Archive for the ‘debate’ Tag

Mightier than Swords   6 comments

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

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Words have incredible power in the hands of good communicators. They can raise you to the highest heavens or drop you from 30,000 feet without a net. They can make you feel wonderfully competent or grossly inadequate. However, the power of words is not in the words themselves as in the power the listeners invest in them.

My first experience with the power of language was in realizing that language could be distorted so as to wield power over others.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was – maybe 10 or 12 – when my father began to have trouble calling himself a “liberal”.

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I grew up in Alaska where the discussion of politics is an indoor participation sport. The adults loved to argue politics and they thought it was their responsibility to teach the youngsters, so we were expected to pay attention and formulate our own opinions. Alaskans are and were actually really well-read. Long, dark, cold winters mean we have a lot of time for intellectual pursuits. We have great public and university libraries and they are well-used. This meant that much of what the adults were talking about was backed up by study.

My mom was a conservative non-partisan old-style feminist (she liked men, definitely wanted them in her life, but she didn’t think she should bow to them). My dad was a lifelong Democrat union organizer who would not recognize the Democratic Party of 2019. I knew my parents didn’t agree politically, but they weren’t at each other’s throats. When I stand back and look at it with a long lens, I think they really didn’t disagree on any of the big issues. Mom thought her money did her more good in her purse than in the pocket of some government official and Dad trusted the government a bit more than she did. Dad could call himself a Democrat and feel just fine with that. Mom felt she was lying if she promised fidelity to a single political party, so she was a registered non-partisan so she could vote for whichever party she preferred that election. That was about the extent of their political differences.

But in 1970, maybe 72, Dad foresaw where the Democratic party was headed and he started having trouble calling himself a “liberal”. He’d been struggling with this idea for a while when I overheard the conversation. How long is a mystery to me as Dad died before I was old enough to really pursue the topic, but he and my mom were talking about the McGovern campaign for President (1972) and Dad said he didn’t think the Democratic Party was still the party of liberals. He found the newest crop to be intolerant, abusive children who wanted a lot of stuff for nothing. Sound familiar? Yeah. He foresaw that. He didn’t know what to do about it and it bothered him, a lifelong committed Democrat, that he was expected to vote for policies and politicians who did not represent what he thought of as “liberal values.” (see the image above for the traditional definition of “liberal” and the image below for the modern progressive-liberal.

Mom hit it on the head that day when she said “They sound a lot more like the progressives from back when we were kids.” The conversation then moved onto whether the progressives were Republican (Teddy Roosevelt was) or Democratic (Woodrow Wilson was) and I don’t recall my parents exploring the change in the word “liberal” at the time. It stuck with me because I was already developing into a language geek and here was a word my dad had been using for 50 years that no longer had the meaning he associated with it.

Image result for difference between classical liberal and progressive

I know from my adult studies in history that the American progressives got their political and philosophical hats handed to them. They were completely discredited when they were infiltrated by the socialists and so, they spent a few decades in obscurity. They then came back in the 1960s, relabeled themselves “liberals” and took over the Democratic Party. They took advantage of the growing post-modern sentiments to claim “language has no meaning and we can define these historical words to mean anything we want.” Dad was sensing that change. Without the internet at the time, he couldn’t locate cogent arguments for why it was happening, but he knew it was.

When Hillary Clinton ran in 2012 and again in 2016, she used the more-correct term of “progressive” to describe herself, perhaps sensing that the term “liberal” had been flogged to death by the illiberal Democrats. That still doesn’t really solve the dilemma of people like me who subscribe the traditional liberal principles like freedom and self-sufficiency, but can’t use that term without invoking the warped definition of the word.

Dad’s lost word isn’t the only word that has been warped into a new meaning in the intervening years. My parents, who were young adults in World War 2, wouldn’t recognize how some people in our era define “fascism”, just as I now am perplexed by how some people define “racism” and “sexism”. This could be a much longer article if I focused on all of the word games post-moderns use to change the tenor of conversations. Dad’s struggle with the word “liberal” was my first recognition that how we use words can damage our relationships and ability to dialogue with one another. It stuck with me going forward because it’s always in the news and it involved some of my dad’s most fundamental beliefs and relationships. I’ve often wondered where Dad would stand politically today and I suspect he’d join Mom and me in the non-partisan camp, suspicious of political parties in general.

Words have meaning, which in the hands of good communicators comes with power, and in order for us to communicate, the meanings need to be understood by all. Unfortunately, the post-modern belief that words are malleable and the meaning can be changed whenever and however the user of the moment likes is harmful to meaningful communication. It’s one of the reasons Western society is tearing itself apart today. Some of us have redefined words to meanings that the users of those words never agreed to. Further, we misapply these redefined words to others without even bothering to find out if the words actually apply to them. Then some in society repeat those redefined words over and over in order to denigrate those they disagree with.

There’s a famous saying – the pen is mightier than the sword, meaning that the minds of people are won by persuasive arguments and not brute force. Words have power. The American revolution, according to John Adams, was wrought in the minds of the people (via the words of pamphleteers like Thomas Paine) a long time before the shot heard round the world on Lexington Green. I want to believe that we can make changes in society through reasoned debate on topics that affect all of us, but when we change the meanings of words without telling our rhetorical opponents, we game the debate process to our own benefit. It’s time we stopped that and agreed on a common vocabulary, so we can talk, know when to agree or disagree, and not have to make enemies of people whose words we redefined to mean something they didn’t mean.

Just a thought.

Define “conservative”   Leave a comment

Another conversation on Facebook – Define “conservative”

Lela Asks: Why Stay Like This?   2 comments

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch Corrected

Last week, Thom Stark responded to a reader who objects to his tax money being used to provide grants for infrastructure or services that, he felt, government shouldn’t even be involved in. Today, I’m going to touch on that topic, but then turn to the larger topic of whether what we’re doing currently is even sustainable.

Thom, I’m going to surprise you and agree that earmarks are a better system than what has replaced them since the big “bridges to nowhere” scandal. This is my nod to our modern-day reality of the federal government stealing from individuals in the form of taxes, thus impoverishing the states and forcing them to rely on federal revenue sharing which looks a great deal like welfare payments. If this is the way things must be (and they are at the moment), then earmarks make sense. Congress gets to direct the moneys to specific projects in specific states for specific purposes. Senators and representatives are elected from their states for the purposes of “bringing home the pork”. In theory, Senators are all equal and get a chance to lobby for their own earmarks. Of course Ted Stevens was, by virtue of his longevity in the Senate, more equal than others in committee assignments and that made Gravina Island bridge (which the Gravina Island residents did NOT want) possible. When Mark Begich replaced Uncle Ted, that longevity and the federally-funded projects that came with it went away. And, I say, good riddance. Alaska needs to disentangle from federal revenue sharing and plan for our future.

But the subject is earmarks and Congress bringing home the pork to their home districts.

These days, of course, they can’t really do that. The flap over earmarks was a long time coming and needed to occur, but Congress got the wrong impression from the criticism. It’s not “earmarked” funding most people hate; it’s the out-of-control spending. States must balance their budget by law. The federal government has no such requirement. In 2006, the country was only $8 trillion in debt and people were fed up. At 62% of GDP, anyone who has ever balanced a home budget knew we were in trouble. Earmarks took the limelight, but war spending and entitlements are what were and are driving the debt. Because earmarks became a dirty word, Congress now directs the funds as block grants for specific types of funding and leaves it to the Executive branch to determine the allocation of those funds. In other words, they gave more power to the Executive branch and furthered the imbalance of federal power while ceding their own tradition authority. And look what the Obama administration did with that new system? We are now $18 trillion in debt, which is 103% of GDP. To “solve” this problem, Congress is now considering a competitive funding system, at least for transportation infrastructure. I can see it now. The states that hire the best PR firms to write their grant applications will get more federal dollars. Poor states will become poorer and rich states will become richer — at least until the wheels come off the federal spending bus.

Earmarks were not the problem. Spending was and is the problem. And that is the larger conversation.

Yes, it is the way that it is now, but should it be that way? Why couldn’t it be some other way? It was once.

Before there was a federal income tax, the federal government was small and pretty efficient. We weren’t at war all the time because the federal government couldn’t afford to start wars. States raised their own revenues and used them on things of local and state interest. Roads got built, there were hospitals and museums, and churches took care of the poor. It was only with the 1914 passage of the Income Tax Amendment that the federal government could afford to start a war and it celebrated by starting World War 1. Yes, I know the war started in Europe, but the US prior to its official entry in 1917, spent three years egging the Europeans on, supplying the British and basically waving a red flag in the face of Germany, asking them to attack our bomb-carrying merchant ships. Our government did the same thing prior to World War 2. There’s nothing like being on a near-permanent wartime footing to make people think they should pay their taxes and bargain away liberty for security. Never let a crisis go to waste, after all.

The downside to federal income taxes is that states cannot derive sufficient revenue from state taxes. There is a limit to how much people can pay in taxes and still support their own lives. Because state legislators must face the public on the streets of their home towns, they are loath to raise taxes too much. So states require revenue sharing from the federal government, which makes no sense to me because the money is coming from their residents, bypassing them and then returning from the federal government. It provides a disconnect in people’s minds. Everybody wants cool federally-funded projects in their district and they applaud their states for lobbying to get them, while at the same time struggling to pay their bills because the federal government and then the state takes so much of their income in taxes. It’s a vicious cycle of taxation and spending.

Well, all that spending is catching up to us. There’s all that debt, which will take decades to pay down, IF we stop deficit spending soon, but worse, our entitlement system is on the verge of collapse. We’re approaching $90 trillion in unfunded entitlement liability, which is more than 200% of GDP. Sooner or later, this house of cards is going to come crashing down unless we seriously change the way we do things on the federal level.

So, you say “this is the way things are; live with it.” I look at the looming fiscal disaster coming our way and say “we can’t live with it because it’s unsustainable. Something must change.”

But what?

Everything these days is a 3rd rail. The politicians insist we can’t reduce Social Security, even though it is the single greatest revenue suck in the domestic budget (Medicare is almost equal to it). The politicians say we can’t reduce military spending because ISIS is going to sail up Chesapeake Bay with a squad of suicide bombers. Sequestration means we have to close the Washington Monument and that makes tourists grumpy. So we play around, reduce deficit spending from $1.1 trillion to $980 billion (otherwise denoted as a reduction of $3 billion) and pretend a drop in an ocean is a fix. The half of the country that wants to believe that the gravy train can keep going forward accepts the propaganda and says “we’re reducing the deficit. Isn’t it wonderful?” and make those of us who passed basic math in high school wonder if societal IQs dropped suddenly while we were reading Bastiat.

Yes, technically we are reducing the deficit, but the debt continues to grow and it is the debt that will eat our liver some time in the near-future. The solution will not be found in raising tax rates on the “rich”. You could tax everyone making a million dollars or more a year at 100% of their income and come within a couple hundred billion of closing that budget gap, but the next year, the “rich” will all have renounced their citizenships and moved to Malaysia or gone bankrupt.  You could tax corporations more, but they would do the same thing, taking more American jobs with them to Malaysia.

Thom StarkEngland’s history is indicative of what happens when you try to tax your way out of a spending problem. The British Empire used to be a great deal bigger than it is today and much more powerful, until they taxed their prosperous citizens into bankruptcy and emigration to support perpetual wars and welfare programs. Now the taxes rest on the soldiers of the middle class who cannot afford to leave  and their children are starting to espouse libertarian philosophy. This isn’t just happening in England, but there are political trends suggesting Europeans generally are beginning to rethink the socialist nanny state. They’re much further down the road than we are, so it is harder for them to define let alone find the exit, but they have many of the same issues that we do and some of them are thinking the solution won’t be found in government growth, but in a return to classical liberalism.

Yes, this is the way things are, but that way is not sustainable. It isn’t the fault of one political party or the other, or one president or the other … it is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed before the federal fiscal bus goes over a real fiscal cliff and takes the economy with it. My income and retirement are tied up in the economy, so — yeah, I care what happens to it. I would think you would too.

 

Lela Markham is the author of the epic fantasy The Willow Branch and the soon-to-be-released apocalyptic dystopian Life As We Knew It, which will explore many of the issues Thom and I touch on in this conversation.

Stay Tuned for More Conversation   Leave a comment

More conversationThom Stark and I will continue our conversation.

 

Thom Stark is the author of May Day, Book 1 of the American Sulla trilogy.

Lela Markham is the author of The Willow Branch, Book 1 of the Daermad Cycle.

Lela Markham on Monopolies   Leave a comment

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch Corrected

Thom Stark last week made the case for a government monopoly in high-speed Internet and this week, I respond

Thom, you actually think the Senate is less dysfunctional than the House? In 2014, the House passed over 350 bills that went to the Senate and simply were never taken up. Many of these bills were not bills Democrats would have voted for, but they weren’t even allowed to come up for a vote, which leaves constituents wondering where their elected representatives stand. And it doesn’t look like the Senate is doing any better in 2015, judging by how they dealt with the TSA authorization and its entanglement with the Obama immigration edict.

Alaska does have two Senators, which is equal to any other state, but just because a Senator claims to represent a state doesn’t mean that they do. ObamaCare was overwhelmingly unpopular in Alaska – instate pollsters found upwards of 70% opposition. Lisa Murkowski was the ranking minority member on the HELP committee during the writing of this thing (which is why she lost the GOP nomination for Senator in 2010; we weren’t fooled by her “no” vote on the Senate floor)) and Mark Begich was the 60th vote for passage (which is why he lost his 2014 reelection bid). Clearly they were not representing their constituents in their actions. The problem is that we’re stuck with them for six years if they go rogue. There is no accountability for Senators for six years between elections since they are no longer selected by state legislatures. You can impeach a President, you can recall a governor, but there is no mechanism to get rid of a Senator whose constituents realize they’ve made a grave mistake. Alaska really tried to recall Begich. The petition for recall had 100,000 signatures (1/8 of the population of the state) and nowhere to go. House members are much more sensitive to the opinion of the voters who put them in office because they face election every two years. Yes, people should be smarter about voting for elected representatives and not just vote for the sock puppets the two major political parties put forth as our only choices. Changes in ballot access laws to allow more third party and independent candidates would probably help there. Again, Alaska is not the only state with this problem. Other states have similar issues and largely for the same reasons.

Now for the main issue —

Access to the Internet is important and wrapped up in concepts of freedom of speech and association, but that does not require government involvement to protect it. Steve Jobs did a great job of creating a “build it and they will come” industry with his own money or the money of willing investors. I have no objections to private individuals innovating great ideas that open people’s eyes to new ways of living and making money from it. I object to government forcing innovation by edict and expecting the taxpayer (or the ratepayer in the EPB case) to foot the bill for services they have not chosen for themselves. If I’m a EPB ratepayer who does not choose to indulge in the Gig, I should not have to subsidize the ratepayer who believes it’s necessary for him to have it. If I’m a taxpayer in Alaska, I should not have to pay for someone who lives 5000 miles away from me to have a clear Netflix picture.

I reject the whole concept of “human rights”, by the way. Words have meaning that cannot change without consequences. Human “rights” are a made-up concept using a vocabulary that obligates the productive members of society to provide for the wants of the less-productive members of society in an arbitrary system determined by the zeitgeist of the contemporary era. I espouse natural rights, which are part and parcel with being a human being because they are constant throughout time and easily discoverable, but they also do not obligate anyone to provide them for me. I have a right to take care of my own needs, to the produce of my own labor and to the property that I claim through the exercise of my own production. I think, therefore I can express an opinion; therefore, I have a right to free speech. Each and every one of us has natural rights; they are the same for each one of us and we may not infringe upon the natural rights of others in the exercise of our own natural rights. Natural rights are those areas of our lives that only belong to us as individuals. They are so personal that nobody can violate them without also violating our humanity and therefore treating us as less-than human. We don’t have rights because the government decided to grant them to us. Our rights are inherent in our nature as human beings.

So, is Internet access a basic human right? Is it somehow sub-human for a person to live without access to the Internet? I think it would be degrading to deny someone access to such a powerful information and entertainment tool, but nobody is doing that. Access to the Internet is ubiquitous in the United States, a state of affairs largely created by tech companies that wanted to make money off the desire of Americans to have access to the Internet almost everywhere we go. What we’re discussing is Internet speed and whether government needs to provide greater and greater speed. And that’s where you and I don’t agree.

Yes, Europe has higher Internet speeds because the governments of Europe mandated them and coerced money from the more productive members of their society to build the networks. But as I noted in my last post on this subject, American companies are building those networks without government funding. It’s not happening as fast as a mandated build-outmight, but it’s also funded by users and what they will pay rather than by government and what they can steal from my pocket.

I’m under no illusions about the telecom corporations and their “altruism”. In Atlas Shrugged, the companies fighting against the government are trying to keep from becoming what the American telecom companies are – crony capitalists. Remember what I said about monopolies in my last post? All monopolies are bad for the consumer, but monopolies are virtually impossible to maintain without government intervention. The monopoly of cable companies is not a natural phenomenon and it is the epitome of a government monopoly. First, I can get Internet from three channels right now – telephone wire, satellite and cable and there are five companies competing for my business. That is because of an Alaska Supreme Court case that broke a federally applied monopoly over phone and cable lines in Alaska. The FCC ruled in the 1980s that ACS could do all the phones and GCI could do all the cable and not overlap, citing a natural monopoly because of geographic isolation (common administrative ruling in Alaska, btw). When an Alaska court ruled otherwise in the early 2000s, the FCC didn’t assert that prior regulation and so now we have competition for Internet in Fairbanks and Anchorage and networks built by them rather than the government. We don’t have fiber optic, but it’s coming — not that I think I need it.

EPB, on the other hand, got a $112 million porkulus grant, but according to this Washington Times article, EPB electric customers are footing the bill for more than $390 million in bond payments to cover construction costs related to the fiber network. That’s a lot of money essentially hidden in the electric bills of people who may not have opted for the Gig. Why should they? A gig a second is about 50 times faster than the national average for Internet. The average user in a home does not currently need that sort of speed for what is largely a news and entertainment venue, so the residential customers are not going to pay for the Gig. There’s going to be handful of individuals willin to to pay for it and probably some companies (who actually may benefit from those speeds), but all the ratepayers will see their electric rates go up to subsidize the system. Worse, the City of Chattanooga owns EPB, so when EPB billed the City of Chattanooga for installing the fiber optic cable, it was actually billing itself and guess how the City of Chattanooga will pay for that build-out? Taxes. Not only are the residents of Chattanooga paying more for their electricity to subsidize the ulta-high-speed Internet of a handful of users, they will also be paying more in taxes for the same system.

It’s the rotten beauty of a government monopoly.

Thom StarkI have no problem with Google choosing to bring fiber optic cable to neighborhoods in Kansas City, etc., and to temporarily forego profits as a long-term investment. I’m willing to bet that Google already has a plan in place for making phenomenal profits from this investment within three years (which is how long the IRS will let them charge off a loss in a local market). If they don’t turn it around that quickly, I’ll be surprised, but I won’t really care, because Google is a private company making a decision for the long-haul rather than the short term. Good for them.

The City of Chattanooga and EPB (which is owned by the City) is not a private company. It has no investors willingly providing financial capital in expectation of an eventual dividend. It’s financed by the ratepayers and taxpayers of Chattanooga, who will never see a return on their stolen money. They’ll bitch about their taxes and their electric rates and may not even realize these costs are so high because the City wanted to build a luxury for the few thousand users who can afford the monthly fee.

Telecom and cable companies have, by FCC and local regulations, generally been required to blanket entire cities, offering connections to every home. There’s a 1934 law that requires nationwide “wire and radio services” to every household at a “reasonable charges”. In exchange for wiring a community, telecommunications providers were often granted a monopoly to assure they could make money. Cable television companies made similar deals with cities and the FCC in the 1960s. There’s been some liberalization (uh, deregulation) of that system since the emergence of the Internet. Cities have opted for a more selective approach because the more competitive companies like Google argued that universal coverage was too risky and the returns were too low. My understanding is that Google is building its high-speed network as it finds demand, neighborhood by neighborhood. In neighborhoods in Kansas City, they asked residents to pay $10 to preregister for a gig of service which now costs $70 a month below a certain limit. It skipped certain areas entirely because they were too thinly populated or because of construction challenges. Google conducted preregistraton in 364 neighborhoods in KC; all but 16 met Google’s threshhold for connection. The brokerage firm Bernstein Research found that the potential customer base would be very profitable for Google.

Ah, but what about the poor neighborhoods? Well, yeah, rich people can afford things poor people can’t. Trying to make high speed Internet coverage universal will only slow down development of high speed Internet. That’s already happening. Los Angeles solicited plans for universal gigabit fiber networks and Google decided not to participate. Verizon was required by cities and some state laws to offer its FiOS services universally and it stopped expanding to new cities in 2010, citing the need to recoup its cost of capital. Yes, government could force it to be done as they did with EPB, but again, I object to people being forced to pay for a service they are not using and do not want. If someone wants the Gig, they should have to pay the full costs for it, not be subsidized by someone who would rather spend his money financing his retirement or sailing the Bahamas.

For me, it’s all about the liberty to choose what to do with my own resources.

Thom Stark is the author of the American Sulla trilogy, a political thriller. Lela Markham is the author of The Willow Branch, an epic fantasy. We also have opinions about the real world and thought we would share our conversation with readers.

Stay Tuned for More Conversation   Leave a comment

Thom Stark and I continue our ongoing conversation today. He’s a little bit progressive, I’m a little bit of a non-statist, and we find points of agreement and disagreement in a civil, sometimes light-hearted manner.

Stay Tuned for Christian Anarchy   Leave a comment

Becky Akers and I continue our conversation about how anarchism and Christianity reconcile.

Tune in tomorrow for the next installment.

https://aurorawatcherak.wordpress.com/conversation-with-an-anarchist/

Thom Stark Replies on Slavery and Social Justice in America   2 comments

Thom Stark

Thom Stark and I are continuing our debate. Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a fun and safe New Year’s Eve. Thom’s post today is in response to my post from two weeks ago, on what I perceive to be the root cause of police brutality in the United States. I think it’s the size and power of government and the lack of respect for individual liberty. Now for Thom’s take. Lela

 

Obviously we both agree that Slavery Is Bad. We agree, too, that the American Civil War had more than one cause, and that the question of states rights vs central government authority was one of the most important of them. I’ll even cheerfully grant that the Reconstruction was a time of barely-mitigated Northern vengeance on the South. We begin to part company after that, though.

First of all, I think it’s been firmly established that Federal authority trumps states rights pretty much across the board. Our Civil War settled that question. Nor do I think the precedent is a bad one, either in retrospect or in the perspective of the current era. Instead, I see states rights as steadily – and rightly – diminishing as our society evolves into a single, increasingly-homogenous culture, where regionalism is rapidly becoming a moot argument. I’m certain it looks different to you, because you live in Alaska, where a highly-individiualist, frontier mentality is the norm, rather than the exception, but in most of the lower 48, and throughout the Western world, one place is increasingly becoming interchangeable with the next. The ubiquity of chain stores and big brands, combined with the smothering cultural blankets of television – which gives us an unofficial received pronunciation that’s swiftly eliminating regional dialects – and social media (which strongly encourages herd think) is combining to create an environment where, on a day-to-day, experiential level, one town is completely indistinguishable from the next. Soon, the only legitimate regional sphere of influence will be that of the local professional sports team. The argument for right of place therefore becomes increasingly hard to make – and increasingly academic, in any case.

Which takes us to the individual, and the question of his or her rights vs those of the society in which he or she lives.

Society is always going to win this one, simply because there’s more of Them than there are of Us, when Us is defined as a single individual. You can complain about the unfairness of it all, wave your fists, and beseech the heavens as suits your fancy, but, in the end you’re outnumbered and outgunned, so They get to make the rules.

To me, an elected official has an ethical obligation to try to protect Us from Them – whoever We and They might currently define ourselves as being – but only insofar as doing so doesn’t create a still greater harm to one, the other, some third party altogether, or society as a whole in the process. Unfortunately, most of our elected officials are focused, instead, on getting re-elected and on gaming the system on behalf of their campaign contributors, but that’s a product of the perverse incentives the organized bribery we laughingly call a campaign finance system creates. If our Supreme Court hadn’t spent the past few decaces trying to give the vote to corporations, things might well be different. But it has, and they’re not.

As for Eric Garner, I think your assertion that the power of taxation was the root cause of his death is … well … “reductionist” is putting it mildly. Garner was killed by white cops in a white borough of New York City because he was a black man whom the area’s white shopkeepers viewed as a nuisance. Untaxed cigarettes are beside the point. Garner was a small-time hustler. Had selling loosies not been profitable, he’d have found something else to peddle. And the cops would have hasseled him over that, instead. The only real issue worth focusing on in his demise is the ubiquitous American police culture of cowboy justice, depraved indifference to human suffering, systematic lack of accountability, and the “thin blue line” mentality. (I say it’s the only real issue, because no one is going to be charged in Garner’s murder, video or no video, so the question of whether justice will ever be done has already been answered – and the answer is “No.”)

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedI’ve become acquainted with quite a few cops over the years. Some of them are fabulous officers who view themselves as public servants, take seriously their duty to protect and serve, and make it a point to treat everyone they encounter with courtesy and respect. Others are thugs with guns, who use their badges as an excuse to bully those they regard as their social inferiors. The system – and I’m talking here about the real-world, non-theoretical way things actually work – is supposed to protect the first type from the consequences of single, tragic mistakes. Unfortunately, it ends up protecting both types from any consequences of their actions whatsoever, regardless of how flagrantly they may misbehave.

Here in the USA, that’s considered normal, natural, and entirely appropriate.

I think it’s none of those things, and it needs to stop.

Thom Stark on Centrism   2 comments

In our continuing conversation, Thom Stark and I are discussing what radical centrism means and our view of politics and Plato’s Republic. See last week’s installment here.

My ending volley was: So which type of centricism are we talking about here?

Thom StarkLet’s start with my objection to The Republic. It isn’t its elitism to which I object as much as it is its advocacy of repression as a routine tool to stifle dissent and individuality. In that, it’s much more like the Soviet model of Marxism than Marxism, pura. (I doubt most people have read The Communist Manifesto, or that they know enough about the history of the Soviet Union to understand how far that top-down system of government by an elite political class was from the “spontaneous revolution of the proletariat” that Marx and Engels envisioned.) The elitist notion that philosophers, of all people, are inherently wise enough to rule benevolently is, for me, belied by the very system that Plato proposes: one predicated on ruthless suppression of dissent, the death penalty for non-conformism, a rigid caste system, and a ubiquitous secret police force spying on every citizen.

Yech.

I’m less of an idealist than I am a pragmatist, but I’m also very much a student of history. It seems clear to me that any system of government that relies on repression and fear to maintain itself in power is doomed in any but the short term, because all such systems are essentially designed to foment dissatisfaction and unrest – not to mention corruption, careerism, and intrigue among the elites.

When I say I believe elected politicians have a duty to protect the rights of the minority, I mean “against the tyranny of the majority.” You’re concerned about minority groups ganging up to impose their will on those who are not members of their coalition. I’m not, because, once such coalitions achieve sufficient voting power to advantage themselves against the remainder of the population, the principle of protecting minority rights should kick in to even the playing field.

Mind you, I’m not talking about a legal duty here. Rather I mean there’s a moral obligation on the part of elected officials to ensure that the laws they make deal fairly with everyone, rather than favoring the powerful and entrenched interests. As an example, the USA began as a slaveholding nation. The law favored the interests of slaveholders over those of their chattels. That changed after the Civil War, not for economic or political reasons, but for moral ones. Holding that all men were created equal and simultaneously blessing the ownership of a significant number of men and women by others was always the very rankest kind of hypocrisy. One or the other precept had to go – and I, for one, am glad it was the former that triumphed.

As for calling myself a “radical centrist”, that’s actually a bit of snark on my part. As I define the terms, a centrist is one who believes that the political solutions that benefit the greatest number of one’s fellow citizens usually emanate from the center of the debate, rather than from its fringes. Meanwhile, a radical centrist is one who’s convinced that public discourse would benefit enormously if the loudest, most hysterical voices on both extremes were lined up against a wall and shot.

Note: I don’t in any way advocate or approve of the use of summary execution to stifle dissent. It’s just my way of calling attention to the fact that the public debate in this country has devolved into a pointless, partisan shouting match – and only the biggest mouths benefit from that.

Bill Clinton is, in fact, a political centrist. Otherwise, for instance, he would never have signed the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. I thought it was a mistake for him to do so at the time, and the events of 2008 proved I was correct about that – which only goes to show that we centrists aren’t some lock-step monolith. There’s as much room for disagreement between us as there is between the extremes. We’d just rather focus on solving common problems than on waving our arms and shouting.

To me, the purpose of government, economically speaking, is to do the things private investment will not do – mostly because they are not immediately profitable enough to attract investment on their own. The interstate highway system is a classic example. It radically changed American life for the better, but it could never have been constructed by private capital. The military is another. Without it, Philip K. Dick’s The Man In the High Castle would have been history, not fiction. But the financial barons would never have spent their money to raise, train, equip, and supply a global, four-year military effort to defeat hegemonic totalitarianism. It took a powerful central government to do that.

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch CorrectedI think it’s the job of the government – of all three branches of our particular government – to protect human rights. That’s another task that’s simply beyond the purview of capitalism to accomplish. There’s no profit to be made (no short-term profit, at least) in combating slavery, protecting speech, or ensuring religious liberty, so the monied class won’t do any of those things. There are roads to be maintained, crime to be suppressed, traffic to be managed, and so on, and none of those things is best done by private interests. I think making potholes, parking, and policing the province of government is the least undesireable solution to those needs.

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