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?

Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Lies lies lies lies

6 08 2012

I don’t care if Harry Reid lied.

And yes, I do believe he’s lying, if not about the conversation with a Bain adviser per se, then in propagating information which he likely knows isn’t true. Either way, I don’t care.

I should, though, shouldn’t I? Why let the political scientist in me rule over the citizen? After all, I don’t like lying in politics, and would prefer a clean and vigorous fight about policy and purpose over a cage match in which (metaphorically) gouging out one’s opponents eyes is considered the surest path to victory.

Also, I would like a pony.

Anyway, I let my analyst lead on a discussion at TNC’s place, repeating there what I have stated multiple times here: In electoral campaigns, all that matters is winning, and anything you do which helps you win is good, and anything you do which makes it more difficult to win is bad.

That’s it, that’s the full morality of electoral politics: Winning and everything associated with winning is good, losing and everything associated with losing is bad.

I and those who argued along similar lines got some pushback, with TNC saying he “didn’t really believe this” and others arguing that Democrats need to hold the line against demagoguery. One side held to the view that this is how electoral politics is (You run for President with the politics you have, not the politics you wish you had, as commenter WCBound put it) and the other that this is not how politics should be.

Along with the other amoralists, I took the hard line on this matter, defending lies and racism and swift-boating; in doing so we took the view of the analyst, or even of a campaign insider. Those who took the other side were standing on the ground of citizenship and, in terms of going after the lies, good journalism. Each side was right; neither side budged.

I as a citizen like to feel good about who I’m voting for, and thus am grateful that I have been able to pull the lever for two as-good-as-they-come politicians, Paul Wellstone and Russ Feingold. These men held to their principles—ran on their principles—and won election and re-election. Their integrity was the core of their campaigns, and had Feingold* tried to slide away from it, it’s not at all clear such sliding would have helped him in his losing bid for a third senatorial term.

(*Wellstone, of course, was killed in a plane crash while campaigning, and the man who stepped in to fill his candidacy, former Vice President Walter Mondale, another decent chap, lost to Norm Coleman.)

All that said, I’ll vote for the SOB who advocates for what I see as good policies over the decent candidate with horrible policies every time. Every damned time.

It would be great if more campaigns were built around integrity. It would be great if more journalists would press candidates on their views and their tactics. It would be great if the electorate rewarded clean campaigns and punished those who, by any standards other than those of electoral campaigning, “fought dirty”.

It would also be great if I got a pony.

If I’m so wrong and you’re so right

5 09 2011

is this all about convincing other people to share our intuitions and if people don’t share such faith (religious or otherwise) convictions on what possible basis would they be convinced by anything we say that builds on them? Is there no obligation to try and have some researched basis for our public opinions?—dmf

No easy questions, eh, d?

I don’t know that there’s any one, good, way to deal both with clashing ontologies and the question of the quality of the opinion. Habermas attempts to do so, as do Guttmann and Thompson and deliberative theorists generally—attempts which tend toward the suppression of fundamental conflicts and an optimism regarding shared language. Focus on a respectful process and practical goals, G&T advise, and use reasons which can make sense across any epistemological or ontological divides. Aim for consensus rather than winning, or rather, see consensus as winning. The point is not just to solve problems, but to deepen democratic discourse generally.

I am, unsurprisingly, skeptical of the deliberative approach, of the willingness of different sides to agree to a shared approach, and of the desire for mutually-agreed-upon outcomes over a clear win. That said, I think it can work in specific instances, especially those in which participants really do want to solve a problem and where some version of splitting the difference (as in, allocation of funds) is possible.

It does not work on matters where an underlying principle is so closely related to the position that any disagreement on the principle makes impossible any agreement on outcome. The exemplar of this kind of conflict is that over abortion: female autonomy runs up against fetal personhood, such that the right to choose cancels the right to life, and vice versa. There is no splitting this difference, at least as it is currently configured; there are only winners and losers.

These sorts of polarized debates (which can arise for any number of reasons, including hyped-up partisanship) make it very difficult both for us to find a shared language (fetus/baby; undocumented immigrant/illegal alien; etc.) and to agree upon any standards of debate. If I am convinced I am right I won’t agree to any standards which might allow you to win the argument, and will dispute your starting point, reason, evidence, and conclusion.

The abortion debate, however frustrating and exhausting it may be, may nonetheless remain within the confines of democratic debate. We may not be able to resolve the conflict, but in the main (not, necessarily, on the margins), it can at least be contained by such debate.

That’s not always the case.

Consider the political debate over global warming. Most scientists agree that the planet is warming and that human activity has contributed to increased temperatures. If I think global warming is scam designed by extremist leftist-environmental types, I’m not going to listen to anything you have to offer which might prove me wrong. I’ll bring up the so-called climate-gate and take issue with any inexactness of your evidence, and will offer my own scientists and state that the reason they’re not published in scholarly journals is bias, plain and simple.

I am energized by fierce political argument, but this shit is disturbing. This isn’t simply about two sides disagreeing about the evidence, this is one side outright rejecting the relevance of evidence: it can’t be so it must not be. And if we can’t stand on the same ground on an issue for which there is clearly only one place to stand, then how the hell are we going to have any kind of conversation or debate about what to do about that issue?

In other words, what should be a good and vigorous political debate about what to do in response to a phenomenon (anthropocentric global warming) has been made impossible by one side of that debate declaring, in effect, that its politics don’t allow it to see the preponderance of evidence for that phenomenon. In short, the political commitments of one side has forced it to rule out the existence of the phenomenon itself.

There is no way to deal with this kind of reality-shifting except to defeat it. By any means necessary.

There are other kinds of less dire political debate wherein some notion of reason and evidence is accepted by the various participants. There may be scuffling over evidence or even the sources of evidence but not over the need for evidence itself. In these cases, your question of obligation for a researched basis is mooted insofar as it is beneficial for the participants to have done their homework ahead of time.

In other words, the best way to get people to meet an obligation to inform themselves before offering an opinion is both to reward such information and punish its lack.

Dealing with reality-shifters, I’m afraid, is largely a negative affair. You have to beat them (metaphorically, of course!) into submission, allowing them no quarter in any debates. You’ll never win them over, but you might be able to win nonetheless by so discrediting them to any larger audience. You trample over the shifters to speak directly to the audience, and smack ’em back down whenever they pop up with an objection. You rely, as ever, on reason and evidence, and offer zero respect for arguments which rely on neither.

However much such a strategy may be in service to a democratic politics, it is not democratic itself; it is, instead, brute, and brutal, politics. It is a ground war, one fought to establish whether the elements necessary to democracy will be encouraged to flourish, or not.

There will always be disagreements over the grounds, the standards, and the desired outcomes of debates; a democratic politics takes for granted the disagreement over desires, accommodates those over standards, but may shatter if it becomes too preoccupied with the grounds.

Whatever other commitments its citizens make, whether some have one foot nestled in heaven and some, dangling over the abyss, the other must be planted on common ground.