleasant business of degenerate oligarchical rule getting much worse before it gets better. Look, though, at what we have seen.

We've seen bourgeois liberalism laid bare before a generation and openly confess its class interest and full commitment to managed decline.

We've seen a desperate, failing party elite gloating because its anointed candidate has managed to survive the onslaught of a 74-year old secular Jewish socialist with zero institutional support.

We've seen liberals who, in 2008, wrote poetically about the blossoming prospect of America's youth embrace conservative tropes about deluded, over-idealistic young people.

We've seen a campaign with a populist message win support from working-class white voters without backtracking on social issues, which liberals have long insisted was impossible.

And, of course, we've seen left-wing critiques of the American political and economic system gain a widespread audience for the first time in possibly decades. And that's pretty good day.

This isn't the end of the fun, of course. There's still the general election, where establishment Dems will do the best they can to pretend none of this ever happened. How much longer can they gleefully trample over their party's future? And what will be the impact of blaming young people for their losses in 2018 and 2020, as is the traditional Democratic playbook?

15 March 2016

Asking the important questions

Here's something I wrote back in 2012.

The problem with lesser-evilism, though, is that, while you may get less evil now, you will surely get more evil later. Because your tepid, center-right New Democrats won't win every election. This is still a balanced, two-party system, and the public's preference inevitably swings back and forth from one party to the other. Talk of a permanent majority, of shutting the other party completely out of power for a generation, doesn't work. It was a fantasy when Republicans were kicking around the idea in 2004; and it was equally so in 2008 when some Democrats were crowing about the complete obliteration of the old Republican Party, and how that party would have to reinvent itself to survive. It did reinvent itself, of course, by driving even harder to the right and coming back to win the midterm elections in decisive fashion. 
While most of what I've written in my life has been, and continues to be, really dumb, I'm gonna pat myself on the back for the moment in claiming prescience on the Republican Party nominating an bona fide quasi-fascist clown for president, although it has come much faster than even I would have dared predict. In that environment, who knows who or what is sweeping into the White House four years from now? My money is on Nancy Reagan's severed head. Put me in, Nate Silver, I'm ready!

01 March 2016

I will now save you the trouble of living the next four and a half years

Hillary Clinton will win the Presidency primarily on the virtue of being Not Donald Trump in a bizarre campaign between two candidates who are deeply disliked by their own party but squeezed out the nominations with the support of rabidly loyal factions (it's interesting to compare Trump and HRC in this regard, since the most common comparison by serious media pundits is between the "angry populists" Trump and Bernie).

Her presidency will be a lame duck from day one, as once in office being Not Trump isn't going to paper over the dim view most people have of her.. One of the most unpopular major figures in US politics (her own party flirted with nominating a 74-year old secular Jewish social democrat over her) she'll have no grassroots support for a political agenda and will be facing a opposition-controlled unmotivated legislature which sees her, correctly, as an easy mark in 2020. By which time they are likely to coalesce around a less-clownish but equally horrifying ghoul of some creation.

You may want to start drinking now, so you'll be prepared for January 2021.

22 February 2016

Politics are mostly about values

One thing you start to notice listening to economic commentators--or, to use the preferred parlance of the day, wonks--is that, no matter whether they are libertarian goldbugs, Paul Ryan-ite conservatives, or neoliberal consensus sorts, they all adopt the same familiar posturing. Whichever fiefdom they swear allegiance to, they are all equally convinced that their interpretation of economic law is a branch of the hard sciences; an indisputable, irresistible manifestation of the natural world. As such, giving any non-adherents the keys to the economic franchise will just as surely bring down untold disaster, dried-up rivers, a plague of blood-soaked locusts blotting out the sun, that sort of thing.

So if you're like an everyday kind of bloke that doesn't have an economics Ph.D or the luxury of memorizing the Scriptures of whatever you've been told is the arbiter of Right Thinking, this can make you feel pretty powerless. Sure, anyone can figure out that a platform of giving every citizen $1 million and a unicorn isn't a realistic plan; but what about, say, a basic platform of redistribution centered on a higher minimum wage, universal healthcare, free college tuition, and so on?

This is, you may recognize, the backdrop over which the Democratic primary is currently being contested, with liberal policy wonks attempting to paint Bernie voters who support the latter as haplessly, naively advocating the former.(This has led to the amusing sideshow of supposed liberal leading lights sneering at "entitlements," mocking Bernie's "free stuff" like proper class-conscious conservatives). But, as the blog Interfluidity writes:
Paul Ryan’s various budgets haven’t been wrong because they require giant magic asterices to make the numbers add up. They have been wrong because the interests and values Paul Ryan represents are wrong. The magic asterices don’t reflect dumb mistakes, but smart politics. The problems of our polity do not arise because one faction or another is too stupid to do high quality science. If your interests are the interests of the fossil fuel industry, and you are unwilling or unable to transcend the narrowness of those interests, then confusing the public about the science of climate change is a mark of intelligence, not stupidity. Being smart is great. You may be proud of your GRE scores, your PhD, your Nobel Prize even. And deservedly! But raw intellect is not scarce, and no faction holds anywhere near a monopoly.
Liberal technocrats would deny that they have any ulterior motives at all; they are merely driven to report empirical fact, namely that it's impossible for us to meet everyone's basic needs through redistribution. (Call it the liberal argument for full socialism; perhaps we should take them up on the offer!) Alas, we probably don't need to believe them. As good middle-class climbers, liberals support meritocracy over egalitarianism, a tepid amelioration of the worst excesses of capitalism to assuage their consciences while still rewarding the proper winners and losers. Or, in the words of the late great Utah Phillips, "the difference between a liberal and a conservative is a liberal will hang you from a lower branch."

As Mike Konczal writes, there will always be a necessity to have policy experts:
I think the wonk analysis is an essential part of the ideological work currently being done and is capable of advancing the progressive project in crucial ways. Working the numbers and the specifics creates clarity, and it forces people to put their cards on the table. 
In this specific moment, the work of the wonk forces one to justify constraints, lets you know if you are looking in the correct places, gives you a sense of whether the scope and scale of your changes is sufficient, and lets you know the obstacles and enemies you’ll face. 
 Politics are mostly about values. Voters who think work should pay a living wage, or health and well-being shouldn't be decided on the ability to pay, needn't fear intimidation by prophets preaching ideology masked as science. That is, if we believe in "government by the people" after all.

11 February 2016

Age old blues

Last week on the internet the kids with their tubetubes and their memeboxes were briefly obsessed with this image macro "Bernie or Hillary." While all memes inevitably stray from their original intellectual origin, the broad point of this macro and its variations was to lampoon Hillary Clinton's perceived inauthenticity to young people. She's portrayed as pandering and out of touch; someone attempting to speak to young people through a focus-group translator, while Bernie is portrayed as someone who is a genuine enthusiast for whatever topic the meme-maker has chosen.

A lot of pundit clatter has been expended on the Democratic Primary analyzing demographics; can Hillary win young women voters? Can Bernie improve his standing with non-white voters? Will I be able to make a baby with a sex robot? But, in its purest form, this primary is a replay of an often-seen showdown among left-of-center Americans for the past couple of decades, the centrist technocrats butting heads with the populist progressives. And, while Hillary Clinton took a pounding in New Hampshire Tuesday, there's still one demographic she can count on.

It's important to understand that, for the centrist technocrats who make up Hillary's base, her inauthenticity isn't a bug, it's a feature. They understand nothing that's said during election season has any bearing on the business of government; pandering is merely an inconvenient chore that needs to be dispensed with before government can be returned to the hands of neutral, ideology-free experts to which it properly belongs. Hillary's waffling and attempts to outflank Sanders on anything from LGBT rights to criminal justice reform, to anything technocrats actually care about like healthcare and finance; everything is purely theater. They know better than to believe any of it, because they know exactly what they are going to get.

After the past week and a half the liberal pundit class has been in a growing meltdown trying to discern the the reasons for the eye-popping numbers Bernie is putting up with the youth. They are naive and unrealistic! It's campus PC-ism run amok! The girls are trying to hook up with hot Bernie Bros! They aren't likely to find a satisfactory solution. In 2008 when Obama was winning the youth vote by 30 people said "wow, this guy is really popular with the youths!" Bernie Sanders is winning under-30 voters by 70. It would be easier at this point to find a dentist who doesn't recommend Crest(TM) than a Hillary-supporting millenial.

In reality, Bernie isn't a pied piper who's leading innocent, naive children into ruin. He's a 74-year old white man who's been preaching Cold War social democracy for 40-odd years. Kids don't think that is cool. And yes, while millenials are more left-wing than their predecessors, saying "it's all ideology" alone isn't enough to explain Bernie's immense popularity. But he is also not a blank slate for young people to project themselves onto, as Obama was. He's a politician with a long record that reflects his ideas, at least some of which have hit home with a lot of young people. And that is what presents the biggest threat to the liberal technocrats, who have long relied on encroaching middle age and the ascension to the middle class to blunt the fervor of youth (and the latter is becoming harder and harder to attain for today's twenty-somethings anyway). Bernie is merely the developing manifestation of the id of a generation that can resist.

03 February 2016

Bernie prose

(Boy is it ever dusty in here)

Back when this blog was still going hot in around 2006 or so, and I was young and full of vigor, I found myself fascinated by a little-known Congressperson from Vermont named Bernie Sanders. "Wow," 2006-me said "that guy should've run for president, I would've loved to see how the Democratic Party establishment would deal with a genuinely eloquent populist and defender of social democracy."

Turns out, I am a genius.

So when Sanders announced he was running for President as a Democrat, I rubbed my hands together gleefully. Of course, he was a virtual no-shot against the Clinton juggernaut, but I allowed myself a smirk at the pundits who believed he'd merely be a Kucinichesque distraction squeaking short-lived endorphins into the Democratic Party's leftmost wing before quickly petering out.

And, lo and behold, while Sanders remains an extreme longshot to actually win the Democratic nomination for president, he has rudely stolen the media spotlight away from Hillary Clinton and, albeit temporarily, called a halt to the coronation. Despite facing unprecedented, near-total opprobrium from the Democratic political machine, Sanders has made it a race, virtually splitting the vote with Clinton at Monday's Iowa caucus. And, despite being a 74-year old white guy with a Brooklyn accent, he has built his campaign engine around millennials, winning the under-30 vote in Iowa by an almost-impossible 85-15 margin.

Bernie is so fascinating to watch for a number of reasons, a few I'll touch on briefly here. Firstly, despite not meeting the most particular definition of the term, Sanders nonetheless openly describes himself as a socialist. Even though he wouldn't need to, Bernie dons the mantle of a term which has heretofore been considered as good as instant suicide in American politics. Yes, ultimately Bernie is selling an un-revolutionary, social democratic agenda of redistribution. But, in an American political and economic system that's been so thoroughly corrupted, that's as good a place as any to begin selling socialism. The longer Sanders can stay on the stump preaching his message, the better it will be for the long-term prospects of socialism in America. And that is the hopeful long-term benefit to this (probable) losing effort.

Secondly, Sanders has confounded the liberal opinion-making establishment. For many elections the liberal pundit class has assured its left-sided counterpart that, no, you'll have to accept our deeply-compromised, business-friendly candidate, because no social democratic candidate could ever reach anything like a critical mass of popularity. But Bernie has shown remarkably by slowly, if unsteadily, rebuilding what used to be the Democratic coalition; broad, cross-racial support from poor and working class voters, and young people.

Which brings us to the third point. Sanders, even in defeat, could represent a victory for solidarity politics over liberal identity politics. Liberal pundits, in an attempt to erode Sanders' support among young people, have concocted a caricature of his enthusiastic backers as "Bernie Bros," supposedly crude young white males who support Sanders only out of a desire to keep a powerful woman from the White House. Polls showing Sanders to be even more popular with young women than young men have so far not dissuaded them. Young liberals are often stereotyped, sometimes with merit, as over educated "PC" brats obsessed with personal identity over everything. That they would get behind a broadly old-fashioned campaign of economic populism (though one that has certainly been modernized to the realities of racial and gender inequality) has been rewarding and pleasantly unexpected.

This, of course, is a longstanding favorite liberal smear of the left; that it is merely the province of out-of-touch, comfortable White Male (always writing off left-wing feminists and people of color as irrelevant). They point to Sanders lagging behind among Black voters as evidence of his unfitness, though even there he is slowly making inroads. Bernie picked up three important endorsements from black public figures in South Carolina in the past week. And he's long enjoyed the support,of, among others, critically-acclaimed rapper Killer Mike, who has become one of Bernie's most prolific public advocates.

What a time to be alive!

07 January 2015

This ain't a hug party, it's a massacre

(Warning, Heresy ahead: The alternate title of this post should probably be "how to lose friends and disgust people)

(There will also probably be some needlessly personal revelations but eh, no one cares)

Since I was a teenager I've been fascinated by social reaction to sexual/romantic interests expressed by people outside of the picturesque standard middle-class, straight, blandly-attractive people. I liked the idea of making people think about the desires of unwanted and ostracized people. It was the topic of some pretty terrible teenage poetry of mine (as if there are other kinds of teenage poetry.) And of course as a lifelong Ugly-American it's a subject with some personal investment. It's fine to think that I'm unappealing, but don't delegitamize my right to have an impure thought now and then.

So having established my personal interest as a gross neckbeard virgin nerd, I'm going to weigh in on some recent internet controversy, almost certainly against my better judgement.

Well, one of those things isn't true, I do not, and God willing never will have, a neckbeard or any kind of beard at all for that matter. (Including the one you're currently thinking of, though I don't know why I would need one of those.)

A few weeks ago an MIT mathematics professor/blogger named Scott Aaronson opened up in a comment about his formative years as a shy nerdy male trying to navigate his sexual attraction in a world where he feared expressing his desires would leave him scorned and branded as a creep.
I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison.
   I was smart enough to realize that maybe this was silly, maybe I was overanalyzing things. So I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. But I didn’t find any. On the contrary: I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males—especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact—are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.
I thought Aaronson was being a bit melodramatic here, and in fairness he does seem to realize that his fears were illogical. I also don't think it's exactly correct  to blame feminist discourse for this sort of shaming and guilt, when old Victorian social mores would do just as well.

But contemporary feminism has taken a weird turn in recent years. We've met these folks before; they are typically among the group of people paradoxically shaming male virgins (A smarter person could write a long post about how this neo-identitarian feminist movement is reinforcing very conservative ideas of sex and gender roles. Maybe we'll do a little of that here). Indeed, the caricature of the hapless fedora-wearing Internet Nice Guy(TM) has become a popular laughingstock among contemporary feminist writers. And of course Aaronson's post found itself added to the pile; look at this dweeb who thinks he is entitled to sex! As Scott Alexander writes in a lengthy rebuttal to the backlash about Aaronson's comment
There is a growing trend in Internet feminism that works exactly by conflating the ideas of nerd, misogynist, virgin, person who disagrees with feminist tactics or politics, and unlovable freak.
(To further burnish my own credentials I should point out that I am not in any way a nice guy, even by the reductionist definition. Indeed, I am a boring lazy asshole, and have never blamed anyone for not wanting to be romantically involved with me. Ahem. Moving on)

Here is the thing about being someone who's well aware he's unattractive but still gets the sort of feelings about someone you like as a normal person does. You not only have to worry about the fear of that person rejecting you, you have to worry that the act of expressing your feelings is going to be deeply offensive on a personal level, and invite ridicule if word ever got out that you were trying to rise above your station.

When I was a junior in high school I was asked for a dance at the prom (I was attending by myself as the public address announcer) by a girl I had been nursing a secret (or not so secret; you never know how these things worked) as you do. I wrote a poem (don't worry it happens again) anonymously describing the experience for the school's end-of-year English department publication. After the summer passed I became convinced that she had deciphered my paean (in reality I doubt she had ever read it at all) and decided I had to write an apology letter and slip it to her privately (in poetry form, because why not).

As a freshman in college I met a girl I was convinced was the most beautiful person I'd ever met in my life. Besides being gorgeous, she was in the same major program and the same evangelical social group as I had joined, and I decided that was good enough for me to break out into my new life as a thoroughgoing collegiate. After several months where I, frankly, barely got to know her, I decided one day in late March that I had to confess my attraction plainly in a long email (I had upgraded both in form and technology!) She declined, of course, politely, but I felt immediately guilty over putting her in awkward position that I had to catch her a couple of days later after a class to stammer out an apology for my uncomfortable forthrightness.

I tell these stories not to portray myself as some kind of hapless, unlucky sap. Indeed, while not actually offensive it was quite inappropriate for me to do either of these things. And, unlike Aaronson, I did have a romantic experience of sorts when I was 19, and it went about as awkward and uncomfotably as you'd expect from someone who had thought about those kinds of experiences a great deal but had no real social preparation for them.

Critically, unlike how Aarsonson describes his experiences, my own guilt over these expressions of attraction had nothing to do with feminist shaming of bitter virgin neckbeard nerds, of which I had absolutely no awareness at the time. It was old-fashioned guilt from not having the social intellect and discipline to know my place as an unattractive guy and leave that domain to those folks who belonged there.

An important reason for my eventual dissatisfaction with evangelicalism and my drift toward progressive politics was the restrictive gender box that evangelicals believe you should fit into; rugged, stoic, assertive; traditional and proper manhood. What attracted me to feminist-leaning politics was the promise of liberation; that there were all types of people who could find each other attractive. Which is why this, described by Alexander, has me dismayed.
I live in a world where feminists throwing weaponized shame at nerds is an obvious and inescapable part of daily life. Whether we’re “mouth-breathers”, “pimpled”, “scrawny”, “blubbery”, “sperglord”, “neckbeard”, “virgins”, “living in our parents’ basements”, “man-children” or whatever the insult du jour is, it’s always, always, ALWAYS a self-identified feminist saying it. Sometimes they say it obliquely, referring to a subgroup like “bronies” or “atheists” or “fedoras” while making sure everyone else in nerddom knows it’s about them too.
If you were to invert all of these properties endemic to Bitter Virgin Neckbeard Nerds, I'd imagine you'd have something of a picture of the ideal Feminist Man; muscular, virile, successful; it looks an awful lot like the ideal Traditional Man of the evangelicals, the man I was eager to escape. How peculiar that we find ourselves back here.

29 November 2014

Predictable consequences

From Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians, p. 24
...social psychologists found long ago that people who are prejudiced against one group are usually prejudiced against a whole lot more as well. Prejudice has little to do with the groups it targets, and a lot to do with the personality of the holder. Want to guess who has such wide-ranging prejudices? Authoritarian followers dislike so many kinds of people, I have called them “equal opportunity bigots.” They will not win the gold medal in the Prejudice Olympics (we’ll find out who does in a later chapter), but high RWAs will definitely be on the podium.
 Author Peter Watts on RequiresHate/Benjanun Sriduangkaew
   The fact that RH occasionally went after the Bakkers and Bacigalupis of the world let her claim that she was Speaking Truth To Power, but in fact People of Color were four times more likely to be targeted than us privileged white boys.  Four times more likely to be hounded across every social media site they appeared at over months, sometimes years. More likely to be told that they should have acid thrown in their faces, or raped by dogs, or have their hands cut off.  A lot more likely to be considered insufficiently Asian, or “white on the inside”.  

25 November 2014


1) The next time you encounter a police officer, you should say "I'm sorry officer, but if I were not a white person you would probably search and arrest me on some trumped-up charge, so I'm going to voluntarily strip-search myself then voluntarily serve a long prison sentence forfeiting many of my rights as a citizen and my future economic prospects because that's only fair."

If this sounds like a thing you would do, you probably think "white privilege" is a useful way of thinking about the world.

2) A century ago the left broadly operated under the idea that "the good life" should be open to everyone regardless of birth. Now the left mirrors the conservative pathology that somebody somewhere may be getting something they didn't earn.

3) If CNN wants you to talk about something, you'll probably be talking about the wrong thing.

4) If you want to talk about systems of power, have an explanation for where they come from and how you would get rid of them. Leave the Illuminati/lizard people stuff at home.

5) If you believe white people are some manifestation of unique evil otherwise unseen in world history, congratulations, you're a white supremacist. Sign up today for your robe and pointy hat. You don't disagree that the unique ingenuity of the "white race" led to its current hegemony, just with its moral value

19 October 2014

Virginity's just another word for something left to lose

Last week I crossed over into my 33rd sexless year. While this is mainly a source of wry amusement for me (insofar as I was ever particularly bitter about it I got past that long ago) when virginity has been a part of your life for that long it starts to form a little bit of your identity. So sometimes you get a little twitchy about certain things.

Of course, I am a little sensitive about mainstream caricatures of male virginity; I like genre fiction and games, and I may not be the most...successful person fiscally speaking. So although this is a little on the nose, we can ultimately have a good laugh about ourselves as anyone would.

However, while I'd expect “HAHA UR VIRGIN DWEEB” to come from the likes of third-rate comics, the increasingly-unfortunate young, hip, “social justice” internet has decided that “virgin” as a male slur is some kind of mighty blow against the patriarchy. And that is a bit of a problem.

Ostensibly, the use of “virgin” as a male insult by “progressives” is meant to signify that said person suffers from the disapproval of women. If you were a good, right-thinking progressive man women would be fucking you left and right. The lack of sex then is meant as a judgment on behalf of the world's women, that you have some fatal character flaw. To that end it's nearly always brandished as the supreme proof that the speaker finds some thought of yours sexist or misogynistic in some way; it must be true! The world's women have spoken!

It's an ill-fitting accusation for a number of reasons. Some are readily apparent. I've been fortunate enough to have a number of female friends over the years who, for various very good reasons, have never had sex with me. Self-deprecating humor about my romantic life aside, I don't think my virginity is indicative of some general female revulsion, or a lack of women voices in my life.

More peculiar, and more insidious, is the implicit endorsement of the mainstream cultural understanding of male virginity, that sexless men aren't living up to their gender expectations and in fact might not even be quite men at all. Women are meant to be virginal, and are condemned as “slutty” if they defy those expectations. Most progressives know that story. But it's necessarily complementary that if virginity is female behavior, then what virgin men are failing at is behaving like women. This isn't some kind of “reverse sexism” fantasy, they are entirely co-dependent.

This is especially regrettable to me because it isn't a new thing in my life. Ten years ago I became disillusioned with evangelicalism because of the restrictive box of masculinity where you were expected to fit. There's more to write about this element, but it's beyond the scope of this post, and also still quite muddled in my mind.

05 November 2012

The left left behind, and still other observations


3) Sure, Democrats suck, but the only way to change anything is to Work Within the System. I give this argument more credibility because it is trying to present an actual strategy, something lesser-evilists and apologists often don't do, and because it's frequently made by people I believe have a sincere commitment to progressive politics, i.e., not just people who want to lord their Seriousness over undergraduate hippies with their Chomsky and Zinn readers. For a good variation, see this Jacobin article just published today.

It goes like this: The Left should attempt to take over the Democratic Party by emulating the New Right takeover of the Republican Party (and the Tea Party more recently). Try to insert your own people into Democratic party organizations at a local level, win local offices and work your way up through the national party organization. Meanwhile, try to put forward more progressive candidates for national offices in primaries to knock out terrible right-wing Dems and, even if you fail, discipline the eventual nominee by reminding him/her that the base is restless. .

I see two main flaws with this approach:

A) Where does the money come from? If you want to imitate the New Right, you have to come to grips with how to match the bottomless well of money it has been able to draw on for the past thirty years. Various church organizations, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, various local chambers of commerce, all have massive organizing and/or capital resources to back religious and free-market fundamentalists at all levels of government. By definition, a grassroots movement of the left is going to be organizing people who haven't got money, and, if it has any teeth at all, it isn't going to be a favorite of people who have. And running campaigns takes money, money that can't now be used for anything else.

This is not a complex equation: Political power rests in the right of both parties because that is where the funding is. And American political parties are, first and foremost, fundraising organizations.

But what about unions, MoveOn.org, environmentalist groups, or other members of the Organizational Left? Won't they step up to back a serious Work from Within movement? Well...

...B) Work from Within is basically incompatible with Lesser-Evilism. I hate to plagiarize arguments when I don't remember the source, but I recently came across an interesting theory as to why the popular media assigns the red-blue colors to the parties the way they do, when a global-historical shorthand would suggest the alignment should be the inverse. The argument was that Republicans are red because they are the "revolutionary" party in American politics, and the Democrats are the conservatives. I don't know if the observations regarding the colors is correct, but I think the assessment of the parties' roles in the system is.

Democratic partisans in the current climate have found themselves almost exclusively on the defensive, trying to protect the gains made from 1932-68. Lesser-evilism is the tactical manifestation of this. The Republicans are simply too bad, they say, to ever allow them to win an election. Our man's record is not so important, the main purpose is to prevent the Romney Revolution from happening.

What does this mean for the work-from-within strategy? Well, if you are going to run a primary campaign against, say, a bad senator, you are running a certain risk that, while you may have sent a message to the Democrats' right wing that you aren't to be trifled with, you may lose the general election. And the core tenant of Lesser-Evil Liberalism is that you can never lose. Ever. Because the Republicans are Just That Bad. This is why Democrats obsess over "electability" in primary campaigns (with electability being a nebulous concept largely defined by "who the party establishment funders will get behind") and run headlong into the arms of bland losers like John Kerry. The first Sharron Angle-type figure to come along and beat, say, Dianne Feinstein, and lose a general election will get the full Nader treatment, and that will be the end of your precious work-from-within strategy, hippie. I bet you wanted abortion to be illegal.

During its rise the New Right and its offshoots have shown the willingness to lose elections to maintain its ideological grip on the Republican Party. Lesser-Evil Liberals reject this possibility out of hand. This is why, when Goldwater lost, we got Reagan and the Bushes; when McGovern lost, we got Carter, Clinton, and Obama.

As I've written before in this space, I'm not hard-wired against voting for a "lesser-evil" as a tactical defense against a much more dangerous alternative. But those advocating for this tactic should have a long-term strategy for political action, both inside and outside the electoral arena. To their credit, the sincere work-from-within folks attempt to do this. (There's also an insincere type of this argument which isn't serious but gets thrown out there as a way to make hippies go away.) But they are barred, perhaps even without their knowledge, by the long-term lesser-evilists who have been making the same desperate pleas/threats toward the left for every election of my adulthood, and will no doubt continue to do so in 2016 in defense of Andrew Cuomo or whatever other corporate mannequin the Democratic funders decide is "electable" against the undying Republican hordes.

30 October 2012

The Left left behind and other observations

Election season is nearing crunch time, and, though Obama continues to be a solid favorite (the electoral map in particular favors him), his hold on the race has slipped slightly in the past few weeks, which means liberals are starting to fear the man haunting their nightmares. No, not Mitt Romney, Ralph Nader. No, the old man's not running again this year, but his ghost still gnaws on the minds of Democratic partisans as the race tightens, reminding them of who the real enemy is; Privileged Progressives who have the nerve to not vote for someone whose political views they don't agree with! Since this is on everyone's mind and no one cares what I think, I decided to put together some semi-scattered thoughts about left political strategy and tactics and the upcoming election (and electoral politics in general).

Before that, some caveats. First, despite the preening, it really doesn't matter who you vote for in the presidential election unless you live in Ohio or Florida. Other states are either a foregone conclusion or too small to make a difference. This is our great liberal democracy in action. I'm not going to complain one way or the other about who you do or don't vote for, because it's essentially irrelevant to anything but your own conscience.

Second, I am skeptical about third party presidential runs. Yes, it's absurd that the two-party cartel blocks access to debates and that their media mouthpieces shut any out voices not on a simple red vs. blue axis, but even in a perfect world where a third-party candidate could win, he/she could likely achieve next to nothing. The duopoly in Congress and the Washington bureaucracy would unite to make governing impossible and ensure that no such challenge could happen again. A third party would have to be built from the ground up, and I'm not bullish on that happening. Some of the reasons are the same as ones I'll elaborate on when I talk about "work within the party" types a bit later. But also the way American political institutions are set up makes it difficult to break up the duopoly. First-past-the-post elections, Congressional committee chairmanships, and so on. Remember, folks, the Constitution is a very conservative document; it is designed to protect elite power from the mood swings of the public. The last time we had a new party in American politics that had any mass impact there was a civil war a few years later. That should tell you something.

Third, as I've written before, I'm not wholly opposed to "lesser evil" voting. There are times when it might be the tactically necessary thing to do. If people really believe that they most vote for a "lesser-evil" because of their conscience, I'm not going to strenuously disagree with them. See point #1.

Fourth, unfortunately, I don't agree with some of my fellow travelers that a Romney win would buck up the left and cause them to become vigilant about things they used to think were monstrosities under Bush but now handwave away when Obama does them. Doug Henwood's article in The Nation makes a lot of sense and I agree with most everything in it. While we might wish it were otherwise, a Romney administration would just send us back to the Bush years on the left; the party rolls over and plays dead while the Republicans run through them and the rank and file pines for the next Democratic Savior. If you want a backhanded endorsement of Obama, it's that his reign has disabused many young progressives of the notion that the Democratic Party is looking out for their values.

With that very lengthy prologue out of the way, let's take a look at a couple pressing issues of electoral tactics and strategy facing the left.

1) A Romney Administration would be uniquely catastrophic. Back in 2008, the Democrats won a crushing victory. They completely dominated government in a way no party had in decades. The Republicans were so lost and defeated that some wondered whether they could continue to exist at all. What was the great result of this tremendous mandate for progressive government coming at the very moment in history when conservative foreign and domestic policy ideas had been thoroughly discredited? Half-assed financial and health insurance "reform" (the latter adopted from former Republican ideas*), a too-small stimulus bill weighed down with garbage, a continuation and actual expansion of Bush-era surveillance state and imperial intervention policy, all garnished with a repeatedly-demonstrated ability to lose negotiations to a fencepost. And I guess something about gays in the military which, in a time of worldwide political upheaval, widespread economic desolation, and looming ecological ruin, is the most pressing issue the left faces today. It ended, of course, with a huge defeat in the 2010 midterms, for which petulant hippies were to blame (but more on them later).

Now, however, many people are convinced that a Romney win would mean instant power to bring about the reactionary revolution. Why do people believe that close win with a split Congress means a massive mandate when the result of the 2008 election achieved so little for the other side, and what does this say about their opinion of their own party? Furthermore, these folks have spent much of the last four years trying to calm unruly hippies dissatisfied with the administration's lack of progress by admonishing them that the office of the presidency has little real power. How they work out that Romney will, upon ascending to the high office, cover the land in a second darkness using the dictatorial powers Obama doesn't have has not, I suspect, been completely thought out.

To buttress this argument, some claim that Romney's moderate record as governor of Massachusetts is a facade, and, now that he has been liberated from managing a liberal state, his true extreme-right self is bursting through. Maybe, or maybe not. Romney, as best I can tell, has two political goals: He really, really wants to be president, and when he gets to be president, he wants to enrich his plutocrat friends. Well, on the latter point I suspect he won't get much resistance from the Democrats. Beyond the second goal, Romney has a proven willingness to say and believe anything he needs to achieve the first. He's Nixon with better hair and less jowl. I don't see him doing much to override resistance on culture war issues. Of which...

2) Only Privileged White Males won't vote for Obama: We certainly know that anyone who can't vote for Obama endorses Romney and wants him to win. And they'll stand by ironically while Romney's goons round up America's women and put them in binders. This argument claims that the less fortunate are all loyal Obama supporters, and you'd do well to join them or you're complicit in their oppression.

Though not exclusively, this argument usually centers on the Supreme Court, and the idea that Romney will be able to appoint Supreme Court justices who will immediately overturn Roe v. Wade. I'm far from knowledgeable enough on SCOTUS procedures to know how likely it is that the court could just take a case with the established goal of inverting precedent. But, let's say we are faced with a SCOTUS nomination that would mean the end of legal abortion. What would the Democratic Party, the great champion of reproductive freedom, do? Would they meekly stand aside and watch? A further point, while contemporary SCOTUS judges are certainly partisan hacks, they aren't stupid partisan hacks. They aren't going to touch an inflammatory issue that's going to bite their party at the polls. Reproductive freedom battles will continue to be mostly contested at the state level, in Republican friendly territory, as we've seen clearly in the last year.

This accusation is usually leveled at Glenn Greenwald and the like who primarily write about surveillance state issues and the war machine. Because these apparently things that only affect White Men, except that, well, what? The surveillance state almost exclusively targets Muslims. Certainly Obama isn't bombing many white people in Asia and Africa. We know all about the drug war and prison industrial complex and its calamitous affect on African-Americans. And the effects of climate change will of course overwhelmingly fall on the poor around the world. Where is the Democratic Party on these issues? The secret of the "privilege" argument is that most people making it enjoy bourgeois-liberal class privilege themselves; they're not the ones facing down the American police state. Their notion of "privilege" is deliberately constructed to exclude anything that might include them.

Two final thoughts before I leave this section. For all their lecturing about the comfortable privileged non-voters or third-party voters who are helping Romney win, these liberals ignore the great mass of non-voters (about half the eligible voting population in any given election) among whom the poor and people of color are over-represented. I do wish that these very concerned folks would take their hectoring to said non-voters and give them the "helping Romney win" spiel, preferably as self-righteously as possible. Furthermore, if you do believe that only straight white dudes are Obama skeptics, I encourage you to check out Falguni Sheth, Black Agenda Report, or This is So Gay.


*Liberals really, really hate you pointing out to them that Obamacare was a Heritage Foundation-designed alternative to a pubic healthcare system adopted by Republicans, Mitt Romney most famously, in the 1990s. They will claim it's unfair because Republicans never intended to actually pass it (again, Mitt Romney?). That may well be true, but it doesn't do much for them. The point is that, when Barack Obama moved right to co-opt them, Republicans just shifted to the status quo they always favored. At least the public conversation was  once such that the right had to come up with some alternative, however insincere. Thanks to your contemporary Democratic party, that's no longer the case.

14 August 2012

The inexorable rightward drift, part 13,759 of a series

What do you notice about this graph of vice-presidential DW-NOMINATE scores collected by Nate Silver? Well, Paul Ryan is the most conservative VP candidate in history, which is what liberals want you to remember. But that's not everything. Ryan's just the latest in a long-line of increasingly-conservative Republican picks. The next two most conservative on the list are Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle. Only Jack Kemp is out of order. (Sarah Palin doesn't have a DW-NOMINATE score, never having been in the national legislature, otherwise she would slot in nicely.) So Republican VP choices are gradually becoming more conservative, defying the standard assumption of pundits that a running mate should be used to "balance the ticket" ideologically and geographically.

However, Democratic veep nominations are also getting more conservative. The eight most conservative Democratic choices include all five nominated since 1988. Of the five most liberal, only Walter Mondale is post-1960.

The rightward creep of American politics is fast becoming a sprint. The liberal loyalist hold-your-nose lesser-evil faction likes to emphasize the "real differences" between the two parties. Well, this is one of them. The Democratic Party is thoroughly controlled and managed by its right wing, which has steadfastly prevented actual liberals from ascending to any positions of leadership. The loyalists argue for grassroots party-building and "working within the system" but have no plan to unseat the institutional and money power of the conservatives.

17 July 2012

The worst election ever?

I think it has to be in the running. I thought we were likely to see an incredibly ponderous campaign brought about by the connection of two uninspiring candidates with little to run on beyond how horrible the other guy is, and nothing I've seen so far has surprised me. It's hard to imagine any prior election that has been driven to such an extent on both sides by fear of the opposition candidate.

Observing liberal blogs during this election has been educational for how much lesser-evilism has been expanded to convince more and more skeptics where before it was pitched only for a few marginal hippies who were probably too stoned to vote anyway. Sure, there are the usual careerist "liberal" pundits at the Washington Post or New Republic who'll defend Obama's conservative record on its merits, but even the American Prospect and leftward crowd is usually left with half-hearted apologias about "the best we can hope for under the Present Situation." But of course, Mitt Romney is a real shitbag; that cannot be emphasized enough. And this is the Most Important Election in the History of the Species, or at least until 2016 anyway, because if Romney is elected, he will immediately make abortion and cute kitten pictures on the internet illegal. Plus, Obama is a real cool dude, and it would be really great to have a beer with him (oh wait, that was the meme for another guy) I mean, it would be really great to shoot some hoops with him.

Today I've read in several places odes to the cinematic greatness of the Obama team's newest attack on Romney's record as CEO of Bain Capital, and particularly how it's a pleasant departure from past Democrats' kid gloves approach.  Hell, I'll say it had better be good. It isn't as if the Obama team has much else to hang its hat on. Luckily for them the Republicans are putting up ideal competition for the political environment in 2012; an empty-suit embodiment of the American plutocracy who's as dynamic as dry bacon. Oh Lord, make it stop, make it end.

09 May 2012

The plutocracy strikes back

So, Barack Obama's stance on gay marriage has "evolved" to mirroring Dick Cheney's, namely that while he personally approves of same sex marriage, he believes it should be left to the states as a policy matter. I could point out that Obama has "evolved" into Dick Cheney before, but I suppose this would be the first time this could be said in a somewhat positive manner.

It's a bit peculiar to see this being hailed by liberals as some huge leap forward. The federalist dodge is a favorite among politicians who want to send a message to their base while declining to take a firm stand on an issue. Saying "I personally support X, but believe it should be left up to the states" is a classic political punt, and it's usually used by Republicans. I am sure if Obama had said "I personally support a woman's right to choice, but I think it should be left up to the states" there would be liberal rioting in the streets. That's a standard libertarian line. Maybe the expectations of Obama's supporters are that low, or maybe there's nothing he can say that will cause them any reaction other than euphoria. Or maybe they're all so used to his standard waffling that any whiff of political courage looks like the real deal.

 If the last two months are any indication, it looks like the American political circus is headed toward another election season typified by the erstwhile social issues. The brief moment where Occupy Wall Street appeared as though it could shift the national conversation onto plutocratic rule and economic inequality has passed, and those activists have been shooed offstage (or, more accurately, pepper-sprayed and teargassed offstage) to be replaced by the old standbys of abortion and gay marriage, the only issues that truly matter to the electorate if you believe the press and activists from both parties.

The electorate doesn't really agree:

In a recent PEW poll, gay marriage polled eighteenth on a list of issues, with just 28 percent of voters saying that it is a “very important” issue. This trails obvious election setters like the economy (86 percent), jobs (84 percent), healthcare (74 percent) and other issues down the line like Iran (47 percent), gun control (47 percent) and even the GOP’s cause of the day, birth control (34 percent).

 So why do we spend so much time and energy on issues the public doesn't feel are that pressing? And how much are the highly-publicized fights over birth control and gay marriage "real" and how much is fabricated? For Republicans, of course, this has been fairly decided for awhile. The Republican funders throw social issues at the religious base to keep them energized and voting reliably. Why liberals play along has been given less attention, but it's basically the same reason. The people who make up the Democratic donor base are often out of sync with the Democratic voter base, in many more profound ways on domestic and foreign issues than the Republicans are with theirs. Social issues give them a rare opportunity to bridge the gap (or at least reach an agreeable peace.)

Indeed, Obama's gay marriage "revelation" is entirely a campaign posture. It's designed to cautiously put himself in front of the liberal outrage over the success of North Carolina's Amendment 1 and re-energize his base of under-30 liberals whom he depended on in 2008 but who have been slowly decompressing over the past 3 and a half years.

Certainly, there is a faction of the right-wing base whose anti-woman and anti-gay extremism is very sincerely felt. But one has to wonder why they are allowed to monopolize the political arena with fringe issues which the public either sees as settled or as irrelevant to their lives.* It's hard to imagine issues which the plutocracy could give less of a shit about than birth control and gay marriage. All of the political energy which is absorbed by these things is energy which will never be directed at them. The yawning reaction of both the mainstream press and, in large part, the alternative liberal press to the May 1st actions of Occupy Wall Street is a clear indication; the Class War is over, the Culture War is back on, baby!

*Before someone leaps through the monitor to give me a finger-wagging lecture about how "relevant" it is to gay couples that they have equal rights, I mean that most people simply don't care much one way or another. It's interesting that most of these anti-gay amendments come through on popular referendums, I suspect if states were to legalize same-sex marriage through legislative or judicial means, most people would just shrug their shoulders and go on about their business.

03 April 2012

The problem with lesser-evilism

On the off chance that a person is able to get liberals to admit that the current seemingly unstoppable rightward drift of American politics is a problem, and that the current Democratic Party represents a corporate-owned center-right party of (slightly different) war and (more creative) austerity, that person would then be faced with the inevitable appeal to the "lesser evil;" sure, Democrats are intolerably weak, but Republicans must be stopped or else they will force-impregnate every woman in America and launch our entire nuclear arsenal at imaginary Iranians on the moon. As a commenter at Lawyers, Guns and Money solemnly put it, "every time you don't vote for the lesser evil, people die."

And, I have to admit, as a short term fix this argument carries a lot of weight. No one wants to see President Santorum nuke the moon. As a long-term strategy however, it's a disaster, and we've been hearing it since at least 2000 and probably long before. The 2000 election, of course, is seen as the defining argument in favor of lesser-evilism, and liberals love to place the Bush years on the conscience of those privileged hippies who tried to make an idealistic political statement by voting for Ralph Nader. (I'll have more to say about why supporting third party candidates is an ineffective way of pressuring Democrats in a future post.)

The problem with lesser-evilism, though, is that, while you may get less evil now, you will surely get more evil later. Because your tepid, center-right New Democrats won't win every election. This is still a balanced, two-party system, and the public's preference inevitably swings back and forth from one party to the other. Talk of a permanent majority, of shutting the other party completely out of power for a generation, doesn't work. It was a fantasy when Republicans were kicking around the idea in 2004; and it was equally so in 2008 when some Democrats were crowing about the complete obliteration of the old Republican Party, and how that party would have to reinvent itself to survive. It did reinvent itself, of course, by driving even harder to the right and coming back to win the midterm elections in decisive fashion.

So while liberals mock the "heightening the contradictions" crypto-Leninist model of third-party voting (or abstention), their own embrace of essential lesser-evilism is functionally not any different. It just kicks the can down the road a few years. The long march to the right continues unabated, and they have no answers for it. This year, we have Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, two fringe nuts who would have been laughed off the stage as fringe kooks ten years ago, being serious presidential contenders who have successfully forced the "moderate" Mitt Romney to move rightward to match them. And while Romney likely won't win the 2012 election, one day another Republican will ascend to the presidency who, enabled by a wobbling Democratic Party and its steadfast supporters of lesser-evil voting, will be even more extreme than George W. Bush, just as Bush was more extreme than Reagan, and Reagan than Nixon, and Nixon than Eisenhower, and so on.

I'd be negligent not to note the final irony, which is that liberals like to pat themselves on the back for being "realists" who understand the political system, while scolding naive "emoprog" puritan idealists, when their own blind spot is a fantastical belief in a permanent Democratic coalition of sensible technocrats, which should have already been blown to bits a couple of years ago.

28 March 2012

I, Obot

I have something of a strange relationship with liberal defenders of the Affordable Care Act. I actually think the argument that a more progressive reform that cut off for-profit health insurance at the knees would never have passed the Senate is basically correct. Any deal that was reached was going to have to ensure that the health inscos got theirs first. And this is where Obama's defenders usually leave it. Their man is off the hook, having defeated the pretending challenge of "firebaggers" and "emoprogs."

But, let's take a look at two possible statements concerning the ACA and its discontents, and the Obama presidency in general

1) Obama is a sellout who has turned out to be far less liberal than people expected/desired. (the "emoprog" position)

2) Obama's personal beliefs are irrelevant, because the political system is wholly owned by wealthy interests who can water down popular policy ideas (such as a public option or single payer HCR), making them less popular with the public but more palatable to the political class.

Which of these would present the bigger problem? The first would be an annoyance, but presumably correctable, which is, one assumes, why Obama's critics tend to focus on it. It gives them hope, if you will, that eventually an election will produce someone more in tune with their own beliefs and progressive outcomes will soon follow. Obama's defenders typically rebut this by pointing to the second, usually without much consideration of what this represents: a shambolic political system in crisis, increasingly unable to do the cursory job of "representation" on which liberal democracy so prides itself. But it's not Obama's fault so, yay, kids!

19 October 2011


This blog has been largely dormant this year. There are a few reasons for that, the largest one being that I have started to see myself more as a tool for disseminating agitprop rather than a creator of it, and social media largely gives me a better vehicle to do that to whatever small world where I happen to be. There are plenty of people with more intelligent things to say than me, and I figure it's more of a service to do not as much exhaling as inhaling.

Nevertheless I think it would be abdicating some responsibility not to write a few words about what we can loosely call the "Occupy" movement, which is certainly the most significant left movement in my lifetime in the United States and likely the biggest moment for radical politics in the US since 1968.

It was not supposed to be so. The idea of a permanent encampment "occupying" Wall Street was initially conceived by the small radical magazine Adbusters and amplified around the internet by the hacktivist collective Anonymous, claiming inspiration from the Arab Spring and the Spanish Indignants. Few liberal pundits were prepared to take it seriously, foreseeing another small forgettable gathering of unintelligible hippies. Then something quite remarkable happened: A commune of protestors planted themselves in the media capital of the world armed with a simple class-war message, embodied by the ever-present slogan "We are the 99 percent," and began rapidly and inexorably gaining a mass base of popular sympathy completely unaided by the usual partisan Democratic "activist" groups. Copycat "occupations' have sprung up in dozens of cities around the world.

The mainstream press has of course been professing ignorance from the outset about what the "message" or "demands" were, and what they plan to use in place of the current system of power. This is purely posturing which is easily answered by spending any time in the occupied space, which in New York has been redubbed "Liberty Plaza." They are there to fight the war against the ruling class, and have set up a small self-governing city with a decentralized, leaderless consensus democracy of the sort enjoying wide popularity in contemporary anarchist circles. I am reminded of the old IWW notion of "building the new world in the shell of the old," there are numerous other influences as well.

 There are considerable challenges ahead, however. The first will come from the political class and its liberal enforcers, who, after a period of scrambling to take stock of the moment, are now lustily eying the protests as a kind of Democratic answer to the Tea Party, an attempt to rescue a party's sagging image with a re-branding. There is no small risk that trained political managers will step into the leadership vacuum, strip the movement of any radical elements (one already hears the usual cowering of liberals from being associated with "anarchists" and other riff-raff) and utilize the branding of the popular occupation to flak for some tepid, ineffectual reform that is more bark than bite. There will likely be considerable resistance to this; much of the core of the movement, beyond the radicals, is made up of disaffected young Obama voters who have seen the deceptiveness of electoral politics in the Democrats' utter failure to deliver barely modest reform in the wake of historically smashing victories.

This would be a disaster on many fronts. The Occupiers have deliberately chosen to rally around the all-encompassing banner of "the 99 percent" rather than the middle-class reformism which Democratic politicians and liberal pundits blather ceaselessly. They have proven, contra the establishment of both parties and their media flacks, that an explicit class war message resonates with the public imagination, even if they are shrewd enough not to use those poisoned words exactly. Becoming an Obama campaign front would ruin much of the goodwill the Occupation currently enjoys, both in its association with establishment politics and the inevitable dilution of its message into a meaningless muddle by the liberal wing of the finance party. 

I should also note as an aside that they have produced a popular non-partisan movement which is not enamoured of technocratic centrist billionaires. Old Mike Bloomberg has become something of the Scrooge of this story, in fact. I point this out just because it's fun to think of which hole Thomas Friedman has gone to hide in to console himself.

It is, however, entirely fair to wonder what the protests can accomplish. The electoral arena is dry, but, as of now, the occupiers lack the sheer critical mass to enforce change by presenting a direct threat to the well being of the ruling class. So far, marches have numbered in the thousands; that will have to increase to the millions for something like that to be achieved. Perhaps the most we can hope for at this point is the old left idea of "raising consciousness;" if the occupation continues to preach its beautifully simple, easily understood message, the great inert mass of Americans may yet shed their skepticism for a revolution.

20 March 2011

Seeing double

David Corn, Mother Jones
Yet the president, with this brief set of remarks, has crafted something of an Obama Doctrine for military intervention: The United States will join in a multilateral fight for democracy and humanitarian aims when it is in the nation's interest and when the locals are involved and desire US participation. In short, the Anti-Bush Doctrine.
I can't believe that a nice liberal like David Corn would tell me the reason the United States intervenes here but not there can be reduced to a factor of how much the budding humanitarian disaster affects our precious National Interest. Why, David, why? You were always so Serious and so Trustworthy. Why are you throwing in with Gnome Chompsky and the other hippies who see Western imperialist interests behind every military project?

Oh wait, he meant that approvingly? Oh dear, that's interesting indeed.