What are words for?

19 07 2016

Sorry, little but little bits:

*I don’t care about Pokémon Go, and don’t care that others care about Pokémon Go.

*Melania Trump’s plagiarism was a) not that big a deal in and of itself, but because it was b) an easily avoidable error, it c) plays into an already-existing narrative that the Trump campaign is a mess. While this might not matter to his supporters, he can’t win the election unless he picks up new supporters, who might side-eye such chaos; thus, d) Melania Trumps plagiarism matters.

*That said, political scientists (yes, the same folks who argued that Trump wouldn’t win the nom, but, moving on. . .) aren’t sure how much campaigns matters.

*I like gin sours more than gin sours like me.

*PSCUNY has finally managed to wrest a contract from the state. Some are opposed, but, man, I don’t know that we can do better than this. It actually more of the past than the future—it deals with 2010-17—so whatever the weaknesses, well, the union’ll be back at the table for the next round soon enough. I’m voting yes.

*Unlike last year, I did stuff my air conditioner into the window and am using it—tho’ not enough to please my cats.

*I have no idea who Hillary Clinton will pick as VP. I’d like to see a pol (not a general), but I’m sure s/he’ll be fine.

*This will haunt me to the end of my days:

 





It ain’t me, babe

29 06 2016

Oh, to be innocent.

Innocence excuses every excess, every error, justifies every act, however unjust.

Think: He started it!

This is bad enough when dealing with small children, and one for which the correct response is usually I don’t care who started it—knock it off!, but in adults, arguing over politics?

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhnnnnnn.

It will surprise exactly none of you that I am skeptical of the notion of innocence in politics; in fact, it has no place. There is no political action without complicity: to make demands is to take responsibility, to legislate is to compromise, and to lead is to maneuver.

You can be good, in politics, but you cannot be innocent.

Which is why I’m not much moved by yelps from the likes of Rod Dreher that (almost) anything Christian conservatives do to resist anything queer is justified because, wait for it, the queer folk started it.

This is all over his blog: Well, okay, maybe in the past one or two people were mean, but now, the social justice warriors are all hellbent on attacking us poore wee Christian folk.

I want you to notice something. The Left always accuses the Right of advancing the culture war, even though it is usually the Right playing defense. The pharmacists’ situation is a classic example. Nobody in Washington state had the slightest problem finding RU-486 Plan B. If they couldn’t get it at the Stormans’ pharmacy, there were plenty pharmacies nearby where they could. Conscience exemptions are standard nationwide, and state and national pharmacy professional associations filed amicus briefs supporting the Stormans. Nobody wanted this regulation, except the Jacobins of the Sexual Revolution.

Now, I get that, on many sexual issues, the Right may feel under siege: same-sex marriage is now a constitutional right, trans issues are on the rise, and the death of Scalia (with a likely replacement by a Democratic nominee) means the wide latitude often afforded to mainstream Christianities is likely to be trimmed back.

These are losses.

But that one has lost does not mean that one is innocent—losing hurts, but it neither purifies nor sanctifies—or that playing defense somehow makes you more righteous than those on offense.  The mere fact that one is fighting to advance or fighting to defend is morally meaningless.

What is meaningful is the cause you seek to advance or defend.

Now, Dreher, in advancing his Benedict Option (as a defense against degeneracy), clearly believes his cause is just—boy, does he believe it

You may not be interested in the Jacobins, but the Jacobins are interested in you — and your children. We must fight them every opportunity we get, but we have to know what we’re fighting for, and we have to know how to continue the fight underground if we are ultimately defeated.

Leaving aside the infinitely more important cause of the eternal fate of souls, there is the matter of making sure that there are people alive in the generations to come who can properly bear witness to the past — not just the particularly Christian past, but to Western civilization, the civilization that — I speak symbolically, of course — came from Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. We fight for Christian civilization itself, which includes what emerged from Moscow too. And therefore we must fight against the nihilistic successor civilization of New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and Brussels. We fight for the Paris of St. Genevieve, not the Paris of Robespierre. Modern civilization has no past, only a future. If our civilization is to have a future, it must be rooted in our past. We must remember our sacred Story.

I believe we will have a future, and I will fight for that future by fighting to keep alive the memory of the past. I won’t stake my life on defending New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and Brussels, but I will stake my life on defending Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, and Moscow. That’s where the battle is. It’s a battle taking place in every city, town, and village in America. Which side are you on?

—but that it is a defense grants it no more moral urgency than, well, the Jacobin advance.

Dreher, like every other partisan, believes his cause urgent and just, but being knocked off one’s pins doesn’t make the cause more just.

If that were so, then no political victory could be just, and every political loss, a tragedy.

A slaughter of the innocents, indeed.





When they ask me, “What are you looking at?”

26 05 2016

So, two months with the smart phone, and. . . all right, it’s all right.

Mostly, because I’m paying less with this phone plan than I did with the last one, but also, those weather and MTA apps are pretty darned convenient. And it’s nice that my friends are no longer harassing me to, y’know, get a smart phone.

Oh, it’s also useful for another thing: Twitter.

I’d read tweets online, Twitter-er by Twitter-er, but with the Twitter app, I’m just reading them as they all come up. And while I thought I would find tweeting addictive, it’s actually the reading of tweets that I can’t quit.

It’s mostly a nifty diversion, a few minutes here and there (and, yeah, here and there and here and there) to check Jamelle Bouie and Jeet Heer and Dick Nixon (who’s far more entertaining dead than he ever was alive), and, occasionally, to plink out a few thoughts of my own. Harmless, mostly.

But, it must be said, people can also be really fucking stupid and mean, too. I know: shocking. I’m not talking about the racists and anti-Semites and misogynists (who litter others’ feeds), however, but the puerile shit tossed around by and at folks on the left side of the line—not least over who “deserves” to stand left of center.

I am adamantly not a boundary enforcer. Yes, I can perhaps see some small point to having someone patrol the line, but ye gads, only if that patrolman or -woman is unarmed and otherwise unable to do much but yell “Trespasser!”

Left Twitter is full of boundary cops, they’re all armed, and they want nothing better than to hold you up and demand the secret password, and to shoot if you can’t be bothered to mouth the right words.

It is contemptible, and exhausting.

My fatigued disgust (or disgusted fatigue, take  yer pick), is almost certainly because I am old and crabby and do not have time for this shit. Yes, when I was younger I would have FUCKIN’ LOVED to have jumped into every single feed and fight and throw punches and stomp and whoo-hoo!

I think. Maybe.

Or not. You see, when I was high-school young, I WAS the leftist, and if I fought (using my words, not my fists), I fought with the guy who was conservative. There weren’t that many people in my high school who cared about politics at all, so it’s not like there were a lot of people on my side I could go after (or who could go after me) for insufficient purity.

College? Well, plenty of leftists and liberals, but even there I don’t recall much interest in calling out others for their insufficient commitment to The Cause—and not a little irritation when I was called out. I don’t know, maybe it’s just not in me.

The boundary patrolling, I mean. Fighting the right? I’m all over that.

And that, in the end, is what I’ll do. As I said, I’m old and tired and have only a limited amount of energy to hoist up my rifle and take aim, so I’m not going to waste that energy taking potshots at folks more-or-less on my side of the line.

Especially now—not with an orange-colored Stay Puft Marshmallow Man about to stomp his way across the country.





Circus Maximus MMXVI: You’re so nice

21 05 2016

When I lived in Minneapolis I used to gripe about “Minnesota Nice” by quoting the lines from Sondheim’s Into the Woods:

You’re so nice.
You’re not good,
You’re not bad,
You’re just nice.

Fake, I’d mutter, it’s all so fake. Nice is overrated.

Now, I have since come around somewhat to the notion of ‘It’s nice to be nice’, but only somewhat, and not particularly in politics.

Oh, sure, avoid, as Machiavelli warned, being hated (something Ted Cruz couldn’t manage to do), but virtù beats nice every time.

Thus, Hillary Clinton should take to heart the next lines—

I’m not good,
I’m not nice,
I’m just right.

—and go full hard-ass on the road.

Now, I do understand that Clinton has the reputation of being great one-on-one: warm, gracious, attentive, and wonderful at drawing people in. In front of a crowd, however, she lacks the looseness which would ingratiate her to that crowd. She’s fine, she rarely messes up, but she also rarely inspires or impresses.

So she should stop trying to impress anyone, and just go full on “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass and I am all out of bubblegum.

As to her opponent, well, Trump is a bullshitter, and as I’ve noted a couple of times previously, it is tremendously hard to respond to or pin any kind of responsibility on a bullshitter. Instead of going after the bullshitter—which forces you on to his territory—you just reject him outright.

You say “Nah”, and refuse to engage; roll your eyes and laugh; toss his words back at him with a heaping dose of “really?”

The great strength of the bullshitter is the unwillingness to  take anything seriously; it is also a weakness which can be turned against him.

So Clinton should go full “No Bullshit”. It gives  her a way to blunt Trump’s mad libs, and coolly to deride his seriousness while signalling her own, very serious, approach to politics.

It also allows her to admit “Nope, I’m probably not going to bring tears to your eyes, but you can bet your sweet bippy that Imma get the job done.”

And that might actually impress.

(ETA: credit for Into the Woods lyrics)





Circus Maximus MMXVI: Hold me closer, tiny dancer

11 05 2016

So, a coupla’ months ago I wondered why those who saw the Republican party as dysfunctional didn’t think to connect this dysfunction to an inability for the party to ‘decide’ on an acceptable nominee.

Which is a long way of saying: why didn’t any of us see Trump coming?

Apparently, one guy did: Norm Ornstein.

I had focused for so long on the growing dysfunction inside the Republican Party, and I believed that its leaders had generated an awful lot of the anger out there. And eventually, I combined that with the set of polls that we began to see that showed 60 to 70 percent support for outsiders and insurgents.

He lays Tiny Hands Trump’s triumph squarely at the feet of Republican leaders, where it belongs:

[I]f you forced me to pick one factor explaining what’s happened, I would say this is a self-inflicted wound by Republican leaders.

Over many years, they’ve adopted strategies that have trivialized and delegitimized government. They were willing to play to a nativist element. And they tried to use, instead of stand up to, the apocalyptic visions and extremism of some cable television, talk radio, and other media outlets on the right.

And add to that, they’ve delegitimized President Obama, but they’ve failed to succeed with any of the promises they’ve made to their rank and file voters, or Tea Party adherents. So when I looked at that, my view was, “what makes you think, after all of these failures, that you’re going to have a group of compliant people who are just going to fall in line behind an establishment figure?”

He traces the problem back to Newt Gingrich and his efforts to tear down Congress; I’d guess the problem goes back at least to Reagan—“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”—if not further, but clearly the Republican establishment’s willingness to rip apart the establishment goes back a ways.

What’s the appropriate cliché, here? Came back to bite ’em in the ass? Fanned the flames of a fire that consumed them? Something something boomerang something?

Whatever.

When you basically move dramatically away from what we call the regular order, when you almost debase your own institutions — you’re gonna find an opening for somebody who’s never been a part of it and who can offer you very, very simplistic answers.

It’s not that I blame the GOPper bosses wholly for Trump’s popularity—I think he did hit on some kind of whacked-out beat that got a lot of people clapping—but that they couldn’t be bothered to take him out when the taking was good.

And now they—and we—are stuck with him. Sad!

Ornstein also kicks at our profession:

Political scientists in some ways, just like journalists, pursue false equivalence. They do not want to suggest anything flatly or that one party is to blame. There’s a kinda cynicism whenever you suggest something might be different than it was in the past. “Oh, no, it’s always the same.”

[…]

And there’s a herd mentality too, I think. People glom onto The Party Decides and you look like a fool if you say, “Well, no, that’s not right” — because everybody believes it! I don’t know if I would call this a black swan moment, but people’s unwillingness to take a risk of breaking from consensus or believing that it will come out differently than it has before is pervasive.

Yeah, I followed that pretty much down the line. In my defense, I’m a political theorist, not an Americanist—but that line could also be turned against me: why so willing to follow along?

And I (still) do follow Jonathan Bernstein‘s admonition that any major party candidate, by virtue of being a major party candidate, has a shot at winning the presidency. As Ornstein notes

We do know that straight-ticket voting has increased dramatically. This to me suggests we’re not gonna have a 45-state blowout like Goldwater faced, or a 49-state one like Mondale or McGovern had. You’re gonna start with some states and you’re gonna start with 45 percent of the votes. Most Republicans are gonna come back into the fold.

Yep. And, Oh god.





From California to the New York island, 3

16 03 2016

I’ve half-joked before that political scientists don’t do either love or humor.

Plenty of political scientists are lovely and funny, but in our intellectual approaches to politics, we forget about passion and about the weirdness of political activity itself. Politics is about ‘interests’ and ‘resources’ and ‘distribution’, ‘policy’ and ‘governance’ and, oh yes, ‘power’. Some of us might speak of the ‘common good’ or talk about Aristotle vs. Plato, but in our rush to impose a rational structure across the sprawl of politics, we all seem to forget Hume’s admonishment that reason follows passion.

Yes, we attempt to come to terms with political ardor in terms of cognitive biases or philosophical error—which is fine!—but passion is not merely something to be explained away, but something in and of itself, which may in turn help to explain something (like politics) else—both explananandum and explanans, as it were.

This is a long way round to the point that those of us who study politics should not be surprised by passion, that people pick sides, and that they will defend—with words, with fists, with guns—what their (our) sides.

This isn’t an excuse for violence—for Hera’s sake, does that really need to be said?—but it is a defense of passion itself as a legitimate driver in politics. Unlike Hume, I do think reason may also be a driver, and just as passion may inform reason, so too may reason discipline—if only the expression of—passion.

But reason does not, should not, erase passion. Especially in politics.

cont.





This land is my land, 2

13 03 2016

If both order and freedom are necessary for politics, then how to reconcile them?

Hobbes said, in effect: you choose order, and whatever freedom may exist without disrupting order may, but not must, do so. Rousseau tried to bring the two together by denying that in a democratic society there is any conflict between them—one may speak unironically of being ‘forced to be free’. Locke sought a kind of middle way: you agree to the founding (representative) order which in turn allows for a wide, although not absolute, set of liberties.

These snippets do not, of course, do justice to these men’s thoughts, but do indicate the various ways early modern thinkers thought about how to build and maintain a truly civil society, that is, a society in which men may interact without violence.

Civility in politics, then, is less about manners than about the manner of our engagement with one another.

Now, that manner may also be a political matter: What kind of protest is acceptable? What are the appropriate venues of protest? How does one comport oneself while protesting? Are there forms of protest which are out of bounds? What if the protest overwhelms the phenomenon one is protesting? What if political speech intimidates protesters? What if protesters of political speech intimidate advocates?

Who is in the right and who is in the wrong?

And that question is where we go off the rails, thinking that the answer can be determined outside of politics itself. It can’t.

I tend to go far along with Arendt in positioning violence opposite of politics, but, Hobbesian that I am, I can’t completely deny its role in politics itself. If might makes right (and it does), then violence, as one form of might, can make right.

In the US political system there are supposed to be limits on violence in politics—that is a mythical part of our foundational order—but its use has often succeeded in containing insurgent (and non-violent) political acts. Almost every liberation movement in our country has been met with violence, both official and not, and has had to justify itself as worthy of its freedom to be political, that is, to be included in the political order itself.

That, by the way, is the radical promise of politics: that order can be challenged, upended, re-ordered, without bloodshed. That blood is so often shed demonstrates the practical limits of that promise.

cont.








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