Back to previous post: Mmm, “good people”

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Making things, as well as light

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

September 16, 2008

That’s how it goes / Everybody knows
Posted by Teresa at 11:59 AM * 120 comments

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows.

Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”

Wesley’s comment (#35)—we’ll get to it in just a moment—came up in the discussion of Jim Macdonald’s post, Just When You Think McCain Has Hit Bottom, which is about McCain’s use of attack ads that are based on known lies. As Jim said in it: “You’d think that false, misleading, deceptive advertisements—in which McCain repeats smears that had already been discredited when Alan Keyes used them four years ago—would take the cake. But now, here comes some frosting…”

It’s a good thread. You should check it out. Here are some of the comments leading up to #35:

John Chu (3): How does McCain do this and still maintain his reputation of being a man of honor and integrity? The best attack ad against McCain right now may be one that paints him as a whiny, dirty trickster who is plying the same old Republican tactics that they trot out every time.

On one hand, yes, these are the actions of a desperate man. On the other hand, these actions have a disturbing tendency to work.

I hope the public sees them for what they are this time …

TNH (5): Why don’t his supporters understand that someone who’ll lie like that is not your friend and never will be? Why do they think he’s on their side?
Kouredios (12): At least Obama isn’t ignoring it, like Kerry tried to do.
Syd (13): I am appalled, but not at all surprised, since I keep hearing/seeing comments that a good portion of Obama’s campaign funding is coming from radical Islamists in the Middle East and elsewhere—this is just the flip side of those comments. McCain should be bombarded with questions about this tactic at every public appearance until he either denounces it and demands his supporters NOT do it (yeah, right), or he flat-out publicly agrees with it, at which point the media ought to pillory him as he deserves.

I know it isn’t going to happen, but I can dream …

Larry Brennan (22): On Friday, I was in a movie theater waiting for the show to start, chatting about the campaign with some friends. A woman sitting behind us invited herself into our conversation to ask how she could check out allegations that Obama had sexually assulted a minor that she had been emailed.
Which brings us to:
Wesley (35): There was a short story a few years ago by Howard Waldrop, called “Calling Your Name.” It ended up in a couple of Best-of-the-Year anthologies. There’s this guy, see, and after getting a shock from a badly wired power tool he learns Richard Nixon was never president. And then it turns out the Beatles never got together. And then JFK turns up alive, married to Marilyn Monroe. And then even members of his family have different names. Little bits of his reality keep shifting away from him.

I feel like the guy in the story. Except instead of history, it’s civilization that’s shifting. It seems like every few days I wake up and find another thing that was once beyond the pale is now normal, and considered unremarkable by everyone except some blogs somewhere. The lies are a little more blatant. The standards of behavior and intellect we expect from our leaders are a little lower. And hardly anyone cares, or even notices. Maybe I’m misremembering, but twenty years ago, before George W. Bush lowered the bar, wouldn’t somebody like Sarah Palin… who ran Alaska by filling important positions with old unqualified high school buddies and subadolescent sycophants who could in cold blood email things like “YOU ARE SO AWESOME” … wouldn’t someone like this have been a national laughingstock?

I keep expecting, someday, to wake up and on my way to work pass a handcart selling baby seals on a stick, freshly clubbed, skewered while still writhing. And everyone will be like, where have you been, dude? Everybody’s always eaten live baby seals for breakfast. It’s how things are, in this great country of ours! And then they will splash me with the excess blood, laugh terrible shrieking laughs, and wander off to relieve themselves in the nearest park.

How did we come to this uneasy acceptance of blatant falsehood, corruption, and incompetence? I think a major factor is that our our leaders haven’t stood up and called it for what it is, naming names and giving specifics, in plain and straightforward English.

It’s like working in an office where half of upper management is visibly (if you’re paying attention) falsifying expense reports, using company accounts to order home furnishings, giving lucrative consulting gigs to their ne’er-do-well buddies, and altering the file copies of old performance evaluations in order to justify firing anyone who gets in their way. Meanwhile, the rest of upper management is issuing generic statements about how we need integrity in our everyday practices if we’re going to become the truly great company we have the potential to be—when they’re not issuing memos expressing vague conventional regrets that yet another one of their number has been taken down by the bad guys.

That’s how you get the kind of situation Wesley describes in comment #35. When we’re trying to figure out the current rules of the current game, we take our cues from the people around us. If bad stuff is happening but no one in authority is standing up to it in a clear and immediate way, we don’t stand up to it either. Most people will go quiet, do their jobs, keep their heads down, and hope nobody targets them. They may console themselves by picking out one or two execs and telling themselves they aren’t as bad as the rest.

Others will try to get in with the bad-guy faction, and assert their hoped-for in-group status to other employees by showing off how crudely and blatantly they can wield inappropriate power, and engage in corruption, without getting penalized for it. (Note: They don’t actually have an in. The bad guys just find it temporarily useful to let them get away with those specific kinds of bad behavior. Later on, the wanna-bes will get screwed over just like everyone else.)

What I know is that in a situation like that, someone who notices and asks about the corruption will get hit with the pent-up anger and confusion of the employees who’ve been keeping their heads down, and jeered at by the wanna-bes. They’ll all tell him that he’s naive, and that this is how things always work.

It is not.

Addendum, from the comment thread:

Rosa (#12), 16 September 2008:

I have a friend who has argued for years that the general talking down of the government (and unions, esp. civil servant unions) is a deliberate right wing tool to gain political power & funnel money to contractors/lower taxes on business and rich people.

It’s an excellent double-edged sword. First, you argue that government is inherently bad at things, regardless of intent. Do it from a bunch of columnists, think tanks, campaign speeches, etc. Use it to block funding for social welfare programs and to get your industries deregulated so you can rob everyone with impunity.

Then, when you are in power, mess everything up. Doesn’t matter if it’s by design, by cronyism, or by plain stupidity - at the end of your term you can blame it on the nature of government. Lower the bar so nobody blames you for failure.

I used to think she was wrong, but more and more I’m believing it.

Agreed. I’ve been convinced for years now that there’s a deliberate disinformation campaign aimed at giving people the idea that government can do no good. Who fought and won WWII, put a man on the moon, and created the internet? The government, that’s who. And furthermore, FEMA worked just fine under Clinton. Governments are inherently complex and frustrating, but when they’re well-run they benefit us all.

Badly-run governments can do a lot of harm and waste a lot of money, but the small number of people they benefit wind up richer than Midas. That’s why the same guys who keep telling us that our shares in our democracy are worthless are crouched there, just waiting for us to let go of the power we hold as voters, so they can grab it for themselves.

Comments on That's how it goes / Everybody knows:
#1 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 01:15 PM:

Uh, so government is run like the pblshng industry? :-)

(Get well soon, Teresa ... )

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 01:29 PM:

Jon, I like you, but what the bleep does that have to do with the publishing industry?

If you need a source, I worked as an office temp for years. People are indiscreet around temps because they assume they don't have the background knowledge to understand what's being discussed. They underestimate the amount of information conveyed by general context and nonverbal cues.

#3 ::: punkrockhockeymom ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 01:32 PM:

Sounds just like a law firm to me. You know, based on *my* experience. I'm sure people from other industries or backgrounds could find a different analogy or parallels they remember.

Very insightful post, Teresa.

(Hope you're feeling well!)

#4 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 01:43 PM:

"What I know is that in a situation like that, someone who notices and asks about the corruption will get hit with the pent-up anger and confusion of the employees who’ve been keeping their heads down, and jeered at by the wanna-bes. They’ll all tell him that he’s naive, and that this is how things always work."

I think this explains the anti-feminism of the churchwomen who support Palin. Now if we can just get them aimed at the right target...

#5 ::: wokka ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 01:52 PM:

Some years ago I read an article in a popular science magazine (Forskning och framsteg) about what strategies will win you votes. Apparently the safest thing is to focus on slandering your opponents -- this will win you more supporters than talking about what you want to do if they vote for you.

#6 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 01:58 PM:


Actually many just think temps are stupid...I was a temp for too long.

#1: No government is run like the alcohol industry which is run:

"It’s like working in an office where half of upper management is visibly (if you’re paying attention) falsifying expense reports, using company accounts to order home furnishings, giving lucrative consulting gigs to their ne’er-do-well buddies, and altering the file copies of old performance evaluations in order to justify firing anyone who gets in their way. Meanwhile, the rest of upper management is issuing generic statements about how we need integrity in our everyday practices if we’re going to become the truly great company we have the potential to be—when they’re not issuing memos expressing vague conventional regrets that yet another one of their number has been taken down by the bad guys."

Yes I'm disgusted.

#7 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 01:58 PM:

I think it's another restatement of the banality of evil. Evil, unless opposed, becomes banal. It becomes common and everpresent. That's why we have to fight it where ever and whenever it is seen.

#8 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 02:01 PM:

Wokka #5: the safest thing is to focus on slandering your opponents -- this will win you more supporters than talking about what you want to do if they vote for you.

In any bundle of policies you can dream up, you can just about guarantee that 10-20% of your policies will offend any one of your supporters -- even those who are close to identical with you on policy lines. (I know for sure this is true of me: there's one UK political party I agree with 90% of the way ... except their policy on nuclear power (anti) sticks in my throat. And I'm pretty sure it's true of everyone else, too -- nobody supports any party platform 100%.)

When dealing with disciplined party members they'll put up with a lot, just so their voices can be heard in the back room negotiations that feed into the policy platform.

But the public ... they get handed the complete platform on a "take it or leave it" basis. And if you hand them a platform with something repugnant embedded in it, they can choose to walk away from you.

Talking about your policies therefore gives the undecided an excuse to decide they don't like you.

But slandering the other guy doesn't make you look bad, unless the voters are smart enough to spot you doing it.

#9 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 02:19 PM:

So per Wesley's comment, we're on our way to being to live our lives in our own personal bubble, where we filter out the stuff we don't like, and greedily guzzle the garbage that reinforces our worldview.

As in the movie theater example where a patron shares her received "knowledge" of Obama, by taking down her defenses with the people she gets email from, she is opting in to the lies. She doesn't even know it, but because it comes from someone she trusts or appears on a website, it has some credibility. Or perhaps she always loves gossipy stuff.

There is some daylight as even Faux News has turned on McThuselah's spokeshole more than once, but I suspect that just means Rupert has his thumb on the scale.

As Josh Marshall has pointed out, the hard right doesn't really care if these shenanigans break up the country, so long as they end up with the biggest chunk. They don't want to live in a country with liberty and justice for all if all includes women's libbers, blacks who think the rules apply to them, uncloseted gays or people of any color that isn't indisputably white. No wonder their VP pick is a secessionist from a very white state.

#10 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 02:21 PM:

I don't think we should overlook The "It's Not Because He's Black" Excuse Wheel™. That's fueling a lot of the wackadoodle anti-Obama rumors, IMHO.

#11 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 02:26 PM:

Over the last few weeks (and days in particular) I've come across variations of "All Politicians Lie". Well no. Politicians are optimistic or pessimistic, pick and choose which facts to present, present a simple and coherent narrative from complex situations, present ideological beliefs as facts and projections as certainties and they phrase things to give themselves room to maneuver. They don't flat out lie, because if someone catches them out then no one takes them seriously from then on.

Or at least that's how it used to be.

#12 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 02:29 PM:

I have a friend who has argued for years that the general talking down of the government (and unions, esp. civil servant unions) is a deliberate right wing tool to gain political power & funnel money to contractors/lower taxes on business and rich people.

It's an excellent double-edged sword. First, you argue that government is inherently bad at things, regardless of intent. Do it from a bunch of columnists, think tanks, campaign speeches, etc. Use it to block funding for social welfare programs and to get your industries deregulated so you can rob everyone with impunity.

Then, when you are in power, mess everything up. Doesn't matter if it's by design, by cronyism, or by plain stupidity - at the end of your term you can blame it on the nature of government. Lower the bar so nobody blames you for failure.

I used to think she was wrong, but more and more I'm believing it.

#13 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 02:32 PM:

Tangentially related--via Sarah Palin & feminism--my husband and I were discussing last night our bemusement and frustration at people's ability to hold mutually contradictory opinions at the same time (e.g. Sarah Palin is a woman; women's chief work is to keep the home and raise the children; women should not have authority over men; Sarah Palin is an appropriate choice for Vice President--even though the latter means she is (a) not home with the kids and (b) in authority over men).

Suddenly it occurred to me that anyone who professes the literal inerrancy of the Bible has had plenty of practice holding mutually contradictory ideas and believing them to be equally true.

This also explains how McCain can simultaneously accept Bush's endorsement and portray himself as opposed to the current administration's policies (while his voting record hews pretty closely to them).

Or as my husband put it more pithily: "If you're a Republican, it doesn't matter what you do, it only matters what you say." And no fair comparing what you're saying right now to what you said an hour ago, or a month ago.

#14 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 02:36 PM:

oops, forgot to link to this excellent post over at the slacktivist.

#15 ::: Andy Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 02:41 PM:

I think that while your post does have a very valid point, these things tend to go in cycles. This is the same country that used to blacklist people for being *suspected* communists or for refusing to cut ties with people suspected of being communists.

The solution to lies is truth. The current issue is that we have no way of confronting the liars with their lies as much of the media refuses to do their job. Liars are nothing new, but when you cannot even get a credible story published about blatant, brazen lying you have a problem. When you get more accurate reporting from The Daily Show than you do from, say, CNN this should worry us about CNN.

#16 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 02:48 PM:

Andy @ #15, "this should worry us about CNN"

It does. That's why sites like Media Matters and others exist; to point out the errors and conscious or unconscious biases of the news programming on network or cable.

#17 ::: ADM ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 02:54 PM:

Perfect song quote, FTW. And so glad you seem to be recovering!

Seriously, though, Teresa -- I think that you've left out an important part. Buried somewhere in all the denial are a lot of people who were raised to believe that the US is governed by the people and for the people. Admitting the country has got so incredibly screwed up means admitting that they are possibly complicit.

Think about all the people out there who voted for W twice, hate him now, but are still going to vote for McCain, despite saying that they don't really like him. If McCain doesn't change things (and everybody knows he won't, but he says he will), then maybe things couldn't be changed. Maybe the voters aren't responsible after all. If they vote for Obama and he does make a start at fixing the country, then they will have to stand up and say they were wrong -- and possibly even help to fix things (somebody will have to cough up some cash to fix the deficit ...). Who wants to eat that much crow?

Of course, I could be completely wrong... but it seems there are lots of people who would rather compound their mistakes by making things worse (while hoping to make them better) than there are people who are willing to admit they made a mistake in the first place.

#18 ::: Anthony VanWagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 03:00 PM:

I have to agree with Jon Meltzer. This sounds very much like the pblshng industry. As an intern I wondered why the lousy writers went to the top, and the ones who performed were constantly given the runaround.

I realized, in the end, that they had their own system of contacts, and they weren't about to toss them.

#19 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 03:06 PM:

"I think a major factor is that our our leaders haven’t stood up and called it for what it is, naming names and giving specifics, in plain and straightforward English."

That can't be the only factor. We need something to explain why our leaders have chosen not to use plain and straightforward English to call out the bullshit.

No doubt, there is some kind of negative feedback loop at work...

#20 ::: Andy Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 03:08 PM:

Linkmeister @ 16

I am aware of the watchdog sites. The problem is not with me however, it is that there seems to be a social issue of general acceptance towards anything that looks legitimate. I have had co-workers of mine forward the "Obama is a radical Muslim" email without even being aware of the writeup that methodically debunks it. Actually none of my co-workers actually are aware of at all. I work in a law office and my coworkers are moderately intelligent if not quite hip to the internet age.

Just as Tim Berners-Lee perceived the need for a Truth rating for web sites there is distinctly a lack of popular accuracy metrics for television and print news.

That is somewhat of a tangent to Teresa's post, but my point is that we're not suddenly baby seal eating cretins any more than we used to be. It's just that FOX News ran a special titled "Baby Seals Cure All Ills" that has caused a bit of a run on fresh baby seals and nobody has bothered to point out that maybe a nice plate of veggies would be better for you.

#21 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 03:09 PM:

wokka@5: Apparently the safest thing is to focus on slandering your opponents -- this will win you more supporters than talking about what you want to do if they vote for you.

"Well, of course," thought I, "they won't believe you when you tell them what you want to do if they vote for you, because they think all politicians lie to get elected."

"Wait a second," I replied, "if that's true, then why do they believe the lies politicians tell about their opponents?"

I guess it makes sense. If all politicians are crooks and liars, as the standard narrative has it, then it's believable that a politicians is a crook, even when the person telling you that is a politician (and therefore a liar).

There's a logic puzzle in here somewhere.

#22 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 03:13 PM:

It seems to me that most of the mainstream tolerance for outright political whoppers can be explained by two factors:

(1) If McCain runs on his domestic policy proposals, he will lose. If McCain runs on his plan for Iraq, he will lose. If McCain runs on his actual record, he will lose. If McCain runs on his association with the Republican Party, he will lose. If McCain runs on "hey, look! terrorists!" distractions, he will lose. Lying like a rug is the only strategy left that has any hope of winning.

(2) McCain has spent a number of years assiduously cultivating a reputation with the press as a "maverick" and a "straight talker". Therefore, when he started kowtowing to the most reactionary elements of the party and lying like a rug, political reporters' first impulse was to rationalize the behavior, e.g., explaining that lying to the voters is not so bad.

#23 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 03:16 PM:

Jen Roth, #21: "Wait a second. If that's true, then why do they believe the lies politicians tell about their opponents?"

Because people trust negatives more than positives. o/~ Swear there ain't no heaven/But I pray there ain't no hell! ~/o It's not a complicated observation, but what to do about it is harder. Obama, to his credit, and despite all his policy failings, is trying.

#24 ::: Michael Bloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 03:28 PM:

To me, the industry this looks most like is the music industry, which within my lifetime has (1) foisted a media change that more than doubled the price of a standard unit of music (2) attempted to foist two more media changes that would have perceptibly lowered sound quality (3) attempted to ignore the Internet as a delivery system (4) attempted to destroy the reputation of the Internet as a delivery system by suing random music consumers and/or their elderly relatives (5) not released more than a handful of decent records this century.

And all the bamboozlement that we see in today's media, a/k/a McCain's "base," looks to me just like aging rock critics gushing over Madonna's ability to reinvent herself back in the day.

#25 ::: JS ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 03:39 PM:

allegations that Obama had sexually assulted a minor
Sadly, this isn't something terribly new; it's right up there with LBJ's slanders against an old opponent who was a hog farmer (i.e. that the man's wife was unhappy because he had relations with his sows). Johnson knew it was untrue, but insisted it be published anyways, so he'd force his opponent to deny it publicly and lend it credence.

But these days, nothing in the world matters. How can you counter slanders, lies, bald-faced idiocies, &c. if ANYTHING's OKIYAR?

#26 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 04:20 PM:

Perhaps one reason why McCain is seen as this super honest straight-talking guy is because every time a Democrat talks about him they preface their remarks with a paragraph proclaiming that they stand second to none in honoring McCain's honor, patriotism, heroic self-sacrifice, etc., etc., etc.

#27 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 04:24 PM:

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, McCain did not invent the Blackberry.

While we're on the subject, Palin hasn't field-dressed a moose, but she did see it done once.

#28 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 04:38 PM:

How did we come to this uneasy acceptance of blatant falsehood, corruption, and incompetence?

My earliest memory of watching TV news as a child was some boring guy talking about a thing called Watergate.

#29 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 04:45 PM:

I guess it's time to get back to bearing witness, and iterating. Again.

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 04:46 PM:

Jim @ 26

I keep complaining about Obama and Biden trying to win an election by treating their opponents according to Senate courtesy rules, when their opponents will stoop to sewer-level attacks. Unless the Democrats are willing to completely go overboard on the courtesy (something like 'the honorable gentleman from the great state of Arizona' - used frequently and loudly), some of the people will believe they're actually too nice for the job, and vote for McCain.

#31 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 05:15 PM:

#30: For Brutus is an honorable man.

Does that work in real life?

#32 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 07:28 PM:

Mary Dell #28: My earliest memory of watching TV news as a child was some boring guy talking about a thing called Watergate.

My most enduring memory of Watergate was the oratory of Barbara Jordan. There are a few Democrats I can listen to without cringing, but none of them are up to her standards of oratory, in my opinion.

#33 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 07:41 PM:

James D. Macdonald @ 27
He did manage to pick an excellent example of the state of American innovation in the wireless telecom market.
If you want to congratulate the makers of the Blackberry, here's their contact information:
Research In Motion
295 Phillip Street
Waterloo, Ontario
Canada N2L 3W8

#34 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 07:42 PM:

Amid the gloom, I note incontrovertible evidence that Teresa is doing better. She feels like writing.

#35 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 08:05 PM:

Why do people accept barefaced deceit as a perfectly legitimate political tool?

Well, Bible thumpers aren't the only ones trained to accept mutually contradictory ideas, and to dismiss all efforts at fact-based ideas.

For many years, schools offered mathematics and science courses in which getting the right answer was less important than understanding the process. They did so because hard science and math are "hard," and because students "needed validation." I have no idea if watering down the subjects eventually led the students to take the real thing - but I'm pretty sure one thing it *did* lead to was de-emphasize the importance of rigorous cognition and correct problem solving.

Magnify that across most of the country for most of a generation and we have a large swath of people who not only have no background in factual analysis, but who think factual analysis isn't even that important.

Also, though it pains me to say this, the hard right isn't alone in shading truth, ignoring facts, and committing reducio ad absurdem in order to keep believing what it wants to believe. So do some self-styled progressives:

Meat eaters and leather-wearers are evil? Vaccinations cause autism? Silicon breast implants cause cancer? Pets are slaves? Cochliar implants are a vile plot to destroy the deaf community? Each of these (and there are probably many more) are examples of faulty or facile or just plain weird thinking that undermine the ability and desire to think multi-lineally, distinguish normative effects from anomalies - and, to put the cherry on top, also magnify personal grievances to a society-wide imperative.

My point is that Americans have spent a few decades learning NOT to think rigorously or critically; learning that belief trumps fact; and - above all - learning that your identity depends on maintaining your belief system no matter what. Chris Lasch famously called this "a culture of narcissism." He was pilloried for it.

Commentors here compare our current political culture to various industries.

But our apparently bottomless propensity to accept lies as legitimate, and attack would-be truth tellers, even as the disintegration of our nation accelerates, puts me far more in mind of Easter Island.

#36 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 09:20 PM:

My standard answers:

How have we not noticed? The parable of the slowly-boiled frog applies here. Increase the temperature slowly, in insidious ways, and the frog will never notice that it's been boiled to death. (This is apparently not actually true for frogs, but it is definitely true in a metaphorical sense for humans.)

The "increasing water temperature" is the constant stream of pernicious lies, half-truths, hate, snark, spin and general horribleness that comes out of the neocons, Rovians and others. When there are literally a dozen new horrible things every day, who has time to pay attention to any given one of them? Who has time to hold them responsible for any single action, when the new horribleness keeps coming? There's no way to point out each boiling bubble, when they start coming in a roll.

It's all helped along by the strong current of anti-intellectualism in American life. The Democrats appeal to the brain, but the Republicans appeal to the gut. Why did people vote for Bush? In spite of Kerry's superior plans & debating, in spite of the horrible actions of the Bush administration (and to some extent because of them), Bush "felt right". He felt like a homey, friendly guy, the kind of person who (as so many people put it) you might like to have a beer with.

Feelings don't have to worry about being confronted by facts. "You may take away my facts, but you can never take away my truthiness" -- if Colbert hasn't said it, he probably meant it.

And in the face of the ever-present onslaught of information in the world today, and with the constant dull anxiety that the Republicans have become so good at maintaining, there are a lot of people who want to cling ever-closer to their feelings rather than the facts. Thus the "faith-based community" and the "reality-based community".

The neocons, Rovians, etc. have become masters of keeping the water boiling ever higher, while feeding the frog a steady diet of sugar and adrenaline to keep it from ever noticing just how close to the end it is. And because the frog has apparently forgotten how to jump, I have no idea how the frog can rescue itself.

#37 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 09:38 PM:

When the élites succumb to decadence, the culture over which they enjoy hegemony usually just deteriorates until a cultural revolution arises, in which the old élite class is replaced by a new one.

#38 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 09:48 PM:

John Chu, that's the phrase that keeps walking through my mind.

(Education has benefits, one way or another.)

#39 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 10:25 PM:

The only thing I could possibly add to this--Teresa is one of the best people on the internet for Explaining Things (and, incidentally, Teresa, I'm also glad you're getting better)--is that "people in authority" includes the media as much as (maybe even more than) our actual leaders. The main message I've taken from the media for the past eight years is that everything is normal. This newest crisis or latest revelation is just a thing that happened. These things just happen, y'know? The way things do. Because they're things. And in the course of time this thing will be replaced by another thing, and forgotten. And more than likely the next thing will be a missing caucasian woman, or a spontaneously imploding pop idol, or the Olympics.

CaseyL, #35: For many years, schools offered mathematics and science courses in which getting the right answer was less important than understanding the process.

Of course, those who stumble onto the right answer but don't understand the process are in just as much trouble. Because they don't know why the right answer is right, and can't use the process to get more right answers; and maybe don't even understand that there is a process, and it doesn't involve unquestioningly accepting what the teacher tells you, or even just guessing...

#40 ::: kouredios ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 10:35 PM:

Ooh, one of my comments made it to the main page. Neat! Would it be ungracious, then, for me to note that my handle's misspelled? It's κουρεδίος, no second u.

As for the topic at hand, I've been feeling lately like I've gotten almost shrill (oh how I hate that word) because I keep repeating to folks who don't listen how McCain is just more of the same, with logic, links, and well-developed paragraphs, and all they see is an attack. A personal one, at that. It's as if identifying as a Republican is the same as identifying as a Cowboys fan, or a Chevy owner. For them, it's part of who you are, and not something you think about and decide on.

On the other hand, my class of 11th and 12th grade girls are learning how to apply literary criticism to campaign commercials and they see the difference. They could see right away that all of McCain's ads are attacks on Obama, and Obama's are about himself and about us as a nation, not McCain. So I've still hope for the future.

#41 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 10:52 PM:

Ok, I got a new lie today. Obama was sworn into the Illinois State Senate on a Koran. Now I can find lots of links disproving the US Senate claim, but the goalposts have been moved. I live in downstate Illinois, so I'm pretty sure if there was any truth to the claim it would be all over the place here, but that's not really sufficient evidence for this wingnut (as if anything would be). Is it worth engaging further?

#42 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 11:18 PM:

They're confusing Barack Obama with Keith Ellison, who is my U.S. Representative.

Perhaps the people who are doing the confusing get all those black guys mixed up, eh?

*rolls eyes*

P.S. Ellison got all sorts of right-wing nastiness about his religion before the election, and after. He did get sworn in on a copy of the Koran... which was on loan from the library of its owner: Thomas Jefferson.

#43 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 11:59 PM:

There's a good post on Hullabaloo which I read with a feeling of revelation. One of the reasons they believe all that garbage is because the Republicans have spent the last 20-30 years delegitimizing formerly trusted sources of information.


#44 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 12:53 AM:

I was going to add my own experience of bad, trending to evil, management in the high tech industry when I suddenly realized that the behavior Teresa described is much more like something with which we're all familiar: High School.

Remember the table of Popular Kids in the lunchroom, the one kids like us weren't allowed to sit at? They used to trade in lies and slanders all the time, as weapons against anyone who was either not a member of their clique or wouldn't genuflect properly to the Alpha members.

And their friends got all the advantages of their position, while their enemies got dumped on, or humiliated, or beaten. And everyone knew what was going on, that they were "visibly (if you’re paying attention)" cheating on tests, paying for papers and homework to be done for them, and otherwise reducing the system to a means of catering to their positions of power.

Too bad they didn't mature a little when they grew up; they just moved high school into the government.

#45 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 01:27 AM:

It's scapegoating. At least this evening I think it is. The wingers' lives have gone south, partly due to factors beyond anyone's control and partly due to their own conduct. And they're looking for someone to blame. And that's why nothing reaches them. They know the real problems aren't going to be solved easily, and that they are part of the problem, they're scared and angry as hell, and they desperately do not want to deal. Much, much, much easier to attack "liberals", Democrats, and, well, anyone targeted by people they sort of trust.

#46 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 01:52 AM:

CaseyL @35, while I've been known to complain myself about the eagerness of my fellow liberals to eagerly swallow false facts that reinforce their beliefs (just like any other group of people), I just can't choke down your examples. I don't believe in the existence of some lost golden age when American students excelled in science and math. Neither do I believe that science and math education actually teach clear thinking -- I've met too many engineers and programmers who mindlessly regurgitate false political talking points.

As far as your list of alleged "progressive" false beliefs, you list five items. Two of them ("Meat eaters and leather-wearers are evil" and "Pets are slaves") are matters of opinion or axioms you don't share; if you were as careful a logical thinker as you claim to be, you'd recognize that these claims can be neither proven nor disproven, and are therefore neither true nor false.

The fifth, about cochlear implants, is a belief specific to the deaf community, and not part of the general left or right. Taken on its own merits, it's a conservative idea, but it's not all that unusual to find conservative ideas circulating among the modern left, and liberal ones among the right.

(Why is opposition to cochlear implants conservative? The deaf people who oppose the implants seek to insure that their culture is passed on to their children, even at the cost of isolating the children from the general culture. Perhaps even with that primary intent. That's a conservative impulse, as mid-20th-century conservatives understood the word, before the last half-century of propaganda rotted away our political vocabulary.)

Anyway, there's never really been a time when most people were trained to think critically. The sorts of nonsense that pass for political argument in our day were all dissected 62 years ago by George Orwell.

#47 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 02:31 AM:

I'll risk an otherwise content-free comment (great post, though, and absolutely correct) to express thanks to Teresa for getting better.

(I'm a bit overdue, I know: Intertube access out here in my new home in the a(r/s)s(e)-end of nowhere is, shall we say, stochastic. By the time I heard the bad news there was already better news.)

#48 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 02:55 AM:

Avram: Having been active in the Deaf Community, it's more complicated than that.

Implants don't work for everyone, and there is a lot of baggage which goes with them; not least that being deaf is somehow "wrong". Given that they don't work for everyone they are seen as an assault on the viablility of deaf culture because they would shrink the membership.

When I was active in the deaf community, the consensus (where I was) was that those who wanted them should get them, but those who proselytised them were crossing a line. Those who were pushing to have them imposed on children were worse than Rochester School devotees.

I actually have tolerably strong, if mild, opinions on them, which is why I didn't respond at first mention. I hope I've not been over the top.

One of the things I like about the deaf culture is that it's accepting of non-deaf people. The first place I got the sense of being in the minority was being hearing in a deaf world. That changed a lot of how I saw other minority issues.

#49 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 03:18 AM:

Dammit, I've turned into the guy with the hammer, and the office analogy is looking awfully like a nail.

The office analogy is a textbook example of Zimbardo's Lucifer Effect: moral compasses are, by and large, calibrated by the situations we find ourselves in, not principles. This is never more true than when we perceive that those in power in a situation are actively ignoring or participating in immoral acts.

Kind of like if you work for an investment bank that YOU know is only profitable because of a bubble, that you know the management know is only profitable because of a bubble, but if you stop relying on the bubble then you a) make less money in the short term than the bubble investors and b) hasten the collapse of the bubble. Takes a brave person in those circumstances to either quit or try to take your company out of the bubble.

Michelle @6 : remind me again where McCain's support for his political career comes from.

#50 ::: Greg M ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 03:21 AM:

Lots of good stuff here (and glad you're doing better, Teresa!), but I want to particularly follow up with Rosa@12, and the rather unpleasant, but most definitely true corollary:
1) Right-wing radicals have spent the last 37 years arguing government can't do anything right.

2) When government *does* do something substantial right, it costs them votes.

This, obviously, creates problems for any political party that wants to stay in power. And it's why they hate Social Security so much. The problem with Social Security isn't that it doesn't work--it's that it does work. Every monthly check, delivered on time, is a reminder that hey, the government can keep people out of poverty, and that, hey, the government does care about me/my parents, and is making sure my parents don't starve. And that COSTS THEM VOTES. Which causes them to lose money. Which causes them to lose power.

It's why the Republicans lie so relentlessly about Katrina, and why they're desperately trying to shove James Lee Witt down the memory hole (Witt was the very capable, very hardworking head of FEMA during the Clinton years who basically turned the agency around from the disaster it was during the Reagan/Bush years.

Every single national disaster that FEMA & James Lee Witt handled well from 1993-2001 was a little reminder: The government can do some things good.

And that costs Republicans votes. Which costs them money. Which costs them power.

I can say this here, in this forum, something I might not say even on dailykos: More Americans die when Republicans get elected. This is the dirty truth that, for a variety of reasons (ADM @ 17 hit on a very important one, complicity & guilt), is not talked about.

According to a recent study (think it was Kaiser), 18,000 Americans die a year due to a lack of health insurance. The Republicans blocked Bill Clinton's health care reform solely for political reasons--to win an election. They had no regard for improving an obviously flawed policy.
1994-2008 = 14 years. 18,000*14=252,000 dead Americans, several of whom would still be alive if Clinton's plan had passed. More would be alive if a single-payer system had passed.

4,159 American soldiers dead in Iraq who would still be alive if the Presidency hadn't been stolen from Gore.

And then there's the matter of Sandy Berger's six-hour briefing to Condi Rice about Al-Qaeda in January of 2001, and Richard Clarke's repeated, unheeded warnings, warnings which would have been heeded by Gore, and the August 4, 2001 quote from Bush, when handed the PDB: "All right. You've covered your ass."

Does anyone for a second believe Gore would have dismissed such a report? Would not have taken SOME sort of action? (I want to make clear I'm not a conspiracy theorist--Al-Qaeda brought those towers down and no one else. But Bush is guilty of criminal negligence, negligence which Al Gore would certainly not have committed. I don't know if the 9/11 attacks were preventable. It is possible they were not. But it is also possible that some form of higher alertness, some form of warnings from a more concerned administration, could have had some kind of impact, and we should not be afraid to acknowledge these possibilities.)

There are words for what the right-wing radical Republicans have done to our country. Certainly "criminal negligence" is a good one. "Evil" might also apply.

So might treason.

#51 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 06:06 AM:

#43 Mary Kay references the study I immediately thought of when I read this thread.

More comments on it here by a scienceblogger:

Linked text

and the same author, explaining why he thinks it isn't just limited to conservatives (the conclusion the authors' drew):

Linked text

#52 ::: Malaclypse ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 07:30 AM:

I think a major factor is that our our leaders haven’t stood up and called it for what it is, naming names and giving specifics, in plain and straightforward English.

I'd disagree with it being gradual. I remember watching the Iran-Contra hearing. Not, this was about setting up a shadow executive branch for the explicit purpose of bypassing the lawful government of the United States. It was clear that all involved had committed high treason. The moment Oliver North got declared a hero, it was clear the game was over. Perception, theatrics, and the Big Lie won the day. We are all still living in Ollie North's world.

#53 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 07:47 AM:

This chain of reasoning:

1. Republicans screwed up.
2. Republicans run the government.
3. Big government screwed up.
4. Republicans are against big government.
5. Vote Republican.

is a remarkably effective one, given that it essentially amounts to an admonition to reward failure.

In the aftermath of Katrina, over on Mark Schmitt's old blog, I said once that this notion of running against the government when you control the government couldn't work for long because you can't have a one-party state with nothing but an opposition party. Then somebody brought up the USSR as a counterexample. But I guess it didn't work forever for them.

#54 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 09:11 AM:

It's the Big Lie technque--anything repeated long enough and loud enought, gets treated as Truth.

The insidious thing about the Talking Points is their pervasiveness. Reiterated again and again and again, from hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of chainletter-like repeaters, who regurgitate the material sent to them for them to distribute, and redistribute it onward in intentional epidemic spreading fashion, it becomes part of "what everyone knows" due to it having become ubiquitous.

Or, more simply: it's everywhere, and becomes internalized "ordinary" knowledge and values.

#55 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 09:28 AM:

How can one stop the lies,
Those things claimed that "everyone knows"
How can one call out the liars,
Discredit them as public foes?
How can one undo the damage
The injustices done and gone on,
How can one show their works tainted,
And show that they're singing false songs.

How can one change the perceptions
The liars have spread mind by mind,
How can one undo the damage,
And their evil commence to unwind
How can one undo a fabric
That's spun of ill-will and deceit,
That's masqueraded as values,
Resistant to Truth and to heat.

#56 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 10:34 AM:

I think others have covered much of this already, but it's worth noting that a lot of the American public has seen through much of the noise machine. Take TV news ratings, for instance: when given the chance, many viewers do watch news and commentary that isn't hostile to liberal views. So much so, in fact, that it puts new managers in the interesting position of repeatedly having to make up new lies to explain why they're killing off their most popular shows. Come election time, the conservative machine can scrape out something that looks like victory only through massive fraud before and on election day and then vigorously suppressing public expressions of concern later.

I don't want to make it sound like I think everything's hunky dory with vox Americana. But look at, for instance, just how large a fraction of the public now opposes the war in Iraq, and just how little encouragement they ever got for that from the official views-dispensing establishment.

And keep in mind that, after all, there really is a frequently criminal conspiracy to lie to the public about every issue of civic importance, and has been in a basically unbroken line back to the New Deal. I think that dumping on the public as being fundamentally responsible is somewhat like blaming all the victims of the Mafia for being so muggable. Yes, it's desirable when the victims get together and push back, but it takes a lot of effort to make that happen, and in the meantime, I prefer to focus on encouraging and rewarding (as I can) signs of progress. We are, after all, not the only ones having our hopes and dreams used as grist for the mills of other people's evil desires.

#57 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 11:20 AM:

Why did I just have a vision of Teresa stalking the streets of The City, smoking unfiltereds and wearing mismatched red-green lenses?

#58 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Skwid #57: wearing mismatched red-green lenses

Prescription 3-D glasses is on my list of luxuries in which to indulge should I suddenly become wealthy.

#59 ::: John McCain ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 03:26 PM:

I am not a crook!

I am not a crook!

I am not a crook!

What? It worked for Nixon... oh... yeah.

#60 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 03:49 PM:

Chris Clarke(!!!) @ 47

Intertube access out here in my new home in the a(r/s)s(e)-end of nowhere is, shall we say, stochastic. By the time I heard the bad news there was already better news.

This seems to be a good argument for stochastic Internet access.

#61 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 03:58 PM:

#59 [pseudoynmous? ...]

It worked for Poindexter, etc.

I had a teethcleaning today (eventually more crowns on teeth appear probable... I've been holding off on that for years though). The Newsweek in the dentist's office mentioned that Palin and McCain's words and ads have have various lies in them.

Oh, NOW I remember what else was in there--that several members of Congress who were not willing to speak out on record, said that McCain's temper is horrible and that that is a substantiative reason that scares them/ought to disqualify him for serving as President.

Meanwhile, the financial funny money "products" meltdown results and semi-collateral damage, have taken the headlines the past 24 hours, pushing Gov Palin's visage and predatory fangs (hidden to the casual observer... what are the differences between Sarah Palin and a vampire out hunting?!) mostly offscreen.

Michael (?) Greenberger, who was in the government in a treasury ? position during some of the Clinton years, was an NPR guest. He said that he had been warning for years about the financial products that had gone unmonitored and unregulated, and that there was going to be a meltdown....

The collapse of three formerly two ton gorilla financial services institutions, two of them getting US Government taxpayer=-paid bailouts, which had been paying employees yearly compensation as much as nine figures of dollars, OUGHT to drive the McCain-Palin ticket into the sewer as regards credibility and attractiveness. Employees getting more than a hundred million dollars a year, from companies now being bailed out by US taxpayers who can't even afford health insurance, is completely and utterly obscene.

I suspect that Sarah Palin and John McCain have NEVER had to worry in their adult lives about affording health insurance....

#62 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 05:29 PM:

I think media is involved, but in a somewhat different direction.

People decide on their emotional reactions, their beliefs, and their actions in ways that are strongly affected by what they see around them[1]. In particular, outrage and anger and derision are emotions that are heightened enormously by visible group support. Outrage or derision in a group, in person, just *feels* viscerally different, more satisfying. I'm sure there's an element that's physical to this difference, and I'm sure it's an evolved thing, something that supported our kind of critters in our past[2].

For political issues, for many people, the "people" with whom they see or hear of political/social news are TV media personalities, or others in a room watching the TV media. 24 hour news shows provide a creepy propogandaesque set of running commentaries, bullet points, and set of images. They routinely have a loud discussion of the controversy of the week, between talking heads whose job is to talk that controversy up.

The TV news channels apply outrage in wildly inappropriate ways. Trivial crap--embarrassing gaffes, creepy badguys with little power doing horrible things, racist rants from marginally-famous people--those things get the outrage flowing. The talking heads get worked up over it, people yell at each other, inflamatory words appear as the bullet points on the screen. We get a two minute hate in against Don Imus or that crazy lady who killed her 3-year-old daughter.

By contrast, the disappearing and torture no-trial detainment of Jose Padilla, on the authority of the president alone, got no media outrage. The disclosure that we are, as a matter of policy, torturing people, got little or no media outrage. Massive wiretapping of Americans in direct violation of the written law got little or no media outrage.

People largely react to this, especially if they're not thinking that much about it. When the talking heads discuss it in calm and boring tones, it must not be outrageous. After all, it's not causing public outrage in this synthetic "crowd" with whom I'm watching the news.

[1] There's a rich social psychology literature on this phenomenon, which I can dig around for, though I'm sure there are people around here who know more than I do about it....

[2] Whether it was selected for actively (my strong suspicion) or just arose randomly, it appears to be a universal property of people.

#63 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 06:49 PM:

"Everybody Knows", Leonard Cohen, 1988. If you're hip to the semi-obscure morbid Canadian poet, you're probably already thinking "yeah, that's true." If you're not, "what a boring, depressing song. And it's not as if he can, actually, sing."

"Everybody Knows", Concrete Blonde, 1990, in "Pump up the Volume". There are those who are on the outside of the Real World, that can see the cracks. They are equal parts frustrated at their inability to do anything (Beastie Boys) and resigned to their fate (Concrete Blonde). Even the success in breaking out, and instilling a further underground resistence is self-sacrificing - they can't solve the problem, and what only by losing themselves can they do anything at all (Was (not Was)).

Now? The Real World can see it, but since their canaries were weird and in black instead of happy and yellow, they didn't actually notice in time to get out. And now they must either accept it or fight the bigger fight; and they can't do the latter, so...

#64 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 07:30 PM:

For albatross @ 62, an election season haiku:

Eight years of outrage
Ruthlessly suppressed ere now
Politics - my drug

#65 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 07:48 PM:

On the Addendum:

I’ve been convinced for years now that there’s a deliberate disinformation campaign aimed at giving people the idea that government can do no good.

I'm currently in the middle of The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank. This is one of the central points of the book. It's part of how the current crop of Republicans can cast themselves as outsiders and insurgents even at times when they control one or more branches of government. With a little slight of hand, they can run against themselves.

#66 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 10:01 PM:

McCain's America is starting to feel like Free Aquatica of Pinta, where the inhabitants were not allowed to complain that water was wet or confess that they didn't have gills. Every day the level of the water is raised a little. When one individual gasps, "A person could drown," he is incarcerated (in a perfectly dry prison).

(obscure Stanislaw Lem story ref)

#67 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 12:14 AM:

sara #66: Is that in the Cyberiad? I've been tracking down and devouring as much Lem as I can recently.

#69 ::: McDuff ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 07:17 AM:

You really think that this is not the regular business of the US government? Even assuming Clinton as being a paragon of virtue, the last 40 years has seen the presidencies of Nixon, Reagan and Bush I. It's seen the expansion of the military industrial complex to an extent that the biggest elephant in the room is the multi-trillion dollar war/welfare industry and the reliance of a good 20%+ of the population on the manufacture and sale of instruments of war, and the usage of such instruments in actual war. It's seen Iran-Contra, the original FISA court, McCarthyism, the first Gulf War, the Southern Strategy, the invasion of Kosovo, the overthrow of the Shah, the crackdown on civil-rights, and much, much more.

And before that you have the internment of Japanese-Americans, the know-nothings, the administrations of Coolidge and Truman, and back further the expansionist and white-dominionist imperial policies of the original "founding father" presidencies, which continued stealing from and abusing the natives of the country under the ethno-religious nationalism that called itself "manifest destiny".

Bush and his crew may have taken all these trends further than before, but the difference is merely one of scale, and of inevitable scale too. The underlying trend has been there longer than any of us have been alive. Unless we've got people here who predate the Trail of Tears and the Louisiana Purchase, that is...

My point, lest be misunderstood and someone sic Elizabeth Bear on me, is not that it's always been this way and that therefore we should throw our hands up in the air and recluse ourselves into bitterness. The point is that if you want to fix it there's no point being nostalgic for the point on the upwards curve before you personally started to notice, which it seems for many people has become the mid-90s and the Clinton administration. Clinton was a competent manager of the interests of the empire - he was not the kind of person to tackle the fundamentals of empire head on. Further, while Bush is the apotheosis of a trend, Clinton was the part that immediately preceded it, the period of luxury and decadence that helped this generation of Americans crystallise the idea that the world owes them its luxuries.

It's easy to see the upcoming election of Obama as a repudiation of the evils perpetrated on and in the name of Americans by the Conservative regime, but unless there is a fundamental rejection, by Americans, of the notions that make them look longingly back on the Clinton era, two terms of competent management and a bloating, entitled middle class under Clinton 2.0 will once again give way to a bloated, entitled government, Bush 3.0.

Either way, for those of us on the margins of the empire, the transiton between incompetent and competent management isn't as dramatic as it is for those in Rome.

#70 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 08:09 AM:

The story about Free Aquatica of Pinta is from The Star Diaries. It was a not-that-veiled satire on New Soviet Man, but it's of more general applicability.

#71 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 08:10 AM:

McDuff, #69: Bush and his crew may have taken all these trends further than before, but the difference is merely one of scale

Scale isn't nothing.

And beyond that, there's another difference: public relations. You used to have to be able to get people to ignore this crap, to veil it behind a wall of pretense, if you wanted to show your face in public. Now it's all open, aboveboard, acceptable, and unremarkable. And that's the appalling change.

#72 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 09:01 AM:

McDuff, #69: Bush and his crew may have taken all these trends further than before, but the difference is merely one of scale

Wesley, #71 Scale isn't nothing.

Exactly. How did people ever get the idea that differences of scale are somehow less relevant than other differences?

#73 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 10:02 AM:

Stefan #68:

Wow. For people interested in this, it may make sense to read the article in El Pais (in Spanish). I found the parallel English/Spanish in the audio pretty hard to follow, but I listened twice, and it really did sound like McCain was seriously confused--among other things, the way he seemed to retreat into a generic dodge about how "we're always willing to meet with friends who support us and democracy and human rights" sounded just exactly like what you'd do, if you were asked some question for which you just couldn't remember enough facts to give a decent answer.

Now, all kinds of explanations are consistent with this--perhaps the sound quality was bad for McCain, the translator's voice was somehow messed up or lost, or he was listening to the Spanish instead of the English and getting mixed up (confusing Zapatero for the Zapatistas is the sort of screw-up I'd make in a full-speed complicated conversation in Spanish), or he was distracted by something else going on in the room. But this is added evidence that he might be suffering some age-related decline in mental function. There's been previous evidence along these lines.

If the reports are true that McCain was formerly set on Lieberman as VP, and that the Palin choice was more-or-less forced on him at the last minute, it's interesting to ask why he would have accepted such a choice. He apparently had met with her in person only once, so this surely wasn't his choice. Around the same time, Rovian strategies are being adopted, including some really dumb-looking (to me, but Rove has forgotten more about winning elections than I'll ever know) strategic decisions. And he's sounding befuddled more and more often.

I hope to God this is nothing[1]. But one way to interpret these events is that he might be hitting some serious mental decline--perhaps brought on by a combination of age, stress, and the rather grueling process of the campaign. If he's started losing his mental sharpness, it would make sense for him to start trusting more and more of his important decisions to advisors--trying to use his best time and energy for the campaign.

Have any native Spanish speaking Fluorospherians listened to the audio? I think I followed it, but that whole thing with one track in English and the other in Spanish seriously messes with me. The article in El Pais certainly agrees with the interpretation of the linked weblog post, and it's not like that was written by someone with shaky Spanish skills. I'm sure this will get zero coverage in US English-speaking media--all kinds of stuff that's widely reported in Spanish-language media simply isn't noticed in English publications.

[1] The alternative is a reasonably high chance of having a president suffering from the early parts of dementia, with a criminally unprepared VP and a set of advisors who have made a hash of everything they've tried in the last eight years. This strikes me as suboptimal.

#74 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 10:42 AM:

20,000 MDs have signed a petition asking that McCain's medical records be made public. They're concerned about his mental and physical profile, regarding fitness to occupy the office of the President of the United States of America.

#75 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 11:03 AM:

Scale isn't the only consideration, either. You can find precedents for most of the bad things this administration is doing. But in addition to their doing each of them lots more than ever before, they're doing them all at once. It's like having forest fires and arson and floods and a hurricane and plague and organized crime simultaneously. Scale matters and so does simultaneity.

#76 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 11:51 AM:

One wonders just what the heck the maverick has been doing in the senate for 26 years when he doesn't even know who Spain's prime minister is.

Zapatero who has been much maligned for his working class origins by the elites. His name means 'shoe,' not boot ....

Or maybe the 'cain doesn't know that Spain is in Europe, not in Mexico.

Or ---

What is clear that this idiot should not and cannot be POTUS. But hey, it doesn't matter because Armageddon's comin' baby!

Love, C.

#77 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 11:55 AM:

BTW, my husband is brilliantly fluet in Spanish, and he read all of this in Spanish and listened to the audio too.

We looked at el Pais which didn't dwell on the mavr'ik's ignorance of who Zapatero is, but was more puzzled as to why he wouldn't meet with the Prime Minister. What they emphasized is that he seemed very confused.

Love, C.

#78 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 11:56 AM:

Constance #76:

What is clear that this idiot should not and cannot be POTUS. But hey, it doesn't matter because Armageddon's comin' baby!

I wish she wouldn't cackle gleefully when she said that....

#79 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 12:25 PM:

Is McCain senile?
Have any of his cancer treatments caused diminished cognitive capability or e.g. heart disease (a friend was treated for Hodgkin's coming up on three decades years ago. The long-term effects of the treatment, were heart disease which culminated in a quintuple bypass and long-term permanent disability. The treatment's long term effects therefore were debilitating, but without the treatments he'd have died way back when. The treatment therefore was NOT worse than the disease for him, despite the consequences.

Some of the other side effects, though, were diminished capacity to a degree--not really major, but annoying to him, and mentally reducing sharpness and cognitive ability.

#80 ::: McDuff ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 12:34 PM:

I never said scale was unimportant. I'm saying that if you're looking to change it there's simply no point in just scaling it back, especially not now pandora's box has been opened and the rich kids know they can get away with it.

Besides, I'm not entirely convinced that the scale is so drastically different. Wasn't McCarthyism widescale? Was the genocide of the Indians constrained to a few pockets of insiders in the government? Was Japanese-American internment a tiny fringe program?

Do you think Bush emerged ex nihilo? If not, if he is the result of a trend, will moving back eight years to the point when the strategies he's involved on a wider scale were just used sparingly and in secret solve the problem, or just defer it and hide it so that people can get surprised again in another eight years?

The fundamental question is whether Bush, Cheney et al are causes or symptoms of the problems facing the US at the moment. If they are the causes, they can be excised like cancers and the body made whole and healthy again. But if the way the USA is governed and constituted, and the way it expands and relies on increasing militarisation and economic colonisation like all empires before it, is the cause, then people like Bush and Cheney are inevitable results of a much bigger problem and simply voting them out of office will not cure the malignancy.

#81 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 12:35 PM:

Constance #77:

Yeah, I think it was clear that they weren't comfortable making their headline "McCain no sabe ni donde está españa ni quien es Zapatero[1]." And Zapatero was sure as hell not going to make an enemy by commenting on it, thus his sort of vague "well, you know, he has to be evasive in the middle of an election" sort of comment.

I hadn't realized we'd not had any top-level meetings with Spain since the Socialists took power and Spain pulled out of Iraq. This article describes a bit of what's going on there, in English. The sense I took from the El Pais article was that perhaps McCain was continuing the apparent hostility of the Bush administration, backing away from his previous more friendly stance. But the evasion doesn't make much sense, to me, particularly where McCain backed into vague generalities about meeting with friends and facing down enemies. But as I said before, I'll admit I may be missing something.

Anyway, the prospect of a senile president and utterly unprepared vice president, relying on advise from Rove, Cheney, and the neocons, is making my stomach hurt.

[1] Hopefully, this translates to "Bush knows neither where Spain is nor who Zapatero is."

#82 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 12:54 PM:

It seems the McCain campaign is trying to spin it as, "He knew what he was saying, and he meant to snub Spain."


#83 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 12:58 PM:

Ahhh. I listened to the English audio. I hadn't realized the interview was entirely in English, with the translations entirely dubbed over. From that, it's pretty clear that:

a. McCain responded to a bunch of other questions about Latin America in a broadly sensible way, not suggesting any confusion.

b. When she asked about Zapatero, McCain was confused at first about who Zapatero was, perhaps because the interviewer gave his full name using Spanish pronunciation.

c. He responded as though the question had been about Calderon and Mexico.

d. She responded to the non-sequitor and asked again.

e. He retreated into what was probably a pre-thought-out generic statement about meeting with those who agree with our values and opposing our enemies.

f. She made it clear that she was talking about Spain, not Mexico. He never came out of his generic statement, which clearly flustered her.

I imagine this is a general interviewing strategy, to retreat to a safe rhetorical position when you're cornered or confused, and not to come back out until you're absolutely sure you're on safe ground again. Hearing it in English, it didn't sound like any kind of evidence of mental decline.

#84 ::: JD ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 04:29 PM:

I remember being told by a manager once about a management concept called "normalization of deviance."

It was presented to me against the backdrop of an experiment with gorillas in which a bunch of bananas was placed in the center of their enclosure - seemingly an element of individual good and a group benefit. Any time a gorilla went near the bananas, all of the gorillas were sprayed with cold water. After a while the gorillas learned the pattern and the hoses didn't need to be used any more: if any gorilla got near the bananas, the other gorillas actively wrestled him to ground to prevent the entire group from being punished.

Right-wing, small-town-values politicians can talk all they want about the evil anti-democracy governments keep the poor people in Muslim countries from being free, but it isn't the leaders who enforce the anti-freedom rules. It's, in essence, the other gorillas. Uber conservative religious mores, life, and politics have been so tightly fused and cemented by strife that the populace no longer needs to be sprayed with cold water. It is the average citizens in these societies who force other women to cover their faces and prevent them from being able to drive a car.

Likewise, in America, the right wing has hypnotized and conditioned most of the other american gorillas among us to enforce their lies and fairy tales about progressive minded people. We've been living under mostly Republican rule for the better part of my entire lifetime, yet I keep meeting conservatives who point at each and every democrat and screech about how they are responsible for all of the bad policies and decisions of the ruling party. The spray of cold water is gone, yet the other gorillas among us are preventing us from electing a competent, thinking adult to lead us; all in the name baseless fears that have been trumpeted falsely by the right wing.

#85 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 04:45 PM:

#80 McDuff

At Philips Academy in Andover, there is a museum with bound volumes of periodicals--newpapers and magazines from the 1880s, which were full of articles deploring Jackson's handling of the Cherokees and Choctau and Chickasaw etc., and being very very upset/angry about the situation.

#86 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 04:53 PM:

Wesley said:
I'm currently in the middle of The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank.

I really liked that one -- and found it went well (i.e., horribly) with Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. Her thesis was, that some people on the right plan ahead -- have bills they'd like to pass, etc. -- and when things go horribly wrong (like, say, a housing bubble, or Katrina), that's when they strike. Part of me doesn't want to believe. After all, if they can't plan an evacuation, how can they plan partial coups? But then I remember all of the crap that got thrown into the original Patriot Act -- horrible civil liberty invasions that they just happened to have sitting around, waiting for a chance to throw into an omnibus security bill.

(Most of her book is actually not about the US, it's about rt-wing-"paradises" like Pinochet's Chile, and how the rt wing in this country said things like, "so sad they have soldiers in the streets, but did you see they've privatized social security?" As if it would be possible to brutally attack your own people economically, without putting soldiers in your streets. Ah...I'm not doing it justice.)

#87 ::: McDuff ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2008, 11:24 PM:

@85 Paula Lieberman

Given that Jackson was president approximately a half-century prior to the 1880s, I take it those periodicals were not concerned overmuch with current affairs. Looking around you at the state of the various Indian nations today, with how much of their retained wealth and salvation can we credit this upset and angry editorialising in the 1880s?

It is, indeed, appropriate that you would point out the Indian genocides as a perfect example of when the pen is manifestly not mightier than the sword. The lumpen clay of the public has no real inkling of what is best for it, such is the complexity of the matter at hand, and will rarely get ired up over what becomes of a group of heathen savages, or "terrorists" as we know them now. The difference between politicians knowing that journalists are shouting at them and knowing that such shouting will rob them of power at the ballot (or via some cruder mechanism) is wide and deep indeed.

Indeed, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Jackson was an evil, racist, small little troll of a president, "the idol of the worshippers of military glory, but from incapacity, military habits, and habitual disregard of laws and constitutional provisions, altogether unfit for the office." Remind you of anyone?

Again, to reiterate, the assertion that Bush is an inevitability and a continuance-if-amplification of business as usual, no matter his seeming to be far larger and worse than such presidential motherfuckers as Taft and Nixon when we live under his ever-present and media-cacophonated shadow, is not a call to apathy. It is simply a desire that people recognise the difference between a symptom and a cause. If people think that Bush and his like, or even the sinister Right* are somehow corrupting and polluting the pure azure sea of American democracy, the risk of complacency and of setting too much faith in too little is omnipresent. Do not fetishise your nation or your democracy. America has always been a swamp of villainy. Nevertheless, it is possible to navigate a swamp as long as you set out with good waterproof boots and, most importantly, a lack of illusions about the water's clarity and potability. Navigate a swamp as if it were an alpine stream and alligators will simply eat you.

Bush is a criminal for whom a slow death from gutshot at the side of the freeway is probably fair justice, but if the fundamental causes of Bush cannot be addressed after his exorcism from the White House such justice isn't going to help you, me, or anybody else in the long term.

*as opposed to the dextrous Left.

#88 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 09:25 AM:


I see what you're saying, but I think there's a weird wrinkle here. The more people internalize the rules of the society, and do group enforcement of norms, the less formal enforcement is needed. That's good and bad.

This allows for a lot of local variation--in one community, something will be tolerated, where in another, it won't. It allows rules to change over time or with situations in ways that are not possible with formal, written laws or rules. On the other hand, there isn't any kind of built-in protection for minority rights, or built-in "circuit breakers" for known failure modes of mob justice.

A good model of this is first amendment rights vs social pressure on conversation. If you get up on a soapbox in public tomorrow, and proclaim that we should (say) nationalize the fortune 500 and send all the rich people to re-education camps to learn to be proper peasant farmers, modulo disturbing the peace complaints, the law must permit you to say those things. They're horrible and wrong and dumb and evil, but you're protected. But nothing prevents all your neighbors from deciding you're a dangerous wingnut and shunning you, or passers by from razzing you for your crazy views.

That kind-of brings out the tradeoff. It's often socially unacceptable to say true things that are offensive to the community's morals. The first amendment means you ought not to be arrested for saying those things, and I think that's mostly kept to. But social pressure can and will be applied to shut you up, and you'll face serious personal consequences if you refuse to heed it. And that's works the same way whether you're saying things that are false, plausible, or obviously true.

#89 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 10:16 AM:

McDuff @ 87 -
The lumpen clay of the public has no real inkling of what is best for it, such is the complexity of the matter at hand,

This is possibly one of the most asinine things I have ever seen written on Making Light.

You want to know why so many folks are suspicious of Progressive motives? This. This is why. Right here.

#90 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 11:05 AM:

You want to know why so many folks are suspicious of Progressive motives? This. This is why. Right here.

I don't think so. I could find plenty of similarly contemptuous comments about the populace from the Right. People are willing to take comments like McDuff's and impute them to the whole of the Left in a way that they're not willing to do for the Right. Find the reason for that (I nominate the right-wing propaganda machine that's been in place for decades to discredit any idea that threatens our system of corporate rule and upward distribution of wealth) and you'll find the reason so many folks are suspicious of Progressive motives.

#91 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 11:17 AM:

None of the above, I hasten to add, is meant to deny the existence of or to defend comments like McDuff's. And if people think that sort of thing is representative of progressives as a whole, they *shouldn't* trust us. But I don't believe that it is, and it's worth looking at why people think that.

#92 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 12:38 PM:

I don't know that I think of McDuff as progressive. His assertions that things are as they are and can't really be fixed; or at least not incrementally, doesn't fit what I think as a belief that progress to a more equitable state is possible.

He seems more as one who want's to overturn the present order and replace it of whole cloth. A hallmark of the progressive movement is the people need to be included in the process (viz referendum, intiative and recall).

He discards that, we are a lumpen mass; needing someone who knows better to inform us.

All of that with a wash of high-styled nhilism and a world-weary understanding of, "the truth" which the lumpen clay of the masses are too gormless, or wilfully blind, to realise.

Sadly anything less than complete agreement with such people is seen as proof of the rightness of their position (like a parakeet who learns to make the "click" noise, it's a self-reinforcing behavior), so any attention at all, positive or negative merely makes the conviction stronger.

#93 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 12:48 PM:

McDuff @ #87:

"I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take power from them, but to inform them by education." --Thomas Jefferson

#94 ::: McDuff ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 12:51 PM:

Well, Scott, I don't describe myself as a progressive so I shall be sure to distance myself from tarring others in the same brush.

Nonetheless, what else would you use to describe the seething mass of opposing psyches that makes up an electorate? 300 million people with their own biases, concerns, experiences (and lack therof)? Do we honestly believe that such an organism could be anything more than a rudimentary sludge of purpose? Do we give the impression of being a shining crystalline structure of emergent hyperintelligent self-awareness? Even assuming that there is such a thing as the self interest of 300 million people who all want different things, I don't know what that interest would be and I doubt you do either, beyond certain basic lizard brain concepts like not wanting to die until we're old enough for our bodies to give up. It's not out of order to suggest that nobody knows something the evidence suggests nobody could possibly know.

With what factual element do you take issue? Do you believe that people, in general, know what is good for them? I certainly don't know, and believe me I've thought about it, but such is the complexity of the matter at hand. I, being some peculiar hallucination produced by the warring biases and instincts in my haphazardly evolved brain, simply lack the capacity to weigh up the complexities of the global financial markets beyond an idea that moral hazard should be considered to apply to rich people as well as poor. People who spend their lives looking at this stuff are running around panicking because they have no clue what's going on, are we to honestly believe it is sensible to suggest that the salt of the earth plumbers, photographers, milliners, personal assistants, carpet fitters and unemployed beer-pong champions can come to a sensible conclusion as long as there are over a hundred million of them all talking at once? Seriously?

To say that people in general muddle through, that they are mostly victims of circumstance and that they find interesting ways to ignorantly screw themselves up may well be shattering some illusions that we plains apes have about ourselves, but I do not know that anyone can say it isn't *true*. Disheartening, rude, insulting, probably the kind of thing that would make people off-handedly discount a progressive political platform, indeed all these things are very possibly true also. But to say that a bunch of people who don't know what they are doing as individuals will, as an aggregate, also not know what it is doing hardly seems like rocket engineering.

Perhaps your ire was caused by my believing that I am elitely looking down on the rest of the masses and declaring that I and I alone know what's best. That would piss me off too. Unfortunately for everybody, I don't know any more than anybody else (and it's unlikely that even if I did people would have any inclination to listen, or that my random stumbling on The Right Answer would appear materially different to any other blowhard, so why should they?). I just know that whatever we're doing now seems to suck really, really hard and we don't have a stellar track record of knowing how to deal with that.

Or do the people in the middle of an economic crisis exacerbated by the actions of their twice-elected representatives have a substantive problem with that?

#95 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 03:29 PM:

McDuff, Taylor, et al: "The best lack all conviction, While the worst are full of passionate intensity"

Scott, you know your positions are not majority positions; what makes you not an elitist?

#96 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 03:46 PM:

#95 Randolph:

Obsessive-compulsive fluorospheric elistic!
No nifty Hero of Socialism medal!

#97 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 03:54 PM:

I, for one, welcome our shining crystalline structure of emergent hyperintelligent self-awareness.

#98 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 04:14 PM:

Seriously, I agree with what McDuff writes about muddling through. But Lila's also right in quoting Jefferson. The reason why we have to trust the people is because the alternative is trusting a subset of them. The subset might be smarter and more ethical and harder working than the average population, but there is no guarantee. They could be even dumber and sleazier and lazier. Especially if they're given a lot of power without effective oversight, which is a real risk.

Where I diverge from McDuff is in feeling that all people are capable at times of being much better than they are on average, in some way that really matters. Sure we're evolved to be just good enough to get by, but we're also evolved to be highly adaptable. Maybe not so much within a lifetime, but between generations, sometimes radically so. That's part of why I feel that political leadership matters. People can be called to serve their baser natures, and most will adapt and find ways to get by as we wreck our planet and society. Or they can adapt just as well to serving their better natures and the common good.

Maybe we are just clay, but clay is a wonderful thing.

#99 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 08:30 PM:

Tom B. @98:
There are times (generally when I'm on a depressive swing) when I find myself agreeing with McDuff's sentiment.

And then there are times which rejuvenate my basic faith in humanity: a friend who, at risk of not being able to pay her own bills afterward, shipped off to Texas as part of the post-Ike Red Cross work... and her friends, who upon hearing of it started a collection to insure she would be able to. Countless people who might seem like heartless bstrds if you run into them on the street — but let someone they don't even know fall into dire straits and suddenly they're revealed to be truly caring people. And, especially becoming noticeable right now, any number of people who usually are willing to take things as they are to the extent of publicly ridiculing people who hope for change... but let something, possibly something that appears to be utterly minor, shift just enough and they're revolutionaries.

The masses aren't so much dumb, as preferring the minimum of action necessary to keep things in their day-to-day lives pretty much the same. This is not laziness; they'll move quickly if needed to keep things "pretty much the same". And the trick to mobilizing them is to find the smallest lever that will make them move (except when it is finding a really big lever... but then you need to have the wisdom to know when to use it and when to stop).

#100 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 09:12 PM:

Paula Lieberman, #96: I can has Fluorosphere button, though!

Without buying into McDuff's broader argument, it is hard to see how the results of the 2000 and 2004 US national elections can be explained as the results of an electorate voting in its own interest. The truth of the matter is that just about none of us writing here are at all typical of the US citizenry, and that's as true of those of us complaining of "elitism" as well as those of who take elitist positions. But neither are we the sort of elitists who, having recognized that they know a few things that most people don't and have a few unusual skills, decidee to set themselves up as an aristocracy. If we are compelled to prove we are ignorant before we are allowed to hold and advocate political opinions, we will be sheep ready for the shearing! We are not "a shining crystalline structure of emergent hyperintelligent self-awareness" (let's not be silly!) but we are somewhat aware and somewhat intelligent, and compassion suggests that we offer what we know and what we can do to our fellow citizens.

#101 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 10:07 PM:

geekosaur @99: The line I like is "Don't try to change people, even if you can." People have to find their own levers, and mobilize themselves.

#102 ::: McDuff ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 10:27 PM:

Sadly anything less than complete agreement with such people is seen as proof of the rightness of their position (like a parakeet who learns to make the "click" noise, it's a self-reinforcing behavior), so any attention at all, positive or negative merely makes the conviction stronger.

Ouch. That's a harsh judgement from someone I hold in quite high esteem. But then, whenever anyone is bundled in with a "such people" it can never be a good thing.

TomB, Geekosaur,

It's funny that a "depressive swing" is mentioned, it's entirely possible I'm incapable of getting past my natural sonorousness to fully express the nuances of my opinions. I don't dislike us, as a rule, as a species. Rather, I view us - myself included - like my own labradors. Adorable, cute, wonderful creatures to be around, yet I wouldn't trust them to drive a truck. I adore human beings both as individuals and en crazy masse, but I don't harbour any illusions about us, no matter how adorable we are. The mob is not an irredeemable and hopeless case, but it makes no sense to consider it limitless. If you understand - or at least believe you understand - the limits of capability, you can formulate plans and understandings that leave less room for abject disappointment.

Terry, I am a democrat, I am just not a democracy fetishist. I believe that democracy is truly appalling, but that all the other ways are worse.

Nonetheless, filing the rough edges off a broken system, no matter how appealing, is not going to fix that broken system. Both candidates have endorsed nuclear bombing of Iran - what, then, should those of us without suffrage in your elections but who nonetheless feel we might be impinged upon by such action do about such a devil's choice? Dismiss me as a reflexive, clicking parakeet if you will, but do not believe the luxury of considering the grievances of disgruntled foreigners thoughtless is something to which you should have natural title.

The USA is a threat, and the more militaristic, fundamentalist and imperial it gets the greater that threat is - that is not a moral judgement, nor an anti-American one, but a factual statement given the terrifying anarchy of the international world. All those of us on the outside ask is that you not consider Mr Bush to be the sole cause and drive of what makes you a threat to the rest of us, and that you do not seek to make your foreign policy merely something that placates us, but which might actually have a slim chance of respecting us as part and parcel of "the people" too.

#103 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2008, 11:30 PM:

McDuff: I don't disagree with your estimation of the threats and risks of an agressive US. But your expressed attitudes are such that I don't see reasoning with your beliefs is possible. You have defined absolutes.

The peaople are an ass, the system can't be fixed. Your lack of "illusions" is a splendid defensive trick. It lets you shrug off the bad as, "business" as usual. It lets you say thigs which are terrible are just an issue of scale, as if scale doesn't move the bad to the horrible to the indefensible.

And those who disagree with you are deluded, or blind, or fools, or worse.

It's not a position I can agree with, and not (from the internal logic) one which allows for you to be wrong.

I'm sorry that I couldn't describe without a lumping statement. Perhaps I am wrong, and you can be argued with, without you feeling validated; no matter the outcome, but the odds seem against it.

#104 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 12:56 AM:

McDuff @ 94

Do we honestly believe that such an organism

There's a vast difference between an organism and an organization. For that matter, the term "electorate" doesn't refer to an organization or system, but to a class defined by an attribute: the right to vote.

Do we give the impression of being a shining crystalline structure of emergent hyperintelligent self-awareness?

So this statement is just bad poetry, not having much to do with what you said before, or anything else.

But it's not your logic (which is not particularly rigorous) or your statements about the current economic situation* which bother me; it's the contempt you express towards other people. You don't know them, and yet you lump them all together and decide they're inferior mentally and socially. "300 million people"? How many of those are infants or young children who've not yet shown what their potential is?

And then you claim you don't really feel that way. Ah, but your words have already said otherwise. If you want to have a real discussion with someone, it's best not to be insulting beforehand.

* People who spend their lives looking at this stuff are running around panicking because they have no clue what's going on. No, just the incompetent ones. I've heard a number of intelligent, articulate professionals, economists, financiers, and analysts, who've got a pretty good idea of what's going on, they just don't have any control over the idiots who created the situation. Google "credit default swap".

#105 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 01:21 AM:

"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god!"

The Bard was hardly a democrat, or even a republican*, nor did he believe that only the nobles are noble. We are often seen by others as asses, and we always hang between the baseness of Caliban and the lightness of Ariel. I cannot go against the wisdom of a writer who knew so much about the state of being human and wrote about it with such lovely and lively words.

* lower case intentional in both cases.

#106 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 02:45 AM:

Bruce Cohen, #104: "it's the contempt you express towards other people."

And himself. He thinks that humans are very fallible. I think he underestimates humans, including himself, but human folly is not a new idea, or an elitist one. Is he really making an argument much different than Ecclesiastes/Koheleth? "This too is nothingness, a chasing after wind." Paul Krugman and Brad Delong have both made statements of confusion over the economic crisis, so that's a legitimate claim, too. Truthfully, I think anyone who claims to know the answer in this situation or how it's going to work out is either overconfident or dishonest. As I said, I don't agree with him, but he doesn't seem to be an elitist, however unsettling his language.

#107 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 10:47 AM:

Randolph @ 104

I think you're right, McDuff is crying out in despair, "All is vanity!", that we just aren't smart enough to live in a complicated world. But "confusion" is not the same as cluelessness. Hell, confusion is our common lot in life; humans are always working with less information than we need to make intelligent choices.

I certainly don't hold with Christians who say that despair that is a sin against god, but I do believe from personal experience that it's a bad life choice. And, also from personal experience, I know that inside of depression and despair is an anger at the rest of the world that will eat you alive if you let it.

#108 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 01:26 PM:

Bruce (StM): it can also become an anger at oneself, which will swallow you whole.

#109 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2008, 11:25 PM:

McDuff: Both candidates have endorsed nuclear bombing of Iran. ? The last I remember, McCain was trying to ream Obama for being willing to talk to Ahmedinejad.

#110 ::: McDuff ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 07:10 AM:

Sorry for taking so long, I've been busy and trying to work out how to keep the comment short-ish.


It lets you shrug off the bad as, "business" as usual. It lets you say thigs which are terrible are just an issue of scale, as if scale doesn't move the bad to the horrible to the indefensible.

And those who disagree with you are deluded, or blind, or fools, or worse.

I'd be more inclined to take this well if I had much in the idea of what I'm trying to be persuaded of by people expressing disagreement. Should I lose my hubris or whatever and have a Damascene conversion to progressivism, what would you expect to change? Would the history of the human race become substantially rosier in my book, or would I just be blessed with a perspective that insisted our future history was due to become rosy any second now? Would the oft-noted propensity of the human race to fuck itself up be revealed as fiction, or would it simply be addressed with more hopeful eyes? These are serious questions. Do you question what I would call the closest things to historical facts I have at my fingertips, or do you question what I make of them?

I'm accused of looking down my nose at every nurse, volunteer worker and single mother in the world, and I don't know whether that's because the concept that a group of people exists and behaves in a manner that can be differentiated from the mere sum of its parts is a lot newer and less well-accepted than I had believed, or that there's some kind of attachment to the notion that human goodness transcends human failing, or what. Good people exist, and the totality of human society is pretty dumb and brutal and the strong pretty much invariably exert control over the weak. To the extent that systems and trends within society work to ameliorate the Hobbesean state of nature, it is obvious that there is much further to go than we have already come (buying into the general progressive narrative that things will always get "better"). I am not sure why this is something that requires me to be in despair if I notice it, or that people should find offensive enough to defend themselves against it. If you believe in progress, do you believe it will happen next week? Do you believe it will happen always and invariably upwards? Because without those there really isn't a problem, that I can see, noting the times when it happens slowly or in reverse. If things were right now, why would "progress" be necessary?

The argument for the significance of scale seems to suggest that a trend doesn't matter as long as the current state is much worse than the last. But that makes no real sense to me either. Buying that Bush is worse than Nixon, although not necessarily worse than Taft or Jackson, does that then mean that the roots of Bush cannot be found in Nixon and beyond? And if these roots can last thirty years, and if the presidential cycle includes Jackson and Taft and Reagan, and the political history of the nation includes McCarthyism and Japanese Internment, then is it unreasonable to look at whether the roots of the evils embodied by Bush might be found deeper than the man, or even the movement of which he is a poisoned spearhead? Why is it valid and meaningful to express hope in the ability of a democratic electorate to guide itself towards progress but not to examine why it so often does not?

You say that it has become intolerable over the last eight years, I ask, what was not intolerable about extraordinary rendition when Clinton was doing it, other than the fact that we did not know about it in order to be outraged? What was not intolerable about Iran-Contra or McCarthyism?

Why is it not elitist to say "educate the people" like we're their paternalistic guardians, but horrible to say "educate ourselves about the people, including the weaknesses we all share," as if we're the same kind of people trying to struggle our way through this just like everyone else. More to the point, if something seems to be a limit of capability, why is it morally suspect to point that out?

As I said, I'd be more open to denigrations of my capacity to be convinced if anyone would specify what it is I should be materially convinced of, rather than my personal despair and situation as a generally bad person (writing bad elitist poetry about my bitter beliefs of superiority over the good natured common people who've done nothing personally to offend me) for not being convinced of whatever it is.


Perhaps "in favour" was unfair, but Obama's statements on the subject during the spats with Clinton over who could wave "national security" the most, and during his addresses regarding Israel and Iran ("no options are off the table" to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons) mean that he either cannot or will not shift the Overton Window himself from its current bounds of "lunacy" and "lunacy in a diplomatic tone of voice." There's undoubtedly a measure of both political inability and personal unwillingness, although exactly what the proportions are I don't know. Nonetheless, especially with a candidate of the Credit Card Party at his side emphasising his commitment to The System, foreign policy is such a reactive and deterministic area of political policy that I'm struggling to see any evidence that Obama will bring about seismic change to the DC culture of militarisation and exceptionalism. Still, if a return to the Clinton era is all anybody wants then why should I begrudge people their expanded middle class and subsidised health insurance? Baby steps, right?

#111 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 08:49 PM:

McDuff: So now I'm being accused not only of being insufficiently like you, but of partisan hackery. It was intolerable when Clinton did it. If I'd known, I'd have been just as outraged, and appalled and all the other things you aren't. The issue isn't that I was never pissed off prior to this administration, but that prior to this administration it wasn't the only thing I felt. I wasn't pissed off at everything they did.

Iran/Contra was wrong. Guess what, I wanted the bastards impeached. I wanted them jailed. I think Ollie North should still be in prison, and Fawn Hall should be felon.

I thought sweeping it under the rug because Reagan looked like a "nice grandfatherly type" was foolish and letting Bush pere get away with pardononing people who had the goods on him was worse (seemed impeachable to me).

You ask (in that world-weary way) what would be accompished if you were more to my way of thinking. Not much, one more person. It's possible you might have a dab hand with a pen and convince some others, and more people would be "walking into recruiters' office, singing a bard of Alice's Restaurant" and walking out again.

Here's the real question: If you're not just shrugging your shoulders and giving up, not just washing your hands of the whole business in an apahthetic fugue (and if you are, why do you care what I, or anyone else thinks. If the whole mess isn't worth saving why care what I think or do? Unless you are trying to do me the kindness of giving me the same hopeless view you are Eeyoring about the place?), what is the good of your view? What is your "that's how it goes" attitude doing to make it better?

But that all ties to the thing I said which you didn't like; whatever gets said to you, just reinforces the, "rightness" of the attitude. One person can't do a thing, so there's no point in you doing anything. Every administration did bad things so it's, "only a matter of scale".

All of that shows how swell you are. How wonderful, because you can see "the truth" and that has made you free, because you've come to see we are all cogs, and none of us can to anything, so you are justified in doing nothing.

And if we all thought that way, well; you'd be right. But things do change. Packingtown was done in. Overtime exists. Child labor isn't seen as right (and don't wax pontifical about China, slavery in Sudan, sweatshops in the Marianas; nor yet even in Los Angeles. I know about them). The world is better than it was, and it's because fools like me made their personal struggles and failed (miserably) to get all things they wanted.

But they got some of them. And the next groups got some of them, and so on. The monied, and privileged classes are fighting back to get the things they lost in the Code of Hammurabi (yes, the struggle has been going on a long time). Give up, and it's serfdom again. Maybe not tomorrow, but sooner than we think.

And then one can be a superior in knowing it was going to happen as one wants, for all the good it will do.

You say you want to be convinced; and then explain why nothing other than agreeing with you, will convince you. Nice trick. I know the roots of the problem are in the ways of things. I know they go back to the dim and misty origin of the settled peoples. I don't care. Because scale does matter. That a car has an alignment problem which makes it drift 6 inches in 10 yards is a problem. I'll take it in and get it fixed.

I might ignore it at that level. It's just a little extra wear on the tires and the steering column.

When it gets to to be six inches in a yard, I sure as hell better fix it.

And you know what...? It will go south again. Complex systems need to be maintained. They have inherent tendencies to go wrong, and the ways of that going wrong are predictable. And scale matters. Better to fix it at 6" in 100 yards, if I can spot it. But to just ignore it at 6" in a foot, because it's only a matter of scale it foolish. At that point the car is unservicable. It needs to be repaired, or replaced.

We just had someone call me over the top, because I said just that. That peson thought me a fool for thinking the system might be getting too far out of whack. You seem to think me a fool, from the oppositte direction, for the same thing.

In both cases the status quo is what you are going to get. You say you aren't convinced by arguments. Well, do you like it? You say this is the way it goes, and we ought to just roll over and accept it (because what can one person do?). Then accept it. Don't say it's horrible when Clinton did it. Don't say it's all just an arc, and it will get worse, and there's naught to be done. Just get on with your life, and let it wash over you.

Stop pissing on the people who don't accept it. Because that, my friend, is helping it move that way.

#112 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:20 PM:

Terry Karney (#111): Your last couple of paragraphs remind me of a Miles Vorkosigan quote: "Now, there's this about cynicism, Sergeant. It's the universe's most supine moral position. Real comfortable. If nothing can be done, then you're not some kind of shit for not doing it, and you can lie there and stink to yourself in perfect peace."

You put it less forcefully (making it more "if you're going to just accept it, please do so and stop being vocally defeatist"), but on the other hand you're not saying it from inside a Cetagandan prison camp.

#113 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:45 PM:

Christopher Davis: I could have been more forceful, but to what point? I don't think there is any more I can add, and being pithy, while pleasant, isn't the best form of argument. I probably could have said everything I wanted to say in a paragraph of concentrated ire.

Which would have been counterproductive. To paraphrase scraps from another thread: "If acting from with your conscience means anything, it means acting with consideration toward other people, not just yourself. Your conscience isn’t the part of you that doesn’t compromise. That’s your pride. Your conscience is the part of you that wonders whether what you’re doing is making the world a better place.

Which is the best asnswer I can think of to the question, "why bother?", which floats at the heart of cynicism, and beating my own drum of moral superiority isn't going to spark that feeling in anyone.

So, with that, I've done said all I'm going to on the subject.

#114 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2008, 10:57 PM:

Okay, slack long since exhausted.

#115 ::: McDuff ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 05:40 AM:
If I'd known, I'd have been just as outraged, and appalled and all the other things you aren't.
Ah, I see. You think just because I think it's not business as usual that I'm not outraged. Of course I'm outraged. What the holy christing fuck does saying "it's the way it is because it's set up to be this way" have to do with whether or not one is upset or happy with the situation? One's a statement of fact, one's a judgement about those facts. I've been trying to stay within the realm of one and you keep trying to push it back into the other. Whatever. I'm fucking furious about it. That no more changes the situation than if I was happy or apathetic about it.
You ask (in that world-weary way) what would be accompished if you were more to my way of thinking.
Not at all. I asked what would change about me. What are you trying to convince me of? I take it you're not trying to convince me to be happy with my lot in life, so you're trying to shift me to what frame of mind? To be materially convinced of what actual realities?

And here's the thing, you shouldn't have jumped with both feet between the lines. I've never once tried to convince anyone to change their raging against the dying of the light. Scroll up. I've never said "oh what's the point, it's all so hard." Yes, I've said, "it's a lot worse than you think" but I've never said therefore give up. In fact, let me quote myself from my first post in the thread:

My point, lest be misunderstood and someone sic Elizabeth Bear on me, is not that it's always been this way and that therefore we should throw our hands up in the air and recluse ourselves into bitterness. The point is that if you want to fix it there's no point being nostalgic for the point on the upwards curve before you personally started to notice, which it seems for many people has become the mid-90s and the Clinton administration.

If you want to read "therefore all is vanity, alas alack etc" in there then go ahead, but don't get angry with me for writing it, because I didn't.

Here's the real question: If you're not just shrugging your shoulders and giving up, not just washing your hands of the whole business in an apahthetic fugue (and if you are, why do you care what I, or anyone else thinks. If the whole mess isn't worth saving why care what I think or do? Unless you are trying to do me the kindness of giving me the same hopeless view you are Eeyoring about the place?), what is the good of your view? What is your "that's how it goes" attitude doing to make it better?
"If you can't say something nice don't say anything at all"?

It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness you say. It's raining, says I, the candle will probably go out. Curse you and your naysaying, you say, if you can't be positive what's the point of holding an opinion. You'll never listen, you'd rather sit there in the dark and mope than even take a chance on the candle.

And then I say, well, no, you could put a tarp up and light a hurricane lantern. Unless I mistook the end goal and you just really like candles...

"It's not pleasant" is a silly reason for disbelieving in something. Lots of things that are fucked up are nonetheless true. "True" is not (at least, in the aspect I've been talking about through here) a moral statement. There's value in truth qua truth, in accuracy qua accuracy, in a map that more closely resembles the landscape. And you can bemoan my arrogant cocksucker attitude in "thinking I'm more enlightened than everyone else" if you want but I never said nor claimed any such thing, and the content of your last post looks like the maps you and I hold, bar a few details, represent the same landscape. So what are you so up in the air about?

I'm pretty sure everyone's grandma had the same fridge magnet: "Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Not believing that anyone external's going to grant me anything, I personally just have to work those things out for myself, but the principle holds steady. Knowing something is unchangeable means you don't batter your face off trying to change it, and it means you save your strength for winnable battles. You might hold those categories are different, true, but that's not because either of us is superior to the other, nor should disagreement about those categories be fraught with who thinks who is the bigger man? (Probably you.)

"It is not the regular business of government to fuck us over" is, for varying values of "us", simply not true. So what would change about people going from a shift of that value to "the government's regular business and intent is to enrich itself at our expense"? I can't say specifically, because I don't know what people do. It doesn't change my own level of political involvement. It means I don't approach my representatives as being on my side except through coincidence, which does change how I approach them, what I approach them about, what I expect them to listen to. It doesn't stop me throwing things into the public record to register dissent with inevitable betrayal of the public trust. But that word baffles me anyway. "Public trust"? We, the public, are expected to "trust" our representatives? To turn around your argument, sure, I suppose that's easier than trying to find time in your day to at least ask them to justify themselves to you.

It's worse than you hope. Therefore, be angrier and do more. Therefore, don't fetishise the system, "democracy" (what little of it there is when it comes to choosing the President), the constitution or any of the things that can hamstring you in the future as much as they empowered people to fix the problems of the past. The past is done. If you can't change the system it will stagnate and the elite will crust at the top. If that kind of thing being true would make you sit and say "meaningless, meaningless, let's do nothing at all, all is despair" then that's you, not me. If that really would make you despair, then your first priority should be trying to get a new constitutional convention going to address the drastic limitations of American Democracy, shake up the system, throw out some bums. Root and branch, burn it down, salt the earth, start anew. (And, frankly, given the inflexibility of the American constitution if you really wanted to trigger a constitutional crisis and a new convention, vote McCain and hope for Palin. That's an interesting choice - trigger a crisis in the hope that what emerges from the wreckage will be more sustainable, or support the middle class in the hope that you can soften all the blows. I'm a chicken, I don't like afflicting the uncomfortable, I'd go for the second one. But my God, I can see the brutal logic of the first. And if by some chance Grandpa McWar did end up in the Oval Office, well, that's time to tighten your belt and get ready for some *serious* activity.)

Why would you think I was telling you to do nothing about it?

#116 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 07:48 AM:

Many elite crusts are very yummy.

#117 ::: Lindra ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2008, 10:12 AM:

Earl Cooley III, 116:

But do you butter your elite crusts?

#118 ::: ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 07:43 AM:

The massive granite boulders line the beaches as proof of the island's
volcanic past. Taking a trip to the Mediterranean is a great plus.
Assisted by sea sway, the Hypnos (God of sleep in Greek mythology), will
help you to take a rest, after a day full of action.

#119 ::: Sandy B. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 07:52 AM:

Ssssspam. We hatessssss it.

#120 ::: Mary Aileen sees old spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2016, 03:27 PM:

#118 is undeleted spam from last February.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.