Baseline Propositions

Stay with me on this…  Government does, or can do the following:
  1. Establish and maintain national defense – intelligence gathering, war fighting, maintaining a fighting force, supporting that fighting force after the fact.
  2. Serve as a counterweight to the forces of paleocapitalism – where the people with the most money want to consolidate and build empires no matter the cost to society as a whole, government is theoretically the bully to bully the bullies back.
  3. maintain social order, which facilitates regular, predictable interactions in the public sphere, whether they be financial transactions, establishes a mechanism to protect people from grievous harm…  really, this is another way of looking at the bully to out-bully the bullies argument, except this time applied to black markets and criminal enterprises.
  4. organize large projects for the common good that could not be accomplished by individuals acting alone: infrastructure, public parks, and the like.
Each of these roles plays up against the other – sometimes the fourth and the second inform each other, in the case of preventing oil companies from pouring their toxic byproducts directly into a river, for example.
Some of these functions can only be accomplished by a federal government: you wouldn’t necessarily want North and South Dakota to develop intelligence capabilities against each other, or to develop their own armies in case of resource scarcity or invasion.  And what is South Dakota going to do against a Russian hacking incident?  The efficiencies of scale dictate that, in this application, we’re best to have this function organized for everyone vs. having 50 different methodologies for providing national defense.  Similarly, when corporations operate across all 50 states, it helps to have a single bully to counteract the less noble tendencies of ever-man-for-himself capitalism.
But for the most part, the arguments between conservatives and liberals used to be about what the right balance was between order and chaos.  The conservative faction has argued for greater chaos in the public sphere (commerce, environment, trade) and more order in the private sphere (sexuality/identity, personal responsibility, recreational drug use, protecting belief-based discrimination, so long as the belief is Christian).
An interjection of inconvenient evidence: the argument for personal order and public chaos is largely ideological rather than pragmatic – the historical record is pretty clear that chaos in the public sphere brings us greater income inequality, more social unrest, and poor economic outcomes.  Both the Great Depression and the Great Recession are tied to Republican sweeps of the Senate, the House, and the White House.  States where the leaders have had great faith in the notion of public-sphere chaos bringing prosperity have tangible evidence to suggest that this article of faith is baseless.  Check Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Kansas.
On the other hand, the liberal position is for greater order in the public sphere (regulation of banks, regulation for environmental impact, more investment in projects that benefit everyone) and greater chaos in the personal sphere (bodily integrity for women, collective responsibility, a live-and-let-live approach to sexuality and identity, deregulation of some recreational substances coupled with science-based support to individuals with addictions).
These originating propositions have long-since been obscured by emotional manipulation. But who cares what you believe and which political proposition you align yourself with?  Let’s start with a true or false proposition: money is the major driver behind society’s big gears – policy, politics, etc.
The next true/false proposition: Companies have a vested interest in individuals’ political and commercial behavior.
If you think companies (as a whole) are enlightened entities out to serve the common good, I’m not sure we can have this conversation.
If you believe that commercial concerns – Exxon, Walmart, McDonalds – are primarily driven by the desire to generate profit…  then do those companies have incentive to support political behavior that furthers their ability to generate profit?  How is that best accomplished? I would propose that fear is one of the most effective sales tools imaginable.
Which brings us to this: what are you afraid of, and who is profiting from that fear?
Baseline Propositions

The Most Dangerous Idea

Question your fears.

I’m not saying give them up.  I’m saying sit with them for a second and ask them questions…  First and foremost, who benefits from this fear?  What increases this fear?  What behavior comes from this fear?  Who gains the most from this fear?  Is the thing I’m afraid of real?  Is that corroborated by people who don’t agree with me?  What is the evidence?  What comes along with this fear?  Is the fear helping me live a better life?
Those who are the least afraid are the hardest to manipulate.  The individual who cannot be manipulated is the biggest threat to the forces that seek to keep us afraid, seeking permission, and consuming.
The Most Dangerous Idea

Respectability Politics

Respectability politics is a term most commonly used in or in reference to African-American interactions with society at large.  It proposes that there would be less racism in America if black men wore belts.  Or if black women didn’t have children without the benefit of a marriage licence.  It puts responsibility for external attitudes on the individual.  This is problematic in a lot of ways…  hoodie-wearing should not be a death sentence in the case of Trayvon Martin.  The problem in that case was George Zimmerman, not Trayvon Martin.  Respectability politics suggests that Trayvon could have controlled Zimmerman’s reaction to him by wearing a suit and tie.  Respectability politics is society’s equivalent of an abused spouse internalizing and owning the abuser’s assertion that the spouse is only subject to a black eye because they know better than to disagree with the abuser.  If you didn’t piss me off, I wouldn’t have to beat the shit out of you.

But this mentality is deeply ingrained.  And it isn’t just within the African American community.  We are a country with a skitzy understanding of personal responsibility.  Listen to the self-descriptions of people who are long-term unemployed.  They talk about all the things they should have done, as if any individual cog can control the big gears of our society.  An individual cog can move the big gears, but it has to be in the right place.  Like the head of Goldman Sachs.  Little cogs from the working class in Indiana had nothing to do with the global forces that have shaped our economy in the past 50 years.  You’d have to look to the politicians for that.
Collectively, there isn’t one former miner or factory worker who could have been respectful enough, educated enough, good enough, or well-spoken enough to save the jobs that provided middle-class lives to high school graduates.  You can’t look at the long-term unemployed and subject them to the same rational that drives respectability politics.
You should have tried harder.  You should have done better.  What do these statements even mean?  Better is not a measure.  It isn’t a concrete action.  We all do the best we can with what we have at any given decision point.  No one wakes up and says “I think I’ll fuck up permanently today.”
None of which improves the individual experience.  What is true collectively doesn’t hold up individually.  All it does individually is absolve someone of self-recrimination for the past, freeing them up to address the future.  Respectability politics wouldn’t have saved you, and they aren’t going to save you now.  I don’t propose anything criminal, but I most certainly propose those things that don’t require someone else’s permission.
Respectability Politics


One of these days, I’m going to re-focus on break-ups.  I’ve been doing breakup coaching for my niece (having attended the school of hard knocks on the subject and obtained something of a master’s degree in breaking up) and there is something that came up this week that seems relevant to more than just the affairs of the heart.

No one gets the choice between fantastic and awful.  There is never an easy option and a hard option.  Your options are always between one kind of difficult and another kind of difficult.  You can pick whether you are going to take your difficulties straight up with no chaser, or drink them slowly over a long period of time.  There are advantages and disadvantages to either option, but in the real world, you can bet that no choice is going to be cost-free.  Life is always like the choice to pay in cash vs. credit card.  You pay in cash, maybe you have to save and that requires you to limit the fun you have available to you over a period of time and that kind of sucks.  Or you pay with your credit card and you have the big ticket item right now to enjoy, but you’re going to pay 24.5% APR on that sucker forever, which limits your future choices.
Which is better?  Depends on what you value, but either way the choice is going to cost you.
Keep that in mind when celebrating victories, political or personal.
That can be taken as a downer, certainly, but it is also a good way to stay grounded.  I keep cautioning the niece to be a Lamborghini instead of a Wrangler.  You can take corners at speed and keep moving forward in the former because it stays close to the ground.  You take a corner at speed in a Wrangler (maybe just the old ones) and you’re likely to go arse over tea kettle because your center of gravity is high.  Still a trade off.  Still not a choice between perfect and imperfect…
Death, taxes, and the certainty that everything costs something.

#maga – 1955*

*I said it before and I’ll keep saying it: If you believe that America was last great when you didn’t have to share a counter or a bathroom or a water fountain with your fellow American, I hope you will keep reading, but please be forewarned.  I don’t agree with you and that’s not what I’m talking about.

Union membership peaked in 1955.

Unions brought us the 5 day work week, limits on the number of hours you have to work every day, wage increases, worker protections…

What is a corporation but an organization of owners and vested financial interests cooperating to extract profit from the individuals who work for them?  The interest of ownership is always to drive down costs and increase profit.  When workers are unorganized, it is one person against money and therefore power.  When workers are organized, that collective power of the people running the machinery serves as a counterbalance to the power imparted by money.  Because the capitalist magnates want to make money.  They want to make as much money as possible.  If they have to give up some of the profit margin to keep making *some* money, they will, but only if forced.

Unions forced their hands.

It wasn’t Trump who negotiated to keep a Ford plant in Kentucky.  That was the Union using the collective clout of its workers to protect their jobs.

So yes.  Let’s #maga.  Join a Union.  Vote out people who are union-busters.  Unions didn’t force a climate where NAFTA was necessary to protect the profits of those poor company owners and shareholders…  that was the greed of those who believe that too much is never enough.  If there isn’t a Union in your industry, create one.  If you are currently unemployed and giving up, find some other way to organize.  Because the ballot once every four years hasn’t changed diddly squat thus far, and there is no concrete reason to believe this election is going to be any different.


#maga – 1955*


2016 could legitimately be remembered as the year of imbalance.  Many of us, me included, have come unmoored this year, tossed between the dire warnings about normalization and silence in a Trump world on one hand and drama mamma, sensationalist, prepper accusations on the other.  The only constant being fear and that dread that comes from anticipating something awful of unknown and unknowable dimensions.

Is the dread drama mamma?  There are very few of us that get the privilege of walking around blissfully unaware of our own vulnerability.  I found myself walking on an unfamiliar trail last week, it was still daylight, but waning, and I was profoundly assailable.  Just about anyone with the xy chromosome feels it under one circumstance or another.  Am I more assailable, more vulnerable now than I was on November 1?  Arguably, I am.  If you’re black, or brown, or visibly different, or suspected of being invisibly different, the spike in hate crimes tells a story.  And that story is a frightening one.  At least half of my chosen family isn’t white, and I’m scared for them.  I don’t think you can look at the evidence – I mean the evidence that exists outside Fox and Drudge etc. – and find that fear irrational.

My core philosophy goes back to a handful of things.  For the purposes of this discussion, the relevant maxim is that everything costs something: the universe demands balance.  It feels like there is a major flare-up in the argument between chaos and order – the two are always at odds and negotiating an ongoing truce – and for the moment, their uniforms are all mixed up and it is impossible to tell what bit represents chaos and what bit represents order.
Balance will be restored.  Because both are required.  Innovation comes out of chaos, predictability and safety come out of order.  One cannot reign over the other.   To whatever degree you veer to chaos or order, the universe will force a correction back in the other direction.  Attempting to put your thumb on the scales in one direction or the other will always result in an equal and opposite reaction.  It is inevitable and the wise among us knows this and pushes to the degree that they are willing to accept the backlash in the other direction.


By the time this is posted, the Electoral College will have voted.  The outcome will be properly certified and the last predictable point for drama will have come and gone.  Surely some of the Electors will prove faithless to their voters and faithful to one of the reasons behind the existence of the Electoral College in the first place: making sure we have a President qualified and fit for office.  The long-shot hope for a wide-spread revolt is only that at the time of writing, but an underlying philosophy will hold true regardless.

Manipulation is a bad plan.  It comes from the notion that the manipulator 1) knows better than the manipulated, 2) has the right to use any means necessary to change the outcome in his favor, and 3) has some super-human power to exert control with out blow-back* of some kind.  The reality that catches up to everyone eventually is that the only thing you can ever truly control is yourself, and that is a full time job.

Our Democracy has seen some epic manipulation.  While one could never claim that both sides are free of shenanigans, the GOP has outmaneuvered the DNC by an epic margin.  Using the census to carve out DNC-proof districts.  Voter suppression through Operation Cross Check.  Fox News.  Breitbart.

I’m not saying that Rachael Maddow is some Walter Cronkite from 1970, reporting the news straight up, no chaser or perspective.  Her opinions are liberal, but her facts are checkable.

For all that the right is skeptical of news sources that seem to lean away from their political ideology, they aren’t usually skeptical at all when the news story agrees with already-held beliefs.  The left is harder to fool with fake news: the fake news money is in stories about FBI agents in towns that don’t exist committing suicide after investigating Hillary.  Sorry.  Killary.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the imaginary aisle, the DNC’s manipulations in favor of HRC in the primary gave them a historically weak candidate to run against a man who clearly knew his audience.  What did we get?  Blow-back.

It hit the DNC in a very clear cause-and-effect, all in a short period of time.

But don’t worry.  Blow-back is coming to the GOP as well.  They have out-played the DNC, no question.  But they aren’t as smart as they think they are, because their planning is flawed.  They are planning for power, not for preventing problems.  If they were planning for the probable future, then they would be doing something about climate change, they would assess income inequality as a threat to civil society which makes commerce and capitalism possible, and they would cut back on some wealth gains today to keep from the pitchforks of the proletariat tomorrow.

HRC’s email thing was a problem of manipulation, of attempting to exert control over an outcome that wasn’t hers to control.  She didn’t want her conversations to be subject to public scrutiny.  She installed a server to prevent public scrutiny.  Her private server subjected her to a vast increase of public scrutiny.

You meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it.

I say put what you got out there in plain language, stand by your convictions, and let the cards fall where they may.  I’d rather fail by being straightforward than succeed and have the manipulation I did to achieve that success prove to be my undoing.  If I’m going to fall down, I’ll do it on my own thanks.  No need to have the weight of my maneuverings knock me over when I think I’ve gotten away with something.

Take it to the bank: the shenanigans will come back to haunt both parties.**

*blow-back: the CIA’s term for the reaction to your action that you didn’t see coming.  For example, you throw shit at the fan and some gets in your mouth.  You train Bin Laden and he uses that training against you.  You arm Saddam Hussein and he turns into a monster.

**side note: why do you think no one trusts any of these elections outcomes?  Because both parties have been playing fast and lose with the process for so long, anything seems possible.  Neither party seems to hold the truth in any particular regard, so what aren’t they capable of?

To be fair, this is partially our fault.  Someone shows up with simple answers (I’m going to bring jobs back) and we hire them on the spot.  The more complicated answer – manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back and addressing the problems of a crippled small-town America is going to be complicated and might require us all giving up some of our orthodoxy in favor of something new – doesn’t get anyone elected.  So until we demand and receive something like the truth, we’re going to get what we deserve out of our leadership.