If I were to tell you, “You need to organize your hierarchy with a dispatcher prioritization for your IDB,” you would likely have no earthly clue what I was talking about. You might recognize the words “Organize”, “Hierarchy”, “Dispatcher”, and “Prioritization”, but in their current context they’d be next to useless for your understanding of what I am trying to convey. In fact, your recognition of those words would likely lead you into all sorts of different and incorrect directions, provided you are not familiar with computer programming in general, or more particularly, my current job. This is Jargon. It’s a verbal shorthand for people inside an insular group which is largely indecipherable to those outside the group. It might as well be techno-babble, up there with Star Trek’s “Multi-modal Reflection Sorting”. Obviously, this helps people within the group discuss things quickly, complex ideas can be expressed in a few simple words that everyone within the group understands. However, when it comes time to try to explain those ideas to those not in the group, we run into problems.
It seems that the progressives are running hard into those problems lately. Following a few progressive folks on twitter and the like, it almost seems like the modus operandi of the left these days is
1) Discuss a large, important, far reaching idea.
2) Make up or re-appropriate a word to stand in for that idea.
3) Use that word in conversations about the idea in public forums, open to people outside the original group.
4) Express annoyance at people misunderstanding your new meaning for the word and imply that people not up with the latest lingo are uneducated rubes.
Case in point, one of the people I’m following on Twitter was asked if Patriarchy exists. The response was to scoff at the questioner and question aloud why, if universities are supposed to be a bastion of liberalism, aren’t they teaching anything to the kids these days? Not exactly the best language for changing someone’s mind about anything. Setting aside the fact that not everyone goes to college, and those that do aren’t necessarily going out of their way to attend women’s studies classes, I can’t help but think this was a missed opportunity; perhaps he could have instead responded with a few questions like, “Of all the heroes of television, film, and books what percentage are women? Or minorities? Or gay? Of the women that do appear in said media, what percent are fully realized characters that women could identify with in a positive way? What messages are we, perhaps unconsciously, sending women with our media, magazine covers, etc?”
It’s true and fairly obvious that our society vastly over-represents the white, heterosexual male. Even stuff that is ostensibly for women or minorities tend to reinforce this perspective. (IE, “Girly” rom-coms that are generally about the female protagonist’s quest to find a suitable male to fulfill their empty, hollow lives.) This complete imbalance in the way our society depicts women and minorities is what is referred to by progressives as Patriarchy. The only reason I know that though is because of the recent run on Sinfest. If you would have asked me what Patriarchy was more than a few months ago, I would have told you it was a male-dominated family structure with a singular leader, or Patriarch (Usually the father or grandfather), who wields the significant power in the family. Just the male equivalent of a Matriarchy. If I were asked if patriarchy exists, I would would say that it does in quite a few portions of the world but not really in western culture anymore, at least outside of the Mob and the fundamentalist religious sects like Westboro Baptist. As far as cultural depictions go, especially in commercials, familial power is mainly in the hands of the shrill harpy of a wife over the bumbling buffoonish husband that needs this device to so much as crack an egg correctly (only 19.95 + shipping and handling! Call now and we’ll send you TWO egg-cracking devices to remind you what a utter waste of human flesh you are, stupid husband.)
I would hazard to guess that the vast majority of people who hear the word Patriarchy are likely to think of the family structure version and, based on its usage, assume the speaker is talking about a large, structured, Illuminati-like organization dedicated to the subjugation of women, rather than the large-scale, decentralized network of societal norms that have been allowed to take root that make white heterosexual male the default, and everyone else subtly, or not at all subtly, marginalized. This disconnect between what progressives mean by patriarchy and what people immediately think when they hear the word patriarchy is a huge problem if your goal is to build a more equitable society.
As another example, how men see the world and themselves and everything else is apparently referred to by progressives as Male Gaze. If not for Folding Ideas I would think that “Male Gaze” was guys looking lecherously at women. It would never occur to me to think “Male Worldview”. So why not use a more neutral word, like “Worldview”? And instead of Patriarchy, something that elicits “male-dominated cultural perspectives”? I can’t really think of a better term for that than patriarchy, but it might help to use the long-hand when in mixed company. Because really, these types of issues are important and society only really changes when the majority of culture changes. In order to change the majority of culture, the majority needs to understand the argument you’re making and, let’s face it, the majority of society is not going out of their way to research what you you meant by the word you redefined. They just take the generalized definition of the word, make some assumptions based on the context you’re using it in, and off they go, often horribly misinterpreting what you were trying to say.
You have a couple of options, you can replace your jargon with plain English words that mean what we all think they mean, you can go through the trouble of explaining what those words mean whenever a newcomer joins the conversation (or set up resources to point people at to fill them in on your meanings), or you can continue to use your jargon in your isolated little group to complain about the inequities of the world and how stupid they are for not understanding and how right and just and enlightened you are and the world will spin on unchanged.
Had a nice chat with my father over the weekend. He’d been watching some History Channel show about the rise of the Nazis. He mentioned that one of the first things Hitler did after gaining power was to abolish unions. This of course got me thinking about how recently many pundits on the Right have been talking about how socialism is bad, because Hitler and Stalin both called themselves Socialists. Both, though coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, were anything but socialist. It brought to mind how often we use political terms that we don’t fully understand, vilifying some and praising others, without bothering to think about what the words we’re speaking actually mean or the implications of those words.
“Socialism” for instance has been vilified to the point where just mentioning that some plan or other by the government is socialist is enough to reject it out of hand. But what does it actually mean for something to be socialist? Socialism is nothing more than collective ownership. Think the Green Bay Packers. Or owner-operated businesses. Or non-profit organizations. That’s all it is, although the concept tends to get extended out to include the so-called “Social Contract”. While people think of Communism as Socialism taken to an extreme, the two are quite different. In Communism, the government owns all the businesses, in Socialism the workers own the businesses. And this doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Give the workers a stake in the company and some say in how the business is run.
The other word that gets thrown around a lot is our preferred economic system, Capitalism. We as a culture have deified Capitalism to the point of making it the de-facto national religion. You start to wonder which “God” the “In God we Trust” on our money refers to. But really, Capitalism is simply the idea of private ownership of business for the sake of generating profit. There’s nothing really wrong with that, the people who take the risk in opening a new business reap the rewards. However, a problem does come up when companies grow overly large and start to crowd out other businesses. Unfettered Capitalism leads inexorably to monopolies and robber barons. And lately, our culture has become completely enamored with unfettered Capitalism.
These two terms get completely misconstrued by everyone lately, and it annoys me to no end. Capitalism is an economic system, not a goal. The goal should be that everyone in America has a fair chance at wealth and happiness. Not a guarantee, but a chance. Those who do work hard should be rewarded. Unfettered Capitalism does not give that chance, and neither does Socialism. The best bet we have is fettered Capitalism. Capitalism with some controls to prevent the excesses that threaten our social framework. That’s what all the anti-trust policies put into place were there for after the great depression: To prevent monopolies from unfairly using their influence to stifle innovation and competition.
We need a dash of Socialism to prevent Capitalism from running amok. Whether that comes in the form of Unions, collective bargaining, or The People in the guise of our elected representatives in the government putting the hammer down on out-of-control excess and greed. Of course, that would require that the people we elect to represent us are actually working for us and not the excessive and greedy. But that is entirely up to the people who elect the representatives.
Now this is customer service!
GOOD MORNING, WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, a Christian nation of the free and the home of the brave.
How may I help you?
Press ‘1′ for English.
Press ‘2′ to disconnect until you learn to speak English
And remember only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, Jesus Christ and the American Soldier.
One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.
If you agree, keep it going…
I got this email forwarded to me today. I get many such messages as well as postings on Facebook and Twitter, all complaining about having to press 1 for English. This one doesn’t explicitly say that but it especially raised my ire because they brought God into it. America is NOT a Christian nation. It is a nation of religious freedom. The founding fathers were very clear that this nation would not be bound to any one religion, having just broken off from Britain and the official Church of England. Beyond that though, I am once again shocked by the attitude of such sentiments. It would be akin to saying, “Welcome to America. We’re Christians. F#%$ you for not speaking our language.”
I cannot understand all of this anger centering around having to press 1 for English. In my day job I make a lot calls to various other businesses and I have never had to press 1 for English. Normally what I run into is a 2 second blurb right after the welcome prompt saying, in Spanish, “For Spanish, press 4.” And then you have to wait 5 seconds before it decides you aren’t pressing anything and continues. That extra 7 seconds is a killer apparently.
Further annoying about the sentiment is that the companies that have these prompts are typically international businesses. They do businesses with people in countries where English in not the primary language. In fact, the US is the only country in the western hemisphere that is a primarily English speaking one. Canada is bilingual, English and French. Everyone else speaks Spanish except for Brazil where they speak Portuguese. What little argument can be made for this sentiment just falls apart if you give it even a moment of thought.
Of course, this isn’t about thought. This is a gut-feeling, general dislike for those different from ourselves. It’s an irrational fear and hatred of the “Other”. The technical term for this is “Xenophobia”. From “Xeno” meaing “Stranger” and “Phobia” meaning “Fear of”. Fear of Strangers. Which brings me to the other part of this email that made me mad enough to type out a post.
Matthew 25:41-43 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”’
The idea that those claiming to be Christians can so easily and vehemently express something so utterly against the teachings of Christ as to be outright condemned by Jesus himself, saddens me greatly. Jesus died for our sins, “our” being a collective our, meaning all of us. Everyone. All humans. There are a billion Christians around the world, and not a lot of them speak English. Is this email telling us, “Jesus died for your sins so you better learn English”? That makes even less sense then bringing the troops into it. What soldier has ever been sitting in a foxhole as a mortar is coming in thinking, “I’m going to die, but at least everyone back home will be speaking English.” It’s insulting to the memory of the fallen and belittles what they fought and died for. They died protecting our freedom and way of life, not so you wouldn’t be minorly inconvenienced by, at worst, pressing an extra button on your phone. And what does God or the troops have to do with immigrants, legal or otherwise, learning to speak English?
Looking at history, most immigrants don’t learn English. At least not very well. They typically congregate into cities with a large population that speaks the same language, and do their best when they have to interact with the rest of us. It is their children who learn to speak English, their grandchildren who lose their former heritage and become homogenized into the larger culture. It’s always been that way, from China Towns to Jewish Ghettos. One of my first bosses had such a strong dutch accent that he was difficult to understand, and I’m dutch! Or at least, that’s where my great-great-grandparents came from. Who are we to look down at this new batch of immigrants and belittle them just because we’ve been off the boat for a few more generations than they have? And how can we who claim to be Christians not welcome these new strangers as friends?
“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” – King Henry II
According to lore, at this pronouncement, four knights rode forth to Canterbury where they murdered Thomas Becket (the above mentioned meddlesome priest.) It is doubtful that King Henry wanted his old friend killed, but when you are in a position of authority, you need to watch what you say, lest someone take your words the wrong way and carry them out.
In the same way, the rhetoric in this country during the midterms is chilling. Many references to targeting districts (with cross-hairs), “Reloading” (not sure what the heck that can even refer to in a political context) and “2nd Amendment remedies.” Given all the anger brewing and the veiled calls for violence it is sad, though hardly surprising, that what occurred this weekend in Arizona took place. While the people on that side of the rhetoric will swear they were speaking metaphorically, and maybe they were, all it takes is one mentally unhinged person to take what you say at face value and we get situations like this.
Can we stop now? Can we stop demonizing our political opponents? Can we stop saying that people who don’t agree with us are un-American and unpatriotic? Can we stop with the insinuation that people who have different ideas of what’s best for this country are actively working to engineer its downfall? Can we stop throwing around labels that divide us into groups so that we can look down on and dehumanize the people in the other groups?
Is it worth killing to prevent people from getting health insurance? Is it worth murdering defenseless bystanders to prevent Mexicans from moving here? Is a 3% tax increase worth mowing down half a dozen people in a grocery store parking lot? Is allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military worth shooting someone in the head over? Is it worth killing an nine-year-old girl to shrink the size of government? Are your political ideals honestly more important than other people’s lives?
I am currently in the process of buying a house and it’s overwhelming thinking of all the stuff I will have to go through with closing coming up and then moving, dealing with having a yard, and all the little headaches of home ownership. I’ve been living happily in an apartment for the last three years, and while the house is far nicer, there are definitely some down sides. I think similar feelings are the reason for the tea-party movement. We, as a country, are going through some big changes currently and while sometimes big changes can lead to something good, change itself has a cost. How many people do you know that will put up with something annoying rather than put in a bit of effort to change it? I’ve been guilty of that. A wise man once said, “Change will only happen when the cost of staying still becomes greater than the cost of making a change.”
And let’s face it, we humans hate change. Sure there are those of us who love variety, but by and large we like our routines to stay the same. If we have to do something differently, it means figuring out a new system which involves emotional and mental investment. Often that investment pays off, but there is no guarantee of that going in. For me, moving from an apartment that I’m mostly happy with to a house that I will likely be very happy with constitutes a risk. What if I’m not happy? What if the benefits don’t outweigh the annoyances? In the apartment, if something breaks you call maintenance and they come and fix it for you. In a house, you’re it unless you call someone in and pay them to fix it.
Add to that the fact that in every change there are winners and losers. In moving out of an apartment and into a house, there may be things that annoyed my wife about the apartment that are solved by the house, while there may be things I liked about the apartment that are lacking in a house. With political and cultural change, the people who are winning are going to oppose change because they might not be the winners once the dust settles. Those who are secure and those that the current system fails will embrace change, those who lack security but for whom the system largely works will oppose it. And we see that with the protesters. The Tea Party people are better educated than average and make more than the average American, yet they’re out there protesting. They’re the ones for whom the current system has largely been working. Which is why they so vehemently hate the government in Washington that promises change. It’d be like winning the house cup after a long year of effort only to have some last minute rule change hand victory to another team.
They feel angry. “Their” country is being taken away from them and given to people who are not like them. The systems that let them be the winners and those other people the losers are being changed to favor the losers. They won the championship and now the losers are getting a first round draft pick, and it’s going to be harder to compete next season. (Ugh, did I just make a sports analogy? I HATE sports analogies!)
But there is a major problem with the white-hot anger that burns in their guts. The fact is, at least so far, change has been mild and largely in their favor. A large majority of the tea-party conservatives believe that their taxes have gone up, when in fact they have been cut. They protested tax freedom day (The day when we stop working for the government and start working for ourselves) despite it being the earliest it’s been in decades. Despite any of these changes, the winners will remain winners. They just might have to try a bit harder to stay ahead. They might not have as big a lead as they once did.
This animosity towards change that they feel is a very gut-level instinct. If people actually thought about these issues, they’d probably realize that government doesn’t have that much control of our day-to-day lives and if we who are above average in the money department end up paying an extra couple hundred dollars, it’s not going to hurt us as much as it’s going to help people who really need it. But it will hurt. Change always hurts. Even really good change can feel bittersweet. Change that is lateral or only slightly for the better can feel as bad as change for the worse. For a lot of these protesters, their lives are not being changed all that much for the better or worse, but change is being forced upon them. And they resist it. Skipping work to go protest is less painful than having change thrust upon them, even if said change does not negatively effect them much.
In a way, I can understand the conservative impulse. I’m experiencing it now. Where I am currently is pretty darn good, moving forward is uncertain. And yet, even if I sit still, the world still moves forward. If I sit still, the world will move around me until the place I’m staying in becomes completely unfamiliar. It is the paradox of the conservative movement. It is the urge to stay still when it is impossible to do so. The same people who fought against medicare years ago are the very people defending it to the death now. It’s not about policy, it’s a deep-seated fear of change. Conservatives want to go back to how it was, when things were simpler (they weren’t) and people were more open and caring (they weren’t) and politicians were honest (they weren’t.) Pushed to the extreme, they are no longer merely conservatives. They are Regressives. But I feel a bit of that impulse, that fear, that uncertainty. But I’m going to keep moving forward. If the world changes anyway, I might as well try to keep up. It beats stagnating.
A lot of the arguments I hear lately have been accusing the administration of “Wealth Redistribution” by which they mean “Communism.” It’s one of those loaded words by which those opposed to progressive ideas demonize them by painting a picture of your hard-earned money going to lazy, good-for-nothing bums so they can afford a better television than you. The idea of “Welfare Queens” has been around for decades and has not been weakened by the sudden increase in formerly hard-working real Americans joining the ranks of the unemployed. The argument goes that giving people who are down on their luck (which is what we used to refer to lazy non-working people as) enough to get by on until they can get back on their feet will just make them lazy. That if we stopped giving them money, they would just go out and find a job. This despite many areas having 30-100 applicants for any available job.
I’m sure there are any number of examples of lazy people making a bare living off of unemployment, however to get unemployment you have to have been employed. To get Social Security, you have to have paid into it. The idea of the government handing out entitlements to people who have never worked a day in their lives is simply not accurate. The people who blow their food stamps on expensive shoes are simply not going to be able to eat. Those who are gaming the system for their own benefit and living off the government dole are breaking the law and should be brought to justice. The problem is the mentality that seeks to get as much out of the system as possible without contributing to it. It’s a problem that is not confined just to the poor. The rich benefit the most from the system while many are lobbying, loop-hole finding, and generally doing their best to contribute the least to the system that makes their wealth possible but also props up those lazy bastards who should just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps the way we did!” I object to this “I’ve got mine, screw you!” mentality. We as a nation are all in this together. The “This” is making this country the best it can possibly be.
Redistribution of wealth always happens, whether we like it or not. Generally, the redistribution comes in the form of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. If this gets out of hand and the robber barons are too unreasonable, it can lead to violence. It is not unreasonable for the government to take steps to prevent the disparity of wealth from reaching “Let them eat cake” levels. They do this in three significant ways.
The main way governments redistribute the wealth is from all to all. Government invests our tax dollars in the things that benefit everyone, like infrastructure. Things that we all benefit from we all pay for: roads, bridges, communications, police, fire fighters, the military, and in some places health service. Even if I never travel down a particular road or cross a particular bridge, its existence allows others to travel to new destinations quicker and easier, allowing them to more easily buy products and services that increase our economy’s health and that benefit our nation as a whole. Police to protect us from criminals and firefighters so that a fire in one building does not level a city. The military to protect us from foreign attack, communications so that we can talk with people from across the country and around the globe (and hopefully buy things from them.)
The second way government redistributes wealth is many to few. When the government takes everyone’s tax dollars and uses the money to benefit a select few. This can either be to benefit the wealthy (pork-barrel politics) or the poor (Welfare.) While few people have issue with the government fixing the roads (we just wish they’d do a better job of it) or making the trains run on time, lots of people have issue with our tax dollars going to bail out irresponsible banks or irresponsible home-owners whose reach exceeded their grasp. The problem is determining who was a responsible person that hit a patch of bad luck and who is a lazy slacker who brought their situation upon themselves. It’s not always clear. In some cases, the government helping the poor will give them the opportunity to get back on their feet, and in others it will create a person totally beholden to the government for their existence. Many people have a problem with this setup, and it is reasonable for them to be slightly miffed that their hard-earned money is going to those who don’t work. (I’m personally a fan of having those on welfare work a day or two a week at community service to improve their communities, clean up trash, etc. in order to earn their welfare payment.)
The last distribution is the Robin Hood phenomenon, few to many. Take from the rich and give to the poor. Even many of the poor who would most benefit have a problem with this. There is a fundamental unfairness that someone who has worked hard should be unfairly burdened. It is unjust. However, there exists a subset of this wealthy group that make this a bit more complicated: the heiresses. The people who have never worked a day in their lives and yet jet about in extreme luxury. The people, in short, who make money by having money. Money tends to attract more money. At a certain level, you can stop working and let your money pay for your living. If I had a million dollars, and were able to find a savings account that gave me five percent interest, I could comfortably live off the interest. (5% of a million would be $50,000 a year, which is way more than what I’m making currently.)
There is also the obscene amount of money that CEOs and Bank Presidents make. How would you even spend $300 million dollars? If I made $100,000 in one year, I’d be able to pay off all my current loans and still have a hell of a down-payment on a house. $300 million dollars? Really? I did a brief, unscientific survey a while ago and the consensus seems to be that you can live comfortably on around $40,000 a year. $50,000 if you have kids. With that kind of money, you can pay the bills, pay for a car, and make a mortgage payment or keep current on your rent.
The median income in the United States is $44,000 a year. Roughly 45% of Americans live on less than $40,000 a year. For a quick estimate, if you figure a fairly nice house has a mortgage of $1000 a month, food costs $400 a month, utilities (gas, water, trash service, electricity, phone service) cost another $400 a month, someone making $40k a year would still have $1500 a month to work with to pay off debts, buy things, and save up for future catastrophes. Someone making $20k a year (which 20% of us do) would probably have a crappy apartment for $600 a month, $2-300 for food (which tends to be unhealthy food. The good stuff is expensive.) $400 for utilities, and they’re left trying to pay down debt or make a car payment on $350 a month. Heaven help them if there’s an emergency or they get sick.
On the other hand, if you make $100,000 a year, you have over $8000 a month to work with. You could afford a mortgage payment on a McMansion of $5,000 a month and still have double left over for food, clothing, car payments, and spending of someone making $20,000 a year. Let that sink in. If someone making $100k a year bought a house in the same price-range as someone making $40k, paid the same in food and utilities, they would have $6500 left over every month. Imagine what you could do with $6500. Every month. Now imagine what it would be like to have $19,000 left over every month. Which is what you would have left over per month if you made $250,000 and still lived in what the $40k set would call a “Nice neighborhood” but which you are now starting to think of as “The Ghetto.” How would you spend $19,000 a month? If you’re smart you’d invest it to start living off the interest, but if you wanted to spend it? What would you buy?
Now imagine taking $20,000 from the man making $250,000 ($1600 a month) and giving it to the guy who is only making $20k a year. (Not necessarily in a handout. It could be in the form of health-care, better working conditions, help with housing, etc.) $250k guy isn’t going to miss it much, he’s still got $17k to work with, but it’s going to make a huge difference for $20k guy. And yet, this is stealing. We are robbing the rich and giving to the poor. This is not just. If $250k guy chose to give it, there would be no problem, but if we as a people take it, we as a people are stealing. Which raises all sorts of questions.
Does stealing from someone who will not feel it to aid the poor who desperately need it feel justified? If $250k guy blew a gasket that the government was stealing from him and taking away his hard-earned money, would you have sympathy? What about $1.5M guy? Should someone who has benefited the most from the American financial system be obliged to help those less fortunate, even if he doesn’t want to? Would someone who makes $20,000 a year feel insulted if he is offered help? Should he?
And finally, how much is enough for you to live comfortably on? Would you be willing to give up a bit of comfort so that someone who isn’t making it can get by?
While I said in a previous post that I have more respect for people along the poles of political alignment, (Straight libertarians, conservatives, totalitarians, and progressives) I still have an issue with anyone who takes those beliefs too far or holds them too strongly. We are in a polarized political climate, and the more ardent the political belief, the further it pushes people to the edges. Think the free market needs a bit of regulation so greedy businesses can’t run roughshod over the economy? You’re obviously in favor of government takeover of everything. And so on and so forth.
And it becomes more and more of a problem to argue with someone the more and more strongly they believe something. If someone believes that Obama is a closet communist and no amount of contrary evidence is going to convince them otherwise, it becomes impossible to have a functional conversation with that person since that underlying premise is at odds with other people’s beliefs (and also objective reality.) Most reasonable people would give up, which leads to the jeer that, “You can’t argue with THAT, can you?! I win!” I would argue that causing all your opponents to walk away in disgust is not winning when it comes to arguing your side. Winning is convincing your opponent that your ideas, not theirs, are correct. having beliefs so strong that they do not even entertain the possibility of being wrong and will ignore any evidence that contradicts their theories isn’t just losing, it’s tipping the board and scattering the pieces. You not only don’t win, you actually push your opponents to take up arms to oppose you.
For instance, the healthcare bill. I believe that it’s a compromise, a deal that will probably do more good than harm, but that leaves everyone unsatisfied. (As opposed to leaving progressives very happy and conservatives apoplectic.) However, due to the furor raised by the right over supposed “Death Panels” and the like, I came out in defense of the bill, a bill which I would otherwise have been rather apathetic about. There is a balance in politics, and the more you push to one side or the other, the more the other side pushes back. The problem comes when both sides push too far out and something snaps. If you become so far apart politically, you can no longer communicate with anyone of differing views. If you can no longer communicate, you lose your ability to enact positive policy.
We live in a representative democracy, which means that the elected are not elected leaders, they are elected representatives. They represent us, the people of their district, state, or country. Optimally, our representatives would be the best of our district, state or country. We are sending them to represent us to the world. However, since elections require a majority of votes to win and the accepted way to get votes is to fire up the base, we get representatives that speak for roughly half of their constituency. They are elected over the protest of their opponents.
If people do not feel they are fairly represented, they become angry. Sometimes this is justified, if they are prevented from having their say in the matter. Sometimes it is not, when they have had their say and a majority decide otherwise. Further problems occur when someone’s strongly held belief becomes more important than the process of democracy. If someone believes so strongly that the current path the government is on will lead to ruin, they will take matters into their own hands, regardless of evidence that contradicts their beliefs. This is dangerous to a working democracy.
So what to do? The obvious thing is to not believe things too strongly. No matter how right you think you are, there is always the possibility that you are wrong. Always. Second, understand that things are never, ever going to be as good or as bad as the extremists believe. If you hear that a particular ruling will end democracy as we know it or will solve all our ills, don’t believe it for a second. Things are never as simple as the true-believers say it is. There are always unintended consequences, but lets not pretend that we know exactly what they are. If we did, they’d be intended consequences.
Thirdly, acknowledge that people believe things differently than you for a reason, not just because they’re idiots. Nobody believes we should take up communism because it leads to totalitarian regimes and the purging of all who disagree. Nobody believes that unregulated free-market capitalism is great because it allows the rich to feed off the poor. There are good and bad things in any system of government, the trick is to account for them and try to set up checks and balances to smooth out the rough edges. If we believe too strongly in any one particular platform, we ignore it’s ills and when a rational person of a different stripe talks to us and brings up an issue, we don’t have an answer short of “Oh, that’s not a problem. If the system runs right, it takes care of that.” Which doesn’t answer the question of how it takes care of that or what happens if things aren’t running right. It is far better to listen to criticism and think of solutions to those problems than to blindly follow a belief full of holes. And all systems of government have holes.
The absolute best way for our government to run is to pick and choose working solutions from any and all ways of thought. Libertarian ideals aren’t necessarily going to solve things, but they do point out the weakness in totalitarianism. Conservatism can’t move the country forward, but Progressives do well to listen to their concerns, they’re more likely to see the unintended consequences of progressive policy. (At least if they’re doing their job right and not beating each other into a frenzy with the crazy stick.) We need all ideas on the table to have a healthy debate and a working democracy, with representatives working together to find solutions and weed out problems in legislation. If we get too hung up on our own ideology, we become unable to work together to forward the common goal of a better country. It is a sad day indeed when people hold an ideology so strongly that they would rather see the country burn than work with those whose opinions differ from their own.
A few weeks back I posted about the nine different political alignments represented by this chart:
A recent article by a friend of a friend got me thinking again about the differences between the political alignments and I came to a personal conclusion: I find the alignments along the axis to be far more appealing than the ones at the corners. I respect Straight Libertarians as being against both the Progressive Totalitarian Democrats and the Conservative Totalitarian Republicans. I understand the desire to glorify the past (however imperfect it may have actually been) and try to live up to the goals and aspirations of our forefathers. I can even understand the desire to say, “Screw it, the people are idiots! Let’s have some people in charge that know what they’re doing and make them take care of it! (The fictional Lord Vetinari from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld comes to mind as the kind of pragmatic, cynical leader who could do Totalitarianism without falling into Either Communism or Fascism.) Most of all, I think I resonate with the progressive causes. I want a government that is invested in making the country more fair for everyone. But I also want a government that is more efficient, less wasteful, and less intrusive. I want a government that works in the background and is there when you need it, but unobtrusive in your day to day life.
This would put me ever so slightly in the Progressive Libertarian camp. AKA Hippie. Which in the 60s would have put me in a popular group, but now it’s fairly lonely. All the hippies from that era have grown up and become Conservative Libertarians, affectionately referred to as “Tea-baggers.” In fact, across the board, It’s lonely at the top. The Straight Libertarians have been largely co-opted by the Conservative Libertarians, who have largely been co-opted by the out of power Conservative Totalitarians. (You could make the argument that an out-of-power totalitarian becomes a libertarian by necessity, although the majority of them switch back as soon as they return to power. Yet another reason why I think Republicans make a much better opposition party than a leadership party. Although lately they’ve been doing a bit too good a job at opposing damn near everything, including their own ideas.)
The main problem I have with Libertarians is the blind belief in the free market. It is the same as the Conservatives’ blind belief in past glories, a Totalitarian’s blind belief in Authority, and the Progressive’s blind belief in the goodness of human nature and their ability to build a glorious future where everyone is enlightened and gets along without offending anyone else. In the case of the Libertarians, the myth of the free market makes it difficult for me to support them since human nature has shown time and again that any market run by humans will invariably not be free for long. In a perfect world, a fair and free market (fair being in the best interest of the market itself) would prevail because taking advantage of the market would, in the long term, lead to catastrophic failure. This implies that humans are capable of self-policing, long-term planning, and have the ability to ignore large short-term gains that may be offset by long-term losses. While this may be true of SOME humans, it is certainly not true of them all. Enron and AIG being just two recent examples. I prefer my free market to be policed by competent watch-dogs. The Washington regulators haven proven to be anything but competent. I would call for a third-party group to regulate wallstreet in true free-market fashion, but that would be the ratings agencies that were either duped or complicit in giving triple-A ratings to junk.
While I share the Libertarian desire for a smaller, simpler, and more efficient government I can’t agree that the Free Market always provides by the might of its invisible hand. There are some things that I think the Government can do and do well and maybe even should do well. In these areas, we should be fighting to make it work correctly, not to gut it or to get rid of it. I for one would not want to return to a completely deregulated Jungle of unregulated food production.
In fact, I think regulation of all commodities on which people’s lives depend should be in place. Food, housing (up to code), energy production (avoid another Enron induced brown-out session), water purity, financial markets, working conditions, and maybe even health care. What I don’t think should be put in place is stupid regulation that causes more harm than good. It shouldn’t be an undue burden on industry, just enough to prevent the natural human impulse to let things slide. The founding fathers went to great lengths to protect the American people from tyranny by dividing power into multiple branches of government in the hopes that by so doing they would frustrate the human impulse to crave power. In the same way, I would like Government to be a check against the worst parts of the citizenry’s all too human nature. Unfortunately, many of our representatives (or as they refer to themselves, “Leaders”) exhibit the worst parts of human nature. This would lead the cynical to declare game over, there’s no point in supporting either party, or being involved at all. Principle will never win out over greed. I say that it just means we need to work harder to vet our prospective representatives and give our full support to the principled, honest fellow citizens who wish to represent us, regardless of which party they find themselves in. And we need to learn that agreeing with our stances on issues is not the same as being honest or principled. The corrupt “Leaders” from both sides of the aisle show us that much.
I recently received the following email forward from a conservative.
An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had once failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich… “a great equalizer”.
The professor then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan”.
All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A…
After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B- (B minus). The students who studied hard were upset and the students who never studied were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who never studied didn’t even open their text books and the ones who had before studied hard, decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little.
The second test average was a D! No one was happy.
When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F.
As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.
All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.
So a couple observations about this.
1) The above story is not about socialism at all, it’s about communism. If the students think that “Obama’s Socialism” means that there won’t be any poor people or rich people, they’re stupid on several levels. For starters, socialism does not mean there are no rich or poor people. Look at socialized Europe. No rich people or poor people there! No wait, that’s completely wrong. The only difference between the poor here and in socialist Europe is that their situations are slightly better. They may not have any money, but they at least have access to things like health care. Secondly, while Obama may or may not have some socialist views, he’s certainly no communist. He hasn’t put forth an plans for actual government takeover of anything. (The health care reform bill mandates people buy health care but they’ll be forced to get it from private insurers.)
2) The above story seems to be about a class of Young Republicans. The students cut their nose off to spite their face. Seriously, who would give up a passing grade just because a few free-loaders are taking advantage of the system? Also, they must have been trying pretty hard to flunk everyone else because I went through college barely studying and got mostly “A” grades. I can’t think that everyone in the class would completely fail (F average) unless they were actively trying to.
3) The above story has a very, very low opinion of human nature, and the social skills of those students must have been nigh non-existent. Has anyone here worked with someone who wasn’t pulling their weight? I’m certain we all have. What happens? They become universally unpopular and people within the majority of the group bring them back into line, with beatings if necessary. This isn’t so much a story about the failure of socialism/communism as it is the failure of people who are only looking out for themselves to work together towards a common goal.
4) I could come up with a more compelling story with the same scenario where a teacher decides to average the grades of the class and give everyone the same grade. The smartest students in the class still want to pass, so they spend extra time with the dumbest students, tutoring them. Everyone comes together to study hard and in the end everyone passes the class with an A. Life lessons are learned. The real breakthrough happens when the female class nerd convinces the bad-boy slacker student who wasn’t studying to try hard, even though he doesn’t care about the class. The slacker goes on to ace the last test, bringing the class average above the threshold for an A. Everyone cheers. Then he teaches the nerd how to love. It’s very touching.
5) The kind of people who find the above story compelling are likely the same ones who would react like the “smart” students did in the story. “Oh, if someone’s free-loading, that means I’m not going to try. Screw them!*” (*And by “them” we mean everyone else in the class, myself included. The slackers were going to fail anyway so they haven’t lost anything.) It’s the kind of people who would shut down their business to avoid paying an extra 3% in taxes.
6) If the professor “Once failed an entire class,” because they were fans of “Obama’s Socialism,” it must have been recent. Obama’s been in office for a little over a year, yet the professor is telling this story as a “Once upon a time.” I’m starting to think this never actually happened! (Actually I started to think that when I first started reading it.)
Socialism isn’t “The Great Equalizer” that conservatives paint it as, but what is it? It’s difficult to answer that question for two reasons. The first is that socialism has been stigmatized in the United States for years now and like Communism and Fascism seems to have taken on the meaning “Bad System of Government,” or “Style of Government that we don’t like.” Secondly, socialism is a broad band of ideas stretching from light communism to hippie. In it’s most common form however, and the way it would likely appear if it ever took hold here in America (which it won’t any time soon) would be Limited Capitalism.
Capitalism is great because it allows people upward mobility, and for the most part people who work hard can make a decent living for themselves and their families. The problem with Capitalism is the ability of greed and selfishness by a few to negatively impact a large group of people. The goal of Limited Capitalism is to keep all the good that comes about from the Capitalist system but smooth out the outliers. Make the poor a bit less poor and the rich a bit less rich. Unlike Communism which would take everyone’s income and divide it “Equally” (some are more equal than others), socialism aims to provide fairness to a system that can at times become seriously out of whack.
The hallmark of a socialist agenda is not government takeover of business (that would be communism) but employee-owned businesses and non-profits. On a national scale, Socialism puts strict regulations on banks and businesses to protect the country, the employees, investors, customers and even to protect the businesses from themselves. (A lot of people would be better off if the government had been paying attention and stopped the likes of Enron and AIG from destroying themselves. Wouldn’t have required a bailout if they’d nipped it in the bud.) There’s still capitalism, there’s still winners and losers, the winners still are richer than the losers, but it’s not a zero-sum game.
The founding fathers of our country knew that human nature was prone to greed and lust for power, so they separated the government into three branches with checks and balances to prevent too much power being placed in the hands of too few. Socialism is that in economics, trying to prevent the unchecked greed that has run rampant in wall street. (Just look at the AIG execs who are throwing a fit about not getting their bonuses.) Optimally, socialism is not hamstringing the good players, it is merely leveling the playing field. Some aspects of socialism would do well for America, and some would not work so well. One thing I would like is for people to argue the pros and cons of the system with the actual pros and cons instead of importing cons from other systems to prop up a straw man.
The few aspects of socialism I’d like to integrate into our current system are some enforced regulation on wall street for the banks who have proven time and again that they cannot police themselves. Too-big-to-fail banks should be broken up into smaller, non-life-threatening banks, and some limits should be placed on executive pay (Maybe ten or 100 times their lowest paid employee. If their lowest paid employee makes $30k a year, they’d be capped at $300k or $3 million not $300 million.) I’d like to see non-profit hospitals who pay their employees well and roll any extra they make into expanding the hospital’s services. I’d like to see non-profit insurance companies. In short, I’d like to see more companies who were dedicated to their customers and employees instead of their bottom lines. That’s socialism I can live with. Compared to this mild socialism, straight capitalism with no checks or balances seems a little anti-social.