Everybody knows it’s coming apart, 15

8 12 2014

Ironically, in seeking to curb the individual will to power in favor of equality, leftists invest their own subterranean desires for freedom-as-power in the activist state. In my view, the revival of the left depends on relinquishing this investment. We need to recognize that despite appearances the state is not our friend, that in the long run its erosion is an opportunity and a challenge, not a disaster. I don’t want to be misunderstood: I’m not suggesting that we stop supporting social security or national health insurance or public schools or antidiscrimination laws. If my immediate choices are the barbarism of unleashed capital or a state-funded public sector, the tyranny of uninhibited private bigotry or state-enforced civil rights, I choose the state. Or rather, I choose the social goods and civil liberties that are available under state auspices.The distinction is important, because the idea that the state gives us these benefits is a mystification. Basically [Charles] Murray is right: government does not cause social improvement. In actual historical fact, every economic and social right that we’ve achieved since the nineteenth century has been hard-won by organized, militant, and often radical social movements: the labor movement; the socialist, communist, and anarchist movements; the new left student movement; the black and feminist and gay liberation movements; the ecology movement. . . . The role of the state from the New Deal and the postwar compact till the start of its present no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy phase was to manage potentially destabilizing social conflict by offering carefully limited concessions to the troublemakers.

. . . The government’s current rush to abandon any pretense of social responsibility ought to make this painfully clear: what the state supposedly giveth it promptly taketh away as soon as the balance of power shifts. In this case, of course, social power is shifting away from the national state itself; liberals and social democrats are still trying to board a train that’s already left the station.

In parallel fashion, the statism of the cultural left does not further equality so much as it reinforces law and order. . . . Insofar as the demand is to outlaw overt, provable discriminatory acts by employers, landlords, store, owners, and so on, it simply aims for public recognition that (pace [David] Boaz and Murray) discrimination is a coercive act as unacceptable as violence or theft. But the problem, from the social movements’ point of view, is that overt, deliberate discrimination is only the crudest expression of a deeply rooted culture of inequality. For many opponents of that culture, it has seemed a logical next step to invoke state power against patterns of behavior that reinforce white male dominance and exclude, marginalize, or intimidate vulnerable groups.

Actually, it’s a plunge into a dangerous illusion. The ingrained behavior and attitudes that support the dominant culture are by definition widespread, reflexive, and experienced as normal and reasonable by the people who uphold them. They are also often unconscious or ambiguous. A serious effort to crush racism and sexism with the blunt instrument of the law would be a project of totalitarian dimensions—and still it would fail. Transforming a culture and its consciousness requires a different kind of politics, a movement of people who consistently and publicly confront oppressive social patterns, explain what’s wrong with them, and refuse to live by them. . . .

It’s time for the left to become a movement again. That means, first of all, depending on no one’s power but our own. . . .

Ellen Willis, Their Libertarianism—and Ours, 1997

There is much which is provocative—in the best sense of the word—in Willis’s work, and much of her left-libertarianism with which I agree.

But she doesn’t confront the contradiction in her own essay: the gains of past movements, gains which she wouldn’t give up, were accomplished through the actions of that compromised, unfriendly, authoritarian state. She criticizes the right-libertarians for not recognizing the coercive power of the marketplace and warns leftists of the coercive power of the state, but merely criticizing parallel coercions does not in an of itself offer an escape from them.

Yes, by all means, we need a new, new-left movement (NL x.0?), a new vision of freedom and equality in which we live in “voluntary cooperation” with one another. But we can’t get their simply by dismissing either the state or the market as coercive—and not only because coercion (or, if you prefer, power) itself may be inescapable.

It’s nice to say we ought to rely on no one’s power but our own, but is that enough? And what if it isn’t? That is the dilemma, and the work.





What’s going on?

6 11 2014

Another wailing? Why oh why oh why oh why?!

No, that won’t do.

A stream-of-consciousness blather of all of the possible variables involved in electoral politics? Bad candidates, bad campaigns, tribalism, voter turnout, voter suppression, running from liberal accomplishments, the president’s party tends to lose midterms, . . .

I considered this, but then realized that would be more indulgent than enlightening—and while I’m all about the indulgent and have my own issues with the enlightening, it does seem that some thoughts from the folks who study American politics for a livin’ are in order:

First up, Hans Noel:

Commentators:

Nov. 5, 2014: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Obama failed! It’s Red America!”
Nov. 7, 2012: “Democrats win! Republicans are doomed! Romney’s 47 percent misstep! Latino voters!”
Nov. 3, 2010: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Obama overreached! Tea Party!”
Nov. 5, 2008: “Democrats win! Republicans are doomed! Palin was a joke! Realignment!”
Nov. 8, 2006: “Democrats win! Republicans are doomed! Bush finally pays for failure in Iraq!”
Nov. 3, 2004: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Kerry never should have let himself be videotaped windsurfing! Values voters!”
Nov. 6, 2002: “Republicans win! Democrats are doomed! Voters back Bush’s tough stand on Iraq!”

Political scientists: 

Presidents tend to win re-election (2004, 2012), but they are more likely to lose the longer their party has been in power (1992, 1952, 1948). Presidents’ parties tend to lose seats in midterm elections (2006, 2010, 2014).

Seth Masket:

Here are some very tentative election results compared with their averages in midterm elections between 1950 and 2010:

  • The president’s party lost roughly 12 House seats. The average is 25.
  • The president’s party lost roughly 8 Senate seats. The average is 3.
  • The president’s party lost roughly 8 state legislative chambers. The average is 10.

How do we interpret, say, the Republican gain of a dozen House seats? Obviously, that’s good for Republicans, giving them the largest majority they’ve had in almost a century, but it’s also a pretty paltry gain by midterm election standards. Between 1950 and 2010, the president’s party has lost an average of 25 seats in midterms. Now, given that Republicans already had a healthy majority in the House, it was harder for them to win that many more, so surely this is an impressive gain. But how impressive?

He goes on to offer some very nice charts & diagrams for comparative perspective.

Matthew Dickinson considers the midterms, then makes the turn toward 2016:

So, what are we to make of these results? To begin, it’s important to resist the inevitable tendency for pundits to overreach in their effort to discern “the message” the voters send yesterday. Already I am reading that the results indicate 1) a rejection of Obama,  2) a rejection of Democrats’ “war on women”  3) a rejection of Democratic liberal governance or maybe some combination of all of these. Some Democrats, not surprisingly, are suggesting that Republicans “bought” the elections due to backing from Superpacs.

The reality is that while this was a good night for Republicans, the results were driven by midterm election dynamics that political scientists have long documented. In this respect last night’s results were not unusual – nor were they even unexpected, at least based on fundamentals-driven forecasts. The most important point to remember is that the electorate in a midterm is different than what we see in a presidential election year, a point I made repeatedly last night. I haven’t seen turnout figures, but I’m guessing turnout was about 40%, down about 18% from 2012’s presidential election. More important than the size of the turnout, however, is its composition: yesterday it skewed older, whiter and more affluent than the electorate of 2012, and these are all attributes associated with a greater propensity to vote Republican.

He gives credit to the Republicans for their solid performance, noting they did well in building on an already-large majority in the House, but also that the gains themselves were not outside of historical norms.

And Jonathan Ladd looks ahead to 2016 as well, arguing that:

1) These results tell us essentially nothing about how the 2016 election will turn out. If any analyst tries to explain the significance of this for 2016, you can stop reading/listing right there. The president’s party almost always does poorly in the midterms in the sixth year of a presidency. The 2016 election will be determined by economic performance in 2016, how long the Democrats have held the presidency, and whether Obama gets involved in a costly overseas war. The only possible effect this could have is if newly elected Republicans in some way affect economic performance in 2016.

Ladd, Masket, and Noel all blog at Mischiefs of Faction, while Dickinson has his own thing going on at Presidential Powe.

Anyway, these are among the folks you should be reading if want to get beyond the wailing (or dancing, as is your wont) and actually make sense—or begin to make sense—of what’s goin’ on in these united states.





That’s really super, supergirl

5 11 2014

Did you vote today?

I did not.

I theoretically feel bad about this—civic duty and all that—but as a practical matter, I do not. I live in a blue blue district in a blue blue city in a state that is certain to re-elect its jerk governor. There was not even the tiniest chance that my vote would matter more than my not-vote.

That’s not a great reason not to vote, actually, given that I’ve voted for president in states where my vote/not-vote also wouldn’t matter, but, I dunno, it seemed like it might matter in a larger, non-Electoral-College kind of way.

But these mid-terms, in my district in New York? And in an election season which was damned-near certain to go to the Republicans overall? Not only did it seem like my vote wouldn’t matter, but that voting would be futile.

Futile is worse, somehow, than not-mattering, as if instead of feeling numb, I would be actively inflicting pain on myself. Why go out of my way to do that to myself?

I don’t know. It could be laziness.

But, really, I wanted all of this over with, wanted all of the bad—which I could do nothing to prevent (see: blue blue district in a blue blue. . .)—to just crash down already, so I could get used to the next couple of years of suckage.

Because it is gonna suck, even more than usual. It’s gonna, as I texted a friend, super-suck.

~~~

Piss & moan, piss & moan. Win some, lose some is what I ought to be telling myself, what anyone who cares about politics ought to tell themselves, regardless of outcome.

Tomorrow, maybe, or next week. But do give me tonight to sulk, won’t you?





Autumnsongs: U2

30 10 2014

You knew this one was coming.

I thought I’d get to it earlier, but this whole month has been unusually warm, and when I think of “October”, I think not just of a fading sun through fallen leaves, but sweatshirts and collars pulled up and knuckles reddened from the chill.

Some New York Octobers, yes, but not this one.

Still, it wouldn’t really do to play this in November, and today the wind did smack me around a bit, so why not now?

It’s lovely and melancholy not too much, in the way that U2 is often too much.

I loved that about U2, actually, that they were so often too much, too hot—never cool. I loved the righteousness and the politics and the absolute emo—a term nowhere in evidence back in the day—of the joint.

U2, in other words, were never cool, and I was all right with that.

Still, “Seconds” was about as cool as they got, in terms of perspective. It was angry, yes, but in a kind of can-you-fuckin’-believe-it way.

Why is this an autumnsong? The detachment, perhaps, but more so that I associate this song with that first semester at college, when the air in Madison was definitely chill, and I was running around trying to soak up all of the politics my skinny 18-year-old self could handle.

One weekend just about tipped me over: a Mondale/Ferraro rally (with which I was very involved) at the Capitol on Friday, an anti-nuke march in Chicago on Saturday, and a speech by Gloria Steinem in Milwaukee on Sunday—bless that skinny little heart, but I made them all.

The Chicago rally was a bit odd. I went alone (on the bus), wiped out, broke, and marched with I don’t know how many thousands of others through the foggy streets of Chicago, before we we emptied ourselves into a park to hear, oh man, was it Helen Caldicott? could Petra Kelly have been there? It seems like it, but thirty years on, and memory, like the sun, fades.

Well, except for Jesse Jackson, hometown son. I remember him, up next to the stage, I remember him. Man, the man could speak.

So, “Seconds” is a foggy Chicago Saturday in October, thousands, tens of thousands of us marching against the bomb, against our annihilation, and for our lives.





I’m only human, of flesh and blood I’m made

15 10 2014

I haven’t read the book, but do you really think that would stop me from commenting on it?

I have a PhD, y’know, which means I am more-than-well-qualified to talk about an argument on which I have not laid eyes. After all, who but PhDs would have come up with the whole I haven’t read it, but I’ve read of it gambit?

Anyway, Katha Pollitt has a new book out—Pro—in she argues that those of us in favor of abortion rights should stop apologizing about our support and “reclaim the lives and the rights of women and mothers.”

As you would expect from someone who has written on this issue ad nauseam, I can only respond Right on! Right the fuck on!

The other day I noted that stories are unlikely to work the same kind of magic in swaying people toward a pro-choice position that they did in gay marriage; perhaps the, or at least a, solution, then, is simply to drop the stories, assert the right, and not budge.

I like how Hanna Rosin handled this in her review of Pro:

I had an abortion. I was not in a libertine college-girl phase, although frankly it’s none of your business. [. . .]

I start the story this way because Katha Pollitt, author of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, would want it this way. In fact any woman who’s reading this piece and has had an abortion, or any man who has supported one, should go in the comments section and do the same thing, until there are so many accounts that the statement loses its shock value. Because frankly, in 2014, it should be no big deal that in a movie a young woman has an abortion and it’s no big deal. We shouldn’t need a book explaining why abortion rights are important. We should be over that by now.

Yes: simply state, Yeah, I had an abortion, what of it?

I haven’t, by the way, had an abortion (although frankly it’s none of your business. . . ) and likely never will: I’ve never been pregnant, and, given my age, never will be. But had I gotten knocked up, I almost-certainly would have been clinic-bound.

In any case, being nice, being sorry, being afraid to make the political case of the necessity of abortion for women’s liberation has gotten us bupkes—no, worse, has gotten us fewer clinics, longer waiting times, and, unfuckingbelievably, a pushback against contraception.

Contraception! The “responsible” choice (as opposed to the irresponsible abortion) has now been hectored into the status of “controversial” among corporate owners and politicians alike.

Well, fuck that.

Ta-Nahisi Coates has been arguing of late that attempts to be “responsible Negroes” have black people little more than jail time, beat-downs, and death. He’s not arguing against responsibility per se, but against the double-bind that black people must be responsible in ways over-and-above the ways  any [white] human beings must be responsible and that, too often, such Negro-respectability offers no protection whatsoever.

Trying to be “respectable” or “responsible” on sex and birth control and abortion hasn’t done much to secure women’s rights, so maybe now it’s past time to try something new: the assertion—without apology, without permission—of our full humanity.

That’s no guarantee of success, of course, but it will make damn clear what the stakes are.

~~~

h/t Scott Lemieux, Lawyers, Guns & Money (click link for more reviews by people who actually read the book!)





Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, 9

26 09 2014

Pavlina R Tcherneva/https://twitter.com/ptcherneva

No comment necessary.





Hit me with your best shot

9 09 2014

I blame alcohol, George Clooney, and a coupla’ migraines.

For my being missing in action, that is. I could come up with more reasons, and there may actually be other reasons, but the first line is my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Onward!

1. It should come as no surprise that I am uninterested in the newest Apple product, be it a smartphone or, yeesh, a smart watch—oh, excuse me “smartwatch”.

Really. A “smartwatch”.

I have a mere smart watch. It’s a Timex. It keeps time, and looks good—looks smart—doing it.

It cost me somewhere between 30 and 40 bucks and will last for years. It costs me ten bucks every coupla’ years to replace the battery.

The Applewatch (!) costs 350 bucks and will last, well, that doesn’t matter, since it’ll be ditched for ApplewatchII in 13.45 months (I made that up), and which battery likely cannot be replaced.

If you like your gadgets to do absolutely everything and Apple gives you faraway eyes, then enjoy your smartwatch.

I’ll be in the cave with my many devices, each of which does one thing, and cursing because I can’t find the right one.

2. I was sorely tempted to join the Democratic Party just so I could vote against Andrew Cuomo in the New York state primary.

I couldn’t, in the end, force myself into the Dems: I am pragmatic enough to vote for them, but leftwing enough not actually to become one.

Anyway, Andrew Cuomo is a conniving asshole who hates New York City and he almost certainly will be my governor for the next 4 years.

Better than Scott Walker, yes, but about par with a migraine and much worse than alcohol or George Clooney.

3. Speaking of Scott Walker, I would most like to win the lottery so I could drop a barge-full of money on the Badger state advocating for his opponent, Mary Burke.

I so so so want him to lose lose lose. Not only because I think he’s making Wisconsin worse, but also because that should put a stake in his presidential aspirations.

4. It has occurred to me that I might be better off if I just do one, grand, Fisking of all of Rod Dreher’s blog posts and be done with it.

I don’t think I will—see: migraine—but it might help to stop the mutterings and splutterings after reading him.

Of course, not reading him would also help to stop those mutterings and splutterings, but let’s not get all logical here, all right?

5. And logic? Please call Andrew Sullivan. In today’s “Best of” post (to which I’m not linking, because I still haven’t ponied up the double sawbucks for unlimited access and don’t want to waste a click), he states that:

I’ve never really felt totally comfortable identifying with a whole lot of what’s called gay culture.

This, from a man who runs a “Beard of the Week” feature.

Who gushes over Pet Shop Boys.

Who complains about the artifice of Lady Gaga by comparing her, unfavorably, to Miss Authenticity herself, Madonna.

Who has repeatedly mentioned how club culture and insta-fucking helped him feel more at ease with (gay) men of all races.

But because he doesn’t want to march in “lefty lockstep orthodoxy”, somehow he’s outside of a whole lotta gay culture.

Uh huh.

(To his credit, he does note the irony of writing this after having returned from his annual summer sojourn to Provincetown.)

6. Finally, I was going to write something about Joan Rivers, but wasn’t at all sure what to say.

I was huge fan in high school (Can we talk?) but my delight in her fell off rather considerably over the years: what had seemed daring later, to me curdled into mean, and I rarely laughed at her jokes anymore.

Still, she did help to form my sensibility that comics really ought to be able to say anything, and the only thing that mattered to the craft was: was it funny?

(And, it should be said, that bit on her reality show in which she got high with a friend was fucking hilarious. It’s not as funny on second viewing, but oh did I laugh the first time I saw it. Go here, and fast forward to about 26:05.)

Anyway, I read this, which seemed about perfect.

h/t Scott Lemieux, Lawyers, Guns & Money








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