Progressive Identity

One of my favorite things I heard Jon Stewart say was that “be reasonable” just doesn’t make a good chant at a protest.  And the people who are most fervently behind the desire for our governing officials to be reasonable are the same people who are most likely to pick mowing the lawn over rabble-rousing.

The liberals have spent a long time holding on to the Stephen Colbert quote: Reality has a well-known liberal bias.  We tend to trust the lessons of history, the evidence, science, logic, and those items which are verifiable.  When examining economic policy, we look at the individual states as test-beds.  What works?  Jindall ran Louisiana into the ground based on his ideology: tax breaks good, government spending bad.  Not that Louisiana was at the top of the heap in terms of states achieving great things, but it is at the bottom now.  Walker in Wisconsin.  Sam Brownback in Kansas.  All solid test cases for GOP/Conservative/Small Government ideology.

How is that working out?  Not so well.

And progressives think that should count for something.  That ideology should interact with reality at some point and that ideas taken as an article of faith should adjust themselves when proven false in the real world.  We point at the ‘repeal and replace’ argument around the ACA, and (rightly) note that they’ve been squawking repeal and replace for six years and no one thought of something to come up with to fill in the ‘replace’ part of that equation?  How does that not make the argument ridiculous?

So far, certainly since Newt Gingrich in the 1990’s, we’ve been getting progressively more reliant on the evidence, to no avail.  We’ve told ourselves that we’re taking the high road, while we seek consensus, make compromise, and function as the adults in the room.  We attempt to persuade with logic, with evidence, with the facts as they are known and understood by a body of experts larger than one guy in a tinfoil hat.  Every time, we stand around with this faith in human decency and reason, pointing at the dastardly behavior ever pushing the boundaries of absurd, expecting the general public to give a shit.

The general public doesn’t give a shit.  The evidence only matters because we say it matters (and also: those people in Louisiana with the raw sewage bubbling up in their back yards).  In other words, the evidence matters to us but to no one else.

So what do we do going forward?  Some would have the Dems become as obstructionist and petulant as the GOP.  There is talk of a Brietbart for the Left.

What would Lefty Brietbart look like?  Righty Brietbart talks about birth control making women ugly and annoying.  What is the equivalent?  I suppose you could reach into the darker corners of hard-core feminist philosophy and discover an article about how men who masturbate to porn are more prone to domestic violence therefore masturbation automatically leads to assault and battery.  Or something like that, except the flip side of the argument doesn’t work, because the evidence thing is built into our philosophical DNA.  Somehow, Progressive notions are already radical, like acknowledging that it isn’t an accident that our prison population has exploded, or that a disproportionate number of our prisoners are of color, and that those prisoners are disenfranchised upon release and subject to slave wages while in Prison.  Hmm.  Plantation becomes prison…   And following the cause to effect is already a radical notion because the Brietbart Righty call us Social Justice Warriors, as if that is a bad thing.

So we have Adbusters.  And Mother Jones.  And all of that rabid lefty talk has produced people who … are still expecting evidence, still want measured reasonable action that takes into account second and third order effects,  and still look for consensus and alternative view points.

We aren’t going to win this by out temper-tantruming the GOP.  We might make some progress by quitting the game playing.  Or starting a new game where we are transparent, we tell the whole truth in plain language, we go out and listen, and we stop spending all our time in fundraising and go back to writing our own laws.  Laws in plain English.  Clear laws.  And pulling obsolete laws off of the books.  A sense of humor might help.  Stop worrying about test audiences and McCarthy witch hunts into Socialists invading the Democrats.  And stop thinking that we’re playing the same game as the GOP.  It is obvious to anyone paying attention that the only ideology that counts is power and cash.  Nothing else about the GOP guiding philosophy is sacrosanct.  They want to win and they want to reward the wealthy with more wealth for the achievement of being born wealthy.  That’s it.  They’ll offer up a healthy dose of racial resentment to the poor huddled masses, a finger to point in some other direction, and a long speech on the right to life, so long as you’ve never been disconnected from the umbilical cord.  But what they care about is shoveling more money up the economic ladder.

God, could you imagine if the Koch brothers (and all the other doners) just put all their lobbying funds into the general tax fund?

Anyway…  Going forward, I think we need to be ruthless, but not in the same way as the GOP.  If we are ruthlessly committed to speaking plainly, articulating the principles that aren’t negotiable, and re-claiming the authenticity credential…  We might get somewhere.  Right now, the conversation is defined by the Don and the GOP’s talking points.  We aren’t getting anywhere by spending all of our time debunking the metric shit ton of bullshit that gets lobbed at the public on a daily basis, so maybe it is time to stop chasing the GOP tail and start moving forward.

Progressive Identity

#maga – the WPA

One of the programs that emerged from the Great Depression was the Works Program Administration (WPA).  The Government set wages at the local average and paid the long-term unemployed to build projects for the community: schools, parks, bridges, museums, libraries.  Infrastructure that still supports civic life today.  Infrastructure that major corporations, which are taxed at a minuscule rate, benefit from.

For as much real good as the WPA did for our country, the federal government isn’t likely to agree to a similar project in this climate.  The GOP has been slavishly pursuing ideology over pragmatism and people for decades, and the Dems are functionally useless at this point, but like a zombie kept alive by funding, they keep stumbling around and knocking over any upstart idea that might make a difference.
But just because the federal government isn’t going to save us – no matter who you voted for, you probably know that to be true – doesn’t mean that the promise of the WPA is unavailable to us on a regional and local level.
The federal government is out of the sphere of influence for most individual Americans.  It responds to lobbyists and corporation and itself.  Maybe that’s okay, because if the fed were to sweep in and try to solve a local problem, they’d do it with experts from elsewhere and solutions that may or may not make sense because unless you’re living right there, you don’t really understand the problem.
There are a lot of us, and we have a lot of time on our hands.  Retirees who don’t (and shouldn’t) buy into the notion that retired = irrelevant.  People with disabilities that limit their movement, but not their common sense.  The long term unemployed who might be just as angry about a loss of purpose as they are about the loss of a paycheck.
Where is all that time and energy going?  Right now, no where.  We’re buried in Facebook with a hundred friends and not one person to invite over to dinner.  We’re glued to the TV consuming an endless cycle of news that goes absolutely nowhere, and accomplishes nothing but building frustration and helplessness at the same time – a mix that is toxic to ourselves and our families and our communities.
So what’s holding us back?  What’s standing between us and taking back our communities, not from people who don’t look like us, but from helplessness and decay?
Destruction is easy.  All it takes is an idiot and a sledgehammer.  Construction is hard.  Making something, renewing something, that takes a lot of work.  I don’t know how to turn any of this into a paycheck, but I know this can turn into purpose.  If your local building codes keep your community from doing common sense things to solve community problems, get everyone you know with real expertise in building and challenge your city, your county, your state to rewrite the codes.  Hell, do it for them.  Find counties with sensible building codes and make the argument.  Take those mofo’s on.
The secret of “the system” is the secret of bullies and society in general:  someone says “I have authority here” and people look around and notice that he’s standing in front of the room on a crate, so everyone says “well, it looks like that guy is in charge.”  All authority requires an agreement.  You can take away that agreement.  You can challenge authority.  Just because someone says “you have to do things my way” doesn’t mean you have to agree.  You can still form a union, create a collective, make the will of the community known to get things done.  The bigwigs might have money, but you have time and a lot more people behind you than they do.  You don’t have to wait for a boss or a politician to give you permission to make your life better by improving the community.  You can start your own WPA, right where you are.  You’re smart, you have practical experience, you have a library card and access to the internet…  If you’re waiting for permission, here it is.  You have permission to find purpose in improving your community for yourself and your neighbors.  You have permission to make America great again, starting with your neighborhood.
Please note: when I say make America great again, I don’t mean by engaging in the mean-spirited notion that a great America is a white America.  The greatest part of being an American is the idea that anyone can achieve anything if they are willing to put in the work.  The “you aren’t the boss of me” attitude can be helpful when it isn’t turned to coal-rolling and is instead employed challenging the authorities that make common sense complicated with a 20 volume book of building codes.  Or whatever the bureaucratic idiocy of the day is.  America at its greatest builds, fixes, solves, innovates, includes, improvises…  America at its worst is petty, judgmental, small minded, paranoid, selfish, and mean.  Pursue great America, not America at its worst.
#maga – the WPA

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

Choices

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.
Choices

#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*